Nature Versus Nurture: Finding the Desert

Modern psychology speaks of "Nature versus Nurture." It turns out the Torah talked about it long before the phrase was coined in the 20th century.

We mentioned in the previous article that the first thing that God said to Abraham in the Torah was to leave "from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father's house; to a land that I will show you." The Kabbalists understand the leaving "from your land" to be a leaving of one's culture, and the leaving "from your father's house" to be a departure from the modes of behavior that have been taught to you there. These, of course, constitute an overall distancing from one's "Nurture." This is especially relevant today due to the high level of social conditioning prevalent in the world's societies. Advertisers are paid to know how to manipulate us into buying their product. The media, movies, and TV have more to do with forming our opinions than anything else. It is obvious, then, that if it is clarity and spirituality that we seek, we must first leave the illusions, conditionings, and falsehoods of the world in which we live.

The Kabbalists further explain that leaving "from your birthplace" refers to rising above one's genetic predisposition, one's "Nature." Each one of us has been born with certain character traits and desires that are ingrained in our minds, bodies, and genetics. If one wants the path of the spiritual journey, one must first take control of his Nature, and not the other way around. We must break out of the limitations and boundaries that we have been born with.

Leaving Egypt for the Desert
When Abraham left these three forms of confinement to journey toward spiritual truth, he led the way for the generation of Jews who left Egypt to do the same. The word for Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayim, the same word as metzarim, "constraints." When Egypt had a hold on the Jewish people, it wasn't just a physical hold that it held on them. It was a spiritual hold as well. Before the Jewish people could come to receive spiritual truth at Sinai, they needed to break out of the grasp that Egyptian society had on them. Once the Jewish people left the constraints of Egypt and arrived in the desert, only then could they truly come to clarity and begin to journey spiritually. Only then could they receive the Torah.

The Torah was given in the desert because the desert is a place of nothingness. It is barren. When a person has not properly dealt with the multitudes of conditionings and manipulations he has undergone in his life, he has no capacity for the clarity necessary to properly begin the spiritual journey. Only when he has left his personal Egypt, can he come to his personal desert. In this desert there is no world-generated static or lack of control of oneself. There is nothing. So there is nothing to get in the way. Only by uprooting the interfering preconceptions that have been instilled within him through his Nature and his Nurture, can a person come to a point of objective clarity and truth from which he can start his journey. Only once a person makes himself desert-like by leaving the constraints of his land, birthplace, and father's house, can he receive the Torah and use it to fulfill his unique potential and ascend "to the land that I will show you"—to being the person he didn't even know it was possible for him to be.