A Ladder to The Zohar
To understand the words of the Holy Zohar, one should first … be cleaned of self love. …Otherwise, there are Klipot that hide and block the truth in the words of the Holy Zohar.
Baal HaSulam, Shamati [I Heard], Article No. 89 
The story of The Book of Zohar begins some 1,800 years ago in a tiny, dimly lit cave in Peki’in, in the Western Galilee, Israel, where Rashbi and his son, Rabbi Elazar, hid from the Roman emperor. For thirteen years they prepared themselves for the writing of the book that would change the face of history.
The years passed and Rabbi Shimon and his son completed the correction that they had to complete and came out of the cave. Eight other Kabbalists joined Rabbi Shimon and his son and together they studied and wrote The Book of Zohar.
This is how I am arranging you: Rabbi Aba will write, Rabbi Elazar will learn verbally, and the rest of the friends will speak in their hearts.
The Book of Zohar, Haazinu [Give Ear], Idra Zuta, Item 27
Among Rashbi’s students was Rabbi Aba, a Kabbalist with a special gift. He was the only one who knew how to write the words of his teacher in such a way that they would be both revealed and concealed. The Book of Zohar refers to that gift as “Disclosing in secret.” 
Legend has it that the manuscript of The Zohar was hidden in a cave near Zephath, and after a few centuries was discovered by Arabs living in the area, who were delighted to find paper—which was a rare commodity in those days. When one of the Kabbalists of Zephath bought some fish in the market, he was astounded to discover the contents of the text of The Zohar on the wrapping paper of the fish. As soon as he discovered it, he bought all the “wrapping paper” that was still available and compiled the pieces into a book.
The Book of Zohar that we have today is only a small part of the original because much of it was never retrieved. The pieces that were found and compiled into The Book of Zohar that we have today were passed on secretly among Kabbalists from generation to generation until early in the 14th century. At that time, the widow of Rabbi Moshe De Leon inherited the manuscript from her husband. “He probably told her nothing of the prohibition to disclose, and she, by chance, put it up for sale.” 
Some mistakenly attribute the writing of The Zohar to Rabbi Moshe De Leon himself, but the Kabbalists explain that this is a mistake: “All those who know the ins and outs of the holy Book of Zohar, that is, who understand what is written in it, unanimously agree that the holy Book of Zoharwas written by the Godly Tanna (sage) Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Only some of those who are far from this wisdom doubt this pedigree and tend to say, relying on fabricated tales of opponents of this wisdom, that its author is the Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe De Leon, or others of his time” (Baal HaSulam, “Introduction to The Book of Zohar,” Item 59).
Since then, The Book of Zohar has been present, but only in our generation is it truly being revealed, thanks to Baal HaSulam’s commentary. Baal HaSulam explains that the generation of the authors of The Zohar was the only generation in which the desired wholeness had been attained, that is, all 125 spiritual degrees. And because our generation should achieve the same perfection, it has been given the chance to unlock The Zohar.
Prior to the days of the Messiah, it is impossible to be granted all 125 degrees. …An exception is Rashbi and his generation, the authors of The Zohar, who were granted all 125 degrees in completeness, even though it was prior to the days of the Messiah. It was said about him and his disciples: “A sage is preferable to a prophet.”
Hence, we often find in The Zohar that there will be none like the generation of Rashbi until the generation of the Messiah King. This is why his composition made such a great impact in the world, since the secrets of the Torah in it occupy the level of all 125 degrees.
Baal HaSulam, “A Speech for the Completion of The Zohar”
The Sulam [Ladder] Commentary
And I have named that commentary The Sulam (The Ladder) to show that the purpose of my commentary is as the role of any ladder: if you have an attic filled abundantly, then all you need is a ladder to reach it. And then, all the bounty in the world will be in your hands.
Baal HaSulam, “Introduction to The Book of Zohar,” Item 58
There is no point opening The Book of Zohar without the Sulam commentary. Other commentaries have been written on The Zohar, but the Sulam commentary is the only one that is complete. The Sulam, as its name (Ladder) implies, is the only one that can lead us to perfection because Baal HaSulam attained all 125 degrees from which the authors of The Zohar wrote the book. He connected to them and interpreted The Zohar for us from that level.
The Sulam commentary adapts The Zohar to the souls that are appearing in the world today. Thus, our souls can face the Zohar, the brightness, the upper light, so that it reforms us and brings our souls back to bonding, a bonding in which the Creator appears.
The Sulam helps us build ourselves in the “middle line” so that our form is best suited to the form in which the upper light comes to us  so we may receive it.
