Given June 23, 2018
We’re back in “Derech Hashem,” in the second chapter where the RaMCHaL reflects on the situation of Jews in terms of the purpose for the world.
Introduction to the Neshama--- Jewish Soul
We know that there’s a neshama, a soul particular to a Jew. What is that neshama? It’s what the chazal---sages call a “cheileke chai”--- part of the living G-d. G-d emits ten “sefirot”--- spiritual forces. These forces have Divinity and the soul is a personification of those forces. If you took those ten forces, which form a unit, and you reconfigured that unit and made it physical, it would look like a human being. That’s really what a Jew is. The Jew is a configuration of these ten sefirot and that’s what his body really is. This doesn’t mean that the forces are, literally, a piece of G-D; it’s figurative. This is why the neshama is called the “tzelem elokim” image of G-D.
Participant: Therefore, would you say that the neshama is head and shoulders over any other spiritual entity?
R’Kessin: Yes. Yes
Participant: So, everything else was created by the sefiros and all are an analogue of the sefiros.
R’Kessin: Yes. And that is why the neshama is the greatest creation ever made by G-D.
It’s almost infinitely superior to a “malach”---angel. Even though everything emanates from G-d, the neshama has that distinction of being a personification of the ten sefirot. Each individual sefira is subdivided by ten and each one of those subdivision is divided by ten in an infinite progression. Some configuration of those forces that stem from the original ten, yet have infinite potential configurations, becomes a human, a physical form of the soul.
As I said, the neshama of a Jew is infinitely greater than that of an angel---much greater---and there are millions of different classes of angels. But as we will see, the neshama has a tremendous problem, one that I’ll talk about shortly. G-D takes this awesome spiritual entity, which is greater than the angels, greater than almost any created entity, and inserts it into a physical body, obviously. The neshama is not a physical body but merely is encased in it. That body, in many ways, becomes its prison; it cannot escape; I had gone through this in a previous RaMCHaL lecture.
How the Soul Escapes Its Prison and Retransforms Creation
The neshama must use the physical universe to get out of this fix, as the means of resolving its crisis. How? When the individual performs a mitzvah, observes and obeys a commandment, he always uses a physical substance; all mitzvahs are physical, involving physical objects. The neshama then imbues that physical object with a spiritual potential. In other words, the action of the mitzvah puts into that physical object some tremendous spiritual potential, a possibility, so that later on, when the time comes, the world transforms from predominately a physical one to a spiritual one. That transformation back to its rectified state is called “zikuch” which I have mentioned previously. Potentially, the physical object can change into a spiritual entity. It’s funny to think that the only way the neshama can get itself out of the prison of its physical garb, so to speak, is that it has to invest, imbue, the physical universe with a degree of potential spirituality. Physicality is in a state of readiness to be transformed.
Once that mitzvah invests some aspect of the physical world with spiritual potential, the “guf”---physical body becomes spiritual too, and the neshama remains with it for all eternity. By then, everything physical has become spiritualized. This is how the neshama is able to resolve the crisis inherent to what it is. Consequently, what the individual, the neshama, must do is reconnect with G-D. That is its ultimate objective. The way it’s done is to, in the way described, take care of the physical universe by spiritualizing it.
Why A Physical Universe? The Trial and the Obfuscation of G-d
Why is there a physical universe at all? Why bother with that? It’s important to remember that physicality obscures spirituality. This is why the neshama is in the physical universe; it has to accomplish something that’s not obvious. It has to reveal that G-D exists. That’s the trial, the test that the neshama goes through.
There’s a physical universe, a physical reality that obscures the spiritual one for the express purpose of obscuring and concealing G-D so He can be revealed through the actions of an individual with a neshama. We don’t truly perceive the spirit of G-D. We might say we can feel it. In a certain sense we can experience Him, if, and to the extent, that He permits. That spirit, that presence of G-D, is referred to as “shechina” but, basically, the physical universe conceals, obscures, the concept of its spirituality. In such a situation, the neshama can now be tested. It must use the physical universe as a ladder to get out of the physical universe; that’s the test situation, the challenge. The neshama, therefore, must have free will.
What Exactly is “Free Will”?
What is “free will,” really? What does it mean to “have free will”? The physical universe has what can be referred to as a “counterpart universe” in the higher spiritual dimensions called “kochos nivdol”---transcendental forces. The entire physical universe has a spiritual counterpart that is really an extension of the spiritual and there are angels that control every aspect of that spiritual place, manipulating, causing all manner of events to happen in the physical universe. They have a “script” that they must adhere to and which they follow. All physicality in this universe must behave based on what the angels do to its spiritual counterpart. In other words, they don’t have free will. Animals have no free will. No creature has free will; it’s acted upon, manipulated by an angel via its spiritual counterpart that exists in that higher dimension.
