Two of the greatest spirits of the twentieth century, who were removed from the world during the Days of Atonement—predicted what would happen to us today, and they were not wrong… Rav Michael Laitman’s special column about Rav Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam) and his succesor Rabbi Baruch Shalom Ashlag, marking their death days.
“Two Intellectual Giants Who Predicted The Future”
On a cold, rainy night in 1979 I couldn’t sleep, thoughts plagued me. Suddenly I found myself behind the wheel, driving without direction. A large sign interrupted my thoughts: “Bnei Brak.” I entered. The streets were deserted. At the corner of Chazon Ish street I encountered a passerby. “Where do they study here?” I asked. He looked at me and answered, “Go to the end of the street, there you will see an orchard, across the street.”
So for the first time I met my teacher, Rav Baruch Shalom Ashlag, the oldest son and heir of Baal HaSulam—the greatest Kabbalist of the twentieth century. From this moment my life changed beyond recognition.
For twelve years I served as his personal assistant and student, and absorbed from him everything that I know about the wisdom of Kabbalah. Every day he would retreat to the second floor and write. That is how his profound articles were born that paved the spiritual path that is most appropriate for every person today. Nobody before him wrote in such a simple and practical language. Like a father who guides his children down the path, he takes the readers by the hand and leads them until they discover the true meaning of life.
Rabash followed in the footsteps of his father Baal HaSulam, the Kabbalist famous for writing the “Sulam Commentary to The Book of Zohar.” Both of them absorbed the ancient wisdom of the chain of Kabbalists that preceded them, and they were the link that accommodated it to our generation. “I am glad that I have been born in such a generation when it is permitted to disclose the wisdom of truth,” writes Baal HaSulam (“The Teaching of the Kabbalah and Its Essence”).
A Time to Act
In the year 1922, eleven years before Hitler rose to power, Baal HaSulam foresaw the threat of annihilation facing the Jewish people in Europe.
He took pains to warn the heads of the Jewish community in Warsaw that the sharp Nazi sword had already been placed upon their necks. He urged them to unite and return to the land of Israel, but they refused to heed his calls and ostracized him, and he emigrated to Israel alone. The Second World War came and didn’t pass over the members of that Jewish community, all of whom perished in the death camps.
In the thirties Baal HaSulam made supreme efforts to meet with the heads of the Yishuv (settlement): David Ben-Gurion, Zalman Shazar, Moshe Sharett, Chaim Nachman Bialik, Chaim Arlozorov and other public figures. He tried to speak with them about the importance of unity and about the need to connect the parts of the Jewish Yishuv that was emerging in the land of Israel.
In 1940, over the objections of the ultra-Orthodox circles of engaging in the wisdom of Kabbalah, Baal HaSulam published a newspaper called, The Nation—the first newspaper of its kind devoted to the socio-spiritual unity of the Jewish people. His opponents turned to the British government and took care of the closure of the newspaper.
Baal HaSulam expected that precisely in our day religion would lose its hold on people, the political basis would crumble, and social factionalism would destroy all its good parts—until humanity would remain without an answer. He tried to talk about this with all who would agree to meet with him. The subject burned in him and he felt the need of the hour. He knew that the only remedy for the suffering expected for Israel and the world was to restore the unity that was always the foundation of the nation, otherwise they would rise up against us to annihilate us.
The Last Generation
The message of unity that Baal HaSulam bore, is more relevant than ever. Waves of surging hatred and anti-Semitism are threatening our continued existence. “We have gathered here to establish a society for all who wish to follow the path and method of Baal HaSulam,” began my teacher Rabash in his first article (“Dargot HaSulam, “Purpose of Society 1”).
After his departure in 1991, people began to gather around me whose hearts were burning with a desire to discover the purpose of their existence. Gradually the Bnei Baruch group was founded, named after Rabbi Baruch Ashlag, which became the “Kabbalah for the People” organization.
Every morning we study from the books of the Kabbalists: The Study of the Ten Sefirot, The Book of Zohar with the Sulam Commentary and other writings of Baal HaSulam and Rabash. We try to continue and disseminate the method to all who want it, exactly according to how my teacher transmitted the wisdom of his father to me.
As of today we number around two million students throughout Israel and the world, and we see our role as carrying on the way of the two great luminaries, and just as Baal HaSulam emphasized, “…only through the expansion of the wisdom of Kabbalah in the masses will we obtain complete redemption” (Introduction to the Book, Panim Meirot uMasbirot).
On these days we commemorate the departure of the two greatest of the generation. I hope that we will have the sense to walk faithfully in their way.