Chapter 5. The Research Materials of Kabbalah
Kabbalah has always been taught through books. The first books about Kabbalah were written thousands of years ago. Adam wrote the book, Raziel Hamalaach (The Angel Raziel), and Abraham the Patriarch wrote the book Sefer Yetzira (Book of Creation). The Zohar was written some 1900 years ago. All of these books are still available today.
The principal, fundamental book that we study is called Talmud Eser Sefirot (The Study of the Ten Sefirot). It consists of six volumes and more than 2000 pages that depict the laws of the system of creation in scientific terms. When we study them, we receive a special illumination, a special Providence from Above.
The reason for studying this great work is because it is written in a manner meant for people in this generation. Throughout history, Kabbalists have written materials that were meant for a specific generation. The materials from different generations actually provide the same material, but are presented in a manner that is easiest for that generation to understand.
But even if we still do not understand a single word we read, even if we haven’t got a clue about the spiritual world, approaching the Creator begins from the very first lesson. When Kabbalists write books, they have already reached a certain spiritual level. When we read the books, wanting to somehow make contact with that world from which the Kabbalist wrote, we are enfolded in an illumination from that place. We do not feel it, but it slowly prepares us for the phase when we begin to feel more and more of what the books describe.
This is how one begins the process of entering the spiritual world. Of course, it is not as simple as presented here. For instance, at Bnei Baruch, there is a whole system that involves studying specific articles and lessons and following a specific syllabus.
In short, we have an entire system, the System of Creation awaiting us. The system of creation is everything around us: what is perceived, misperceived, and not perceived. Our emotions contain what we perceive by our five senses as well as something extra. That something extra is what we cannot feel today—a “sixth sense”—an additional sense that will be developed in us in the future. We call the information perceived in that sense, “The System of Creation.”
The text in genuine books of Kabbalah precisely describes how the mechanism that operates reality works. Using charts and formulas, it depicts the “control room of reality” in a form much like a user’s manual. These visuals teach us how the laws work in spirituality, and how we can influence them with mind and will, consequently affecting the results that will return to affect us.
In Hebrew, Zohar means “splendor,” as in: “The righteous sit with their crowns on their heads, and delight in the splendor of Divinity.” The sensation of the Creator (the Light) in the collective soul is called “Divinity,” according to The Zohar. In any place where the books of Kabbalah say, “So it was written in the book…” this always refers to The Zohar. All the others are seemingly not considered books because the word “book” (Sefer in Hebrew) comes from the word Sefira, which comes from the word “sapphire,” radiance, a revelation (of the Light, the Creator). This is found only in The Zohar.
The Zohar is an important Kabbalistic book, but it is written in a concealed way, making it impossible to understand until a person has attained the spiritual world. Because of that, today we do not start with The Book of Zohar. Instead, there are introductions and books by Yehuda Ashlag (who is also known as Baal HaSulam) that teach us how to understand what is written in The Zohar.
The Book of Zohar is not a book through which one can attain spirituality; it was written for those who have already attained spirituality. In order to understand it properly, we need to study several other books first, such as: The Science of Kabbalah, Introduction to The Book of Zohar, Preface to The Book of Zohar and Foreword to The Book of Zohar. Without first acquiring clear and correct knowledge through those introductions, the book will remain incomprehensible to us.
Baal HaSulam considers this question in the Introduction to The Book of Zohar (item 61): “We must also ask why was the commentary to The Zohar not revealed before the time of the Ari. Why was it not revealed to his predecessors? And most perplexing of all, why were the words of the Ari and the commentary to The Zohar not revealed until today?”
First, why was The Zohar hidden? The answer is that the world has gone through three phases of development during its 6000 years of existence. The first 2000 are called Tohu, the middle 2000, Torah, and the last 2000, The Days of the Messiah. It is important to note here that the 6,000 years of existence have nothing to do with the age of the world. They pertain to the period during which humans have been spiritually evolving.
During the first 2000 years, the souls that descended were sublime souls with small desires and small Lights. Desire was pretty much limited to physical existence. They were not even given the Torah because for these souls, simply existing was enough to correct them.
In the next 2000 years, souls descended with more evolved desires that needed a greater Light for their correction, the Light of the Torah. Toward the end of the 6000 years, in the remaining third, the coarsest souls descend. Those souls need the greatest Lights for their correction - the Light of the Kabbalah. Kabbalah was not needed prior to that, just as the Torah was not needed in the first two thousand years.
During the time of the Ari (end of the 16th century), we grew closer to the end of the correction of the main part, the third and last phase of the development of the souls. As a result, the sublime wisdom was revealed through the soul of the Ari. The souls of the first generations were higher than those of the last, but the greater the correction that is needed, the greater the consequent attainment and adhesion to the Creator.
During the last 2000 years, especially from the time of the Ari, the souls that descend to this world become increasingly coarser and more egotistical. They must therefore study and implement Kabbalah for their correction. This is easy to see, as today our desires run rampant even compared to just a few hundred years ago.
The Zohar was written as it was on purpose, as the book itself will tell you. Only those who have already grasped the spiritual reality can know what is written there and see the text as a depiction of spiritual situations. They see the pictures and identify the spiritual states they pertain to. We cannot do that because we still don’t have the spiritual vision.
The writings of the Ari, however, aim at more developed souls from later cycles, and therefore appear different to us. But the most suitable for us are the writings of Yehuda Ashlag, Baal HaSulam. These are intended for our generation, which is why they appear to us as systematic textbooks, just as for any science, much like the texts we study at a university. They offer questions and answers, interpretations of the meaning of the words, and a clear division of issues, which differ by topic. They also show how to perform the relevant topic of discussion. There are special articles that go along with these books that specify how one should personally relate to one’s study.
Our generation has no problem approaching the immediate study of Kabbalah. Unlike all other sciences, this wisdom demands no prior study. It is enough for a person to feel that life is difficult, to have a sense of restlessness, to see life as meaningless, or to just begin to question the meaning of life. Then, one can start studying the books and begin to advance.
In the second item in his Introduction to The Study of the Ten Sefirot, the most complex text in the study of Kabbalah, Baal HaSulam specifies the person to whom he is writing the book. He aims it at only those who feel the burning question, “What is the meaning of my life?”
He adds further in item 155 that by studying, even though the student does not understand the content of the book, the text will reveal to the student ways to behave in order to attain spirituality.
The Study of the Ten Sefirot
The book, Shaar HaGilgulim, describes how the Ari at his deathbed forbade all his disciples except Chaim Vital to study Kabbalah. Chaim Vital did not fully attain Kabbalah at that time, and therefore decided not to edit or publish the writings of the Ari.
Three generations later, Rav Tzemach, Rav Paprish and Chaim Vital’s son, Shmuel, began to dig out the Ari’s writings little by little, sort them out and publish them in book form. However, none of them possessed the entire collection, and therefore could not correctly understand and compile the Ari’s system of Kabbalah.
Only in The Study of the Ten Sefirot was the system rendered complete. For that reason, we do not study the other books that Rav Tzemach, Rav Paprish, and Shmuel Vital published, although we sometimes take an excerpt from them, as was done by Baal HaSulam in The Study of the Ten Sefirot. Besides The Study of the Ten Sefirot, no other books (here I don’t mean articles and letters on the spiritual work) contain any systematic compilation of the science of Kabbalah.