The interesting thing about man is that he possesses free will. A human being does because he makes decisions. There is no script from which an angel reads and manipulates your counterpart to decide for you to carry out an action. You yourself can decide what to do and, therefore, when you decide to do something, your spiritual counterpart will move in response to the fact that you move. There’s nothing compelling you to act at all.
Free to Decide, Not Free to Act
Free will exists in only one place, which is interesting. Free will exists in the mind as a decision. When you make a decision what to do ---not if you do it---you might follow through on the decision or you might not. Whether you do or not is not up to you, because your action is not free. The decision itself, is free; that’s all. Let’s say I want to drink this coffee. So, I decide, somewhere in my brain, that I want to drink this coffee. That decision was not, in any way, introduced into my mind by an outside force, including G-D. This presents a very difficult problem, which I’ll get to. True free will means that I have made a decision to do something without any introduction of that thought or decision being put into my mind at all. It’s “free” because the person, himself, has made the decision.
You may have decided to do something but, after that, it’s all G-d. Whether you do that which you have decided or you don’t do that which you have decided, is no longer up to you. You make the decision and that’s it, and that’s an instant thought. Then, if G-D wants you to carry out that decision, then He will “copy” that counterpart that the angel now manipulates to enable you to do it. But, again, the follow-through is no longer up to you.
Deciding To Do Evil
There are many people who decide to do evil but they’re stopped. And there are many people who want to do good, perform mitzvahs; they’re stopped. Why? They don’t have free will. The only thing “free” about a person’s will is the freedom to make the decision itself. For instance, let us assume I pick up the cup.
What makes my cerebral neurons fire to activate the muscles to pick up this cup? It is my decision that initiated the intention to do it and that decision, like all others, happens from nanosecond to nanosecond because, at every nano-second, I am still willing this cup to arise.
The chain of events begins with that individual’s decision: I want to pick that up. That decision activates what’s called the “operational will” in the mind. In other words, there is something in the mind called “will” and that will to want to do something is not the decision itself. The decision somehow triggers something in the mind which is called “ratzon”--- will. What is it? Nobody knows where it is in the brain or how it works. But “will” fires neurons and those neurons send electrical signals to the muscles of my hand and, all of a sudden, I find myself lifting the coffee cup. But remember, the will that activates the muscles of my hand and arm doesn’t just happen; it must be activated, nanosecond after nanosecond as an output of that will which is initiated by having made a decision.
True free will exists in the decision behind or before the will itself. That’s bechira---choice. G-D does not insert that decision, that choice, into your mind. Nor does the angel insert anything in the mind of your counterpart in heaven. As far as Judaism is concerned, everybody has free will and that’s why it says “uvcharta chai”---choose life. G-d clearly says that. And you will choose, what?---life.
Excuse me! How can I choose life if I have no free will? The answer is: you do, generally. This is a fundamental tenant of Judaism, that all mankind has free will. But free will, like I’ve been saying, only exists in the decision itself. What you do, the activation to be able to do it, is not your choice. If I want, I could decide to stop the action. I want to stop, and that itself is a decision that I have freely made. If G-D allows it, all of a sudden, everything stops: the will, the neurons, the muscles, and the coffee cup.
You don’t realize how limited you are because, after you exert your free will, after that decision, you’ve nothing to do with it anymore. What the angel will do is operate everything in accordance with that constant decision, you see. So, we decide, move, decide, move, decide, move.... after the decision, it’s all out of your hands. And the angels could stop the activation, free will or not. The only free will you have is: do you, or do you not. want to move that cup? That’s it. And every human being has this, whether he is a Jew or non-Jew.
Range of Free Will
There is such a thing as “range of free will.” We don’t have free will about everything. We have free will on those things that involve good or evil but, sometimes, we don’t have absolute free will; we think we do because we cannot distinguish when we are thinking freely and when we are not.
For instance, if G-D wants someone to become wealthy, that person might suddenly get a hot stock tip. The person will ask himself: Do I want to call up a broker and buy the shares? He decides to do it, but that particular decision was not free in the sense that the situation was created for that thought to occur. It was purely based upon the fact that G-D prompted a situation so that thought could occur to his mind to decide to buy the shares. The person’s decision to invest was not a totally free one. The stock goes way up and the person becomes wealthy and so on, and he cannot distinguish between which aspects were free and which not. He just enjoys the wealth.
Not all of our decisions are free. Many decisions involve actions for good or bad. Either the choice creates a test situation or, perhaps, creates a punishment for a person. The stock, without warning, dives and the guy becomes poor. Or the stock pops and he’s rewarded. But man does have free will much of the time, which is his ability to decide, without input from anybody at all, and that is probably one of the greatest of creations. And the truth is that it is very difficult to understand how it all works.
