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Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag (Baal HaSulam)

Letter No. 55

1932, Jerusalem

To my dearest ...

Today I received your letter with the news about the sons, may the Creator give the blessing.

By and large, I had some contentment with that letter, although you did not altogether refrain from giving bodily matters the lead here, too, there is still much of the point in the writing, as you yourself wrote.

As for your saying that I am angry or concerned about you for not writing me anything for two years now, it is how you feel. My reply is that although this feeling is not generally disappointing, it is disappointing in its form, as the Creator knows that nothing bad can come to me from those who perceive the body. As then, so now, I am the same: ‘Woe to this beauty that withered in this dust,” and from here are all my joys and sorrows.

Following this introduction, I will grant your wish. You wrote, “I ask very much that you will write me some innovations in the Torah.”

We should carefully consider the words of our sages, whose every word is like embers. They said, “An hour of repentance and good deeds in this world is better than all the life of the next world, and an hour of contentment in the next world is better than all the life of this world.” It seems as though the beginning and the end contradict one another, for once they determined that an hour of the next world is better than all the life of this world, they must be meaning the spiritual life in this world, meaning repentance and good deeds. After all, we cannot suspect that the Mishnah speaks of a life of perceived pleasure, as it is for the wicked, the fools, and the insensitive.

Our sages have already instructed us: “the wicked, in their lives, are called ‘dead.’” That is, the form of life that the wicked can resemble, that form is death itself, the opposite of life and happiness. Thus, the death that the wicked perceives, being the absence of the perceived pleasure, is a false perception, since absence of bodily pleasure is not the opposite of life, to merit being defined as death.

Rather, the presence of bodily pleasures, which the wicked received and with which they rejoice, are woven for them into an iron partition that separates them from the life of lives, and they sink in the world of death, as it is written, “He is Satan; he is the evil inclination; he is the angel of death.”

Accordingly, it is evident that the words of the Mishnah, “the life of this world,” indicate the spiritual life in this world, for the words of the wise heal and they will not speak falsehood.

It was of this that they said, “An hour of contentment in this world is better than” it. Thus, why did they add, “An hour of repentance and good deeds in this world is better than all the life of the next world”? We mustn’t forcefully divide that repentance and good deeds require labor and patience, for which they are separate from the life of this world. This is why they first said, “An hour of contentment of this world” is better than it.

However, labor and exertion that are devoid of pleasure are better than the spiritual pleasure in this world, for it is even higher than all the life of the next world. However, such words are acceptable only among those with little knowledge, and will never be accepted by the wise. Our sages have already determined for us in the holy Zohar: “Where there is labor, there is the Sitra Achra, for the Sitra Achra is in deficiency,” as are all who follow her. But regarding sanctity, there is wholeness there, and all who work in holiness are in wholeness, without any effort, and only in delights and happiness.”

Before we delve into the heart of their words, I will thoroughly define for you the meaning of these words—“this world”, “the next [world]”—in the words of our sages. It is as is presented in The Zohar in the title, Sefer HaBahir [The Book of the Bright One]: “Rabbi Rechimai was asked, ‘What is the next world, and what is to come?’ He replied to them, ‘In the next world and came.’” In other words, the abundance is still to come.

You can evidently see the difference between this world and the next world. This one is what we attain in the present, or attained in the past. The next world, however, is what we haven’t attained, but which should come to us in the future, after some time. However, both speak of what one attains and receives in this world, since the meaning of the anticipated reward of the soul is presented in the abovementioned Zohar, defined only in the words, “in the future.”

In other words, prior to the correction, people in this world are utterly unfit to receive it, but only the souls, which are devoid of bodies, or after the end of correction, when this world rises in the great merit of the world of Atzilut. Yet, we needn’t elaborate on it for now.

It is said, “Initially, our fathers were idol-worshippers. Now the Creator has brought us closer to His work, Terach, Abraham’s father.” We must understand the intention of the sayer with this reference to Terach, Abraham’s father. Is it to remind us of the best of times, the time of our freedom?

But we find such as this in the holy Torah, as well, as it is written, “And Terach died in Haran.” And the Lord said unto Abram, ‘Go forth from your country,’ etc.” This proximity is perplexing and bewildering, for the first appearance of the Creator to the first father, who is the root and the kernel of Israel as a whole, and the entire correction, containing all the hoped for abundance and happiness to be revealed to us, and the abundance in the worlds to all the righteous and the prophets from beginning to end.

It is so because the law in sanctity and spirituality is that the root contains within it all the offspring that come and appear because of it, as it was said about Adam HaRishon that he included all the souls that would appear in the world. Likewise, the firstborn includes all the children born afterwards, as is known in the books.

