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How Would One Go About Studying the Works of Kabbalist Isaac Luria (The Ari)?

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By Michael Laitman

Like Moses brought us the Torah, the Ari brought us the wisdom of Kabbalah.

The Torah and Kabbalah both discuss the revelation of the Creator—the quality of love and bestowal—to the created beings. At Moses’ time, the revelation was through the Torah, and at the Ari’s time, the revelation was through what became written in his Etz Chaim (Tree of Life) and his 𝘌𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘎𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘴. The Ari’s revelation of the Creator is communicated in a different style and language, with descriptions of vessels, lights and the person’s work.

From the Ari’s time onward, we entered into a period of studying spiritual qualities and their connections, and the ability to enter such a study of the spiritual world depends on the connection between the students. We who study the works of the Ari thus try to connect among each other as much as possible in order to achieve the revelation of the Creator as described in the Ari’s texts.

It is as Rav Chaim Vital, the Ari’s student whom he left to organize his writings after his death, explained about the Ari’s approach to the connection of his students:

𝑀𝑦 𝑡𝑒𝑎𝑐ℎ𝑒𝑟 𝑐𝑎𝑢𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛𝑒𝑑 𝑚𝑒 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑎𝑙𝑙 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑓𝑟𝑖𝑒𝑛𝑑𝑠 𝑤ℎ𝑜 𝑤𝑒𝑟𝑒 𝑤𝑖𝑡ℎ ℎ𝑖𝑚 𝑖𝑛 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑡 𝑠𝑜𝑐𝑖𝑒𝑡𝑦 𝑡𝑜 𝑡𝑎𝑘𝑒 𝑢𝑝𝑜𝑛 𝑜𝑢𝑟𝑠𝑒𝑙𝑣𝑒𝑠 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑐𝑜𝑚𝑚𝑎𝑛𝑑𝑚𝑒𝑛𝑡 𝑡𝑜-𝑑𝑜 𝑜𝑓 “𝐿𝑜𝑣𝑒 𝑦𝑜𝑢𝑟 𝑛𝑒𝑖𝑔ℎ𝑏𝑜𝑟 𝑎𝑠 𝑦𝑜𝑢𝑟𝑠𝑒𝑙𝑓,” 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑡𝑜 𝑎𝑖𝑚 𝑡𝑜 𝑙𝑜𝑣𝑒 𝑒𝑎𝑐ℎ 𝑜𝑛𝑒 𝑓𝑟𝑜𝑚 𝐼𝑠𝑟𝑎𝑒𝑙 𝑎𝑠 ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑜𝑤𝑛 𝑠𝑜𝑢𝑙, 𝑓𝑜𝑟 𝑏𝑦 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑠 ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑝𝑟𝑎𝑦𝑒𝑟 𝑤𝑜𝑢𝑙𝑑 𝑟𝑖𝑠𝑒 𝑐𝑜𝑚𝑝𝑟𝑖𝑠𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑎𝑙𝑙 𝑜𝑓 𝐼𝑠𝑟𝑎𝑒𝑙 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑤𝑖𝑙𝑙 𝑏𝑒 𝑎𝑏𝑙𝑒 𝑡𝑜 𝑎𝑠𝑐𝑒𝑛𝑑 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑚𝑎𝑘𝑒 𝑎 𝑐𝑜𝑟𝑟𝑒𝑐𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑎𝑏𝑜𝑣𝑒. 𝐸𝑠𝑝𝑒𝑐𝑖𝑎𝑙𝑙𝑦, 𝑜𝑢𝑟 𝑙𝑜𝑣𝑒 𝑜𝑓 𝑓𝑟𝑖𝑒𝑛𝑑𝑠, 𝑒𝑎𝑐ℎ 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑒𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑦 𝑜𝑛𝑒 𝑜𝑓 𝑢𝑠 𝑠ℎ𝑜𝑢𝑙𝑑 𝑖𝑛𝑐𝑙𝑢𝑑𝑒 ℎ𝑖𝑚𝑠𝑒𝑙𝑓 𝑎𝑠 𝑡ℎ𝑜𝑢𝑔ℎ ℎ𝑒 𝑖𝑠 𝑎𝑛 𝑜𝑟𝑔𝑎𝑛 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑜𝑠𝑒 𝑓𝑟𝑖𝑒𝑛𝑑𝑠. 𝑀𝑦 𝑡𝑒𝑎𝑐ℎ𝑒𝑟 𝑠𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑛𝑙𝑦 𝑐𝑎𝑢𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛𝑒𝑑 𝑚𝑒 𝑎𝑏𝑜𝑢𝑡 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑚𝑎𝑡𝑡𝑒𝑟. – 𝑅𝑎𝑣 𝐶ℎ𝑎𝑖𝑚 𝑉𝑖𝑡𝑎𝑙, 𝑆ℎ𝑎𝑎𝑟 𝐻𝑎𝐺𝑖𝑙𝑔𝑢𝑙𝑖𝑚, 𝐼𝑛𝑡𝑟𝑜𝑑𝑢𝑐𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛, 38.

