|A Kabbalistic approach to spiritual growth|
(These are parts 3-5 of a series presenting an educational model based on the principles of inspiration and integration as explained in Kabbala and elucidated in Hassidism, which appears on the Gal Einai website.)
Part 3: Inspiration and Integration
Looking at education through the lens of Kabbala, we must begin by defining education in Kabbalistic terms. Kabbala considers Hebrew the language of Creation and attaches great significance to the Hebrew formulations of words – their roots, sub-roots and inner meaning; therefore, we will define education by looking at the Hebrew words that connote this concept.
Hebrew has two words for education: “chinuch” and “hadracha“. In an average Hebrew-English dictionary, we would find “chinuch” defined as “training” and “hadracha” as “guidance” – terms that appear almost synonymous. However, in rabbinical works, far from interchangeable, these words convey specific and distinct ideas. This act of initiation draws down spiritual light…
To grasp the inner meanings of “chinuch” and “hadrachah” – and thus discover the meaning of education – we must first examine the roots or seed-ideas contained within them. This will shed light on the subtleties of the distinction.
The basic root of “chinuch” appears most frequently in the Bible in the sense of “inauguration” and “initiation”. It describes the act of dedicating something to a particular purpose. For example, Psalm 30, known as “Mizmor Shir Chanukat HaBayit“, is an inauguration song composed by King David for the Temple in Jerusalem, built by his son King Solomon. Once the Temple was built, its vessels could not be used until they were sanctified and inaugurated into their tasks. For instance, the menora had to be sanctified and inaugurated into its role as “illuminator”. The same was true for the priests who served in the Temple, who had to be initiated into that office before assuming their responsibilities. Although a priest is already physically capable of performing his function, he still requires an infusion of light to translate his spiritual potential into actuality.
This act of initiation draws down spiritual light. It is a ritual that awakens the recipients to a higher level of potentiality, enabling them to begin their new task. By beaming through physical, psychological and spiritual resistance, this input of light, energy, and inspiration actually transforms the person or object. After the jolt of inspiration, follow-through is a must…
When we apply the seed ideas imbedded in the root of “chinuch” to education, we see that the teacher is an “initiator” in that his task is to awaken the latent potentialities of his students. He does this by bringing down the light of knowledge to the students’ level, and so inspiring them to a new way of thinking and seeing the world.
The root of the second Hebrew word for “education”, “hadracha“, conveys a variety of meanings related to method and direction. Thus while “chinuch” conveys a spirit of new beginning, “hadracha” implies the effort of movement and progress. In terms of education, this means that after the jolt of inspiration, follow-through is a must.
Inspiration achieves little if the students do not integrate this new awareness into their daily life, i.e., if they do not learn how to stay on the new path and avoid obstacles, make steady progress, and keep the goal in sight.
Part 4: Phases of Spiritual Growth
The basic model of chinuch as initiation/inspiration and hadracha as integration applies on many levels. The interrelationship of these two phases of education is apparent in all areas of growth and change, not just education in the formal sense of the word. We see it in business ventures when a new idea is born (inspiration) and then when it is incorporated into business practice (integrated). We see it in medical advances, in science, in art and music.
Any type of change and growth always proceeds through the two phases of inspiration and integration. First there is the awakening to a new realm of possibilities and then there is the effort to build these insights into everyday reality/experience. In spiritual work, each step that we take in deepening our understanding of the world and perfecting our character is like entering into a new land, an unknown and uncharted territory which brings with it new possibilities and new paths to awareness.
