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Serving God in our Generations / Rectifying the Ego / Perek Be'avodat Hashem

Redefining What You Are

(the following is a translation of Rabbi Ginsburgh's seminal article titled, "Perek Be'avodat Hashem," which literally means, "A Lesson in Serving God," the first article in his foundational text on Jewish psychology and serving God through the prism of Chassidic philosophy, titled, Lev Lada'at, or "A Knowing Heart." This text serves as the basis for a year-long course in Rabbi Ginsburgh's School of Jewish Psychology, which can be accessed here)


Lowliness, as referred to in the verse, “I will be lowly in my own eyes,”[1] and selflessness, as referred to in the verse, “And we are naught,”[2] are what make the being of the rectified[3] individual.


When one performs a good deed, it is not his own doing, for as the sages have taught, “Give Him [i.e., God] what is His, for you and yours are His.”[4] The power to perform good—for the sake of Heaven and for fulfilling the Almighty’s will—is the Shechinah—the presence of God that dwells within every Jew.[5]

It is also possible that a benevolent act be empowered by the positive elements present in the animal soul of a Jew which originates in the kelipat nogah—literally, the husk of light[6]), but such an act cannot truly be performed for the sake of Heaven; rather, it stems from the principle of, “The nature of the good is to bestow goodness”[7] and is void of Divine consciousness.

The Divine soul—“an actual part of God above”—is a gift from Heaven (as we recite in the morning prayers, “the soul that You have placed in me is pure….”[8]). It cannot be identified with the self of one defined as a beinoni (an intermediate).[9] Indeed, the will one has to act with true goodness (or Divine consciousness, as explained) comes from the Divine soul. But, opposed to this will is the evil inclination (empowered by one’s animal soul—identifiable with one’s self) and, “Were it not for the Almighty’s help, one cannot overcome it.”[10] This Divine assistance is the light and power that flows from the Divine Presence to the Divine soul, to strengthen its choice of good, in spite of the evil inclination’s opposition.

Also, God—the Master of all causes—brings about situations meant to draw one’s heart to the good, especially when one seeks to purify oneself, at which time one receives more and more assistance.

Based on all of the above, we can explain the verse “You God have loving-kindness, for You will reward each person according to his work.”[11] God’s loving-kindness is indeed great, for He rewards every individual for his good deeds, as if that individual performed them alone, even though in reality, man is but an inconsequential aid.[12] Therefore, one should thank the Master of good and compassion, for the great opportunity one has been presented with to perform a good deed. One should also be aware that the sense of self accompanying one’s good deeds (in other words, one’s need for acknowledgment that is fulfilled by these actions) is the essential quality of the sense of being originating in one’s animal soul. In addition, the intellect will also try to defend these feelings that come from the animal soul by arguing that it is only “natural” to feel a sense of self. The intellect will continue to find arguments along this line until its intellectual faculties are realigned with the Divine consciousness of the Divine soul.


When acting improperly, in order to refrain from sanctioning and validating the negative content inherent within one’s negative conduct, one should not become excited just because one has performed an iniquitous act. Instead, one should realize that the animal soul—which defines the self and being for the intermediate (the beinoni)—is always liable to transgress, whether it be through its excessive craving for things that are in principle permitted (these cravings are termed “Jewish shadows”[13]), or whether it be by cravings for that which is forbidden (these are called “foreign shadows”). The more one follows and hence feeds one's sense of self, the more both types of cravings are strengthened and intensified.

The Zohar[14] indeed expresses surprise at the possibility of transgression, as it says, "'Should a soul transgress….' How is this possible?” But the Zohar’s surprise is focused on the question of how it is possible that a Divine luminance like the Divine soul could be involved and take part with the animal soul in an act of transgression?! Indeed the Zohar’s expression of surprise actually reflects the infinite compassion that one should have when thinking of how a part of God above [one’s Divine soul] has descended and is now enclothed in the impure and defiled garments of the body and the animal soul. For, by committing a transgression one has figuratively forced the head of the High King into a latrine full of excrement, and there is no greater insult.[15]

Realizing how much transgressions distance us from the Almighty, one should feel bitterness and come to a true sense of lowliness, now aware of one’s smallness and how distant one is from the Living God. And yet, at the same time, one should feel how much compassion God bestows upon him, regardless of his state. For indeed, one is still alive; and, “Anyone called by the name of Israel, retains this title even after having transgressed”; and, God is continuously forging a new path of repentance for; and, His right hand, as it were, is always open to receive one returning to Him.