Connection between the students is thus a key condition of studying the works of the Ari. As Rav Chaim Vital mentioned, there is a need to feel that each student is a single organ in one body, and the students need to be mutually dependent in their spiritual aspirations as is the interdependence of healthily-functioning bodily organs.

From the time of the Ari onward, a generation began where people’s desires grew to a new level, and they were ready to feel what the Ari passed on. In other words, desires in humanity underwent a certain development whereby more and more people could no longer simply believe in holy matters, but new desires meant new ways of yearning to discover the spiritual world.

Studying the works of the Ari thus involves longing to connect to the goal that he attained in his heart and soul. By dedicating ourselves to such a goal, we can become rewarded with our eyes opening to the spiritual world and the revelations that the Ari describes in his texts.

Therefore, together with the need for connection among the students to study the works of the Ari, there is also the requirement of calibrating the intention to the study. Rav Chaim Vital also discussed how the Ari guided his students to adjusting such an intention:

𝑀𝑦 𝑡𝑒𝑎𝑐ℎ𝑒𝑟 𝑤𝑜𝑢𝑙𝑑 𝑠𝑎𝑦 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑡 𝑡ℎ𝑒 ℎ𝑒𝑎𝑟𝑡 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑖𝑛𝑡𝑒𝑛𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑜𝑓 𝑟𝑒𝑎𝑑𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑖𝑛 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑇𝑜𝑟𝑎ℎ 𝑑𝑒𝑝𝑒𝑛𝑑𝑠 𝑜𝑛 𝑎𝑖𝑚𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑡𝑜 𝑐𝑜𝑛𝑛𝑒𝑐𝑡 𝑜𝑛𝑒’𝑠 ℎ𝑒𝑎𝑟𝑡 𝑡𝑜 𝑖𝑡𝑠 𝑟𝑜𝑜𝑡 𝑡ℎ𝑟𝑜𝑢𝑔ℎ 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑇𝑜𝑟𝑎ℎ 𝑖𝑛 𝑜𝑟𝑑𝑒𝑟 𝑡𝑜 𝑐𝑜𝑚𝑝𝑙𝑒𝑡𝑒 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑢𝑝𝑝𝑒𝑟 𝑡𝑟𝑒𝑒 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑐𝑜𝑚𝑝𝑙𝑒𝑡𝑒 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑢𝑝𝑝𝑒𝑟 𝐴𝑑𝑎𝑚 [𝑚𝑎𝑛] 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑐𝑜𝑟𝑟𝑒𝑐𝑡 ℎ𝑖𝑚, 𝑓𝑜𝑟 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑖𝑠 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑤ℎ𝑜𝑙𝑒 𝑝𝑢𝑟𝑝𝑜𝑠𝑒 𝑜𝑓 𝑚𝑎𝑛’𝑠 𝑐𝑟𝑒𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑝𝑢𝑟𝑝𝑜𝑠𝑒 𝑜𝑓 ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑒𝑛𝑔𝑎𝑔𝑒𝑚𝑒𝑛𝑡 𝑖𝑛 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑇𝑜𝑟𝑎ℎ. – 𝑅𝑎𝑣 𝐶ℎ𝑎𝑖𝑚 𝑉𝑖𝑡𝑎𝑙, 𝑃𝑟𝑖 𝐸𝑡𝑧 𝐶ℎ𝑎𝑖𝑚, 𝐺𝑎𝑡𝑒 “𝐶𝑜𝑛𝑑𝑢𝑐𝑡𝑠 𝑜𝑓 𝐿𝑒𝑎𝑟𝑛𝑖𝑛𝑔,” 𝐶ℎ𝑎𝑝𝑡𝑒𝑟 1.

