But all that raises another series of questions. First off, why wasn’t the Zohar revealed to the early generations, who were undoubtedly greater and more worthy of it than the later ones? Why wasn’t a commentary to the Zohar offered before Luria’s? And why were there no explanations of his works and of the Zohar before now? How could this generation (possibly) be more worthy than the earlier ones (to deserve an explanation)?
His point is that the Zohar should logically have been revealed to earlier generations, going all the way back to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s own time. For they would’ve delved into for their own and our benefit, yet it wasn’t. What’s also notable is the fact that the most lucid explanation of the Zohar we have, which is Luria’s (as all his works serve to explain the Kabbalistic system that’s laid out in the Zohar) has itself gone largely unexplained, until now thanks to Ashlag himself. So, what is it that has enabled us to merit such a straightforward setting-out of the Kabbalistic system?
The answer lies in the fact that the 6,000 year course of the universe functions as a single partzuf…
A partzuf is an integrated cosmic configuration (see 44:2). Ashlag is contending that reality as we know it, or the entire second era (see Ch’s 14-20, etc.), functions as a single partzuf…
… that’s comprised of three (main) elements: a beginning, middle, and end, (made up of the configurations) CHaBaD, CHaGAT, and NeHY.
As we’d pointed out, there are ten sephirot in all: Keter, Chochma, Binah, Chessed, Gevurah, Tipheret, Netzach, Hod, Yesod, and Malchut (see 41:1). Sometimes, though, the quasi-sephirah of Da’at replaces that of Keter, since Keter is so subtle, so Godly that it’s said to be nullified by the Divine Presence itself. Da’at then serves to round-out the ten-sephirah count. It sits below Binah. (There are other reasons why this configuration excludes Keter — as well as Malchut, the last sephirah — but that’s beyond our concerns here.)
The first configuration cited here, CHaBaD, is termed that because it’s comprised of Chochma, Binah, and Da’at. It’s the topmost configuration of the partzuf because it contains these mind-elements.
The middle configuration, CHaGAT, is comprised of Chessed, Gevurah, and Tipheret, and it’s said to be the middle configuration of the partzuf because it contains these heart-elements (much as the heart is in the middle of the body).
And the final configuration, NeHY, is comprised of Netzach, Hod, and Yesod, and it’s the final one because Netzach, Hod, and Yesod lie at the end of the partzuf (i.e., representing the legs and the organ of procreation).
But in order to understand that, and to see how that explains why the earlier generations weren’t granted the Zohar or a non-materialistic commentary to it that removes one of the major stumbling blocks to a proper understanding of it like Ashlag’s, we’d need to examine the following.
Our sages explained (that the 6,000 years of this world was to be divided thusly from the start: there’d first be) “2,000 years of Tohu (formlessness, as in “And the earth was formless and void” [Genesis 1:2]) 2,000 (years) of Torah, and then 2,000 (years) of the Days of the Messiah” (Sanhedrin 97A)…
The Talmudic sages agreed that history — the goings-on in the single partzuf that comprises the universe as we know it — would embrace a beginning, middle, and end stage. But rather than designate them by their partzuf-specific names CHaBaD, CHaGAT, and NeHY, they categorized the three epoch periods of time as one of formlessness, another of Torah, and the third as that of the Messianic Era.
… (which illustrates the following). Throughout the course of the first two millennia, which correspond to the “beginning” or CHaBaD (element of the partzuf), all the lights (made manifest there) were very weak, and were (like) a head without a body since they only had Nephesh-light.
Toggling back and forth between terms, we’d depict Ashlag as saying that the first, topmost course of history and its beginning was rather dark, formless and all-potential (as the term Chochma is a composite of the two terms “Koach-Mah”, meaning “the potential for anything”). But why would that be so, given how close it was to pre-creation’s all-Godliness?
(That’s so) because there’s an inverse relationship between lights and vessels .
“Lights” are the spiritual content of things that are themselves termed “vessels” or “containers”. The classic analogy is that of the relationship between the soul and the body, where the soul is dubbed the body’s “light” and the body is taken to be the soul’s “vessel”. Being the integrated cosmic configuration that it is, it follows then that the single partzuf that makes up all that we know is a combination of lights and vessels in various lay-outs.
For when it comes to vessels, the rule is that the higher vessels develop first in the partzuf, whereas when it comes to lights, the opposite is true — the lower lights become engarbed first in the partzuf.
It’s simply a given that this single partzuf’s higher vessels grew in size and capacity before its lights did, and that its lesser lights were “engarbed” — stored-away, and set aside for later use — within the partzuf before its higher lights were.
Thus, as long as only the higher parts of the vessels existed, meaning the CHaBaD vessels, then only the Nephesh-light could be engarbed in the partzuf, which are the lowest lights. And that’s why the first two millennia are referred to as Tohu.
