Ashlag now turns to a rather arcane point in Talmudic casuistry. His point is that the idea that the earlier sages were less enlightened than the latter ones is problematic as far as halacha is concerned. For from a halachic perspective, the earlier authorities are deemed to have been wiser, and (most significantly) to have been more in tune with Heavenly truth by virtue of the fact that they were closer in time to the revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Ashlag agrees with the axiom that the earlier Talmudists were more enlightened than the latter, despite the apparent contradiction that presents us with, and he explains why in Kabbalistic terms.
But don’t then ask why it’s prohibited to disagree with the early (Talmudic sages) when it comes to the revealed (aspect of the) Torah.
Kabbalists speak of the “revealed” versus the “concealed” aspects of the Torah, where “revealed” refers to the open-and-above-board and practical aspects of Torah like the meaning of the words involved in either Torah or Talmud as well as the halachic, moral, and inspirational implications of them; and the “concealed” refers to their esoteric connotations.
Now, if what we’d learned is true, that the later sages merited the revelation of Kabbalah and the Zohar because they were greater than those of the earlier generations, then contemporary Talmudic sages should be able to argue with the decisions of the earlier Talmudists (when they’re in fact categorically not allowed to), because the later sages are deemed to be greater than the earlier ones. But as Ashlag is about to point out, that argument is fallacious since the differences he’d cited between the earlier and later sages don’t hold true across the board.
In fact, the opposite is true when it comes to reconciling the aspect (of Torah) touching on mitzvot.
The Talmud itself and the subsequent halachic codes sometimes contradict each other, calling for a harmonizing of divergent halachic decisions. It’s always true, though, that not only must later decisors be logically sound and rigorous, as well as consistent with the entire Talmudic gestalt — they must also take the earlier decisors’ opinions into consideration and acquiesce to them rather than defy them. Again, the idea is that that doesn’t seem to be true; it appears that the opinions of later decisors would hold more weight than that of the earlier ones.
But the earlier (Talmudic and halachic sages) were more flawless than the latter (ones, in fact). (And that’s so) because when it comes to (actual, physical) actions…
That is, when it comes to the “revealed”, practical aspect of the Torah, the opposite is true: the earlier sages were indeed greater than the later ones.
… (the pattern is such that) the vessels of the sephirot come into play (first) when it comes to the secrets of the Torah and the reasons for the mitzvot …
That is, when it comes to the “concealed” aspect of the Torah…
… (that is,) the sephirah lights come into play first. For as you already know, there’s a converse relationship between lights and vessels.
So, when it comes to vessels…
That is, when it comes to the more external, i.e. “revealed” aspect of the Torah…
… the more exalted of them grow first. Hence, the earlier (Talmudic and halachic sages) are more flawless than the latter (ones) when it comes to the practical aspect (of the Torah).
So the latter must acquiesce to the former.
But the opposite is true as far as the lights are concerned.
That is, when it comes to the more internal, i.e. “concealed” aspect of the Torah…
For their lower lights appear first. And that’s why the latter (Kabbalistic sages) are more flawless than the earlier (ones, despite their lesser over-all stature).
(c) 2013 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
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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).