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39. Rabbi Laitman’s Search for Kabbalah

There is a question that is commonly addressed to me at various lectures and interviews with regard to how I came to the Kabbalah. Probably, if I was engaged in something different and far removed from Kabbalah I could understand the validity of this question. But Kabbalah is the teaching about the goal of our lives; a subject that is so close and relevant to each of us! I believe a more correct question would be, “How did you discover that the questions about the self and about life are in Kabbalah? How did you discover Kabbalah?” rather than, “Why are you preoccupied with it?”

While still in childhood, like many others, I asked the question, “Why do I exist?” This question perturbed me constantly, if, of course, it was not suppressed by the pursuit of pleasures.

However, many times the question arose, though I did try to quell it by various spurious goals; to attain an interesting profession and to drown myself in it; or to immigrate to my own country; a goal that I pursued for many years.

Having arrived in Israel (1974), I continued to struggle with the same question about the meaning of life; I tried to find a reason that would be worth living for. Having rehashed the previous possibilities at my disposal (politics, business, etc.) to be like everyone else, I still was not able to terminate the persistent question, “For what reason do I continue to do all this? What do I gain by being similar to everyone else?’

Spurred by material and moral hardships, as well as by the realization that I could not cope with reality, I decided to turn to the religious way of life (1976), hoping that this course, and the thoughts and ideas that would ensue from it, would suit me better.

I never felt a particular inclination to the humanities; I was never fascinated with the study of psychology; nor could I truly appreciate the depth of Dostoevsky. All my studies in humanities were on a mediocre level. They did not stand out due to particular depth of thought or of feeling.

From early childhood, however, I had a strong reverence for science, which seemed to be very beneficial. At one point I came across an advertisement for a Kabbalah class. I signed up immediately, and dived into it with the usual eagerness. I bought loads of books (1978) and began to delve into them to get all the answers, even if it would take weeks at a time.

For the first time in my life I was affected to the core, and I understood that this was my area of interest because it dealt with all the issues that had been plaguing me for years.

I began to search for real teachers. I looked through the entire country and took many lessons. But somehow, an inner voice kept telling me that all that I came across was not the real Kabbalah, because it did not speak of me but of some distant and abstract issues.

Abandoning all teachers, I got one of my friends interested in the subject. Together, we spent evenings studying all the Kabbalah books we could find. This went on for months. On one cold, rainy winter evening in 1980, instead of sitting down as usual to toil over Pardes Rimonim and Tal Orot, out of desperation, and to my own surprise, I suggested to my partner that we go and search for a teacher in BneiBrak.

I justified it by arguing that if we were to find a teacher, it would be convenient to attend classes there. Prior to that day I had visited Bnei Brak only two or three times, in my search for Kabbalah books.

That evening in Bnei Brak was just as cold, windy, and rainy. Reaching the intersection of Rabbi Akiva and Hazon-Ish streets, I opened the window and yelled to a man across the street, dressed in long black attire: "Could you tell me where they study Kabbalah around here?"

For people who are not familiar with the atmosphere and the society of the religious quarter, I must explain that my question sounded strange, to say the least. Kabbalah was not taught in any of the institutions of learning or yeshivas.

Rarely would anyone have the boldness to declare that one had an interest in Kabbalah. But the stranger across the street, without a hint of surprise, gave me an answer: "Turn left, proceed until you reach a citrus plantation, there you will see a synagogue. They teach Kabbalah there."

Reaching the described destination we found a dark building. Upon entering, we noticed a long table in a side room. There were four or five white-bearded men at the table. I introduced myself and explained that we were from Rehovot, and we wanted to learn Kabbalah. The elderly man sitting at the head of the table invited us to join and suggested that we could discuss our issues after the class ended.

Then, the class proceeded with the weekly reading of the chapter from the book of Zohar, with the commentaries of the Sulam, and with the muffling of words and with half phrases in Yiddish, as people who understood each other from half a glance. Seeing them and listening to them I came to the conclusion that this bunch was simply biding their time until their old age, and if we hurried, we could still find another place to study Kabbalah that evening.

However, my friend held me back, declaring that he could not behave so tactlessly. In a few minutes the lesson was over, and the elderly man, having established who we were, asked for our phone numbers. He said that he would think of whom to suggest as a teacher for us, and he would get back to us.

I was very reluctant to even give my number, thinking that this endeavor was the same waste of time as all the previous attempts that we had undertaken. Sensing my reluctance, my friend gave his phone number. We said good-bye and departed.

