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Michael Laitman, PhD

The Book of Zohar

Q: What is the source of the name - Zohar?

A: Zohar means “splendor,” as it says: “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.

Q: There have been many debates about the Zohar over the years. What is the essence of these universal secrets? How can it be written in familiar books, but still remain a mystery? When will I be able to buy the Zohar at a bookstore, read it and discover its secrets for myself?

A: When we speak of spiritual concepts, we must first understand that they are unbounded by time and space, and that there are no words to describe them. This is because everything we feel is bounded by time, space and motion.

Once movement stops, our lives also stop. We cannot picture something motionless, disconnected from time and without volume. For example, the universe exists in a certain space. If we take it out of that space, there will be a void and we will not be able to describe it.

In spirituality, there aren’t any bodies, there is no time, there is no distance and therefore spirituality is disconnected from the descriptions and inventions of mankind; spirituality is also disconnected from our structure, our nature and our senses.

Q: Why can’t I study Kabbalah directly from the Zohar?

A: The Zohar is an important Kabbalistic book, but it is written in a concealed way, making it impossible to understand until a person is in the spiritual world. Because of that, today we do not start with The Book of Zohar. Instead, there are introductions and books of 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: Preface toThe Wisdom 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 completely abstruse to us.

Q: The Zohar was written in the second century BC, but was first discovered in approximately the 13th century. Why did it take so long to be discovered?

A: Baal HaSulam relates to 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?”

In order to make it easier to understand, let me explain the words of Baal HaSulam in simpler words.

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.

During the first 2000 years the souls, that descended were sublime souls with small Lights. They were not even given the Torah because for these souls, simply existing was enough to correct them.

In the next 2000 years, coarser souls descended 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 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 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.

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.

Q: Why does the Zohar have only stories and fables in it, and why is the language so old fashioned if it was intended for us?

A: The Zohar was written like that on purpose, as the book itself will tell you. Only people who have already grasped the spiritual reality can know what is written there and see the text as a cohesive story. They see the pictures and identify the picture and the story as one. We cannot do that because we still don’t have the spiritual vision, which is why the Zohar appears to be a bundle of fables and stories.

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 Baal HaSulam. These are intended for our generation, which is why they appear to us as systematic textbooks, as in any science, much like the ones we study at 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 a person should personally relate to one’s study.

Thus, 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, and to see life as meaningless. Then, one can start studying the books and begin to advance.

In his Introduction to The Study of the Ten Sefirot,the most complex text in the study of Kabbalah, in the second item, 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 person does not understand the content of the book, it is sufficient to learn simply to escape the pain. Then, the text will open to the student who will begin to see how to behave in order to have a better life.

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