Kabbalistic Glossary: The Desire to Receive

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Kabbalistic Glossary: The Desire to Receive

Kabbalah Centre
March 14, 2019
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The kabbalists teach that we are meant to receive endless blessings from the Creator. In fact, the word kabbalah means: “to receive.” But how? How do we receive the beneficence the Creator wishes to impart? How do we tap into and connect with endless blessings, total fulfillment, and ultimate freedom? The answer is found in what is arguably one of the greatest paradoxes of our lifetimes: To receive, we must share. 

"The word kabbalah means: 'to receive.' But how?"

In the beginning, the Light - which carries within It every possible fulfillment one could want - had but one desire: to share. And so, a vessel was created, upon which the Light could impart Its gifts. The vessel is us; all the souls that ever were and ever will be. In the process of this creation, however, the vessel took on the attributes of its Creator, in the same way a child takes on the DNA of its parents. As we were made up of the same essence as the Creator, we also wanted to share.

By definition, a vessel is simply a hollow container. What we fill it up with, and how much we fill it up with, is based on our desire. Therefore, in kabbalistic terminology, when we talk about our vessels, we are referring to our desire, because in order to receive anything, we first need a desire for it. So, our capacity for desire is our vessel, and the more desire we have, the bigger the vessel. We build a bigger vessel by increasing our desire, hopefully to connect to the Creator. 

The make-up of the vessel

We are born, physically, as pure beings of desire, seeking to fill our primal urges for nourishment, clothing, protection, and shelter; nature makes it so that the first instinct of a baby is to cry out to receive. This is imperative, because in order to survive, a baby needs to be 100% taken care of. As we pass infancy and get into childhood, we each begin developing our own personal desires, like for fortune, fame, knowledge, or adventure, just for examples. But no matter what we desire, Kabbalah tells us, the amount we will receive is based on the size of our vessel.

As such, we want to make sure that we are creating the vessel to receive for a positive purpose, bringing us closer to the Light, rather than taking us farther away through a selfish action. Rav Berg, in his book Navigating The Universe, writes, “The biblical account of the Creation is understood by kabbalists to mean the creation of the positive and negative energy-intelligences, the Desire to Receive and the Desire to Share.” So, what do each of these mean?

Humans are made up of two driving motivators: the body consciousness, what Kabbalah calls the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone, and the soul consciousness, called the Desire to Receive for the Sake of Sharing. Our body’s predisposition is that of a desire to receive things for selfish reasons, whereas the predisposition of the soul is the desire to receive things for the purpose of sharing and connecting to the Light. We are always operating from either place; and while we all have basic physical needs, we can choose to have our desire to fill those needs be motivated either by desiring to connect to the Light, or to fulfill our own ego.

How to tell the difference

How can we tell if our desire is coming from a place of selfishness, or of sharing? One way is to ask ourselves if the desire is one of instant gratification. If so, then it is coming from a place of ego. The Desire to Receive for the Self Alone is like an addictive drug, offering quick fixes. It comes from feelings of lack, fear, limitation, and stress. While the immediate effects are pleasurable and exciting, they are short lived, such that we eventually find ourselves craving more and more in order to be satisfied, which then leads to pain and suffering, because no matter how much we get, the exhilaration wears off and we're back to square one: empty.  

However, when we are coming from a Desire to Receive for the Sake of Sharing, it will be the desire for something that is more long-term, that is more expansive. It is something that will bring us closer to the Creator, and come from a place of compassion, love, kindness, and peace. And while it may not bring a feeling of immediate gratification, it will lead to long-term fulfillment and satisfaction.

For example, let’s say we want a new job opportunity. Why do we desire it: as a means to challenge ourselves so that we can reveal our greater potential and share our gifts with the world, or strictly because we don’t feel appreciated and want a higher status and more recognition? The latter is clearly coming from the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone. Or, say a businesswoman desires to increase her company’s wealth. Is it to be able to buy herself more toys and more power, or is to be able to hire more people who need work, take better care of her current employees, and contribute to her community? The latter is coming from a Desire to Receive for the Sake of Sharing, while the former is one of selfish motivation. Another good example is for someone who wants to become a famous actor; is it for the attention and personal validation, or to be able to share his or her talents, and use fame as a platform to help the world?

These examples illustrate how the Desire to Receive is a positive and important thing. Where the problem lies is in the type of desire from which we operate. Rav Ashlag wrote that the Creator has prepared for all of us two systems, “The Worlds of Holiness and the Worlds of Impurity, one in opposition to the other. And through these systems the souls pass and are divided into two aspects, body and soul, where one is clothed with the other.” We each have within us the capacity for selfish actions, as well as the ability to transcend them. Our job, Kabbalah teaches, is to transform the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone into the Desire to Share. And when we do that, Rav Ashlag tells us, we can “receive all the goodness in the Thought of Creation.” Having an awareness of these two types of desires is the first step towards this transformation.


Rav Ashlag teaches there are three levels of desire. Level one desires are those based solely on gratifying innate physical urges, such as sex, shelter, and food; basic logic is used for the purpose of fulfilling these primal needs. Level two desires are those based on gratifying a need for status that go beyond the body, such as power, honor, and fame. And level three desires are focused on fulfilling a drive completely outside of the physical realm. Those at this level seek wisdom and knowledge, and use their higher faculties to find fulfillment through such searching. These three levels of desire, Rav Ashlag tells us, “are found in all members of the human race; however, they are blended in each individual to different degrees, and this is the difference between one person and another.”