The very next evening my friend came to my house and declared that the elder had called him and offered us a Kabbalah teacher. He also informed me that a meeting was already set and it was to take place that same evening. I did not want to spend another night in vain, but I succumbed to the appeals of my friend.

We arrived. The elder called another man, slightly younger than himself, but also with a white beard; he said a few words in Yiddish to the younger man, and then left us alone with him.

The latter suggested that we should sit down and start studying right away. He recommended starting with an article titled "An Introduction to Kabbalah," which on numerous occasions my friend and I had tried to understand. We sat down at one of the tables in the empty room of the Beit-Knesset (synagogue).

The man began to read paragraph by paragraph, and to explain the meaning of each. It is always difficult for me to recall that moment; that sharp sensation that after a lengthy search I had finally found what I was seeking for so many years and could not find anywhere else. At the end of the lesson we set up our next class for the following day.

The next day I came equipped with a recorder. Learning that the main classes take place between 3 and 6 in the morning, we started attending them every night. We also came to the monthly feasts to celebrate the new moon, and like everyone else, we contributed our monthly donations.

Prompted by a desire to discover everything for myself, and in general being more aggressive, I often got into arguments. All the information about us constantly streamed to the main elder, who, as it turned out, inquired about us quite often.

One day, our teacher informed me that after the morning prayer, around 7 a.m., the main elder could study the "Introduction to the Book of Zohar” with me. However, seeing that I did not understand, after two or three lessons, the elder, through our own teacher, announced that the lessons would stop.

I would have continued to study, even though I felt that I did not understand anything. I was ready to read everything mechanically with him, prompted by the necessity to understand the meaning deep inside the lines. However, he must have known that my time had not come yet, and ended the lessons, though I was terribly offended.

Several months passed, and through our regular teacher, the main elder asked me if I could drive him to see a doctor in Tel Aviv. Of course, I agreed. On the way there he talked a lot about various subjects. I, on my part, tried to ask questions pertaining to the Kabbalah.

It was then that he said to me that while I have no understanding of anything, he could talk with me about everything, but in the future, when I begin to understand, he would stop being so frank with me.

It happened just as he described. For years, instead of the answers, I would hear the same reply: "You already have Whom to ask," meaning the Creator, "demand, ask, plead, do whatever you want; address everything to Him, and demand everything from Him!"

The visits to the doctor did not help, and the elder had to be placed in the hospital with an ear infection for an entire month. Over time I had accompanied the elder many times on his trips to the doctor; the day he went into the hospital I decided to stay with him there overnight.

During the entire month I would come to the hospital at 4 a.m., climb over the fence, quietly pass through the building, and then study. For the entire month! From that time, Baruch Shalom Halevi Ashlag, the eldest son of Baal HaSulam, became my Rabbi.

After his release from the hospital we regularly made trips to parks and took long walks. Returning from these trips, I would sit down and feverishly write down all that I heard from him. These frequent trips, lasting three to four hours a day, transformed into a habit with time.

In the first two years I kept asking the Rabbi for permission to move closer to him, but he always answered that he saw no necessity in the move, since my trips from Rehovot represented efforts that brought spiritual benefit to me.

However, when two years later the Rabbi himself suggested that I should move to live in Bnei Brak for some reason, I was in no hurry to do so. So unhurried was I that my Rabbi went out and got an apartment for me close to himself, and started pressing for my move.

Still living in Rehovot, I asked my Rabbi for permission to conduct several classes in one of the places where some time ago I had attended and met other people who were attempting to study Kabbalah. He received the news without great enthusiasm, but later questioned me about my classes.

When I told him that there was an opportunity to invite several young men to join us in Bnei Brak, the Rabbi cautiously agreed. Thus, many dozens of young men joined our synagogue, and the quiet secluded place transformed into a lively establishment.

The first six months witnessed nearly ten weddings. The life of the Rabbi, all his days, received new meaning. He was delighted by the influx of people who wanted to study Kabbalah. Our day usually started at 3 a.m.; a study group took place until 6 a.m., and then a prayer until 7 a.m. Every day, from 9 until 12, we made trips to the park or to the sea.

Upon returning, I would retire home in order to work. From 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. we would continue to study, breaking only for prayers. Then, we would part, and meet again at 3 a.m. This routine went on for years. I taped all classes, so by now the collection of tapes exceeds a thousand.