Moreover, we cannot understand the writings of the Ari directly, because they are quite concealed. In order to unlock them, we require Kabbalist Yehuda Ashlag’s (Baal HaSulam’s) accompaniment and explanations.

Baal HaSulam went to great lengths to write detailed commentaries on the works of the Ari, including the monumental six-volume set, 𝘛𝘢𝘭𝘮𝘶𝘥 𝘌𝘴𝘦𝘳 𝘚𝘦𝘧𝘪𝘳𝘰𝘵 (The Study of the Ten Sefirot). It is not only Baal HaSulam’s efforts to interpret the works of the Ari through which he gives us access to understanding the Ari, but Baal HaSulam attained the Ari’s level of spiritual attainment, which is what let him understand the Ari and explain his works. Baal HaSulam himself wrote about such an attainment:

𝐾𝑛𝑜𝑤 𝑓𝑜𝑟 𝑐𝑒𝑟𝑡𝑎𝑖𝑛 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑡 𝑠𝑖𝑛𝑐𝑒 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑡𝑖𝑚𝑒 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝐴𝑟𝑖 𝑡𝑜 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑑𝑎𝑦, 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑟𝑒 ℎ𝑎𝑠 𝑛𝑜𝑡 𝑏𝑒𝑒𝑛 𝑎𝑛𝑦𝑜𝑛𝑒 𝑤ℎ𝑜 𝑢𝑛𝑑𝑒𝑟𝑠𝑡𝑜𝑜𝑑 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑚𝑒𝑡ℎ𝑜𝑑 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝐴𝑟𝑖 𝑡𝑜 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑓𝑢𝑙𝑙𝑒𝑠𝑡, 𝑎𝑠 𝑖𝑡 𝑤𝑎𝑠 𝑒𝑎𝑠𝑖𝑒𝑟 𝑡𝑜 𝑎𝑡𝑡𝑎𝑖𝑛 𝑎 𝑚𝑖𝑛𝑑 𝑡𝑤𝑖𝑐𝑒 𝑎𝑠 𝑔𝑟𝑒𝑎𝑡 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑡𝑤𝑖𝑐𝑒 𝑎𝑠 ℎ𝑜𝑙𝑦 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑛 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝐴𝑟𝑖’𝑠 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑛 𝑡𝑜 𝑢𝑛𝑑𝑒𝑟𝑠𝑡𝑎𝑛𝑑 ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑚𝑒𝑡ℎ𝑜𝑑 𝑖𝑛 𝑤ℎ𝑖𝑐ℎ 𝑚𝑎𝑛𝑦 ℎ𝑎𝑛𝑑𝑠 𝑓𝑖𝑑𝑑𝑙𝑒𝑑—𝑓𝑟𝑜𝑚 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑜𝑛𝑒 𝑤ℎ𝑜 𝑓𝑖𝑟𝑠𝑡 ℎ𝑒𝑎𝑟𝑑 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑤𝑟𝑜𝑡𝑒 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑚 𝑡ℎ𝑟𝑜𝑢𝑔ℎ 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑙𝑎𝑠𝑡 𝑐𝑜𝑚𝑝𝑖𝑙𝑒𝑟𝑠, 𝑤ℎ𝑖𝑙𝑒 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑦 𝑠𝑡𝑖𝑙𝑙 𝑑𝑖𝑑 𝑛𝑜𝑡 𝑎𝑡𝑡𝑎𝑖𝑛 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑚𝑎𝑡𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑠 𝑎𝑠 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑦 𝑎𝑟𝑒 𝑖𝑛 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑖𝑟 𝑢𝑝𝑝𝑒𝑟 𝑟𝑜𝑜𝑡. 