Who Are You, People of Israel?
The wisdom of Kabbalah offers a new perspective on what is probably the most significant change in the life of the people of Israel—the moment of their nation’s birth.
In Babylon some 5,000 years ago, a subtle but profound change took place. At that time, Mesopotamia was the melting pot that eventually created modern civilization.
In the years preceding that period, people simply satisfied their basic needs. They led simple lives and settled for a roof over their heads and the necessities of nutrition. They did not aspire to things such as career or high social status.
But 5,000 years ago, humanity gradually began to sense that life was no longer satisfying. This awareness marked the start of a fundamental change in global evolution.
When the change began, Mesopotamia began to evolve rapidly in several directions. The foundations of modern agriculture were laid, along with commerce, currency trade, and taxation. Gaps between classes increased, and people were divided into those who possessed more, and those who possessed less.
According to the wisdom of Kabbalah, human nature is run by the ego and its desire for enjoyment. This explains the radical changes and rapid cultural and technological progress that humanity experienced at that time.
The Tower of Babylon
The outbreak of the ego produced a series of critical changes. It seemed as if Babylonians had been given “egoism shots,” prompting them to perform uncontrollable actions.
Until that moment, Babylonians were accustomed to simple relationships and lived peacefully and quietly. They were as one nation, speaking the same language. In fact, they were almost like kin, as it is written (Genesis, 11:1), “And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech.”
Therefore, the people of Babylon were unprepared for the process that suddenly began to affect them without forewarning, and they could not understand it. It seemed as though an unseen hand was moving them like marionettes, and they could not control it.
Before this change, Babylonians had been praying to idols and to Nature's forces. To some extent, they were controlled by the fear and the awe they had developed for those idols. But now they decided to change the rules of the game. Much like a child rebelling against its parents, the Babylonians were impelled by the ego to confront the Upper Force. They attempted to give the ego a higher position than that of the Creator.
The confrontation manifested in the building of the Tower of Babel that was to reach the sky, and even beyond (Genesis 11:4): “And they said: ‘Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven, and let us make us a name.’”
The tower, which was a building of colossal magnitude, symbolized their egos’ drive to dominate Nature. The sky that the Babylonians tried to conquer symbolized the Upper Force.
The eruption of the ego induced several other phenomena, which created a chain reaction that no one could stop. Soon after the outbreak, the Babylonians ceased to understand each other. From the common language they had been speaking evolved a multitude of languages, and people grew distant from one another and dispersed in all directions. The growing egoism was separating them like a knife, and each person became more and more self-centered, ignoring the others’ needs. In time, actual exploitation began to appear.
Incidentally, the origin of the name, “Babel” is the word Balal (Hebrew: confused, mixed), named after the confusion of the tongues (Genesis 11:9): “Therefore was the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth; and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.”
Abram, son of Terah, was no different from any other Babylonian. He, too, was an idol worshiper. Moreover, Abram's family was known and respected in the idol-manufacturing industry and made a good living selling them.
Abram's desires, too, began to grow. However, Abram coped with the new situation differently. The prevalent faith in the power of idols didn't satisfy him; instead, he wanted more.
Thus, Abram discovered what no one else had previously discovered: he understood that people were naturally surrendering to their egos, which were now running their lives. Moreover, he discovered that people could use that same ego to create a positive change. He watched the Babylonians, who until recently were like kin, grow farther and farther apart, and tried to teach them how to bond with each other, despite the outbreak of egoism.
Abram tried to explain to the Babylonians that if they put brotherly love above their erupting egos, they would be rewarded with a deeper bonding with the Upper Force. The essence of Abram’s teaching was that the ego's role was not to drive them apart, but to strengthen their love for one another. He taught them that it is because of the effort to maintain the bonding, that the Upper Force is revealed within them.
As a sign of the Godliness he had attained, Abram added the Hebrew letter Hey to his name (Hey is the letter that symbolizes God), and was called “Abraham.” He began to disseminate his method to anyone who was interested. Alas, only a handful of the Babylonians chose to listen to the teachings of the first Kabbalist in history.
Those who did follow the spiritual revolutionary were the first to put together the group of Kabbalists that later became the nation of Israel. Its members studied the method that Abraham discovered in lessons he would give at a famous tent he had set up along with his wife, Sarah.
It was written about them (Bereshit Raba, va Yeshev): “Abraham the Patriarch would bring them into his house; he would give them food and drink, and he would bring them closer, and he would bring them in under the wings of divinity.”
