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The following is excerpted from Jewish by Choice by Rabbi Eliyahu Yaakov Deutsch.  

God set up the world as a system by which humanity has the choice to pull away from Him, thereby allowing for the “higher” Spouse-like relationship with Him to become available. God gives us the Free Will to choose away from the relationship with Him, since the quality of a relationship depends on one’s ability to choose it, and choosing it means you have to have the ability to destroy it. That is, it’s only a real choice toward the relationship if the participant in the relationship has the real opportunity and pull to choose against the relationship, thereby bringing about its collapse. It is because of this that God sets up a path “toward” Him and spirituality, as well as arranging for the option by which one can manipulate that path and go astray. This possibility of moving “away” from God applies to all of our character traits. Our character traits enable us to do Good and move toward God. But there is the option to manipulate these traits, use them in their unhealthy extreme, and go the other way, thus allowing for Free Will in the application of these traits. For example, the human being has a trait or quality called “giving,” but you can use giving in an extreme or incorrect manner, and then all of a sudden you are using the power of giving for the wrong purpose. The easiest illustration of this example is a society that advocates “free love” – this is a classic manipulation of the power of giving; this is giving gone wild.

Really Artificial

We are hardwired to go after the max, which is to build a relationship with the Infinite. But for every desire to get the real thing, there is a Coca-Cola option calling itself the real thing, when, in fact, it is artificial. When a person gets sucked into focusing his time and energy on such a Coca-Cola option, he ends up squandering his inner yearning for that which truly is the real thing (getting close to God). He exchanges the Real Thing for that which is portraying itself as the real thing despite the fact that its entire make-up consists of chemicals and food coloring (sugar and caffeine not withstanding). This is the concept of klipah, literally meaning “shell,” in Kabbalah. In Kabbalistic terminology, klipah describes something that is a distraction or manipulation of the true goal. Just as a shell stands in the way of your attaining the purpose or goal you are pursuing (i.e., the fruit), so too, klipah stands in the way of your attaining the purpose or goal you are pursuing (i.e., relationship God).

When we think about this deeper, we find that, despite the fact that the shell stands in the way of getting to the fruit, it is from the fruit itself that the shell gets its whole life and vitality in the first place. So, klipah stands in the way of your getting to the purpose, yet it is from the purpose itself that klipah gets its whole life and vitality. For example, imagine a person who builds a trivial collection, such as comic books or baseball cards. Where does his desire to build such a collection come from? If we dig deep, I think we’d have to say that building such a collection is rooted in the collector’s inner yearning to build, accomplish, and grow something in a meaningful way. Judaism says that this yearning is actually rooted in the soul’s desire to build a relationship with the Infinite – to build something meaningful; to build the Real Thing.

Yet the collector is using this yearning in order to build something that is not meaningful. The collector takes a soul desire and uses that inspiration and power of assertion to do something else, something “other” that distracts and, ultimately, pulls him away from the true goal of the origin of that soul desire. Building such a collection is a manipulation and hijacking of the soul’s energy to accomplish. It undermines the original intent of that energy to accomplish in the arena in which it is truly worth accomplishing – in one’s relationship with the Infinite and the expression of one’s soul.

Growth & “Growth” Thus we can see that there is “holy growth” and there is the “klipah of growth.” That is, there is growth in areas that are objectively meaningful and purposeful, such as character refinement and one’s relationship with God. And there is an “other” side of growth, a “backside” of growth that feeds off the soul’s energy for holy growth, despite its being ultimately objectively meaningless and purposeless. At this point, it is important to clarify that we are not saying here that there is something categorically or inherently wrong with someone compiling a trivial collection, or with someone’s involvement with something that is not connected to his or her personal development and relationship with God.

Rather, we are pointing out that there is a tragedy going on. This tragedy is the fizzling away of the human being’s focus on and motivation for that which is ultimately valuable and meaningful, by way of pacifying his inner yearning for meaning through attributing a false sense of value and meaning to that which is ultimately not valuable and meaningful. Now, some people will claim that these things are relatively meaningful – that since the individual finds a certain 66 sense of fulfillment in his collection, it is therefore meaningful to him.

The truth is that my intent here is not to challenge that assertion. If a person senses a certain fulfillment or meaningfulness in a particular accomplishment, then, by definition, it is indeed relatively meaningful to him. However, what I am trying to demonstrate here is that when you compare relative meaningfulness to objective meaningfulness, it comes out that relative meaningfulness is not meaningful at all. This is because, ultimately, what is meaningful is that which goes on, that which is everlasting. For example, what meaningful difference is there between me waking up this morning and building a hospital versus me waking up this morning and filling a hospital by going on a killing spree? Obviously, it would be nicer of me to build the hospital than to go on the killing spree, but what makes my decision between the two objectively meaningful?

You can also follow the Rabbi on his Beliefnet blog and buy his book here.

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