The Glaring Conundrum
The problem is best expressed as a question: How can you bring into creation a decision that G-D did not create, did not initiate, that didn’t emanate from Him?
The only way anything exists at all is that G-D Wills it so and it emanates from Him. But free will simply means what? ---that you are making a decision that G-D did not create in your mind. If He had, it wouldn’t be free, right? So, it’s a tremendous conundrum, a mystery, because free will means that I am actually thinking about something that doesn’t exist! How could I bring the thought for the decision into creation if G-d didn’t create it first? It’s unknown. It’s a tremendous contradiction. Nonetheless, it says in the Torah, “Choose life” so we know we have free will. We cannot make anything exist. G-D has to make it exist but, if He does, then it’s no longer free, you see.
Participant: In terms of good and evil, a person may not have free will?
Participant: I think in terms of a person that acts evil his whole life; he’s no longer free.
R’Kessin: There are people, especially---who’s that guy? I forget--- Calvin. He held that man has no free will, that man is doomed to whatever G-D decided because ideas have been implanted already. This is insane because he has removed all culpability for any person’s actions. He says there are people that are sent here that are doomed to be evil. It’s determinism.
Participant: Is it possible that, as in quantum mechanics, you have two different types of states existing simultaneously and, when they are observed, they collapse, sort of freeze, into one single state?
R’Kessin: Yeah, it collapses. It’s termed: “collapse of the wave function.”
Participant: Can you apply such a concept to this problem? It starts as a dual state and then it collapses into one.
R’Kessin: Yeah, but who collapses it? You do, by making a decision.
Participant: Both are there because G-D created both of them.
R’Kessin: I don’t care if both possibilities exist. The critical thing is that you can actually decide which exists and which collapses. That’s free will. The mere fact that two things coexist does not stop free will because you’re the one that decided which path to take so, therefore, what isn’t chosen, as it’s termed, collapses. It’s free. Even if there are infinite possibilities, you are still the one who collapses the quantum state.
Participant: Can you prove free will or is it only a belief because of “choose life”?
R’Kessin: How do you prove free will? We don’t know how free we are. There are many philosophies that hold that there is no free will, like Calvin. He held there was no free will at all.
Participant: There will be no reward and punishment?
R’Kessin: No reward. No punishment. No responsibility. A guy can go out and murder somebody and say: “I was compelled; whatever forced me to do it.” That’s really the end of society if that were ever to happen. This has been a debate for thousands of years among philosophers, psychologists. Is everything behavioral reinforcement? But, because G-D says, “Choose life!” we assume there is (reward, responsibility). And besides, we know that the existence of mitzvahs to be done implies that we are rewarded, clearly indicates we have free will or why would G-D reward us? If free will didn’t exist at all, the whole thing would be unjust. If those people were compelled to do evil, why would they be punished? If those people are being compelled to do good, why are they being rewarded? Either way, it has little to do with them. The whole concept of “zchar v’oinesh”--- merit/reward and punishment is predicated on the fact that you have responsibility and you are held accountable. You were the cause of what you did unless following through on your decision was obstructed by the script.
Participant: That incident when Judah is on the road and he sees Tamar, that his free will was taken away....
R’Kessin: His free will was taken away, yes.
Participant: So, he didn’t have to do what he did.
R’Kessin: No. In fact, the midrash--exegesis says---it’s very interesting---that G-D wanted Judah to be with Tamar because the mashiach has to come. It just looks like tumah---impurity. You are correct and it’s what the midrash says. And what the chazal expounded upon comes from one utterance. Judah said, “tzadeka mimeini”---she is more righteous than I. Prior, he had her convicted and he wanted to take her out to kill her. But Tamar was very smart; she took out Judah’s staff, his signet ring, and a whole bunch of other stuff, and said: Okay, I’m guilty. Fine. But, whoever owned these,---guess what? He also.... and Judah took one look and confessed. The incredible thing is that Judah admitted it in front of everybody. Imagine his admission, his confession, that he’d been with this zona---harlot. Here’s the tzaddik, the righteous Judah, openly admitting that he actually had relations with this woman at the side of the road. What courage it took! Most guys would have said, “Me? I don’t know her. Me?”
But here’s the crux of the matter: The chazal learn about free will because Judah said, “tzadka mimeini,” translated as “she is more righteous than I.” Chazal broke this down to “tzadka” as something Judah said, but the “mimeini”---than I is coming from G-D. The “mimeini” means: all this is from Me! The midrash says that G-d addressed the angel, the angel interested in “taiva”---arousal in a person; you know that type of arousal. To the angel one can imagine G-D’s directive: Come on; turn on the oven! Take away Judah’s free will, his choice, because, if you don’t, then how will a mashiach come out of this? It’s am amazing midrash when you think about that.
