Our inherent states of self-interest are our inner knots darkness. Most humans, except the most spiritually advanced, are filled with them. Yet, the Creator does something very beautiful with our selfish yearnings. He “bribes” us with them. He drops succulent treats along the path we’re supposed to follow. That’s how we’re bribed into spinning the unknown gears of the cosmic machinery.
Last night, someone highlighted a self-centered knot at core of my Judaism. She claimed that my Judaism is largely based on certain fundamentals I learned some 27 years ago at the Kabbalah Center (or in those days “The Research Centre of Kabbalah”) and that I’m driven by a love for depth and not selflessly given over to the will of the Creator. While it sounds embarrassingly scathing, I wholeheartedly agree. I know that if it weren’t for Kabbalah, I would have about as much interest in Judaism as I have in the culinary arts. I would regard it as something that life circumstances places me into contact with. Yet, I wouldn’t be able to muster the interest level to immerse myself in it - neither in study nor in practice. The Creator used my personal interests to bribe me into practicing Judaism, as He uses a man’s love for a woman to bribe him into bringing a soul into the world.
He’s shown me that at Judaism’s heart lies the mystery of life itself, at reaches that are higher and fuller than science provides. Our Kabbalistic sages easily envisioned a universe of pure energy well ahead of scientific cosmology. The sages envisioned existence beyond time light years ahead of Einstein. There are so many wonderful ideas in many areas of life that Kabbalah exposes me to. The Talmud, Jewish Law, ritual practices and the Bible are of interest to me when they are swept up into this amazing area of study. Otherwise, they taste to me lifeless and bland; lacking spiritual context.
I might be criticized by some, for taking the “bribe” too seriously and maybe missing the main point of Judaism. However, I acknowledge that through this dark band of self-interest I can accomplish much. I can re-envision Judaism in a way that works for me. Without this glue, the whole picture falls apart for me. Judaism becomes reduced to a system of inconvenient rules, stories that seem unlikely, often anachronistic ideas, but, with a rich cultural heritage (which can be enjoyed in Judaism’s surrounding secular space).
I think of myself as the wealthy man who was asked by a spiritual master not to engage in a life of spiritual and pious asceticism. On the contrary, he was asked to eat well and enjoy life. When the disciples asked the master, “Why?”, he explained that this man came down to the world to engage in a life of charity. He needs comforts in order to empathize with other people’s cries for their basic needs. In other words, he wasn’t beyond the bribe. He actually needed the bribe to thread him along the path of his life’s mission. So too, I’m not beyond the bribe.
Though it might seem like I am enveloped in a band of selfishness, I think it’s a lot healthier to accept it than to deny it. If I accept it, it can turn into a doorway. If I deny it, I don’t escape from it. I just mislead myself and others. So which alternative is ultimately healthier? At least, where there’s honesty, there’s a place for the Creator.