A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth
What is the source of Abraham's inner strength? How does it actually influence the collective personality of his descendants, the Jewish people?
Abraham's inner strength operates through the vehicle of faith (emunah). In Kabbalah, faith is defined differently than in the popular usage. Faith is the deepest state of contact–a super-rational, and yet potentially experiential awareness, rooted beyond the limits of logical explanation. Its truth is experienced with greater forcefulness and certainty than knowledge of the physical world, even though it is not provable with the outer physical senses, nor can the tools of science probe its more transcendent realms. In the merit of Abraham and Sarah, every Jewish soul has, at the very least, a subconscious link to the absolute unity of God, a memory, so to speak, of having experienced this truth. This deep-rooted faith in God manifests as an inner strength and integrity. The Jewish people persist through seemingly insurmountable trials, both by fire (pogrom) and by ice (assimilation) because of their knowledge and innate faith in God as their Master, Creator and Protector.
Still there remains the question of why should there be tests, trials, tribulations, pain, and suffering? Why would God create a world in which hardship is a necessity?
The Tanya, basing itself on the Book of Deuteronomy, explains that the hardships of the physical world show God what is in the human heart. But what does this mean? Doesn’t God already have this knowledge? In fact, one of the Thirteen Principles of Faith states: "I believe in perfect faith that God knows all of man's deeds and thoughts." And the Psalms further bear out this point: "He [God] has molded every heart together. He understands what each one does."
Therefore, it must be that through trial and tribulation we educate ourselves. Forced to draw upon the deep inner reservoirs of strength, we learn what we are made of. It is especially at times of challenge that we realize the extent to which we love and trust God. A test of faith reveals two things–the depth of our innate and previously unconscious love of God, and the limitations of our current level of trust. (This same dynamic is also apparent in marital relationships where an occasional state of adversity often brings about both a deeper affirmation of love, as well as an illumination of those weaker areas that need work.)
It is also helpful to remember that God brings trials only in accordance with our ability to endure and prevail. The sages see a parable for this in the processing of linen, where high quality flax must be vigorously beaten in order to draw forth its exceptional character, while a lower quality flax would be destroyed by such harsh processing.
The Hebrew word aitan meaning "strength of being"–the characteristic internalized by Abraham–itself reveals the secret of its power. It is comprised of the four prefix letters used grammatically to construct the future tense (alef, yud, tav, and nun).
This hints at a very important idea in the education process. Prior to initiation and the awakening of a will towards spiritual development, students are bound to the past. Their horizons limit them to an explanation of reality based on the laws of physical causality. They see only that something previous to this moment has caused an effect in this moment. This is true but is only a partial picture. All actions do carry consequences and generate effects for good or bad, as the case may be. Nevertheless, such a worldview is incomplete. It cannot cope with spiritual realities that defy time.
Initiation introduces one to the "eternal present" where all these things are possible because of the continual renewal and recreation of each moment, where consciousness is stretched to include dimensions beyond linear time, and where will can override or manipulate the physical laws of causality.
But whereas initiation/inspiration excites one to an idealism that ultimately transcends any real encounter with adversity, integration trains the student to cope with reality and approach each difficulty with strength of spirit and faith in God. But integration does not stop there. It goes still further and actually draws down a revelation of the future. This works as follows:
When we learn to persist through trial and tribulation, and to use such experiences as a vehicle for deepening our relationship with God, we reveal to God and to ourselves our point of "strength of being" (aitan). That is, we make actual that which had existed previously only as a potentiality. In this way we grow into the future, as we come closer to expressing our true and perfected selves, which is the inevitable endpoint of our soul's journey. This is called revealing the future, for in Kabbalah, future (atid) means "that which is prepared but not yet disclosed," as opposed to its more common definition as something which has no existence at all in the present. This is the rectification required by education–to discover that even our future is a present reality.