For those who were not yet ready for his method, Abraham developed alternative methods that would suit the roots of their souls. The following verse describes how Abraham sent his messengers eastward, which is today’s Far East, where today’s Eastern teachings evolved: “But unto the sons of the concubines that Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts; and he sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country” (Genesis 25:6). Today's religions are an outgrowth from Abraham’s dynasty.
Abraham, the Father of the Nation
Abraham is considered “the father of the nation” because he founded the Israeli nation. The same Babylonians that followed Abraham on his path became a group of Kabbalists. This group grew and grew until it finally became “the people of Israel.”
The one thing that unites this people is the historic goal for which it was created—implementing Abraham's spiritual method. And that group received the name “Israel” because of the direction of its spiritual growth: Yashar (straight) El (God), meaning “straight to God, the Upper Force.”
The Tower of Babel—the Last (and Highest) Floor
In the last 150 years, our lives have become quite similar to those of the ancient Babylonians. Since the end of the first wave of the industrial revolution, the evolution of the world began to accelerate in every imaginable realm: electricity, communication and media, economy, gourmet food, luxury products, computers and high-tech, and democracy.
The ego that first erupted in ancient Babylon reached the final stages of its evolution in the beginning of the 20th century. Today, the evolution of the ego is far more rapid than its growth in the past, and it is still growing faster.
As was the case in Babylon, more and more people today are seeking something beyond even the most intense pleasures our world can offer. As did Abraham, many of us understand that blind obedience to the ego is bound to fail. Attempts at progress in this manner have brought many to feel that there must be another, better way to live life. This dissatisfaction is the prime reason for the epidemic of depression that has been spreading worldwide in recent years.
And, on top of the inner crises that modern man has experienced in the last one hundred years or so, the external reality has become less than welcoming. The past century has seen world wars, terrorism, nuclear catastrophes, expanding poverty, ecological disasters, and crises in virtually every realm of life. All this supports the growing sense that the solution to the situation should be found at a deeper and more inclusive level. Today, humanity is starting to acknowledge the negativity of its situation, as did Abraham in his time.
The sense that a global crisis is already present positions the world in the same place where ancient Babylon stood 5,000 years ago. But the essential difference between those times and ours is that humanity has grown into a population of billions of souls that are ready to comprehend and to implement the method that Abraham developed.
An Ancient Method for Modern Times
In ancient Mesopotamia, few adopted the method of unity over ego, which Abraham had then developed, and which we now call “the wisdom of Kabbalah.” Hence, since that time, humanity's evolution has been split into two essential paths: Israel, and the rest of humanity.
The goal of the group of Kabbalists that Abraham founded was to cultivate the method of the Kabbalah, to nurture it and wait for a time when humanity was ready to acknowledge its growing ego as the reason for all that has gone wrong.
Abraham knew that in the last phase of the egoistic evolution, humanity would find itself in despair and hopelessness. He understood that only then would it be ready to listen and employ the method he had designed.
The duty of Abraham’s group is to apply his method to its members, set an example for the rest of humanity, and disseminate his method throughout the world. This is the unique task (and purpose) of this group. This is also the origin of the titles Israel has received such as “a light of the nations,” “a chosen people,” and others.
The two greatest Kabbalists in the last generation—Rabbi Avraham Kook and Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag—declared that at the end of the 20th century, the realization of this mission would begin.
Baal HaSulam says in The Last Generation, p 341: “Judaism should present the nations with something new, and this is what they are anticipating from the return of Israel to the land. It is not about any other wisdoms.”
Rav Kook adds to Baal HaSulam's words in Letters of the Raaiah, Part III, p 194: “The real movement of the Israeli soul at its greatest glory is expressed only in its eternal, sacred power, which runs in its essential inner spirit. And this is what has made it, and will make it still, a nation that stands as a light of the nations and for redemption and salvation for the whole world.”
Only by changing the relationships within today’s people of Israel from unfounded hatred to “Love thy friend as thyself” can we be elevated to the apex of humanity and provide answers to all our hardships.
Like the Babylonians then, we, the people of Israel must overcome our egos and bond in brotherly love. By so doing, we will set an example to all of humanity, and we will demonstrate how this action will help us attain peaceful, whole, and eternal lives.
This mission lies on the shoulders of the descendants of Abraham's group—today's Israel—us.