Right and Left and the Bride in the Center
Article two from Birchat Shalom vol. II by Rabbi Baruch Ashlag
Like most of Rabbi Baruch's essays this one begins with a selection of writings from the Perush HaSulam, his father's commentary on the Zohar.
It is written in the holy Zohar: (Parshat Ha'azinu, Perush HaSulam (paras. 1-2), “Give ear O heavens and I will speak; hear O earth the words of my mouth” (Deut. 32:1).
Rabbi Yehudah opens the discussion, “‘I opened for my Beloved but my Beloved avoided me, passed by. My soul went out at His word. I searched for Him but I didn't find Him. I called Him but He didn't answer me’ (Song of Songs 5:7).What is written prior to that? ... ‘I am asleep yet my heart is awake. The voice of my Beloved is knocking. Open to Me, My sister, My wife, My dove, My innocent one, for My head is filled with dew, My locks are filled with droplets of the night’ (Song of Songs 5:2). The community of Israel replies, ‘I am asleep, I am asleep to the mitzvot of the Torah since the time when I walked in the wilderness. "Yet my heart is awake”, to bring them to the land, to make them statutes, since all the mitzvot of the Torah are found in the land.’
“‘The voice of my Beloved is knocking:’ That refers to Moses who reproved Israel with different reproaches and reprimands, as it is written, ‘These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan, in the wilderness’ (Deut. 1:1). Also, ‘Remember! Don't forget how you angered the Lord your God in the wilderness. From the day when you went out of Egypt until you came to this place you have been rebellious with God. In Horev you provoked God and God became angry at you to destroy you,’ (Deut. 9:7). This is what is meant in the Song of Songs by the word, ‘knocking’.
“Yet despite the fact that Moses reproved Israel, all his words were spoken with love, as it is written, ‘For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord your God chose you to be His especial people from all the peoples who are on the face of the earth’ (Deut 7:6). ‘You are the children of the Lord your God;’ (Deut. 14:1). ‘And you that cleave to the Lord your God are all alive to this day’ (Deut. 4:4). ‘And you shall listen to the voice of the Lord your God and you shall keep His commandments that I command you this day’ (Deut. 27:10). ‘But from the love that the Lord has for you, He has kept the oath He swore to your forefathers. The Lord has brought you out with a strong hand and redeemed you from the house of bondage from the hand of Pharaoh, King of Egypt’ (Deut. 7:8). And this is what is said, ‘Open to Me, My sister, My wife.’ This is an expression of love.”
Rav Baruch here begins his discussion: We need to understand these (above) words of the Zohar: a) Moses praises the people of Israel so highly, as is written, “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God and the Lord your God chose you to be His especial people from all the peoples on the face of the earth,” so why does he rebuke them? Since, according to the above, they are a holy people, what more could they lack?
b) What can we learn from this? It appears that here, we are dealing with two opposites in one subject; that is to say, either they are a holy people or they are not all right!
c) Scripture states, “God did not desire you because you were more numerous than the other nations. He chose you because you were the least of the least. But because of the love that the Lord loves you, He has kept the oath He swore to your forefathers” (Deut. 7:7-8).
How then is it possible to find transgressions in the children of Israel? Surely there is a general principle that love covers a multitude of sins?
The matter is as follows: There is a principle that two passages [from the Scriptures or Talmud] may contradict each other until a third passage comes along and resolves them. These three passages allude to the three spiritual lines which we will explain one after the other .
The attribute of loving-kindness (chesed) is called the right-hand line. Loving-kindness implies that a person wants to relate to others only with loving-kindness, and does not want anything in exchange for his or her kindness. He or she yearns only for the love of God and does not care about their own self-interest. The person's only aspirations are to give pleasure to the Creator, but for him- or herself, they are satisfied with only the bare minimum. It is not important to the person what he or she gains for themselves, namely whether or not they experience the goodness of Torah or of prayer or of mitzvot, rather, he or she is happy with their lot. This is the case here in spirituality: a person makes an accounting with himself or with herself and says that he or she believes in the Divine Providence applying personally and that everything comes from God. That is to say, it is the Creator who gives to him or to her the idea and desire to be a servant of God and to practice Torah and mitzvot, even though they may not experience the light within them. Despite this, the person does not consider this to be important but says that it is sufficient for him or for her to be able to carry out God's commands. This alone is as satisfying for the person as if he or she had made a fortune! Even if the person does not have a grasp of the greatness of God, nevertheless he or she is satisfied with what they have and believes that they have been given a gift from heaven in that they have been given the idea and desire to do God's work whilst he or she sees that this gift was not given to others. On the contrary, the total of others' aspirations are to minister to their material notions. That is to say, to find favor in the eyes of their fellow man or to gladden their bodies in just the same ways as animals do. This is not the case here regarding this specific person, as there has been given to him or to her the idea and desire to serve the Creator.