The middle line is the formula by which we should properly combine the two forces that exist in Nature: the Creator’s force—giving, abundance, light—and the creature’s (humans’) force—the will to receive. Building the middle line is our whole world, and this is where our free choice lies.
Baal HaSulam directs our vision, our approach, and our sensations so that the words of The Zoharwill pass through us in the middle line, the golden path.
The language of The Zohar is filled with seemingly corporeal allegories, which the Sulam commentary interprets.  The Sulam helps us perceive The Zohar more elaborately so that we feel that the text is close to us.
Baal HaSulam also translated The Zohar from Aramaic into Hebrew, divided The Zohar into paragraphs and essays, and added interpretations, introductions, and introductory explanations.  All that is left for us to do is to climb the rungs of the ladder from our world to the world of Ein Sof.
Acknowledgement of Spiritual Leaders of the Writings of Baal HaSulam
Baal HaSulam made it so that if an ordinary person were to walk in his path, he would be able to discover the Creator.
Rav Baruch Ashlag, “The Works of the Greatest in the Nation”
When Baal HaSulam began to publish his writings, he was greeted with enthusiasm by the spiritual leaders of his time:
A Godly sage of great understanding has come, a sacred treasure … and the spirit of the Lord was upon him to compose the sacred book … to the truth of the Torah and in true foundations … happy is the woman who bore him.
The Rav Kook
The great priest of the study of Kabbalah, whose name is renowned.
Rav Yosef Chaim Zonenfeld
How glorified is the day when the bright light has appeared before us, the Sulam commentary on the Holy Zohar … and with the hand of the Lord upon him, the great Kabbalist … the minister of the house of Zohar.
Rav Yaakov Moshe HARLAP
He illuminated the eyes of sages with the words of the Holy Zohar … which is a ladder placed on the earth, and its top reaches the heaven.
Rav Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel
It was possible to obtain The Book of Zohar even before Baal HaSulam wrote the Sulam commentary, but people did not understand what it said. The role of The Book of Zohar as a means to reveal the Creator is the thing that was hidden, and that is now revealed. The Sulam commentary opens before us the ability to correct ourselves and to discover the Creator. This is why Baal HaSulam disclosed The Zohar. And because he concluded thousands of years of concealment of The Book of Zohar, these and other acknowledgements35 soon appeared.
The following words, which were found among his writings, give us a clue into the spiritual level of Baal HaSulam:
And God said unto me: “Get thee out of thy country,  to the pleasant land, the land of the Holy Fathers, where I will make you a great sage and all the sages of the land shall be blessed in you, for I have chosen you for a righteous sage in all this generation, to heal the human suffering with lasting salvation.”
Baal HaSulam, “The Prophecy of Baal HaSulam”
And by a Higher Will, I have been awarded the impregnation of the soul of the Ari … and I cannot elaborate on this matter, as it is not my way to speak of the incomprehensible.
Baal HaSulam, Letter no. 39
Zohar for All
The wisdom of truth, …like secular teachings, must be passed on from generation to generation. Each generation adds a link to its former, and thus the wisdom evolves. Moreover, it becomes more suitable for expansion in the public.
Baal HaSulam, “The Teaching of the Kabbalah and Its Essence”
Bnei Baruch—Kabbalah Education and Research Institute is an organization with vast experience in studying and teaching The Book of Zohar. The experience accumulated through teaching different people in different countries, and through different mediums, has brought us to a decision that was not easy to take—to slightly change the typesetting of the text for the contemporary reader. We learned that in its original setting, The Zohar was approachable only to very few, due to an archaic structure and the unfamiliar use of bold letters or different fonts. As a result, The Zohar remained inaccessible to most people.
The difficulties in reading made many readers leave the book and thus deny themselves the correction of their souls. After much hesitation, we have come to the decision that because of the necessity to bring The Zohar closer to all, we must rearrange the original text of Baal HaSulam.
We did this with the greatest care, without removing anything substantial, changing only the appearance of the text, not its content.
At times, Baal HaSulam wrote his commentaries in between the words of The Zohar, and at times he added broader explanations after the words of The Zohar. Our experience has shown that while reading in The Zohar, it is best to include the text of The Zohar, the Sulam commentary that is in The Zohar itself, as well as the Sulam commentary after the words of The Zohar. Hence, to make it easier on the reader to read the text smoothly, we unified the texts.
