Through the ages, many Kabbalists have written profound and beautiful books. But we would like to focus on four very special Kabbalists and their books. These men wrote their books specifically to help beginners become acquainted with Kabbalah. The exception is Rabbi Akiva, who did not leave a book as his contribution. Instead, he gifted us with such convincing concepts that they continue to influence us today.
Rabbi Akiva is the inspiration and the role model for all Kabbalists since his time—the first and second centuries CE. Following Rabbi Akiva came Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai (Rashbi), who gave us The Book of Zohar. Then, fourteen centuries later came Rabbi Isaac Luria (The Holy Ari), whose legacy is The Tree of Life; and last came Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), whose The Study of the Ten Sefirotis the one book without which a contemporary Kabbalah student cannot achieve spirituality.
These great Kabbalists adapted their texts to their generations. Hence, the language varies to suit their contemporaries’ levels of perception. But the message is always the same—Rabbi Akiva’s motto, “Love thy friend as thyself.” This message guides us back to Abraham’s message that only through unity and bonding will we defeat egoism, achieve the Creator, and find a life of physical and spiritual bliss.
Let us now explore the personal stories of these pillars of spirituality.