There are various ways to take away a person’s choice, right? The typical way is for G-D to put into your mind the decision itself. That’s complete removal of choice because He put the idea for that decision in your mind and you think it’s your own. With Judah, G-d didn’t do that. He turned up the drive. When you do that, there’s a point that you pass where there is no free will. A person can only tolerate a certain amount of arousal. So, the Gemara says in “Brachos” that, were you to give a man money, fancy clothing, and access to a brothel, he’s finished. His “goose is cooked” because what can he do? It’s impossible to withstand that temptation because you’ve given him every wherewithal that he needs to go and engage in that place.
Participant: What about Yosef ha’tzadik---righteous Yosef?
R’Kessin: He still had free will.
Participant: All the intensity was there, but he still went against all the forces that were pushing him to do it.
R’Kessin: You know what the real story of that is? When Yosef was approached by Potiphar’s wife, he almost succumbed were it not for the fact that he drove his fingers straight into the ground and that was pretty painful. Pain can immediately stop arousal. But, he had free will and you have to understand what the extent of the arousal was.
Without getting into the whole story, because Esav sinned when he was still a patriarch, Ya’akov had to double up his own job. Obviously, I’m skipping a lot of stuff because I want to get to Yosef. The primary job of Ya’akov was to distinguish truth and falsehood and promote truth. The job of Esav was to reckon, to struggle with, the temptations of pleasure and the inclination toward arrogance. When Ya’akov had to cover for Esav and deal with temptation and self-aggrandizement, he had to go into the world where that stuff is. He couldn’t do two jobs for the duration, so Yosef became a tribe and a half-patriarch; he was elevated. Yosef assumed Esav’s job. Yosef now had to wrestle with these temptations of the world.
You see this when Ya’akov fought Esav’s guardian angel who was, essentially, the Satan. The Satan is described as an “ish”--- a man. Why? It’s because the Satan appears to you in your mind as a fellow human being, not something angelic or otherworldly. The temptation in your mind is called “man.” That’s how he appears to you, as a man inside your head. The verse says: “V’yovo” ---he will arrive. And it says that Potiphar wasn’t there so you know already something’s about to happen.
It says about Yosef that, on that day, “v’yavo ha’bayta la’asot malachto”---and he arrived to the house to do his work. What work? The obvious meaning is that Yosef arrived to manage Potiphar’s household. But the Kabbalistic meaning, the allegorical meaning, is that he was arriving at the house to fulfill the job of Esav. The temptations of pleasure that Yosef would have to overcome would be the full onslaught of the Satan, not one of his appointees. It’s the Satan driving up the arousal and urging upon Yosef to the full extent of what the Satan could do. Somehow, Yosef had the strength--- because he was a messianic root soul of Mashiach ben Yosef---to stop, despite the near-impossibility. Without that capability, he would not have been able to see his father’s image, and so on. He realized that, if he succumbs, he will be taken off the “merkavah”---Divine chariot. The simple explanation is that he drove his fingers into the earth and the pain deadened the drive but, even then, the midrash says that he had ten drops coming out of him. I don’t want to get into that whole thing. It’s not just a normal seduction. This was a completely abnormal situation for Yosef. A man is usually not subjected to this, you see, because the one responsible for the arousal was the Satan himself. That was what he had to vanquish; that had been Esav’s job.
Participant: It says there was a man in the house. I thought it might be an angelic emissary of the “sitra achra”--- other side, evil, impurity.
R’Kessin: I will give you the “remez” – allusion. Because it says, “there was no man of the household there in the house,” it alludes to something deeper. It should have just said: “there was no man in the house.” What does it mean that “there was no man of the household in the house”? In truth, there really was no man of the household, but there was another man. It was the Satan in the form of a man. This one allusion reveals the whole story.
When Jacob fought Esav’s angel, the Torah describes this adversarial entanglement as “v’yavek ish imo”---the man fought with him. This establishes the identity of “the man.” Anyway, Yosef had free will.
Participant: So Potiphar’s wife was the Satan?
R’Kessin: No. It’s almost as though she were irrelevant. The source of the arousal was the Satan.
Participant: It’s a set up.
R’Kessin: Well, yeah, it’s certainly a setup. That’s why it says he came into her house to do his work. What work?---the setup. Anyway, how did I get into this?
Participant: Judah and Tamar.
R’Kessin: Oh. I got it.
G-D could just take your away free will, your decision-making power, and He could insert your decision and you would never know that it’s not yours. Or, He can allow you to retain your decision-making capability and just turn up the heat. What are you going to do? Either way you’re finished in the sense that you could just go through with it and Tamar is the classic example. Judah had free will, theoretically, but G-D turned up his drive so it was impossible for him to avoid completing the sin.
