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Only via Kabbalah may we access all the levels of Torah.

Kabbalah: The Inside Story

Kabbalah: The Inside Story

Intermediate Intermediate
Kabbalah: The Inside Story
Only via Kabbalah may we access all the levels of Torah.

Rabbi Shimon began: Woe are they whose hearts are stuffed and whose eyes are closed! So many secrets are hidden in the Torah, and they pay no attention to them. They only want to eat the "straw" of the Torah - the simple meaning, or the "garment" of the Torah. They don't taste from the deep intellect which it contains within. (Zohar Chadash, Tikunim II:93b. See also Zohar III:152a)

Those who learn the stories of Torah only on the superficial level, without the Kabbalah, cause good to be transformed into bad, and create many obstacles. (Tikunei Zohar, 1b)

Through the course of history, there have been nine major famines; immediately before the Messianic Age, there will be a tenth. But the hunger pangs will be of a different sort, as the prophet (Amos 8:11) said, "Behold, days are coming, said G‑d, the Lord, when I will send hunger to the world; not a hunger for bread, and not a thirst for water - but to hear the words of G‑d." (Bereishit Rabba on Gen. 25:3, Gen. 40:3, and Gen. 64:2)

Elijah the Prophet said to Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai: Many people down below will derive nourishment from this book of yours [the Zohar], when it will be revealed [finally] in the last generation, before the End of Days. But it has already been revealed for hundreds of years!? Close to the Messianic Age, however, even the deepest passages will be explained. (Tikunei Zohar, end of Tikun 6, Kisei Melech, ibid.)

Since in the future, the Jewish people will taste from the Tree of Life, i.e. the Zohar, they will be redeemed from exile with mercy. (Zohar, Raya Mehemna, III:124b)

Even a cursory reading of the Five Books of Moses is likely to leave a person full of questions. The central figures often behave in questionable ways, and sometimes seem to be questionable role models. In addition, G‑d's motives are frequently enigmatic. He seems to want one thing, and then structure events so that everything becomes unnecessarily complicated. We are often unable to understand what His goals are and why He chooses such convoluted paths to reach them. ...couldn't things have been done in some easier, more straightforward way?

The Oral Tradition passed down from Mount Sinai and recorded in the words of our Sages helps elucidate the text. The classic biblical commentaries engage in unraveling these stories, and one can find numerous explanations to many of these puzzles. However, their answers are sometimes difficult to reconcile with the text; they sometimes fit the text but stretch the imagination; they sometimes contradict each other; they sometimes solve one enigma - only to raise others which might be even more numerous and more difficult to solve; and most importantly, these explanations sometimes help only to resolve the difficulty of one particular episode. We are often left wondering how the details fit into the broader picture; and even regarding the story itself - couldn't things have been done in some easier, more straightforward way?

Finite humans are obviously unable to fathom the Ways of the Infinite. On the other hand, the Torah is given to us to study and understand. From it we are supposed to draw inspiration and guidance, even down to the details of our daily lives. How can we do so when the message is so obscured by questions?

The obstacle becomes more acute when we consider the difference between this generation and previous ones. Years ago, virtually everyone in the Western world was somewhat familiar with the content of the Bible, and accepted its veracity. Today, many are unaware of even the most basic ideas, and are skeptical of its authority. Their questions are worse than just unsolved intellectual puzzles. They often represent the first - and seemingly insurmountable - barrier to seriously considering anything having to do with faith or "religion."

But the thirst and curiosity is there. This thirst is evident throughout the world in the explosive interest in Kabbalah, Bible codes and the like. This dimension of the Torah has a very special relationship with other levels of Torah interpretation. [Note: Ginzei Yosef, Gen. 12:10 (quoted in Yalkut Mashiach U'Geula, Lech Lecha, p. 70-73) in fact says that the 10th "hunger" for the "words of G‑d", mentioned above, is the desire for Kabbalah. He also explains how this is alluded to in the story of Abraham and Sarah going to Egypt.]

