“Neither shall you lack the salt of the covenant of your God from your offering.” Why is salt so important? It is because it cleanses and perfumes the bitter, and makes it tasty. Salt is Dinim [judgments] in the Masach [screen] of Hirik, on which the middle line emerges, which unites the right with the left. It cleanses, perfumes, and sweetens the Dinim of the left, which are bitter, with the Hassadim[mercies] on the right line. Had there not been salt, the middle line would not have been extended and the world would not have been able to tolerate the bitterness.
Zohar or All, VaYechi [Jacob Lived], Item 666
Salt is the basis of all the spices, adding flavor to the food. In spirituality, when we begin to receive the upper light into the soul, it is regarded as flavors spreading within us.
Our evil inclination, the egoistic material of which we are made, is like a stew without spices. We derive no pleasure from it. This is why it was said (Babylonian Talmud, Kidushin, 30b), “I have created the evil inclination; I have created for it the Torah as a spice.” With the additional spice that the upper light brings—using the right intention—that same substance acquires wondrous flavors. Then, we have an evil inclination, and next to it, The Zohar as a spice. The combination between them yields the middle line.
If there weren’t salt, the middle line would not have been drawn and the world would not be able to tolerate the bitterness, says The Zohar. In other words, if we could not mitigate the ego, we would not be able to tolerate it.
« The language of The Zohar remedies the soul, even when one does not understand what it says at all. It is similar to one who enters a perfumery; even when he does not take a thing, he still absorbs the fragrance. »
– Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudilkov,
Degel Machaneh Ephraim [The Banner of the Camp of Ephraim], Excerpts
The Book of Zohar is a wonderful tool. It can open an entire world of wonderful and surprising revelations before us. The Zohar is like a gate to the actual reality, currently hidden from our senses. However, to use the power within it effectively, we must learn how to read in The Zohar properly. The five rules below will summarize the entire contents of the book and will help you prepare for the great journey in the paths of The Zohar.
FIRST RULE—THE HEART UNDERSTANDS.
Do Not Seek Intellectual Understanding
The Book of Zohar is studied with the heart, meaning through will and emotion. What does that mean? Unlike ordinary forms of study, which are based on intellectual processing of facts and data, here we must adopt a completely different approach. Studying The Zohar aims to evoke an internal change in us, and prepare us to receive the hidden reality.
The measure of our success depends only on the measure of our longing to discover and to feel that reality. Hence, there is no need for prior knowledge, skill, or any special intelligence. All that is required is to have a genuine desire to open one’s eyes wide, to open the heart, and to “devour” everything.
SECOND RULE—MAN IS A SMALL WORLD
Interpret the Words Correctly
The Book of Zohar contains many descriptions and concepts that we are familiar with from our world, such as “sea,” “mountains,” “trees,” “flowers,” “animals,” “people,” and “journeys.” It is important to understand that all those details, images, and events mentioned in the book do not speak of the outside world around us, but only about what occurs within us.
Hence, while reading The Zohar we should try to interpret the words within it as expressions of those internal actions that take place in the soul, to see the text as a bridge to our deepest desires and qualities.
THIRD RULE—THE LIGHT IN IT REFORMS
Seek the Light
We often hear that there is a special quality to The Zohar. This quality is a natural law of development that acts in all of life’s processes, and not some mystical, imaginary power.
Kabbalists explain that the corporeal world is entirely governed by the egoistic desire to exploit others, while in the spiritual world, only the intention to love and to give operates. Hence, we were given a special means whose function is to connect between the opposite worlds, or in other words, to direct our qualities according to the quality of loving and giving of the spiritual world—“the light that reforms.”
The way the light affects us is currently hidden from our understanding. This is why we refer to it as a Segula [power, remedy, virtue] or as a miracle. However, to Kabbalists, who know the spiritual world, there are no miracles here at all, only a perfectly natural process.
They explain that all we need is to read The Book of Zohar and wish for the power within it to affect us during the study. Gradually, we will begin to feel the inner change taking place in us thanks to that light. The spiritual world will be opened, and what first seemed to us a miracle will become a clear and straightforward rule.
FOURTH RULE—NOTHING DEFEATS THE WILL
We all know what efforts are required of babies to take their first steps in the world, and with what inspiring persistence they do it. They never give up, repeatedly trying until they succeed. Likewise, we should continue studying The Zohar with patience and persistence until we begin to “walk” by ourselves and discover the spiritual world. The system required for advancement has already been prepared for us in advance, and the only thing we must bring in is our great desire.
FIFTH RULE—AS ONE MAN IN ONE HEART
Bonding Is Key
The Book of Zohar was written by a group of ten Kabbalists who built a perfect Kli among them, a united will to discover the highest force in reality—the Creator. Only the internal connection between them, the love and the bonding, enabled them to breach the boundaries of the corporeal world and rise to the level of eternal existence that The Zohar speaks of. If we wish to follow them, we must try to build a similar bond among us, to search for the power of connection that existed among the students of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. The Zohar was born out of love, hence its renewed disclosure today will be made possible only out of love.
