Introduction by Yedidah Cohen Lots of people skip introductions. Not this time! It contains essential information for the correct way to approach the entire book. Rabbi Ashlag in his "Introduction to the Zohar" discusses issues that all of us have previous ideas on. It is very important to lay our own ideas aside during our study and to approach the text with an open mind. Even those of us who have learnt Jewish studies or even Kabbalah in in the past are advised to try to approach the text with a fresh and inquiring mind.
Lessons one and two:
Questions on the nature of God
Inquiries into the nature of creation The opening two chapters of “A Tapestry for the Soul”, which comprise the opening paragraphs of the “Introduction to the Zohar”, pose questions on our essential being, the essence of the Creator, and the nature of the Creation. These two chapters set the scene. The answers to the questions in these chapters form the rest of the book. Don’t try to answer them yourself. Just understand the questions as they are.
Lesson three: The ultimate aim and purpose of creation Lesson three starts off the main discussion of the book by looking at the ultimate aim and purpose of the Creation. Here Rabbi Ashlag points out that one cannot understand any process unless we know what it is for. If we do not know the purpose of the Creation we are very likely to misunderstand the process. Thus we underestimate our own worth and we mistake the Creator’s intentions towards us.
Lesson four: The substance of creation; the essence of the souls; affinity and difference of form
Lesson four looks at the composition of the Creation—— the light and the vessel. We see how the vessel for the light, and the light itself, together make up the fabric of the Creation. We begin to see how it is the vessel, which in the language of the Kabbalah means desire, is simultaneously the essence of the Creation itself, yet separates us from the Creator.
Lesson five: The nature of evil; the different routes that body and soul travel; the purpose of the mitzvot in the healing of the will to receive for oneself alone; the means by which the higher levels of the soul are drawn to the person
This is the chapter where things are really heating up! We live with the paradox of creation, that our own nature of wanting to receive is an essential part of the purpose of Creation, yet if we overdo it and use if for ourselves alone it becomes a source of evil to ourselves and others. The Creator starts to sort this out by dividing reality into two frameworks: The framework of holiness and the framework of evil. Rabbi Ashlag illustrates this with a beautiful passage from the Zohar, (one of my favorites) which looks at how every attribute has an equal and opposite one which unfortuantely tend to nullify each other and we would really be in a mess except for the light of blessing which nothing cancels out. Enjoy!
Lesson six: The states in which the souls exist simultaneously; free will; the nature and purpose of suffering
Things are not what they seem. At the same time as we exist in this imperfect state of being, we are already existing in our complete perfection in the Ein Sof. This is because the Creator has no need of process as we have. This is not just a theoretical fact but it 1) gives us hope and faith. 2) it means that we have to get to our perfection. It turns out that free choice lies not in whether we are going to get there, because we all will, but which route we chose, the route of conscious choice or the route of suffering.
Lesson seven: The true nature of the body and its purpose; the end of suffering; where am I acting from?
"The body" in the language of the Kabbalah refers to the will to receive, the vessel. This will to receive for ourselves alone is here in order for us to correct i,t and in so doing , bit by bit we transform darkness into light and become partners with the Creator in the creation. A moving piece from the Perush haSulam is in this chapter.
Lesson eight: The essence of the soul; how desire begets needs and needs give birth to thoughts as to how to satisfy those needs; the differences between people
This chapter start off by examining the issue that we are all going to come to our perfection and seeing how this fact affects our everyday consciousness. We study a beautiful article by Rabbi Baruch Shalom haLevi Ashlag on this issue. We then look at the development of the will to receive and what we can do about it. We see how different stages of the will to receive combine in people giving them their each individual make-up.
Lesson nine: The language of the branches; the revival of the dead; the true goal and fulfillment of the will to receive The language of the Kabbalah is a vital issue. This is the code that effectively kept the Kabbalah locked up for centuries, yet when you learn it you will be amazed at its simplicity and deep wisdom. It locked up the Kabbalah for those who only think in terms of this world, yet opened it for those who began to perceive that the origin of all that there is, is in the higher worlds. After learning about this code, we then study a piece from the Zohar and show precisely how the code was used. We continue with the theme of the Introduction to the Zohar by looking at the wills to receive for oneself alone, how they will be revived towards the time of the redemption.
