Who is the guard standing at the entrance to the spiritual world who decides who shall enter and who shall not? A journey following Kafka, Baal Hasulam, two parables, and one gate
Franz Kafka (1883-1924) may well be the author who best expresses the rising impotence we feel in our present existence. The “Kafkaic world” is dark, sullen and menacing. Its heroes are helpless and incapable, wandering about as they attempt (and fail) to overcome their misfortunes.
One of Kafka’s most famous stories, “Before the Law,” is about a villager who sits in front of “the gate of the law,” asking for permission to enter. Ironically, the gate is wide open, but the villager is afraid to go through it without the gatekeeper’s permission. The gatekeeper has warned him that there are more guards further ahead, each one stronger than the previous one.
Broken by the insurmountable obstacles, the villager makes the typical Kafkaic decision—to sit by the gate and hope that it will eventually open. From time to time, he makes futile attempts to persuade the guard to let him pass, trying to warm him up with clever schemes and pleas. But years pass by, the villager grows old, and still the gate remains closed as before.
At the dusk of his life, the villager takes a chance and asks the guard: How can it be that everyone wants to enter the gate of the law, but I am the only one who has asked for permission?
“This entrance was meant for you only,” replied the guard. “And now I am going to close it.”
The Gate that Conceals the Answers
The desire to pass through “the gate of the law,” to discover the system of forces that governs our lives, is not new. Mankind has always sought to discover the concealed laws of the universe, gain control over them, and use them for personal benefit.
In the 21st century, this desire has reached new heights. We have sent rockets into space, walked on the moon, established worldwide communication networks, and developed countless machines and instruments. However, we are still in the dark about our spiritual nature, our essence and our purpose.
We still don’t have answers to our deepest questions, such as: Who runs our lives? What is the source of our reality? What is the meaning of it all? And just like the villager in Kafka’s story, we often feel that we are governed by an unknown set of laws that no one has ever really deciphered.
So who is that gatekeeper and why does he refuse to let us enter?
In the introduction to his work, Talmud Eser Sefirot (The Study of the Ten Sefirot), Baal HaSulam hints at the answer with a parable that’s reminiscent of Kafka’s story:
“It is rather like a king who wished to select all his loyal beloved and bring them into his palace... However, he appointed many of his servants to guard the palace gate and all the roads leading to it. He ordered them to cunningly mislead all those who came near and divert them from the path...
Clearly, all the people who began running towards the king’s palace were cunningly rejected by the diligent guards. Many of them overpowered the guards and came near the entrance to the palace. But the gatekeepers were most diligent, distracting and rejecting anyone who drew near with great ploy, until one despaired and returned as he had come. So they came and went, and regained strength and came back, and so on and so forth for days and years, until they grew weary of trying any further.”
At first, it’s hard to understand what the king was doing: Did he really want to bring those who love him into his palace? His actions indicate the contrary, for if he really wanted them to enter, wouldn’t it have been simpler to open the gate and let them enter?
The dilemma becomes resolved later in the parable when we learn that this is the king’s way of finding out who truly wants to reach his palace:
“And only the courageous ones, whose patience prevailed and who overcame those guards and opened the gate, were immediately privileged to be welcomed by the king … of course, from that moment on, they no longer had to face those guards, since they were awarded with serving and attending before the glorious light of the king’s presence within his palace.”
“The king’s palace” isn’t some beautiful hideout, laden with precious treasures and jewels. According to Kabbalists, it is a person’s new perception of reality, when all of his desires are governed by the all-inclusive spiritual law—complete bestowal—the quality of the Creator. When we uncover this quality of bestowal within us and place it over the egoistic desires, we will discover what Baal HaSulam allegorically calls “the glorious light of the king’s presence”—that our desires are fulfilled with infinite abundance.
But more than that, we will realize that this concealed law has always affected us, even when we were not aware of it. And that’s when the gates of the spiritual law open wide before us.
So who are those guards we must overcome on the way to the king’s palace—to the Creator’s quality of bestowal? They are our egoistic desires. Unlike what we might think, we are not supposed to eliminate our desires. Instead, we need to learn how to use the basic egoistic will we were born with, for the sake of bestowal. We must acquire new intentions—of loving and giving—that will change the way we use our desires.
Much like the villager in Kafka’s story, we sometimes think that if we wait long enough or pray hard enough, then the gate will open by itself. But Kabbalists clearly tell us that everything depends on us, and to help us overcome our inner guards, they have given us a method of inner change and development.
Unlike the pessimistic spirit of Kafka’s story, Baal HaSulam’s story holds great hope for change. Kabbalists who successfully crossed the gate tell us that on the other side, reality turns out to be completely opposite to the Kafkaic reality, to our reality in this world. There, one discovers a perfect, eternal reality, governed by only one law—the law of love.