Foreword: The Specter and the Spirit
How I Came to Write this Book
I was born in August, 1946 in the city of Vitebsk, Belarus. It was the second summer after the end of World War Two, and life was sluggish, slowly hobbling back toward the affable monotony of normalcy. Being the firstborn child of a dentist father and a gynecologist mother, I had a rather carefree childhood, conveniently growing up in a suburban neighborhood, untroubled by the material concerns that preoccupied most of my childhood friends.
And yet, a shadow followed me throughout my childhood and even through my teens. It was the specter of the Holocaust, that phantom many chose never to mention, though it was always there. Names of family members or of friends who perished were mentioned in a somber tone, giving them an uncanny presence, as though they were still with us, although I knew they weren’t.
And odder still was the revulsion of my Russian peers toward Jews. Children I grew up with hated Jews simply because they were Jews. They knew what had happened to their Jewish neighbors just over a year ago, but they were as sardonic and unsympathetic as before the war, so I was told by my elders. This, I could not understand. Why were they so hateful? What unforgivable wrong had Jews ever done to them? And where did they learn those horror stories about the things that Jews might do to them?
As would be expected from the son of parents in the medical professions, I, too, took up a medical profession as my career “of choice.” I studied medical bio-cybernetics, a science that explores the systems of the human body, and I became a scientist, a researcher at the St. Petersburg Blood Research Institute. And while fantasizing myself beaming with pride on the pulpit in Stockholm, Sweden, the winner of a Nobel Prize, a deeper passion I have been harboring has been edging toward the surface of my consciousness.
“I want to understand the system,” I began to think, “to know how everything works.” But most of all, I began to ponder why everything was the way it was.
As a scientist at heart, I began to search for scientific answers that could explain everything, not just how to calculate the mass of an object or the acceleration of its fall, but what caused that object to exist in the first place.
And since I could not find an answer in science, I decided to move on. After being a refusenik (Soviet Jews who were denied permission to emigrate abroad) for two years, I finally got my permit and left for Israel in 1974.
In Israel, I kept searching for the meaning and the reason behind everything. Two years after I arrived in Israel, I began to study Kabbalah. But it was not until February, 1979 that I found my teacher, the Rabash, the firstborn son and successor of Rav Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag, known as Baal HaSulam (Owner of the Ladder) for his Sulam (Ladder) commentary on The Book of Zohar.
Finally, my prayers were answered! Each day, each hour, new revelations dawned on me. The pieces of the puzzle of reality fell into place one at a time, and a coherent picture of the world began to form before me, as though the mist itself was taking shape before my awestruck eyes.
My life had been transformed, and I immersed myself in my studies and in assisting the Rabash in any way I could. I was fortunate enough to be able to support my family with just a few hours of work each day, and I dedicated the rest of my time to absorbing the wisdom as much and as deeply as I could.
To me, I was living a dream reality. I had a wonderful family, I lived in a country where I really felt free; I made a good living with ease, and I had found the answers to my lifelong questions.
One of those persistent questions was the one about the hatred of the Jews. In Kabbalah, I discovered why it happens, why it is persisting, and most important, what must be done to heal it. Indeed, anti-Semitism is a sore in the heart of humanity, an echo of an unhealed pain that the world has been carrying for almost 4,000 years, since Abraham, our Patriarch, left Babylon.
Kabbalah has taught me that Abraham had proposed to his people to unite and be once more of “one language and of one speech” (Genesis 11:1), and that King Nimrod, Babylon’s ruler at the time, had prevented Abraham from circulating his idea. Gradually, I came to see that what the world now needs is that same unity, that camaraderie and mutual guarantee that Abraham had developed with his group and progeny, and that King Nimrod had stopped him from endowing to his Babylonian brothers and sisters.
One morning lesson, my teacher, the Rabash, taught me Baal HaSulam’s “Introduction to the Book of Zohar.” At the end of it, Baal HaSulam wrote that unless the Jews endowed the world with the knowledge and the guidance toward unity, the nations of the world would loathe the Jews, humiliate them, drive them out from the land of Israel, and torment them wherever they may be. I had read that unfathomable essay before, but that morning it had a deeper impact on me. I felt another stage in my development emerging from within.
Later that day, we went to Kfar Saba, a small town near Tel Aviv, to a Kolel (Jewish seminary) named after my esteemed mentor. In the basement, the Rabash showed me a medium-size cardboard box filled to the brim with handwritten pieces of paper. He asked if I could take it to the car and bring it back to his house.
