In this first extract from his article, Baal HaSulam explains the importance of studying the wisdom of Kabbalah; that those who keep Torah and mitzvot (precepts) correctly are the ones who taste the taste of life; that a life without Torah and mitzvot is harder than death; that the Creator is the One who puts us on the good path, but it's one's choice to do the 'strengthening' and make great effort and exertion before one purifies one’s body to be able to keep the Torah and Mitzvot correctly, which is not for his own pleasure, but to bring contentment to his Maker, which is called Lishma (for Her Name). Baal HaSulam also explains how to keep Torah and Mitzvot correctly, which he says is "impossible to achieve except through great labor and exertion in purifying the body", and first there is the path of Torah, meaning the extensive preparation one must make to prepare the purification of his body and in that state one necessarily engages in Torah and Mitzvot Lo Lishma (Not for Her Name), which is mixed with self-gratification and not yet purified from the will to receive pleasures of this world. Thus he must lead a sorrowful life and labor in the Torah. After one completes the path of Torah, he has already purified his body, and is now ready to keep the Torah and the Mitzvot Lishma, to bring contentment to his Maker. When one acquires this, Rav Ashlag says what rewards and tasting the happy life, goodness and delight will be given to him, and rewarded with keeping Torah and Mitzvot Lishma, purely to bring contentment to his Maker. Rav Ashlag further explains that this is the difference between this wisdom and other teachings, that engagement in Torah and Mitzvot actually benefits life in this world, which is the intention of Creation, and all the more so in the next world.
Introduction To The Study Of The Ten Sefirot
1) At the outset of my words, I find a great need to break an iron wall that has been separating us from the wisdom of Kabbalah, since the ruin of the Temple to this generation. It lies heavily on us and arouses fear of being forgotten from Israel.
However, when I begin to speak to anyone about this study, his first question is, “Why should I know how many angels are in the sky and what their names are? Can I not keep the whole Torah in all its details and intricacies without this knowledge?”
Second, he will ask, “The sages have already determined that one must first fill one’s belly with Mishnah and Gemarah. Thus, how can one deceive himself that he has already completed the whole of the revealed Torah, and lacks only the wisdom of the hidden?”
Third, he is afraid that he will turn sour because of this engagement. This is because there have already been incidents of deviation from the path of Torah because of engagement in Kabbalah. Hence, “Why do I need this trouble? Who is so foolish as to place himself in danger for no reason?”
Fourth: Even those who favor this study permit it only to holy ones, servants of the Creator. And not all who wish to take the Lord may come and take.
Fifth, and most importantly, “There is a conduct in our midst that, when in doubt, keep this: Do as the people do,” and my eyes see that all those who study Torah in my generation are of one mind, and refrain from studying the hidden. Moreover, they advise those who ask them that it is undoubtedly preferable to study a page of Gemarah instead of this engagement.
3) Indeed, it is to resolve this great riddle that the verse writes, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Those who keep the Torah and Mitzvot correctly are the ones who taste the taste of life. They are the ones who see and testify that the Lord is good, as our sages say, that He created the worlds to do good to His creations, since it is the conduct of The Good to do good.
Yet, those who have not yet tasted the taste of life in keeping Torah and Mitzvot, cannot feel and understand that the Lord is good, as our sages say, that when the Creator created us, His sole purpose was to benefit us. Hence, we have no other counsel but to keep the Torah and Mitzvot correctly.
It is written in the Torah (Parashat Nitzavim): “See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil.” This means that prior to the giving of the Torah, we had only death and evil before us, as our sages say, “The wicked, in their lives, are called ‘dead.’” This is because their death is better than their lives, as the pain and suffering they endure for their sustenance is many times greater than the little pleasure they feel in this life.
However, now we have been granted Torah and Mitzvot, and by keeping it we are rewarded with the real life, joyful and delightful to its owner, as it is written, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Hence, the writing says, “See, I have set before thee this day life and good,” which you did not have in reality at all prior to the giving of the Torah.
And the writing ends, “therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed.” There is a seemingly repeated statement here: “choose life, that thou mayest live.” Yet, it is a reference to life in keeping Torah and Mitzvot, which is when there is real life. However, a life without Torah and Mitzvot is harder than death. This is the meaning of the words of our sages, “The wicked, in their lives, are called ‘dead.’”
The writing says, “that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed.” It means that not only is a life without Torah joyless to its owner, but one also cannot delight others. One finds no contentment even in one’s progeny, since the life of his progeny is also harder than death. Hence, what gift does he leave for them?
However, not only does one who lives in Torah and Mitzvot enjoys his own life, but he is even happy to bear children and bequeath them this good life. This is the meaning of, “that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed,” for he receives additional pleasure in the life of his progeny, of which he was the cause.
4) Now you can understand the words of our sages about the verse, “therefore choose life.” It states, “I instruct you to choose the part of life, as one who says to his son: ‘Choose for yourself a good part in my land.’ He places him on the good part and tells him: ‘Choose this for yourself.’” It is written about this, “O Lord, the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup, Thou maintainest my lot. You placed my hand on the good fate, to say, ‘This take for you.’”
The words are seemingly perplexing. The verse says, “therefore choose life.” This means that one makes the choice by himself. However, they say that He places him on the good part. Thus, is there no longer choice here? Moreover, they say that the Creator puts one’s hand on the good fate. This is indeed perplexing, because if so, where then is one’s choice?
