Thursday, November 6, 2008

Kabbalah and the Pleasure Principle

Author: Bnei Baruch

Have you ever really thought about the actions you make every single day of your life on this planet? It is really quite interesting when one begins to delve into his or her own behavior. Observing human behavior on a regular basis can uncover some rather peculiar findings.

Human behavior has been studied and documented for thousands of years. All of this comes from a great desire to know why humans behave as they do. In spite of all the study, people still surprise us. There is so much that we don’t understand. For example, why are some people so altruistic and others so selfish?

There are many people who enjoy doing good things for family, friends, and people in general. Some people, like Mother Theresa, spend their entire lives caring for others without any thought of what they will receive from their actions. But there are other people that society labels as selfish. Everything they do is to fulfill their own desires. As long as they are satisfied, all is well.

Is there a way for us to find out what causes man to behave as he does? How does one begin to unravel this mysterious phenomenon?

Kabbalah is a wisdom that has been passed from teacher to student for thousands of years. It tells us that we all operate under a single law of behavior. Every single one of us acts in order to receive as much pleasure as possible while expending as little energy as possible. This is the law of the physical world in which man lives.

Using this law, we can analyze certain acts that people do. One gets up to get water because of thirst. One gives a friend a gift because it causes feelings of pleasure. A man gets up early to exercise because he wants to be healthy more than he wants to sleep. Cheesecake is refused because the desire to lose weight is stronger than the desire to indulge in the rich dessert.

Every single action is calculated. The calculation is: does one feel better doing this or that? Is the effort expended worth the anticipated pleasure? The only real difference is the type of desire that is being satisfied. If we honestly examine every move we make, we can verify the validity of this law.

It’s easy to see in the case of the selfish person. He or she obviously does what brings pleasure. But what about those we view as altruists? Can an individual do even one little thing that is truly altruistic?

First of all, what is altruism? According to Encarta, it is “an attitude or way of behaving marked by unselfish concern for the welfare of others.” What if one did some wonderfully benevolent act for some lucky person, and did not let them know who did it? That certainly would be an example of true altruism. Or would it?

There is a problem here. Even this is a calculated act. There are many ways to get pleasure out of a seemingly selfless act, and some of them can be extremely subtle. In some cases, the giver is rewarded with a wonderful feeling from being able to give to someone else. It feels good to give so much pleasure.

In other cases, the person may expect some future benefit: If I help you now, maybe you will help me when I need it. The fact that the anticipated pleasure is in the future does not negate the fact that the “altruistic” act was performed based on a calculation of pleasure versus effort.

Probably the most subtle reason for action is the pleasure received from doing what is considered “good”or “right.” Consider someone who has given up everything in order to serve the needy. Why in the world would someone do this? Because it feels “right” to do so. If it did not, they obviously would not move a muscle to help.

The desire for this type of pleasure can be incredibly strong, and societies rely on it in order to function. We work hard to instill this in our children, and it is the foundation of our concepts of ethics, morality and religion. We even rely on it in our legal system. Would you rob a bank if you knew you could get away with it? For most of us, the answer would be “No – it wouldn’t be right.”

And so, after careful observation, we conclude that every action, no matter what, provides the giver with some type of pleasure (or avoidance of pain, which is a type of pleasure) or it will not be done. This is initially a surprising discovery for anyone to make. Every action performed by man is calculated for his personal benefit! It may sound harsh, but it is not. It is simply the way we are made – it is human nature.

Once we recognize our nature, a new desire can begin to emerge. This is the desire to be able to perform a truly selfless act. In order to do this, we must somehow transform our very nature. This, Kabbalah tells us, is the purpose of our existence.


Bnei Baruch, http://www.kabbalah.info/ is the largest group of Kabbalists in Israel, sharing the wisdom of Kabbalah with the entire world. Study materials in over 25 languages are based on authentic Kabbalah texts that were passed down from generation to generation.

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