Translated by: R’ Yaakov Klein

The article that follows is part three of a remarkable essay entitled, “Mesiras Moda’ah.” This work, which is printed in the back of sefer Derech HaMelech, was penned by Rav Kaloynimus Kalmish Shapira zy”a, the Piacezner Rebbe, as an introduction to his commentary on the Zohar HaKadosh, “Reshimos HaZohar”. Aside from this essay and a single discourse, this work was tragically lost during the Holocaust. We hope you enjoy, and please remember to share this important article with family and friends!

The Difference Between Midrash and the Zohar HaKadosh

But let us return to the previous discussion. Chazal intended, in the Midrash, to bring into the Jewish person the Torah together with Her Master, the Master of the world, by way of the keys of the heart and its emotions. They captured the impassioned spirit of holiness of every verse and mitzvah in human terms, granting us – in the process – ears with which to hear their inspiration and the holy visions they saw, to the extent that the heart could understand.

But if Chazal used the Midrash to enclothe the visions of their interpretations and holy energy within human terms to the point that they could be grasped – heard by the ear and understood by the heart, in the Zohar HaKadosh they expressed that inspiration almost naked – as it was. Perhaps this is because the Zohar HaKadosh was taught in deserts and caves, distant from human settlements, and they had utilized their exalted understanding and lofty thoughts to rise to the point that when Rashbi initially exited the cave, he couldn’t understand why people were planting and reaping crops. Or, simply, because the words of the Midrash were intended for people who came to hear Torah – as Rashi comments on the Aggadah of Rebbe Tanchum mentioned above – and they therefore constricted the holy spirit of their inspiration into words that each person would be able to understand in accordance with his circumstances. However, the Zohar HaKadosh records the learning of the Tannaim between themselves. Therefore, there was no need for them to constrict their teachings in constriction after constriction into common terms – it was enough for them to hint in a way that they would understand. Therefore, outside of the Kabbalistic content, even the derush brought in the Zohar HaKadosh is different than the derush of Aggadah in the Gemara, as it transcends human understanding.

The Spirit of the Zohar

The impassioned holy spirit within the Zohar burns with a naked flame. The mind of man cannot surround or limit it. However, it is not only the derush in the Zohar that register as words of the heart – the intellect which sometimes appears in the Zohar, whether related to Kabbalah or otherwise, are also words of the heart and soul. The intellect is ours – to the Tannaim, this, too, was a kind of Ruach HaKodesh and an elevated fire that was revealed to them. This can be compared to someone who is excited about some good news he has received and expresses this excitement to a friend. However, it is only possible to express his joy if his excitement is constricted within the emotions of his heart. When his excitement proliferates and overwhelms him until the point that it overflows the banks of his heart and his senses are nullified to it and permeated with it, at that point he is no longer able to express his excitement in words. He simply begins to dance and scream with a triumphant voice of joy; ‘there are no words, and there is no speech…’ One who sees his friend in this state, if he is wise, will be able to understand a bit of his joy from his hints and movements. Although he uses his intellect to understand it, and sees something before him that he is able to understand, is it this intellectual understanding that causes him to become joyous and to dance himself? Even though his joy is founded upon an expression of his intellect, it is obvious to him that his friend’s trembling and the excitement coursing through his limbs is not simply an intellectual matter.

The same holds true for the intellectual portions of the Zohar and the Kabbalistic matters discussed within.

