As we’d indicated, it’s here that Ashlag finally begins to approach the text at hand: the Zohar. For as we pointed out in our own introduction, while this work is entitled an Introduction to the Zohar, Ashlag evidently felt impelled to provide us with the world of background we’d encountered up to now before discussing it.
We’ll approach the Zohar head-on in the very next chapter, but the following must be said in advance of that. And it touches upon something that clearly sat very heavily on Ashlag’s heart, as we’ll see at the very end.
Now you can understand the (spiritual) aridity and darkness we find ourselves to be in our generation, the likes of which we’d never even heard of in earlier ones. It’s because even those who study the Torah have forsaken the study of its secrets.
One of Ashlag’s major disappointments had been the fact that even those who fervently believe in and worship God, delve into His Torah, and live a mitzvah-based life nonetheless either belittled Kabbalah study and didn’t engage in it, or they placed those who’d study it on so high a pedestal that they themselves didn’t engage in it for that reason. But that’s absurd. For Kabbalah study is not only not to be disparaged, as it’s so magnificent and bedazzling; it’s also not reserved for the pious alone (after all, would God not allow even His less lofty children a portion of His inheritance?).
Maimonides once offered an illustration of something that’s true of our situation. (He said that) if there were a thousand blind people walking along a path, that they’d surely take the right road and not stumble into any nets and snares along the way if they followed a sighted leader, whereas they’d surely stumble over every hurdle along the way and fall into the pit if there were no such person (leading them).
And that’s our situation. For if those learned in Torah (i.e., the “sighted”) among us were at least concerned with esoteric Torah and (were thus) drawing down whole light from The Infinite (as a result), then the rest of the generation (i.e., the “blind”) would follow and everyone would surely succeed.
Why would anyone not want to “draw down whole light from The Infinite” — most especially people whose who lives are dedicated to fulfilling God’s will day after day? After all, isn’t the point of it all to “perfect the universe through the Almighty’s sovereignty” (Aleinu prayer) through our observance? And wouldn’t whole light drawn from The Infinite be a major component of the process?
But there’s a reason for the reticence. It touches upon many, many things, not the least of which is the ongoing dissonance between the revealing and beclouding of God’s presence in the world. But what it most especially centers on is the clash between emphasizing boundaries and denying them.
For while boundaries are essential in our experience and serve to maintain our physical, emotional, and social soundness, it’s also true that they’re oftentimes arbitrary, and other times indisputable but too austere.
Levelheaded, practical, and a guide to life in the world, Halacha postulates and sets boundaries; diaphanous, concerned with God’s Being, and an escort beyond life in the world, Kabbalah eschews boundaries (though it lays out its own, but only to serve as points of reference).
Hence as a rule, halachically observant individuals very often act as guardians of boundaries and are opposed to their denial — and for exemplary reasons for the most part. But they also deny themselves and perhaps even fear the valuable experience of transcendence in the process. And they thus ironically work at both revealing God’s presence in the world by adhering to His requirements here, and beclouding it by corralling it into too-tight borders.
But given that (even) the learned have distanced themselves from this wisdom, then it’s no wonder that the entire generation is failing as a consequence. Nonetheless, because of my deep sorrow (about it) I can’t pursue this (point) any further….
(c) 2012 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
AT LONG LAST! Rabbi Feldman’s translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here at a discount.
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Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).