* * *
For this chapter, which summarizes the book, we have selected special excerpts from The Zohar. In between the excerpts we added explanations, guidance as to the right intention during the reading, and more to help you connect to the light imbued in The Zohar.
It is recommended that you read this section slowly. The Book of Zohar, our guide to spiritual development, was not meant for superficial reading, but for relaxed reading joined with deep inner search.
“We create nothing new. Our work is only to illuminate what is hidden within.”
Menachem Mendel of Kotzk
All who fault, fault in their own defect
Babylonian Talmud, Kidushin 70b
It is no coincidence that we were made to perceive reality as divided into two parts—me and what is outside of me. If our perception were only internal we would never be able to rise above our egos toward the quality of love and giving. We would be wedged in one place, “chasing our own tails.”
Here is an example to clarify what this means. Each of us has a certain amount of self-centered tendencies such as desires for domination or pride. When we examine ourselves, we don’t really notice them. But when we see others acting out of a craving to dominate or to boast, for the most part it annoys us.
We have been preordained with hatred and repulsion of others to allow us not to be biased and to define our attitude toward these tendencies in a wise and critical manner. Like a strict and perceptive judge, our ego helps us examine the evil that appears before us in others, to judge it meticulously, profoundly, and in great detail.
Our initial external perception opens our eyes and allows us to detect bad things outside of us. Afterwards, we realize that in truth, it is all within us. It is said that “All who fault, fault in their own defect.” However, we are destined to discover that it’s not that “he is overbearing” and “she is a snob,” but that it is we who are seeing them this way because of our own spoiled desires.
The Creator’s desired goal for the creation He had created is to bestow upon His creatures so they will know His truthfulness and greatness, and receive all the delight and pleasure He had prepared for them.
Baal HaSulam, “Introduction to The Book of Zohar,” Item 39
As stated above, it is desire that shapes our perception of reality. Now we will try to understand what parts make up the desire, why we were created specifically as we are, and how we can change our reality for the better.
Along the way, we will discover why such emotions as hatred and love toward others appear in us, what causes us to be glad when someone else is suffering, and why we are envious when the neighbor buys a new car.
Question: if the purpose of Creation is to be delighted, why does it seem that matters are constantly getting worse? The Book of Zohar explains that in truth, we exist in a perfect system that was created by the Creator. The whole of the substance of Creation is the will to receive, and the perfect system is actually the comprehensive will that was created. This will is also called “the general soul” or “the soul of Adam HaRishon.” However, the Creator broke the general soul into many pieces, and in each of us there is only a tiny fraction of the general soul.
Prior to the breaking, we all felt like organs of a single body in this system. Everything was perfect and unbounded; hence, at that time, the system was called “the world of Ein Sof [infinity].” In the world of Ein Sof, all parts of the system are connected with love and are filled with light. However, the Creator placed 125 “filters” on this system, which conceal the worlds so now we cannot sense that there is any light there.
It is like a beautiful picture covered with a stained nylon sheet, on top of which there is another stained sheet, and another one, so the original picture becomes increasingly hidden.
We are on the outermost layer and have no sense whatsoever of the previous layers, hence the connection between us is completely distorted. Instead of feeling the love that connects us in the world of Ein Sof, there is hatred and repulsion among us. We do not feel the comprehensive connection between us; instead, we are separated and detached.
The Creator wanted us to return to the good and enlightened state by ourselves, to the world of Ein Sof. This is the program of the evolution of Creation, which divides into three stages:
Stage One: the initial state (the world of Ein Sof);
- Stage Two: the broken state (this world);
- And Stage Three: the perfect state, which we must create by ourselves (returning to the world of Ein Sof).
It is quite similar to the way we behave with children. We take a picture, cut it into pieces, then let them put the pieces back together. The reassembly process develops the child.
As a result of the shattering, the will (known as Kli[vessel]) of every person was divided into two main parts: internal Kelim [vessels], known as “root,” “soul,” and “body,” and external Kelim, known as “clothing” and “palace.” I perceive my inner Kelim as “me,” therefore I care for them, and I perceive the external Kelim as alien, not my own. The inner Kelim and the outer Kelim contradict each other, so the more I love my inner Kelim, the more I hate my outer Kelim.
There is a boundary between those two types of Kelim—the border of the shattering. It is a kind of partition that causes me to look outward only in a mindset of “What can I receive from there to improve my situation? What does that give me?” It compels me to always relate to others egoistically, desiring to exploit them.
I always evaluate my situation by the difference between myself and the rest of the world. Hence, as surprising and as odd as it may sound, the worse it is for the world, the better it is for me—provided it does not put my personal safety in any danger.
I cannot tolerate fulfillment in the external Kelim. I cannot remain indifferent toward another or behave as though I do not care about him or her. When another person succeeds, it is very painful to me, it really destroys me. I constantly compare.
If, for instance, I earn $100,000 a year, and the people around me earn $50,000, I feel great satisfaction. But if someone earns $200,000 a year, I feel great disappointment. I cannot rid myself of this thought and settle for what I have because it is so important to me that others have less than me.
