Tuesday, June 15, 2004

R' Ashlag Ch. 6

Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag's "Introduction to the Zohar"

-- as translated and commented on by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman


Chapter 6


"Now, our sages have already taught us (Etz Chaim, 'Sha'ar HaKlallim', Ch. 1) that the only reason G-d created the world was to grant pleasure to His creations. Hence, that’s what we should be focusing all of our attention and our thoughts upon, since it’s the ultimate aim and function of creation."

-- The holy Ari (whose work R' Ashlag cites as his source) revealed that we were created to enjoy life. Now, while everyone intuits that should be so and would like it to be, reality seems to quash the notion. For as every mature soul knows only too well, there's a lot of agony and anguish in the world (see 1:5). Yet the human heart somehow retains the idea that life, a gift outright at bottom, should be good, and the Ari affirms that.

-- Just understand, though, that while some people are happy traveling and exploring, others are only happy when they're left alone to eat and play board-games. And realize too that a truly sweet and transcendent moment for someone mortally ill might be one in which he's pain-free and not ravaged by mortal fears; or when his body is still, and he's simply able to breathe in, out, and again. So while R' Ashlag is indeed declaring outright that we were meant to be happy and well-pleased with life, he'll soon-enough depict the sort of true happiness he's referring to.

-- But don't think he's about to tell us that true happiness can only be found in dark, dry bread and tepid water; because he won't. What he’ll indeed come to do in the end, though, is reveal what true bliss and satisfaction is all about.

-- Now, since pleasure and delight is the point of it all at bottom, it follows then that that's what our attention should be focused on. And indeed it is, the truth be known, and many are fully aware of that and act on it. Yet others of a more ascetic bent deny it and claim that the only way to be satisfied and full is to be hungry and empty. Just understand, though, that even the latter want to be satisfied. It's just that their systems function other ways; and only subtler though still and all material things please them.

-- Don't think that R' Ashlag is advocating hedonism either, because he certainly isn't. As we'll see, he'll be advising us to enjoy life indeed, but with a particular end in mind that's rooted in fostering and maintaining an abiding relationship with G-d.


"So we'll now reflect upon the following. Since G-d’s intention upon creating the universe was to grant His creatures pleasure, it only stands to reason that He created us with an enormous amount of desire to accept what He meant to grant us, inasmuch as the amount of pleasure and delight (a person can derive) depends on how much he wants it. For the greater the willingness to accept (something), the greater the pleasure (derived from it); while the lesser the willingness, the lesser the pleasure."

-- An example R' Ashlag brings is the different ways we drink water. He points out that we gulp it down when we're thirsty, and sip at it or want very little to do with it when we're not. So it's the wanting that makes all the difference. It then follows that we'd have to want what G-d would like us to have if we're to enjoy it; and since enjoying life is the goal, it's clear that He who made that the goal would also have implanted the desire for enjoyment and pleasure in us.

-- It's also clear that since the greatest pleasure we could derive comes from drawing close to G-d and adhering onto Him (as we'll see), there must be a great longing to do just that -- but we're getting ahead of ourselves. In any event it still follows that if G-d wanted us to be radiantly healthy for example (which He does), that He'd have instilled a longing for that in us (which He clearly has), etc.


"It follows then that the intention behind creation itself would have seen to it that a vast enough amount of willingness to accept (things) would be created within us to accommodate the vast amount of pleasure that G-d Almighty thought to bestow upon us, since great delight and a great willingness to accept it go hand in hand."

-- The point is that G-d has not only granted us noble and beneficial desires, He has granted us a colossal array of desires of all stripes. For if He had only accorded us a limited number of desires, that would have restricted our capacity to enjoy, which would then have stymied His goal for us.

(c) 2004 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

(Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org )

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Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has translated and commented upon "The Gates of Repentance", "The Path of the Just", and "The Duties of the Heart" (Jason Aronson Publishers). And his new work on Maimonides' "The Eight Chapters" will soon be available from Judaica Press.
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