The Tannaim of whose teachings the Zohar HaKadosh is composed distanced themselves from the entire world. Not only did they distance themselves – they elevated themselves from the entire world, ultimately reaching a place to which all the ideas and conceptions of Man – his yearnings, and ambitions – do not reach, a place where the meaning imposed upon the world by Man ceases to exist. They arrived at a place of purity and cleanliness, unity and homogony. They perceived the infinity of the Infinite One, the endlessness of the Endless One. For it isn’t enough for a person to simply say the words “Ein Sof” with his mouth, and he does not fulfil the obligation of his mind and attainments to simply say “physical conceptions are inapplicable to Him”, amidst numbness of the heart and darkness of the mind. For to know that Hashem is the Infinite One is to recognize this infinity. A ray of Hashem’s Glory stretched out upon them and they proceeded in its light, onward and upward, step after step. They had already been absolutely nullified; no residue of ego or separateness remained. Indeed, they were nullified and unified like a sunray to the surface of the sun, like a flame before a torch. But even there, in this place of flaming holiness, they did not perceive His greatness and did not see His traits. Together with the angles, they expressed their bewilderment and asked, “Where is the place of His Glory?” And with great yearning, with an unbearable thirst, their very limbs burning up with desire, ‘like a deer yearns by the water banks’, their souls pined – “May the glory of Your Kingship be revealed upon us.” But ‘great is our Lord’, and ‘there is no comprehension of His Wisdom’. Only there, from a distance, from below; the place of Man, did they perceive the great light – the Torah. Hashem illuminated their eyes to see how it is within the Torah – specifically in the Olam Ha’Asiyah – that Hashem revealed His Greatness and the progression of His disclosure – the Sefiros and the Chairs, the Legions, and the Planets, the Worlds, the Aspects, the “Aleph-Beis” etc. – they are all found within the Torah.

When the compilers of the Zohar HaKadosh revealed Hashem’s Glory within the Torah and brought the Worlds, with their revelations of the light that is beyond all worlds, into the Olam HaAsiyah, finding the in-dwelling presence of the King within every letter written on the skin of an animal and in every practical mitzvah, they were unable to contain their inspiration in speech, words, and letters. Their Torah remained naked, without a covering, in the way of the man’s joy in the aforementioned analogy. It is only we, when we approach to extract a little honey from the edge of the staff of God that is in our hands, with the intention of understanding a little of their “aspects” and mysteries, to perceive their holy visions from within their hints and the movement of their letters – the spirit of Godliness that hovered over their hearts – who are outfitted with intellect necessary to comprehend. However, to the Tannaim, their teaching wasn’t something constricted in the intellect alone but the revelation of the Torah of Atzilus within the world of Asiyah, the Upper Gan Eden within this lowly world. A person who entertains the thought of remaining within the intellect of the Zohar HaKadosh and Kabbalah alone is similar to a deranged person or a deaf-mute who must suffice with simple hand motions alone – devoid of true content or thought.

The All-Encompassing Nature of the Zohar

Indeed, the entirety of the Zohar HaKadosh – both the derush as well as the Kabbalah it contains – is not simply intellectual material that must be studied. Rather, it is the treasure house of Torah and wisdom which Rashbi and his comrades brought down to this world in the form in which it exists in the heavenly realms before becoming enclothed in a form or expression. The words of the prophets whose soul was greater than the body – that is, the body of their speech – and whose spirit of holiness transcended their words finds expression in many words and can be understood with many interpretations. Even the divrei mussar found in Mishlei and Koheles can be understood as containing the paths of one’s entire life, to the point that when a Jew focuses upon his deficiencies, whether in the area of bein adam l’Makom or bein adam l’chaveiro, he will suddenly remember a relevant verse from Koheles or Mishlei which makes him feel as if Shlomo HaMelech spoke these words solely to guide him. In the process, he discovers a new understanding of the verse, one that is not to be found in any commentary. All of this is because the inner spirit of these pesukim is greater than the clothing, and the soul of the teaching is greater than the body – the words and their simple translation, to the extent that the extra essence enclothes itself in the actions of its interpreter and may be perceived in the ways of one who focuses upon it.

The same is true for the treasure house of Torah, the bare wisdom that is called “the Zohar”. One is able to find within it all thoughts of the heart and mind, every good path of service, whether it be in the way of bein adam l’Makom or for his own personal development, advice with regard to how he can refine and cleanse his entire body, spirit, and soul. The essential spirit of the Zohar reveals itself in all of these.