We cannot simply ignore those external Kelim because we feel them as belonging to us. If there were no connection between us, it would be another story. However, the shattering created a negative connection between us so that even if we did nothing bad to one another, the force of the shattering makes us de facto enemies.
But the equal side in all the people of the world is that each of us stands ready to abuse and exploit all the people for his own private benefit with every means possible, without taking into any consideration that he is going to build himself on the ruin of his friend.
Baal HaSulam, “Peace in the World”
Understanding how these matters work is extremely important because it serves as a means for change, a lever for development. Let us examine another example that, precisely because it is extreme, helps us understand the issue more precisely.
All of humanity’s villains acted on the same inner drive to expand the gap between their own internal Kelim and their external Kelim. Nazi Germany, for instance, could not settle for realizing the great human potential of the German people to create a thriving country. Instead, a drive appeared in it to be superior to others, to govern them, to destroy them. Only then would it feel that it was truly great.
Human egoism feels that killing other people, exploiting them, and dominating them is pleasurable for it. This is the result of the shattering—man is hurting himself, his own external Kelim, but he doesn’t know it. When we find out that all the evil we have been trying to inflict on others was really inflicted on ourselves, will experience immense disillusionment and pain. Yet, it is precisely this pain and disillusionment that will help us carry out the actual correction.
We are unaccustomed to discussing these matters and we tend to hide them, but where it is distinctly visible is in politics. We even found a respectable name to this world of lies—“diplomacy.” Each side strives to dominate the other, but for lack of other choices, signs an alliance with the other side.
In human society, we have built many systems to allow us to live with minimal friction between the inner Kelim and outer Kelim of each. We understand that otherwise we will all be harmed. We have established Social Security, welfare systems, and charities because we are all terrified that tomorrow we, too, will be in that state of need. Hence, we prepare the cure ahead of the blow.
Hatred between inner and outer Kelim is a human phenomenon that doesn’t exist in the animal kingdom. When a lion eats a zebra, it doesn’t hate it, and the zebra doesn’t hate the lion. The lion regards the zebra as food and the zebra tries not to be eaten. But there is no hatred between them. Nature governs both of them perfectly.
If there were no connections between us, we would not be able to discover the reason for what is bad in our lives. However, because we are discovering that the connections between us are bad, we can then turn them into good.
Let us examine the current state of humanity. In the past, ties among countries barely existed. Each country was connected only to a few other countries. When we were far from each other, there was not much contact, hence the evil was not so evident. But as the world became more globalized, everyone became connected, affecting everyone else. Suddenly, there was nowhere to run. We do not have another earth, hence the hatred between us is surfacing. Yet, it is precisely this hatred that will compel us to correct our relationships.
Even though we see everything as actually being in front of us, every reasonable person knows for certain that all that we see is only within our own brains.
Baal HaSulam, “Preface to The Book of Zohar”
Now that the picture of our relations with others has been made a little clearer, we can move on. As we said above, the force that divides our picture of reality into two parts—internal and external—is the force of the shattering. After the shattering, part of our desires (our outer Kelim, “clothing” and “palace”) were no longer sensed as our own. It is like a person who received an anesthetic to the leg, and while his leg was being amputated, he laughed and talked, behaving as though nothing was happening to him because he felt nothing.
In these parts of the will, “clothing” and “hall,” we actually feel all that is not us, meaning the outside world. Around us are people, processes unfolding, and the entire world when in fact, they are all parts of our own desire.
We are living in a long feature film in which our desires our projected before our eyes, and what determines the image we see each moment in the film is the Reshimot [recollections]. As mentioned in Chapter 2, Reshimot are information bits that define our personal plan of development.
Let us review what we have said before to restore some order. Reality consists of three elements: the light, the power of love and giving (the Creator), the will to receive (the creature), and the Reshimot(the creature’s plan of development). First, the Creator created the creature, meaning a desire to receive pleasure. Then the Creator broke the desire into an inner part (root, soul, body) and an outer part (clothing, palace), and created in it an egoistic sensation of “me vs. the world.”
Within the desire is its development plan, which consists of Reshimot. Each such Reshimo [singular of Reshimot] constitutes a certain state that the creature must experience until it corrects the shattering—equalizes with the qualities of the Creator and realizes the purpose of Creation.
If we return to the film, what I see now is a realization of the Reshimo that I feel in the five parts of my desire, and there is nothing else but that.
Each moment, new Reshimot awaken in my desire and evoke new impressions in me, which immediately makes me see a different world. My whole life, the whole of reality are Reshimot that pass through me and become realized. The light affects me, my desire, through which the Reshimot begin to traverse in a chain as though in frames on celluloid film.
I feel that it is my life that I am living, but is it really me living it? If look back a few years, will I believe that it was really me? It seems as though some motion picture ran through me. Many people feel that way—that life passes through them as though in a dream, that it was not them doing and experiencing, but some projection, a film that was projected and they were playing their roles in it.
The Zohar explains that there is nothing but Reshimot, light, and desire. Each Reshimo that passes divides the desire into two—internal and external. We experience ourselves and something other, which seems to be outside of us—trees, sun, moon, people. We have children, we are at work, there is always us and something other. Why?
