A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth

A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth: Part 10 – First Fruits

In the education process, the "planting" stage is the initiation/inspiration. The teacher takes on the task of awakening in his students an awareness of Divine Providence, planting within the mind of his students the notion that God is purposefully directing each moment and communicating His will through the details of every aspect of reality. The students learn that every experience is a communication between God and the soul. And more, they come to see–through personal experience–that God's underlying motivation is always love, even though it might feel otherwise when they encounter the pain of learning lessons the hard way.

Once the teacher has thus inspired his students, he can move on to the integration phase which parallels the nurturing of the seedling until it can stand on its own. The well-tended tree will eventually become self-sufficient, but, until it reaches a certain level of maturity, it needs the support and attention of one stronger than itself. The planter weeds, fertilizes, prunes, and waters the growing seedlings. The culmination of his efforts is the joy of offering his "first fruits" back to God, thus acknowledging that it was God's earth and His rains and His Providence that were the real source of all abundance.

Similarly, the goal of an educator is to develop his students to a level of skill and wisdom where they can begin to take responsibility for their own lives. The teacher rewards and punishes, prods and advises, tests and encourages his students to act in accordance with the spiritual truths of Torah. Yet, the teacher also knows that the students must become independent of him, for it is only when they take their own steps forward can their souls actually begin the ascent from level to level, success to success, from below to above. Without this independent effort from below, there will never be fruit. The planter can create the healthiest possible circumstances for positive growth, but that’s all he can do; the fruit itself can only come from the tree. The planter is impotent in this regard.

This same idea is expressed in the Book of Psalms:

It is by God that man's footsteps are established,
and it is his [man's] path that He [God] desires

This means that, although the end result is ordained by God, nevertheless, we must chart our own course and do the legwork. The paradox is that even this realm of personal sovereignty is only a response to the guiding hand of God that orchestrates the circumstances of our lives. The choices we make in response to life's challenges determine whether our progress is fast or slow, smooth or tedious, joyful or painful. The end is decreed, but we must figure out how to get there. Those among us who are familiar with the terrain–that is, those who have bothered to first learn the underlying spiritual laws of the universe–will avoid the many pitfalls and dead-ends that would otherwise plague their way and will proceed with minimal frustration and discomfort. But, those who embark on the journey without a map to guide them will encounter dangers, hardships, and will waste much effort in unnecessary ups and downs and wrong turns. They will find themselves clearing out brush, chopping down trees, and blazing a new trail, not realizing that there's a well-marked and well-traveled one a few feet away.

The educator's work is to infuse his students with a deeply internalized sense of truth and a passionate desire for good, for God, and for God's law as written in the Torah. This will provide the necessary map for their journey, because if the students' choices reflect the values of Torah, then they will learn to find their way with minimal hardship and maximal peace of mind.

When inspiration and integration are compared to planting and nurturing a tree, the purpose of education is revealed in the following light:

First, the teacher inspires his students to discern the hand of God within all experience, seeding within them the knowledge of God's unwavering goodness. Second, he motivates his students to begin to act in accordance with this information (the students actions signify that integration has taken place).

In so doing, a successful teacher frees his students from anger, resentment, depression, and anxiety–all the negative consequences of an incomplete appreciation of God as the loving Master and Director of each detail of His creation.

The culmination of these educational efforts is the offering of the "first fruits" to God–as represented by the actions of a student who has made an independent decision to live in accordance with God and His Torah.

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