I get multiple inquiries about the translation of the letter that was composed by Sulam students in response to groups like Litman and Berg. Due to my studies schedule I have extremely limited time and therefore can’t dedicate sufficient effort to the translation. I therefore post a first DRAFT, which is RAW translation of the first part of the letter only due to multiple requests at least to have something. Later on I’ll try to complete the translation and make it more readable.
Here is the letter:
To the honorable Rabbi Gotlieb,
Is it true that the study of wisdom of Kabbalah isn’t connected to the observance of Torah and Mitzvot?
Did Rabbi Ashlag ZT”L ever say or write that torah and mitzvot aren’t connected to the study of wisdom of Kabbalah?
My question comes due to the fact that there are groups that are dealing in Kabbalah leveraging the teachings of Rabbi Ashlag and they firmly claim that this is the case (i.e. that torah and mitzvot are not connected to the study of Kabbalah). I am asking the honorable Rav to respond to this matter.
First of all I would like to say that I don’t have neither any idea nor any connection to those groups and therefore I do not want to address them specifically at all. Generally I have no desire to discuss and to judge groups and certain individuals as I do not have such jurisdiction, however there is definitely a place to demonstrate the original way of the school of Rabbis Ashlag, to testify on everything that our eyes have seen and our ears have heard to identify erroneous ways and ideologies. And since questions that are similar to yours are piling up increasingly both in writing and via telephone I therefore decided to make my opinion public which I also reviewed with the top scholar of Rabbi Baruch Shalom Ashlag (may his memory shine upon us) Rabbi Yisrael Miller that merited to be the right hand of the Rebbe continuously over thirty-five years and was without any doubt the closest person to the Rebbe. Therefore this article is a common work of mine and his and its goal is to bring to light the knowledge of the school of Ashlag as we heard it from them and as we were instructed by them-as to which path to follow and which path to avoid
I merited to be with Rabbi Baruch Shalom Ashlag (let his blessed memory shine upon us) for the duration of fourteen years and during this time I was very close with him like a son in his house and during this whole time I have never heard from him that there is no connection between study of Kabbalah to the observance of Mitzvot Gd forbid, and I have never heard from him anything that would indicate that mitzvot are optional rather than obligatory from the Torah Gd forbid. On the contrary, he was stringent on every minor detail and he was very meticulous in all mitzvoth and all halachot to the tiniest of details. And not this alone but he was specifically instructing us, his closest students, that it is our obligation to be precise with the performance of Halacha much more than people that study only Nigleh (revealed part of the Torah). And he specifically emphasized that the key to our success in coming closer to the Creator depends on combining two things together-keeping the Torah and Mitzvot in a practical manner in every element as this equals to a body and the study of wisdom of Kabbalah equals to soul (neshamah) and it is clear that the soul without a body is like air that lacks substance drifting on the air without meaning in the daily reality exactly like a body without a soul sits in the dark without light.
I was personally present to see stringency of RABASH with all those things and there was once a case that it became clear to us that in his lesion there was a person Jewish baal teshuva that was not wearing Tzitzit, the Rabbi therefore asked someone to tell this person to leave the class. In addition the Rebbe RABASH explicitly told us “whoever states that there is no need in performance of Torah and Mitzvot or whoever is lax in some portions of torah and mitzvot he is very dangerous and one must distance oneself from him.”
People of the real faith live the life of body and soul balanced with each other because this is how the Creator created the person in a manner that he is made from two opposites in order that those opposites complement each other. And therefore it is needed to invest into simple performance of physical Mitzvot such as putting on Tefillin, praying, making Kiddush on Shabbos, Netilas Yadaim, being involved in acts of kindness and charity between a person and his family and between a person and his friends, and blessing after food, and all blessings in general, and keeping the Shabbos, and purity of the family, etc… In addition one also should invest into the building of the internal soul that is part of the intellectual and emotional being of the person so he will come to a state that the fire is burning within him, fire of love and fear towards the Creator and the creation as one. The performance of external mitzvot help internal and internal helps external; one complements and enhances the other.
