The concept of Bread of Shame is one that we often talk about when studying Kabbalah. It refers to the idea that our souls want to earn the Light of the Creator, instead of just receiving it without any work. In fact, we often explain that the purpose of the creation of our world is for us to do the spiritual work to remove Bread of Shame and finally earn the Light.
However, Rav Ashlag explains in his commentary on Ten Luminous Emanations that this is actually a complete misunderstanding of the concept. When we think about the fact that the Light of the Creator is an endless source of blessings, that would mean we would have to work endlessly in order to ever earn it. This is impossible!
Even if we could somehow earn endless blessings, we would still not be satisfied. At our core, our souls are made of the same exact essence as the Creator, which means that, like the Creator, deep down, the only thing we want is to share. Because our souls want to share and not receive, we cannot ever be truly satisfied while receiving, even if we do “earn” what we receive. Receiving, both earned and unearned, is something that can never truly satisfy us.
This is a tremendous departure from how most of us understand our spiritual work. We tend to think that we derive pleasure by receiving, whether it be material things, emotional responses like gratitude and approval, or even spiritual blessings. If we have studied Kabbalah, we understand that if we receive those things without earning them, it leads us to feeling undeserving and uncomfortable. So, we think we have to do a lot of spiritual work and then we can receive the blessings without those negative feelings. But the revelation from Rav Ashlag is that even this will not satisfy us, because we are beings of sharing, whether we know it or not. We can only truly rejoice in sharing. The question is not, “How do we earn what we receive?” but rather, “How do we change the way we receive?” What we have to do, then, is create a way where we completely flip the world around – where our pleasure comes from sharing, not receiving.
Sharing with others does not mean that we give with the intention of receiving Light. When we think this way, we are still focused on what we get out of the situation. It is not truly selfless. The purpose of our spiritual work is not to earn the Light through sharing, but to actually transform ourselves to the point where our greatest pleasure comes from the sharing itself. It becomes the thing we want to do, not just the thing we know we should do. When we reach this level, we actually enjoy sharing with others more than receiving things for ourselves. We don’t even want the Light of the Creator for ourselves! We only accept the Light of the Creator, because we know it gives pleasure to the Creator.
This also does not mean that we don’t still experience pleasure in life. In our spiritual work, we don’t ever come to the point where we never receive any pleasure. The desire for pleasure is true to our essence, an inborn trait of humanity. What happens is that, as we do the spiritual work, our being changes. We no longer want the pleasures of receiving, we want the pleasures of sharing. The desire for pleasure and fulfillment is there to inspire us to start that process of transformation. We can never escape the desire for fulfillment, but it should drive us towards wanting to transform, knowing that the only true way to receive endless fulfillment is through sharing.
The problem is that 99% of the time, the desire for fulfillment drives us towards the things that will never really satisfy us. We may think we need a lot of money, a great career, a big family, and we think we have to work hard to gain those things, and then we will be fulfilled. In reality, we don’t enjoy the hard work it takes to get those things, and when we have them, we still aren’t satisfied! Those two realities will lead to double failure if we try. When we instead transform ourselves into beings of sharing, not only do we receive everything that is good in the world, we also become like the Creator, true to our essence. We achieve a true union and the ultimate state of fulfillment: peace.
Reaching the level where we are beings of pure sharing is a life’s work. It requires all of the spiritual tools at our disposal, like the Torah and the Zohar. It requires practice and being patient with ourselves. And it requires a conscious effort to want to transform. The more we understand this, the more we can awaken that transformation in our lives.