Who Are You, the People of Israel?

Beginnings are the spark of life, that rare moment when change occurs. 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 its birth.


Beginnings are the first spark of life, those rare moments in our world when changes occur. In the lines below, we will talk about one of the most dramatic landmarks in human history.

Such a meaningful change took place in Babylon,some 5,000 years ago. At that time, Mesopotamia was the melting potthat eventually created modern civilization.

In the years that preceded this period, people settled for satisfying their basic needs. They led simple lives and settled for a roof over their heads, the necessities of nutrition, and did not nurture aspirations for things like a promotion or career. Modern commerce and management systems had yet to be formed, and life flowed naturally, peacefully and smoothly.

We all know that feeling when we wake up one morning and feel that our lives are no longer satisfying. We want something else, but don't quite know what it is. That same process occurred 5,000 years ago with the whole of humanity. In those days, that essential change in global evolution occurred.

At that time, the majority of humanity was concentrated in Mesopotamia, today's Iraq. This area began to evolve rapidly in several directions simultaneously. Modern agriculture began to formulate, and the foundations for commerce, currency trade, and taxation were laid down.

The writing, too, was invented around that time and in the same area. At the social level, the gaps between the classes increased, and people were divided into those who had much, and those who had far less.

So what did happen at that special time, which induced such radical change in every field of life, and such rapid cultural and technological progress? According to the wisdom of Kabbalah, the essence of human nature consists of a desire to enjoy, the ego. A healthy egoistic desire is the compass that guides one through life and motivates one's every action. None of us can make even the slightest movement if it is against our will.

If we could "inject" a desire into a rock, it would grow limbs. The additional desire would make it move from place to place like an animal. If we gave it another dose of desire, it would begin to talk, make bids in the stock-market, and perhaps buy a new car. This concept tells us that what happened in ancient Babylon was a dramatic outbreak of an egoistic desire. Suddenly, the simple life in the field, in the cave or under the tree seemed unsatisfying.

The Tower of Babylon

The outbreak of the ego produced a series of phenomena, after which humanity was no longer the same. It was as if all of Babylon's residents had been given "egoism shots," prompting them to perform a series of 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." They were unprepared for the process that had suddenly begun 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.

The Babylonians, which up to that time were praying to idols and to Nature's forces, were, to a great extent, controlled by the fear and the awe they had developed for those idols. They decided to change the rules of the game. Much like a child revolting against its parents, the Babylonians were impelled by the ego to confront the Upper Force. They attempted to position the ego that had been blown up within them above the Upper Forceand subjugate it.

The beginning of the confrontation was expressed in the attempt to build the Tower of Babel, which was to reach the sky, and even beyond it (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 drive that broke out in them produced the drive to revolt against the Upper Force. The tower, which was a buildingof colossal magnitude, allegorically symbolizes the drive of man's ego to dominate Nature. The sky that the Babylonians tried to conquer symbolizes the Upper Force.

The process of the eruption of the ego induced several other phenomena, which created a chain reaction that no one could halt. The snowball had begun to roll.

Soon after, the Babylonians stopped understanding each other. From the common language they had been speaking, evolved the multitude of languages we have today; 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. Thus, in time, phenomena of 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."

Abraham the Patriarch's Way

Abram, son of Terah, was no different from any other Babylonian. He, too, was an idol worshiper and bowed to idols and to the stars. Moreover, Abram's family was known and respected in the idol-manufacturing industry, and made "good living" by selling them.

One (probably sunny) morning, Abram's desire, too, grew, just as it happened to his fellow countrymen (and women). However, Abram coped with the new situation differently. Theso prevalent naïve faith in the power of idols didn't satisfy him, and he wanted more.

While the Babylonians were turning form idol-worshiping to ego-worshiping, Abram discovered what no one else had previously discovered: he understood that people were naturally surrendering to the ego, that their egos were running their lives for them. Moreover, he discovered that they could use that same ego as a means for positive change. He watched the Babylonians, who until recently were as kin, grow further and further apart, led by their egos to unfounded hatred, and tried to teach them how to bond with each other despite the outbreak of egoism.

From his spiritual attainment, Abram tried to explain to the Babylonians that if they held on to brotherly love on top of 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 on top of it. He taught them that it is because of the effort to maintain the bonding, that the Upper Forceis revealed within them.

