As a student of Kabbalah, Rabbi Baruch Ashlag Shalom HaLevi Ashlag (the Rabash) had written down every word that his father, Rabbi Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag had spoken. The Rabash’s father was also known as Baal HaSulam for his Sulam (ladder) commentary on The Book of Zohar. These writings went into a notebook that the Rabash named Shamati (I Heard), indicating that it contained the words he had heard from his father. When Baal HaSulam passed away in 1954, the Rabash was left with a unique spiritual legacy. Within the pages of Shamati were descriptions of a Kabbalist’s inner, spiritual work, revealing the innermost experiences of a soul learning to bond with the Creator.
Among the revelations in this book was an explanation, given in the winter of 1941, of the spiritual meaning of Abraham's journey to Egypt, and the subsequent liberation of the Children of Israel by Moses. It was a long talk, containing an incredible wealth of information. Today, in this Passover issue, we will touch upon some of the concepts that Baal HaSulam conveyed then. These concepts are still mostly unknown to the public, and shed a new light on the familiar texts we recite on Passover.
On the eve of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) in 1991, the Rabash passed away. But just before his passing, he gave the thick notebook containing his father’s writings to his closest student and personal assistant, Michael Laitman, who would become his successor. These notes were later published in a book, which Rav Laitman naturally titled, Shamati (I Heard).
A Mixed Blessing
One starry night, the Creator brought Abraham out of his tent and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars; if thou be able to count them… so shall thy seed be” (Genesis 15:5). But Abraham's reaction was not what we might expect. His reply was, “Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?” (Genesis 15:8).
To that, the Creator replied just as surprisingly: “Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them” (Genesis 15:8). And the Creator continued, explaining what He would do to the oppressors: “And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with great substance.” Thus, after all this torment, Abraham's descendants would be both free and wealthy.
Abraham asked no further. He was satisfied.
But one question does remain open: why did Abraham's seed have to go through such torments if the Creator always intended to make them rich and independent, and give them their own land? Couldn’t He give it to them without first afflicting them?
To answer this question, Baal HaSulam first explains the meaning of the key elements in the story—Moses, Egypt, “land,” and “great substance.” In Kabbalah, says Baal HaSulam, Moses is actually man’s desire to bond with his Creator, and Egypt is the desire to enjoy life as it is, without thinking of the Creator. This is why Pharaoh, King of Egypt, says “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?” (Exodus 5:2).
Kabbalists never write or talk about the physical realm; they write only about internal, spiritual processes, which they define as the process of one’s bonding with the Creator. If we are aware of this as we read Kabbalistic writings, we will see how relevant their words are, and how they can relate to any person, regardless of faith or gender. Their message is both personal and, at the same time, universal.
The word Eretz (land), for example, refers to one’s ratzon (desire), not to a piece of earth in a particular physical location. Even the ancient Hebrew text, the Midrash, addresses this issue: “‘And God called the dry land Eretz (Earth);’…why is her name called Eretz? Because she desired to do the will of her Maker” (Midrash Raba 5:8).
Another great example of this inward focus concerns the word “Israel.” Ysrael, according to The Book of Zohar (VaYshlach, item 247), is really two combined words: Yashar (straight, direct) and El (God). In other words, when Kabbalists write about Israel, they are actually referring to a desire to bond with the Creator.
The story of the exodus from Egypt is an allegory. It gently points to elements that exist in each of us, and we can choose to tap into them or not. In the story, both Moses and Pharaoh want to enjoy the benefits of bonding with the Creator. This is why the ancient pharaohs helped Israel settle in Egypt. Even Moses, the son of a Hebrew slave, was raised as a prince by Pharaoh’s family.
The Missing Piece
Because Pharaoh knows that his contact with the Creator depends on his contact with the Israelites (the desire for the Creator), he cannot let them leave Egypt. In fact, the only difference between Moses and Pharaoh is that Moses is the part within us that wants the Creator to rule, and Pharaoh is the part within us that wants us to rule, saying “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?”
Clearly, if the Creator were some entity “stationed” somewhere in Heaven, Pharaoh would have no reason to give up his throne. Giving up his throne would mean subordination to someone (or something) else. And indeed, why should he relinquish his throne? To answer that question, we need another piece of information -- the Creator’s will.
Kabbalah explains that the Creator is not a person, or even an entity. Instead, the Creator is the biggest desire of all -- the desire to give pleasure, not to receive it. Imagine what pleasures you could have if such an enormous desire to give was working to please you? If we think about it, it’s not so hard to understand Pharaoh’s point of view.
The “missing piece” of information that Moses knows, and Pharaoh doesn’t, is the Creator's ultimate wish. Because He is so giving, He wants to give us His all. Put differently, He wants to make us godlike, just as He is. To accomplish that, He must teach us who He is, and to learn who He is we must agree to follow Him.
Because Pharaoh doesn’t know that the Creator wants to make him godlike, he cannot obey His voice. Pharaoh is afraid that if he gives up his throne, he will be left with nothing. He simply cannot understand that he will receive both this world and all the spiritual worlds, too. Therefore, he believes he must fight the Creator to the end.
Moses, on the other hand, understands what is at stake, since he has already made contact with the Creator. And because he knows the great benefits that await those who join him, he must fight Pharaoh so he can liberate Israel, meaning all those who want to go straight to God.
Today, many centuries after Moses, a multitude of people are awakening to spirituality. A surge of seekers seems to be engulfing the world. These people contain within them the desires that did not attain the spiritual realm in Moses’ time. We are experiencing today the same desire that Israel experienced back in Egypt, a hunger for something higher.
This hunger for spirituality is Moses, the desire to bond with the Creator, awakening in the whole of humanity. This hunger also makes the world around us feel more and more like Egypt, a land of material wealth and spiritual dearth. But this time, Egypt is as big as our planet; the whole of humanity is afflicted by spiritual emptiness, and the whole of humanity must be liberated.
Luckily, we have experience to guide us today -- the experience gained by the Children of Israel in Egypt can now be found in Kabbalah books. These books are written for just that purpose -- to help us resolve the Pharaoh-Moses conflict on the personal level, as well as on the global level. If we understand Passover from its Kabbalistic perspective, we will turn the world’s (and our personal) predicaments into adventurous challenges. This approach will elevate humanity to a new level of existence -- the spiritual realm, resulting in true liberty and justice for all.