All through our years of formal schooling, we learn a great deal about the world around us: We study history, geography, biology, chemistry, physics, foreign languages, music, and so on. Through studying all these sciences, we gain a great deal of knowledge about the world. But sometimes we find ourselves wanting to learn about a different aspect of reality - ourselves, and for some reason, information about this is very hard to come by. So when we find ourselves wanting to know more about who we are, or what we are, where do we start?
The wisdom of Kabbalah is a science that studies precisely this - our very nature, and it asserts that in order to understand anything in the world, we must first understand our own true nature. When we begin studying our nature through this science, we realize something that is a bit hard to accept: Everything we do - we do for ourselves.
In other words, our prime motivation for doing anything is that we want to receive something in return for our action. It doesn’t really matter what that something is, as long as we consider it to be some sort of benefit. In fact, we wouldn’t even lift a finger unless there was something in it for us. In Kabbalah, this is called “egoism,” our inborn nature.
However, the fact that we always act with the aim of self benefit is not always evident, because this aim can be disguised by what we perceive to be altruistic acts, such as donating to charities, establishing and supporting organizations that do good works, and generally “doing the right thing.” Yet, underneath the physical actions, the fact remains that we would not do these things unless they made us feel good about ourselves, even if it’s just by a bit.
For example, by donating to charity and helping the disadvantaged, one draws pleasure from knowing that others appreciate his actions. And even if this is done anonymously and no one else knows about your “good deed,” you still feel an inner sense of worth and pride, because you contributed to the world. That is to say, you nevertheless derived some kind of pleasure from the action, which was, apparently, your motivation for doing it in the first place.
Correcting Our Intentions
In Kabbalah, the acknowledgement of our true nature - egoism, is called “the recognition of evil,” and it isn’t such an easy thing to admit and accept about ourselves. It is, however, the first step in our journey for knowledge about our true selves. Kabbalists explain that this journey entails a process of “correction,” which refers to a correction of that egoistic intention, rooted within us.
We were created to have desires, and all our actions reflect our intention to receive pleasure by fulfilling those desires. The fact is that we cannot change or correct our desires. However, we can change the intention of “receiving for ourselves” to “receiving for the sake of others.” That is, we can satisfy our desires with the intention of giving or bestowing to them. It is much like a cell in the body that receives oxygen and nourishment from the blood: It does not receive these things for itself, but for the good of the entire body.
This process of correction starts with that little spark within us that demands to know more about who we are, where we came from and where we are headed. Kabbalah calls this spark “a point in the heart,” and explains that this is how we start our journey of self-discovery. It is a path that eventually leads us to develop that point in our heart into an intention of “bestowal.” As we develop this intention, the path of self-discovery continues to open up for us, and we are given opportunities for our continued spiritual growth and development.