The book Sefer Yetzira(The Book of Creation) is ascribed to him, and records Abram's discoveries. He added the Hebrew letter Heyto his name as a sign of the Godliness he had attained (Heyis the letter that symbolizes God), and began to disseminate his method openly and pleasantly to anyone who was interested. Alas, only a handful of the residents of Babylon chose to listen to the teachings of the first Kabbalist in history.

Those who followed the spiritual revolutionist were the first to put together the group of Kabbalists that later became the Jewish nation. Most of 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" spiritual methods, which suited 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 a later outgrowth from Abraham's dynasty.

The Spiritual Revolutionist

Abraham was the first person in history to discover that there are only two basic ways to relate to the reality we live in: either one gradually attains the actual, sublime reality, with all of one's senses, through transcending the growing ego, or surrenders to the demands of one's ego. The method developed by Abraham was innovative, revolutionary in everything that concerns one's attitude to oneself and to the surrounding reality. There is no other revolutionist in human history such as Abraham the Patriarch.

Abraham is considered "the father of the nation" because he founded the Israeli nation. The same Babylonians that went along with Abraham on his path became a group of Kabbalists. That group grew in size and 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.

Incidentally, researchers have proven that the people of Israel we know today is genetically identical to the ancient Babylonians.

The Tower of Babel—the Last Floor

It is surprising to see that life in the last 150 years has become quite similar to the lives of the ancient Babylonians. Since the end of the first wave of the industrial revolution, the world began to evolve at a growing speed in every imaginable realm of life: electricity, communication and media, economy, gourmet food, luxury products, computers and high-tech, and democracy. All these have appeared only recently.

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 only growing faster.

Alongside the rapid evolution, there is a rapidly expanding sensation that we are living in a kind of "contemporary Babel." More and more people 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 doomed to failure. Attempts at progress in this manner have brought many to feel that there must be another way, a more correct way to live life. This dissatisfaction is the primereason for the depression epidemic that has been spreading worldwide in recent years.

Atop the inner crises that modern man has been experiencing in the last one hundred years or so, the external reality has been less than welcoming. The past century has seen world wars, terrorism, the threat of a nuclear holocaust, expanding poverty, ecologic disasters, and crises in virtually every realm of science, culture, and life in general. All those support the growing sense that the solution to the situation should be found at a more inclusive level. Today, the offspring of the Babylonian civilization, i.e. all of humanity, are coming to acknowledge the negativity of our situation, as did Abraham in his time.

The sensation that a global crisis is already present positions the world in the same spot in which ancient Babylon stood 5,000 years ago. But the essential difference between those times is that now, humanity, which has been dispersed all over the globe, has grown into a population of billions, and it is now ripe and ready to comprehend and to implement the method that Abraham developed.

Implementing Abraham's Method in Modern Times

In the days of ancient Mesopotamia, there weren't many "buyers" for the method of unity on top of the ego, which Abraham had then developed, the one called "the wisdom of Kabbalah." Hence, since Abraham the patriarch and the time of Babel, 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 in secret and wait for a time when humanity was ready to acknowledge the growing ego as the reason for all that is bad. Abraham knew that at the end of the last phase of the egoistic evolution, humanity would find itself in despair and hopelessness. He understood that only then willit be ripe and ready to listen and employ the method he had designed.

The duty of this special group is to applyAbraham's method tothemselves, set an example for the rest of humanity, and disseminate his method throughout the world. That is the uniqueness of this group. It was selected from the rest of humanity for just that purpose. This is also the origin of the titles it has received such as, "a light of the nations," "a chosen people" and others.

The two greatest Kabbalists in the last generation—Rav Avraham Kook and Rav Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam)—declared that since the end of the 20th century, the realization of this mission would begin.

Baal HaSulam says about that (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 (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 changing the relationships within today's people of Israel from unfounded hatred to "Love thy neighbor as thyself" will elevate us to the apex of humanity and provide answers to all our hardships.

Like the Babylonians then, we, the people of Israel, are obliged to overcome our egos and bond in brotherly love. By so doing, we will set an example to all of humanity, and will demonstrate how through this act it is possible to attain a peaceful, whole, and eternal life.

This mission lies on the shoulders of the descendents of Abraham's group—today's Israel—us.