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.