Yesterday, October 7, sixty-eight years ago, Rav Yehuda Ashlag, the greatest kabbalist and thinker of our time, and one of the greatest of all time, passed away. He became known as Baal HaSulam (author of the Sulam [ladder]) after his Sulam commentary on The Book of Zohar. He lived through both world wars, predicted them well in advance, and warned his fellow Jews in Poland that a calamity awaits them long before the Holocaust. He wrote about it, talked about it, and organized the escape of hundreds of families from Poland to what was then Palestine and later became the State of Israel. His efforts were thwarted. The families were intimidated into staying in Poland, and his writings were banned.
Subsequently, Baal HaSulam moved to Palestine on his own and toiled just as diligently to spread the message of unity among Jews and unity throughout the world. Yet, in Palestine, too, his writings were banned and he was threatened that he would be imprisoned if he continued to spread his ideas.
Fortunately, many of his writings survived so we can learn of his greatness and realize his message. Today, it is imperative that we understand his legacy and realize his teaching because, among other things, he detailed how we can avoid a third, nuclear world war.
In the latter years of his life, Baal HaSulam dedicated his time to writing his monumental commentary on The Book of Zohar, the only complete commentary since the writing of The Zohar nearly two millennia ago. In the years prior to his work on The Zohar, he divided his time between writing a comprehensive commentary on the writings of the ARI, which became known as The Study of the Ten Sefirot, and writing essays on contemporary events and processes that shaped the world’s history.
In the 1930s, long before people spoke of globalization or the interconnectedness of nations, Baal HaSulam wrote a series of essays warning against exploitation because we are dependent on each other. Two essays in particular, “The Peace” and “Peace in the World,” analyzed the state of humanity, where it was headed, and what needed to be done.
In June 1940, he published a paper which he sold on the street like a regular newspaper. It contained opinion pieces in which he analyzed the situation in the world in view of the world war that was raging in Europe and elsewhere, and outlined the peril that awaited Polish Jewry. Alas, it was too late to save them. Had they listened to him in the 1920s, things would probably have been very different.
In the 1950s, shortly before his passing, he wrote what he predicted for the world, but never managed to publish it. He hoped that now that the world had seen the horrors of nuclear weapons, people would be willing to rise above their ego and unite. He also warned that if they did not, humanity would plunge into a third, and even fourth world war, both of which would be nuclear, and the relics would still have to rise above their ego and unite in order to put an end to hatred and war.
Baal HaSulam’s legacy is his efforts to help humanity unite. Today we see how essential it is that we understand his message of unity and spread it, as it is the only message that can prevent a third world war.
Kabbalists have always been ahead of their time. Baal HaSulam’s predecessors, too, were misunderstood during their lifetime. It is my hope that we understand the message of Baal HaSulam not centuries after his passing, but now, while there is still time to avoid a global tragedy.
To learn more about the travails of kabbalists and resistance to their message throughout the ages, read A Very Narrow Bridge: The fate of the Jewish people.