𝑇ℎ𝑢𝑠, 𝑒𝑎𝑐ℎ 𝑖𝑛𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑡𝑒𝑑 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑐𝑜𝑛𝑓𝑢𝑠𝑒𝑑 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑚𝑎𝑡𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑠. 𝐴𝑛𝑑 𝑛𝑜𝑤, 𝑏𝑦 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝐶𝑟𝑒𝑎𝑡𝑜𝑟’𝑠 𝑤𝑖𝑙𝑙, 𝐼 ℎ𝑎𝑣𝑒 𝑏𝑒𝑒𝑛 𝑟𝑒𝑤𝑎𝑟𝑑𝑒𝑑 𝑤𝑖𝑡ℎ 𝑎 𝑐𝑜𝑛𝑐𝑒𝑝𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛 [𝑖𝑚𝑝𝑟𝑒𝑔𝑛𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛] 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑠𝑜𝑢𝑙 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝐴𝑟𝑖, 𝑛𝑜𝑡 𝑏𝑒𝑐𝑎𝑢𝑠𝑒 𝑜𝑓 𝑚𝑦 𝑔𝑜𝑜𝑑 𝑑𝑒𝑒𝑑𝑠 𝑏𝑢𝑡 𝑏𝑦 𝑎 ℎ𝑖𝑔ℎ𝑒𝑟 𝑤𝑖𝑙𝑙. 𝐼𝑡 𝑖𝑠 𝑏𝑒𝑦𝑜𝑛𝑑 𝑚𝑒, 𝑡𝑜𝑜, 𝑤ℎ𝑦 𝐼 ℎ𝑎𝑣𝑒 𝑏𝑒𝑒𝑛 𝑐ℎ𝑜𝑠𝑒𝑛 𝑓𝑜𝑟 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑤𝑜𝑛𝑑𝑒𝑟𝑓𝑢𝑙 𝑠𝑜𝑢𝑙, 𝑤𝑖𝑡ℎ 𝑤ℎ𝑖𝑐ℎ 𝑛𝑜 𝑜𝑛𝑒 ℎ𝑎𝑠 𝑏𝑒𝑒𝑛 𝑔𝑟𝑎𝑛𝑡𝑒𝑑 𝑠𝑖𝑛𝑐𝑒 ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑝𝑎𝑠𝑠𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑢𝑛𝑡𝑖𝑙 𝑡𝑜𝑑𝑎𝑦. 𝐼 𝑐𝑎𝑛𝑛𝑜𝑡 𝑒𝑙𝑎𝑏𝑜𝑟𝑎𝑡𝑒 𝑜𝑛 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑚𝑎𝑡𝑡𝑒𝑟 𝑎𝑠 𝑖𝑡 𝑖𝑠 𝑛𝑜𝑡 𝑚𝑦 𝑤𝑎𝑦 𝑡𝑜 𝑑𝑖𝑠𝑐𝑢𝑠𝑠 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑐𝑜𝑛𝑐𝑒𝑎𝑙𝑒𝑑. – 𝐾𝑎𝑏𝑏𝑎𝑙𝑖𝑠𝑡 𝑌𝑒ℎ𝑢𝑑𝑎 𝐴𝑠ℎ𝑙𝑎𝑔 (𝐵𝑎𝑎𝑙 𝐻𝑎𝑆𝑢𝑙𝑎𝑚), “𝐿𝑒𝑡𝑡𝑒𝑟 39.”

Therefore, since the time of the Ari onward, there was a change in the conditions for entering spirituality because of a change in humanity’s development of desires, and the Ari was the bearer of the change in the method of spiritual attainment. He brought us the wisdom of Kabbalah, and studying his works requires connection among the students, calibrating the intention during the study to the spiritual goal, and that we use Baal HaSulam’s texts as a prism through which we can penetrate into the Ari’s teachings.

The Ari was a very special soul and a giant among Kabbalists. He lived and worked in this world as a merchant, but simultaneously acted at spiritual heights above time, space and motion, and it is difficult to speak about such levels of greatness. The Ari is indeed a very special phenomenon, and it is truly a gift that we have the ability to enjoy his works

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