So the man or woman [is surprised] and thinks, “Who am I and what could my especial worth be that the Creator has chosen me?!” This is just as we say, “Blessed are You Oh Lord, who chooses His people Israel with love.” We bless God who has chosen us in that He has given us both the idea and desire to perform Torah and mitzvot.Therefore when the person as an individual considers that others do not have the same desire for Torah and mitzvot that he or she has, then they say, “Blessed are You Oh Lord, who has chosen me to use me more than He uses others.”
As part of her inner work Yedidah noticed that the highlighted sentences could be reworded. She uses them as affirmations.
Even if [God] gives the person only a small job to do which requires neither intelligence nor knowledge, he or she says that even for this minor task they are unworthy. For when the person gazes on himself or on herself with the eyes of the greatness of God, then they say that they are not deserving even of this. This being the case, the person certainly needs to be joyful, as if he or she merited to a task that befits only great men or women.
The matter of this right-hand line comes from the upper Sephirot, and this quality is called the Sephirah of chesed, whose especial quality is affinity of form with the Creator. Just as God gives, so the created one wants to give to God. This is called affinity of form. As for himself or for herself, the person does not look at what he or she is receiving in their own vessels of receiving. When they are in [the consciousness of] wholeness, all they take into account is how much they are able to give. Even if they are not able to give much, nevertheless they are satisfied with this, as they look upon their own lowly state in comparison to that of the Giver [God]. Also, they are satisfied when they compare themselves with other people whom they see have better qualities than those they have themselves. Notwithstanding this, he or she has been given from above both the thought and the desire that was not given to others. Thus with respect to nothing does he or she ever say, “my strength and the power of my hand.”
Because of this, the person is always in a state of satisfaction and he or she has nothing to add to their service, but as much as possible, they give thanks to the Creator, thanking Him and praising Him with all manner of praises. And even if he or she does not give the praise and thanks that he or she understands that they need to give to the Creator, nevertheless, even about this they are not sorry, because they say to themselves, “Who am I that I should talk all the time with the King? Surely that is fitting only for important people and not for a fallen person like me?” It follows that the person is always in wholeness and he or she has nothing to add.
And if the person sometimes forgets all about serving God, and their head becomes absorbed in matters of this world, and after some time he or she remembers matters of spirituality, and now he or she sees that they were all this while involved in the materialism of this world, nevertheless, they do not then start thinking about the time in which he or she was separated from God, but they rejoice that the Holy One, Blessed be He, called to them out of the majority of people and said to them, “Where are you?” The person immediately begins to thank God for reminding him or her that one needs to think about spirituality.
It follows that even at this time, the person does not think about his or her deficiencies. Nor is he or she sorry. They do not say, “How come I completely forgot about serving God for this length of time?” Rather they rejoice that at least now they are able to think about serving God. Even now they remain in a state of wholeness and do not come to a state in which they are weakened in their service of God. But they remain in a state of wholeness and this is called the right line that is chesed, which is wholeness.
All this, however, is dependent on the degree to which a person believes in God's personal supervision; that is to say that God gives everything, both the light and the vessel.
Explanation: God gives both the desire [of cleaving to God] and the feeling of lack that occurs when the person is not one with God; whereupon he or she also feels in his or her body the deficit of not performing Torah and mitzvot. All this God gives. As regards the light, this of course God has to give, for the taste for Torah and mitzvot comes from God. This corresponds to what we say on the evening of Yom Kippur, “For behold [we are] like raw material in the hand of the Creator, by His will He enlarges and by His will He diminishes, so are we in Your hand, Chesed that is created.”
