How can I come to be the best person I can be? What does this imply?
The Talmud teaches us that there are two aspects to every action. The outer action, which is open and revealed to ourselves and others, but there is also our motive or intention, which may be quite hidden, even from ourselves. Yet it is our intention which gives the perspective of whether we are getting closer to the Creator or separating from the One.
A person, whether male or female, who aspires to become close to the Creator in the sense of resembling HaShem in giving unconditional love to his or her fellows or to the Creator is called by the name of Adam, from the scripture אדמה לעליון, I will resemble the Most High.
How can we become Adam? How can we attain the desire of becoming the best we can be?
This Torah learning is dedicated to the ilui neshama of Reb Moshe Ben Ese-Esther, a direct descendant of Rabbi Akiva Eiger ztz’l the grandfather of my chevruta, Shmuel Iger Kinyan, who despite the dangers of being Jewish in communist Russia first taught Shmuel that he was Jewish.
Teachings taken from the Perush HaSulam on the first volume of the Zohar Pikudah Kadma’ah and also from Rabbi Baruch Shalom Ashlag’s Al HaTorah, Parshat Vayikra.
So what then is the purpose of the Creation? The holy Ari answers this question in the Etz Chayim:
It arose, in his simple will, to create the worlds, and to bring forth the created beings, to bring to light the perfection of His works, His Names and His attributes, which was the reason for the creation of the worlds.
The inner meaning of the word “arose” as explained by the great Kabbalist Rabbi Yehudah Lev Ashlag, is :
The vessel (Malchut) ascended in purity and dvekut in that it lessened the will to receive that was inherent in it, in order to equate its form with that of the Highest light ( in other words, to become a giver just like the light is giving). And this was, even though the will to receive that is in the Ein Sof which is called the Malchut of the Ein Sof had no lack in its dvekut, in its unity with the Highest light because of a change of form, nevertheless it decorated itself to equate its form with that of the Highest Light.Or Pnimi
The idea of a decoration is of something that adds beauty. It adds an additional, wonderful dimension to our lives. The Torah itself is described as beautiful:
“For they are a garland of grace for your head, and necklaces about your neck” ( Proverbs 1:9).
A life of Torah is indeed a wonderful and beautiful life as the Sages teach:
Rabbi Meir says, “Whoever occupies himself with Torah for its own sake will merit many things. Not only that, but the whole world becomes worthwhile to him. He is called ‘friend,’ ‘beloved,’ ‘lover of the One,’ ‘a lover of all people,’ ‘one who gives joy to God,’ ‘one who gives joy to people’; he is clothed in humility and in the fear of being separated from the Creator. He is fitted to be a Tzaddik, a pious one, upright and faithful, keeping his fellow far from sin and bringing his fellow closer to the One. Others rejoice in his counsel and in his wisdom, in his understanding and his fortitude, as it is said, ‘I have counsel and wisdom, I am understanding, I have fortitude’ (Prov. 8:14). Sovereignty is given to him, governance, and resource in judgment. Secrets of the Torah are revealed to him and he becomes like an overflowing spring, like a river that does not cease. He is modest and long-suffering, forgiving those who insult him, and he is great and exalted over all God’s created beings.” (Ethics of the Fathers)
Jacob our father felt fearful on the eve of coming down to Egypt. God appeared to him in a dream and reassured him, promising that He Himself would accompany the children of Israel in their exile. The Scripture further states that God says “I will surely bring you up”. The Zohar interprets this saying, with a beautiful imagery of our forefathers being brought to witness the redemption itself. Indeed in the Haggadah, we say “Blessed is He who keeps his promise to Israel.”
The Zohar that we learn here, teaches us that faith in God’s promise played a crucial role in the redemption itself. Pharaoh hardened his heart against God because in the natural way of things there was no way for the Children of Israel to escape his land. But faith is of a higher paradigm than that of the material world, and God overcame the evil of Pharaoh. The Scripture concludes on the shores of the Red Sea “And Israel saw the great hand which the Lord wrought against the Egyptians, and the people believed in God and in Moses his servant.”
This piece of Zohar is as timely now as it was then, and teaches us that God’s promises to our forefathers will surely be redeemed.
In this podcast we study the text of the Zohar Beshalach, paragraph 185 in the Perush HaSulam with grateful thanks to my chevrutas Dr Susan Jackson, Dahlia Orlev, Timna Segal, Leah Weinstein, Ofra Perl, Jodie Lebowitz Davis, and Mia Sherwood with whom I had the privilege of learning this article .
The Torah is a document of divine revelation. This revelation is timeless and ever present. Both historically true, and true for each individual, here and now.
Pharaoh of old denied God asking, “who is God that I should listen to his voice”? A similar voice inside us puts God in second place, giving priority to the strident demands of the ego.
The effects of this voice of Pharaoh inside of us is to block the divine light flowing from our thoughts to our action thus effectively preventing us from bringing through the manifestation of God in our daily lives. Yet we do not always see this inner Pharaoh as our enemy, as he does not prevent us from making positive resolutions, only prevents us fro carrying them through so he allows us the comfortable illusion of imagining that we can have our cake and eat it.
