The Spiritual Work of Our Generation: Making Yourself an empty vessel

The Spiritual Work of Our Generation

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Redefining What You Are… Spiritual Work for Our Generation
introduction
original text
lowliness
Lowliness: the Inner Experience of Kingdom
making an empty vessel
can lowliness actually get anything done?
how can lowliness fix me and my life?
Putting Lowliness in a Historical Context
are there emotions after lowliness?
what is selflessness?
holographic thinking: selflessness and lowliness together

Recall that David’s consummate sense of lowliness was revealed when he brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem in what was also a tremendously joyous event for him. (Note the allusion to the fact that lowliness and joy are inherently connected, as will be explained.) From this we learn that lowliness ensuing from a pure heart is the real reason for the awakening of our yearning to draw closer to the Almighty and to ascend to a higher level of sanctity.

How does lowliness lead to this spiritual awakening? The key to answering this question lies in the understanding that by truly experiencing our distance and separation from the Almighty, we come to realize that we are the sole cause for our shortcomings and imperfections. From the Almighty’s perspective: “the earth is full of his Presence”1, and in the language of the Zohar, “there is no place void of Him.” Further, in the Tanya, the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi elucidates how G-d is indeed present and imminent in our hearts. But, if G-d is continuously present and always ready to bestow infinite good upon us, it follows that the only reason that we remain distant from our ideal image of ourselves is that we do so of our own free will. It is our actions and sense of separateness that distance us, and it is solely up to us if we want to enjoy the infinite nearness that G-d wishes to share with us.

The spiritual can be understood many times by analogy to the physical. To gain a more concrete understanding of the role that lowliness plays in the psyche, we turn to its analogous physical attribute: emptiness.2 Look at the manner in which a piece of plastic is fashioned into a Tupperware receptacle. The solid plastic lump needs to be hollowed out. We might say that by creating this hollow space, we are actually “emptying” the original plastic; we are giving it the “shape” of emptiness. In addition, without the ability to hold its “emptiness” in a solid shape, Tupperware would not be very useful (which is why they are not made out of liquids or gases).

Just as “emptiness” is the defining characteristic of every receptacle, allowing it to contain something inside, so lowliness is the defining character trait that allows one to receive and hold on to the Almighty’s blessings. In the language of Chassidut: lowliness makes a person a vessel for G-d’s blessings. Without the feeling that “I do not deserve anything,” it is essentially impossible for G-d’s imminent goodness and benevolence to be felt, but sporadically, in our lives. In the language of the sages: “He who makes himself humble (or lowly), the Almighty uplifts,” by encouraging his (or her) enthusiasm for engaging in spiritual work and following the path of G-d.

But, we are not just Tupperware, and unlike the manufacturing of plastic Tupperware, introducing the “emptiness” is not up to the manufacturer (G-d) but rather up to the vessel itself (man). We need to learn the art of sincere lowliness from the likes of King David. Nonetheless, there are times when the Almighty prods us to do more to empty ourselves of our vanity and feelings of self-importance. These are the moments in which, figuratively, G-d is distancing us from Him with His “left-side.”3 At these times, it is all-important to realize that G-d has not left us, or is no longer interested in us. Rather, they are meant to send us a signal that we cannot continue along our present path where our lives remain so disjointed from the will of the Almighty. The times when Divine affluence does not seem to be present are actually moments of calling, beseeching us to deepen the sense of lowliness in our character.

Notes

1. Isaiah 6:3.
2. In fact, the description of the sefirah of kingdom (lowliness is the inner experience of kingdom, as explained earlier) in the Zohar is: “It has nothing of its own,” i.e., it is completely empty.
3. In the Torah, the left side is associated with repelling. The sages say, “The left repels, while the right embraces” (Sotah 47a; Sanhedrin107b).

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