The Book of Zohar was written by the great Kabbalist RASHBI (Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Bar Yochai means the son of Yochai; Rabbi (Rav) means big, wise. RASHBI was born 40 years after the destruction of the Second Temple. He was a disciple of the renowned Tana (prominent sage of the generation) Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva said about RASHBI: “I and the Lord know your power” (The Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin, §1, part 2). This characterization testifies to RASHBI’s eminence. He became especially close to Rabbi Akiva, when the Romans put his great teacher into prison for disseminating the Torah, and after only 5 of his 24,000 disciples (Rabbi Shimon was one of them) had survived the outburst of plague.
Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Ben Bava empowered Rabbi Shimon to continue passing the acquired knowledge. These five remaining disciples of Rabbi Akiva continued the great centuries-old stream of the Torah.
At a very young age Rabbi Shimon married the daughter of the Tana Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair. His great son, Rabbi Elazar was born in that wedlock. Rabbi Shimon said about him in the Talmud (Sukkah 45, 2): “I see those who ascend spiritually, but they are few. If they are a thousand, I and my son are among them. If they are a hundred, I and my son are among them. If they are two, they are my son and I.”
In the course of the subsequent years Rabbi Shimon takes the leading place among all the sages of his generation. His name is mentioned over 350 times in Mishnah and over 2300 times in the Talmud and Midrash.
Rabbi Akiva was imprisoned for dissemination of the Torah and Rabbi Shimon fled and had to hide in a cave near the village of Peki’in for 13 years. During that period, while living in a cave and eating the fruit of the carob tree and drinking water from a nearby spring, Rabbi Shimon and his son attained all 125 levels of the spiritual ascent (Talmud. Shabbat 33, 2).
The Zohar relates that Rabbi Shimon and his son reached the level of the prophet Elijah; hence it is said that Elijah himself visited their cave to teach them Torah. (The village of Peki’in still exists today.)
The author of “Divrey Yoel” says in the book The Torah of Rashbi: “Before Rabbi Shimon attained the secrets of Torah, there had been a rule in the cave to decide on a question in dispute according to the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah, the author of the Talmud. However, after Rabbi Shimon had left the cave, everything that he wrote in The Zohar, was considered to have exceeded all human attainments.” Rabbi Shimon himself received the name “Butzina Kadisha” (holy candle) because he attained the soul of Moshe (Moses).
Verdicts on legislative and procedural questions are pronounced in accordance with the Talmud or the Book of Zohar depending on where this question is examined more strictly. If a question is mentioned neither in the Talmud nor in The Zohar, then the decision is based on the source that elucidates this question. If a disputed question refers to the Talmud and legislators, the decision is based on the statement from the Book of Zohar. If legislators cannot come to an agreement on a question in dispute, the decision is also based on the opinion of The Zohar (See “Mishna Brura,” 25, 42).
The great follower of Rabbi Shimon, an heir (or next receiver) to his soul Kabbalist ARI points out in his books that his soul is the same soul of Rabbi Shimon and Moshe (the ARI. Sha’ar HaGilgulim, item 64). Rabbi Shimon received his soul to correct the soul of Ichiya Ashiloni who “corrupted” Malchut. This happened in connection with the sin of the King Irva’am and led to the transgression of all Israel. Hence, the soul of Rabbi Shimon appeared to correct Israel’s sins. The part of The Zohar entitled “Raya Mi’emna” (faithful guide) relates how Rabbi Shimon attained the soul of Moshe, merged with it, and obtained the higher wisdom.
The great Achida also says in his books Maranan and Rabanan and Kli Yakar(Malachim 2, 12) that RASHBI’s work lay in correction of Ichiya Ashiloni’s sin.
Rabbi Shimon says in the Talmud (Sukkah 45, 2): “I can deliver the entire world from judgment from the day of my birth to present day. If my son is with me, we can deliver the entire world from judgment from the day when the world was created to present day. And if Yotam Ben Aziyahu is with us, we can deliver the entire world from judgment from the day the world was created until its end.” The book of Malachim narrates about Yotam Ben Aziyahu (20, 15).
