But I know the reason (why the otherwise learned don’t delve into the esoteric side of the Torah). It’s mainly because faith has largely abated (in our day and age) over-all, especially when it comes to faith in our holy ones and sages in each generation.
Not having access ourselves to the holy and wise, we doubt their very existence. While we might concede to there being exceptional people who are somehow comfortable with eternity, at ease with piety, and linked to God, and others who are profuse in genius and able to grasp dreadfully large amounts of information, we nonetheless know the difference between them and the holy and wise. For while the former are mystical and brilliant, the latter are impelled by forces much further away and far more inward. And we don’t see them around us.
But the holy and wise do exist; they do. But being holy and wise, they eschew much of what we surround ourselves with and cherish, so we never get the chance to meet them. That’s to say that they’re still where they’ve always been, but we’re not. Consequently our collective paths no longer cross, and we assume that they don’t exist. As a result, we’ve lost faith in God, too; since it’s the holy and wise who best suggest Him to us.
The observant have their faith and they sometimes even catch sight of the holy and wise (since they and the observant visit some of the same places now and then), still and all the observant don’t delve into the esoteric side of the Torah for the following reason.
(They don’t delve into it) also because the books of Kabbalah and the Zohar are full of bodily depictions, so people are afraid of making the mistake of lapsing into anthropomorphism and of thus losing more than they’d gain.
Such books often focus not only on bodily depictions, but on Divine dimensionality as well, if you will; and on things far, far too human for angels, souls, and aspects of God Almighty’s own Being to be concerned with, as they would be if taken literally.
So the thinking is that it’s much more dangerous to possibly lapse into heretical thoughts reading such things than it would be beneficial to be inspired by them, since there are other much more discreet and quite valuable works to draw upon for inspiration that don’t present such a threat.
(We cited another reason, though, in 57:2: what we termed the clash between emphasizing boundaries and denying them. For while as we indicated Halacha postulates and sets boundaries, Kabbalah eschews it; so observant people don’t engage in Kabbalah as a rule. But rather than conflict, Ashlag’s explanation and my own are one and the same. For the problem with bodily depictions and the like is that they seem to affix physical and mortal boundaries to the Divine, which are anathema to observant sensibilities since they’re far beyond the halachic horizon.)
That’s in fact exactly what induced me to (first) write a comprehensive commentary to the Ari’s writings…
It’s known as Talmud Esser Sephirot, and it’s an excellent and remarkably extensive, multi-volume work that arranges Isaac Luria’s Eitz Chaim by subject matter, and offers explanatory notes, further and deeper analyses in separate articles, study material, definitions of terms, and more. To my mind it’s Ashlag’s finest work.
… and (now) to the holy Zohar, for I completely eliminated that concern. For I explained and proved the spiritual import of everything (depicted in the Zohar in physical terms) that’s (in fact) abstract and devoid of all physicality, and beyond space and time, as the reader will see.
Ashlag remarked that the Zohar itself and other Kabbalistic works employed “The Language of Branches”. That’s to say that, based on the principle that there’s nothing in the lower realms without its prototype in the upper ones, the Kabbalists applied earthly (“branch”) terms for things and phenomena that were (very roughly) equivalent to their celestial (“root”) counterparts. The thing to recall is that the two aren’t to be confused; any discussion of a “face” for example, in the literature doesn’t mean to imply a Divine “face” and the like.
(And I did that) in order to enable everyone to study the Zohar and be warmed by its holy light.
I named my commentary HaSulam (“The Ladder”) to denote the fact that it (actually) serves the same purpose as any other ladder, in that if (for example) you had an attic that was full of all sorts of goodness, then what you’d need is a ladder to climb up to it and to take hold of that bounty. For a ladder serves no other purpose (than that), and if you were to pause midway on it and not (use it to) enter the attic, then its purpose wouldn’t have been fulfilled. The same is true of my commentary to the Zohar.
That’s to say, use HaSulam to study the Zohar and its purpose would have been fulfilled; “pause midway on it” by delving into it on its own rather than use it to enter “the attic” that is the Zohar and you will have defeated its purpose. For while Ashlag’s comments are enthralling on their own, his point is that they only stand up in the light of the words of the Zohar itself.
Because there hadn’t been a way to completely clarify these most profound of words (until I wrote my comments). So, I fashioned a path and an entrance (to the Zohar that’s designed) for all. Now anyone can gaze upon, plumb the depths of, and delve into the Zohar himself with it. (Once people do, then) my purpose for (having written) the commentary will have been fulfilled.
(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.
You can still purchase a copy of Rabbi Feldman’s translation of “The Gates of Repentance” here at a discount as well.
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).