If you listen carefully to God, your God, and observe and to do all His commandments which I command you today . . . (Devarim 28:1)
We navigate in life by paying attention to signs. If we are traveling by car we look for road signs, or familiar countryside. If we travel through time then also we look for signs, those things or events that remind us what time of year it is.
For me, personally, Parashas Ki Savo is such a sign. When we reach this ominous parshah that contains 96 potential curses that can befall the Jewish people for straying from Torah, I begin to feel uneasy. Ready or not, and usually not, Rosh Hashanah is about to begin, and judgment, once again, is at hand.
They both deal with the same issue, Rosh Hashanah and Parashas Ki Savo. The latter tells us straight out what we’re supposed to be, and the former judges our progress. The latter warns of the consequences for taking our task lightly, and the former decides to what extent we have done so and therefore deserve any of those consequences.
At the heart of the matter is something the Arizal calls an Adam Shalaim—a Complete Person (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Ch. 18). No matter who we are, where we live, when we live, how we live, we all live to become one thing: an Adam Shalaim. It is both our ticket to the World-to-Come, and our present world, because there is no greater sense of accomplishment than becoming the complete you.
In Sha’ar HaGilgulim, the Arizal outlines the only way to achieve this goal. However, after learning it, it is clear that it requires some interpretation if it is to have a wider application, so that it can include not just a segment of the Jewish population, but all of it.
He writes (or at least Rav Chaim Vital did in his name):
- Know that a man who only performs mitzvos merits the Nefesh called Asiyah, but not more. He is similar to a woman whose husband has gone overseas and has left her without clothing, food, or drink. He is like the Divine Presence that sits in exile and darkness while Its house lays in ruin. That is what a Nefesh of a person is like without a Ruach, which is its ‘husband’: it lacks light and a mind for understanding. If this person further makes an effort to be involved in Torah, constantly learning, thinking about, and teaching Oral Law, and always for its own sake, then he will merit the Ruach which is from Yetzirah.
Then he will be like a woman whose husband has arrived, and who continuously lives with her in her house, clothing, feeding, giving her drink. She returns to her [appropriate] level. Such is the person within whom the Ruach comes and dwells within his Nefesh. Then his Nefesh will be filled with the spirit of wisdom, and his Nefesh will ascend from Asiyah to Yetzirah. If a person further tries to become involved in the Hidden Wisdom, the secrets of Torah, then he will merit to receive a Neshamah, which is from Beriyah. The Neshamah will shine within the Ruach and increase his level, adding wisdom to his wisdom, and he will them be called an Adam Shalaim—a complete person.
Regarding such a person it says: “God made man in His image.” (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Ch. 18)
Now, obviously everyone does not get a chance to learn Torah in life, at least not to the extent that we’re talking about here. Does that mean that they will never get past the level of soul called Nefesh? And, even if someone merits to learn Mishnah and even Talmud, how many people get the opportunity, or use it, to learn Kabbalah? Are only the true Kabbalists, of which there aren’t too many today, capable of receiving the level of soul called Neshamah?
Ideally, the system is the system, meaning that the best way to receive these levels of souls is as the Arizal has taught above. However, there is also room to say that each level of Torah learning represents an approach to life as well, and an attitude towards Avodas Hashem—the service of God.
The whole point of Torah Sh’b’al Peh—the Oral Law—is that our speech should be used primarily for the sake of furthering our relationship with God. This is not just a function of the knowledge we learn from the Sea of the Oral Law, but also because speech represents our capacity to be Godly. When God breathed a soul into man, it was speech that primarily resulted.
As the Zohar says, you can tell where a person is spiritually holding by what comes out of his or her mouth. In a very real sense, speech is the measure of the mixture of body and soul: the more the soul controls the person, the more spiritual his or her words will be. This is something that is possible to control for anyone who seeks a closer relationship with God.
As for Kabbalah, obviously the principle way to delve into it is by directly learning the holy works of the great Kabbalists. The point of doing so, however, is for the sake of deepening one’s understanding of the world, our role within it, and how to better be a partner in the perfection of Creation. There is incredible depth, detail, and beauty in such works, but the main point of learning them is to better understand the world God made, and why He made it.
Not everyone merits to have access to such knowledge, and not everyone who gains access to it understands what they learn or what it means. But the desire to know what is behind Creation comes from within all of us, and its starting point is taking some time to meditate on just how intricate Creation actually is. Today, more than ever, that is easy to do.
Once a person approaches life this way, then Heavenly help kicks in as well. This means a person can merit to know things that he otherwise might not have known based upon his existing means of education. The Rambam, or Maimonides, who many people say did not learn Kabbalah per se, said many Kabbalistic things. The conclusions he arrived at, with Heavenly help no doubt, were because of his intense desire to be close to God and to better understand His Creation.
As for our generation, we live in a unique time, educationally-speaking. The opportunity to learn Torah is unprecedented in recent times, which is why the Internet has become such a vehicle for evil. To maintain free-will, as the power of good increases, the power of evil must also become stronger, at least until Moshiach finally comes. When one outbalances the other, then free-will becomes limited, either in the direction of good or evil, depending upon which one has the upper hand at the time.
It also says in Sha’ar HaGilgulim that right before Moshiach comes, Sod, Kabbalah, will be easier to learn once again, as it was in the time of Rebi Shimon bar Yochai. One hundred years ago, without Ruach HaKodesh, some form of supernatural insight, it may have been difficult to understand how or why.
Today, both are easier to appreciate. A person needs a deep understanding of Torah to make sense of the events and spiritual opportunities today. And, with the help of modern technology, it is becoming easier to access the ancient wisdom that is so crucial for a correct modern understanding. For all we know, this is Heaven’s way of allowing the final generations of history to finish off their personal rectifications before time runs out.
But, the starting point is knowing that you have to want to be an Adam Shalaim.
Copyright © by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston has authored many books on Jewish philosophy (Hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston’s Perceptions on the Parsha, you may enjoy his books. Visit Rabbi Winston’s online book store for more details! www.thirtysix.org