Friday, June 11, 2004

R' Ashlag Ch. 3

Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag's "Introduction to the Zohar"

-- as translated and commented on by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman


Ch. 3


"Fourth, since the chariot of the other side and the husks is utterly and completely removed from G-d’s holiness -- then how could it ever have been culled from and created by Him, let alone allowed to go on?"

-- This calls for more extensive explanation since it assumes that we're aware of some fairly well-known Kabbalistic and otherwise Jewish concepts which we may not be. So we'll do what we can to spell them out.

-- The term "chariot" is obviously as old as the item itself, and it's cited over 150 times in Tanach. On one level it simply stands for a chariot per se, or any other vehicle. But on another level a chariot stands for the point at which a human being controls -- or is controlled by -- an animal in transit. Thus a chariot often represents the center of the lifelong struggle between body (the chariot's horse) and soul (its driver).

-- In the present instance, though, it stands for something else again -- the matrix, environment, or ground of the "other side" and "husks". And they stand for the same thing overall: the "side" of reality that's "other" than G-dly, and the hard "shell" of materiality overcovering the G-dly fruit that one would like to get to.

-- R' Ashlag depicts that universe as being "utterly and completely removed from G-d's holiness" which is to say completely opposite to Him.

-- Now, if that's so, then "how could it ever have been culled from and created by Him" since that's more or less analogous to a woman giving birth to a stone? And secondly, why would G-d accommodate something that seems to run counter to His whole Being and intentions?


"Fifth, touching upon the resurrection of the dead, since the human body is so base that it's doomed to die and be buried from the outset, and since the Zohar says that the soul can't ascend to its place in the Garden of Eden until the body decomposes and disintegrates, then why would the body be resurrected anyway? Couldn't the Creator have delighted our souls without it?"

-- Some more definitions. We're taught that the Messiah ("Moshiach") will appear at a certain point in time and that all the deserving dead will be resurrected body and soul afterwards, and assume their place in the "World to Come" (the state of being which the universe will unfold into after all of the above). The "Garden of Eden" spoken of here isn't the one cited at the beginning of Genesis where Adam and Eve dwelt, but rather the numinous environment in which the soul alone dwells (and reaps its reward) after death and before the resurrection.

-- R' Ashlag's point is that it seems odd that the human body -- which is so seemingly un-G-dly and earthly that it's doomed to be buried and to decompose in the ground rather than go elsewhere to reap its reward (as the soul does) -- would be resurrected along with the soul later on, rather than be utterly forgotten and brushed aside. After all, the soul could just as easily delight in its place in the World to Come on its own!


"Even more baffling is our sages’ statement that the dead are destined to be resurrected with all of their defects (in place) in order not to be mistaken for someone else, and that all those defects will be cured afterwards. For why would G-d care enough to first bring back someone’s defects and then cure him simply because he was mistaken for someone else?"

-- That's to say that we'd expect the body to be enjoy a new supernatural status once it comes back to life, yet we're taught that it will come back "warts and all" instead, and that only later will those "warts" be undone and the body elevated. Why? We're told it's so that everyone will know exactly whom they're seeing come back to life. But why would that matter?


"And sixth, our sages say that man is the focal point of reality, that all the upper worlds as well as this corporeal world along with everything in it were created for him alone (Zohar, Tazreiah 40), and they even obliged us to believe that the world was created for our sake (Sanhedrin 37A). But, isn’t that strange? After all, why would G-d bother to create all that for man, who’s so insignificant and only occupies a hair’s-breadth worth of space in the universe -- to say nothing of (his insignificance when it comes to) the upper worlds, whose reaches are immeasurable! Why would G-d have troubled Himself to create all that for man’s sake? And besides -- what would man need all that for?"

-- R' Ashlag's last inquiry here focuses on our own centrality for a good reason. For if G-d Almighty could be said to be not only the Creator of all of reality but its "leading character" as well, then man is its sole supporting character (while everything else serves as stage-props and incidentals).

-- But in fact, considering how minute we are within the vast reaches of things, we seem on one level to be as awesomely consequential but overlookable as a sudden chink in a vast stopped dam; while on another to be as superfluous as a chink in a tumbler. So why fill the "stage" with so much else?

-- (Notice, by the way, that R' Ashlag cites mankind's minuteness much the way others do, but that while they use it to point out our essential insignificance, he uses it to underscore our splendid potency. Let this serve as a single example of our contention that the wise never dismiss facts that seem to deny their underlying beliefs -- they simply see them in other lights.)

(c) 2004 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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