(In fact,) it’s said in the Zohar, “Rise up and rouse yourself before the Divine Presence! For your heart is empty, and it lacks the knowledge (you’d need) to know and apprehend it, though it’s (right) in your midst!”
The Zohar indicates that for some reason or another we haven’t the wherewithal to draw close to the Divine Presence.
The secret import of this is (alluded to in the verse,) “A voice says, Cry out!” (Isaiah 40:6). (We’re taught that) the Divine Presence said (in response), “What should I cry out? All flesh is but grass”, (meaning to say that) all (people) are like grass-eating animals, “and all its kindness is like the flower of the field!” (meaning to say that) all the acts of kindness they proffer are for their own benefit” (Tikkunei Zohar 40).
What holds us back from drawing close to the Divine Presence in fact and from hoisting it out of the pit it’s in, in our state of exile, is our selfishness and egotism, we’re told. Ashlag will now expand upon that.
The mystical meaning of that is as follows. “A voice says, Cry out!” (indicates that) a voice beats in each and every Jew’s heart to call out and pray for the ascent of the Divine Presence which encompasses all Jewish souls. But the Presence replies, “What should I cry out?”, as if to say, I haven’t the strength to lift myself out of the dust (in which I lie, in exile), for “all flesh is but grass”, which is to say that “they’re all like grass-eating animals” — they all fulfill mitzvot mindlessly like animals. “And all (of humankind’s) kindness is like the flower of the field” means to say that “all the acts of kindness they proffer are for their own benefit”, for whenever they fulfill mitzvot they only do it to please themselves rather than their Creator.
In fact, (that could) even (be said of) those who toil in Torah, for “all the acts of kindness (that) they proffer are for their own benefit” (as well, for indeed,) even the best of them, those who spend all their time studying Torah, only do so for their own benefit, without meaning to please their Creator as they should.
Ashlag had already disclosed how deeply saddened he was by the fact that even the greatest Torah scholars of our generation don’t study Kabbalah, and of the spiritual “aridity and darkness we find ourselves to be in our generation” as a result (Ch. 57).
The greatest tragedy to come of that, though (aside from the Holocaust, of course, which is alluded to at the end of the last chapter), is our aforementioned selfishness and egotism. His point is that the only way we can outgrow that is by honing all five aspects of our soul, which we only manage to do when we delve into Kabbalistic as well as the practical aspects of Torah (Ch. 56).
(It’s also said there in the Zohar of) such a generation (that they are like), “a spirit that passes away and does not return” (Psalms 78:39), which refers to the spirit of the Messiah, who is to deliver Israel from all its troubles (and lead us all) to the ultimate redemption. For that spirit has left and doesn’t shine in the world (for now).
The point is that the Messiah is to come in order to reveal the sort of knowledge of God that the Kabbalah explicates, but he’ll see how we don’t yearn for that knowledge and will turn around.
Woe to those who cause the spirit of the Messiah to vanish from the world and not return (in their day)! They make the Torah (seem) dry and without a drop of sense or wisdom! For they restrict themselves to the practical aspects of the Torah and don’t care to understand the wisdom of the Kabbalah, or to study the Torah’s mysteries or the reasons behind its mitzvot (that Kabbalah gives insight to).
Woe to them! For they bring poverty, ruin, robbery, looting, murder, and destruction upon the world by their deeds.
(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).