- Basic Teachings #1
It is very
difficult, if not impossible, to reduce a work as complex and multifaceted
as the Zohar to a few basic teachings. In a general sense, however,
it is possible to gain some insight into the Zohar's world-view by focusing
on a few of its central recurring themes. Let us look at one.
AND THE JEWISH PEOPLE
are three levels bound together - the Holy One, blessed be He, the Torah
and [the people of] Israel. Each of them [comprises] level upon level,
hidden and revealed. The Holy One, blessed be He, level upon level,
is hidden and revealed. The Torah, too, is hidden and revealed. And
so too Israel is level upon level, as it is written, 'He tells His words
[of Torah] to Jacob, His statutes and ordinances to Israel' (Psalms
147:19). There are two levels [of the Jewish people mentioned in the
verse]: Jacob and Israel. One [Jacob] is revealed and the other [Israel]
is hidden" (Zohar vol. III, 73a).
explanation of this statement is that all three components of the intimate
bond between Israel, the Torah and G-d are locked together like the
links of a chain. The Jewish people are bound to the Torah; and the
Torah, being bound to G-d, draws down G-dliness into the soul. On the
other hand, the soul is bound (independently of the Torah) to G-d, and
via the soul, the Torah is imbued with additional illumination.
of the three interlinked components has a revealed and a hidden aspect.
The revealed aspect of Israel comprises, in general, the life force
of the soul clothed within the physical body, and its faculties - the
intellect and natural emotional characteristics with which the Jewish
people are endowed. The hidden aspect of Israel is the soul as it cleaves
to G-d above, and its faculties - the hidden essential intellect possessed
by the hidden recesses of the soul, and the pure, refined faith in One
Creator, residing in the innermost dimensionless point of the heart.
revealed aspect of Torah is the rational intellectual aspect of every
subject in Torah, encompassing not only the life of a person from his
conception to his burial, but also all matters pertaining to the entire
creation. The hidden aspect of Torah lies in its Divine intellect, which
differs essentially from human intellect, and therefore cannot be fathomed.
revealed aspect of the Holy One, blessed be He, is expressed in His
creating worlds and all created beings and giving them life, bringing
them into being at every moment, as in the saying, "In His goodness
He constantly renews the work of Creation" (from the Liturgy, morning
prayers). The intention is that everything in the created worlds is
renewed ex nihilo as if it had just been created for the first time
by "He who spoke and the world came into being."
the worlds are structured according to a specific divine paradigm -
the recurring pattern of sefirot (Divine emanations) that serves as
the blueprint of creation of all the worlds. The Zohar focuses on this
paradigm, explaining its structure and the interactions that take place
between the sefirot individually, and as partzufim (sing. partzuf -
visage ). It examines the various planes of reality, called worlds,
and defines their qualities and characteristics.
gave us the wisdom, understanding and knowledge to discern Him from
Nature, its beauty and wondrous processes, by deeply contemplating His
creations as in the verses, "How great are your works," (Psalms
92:6); "How manifold are your works" (Psalms 104:24). This
is the secret of prayer - an outpouring of the soul and cleaving to
the Master of the Worlds. In addition, there are also certain kabbalistic
meditations (kavvanot) and methods (using Divine Names and permutations,
for example) available to the initiate for ascending through the various
stages of prayer and expanding one's G-d-consciousness.
hidden aspect of the Holy One, blessed be He, is His Essence, transcending
the life force with which He imbues the worlds. He is to be found within
the Torah, and by its constant study, a person cleaves to G-d above
and illuminates his soul below.
Torah and G-d are bound together in a complete unity, as the Zohar states
elsewhere, "the Holy One, blessed be He are, the Torah and Israel
are all one," and their unification is by way of the revealed and
hidden aspects of each of them. This is an innate relationship, not
one forged by any particular activity or event. In other words, this
innate relationship exists, irrespective of whether it is revealed or
not. Accordingly, the bond exists in each and every Jew, without distinction
between man and woman; old and young; learned, of average knowledge
or ignorant. Thus we find in the Zohar that several very esoteric teachings
are revealed by a child (in the section called Yenuka), or by an ostensibly
circumstances can affect the degree of awareness of this bond between
Israel, the Torah and G-d. Indulgence in the hubbub of worldly matters
tends to desensitize a person to intellectual and emotional appreciation
of G-dly matters and their innate bond to the Creator. By contrast,
a focused concentration on Torah study, and particularly the inner dimension
of Torah as found in the Zohar and other kabbalistic works, brings this
innate bond with the Creator into the forefront of a person's consciousness,
giving them a constant awareness of G-d.
the purpose of the soul's descent to earth is to reveal the harmony
that is inherent in creation, beginning with the person himself, as
the microcosm of the creation. The harmony is achieved by establishing
the proper balance between the soul and the body. Inner personal peace
and harmony can be attained only through ensuring the supremacy of the
soul over the body, since the body can be persuaded to submit to the
soul (in the case of the true mystic-even eagerly) but not vice versa.
Nevertheless, Jewish mysticism does not generally advocate asceticism
and other-worldliness - "the world was created to be a settled
place," and "G-d desires a dwelling place in the lower worlds"
mysticism, in general, and the Zohar, in particular, helps to realize
this purpose of the soul by teaching us how to recognize the spirituality
of matter. Kabbala explains that in every physical thing, even the inanimate,
there is a "soul," which is the creative force that has brought
it into being ex nihilo, and which constantly keeps it from reverting
back to its former state of non-existence. It is this spark of G-dliness
that is the true essence and reality of all things. And when physical
matter is used for a sublime purpose or deed in accordance with the
Will of the Creator, this spark is revealed. In fact, kabbalists are
renowned for their strict adherence to the minutiae of the law, often
going far beyond the basic requirement of the law in their fulfillment.
A basic tenet of Kabbala, and of the Zohar, in particular, therefore,
is that G-d can be grasped better through deed (the fulfillment of mitzvot)
than through meditation.
Miller, a guest teacher at Ascent when he lived in Israel, was born
in South Africa and received his yeshiva education in Israel and America.
He is a prolific author and translator, with some twenty books to his
name on a wide variety of topics, including a new, authoritative, annotated
translation of the Zohar. He currently lives in Chicago.