The sensation of reality as though it were divided into two allows us to recognize that besides us there is another force—the light, the Creator—which compels us to search for it.
All the worlds, Upper and lower, are included in man.
Baal HaSulam, “Introduction to the Preface to the Wisdom of Kabbalah,” Item 1
The Book of Zohar is hidden in the sense that people don’t know how to read and understand what is written in it because the key to reading it is in the perception of reality. The Zohar demands that we understand that the reality we perceive is happening within, not without.
Even the upper world, to which The Zohar is leading us, will be experienced within us. It is pointless to search for the outlet to the upper world beyond the horizon. Rather, it is only a change in our inner qualities.
The Zohar speaks of a reality that exists “above” what we feel at the moment, “above” time, space, and motion. This external reality that it describes and which appears to be outside of us is nowhere to be found. It is all within our will. All phenomena, sensations of the past, present, and future are depicted within it. History is merely a process that we picture as something that occurred sometime in the past, when in truth, there is no time at all, no motion, and all places are imaginary. There is only one place where everything occurs—the desire.
The natural course of things, the different parts of our desire (internal and external, me and others) collide with one another. The Book of Zohar assists us in correcting the connection between them, in joining them until they become one and we feel no difference between them. This is the longed-for change in our perception of reality.
This is how we discover the upper world, also known as “the next world.” It is not that we prepare ourselves here and subsequently reach some other place. Rather, the more we show love toward others instead of hatred, the more we begin to feel what is called “the upper world” or “the next world.” All the worlds are here in the connection between us and what currently seems to be outside of us, remote.
Desires that seem to us as others are divided into several circles with respect to our ego. In the closest circle are family, relatives and friends. In the next circle are people who help us and who benefit us by their existence, such as doctors. Then there are the people that we only want to use, to harm, but to keep them alive. And the farthest are the people that we truly hate and may even be prepared to kill.
Yet, they are all our own desires. When we reconnect them to ourselves, we will become the general soul that the Creator created and will return to the world of Ein Sof.
It is important to stress that the process of correcting the perception of reality is not meant to be carried out artificially. If my neighbor were to yell at me tomorrow, I would not reply with something like, “Relax, my friend. After all, we are all one will.” It is also not a simplistic shift of “inward instead of outward.”
Rather, it is a profound transformation, and to execute it we need The Book of Zohar to help us build that new perception within us, as well as the company of people who will support us in the correction process.
The most hidden is given to the wise at heart.
Zohar for All, Lech Lecha [Go Forth], Item 96
Baal HaSulam, “Introduction to The Book of Zohar,” Item 41: Bear in mind that the reality of all the worlds is generally divided into five worlds called a) Adam Kadmon, b) Atzilut, c) Beria, d) Yetzira, and e) Assiya.
These “worlds” are the levels of my internal closeness to the Creator, to bestowal. It’s as if I look through their prism. At the same time, I can accept bestowal on a certain level of Aviut (thickness) from zero to four. On the whole, these are all levels of attainment until full adhesion.
Question: What do we need these worlds, these concealments, for?
Answer: So that we will gradually discover the Creator according to our equivalence of form with Him; it’s a law: Every phenomenon in reality can only be attained according to an equivalence of form. As long as I, according to my egoistic nature, am external to it and am not compatible with it, I cannot feel it. When the point in the heart awakens in me, I begin to feel my oppositeness to the Creator, and then I can grow and increase my point and my closeness to Him. But until then, I am detached from Him by my ego: He is total bestowal and I am total receiving, and I have no connection with Him. This is how the law of equivalence of form works.
Question: Can we say that the levels of equivalence reflect my sensitivity to others?
Answer: Yes. My attitude to others or to the Creator is actually the same thing. The main thing is that the direction is from me outward.
We must understand that we are in one state called the “world of Ein Sof (Infinity),” or “Malchut of Ein Sof.” But we are separated from it by five levels of opacity of the senses. Special Masachim (screens) weaken them like filters that are dressed on the perception of the world of Ein Sof, and as a result, we only feel the “external world” although everything actually takes place inside.
Reality is fixed, but it’s depicted to us in the form of this world. The only difference is in the vagueness, in the dullness of the senses.
Question: How can we sharpen our senses?
Answer: It depends on your sensitivity to others in feeling the other and whether I can feel that he is as important as I am. Therefore it says: “Love thy friend as thyself.”
– From the 4th part of the Daily Kabbalah Lesson 4/14/13, “The Introduction to The Book of Zohar”
The will to receive is the whole substance of Creation from beginning to end.
Baal HaSulam, “Preface to the Wisdom of Kabbalah,” Item 1
When we want to be impressed by something, whether emotionally, intellectually, or otherwise, we must be on the same “wavelength” with it and thus possess the same quality. For example, to detect radio waves, the receiver must produce the same wavelength, and only then can we detect the wave on the outside.
