Rabbi Ashlag: What he learned when he reached dvekut with God.



One evening in 1892 in a suburb of Warsaw, a seven-year-old boy was lying in bed when, suddenly, a book fell off the bookshelf, hitting him on the head. The boy picked it up and started to examine it. His father, hearing the sound, came in, and seeing the book in his son’s hand, took it from him and replaced it on the shelf. “This is a book for angels, not for you,” said the father. But the boy argued, “If it has been printed, it must be meant for everyone.” “No,” insisted his father, “it is not for you.” But the boy’s curiosity had been aroused, and he started to study it. It was a book of the Kabbalah and its light illumined his heart.

The child was Yehudah Leib Ashlag who, one day, was going to change the way we see spiritual consciousness.

Rabbi Ashlag had , even for those days, an unusual dedication to his studies. He had a tremendous quality of truth. Truth for him meant inner truth, being totally true to himself, and thus when he studied a book of musar, he never left it until he felt he had completely put into practice all tha the book demanded of him.

With this intense labor on himself, in his regular Torah study, his study of the Kabbalah and the work on his own virtues, he came to the incredible spiritual level of dvekut with God, unity , and enlightenment at an extremely early age.

In the normal way we would not have access or any record of such a great Rabbi’s personal life or spiritual achievements.  Our great tzaddikim hid their spiritual achievements preferring modesty. . True to this tradition of modesty, in the last year of his life Rabbi Ashlag requested his devoted assistant, Rabbi Moshe Baruch Lemburger, to make a pile of his personal papers and burn them. However, others, who were present, contrived to save the papers from the fire.

Among these papers is a piece of writing in which Rabbi Ashlag describes his thoughts and his feelings when he had the merit to receive the great light of God, the Or d’Chochmah. This is the great light that God wants to give us according to His purpose in creation. A person receives this great light only when he has finished his personal tikkun (rectification of his soul).  At the time of the redemption, all humanity will receive this great light.

In this document we have a record, unique in Jewish spiritual literature, of the development of the tzaddik on his receiving an experience of enlightenment while in affinity of form with the Creator. It was an experience that was to change the direction of Rabbi Ashlag’s life.

Rabbi Ashlag starts by asking a question: He is in this experience in which his whole being is totally illuminated in the light of God. So he wants to know what does his service to God  consist of, now that he no longer has to give faith or belief in God, because he is in a state of knowing God?  So he sets out to visit his teacher, the Rabbi of Belz. But when he arrives at the Beit haMidrash, he finds that the Sage’s response to him in his state of enlightenment is not encouraging, to put it mildly, but treats him with sarcasm and shows his displeasure. Rabbi Ashlag finds himself in a quandary: on the one hand he believes in his experience, on the other hand, he has faith in his Rabbi. Perplexed, Rabbi Ashlag has to resolve this seeming contradiction for himself.

For Rabbi Ashlag’s description of how he resolved this dilemma,  listen to the rest of the podcast!

This shiur, is dedicated in loving memory of Feiga bat Shmuel and Rvikah and for the elevation of her soul.

The material for this shiur is taken  from  the forthcoming book, “ The Master of the Ladder, the Life and teachings of the Baal haSulam, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Ashlag, by Rabbi Avraham Mordecai Gottlieb, translated and edited by Yedidah Cohen, Nehora Press. 

The language of the Kabbalah : root and branch

When we speak to each other we use words to indicate to the other person what we are talking about. That the other person understands us depends on a mutually agreed use of language. But if this mutual agreement was not there, misunderstandings would arise. That is precisely what may happen  when we read Kabbalah texts.

The Sages of Kabbalah  used ordinary everyday language to express states of consciousness. They relied on the perception of physical  reality as having its roots in the higher worlds. . However, these connections between physical branch and spiritual root are not obvious to ordinary people and so we needed a great Sage, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Ashlag to act as translator and teach us the difference between what we think the Zohar is saying and what it really means. Only thus is its unfathomable wisdom open to us.

Root and branch. It is comforting to know that we all have spiritual roots with which we are connected at all time.

This shiur, is dedicated in loving memory of Feiga bat Shmuel and Rvikah and for the elevation of her soul.

The material for this shiur is taken  from  the forthcoming book, “ The Master of the Ladder, the Life and teachings of the Baal haSulam, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Ashlag, by Rabbi Avraham Mordecai Gottlieb, translated and edited by Yedidah Cohen, Nehora Press

Unity through friendship

Love of friends gives us unity, from the teachings of Rabbi Ashlag


When Rabbi  Yehudah Leib Ashlag was away from his students, he wrote them very many letters instructing them on the path of spiritual growth. A recurring theme in these letters is the importance of working on the love of friends. He wrote:

I understand that you are not practicing so much the rectification of the will to receive for oneself alone, as it is expressed through the mind and through the heart. Nevertheless, do the best you can ,and the salvation of God comes in the twinkling of an eye. But the most important way, that stands before you today, is in the union of the companions. Make greater and greater efforts in this aspect, for it has within it the ability to compensate for all lacks. Igeret Parshat shemot 5685 Warsaw.

