A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth

A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth: Part 26 – Surrender of Integration


The integration phase of education relates to the union with God, who is the "True Nothingness." Since the process of developing our relationship to God is the process of emulating Him, we must dissolve our "thingness"–that is, our ego and selfishness. We can approach God only to the extent that we surrender our attachment to individuality and "selfness."

We mistakenly identify spiritual growth as a process of acquisition–whether of mystical powers, techniques, or realizations, etc. In fact it is the opposite. It is a process of dismantling and discarding, most notably our inflated sense of self, and shedding layer after layer of ego.

If selflessness brings intimacy with God then the immediate and essential task of education is to teach the student generosity. Why generosity? Because the habit of giving weakens the ego. It loosens the dark, impermeable knots of selfishness that prevent complete surrender to God. Moses attained the highest level of prophesy because he epitomized this state of selflessness, as indicated by his statement to the people, which is often translated from Hebrew as: "And what (mah) are we," but which in the more literal sense actually states, "And we are what (mah)."

The most propitious time for deepening submission to God is during the silent prayer of Amidah. Yet this is paradoxical. TheAmidah, as a list of requests and desires, would seem to indulge the self and the ego's concern with its own physical comforts, and so cause separation from God. Yet the sages tell us that this prayer brings us "face-to-face" with God in an ultimate state of intimacy and unity that is not accessible through any other means. Since, in a spiritual sense, things are called close if they are alike, and distant when they are different, the Amidah must somehow reconcile and harmonize the two poles of the human being–the body made from "the dust of the earth" and the soul from heaven–so that the praying person expresses exactly what it means to be "created in the image of God."

When we stand before the Infinite One, in the Amidah, stating our petitions with utmost sincerity, we are actually requesting those things which also represent God's will for the world. God wants us to know Him, God wants us to return to Him, God wants Israel to be redeemed. The fulfillment of these requests would mean the fulfillment of God's purpose for creating the world. So when we learn to truly desire these things, and to voice our prayers with intention and concentration, our personal will becomes aligned with and dissolved in Divine will. In this moment, we embrace the paradox of physical existence and self-annihilation, of self-assertion and complete surrender to God. We bind the material with the spiritual, embodying both antithetical realities simultaneously.

Thus inspiration and integration, as complementary and sequential stages of education, mirror the two corresponding elements of wisdom (choch/mah)–"taste" and "selflessness." From this we learn that wisdom is acquired in two stages, which also parallel inspiration and integration.

The first is through devotion, which requires us to seek truth with uncompromising passion. By doing so, we refine and strengthen our ability to taste truth, an essential prerequisite to wisdom.

Next, we must cultivate an inner state of selflessness. This we accomplish by submitting our will to God's will, giving to others on every possible occasion, and nullifying our ego so that our "soul becomes as dust to all." When we make ourselves as a desert, barren of ego, then God's law as expressed in the Torah–which is compared to water because it descends into the lowest places–will flow down and fill us with wisdom. This is the definition of wisdom and the ultimate task of education.

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