Transforming Our Desire
In the book of Genesis, the Creator comes to Abraham and tells him to leave his homeland and travel to the land of Canaan. He tells Abraham that, if he does so, he will be showered with blessings – He will make his name great, He will bless those who bless him, and so on. It is stated that Abraham went through ten tests, and this is considered one of them. But why is this a test? If the Creator came to us and said, “I will give you all of these great blessings if you do what I say,” most of us would not find that very difficult! But the reason this is considered a test reveals a very powerful lesson about our spiritual paths.
Rav Ashlag teaches us in Ten Luminous Emanations that we cannot receive Light if we are taking pleasure for ourselves. Before the Creation, we were able to receive endlessly from the Creator – it was not considered selfish. But because we are made of the same essence as the Creator, we wanted to become creators as well, and no longer wanted to receive for ourselves. This necessitated the Creation of our world, where we could learn to transform our nature to become more like the Creator. This meant we could no longer receive the Light through a Desire to Receive for the Self Alone. Therefore, there had to be a new way of receiving.
Let’s say you go to a friend’s house and you are starving. Your friend wants to make you a meal, but you decline, because you don’t want to inconvenience them. They continue to insist, and you continue to refuse. It becomes clear that it will give them incredible joy to cook for you, so finally, you allow them to do so. You are no longer eating because of your own hunger, but because it will make your friend happy. The receiving will, of course, satisfy your hunger, but the consciousness behind it has completely changed. This is a true transformation of Desire.
This example is often confusing for people, because it is rare that we come to the place where the only joy we derive is from others’ joy. For most of us, it is often a mix – we enjoy making our friend happy, but also enjoy the food selfishly. The valuable lesson from Rav Ashlag is that we are meant to reach a point where we don’t take any pleasure except from giving pleasure to others.
There is an important distinction here. It is not a game where we pretend we aren’t being selfish so the other person doesn’t know, and it also doesn’t mean that as long as our friend is enjoying the giving, we can also enjoy taking. It is the reality where both people are transformed by the process. Your friend wants to satisfy your hunger so badly that it will give them tremendous joy to do so, and in turn, that gives you joy to make your friend happy. You no longer see your friend as the giver and you as the receiver, but the other way around.
This is a level most of us can’t even imagine. It is a tremendously difficult point to get to. It is a battle of forces between your friend’s Desire to Share and you pushing back on your Desire to Receive that creates a new type of receiving. It is a receiving that is only for the sake of giving pleasure. The Light of the Creator is like your friend in this example. The Light tells us: Take, take! When we push back on this, it allows us to reach a new spiritual level. This constant battle against our Desire to Receive for the Self Alone and pushing against the Creator’s Desire to Share is the process by which we transform our selfish Desire to Receive into what it needs to be – receiving only when it gives pleasure to someone else, or to the Light of the Creator.
The test Abraham was faced with was a question of his intention. Why was he going to leave his homeland? Was it because the Creator wanted him to or because of the blessings he knew he would receive? Could Abraham hear about the endless blessings and still only go because it is what the Creator wanted him to do with no thought for himself?
We should look at our lives through this lens. What do we have to start doing differently to transform our Desire? How much of our joy is from what we give others? We can only receive the Light of the Creator to the degree that we receive our pleasure from someone else’s joy. Let’s assume one person is able to enjoy 20% of the time in giving and 80% in receiving. That means that the only amount of Light they can receive is 20%. Eventually our goal is to receive 100% of the Light! The Light of the Creator is always around, but the amount of Light can only be revealed to us to the degree that our essence enjoys sharing.
It’s important to understand that this is about our nature, not simply our actions. The actions we do are only a tool to change our essence. For instance, say there is a terribly selfish person. One day, he realizes the way he has been living is wrong and spends the next week doing nothing but sharing for 24 hours a day. Hopefully, he has transformed a little of his essence in this process - maybe he is 3% less selfish now, so 3% of the Light can be revealed. All that work of the week only transformed 3% of him, even though he was constantly performing acts of sharing. It’s not about the actions, but how much we transform in the process. We do actions of sharing to enable a transformation of our essence.
Just like Abraham, we must ask ourselves if we are doing the spiritual work for the blessings we will receive or because of the Light it will reveal in the world. We have a choice: to partake in pleasure that seems like the shortcut or to do the difficult work of transformation. That is the test everyone goes through every day.