The Freedom to Know
Kabbalah is the method that reveals the Force that creates and governs all life. What could be more practical than to learn what creates and governs all of reality, to learn how it does it, and to eventually be able to do the same? If you knew this was possible, wouldn’t you want it?
In recent years, Kabbalah has made a name for itself in the United States. But its fame has not always done justice to the ancient lore that was kept secret until only a few years ago. Now, with the publishing of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Kabbalah and his upcoming North America book tour this October, we at Kabbalah Today editorial staff decided it was an excellent time to interview Rav Michael Laitman, PhD, co-author of the book.
When we knock on his office door, he hollers, “Come in!” We enter a small, barely furnished office with a large, plain looking desk occupying the bulk of the room. The only noteworthy object on the table is a large LCD computer screen displaying his latest book or article. Rav Laitman, a man of average height in his sixties with vivid eyes and a hint of a smile, ushers us in and gets right to the point: “What do you want to know?” he asks. His direct gaze leaves no room for doubt—there is no small talk with this man.
Since 1991, the year his teacher, Kabbalist Rabbi Baruch Shalom HaLevi Ashlag (the Rabash), passed away, Rav Laitman has written over thirty books on Kabbalah and published hundreds of articles. For Laitman, disseminating authentic Kabbalah is his life’s goal.
Appearance can be deceiving, however, behind his casual appearance and the simple room hums a Kabbalah-dissemination empire. Since last Rosh Hashanah alone, Laitman’s organization, Bnei Baruch, has printed and given out 11,000,000 (eleven million) free copies of Kabbalah papers in four languages: Hebrew, English, Spanish, and Russian, and sold 100,000 Kabbalah books the world over.
In addition, Laitman’s daily lessons are broadcast live on Channel 98 in Israel, a free channel that reaches every home in Israel where there is a television. Additional Kabbalah programs are broadcast at different hours every day except on Shabbat. And to cover all the angles, www.kabbalah.info, Bnei Baruch’s website, has over 500,000 unique visitors monthly, many of whom are regular students benefiting from the free live broadcasts of all the lessons, or downloading the materials at their convenience. Here, too, all the materials are provided gratis.
There are two words that Rav Laitman considers key to his work: authentic and dissemination. And these words bring us to the reason he has written The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Kabbalah, the subject of this interview.
Q: Rav Laitman, you are a disciple of the Rabash—the firstborn son and successor of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), author of the Sulam (Ladder) commentary on The Book of Zohar. How on earth did you come to write The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Kabbalah?
A: We [there are a lot more “we” in Laitman’s words than “I”] were approached by Alpha Books, who said they wanted us to write their guide to Kabbalah.
Q: Whom do you mean by “we”?
A: Bnei Baruch. I don’t work alone; the whole organization is dedicated to this one goal—disseminating Kabbalah. What we can, we offer free. What we can’t, we sell at cost. We finance our dissemination efforts with our own money and donations from people who care about our goal as much as we do.
Q: Getting back to the book, do you know why Alpha Books chose you? It is highly unusual to approach a non-native American to write for such an American product as The Idiot’s Guide.
A: They were looking for the real thing. When we told them we did not intend to write about mysticism, charms, mascots, holy water or red strings, but only about genuine Kabbalah, they became all the more enthusiastic. On the one hand, keeping the material authentic made the writing a little more challenging, but with the help of co-author Collin Canright, I think we managed to put together a book that is both communicative and true to the authentic sources.
Q: I must say that I read the book and it is indeed communicative. However, there are some very unorthodox (if you will) ideas there that I’ll get to in a moment. But first I’d like to understand something that seems to be at the core of your, and Bnei Baruch’s actions: dissemination. Why are you so keen on spreading knowledge of Kabbalah so extensively?
A: For twelve years I never moved from the side of my Rav, the Rabash. If there is anything that I can call his legacy to me, it is this—disseminating the wisdom of Kabbalah. And it didn’t start with Rabash. There is not a single Kabbalist who did not wish for it to happen because they all knew (and wrote) that this is what the world needs to be happy, especially today.