According to this, we may see how a person may be happy and joyful. There may awaken in a person the desire to learn [Torah] even if it is only for one hour of the day. Similarly when he or she prays, the person sees that there are several minutes during which they know that they are praying, and does not forget that they are wearing tallit and tephillin and when their heart is not thinking all the thoughts in the world. This may only last a few minutes during which he or she feels crowned by tallit and tephillin whilst in the midst of prayer. In those moments he or she begins to think, “Who am I speaking to at the time of prayer?” The person feels that he or she is not simply talking, but is standing before the King.
They also believe that “You hear the prayers of every mouth,” [from the daily prayers]. Thus even though he or she sees that they have prayed many times and their prayer has not been answered, nonetheless, despite this experience, the person believes with the faith that goes beyond logic, that God does hear his or her prayers. And the reason that their prayers have not yet been answered is because they have not prayed from the depth of the heart. Whereupon, the person takes it upon himself or upon herself to pray with greater intention and thinks, “God will certainly help me and receive my prayer.” Straightaway, he or she begins to thank God that He reminded them that they are now crowned in tallit and tephillin. The person feels good when he or she considers other people and sees how they are still fast asleep; yet as regards himself or herself, God has woken him or her up in the midst of their prayer, therefore he or she is happy and glad. If after a few minutes, the person forgets again where they are, and thinks about matters of this world, and suddenly he or she is again awakened from heaven, then, according to reason, he or she should feel distressed that they have completely forgotten the fact that they are now in a synagogue...but of this, he or she does not want to hear. Rather the person is happy that [God] has now reminded him or her.
In this way the person only considers the aspect of “do good” [from the phrase in Psalms, “turn from evil and do good” (Ps. 34:15)]. In other words, the person rejoices that he or she is now able to do good, and they pay no attention to the fact that until now they were wandering in the world of separation from God.
All this the person is able to feel according to the degree to which they recognize that they are not any better than the rest of humankind, even when one includes atheists who have no inclination towards their Judaism. He or she sees people who pay no attention at all to their Judaism, but who live like the other animals, paying no concern to any ultimate aims in life. Such people's quality of life stems from the fact that they consider themselves at a higher level than other animals, in that they are also interested in honor. They understand that it is sometimes worthwhile to give up on instant gratification in order to obtain honor. But with respect to Judaism, even though they were circumcised by their parents, they themselves pay no attention to this fact, because there are other matters that interest them more.
When the person looks at such people, he or she cannot conceive what merit he or she has compared to these people, that God nevertheless gave him or her the thought and desire for Torah and mitzvot [which he did not give to them].
Even if this may be true only from the practical aspect of Torah and mitzvot only, that is to say that the person is still far from reaching the level of practicing Torah and mitzvot for its own sake, nevertheless he or she says, “At least I have merited to practice Torah and mitzvot even if it is not for its own sake, and since our sages have said, ‘through the practice of Torah not for its own sake, we may come to Torah for its own sake’ therefore I have at least arrived at the first stage of holiness.”
The person does an inner accounting: “I am so happy that God has brought me into the first stage of holiness, the stage that is called ‘Torah that is practiced not for its own sake’; I have so much to thank Him and praise Him for!” This is especially so if a person merits to be given the idea to get involved with the secrets of the Torah [which is the Kabbalah]. Even though he or she may not understand a single word that is written there, nevertheless, they feel it to be a great privilege that when they are studying, they are connected with the innermost aspect of the Torah. He or she believes that [the words of the Kabbalah] speak only of Godliness. An opportunity opens up for him or for her to go deeper into their thoughts and say, “Surely, all that I am learning concerns the Holy Names of God! A great merit has surely come my way, whereupon all that I can do is to thank and praise God. Most of the world gets their life-force from nothing but foolishness, but I have already been privileged to enter into the first stage of holiness which is called, ‘Torah that is practiced not for its own sake’.”
This is designated as the right-hand line. This right-hand line has the aspect of wholeness that does not require any tikkun (transformation or healing).
But it is written, “right and left and between them a bride” (Songs of the Shabbat evening). This phrase implies that we also need the left-hand line. For this, we really need to understand the following matter: If a person feels about himself or about herself that they are in a state of wholeness and is able all day and all night to thank and praise God, then, what could he or she lack?
However the person himself knows [not from his or her inner feeling, but only through external knowledge] that his or her practice of Torah and mitzvot is only at the stage of practicing Torah not for its own sake; whereas the ultimate aim is that a person is required to act for the sake of God, without any self-interest. And to this level, the person himself acknowledges that he or she has not reached. But how can a man or woman go up to a higher level if he or she feels that they do not lack anything?
