October 24, 2015
by Rabbi Mendel Kessin
Synopsis is not necesarrily in Rabbi Kessin's own words
- The essence and juxtaposition of physical and spiritual.
- Physical choice VS Spiritual choice.
- Dilemma of a spiritual being.
- Uniqueness of a human being.
- The essence and the mechanism of Avodah.
- Tikun hamidos as prerequisite to Avodah.
- Why did God create the physical universe?
There are 3 realms in existence:
- The realm of God.
Let’s focus on physical and spiritual. Why do we need both? It takes an introduction to fully understand and appreciate this question.
The essence and juxtaposition of physical and spiritual.
The Work (Avodah) has to be done in the physical universe. This is where the main action occurs.
- The essence of physicality is total concealment of God.
- The essence of spirituality is perceiving and experiencing the presence of God.
When we talk about God and His presence we primarily mean the revelation of His Oneness, which means that there is nothing and nobody in existence besides Him, including my own self, the very self that right now I experience as absolute, independent, standalone.
To contrast the physical and the spiritual better let’s shift the emphasis by changing the wording:
- The essence of physicality it total concealment of God (and His Oneness).
- The essence of spirituality is partial concealment of God (and His Oneness).
Choice VS Choice.
– What’s The Ultimate Choice in the physical world?
God and His Oneness VS godless universe.
– What’s The Ultimate Choice in the spiritual world?
Greater clarity of His Oneness VS lesser clarity of His Oneness.
Just like Avodah is possible in the physical world by offering its inhabitants a choice between God and godless, so too Avodah would be possible in the spiritual world by offering its inhabitants a choice between greater clarity and lesser clarity of His Oneness.
And if you ask, why would a created spiritual being prefer lesser clarity, the answer is simple: for the same reason a physical being prefers godless when God is “available”, and the reason is – a created being mistakenly perceives that “more” God diminishes its (being’s) existence, while “less” God gives more space to the being and thus leads to grandeur and greatness, which of course is arrogance and false pride, but unfortunately is not perceived as such by created beings on the primary experiential level. So just like a physical being is tempted to deny God by sensing its own greatness in such a denial, so too a spiritual being can be tempted to opt for less clarity of God’s Oneness by falsely sensing its own more enhanced state of being in such an option.
In reality, as it were, spiritual beings don’t have such a temptation, as it wasn’t given to them. Which is not the case for the physical beings – us – who were indeed given such a temptation, commonly called evil inclination.
Now the stage is setup for the main question.
Why to create physical universe to begin with, with all its pain and suffering, why not to have the spiritual realm only, and to have Avodah based on the spectrum of levels in spirituality?
Appreciating A Human Being.
A man is a very unusual, bizarre creature. Why?
There are two components to a man: physical and spiritual. There is no any other being in the creation consisting of these two components. All the other beings are EITHER physical, OR spiritual – NEVER both.
The combination of physical and spiritual is explosive. Physical and spiritual are not just DIFFERENT, they are OPPOSITE, their co-existence in one being is contradictory and impossible. The opposition is as follows.
- Spiritual: there is nothing and nobody besides God; in His absolute total Oneness you don’t really exist, and even though you feel very much alive in your own frame of reference, God created and controls this frame of reference fully and unconditionally always, under any circumstances, even if you seemingly rebel against Him, even if you deny His very existence.
- Physical: you exist as absolutely independent and standalone being, you are in total control, at least in your own space, your perceived frame of reference is the only real one.
A human being is always torn between the poles: I exist VS I don’t exist, God exists VS God doesn’t exist, I am in control VS God is in control. There is no escape, the opposites are built in our very nature, and it’s one of the greatest miracles in the creation.
The essence and the mechanism of Avodah.
The Avodah is the work of comprehension. A human being is to comprehend God and His Oneness. In the world to come this comprehension will become fully experiential. In this world it can be only partly experiential, and even that only on very special occasions.
In this world our primary level experience is determined by our senses. Our physiology and emotions are FELT as real. Our intellect enables us to go beyond the primary level experience in a way that we can think ABOUT the primary experience, i.e. about our body-emotion state. Intellect doesn’t stop there, as it gives us ability to also think ABOUT our thinking. Reflective and self-reflective ability of our intellect is the key to understanding a human being. Reflecting on our primary level experience, and then reflecting on reflections, we build the whole universe of meaning in our minds. In a sense, we create our whole subjective world, which as we hope maps more or less correctly the objective world which is totally beyond us, and only available to our perception through our physical senses, and even that is not direct experiencing of the world – it’s rather how our brain captures and reinterprets trillions bits of information coming through our senses.
These higher level of consciousness are where we can comprehend God and His Oneness. We don’t have to (i.e. we are not compelled by our nature to do so) – unless we want to – as building the higher levels of consciousness takes a decision and an effort. Only there, all the way “up” in our minds, we can detect God’s presence, God’s existence, God’s design. In this sense, in our frame of reference, God is subjective, and as such His recognition, acceptance, and our compliance are given over to our freedom of choice. In fact, this is where our freedom of choice resides. To simplify, We have to think ABOUT life in order to notice patterns and to come to conclusions. If we refuse to think ABOUT life – we won’t notice anything, and we can claim that there is nothing out there beyond what we directly feel. Because it’s all “hidden” in that “aboutness” which is not a part of objective universe in our frame of reference by our very nature.
