Time to Act
He knew that the clock was ticking, he whispered in ben gurion’s ear the way to establish a real independent state, he made every effort to spread the wisdom of Kabbalah. This is the life story of possibly the greatest of all Kabbalists – rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, also known as “Baal HaSulam”
One windy winter eve in Poland in 1921, Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag returned home even more withdrawn than usual. He put his haversack at the corner of the room and sat thoughtfully on the sofa. He did not utter a word. After a long silence, he informed his family: “We are standing on the verge of a new era. I can no longer stay in Poland. It is time to make Aliyah (immigrate) to Israel…”
Baal HaSulam was one of the greatest Kabbalists of all time. He was a unique soul that came into this world to bring us the wisdom of Kabbalah, and to move us closer to a life of happiness, peace, and unity.
“I have a great desire to break an iron wall that has been separating us from the wisdom of Kabbalah,” Baal HaSulam wrote. Indeed, he was the first Kabbalist to interpret the entire Book of Zohar and the writings of the Ari, and to make the ancient wisdom of Kabbalah accessible to every single person. He was also the first to publish a Kabbalistic paper and disseminate it among the people. His heart ached with concern for the future of the people of Israel and the world at large, a concern that controlled his every move.
Struggling to Make Aliyah
That day in 1921 was not the first time Baal HaSulam had expressed his desire to immigrate to Israel. A few years earlier, he had tried to arrange Aliyah for a group of one hundred families and to establish a new settlement in Israel. “Dark clouds are looming in the skies of Europe,” he proclaimed to anyone who would listen. “The clock is ticking, and time is of the essence.”
The group had already ordered homes to be shipped from Sweden and was getting ready to make Aliyah, when the Warsaw rabbis found out about the plan. Concerned about the influence of secularity in Israel, the rabbis forbade the group to leave. Instead, by strongly pressuring the group members to remain, they eventually caused it to disperse.
Baal HaSulam, who organized the group, was ostracized, humiliated by the city rabbis, and relieved of his office as a rabbi. Yet, he did not give up, but continued to pursue his efforts. Shortly afterwards, and penniless, Rabbi Ashlag made Aliyah with his family and settled in Jerusalem.
Rekindling the Love
It was the end of the forties, at the home of David Ben-Gurion at 17 KKL St. in Tel Aviv. At eight o’clock in the evening; the Director of The People’s Administration seemed fascinated as he listened to the man sitting in front of him… If we get close enough we will hear fragments of words: “David,” says the man passionately, “we can build an independent and happy state here, if we only knew how to rekindle the natural love, latent within us…”
He continues, “We must make sure that when the state is established here, its citizens will care for each other. Only in this way will we have a natural and secure basis on which to build and continue our existence as a nation…”
“Many times,” says David Ben-Gurion, “I met with Baal HaSulam to discuss Kabbalah and the future of the nation.”
Why did Ben-Gurion meet with Baal HaSulam on so many occasions? What did Baal HaSulam tell him and why was Ben-Gurion so intrigued by what he had to say?
Baal HaSulam knew the essence and uniqueness of his people. He knew that the people of Israel could only survive on the basis of the spiritual law of love of man. In his discussions with Ben-Gurion, he emphasized time and again: “To succeed in our mutual mission and build a united community here,” he said, “we must evoke within us the spark of love for our fellow men. Otherwise, sooner or later we will not find common ground.”
However, Ben-Gurion was not the only one. Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag met with all the leaders of the nation of that time, including Moshe Sharet, Zalman Shazar, Moshe Aram, and Chaim Arlozorov. Oblivious to differences in mentality and appearance, Baal HaSulam’s sole concern was for the future of the people of Israel.
Kabbalah for the People
“I am happy to have been born in such a generation, when it is already permitted to publicize the wisdom of truth”
Baal HaSulam, “The Wisdom of Kabbalah and Its Essence”
Baal HaSulam did not settle for meetings with the leaders of the nation. Soon after his arrival in Israel, he dedicated all his time to teaching and spreading the method for achieving love of man. In 1933, he decided to publish a series of articles intended to pave the way to true unification of the people.
“Time to Act” was his first article, and its title testifies to Baal HaSulam’s resolute intention to make the wisdom of Kabbalah suitable to our generation. Until his time, Kabbalah had been securely hidden; however, all that was about to change.
Humanity needed the wisdom of Kabbalah, and Baal HaSulam was determined to introduce it to the world. As a major part of his dissemination efforts, Baal HaSulam interpreted the writings of the Ari and published his commentaries in a momentous six-volume composition, Talmud Eser Sefirot (The Study of the Ten Sefirot).
In his introduction to the book, Baal HaSulam wrote that it was intended to enable every person to answer the question, “What is the meaning of my life?”
“Only through the dissemination of the wisdom of Kabbalah to the masses will we merit complete redemption,” asserts Baal HaSulam unequivocally. “And since that is the case, we are obligated to establish schools and write books in order to accelerate the circulation of the wisdom throughout the nation.”
A Paper Written In Love
On June 5, 1940, Baal HaSulam decided to take a revolutionary step: he gathered the core ideas of the wisdom of Kabbalah, rewrote them in simple terms and published them in the first Kabbalistic paper in history, HaUma (The Nation). In the paper, Baal HaSulam addressed the nation with a single message: We must unite!
Unfortunately, those who opposed the dissemination of Kabbalah turned to the British Mandate authorities and spread rumors to make them shut down the paper. Thus, after only one issue, the first paper that tried to spread unity, bonding, and love of man was discontinued.
Yet, Baal HaSulam was not deterred by these attempts to stop him from sharing the wisdom of Kabbalah. He was determined to do all he could to disseminate the wisdom, and began to write his life’s work, The Sulam (Ladder) Commentary on The Book of Zohar.
A Ladder to the Sky
The scene is Tel Aviv, in a rickety building, almost a ruin. Baal HaSulam is already in his late sixties. For many long hours he stands bent over an old printing press and organizes the letters with what little strength remains in him. The lead in the letters has already harmed his health, but he does not despair. On the contrary, his face is luminous. “I must finish the work” he thinks, “because the destiny of the entire world is at stake…” He straightens up, takes a deep breath and continues his work…
Baal HaSulam summoned what little strength he had had left to get out of his sickbed, ignoring his doctor’s orders to rest, and carried on writing. He worked eighteen hours a day. When he fell asleep, his wife would pull at his fingers to remove the pencil from his clenched, arthritic hand.
Since he could not afford to hire a typesetter, Baal HaSulam did the typesetting himself. He would set each letter in its place, preparing The Book of Zohar for print.
Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag completed his role. He left us with The Sulam Commentary on The Book of Zohar, and The Study of Ten Sefirot—a comprehensive commentary on the writings of the Ari. He paved the way for our happiness, wholeness, and eternity. All we need to do is follow it and climb the spiritual ladder he had set for us, “a ladder set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven” (Genesis 28:12).