In the last five years (from 1987) my Rabbi decided that it would be a good idea for us to travel to Tiberias once every two weeks for a couple of days. These trips, which took us away from everyone else, fostered a closeness between us.

However, with the years, the perception of the spiritual gap that separated us, became greater in me, though I did not know how to bridge it. I clearly perceived this gap every time I watched him experience delight at the slightest possibility of suppressing some physical need.

For him, a reached conclusion became law, where the schedule and the timetable were followed strictly, irrespective of fatigue or illness. Almost collapsing from exhaustion, he would carry out all that was planned for the day to the last detail, never diminishing the task that he took upon himself. Breathless from fatigue, suffering from shortness of breath, he never cancelled even one appointment or class; he never shifted any of his responsibilities to another person.

Constantly observing his behavior, I would lose confidence in myself and in my own possible success, even though I understood that this supernatural strength emanated from the realization of the grandiose task before him, and from the help from Above.

I cannot forget even one moment that I spent with him during our trips to T’veria and MountMeron, when I would spend long evenings sitting across from him, absorbing his glance, his speeches, his songs. These recollections live deep inside of me, and I hope that, even today, they determine and guide my path. The information that was collected in the process of daily interactions with him, in the span of twelve years, lives and operates independently.

Very often, my Rabbi would utter something unintelligible after a speech, sometimes adding that he said the phrase in order to ensure that what was said would enter the world, and would live and operate in this world.

Since group meetings have been practiced by Kabbalists from ancient times, I asked the Rabbi to organize such groups for newcomers, and to outline the plan of such meetings in a written form. This led to his writing weekly articles, which he continued to do almost until his last days.

As a result, we were left with a legacy of several volumes of extraordinary material, which together with the audiotapes that I made over the years, comprise a great collection of commentaries and explanations of the entire Kabbalah.

In the days of the New Year celebration, my Rabbi suddenly became ill and started feeling pressure in his chest. Only after extensive persuasion did he agree to undergo a medical examination. The doctors did not find anything wrong, but early in the morning, on the fifth day of Tishrei, 5752 (1991) he passed away.

Dozens of students that joined the group in the last several years continue to study Kabbalah and search for the inner meaning of creation. The Teaching lives on, just as in all previous centuries.

Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag and his elder son, Rabbi Baruch Ashlag, my Rabbi, through their efforts, have developed and adapted this Teaching to the needs of this generation, to the type of souls that descend into this world at the present time.

Spiritual information is passed to the Kabbalist from Above without the use of words, and it is received simultaneously by all sensory organs, as well as by the intellect. Thus, it is grasped in its entirety instantly.

This information can be transferred by a Kabbalist only to another Kabbalist, who must be on the same or on a higher spiritual level. It is impossible to convey the same information to a person who has not yet reached the right spiritual level, or has not yet been introduced to the spiritual realms, because such a person lacks the necessary instruments of perception.

Sometimes a teacher may resort to an artificial spiritual elevation of the student to the teacher’s spiritual level by means of a screen of the teacher (masach). In this case, a student may acquire a certain idea about the essence of the spiritual forces and actions. In passing information to those who have not yet entered the spiritual realm, standard means of transmitting information are employed: printed text, speech, direct contact, personal example.

As we know from the description of the meaning of letters (from the article titled The Names of the Creator), they can be used to transmit more than just the literal meaning; they can also be used to convey the spiritual, inner content of information.

But until an individual acquires the perceptions that correspond to the spiritual meaning of the names and of actions, the reading of words can be compared to placing empty plates on the table, and attaching to them tags with the names of fancy dishes.

Music presents a more abstract type of transmitting information. Just like visible light, it consists of the seven primary forces-qualities-tones, in light of the fact that the spiritual entity (partzuf) that governs our world, known as partzuf Zeir Anpin de Atzilut, consists of the seven parts, or sefirot.

Depending on one’s particular condition, a person will discern various spiritual states of the composer in a given Kabbalistic melody. That person does not necessarily have to be on the same spiritual level as the composer of the melody; rather, the inner meaning can be grasped to the degree that one’s personal spiritual level will permit.

In 1996, 1998, and 2000, three CDs of the Baal HaSulam and Rabash music were recorded and published. The melodies are presented as Rabbi MichaelLaitman heard them from his Rabbi, Rabbi Baruch Ashlag. Some of the melodies were composed for texts from psalms, while others originated from fragments of our prayer texts.

In addition to the words, the sounds of the melodies carry a great amount of Kabbalistic information in them.

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