Answer: It isn’t “punishment” in the usual sense, but rather the way a person is evoked to self-correction. On the levels of the still, vegetative, and animate nature, the “punishment” is the correction itself. On the other hand, on the human level the punishment is the awakening, the push so that a person will hasten his correction in “I shall hasten it” and not in “it’s time.”
In the meantime we develop according to the first three levels—the still, vegetative, and animate—and our development is a natural, instinctive process, which we call “according to schedule,” “in its time,” according to the plan. Kabbalists knew in advance the approximate dates of the different phases, but starting from the 15th century, the wisdom of Kabbalah became part of this as it was meant to speed up the process. Since then, part of humanity continues to receive “ordinary” blows and problems that lead to scientific, technological progress, while another part began to receive special blows, that are intentional and by which people are evoked and turn to the wisdom of Kabbalah. This awakening started from the Baal Shem Tov who actually opened the gates to the internal work for the Jewish people and founded its principles for the future generations. He didn’t write anything, but he disseminated the method to an unprecedented extent. He was an exceptionally practical man, considering the conditions in his time.
It was the Baal Shem Tov who initiated the study of the wisdom of Kabbalah for the masses. He had power that was given to him from Above, of course, to insert the sparks into the devastated nation that had been through troubles such as poverty and pogroms in Eastern Europe. He organized people and built a general network among them. He began to reveal to them the structure of the spiritual reality: the five worlds, Sefirot, Partzufim… then The Book of Zohar became accessible to the masses, which again was an unprecedented event. It was possible for the Hasidim to keep it on their bookshelf since the wisdom of Kabbalah was not forbidden anymore.
The first students of the Baal Shem Tov were great Kabbalists. They founded Hasidic movements and wrote books that the people could accept. These books, which are written in a very emotional, beautiful language made people accustomed to the internal work.
It isn’t by chance that Baal HaSulam thinks very highly of the Baal Shem Tov; after all, he started a true Kabbalistic revolution and opened the door that used to be locked for all those who are interested in it. He himself is still a mystery; we can talk about his actions but not about him.
His students carried on his work, each according to his character, and eventually all the Hasidic movements made a great step towards the fulfillment of the wisdom of Kabbalah among the people. People began to respect the spiritual attainment, the self-annulment and the love of others. Concepts such as “Love thy friend as thyself,” and “Worship the Lord with joy” became part of life. It was a time of very intensive internal work.
Only two hundred years later there was a descent, when the Hasidic movement became a “ritual” and the internality became externality again.
If we come back to the question, we are concealing the facts from ourselves; we don’t want to hear about them, and the moment we forget about the spiritual work, we are immediately back in our corporeal work. Here the ego that controls us operates and it conceals even the slightest connection with the Creator from us; it conceals His actions, His existence. We don’t want to know anything about Him.
It isn’t by chance that this concealment is so great; it builds the space for a person to stabilize himself. On the other hand, he is reminded of what’s important and is evoked and brought to the group. This process will gradually spread all over the world, but first there is the period of darkness, which is the basis upon which a person should build himself in the future.
From the 4th part of the Daily Kabbalah Lesson 8/02/12, “Introduction to the Book of Zohar”