A Guide to the Hidden Wisdom of Kabbala
The Ari left behind a basic system for studying Kabbalah, which is still in use
today. Some of these writings are Etz Hachayim (The Tree of Life), Sha’ar
HaKavanot (The Gateway of Intentions), Sha’ar HaGilgulim (The Gateway of
Reincarnation), and others. The Ari died in 1572, still a young man. His
writings were archived according to his last wish, in order not to reveal his
doctrine before the time was ripe.
The great Kabbalists provided the method and taught it, but knew that their
generation was still unable to appreciate its dynamics. Therefore, they often
preferred to hide or even burn their writings. We know that Baal HaSulam
burned and destroyed a major part of his writings. There is special
significance in this fact that the knowledge was committed to paper, and
later destroyed. Whatever is revealed in the material world affects the future,
and is revealed easier the second time.
Rabbi Vital ordered other parts of the Ari’s writings to be hidden and buried
with him. A portion was handed down to his son, who arranged the famous
writings, The Eight Gates. Much later, a group of scholars headed by Rabbi
Vital’s grandson removed another portion from the grave.
Study of The Zohar in groups started openly only during the period of the Ari.
The study of The Zohar then prospered for two hundred years. In the great
Hassidut period (1750 – to the end of the 19th century), almost every great
rabbi was a Kabbalist. Kabbalists appeared, mainly in Poland, Russia,
Morocco, Iraq, Yemen and several other countries. Then, at the beginning of
the 20th century, interest in Kabbalah waned until it almost completely
The third period of the development of Kabbalah contains an additional
method to the Ari’s doctrines, written in this generation by Rabbi Yehuda
Ashlag, who authored the commentary of the Sulam (ladder) of The Zohar,
and the Ari’s teachings. His method is particularly suited to the souls of the
Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag is known as “Baal HaSulam” for his rendition of the
Sulam of The Zohar. Born in 1885 in Lodz, Poland, he absorbed a deep
knowledge of the written and oral law in his youth, and later became a judge
and teacher in Warsaw. In 1921, he immigrated to Israel with his family and
became the rabbi of Givat Shaul in Jerusalem. He was already immersed in
writing his own doctrine when he began to pen the commentary of The Zohar
in 1943. Baal HaSulam finished writing his commentary of The Zohar in
1953. He died the following year and was buried in Jerusalem at the Givat
His eldest son, Rabbi Baruch Shalom Ashlag, “the Rabash,” became his
successor. His books are structured according to his father’s instructions.
They gracefully elaborate on his father’s writings, facilitating our
comprehension of his father’s commentaries as handed down to our
The Rabash was born in Warsaw in 1907 and immigrated to Israel with his
father. Only after Rabbi Baruch was married did his father include him in
study groups of selected students learning the hidden wisdom of Kabbalah.
He was soon allowed to teach his father’s new students.