Kabbalah and its Meaning

There is nothing in the world that does not hold within it a hidden side – from the inanimate formed of atoms, to the deep-layered soul of a man * Some reveal the layers of depth by means of crises, but with the help of Torah and Mitzvot they can be reached in the best and most moderate way * For most of the world, the ‘sod’ is revealed gradually, except in righteous Tzaddikim like Rashbi * By virtue of his connection to the ‘sod’, Rashbi believed that Torah scholars do not need to work for a living, and even refused to compromise with the Roman monarchy * Even though the majority of Sages accepted the balancing of the ‘sod’ and the present physical world, unique individuals such as Rashbi illuminate creation

The Sod

To understand the value of Torat Ha’Sod (the hidden, or secret Torah, also known as Kabbalah), it must be explained that there is nothing in the world that does not have a hidden side. Even a stone that appears to be lifeless and inert contains secrets about the structure of matter, composed of tiny particles that are constantly in motion. All the more so in regards to flora and wildlife. Above and beyond that, coded in man’s mind and emotions are sodot (secrets) that even the deepest person cannot fully reveal. For example, a person decides to choose a profession for himself believing that it was because of his interest in the profession. Years later, upon delving deeper, he finds that there were deeper reasons connected to values ​​he had adopted in his youth, and after delving deeper, he finds even more profound reasons, sometimes related to his parents’ upbringing, or to that of his grandparents. And even after realizing this, he understands only the relatively superficial secrets, because within them lies even deeper and more hidden sodot. Sometimes when the deep reasons are in certain contradiction with the obvious reasons, all of a person’s choices fail, and he cannot understand why. The more a person understands his sodot, the better he will be able to direct his life.

Secrets of the Torah

In order to understand the depth of the sodot, it is not enough for a person to delve into himself, he must understand the deep secrets that drive the entire world, of which he himself is only one link. This is what Torat Ha’Sod deals with. Since these sodot are very deep secrets, above and beyond simple consciousness, explaining them is difficult. Therefore, most of the sages of Kabbalah used allegories composed of “worlds”, sefirot (spheres), and partzufim (personas). There are some Gedolim (eminent Torah scholars) like Rambam, who explained the profound secrets they discovered through their deep Torah study in a different way. Nevertheless, no great Torah scholar fails to search in every issue the deep foundation upon which it lies, and this principle is the beginning of the sod.

The Distance between the Sod and Ordinary Life

It is not by chance that a person is usually unaware of his sodot. They contain awesome powers that, if suddenly exposed, would cause him to collapse. The more one establishes himself and his self-confidence, in his mind and emotions, he is able to understand deeper and more awesomely glorious sodot. The sodot also encompass an abyss, such as the complexes and dark desires Sigmund Freud described, and without proper training someone exposed to the sodot is liable to be sucked into the abyss, and lose his faith in God and himself. Therefore, the deep ideas are sodot that have a large influence, nevertheless, are concealed so as not to interfere with the course of life. However, it is impossible to block the sodot, and thus, they are revealed gradually. When we choose well, following the path of Torah and mitzvot, they are revealed in a positive and balanced way. When we do not choose good, they are revealed in a negative way giving rise to crises, which then require great repentance or suffering in order to restore them for the better.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai

The majority of the Sages of Israel tended towards the middle path, which reconciles between the sod and the revealed, between the ideal and the difficulties found in this physical world. However, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi, for short) was so closely connected to the sod, that he was unable to compromise with revealed, everyday reality.

The Livelihood of Torah Scholars

In Rashbi’s opinion, a talmid chacham (Torah scholar) should only study Torah, without worrying at all about making a living, seeing as he is connected to the Torah by which God created His world, and by means of learning Torah in depth and detail the world is elevated to its perfected state in which man does not need to work – he would already be worthy to receive blessings and parnasa (livelihood) in one way or another, without having to work.

Therefore, when Rabbi Yishma’el stated the opinion accepted by most of the Sages of Israel, that even talmidei chachamim must conduct themselves with derech eretz (earn a living) and be involved in yishuvo shel ha’olam (concern for the needs and development of society), Rashbi replied: “Is that possible? If a man ploughs in the ploughing season, and sows in the sowing season, and reaps in the reaping season, and threshes in the threshing season, and winnows in the season of wind, what is to become of the Torah? No; but when Israel performs the will of the Omnipresent, their work is performed by others, and when Israel does not perform the will of the Omnipresent, their work is carried out by themselves…Not only that, but the work of others is also done by them” (Berachot 35b).

The conclusion of the majority of the Sages of Israel is that, although l’chatchila (ideally), before the sin of Adam Ha’Rishon (the first man) there was no need toil in work – after the sin, part of our tikkun (perfection) is achieved through working (see, Kiddushin 82b). This is what Abaye said: “Many have followed the advice of Rabbi Yishma’el, and it has worked well; others have followed Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and it has not been successful.” This is how Raba instructed his students, to work during the months requiring a great deal of work in the fields, so that during the rest of the year they would be free to study Torah (Berachot, ibid).

And although Rashbi’s approach did not suit the reality of this physical world, miracles were performed for him, and he did not have to forsake his studies in order to earn a livelihood.

