A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth

A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth: Part 8 – Will: To Enter and Settle the Land

To understand will better, let us now apply this concept to our original metaphor of entering and settling the Land of Israel.

The Hebrew word for "land" (eretz) derives from the same sub-root (r-tz) as does the word for "will" (ratzon). Based on this relationship, the sages teach, "Why is the land called eretz [in Hebrew]? Because it desired to do the will (ratzon) of its Creator." Thus, the land, more than any other created entity, is a living symbol of the underlying will of God that brought it into existence. Therefore, the two-stage process of entering and settling the land must describe a parallel process in relation to will.

"Entering the land" represents one's awakening to a new desire–becoming conscious of some deeper level of longing for good. It means wanting only this, without ambivalence. Focused desire is the most potent state of will–it is like a single-frequency laser light which is so concentrated and pointed that it can be used as a surgical scalpel. Unfocused desire, on the other hand, is like diffused light, which won’t even give you a suntan.

Thus, "entering the land" stands for the awakening of a new will toward spiritual commitment. It appears as an all encompassing passion which, at this initial stage, is lacking an ordered means of expression, and so hasn’t yet the power to motivate in a concrete sense. This is the initiation of the soul.

In order to harness this powerful force of will, it must be drawn down by the mind, contracted, and directed through a systematized framework of expression. This parallels the "settling the land." This process resembles the mechanism of an engine that directs the undifferentiated force of a small, gasoline explosion through the pistons, gears, and axles that operate an automobile. The Torah, as the blueprint of life, parallels the precisely ordered arrangement of parts that comprise an engine. It directs this newly aroused will (the will being equivalent to the gas explosion) into positive, growth-promoting channels.

In short, will is aroused through a compelling emotional or intellectual experience that captures our attention and excites our fancy. The contemplations of our mind then create a pattern through which will can be drawn down into the lower levels of our personality, thereby arousing the corresponding emotion and generating the appropriate action. The process of printing a photograph provides a helpful analogy. Undifferentiated light (will) is directed through a patterned negative (mind) onto a light sensitive paper (emotions), inducing a specific transformation of potentiality into actuality, resulting in a photograph (actions.)

What is the practical lesson in all this? An educator must approach his task on two levels. First, he must arouse in his students a will towards God and a desire to do good, and then direct the expression of those passions into spiritually productive channels. One who deeply understands the nature and mechanics of will as the ultimate force behind all change, growth, and learning, will tailor his educational approach accordingly, and thus more effectively.

Two important lessons emerge. First it should become clear that will is not a “personal” force, but a generalized, universal power–a Divine force, made accessible to personality. We do not create a "new-will-to-good," we awaken to it.

Therefore, education becomes the natural tendency of the universe. It is the process of God's will becoming conscious and internalized in individual human beings. The teacher is then charged with the responsibility of steering the chariot. He does not need to supply the horsepower. A teacher who grasps the implications of all this will make the most efficient use of his energy. Second, the teacher must make sure that his students’ will is always aroused and engaged in the learning effort. He should deliberately maintain a productive tension between the students' longings and their satiation.

This process describes the human striving from below to above–from the physical realm toward the spiritual realm. By this means we return to our source. Of course, there is always a corresponding and preceding current from above to below. In the human being, this is the flow of life and consciousness from the soul to the body.

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