The Nut Garden

לקוטים מזוהר (Gleanings of Zohar)

Tag: עֲבוֹדָה

A Single Mitsvah by Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag (Ba’al ha-Sullam)

Ba'al ha-Sullam Portrait“If he performs one mitsvah, happy is he for turning the scale both of himself and of the whole world on the side of merit” (BT Qiddushin 40b).

There is no serving the blessed Holy One and keeping the mitsvot except in “לִישְׁמָהּ (Lishmah), for its own sake” (BT Pesaḥim 50b)—to please his Maker. Yet, our Sages have already introduced the practice of engaging in Torah and mitsvot even in “לֹא לִישְׁמָהּ (Lo lishmah), not for its own sake,” because “From not for its own sake, he comes to for its own sake” (ibid.)….

Yet since the outbreak of the war people’s patience has worn thin and everyone, especially the young, have abandoned self control and for that have become totally rebellious. It has become impossible to instill in them the habits of Torah study and keeping mitsvot. Moreover, the matter of [Torah] “not for its own sake,” which the masses base their practice on, is not the custom at all these days because respect for Torah has completely fallen. Therefore I have come out with this call to the Children of Israel to return to the service of the blessed Holy One and to be faithful to Him even if just a little. We do not demand of them total acceptance of Torah and mitsvot all at once, but rather one by one he’d accept [them, or] at least a single mitsvah. As the Sages, of blessed memory, said, “Habakkuk came and based all [mitsvot] on one, as is said, And the righteous shall live by his faithfulness (Habakkuk 2:4)” (BT Makkot 24b) [cf. Maimonides on M Makkot 3:16]. Even if a man says he will fulfill all the mitsvot of Torah except for one, look, this speaks of perfected ones who already perform the mitsvah “for its own sake.” Indeed, before coming to this perfection—when the entire preoccupation of the service is nothing but בְּחִינַת הָרֶגֶל (beḥinat ha-regel), habituation, from which he comes to do so “for its own sake”—then the loss is not so great between him who fulfills in whole or just a little.

I say that the first, and only mitsvah which guarantees attainment of the hope of “for its own sake,” is to resolve not to serve oneself, except for what is absolutely necessary—merely providing for his sustenance. The rest of the time, he will serve the public: rescuing the downtrodden, and every creature in the world that is in need of rescue and aid [cf. Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program: “Everyone according to his abilities, each according to his needs”].

Serving others with the blessed Holy One’s mitsvot

1) There are two advantages to this mitsvahEveryone will understand that they are serving because this labor is approved and agreeable to all the people in the world.

2) This mitsvah may better qualify one to keep Torah and mitsvot “for its own sake,” since the preparation is part of the objective. This is so because by accustoming himself to serving others, he benefits others and not himself. Thus, he gradually becomes fit to keep the mitsvot of the blessed Holy One with the required condition—benefiting the Creator and not himself. Naturally, the intention should be to keep the mitsvot of the blessed Holy One.

The part of Torah concerning relations between man and man

There are two parts in Torah: one concerns man and the Omnipresent; the other concerns man and man. And I call upon you to, at any rate, engage and assume that which concerns man and man, since thus you will also learn the part that concerns man and the Omnipresent.

Speech, thought, and action

Service of any kind, should include thought, speech, and action. We have already explained the “practical” part of the single mitsvah: he should agree to dedicate all of his free time to benefit people of the world. The aspect of “thought” is more essential in this mitsvah than in mitsvot relating to man and the Omnipresent. This is because in mitsvot between man and the Omnipresent, the “act” in itself testifies that the intention is to please his Maker, as there is no other room for such an action but Him.

Yet, with what concerns man and man, they are justified in and of themselves, since human conscience necessitates them. However, if he performs them from this perspective, he certainly has not done a thing. In others words, these actions will not bring him closer to his Maker and to actual service “for its own sake.”

Thus, each person should think that he is doing all that only to please his Maker, and to resemble His ways: as He is merciful, I am merciful, and as He always imparts good, so do I. This image, coupled with good deeds, will bring him closer to the blessed Holy One in a way that will equalize his form to spirituality and to holiness. In this manner, he becomes like a seal, fit to receive true supernal abundance.

And the matter of “speech” refers to prayer with the mouth—during the service and according to fixed times—for the blessed Holy One to turn his heart from “receiving to giving.” So, to murmur in Torah and in matters which promote achieving this [cf. Psalms 1:2: But YHWH’s Torah is his desire, and His Torah he murmurs day and night].

Pleasing his Maker unintentionally

It is hopeless to wait for a time when a solution is found for allowing him to begin the service of the blessed Holy One, “for its own sake.” As in the past, so in the future—every servant of the blessed Holy One must begin the service in “not for its own sake,” and from there attain “for its own sake.”