The Attitude of Our Sages to the Rule of the Gentiles

The Jewish Sages have traditionally pursued a middle path, taking into consideration the difficulties of our present world. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, though, pursued absolute and ultimate truths. Concerning foreign rule, our Sages, in an attempt to prevent confrontations between Jews and the empires which ruled over them, taught that Jews must pray for the peace of the kingdom, “for were it not for the fear thereof, men would swallow each other alive” (Avodah Zara 4a). Only when the kingdom forced the Jews to betray their religion and there was no other choice, did they advocate rebellion.

In accordance with Torat Ha’Sod, Rashbi understood the central place of Israel in the world – that God imbues life to the world on their behalf, and that even during their exile the world continues to exist owing to them, as Rashbi said: “Come and see how beloved are Israel in the sight of God, in that to every place to which they were exiled the Shechinah (Divine presence) went with them” (Megillah 29a). Through Torat Ha’Sod, Rashbi connected to complete faith, to segulat Yisrael (uniqueness of Israel) and belief of Redemption, and maintained that it was permissible to provoke the wicked in this world (Berachot 7b).

Out of his adherence to Torat Ha’Sod, he was unable to tolerate the seeming reality in which the wicked ruled Israel, as related in the Talmud (Shabbat 33b) that once a discussion took place between three Sages regarding the kingdom of Rome. Rabbi Yehudah bar Ilai chose to emphasize the positive aspects of their regime, while Rabbi Yossi preferred to remain silent. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, though, could not bear hearing praise for such an evil kingdom. He retorted, “Everything they built, they built for themselves: They built market places in order to place prostitutes there; bathhouses, in order to refresh themselves; bridges, in order to collect taxes.”

When this discussion became known to the Romans, they decreed: “Rabbi Yehudah, for praising us, shall be promoted; Rabbi Yossi, for remaining silent, shall be punished through exile; Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, for speaking out against us, shall be put to death.” Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai fled and hid in a cave with his son – his wife providing them with food and water. The Romans pursued them with all their might, until finally they were forced to hide in a different cave which no one knew about. There, a miracle occurred: a carob tree sprouted up, and a natural spring began to flow, sustaining them for twelve years until they were informed that the emperor had finally died, and his decrees were nullified.

By then, as a result of their study in the cave, Rabbi Shimon and his son had become so elevated in Torah that when they came out they were unable to bear the sight of mundane worldly endeavors. Every place upon which they set their eyes was set aflame. They had to return to the cave for an entire year to delve deeper in Torah until they could understand the true value of this world. Having achieved this, they came out (Shabbat 33b).

A Path Suitable for Individuals in Which All Benefit

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s approach is unsuitable for the general public, and halakha follows the opinion of the majority of the Sages of Israel, namely, that one should not rely on miracles, the limitations of the world must be taken into consideration, and in times of distress, the lenient opinion of halakha should be applied. Since this is the halachic ruling of the majority of our Sages it is proof that this is God’s will – that we act to perfect the world while taking into account the reality of life in this world.

Nevertheless, there is great value in the existence of an eminent Torah scholar who lived his life uncompromisingly and in accordance with absolute values, who rebelled against the curse decreed upon mankind as a result of the sin of Adam Ha’Rishon, who clung to the Torah with great diligence, relied on miracles, and was assisted by God. By way of such individual Torah scholars, magnificent light from the eternal world appears in our physical world – from the vision of Israel’s redemption.

This is the reason why the nation of Israel hallowed and revered Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai for his devotion to the Torah and the faith of Israel.

Towards the Sabbatical Year

By the grace of God, towards the upcoming Shemitah (Sabbatical) year 5782 (2021), the Ministry of Agriculture, under the leadership of Minister Uri Ariel, has increased its support for farmers who plan to refrain from working the fields during Shemitah. The plan is that every farmer who intends to observe Shemitah is required to deposit a certain sum each year, and alternatively, the State will guarantee a double sum of money. A farmer can set aside up to ninety thousand shekels, and alternatively the State will allocate one hundred and eighty thousand shekels. With this sum of money, farmers will be able to subsist during the Sabbatical year. There is an additional plan for orchard owners requiring funds to preserve trees during the Sabbatical year.

Since next week is the last week in which one can join the program, it would be fitting for every farmer able, to join the program and observe the Shemitah. For more information, please call ‘Birkat Ha’aretz’: 02-531-9070, or 054-8509970.

All agree that this is the best way to observe Shemitah. As I explained in “Peninei Halakha: Shevi’it ve’ Yovel” (11:1), increase of the State’s support for farmers observing Shemitah is the best practical way by which it is possible to gradually progress towards full observance of Shemitah.

On the other hand, ‘Otzar Beit Din’s approach provides no solution, but in practice complicates things, rather than advancing them. Therefore, in the case of not observing Shemitah, it is preferable to work within the framework of the ‘Heter Mechira’ than by means of ‘Otzar Beit Din‘, both because the leniencies of the ‘Heter Mechira‘ are broader than those of ‘Otzar Bet Din‘, and also because the ‘Heter Mechira‘ is more beneficial for yishuv ha’aretz (the settlement of the Land of Israel) (ibid, 7:10-14; 8:8).

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

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