My friend once asked me, "Hey Big Benny-ya-min, what do all the spiritual realms like briah and atzilus really mean? What are they? Whats going on up there?" My answer is as follows: There is a great general principle in chassidus, which details the difference between our physical world and the more heavenly realms. Down here, in our world, the existence of the universe is readily apparent and obvious, while the existence of G-dliness is not so obvious. By contrast, in the 'heavenly realms,' the existence of G-dliness is obvious, while the existence of our world is not so obvious. [Now, that is not to say that we cannot observe G-dliness at work in our world, it is just not so obvious, and requires some careful contemplation to arrive at the conclusion that G-dliness exists. Similarly, the angels and demons, who reside in the heavenly realms, may have to struggle to see that you and I exist.]
Keeping this general principle in mind, we can understand many different Jewish commandments and customs. For one, it is known that when teaching how to ritually slaughter an animal, you should never use your self as an example. In other words, you should not say, 'Cut from here to here,' and point to your own neck. I asked my Rabbi why you shouldn't do that, and he said because the 'Shaydeem,' or demons, won't see you and bring harm. You see, the 'Demons,' or destructive forces, find it difficult to perceive our existence in much the same fashion that we have difficulty perceiving their heavenly realms. Typically, the demons can't see us, but when we point at ourselves we give away our position and then they can see us.
Why does pointing at oneself make us visible to the demons? In the spiritual realms where G-dliness is readily apparent to all, no one would ever 'point at himself.' Being so close to G-d makes one very humble. Furthermore, since nothing truly exists besides G-d, all of the angels feel very strongly that they don't have a separate identity to themselves. They feel the way a tiny candle feels when it is brought near by, and unites with, a large torch. The flame is there, but it is buttle b'metzious. In other words, the angels and demons would never point at themselves because they don't really feel that they themselves actually exist as entities independent from G-d. The act of pointing at oneself implies not only that you exist, but that you exist as a different and independent entity unto yourself. Therefore, only someone from our physical realm, where G-dliness is concealed, would ever point at himself and thereby claim that he exists, and thus the angels or demons can see you. And this, perhaps, explains why one should never use your own body as an example when you teach someone where to cut a neck for ritual slaughter... because you would be pointing at yourself!
Pointing at yourself is important in another way. But first, a slight preface: Jews don't believe in evil, right? Well, the sages never said 'there is no evil, period.' If you pay close attention, the phrase they use a lot is that 'no bad or evil descends from above. [Ein Rah Yored M'l'maylah] The bad in our world did not come from above; rather, we messed up and brought it upon ourselves. How did we bring it upon ourselves? The Alter Rebbe, in chapter 11 of Iggeres HaKodesh in Tanya, says that anyone who is sad or down shows on himself that he has bad and lacks of any good. In the origional, he is, 'mareh b'atzmoh sheyesh ra.'
In other words, the whole concept of 'pointing to yourself' is an attribute to be abhorred. This practice is the source for our feeling bad. The more we exist as separate entities, as big egos, the more pain we feel, because we become so focused on ourselves and we loose our connection to G-d, the true source of our life and livelyhood. But the more we worry less about ourselves, and worry more for our fellow Jews and for the Shechinah which is in exile with us, the less we feel ourselves and the more we feel true connection to our Higher Power.
This brings to mind some chassidic stories I recall. A chossid went to a Rebbe, and said, "How do I learn to deal with all the troubles in my life?" The Rebbe told him to go see a certain great Jew who was extremely poor, and was sick very often. When the chossid met this special Jew, he said, 'Special Jew, my Rebbe sent me here so you could teach me to rejoice in my sufferings. How do you do it?' To this, the special Jew replied, 'I don't know why the Rebbe sent you here. I haven't suffered a day in my life."
The other story that comes to mind goes a little something like this:
A great disciple of a chassidic master was knocking on his masters door. The master seemed to be a little late answering the door, so the disciple knocked and repeated, 'Its me! Its me!" Later on, at a special dinner, this disciple was accused of stealing some nice silver dining ware. In fact, some of the guests held him down and threatened to lash him with a belt. To this, the disciple responded, 'It wasn't me! It wasn't me!' They found out, in the end, that the disciple did not, in fact, steal the silverware. Later, the Chassidic Master informed his disciple that his initial claims of 'Its me its me,' created a spiritual blemish that had to be rectified by screaming, 'its not me! its not me!.
Ok ok, one more story and then I go to bed :). A great man once merited to see where the souls go to after they leave their physical bodies. The man saw the souls in heaven and the souls in purgatory. [Jews do not believe in hell, so he didn't get to see those ones]. In heaven, all the souls were seated at a table upon which was a great feast. But the utensils the souls were using were so long that they could not feed themselves. Yet the souls were fat and happy, nonetheless.
In purgatory, it looked exactly the same: souls sitting around a great banquet with forks to eat with that were too long to feed oneself with. Here, the souls were famished and starving. The great man said to his guide, 'Why are the souls here starving, while the souls in heaven are so well fed? After all, everything is the same both in purgatory and heaven, in that the utensils are so long that no one can feed himself!' His guide responded, "Yes, it is true, a soul in either realm cannot feed himself, but in heaven, we have learned to feed one another." BOOYAH