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What Is “A Road Whose Beginning Is Thorns and Its End Is a Plain” in the Work?
Article No. 37, Tav-Shin-Mem-Tet, 1988-89
It is written in Midrash Tanchuma (p 318b): “Behold, I place before you. It is written, ‘From the mouth of the upper one, the bad and the good will not emerge.’ Moses, too, set before them two ways—the good and the bad, the path of life and the path of death, a blessing and a curse. There is an allegory about an old man who sat by the roadside before two roads: One, whose beginning is thorns and its end is a plain, and one whose beginning is a plain and its end is thorns. He sat at the beginning of the two and warned passersby, telling them, ‘Although you see that this one begins with thorns, take it, for its end is a plain.’ Anyone who was wise, listened to him and took it. He exerts some, but he goes in peace and comes in peace. But those who did not listen to him went and failed in the end. Therefore choose life; you and your descendants.”
To understand this in the work, meaning in the work of observing Torah and Mitzvot[commandments/good deeds], we should discern two ways: 1) Lo Lishma [not for Her sake], 2) Lishma [for Her sake].
It is known that in the work, we should discern between the purpose of creation and the correction of creation. The purpose of creation is for man to achieve wholeness, meaning to be rewarded with the delight and pleasure that the Creator wishes to give to the created beings. This is called “His desire to do good to his creations.” Because of this, all created beings yearn only to receive delight and pleasure.
Therefore, each and every day, a person yearns anew to receive delight and pleasure, and does not settle for what he had in the past. Rather, each day a person begins to receive delight and pleasure. This means that each day, a person must receive delight and pleasure. Some people receive pleasure now from what gave them delight and pleasure in the past. However, if they cannot receive pleasure from the past now, it is not regarded as enjoying the past now. That is, a person must feel pleasure every day. A person can feel pleasure even from what he gained yesterday, or he can feel pleasure today because yesterday he received respect, and so forth.
It follows that “His desire to do good to His creations” must mean that a person will feel each day anew that he receives pleasure. However, he can enjoy only from the pleasure he receives in the present from both the past and from the future. In feeling pleasure, if he enjoys in the present, this is regarded as having pleasure.
For this reason, in both corporeality and spirituality, a person must feel that he enjoys life now, regardless of the past or the future. Even with the greatest delight and pleasure, if he does not feel the delight and pleasure in the present, he could die because of the torments he is feeling now because he has nothing to enjoy.
But this depends on the level of suffering he is feeling now, and in this, meaning in the measure of the suffering, no two people are the same. Yet, all people must feel pleasure in the present. But as in corporeality, such as in eating, drinking, and sleeping, some people need to eat a lot, drink a lot, and sleep a lot, etc.
Likewise, in feeling pleasure, there are differences between people in the amount of need to feel pleasure. Some people need to feel a lot of it, and some can do with little. But they are equal in that they all need to feel pleasure in the present. If they cannot provide for themselves pleasure in the present from what they had in the past, and cannot depict for themselves some future pleasure that will shine in the present, they cannot exist in the world. This extends from the fact that the Creator’s will in the purpose of creation was His will to do good to His creations.
For this reason, each day we are given one hundred blessings to bless, as our sages said (Minchot43), “One must bless one hundred blessings every day. Also, each day, one must say four Shemareadings [text that is read four times a day]: ‘Shema of offerings,’ ‘Shema of Maker of Light,’ ‘Evening Shema,’ and ‘Shema by the Bedside,’ as well as to pray three times a day.”
This shows that in spirituality we must draw a unique light each time, which pertains to the work that one is doing. The reason is that the creatures are incapable of receiving the delight and pleasure that the Creator contemplated giving to the creatures all at once, due to the correction that took place, which is called Tzimtzum [restriction]. For the creatures to receive the delight and pleasure in vessels of bestowal and not in vessels reception in order to receive, according to the work of the creatures, the abundance extends down to them.
It therefore follows that when a person begins the work, since by nature he does not understand that it is worthwhile to do any movement unless it is for his own sake, Maimonides says that we must begin with observing Torah and Mitzvot in order to receive reward, since a person cannot understand otherwise. But afterward, a person is shown that he must do all his deeds in order to bestow.