Nature’s overall force is a “desire to give,” to bestow, to impart abundance. Conversely, our nature is one of “desire to receive delight and pleasure,” a desire to enjoy for ourselves alone. Our nature is self-centered; it is how we were made, as Kabbalah tells us. In other words, we are in contrast with the upper force, opposite from it, and hence we cannot sense it.
Is there anything we can do to sense it? We cannot destroy our nature and our will to receive, nor do we need to. We should continue with our lives as usual, and at the same time acquire new tools of perception.
But where can we find such an instrument that will supplement us with the new nature—to give—in addition to our original nature—to receive? Here, the wisdom of Kabbalah comes to our aid. At the moment, we are receivers. We absorb. And if we do give something to someone, it is only after we have calculated that it is worthwhile for us to do so. Our nature prevents us from giving without receiving something in return. It simply denies us the energy to perform an act that does not yield profit.
We are willing to give $50 if we receive $100 in return. We might also give $80 in return for $100. But if we try to give $101 in return for $100 it is impossible. This modus operandi is true not only with money or an act toward others, but for anything, as Baal HaSulam explained it:
It is well known to researchers of Nature that one cannot perform even the slightest movement without motivation, without somehow benefiting oneself. When, for example, one moves one’s hand from the chair to the table, it is because one thinks that by putting the hand on the table will be more enjoyable. If he did not think so, he would leave his hand on the chair for the rest of his life without moving it at all. It is all the more so with greater efforts.
Baal HaSulam, “The Peace”
Even people who assist other people more than most, such as volunteers at hospitals or elsewhere, do it only because, at the end of the day, it gives them pleasure.
Baal HaSulam explains that within humanity, there are always up to ten percent “natural born altruists.” Such people respond to others a little differently than most. They sympathize with others and feel their pain as though it were their own, and this feeling compels them to try to help others. Naturally, this altruistic inclination rests on a self-centered basis that requires correction, too, but it is hidden from the eye, as studies in behavioral genetics demonstrate. 
Man’s very essence is only to receive for oneself. By nature, we are unable to do even the smallest thing to benefit others. Instead, when we give to others, we are compelled to expect that in the end, we will receive a worthwhile reward.
Baal HaSulam, “A Speech for the Completion of The Zohar”
When a baby is born, it begins to hear, to see, and to react. It learns and develops from examples that we present to it.
If we left the baby to grow in the woods, it would imitate the animals and grow like an animal. With the exception of a few instincts and reflexes, everything about us comes from learning.
Can we learn the upper system in the same way if we do not feel it? How can we be like that baby, or even a drop of semen that only wishes to be born into a new quality called “giving”?
In other words, a human infant evolves out of a drop of corporeal semen. It learns from examples and eventually becomes a grownup. And now, a drop of spiritual seed, called “the point in the heart,” appears in that person, a new desire—to know what he or she is living for, to reach what exists beyond life, the force that affects us and operates us. In corporeal growth, the ego develops and the quality of reception for oneself becomes improved. In the process of spiritual growth, the quality of giving develops in us.
So what do we need in order to commence the process? We need examples—spiritual teachers. This is why The Book of Zohar was written. Just as children stare with eyes wide open and jaws dropped, craving to devour the world and learn all about it, we should approach The Book of Zohar, which provides us with examples of the quality of giving.
The more we learn how to give, the more we will resemble Nature’s comprehensive power, the power of love and giving. In Kabbalah terminology, it is called “equivalence of form,” which is a gradual process that leads to our sensing Nature’s overall force to the extent that we become similar to it.
 Changing certain gene sequences affects a person’s ability to be good to others, Prof. Ebstein and a team of researchers in behavioral genetics discovered. The researchers assume that there is an immediate reward for altruistic behavior in the form of a chemical called “dopamine,” released in the benefactor’s brain and prompting a pleasant feeling.
M. R. Bachner, I. Gritsenko, L. Nemanov, A. H. Zohar, C. Dina & R. P. Ebstein, “Dopaminergic Polymorphisms Associated with Self-Report Measures of Human Altruism: A Fresh Phenotype for the Dopamine D4 Receptor”, Molecular Psychiatry10 (4), April 2005, pp. 333-335
It is best for us to accept the words of Kabbalist, that HaTeva [the nature] is equal [in Gematria] to Elokim [God].
Baal HaSulam, “The Peace”
The Book of Zohar explains that we exist in a single, vast system, called “Nature” or Elokim [God], yet we sense only a fraction of that system, a fraction called “this world.”
The purpose of our existence is to rise above the boundaries of this world and feel the entirety of the system known as “Nature,” the upper force. When we achieve this degree, we will be filled with abundance, infinite pleasure and light, with sublime perception and understanding, a sense of balance, wholeness, and harmony as they exist in the overall Nature.
To understand what we must do to arrive at all this bounty, The Zohar recommends that we examine Nature’s conduct from a slightly broader angle than usual.
Our world is a closed world. We exist in a single, general system whose every part is interconnected. We cannot consider ourselves above Nature and omnipotent; it is a sure way of destroying ourselves. We also cannot escape Nature because we are an integral part of it. Hence, we must study the general law of Nature and go hand in hand with it.