To illustrate what we did, below is an example of text from The Zohar (in Hebrew) from the portion, Aharei Mot [After the Death]. First comes the original text of The Zohar, which is almost entirely in Aramaic [and hence will be left without translation], followed by The Zohar with the Sulamcommentary, and finally, Zohar for All, which is what we did to make the source—the light that reforms—closer to you.
The Original Zohar:
The Book of Zohar with the Sulam commentary:
94) Rabbi Hiya started, etc.: Rabbi Hiya started and said, “That which is has been already, and that which will be…” “That which is has been already,” meaning before the Creator created this world, He created worlds and destroyed them, which is the breaking of the vessels, until the Creator desired to create this world, and He consulted with the Torah, which is the middle line. Then He was corrected in His corrections, decorated in His decorations, and created this world. And then, everything that exists in this world was before Him, at the time of creation, and was established before Him.
95) VeTaana Kol Inun [Aramaic], etc.: We learned that all the leaders of the world in every generation stand before the Creator in their forms, before they come into the world. Even all the souls of people, before they come to the world, are engraved before Him in the heaven, in the very same form they have in this world. And all that they learn in this world, they know before they come into the world…
Commentary. Upon the creation of the souls, while they are still above, before they come down to this world under time, they are in the eternity, above time, where past, present, and future exist as one, as is the nature of eternity. It follows that all the deeds that the souls do one at a time, when they come into this world, they will be there at the same time. This is the meaning of what is written (Item 95), Kol inun nishmatin, etc., behahu dyokna mamash de inun behai alma, that is, according to their actions in this world.
Zohar for All:
94) “That which is has been already, and that which will be…” “That which is has been already…” Before the Creator created this world, He created worlds and destroyed them. This is the breaking of the vessels. Finally, the Creator desired to create this world, and consulted with the Torah, the middle line. Then He was corrected in His corrections, decorated in His decorations, and created this world. And then, everything that exists in this world was before Him at the time of creation, and was established before Him.
95) All the leaders of the world in every generation stand before the Creator in their forms, before they come into the world. Even all the souls of people, before they come to the world, are engraved before Him in the heavens, in the very same form they have in this world. And all that they learn in this world, they know before they come into the world…
Upon the creation of the souls, while they are still above, before they come down to this world under time, they are in eternity, above time, where past, present, and future exist as one, as is the nature of eternity. It follows that all the deeds that the souls do one at a time, when they come into this world, will be there at the same time. This is the meaning of the words, “All the souls of people, before they come to the world, are engraved before Him in the heaven, in the very same form they have in this world,” that is, according to their actions in this world.
As you can see, we tried to break down as many of the barriers that separate The Zohar from the people and offer a slightly briefer and easier version to read. If you can be assisted by Zoharfor All to grow accustomed to The Book of Zohar, and then move to the Sulam commentary itself, our work will have been like a ladder to the Ladder commentary.
The great spiritual questions, which used to be solved only by the great and the excellent, must now be solved on different degrees for the entire nation, to lower exalted and sublime matters from the height of their tower to the depth of the common and ordinary. This requires tremendous and great richness of spirit along with constant, regular engagement, for only then the mind will expand and the language will be made clearer, to the point of expressing the deeper matters in a light and popular style to revive thirsty souls.
Rav Raiah Kook, Ikvei Ha’Tzon, [By the Footsteps of the Flock], 54
The Necessity to Engage in The Zohar
Below is a quote from the Ari’s The Tree of Life, written in the 16th century. These are the words of Rav Chaim Vital in his introduction to the book, Gate of Introductions.
I am sitting here, bewildered, with my thoughts confused, for no cure has been found to the ruin of our Temple, which has been in ruin for 1,504 years now. We have come to the end of our rope, yet the Messiah has not come. It is known that in each generation when the Temple is not built, it is as though it was ruined in that generation.
I have looked into the reason for the length of our exile, and I have found an answer in The Book of Zohar (in the corrections, “Correction no. 30”): “Those who do not wish to exert in the wisdom of Kabbalah, who make the Torah dry, woe unto them, for thus they inflict poverty, ruin, looting, killing, and destruction in the world. And the spirit of the Messiah departs, the holy spirit, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
“Any grace that they do, they do for themselves. They engage in Torah to receive many rewards, as well as to be heads of seminaries. In their actions, they are similar to the people of the generation of Babel who built a tower whose top was in heaven, as it is written, ‘And let us make us a name.’ The Zohar calls them ‘Mixed multitude’” (Ex, 12:38).