There is a principle that if a person requests something from God, then this request must come from the depth of his or her heart. This means that when a person feels a lack, his or her prayer must really come from the heart and he or she should not be simply saying something that they do not truly feel. For when a person requests something that is in fact superfluous; that is to say that he or she can live without it, no-one has sympathy for them when they shout or cry over the fact that they do not have this thing, since lots of people don't have it either. Even though the person may cry out that he or she should be given this thing, it is not generally accepted that people need to help them attain it. On the other hand, when a person cries out for something that he or she lacks when it is something which people generally do have, then when he or she complains, people feel sorry for them and listen to them and everyone who is in a position to help tries to help them.
It is the same in the service of God. A person is trying to find wholeness on the right-hand line: Although he or she knows that they need to strive to achieve that all their actions should only have their intention for the sake of heaven; likewise he or she knows that a person has to follow that which is written, “But his desire is in the Torah of God and on His Torah he will meditate day and night” (Ps. 1:2), however as yet, he or she cannot maintain this. Nevertheless, the person tries with all their strength to feel wholeness on the right line. Then, even though he or she knows that they have not yet actually reached wholeness, nevertheless, they cannot request that God should give them strength to fulfill the words, “and on His Torah he will meditate day and night.” Likewise, they are not able to cry out to God that He should help them to achieve the practice of Torah for its own sake as this does not feel like an absolute necessity for them, but as something which is somewhat a luxury.
This is the case for the above reason: that when a person requests something and cries out because he or she does not have that thing, but other people in their city also do not have that thing, then he or she cannot say that it is a necessity. Rather, it is a luxury, and for luxuries that a person does not possess, it is not appropriate to cry and plead that God should give them.
This is the case here, that when a person identifies with the right-hand line, he or she sees that what he or she already has, other people do not even have. For what he or she has in spirituality is only to be found in a small percentage of humankind. This being the case: How is it possible to say that he or she requests from God that He should bring him or her near, so that they or she can practice Torah and mitzvot for its own sake? After all, isn't this something which is a luxury? And one cannot request luxuries from the depth of one's heart. Does this lack really touch his or her innermost being? After all, the person themselves says, that what they have, is already a great thing! And because of this, how is it possible for them to make a request to God that God should have mercy on him or on her and give them the strength to practice Torah and mitzvot for its own sake, that is to say, in order to give satisfaction to the Creator, when this is a luxury?
According to this, there is no evident reality in which a person can request from God that He guide him or her in how to follow the way of truth, for, as we have just shown, the person does not really need this step as an absolute necessity.
On matters that are luxuries which other people also do not have, there is a saying, “a trouble shared is a trouble halved.” He or she seems therefore to have no possibility of ever coming to the recognition of the fact that not being able to practice Torah and mitzvot for the sake of Heaven is designated as evil! The person reconciles himself or herself with the situation of practicing Torah not for its own sake, even though this way is called the way of deceit and not the way of truth. There appears never to be an opportunity, whilst he or she is on the right-hand line, for them to feel that they are going on the path of deceit, as is written in the Introduction to the Zohar, Perush HaSulam.
For this reason a person must also follow the left-hand line. However, a person must allocate only a short portion of his or her day to investigate the way of the left-hand line. Most of the time, he or she should be following the right-hand line. Only those people who have an inner pull to get to the practice of Torah and mitzvot for its own sake are permitted to follow the left-hand side. This is not the case for people who themselves feel that they are not suited for this work; that is to say that they think that they are not able to prevail over their desires. For them, it is forbidden to follow the left-hand path. Even those who have an inner pull that longs for the practice of Torah for its own sake, and for this reason are able to go on the left-hand line, must also be very careful only to go on the left-hand line for a short time and at a fixed hour, and not all the time, only going to the left-hand line according to a specific schedule in which each person allocates for himself or for herself a set portion of time for investigating the left-hand line.
