The Nut Garden

לקוטים מזוהר (Gleanings of Zohar)

Tag: תַבלִין

Hiding and Revealing the Face by Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag (Ba’al ha-Sullam)

canva-photo-editorYHWH, in your pleasure You made me stand mountain-strong. When You hid Your face, I was stricken (Psalms 30:8).

One portrait of the hiding

The blessed Holy One’s face is not revealed, that is, He does not act with one according to His name “The Good who does good” (Birkhat ha-Mazon) [cf. BT Ta’anit 31a]. Rather, to the contrary: he is afflicted by Him, suffers from a poor livelihood, and many wish to collect their debts from him and embitter his life. His entire day is filled with nothing but trouble and worry. He suffers from poor health and is disrespected by people. Any undertaking he starts he fails to finish, and he is constantly frustrated.

In this manner, of course he does not see the blessed Holy One’s good face, that is, if he believes that the blessed Holy One does these things to him, either as punishment for transgressions or to ultimately reward him. This follows the verse, For who YHWH loves He rebukes (Proverbs 3:12), and also, “The righteous begins with suffering” (Naḥmanides on Genesis 27:29), since the blessed Holy One wishes to eventually bestow abundant peace on him [cf. Psalms 126:5: They who sow in tears in glad song will reap; Zohar 2:187a: ‘All beginnings are hard, and their endings soft’].

Yet, he does not fail by exclaiming that all this befell him according to blind fate and nature without any reckoning or knowledge. Rather, he strengthens his trust in the blessed Holy One, whose providence caused him all this. Nevertheless, this is considered seeing the blessed Holy One’s back.

A second portrait of the hiding

The books refer to הַסְתֵּר בְּתוֹך הַסְתֵּר (ha-seter betokh ha-seter), “hiding within the hiding,” meaning one cannot see even the back of the blessed Holy One. Instead, he exclaims that the blessed Holy One has left him and no longer watches over him. He ascribes all the sufferings he feels to blind fate and to nature, since the ways of providence become exceedingly tangled in his eyes that they lead him to denial [of the blessed Holy One], perish the thought. This means that he prays and gives charity for his troubles but is not answered whatsoever. And precisely when he stops praying for his troubles, he is answered. Whenever he perseveres, trusts in providence, and improves his deeds, success turns away from him and he mercilessly declines. And when he abandons [the blessed Holy One] and begins to regress in his deeds, he becomes very successful and is greatly relieved [cf. Zohar 3:276b (RM)].

He does not find livelihood in a proper way, but through deceit or desecration of the Sabbath, and so on. All of his acquaintances who are masters of Torah and mitsvot suffer poverty, illness, and are despised by people. People who keep mitsvot seem to him lacking in דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ (derekh erets), common decency, born fools, and so hypocritical that he cannot tolerate their company for even a moment [cf. M Avot 2:2].

But all his wicked acquaintances, who mock his faithfulness, are very successful, well to do, and healthy. They know no illness, are clever, virtuous, and well-mannered. They are without worry, confident, and calm the whole day, perpetually.

And when providence arranges things in this way for a man, it is called “hiding within the hiding.” For then, perish the thought, he collapses under his weight and cannot persevere in the trust that his suffering comes from the blessed Holy One for some indiscernible reason. Finally he fails, becomes a heretic, and, perish the thought, says that the blessed Holy One does not watch over His creatures whatsoever, and all that befalls him transpires according to blind fate and nature. This is not seeing even the back.

A portrait of revealing the Face

However, once he has completely revealed the תַבלִין (tavlin), spice—the light of Torah—which man inhales into his body by his strengthening of trust in the blessed Holy One, he becomes worthy of providence with His face revealed. This means that the blessed Holy One acts with him as  befits His name, “The Good who does good.”

He discovers that he receives abundant goodness and great peace from the blessed Holy One and is always satisfied. For he obtains his livelihood with ease and to the fullest, never experiencing trouble or pressure, knows no illness, is highly respected by people, effortlessly accomplishes any plan that enters his mind, and succeeds wherever he turns.

When he wishes for something, he prays and he is instantaneously answered, as He always answers anything that he demands of Him, and not a single prayer is denied. When he strengthens his good deeds, he succeeds even more, and when he is negligent, his success decreases proportionally.

All of his acquaintances are honest, have a good livelihood and good health. They are highly respected in the eyes of people and have no worries at all. They are at peace all day, perpetually. They are smart, men of truth, possess a good appearance, and he feels blessed to be in their midst. But all of his acquaintances who do not follow the way of Torah have a poor livelihood, are burdened by heavy debts, and fail to find even a single moment’s rest. They suffer illness in pain, and are loathsome in the eyes of people. They seem to him inane, lacking in common decency, wicked, cruel, and flatterers full of lies such that it is intolerable to keep their company.

