Redefining What You Are…
LOWLINESS, AS IN THE VERSE, “I AM LOWLY IN MY OWN EYES,”1 AND SELFLESSNESS, AS IN THE VERSE, “AND WE ARE NAUGHT,”2 ARE WHAT COMPRISE THE BEING OF A RECTIFIED3 INDIVIDUAL.
When you do a good deed, it is not your own doing, for as our sages have taught: “give Him [i.e., G-d] His own, for you and yours are His.”4 When a benevolent act is performed for the sake of Heaven and for fulfilling the Almighty’s will, the Shechinah—the presence of G-d that dwells within every Jew5—becomes your empowering source.
It is possible that the positive elements mixed within the animal (or natural) soul (nefesh behemit) of a Jew (whose nefesh behamit comes from kelipat nogah—the intermediate ‘realm of evil’6) are the source of the benevolent act, for “the nature of the good is to do good”7—a goodness which is devoid of Divine consciousness. Consequently, such an act cannot authentically be purely for “the sake of heaven” (leshem shamayim).
Your Divine Soul (nefesh Elokit)—“an actual part of G-d above”8—is an absolute gift from G-d, as we recite in the morning prayers: “the Soul that You have placed in me is pure….”9 The Divine soul cannot be said to define the self and the being of an individual who is a beinoni—an intermediate one.10 Indeed, the yearning you feel for authentic good (or Divine Consciousness, as explained) comes from the Divine soul. But opposed to this yearning is your evil inclination (yetzer hara) empowered by your animal soul. “Were it not for G-d’s help, [you] could not overcome it.”11 This Divine assistance is the light and might that flows from the Shechinah (Divine Presence) to the Divine soul, nourishing and empowering it to endure in its choice of good, in spite of the evil inclination’s opposition. Also, G-d—the Master of all ‘affects’—brings about situations that draw your heart to the good, especially when you seek to purify yourself, at which time you receive more and more assistance.
Based on all of the above we can explain the verse “You G-d have loving-kindness, for You will repay each person according to his work.”12G-d’s loving-kindness is indeed great because He repays you for your benevolent actions, as if you could take all the credit for them, when in fact, you are but an inconsequential aid.13 Therefore, you should thank the Master of good and mercy, for the wondrous opportunity He bestows upon you to do good. You should also be aware that the feeling of self that accompanies your good actions (in other words, your need for acknowledgment that is fulfilled by these actions) is the essential quality of the sense of being originating in your animal soul. In addition, your intellect will also try to defend these feelings that come from the animal soul by arguing that it is only “natural” to feel a sense of self. Your intellect will continue to find arguments along this line until you re-align its intellectual faculties with the Divine consciousness of your Divine soul.Whatever the case may be, in order to refrain from sanctioning and validating their negative content, you should not allow yourself to get excited over your iniquitous acts. Instead, you must realize that your animal soul—which defines the self and being for abeinoni (an intermediate)—is always liable to transgress, whether it be through its excessive craving for things that are in principle permitted (these cravings are termed “Jewish shadows” ), or whether it be by cravings for that which is forbidden (these are called “foreign shadows,” in Kabbalah]. The more you follow, and hence “feed,” your sense of [false] self, the more both types of cravings are strengthened and intensified.
The Zohar14 reacts with surprise at the verse “should a soul transgress…,” asking: how is it possible that a Divine luminance like the Divine soul could be involved and take part with the animal soul in an act of transgression?! Indeed, this surprised reaction expresses the infinite compassion that you should have when thinking of how a part of G-d above [your Divine soul] has descended, and is now enclothed in the impure and defiled garments of the body and the animal soul. For, by committing a transgression you have figuratively forced the head of the High King into a latrine full of excrement,15 and there is no greater insult. Realizing how much transgressions distance you from the Almighty, you should feel bitterness and come to a true sense of lowliness. And yet, at the same time, you should continue to feel the mercy that G-d bestows upon you, regardless of your state, as stated that “anyone called by the name of Israel, retains this title even after having transgressed.” “Though I descend to the depths of the abyss, You are present!”—in infinite mercy.Moreover, G-d is continuously forging a new path of repentance for you, and is always expectant of your return to Him. What is repentance?
‘Regretting the past’: meaning, that you come to an enduring awareness of your own lowliness, until the slate of your heart becomes engraved with a sense of your own existential worthlessness; and ‘Resolving about the future’: meaning, your complete trust in G-d’s infinite mercy (“for His mercy has not ceased”), like a father who has mercy on his child. Even though you have gone off the path, G-d will save you from your current feelings of despair and will strengthen your resolve to behave in a positive manner in the future. The unification of lowliness and mercy [that you have on your own Divine soul] constitutes the consummate and ever-functioning power of teshuvah (return to the Almighty) in the beinoni’s psyche. Seated in the depth of your soul, they serve to nullify your sense of separate existence, and your soul yearns for immediate Divine salvation.
Following this path, as your sensitivity to transgression increases—a person has privileged knowledge of the evil within his or her self—so does your awareness of how G-d continually guides you along the path of truth. For, as the verse states, “G-d [alone] safeguards you.”16You will come to realize that every setback in your life (G-d forbid) is (also) an act of personal Providence from above, aimed to remind you to ponder: “where is my Father?!”
This is the spiritual toil denoted in the verses: “every soul [read as ‘breath’] will exalt you; exalt G-d,”17 and “Every one of my bones will speak the Name of G-d.”18 For eventually you will not experience a single breath or movement that will not testify to G-d’s merciful omnipresence. This path of spiritual work breaks and subjugates your hubris, as you come to realize that [only] “G-d rules and wears pride,”19 and that “I will sing to G-d, for he has risen in pride”20 (as translated into Aramaic: “for He rises above the proud, and pride is His”). The ayin [nullity] of holiness also engages and dispenses of sorrow and despair caused by the false “nullity” of the profane and unholy; exactly the same type of effect as that of resurrection of the dead. The root of fear is sweetened to become a trait of holiness, as expressed in the verse in Proverbs: “Happy is he who is always fearful,”21 of which our sages have taught: “the secrets of the Torah are revealed only to he whose heart has is ever fearful.”22 “And the meek shall add joy in G-d, and poor men shall delight in the Holy of Israel.”23
1) II Samuel 6:22.