And the way to reach this rung is not limited in time, but by mechanisms and by the measure of his mastery over his heart. Hence, many have fallen, and will fall, in the matter of serving “not for its own sake,” and die without wisdom. Yet, their reward is nevertheless great, since his mind cannot appreciate the true merit and value of pleasing his Maker. Even if he labors not under this condition, since he is not worthy of another way, he still pleases his Maker. And this is called “unintentionally.”

Prophetic truth in material measurement

Since it is an absolute certainty the prophetic abundance must be received with language [lit., צֵירוּפִי אוֹתִיוֹת (tserufi otiot), letter-combinations] suitable for the spirit of beginners, that is, to benefit them and to be open to the self-interest of the generation. This is so because only then is it assured that the blessed Holy One’s word is accepted by the generation by way of “not for its own sake,” since the Creator did not prepare them in any other way, as mentioned above.

Hence, this is the sign of a true prophet: his prophecy is best suited for the material success of his contemporaries, as is written, And what great nation is there that has just statutes and laws like all this teaching that I am about to set before you today? (Deuteronomy 4:8). Since the material success at hand confirms their truthfulness, that, at last, it is indeed a widening of the gateway, as mentioned above.

The obligation to keep the 613 mitsvot

The 613 mitsvot, considered holy names, concern the matter of הַשׁגָחָה פְּרָטִית (hashgaḥah pratit), individual providence, for all who approach to receive divine abundance. Man is obligated to experience all of these orders, excepting none. Hence, the perfected ones follow them with their very being, in order to preserve them, down to their material branches, in the mystery of, In every place that I make My name invoked, I shall come to you and bless you (Exodus 20:24).

The Wisdom of Truth

The ancients chose a particular path for themselves, and I chose a general way, since to my mind it better suits the Divine, to ensconce Him in unchanging and eternal language. I mean to say that [even] with material success, they will not change in any place, nor in any time. Thus, my words are definitive.

For this reason I am forced to express רוּחָנִיוּת (ruḥaniut), spirituality, in a general way. However, I instead choose to explain all the particulars and immaterial language, to the most minute detail, which has no source other than this anthology, without the garment of material language—the pure Kabbalah. And by elucidating the spiritual particulars without the garment of material expressions, it will do much for the development of attainment. And this wisdom is called the Wisdom of Truth.

Prophecy

In prophecy no error or falsehood can occur, since in light of the truth which derives from the blessed Holy One how can there be error? Rather, it is as certain as rain and snow falling from the sky onto the soil, not ceasing until successful in their mission. Yet, soil that has been prepared by stone-removal and by plowing is better fit to receive than unprepared soil—everything depends on the preparation.

There is certainly a distinction among prophets, the kabbalists, since he is not actually in the [same] degree as his companion. Greatness or smallness is gauged according to the preparation of that prophet: one in a lower degree, due to a lack of tremendous preparation, is deficient in the light poured upon him, yet, the light of prophecy does not suffer any errors [itself]. However, his smallness causes him to use profuse language [lit., צֵירוּפִי אוֹתִיוֹת (tserufi otiot), letter-combinations], which is the multiplication of צִנוֹרוֹת וְכְּלִים (tsinorot ve-kelim), channels and vessels, until he attains prophecy.

Brevity is prophetic success

A prophet of a smaller degree imposes a more arduous way upon the people to whom he has been sent, although the veracity of a prophet is ultimately determined by the success of his will. However, one of a greater degree, whose preparation is meticulous, experiences no aberration when he receives his prophecy from the blessed Holy One. Hence, he will not increase the channels and vessels, since his prophecy is clear, concise, and easily and quickly accepted by those to whom he has been sent.

It is possible that the smaller may succeed more than the greater

Besides the aforementioned, it is possible for the smallest of prophets to succeed with his prophecy even more than the greatest prophet—concerning the aforementioned brevity—since he relies on the revelations of prior prophets, who paved his way for him. It also depends on the development of his audience, since clear and concise words require a more developed generation, so they can understand him. And if these two [conditions] augment one of a small degree, he can succeed far more than a great one [cf. John of Salisbury, Metalogicon 257].

The secret of prophecy through the generations

Although Moses our teacher, peace be upon him, received the Torah and the statutes for all the generations, to such an extent that a prophet is not permitted any innovations, his prophecy was only given for a time. This is attested to by: A prophet like me from your midst, from your brothers, YHWH will raise up. Him shall you heed (Deuteronomy 18:15). If the prophecy of Moses, peace be upon him, were enough for all eternity, why would the blessed Holy One send any other prophets such as him? Clearly, his prophecy was effective only for its time. And when that time is through, the blessed Holy One sends another prophet to extend or complete His desire.