His blessed Name shows us that He is good and does good to all His creatures in every manner of benefit, and sufficient for every type among Israel. Certainly, the pleasure of one is not like the pleasure of another. For example, one who engages in wisdom will not take pleasure in honor and wealth, and one who does not engage in wisdom will not take pleasure in great attainment and innovating in wisdom. Thus, He gives wealth and honor to one, and wondrous attainment in wisdom to another.

A man’s demand to become stronger in his trust in the blessed Holy One’s providence over the world during a time of hiding brings him to murmur in books of Torah [cf. Psalms 1:2: But YHWH’s teaching is his desire, and His teaching he murmurs day and night], and to take from there the insight and understanding of how to strengthen his trust in His providence. The insights that he receives are called תוֹרָה תַבלִין (torah tavlin), “antidote of Torah,” until they reach a certain measure, when the blessed Holy One has compassion on him and pours upon him the spirit from on high—supernal abundance.

In summary: A portrait of hiding the Face

  1. Suffering torments such as lack of livelihood, poor health, humiliations, failing to achieve plans, personal doubt, such that he keeps himself from troubling his companion.
  2. Praying without being answered. When he improves his deeds he declines, but when he regresses in his deeds he is very successful. There is no chance of earning a living in a proper way, only through deceit and theft, or by desecrating the Sabbath.
  3. All of his honest acquaintances suffer poverty, ill health, and humiliations of all kinds, and his wicked acquaintances mock him everyday and are successful, healthy, wealthy, and lead carefree lives.
  4. All of his righteous acquaintances who keep Torah and mitsvot seem cruel, egotistical, backwards, born fools, lacking in common decency, and great hypocrites. He finds them repulsive and cannot tolerate their company for a moment, even if in a veritable Garden of Eden.

A portrait of revealing the Face

  1. Receiving good, abundant peace, and earning his livelihood with ease and to the fullest. He never feels stress or ill health, he is respected wherever he turns, and successfully and easily accomplishes any plan that enters his mind.
  2. When he prays, he is answered immediately. When he improves his deeds, he is very successful, and if he regresses in his deeds, he loses his success.
  3. All his acquaintances who walk along the upright path are wealthy, healthy, know no sickness, are highly respected in the eyes of the world, and dwell in peace and quiet. His acquaintances who do not walk along the upright path are without livelihood, filled with troubles, grief, illness, and are loathsome in the eyes of people.
  4. He regards all his righteous acquaintances as clever, reasonable, well-mannered, men of truth, and possessing of a good appearance such that it is a great pleasure to be in their company.

Choose the Spice of Life

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“Rabbi Yehoshu’a son of Levi asked: ‘What is And this is the teaching which Moses שָׂם (sam), set, before the children of Israel (Deuteronomy 4:44)?’ If he is worthy it becomes for him סַם (sam), medicine, of life, if not, סַם (sam), poison, of death [cf. pharmakon]” (BT Yoma 72b, cf. BT Ta’anit 7a).

“There is nothing good higher than עֹנֶג (oneg), delight, there is nothing evil lower that נֶגַע (nega), affliction” (Sefer Yetsirah §18).

Inasmuch as you will not have served YHWH your God in joy and with a good heart out of an abundance of all things, you will serve your enemies whom YHWH will send against you… I call to witness for you today the heavens and the earth. Life and death I set before you, the blessing and the curse, and you shall choose life so that you may live, you and your seed (Deuteronomy 28:47; 30:19).

“Our Rabbis taught: וְשַׂמְתֶּם (Ve-samtem), and you shall set [these words on your heart and in your very being…] (Deuteronomy 11:18)—סַם תָּם (sam tam), a complete remedy. Torah is compared to סַם חַיִּים (sam ḥayyim), an elixir of life. A parable: A man who struck his son a strong blow, and [then] put a plaster on his wound, saying to him, ‘My son, as long as this plaster is on your wound eat and drink what you like, and bathe in hot water or cold water, and do not fear. But if you remove it, look, it will rot.’ Thus the blessed Holy One said to Israel: ‘My children! I created the evil impulse but I [also] created Torah, as its תַבלִין (tavlin), antidote [lit., ‘spice’]; if you occupy yourself with Torah, you will not be delivered into his hand, as is said: For if you offer well, will it not be uplifting? (Genesis 4:7). But if you do not occupy yourself with Torah, you will be delivered into his hand, as is written, at the tent flap sin crouches (ibid.). And not only that, but he is entirely occupied with you, as is said, and for you is his longing (ibid.). Yet if you wish, you will rule over him, as is said, and you will rule over him (ibid.)” (BT Qiddushin 30b).

