People have been developing for thousands of years, and at some point they start to awaken the question of the meaning of existence; it is the main concern of a person if he has raised a bit above the animal level.
People don’t evolve like animals, which actually don’t change from one generation to the next. The desires of each generation change as every generation feels the desires of the next level of development and the feeling of emptiness constantly grows. Consequently, the question about the meaning of life begins to preoccupy us more and more.
We suddenly begin to wonder about things we hadn’t thought of before, and the sciences also develop according to the questions that come up in every generation because the questions that preoccupy a person in the 20th century are different from the questions that concerned him in the 10th century.
The question about the meaning of life that is manifested in humanity at a certain point is revealed only to certain individuals. Throughout human history there were special people in whom the question about the meaning of life arose that led people to compose music, literature, poetry, and to paint pictures. All this pushed us forward, developing science, technology, and machinery. A person not only aspired egoistically to a better material life, but also searched for the meaning of life.
Our desires are upgraded according to a scale of desires. First, the desires that are associated with our corporeal existence awaken: desires for food, sex, and family. Then human desires emerge, which are associated with internal fillings: desires for wealth, power, and knowledge. All the desires are transformed from one generation to the next and become finer, sharper, and more internal.
People began to feel the question about the meaning of life at the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. The technological, scientific, and cultural revolutions in Europe were the trigger for the emergence of a totally new attitude to life and religion.
People no longer feared to be non-religious or to be prosecuted for dissent, which means that the ego grew to such an extent that a person could longer act like stereotypes anymore.
In the beginning of Introduction to The Study of the Ten Sefirot, Baal HaSulam writes: Indeed, if we set our hearts to answer but one very famous question, I am certain that all these questions and doubts as to whether we should study the wisdom of Kabbalah will vanish from the horizon, and you will look unto their place to find them gone. This indignant question is a question that the whole world asks, namely, “What is the meaning of my life?” So this question remains unanswered.
We may say that everything that happens today is because we cannot find an answer to the question about the meaning of life. We can see what humanity engages in and what it leads the world to! And it is all because people don’t understand what they exist for. “In other words, these numbered years of our life that cost us so heavily, and the numerous pains and torments that we suffer for them, to complete them to the fullest, who is it who enjoys them? The years that we spend, we spend searching, chasing, and suffering or even more precisely, who do I delight by living the way I do?” No one! It is indeed true that historians have grown weary contemplating it, and particularly in our generation. No one even wishes to consider it.
Why should I be preoccupied with the meaning of life if I understand that I will not find an answer? It is better to abuse drugs or alcohol in order to suppress the internal question that makes a person feel worthless.
After all an animal doesn’t ask that question, it simply exists by fulfilling its basic desires for food, sex, and family, while desires for wealth, power, and knowledge do not exist in the animal nature. It is the same with humans on that level so it is easier for them to live, while people in whom human desires develop feel miserable.
Yet the question stands as bitterly and as vehemently as ever. Sometimes it meets us uninvited, pecks at our minds and humiliates us to the ground before we find the famous ploy of flowing mindlessly in the currents of life as always.
That’s what we are trying to do subconsciously. We eat sleep, work, meet with friends, watch a football game, engage in hobbies, only to keep ourselves busy and avoid asking this question. After all, this question is worse than death; death is a momentary solution to the problem while one can live with this question for a very long time and come to nothing at the end except for self-torture.
This is the reason that Baal HaSulam specifically chose this topic as the introduction to his book Talmud Eser Sefirot. In this introduction he wants to show that a person doesn’t need any special thoughts or high goals in order to study the wisdom of Kabbalah.
If he feels bad, doesn’t know what he is living for, and this question keeps bothering him—because he cannot live for no reason and has to justify his life—then he has to discover the wisdom of Kabbalah because it actually provides the answer to the meaning of his personal life.
From the Kabbalah Lesson in Russian 1/31/16