A person must make a schedule for himself or for herself for going on the left-hand line, say, once a day, or once a week or once a month, each person according to his or her feeling. But he or she should not suddenly change their schedule once they have set that schedule for themselves. If they suddenly want to change their schedule because the will to receive for oneself comes to him or to her and says, “It is better for you to make a different schedule than the one you have arranged for yourself,” then the person should answer his or her will to receive for oneself as follows, “I have a schedule! If, for example, my schedule is set to last a week, then at the end of the week I may make a new schedule. Then you may come to me and tell me to make a new schedule, different from that which I desire to make. But in the middle of my schedule, I am not prepared to change!”
But we need to know what the left-hand line is, as there are many aspects to it.
For example there is a left-hand line which is complete darkness. This applies to the state in which the Sephirah of malchut, [the attribute of stringency in that it is forbidden to receive for oneself alone] ascends in every Sephirah and makes darkness. That is to say that no light at all shines there. And there is a left-hand line which applies when the light of chochmah [God's direct light] enters the vessel, but without the enclothing of the light of chassadim [the light given back by the vessel to God] and this is also called darkness. However, this is a relative darkness from the point of view of the light. The vessels have already come into affinity with holiness, which is to say that the person can direct his or her intention of receiving, as being only in order to give, even when he or she is using their vessels for receiving. This left-hand line is thus a high level which is called “darkness” on account of the magnitude of the light that is then revealed. Yet as long as it has no garment of the light of chassadim, it is forbidden for a person to use this light. Because if he or she were to use such a great light, they would be liable to fall into the aspect of receiving the light for oneself alone. This is on account of the greatness of this light, since it is impossible for the person to exert self-control and receive this great light only with the intention of receiving in order to give.
Since we need to arrive at a middle line, the left-hand line is therefore very important. But before this, we need to know what the terms, right-hand line and left-hand line mean in spirituality where there is neither space nor time.
The matter is as follows: Something which does not require healing is called “a right-hand line,” and something which is in need of healing is called “a left-hand line.” We find this in the matter of putting on Tephillin (phylacteries) in the following passage from the Talmud:-
“From where does Rabbi Joseph HaChorem learn that [the tephillin] must be bound on the left hand?; Rabbi Ashi said, ‘He derives it from the verse,” and it shall be for a sign on your hand and for frontlets between your eyes, because it was with strength of hand that God took us out of Egypt” (Ex. 13:16).
In this verse, the word for your hand [Heb. ידכה] is [unusually] written with the letter 'hay' [ה] at the end, indicating the weaker (left) hand.’ ”
The commentator Rashi explains on this passage that “your hand [Heb.ידכה ]” is related to the root כהה which means “dim” implying the weaker side. Learn from this that it is referring to the left hand which lacks strength, like the feminine side.
The above teaches us that “left” is an aspect of weakness which has no strength but to which we need to give strength. For this reason we see that wherever our sages want to give an example of something that needs healing, they call it by the name of “left.” So following on after the left-hand line, we need the middle line, which heals the left-hand line. For this reason, we call something which needs healing by the name of “left,” so that we may know that now we need to make some corrections, and the healings that heal the left are called “the middle line.”
These healings come about because the left-hand line displays the lacks which are in the right-hand line. That is to say that the right-hand line, as it is in itself, does not appear to have any defect. It is only through a person's dealing with the left-hand line that he or she sees that there are defects in the right-hand line. However, once he or she enters into the aspect of the left-hand line, it becomes apparent that he or she loses the wholeness that they had whilst in the aspect of the right-hand line. Therefore they are now in a state of lack.
However, in the lack that the left makes apparent - for which reason it is called “the left hand line” - we can distinguish many aspects. That is to say that there may be various reasons why there is a lack on the left-hand line. First of all, the left may see a lack in the right-hand line. Or sometimes we may see no lack in the right-hand line, in which case, who is to say that there is a corresponding lack in the left-hand line? Is it not the case that once the left has shown that there is a lack in the right-hand line, then actually, the way of the left-hand line is actually an aspect of wholeness? This being the case, why should we call this accurate perception of lack, “the left”?
There are many aspects to this question and everything depends on the context within which it arises. That is to say that for every situation in which a person finds himself or herself there is a different cause, so one cannot point to the cause. It all depends on the specific situation.
The left-hand line, as it appears at the beginning of a person's spiritual work appears as criticism of the right-hand line. That is to say, it asks, “Is it right that a person should be satisfied to remain with the characteristic of the lie?” We were given Torah and mitzvot because we have an evil aspect to us which is called self-love, in which a person doesn't care about anything else but all means are valid for him or for her to use to achieve their goal; which is to fill their will to receive with everything with which it is possible to fill it.