Since the body cannot agree to this path, the person begins to ask, “Why can’t I work like the rest of the world, whose labor is all about the acts, and who have no work on the aim to bestow? But when I am told that I must walk on the path of bestowal, my work is twofold. That is, I have work observing Torah and Mitzvot in practice, as well as work on the aim to bestow. It follows that I have twice the work as the rest of the world. So,” his body yells, “What do you want from my life?!”
This means that the body asks, “Why do I deserve such a punishment, more than other people, in that I have extra work that the general public does not do? For this reason,” says the body, “I will not let you work even in action. Even though you cannot aim to bestow, I have no interest in them whatsoever. Therefore, I will object to your actions because you do not want to work for yourself.”
It follows that if a person wants to walk on the path of truth, he should make three discernments in his work: 1) Work to observe Torah and Mitzvot in practice, 2) Work on the intention. That is, he does not want any reward for observing Torah and Mitzvot, but works not in order to receive reward. 3) When a person wants to work, meaning observe Torah and Mitzvot without any reward, his work is twofold: on the action, meaning that he has great resistance to observing Torah and Mitzvot, even on the act itself, since the body objects to observing Torah and Mitzvot without any reward. It follows that although he still cannot aim to bestow during the work, since the body objects to these intentions, there is also resistance to the act itself, even without the aim. The body asks, “What are you doing?! You say that you do not want any payment for your work in observing Torah and Mitzvot.” It follows that he not only has work on the aim, which does not happen in the work of the general public, but he has twofold work in the act, as well, as it is more difficult to observe Torah and Mitzvot in practice.
Conversely, the bodies of those who work in the manner of the general public do not resist the work in practice all that much, since there, the body cannot ask, “What is this work for you?” because it gets immediate answers when he says to it that he believes in reward and punishment so he is not working for nothing, but he will be rewarded for his labor.
But with those who want to work on the path of truth, meaning in order to bestow, although reward and punishment apply to them, as well, meaning that they, too, believe in reward and punishment like people who work like the general public, yet, their reward and punishment are not similar to one another. The reward and punishment of the general public is in self-benefit. That is, they believe that if they observe Torah and Mitzvot they will receive reward for their own sake. And if they do not, they will be punished and will also lose the reward for their work.
But those who work in the way of the individuals, their reward is that the Creator gives them the privilege of working only for the sake of the Creator and not for their own sake. All of their pleasure is in being able to bring contentment to the Creator, and the punishment is if they stay under the governance of the will to receive for oneself. This is their whole punishment.
They believe in what our sages said, that the Creator said, “I have created the evil inclination; I have created the Torah as a spice.” That is, they learn in order to receive reward, which is that they will emerge from the control of the evil inclination, which is the will to receive only for themselves, and will be able to work solely for the sake of the Creator. Certainly, on such an aim, the body, which is the desire to receive for one’s own sake, must resist giving one the powers to be able to uproot it from the world.
It is as our sages said with regard to King David about the verse, “And my heart is slain within me.” Our sages said that David killed the evil inclination by fasting. Naturally, even to the act—when a person still cannot aim in order to bestow—the body immediately resists and does not let him make a single move, since the body knows he wants to use those actions in order to kill it, as said about King David.
It follows that even when actions are without the aim, the body already shows great resistance. The only way is that in everything he wants to do, he must have the Creator’s help. That is, for every little thing a person wants to do on the path of individuals, he must ask the Creator to help him do them. Yet, we must know that the fact that the person must ask the Creator for every single thing he wants to do because it is difficult for him, this is a great correction by which one gains the need to always pray to the Creator.
In other words, a person has what to pray for. Otherwise, it might happen that a person will not need the Creator’s help. Therefore, a person gains in that he is always connected to the Creator in that he needs Him. Otherwise, a person might do the best deeds, but the deeds will not obligate him to remember the Creator while performing the act, although he goes to do good deeds. This can be because he has been brought up this way, and it can also be without remembering who commanded him to do so, but simply out of habit.
Conversely, when it is hard for him to do those deeds, he must ask the Creator to help him. It follows that during the act, he remembers the Creator because he is asking Him for help to do the act. This is a great benefit that a person should pay attention to the fact that he has something that reminds him that there is a Creator in the world and we must serve Him.
