Chapter 2: I Want, Therefore I Am
Life as an Evolution of Desires
The Four Levels Within Us
What’s more, our sages assert, the levels of still, vegetative, animate, and speaking are not exclusive to the outside nature. They exist within each and every one of us, forming the basis of our desires and even the inner structure of each desire. Rabbi Nathan Neta Shapiro writes, “There are four forces in man—still, vegetative, animate, and speaking—and Israel have yet another, fifth part, for they are the Godly speaking.”[i]
Baal HaSulam provides a more elaborate explanation of the way these levels of desires work within us: “We distinguish four divisions in the speaking species [humans], arranged in gradations one atop the other. Those are the Masses, the Strong, the Wealthy, and the Sagacious. They are equal to the four degrees in the whole of reality, called ‘Still,’ ‘Vegetative,’ ‘Animate,’ and ‘Speaking.’
“The still … elicit the three properties, vegetative, animate, and speaking. …The smallest force among them is the vegetative. The flora operates by attracting what is beneficial to it and rejecting the harmful in much the same way as humans and animals. However, there is no individual sensation in it, but a collective force, common to all the plants in the world…
“Atop them is the animate. Each creature feels itself, attracting what is beneficial to it and rejecting the harmful. …This sensing force in the Animate is very limited in time and space, since the sensation does not operate at even the shortest distance outside its body. Also, it does not feel anything outside its own timeframe, meaning in the past or in the future, but only at the present moment.
“Atop them is the speaking, consisting of an emotional force and an intellectual force together. For this reason, its power in attracting what is good for it and rejecting what is harmful is unlimited by time and place, as it is in the animate. Because of science, which is an intellectual faculty, unlimited by time and place, one can teach others wherever they are in the whole of reality, in the past or in the future, and throughout the generations.”[ii]
[i] Rabbi Nathan Neta Shapiro, Reveals Deep Things, Parashat Shemot [Exodus].
[ii] Rav Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), The Writings of Baal HaSulam, “Introduction to the Book, Panim Meirot uMasbirot [Shining and Welcoming Face]” (Ashlag Research Institute, Israel, 2009), 134.