Lesson ten: The work of our lives; further concerning the framework of uncleanness Our lives are divided into four parts taken overall. But these are not inevitable. It is perfectly possible for a person to stay in part one for his or her enitre lifespan. Many in fact do. Entering into part two marks the begining of the search for spirituality and its development. Part three is already that of the Tzaddik and part four is that of the complete Tzaddik. These higher parts are not easy to obtain, but they show us what we may achieve and some people really do, even in their lifetime!
Lesson eleven: The purpose of the higher worlds; the final state of the souls; the development of the wills to receive The Creator is the sole author of all the acts. The good and the bad. Yet we have free choice too. Which path are we going to choose?The chapter opens with some lovely passages from the Introduction to the Zohar, illustrated by an article by Rabbi Baruch haShalom haLevi Ashlag and a beautiful extract from the Perush haSulam. In these passges Rabbi Ashlag talks about the wondrous end-state the souls reach. Yet how do they get there? What is their development? He compares the development of the soul to the physical stages present in the world of the mineral, plant, animal and human.
Lesson twelve: The perception of the person who splits the shell of the will to receive for oneself alone When a person is involved with his will to receive for himself alone, he is like a worm in a radish, writes Rabbi Ashlag. The world seems to him to be a bitter and dark place. When he splts this shell of egoism he is like the worm, who, on reaching the outer edge of the radish looks around and says, "I had no idea the world is such a wonderful and beautiful place!" In this chapter Rabbi Ashlag continues by looking at the organization of the higher worlds and the divine light that penetrates them through the Sephirot. He ends the chapter by considering how the different elements influence and help each other, finishing with a discussion on the effect of the environment on us.
Lesson thirteen: The relationship of the soul with the higher worlds; the mitzvot When we start off we have a potential soul in the framework of holiness. How can we get this to grow and become active? This is the question that occupies this lesson. The help from the higher worlds is crucial, but equally important is the path of Torah and mitzvot, the path of consciousness. But what exactly are these mitzvot? Everyone has preconceived ideas here. Both the secular and the religious Jew have to both stop and have a new look, not thinking out of habit but really taking a fresh look.
Lesson fourteen: The lights of the Sephirot, the vessels and the worlds; the ascension of the soul through the worlds This is a truly amazing chapter. When we read it we realize just how blind and limited our vision really is, and we get a glimpse of the vast potential simply awaitng us. Oh! if only..... You know that scientists say that we in fact use only a very small percentage of our brain, when you read this chapter you will see just how very little of our vast potential we are actually using and what is waiting for us. The lesson finishes with a beautiful parable of the King and His servants.
Lesson fifteen: The ascension of the soul (continued) Is there any point in learning material which seems to be far above our ability to ever reach? Rabbi Ashlag in a piece from the Perush haSulam assures us that there is. It awakens the heart and soul. As we ascend we go up different stages or levels of soul. How do we know when we've reached a particular stage? Why is the process accompanied by so many ups and downs?
Lesson sixteen: The holographic nature of reality and its relationship to Torah; the nature of the book of the Zohar and its authorship How would society be different if all our teachers, educators and leaders in general knew this material and tried to act on it? Why was the Kabbalah abandoned (especially in the Ashkenazi communities) in the last 200 years? Rabbi Ashlag speaks of his sorrow on this and shows how he has tried to amend the situation with his work. He discusses the incredible depth he sees in the Zohar and talks about its authorship.
Lesson seventeen: The revelation of the Kabbalah in our generation and the nature of our generation compared to previous generations It seems so paradoxical that it is we who are receiving the Kabbalah, and it is! We certainly do not have the spiritual caliber of Tzaddikim who lived even a few generations ago,yet it is in our generation where we are so enveloped, drowning in materialism, that the Kabbalah, after being hidden for thousands of years is being revealed, and not just to a select few but to all who want. Why is this? How come our generation is so privileged? What does this mean for us and for the world?
Lesson eighteen: The innermost aspect of the Torah and its relationship to Israel and the world Have you ever looked around you and despaired? Wondering what difference the efforts of one solitary person could possible make to the mess we are all in? Well this chapter is for you! You will never feel like a victim again. Rabbi Ashlag teaches us that what happens on the scale of one person, on the inner, affects what happens on the outer. He examines the role of Israel in the world and shows us where to apply our efforts. Good luck!