Yet, the prophet is not permitted to renew or subtract a thing, for this would mean that there was a deficiency in the previous prophet, perish the thought. Rather, the words of the blessed Holy One are always perfect, as is written, I am the fist and I am the last (Isaiah 44:6). And his only task is to extend that same prophecy to those generations that are no longer worthy of receiving from the first.

And the final prophet is the mystery of מָשִׁיחַ (mashiaḥ), Messiah, who fulfills them all. He, too, is certainly not permitted to add or subtract, but his success will be greater, since the whole generation will be fit to receive his words and be fulfilled through him. This is so for two reasons: either because of their greatness, or because of his contemporaries, or because of both.

The essence of prophetic success

The essence of prophetic success is לְהַמשִׁיך (le-hamshikh), to draw, the supernal light down to the lowest ones below. The one who brings it lowest is the most successful. Above and below are measured in spirit and in physical benefit, since the physical obtained by prophecy is the point that gives people footing, and it is known that the focal point in the service of God is the first footing.

A general force and a particular force

Their uniqueness is the unity of the blessed Holy One and the Shekhinah. A particular force is forbidden reception until the lowest degree, and a general force is the multiplication of giving with all his might and his very being.

Bread of Shame

imageThe hater of gifts shall live (Proverbs 15:27).

“Before souls come to the world, they resemble one who eats the bread of the King without serving Him. And this is why the Sages say that it is good for man to have been created [see BT Eruvin 13b]…. Souls feel ashamed to eat the bread of the King without serving Him, and therefore they yearn to come to the world… so as to leave that shame; they seek to come to this world, to engage in Torah and mitsvot, to till it and watch it (Genesis 2:15) so that they may eat bread without shame” (Rabbi Yosef Karo, Maggid Meisharim, Bereshit; cf. Zohar 2:87a, Sava de-Mishpatim).

“One who eats from his friend’s food is ashamed to look at him” (JT Orlah 1:5, 61b).

“Two people eat from the same bowl, but each one tastes according to his deeds” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan §37).

“Rabbi Natan son of Abba further said in the name of Rav: He who is dependent on another’s table, the world is dark to him, as is said: He wanders for bread—where is it? He knows that the dark day awaits him (Job 15:23). Rabbi Ḥisda says: Also, his life is no life” (BT Beitsah 32b).

“I have the following tradition from my grandfather’s family: At all times shall one [rather] hire himself out to עֲבוֹדָה זַרָה (avodah zarah), idol-worship [lit., foreign worship], than be in need of [his fellow] creatures. He thought that עֲבוֹדָה זַרָה (avodah zarah), [meant] actual [idol worship], but it is not so, [the meaning being,] ‘work which is foreign to him;’ as Rav said to Rabbi Kahana: Flay a carcass in the street and earn a wage, and say not, ‘I am a great man and the work is degrading to me’” (BT Bava Batra 110a).

“One who supports himself from his own labor is greater than one who fears Heaven” (BT Berakhot 8a).

“Tanna debe Eliyyahu [taught]: Though Rabbi Akiva said, ‘Treat your Sabbath like a weekday rather than be dependent on men,’ yet one must prepare something small at home [in honor of Sabbath]. What is that [which even the poorest must prepare]? Rav Papa said: Fried fish. As we learned: Rabbi Yehudah son of Teima said, ‘Be as bold as a leopard, swift as an eagle, fleet as a gazelle, and as mighty as a lion, to do the will of your Father in Heaven’ (M Avot 5:24)” (BT Pesaḥim 112a).

“Rabbi Yehudah opened, ‘Is it not to share your bread with the hungry? (Isaiah 58:7). Come and see: Happy is one’s portion when he encounters a poor person! For a poor person is a gift that the blessed Holy One has sent to him. Happy is the share of one who receives that gift cheerfully!…’ Is it not to share your bread with the hungry? What is פָרֹס (paros), to share? לְמִפְרַס (Le-miphras), to spread, a tablecloth with bread and food to eat. Alternatively, Is it not פָרֹס (paros), to share?—as is said: פְּרֵס פְּרִיסַת (Peres perisat), פְּרֵס (peres)—has been divided (Daniel 5:28), for one should לְמִפְרַס פְּרִיסִין (le-miphras perisin), break pieces, of bread before him so that he will not feel ashamed, and one should break it before him generously” (Zohar 2:198a).

“Please, LORD our God, do not make us dependent on the gifts or loans of other people, but only on Your full, open, holy and generous hand so that we may suffer neither shame nor humiliation for ever and all time” (Birkat ha-Mazon).

