FreePsychArticles#16 THE FOUR WORLDS:
Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsberg spoke once on Parshas Beshalach, when B’nai Yisroel arrives at the Yom Sof (Reed Sea) and sees the Egyptian chariots in pursuit while the escape route is blocked by a great sea. The Midrash relates the people separated into four camps that corresponded to the four worlds of Kabbalistic literature.
1. Those who lamented the venture and wanted to return to the life of slavery. This is the world of Asiyah, where Evil appears to have greater strength than good. 2. 2. Those who wanted to enter into battle with the Mitzris (Egyptians). This is the world of Y’tzirah, where good and evil seem to have equal strength.
3. Those who wanted to go off into the desert and prayer for help from Hashem. The world of Bri’ah. Although one turns away from evil, there remains a recognition of the power of evil.
4. The last group, symbolizing Atzilut simply performed Hashem’s will by entering the Yam Sof as it split before them. This is the highest world, where evil simply ceases to exist. They simply moved forward in Emunah Shaleimah (Complete Faith), They were the rishonim (leaders) followed by all the remaining “worlds” who fell into place in a state of Bitol as they made this monumental passage.
The aspects of each of the four worlds are concerned with the basic positions of faith in general and our relationship to Hashem. On the level of pshat. the obvious or simple level it refers to the transition from conflict with man to unity with G-d. As our trust in G-d grows, our fear of man diminishes .
This remarkable kabbalistic analysis gives us a practical model for understanding human relations and conflict resolution. In it we see four basic tendencies of normal human response to disagreement, threat and confrontation. As “spiritual worlds” they represent four states of being all co-existent all the time. With the facility of free will exercised through our innate ability to ‘alter our belief’ of any given situation we can consciously decide what world we choose to inhabit. Armed with faith in G-d’s Ultimate Goodness presented to us at every moment through the infinite manifestations of daily life we can choose to climb the ladder toward personal freedom.
Let me remind you the people, B’nai Yisroel, found themselves in an impossible situation. An overpowering army of Pharoah’s elite chariot force raced toward them with their backs to the sea. This was the proverbial “caught between a rock and a hard place.” As dramatic as it sounds, we have all experienced moments we saw no way out except to react instinctually. In biologic terms, the tendency is “fight or flight” mode where our autonomic nervous system takes over. This shows us the limitations of pure biologic response. In our Bible story we see the more nuanced ‘four types of response.’
Sometimes we encounter problematic people or events that seem to be happening “all over again” as if we already know how we’re going to respond. When we feel we have no control our responses are usually poor and ineffective. We leave the situation feeling we fell victim to “it” again. There seemed to be no real choice except to surrender, fight or run away. Since we have ear-marked the situation as beyond our control our behavior will follow suit and we will continue to be locked in an eternal struggle.
One of the hallmarks of mental illness is mental inflexability. The way toward mental health is countering our preconcieved beliefs. Entertain the possibility within our “iron-clad” conclusions are other options. Often crisis situations, no matter how small, seem too unmaneagable or too fast to shift our appraoch from the usual reaction. Yet, with a little effort to delay our response we can make a significant adjustment in our thinking. Let’s look at the four worlds again as springboards of change:
1. Asiyah: This is the position farthest from faith. The world has put us in a position of powerlessness. We might as well give-up. and return to our old ways. Once we recognize this state of mind we are already on our way out of it. To see things like this is the farthest from reality since evil cannot sustain itself. As we ourselves fuel the bad with our attention, so can we choose to ignore it anytime and focus on our immediate tasks.
2. Y’tzirah: We can fight and beat whatever opposes us. This is the beginning of faith, but it is based on our strength, or a fantasy we can overpower evil. We recognize evil has power and reality. This is a split faith: our ability can win opposes the inverted faith that evil has it’s own strength and ability to conquer us. We can fight but winning is an illusion. As we tense up our muscles to prepare for the fight we puff up the enemy as well. Our solution is to relax our muscles and return to our higher path.
3. Beriah: This is a further strengthening in our faith. With enough hope, prayer, desire or time evil will somehow lose it’s power over us. We still totter on partial faith that Good dominates evil which we continue to recognize. We can continue to increase our faith and prayer. Eventually we resume our humble work of those things we must do.
4. Atzilut: Psychologically and spiritually this is the highest achievement. In a way this is the easiest and it is certainly the least painful. On one level we continue to be aware of evil since our physical existence finds it everywhere. None the less, we move forward in our daily life fulfilling what we must do. We attach ourselves to the path of goodness regardless of familiar things trying to distract us.
In this article I’ve equated goodness with health and evil with disease. This is a gross oversimplification and misleading since to understand it as intended I would have to further amplify and define these terms. We must learn how they correspond to spiritual and psychological concepts. For the current article suffice it to say it is good to be healthy while one’s thinking and behavior can avoid evil if you work on it.
In article #17 I will try to grapple with some basic chassidic concepts about the nature of good and evil.
Gershon Freedman, M.D.