The Basis of Suffering: Perspective One
In the approach taken by the Kabbalah, a couple of primary conceptions underlie the basic reality of suffering and they are not what we usually identify suffering as.
One very important element in Kabbalist thought has always been the Hebrew language itself. The Kabbalah draws conclusions and concepts from an analysis of specifically how the Hebrew language understands verbs. For action is the very basis of life experience.
The verb root for suffering, in Hebrew, is SVL. Besides meaning suffering, this verb root has several additional meanings. The first of these is that of “bearing a burden” and “carrying a weight’.
So, in the view of the Kabbalah suffering involves being burdened by something heavy that you are carrying around. The most common connotation here is that this burden is often something that has been handed to you and you are obligated to carry it on behalf of another person. The idea is that suffering is not so much pain as it is a weight on one’s shoulders that has been imparted to us or that we have taken on voluntarily.
One way of understanding suffering from the Kabbalist perspective is that it is a natural and vital part of life that needs to be recognized for what it is and subsequently handled correctly. Suffering, in the view of the Kabbalah, has to do primarily with responsibility and spiritual growth. We all need to take on responsibility in our life and carry the important things forward, whether we have made the personal decision to do so or we have undertaken it on behalf of another.
However, taking on responsibility is not synonymous with being burdened with or by something. Suffering, as we think of it, ensues a couple of ways. Firstly, when we are saddled with and made to carry something that is not necessarily our responsibility. Secondly, when we directly assume responsibility for something that is not appropriate or warranted and yet continually carry it around with us anyway.
The first implication from understanding the idea of suffering from a Kabbalist standpoint is that agony is the distortion of suffering. It is the experience of being saddled with that which makes life a burden, when in its essence suffering is the positive act of carrying on, moving forward and accepting appropriate levels of responsibility.
Rabbi Steven Fisdel is an experienced, practicing Kabbalist for over 30 years, who specializes in Spiritual Diagnosis and Counseling, Life Reading and Life Direction. He works with seekers of all spiritual backgrounds and is the founder of the Center for Jewish Mystical Studies in Albany, CA.