Sunday, February 06, 2005

R' Ashlag Ch. 16 (sects. 2 & 3)

Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag's "Introduction to the Zohar"

-- as translated and commented on by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman


Ch. 16


"G-d readied two ways for us here in the course of the second (i.e., the present) era to reach the third one. One is the path of Torah observance and the other is the path of tribulations, which (while daunting nonetheless enables us to) cleanse the body (of its dross), and (thus) forces us to transform our ratzon l’kabel into a willingness to bestow and to attach ourselves onto G-d’s Being".

-- That is, we’re free to choose the *path we want to take to place in the World to Come*, which we’ll all inevitably arrive at. For we can choose the longer way that’s actually shorter, or the shorter way that’s actually longer. But let’s explain.
-- We’re taught (in Eruvin 53b) that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananiah once reported that he’d “once been on a journey when (he) noticed a little boy sitting at a cross-road”. He asked the boy which road he should take to get to town, and the boy offered that “this particular road is short-- but long” while the other one is “long-- but short”.
-- Rabbi Yehoshua decided to take the apparently short road. He discovered after a while, though, that the boy was right. Because the apparently short road was blocked and thus really was a *long* one; and that the apparently long road was actually a *short* one because there were no impediments. This story suggests a number of things, but the point most applicable to our subject is this.
-- Each one of us could either live a life of relative moral restraint based on higher values or one of moral *un*restraint and license (or a combination of the two, which is the most popular choice of all). That is, we could either follow the mitzvah-system, or the dictates of our ratzon l’kabel.
-- The wise would determine, though, that while a life of license seems to be a readier, more direct path to happiness and satisfaction, it will actually prove to be a very long, convoluted, and *painful* one. For it will result in tribulations. And that while the mitzvah-system seems to inhibit our happiness and thwart our interests, it will actually prove to be the greatest, most delicious and “heavenly” shortcut of all to the ultimate human goal, since it would enable us to avoid the tribulations involved in the other choice.
-- But know that the suffering one undergoes for having chosen the ostensibly shorter path to happiness isn’t the sort of vengeful, priggish slap across the face we might take it to be. R’ Ashlag depicts it instead as a means of cleansing the body of the dross of the ratzon l’kabel which then allows us to attach onto G-d’s presence (thus making it akin to the pain we’d willingly -- albeit hesitantly -- be willing to suffer in order to scrub off some very deeply embedded dirt that exasperates our beloved).
-- There’s yet another point to be made about this, though. Life becomes clearer at its end, when we start to sense where we’ve succeeded or failed.
-- As such, some old people in ill health simply want to die, and they say as much. They feel they have nothing to live for, and that they’re nothing but dry lumber. Now, few elderly, ill observant Jews say that, and fewer-yet elderly, ill observant and *learned* Jews say it. For they know that they can serve G-d as long as they’re alive (if only on a pallid and wan level), which gives each moment meaning and pith.
-- They (and their families) thus come to know that without the richness and call of Torah and mitzvot in one’s life all there is, is the bitter and gnawing, trying reality of meaninglessness indeed. And they come to realize how true that had been all along, though they've only come to see it so clearly at the end. They know that life comes down to a choice between Torah and tribulation. And their knowledge of that isn’t abstract, but *learned*; indeed, rather than being rooted in pat theology, it’s grounded in having finally caught sight of life at its end.

"For as our sages put it, (it’s as if G-d said to the Jewish Nation) 'If you repent (i.e., if you eventually adapt the mitzvah system), fine; but if you don’t, I’ll (eventually) place a king like (the evil) Haman over you who’ll force you to repent (i.e., to adapt the mitzvah system after all)'".

-- That is, we're free to adopt the mitzvah system on our own, either from the first or in retrospect as an act or repentance, or it's alternative (tribulation) will be thrust upon us instead; there's simply no third option.

"And as they likewise said of the verse (that speaks of the redemption), 'I G-d will hasten it -- in its time' (Isaiah 9:22): (the curious discord between the idea of G-d 'hasten(ing) it' on the one hand and only allowing it to come about 'in its time' on the other comes to this) 'If they’re worthy (i.e., if we follow the mitzvah system), I’ll ‘hasten it’; but if not, it will come ‘in its time’ (i.e., after a lot of tribulation)".

"What that means to say is that if we become worthy (of redemption) by following the first path of observing Torah and mitzvot, we’ll speed up our reparation and thus won’t have (to suffer) harsh and bitter tribulations, or bear all the time it would take to be compelled to better ourselves."

"On the other hand, though, if we don’t (take that path, the redemption will come despite us, but only) 'in its time'. That is, only after tribulations -- which includes the punishment that souls suffer in Gehinom. For those tribulations will complete our reparations, and we’ll thus experience the age of reparation (i.e., the third era/World to Come) despite ourselves."


"In any event, the rectification -- the third era -- will surely come about since it must, for the existence of the first era demands that. Thus the only choice we have is the one between the path of tribulations and the path of Torah and mitzvot."

"We’ve now thus demonstrated how all three eras of the soul are interconnected and necessitate one another".

-- Yet as we'll soon discover, there's a lot more to clear up vis a vis all the questions we raised at the very beginning of of our efforts. Once we do all that, though, we'll finally discuss the Zohar itself (which is the subject of this work after all).

(c) 2005 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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