The primary Kabbalistic metaphor for this process is set forth in the Torah passages describing the directions G‑d gave the Israelites as they readied themselves for entry into the Land of Israel. In both a real and a metaphorical sense, this journey was from barrenness into holiness – from the Sinai Desert into the Holy Land. And since all true spiritual growth is movement into or toward holiness, there can be no better metaphor than this. A two-stage process: first of “entering” and second of “settling”… inspiration and integration…
The Book of Deuteronomy describes this movement as a two-stage process: first of “entering” and second of “settling”. These two stages exactly parallel the sequence of inspiration and integration. The power to enter Israel, to penetrate into the Holy Land from foreign territory, is related to the initiation/inspiration phase of education, while the power to settle the land, to take root and endure, is a function of proper integration. Inspiration achieves little if the students do not integrate this new awareness into their daily life – if they do not learn how to stay on the new path and avoid obstacles, make steady progress, and keep the goal in sight.
A beautiful story illustrating this point is told about Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the Rebbe of Vitebsk, who, together with his followers of about two hundred families, immigrated to Israel in the 18th century, settling first in Safed and then in Tiberias.
One day, after living in Israel many years, the Rebbe called his students together and told them to prepare for a celebration. So they drank and sang and danced with great fervor all night, not knowing why the Rebbe had told them to celebrate. When they asked, the Rebbe responded with a story:
“When I was a young boy, I longed for the Holy Land so intensely that each time I heard that an emissary from Israel was in town, I would run to him and beg him to tell me of the holiness of the land. Inevitably, he would describe the holy cities: Jerusalem and the Western Wall, Hebron and the Cave of Machpela, Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee, and Safed, permeated with the souls of the mystics. Even after hearing all that, I would always ask, ‘Isn’t there more? There must be more’!
I was praying in the hills below Safed, and I began to see and feel the holiness emanating from every rock and blade of grass…
One day, one of the emissaries said to me, ‘I can see that you truly long to know the secrets of the Land of Israel and its holiness. When every stone, every blade of grass becomes holy to you; when you see every tree and spring as emanations of holiness; when the mountains deserts and forests reveal every step taken upon them and every thought locked away in their essence, then you will begin to understand the holiness of the Land of Israel.
Today, after all these years [of living here], I was praying in the hills below Safed, and I began to see and feel the holiness emanating from every rock and blade of grass. Then I knew I had finally arrived.”
Part 5: Entering a New State of Being
The sages explain that whenever the Torah requires us to “enter” something new, whether it be a new land or a higher level of perception, we must do so with our entire being. Leaving one foot out the door is not really entering. Even if our body is physically in the new realm, as long as our mind-set remains outside, we haven’t fully entered into a new state of consciousness.
So it is with growth and change. We can seem to experience the excitement of initiation, being inspired to change our life to accommodate new truths and insights. We can even proceed to make adjustments in our lifestyle and personality which may seem to be major, but which in fact are quite superficial. Then comes the rude awakening: we are shocked to find that we have not really been initiated and have not fully entered our newly-envisioned way of being. When this happens, the underlying problem is our lack of commitment. Entering new levels of awareness and visions of change demands the shedding of all previous assumptions…
For example, a mother could read a new book on parenting, and be inspired by a new strategy for teaching her children without threatening or raising her voice. She tries it a few times and it actually seems to work. Yet at the point that something doesn’t go quite right, she gets frustrated, loses control, and ends up right back where she started. This reflects the ambivalence at the levels of self which were not touched by the initiation and do not share a common cause with its goals. These levels of self remain unmoved and unmotivated, identifying with the old, familiar, and habitual ways of dealing with the situation. In other words, the initiation was not complete, and therefore the subsequent attempt at integration was unsuccessful.
The process of entering new levels of awareness and visions of change demands the shedding of all previous assumptions, expectations, and habits of behavior*. This clearing out of the old is always a prerequisite to entering a new level of being. The imaginary security of wanting to remain who we are now is a barrier to who we could be.
[*Note: This is really a form of teshuva, or “return to G‑d”. The parallel between teshuva and entering the Land of Israel is further supported by the fact that teshuva, from the root word meaning “return,” occurs in the Bible most frequently in relation to the Jewish peoples’ return to the Land of Israel. This teaches that entering the Land of Israel (aliya) in its deepest sense is the ultimate manifestation of return to G‑d (teshuva), it being the physical and spiritual entry into an entirely new state of being.]