I want to read you something; it’s by Rav Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel and a great Kabbalist. [He opens a little red book, called Lirot Tov, which roughly translates as Good Sight, and reads.] “The sublime, spiritual questions, which were previously known only to the greatest and the highest, must now be known, to various degrees, to the whole nation. Sublime matters must be brought down from their high tower to the lowest and most common level.” And there is more: “This requires great wealth of spirit and constant engagement, as only then will the mind expand and the language be made clear enough to express the most profound matters in an easy and popular manner, to revive thirsty souls.” This book contains hundreds if not thousands of quotes by the greatest Kabbalists throughout history, explaining the importance of Kabbalah and of spreading it.
As you can see, this is my life’s goal: to engage, as Rav Kook says, in expressing the most profound matters in as easy and as popular manner as I can, to revive thirsty souls.
Q: Let’s talk about the book. The last part deals not with Kabbalah, but with the global crisis and what we should do to resolve it. Why did you dedicate so much space to this topic?
A: There is actually nothing closer to real Kabbalah than the last part. Kabbalah is a practical science, meant to be implemented in our day-to-day lives. Succinctly, Kabbalah is the method that reveals the Force that creates and governs all life. What could be more practical than to learn what creates and governs all of reality, to learn how it does it, and to eventually be able to do the same? If you knew this was possible, wouldn’t you want it?
Think of it this way: You know there is a force called “gravity” and you act accordingly. But babies don’t know it; that’s why we have to watch over them, so they don’t fall. What if you suddenly discovered that everything you do, and everything that happens to you, is governed by a hidden force, and that you can work in sync with it just like you work in sync with gravity?
Well, such a force does exist, and the science that studies it is called “Kabbalah.” You can choose to study it and discover how to master your life, or you can remain in the dark; you have the freedom to know, or not to know.
This Force creates all that exists, hence its name, “The Creator.” There is no mysticism here, just plain reality. We use physics to study this world, and we use Kabbalah to study the spiritual world.
Q: This brings me to another topic: reality. In Chapter Three you write that reality doesn’t really exist outside of us, but is a reflection of what happens inside of us. Can you explain that in a few words?
A: In his “Preface to The Book of Zohar,” Rav Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam) explains that reality is created when we “project” our inner states, called Reshimot (records), on an imaginary screen in our minds. Therefore, the world seems corrupted and bad when I am corrupted and bad, or good when I am corrected and good.
If you examine how our senses work, you will see that this is really how we already operate. Our ears don’t actually hear sounds; they react to stimuli that affect the auditory nerves. If you stimulated these nerves in some other way, such as with electric pulses, you would “hear” the pulses as though they were sounds.
The topic of perception of reality is of paramount importance in Kabbalah. If you understand it correctly, you will see that you don’t need to change the world around you. All you need is to change your inner makeup to perceive the world correctly. This would save us tremendous amounts of energy and resources that we currently spend on relief efforts, all of which will eventually prove futile. With the exception of life-saving efforts, trying to better our world will always fail unless we correct ourselves first.
Q: I’d like to ask about the tour. This October, you will spend almost a month on the road touring the U.S. and Canada. Is there a special reason for focusing such efforts on North America?
A: Of course there is. Whether we like it or not, the American culture is the predominant culture the world over. A celebrity in America is a celebrity almost anywhere else. This is very important from my standpoint: if we succeed in spreading authentic Kabbalah in America, it will be well received in Israel and in many other places. The predominance of American culture places a heavy burden of responsibility on the shoulders of the American people, perhaps more than they realize, because if authentic Kabbalah is successful in America, this will not only help America, but the whole world.
We must remember that when we disseminate Kabbalah, we are not spreading a mystical teaching, but a new research tool that the world so desperately needs today. If you found a cure for every ailment and pain in the world and hid it from humanity, would you not consider yourself a criminal? Kabbalah offers a cure not only for this life, but for all generations. It is the key to understanding, mastering, and perfecting reality today, tomorrow, and for all time. How can we not disseminate it?
Q: What do you wish for the coming year?
A: That every person, all over the world, will find the wondrous wisdom that I have been so fortunate to discover, so all people will tell themselves next Rosh Hashanah: “last year was our first year of true joy and fulfillment.”