The Rambam (Maimonides) wrote that when the whole of humanity was deep in idol worship, one man could not go with the flow. His name was Abraham. He pondered and searched until he found the truth: that the world has only one leader. When he discovered this, he realized he had discovered life’s eternal truth and ran to tell the world. Since then, the world has had a method that reveals this truth. Today this method has a different name—“Kabbalah”—but it is essentially the same. If we open our hearts to it, it will teach us why things happen, and how to make them happen better.
In Chapter One of The Mighty Hand, The Rambam (Maimonides) describes how there was a time when people knew that there was only one force governing the world. He explained that once they all forgot it, no one knew this truth, and people believed that there were many forces in the world, each with their own responsibilities—for food, reproduction, wealth, health, etc. But one man just couldn’t grasp how all these forces followed the same cycle and obeyed the same rules of appearance and disappearance, life and death. Through his research of nature, this man, whom we now know as Abraham, discovered that there was really only one force, and all other things are partial manifestations of it.
Once he discovered this, he began to spread the word. Challenged by having to explain a concept that contradicted everything his contemporaries believed, Abraham was forced to develop a teaching method that would help him reveal it to them. This was the prototype of the teaching method we now call “Kabbalah” (from the Hebrew word Lekabel, to receive). Today, Kabbalah teaches us how to discover the single guiding force, and by doing so, receive infinite joy and pleasure.
But Abraham's discovery was no coincidence; it was perfectly timed to counter an outbreak of egoism and selfishness that threatened to destroy the state of love and unity that humanity had been living in up to that point. This is what the Bible means by the words, “And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech” (Genesis 11:1).
Unity, or altruism, is a powerful force—it can make its users invincible. Up to the time of the Tower of Babel, this was the natural way of life. Everyone knew about the one force and were united with it. People experienced it as part of their lives, and didn’t need to work on their unity because they had no egoism separating them. This is what the Bible means by “one language” and “one speech.”
But as soon as they began to develop egoism, they wanted to use their most powerful tool—unity—for their own benefit. This prompted the Creator’s concern: “The Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. …and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them’” (Genesis 11:6).
To save humanity from its own egoism, the Creator, the single force discovered by Abraham, could do one of two things: disperse humanity and thus prevent a catastrophic clash of self-interest, or teach people how to overcome their egoism.
The latter option had an important benefit: by learning how to unite despite their growing egoism, people would gain deeper awareness of both themselves and their Creator. They would have to study the Creator because their present level of unity had collapsed under their new egoism. Therefore, they would have to obtain a greater “portion” of bonding straight from the source—the united force of nature, or the Creator. And to do that, they would have to enhance their knowledge of Him.
This is why the Creator revealed Himself to Abraham. This is also why Abraham was such an enthusiastic disseminator of his method. He knew that time was of the essence: either he taught his people how to unite, or they would be dispersed.
As we learn from both the Bible and the ancient Hebrew text, Midrash Raba, Parasha 38, the Babylonians spurned Abraham's offer. He then fled from Babylon and began to teach while roaming “from town to town and from kingdom to kingdom, until he arrived at the Land of Israel” (Maimonides, The Mighty Hand, Idolatry Rules, Chapter 1).
Despite many hardships and challenges, Abraham’s teachings gained some support, and those who supported him helped him share the knowledge with others, filling the ranks with “new recruits.” In time, one lone fighter for truth had grown into a nation whose name symbolizes the one thing they had in common: “the nation of Israel.” Israel, as the great Kabbalist Ramchal explains in his Commentary on the Writings, is a combination of two words: Yashar (straight) and El (God). The people of Israel are those who have one desire in their hearts: to be like the Creator, united by altruism, as opposed to their Babylonian contemporaries.
The collapse of the Tower of Babel was not, however, the end of the story, but only the beginning. Humanity’s egoism continued to grow because the Creator still wanted people to overcome it, and thus gain a deeper awareness of themselves and the Creator. For those who wanted to remain egoists, this would mean even greater alienation. New nations formed and new technologies created new weapons. These were intended to guard nations from each other or to subjugate them. But for those who wanted to overcome their egoism and unite despite it, an upgrade of their method was necessary.