“This may be compared to a doctor who had one vial full of vivifying drug, which he kept for his son. He wanted to give his son that vivifying ointment. The doctor was wise, and he said, ‘There are bad servants in my house. If they know that I am giving this present to my son, it will be evil in their eyes, and they will seek to kill him.’

What did he do? He took a little bit of deadly poison and put it on the opening of the vial. Then he called his servants and said to them, You are faithful to me; would you like this drug?

They said, Let’s see what it is. They took a bit to taste, and before even smelling it, they felt that they were about to die. They said to themselves, If he gives this drug to his son, he will die, and we will inherit our master.

They said to him, Our master, this drug is fitting only for your son. Here are the wages of our labor; we leave them for you—give them to him as a bribe so that he will take this drug.

Similarly, the blessed Holy One is a wise doctor. He knew that if He gave the Torah to Israel before informing [the heavenly princes], they would pursue Israel every day on account of it and kill them. But He did this, and they gave Him gifts and presents so that [Israel] would accept it. All of these Moses received to give to Israel, as is written: You ascended the heights, you seized captives, you took gifts for humans (Psalms 68:19). Consequently, Israel inherited the Torah without any challenge or any accusation at all. Blessed is He and blessed is His name forever and forever!” (Zohar 3:193a, cf. BT Avodah Zarah 2b–3b).

“Even with all [of one’s lifetime of חֵטְא (ḥet), missing the mark] if he turns back in repentance of this it says, Turn back and be healed (Isaiah 6:10). And I will give him his soulmate, as it says, Let her be healing to your navel (Proverbs 3:8)—the form of Torah is סַם (sam), medicine, and she is life, as is written, A tree of life is she to those who grasp her (ibid. 3:18) [cf. BT Qiddushin 30b]. And his wife is in his form, as is written, Enjoy life with a woman whom you love (Ecclesiastes 9:9). Torah is good, as is written, For good learning I have given you, [do not forsake תּוֹרָתִי (torati), My teaching] (Proverbs 4:2). And his wife is in his form, as is written, Who finds a wife, finds a good thing (ibid. 18:22)” (Tiqqunei ha-Zohar 30a).

Through All Your Ways Know Him: The Evil Impulse is Very Good

The ways of YHWH are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall stumble in them (Hosea 14:10).

Through all your ways know Him, and He will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:6). Rava said: Even in the matter of a עֲבִירָה (avirah), transgression” (BT Berakhot 63a).

“Now, you might say, ‘How can a person love the blessed Holy One with יֵצֶר הָרָע (yetser ha-ra), the evil impulse? For look, the evil impulse is hostile, preventing a person from serving the blessed Holy One! How can he love Him with it? Well, this is a greater service of the blessed Holy One, when the evil impulse is overturned by the love that one feels for the blessed Holy One. For when the evil impulse is overturned and broken by a person, this is true love of the blessed Holy One, since he knows how to draw that evil impulse to His service. Here is a mystery for masters of qualities: Everything that the blessed Holy One has made, above and below, is all intended to manifest His glory, and all is for His service. Now, who has ever seen a servant denouncing his master, opposing everything that his master wishes?

It is the will of the blessed Holy One that humans should serve Him constantly, walking in the path of truth, thereby becoming worthy of many benefits. Since this is His will, how can an evil servant come and oppose, by his Master’s will—luring people to an evil path, distancing them from the good path, and causing them to disobey the will of their Lord? But actually, he is doing the will of his Master! This may be compared to a king who had an only son, whom he loved exceedingly. He commanded him, in love, not to approach an evil woman, for whoever approached her would be unworthy of entering the king’s palace. The son consented to do his father’s will in love. In the king’s abode, outside, was a harlot, comely in appearance and beautiful in form. Some days later, the king said, ‘I want to see my son’s devotion to me.’ He called for that harlot and said to her, ‘Go and seduce my son,’ to see his son’s devotion to him. That harlot, what did she do? She went after his son and began embracing him, kissing him, seducing him with all kinds of enticements.

If that son is worthy and obeys his father’s command, he rebukes her, pays no heed to her, and thrusts her away from him. Then the father rejoices in his son and brings him into his palace, giving him gifts and presents and great honor. Who caused all this honor for that son? You must admit, that harlot! And that harlot, does she deserve praise for this or not? Surely she does, from every aspect. First, because she carried out the king’s command; and second, because she brought upon the son all this honor, all this goodness, all this love of the king toward him. Therefore, it is written: and look, it was very good (Genesis 1:31). And look, it was good—this is the Angel of Life; very is the Angel of Death, who is surely very good for whoever heeds his Lord’s command.

