The Master of the Ladder
The Life and Teachings of Rabbi Yehudah Leib Ashlag
by Rabbi Avraham Mordecai Gottleib
Translated and Edited by Yedidah Cohen
In The Master of the Ladder: , we find the story of a great Kabbalist. We experience his passion for serving God, we learn of the spiritual path he received from his Masters, and we struggle with him in his courage and perseverance in opening up the inner wisdom of the Torah, the Kabbalah
Told through Rabbi Ashlag's personal documents, interviews with those who knew him, his letters, and his teachings, we get a vibrant, inner view of a great sage who was in constant union with his Creator.
Even as a young child, Rabbi Ashlag was drawn to the study of Kabbalah. Taught by Masters in the Chassidic tradition, it was not long before the young Yehudah had his own enlightenment experience of the Divine. But, he soon learned that this was not to be the goal of his life. His own teachers taught him that serving God through giving unconditionally to one’s fellow, brings one closer to God than does receiving even the highest of experiences.
As a young man, Rabbi Ashlag served as rabbi and teacher in Warsaw. But he soon realized that his future lay in the Holy Land. Arriving in Jerusalem with his young family in the early years of the British Mandate, he was shocked to discover the paucity of the study of Kabbalah that was prevalent in the established seminaries at the time.
Undeterred, Rabbi Ashlag established his own school for serious Talmudic scholars who wished to learn Kabbalah. Starting at 2am students and teacher together learned the hidden Torah before their day began.
Rabbi Ashlag had an extraordinary understanding of the work of the Sixteenth century Kabbalist, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the Holy Ari. Although It is the work of the Ari that stands at the root of Chasidic tradition neverthless, his teaching remained incomprehensible to the layman. Rabbi Ashlag set about rectifying this situation, and his first great works were commentaries on the Etz Chaim of the Ari. These are works in which the Ari clarifies the dynamics of light and vessel from the higher spiritual worlds down to this world. Rabbi Ashlag 's major commentary on the Ari's teaching, The Talmud Eser haSephirot (The Study of the Ten Sephirot) has become a spiritual classic.
Subsequently Rabbi Ashlag then applied the prinicples of light and vessel from the Torah of the Ari to the central work of Kabbalah, the Zohar in his masterpiece “the Sulam commentary” It is for this work that he became known as Baal HaSulam, the “Master of the Ladder”. For the first time, the Zohar, this great and hidden work of Kabbalah, now became accessible to the intelligent layman.
Rabbi Ashlag did not leave his works as dry, tomes of information. He showed how Kabbalah is a guide to a vibrant, living path of service to God and to our fellow human beings. The kabbalah teaches us the importance of giving unconditionally to each other, the importance of love and compassion for our fellows, and the preciousness of our free choice which helps us overcome the basic desires of the ego.
The path Rabbi Ashlag taught is one not only for the individual but also for society at large. It has implications for the economic and political life of nations and Rabbi Ashlag argues that unless we pay heed to the urgent need for human beings to rein back their ego demands, the world itself is in danger.
The book concludes with sketches of the students of Rabbi Ashlag, showing the individual personalities and the effect his teaching had on them, and practical advice on how to come to mutual love and respect by Rabbi Baruch Shalom Ashlag, Rabbi Ashlag’s first born son.