I put the box in the trunk, and on the way back I asked him what those papers were in the box. Unceremoniously, he muttered, “Some old manuscripts of Baal HaSulam.” I looked at him, but he looked straight at the road ahead and kept silent all the way back.
That night, the lights were on in Baruch Ashlag’s kitchen all night long. I stayed there and meticulously read through every piece of paper until I found one that would let me search no more. It was the piece of the puzzle I was looking for without even knowing it. It was the capstone, the first step in the march I was to take henceforth.
The paper I had found, which is now part of Baal HaSulam’s “The Writings of the Last Generation,” told a tale of agony and thirst, love and friendship, deliverance and commitment. Here are the words that I found: “There is an allegory about friends who were lost in the desert, hungry and thirsty. One of them had found a settlement filled abundantly with every delight. He remembered his poor brothers, but he had already drawn far off from them and did not know their place. …He began to shout out loud and blow the horn; perhaps his poor, hungry friends would hear his voice, approach and come to that abundant settlement filled with every delight.
“So is the matter before us: we have been lost in the terrible desert along with all of humanity, and now we have found a great, abundant treasure, namely the books of Kabbalah. They fulfill our yearning souls and fill us abundantly with lushness and agreement.
“We are satiated and there is more, but the memory of our friends left hopelessly in the terrible desert remains deep within our hearts. The distance is great, and words cannot bridge between us. For this reason, we have set up this horn to blow loudly so that our brothers may hear and draw near and be as happy as we.
“Know, our brothers, our flesh, that the essence of the wisdom of Kabbalah consists of the knowledge of how the world came down from its elevated, heavenly place, to our ignoble state. …It is therefore very easy to find in the wisdom of Kabbalah all the future corrections destined to come from the perfect worlds that preceded us. Through it we will know how to correct our ways henceforth.
“…Imagine, for example, that some historic book were to be found today, which depicts the last generations ten thousand years from now, describing the comportment of both individuals and society. Our leaders would seek out every counsel to arrange life here accordingly, and we would come to ‘no outcry in our broad places.’ Corruption and the terrible suffering would cease, and everything would come peacefully to its place.
“Now, distinguished readers, this book lies here before you in a closet. It states explicitly the entire wisdom of statesmanship and the conducts of private and public life that will exist at the end of days. It is the books of Kabbalah, where the corrected worlds are set. …Open these books and you will find all the good comportments that will appear at the end of days, and you will find within them the good lessons by which to arrange mundane matters today as well.
“…I can no longer restrain myself. I have resolved to disclose the conducts of correction of our definite future that I have found by observation and by reading in these books. I have decided to go out to the people of the world with this horn, and I believe and estimate that it shall suffice to gather all those deserving to begin to study and delve in the books. Thus they will sentence themselves and the entire world to a scale of merit.”[i]
About a year after finding these papers, I published my first three books with my teacher’s guidance and support. I have been publishing books ever since, and I have circulated Kabbalah by numerous other means, as well.
Today’s reality is very harsh, and people often have no patience or desire to delve into books, as Baal HaSulam imagined. But the essence of the wisdom, the love, and the unity that are the foundations of reality, and which Kabbalah instills in its practitioners, remain as true as they have always been.
Moreover, since around the turn of the century, anti-Semitism has been on the rise once more, this time the world over. The specter of the hatred of the Jews has taken root worldwide. Spreading stealthily and venomously, it is threatening to infest entire nations with Judeophobia, and to repeat the horrors of the past.
But now we know the cure. Whenever Jews unite, the serpent hides its head. The spirit of camaraderie and mutual responsibility has always been our “weapon,” our shield against adversity. Now we should muster that spirit, cloak ourselves with it, and let its healing warmth surround us. And once we have done so, we must share that spirit with the rest of the world, as this is our vocation—the essence of our being “a light for the nations.”
And so, because we all need answers to our deepest questions, because deep inside all Jews want to know the cure for anti-Semitism, and because it is the legacy of my teacher and my teacher’s great teacher and father, I have decided to detail what I have learned from them. They taught me what it means to be a Jew, what it means to be committed, and what it means to share. But most of all, they taught me what it means to love like the Creator.
[i] Rav Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), The Writings of Baal HaSulam, “The Writings of the Last Generation” (Ashlag Research Institute: Israel, 2009), 813-814.