Repentance includes both regretting the past and resolving about the future. Regretting the past means arriving at an enduring awareness of one’s own lowliness, until the slate of one’s heart figuratively becomes engraved with a sense of one’s own existential worthlessness. Resolving about the future means completely trusting in God’s infinite mercy (“for His mercy has not ceased”), like a father who has mercy on his child. Even though one has gone off the path, God saves him from his present state of despair and will strengthen his resolve to behave in a positive manner in the future. Indeed, one experiences that, “Though I descend to the depths of the abyss, You are present!”—in infinite mercy.

Out of the sense of lowliness and compassion that one experiences, comes the complete unification that is the continuous service of repentance (teshuvah) in the psyche of one who is an intermediate (beinoni). This unification is described in the Zohar as, “Weeping is wedged in the heart from this end, and joy is wedged in the heart from this end.” Seated in the depth of the soul, they serve to nullify one’s sense of separate existence, and one’s soul yearns for immediate Divine salvation.

* * *

Following this path, as one’s care not to allow oneself to act in a negative manner increases (every individual has privileged knowledge of the evil within his or her self) so does one’s awareness of God’s merciful Providence, continually guiding one along the path of truth. For, as the verse states, “God [alone] safeguards you.”[16] From this, one comes to realize that every failure in life (G-d forbid) is (also) an act of personal Providence from above, aimed to remind one to ponder: “Where is my Father?!”

This is the service referred to in the verses, “Every soul [read as “Every breath”] will exalt God; exalt God”[17] and “Every one of my bones will speak the Name of God.”[18] For eventually, one comes to experience that there is not a single breath, nor a single movement that does not testify to the omnipresence of God’s mercy.

* * *

This path of spiritual work breaks and subjugates one’s hubris, as one comes to realize that, “God [alone] rules and wears pride”[19] and that “I will sing to God, for he has risen in pride”[20] (as translated into Aramaic: “for He rises above the proud, and pride is His”). The nothingness of holiness also engages and disposes of the sorrow and despair caused by the false nothingness stemming from the profane and unholy; exactly the same type of effect as that of the resurrection of the dead. The root of fear is sweetened to become a trait of holiness, as expressed in the verse in Proverbs:[21] “Happy is he who is always fearful,”[22] a verse about which the sages have taught: “The secrets of the Torah are revealed only to he whose heart has is ever fearful.”[23]

* * *

“And the meek shall add joy in God and poor men shall delight in the Holy of Israel.”



[1] II Samuel 6:22.

[2] Exodus 16:7.

[3] In the inner teachings of the Torah, rectification is described as the process by which the ‘new Name מה’ (alluded to in the phrase: “and we are מה [naught]”) rectifies the ‘Name בן,’ that shattered and is brought back to life.

This is also the inner meaning of the verse “You G-d shall save both Man (אדם = מה) and animal (בהמה = בן). The Mashiah is likewise described as the soul of Moshe (מה) shining in the body of David (בן).

[4] Avot 3:7.

[5] Tanya, ch. 2: “the second psyche in Israel is literally a part of G-d above.”

[6] Tanya ch. 1.

[7] Tanya, Sha’ar Hayiud Veha’emunah ch. 4.

[8] Words of the blessing recited upon waking up. The Divine Soul is ‘pure’ in the sense that it has no separate consciousness of self.

[9] Tanya, ch. 29.

[10]) Kidushin 30b; see Tanya ch. 13.

[11]) Psalms 62:13.

[12]) See Shabbat 93a, where the concept of an ‘inconsequential aid’ is elaborated. As the Talmud explains, if two people together are carrying a heavy beam, yet one of them can carry it by himself, while the other cannot carry it alone, then the second, even though he is ‘assisting’ his friend, is termed in Jewish Law as an ‘inconsequential aid’

[13] Lit. …

[14]) Zohar III, 13b; 16a.

[15] Tanya…

[16]) Psalms 121:4.

[17]) Ibid. 150:6.

[18]) Ibid. 35:10.

[19]) Ibid. 93:1.

[20]) Exodus 15:1.

[21] 28:14.

[22]) 28:14.

[23]) See Chagigah 13a.

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