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Kabbalah: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

 

The Rambam (Maimonides) wrote that when the whole of humanity was deep in idol worshiping, one man could not go with the flow. His name was Abraham. He pondered and searched until he found the truth: there is only one leader to the world. When he discovered this, he realized he had discovered life’s eternal truth, and ran to tell the world. Since then, the world has had a method that reveals this truth. Today this method has a different name – “Kabbalah” – but the method is essentially the same. If we open our hearts to it, it will teach us why things happen, and how to make them happen better.

 

Yesterday
In his book, The Mighty Hand, Idolatry Rules, Chapter 1, The Rambam (Maimonides) describes how there was a time when people knew that there is only one force governing the world. He explained that once they all forgot it, no one knew this truth, and people believed that there were many forces in the world, each with its own responsibility – for food, reproduction, wealth, health, etc. But one man just couldn’t grasp how all these forces follow the same cycle and obey the same rules of appearance and disappearance, life and death. Through his research of nature, this man, whom we now know as Abraham, rediscovered the fact that there is really only one force, and all other things are partial manifestations of it.

Once he discovered this, he began to spread the word. Challenged by the necessity of explaining a concept that contradicted everything his contemporaries knew, Abraham was forced to develop a teaching method that would help him reveal it to them. This was the “prototype” of the teaching method we now call “Kabbalah” (from the Hebrew word Lekabel, to receive). It teaches how we can achieve the knowledge of the single guiding force, and by doing so receive infinite joy and pleasure.

But Abraham's discovery was no coincidence; it was perfectly timed to counter an outbreak of egoism that threatened to destroy the state of love and unity that humanity had been living in up to that point. This is what the Bible means by the words (Genesis 11:1), “And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech.”

Unity, or altruism, is a powerful weapon. It can make its users invincible. Up to the time of Tower of Babel, this was the natural way of life. All people knew about the one force and were united with it. They experienced it as part of their lives and didn’t need to work on their unity because they had no egoism separating them. This is what the Bible means by “one language” and “one speech.” But as soon as they began to develop egoism they wanted to use their most powerful tool – unity – for their own benefit. This is what prompted the Creator’s concern: “The Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. …and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them’” (Genesis 11:6).

To save humanity from its own egoism, the Creator, the single force discovered by Abraham, could do one of two things: disperse humanity and thus prevent a catastrophic clash of self-interests, or teach people how to overcome their egoism.

The latter option had another benefit: by learning how to unite despite their growing egoism, people would gain deeper awareness of both themselves and the Creator. They would have to study the Creator because their present level of unity collapsed before their new egoism, so they would have to get a greater “portion” of bonding straight from the source – the united force of nature – the Creator. And to do that, they would have to enhance their knowledge of Him.

This is why the Creator revealed Himself to Abraham. This is also why Abraham was such an enthusiastic disseminator of his method. He knew that time was of the essence: either he taught his people how to unite, or they would be dispersed.

As the Bible and the ancient Hebrew text Midrash Raba, Parasha 38 tell us, the Babylonians (not so) kindly turned Abraham's offer down. Abraham fled from Babylon and began to teach while roaming “from town to town and from kingdom to kingdom, until he arrived at the Land of Israel” (Maimonides, Yad HaHazakah (The Mighty Hand), Idolatry Rules, Chapter 1).

Abraham's method did succeed though. His teachings gained some support, and those who supported him joined him in his dissemination efforts and filled the ranks with “new recruits.” In time, the lone fighter for truth had grown into a nation whose name symbolizes the one thing they had in common: “the nation of Israel.” Israel, as the great Kabbalist Ramchal explains in his Commentary on the Writings, is a combination of two words: Yashar (straight) and El (God). The people of Israel are those who have one desire in their hearts: to be like the Creator, united by altruism, as opposed to their Babylonian contemporaries.

The collapse of the Tower of Babel was not the end of the story, only the beginning. Humanity’s egoism continued to grow because the Creator still wants people to overcome it and gain even deeper awareness of themselves and the Creator. For those who wanted to remain egoists, this meant greater alienation. New nations formed, and new technologies created new weapons to guard nations from each other or to subjugate them. But for those who wanted to overcome their egoism and unite despite it, this called for an upgrade of their method.