We are told in the Torah, only God Himself can bring the children of Israel out of Egypt; only God himself can help us with our inner pharaoh.
The message of Moses is a message of prayer and faith. He taught the children of Israel the tools they would need for the redemption, the same tools we need today.
Listen to full podcast (15 minutes)
Lesson adapted from a letter Rabbi Ashlag wrote to his pupils Parshat Shavua Shemot (Igarot HaSulam 12)
With grateful thanks to my chevrutas, Dr. Shmuel Iger- Kinyan, Dr Susan Jackson, Pamela Mond, Yehudit Goldfarb
There are times in our lives, when God’s light is hidden form us. Where is He? King David, the sweet singer of Israel understood and experienced this, as is evident in the psalms. Nevertheless, David still praised God.
How? On what basis was he able to find it within himself to praise God in the midst of his suffering? The Zohar asks these questions, and by looking closely into the inner meanings of one of David’s psalms, Psalm 63, shows us the way when we too are in sorrow.
1.A song of David when he was in the Judaean desert.
2. O God, My God, You, I seek You. My soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You, in an arid and thirsty land without water.
3. Yes I saw You in holiness, seeing Your strength and Your glory.
4. For Your kindness is better than life; my lips will praise You.
From Rabbi Ashlag’s commentary on the Zohar, Terumah, Perush HaSulam paragraphs 253-259
With grateful thanks to my chevruta Meirah Rachel , who inspired and joined me in this learning.
Photo credit: Efrat Weiss
So many people have difficulty relating to Jacob, our father, yet he is called the “Chosen” of the Fathers. This difficulty stems from the bare reading of the Biblical recounting of the selling of the birthright, and the taking of Isaac’s blessings. it appears that Jacob is acting deceitfully— certainly, not as a holy man should act.
This question was asked of the great Sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai by his companions. He rebuked them saying:
The real truth is, Jacob never deceived anyone. He was incapable of deceiving anyone. The Scripture testifies that he was Ish Tam a man of innocence, and thus we say in Micah 7, “Give us the truth of Jacob.” Zohar Toledot
The Zohar goes on to explain what the natures and potentials of Jacob and Esau were. It transpires that in many ways they complemented each other, and if things had turned out differently, they could have worked together and made a whole. But Esau rebelled against the teaching of Abraham and Isaac, and in the end Jacob had to shoulder, not only his role but Esau’s also.
From the Zohar we discover the inner intentions of Jacob’s acts and discover how he saved the Jewish people and changed the course of mankind for the better.
We, also, have elements of both Jacob and Esau within us. This archetypal story of the blessings of Isaac is also a story of ourselves and gives us a clue of how to deal with conflicting aspects of our own characters.
From the Zohar Toledot and Rabbi Ashlag’s commentary the Sulam on the Zohar
“And God spoke to Avraham”
It is with these three words that the Torah opens a brand new chapter in the history of mankind.
These three words, “And God spoke to Abraham” startled me, coming out of ? nowhere?
Why did God speak to Abraham, and even more poignantly how did Abraham recognize God speaking to him?
If God were to speak to me, would I know who it was? Maybe God speaks to all of us everyday, but we do not hear?
So we need to ask ourselves, what had Avraham done? How had he worked on himself, in the seventy five years that he lived, before he heard the voice of God?
These questions are not new, but were asked in the Midrash, in the Zohar, and in modern times by Rabbi Yehudah Lev Ashlag, the Baal HaSulam. The answers are as relevant now as they were to Avraham thousands of years ago.
My thanks to my Chevruta Leah Weinstein for pointing out the Perush of the Or HaChayim and to my Chevruta Jodie Lebowitz who patiently learned the sources with me.
Zohar from Perush haSulam Lech Lecha, paragraph 1
Rabbi Ashlag teaches us that all the elements to be found within the Biblical narratives are to be found within ourselves. Furthermore, the parts of the Torah that relate how the Creator revealed Himself to our forefathers, and their happenings, help us to shed light on our own behavior and help us to clarify for ourselves how to come closer to the Creator in affinity of form in compassion and giving.
The story of Cain and Abel is a representation of the paradox we all live with, of the conflict between the ego and the soul and how we deal with them.
By asking the questions: Which part of me is my inner Cain? Which part of me is my inner Abel? and looking at the motives and actions of the protagonists in the story, we can see how we may prevent our inner Cain from “murdering” our inner Abel.
From Rabbi Ashlag’s essay, Torat Hakabbalah Umahutah; the Netivot Shalom on Bereishit, the Zohar Bereishit A and Bereishit B
Picture credit: From the National Geographic Channel ( Video series)
The Scripture in Deuteronomy tells us that, just as God blesses us with His goodness so we also need to bless Him. The Zohar on this verse teaches that our blessing and thanking God for all He gives us, is the key to changing a one-way flow into a dialogue that only multiplies the goodness not only for ourselves but for all hummankind.
Listen to full talk ( 13 minutes)
From the Zohar on Ekev paragragh 1 and Rabbi Baruch Ashlag’s Al HaTorah Parshat Ekev
With grateful acknowledgment to Rabbi Avraham Mordecai Gottlieb who inspired this learning.