The Four Levels of Fulfillment

Our parashah includes a celebrated and powerful teaching “Man does not live by bread alone” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, conveys to us the ultimate meaning of this verse, and illuminates for us the human path to a genuine and everlasting sense of fulfillment and inner nourishment. The Kabbalah teaches that there are four hierarchical “worlds” in the spiritual realm. These conceptual “worlds” ultimately represent four distinct levels of consciousness.

The first level of consciousness is called “The world of actuality (Assiya)”. This is the realm of the physical and empirical world, which we access through our five senses and G-d-given intelligence. On this most basic and elementary level of consciousness, the type of satiation and nourishment we enjoy is purely physical: drinking good wine, enjoying a hearty meal and a tasty desert. On the physical level of actuality, our ultimate pleasures are strictly physical and sensuous. It is this level of nourishment and satiation, which the Torah alludes to by the word “bread”, when it states: “Man does not live by bread alone”.

The second level of consciousness is called “The World of Formation (Bria’a)”. This level of consciousness corresponds to the emotional and the aesthetic. In this, more elevated and refined realm of consciousness, our heart delights in response to the sound of inspirational and uplifting music, reading a great poem, watching a dramatic movie, or marveling at the aesthetic beauty of the natural world or the monumental architecture of a European city.
The third level of consciousness is that of “The World of Creation (Yetzira)”. On this level of consciousness, the human spirit derives inner-nourishment and fulfillment from the intellectual realm of ideas. Here the mind is stimulated and satisfied by understanding, grasping, internalizing and appreciating complex, innovative and ingenious ideas: abstract scientific, political and philosophical concepts. This level of consciousness breeds intellectual and cerebral pleasure and fulfillment to the human spirit.

Lastly, the fourth and supreme level of consciousness is known as the “World of Emanation (Atzilut)”. On this level, the human soul connects to the Divine presence in this world, which emanates from the Infinite. Simply put, this is the supreme and supernal level of “supra-consciousness” which we experience in privileged moments of prayer and profound existential lucidity, moments in which we soar above and beyond our individual sense of self and merge with the Divine presence in utmost unity and attachment. The intensity of such spiritual encounters with the Divine might entail a temporary nullification of self and ego, a blissful oceanic sense of merging with the entirety of Being, past present and future. This is the ultimate level of consciousness and delight, that of basking in the presence of the Shechinah (Divine presence).

So this is the meaning of the Torah teaching that “Man does not live by bread alone”; it means that in addition to the physical pleasures of the flesh, there are additional, and more evolved artistic, intellectual and spiritual delights. May we all be blessed to enjoy all these wonderful modes of G-d-given pleasures, cherish them, and harness them to bring more light and true joy to our loved one and to the entire world.

Shabbat Shalom,
Tal Sessler

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