This was Moses’ cue. As in the case of Babel, the solution to the intensifying egoism was to escape it. But Pharaoh wasn’t simply an evil king. He actually brought Israel (those who want the Creator) closer to the Creator. In Kabbalah, Pharaoh is the epitome of egoism, and the only way to escape him is to unite since, as we’ve seen before, unity makes you invincible because it makes you closer to the Creator. To defeat Pharaoh, Moses returned to Egypt after his escape, united the people around the same idea that Abraham promoted many years previously, and once again helped the people to escape.
But this time, Israel defeated a much more powerful egoism. Pharaoh was not like Nimrod, King of Babel; he could not be defeated by one determined man. Defeating Pharaoh would require a whole, united nation to overcome him. And because this would require a systematic teaching for a whole nation, Moses wrote five new books (The Pentateuch), which are basically an adaptation of Abraham’s teachings for an entire nation.
But this did not complete the Creator’s will. He wanted the whole world to know that there was only one force; this is why he taught it to Abraham, who then brought it to his fellow Babylonians. While Moses’ Torah was a big step forward, since it elevated a whole nation into contact with the Creator, it was not the end of the road. The end of the road will only come when the whole world is in touch with the Creator, experiencing the unity that the ancient Babylonians did, before the first outbreak of egoism. Put differently, the end of the road will arrive when all of humanity reclaims what it once had, and then lost. This reclamation is very important, since you can only reclaim something when you know what it is. This is indeed the goal of creation: to teach us who/what the Creator is, and to have us reclaim Him/It.
The “present” started about two thousand years ago, when The Book of Zohar was written and then concealed, and Israel went into its last exile. Just like Abraham and Moses in the “past” stage, the “present” stage had two giants of its own: Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai (Rashbi) and The Holy Ari (Rabbi Isaac Luria). Rashbi’s Book of Zohar is, as the book itself states, a commentary on the Torah. Just as Moses explained Abraham's words to the entire nation, The Book of Zohar is intended to explain Moses’ words to the entire world. This is why it is written in so many places that The Book of Zohar is destined to appear in the time of the Messiah, at the “end of days.” This is also why Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, the great twentieth-century Kabbalist, wrote that the rediscovery of The Book of Zohar is proof that the days of the Messiah are here.
As always, the only antidote to intensifying egoism is unity. And the greater the egoism, the more important it is for people to unite. While, at first, uniting Abraham's family was enough, when Moses fled from Egypt, he then had to unite a whole nation in order to succeed. Today, we need to unite the whole of humanity. Egoism has reached such an intensity that without uniting the whole of humankind, there will be no salvation for humanity.
The middle stage in the process of humanity’s recognition of the Creator was very different from the first. It was a time of subtle growth, when the tool to unite humanity—the wisdom of Kabbalah—was being refined and improved in dimly lit rooms and in small, inconspicuous groups. This is why the two most significant works of that period, Rashbi’s Zohar and the Ari’s Tree of Life, were hidden as soon as they had been completed. They resurfaced many years later, and in the case of The Zohar, even centuries later.
The “future” started in the 1990s. In 1945, Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, also known as Baal HaSulam (Owner of the Ladder) for his authoritative Sulam (Ladder) commentary on The Book of Zohar, predicted that the last stage in the spiritual evolution of humanity would begin in 1995. Similarly, the Vilna Gaon (GRA) wrote in his book, The Voice of the Turtledove, that this stage would begin in 1990. Many other Kabbalists made similar predictions, leading to the conclusion that the future is already here, and now is the time to finally defeat egoism and unite as one.
Humanity’s entire history consists of battles against egoism and attempts to unite despite it. Today, most scientists agree that man’s self-centeredness and misunderstanding of nature’s rules are the causes of all that is wrong with our world. Baal HaSulam wrote about it in the 1930s and 40s, but in those days, he was a voice in the wilderness. In recent years it has become evident that without changing ourselves, the world will not change for the better. In fact, we are ruining our planet and our society in so many ways that solving the problems separately will not be possible. To solve our problems, we need an inclusive solution, and such a solution can only be found when we transform human egoism into altruism.
In his article, “Peace in the World,” Baal HaSulam writes that if we unite, every single member of humankind will personally experience the Creator in the deepest sense of the word, for it is written that, “they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them” (Jeremiah 31:33). The wisdom of Kabbalah has been prepared as a method that can do just that: unite, and experience the Creator. In his “Introduction to the Book of Zohar,” Baal HaSulam wrote that if we integrate Kabbalah in our day-to-day lives, we will complete the goal of our creation, and we will be “of one language and of one speech” and at one with the Creator, never to part again.