That’s to say that the reason why the first historical epoch didn’t have the Zohar and a commentary to it, though it seemingly should have, was simply because only the higher vessels (CHaBaD) and the lower lights (Nephesh) were in place there and then. So, while the people there (the vessels) were greater, the illuminations (the lights) were dimmer; hence the whole epoch was rather formless and only all-potential.
But in the course of the world’s second two millennia, which is comprised of CHaGAT vessels…
.. that are lower than the CHaBaD vessels present in the first two millennia, discussed above …
… a Ruach-light…
… which is higher than the Nephesh-light present in the first two millennia …
… descended upon and was engarbed in the world, which embodies the secret import of Torah. And that’s why the middle two millennia are referred to as (the epoch of) Torah.
Ruach-light touches upon the secret import of Torah (meaning that it most especially corresponds to the essence of Torah) because Torah serves as the mediator — the Tipheret — between the pure Chessed and Gevurah of the CHaGAT triad, in that it’s Torah’s “rulings” that settle the differences between those two opposing “litigants”. So the second epoch is termed Torah because it “mediates” between the Tohu and Messianic epochs.
The point is that while there was more actualization in the middle epoch than there had been before, there was still not enough to allow for the publication and circulation of the Zohar, to say nothing of an explanation of it. This will soon be expanded upon.
(Ashlag is also saying that while what the Talmudic sages meant by the phrase “2,000 years of Tohu, 2,000 [years] of Torah, and then 2,000 [years] of the Days of the Messiah” was that while the world will be characterized by moral and spiritual chaos and formlessness before we’d have received the Torah, nonetheless the granting of the Torah allows for the Messianic Era.)
And Neshama-light — the greatest one — came to be engarbed in the world in the course of the final two millennia which are comprised of NeHYM vessels. And that’s why they’re referred to as the Days of the Messiah.
Being the greatest light of all, Neshama-light automatically harkens to the Days of the Messiah when illumination will abound.
That’s true of each specific partzuf as well as to the entire universe: for when it comes to the CHaBaD and CHaGAT vessels down to the “chest”, the lights (there) remain covered over and don’t begin to exhibit out-and-out mercy — i.e., they only exhibit the sublime Chochma-light — from the “chest” downward, i.e., from the NeHYM (level).
We’d learned that the grand partzuf that is the universe is comprised of a beginning, middle, and end which are termed CHaBaD, CHaGAT, and NeHY, and that there was so little manifest light in the course of the CHaBaD aspect that it was like a head without a body. Ashlag’s point here is that what’s true of reality en toto is also true of each segment of it: the higher or CHaBaD aspect exhibits very little light, and as such, it too seems to be “like a head without a body” — and that by extension, the CHaGAT aspect (which will be expanded on below) exhibits more light but not all that much.
(The “M” at the end of NeHYM stands for Malchut. That isn’t discussed much here as we’d indicated above, but suffice it to say that it represents the recipient or end-product of all that’s offered by CHaBaD, CHaGAT, and NeHY.)
That’s the reason why the Zohar itself and Kabbalah in general weren’t revealed to the world before the vessels of NeHYM in the universe’s single partzuf, which represent the last two millennia, manifested themselves.
That’s to say, Kabbalah wasn’t promulgated until near-modernity (though it was studied within small circles of scholars) because the earlier eras simply couldn’t endure the degree of light that Kabbalah study would have manifested then in the world.
But in the course of his lifetime, which was near the end of the era of the completion of the vessels below the “chest”…
… corresponding to the beginning of the NeHYM era, when the sublime Chochma-light was allowed to be revealed (see 5 above) …
… Isaac Luria’s divine soul started to clandestinely reveal the light of the sublime Chochma,
… in fact …
… since he was ready to receive that great light. He (consequently) uncovered (and explained) the underlying themes (laid out) in the Zohar and in Kabbalah (in general), and (it became clear that he’d) overshadowed all his predecessors.
But, since the (NeHYM) vessels weren’t yet completed — as he’d died in (the course of the 5th millennium, in) 5332 (i.e., in 1572 CE) — the world wasn’t yet worthy of discovering his teachings, and his holy words fell under the dominion of a chosen few who were (themselves) prohibited from revealing them to the world.
But now, in our time, when we’re approaching the end of the last two millennia…
… and are thus drawing near to the Days of the Messiah …
… permission has been granted (Ashlag and others) to unveil both Luria’s and the Zohar’s teachings to the world, and so from now on the words of the Zohar will come to be more and more revealed in the world, (that is,) to the extent that God wants it to be.
 See Peticha l’Chochmat HaKabbalah 24.
(c) 2013 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).
Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes on www.torah.org entitled “Spiritual Excellence” and “Ramchal”