It is like Pharoah, the hardening of his heart. G-D either inserted the decision: I decide not to let them go or Pharoah had the choice but somehow G-D threw him a thought: If I let them go, who’s going to build my pyramids or something like that, right? So, perhaps G-D threw him an argument that he just couldn’t refute, even though, theoretically, he had free choice. G-D can play around with your freedom to choose in various ways or he can put you in such circumstances that your free will is almost too restrained to exert and the odds are that you’re not going to make it.
Participant: I read a “pshat”--literal interpretation that G-d actually reinstated Pharoah’s freedom to choose because the plagues were so painful and so tragic that nobody in their right mind would have kept the situation going.
R’Kessin: Yeah, I know it’s insane, I mean his country was being....
Participant: So now he’s back to having the free choice.
R’Kessin: Yeah okay. It’s a different way to look at it. It’s very hard to believe Pharoah did what he did because his whole country was being destroyed, obviously, miraculously, and this guy’s saying no, he won’t comply. Why does a person have “yetzer ha’ra”---evil inclination and a “yetzer tov”---good inclination? These put you in situations that you need in order to do the job of observing mitzvahs.
First of all, like I said, you have to have a physical universe that obscures the spiritual. Then, there’s a way to get around it by making a spiritual potential from each physical object. Then a man has to have free will, or else what’s the point? But a person also has to have “yitzrot”---inclinations, a good tendency and a tendency inclined toward malevolence. Why?
A yetzer ha’ra is a shlepper. What does that mean? He shleps---drags you. What does that bad inclination do for you, really? What it does is it controls your drives; that’s basically how it manifests itself in this physical existence. And the same question goes for the yetzer tov. One could say: I’ll make a decision but if I’m not driven to make a decision, why make any decision? I’ll just relax. What forces you into the arena? Why would a guy want to enter the arena at all? A guy can think that there’s an arena and he’s got to make a decision. Does he decide to take up the challenge or not? No! I’ll just stay out of the arena.
Participant: I’ll stay in bed.
R’Kessin: I’ll stay in bed all day. What do I need this for, right? Why do people go to work? It’s because they have to eat; let’s face it. If we could sustain ourselves without having to buy food and drink and all that stuff, who would go to work?---nobody. Think about that.
But the real reason why we enter the arena is because G- Dsays: You’re not here to lazy-off and do nothing. I’m going to compel you to enter the arena and fight. We have no choice about that. Both inclinations---but especially the evil one---compel us to enter situations where we have to fight, you see. We must enter the arena and take up the challenge because we are driven. Anybody knows what the yetzer ha’tov is? I think I once spoke about this. Am I right?
Participant: Neshama. The yetzer ha’ra is there when we’re born.
R’Kessin: Yeah. You’re born without a yetzer tov. It enters at the age of thirteen and the yetzer ha’ra is there when you’re born. A person has a neshama and the neshama is what?---automatically, it’s inclined toward holiness, to the right way, so why do we need a yetzer tov? That’s the question you have to ask. The answer is simple: the good inclination is the neshama. The evil inclination is an abnormal adjunct to an individual because the real individual is the neshama itself. The problem is that the neshama has to go through growth stages. It becomes manifest really at a certain age later on. The yetzer ha’ra doesn’t experience growth, which leads us to this question: what is the physical manifestation of the yetzer tov? What other terms correspond to inclination toward good?
R’Kessin: What does “maturity” mean?
Participant: “Da’as,”---the ability to discriminate, to know the difference between opposing entities.
R’Kessin: I want to tell you something; there are a lot of kids who are ten years old that are much smarter than their parents and they do not have the yetzer tov. Come on! You don’t know kids eleven, twelve years old that are smarter than their parents? Believe me, there are a lot of parents that don’t have that much da’as; I’m sure you’ve met them. So the question again is: how does it manifest itself? What happens to a kid, boy or girl, at either twelve or thirteen that represents the yetzer tov, and it’s not daas.
Participant: Accepting reality and not living in fantasy.
R’Kessin: Okay that’s close. You heard my previous lecture. Okay. That answer is too close to what I said. You guys are taking me for a ride. The difficulties of the teenager, of adolescence, are those developmental requirements. One of them can be summed up with the question, “who am I?” Teenagers are trying to find themselves; that’s one of their developmental tasks. The second task is to become independent, but there’s something that precedes that. They need to know reality and conform to that reality. That’s the yetzer tov. It’s really a developmental, a psychological force. A guy becomes a teenager; he reaches age twelve or thirteen. He becomes interested in the real world. He doesn’t play so much anymore. He’s not like a seven-year-old kid that can suspend reality and just play. A teenager doesn’t play like a kid; that’s the concept of the word you used---“maturity.” To be mature means what?---to want to know reality and to accept it, to conform to what reality is. So the neshama wakes up and, in a sense, that awakening is a kind of revelation when the person is interested in the real world. It’s part of the journey called who am I? The only way to know who I am, really, and what’s out there, is to discern, and acknowledge reality. There’s that interest in the real world and not a fake world.
