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The Center for Jewish Mystical Studies in Albany, California run by Rabbi Steven Fisdel actively promotes the teaching of Kabbalah and its direct application to spiritual practice, self-development and psycho-emotional healing.

How the Kabbalah Understands Suffering 2

Rabbi Steven Fisdel, Practicing Kabbalist

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.



How the Kabbalah Understands Suffering 1

The General Nature of Suffering

In order to deal effectively with the reality of suffering, it is very important to get a clear perspective on what suffering actually is from a spiritual vantage point.

The true root of suffering is, in essence, a disruption of the soul’s ability to express itself fully and to live out its purpose in being present in life.

The main purpose of existence from the Kabbalah’s perspective is the evolution of the soul, which occurs through using our innate ability to manifest continually the infinite creativity each of us possesses as unique expressions of the Divine. This process can, however, be impeded, thereby creating suffering.

The soul is in a state of discomfort, anguish or pain, if its capacity to manifest fully in the world is disturbed, hindered or blocked. Moreover, the greater the disruption, the greater the distress one experiences and hence the more difficult the process is of living a fulfilling and joyful life.

The contention in Kabbalist thought is that the soul knows exactly what its life purpose is and is always intent on manifesting it through all aspects of life. The Kabbalah teaches that when we experience joy, satisfaction and contentment in whatever we are doing, we are in alignment with the soul, with the divine within ourselves.

However, because we as human beings are endowed with free will we can make positive choices or negative ones. This, in and of itself, is not a problem. Rather it is a gift. We learn and grow through the process of experiencing what works and what does not. We evolve as we come to understand and internalize what is truly beneficial and what is decidedly destructive. This learning is absolutely essential to soul growth.

So what engenders suffering?

The emergence of suffering arrives when we become fixated on the negative and begin giving it exaggerated significance. By overemphasizing our experiences and focusing on our subjective reactions, the effect is uniformly negative. We automatically impart a concentration of energy to our relationship with our life events that is disruptive, distorting and ultimately painful.

What is important to understand here is that a large part of our suffering in life is self-induced. Under such circumstances, we need to take responsibility and consciously take steps to either prevent or reverse such torment through conscious choice and mindful action.

When we are faced with suffering, the disruptions producing it take place on the lower three levels of our experience, the intellectual, emotional and physical planes, not on the spiritual per se. As incarnated beings, we are present in the world, though not “of the world”. The soul operates on the material plane via these three extensions of itself, through the three dimensions of our consciousness. That is, the soul experiences life and expresses itself through mind, emotion and physicality, which are extended modalities of spirit into the world.

Rabbi Steven Fisdel

What causes suffering at it root is distortion of the natural flow of our spiritual energy and the disruption of its ability therefore to manifest fully and effectively in our lives. So, if we become aware of how some of suffering’s primary causes commonly manifest, we are then in a position to rectify the problem and move forward with our lives purposefully and joyfully.