What a joy it is when you have the exact thing that someone wants and needs, and you give it to them! Giving – that’s a wonderful feeling. And “Giving: The Essential Teaching of the Kabbalah” is the title of my translation of the essays of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag. In these classic writings, Rabbi Ashlag shows – surprisingly – that learning to give is what Judaism is all about.
The main essay centers on the Golden Rule of loving others as we love ourselves. Rabbi Ashlag spells out how the joy of selfless giving provides the energy for building an ideal community that is compassionate and inclusive.
This is Judaism alive with spiritual meaning. It reveals the wisdom needed to dispel the confusion in our minds and the lack of direction in our society.
This wisdom can be learned the hard way via suffering – the destruction that we relive on Tisha B’Av; the curses in the Torah that is read this week; or the Coronavirus plague that the world is now living through. Suffering teaches us to avoid what we don’t want.
But the recommended way to wisdom is to internalize the teaching of an authentic sage such as Rabbi Ashlag. Gradually we can free ourselves from the slavery to our self-love and begin to focus on the needs of other people. Then we can spread the kind of love that will make Tu B’Av the most joyous day of the year. This is what we do want – to love one another.
Rabbi Ashlag was the greatest kabbalist in our era. The Zohar – the main text of the Kabbalah – is couched in esoteric parables. Rabbi Ashlag was the only one to understand the inner meaning of the parables of the Zohar. His commentary on the Zohar explicitly lays out spiritual guidance, relevant to us today, that we can receive from this ancient, sacred text.
This commentary on the Zohar is titled Hasulam – Hebrew for “The Ladder.” Since its publication Rabbi Ashlag has become known as “Baal Hasulam,” which means both “author of ‘Hasulam’” and “master of the ladder.” The ladder is a reference to the patriarch Jacob’s dream of a ladder connecting heaven and earth, the classic metaphor for the spiritual climb, step by step, from our earthly, selfish character toward an internalization of the divine, loving character of our Creator. Rabbi Ashlag both delineated in writing the details of the steps on the “ladder” and actually mastered the climb – hence the appropriateness of his distinctive name “Baal Hasulam.”
The book “Giving: The Essential Teaching of the Kabbalah” includes an explanatory commentary by a living Chasidic rebbe – Rabbi Avraham Gottlieb. And it is this commentary that makes this book unique among all other translations of the writings of Rabbi Ashlag. Only this translation makes the claim that anyone can understand it, no matter what their background and without any prior knowledge.
“Giving” has been called “the first book to read on authentic Kabbalah.” So if “joyful giving” resonates with you, and you are curious to see how this is the essential teaching of the Kabbalah – and Judaism generally, please read my introduction. And see that this is a book you want to read and share with others.