Come and See: Were it not for this accuser, the righteous would not inherit those supernal treasures reserved for them in the world that is coming. Happy are they who have encountered this accuser, and happy are they who have not encountered him! Happy are they who have encountered him, for through him they inherit all that goodness, all that bliss, all those delights of the world that is coming, of which is written No eye has seen, O God, but You, what You will do for one who awaits You (Isaiah 64:3). Happy are they who have not encountered him, for through him they inherit Hell and are banished from the land of the living—the wicked who do not heed their Lord and are drawn after him. Therefore, the righteous should be grateful to him, for through him they inherit all that goodness, bliss, and delight in the world that is coming. What is the benefit for this accuser when the wicked obey him? Well, even though he has no benefit, he fulfills the command of his Master.

Furthermore, he is strengthened because of this; since he is evil, he becomes stronger when perpetrating evil. A wicked person is strengthened only after he has killed someone. Once he has killed people, he is emboldened, empowered potently, and feels pleasure. Similarly, that accuser grows in power only after he has lured people, accused them, and killed them. Then he is pleased, strengthened, and potently empowered. Just as the side of life is strengthened when people are good and walk on the straight path, so too this accuser is strengthened and empowered when the wicked heed him and are dominated by him—may the Compassionate One save us! Happy are they who are worthy of defeating him and overturning him, earning the world that is coming because of him! One should be strengthened by the blessed Holy One constantly. Of this is said Happy is the human whose strength is in You—highways in their heart (Psalms 84:6). Happy are they in this world, and happy are they in the world that is coming!” (Zohar 2:163a–b).

And you shall remember all the way on which YHWH your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to afflict you, to test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commands or not (Deuteronomy 8:2).

“Our Rabbis taught: וְשַׂמְתֶּם (ve-samtem), And you shall set (Deuteronomy 11:18)—סַם תָם (sam tam), a complete remedy. This may be compared to a man who struck his son a strong blow, and then put a plaster on his wound, saying to him, ‘My son! As long as this plaster is on your wound you can eat and drink at will, and bathe in hot or cold water, without fear. But if you remove it, it will break out into sores.’ Even so did the blessed Holy One speak to Israel: ‘My children! I created the evil impulse but I [also] created Torah, as its תַבלִין (tavlin), antidote [lit., spice]; if you occupy yourselves with Torah, you will not be delivered into his hand, for it is said: For whether you offer well, or whether you do not (Genesis 4:7). But if you do not occupy yourselves with Torah, you will be delivered into his hand, for it is written, at the tent flap sin crouches (ibid.). Moreover, he is altogether preoccupied with you [to make you sin], for it is said, and for you is his longing (ibid.). Yet if you will, you can rule over him, for it is said, and you will rule over him (ibid.)” (BT Qiddushin 30b).

“A parable: A king had sons and bought slaves for them saying, ‘Behold: They are to belong to you all equally.’ But one son said, ‘I do not want to share with you, for I am able to rob you of everything.’ The king said, ‘Because of this, you shall have no share among them at all, and you shall perform only what you are capable of!’ He went and lay in wait for them and showed them gold and jewels and armies, saying to them, ‘Come over to me.’ What did the king do? He lined up his armies and those of all his sons and showed them to the slaves, saying to them, ‘Do not deceive yourselves, mistaking his army [as] greater than my army. Here are my armies, but that son is the deceiver and plans to seize you. Do not listen to him, for at first he will speak smoothly in order to trap you in his nets, and afterwards יִצְחַק (yitsḥaq), he will laugh. But you are my slaves and I will do [good] for you if you turn away from him. For he is the שָׂר עַל תֹּהוּ (sar al tohu), prince of mere emptiness,’ as is said, And swerve not after הַתֹּהוּ (ha-tohu), mere emptiness (1 Samuel 12:21)—he will be of no avail, nor will he save, for he is mere emptiness, yet he is harmful, and I counsel you: If you really heed the voice of YHWH your God, and do what is right in His eyes, and hearken to His commands—keeping all His statutes—all the sickness that I put upon Egypt I will not put upon you (Exodus 15:26). Why all of this? Only to shut every door to him, so that he not find you at times soft and at times hard. When you keep all His statutes: all the sickness that I put upon Egypt­—by My hand—I will not put upon you. What is for I am YHWH your healer (ibid.)? And when He comes and strikes a blow—I am YHWH your healer” (Bahir §167).