“The Rabbis taught: It happened once that a man’s wife died and she left behind a child to nurse, and he did not have the wages [to pay] a wet-nurse. A miracle was performed for him and his breasts opened like a woman’s breasts and he nursed his child. Rav Yosef said, ‘Come and see how great a man this is that such a miracle was performed for him!’ Abbaye said to him, ‘On the other hand, how deficient a man this is that סִדְרֵי בְרֵאשִׁית (sidrei ve-reshit), the laws of nature, were changed for him! [if he was worthy he might have come into money, therefore, a miracle was really performed for the child].’ Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘Come and see how difficult [providing] a person’s food [is]: the laws of nature were changed for him!’ Rabbi Naḥman said: Know that miracles are evoked, but food is not created [from nothing; on blessing not appearing in an empty place, see BT Sanhedrin 92a, in the name of Rabbi El’azar; Naḥmaindes on Exodus 25:24; Zohar 1:88a–b, 240a, 250a; 2:63b, 67a, 87b–88a, 154b–155a, 157b; 3:34a]” (BT Shabbat 53b).

“A person should not embolden himself to say: ‘The blessed Holy One will save me,’ or ‘He will do this for me.’ Rather, he should place his strength in the blessed Holy One, to help him fulfill the commandments of Torah and walk in the way of truth, for as soon as one comes to purify himself, he is certainly assisted [cf. BT Shabbat 104a]. So should one fortify himself in the blessed Holy One—in order that He may help him—holding fast to Him, not placing his strength in another. So, whose strength is in You (Psalms 84:5)” (Zohar 1:142a).

Happy all who fear YHWH, who walk in His ways. When you eat of the toil of your hands, happy are you, and it is good for you (Psalms 128:2).

Better this World, the Work of Our Hands

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“[Rabbi Ya’aqov] used to say: Better one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world than all the life in the world to come. Better one hour of bliss in the world to come than the whole life of this world” (M Avot 4:22).

May the sweetness of the Master our God be upon us and the work of our hands firmly found for us, and the work of our hands firmly found! (Psalms 90:17).

“May you see your world in your lifetime” (BT Berakhot 17a).

“A person should not embolden himself to say: ‘The blessed Holy One will save me,’ or ‘He will do this for me.’ Rather, he should place his strength in the blessed Holy One, to help him fulfill the commandments of Torah and walk in the way of truth, for as soon as one comes to purify himself, he is certainly assisted [cf. BT Shabbat 104a]. So should one fortify himself in the blessed Holy One—in order that He may help him—holding fast to Him, not placing his strength in another. So, whose strength is in You (Psalms 84:5)” (Zohar 1:142a).

Go to the ant, you sluggard, see its ways and get wisdom. For she has no foreman, no taskmaster nor ruler. She readies her bread in summer, stores up her food at the harvest. How long, O sluggard, will you lie there. When will you rise from your sleep? A bit more sleep, a bit more slumber, a bit more lying with folded arms, and your privation will come like a wayfarer, your want like a shield-bearing man (Proverbs 6:6–11).

“Our Rabbis taught: And you shall gather in your grain (Deuteronomy 11:14). What is to be learnt from these words? Since it says, This book of teaching shall not depart from your mouth, [and you shall murmur it day and night, so that you may keep to do according to all that is written in it; then you will make your ways succeed and then you will prosper] (Joshua 1:8)—I might think that these matters are as they are written [i.e., to be taken literally]. Therefore it says, And you shall gather in your grain—the usual way of the land. This is the view of Rabbi Yishma’el.

Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai says: 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 Torah? No. Rather when Israel performs the will of the Omnipresent, their work is performed by others, as is said, And foreigners shall stand and tend your flocks [and strangers be your farmers and keepers of your vineyards] (Isaiah 61:5), and when Israel does not perform the will of the Omnipresent their work is carried out by themselves, as is said, And you shall gather in your grain. And not only that but the work of others also is done by them, as is said, You will serve your enemies… [whom YHWH will send against you in hunger and in thirst and in nakedness and in the lack of all things, and he will put an iron yoke on your neck until you are destroyed] (Deuteronomy 28:48).

Abayye: Many have done as Rabbi Yishma’el, and it has worked well; others have acted like Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai and it has not been successful. Rava said to the Rabbis: I beg you during [the months of] Nisan and Tishrei [the crucial agricultural periods] do not to appear before me. [Engage in your agricultural work then] so that you not be preoccupied [or: anxious] about your sustenance all year [on Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai’s extreme outlook, see BT Shabbat 33b].

Rabba son of Son of Ḥana said: Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Yehudah son of Rabbi El’ai: Come and see: the latter generations are not like the earlier generations. The earlier generations made their Torah permanent and their work occasional—this and that were successful for them. The latter generations who made their work permanent and their Torah occasional, neither this nor that was successful for them” (BT Berakhot 35b, cf. Decline of the Generations).