Our urge to evolve is wonderful, but we must do it in the right way, towards a healthy connection between us and the rest of Creation in a way that does not violate the harmony and the overall balance of Nature. This, in fact, is the basis of the wisdom of Kabbalah.
Observing Nature teaches us that all living organisms are built on the basis of caring for others. Cells in an organism connect to each other by mutual giving for the purpose of sustaining the whole organism. Each cell in the body receives what it needs for its existence and spends the rest of its efforts caring for the entirety of the organism. An inconsiderate cell that does not take its environment into consideration and harnesses it for its own good is a cancerous cell. Such a selfish act eventually leads to the death of the entire organism.
At the levels of inanimate, vegetative, and animate, the specific acts for the good of the general and finds its completeness in that. Without such harmonious activity, existence would not be possible. The only exception is human society. Why? Because unlike the other degrees, where Nature’s law enforces balance and harmony, Nature has given human beings free choice, a place for their conscious participation in the overall harmony of Nature.
If we take part in the system incorrectly, the corruption we inflict reflects on us and we experience it as suffering. Thus, gradually, over thousands of generations, Nature is leading us to understand that we must study its overall law and eventually act accordingly.
The problem is that we do not feel Nature’s comprehensive force affecting us—the force of love and giving—also known as the “Creator.” However, today science is advancing toward discovering that Nature has a “mind,” “emotion,” and the power of great wisdom that sustains and governs everything. And yet, our egos do not wish us to see it.
The current state of the world proves that such blindness and unawareness of Nature’s system cannot last. Baal HaSulam wrote about it in the 1930s:
“Now it is vitally important for us to examine Nature’s commandments, to know what it demands of us, lest it would mercilessly punish us.”
(Baal HaSulam, “The Peace”)
Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag is better known as Baal HaSulam (Owner of the Ladder) for his Sulam (Ladder) commentary on The Book of Zohar. Baal HaSulam spent his entire life interpreting the wisdom of Kabbalah, innovating and spreading it throughout Israel and the world at large. He adapted the Ari’s Lurianic Kabbalah to our generation, and in doing so enabled everyone to study the roots of the reality in which we live, and thus perceive life’s ultimate purpose.
Because Baal HaSulam was born when the world was ready to know about Kabbalah, his writings carry a distinct “multinational” nature. He predicted processes such as the fall of Russia’s communism and globalization long before they became evident to the rest of us, and presented them in context with humanity’s spiritual correction.
Baal HaSulam was born in Warsaw, Poland and studied Kabbalah with Rabbi Yehoshua of Porsov. In 1921, he immigrated with his family to Israel (which was then called Palestine) and settled in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The rumor of his arrival quickly spread throughout the city and he soon became known for his knowledge in Kabbalah. Gradually, a group of students formed around him, who would arrive at his home in the wee hours of the night to study Kabbalah. Subsequently, Baal HaSulam moved from the Old City of Jerusalem to another Jerusalem neighborhood, Givat Shaul, where he served as the neighborhood rabbi for several years.
HIS MAJOR WORKS
His two principal works, the fruit of long years of labor, are The Study of the Ten Sefirot, based on the writings of the Ari, and The Book of Zohar with the Sulam (Ladder) Commentary. The publication of the sixteen parts of The Study of the Ten Sefirot began in 1937. The Book of Zohar with the Sulam Commentary was published in eighteen volumes between 1945-1953. Subsequently, Baal HaSulam wrote three additional volumes in which he interpreted The New Zohar. The publication of the latter interpretation was completed in 1955, after his demise.
Baal HaSulam composed a series of introductions that initiate the student into effective study of Kabbalah texts, and clarify the study method. These include “The Preface to The Book of Zohar,” “Introduction to The Book of Zohar,” “Preface to the Wisdom of Kabbalah,” “Preface to The Sulam Commentary,” “A General Preface to The Tree of Life,” and “Introduction to The Study of the Ten Sefirot.”
In 1940, Baal HaSulam published a paper he called The Nation. In his last years, he wrote The Writings of the Last Generation, in which he analyzed different types of government, and outlined a detailed plan for building the corrected society for the future.
SPREADING THE WORD
Baal HaSulam did not settle for simply putting his ideas on paper. Instead, he worked arduously to promote them. As part of his efforts, he met with prominent figures in Israel such as David Ben Gurion, Chaim Nachman Bialik, Zalman Shazar, and many others.
David Ben Gurion, the first Prim Minister of Israel, wrote in his diaries that he met with Baal HaSulam several times, and that these meetings surprised him because “I wanted to talk to him about Kabbalah, and he, about socialism.”
“Indeed we have already come to such a degree that the whole world is considered one collective and one society. Meaning, because each person in the world sucks his life’s marrow and his livelihood from all the people in the world, he is coerced to serve and care for the well-being of the whole world. … The possibility of making good, happy, and peaceful conducts in one state is inconceivable when it is not so in all the countries in the world.”