By contemplating these words very deeply we see that we are given a profound clue for ourselves today.

How do we come to unity? Why is it so important? By looking at Rabbi Ashlag’s work in the context of the revelation on Mount Sinai, we see that we have been given a key whereby we too can come to a revelation of the light of the Creator.

Listen to podcast

This podcast is dedicated with love to my dear friend Netanyah bat Sara on the occasion of her birthday and to the grandchildren of Mary Ann Ward, her nephew and nieces.

This podcast is based on letters written by Rabbi Yehudah Leib Ashlag (Igarot HaSulam) and on Rabbi Moshe Sheinberger’s commentary on Tomer Devorah, with grateful thanks to my chevrutah Shalom Siegel.

Making a sanctuary for God

The kabbalah meaning of the ninth of Av. From the Torah of Rabbi Ashlag

In the Jewish calendar, we now in the period of the three weeks; a period when we mourn the destruction of the temples of Jerusalem. You could ask, Why is it that 2000 years  after the second Temple was destroyed we are still mourning?  Why do we still commemorate this period of destruction, when we can see with our own eyes, the beginning of the return to Zion and the incredible life and vitality of modern Jerusalem?

What was the meaning of the presence of the temple of Jerusalem? The Scripture requests “Make me a sanctuary that I will dwell within you.” ( Exodus 25,8)

The temple of Jerusalem was a visible, real experience of the presence of God right in the heart of the city. Since each person  is considered as a whole world, everything that is outside is also represented within ourselves. So our real question needs to be, why is our own inner temple not a sanctuary for the light of God? Why don’t we see the light of God as a living reality in our own inner selves and in our world?

By considering this lack and the reasons for it, we can turn our mourning into the building blocks for it to happen, as the Sages taught, ” One who mourns for Jerusalem, merits to see her joy.”

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Dedicated to my mother, Chaya bat Sara, for a Refuah Shlemah

Feelings: God’s gift to us in this world

Feeling is a property of the soul in this life.In a letter that Rabbi Yehudah Lev Ashlag wrote to his brother Shmuel, he describes  the purpose for which the soul leaves the spiritual realms and descends into this difficult physical world.  Surprisingly, he describes the benefit the soul attains through its association with the physical.

This does seem  surprising, as in general, the physical  gets a bad press: it is the origin of the world to receive for oneself alone in this world,  and is often seen as gross, compared to the ethereal nature of the spiritual worlds.

But  Rabbi Ashlag points out that it is precisely through the association of the soul with the physical that the soul acquires not only knowledge of God but also feeling. Feelings are only possible through the physical body and it is through our  feelings, both positive  and negative that we may actually experience the light of God . Such experience is called “attaining the Names of God”.

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Podcast dedicated to David and Linor on the occasion of their marriage

Our inner enslavement / our inner redemption

Rabbi Ashlag teaching on inner salvery and redemption

” We were slaves in Egypt”
Passover Haggadah

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  

Inner change precedes outer reality

Rabbi Ashlag  relates the Pharoah to the ego within us.

Servitude in Egypt: How was this possible?

The Children of Israel went down as families, welcome guests of the King of Egypt, nearest relations to the second- in-command, Joseph, the savior of the Egyptian people.  What happened to change their reality within the space of one generation to indigent slaves?
The Torah describes the onset of the slavery in one terse sentence, “And there arose a new King who didn’t know Joseph.”
How is this possible? that in the space of one generation, the Pharaoh had no idea of what had happened? Had no knowledge of the man to whom  his entire country owed its survival? Rashi says, he made as if he didn’t know Joseph.
Rabbi Ashlag in a remarkable letter written to his students relates this sentence not to the outer ruler of a country, but to our own inner ruler. Who are we letting govern our impulses, our thoughts and decisions? The guidance of the Sage, the Torah, or our ego? The new king who did not know Joseph is represented within ourselves as the ego; the part of our self that does not want to acknowledge the superiority of the Tzaddik. When we allow the ego to govern us, then our inner self suffers a spritual descent and this enables the outer exile to overcome us.
The difference between the Hebrew word for exile Golah and for redemption Geulah is only one letter, the letter aleph, א, our connection with the One.


From Igarot haSulam , Igeret 12,  Published by Or Hasulam foundation.

With grateful acknowledgement to my chevrutas, Dr. Susan Jackson, and Dr. Shmuel Iger-Kinyan