As the generations unfold, greater secrets become revealed
The Torah has a revealed as well as an esoteric
dimension. The revealed side, the Written and Oral Torah, is transmitted in the
form of letters. The letters are like vessels containing the light, condensing
it to fit their size and quality. Yet, since the mysteries of the Torah are the
very essence of the Infinite Light, the finite quality of the letters cannot
represent this source of wisdom in all its complexity. The wisdom cannot be
captured in words, but remains in the aspect of "sight and perception" - a
seeing with the heart, which means a direct perception of the ideas.
This helps us to understand what the Ari taught. The
Ari explained that the mysteries of the Torah are a "
"something that is received". It is not a knowledge that can be attained through
the finite quality of the letters, but a perception that must be "received" from
a master who himself received from one before him. The perception of the
esoteric tradition is then a merging of spirits with the Divine which, by its
very essence, cannot be condensed into letters.
The revelation of the secrets of Kabbala was first
entrusted in written form to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, known as "Rashbi", a
second-century sage, who composed the
Zohar. Although there were many
sages before him who had gained a level of expertise in the esoteric teachings
of the Torah, only Rashbi was given permission to transmit the Zohar in the form
of letters because he lived after the destruction of the Temple.
As long as the Temple stood, a divine light permeated
The secrets of the Torah could remain in the form of "sight and
perception", a form that went beyond the boundary of letters. However, after the
destruction of the Temple, the light was dimmed. Yet, Rabbi Shimon received
permission from Heaven to transmit a few of these secrets in writing, so that a
choice body of students could receive the light through the conduit of letters.
As later generations decreased in holiness, the light
was further dimmed. Once again, Heaven gave permission for a sage, the Ari, to
commit a greater proportion of Torah secrets to writing. This was a condensation
of the light, but was nevertheless permitted because the heart-vision of each
generation was diminishing, necessitating the conduit of letters in order to
transmit the divine light.
A few generations after the Ari came the Baal Shem Tov,
who fulfilled the same function. Yet, interestingly enough, neither the Ari nor
the Baal Shem Tov was able to confine their overwhelming perception of the
Infinite Light to writing. They transmitted their teachings orally; it was their
students who wrote them down. Even Rabbi Shimon wrote only the first "Mishna" of
, the main body of the Zohar being written down by his disciples
some seventy years after his death.
As the generations continued to decrease in wisdom and
holiness, more and more Torah secrets had to be presented in written form,
otherwise people would have been unable to perceive the light.
[By Simcha H. Benyosef, from "Living the Kabbala: A Guide to the Sabbath and Festivals in the Teachings of Rabbi Rafael Moshe Luria"]