The Torah conveys its messages simultaneously on different levels of meaning. In general there are four levels, referred to by the Hebrew acronym "PaRDeS": the simple level (Peshat), the allusion (Remez), homiletic (Drush), and the secret (Sod). There is, furthermore, another dimension which transcends all these four levels. The final two are normally referred to as the mystical dimension, that of Kabbalah and Chasidut. Understanding its inner dimension helps unravel its mysteries…

The "inner dimension," or the "soul" of Torah, explicated in Kabbalah and Chasidut, takes the perspective of the underlying spiritual reality from which everything in the universe is derived. Understanding these forces and their effects helps us perceive the essential unity within Creation, and to use this knowledge to guide us in all aspects of our lives. (Zohar I:145b. III:152a. See Yahel Or, Tzemach Tzedek, on Psalm 119:18. Maamorim Melukat 5:273)

The essential truths are conveyed to us in the Torah. Understanding its inner dimension helps unravel its mysteries. Then, the traditional explanations take on greater depth and become an integral part of the path leading us to the deeper truth. The revelation of this inner dimension of Torah indicates that the universe is ready to reach its culmination with the Messianic era. (see beginning of Keter Shem Tov) It is also the vehicle through which the world is transformed into a world of harmony, fulfillment, and perfection.

The Zohar itself is written in the form of a commentary on the Bible. The stories of the Bible are not just stories, for within them are buried the secrets of the Universe. Through understanding their inner dimension, we tap into that Infinite Wisdom which G‑d has been waiting for us to discover. And we must thank the Creator for making these stories so unfathomable as to spur us on to keep digging until we find the "light" within.

One central theme which runs through a number of incidents is that lying, or at least trickery, seem to be involved. Abraham and Isaac say that their wives are their sisters; Jacob tricks Esau out of his privileges as the first-born; Rebecca and Jacob trick Isaac into giving him the blessings; Joseph's brothers kidnap and sell him and then lead Jacob to believe that he's been killed; Leah tricks Jacob into marrying her; Tamar tricks Judah into fathering her children. Why does everything seem so crooked? A corresponding action is performed, but this time, on the side of holiness…

The theme of trickery stems from the first, and perhaps most famous case - that of the serpent tricking Adam and Eve. Had they not sinned, Adam and Eve would have brought the world to perfection and the Messianic Age would have begun right away. Kabbalah explains that when they ate from the Tree of Knowledge, there was a catastrophic change by which sparks of good and sparks of evil become mixed in virtually every aspect of the universe. In order to rectify this act, its effects must be undone. The retrieval and elevation of these sparks is the unifying task which has occupied the world ever since. (See for example, Shaar HaPesukim, 4a. Etz Chaim 36:2. 39:1. See also Tanya, Igeret Hakodesh 26 (144a).

Part of the mystery of this rectification is that the manner in which it is carried out must also match the way in which these sparks were spread out in the first place. A corresponding action is performed, but this time, on the side of holiness. This could perhaps be compared to the cover of a jar: just as it became tightened through being twisted on, the way to remove it is through twisting in the opposite direction. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 39b)1 similarly explains why the prophet Obadiah was chosen to pronounce the downfall of the Edomite kingdom - because he himself was an Edomite convert, and "the handle for the axe to cut the tree comes from the forest itself."

We find a similar idea when Moses showed Pharaoh that G‑d sent him by turning a stick into a snake. (Ex. 7:10-11) The head sorcerers of Egypt replied, "Are you bringing straw to Ephraim?" (a city known for its grain), i.e. "Are you bringing witchcraft to a place which is full of witchcraft?!" (Menachot 85a., Shemot Rabba 9:5) Moses answered that indeed, "You take your vegetables to sell in the place where everyone brings their vegetables." At first glance, it is difficult to see what exactly is Moses answering; he just seems to repeat their question as his answer! But his answer is that although he and the Egyptian sorcerers superficially seem to be doing the same thing, there is a huge difference between them. Only a discerning mind is able to distinguish them, just as only in a place where everyone sells vegetables can you tell "which is the good vegetable and which is the bad." (Iyun Yaakov, Menachot ibid. See also Maharsha, Eitz Yosef, ibid. Y'fat To'ar on Shemot Rabba, ibid.) "Ephraim" refers to the primordial snake, (since "the earth [in Hebrew, "afar"] is his bread" (Isaiah 65:25) - "afar" from the same root as "Ephraim"), and its abundant produce alludes to the Tree of Knowledge2. Only in that place and in an almost identical fashion can its darkness be transformed to light. It is ultimately the tool which we use to undo the damage caused by the serpent…

The serpent succeeded through being "deceptive" (Gen. 3:1) or as the Zohar (Zohar I:36a) puts it, "all its words were false" - where his true intentions were concealed. He was only able to succeed because he also had a certain G‑dly energy and influence - and was therefore, "wiser than all other creatures." The serpent - had it been ignored or defeated - could have become a powerful force of holiness in the world. Since Adam and Eve failed the test, it is up to the subsequent generations to achieve this rectification.

