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About the word vayeshev, Rashi writes it means that Jacob desired to be at peace, to sit, to reside. But we find the portion Vayeshev begins with all kinds of what would objectively be called troubles that come into the life of Jacob, making him unable to sit in peace. And the kabbalists explain, therefore, that the first lesson on the Shabbat of Vayeshev is that we cannot sit, or be, in peace. The peace we are talking about is not peace of mind or state of fulfillment, but rather the desire to not be what we call spiritually stagnant; and so, the portion Vayeshev tells us about the danger of being spiritually stagnant.
I would like to share a teaching from the great kabbalist Rav Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, who Rav Berg was told by Rav Brandwein has a very strong connection to The Centre, including bringing protection to those who study. The teaching is about the dangers of spiritual stagnation, such that if a person is spiritually stagnant in any area of his spiritual life then the work he does while stagnant does not reveal that much Light.
So he says, as Rav Ashlag also tells us, that the purpose of our spiritual work is to achieve the concept of devekut, a complete unification with the Light of the Creator. And any lack, darkness, or sadness that we experience is simply a lack of our connection with the Light of the Creator. Ultimately, the purpose of our spiritual work is to not necessarily bring us to a constant state of devekut, a constant state of being enveloped by the Light of the Creator, but to at least, at times, be enveloped completely by the Light of the Creator.
Now, when a person studies or does spiritual actions and connections, there are times when he is completely invested in it without any external thoughts or consciousness; but there are also times when he does the spiritual work, whether it is reading from the Zohar, studying, or even doing actions of sharing, that he is not 100 percent invested, mind and body, into that action. And that is a big problem.
When you open up the Zohar and are reading it, or are doing an action of sharing, is there any other thought in your mind except the desire for you to completely connect and invest yourself in the words that you are studying or the action that you are doing? If the answer is no, that there is nothing else in your mind or consciousness, then you are completely invested, and everything else outside is cut off except this reading of the Zohar or action of sharing. When you do that, he says, you achieve complete unification and surrounding of the Light of the Creator. And, when we do the actions in this way, we are able to remove pain and darkness from our life.
Why do we feel pain, whether it is physical or emotional? Because we are connected to, and invested in, the physical. The reality is that most of our lives are surrounded by the physical. And therefore, though there are moments where we sort of elevate a little bit out of the physical and touch the spiritual, we are not enveloped by it. When we touch the spiritual we are still connected to and attached to the physical; therefore, pain can exist, whether physical or emotional.
The same is true with spiritual actions. It is true, for example, that even with a mikveh a person may receive some Light if he went into it and his pinky was outside of the water. Yes, he probably got something, but the mikveh didn’t bring the purification and elevation it is meant to. The same is true with our spiritual work. And I think it is really important to be clear about this, because have we ever studied the Zohar and been completely enveloped by it? Have we ever prayed and been completely enveloped by it? Have we ever done an action of sharing when we were completely enveloped by it? The reality is that we haven’t; we are doing it maybe 80% or 40%, and are therefore touching the Light, but not being enveloped by the Light.
And the purpose of spiritual work, maybe not 100% of the time, but at least sometimes, is to make sure that the action, study, or connection is completely enveloping us, rather than just touching us. As such, when an individual does the spiritual work and invests his mind, consciousness, and body completely in it, he becomes enveloped by the Light of the Creator completely. He separates himself completely from the physicality, from the source of pain and darkness that he might have been experiencing before.
So the idea is there are two states of envelopment: we are either enveloped by the physical and therefore still feel physical pain and darkness, or we are being enveloped by the Light of the Creator. Spiritual actions, spiritual work, spiritual study do not envelop us with the Light of the Creator; they allow us to touch the Light of the Creator, but because we are only touching and not enveloped, we are not in a new state and therefore unable to separate ourselves from the pain and darkness of the physical. But if we are able to do actions we are completely invested in 100 percent, then we remove our connection to the physical and envelop ourselves completely with the Light of the Creator. Then, pain, darkness, and sadness go away.
And the purpose of spiritual work is to remove us from the state of pain, darkness, and sadness that is a connection to the physical. Yes, we touch the spiritual by the actions that are not enveloped, but when we push ourselves to be completely enveloped by the action, study, and words, we are enveloped in a new reality and able to leave the pain and the darkness of the attachment to the physical behind.
So, going back to the beginning where we asked what the problem is with being at peace in our spiritual work, the reality is, unfortunately, that most of us are in a relatively stagnant spiritual state. Even those of us who do the actions, pray, and study have to ask ourselves when the last time was that we did any of those actions and completely invested our mind, body, and consciousness in them. And now we understand that all actions which are done like that touch the Light, but are not enveloped by the Light.
The purpose of the spiritual work is to envelop ourselves with the Light of the Creator. Again, to go from where we are to where we're meant to be is not easy, and it takes time. The Negative Side wants us to be at peace with our spiritual work, because then we don't worry about completely investing ourselves, thinking we’re doing the work and the actions and that it’s good enough. But, no. The purpose of the actions is to bring us to a state of complete envelopment by the Light, and the way to be completely enveloped by the Light is to have no external thoughts, and our entire being is invested in it.
Therefore, we have to ask ourselves if we are being vayeshev, okay with the state of stagnation where our spiritual work is. Ask yourself when the last time through study, prayer, or action of sharing that there was nothing external, only a pure connection to that action. And that has to be growing; today we had one minute of complete investment, tomorrow we have five, and next month we have 20. Because the real work, the real Light, is revealed in being enveloped by the Light of the Creator through the actions, and that only happens when we are completely invested in them. We cannot be vayeshev, stagnant and okay with our spiritual work simply because we're doing the work. Our gauge has to be not how much we are doing, but how much we are enveloped by what we are doing.