So, we have two drives: one is the bodily drive, and the other is to know the meaning of life, to know reality, accommodate oneself to that reality and search for its meaning. That is the yetzer tov. That’s how it manifests. The drive of the neshama is very powerful. The drive for identity, you see, the drive to want to identify “self,” to understand reality, to accept responsibility, these too are drives. It doesn’t mean the kid won’t have hang-ups; it’s a struggle.
Participant: Preferring illusion?
Participant2: …because they’re bribed by the yetzer ha’ra.
Participant: They are completely enveloped by the yetzer ha’ra then. So even though they have the yetzer tov, meaning they have the awareness that they are not interested in the ….
R’Kessin: That’s the conflict. Do you really want to understand reality and who you are? That’s a drive. It’s not a thought; it’s a drive. A teenager has that drive and there’s a whole search going on so, hopefully, when that person is driven, he will find out and he will accommodate to the reality. The yetzer ha’ra is the opposite compulsion. It tries to increase the physical urges and then you have a dilemma. Do you go in the direction of truth and meaning, or do you go in the direction of pleasure and ego? That’s why you’ll notice the RaMCHaL, in the first “cheilek”---portion never talks about the yetzer tov. He never identifies the yetzer tov as an angelic entity. There is no angelic force, really; it’s you. Your G-dly soul is the yetzer tov. It needn’t be anything else. You don’t need somebody else telling you to be successful, find meaning; you already have that. What you do need is a drive completely contrary to the yeter tov, the urge for pleasure and physical comfort. Will you be bribed by your yetzer ha’ra whispering in your ear: Aw, come on! Look what you can enjoy, the beauty that can be yours, the gorgeous houses, the cars, the women! It’s Hollywood--- glamour, success, power, but all measured by a shallow yardstick. That’s a tremendous yetzer ha’ra, because we all have a drive to enjoy life, to be secure. Forget about spirituality. But, at the same time, man is driven to have meaning.
Ever see a dog driven to have meaning? A cat? I’m sure the cat-lovers and the dog-lovers will say, “Yeah, my pet does” but animals have no desire or drive for meaning, only to survive. Therefore, it’s territorial: Just get out of my way; I’ve got to survive. That’s all that occupies the mind of an animal; there’s nothing higher than that. A man is the only creature, so to speak, that is driven for meaning, purpose, and achievement.
Through achievement, a person discovers some measure of meaning and purpose. Hopefully, a person will use that to find out the truth and not be bribed by the yetzer ha’ra. That’s why, without the Torah, how are you going to make it? A person is significantly cajoled by his yetzer ha’ra. How is the Torah an antidote to the temptation of the evil inclination? The Torah is truth. It gives you the meaning.
Participant: the light...
R’Kessin: ...the light, the “ohr”---spiritual Light is what the Torah offers. You have the drive to know truth, meaning, purpose, and you add the Torah; these will fuse into one. That’s why you find a guy, he’s eighty years old, he’s worth a fortune of money, yet he can be heard to say, “What is all this? What do I need it for?” He realizes that it was a wild goose chase. Did I really need all this? Do you know how many wealthy people, unless they are so into hedonism, eventually ask themselves: “For what do I need all this? For what do I need five cars in my garage?” You know what I’m saying. They realize it’s empty. There are so many people who have a tremendous drive to excel in materialism, pleasure, power, honor and, in the end say, “Who cares?” They can say that when they are seventy, eighty, because, by then, the yetzer ha’ra is dried up. That’s why older people are able to open up their eyes more easily than young people. Young guys have raging hormones, but older guys can examine their lives from a far calmer, more rational perspective and ask what it has all meant. They could still do teshuva---repentance, of course. Youth is sorely tempted by the enticements of the world.
Participant: The desire for kavod---honor doesn’t diminish with age. A person can be aged and still be desiring of kavod even more than a younger person because it’s a ruchni---spiritual endeavor. He wants the legacy.
Participant: That’s why Donald Trump wanted to become president, because he had everything, so why would he want (more)?---because the kavod---honor is tremendous.
R’Kessin: No, he’s not into the kavod. He already was a celebrity, a world- famous celebrity. He doesn’t need the presidency, no - -
R’Kessin: No. It’s not power. Trump felt there was no meaning. He wants the meaning of making America great. That’s why. It hit him. This guy’s got everything that any guy would ever want. So, what’s missing in his life is not billions of dollars or Mar-a-Lago. What he’s desperate for is a sense of purpose, something that he can leave behind and say, the fact that I lived was worthwhile to the world, not worthwhile to me alone. The presidency is the vehicle enabling him to make America great so he will have done tremendous things for mankind; that’s what it is with Trump. No question about that.