There is a level of "deception" which is called "concealed chochma". ("Vayomer Lo Elokim," Vayishlach, 5694. Likutei Sichot 1:55-56. See also Zohar III:144a.) It is called "deception," because the world cannot determine its true nature, but it is ultimately the tool which we use to undo the damage caused by the serpent.

Since the epic struggle to combat darkness draws from this "concealed chochma," it often comes in a manner which seems foreign to us. A superficial glance will only see that the cover of the jar is being twisted; it takes Kabbalah to reveal to us how it's being twisted in precisely the opposite direction.

This has implications for our daily lives, in that our entire existence in this world is really a form of "deception." The soul comes from the spiritual realms of existence where the Infinite Light shines strongly. It descends into a physical body to live its life in a physical world where the presence of G‑d and the purpose of existence are concealed. Because of this concealment, the physical universe is called in mystical literature, "the world of falsehood" ("alma d'shikra"). In order to fulfill the purpose of our creation, we must in turn, "deceive" the world by using its physicality for spiritual purposes. The Torah demands that we be honest, but by being "honestly" materialistic, we would fall into the deceptive trap of concealment and spiritual darkness. To this extent the Torah directs us towards one particular sort of "deception" - the kind that enables us to be spiritual within the physical world.

Our forefathers had the job of preparing the world and the Jewish people for this historic struggle. Their lives foreshadowed what would happen in the future. (Ramban, Gen. 12:6) Even more so, their actions actually forged the path which pulled their descendants to follow them. (ibid.) They were considered a "Chariot" (Zohar III, 28b, 217a), i.e. a pure vehicle for the most sublime heavenly revelations. Everything they did reflected the deeper truths guiding things from Above. Sometimes this is difficult for us to see, but in the bright light of Kabbalah and Chasidut we can discern at least a glimpse into their motives. And in this light, not only do their acts not seem so puzzling; we can often not understand how they could have considered acting any other way.

See also Shabbat 121b, that a snake was killed because, "it met someone just like him." In addition, a transgression cannot be fully undone unless one encounters the identical set of circumstances, and comes through unscathed (Yoma 86b. Maimonides, Laws of Repentance, 2:1.).
Likutei Levi Yitchak on Zohar, vol. 2, p. 225. "Efrayim" mentioned here is the same city mentioned in Chronicles II, 13:19 (see Tosafot, Menachot, 83b). There it is pronounced "Efrayin," but it written "Efron," which has the same numerical value.
Rabbi Berel Bell is a well-known educator, author and lecturer. He and his family reside in Montreal, Canada.
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Discussion (8)
September 28, 2015
August 26, 2014
revelaed for last generation
very precisely written, for me it´s real understanding, but this revealing set me to fear about future things. could it be false end of the world = end of the dark, uncouscious things or reality?
Kosice, SK
April 28, 2014
"Deception" might symbolize the fact that our level of reality, is only zillions of whirling electrons, of which everything material is made.So a tree is "false", its not at deep reality a tree, just many whirling electrons. I wonder if the modern, clever scientists will finally analyze and reveal the basic structure of matter itself, & even find where out "soul "goes,once it sheds its decaying particles,and is pulled into the dimension of death; where we all go. I read the Chabad believe technology,science and the spiritual will one day merge to reveal the truth together. ---Because they are one.They both want the deepest truth.
Eugene OR 97404
March 21, 2014
Astonishing Read!
True that we need deeper understanding and to explore the potentials for Spirituality.
Melbourne, Australia
January 13, 2014
I love to read this. It's facinating
Paul van Beek
Lakeland, Florida
May 11, 2012
You have to be on a very special level to learn Kabalah. Not everyone can. So, this doesn't make sense!! I would love to learn it. But, I'm not a huge tzadik yet!!
December 8, 2009
Thank You
It is imperitive that I learn all of these holy teachings. This web site is very informative and I thank you.
Charlotte, NC
December 5, 2009 i get it!!
Rabbi Bell,
Thank you for outlining compelling, beautiful and insightful examples which reveal how essential Kabbalah is to understanding and living Hashem's Torah!

Your explanation of the use, indeed necessity, of trickery by our Patriarchs is liberating for this aspiring chossid. Lying and deception seemed so incongruous with the righteousness of our Fathers.

The jar analogy is very useful.

I don't yet fully understand "world of falsehood", "material honesty," and Torah's guidance to that sort of deception which enables us to be spiritual here in the material world. I am faithful that study of Torah, Zohar and Tanya will clarify this truth.
Salt Lake City, UT

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