Topic: Kabbalistic Concepts | Posted:April 22, 2015
This week, we have two portions. The word “death” appears in one of them- Acharei Mot, “after death.” Clearly then, part of our work on this Shabbat is to receive a new understanding of death, and through that understanding, hopefully come to an understanding of life. The overarching teaching is that unless death is a constant part of our day, chances are we're not really accomplishing the purpose either of that day or for which we came into this world.
The Talmud says, “If you want to live, you have to die.” Death here means the death of our Desire to Receive for the Self Alone. Therefore, this statement is saying that unless an individual is feeling death everyday - the death of the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone - then he or she is not achieving life. You can be a spiritual person, you can be a good person, but you will not be diminishing the force that death has on you unless you are killing the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone and experiencing that pain.
As we have learned, our vessel is either filled up with the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone or with the Light of the Creator. And as you are killing aspects of the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone, you are allowing more of the Light of the Creator to enter into the vessel. Therefore, if throughout your life you are able to kill one aspect after another of Desire to Receive for the Self Alone and understand that you are feeling pain because it is an aspect of death that you welcome, then you are drawing life to yourself.
If a person does not go through this process in their life, then at a certain point the Creator gives him the totality of Light whether he is prepared for it or not. And that's what the Zohar explains the process of death is; such an overflow of the Light of the Creator that there is no room for it, and that overflow is what causes death. This is why the statement in the Talmud is so important. If you want to live - live meaning not just in the moment, but achieve eternal life - you have to be dying every day. So the question we ask ourselves has to be: What pain did I feel? What death did I feel in order to share with somebody? There are different levels of death, but, again, it's the dying of the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone that we’re talking about here.
In the Midrash, and as the kabbalists teach about in this week's portion of Kedoshim, there is a story about an old man planting trees. The ruler comes by and asks him, "Why are you planting trees? It's going to take 20 or 40 years until these trees really start growing and producing fruit.” The old man says, “You’re right. The chances of me being able to eat the fruit of these trees is very minimal, but just as those before me prepared trees for me to eat from, so too, do I prepare the trees for those who come after me.” The Midrash says that a miraculous amount of extended life was then given to this old man, and he ended up eating from the fruit of those trees.
So, even on a simple level there is a great teaching from this story, but on a deeper level, now we understand the secret of it. The old man knew that if he wanted to have life then he had to be doing actions consistently of which he knew he would receive nothing. Andthat is death from the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone. Death of the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone means: I am going to do something that I know will not only give me something good, but could possibly even take away from me.
The old man merited eating from the trees because he was killing his Desire to Receive for the Self Alone. He knew the secret; the secret of this entire Shabbat - if you want to live, you have to die. You have to be killing the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone every single day. This Shabbat is about completely rethinking how our lives are set up spiritually and otherwise, and realizing how far we actually are from experiencing that death every day. We can be happy about being spiritual and about making our connections, but this Shabbat - when our mind and soul are opened up - offers us the possibility of living a life that actually brings us towards real life.
What did you do today that was so painful for you that it killed an aspect of the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone? What did you do today that actually put somebody else before something that you wanted? If you are living your life every day with action that encapsulates those two, you are on your way to life. You want to be Acharei Mot, you want to come to a state after death, to taste that death, every single day. I hope we can all, yes, understand this, but more importantly, take the time to literally refocus our entire lives. Because understanding this teaching can change your life forever.