Participant: If the yetzer ha’ra is accompanying you for thirteen years, and you’re bar mitzvah, are you getting a yetzer tov that’s equal to it or is it not a fair fight? Is your yetzer ha’ra here and you’ve got the yetzer tov down here or....it seems like it’s not a fair fight.
R’Kessin: Theoretically, it should be a fair fight because the drive for meaning and truth in a man is an incredibly strong drive; it really is, but, of course, we are enormously distracted because of the yetzer ha’ra, all the materialistic pleasures and all the attractions of this world. But it is a very strong fight. Deep down everybody wants to have meaning. I want to have a life that’s purposeful and meaningful. It’s true that a guy could be distracted for years but, deep down, there’s always something bothering him: What am I doing? Why am I here? Is it just to save up, to make another dollar, to take another vacation, to have more pleasures? What, in the end, is it really all for? Existentially, everybody is bothered by these gnawing questions until they wake up and are willing to face them all. Human nature is driven towards meaning and achievement and purpose---always. It begins as a teenager.
Participant: About the yetzer tov, you said an adolescent wants to conform to reality. There are a lot of kids that are born into horrendous situations in the house---beatings, worse things---and they conform to reality by becoming really violent. So, where’s the yetzer tov helping them?
R”Kessin: Wait, wait, wait….when you look at a person, there are two things going on. There are two fundamental drives in a human. One is survival and that always takes priority because you’ve got to survive. A person is always concerned about survival. That is why the unconscious mind dominates so much of a person’s life. When you meet anybody, you have your unconscious on red alert, 24//7. That means everything that you do, moment to moment, is always being evaluated in the context of being a possible threat to your survival. It’s unconscious. That’s why when you meet people, you immediately, but unconsciously, check the guy out: Hmmm, is he threatening to me? Is he going to wash the floor with me ego-wise? That never stops. That arises from the instinct for self-preservation, the instinct to ward off death. The greatest fear a person has is of death. It’s always automatic and it never turns off---never. Survival means many things, by the way. It means ego survival---in other words, psychological---survival. We need friends, social interactions. There are many things we need psychologically; that’s always on a person’s mind. When that is removed or, if you’re less preoccupied with that, you can always ask yourself: where am I? What am I doing? What’s the meaning of life? What is interesting is that most people do survive, obviously. I mean.... a guy’s worth a hundred million dollars, so what does he have to go to work for? Why does he need another hundred million dollars? People can’t resist the survival instinct no matter what they’ve accumulated. The “meaning instinct,” if you want to use that phrase, cannot surface.
The greatest damage to society today is the smartphone. You’re always on the phone. There was a time when you’d be in a car without a phone, so, guy could think about himself: Who am I? How are my relationship? Then along came a mobile phone and robbed you even of the spare time you have. The problem with the smartphone is it robs you of any other type thinking which is critical to you. That’s the greatest danger of all, not to mention the other dangers of the smartphones with the Internet and all that. Actually, it’s the smartphones, not the cellphones; kosher phones don’t have much on them to distract. It’s always about everybody else’s life, Facebook and all the media hoopla; it’s killing everybody. The smartphone is one of the greatest victories that the yetzer ha’ra has ever taken advantage of. If people were smart, they would get rid of their smartphones because it’s destroying them. What you could see on the smartphone in terms of the Internet is beyond belief, what you have access to know. And, of course, it’s addictive. You walk into a room and everybody’s on his smartphone. Whatever happened to human interaction? Nobody talks to anybody anymore. It has robbed you of your ability to think about your humanity and about spirituality. It will destroy mankind, the greatness, the nobility of man. When the time comes for the newly-awakening adolescent to be driven to search for meaning, that’s when he gets a smartphone. The greatest victory of the yetzer ha’ra is the smartphone. It won. It’s not even the Internet; it’s a smartphone and a smart phone together with the internet, is a “chorban”—self-immolation.
Participant: But the internet was introduced as part of the messianic enlightenment to allow mashiach, when he finally comes, to be allowed to be linked to the whole....
R’Kessin: Correct. I did say that.
I’ve got to end it with this: G-D plans: I now have to introduce something that the mashiach will need. What is that?---global connectivity. What is “global connectivity?---internet. That’s so the mashiach can get on the computer in one second and reach everybody. Everybody, right? There are billions of people on there simultaneously. G-d also introduced wireless connectivity so you don’t even have to be plugged in; you can see it in the Mohave Desert. You’re in the desert and you’re still watching with your smartphone because it is via satellite, Why?---for the purpose of mashiach.
