The second significant variant meaning of the verb, SVL which generally means “suffering”, is to transport something. Here suffering is understood to have an important purpose in the course of living one’s life. The Kabbalists see suffering, in its pure form, as the process of moving things in one’s life from one point to the next in order to complete one stage and begin the next. So, suffering has a great deal to do with self-development.
In the view of the Kabbalah, each of us in our lives has specific commitments to work through. Natural suffering, therefore does not involve pain and anguish. Rather, in order to make progress spiritually in our lives, we simply need to assume specific responsibility for all of the different aspects of our life and move them diligently from one phase to the next so as to fulfill our obligations to ourselves and to others.
Suffering, then, takes on the dimensions of pain and anguish when we find ourselves moving around in a circle rather than in a spiral upward. If we are focused on self-development and self-realization, then we work through the stages of fulfilling our life responsibilities and we progress from level to level in a spiral. That is, one cycle of our life leads immediately to its natural successor. We grow and evolve.
However, if we fixate emotionally on uncertainty, self-doubt or on our fears, we get stuck and move in an endless circle. If we allow others to hand us their issues to solve in order for them to avoid taking responsibility themselves, we are also trapped in a circular movement going nowhere . There is no way to vicariously resolve someone else’s problems or do their work for them.
One way or the other, we end up trapped either within our own inner turmoil or imprisoned in the impossibility of fulfilling another person’s responsibility.
The result of this circular movement is that we are held hostage. We are confined internally by fear and hopelessness. In the prison of such movement, we are not in a position to extend our true inner being out into the world. We, therefore, experience suffering not as the spiral of accomplishment and fulfillment, but rather as pain and torment; neither of which is a necessary component of suffering.
If you understand suffering as integral to self development, as the process of transporting some meaningful part of your life from one important juncture to another, it becomes clear that if one is stuck inside oneself ruminating, you cannot extend yourself to the outside world. There is no forward movement. You cannot, therefore, effectively express your potential, if at all. The denial of potential is the absence of self-fulfillment and that is extremely painful and anxiety producing.
The key to experiencing suffering as the process of personal growth rather than as pain is found in the Kabbalist interpretation of the third related definition of the Hebrew verb, SVL. The verb also has the meaning, “to tolerate”. What the Kabbalah infers at this point is that toleration is not enough if you want to carry your responsibilities forward and not create anguish and burden. The concept here is that if you are only tolerating something, you are not fully accepting it.
To fully accept something, you must be open to it. You need to be happy with it or excited about it. To be tolerant just means you are willing to acknowledge something, but not necessarily embrace it.
If one simply complies with a commitment and does it perfunctorily, the obligation is met, but there is not necessarily any emotional connection or any spiritual component. There is simply no joy, without which no possibility exists for full self-expression, satisfaction or contentment. The lack of complete acceptance when assuming the legitimate responsibilities of life and the resulting joy of making gradual, tangible progress is recognized by the Kabbalah as another central factor in turning suffering from a process of personal growth into one of constriction and pain instead.
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.