This was Moses’ cue. As in the case of Babel, the solution to the intensifying egoism was escaping it. But Pharaoh isn’t just an evil king. He actually brings Israel (those who want the Creator) closer to the Creator. In Kabbalah, Pharaoh is the epitome of egoism, and the only way to escape him is to unite, since, as we’ve seen before, unity makes you invincible because it makes you closer to the Creator. To defeat Pharaoh, Moses returns to Egypt after his escape, unites the people around the same idea that Abraham promoted many years previously, and once again they escape.

But this time, Israel defeats a much more powerful egoism. Pharaoh isn’t like Nimrod, King of Babel, he cannot be taken out by one determined man. Defeating Pharaoh requires a whole, united nation to outrun him. And because this is a new modus operandi, one that requires a systematic teaching for a whole nation, Moses writes a new book: The Torah (Pentateuch), which is basically an adaptation of Abraham's teachings for an entire nation.

But this does not complete the Creator’s will. He wanted the whole world to know that there is only one force; this is why he taught it to Abraham, who tried to teach it to the rest of his fellow Babylonians. While Moses’ Torah is a big step forward, since it elevated a whole nation to contact with the Creator, it is not the end of the road. The end of the road will only come when the whole world is in touch with the Creator, experiencing the unity that the ancient Babylonians did, before the first outbreak of egoism. Put differently, the end of the road will be when all of humanity reclaims what it once had, and then lost. This reclaiming is very important, since you can only reclaim something when you know what it is. This is the goal of creation: to teach us who/what the Creator is, and have us reclaim Him/It.

Today
The present started about two thousand years ago, when The Book of Zohar was written, and concealed, and Israel went into its last exile. Just like Abraham and Moses in the “Yesterday” stage, the “Today” stage had two giants of its own: Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai (Rashbi) and The Holy Ari (Rabbi Isaac Luria). Rashbi’s Zohar is, as the book itself states, a commentary on the Torah. And just as Moses explained Abraham's words to the entire nation, The Book of Zohar is intended to explain Moses’ words to the entire world. This is why it is written in so many places that The Book of Zohar is destined to appear in the time of the Messiah, at the end of days. This is also why Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, the great twentieth century Kabbalist, wrote that the rediscovery of The Book of Zohar is proof that the days of the Messiah are here.

As always, the only solution to intensifying egoism is unity. And the greater the egoism, the more people need to unite. If at first, uniting Abraham's family was enough, when Moses fled from Egypt, he had to unite a whole nation to succeed. Today, we need to unite the whole of humanity. Egoism has reached such an intensity that without uniting the whole of humankind, there will be no salvation to humanity.

The middle stage in the process of humanity’s recognition of the Creator is very different from the first. It is a time subtle growth, when the tool for uniting humanity – the wisdom of Kabbalah – is being refined and improved in dimly lit rooms, and in small, inconspicuous groups. This is why the two most significant works of that period, Rashbi’s Book of Zohar and the Ari’s Tree of Life, were hidden immediately after their writing was completed, and resurfaced many years, or even centuries later, as in the case of The Zohar.

Tomorrow
Tomorrow started in the 1990s. In 1945, Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, also known as Baal HaSulam (Owner of the Ladder) for his authoritative Sulam (Ladder) commentary on The Book of Zohar, predicted that the last stage would begin in 1995. Similarly, the Vilna Gaon (GRA) wrote in his book The Voice of the Turtledove that this stage would begin in 1990. Many other Kabbalists made similar predictions, leading to the conclusion that the future is here already, and now is the time to act.

Our entire history consists of battles against egoism and attempts to unite despite it. Today, the majority of scientists agree that man’s self-centeredness and misunderstanding of nature’s rules are the causes of everything that is wrong with our world. Baal HaSulam wrote about it in the 1930s and 40s, but in those days he was a voice in the dark. In recent years it has become evident that without changing ourselves, the world will not change for the better. We are destroying our planet and our society in so many ways that solving the problems separately will not do the trick. To solve our problems, we need an inclusive solution, and an inclusive solution can only happen if we transform human egoism into altruism.

In his article “Peace in the World,” Baal HaSulam writes that if we unite, every single member of humankind will personally experience the Creator, in the deepest sense of the word, as it is written, “for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them” (Jeremiah 31:33). The wisdom of Kabbalah has been prepared as a method that can do just that: unite, and experience the Creator. In his “Introduction to the Book of Zohar,” Baal HaSulam writes that if we integrate Kabbalah in our day-to-day lives, we will complete the goal of our creation, and we will be “of one language and of one speech” and at one with the Creator, so as never to part again.

 

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