The will to receive is designated as evil because this is what stops us becoming one with God and letting go of the self-love which our animal nature compels us in. Our aim, rather, is to merit to affinity of form with God, after which a person may receive all the Good and the delight that is implied by the Thought of Creation, that is designated as, “the desire to do good to His creatures.” A person is able to give pleasure to God, because by transforming his or her own vessels of receiving, into vessels of giving, God may complete His purpose of giving pleasure to His creatures. [This is because the vessels are now in affinity of form with the light] bringing the Thought of Creation forth from the potential to the actual, which is to say that the creatures feel the good and the pleasure that God thought to give them.
Since this will to receive, that is self-love, is all that prevents the fulfillment of the Thought of Creation, it is therefore called, “evil.” In order to get out of this evil, God gave us Torah and mitzvot, which enable us to reach the level that is called “servant of God.” The essence of this level is that a person does not work for himself or for herself. Rather he or she works in order to arrive at the level of practicing Torah and mitzvot for its own sake.
Now when a person is on the right-hand line, he or she is happy in the wholeness of practicing Torah and mitzvot not for its own sake. But in this he or she is going on a path of deceit and wants to remain there. Even though he or she knows that they are only on the level of practicing Torah and mitzvot not for its own sake, they want to remain there. Why is this?
This is because of the general rule that a person cannot pray to God from the depth of their heart for something which is a luxury. They can only pray from the depth of their heart for something that he or she feels is absolutely crucial.
Since the person is happy that he or she is at least at the stage of practicing Torah not for its own sake, they cannot feel the lack of practicing Torah and mitzvot for its own sake as something they simply must have. His or her reasoning that it is worthwhile to be happy, even over the practice of Torah not for its own sake, causes the situation, that they cannot now feel that to come to Torah for its own sake is a total necessity. [Coming to Torah for its own sake] is thus felt to be only a luxury, and therefore he or she has to stay on the right-hand line.
So we need to work attentively to criticize the right-hand line. This means seeing the shortcomings of the right-hand line. The degree to which a person feels these lacks, is what is important. Just because a person notices lacks doesn't, of itself, mean anything. How much a person is affected by these lacks depends upon the degree to which these lacks touch a person's heart, so that he or she will experience them as a lack of wholeness. This depends on his or her inclination to the truth, and that he or she finds falsehood repulsive.
Then, if this lack touches his or her heart, that is to say, the state in which he or she is in, causes the person to suffer, then the previous situation in which being on the right-hand line was a state of wholeness has completely turned around and become a state of suffering! Then he or she is really able to pray to God from the depth of their heart; for now the practice of Torah and mitzvot for its own sake has become as important to the person as is life itself. It is through this that the person becomes one with the Life of all Lives [God]. This is not the case when he or she was previously united with the right-hand line. Then the practice of Torah and mitzvot for its own sake seemed to him or to her as a luxury; in other words, something that is perfectly possible to live without. Then he or she perceives it as good for someone who wants to improve his life, who wants to better himself or herself above other people, this then being the reason for trying to reach the level of the practice of Torah and mitzvot for its own sake.
However when a person considers the practice of Torah and mitzvot for its own sake not as a luxury, or because he or she wants to be better than others, as above, but he or she feels themselves to be the most wretched amongst the people, then he or she sees now how far away they are from God. And, in truth, they really are very far away indeed. When a person regards other people, even the fact that he or she sees other people also not practicing Torah and mitzvot for its own sake, this gives him or her no comfort. For in a matter that touches the heart, it doesn't matter to a person what others do or feel. Despite the fact that we say that “a trouble shared is a trouble halved,” this cliche does not change the actual situation.
By way of metaphor, this is similar to someone who has toothache and who weeps and cries in pain. Someone says to him, “Why are you crying? Can't you see that the dentist's waiting-room is full of other people whose teeth are also hurting like yours?” We see in this case that the person does not stop crying and the fact that there are other people in his or her situation doesn't help the pain at all. If it really hurts the person, he or she cannot take comfort in the fact that others are in pain too.
Similarly if a person really has come to feel how far he or she is away from the truth, they cannot draw any comfort from the fact that everyone else is also going on a false path. But the person yearns all day and all night to get out of this situation. Then the person acquires the need to practice Torah and mitzvot for its own sake because they cannot bear the deceit.
