Spiritual Tools

Kabbalistic Glossary: Restriction

The kabbalists teach that our purpose in life is to transform our selfish nature and become a being of sharing, like the Light. One important tool Kabbalah uses to do this is called restriction.

To understand restriction, let’s look at how a light bulb works. Inside, there are three components: a positive pole, a negative pole, and a filament separating them. The filament is the most important component, because without it, there can be no lasting light. It pushes back the current that is flowing from the positive pole, preventing it from directly contacting the negative pole; it is this resistance that allows the light to turn on. 

The negative pole is like our knee-jerk ego-based reactions, while the positive pole corresponds to the Light. The filament is our free will to restrict our selfish behavior. Just as the resistance of the filament keeps the light burning in a bulb, resisting our Desire to Receive for the Self Alone allows us to connect to the Light. When we don’t restrict these inherent impulses, we feel a momentary flash of energy, followed by burnout; in other words, a short circuit.

Many of us experience those feelings as high moments of instant gratification, followed by a crash. Eating a whole bag of chips, for example, gives us a brief, but fleeting, pleasure followed by a sick feeling. The same is true for many things to which we turn for relief, like alcohol and drugs. We turn to these sources, because we’re driven by our Desire to Receive. However, if we want to become like the Light, we need to overcome those desires. To avoid them in life, we do the same thing a light bulb does: resist. And that usually means doing the opposite of what comes naturally to us.

Everything we do gives us energy, but the energy we get is only as good as our ability to control and resist it. So, we can receive endless fulfilling energy from the Light when we restrict our selfish reactions. This doesn’t mean, however, that we repress our feelings; doing so actually allows them to control us. For example, being cut off in traffic may trigger anger in us, but we practice restriction when we choose not to yell at the person who did it, or retaliate. With restriction, we acknowledge the emotion that comes up, but do not allow it to control us. 

Further, when we repress our feelings, it relieves us only temporarily of discomfort and allows us to stay stuck in the role of the victim. Understanding this, we see that when our reactive emotions gets triggered, it is important to feel them, because once we do, we can choose how we want to respond. And if what we choose to do is uncomfortable (because it’s going against our selfish nature), it’s a sign that we are practicing restriction.

The Creator wants to give us endless blessings and fulfillment, but we need to transform our selfish desires in order to receive them. As such, the Light is constantly sending us opportunities to do so. When situations or people come our way that trigger us, they are actually opportunities from the Light for us to practice restriction and grow spiritually. Light is generated by passing through resistance like electricity does, which is why it is so difficult to accomplish; however, when it is achieved, the result is incredibly powerful and transformative, revealing tremendous amounts of Light in our lives.

The first ever act of restriction is what caused the Big Bang, the creation of our universe. In keeping with the light bulb analogy, the negative pole corresponds to us, the Vessel, the positive pole corresponds to the endless blessings from the Light, and the filament represents the Vessel’s act of restriction. The kabbalists call this original act of restriction tzimtzum. And it is just this moment when the Vessel restricted the flow of Light from the Creator so that it could transform from the Desire to Receive into the Desire to Share and become its own creator that is known as the Big Bang.

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