According to the above, we can understand what we asked, What is a road whose beginning is thorns and whose end is a plain, in the work? The thing is that there are two ways in the work of the Creator: 1) for one’s own benefit, 2) for the Creator’s benefit.
The way of self-benefit is called “whose beginning is a plain,” since the body does not resist it so. Because the body believes in reward and punishment, it agrees to work although it exerts itself in this work. But when it looks at the reward, this work is regarded as “whose beginning is a plain,” meaning that the body understands that this way is acceptable because it is for one’s own sake.
But “its end is thorns.” That is, in the end, he sees that he cannot feel His Providence as The Good Who Does Good, as it is written (“Introduction of The Book of Zohar,” Item 138), “As long as the receivers have not been completed so they can receive His complete benevolence, which He had contemplated in our favor in the thought of creation, the guidance must be in the form of good and bad, reward and punishment. It is so because our vessels of reception are still tainted with self-reception. When we use the vessels of reception contrary to how they were created, we necessarily sense evil in the operations of Providence in relation to us.”
Thus, “its end is thorns.” “Thorns” means that this way inflicts pain, meaning that after all the work that one has exerted in Torah and Mitzvot, he still does not feel His Providence as good and doing good.
This causes him the matter of reward and punishment in his work. That is, the fact that His guidance is in the form of good and evil, from this extends reward and punishment, as it is written there in the Sulam [Baal HaSulam’s commentary on The Zohar], “Hence, when one feels bad, denial of the Creator’s guidance lies upon him and the superior Operator is concealed from him to that same extent. This is the greatest punishment in the world.
“Thus, the sensation of good and evil in relation to His guidance brings with it the sensation of reward and punishment, for one who exerts not to part from faith in the Creator is rewarded even when he tastes a bad taste in Providence. And if he does not exert, he will be punished because he is separated from faith in the Creator.”
According to the above, we can understand what we asked, What is a way whose beginning is a plain and whose end is thorns in the work? It means that the way that the general public works, in order to receive reward, “its beginning is a plain.” That is, the body does not resist this way because it is told, “You must believe in reward and punishment for your own benefit.”
That is, if it observes Torah and Mitzvot, the self-benefit will gain. And if it does not observe, the self-benefit will lose. A person can understand this because this is man’s inherent Kli [vessel], called “will to receive for oneself.”
But “its end is thorns.” That is, in the end, he does not achieve wholeness, the reward of seeing that His Providence is in the form of good and doing good. Instead, he is placed under the governance of good and evil. It follows that although “He alone does and will do all the deeds,” this is nonetheless hidden from those who feel good and evil, since at the time of “bad,” the Sitra Achra [other side] is given the power to conceal His guidance and the faith in Him, as written in the Sulam. Thus, they will “die without wisdom.” This is called “its end is thorns.”
Conversely, the way “whose beginning is thorns and its end is a plain” means that those who want to walk on the path of truth and achieve the degree of bestowing contentment to the Maker, its beginning is thorns, since when a person wants to work only for the sake of the Creator and not for himself, the body objects to every single thing he does, and each time, he must overcome anew, and every time he overcomes and the body resists, it stings him and afflicts him like thorns.
It follows that the way he is walking is as though walking on thorns, and each time, he wants to escape from the campaign. But “Anyone who is wise, listens to him.” That is, one who has faith in the sages listens to him. “He takes it. He exerts some, but he goes in peace and comes in peace,” as it is written, “For her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace,” since afterward, when he is rewarded with vessels of bestowal, he walks in a way that is on a plain.
This is as it is written, “When the Lord favors man’s ways, even his enemies will make peace with him,” since then he is rewarded with the delight and pleasure found in the thought of creation, which is to do good to His creations. When they are rewarded with vessels of bestowal, it is written there in the Sulam, “At that time, His private Providence will be revealed throughout the world, since now, once the evil and the punishments have become benefits and merits, it will be possible to attain their Doer, for they have now become fitting for the work of His hands. Now they will praise and bless Him,” as it is written, “Therefore choose life; you and your descendants.”
Inapoi la pagina 1989 (ŞLAVEY HASULAM (TREPTELE SCĂRII) – link