THE WISDOM OF KABBALAH—THE TRUE, INNER MEANING OF THE TORAH
Each day, a voice comes out of Mount Horev and calls out, “Woe unto the people from the affront of Torah,” for when they engage only in its literal part and its stories, it robes in its widow garments and all the nations shall say unto Israel, “How is your law better than our law? After all, your law, too, is but stories of worldly vanities.” Indeed, there is no greater affront to the Torah than that. Thus, woe unto them from the affront of Torah. They do not engage in the wisdom of Kabbalah, which gives glory to the Torah, and they extend the exile and all the evils that are about to come upon the world.
In The Book of Zohar, Rabbi Shimon says about it, “Woe unto one who says that the Torah comes to tell literal tales. This tale in the Torah is the clothing of the Torah, and one who thinks that that garment is the actual Torah, and there is nothing else within it, his spirit will be cursed and he will have no part in the next world.”
This is so because in the literal Torah, when its tales and judgments are treated literally, there is no recognition or information in them to know their Maker. Moreover, there are commandments and laws within them that reason cannot tolerate.
REDEMPTION DEPENDS ON THE STUDY OF KABBALAH
Had we engaged in the wisdom of Kabbalah, redemption would have drawn closer, for everything depends on the study of this wisdom, and avoiding to engage in it delays and hinders the building of our Temple. …It explicitly explains that one does not do one’s share by merely reading in the Bible, the Mishnah, the legends, and the Talmud. Rather, one must engage as much as one can in the secrets of Torah and the wisdom of Kabbalah, for there is no pleasure to the Creator in all that He has created, except when His children engage in the secrets of Torah, to know His greatness, beauty, and virtue.
DISCLOSING THE WISDOM TO ALL
The Book of Zohar, VaYera [The Lord Appeared]: “When it is near the days of the Messiah, even infants in the world will find the secrets of the wisdom.” It is explained that thus far the words of the wisdom of The Zohar have been concealed. But in the last generation, this wisdom will be revealed and become known, and they will understand and perceive the secrets of Torah that our predecessors did not attain.
A Ladder to The Zohar:
 Baal HaSulam, Shamati [I Heard], Article No. 89, “To Understand the Words of the Holy Zohar.”
 And we also find in The Book of Zohar, that Rashbi (Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai) instructed Rabbi Aba to write the secrets, because he knew how to reveal with intimation. …For each secret that Rashbi disclosed in the wisdom, he would cry and say, “Woe if I tell; woe if I do not tell.” …This means that he was in distress from both angles: if he did not reveal the secrets of the Torah, the secrets would be lost from the true sages… And if he did reveal the secrets, unworthy people would fail in them for they would not understand the root of the matters and would eat unripe fruit.
Hence, Rashbi chose Rabbi Aba to write because of his wisdom in allegories, arranging matters in such a way that it would be sufficiently revealed to those worthy of understanding them, and hidden and blocked from those unworthy of understanding them. This is why he said that Rabbi Aba knew how to disclose in secret. In other words, although he revealed, it still remained a secret to the unworthy. (Baal HaSulam, “General Preface,” Item 1)
 Baal HaSulam, “Messiah’s Shofar”
The Sulam [Ladder] Commentary:
 In the language of Kabbalah, the form in which the light comes to us is called “association of the quality of mercy in judgment.” For more details, see “Preface to The Book of Zohar,” Items 36-38 by Baal HaSulam.
 And the books of Kabbalah and The Zohar are filled with corporeal parables. Therefore, people are afraid lest they will lose more than they will gain … And this is what prompted me to compose a sufficient interpretation to the writings of the Ari, and now to the Holy Zohar. And I have completely removed that concern, for I have evidently explained and proven the spiritual meaning of everything, that it is abstract and devoid of any corporeal image, above space and above time, as the readers will see, to allow the whole of Israel to study The Book of Zohar and be warmed by its sacred Light. (Baal HaSulam, “Introduction to The Book of Zohar,” Item 58)
 All the interpretations of The Book of Zohar before ours did not clarify as much as ten percent of the difficult places in The Zohar. And in the little they did clarify, their words are almost as abstruse as the words of The Zohar itself. But in our generation we have been rewarded with the Sulam (Ladder) commentary, which is a complete interpretation of all the words of The Zohar. Moreover, not only does it not leave an unclear matter in the whole of The Zohar without interpreting it, but the clarifications are based on a straightforward analysis, which any intermediate student can understand. (Baal HaSulam, “A Speech for the Completion of The Zohar”)
Acknowledgement of Spiritual Leaders of the Writings of Baal HaSulam
 At the time, Baal HaSulam was still in Poland, prior to his immigration to Israel in 1921.