Ask the Kabbalist
Questions answered by Kabbalist Rav Michael Laitman, PhD, on his weekly live TV show, Ask the Kabbalist
Q: I’ve been studying Kabbalah by myself for about fifteen years now, and I’ve memorized entire pages from The Book of Zohar and from the writings of the Ari. I recently heard you say that one can only study Kabbalah from a teacher who is a Kabbalist. How does that reflect on how I, and others like me, have been studying Kabbalah?
A: The wisdom of Kabbalah (the wisdom of reception) is called by this name because it is given from teacher to student and from generation to generation. Kabbalah books speak of a higher world, a spiritual one, completely separated from the world we see and feel.
To begin to sense and understand what Kabbalah books are saying, one needs months of guidance and study from a Kabbalist who has traversed the spiritual path and has discovered that higher world. Only a genuine Kabbalist can explain the true meaning of Kabbalah texts to another person, since spirituality is beyond such terms as time, place, and motion.
Kabbalists have created a language to communicate with one another, an encoded language they call “the language of the branches.” Using this language, they exchange experiences and information, and describe their spiritual attainments in their books. To accomplish that, they apply mundane words to describe spiritual states and processes.
For example, when Kabbalists write the term “animal,” they are not referring to a physical animal but rather describe a certain spiritual root in a higher world, designated by the word “animal.” Therefore, any person who wishes to “decode” this language needs a Kabbalist teacher to decipher it and admit the student into the meaning behind the words.
Reading the books without proper guidance can only produce superficial understanding; that is, the reader will understand matters according to his or her familiarity with the terms as they are in our world. In that state, instead of feeling and perceiving the spiritual world described by the Kabbalists, the reader will see nothing but the corporeal world and will think that this is what the books portray.
Baal HaSulam wrote about this in The Study of the Ten Sefirot (Part One):
“Indeed, those whose eyes have not been opened to the sights of heaven, and have not acquired the proficiency in the connections of the branches of this world with their roots in the Upper Worlds, are like the blind scraping the walls. They will not understand the true meaning of even a single word, for each word is a branch that relates to its root.
“Only if they receive an interpretation from a genuine sage who makes himself available to explain it in the spoken language, which is necessarily like translating from one language to another, meaning from the language of the branches to the spoken language, only then will he be able to explain the spiritual term as it is.”
Q: On one of your shows, I heard that the soul of a human being does not reincarnate in the body of an animal. However, in Sha’ar HaGilgulim (Gate to Reincarnations) by the Ari, I read that a soul can indeed reincarnate as an animal, plant, or even a stone. There is an obvious contradiction here.
A: Thank you for this question; it taps into a mistake that is very commonly made these days. As we’ve explained, the wisdom of Kabbalah engages only in spiritual forces, not in worldly, earthly matters. Therefore, when Kabbalists use such terms as “rocks,” “animals” and so on, they do that only to describe spiritual states that the soul experiences.
But to thoroughly understand the topic of reincarnation, we must understand the term, “soul.” A soul is a spiritual tool of perception; it is considered “a part of Godliness from Above.” When one is awarded with the spiritual perception tool called “soul,” it is a radical change called “the crossing of the barrier,” which separates our world from the Higher World. This is when one begins to feel spirituality.
Thus, clearly, the soul has no connection to our physical body. This is also the reason we can transplant organs and donate blood without affecting our spiritual essence.
Many books, such as the Ari’s Sha’ar HaGilgulim, mention terms like “still,” “vegetative,” “animate” or “speaking.” However, these terms relate only to the interior of one’s soul, and describe its various evolutionary degrees.
When Kabbalists use the term Gilgul (incarnation), they are referring to a change of degree that the soul experiences along its evolutionary spiritual process. They are not referring to anything else. Therefore, when they describe how one’s soul reincarnates as a stone, they want to teach the reader that the soul passes from one spiritual level to another, and that this particular new level is called “stone.”
My teacher, Rabbi Baruch Shalom HaLevi Ashlag (the Rabash) wrote about it in the name of his father, Baal HaSulam, in the book Shamati (I Heard): “And you might say that… sometimes one comes incarnated as a pig. We should interpret that, as he says, that one receives a desire and craving to take liveliness from things he had already determined were litter, but now he wants to receive nourishment from them.”
You can find much more about this in the article, “The Essence of the Wisdom of Kabbalah,” as well as in the book, The Study of the Ten Sefirot, “Inner Reflection,” Part One.
Q: For several years now, I have been practicing Kabbalistic meditation. I took some courses on the subject and I’m using a book by Rabbi Chaim Vital for this purpose. But lately, I’ve been reading in your paper that there is no such term as “Kabbalistic meditation.” How is this possible if Rabbi Vital writes specifically about that term?
A: First, note that no such term as “meditation” or anything like it appears in even a single authentic Kabbalah book. Additionally, the act that all kinds of courses and study groups call “Kabbalist meditation” doesn’t exist in Kabbalah. All the writings of Kabbalah, including those of the Ari—which were written by Rabbi Chaim Vital—explain one simple thing: the whole of Creation is made of a desire to enjoy. That desire can only be in one of two states: corrupted—with an intention to receive for itself, or corrected—with an intention to give, to love others.
Q: What does this have to do with Kabbalistic meditation?
A: In the process of the correction of the soul, a Kabbalist uses a method called “three lines.” This method is built on a simple procedure: first, the Kabbalist “takes” part of the corrupted (egoistic) desire, called “the left line” and subsequently corrects it, using the force of the spiritual Light, called “the right line.” In doing so, the Kabbalist builds a “middle line” within the soul, and thus advances in spirituality.
Because this work concerns changing one’s intention from reception to bestowal, it is called “work in intention” or “intention work.” One who is not proficient in the wisdom of Kabbalah misinterprets the term “work in intention” and attaches it to terms that are completely foreign to Kabbalah, such as meditation.
Q: What about meditating on certain letters?
A: The Hebrew letters originated in the world Atzilut. A Kabbalist who attains the world Atzilut describes the forces within it in the form of letters. It is impossible to achieve any kind of spiritual sensation by picturing the structure of the letter Aleph in one’s mind. A Kabbalist perceives the spiritual structure that the letter expresses, the spiritual root to which it points. However, to feel it one must first attain the spiritual degree of the world Atzilut.
I teach Kabbalah as I received it from my teacher, Rabbi Baruch Ashlag (the Rabash), the firstborn son and successor of Baal HaSulam. I studied with him from 1979 to his passing in 1991. I was his student and his personal assistant, and I never once heard him mention anything remotely similar to meditation.