Thus, there should have been a secession in several writings between Terah’s name and the first appearance of Abraham, for he is the root of everything, as said above.

Here I must explain the basis of idolatry. It is as the books write about the verse, “There shall be no foreign god within you.” It means that the Creator should not be to you like a stranger, since working for a stranger is a burden. This is why it is idol-worship [the literal translation of idol-worship is “foreign (strange) work”]. Rather, worshipping the Creator should be with love and joy, and then its place is in holiness, and not otherwise.

It is also said in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, “You shall have no other gods over Me,” for one who believes that there are other forces (over Me) besides the force of the Creator, who is called Elokim [God], is idol-worshipping, and this is profound.

It is so because a worshipper of the Creator does not need any change in the corporeal set up. It is beautifully and wondrously arranged, as written in the “Poem of Unification,” “You forgot none of Your wishes, nor missed a thing. You did not subtract, and You did not add, and You did not work in them in vain.”

The corporeal set up is arranged in such a way that all the people of the world will unite and be qualified for His work, as it is written, “All of the Lord’s works are for His sake.” This is the meaning of, “There has never been joy before Him as the day when heaven and earth were created.” It is also written, “And God saw all that He had done, and it was very good.”

However, it is arranged in a manner suitable for such work, suitable for the wonderful reward which “Neither has the eye seen a God besides You.” This is the meaning of the work and the reward that are set up before us in this world, in corporeality.

We see here that any reward is according to the pain that the worker feels during the work. But the concept of labor and suffering that appear during the work is valued and measured according to the postponement of the payment from the time of the labor, for it is natural that the payment puts out and uproots the suffering from the labor. That is, it is not perceived as sorrow, not even a bit.

Think for yourself: If you swap a cow for an ass, then you’ve received the contentment you feel with the ass, completely equal to the cow. At the very least, it is not less than that, or you would not swap it with the ass.

Likewise, if the owner paid the worshipper such payments and rewards that were not satisfactory for him, at least as much as before he worked, it is certain that he would not swap his work with the reward. After all, the worker’s intention is to gain and receive contentment through the swap, and not increase his sadness even more; this is clear and simple.

Indeed, there are exceptions, but this refers to the majority of people, for the real price of labor is true only in the majority of people, not in specific individuals.

But for all the above-said, common sense denies that at the end of the day, it seems that the body will not make rational calculations, and that it feels the work more or less as debt, and the payment does not put out the present fiery pain of labor.

But in truth, the calculation is correct, for the body does not enjoy or suffers from the future, but from the present. Therefore, if the owner paid the worker his due in the present, meaning moment by moment, where for every feeling he would pay him a penny, there is no doubt that he would not feel his effort whatsoever, as the payments would put out and uproot the pain.

But the owner will not do so. Rather, he pays his payments and the reward at the end of the work, after a day, a week, or a month. This is why the animal body, which does not enjoy or suffer from the future, will pain and worry, as it truly loses all its labor for the animal sensation.

It follows that the body that receives the payments did not work at all, and the body that worked did not receive a thing for it. This is why it is separated, for it enjoys only the present moment, and the sensation of the future feels for it like a foreign body.

Come and see: The merchant, owner of the shop, who really does receive his pay in the present, meaning for each minute that he troubles himself and suffers while serving the customers, really doesn’t feel his effort whatsoever. On the contrary, he is delighted during the pay. The labor, which is tied to the pay, is uprooted for him. He is not like the worker who receives his pay in the evening, and who feels unhappiness and sorrow during this work.

This is what I said, that any sense of pain and suffering in reality is only for the removal of the payment from the time of the work. Also, if you scrutinize further you will find that according to the time-gap between them, so the pain increases during the work, as accurately equal as two drops of water.

With the above said, we understand the two names, “righteous” and “wicked,” for one does not go idle in this world; we necessarily have some sense of the reason for our being in the world—for blessing, or God forbid for cursing. That is, the blessing we are commanded to bless the Creator is done by itself.

Likewise, a rich person who gives a gift to a poor one knows for certain that the poor person blesses him for it. He does not need to lend his ear to what he utters from his mouth. But if a person strikes and curses another, he knows for certain that the other one is cursing him, and does not need to think about it.

Just so, one who enjoys being in the Creator’s world, at that time he is blessing his Maker, who has created him in order to delight him. He hardly needs to utter anything.

Conversely, when a person feels some pain while in the Creator’s world, at that time he does the opposite. And although he does not utter any condemnable words from his mouth, still, the feeling rules. This is the title, “wicked,” for when he feels some pain, he necessarily condemns, as the grievance is expressed in the feeling itself, and need not be shown publicly.