After the verdict was lifted, Rabbi Shimon founded his yeshiva in the settlement of Tekoa and in the village of Meron, where he taught his disciples and wrote the Book of Zohar. He revealed the knowledge that was forbidden to divulge from the time when Israel received the Torah (See Tikuney Zohar, Hakdamah, p.17).
To write all the secrets of the Torah, Rabbi Shimon was obliged to relate them in a secret form. Hence, he asked his disciple Rabbi Abba to set out his thoughts. According to his soul’s property, Rabbi Abba could convey the spiritual knowledge in a secret, concealed form. “THIS IS BECAUSE THE BOOK OF ZOHAR MUST REMAIN CONCEALED UNTIIL THE GENERATION OF MASHIACH’S COMING, SO THAT WITH THE HELP OF THIS BOOK HUMANKIND WILL RETURN FROM ITS SPIRITUAL EXILE.” (The Ari. Sha’ar Hakdamot. Hakdamah, p.3). That is why Rabbi Abba wrote the teaching of Rabbi Shimon in Aramaic, which is the reverse side of Hebrew.
The Ari writes in “Ma’amarey RASHBI” (p. 100) that the writing of The Zohar in a secret form was possible because the soul of Rabbi Abba originated from the surrounding Light and not from the inner Light. Hence, he could relate the highest wisdom in a secret form as simple stories.
(Rabbi Shimon lived around 80 years and passed away on the holiday of LAG BA OMER, the 18th day of the month Iyar, surrounded by his disciples and generally recognized. This day is celebrated as the holiday of Light. Rabbi Shimon’s body was buried in a cave on Mount Meron. The body of his son Elazar is buried a few meters from him.)
Like the subsequent compositions of the Ari and other Kabbalists (evidently such is the lot of all true spiritual books), the Book of Zohar was concealed for 800 years in a cave near Meron, until an Arab found it and sold it in the market place as a wrapping material.
Part of the detached sheets fell into the hands of a wise man who recognized and appreciated the writings. After a long search, he found many sheets in refuse bins or bought them from spice vendors who had used the sheets of The Zohar to wrap their merchandise. The book (as we know it today) was compiled from the found sheets.
For many centuries, from that time until today, this book has been a subject of controversy. Philosophers, scientists, and other “wise men” continue arguing about it. The fact is that only a Kabbalist, meaning a person who ascends to a certain spiritual level, attains what this book says. For others it looks as a collection of stories or ancient philosophy, etc. Only the people who understand nothing in this book argue about it. Kabbalists clearly know one thing: the book of RASHBI is the greatest source of the spiritual attainment that people in this world received from the Creator.
Although the Book of Zohar was written in the 4th century, only Rabbi Y. Ashlag could compose a full commentary on it in the 1930s and 1940s. The reason for the concealment of The Zohar from the 4th to 11th century and the lack of a complete commentary on it for 16 centuries is explained in The Introduction to the Book of Zohar.
Rabbi Y Ashlag called his commentary “Sulam” (ladder) because by studying it a person can ascend the spiritual levels of attaining the Upper Worlds as one climbs a ladder in our world. After the commentary of the Sulam appeared in print, Rabbi Y. Ashlag received the title “Baal HaSulam” as it is customary among the Torah sages to call a person not by his name but according to his highest attainment.
The Book of Zohar consists of:
1. Hakdamat Sefer HaZohar – “The Introduction to the Book of Zohar.” This part includes a number of articles that fully reveals the inner meaning of the Torah.
2. Sefer HaZohar – The Book of Zohar. It is divided into parts and chapters in conformance with the weekly chapters of the Torah:
The Book of Beresheet: Beresheet, Noach, Lech Lecha, Vayera, Chaiey Sarah, Toldot, Vayetze, Vayishlach, Vayeshev, Miketz, Vayigash, Vayichi.