–Baal HaSulam, “Peace in the World”
An excerpt from the newspaper Haaretz, published December 16, 2004: “One day in Jerusalem of the early 1950s, Shlomo Shoham, later an Israel prize-winning author and criminologist, set out to look for Kabbalist Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag. …Ashlag at that time was trying to print Hasulam (literally, The Ladder), his Hebrew translation and commentary on The Book of Zohar… Whenever he would raise a little money, from small donations, he would print parts of his Hasulam.
‘I found him standing in a dilapidated building, almost a shack, which housed an old printing press. He couldn’t afford to pay a typesetter and was doing the typesetting himself, letter by letter, standing over the printing press for hours at a time, despite the fact that he was in his late sixties. Ashlag was clearly a Tzadik (righteous man)—a humble man, with a radiant face. But he was an absolutely marginal figure and terribly impoverished. I later heard that he spent so many hours setting type that the lead used in the printing process damaged his health.’”
It took over half a century for his greatness to be recognized, but today his achievements are well known. In recent years, his teaching has attracted a great deal of attention, and hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world study his works, which have been translated into many different languages. Now, anyone who truly wishes to climb to the spiritual world can easily do so.
Baal HaSulam was a fascinating and complex individual, broadminded and well-educated. He was very much involved in global events as well as in the events that occurred in Israel, where he lived. His views are considered revolutionary and far-reaching in their boldness, even today
Baal HaSulam passed away in 1954, but his ideas have been perpetuated by his successor, his firstborn son, Rabbi Baruch Shalom Ashlag.
Within a mere year and half, Isaac Luria (the Holy Ari) revolutionized Kabbalah and made it accessible to all. Since his time, his “Lurianic Kabbalah” has become the predominant approach to the study of Kabbalah.
The Ari was the greatest Kabbalist in 16th century Safed, a town near Rashbi’s village, Meron. In the Ari’s time, Safed was famed for its Kabbalist population.
The story of the Ari’s life is shrouded in mystery and legends. One such legend is that when he was born, his father was told that his son was destined for greatness. The Ari’s sudden demise at age thirty-eight, when he was in his prime, is still a mystery today.
A MAN OF MYSTERY AND LEGEND
The Ari was born in Jerusalem in 1534. At the age of eight, he lost his father, and his family was left destitute. Driven by despair, his mother decided to send young Isaac to live with his uncle in Egypt, where he spent most of his life.
As a young boy, the Ari would confine himself to his room for hours or even days at a time. He would immerse himself in The Book of Zohar, trying to understand its subtleties. Many folk stories claim that the Ari was awarded “the revelation of Elijah” (a unique spiritual revelation), and that he learned The Zohar “from him.” To the Ari, The Book of Zohar was the whole world.
As the capital of Kabbalist studies in the 16th century, Safed attracted many practitioners from near and far. Additionally, Safed is located not far from Mt. Meron, the burial place of Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai, and in close vicinity to Rashbi’s cave, the Idra Raba.
In the year 1570, a harsh winter struck Egypt. Torrential rains created massive flash floods, gale force winds tore rooftops off homes, and the Nile spilled over its banks, inundating whole villages under a deluge of mud and water.
One legend has it that Prophet Elijah visited the Ari on one of the stormiest nights of that dreadful winter and told him, “Your end is near. Leave here; take your family and go to the town of Safed, where you are eagerly awaited. There, in Safed, you will find your disciple, Chaim Vital. You will convey your wisdom to him, anoint him after you, and he will take your place.”
Thus, in the dead of winter, the Ari went to Safed, in the land of Israel. He was thirty-six at the time, and he had two years left to live.
PREPARING FOR THE REVELATION
Kabbalists kept the wisdom of Kabbalah hidden for 1,500 years prior to the Ari, ever since Rashbi had concealed The Book of Zohar. They would rise at midnight, light a candle and shut the windows so their voices would not be heard outside. Then they would reverently open the Kabbalah books and delve into them, striving to grasp their hidden truths. Kabbalists were reluctant to publicize their work because they feared it would be misinterpreted. The Book of Zohar stated that it would reappear when the generation was ready, and at the time of the Ari, Kabbalists felt that the time was not yet ready.
Humanity had been waiting for many centuries for the right guide to open the gates of the wisdom of Kabbalah to the public. Finally, with the arrival of the Ari in Safed and the public’s subsequent exposure to The Book of Zohar, it appeared that it was finally time to introduce the secrets of Kabbalah to the world.
Curiously, around the time of the Ari, and without any direct contact, many people, specifically artists and intellectuals, developed a keen interest in Kabbalah. One of these people was Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494), an Italian scholar. His book, Conclusions, contains the following statement: “This true interpretation of the law … which was revealed to Moses in godly tradition is called Kabbalah… which to Hebrews is the same as for us ‘receiving.’”
It is difficult to overstate the Ari’s importance and stature. Within merely eighteen months, he had left a huge mark on the history of Kabbalistic thought and teaching methods. His teachings introduced a new, systematic presentation of the spiritual knowledge. Using the Ari’s method, anyone in today’s scientific age can achieve what only a chosen few could achieve before.
Among the Ari’s books, The Tree of Life is probably the most important. This book presents the Ari’s teachings in a clear and simple style. Over the years, The Tree of Life has become one of the essential texts in Kabbalah, second only to The Book of Zohar.