Even if he utters a blessing, it is akin to blarney, like a landlord who is beating his servant while the servant is saying, “I so enjoy the beating; I am simply overjoyed.” It was said about the such, “He who speaks falsehood shall not be established.”

By these words you will also understand the definition of the title, “righteous.” It refers to a person who is in the world of the Creator, yet always receives good and pleasant sensations, and is in constant pleasure. For this reason, he always blesses the Creator, who created him in order to furnish him with such a good and delightful world. He, too, certainly doesn’t need to explicitly utter the words, for the feelings themselves are the blessings that he blesses the Creator, as explained in the above allegory. This is why he is called “righteous” [also “just”], for he justifies Creation and feels it as it truly is, as it is written, “And God saw all that He had done, and behold, it was very good.”

This is the meaning of “A righteous lives by his faith.” It comes to teach us the power of the righteous for it seems to be incomprehensible for a common person because how can a person be in this world yet be spared pain and suffering? Even more perplexing, he is in constant pleasure. It seems to contradict reason.

And yet, with the above said you will understand that the very concept of labor and pain that exist in life is present only in the form of removal of payment from the work. Therefore, although the payment can put out the suffering and uproot it, they do not affect him during the work, and he has time to experience them, as above-detailed.

It is as the store-owner, whose pain from the labor is completely uprooted. When he searches for it, it is gone during the payment and the servicing of the customers because the reward and the labor come together, without any time difference for the pain of labor to appear.

Now you will clearly understand the words of The Zohar, “Where there is labor, there is the Sitra Achra, for the Sitra Achra is in deficiency, and all her works are in deficiency.” It is so because one who has been rewarded with complete faith, the future is to him exactly as the present, for otherwise it would not be considered complete.

For example, if a trusted person promises me something, it is as though I have actually received it. If my sensation is somewhat deficient, meaning that I feel it would be more pleasant if I actually received that thing, then that very extent is missing in my faith in him.

It is therefore obvious that a righteous person, who has been rewarded with complete faith—to the extent that our sages said, “Your landlord is trusted to pay you the reward for your work”—necessarily feels every ounce of the pain of his labor in the payments he receives from the Creator, although he hasn’t actually received them yet. But for this, his faith illuminates for him completely, in a manner that the giving itself has no room for adding even the smallest bit of contentment.

Had the giving been slightly less valuable than the promise, even in the slightest bit, then he has yet to reach complete faith, and he would therefore not be considered righteous. However, he has necessarily reached the completion of faith, where the promise serves for him as giving, and he feels no division between future and present. Thus, he is like the store-owner, for whom the pain from the labor cannot appear while he is serving the customers because the labor and the payment come together. This is the meaning of, “A righteous lives by his faith.”

By that we can understand the words of The Zohar, “Where there is labor, there is the Sitra Achra, etc., and there is holiness only in wholeness.” It is a clear sign; if he has been rewarded with clinging to holiness, he has necessarily been rewarded with complete faith.

Therefore, from where did he get the sensation of labor? It must be that the Sitra Achra is on him because his faith is incomplete. Thus, he necessarily feels pain, and then he is called “wicked,” as detailed above at length.

This is the meaning of, “The wicked, in their lives, are called ‘dead,’” The wicked is “Short lived and full of anger,” and “A righteous lives by his faith.”

Now you will understand the philosophers’ question about our holy Torah in the commandment to love the Creator. By Nature’s law, there cannot be commandments or coercion in love. Rather, it is a thing that comes by itself, etc., as they elaborated in their foolishness.

According to the above you will understand the question here, about the Torah being given only to the children of Israel, who were rewarded first with complete faith, as it is written, “And they believed in the Lord and in His servant, Moses,” and also first to “We shall do and we shall hear.”

In this manner we have attained all 613 Mitzvot [commandments] to do them with complete faith first, as it is known that this is the house’s door. Therefore, the extent of the words, “And you shall love the Lord your God” depends completely on the individual, on trying as hard as one can to come to that perpetual level of always receiving abundance of sanctity, strength, and every delight in endless pleasure.

In that state, the love is guaranteed for him by itself, as it is set up in the laws of Nature, in a way that the measure of the love and its commandment are tantamount to our qualification to receive from Him endless pleasure, pleasantness upon pleasantness, as is the way with holiness—it increases.

This is certainly in our hands, meaning the correction of the faith. With that, the light of His love will certainly come by itself because the sensation of receiving the pleasure is in itself the expression of love and blessing for the giver, like a candle and its light, and this is simple.

Yehuda Leib

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