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Jewish World Review
Jan. 13, 2006
/13 Teves, 5766
Is there life before death?
Rabbi David Aaron
Secrets to eternal self-actualization
Then Abraham expired and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his nation.
And Isaac expired and died, and was gathered unto his nation, being old and full of days.
And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and expired and was gathered unto his nation.
Aaron shall be gathered unto his nation; for he shall not enter into the land.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Get thee up into this mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given unto the children of Israel. And when thou hast seen it, thou also shalt be gathered unto thy nation, as Aaron thy brother was gathered.
Numbers 27:12, 13
Why is the death of these great people described as "gathered unto his nation"?
THE ULTIMATE YOU
According to Jewish mysticism our individual soul is really an aspect of the collective soul of our nation which is an aspect of the Universal Soul-G-d. An individual is not an isolated being floating in outer space; disconnected from a greater context. Rather an individual soul is actually an individualistic expression of the national soul of his people. And therefore, his death is described as being gathered unto his nation.
We experience personal meaning and fulfillment only to the extent that we daily serve in our own unique way the betterment of our community and ultimately the world. I think this is one of the common epiphanies for many Jews when they visit Israel their destined homeland. I recall the first time I toured the borders of Israel and heard heroic stories about young Israel soldiers who valiantly defended their country from invading enemies and sacrificed their lives for the Jewish People. These selfless soldiers gave up their individual life so that their nation could live on. I wondered Is there such a reality called national life? Does a nation have a collective soul that encompasses our individual souls?
Jewish mysticism teaches that a nation is not simply the sum total of many individuals. Rather the nation is a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. In fact, each soul is actually an individual expression of the whole nation born out of the collective soul of the nation. Therefore, even though each of us is an individual we are personally meaningful only because we are members of our nation's soul; shareholders in its national destiny. In addition, just as an individual soul has a body, so too the national soul has a body. The body of a nation is its land. The body of the collective soul of the Jewish People is the land of Israel. Just as you wouldn't want someone to cut off your finger or hand, you wouldn't want someone to cut off a piece of the land of Israel because he would be cutting off a piece of the national body of the Jewish People.
Jewish mysticism also teaches that the national soul is a unique expression of the Universal soul which is G-d. Therefore, an individual soul is also an individualistic expression of the Universal soul G-d. This further explains the meaning of the belief that each of us is created in the image of G-d. Each of us is a unique expression and manifestation of G-d. G-d becomes manifest through the unique vantage points of every nation and every individual soul. Therefore there is no such thing as an individual soul that exists separate and independent of its nation's soul and the Universal Soul G-d.
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Self-actualization is generally understood to mean that I actualize myself; I take care of myself, become fully me, use my talents to their utmost and succeed in my evolution towards individuality. My personal fulfillment does not necessarily have anything to do with anybody else. This definition of self-actualization does not entail any national responsibility or commitment to G-d. But in truth there is no such thing as an individual soul existing independent and apart from the collective national soul or the Universal Soul. Therefore, true self-actualization can only be accomplished when it is concerned with facilitating the actualization of your nation's destiny, helping to improve the world and serving to manifest G-d.
For example, if I, David Aaron, perceive myself as an independent entity; existing apart and separate of the Jewish people, humanity and G-d then I am actually alienating myself from my true self. Since my true self is an individual expression of the collective soul of the Jewish People, the world and G-d then when I neglect the needs of my people, the needs of the world and the will of G-d I neglect myself. If I really care about myself, then I would really care about my people, humanity and G-d. Therefore, selflessly serving your people, the world and G-d is the only true way to self actualization. To be selfless is truly selfish and to be selfish is to lose your self.
EGO OR SACRED SELF ESTEEM?
Scientifically, we are not even one-billionth of a speck of dust relative to the universe. How then, is it possible, that anybody could ever think that their existence is significant? And yet, not only do people think they are really something, some even think they are everything, the be all and end all of existence. Where would they get such a ridiculous idea? They could get it from their soul which is unique manifestation of the be all and end all G-d. Sometime our prideful thoughts are really an expression of the true grandeur of our soul as an expression of the eternal grandeur of G-d.
We must, however, remind ourselves when we feel our own personal grandeur that it is not our grandeur that we sense inside but rather it is G-d's. When prideful thoughts and feelings erupt within us we should not deny them and quickly put them down. We must clarify whether they are coming from our soul or from our ego. And even when we ascertain that they are coming from our soul we must, nonetheless, be careful that our ego does not take these precious prideful thought and feelings and use them to lead us away from their true source and meaning. The ego could use them to confuse us into thinking that our greatness comes from our selves independent of anyone beyond us. Our ego appropriate these holy sparks of self esteem and lead us to self destruction; alienating us from true self rooted in our people, humanity and G-d.
Torah teaches that no character trait is absolutely negative, everything has a role. All we have to do is look at each trait with an open mind and determine its pluses and the minuses. When it comes to pride there is an aspect of it that expresses the G-dly grandeur of our soul and is therefore, truly self affirming and the source of sacred self esteem. But there is an aspect of pride that only expresses our ego which is self destructive; alienating us from our true "I". This type of pride focuses on petty concerns and social status; it embodies a desire for honor and one-upmanship. This type of pride confuses us to think that as individuals we stand independent and apart from the greater community and G-d.
We need to probe our inner psyche and determine the source of the prideful thoughts and feelings we have about ourselves. If they are coming from the ego then they are self destructive alienating us from our true self as it interfaces with our national self, international self and the ultimate self-G-d. But when these feelings come from our soul then they are precious and self affirming. They verify our connection to the collective soul of our people, the world and the universal soul-G-d. These prideful feelings confirm that our spiritual self is an expression of the power and beauty of our people, humanity and G-d.
A spiritually healthy person intuits that s/he is radiant, powerful, significant and great. If a person does not deeply intuit this then s/he has become disconnected from G-d. Since each and every one of us is an aspect and expression of G-d how can we think of ourselves as anything less than awesome. When people are spiritually healthy they intuit their Godly greatness and are driven to do great acts for their nation, the world and G-d.
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Rabbi David Aaron is the founder and dean of Isralight, an international organization with programming in Israel, New York South Florida, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Toronto. He has taught and inspired thousands of Jews who are seeking meaning in their lives and a positive connection to their Jewish roots.
He is the author of the newly released audio book, Kabbalah Works : Secrets for Purposeful Living and The Secret Life of G-d, Endless Light: The Ancient Path of Kabbalah to Love, Spiritual Growth and Personal Power , Seeing G-d and Love is my religion. (Click on links to purchase books. Sales help fund JWR.) He lives in the old City of Jerusalem with his wife and their seven children.
© 2006, Rabbi David Aaron