The Book of Shemot: Shemot, Vayera, Bo, Bashalach, Yitro, Mishpatim, Terumah (Safra de Tzniuta), Tetzaveh, Ki Tissa, Veyikahel, Pekudey.
The Book of Vayikra: Vayikra, Tzav, Shmini, Tazria, Metzura, Acharey, Kedushim, Emor, Ba Har, Vechukotay.
The Book of Bamidbar: Bamidbar, Naso (Idra Raba), Baalotcha, Shlach Lecha, Korach, Chukat, Balak, Pinchas, Matot.
The Book of Devarim: Ve Etchanen, Ekev, Shoftim, Titze, Vayelech, Ha’azinu (Idra Zuta).
3. Zohar Hadash – “The New Zohar” – additions to the weekly chapters:
Beresheet, Noach, Lech Lecha, Vayera, Vayetze, Vayeshev, Bashalach, Yitro, Teruma, Ki Titze, Tzav, Acharey, Ba Har, Naso, Chukat, Balak, Matot, Ve Etchanen, Ki Titze, Ki Tavo.
4. Additional books in the Book of Zohar that are not the commentary on the Torah:
Idra Raba, Idra Zuta, Safra de Tzniuta, Raza de Razin, Tosefta, Raya Mi’emna, Ashmatot, Sitrey Torah, Sitrey Otiot, and Tikuney Zohar.
5. “ Midrash Ha Ne’elam” – the commentary on the writings: Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, and on the Torah.
As a result of the second restriction, Malchut rose to Baal HaSulam made the commentary on the entire Zohar that reached us. His main commentaries in “The Introduction to the Book of Zohar” and the chapter “Bereshit” are related in the language of man’s spiritual work. The most valuable articles for the science of Kabbalah are The Zohar, Idra Raba, Idra Zuta, and Safra de Tzniuta written in the language of Kabbalah. Beside these articles, the rest of The Zohar is the Midrash.
In its original form, the Book of Zohar written by Rabbi Abba 16 centuries ago was not divided into weekly chapters. Its volume was several times larger that what reached us, and it expounded not only the Torah, but also 24 other books of the Tanach (“Prophets” and “Writings”).
Beside the Book of Zohar Rabbi Shimon’s book of Tikkunim has reached us. It consists of 70 commentaries on the first word of the Torah, BERESHIT, because it includes everything.
This book offers a semantic translation of The Zohar, “The Sulam” commentary of Rabbi Y. Ashlag and my explanations. It also contains the first part of the Book of Zohar, “ Hakdamat Sefer HaZohar.”
At the beginning of the text the semantic translation is given in bold script. The Sulam commentary and my explanations are given in regular script or italics because it turned out to be extremely difficult to separate my explanations from Rabbi Ashlag’s holy texts. The numbers at the beginning of paragraphs correspond to the numbers of paragraphs in the Book of Zohar with “The Sulam” commentary, vol. 1.
The reason for the interlacing of texts lies in the fact that in the first place we sought ways to explain the meaning of The Zohar simultaneously in several languages: of Kabbalah (Sefirot, Partzufim, Gematria, and worlds), of spiritual work (feelings), of the Torah (narrative) and of the Talmud (judicial).
For an understanding of the book’s style, I recommend the reader to return to the translation of the original text after learning and mastering the commentary.
The Book of Zohar, like the entire Torah, speaks only about man (creation) and his relationship with the Creator. The Torah gives names of our world to all man’s inner properties: the aspiration to the Creator is called “Israel,” the aspiration to the selfish reception of pleasures is called “nations of the world.” There is no connection whatsoever between these names in the Torah and the Jews and gentiles in our world. Kabbalah appeals to MAN!
The book contains articles commented in the language of Kabbalah and others commented in the language of sensations which the beginner understands better. The reader can begin studying the book from such articles as “Night of the Bride,” “Who rejoices on holidays” and others, although the complete study of The Zohar is based on a consistent learning of the material. Kabbalah gradually enters a person’s heart as one’s consciousness gets used to it. It can be mastered only by repeatedly reviewing the studied material
Rav Michael Laitman, PhD