A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth

Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth: Part 4 – Phases of Spiritual Growth


The basic model of chinuch as initiation/inspiration and hadrachah as integration applies on many levels. The interrelationship of these two phases of education is apparent in all areas of growth and change, not just education in the formal sense of the word. We see it in business ventures when a new idea is born (inspiration) and then when it is incorporated into business practice (integrated). We see it in medical advances, in science, in art and music.

Any type of change and growth always proceeds through the two phases of inspiration and integration. First there is the awakening to a new realm of possibilities and then there is the effort to build these insights into everyday reality/experience. In spiritual work, each step that we take in deepening our understanding of the world and perfecting our character is like entering into a new land, an unknown and uncharted territory which brings with it new possibilities and new paths to awareness.

The primary Kabbalistic metaphor for this process is set forth in the Torah passages describing the directions God gave the Israelites as they readied themselves for entry into the Land of Israel. In both a real and a metaphorical sense, this journey was from barrenness into holiness–from the Sinai Desert into the Holy Land. And since all true spiritual growth is movement into or toward holiness, there can be no better metaphor than this.

The Book of Deuteronomy describes this movement as a two-stage process–first of "entering" and second of "settling." These two stages exactly parallel the sequence of inspiration and integration. The power to enter Israel, to penetrate into the Holy Land from foreign territory, is related to the initiation/inspiration phase of education, while the power to settle the land, to take root and endure, is a function of proper integration. Inspiration achieves little if the students do not integrate this new awareness into their daily life–if they do not learn how to stay on the new path and avoid obstacles, make steady progress, and keep the goal in sight.

A beautiful story illustrating this point is told about Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the Rebbe of Vitebsk, who, together with his followers of about two hundred families, immigrated to Israel in the 18th century, settling first in Tzefat and then in Tiberias.

One day, after living in Israel many years, the Rebbe called his students together and told them to prepare for a celebration. So they drank and sang and danced with great fervor all night, not knowing why the Rebbe had told them to celebrate. When they asked, the Rebbe responded with a story:

"When I was a young boy, I longed for the Holy Land so intensely that each time I heard that an emissary from Israel was in town, I would run to him and beg him to tell me of the holiness of the land. Inevitably, he would describe the holy cities: Jerusalem and the Western Wall, Hebron and the Cave of Machpelah, Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee, and Tzefat, permeated with the souls of the mystics. Even after hearing all that, I would always ask, 'Isn't there more? There must be more!'

One day, one of the emissaries said to me, 'I can see that you truly long to know the secrets of the Land of Israel and its holiness. When every stone, every blade of grass becomes holy to you; when you see every tree and spring as emanations of holiness; when the mountains, deserts and forests reveal every step taken upon them and every thought locked away in their essence, then you will begin to understand the holiness of the Land of Israel

Today, after all these years [of living here], I was praying in the hills below Tzefat and I began to see and feel the holiness emanating from every rock and .blade of grass. Then I knew I had finally arrived

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