Now you can see the true meaning of their words. It is indeed true that the Creator Himself puts one’s hand on the good fate by giving him a life of pleasure and contentment within the corporeal life that is filled with torment and pain, and devoid of any content. One necessarily departs and escapes them when he sees a tranquil place, even if it seemingly appears amidst the cracks. He flees there from this life, which is harder than death. Indeed, there is no greater placement of one’s hand by Him than this.
And one’s choice refers only to the strengthening. This is because there is certainly a great effort and exertion here before one purifies one’s body to be able to keep the Torah and Mitzvot correctly, not for his own pleasure, but to bring contentment to his Maker, which is called Lishma (for Her Name). Only in this manner is one endowed with a life of happiness and pleasantness that come with keeping the Torah.
However, before one comes to that purification there is certainly a choice to strengthen in the good way by all sorts of means and tactics. Also, one should do whatever his hand finds the strength to do until he completes the work of purification and will not fall under his burden midway.
5) According to the above, you will understand the words of our sages in the Masechet Avot: “Thus is the path of Torah: Eat bread with salt, drink little water, sleep on the ground, lead a sorrowful life, and labor in the Torah. If so you do, happy you will be; happy in this world and happy in the next world.”
We must ask about their words: How is the wisdom of Torah different from the other teachings in the world, which do not require this asceticism and sorrowful life, but the labor itself is enough to acquire those teachings? Even though we labor extensively in the Torah, it is still not enough to acquire the wisdom of the Torah, except through the mortification of bread with salt and a sorrowful life.
The end of the words is even more surprising, as they said, “If so you do, happy you will be; happy in this world and happy in the next world.” This is because it is possible that I will be happy in the next world. But in this world, while I torment myself by eating and drinking and sleeping, and lead a sorrowful life, would it be said about such a life, “happy in this world?” Is this the meaning of a happy life in this world?
6) However, it is explained above that engagement in Torah and Mitzvot correctly, in its strict condition, is to bestow contentment to one’s Maker and not for self-gratification. And this is impossible to achieve except through great labor and exertion in purifying the body.
The first tactic is to accustom oneself to not receive anything for one’s pleasure, even the permitted and necessary things for the existence of one’s body, such as eating, drinking, sleeping, and other such necessities. Thus, one will detach oneself completely from any pleasure that comes to him, even in the necessities, in the fulfillment of one’s sustenance, until he leads a sorrowful life in its literal meaning.
And after one becomes accustomed to that, and his body possesses no desire to receive any pleasure for itself, it is now possible for him to engage in the Torah and keep the Mitzvot in that manner, too, in order to bestow contentment upon his Maker and not at all for his own pleasure.
When one acquires that, one is rewarded with tasting the happy life, filled with goodness and delight without any blemish of sorrow, which appear in the practice of Torah and Mitzvot Lishma. It is as Rabbi Meir says (Avot 6), “Anyone who engages in Torah Lishma is granted many things. Moreover, the whole world is rewarding to him, the secrets of Torah are revealed to him, and he becomes as a flowing spring.”
It is about him that the verse says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” One who tastes the flavor of the practice of Torah and Mitzvot Lishma is endowed with seeing the intention of Creation by himself, which it is to do only good to His creations, as it is the conduct of The Good to do good. Then he rejoices and delights in the number of years of life that the Creator has granted him, and the whole world is rewarding for him.
7) Now you will understand the two sides of the coin of engagement in Torah and Mitzvot: On the one hand, it is the path of Torah, meaning the extensive preparation one must make to prepare the purification of his body before he is actually rewarded with keeping Torah and Mitzvot.
In that state, he necessarily engages in Torah and Mitzvot Lo Lishma (not for Her name), but mixed with self-gratification. This is because he has not yet purified and cleansed his body from the will to receive pleasure from the vanities of this world. During this time, one must lead a sorrowful life and labor in the Torah, as it is written in the Mishnah.
However, after one completes the path of Torah, has already purified his body, and is now ready to keep the Torah and the Mitzvot Lishma, to bring contentment to his Maker, he comes to the other side of the coin. This is the life of pleasure and great tranquility, to which the intention of Creation – “to do good to His creations” – refers, meaning the happiest life in this world and in the next world.
This explains the great difference between the wisdom of Torah and the rest of the teachings in the world: Acquiring the other teachings in the world does not benefit life in this world whatsoever. This is because they do not even render mere gratification for the torments and suffering one experiences during life. Hence, one need not correct one’s body, and the labor that he gives in return for them is quite sufficient, as with all other worldly possessions acquired in return for labor and toil.
However, the sole purpose of engagement in Torah and Mitzvot is to make a person worthy of receiving all the goodness in the intention of Creation, “to do good to His creations.” Hence, one must necessarily purify one’s body to merit that Godly goodness.
9) This also thoroughly clarifies the words of the Mishnah: “If so you do, happy you will be in this world.” They made this precision deliberately, to indicate that a happy life in this world is only for those who have completed the path of Torah. Thus, the mortification in eating, drinking, sleeping, and a sorrowful life that are mentioned here apply only while being on the path of Torah. This is why they meticulously stated, “Thus is the path of Torah.”
And when one completes this path of Lo Lishma in sorrowful life and mortification, the Mishnah ends, “…happy are you in this world.” This is because you will be granted that happiness and goodness in the intention of Creation, and the whole world will be rewarding for you, even this world, and all the more so the next world.
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