So the Satan objects: Wait a minute! What do you mean ‘mashiach’? You can’t do this. They’re not ready for mashiach. They don’t deserve the mashiach. Come on!
G-D reconsiders: Ok, you have a point. Justice demands that I not introduce the Internet for global connectivity so the mashiach can talk to everybody. But, I’ll make a deal with you; you get it first.
I get it first? You’re on. I get the deal first, right? says the Satan. Now, every shmutz on the internet---that’s the Satan. But, in the end, it will be used for global connectivity by the mashiach. Because the Satan represents justice, being the Heavenly District Attorney, G-D does comply. We’re not talking about Mashiach ben David but about Mashiach ben Yosef. It’s the same principle as in the ingathering, the return to the Land of Israel. G-D said: It’s now time that the Jews come back.
The Satan says: Come on, You can’t do that!
G-D’s response is: Ok, your guys will get it first--- The Mapai, the Eirev Rav, all the secular Zionists...
The Satan says: By the time I get finished with the Jews, I’m going to shmutz them all up so much, gonna get them all modernized so they’ll drop the Torah.
G-D has a timetable. The messianic Light has got to come down and express itself in some innovation or wisdom, but those bent on corrupting it, co-opting it, distorting it, get it first.
Same thing happened with Kabbalah. G-d introduces messianic Light and the Satan objects to giving that awesome enlightenment of spirituality to the Jews. The deal is struck again.
Kabbalah is an esoteric science not known to most until Madonna and Hollywood begins a broad popularization of a bastardized form of it. The Satan makes sure that the Kabbalah will be so fashmutzed, (Yiddish slang for ‘made dirty’), made into such a tuma---spiritual impurity, that nobody’s going to want to take it up legitimately. This is called “shochad le’Satan,” when G-D addresses the requirements of His timetable, deems that something needs to happen, and the Satan introduces an accusation because that’s what he does, right? The Jews don’t deserve it, and so on.
The addiction to smartphones is a recognized psychological addiction. The person thinks: Wait, my friend is going to call me at 2 A.M. on Facebook, on Twitter, on WhatsApp. I’ve got to follow the guy on Twitter.” It’s 24/7.
Participant: Are the Eirev Rav considered Jews?
R’Kessin: Yeah, of course.
Participant: They’re really considered....like they have a neshama of a Jew or are they considered like Eirev Rav, like they’re still...
R’Kessin: No, they are Jews that want to lead astray the Jewish people.
Participant: They’re considered Jews with a Jewish neshama?
R’Kessin: The Eirev Rav is not against Jews. The Eirev Rav is against G-D. They don’t say that, but they want to destroy G-D as the major force in a Jew’s life.
Participant: to destroy the Jewish people...
R’Kessin: Yes, as Rav Meir said: “Yisrael af al pi she’chatu, Yisrael nihiu---even though Israel sins, they are still considered Jews. Their thrust is to reduce Judaism to culture: gefilte fish, bagels, all the clichés. Forget about Torah. Anyway, it’s something to think about. If people hear this lecture, hear what I say about the smartphones and cure themselves of the addiction, then it was worth just giving this talk.
Participant: They’re going to hear this on their smartphones.
R’Kessin: Yeah, of course. That’s right. It’s true; it’s an ironic and constant contradiction. Perhaps if you didn’t have your smartphone, you wouldn’t have watched this video.
Participiant: This means the Satan got it first.
R’Kessin: There used to be an encyclopedia called “Encyclopedia Britannica” that big repository of information. Today, I don’t know if anybody buys Britannica; it’s all free on Wikipedia. Encyclopedias are gone.
Participant: They stopped printing it.
R’Kessin: Do they monitor Wikipedia? How vast is Wikipedia?
R’Kessin Anything you want to know, it’s like the urim v’tumim---breastplate worn by the High Priest enabling him to render judgment….I hate to say it (draw that comparison).
Participant: Anything that’s not in Wikipedia you can find if you ask Google. Google’s getting very scarily good at finding you what you need to know, very intuitive. It’s good but it’s scary. You don’t need a memory program; just ask Mr. Google.
R’Kessin: The internet has had the greatest of impacts on civilization ever known. The internet is one thing. It’s the smartphone that you take with you. I’ll end with this: I once went into a restaurant restroom and I heard somebody talking. I’m wondering: I don’t see anybody. It’s funny, but this is how far it goes, right? There’s a guy in the stall, doing what he has to do, and he’s talking on the phone. I’m thinking: this is absolutely incredible! A guy can’t even go to the bathroom in peace. Such a force to dominate a person’s entire life! It’s sick and it’s destructive. Need I say more?