A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth

A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth: Part 13 – Integration and Spiritual Growth

A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth

Now we are ready to look at how the Ba'al Shem Tov's three stages of spiritual growth interface with integration phase of the education process. 

Phase of Education

Stage of
Spiritual Growth

of Will


3.  sweetening

Rectification of souls

2.  separation

Rectification of reality

1.  submission

Rectification of personality

The implementation of this newly aroused and perfected will-to-good is the task of integration. The process of settling it into personality, of concretely expressing it through each detail of life, is called tikun ("repair" or "rectification"). Yet to rectify will is actually to rectify the vessel through which it operates. The will-to-good is itself pure. It descends and becomes integrated into the person when there is room for it to do so. The toil of becoming a more honest, loving, patient, generous person induces this sequence of events. It creates "space" by clearing out negative, self-indulgent impurities that block and inhibit the integration process.

Thus the first stage of concretizing this lofty and rarified will requires the rectification of personality. It demands the overcoming of negative character traits as well as the cultivation of positive ones; both are equally critical to the growth process. As noted above, according to the Ba'al Shem Tov, the key to character development is "submission" or the nullification of ego. All characteristics are bad to the extent that they are bound to the ego and tainted by selfish, ulterior motives, and good to the extent that they are selfless. In this first stage, attention is directed toward the innermost sphere of reality–self and personality. 

The next step of integrating will into reality is called "the rectification of one’s portion in the world." It means reaching a level where every resource (both physical and spiritual), as well as every experience in the world, are used for good. In this stage the sphere of attention, responsibility and effort is expanded to include outer as well as inner reality. Every soul is assigned a portion of reality that it must rectify. No other soul can do that work, and every experience provides an opportunity to get a little bit done. Sometimes the rectification takes place "automatically," without conscious intention, but there are other situations that require a conscious intention to bring about the rectification as well as the wisdom to know exactly what to do.

According to the Ba’al Shem Tov, this ability to know exactly how to bring God’s will into the moment (and thus reveal all the possibilities of that event) requires a kind of critical discernment–"separation"–which can be described as "the wisdom of success." This means that we must sharpen our ability to discriminate between what is appropriate action and what is not, between what will succeed and what will fail. In the effort of education and instruction, we must encourage some attributes and discourage others. Both of these evaluations require a critical eye.

This ability to discern accurately is a skill that can only be developed with the assistance of one who is more experienced and who is further along the path. This is the work of the educator.

The final stage in the implementation of will goes beyond the physical layer of reality and involves the rectification of souls. In the Ba'al Shem Tov's description of spiritual development, this reflects the stage of "sweetening." Those who have advanced to this level are "candles that illuminate other souls." Such people have assimilated the teachings of the Torah into the innermost depths of their being. They have become a living example of the truth of Torah and a source of light to all around them, as the Book of Ecclesiastesstates: "The wisdom of man illuminates his face." This radiance is a tangible force that heals and rectifies the souls which it encounters. This is the power of "sweetening," the highest stage of spiritual service.

An educator must remember that every act of every person is ultimately motivated by a desire to unite with God. To the extent that this desire is conscious and integrated, to that extent will his students succeed in their goal. To the extent that it remains unconscious and inarticulate, to that extent will the students’ behavior be distorted and even self-defeating.

The educator must seek this point of truth behind every act, and acknowledge it, articulate it, and reinforce it. This is the task of inspiration and integration. If the educator is sensitive, he will succeed in arousing in his students a conscious will toward God and His law, and he will teach his students how to integrate their spiritual yearning into their day-to-day dealings with the world.

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