How to Study the Zohar HaKadosh

What emerges from all of this is that in order to explain the words of the Zohar HaKadosh, to say “this is his intention,” and, “this is the way to understand this teaching”, one must be a tzaddik akin to the spiritual levels of Rashbi and his comrades and have risen to their elevated place – not like us, carved from corporeality as we are. For the explanation that you will ponder with your intellect is processed by an intellect whose capacity of Chochmah is imprisoned within your capacity of Binah and constricted within your imagination as well as your desires and the premises of those desires. The form of the intellect and explanations that you might originate is a shard of soul that is blended in with a mixture of desires, wills, thoughts, and delusions of your generation as well as previous generations that merge with your mind. How can one hold the bare soul of the Zohar HaKadosh in such a vessel, and attempt to explain the wisdom it contains which is absolutely pure and refined? Why should you force your understanding and the form of your mind into the words of the Zohar HaKadosh?

When a Jewish person approaches to study the Zohar, he must prepare his heart and contemplate with his mind how he must now leave the din of this world for some time, and cross, with a single step, from the bottom of Asiyah to the very pinnacle of Atzilus. All of the intellect and wisdom he has amassed in this world will avail him nothing there, in the world of Truth, in the dwelling place of the Zohar HaKadosh. His entire effort must be only to dwell together with his soul in the innermost chambers, beyond the partition, and arrive at the place where the thornbush is aflame, and sparks of this fire enter him to inspire his spirit. Only then will he merit to grasp a bit of this light of his soul to chain it within the bonds of his intellect and picture it with his understanding. For it is known from the Zohar HaKadosh (Shir HaShirim), that the essence of the “Ta’amim” is “for there exists a refined air that isn’t grasped at all”.  What he is able to grasp in his capacities for Chochmah and Binah appear to him in the form of an explanation in the words of the Zohar HaKadosh, for this is a ray of the light of his soul that had been illuminated by the Zohar HaKadosh and has come to revelation within his mind. However, it is only the light of his own soul, an aspect of the “grandchildren” of the Zohar HaKadosh. The essential light of the Zohar HaKadosh remains forever concealed and hidden from his intellect and understanding – as it is.

Residual Impressions

Therefore, I am declaring my intention at the outset of this impoverished work that I am recording only “Reshimos HaZohar”, residual impressions which, with the help of Hashem, the Zohar HaKadosh has left upon me and the small amount of them which I have been able to grasp within my limited intellect and understanding. And therefore, even the impressions of intellect and understanding by way of which I would, with the help of the Benevolent One, like to portray concepts and discuss them, are only relating to their manifestation within each Jewish person, and regarding how one must purify his soul toward avodas Hashem. Even with this goal, it is not my intention to explain every matter discussed in the Zohar HaKadosh. Rather, everything in the way of notes, residual impressions. And it will be, if I merit, that my words will end up in the hands of a Jewish person who will make use of them to understand parable and allusion, an aspect of, “From my flesh, I perceive God,” as well as an aspect of, “Know what is above you” (Avos 2:41); if one wants to know “what is above”, he must know that it is “from you” – I will already thank Hashem now for the goodness He has bestowed upon us and the mercy with which He has graced us.

It is with a lowly spirit and a bowed form that I pour out my heart in prayer before the Merciful Father – Who has mercy even on his estranged children and seeks to return them and bring them close to Him; Who, in His great mercy, sent Rashbi and all of the tzaddikim who were masters of Kabbalah and Chassidus to bring His Light to all the lowly places where His children have sunk and ignite the entire world with the elevated fire in their hand to the point that when a Jewish person looks at the world, he sees not a dead world, a contaminated world, but rather the Golden Menorah of Hashem’s candles upon which dance the sparks of His torch and illuminate every dark place and dimmed eyesight – that He should have mercy on me as well, and illuminate my eyes and my heart through His Torah, so that every dull place and human intellect within me should merit to be transformed into a garment of a scholar, surrounded and permeated with the light of the Torah and the words of the Zohar HaKadosh, so that my body, spirit, and soul should also merit to be included within the Torah and the light of life, Amen.                                                                                                         

חבל על דאבדין ודלא משתכחין

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R’ Yaakov Klein is the founder of the Lost Princess Initiative, an author, musician, and lecturer devoted to sharing the inner light of Torah through his books, music, and lectures.

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