But this vessel is not formed in one go. That is to say that the will that a person develops from the left-hand line is not made in a single try. It very gradually forms within him or within her, until it becomes complete in the required measure. Before this, the person is not yet able to reach the state of practicing Torah and mitzvot for its own sake, as the light cannot be attained without a suitable vessel for the light. This means that he or she cannot merit to the practice of Torah and mitzvot for its own sake before they really desire it. This desire develops slowly within the person, in the way that one penny added to another penny, eventually adds up to a big sum; wherein his desire will finally become a complete desire [vessel]. Then this aspect of practicing Torah and mitzvot for its own sake can be enclothed within this complete desire, because he or she now has a complete vessel with which to merit the light of Torah and mitzvot for its own sake.
However, one needs to be aware of the fact that when a person is on the left-hand line, that is to say during the time that he or she is criticizing himself, then they are in a state of being separated from God. He or she feels themselves to be immersed in self-love, which is not a state in which they can do anything for the sake of Heaven. He or she cannot continue in this state, as the life of a person can only be based on the positive and not on the negative.
Whereupon, the person must once again enter into the right-hand line. This is to say that he or she needs to perform Torah and mitzvot even when they are practicing not for its own sake, and to say that there is a wholeness in this, as we have explained above.
Because here we need to know a great principle. It is known that there is a distinction between the inner light and the surrounding light. The inner light is the light that shines within the vessel. This is to say that the light is enclothed within the vessel, seeing that there is an affinity of form between the light and the vessel in that the vessel is already able to receive the light in order to give. This is not the case with surrounding light that is called “illumination from afar”, which means that the vessel is still not in affinity of form with the light. However, even though the vessel is still far from the light, in that it wants to receive for itself alone, whereas the light's attribute is only that of giving, nevertheless, the light illuminates the vessel from afar as an aspect of light that surrounds the vessels.
Therefore when a person practices Torah and mitzvot, even when it is not for its own sake, he or she still receives light in the aspect of surrounding light. It follows that through the practice of Torah and mitzvot, even when they are practiced not for its own sake, a person nevertheless has contact with the higher light, even though it is an illumination from afar. Therefore this is a positive thing, and from this a person derives life-force and is able to carry on. In this way, he or she values the practice of Torah and mitzvot even when practiced not for its own sake, as he or she values the service of God in general, in that it is worthwhile to practice Torah and mitzvot in whatever form it takes.
For my father and teacher of blessed memory [Rabbi Yehudah Lev Ashlag zt"l] said, that the truth is, that a person cannot estimate the value of performing Torah and mitzvot, even when they are practiced not for its own sake. For in the last analysis, a person has nothing to add in a practical sense to their service, but he or she is fulfilling the mitzvot of God. Therefore this is called the first stage of spiritual work, about which our sages said, “Through the practice of Torah and mitzvot not for its own sake, will come the practice of Torah and mitzvot for its own sake.” For this reason, a person needs to receive life-force and wholeness from the right-hand side, for then he or she receives the light of God in the aspect of surrounding light as we have discussed above.
After this, the person then once again crosses to the left-hand line and looks at himself or herself and examines their deeds that they did whilst on the right-hand line. Then once more he or she crosses over to the right-hand line itself. Through this, both lines grow within the person. But these lines are in mutual contradiction [therefore they require separate allocations of time]. They are called “two statements that oppose each other until a third statement comes and unites them. [Beraita d'Rabbi Ishmael]
We need to know that it is God Himself who gives the third line that is designated “the middle line.” As our sages of blessed memory said, “There are three partners in the creation of a person; God, the father and the mother. The father provides the sperm, the mother provides the egg and the Holy One, Blessed be He, provides the spirit and the soul.”
According to this, we see that two lines belong to the human and the middle line belongs to God. This means that these two lines bring about the situation that a person is able to pray to God from the depth of their heart that God should help them to get out of their self-love and to arrive at unity with God. For when a person prays from the depth of their heart, their prayer is answered.
You should know that there are many aspects to the matter of the three lines and here we have only talked about one of them.
Mark z'l composed a meditation based on this article. You can find it here. Meditation
© Translation into English; Mark and Yedidah Cohen 2003