The Ari passed away at age thirty-eight after falling ill with a plague that broke out in the summer of 1572. His appearance was a forerunner to a whole new era. He was not only one of the greatest Kabbalists, but also one of the first to be given “permission from Above” to disclose the wisdom of Kabbalah to the world. His ability to transform Kabbalah from a method for a chosen few to a method for all, made him a spiritual giant for the ages. Today, many more souls are ready for spiritual ascension, and to do so, they need to learn his method, the Lurianic Kabbalah
Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai (Rashbi) received, through his mentor, Rabbi Akiva, 3,000 years of accumulated spiritual knowledge—all acquired by Kabbalists before him. After he wrote it down, he hid it, as humanity was not yet ready for it. Today, according to prominent Kabbalists such as Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag and The Vilna Gaon (GRA), we are indeed ready for the revelation of The Book of Zohar.
Rashbi, author of The Book of Zohar (The Book of Radiance) was a Tana—a great sage in the early Common Era centuries. He was also Rabbi Akiva’s direct disciple. Numerous legends have been told about Rashbi, who was mentioned repeatedly in the Talmud and in the Midrash, the sacred Hebrew texts of his time.
Rashbi was born and raised in the Galilee. He lived in Sidon (a city in today’s Lebanon) and in Meron (in the north of Israel), and established a seminary in the Western Galilee, not far from Meron.
Even as a child, he was different from other children his age. Questions such as, “What is the purpose of my life?” “Who am I?” and “How is the world built?” haunted him, demanding that he discover the answers.
In those days, life in Galilee was harsh: the Romans who had killed his teacher, Rabbi Akiva, still persecuted Jews and continually invented new laws to punish them. Among these laws was one that prohibited Jews from studying Kabbalah.
But despite the Romans’ prohibition, Rashbi immersed himself in Kabbalah studies and tried to understand its intricacies. He felt that beneath the Biblical stories lay a profound, hidden meaning that held the answers to his persistent questions.
Gradually, Rashbi came to realize that he had to find a teacher who had already traversed the spiritual path, gained experience, and could guide him up the spiritual ladder. This prompted him to join Rabbi Akiva’s group, a decision that would be the turning point in Rashbi’s life.
FROM STUDENT TO FUGITIVE
Rashbi was an avid, devoted student, burning with the desire to discover the Upper Force. . He studied with Rabbi Akiva for thirteen years, and achieved the highest degree on the spiritual ladder.
The Bar-Kokheva revolt against the Roman rule in the land of Israel abruptly ended the great days of Rabbi Akiva’s seminary. Rashbi joined the revolt and became one of its leaders, and after he learned how his teacher, Rabbi Akiva, had been executed, his resistance became even fiercer.
The Talmud says that once, when Rashbi spoke against the Roman rule, someone overheard him and notified the Roman authorities. The Romans tried Rashbi in his absence and sentenced him to death. But to execute Rashbi, they had to seize him first. The Roman emperor sent men to search for him, but to their disappointment, Rashbi seemed to have completely vanished.
THE CAVE AT PIQIIN
According to tradition, Rashbi and his son fled to Piqiin, a village in the north of Israel, where they hid in a cave and delved into the secrets of the wisdom of Kabbalah, where they discovered the entire system of creation.
Kabbalist Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag described Rashbi and his students as the only people who achieved perfection—the 125 spiritual degrees that complete the correction of the soul. When he finished his commentary on The Book of Zohar, Ashlag held a festive meal to celebrate its completion. At that celebration, he stated that “…prior to the days of the Messiah, it was impossible to be awarded all 125 degrees… except for the Rashbi and his contemporaries, the authors of The Book of Zohar. They were awarded all 125 degrees in completeness, even though they lived prior to the days of the Messiah.”
This is why it is often written in The Book of Zohar that there will not be a generation such as Rashbi’s until “the generation of the Messiah King,” (the time when all of humanity is corrected. This is why Rabbi Shimon’s composition made such a mark in the world, since the spiritual secrets in it extend to all 125 degrees.
ONE IN MILLIONS
Rashbi was a unique soul, whose task was to help every creature connect with the Upper Force. This kind of soul comes down into our world and dresses as the greatest Kabbalists. Each time such a soul appears, it promotes humanity to a new spiritual degree and leaves its mark in Kabbalah books, which serve the following generations.
“This composition, called The Book of Zohar, is like Noah’s Ark: there were many kinds, but those kinds and families could not exist unless by entering the ark. …Thus the righteous will enter the secret of the Light of this composition to persist, and thus is the virtue of the composition, that immediately when engaging …it will draw him as a magnet draws the iron. And he will enter it to save his soul and spirit and his correction.”
–The Rav Kook, Ohr Yakar (Bright Light)
The Book of Zohar is undoubtedly one of the world’s most renowned compositions. It has been the topic of thousands of stories, and although it was written almost two thousand years ago, the book is still shrouded in mystery. The fascination around it is so great that even though the book is completely incomprehensible to our generation without proper interpretation, millions of people diligently attempt to probe its secrets.