The Spiritual Work of Our Generation

The Spiritual Work of Our Generation: Holographic Thinking – Selflessness and Lowliness Together

Redefining What You Are…


Redefining What You Are… Spiritual Work for Our Generation
original text
Lowliness: the Inner Experience of Kingdom
making an empty vessel
can lowliness actually get anything done?
how can lowliness fix me and my life?
Putting Lowliness in a Historical Context
are there emotions after lowliness?
what is selflessness?
holographic thinking: selflessness and lowliness together


Chassidut speaks of many different types of selflessness, each reflecting a different attitude. Selflessness is the product of self-nullification. Thus, most people who study Chassidut are familiar with the two main types of selflessness: nullification of being (bitul hayesh) and nullification in reality (bitul bimetzi'ut). The sensitive reader may already feel the difference between the two. Whereas nullification of being implies that the person has a "sense of being," which undergoes nullification, nullification in reality makes no such implication; the individual may be without any sense of self to begin with.

Recalling our discussion of lowliness, we can see the similarity that nullification of being has to it. Both start with the problem of our sense of self, our feeling of being separate and distant from the Almighty, and alleviate it. But, where lowliness "uses" our sense of self to give us a reality check about who and what we actually are, and how we have no justification in feeling superior to anyone else, nullification of being does try to get rid of the actual sense of self.

As the introduction to the original article states, selflessness and lowliness together constitute the reality of the rectified individual. So, though they treat the sense of self differently, they do work together. How is this?

Kabbalah and Chassidut introduced a special mode of analysis, which we call in translation inter-inclusion, or holographic thinking (hitkalelut, in Hebrew). Inter-inclusion means that given two (or more) objects or ideas, we can analyze them in such a way as to reveal how each includes in some aspect, the other (or others). This is also called holographic thinking or analysis because one of the amazing characteristics of a holograph written on some medium (like a crystal) is that if you break off a small chunk of the medium, it will contain a smaller version of the entire holograph, indicating that every part of the medium contains the whole. Thus, holographs are an example of an inter-inclusive state in nature.

In order to illustrate how lowliness and selflessness inter-include one another, we will use a parable (mashal) brought by the master of Chassidic parables, Rabbi Isaac of Homil. Rabbi Isaac introduces a third type of nullification, "essential nullification" (bitul be'etzem). He writes the following:

It is well known that there are nullification of being and essential nullification.

Nullification of being is like a servant that toils in the home and in the fields as per his master's instructions. A servant stands with all his being [sense of distinct self, i.e., individuality] before his master, but nullifies his being in order to follow his master's instructions. Not so is one who stands before a king. All of his feelings of self are gone and he can only feel his reverence of the king. Anything that the king commands him to do, he will do, but not by his own power and choice, but by the reverence of the sovereignty of the king and his power. For, choice is nullified when a person is full of reverence. This is called essential nullification, meaning that it affects the essence of his being [i.e., his feeling of individuality] by nullifying it, and nothing but the king's command and decree is now motivating the person.

Indeed, sometimes even this type of nullification is called nullification of being. The final aim of nullification is [when a person experiences himself] the way that the servant is seen from the king's perspective. For a sovereign does not experience the reality of the servant's sense of self. For the king, the servant exists solely to perform his wishes and there is no possibility that he would not perform them. Thus, the servant's being is non-existent in the eyes of the king and it cannot be described as real. There exists a servant who is so aware of the king's stature that he can experience his self, the way that the king experiences it. And this is what is certainly called essential nullification.

In all, it seems that Rabbi Isaac has described three types of nullification. From first to last they are:

  • Nullification of being: the servant performing his master's wishes even though he completely retains his sense of self and individuality.
  • Essential nullification: a person standing in front of a king1 experiences a nullification of his ability to choose what to do. Instead he adopts the king's will. But this, as Rabbi Isaac explains is not the final form of essential nullification, because in the end the person's individuality and sense of self is not really gone, it has merely been pushed aside. When this person terminates his interaction with the king, his individuality will return.
  • Total essential nullification: when the servant adopts the king's perspective on himself. From the king's perspective the servant does not have individuality aside from his commitment to the king's will. This nullification is truly complete because it is a change in perspective, or consciousness. The servant understands himself differently, and is actually transformed into a different person.

As "steps" on the way to achieving the final aim of nullification, these three types of nullification correspond to the basic three-stage psychological process introduced by the Ba'al Shem Tov: submission, separation, and sweetening. The first merely involves the servant submitting to his master's will. The second already requires a rejection (albeit, potentially only a temporary one) of one's sense of self. But the third completely transforms or sweetens the servant's perspective of his self.

What remains for us to see is how the change of perspective induced by the total essential nullification can be divided into two types, leaving us in the end with four types of nullification. Once we have four types we will see how they paint the holographic picture of inter-inclusion between selflessness and lowliness.

1. We today in the Western world are far removed from the experience of standing before an all-powerful monarch who held the power of life and death (at least seemingly) in his very hands. However, when carrying the analogy through and replacing the king by the Almighty, it is not fear of death that should bring about an experience of God's greatness.



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