Prior to creation, the Creator alone existed. The process of creation begins when the Creator singles out a certain part of Himself in order to endow it, in the future, with certain different characteristics. By endowing this part with a sense of its own self, the Creator essentially “ejects” it from Himself.
This endowed part constitutes our “I.” The distance of the endowed part from the Creator is the disparity in characteristics between the Creator and this part; it is perceived as “concealment of the Creator.” Since this part cannot sense the Creator, there is a void between it and Him, generated by the part’s egoistic characteristics.
If the Creator wants to bring the separated part closer to Himself, then the dark void between the Creator and the part will bestow a sense of hopelessness on the part. If, on the other hand, the Creator does not want to draw the part closer to Himself, then the void is not felt at all. It is merely the distance between the part and the Creator that is not perceived. The Creator Himself is not sensed by the part, which, at most, can only imagine how it feels to perceive Him.
The dark void, which is perceived by the part, is experienced as our normal suffering, caused either by materialistic difficulties, or ailments, or family troubles.
However, just as the Creator built the surrounding environment of the part, He is also able to influence it.
How and for what purpose does He do this? To show us that, to save ourselves from suffering, we must rid ourselves of all egoism, the Creator brings us to a state of such unbearable misery through our environment, children, work, debts, illnesses, or family troubles, that life seems to become a burden beyond all endurance.
We perceive that this miserable condition comes about as a result of our ambitions and our attempts to attain things. Then, a singular desire awakens in us – the desire not to want anything. In other words, we no longer have any personal interests, since they bring us only suffering.
Consequently, we have no other choice but to beg the Creator to save us from egoism. This forces us to strive to overcome all of our problems, which brings us further suffering.
For this reason, Rabbi Ashlag writes in his “Introduction to Talmud Esser Sefirot” (Paragraph 2), “But if you listen with your heart to one very famous question, I am sure that all your doubts as to whether you should study the Kabbalah will vanish without a trace.”
This is so because this question, coming straight from one’s heart rather than from one’s intelligence or knowledge, is a question about many things: the meaning of our lives; the meaning of our suffering (which is many times greater than our pleasure); the difficulties of life, which often make death seem an easy deliverance. And finally, the fact that there is no end to the whirlpool of pain until we depart from this life, worn out and devastated.
Who benefits from this, or more precisely, whom do we benefit? What else should we expect from this life? Although each of us is subconsciously bothered by this question of the meaning of our lives, sometimes it hits us unexpectedly, driving us insane, rendering us incapable of doing anything, shattering our minds, plunging us into a dark chasm of hopelessness and reflecting back to us our own insignificance.
In response, we choose to go on drifting with the stream of life, without pondering the question too deeply. This is a question no one even wants to think about. Nonetheless, the question remains before us with all its strength and bitterness.
Occasionally, we blunder into it, and it pierces our minds and knocks us flat. We continue to trick ourselves by drifting unthinkingly through the stream of life, as before. But the Creator imparts such sensations to us so we will gradually realize that all our misfortunes, and all our anguish, arise from the fact that we have a personal, vested interest in the outcome of our actions.
It is our egoism, our nature and essence, that makes us act for the sake of “our own good.” And, since our desires are never fulfilled, we will continue to suffer.
However, if we were to nullify all our personal interests in everything, we would immediately break the chains of our bodies and would experience our world free of pain and distress.
The method to break free from the slavery of egoism can be found in Kabbalah.
The Creator purposely placed our world, with all its misery, between Himself and us. He did this to help us realize that we must get rid of egoism, since it is the cause of all our suffering. To remove suffering and to sense the Creator, the source of all pleasure, is only possible if we sincerely desire to rid ourselves of all egoism.
In the spiritual worlds, desires are tantamount to actions, since genuine and sincere desires immediately lead to performing them. In general, the Creator brings us to a firm and final resolution to rid ourselves of all personal interests in any situation in life.
He does this by making us suffer so greatly, we will have only one desire – to stop the suffering. This is possible only if we have absolutely no personal or selfish interest in the outcome of any daily matters that arise in our lives.
But where, then, is our free will? Where is the freedom of choice to decide which road to take, or what to choose in life? The Creator pushes us to choose a certain solution by placing us amidst such misery that death seems preferable to life.
Yet, He does not give us the necessary strength to end our miserable existence and thus escape the suffering. Rather, the Creator suddenly gives us a glimpse of the only solution, which comes like a ray of sunshine through heavy clouds.
The solution is not in death, nor is it in escaping from our lives. It is in freeing ourselves from having a personal interest in the outcome of the mundane. This is the only solution that can bring us peace and rest from unbearable suffering.
There is no freedom of choice in this process; we are forced into this in order to escape our suffering. Free will is when we attempt to advance further by fortifying ourselves, choosing to focus all our actions on the Creator alone. We have learned that living for our own sake brings nothing but suffering. The constant process of correcting ourselves and controlling our thoughts is called “the process of refining.”
The feelings of suffering caused by egoistic interests should be so acute that we should be prepared to “live on a bite of bread and a sip of water, and to sleep on the bare ground.” Thus, we should be prepared to do anything necessary to rid ourselves of egoism and personal interests.
Once we reach the condition described above and feel comfortable in it, we can enter the spiritual realm known as “The World to Come” (Olam HaBa). Thus, suffering can lead us to decide that renouncing egoism would be beneficial to us. As a result of our efforts, by constantly remembering past suffering, and by upholding and strengthening this resolution in our hearts, we can reach a state where the aim of all our actions would be to benefit the Creator.
As to ourselves, apart from bare necessities, we would be afraid even to think of personal benefit and pleasure, for fear of once again experiencing the unbearable suffering brought about by personal interest.
If we have managed to oust all selfish thoughts from our minds, even thoughts about the most essential things, we are said to have reached the final stage in forsaking our own needs.
In our normal lives, we have become used to not thinking at all about ourselves, our interpersonal relationships, our families, our work, in all of the deeds we perform in this world. Outwardly, we will appear no different from anyone else in our surroundings. But within our bodies, because habit becomes second nature, nothing will remain of our personal interests.
From this point on, we can pass to the next stage of our spiritual lives and can begin to enjoy pleasing the Creator. However, this delight is no longer for us, but only for the Creator, for we have “killed” all need for personal pleasure.
For this reason, the new pleasure is infinite in time and unfathomable in magnitude, for it is not limited by our personal needs. Only at this point can we see how kind and magnificent the Creator is, for having given us the opportunity to attain the extraordinary bliss of uniting with Him in eternal love.