So is it only God and His Oneness not detectable till we raise to higher levels of the mind?
By no means. Consider friendship, love, courage, resilience, even gravity and electricity, and thousands of other concepts and phenomena – they are unquestionably real, but in order to understand, comprehend, and detect them we have to raise our consciousness above and beyond the sensual universe, to enter the world of meaning, to reflect on the phenomena and to reflect of reflections.
In the physical world God concealed Himself fully, but He gave us clues, many clues about Him and His Oneness. It’s up to us – to our freedom of choice – what to do with the clues. We can ignore them. Or we can carefully collect them, and put them together by recreating the true reality of God in our minds, mapping out the world in a brilliantly new, dazzling ways.
When the time comes, we are granted to actually experience it – the ultimate pleasure and the ultimate joy – on a primary level of experience, and not just to think ABOUT it. This experience won’t come through our physical senses, we will transcend the senses, will go far and beyond them.
- Kidush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name) results from Avodah, and is enhancing of the perception of God’s being and His attributes in our minds (in a mind of one sanctifying, and in the minds of others).
- Chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name) results from self-deception and distorted view on reality, and is diminishing of the perception of God’s being in our minds (in a mind of one desecrating, and in the minds of others).
Prerequisite To Avodah.
One area of Avodah is crucial for success, and is rather a prerequisite to the other areas of Avodah. It’s Tikun Hamidos (refinement of character). Why?
We are given a force which tempts us to ignore the clues, stops us from thinking about clues, ourselves, our destiny, prevents us from searching for the truth. This force is called an yetzer harah – evil inclination, but there is a simpler term for it – self-interest. It seems beneficial to us to hide from God. It seems more enjoyable if He wouldn’t be around, if we could do anything we want, if only we would be in control. Denying God (on whatever level we are at, i.e. denying Him completely, or denying some of His attributes, or limiting His control in some areas) seems to be enhancing to our state of being.
To remove self-interest is crucial before we can even begin to recognize the truth, before we can start thinking about clues, about ourselves, about life. If self-interest is there, we will use our intellect to distort the picture. Our intellect is powerful, and it’s an easy job to do. With self-interest in place we are blind – we will see anything we want to see, nothing is going to be convincing, compelling, attractive besides our own sense of well-being; even though our perceived self-interest and well-being are illusory, they seem so real to us that we can’t even begin to question them.
Tikun Hamidos is designed to achieve just that – to remove self-interest, to annihilate arrogance, to develop an attitude of honesty regardless the perceived consequences. Humility is worth gold. Only true humility enables us to recognize the truth.
However, even then the truth doesn’t come automatically with humility. It’s a necessary beginning, prerequisite, the only tool which enables us to overcome self-deception, so that noticing the clues and putting them together into a dazzling picture can take place.
Why physical universe?
Back to the question asked in the beginning: why to create physical universe to begin with, why not to have the spiritual realm only, and to have Avodah based on more clarity VS less clarity, instead of God VS godless?
There are two sides to the answer.
First, the challenge of the physical universe is a greater challenge than the challenge of the spiritual universe. Greater challenge leads to a greater accomplishment. Greater accomplishment leads to a greater reward. Greater reward means more enhanced being, more pleasure, more joy at the destination.
Second, let’s consider God’s perspective, if we may. He wills to reveal His Oneness. As much as possible, to the utmost degree possible (the only limitation is that a created being shouldn’t be annihilated by overwhelming Oneness). Oneness can be revealed only in multiplicity. Thus, multiplicity must be created. The greater multiplicity the greater revealed Oneness at the end. Ultimate multiplicity denotes the reality where God and His Oneness are concealed totally and undetectably, with clues spread and given over to the free choice of a prime being assigned to do the job. Hence physical universe serves the purpose. Ultimate Oneness is revealed in ultimate multiplicity – and only limited Oneness would be revealed in partial multiplicity. Avodah done in spiritual universe would result in LIMITED Oneness at the end, and only Avodah in physical universe brings Oneness to the utmost degree possible, as intended by God.
A reminder about God.
Strictly saying, this is off the subject. However, it seems appropriate to conclude with a mini-attempt to correct the vision, to enhance God’s being in our minds directly, right now.
Can anything co-exist with God? This question really means: is there anything that doesn’t have to be created by God, that pre-existed, co-existed with Him?
No. Nothing co-exists and nothing can co-exist with Him. Everything has to be created in order to exist.
What does “everything” refer to? Well, everything refers to everything, however don’t be misled by simplicity of such a statement. Because the concept of reality was created. The concept of existence was created. The concept of a concept was created. Let’s emphasize and imagine the consequences:
- Reality is a created concept.
- Existence is a created concept.
- Any concept is created.
God is beyond reality, beyond existence, beyond any concept, beyond a concept of a concept – beyond any comprehension in principle.
So what do we understand about Him? What do we know about Him?
He created a concept of understanding, and He created His understanding – for us to understand, and He created His knowledge – for us to know. This –
and only this – is what we understand about Him, what we know about Him.
When we said in the beginning that when we talk about God and His presence we primarily mean the revelation of His Oneness – how do we know this? We know this from Him, He told us so, in fact once he told us directly, and later our prophets revealed it to us again and again, and our sages explained it to us, and our teachers clarified it for us, and now we know.
He also created a concept of creation, a concept and an ability to create. It’s ultimate creativity – to create creativity as it were – isn’t it?