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Introduction to the Zohar, Lesson 1, Parshas Bo, 5765, Jan. ‘05

By our Honorable and Holy Master, Teacher and Rebbi, Rabbi Avraham Brandwein, Of Yerushalayim, Israel, may he live long and happily, Amen.


With the help of Hashem, may He be blessed, we now begin to learn the “Introduction to the Sefer HaZohar (Book of the Zohar).” This introduction was written by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi Ashlag, may the remembrance of the Tzaddik be for a blessing. He authored his commentary, called the Sulam (Ladder), which explains the words of the Zohar. The uniqueness of this commentary is that, over thousands of years, the Sefer HaZohar was like a sealed book, not understandable to the broad public. Only special individuals were capable of understanding it. Now, specifically in our generation we have merited that Rabbi Ashlag explained the Sefer, so each person can be able to deeply think about it and understand the inner meaning of the words.

To this Sefer, he also authored a very long introduction. In this introduction, he essentially explains to us all things significant, the meaning of life and the inner meaning, which is all of man’s existence in this world, what is his role and what is his mission. Therefore, many questions, which stand in the heights of the world, he explains in this introduction.

Now, why were these words specifically written in this form, as an introduction to the Sefer HaZohar? This is because it is necessary to understand that the Torah is divided into two parts. One part of the Torah is called the part of the Revealed Torah (Nigleh, Exoteric), which is practical matters which a person needs to do in action, for example, which foods are permissible to eat and which are forbidden to eat, the laws of Shabbos, the laws of Holidays, Halachos (practical laws), what is permissible and what is forbidden, also the laws of Davening (prayer), the laws dealing with financial matters, or the laws dealing with issues between people, the laws of matrimony, like marriage and divorce, etc. All of this part of the Torah is called the Revealed Part, which means that this part is revealed to everyone.

The explanation of the matter is that everyone understands when we say, for example, it is forbidden to eat a certain animal, since it does not have the signs of being Kosher. Everyone, both children and adults, recognize the animal, and know what is kosher and what is not kosher. This is considered the Revealed part of the Torah.

The hidden part of the Torah (Nistar, Esoteric) is the inner part of the Torah. Therein is more greatly brought the inner intentions and inner meanings of the mission of man, and also the role of Torah and Mitzvos, to what a person should aspire, why we are specifically commanded with these Mitzvos, and what is the inner reason for each Mitzvah.

Just as the Torah is divided into two parts, the revealed part and the hidden part, likewise, the essence of man is also essentially divided into two. There is the body of the man; the body is the external part, which everyone can see. Everyone sees the face of another person, the body, i.e. the physical body, that he is flesh, bones, skin, etc., visible to the eye. This is the revealed part. But this body has no need for life in its ability to move to help fulfill the inner soul, the spiritual soul.

Essentially, the spiritual soul is the Hidden part, as is understood. One cannot be sustained without the other. The body without the inner soul is not sustainable. Therefore, when a person dies, the meaning of the matter is that the spiritual soul, which essentially is the force behind the person’s abilities and faculties, is withdrawn from them. Therefore, they remain like a dead body.

The inner soul is the Hidden part within it. Essentially, the main part is the inner part, the inner soul. So too with Torah, the Revealed Part is like the part which is the body, and the inner part is the part like the inner soul. This refers to the spiritual reasons, the fragrance of Divine wisdom, which is found on the inside; it is hidden in the Torah. A person must aspire to reach it, to understand it, to study it, in order to ascend in a spiritual form.

Now, both the body and the soul have food i.e. sustenance. Just as the sustenance of the body cannot be sustained, in order to continue its life, if one does not provide for the body the needs of food and drink, likewise with the soul, for it to be nourished and sustained, it is obligatory to nourish it with spiritual things. Now, the difference between the food of the body and the food of the soul: The foods of the body are from things that are lower than it. This means that a human eats from plants, animals and from the inanimate. They drink water, the level of the inanimate. These are things, which are lower than man. Man is above the inanimate, the plants and the animals. Why is he nourished from things beneath him? This is because the body only needs to sustain itself. Therefore, it can be sustained with things beneath it. But, the soul, which is its source, its source in the spiritual, the soul, the part of the Divine, a part of G-dliness from above, it requires the food of the Divine wisdom and the Mitzvos, which were given from G-d, the Holy One Blessed Be He. Through the Torah and the Mitzvos, through these foods, the soul ascends higher and higher, and each time develops more and more. This is the inner part.

Now, according to this, we can understand that the Sefer HaZohar is a Sefer that essentially deals with the development of the soul, to develop the spiritual soul, to develop it and to grow it, until it comes to attach itself in its return to its place, which is the Divine root. These are opening words in brief about the nature of this Sefer.

Now, the author, Rabbi Ashlag, begins here with a list of questions. However, before we begin studying the questions, which he writes, we need to first introduce here an important matter regarding the nature of questions. Questions can be divided into two categories, two layers. This means, let us take for example a person who sits idle and thinks all kinds of thoughts. They think in their head all types of ideas about the manner of the world, activities of the world, nature, forces of nature. Thereby they are busied with all types of questions, which they search for answers and interpretations to them. These are questions, which flow from the brain. Also from such philosophical thought, which they investigate in their mind and intellect, they are also able to come to answer the questions with all types of interpretations that their mind creates. Based upon what one thinks, so too they will say about these questions.

On the other side, there are questions, which come from another layer, from another place. These are the questions, which trouble a person, from the trials and experiences of life. Through the test of life, for example, during their life, a person hopes for things to be well and orderly, and feels, for example, that they are good to other people. They are generous and have a good heart, yet suffer afflictions and Heaven forbid, suffering, which they feel they are not deserving of. They see others, people less good than they, perhaps even evil, yet the evildoers live lives of peace, lives of pleasure, they lack nothing, as it says in Tehillim (Psalms) “Behold these evildoers who have it peaceful in the world, they have attained strength!” Therefore, it is understandably a very hard question. It is very difficult to give an answer to this question.

Such questions are called questions, which come from the heart, i.e. from practical experience in the midst of hopes in life. For these questions, their answers also cannot come from the brain, from the intellect, but the answers must also be given from the experience of life. We only have the intellectual answers to questions that are produced from thought. These questions from life’s experiences require an answer and interpretation, which is given from the experiences of life. This is the difference between the questions and answers, which come from the brain, and those, which come from the heart, through experiences of life.

Now, what is the practical difference? What is the practical significance, which impacts us in this Sefer? There is a very important practical significance here. A question and answer, which come from the brain and through philosophical thought, is a one-time question. This means there is a question and its answer; there is no need to delve into it. This is not the case with a question and answer, which comes from the experience of life. Each time it is renewed. Even if we have an answer, due to the experiences of life, it reawakens each time as more and more questions. Therefore, it is impossible for a one-time answer to answer the question.

This is one of the most important principles to know, towards what we will learn as we continue. From here, the questions of Rabbi Ashlag, may the remembrance of the Tzaddik be for a blessing, come only from questions which arise from experiences of life, not philosophical speculation. There is another result of studying these questions in that they tell us how to live life, since these questions come from the experiences of life. After this introduction, we will continue onward in also what is written.


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