The Rebbe wrote numerous articles on the subject and here is one of them as an example on the topic of the goal (the translation of the article itself is omitted from the translation of the letter)
And here lately I had an opportunity to talk to one of the few people that is still alive that studied in the school of the Rebbe Baal Hasulam (passed away in 1955), HaRav Ezrel Chaim Lomberger, who was a student of Baal Hasulam himself, and he was shocked to hear such things that there are people that say that there is no need in keeping the Torah and Mitzvot or that project them as an option or as cultural symbols Gd forbid, and he told me that our Rabbi Baal Hasulam was extremely careful on keeping the Torah and Mitzvot and when it came to the matters of Halacha he was exceedingly stringent, much more than other people. Because there are things that most of the Orthodox community is doing however the Rebbe Baal Hasulam was extra stringent on them because they had halachic disputes and he always chose to follow the most stringent way of performing a Mitzvah
And therefore we should pay attention to this thing a person on a level of the Rebbe Baal Hasulam that of course came to the completion of his private correction we here have a live testimony of a person that was like a son in his house and he is still alive and he states explicitly that Baal Hasulam was extra stringent and was always taking the extra step from the standard norm of the Ultra Orthodox community. And this is of course not unusual as he was like a “letter that is standing on earth with its top reaching heaven” because this is the intended perfection where a person holds the perfection of Godliness from one side and from the other side of the letter he is performing up to the smallest detail every physical leaf, i.e. the Torah and the Mitzvot in a practical, simple and fundamental manner.
And those things they are very straightforward even in our corporeal world. For example would it even be possible that in an army a person who did not even act as a private would become a general? Of course not. Is it possible that a person will receive a master’s degree in a college if he never attended high school? Of course not. Therefore based on what logic do people hold that they can deal with the wisdom of Kabbalah, be successful to come to spiritual levels if they can not even perform the simplest and the lowest thing of Judaism? It is clear to everyone that the performance of Mitzvot is a simple and non-complex thing, accessible to all. And how can one skip it to immediately approach the level of intentions and emotions while he does not hold in his hands even the simplest level of this physical world?
To say that it is possible to come to the spiritual levels of holiness without performing physical mitzvot is an outrageous lie. And if a person would say “but I came to feelings of spirituality without the keeping of Torah and Mitzvot.” My answer is that those “higher” feelings do not point to Truth. As our sages already stated the Creator shone various divine lights into the systems of Sitra Achra (the Other Side) and the Clippot (shells) and all this was done in order to give a person free will. And therefore, of course the feelings and the pleasures that one experiences have their sources in Clippot and in the Sitra Achra, which is what provides the person these pleasant feelings. But this lie does not have legs and therefore it cannot sustain itself for a long time, thus a person has cyclical feelings of misery followed by feelings of joy, but at this point it is be very hard to free oneself from the control of Clippot.
COPY/PASTE FROM TORAH DEVARIM 13
1) The entire word that I command you that shall you observe to do you shall not add to it and you shall not subtract from it. 2) If there should stand up in your midst a prophet or a dreamer of a dream and he will produce to you a sign or a wonder 3) and the sign or the wonder comes about of which he spoke to you saying ‘let us follow gods of others that you do not know, and we shall worship them!” – 4) do not hearken to the words of that prophet or to that dreamer of a dream for Hashem, you G-d, is testing you to know whether you love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul. 5) Hashem, your G-d, shall you follow, and him shall you fear; his commandments shall you observe and his voice shall you hearken; him shall you serve and to him shall you cleave. 6) And that prophet and that dreamer of a dream shall be put to death for he has spoken perversion against Hashem, you G-d, Who takes you out of the land of Egypt, and Who redeems you from the house of slavery – to make you stray from the path on which Hashem, your G-d, has commanded you to go; and you shall destroy the evil from your midst.
And this is what Rambam, blessed be his memory, wrote in his book “Hayad Hahazakah”
A) It is clearly explained in the Torah that it is the commandment that stands for eternity, it does not change, it does not shrink, and it does not extend, as it is said: “everything that I am telling you today you shall do, do not add onto it and do not subtract from it.” And it is said: “And it has been let know to us and our children until eternity to perform everything that is written in this Torah.” From this we learn that all the commandments of the Torah command us to perform them until eternity. And he also says: “this is the set of laws for all your generations.” And it is said: “It is not in Heaven.” Which comes to teach us that there is no prophet who is allowed to renew anything in it. Therefore if comes a man, whether from another nation or from Israel and will perform a miracle and he will say that Gd sent him to add a commandment or to subtract a commandment or to change a commandment in a way we have never heard of, or he will say that those commandments that Israel was commanded by are not for eternity and for all the generations, but rather these are commandments bound to a past time, it is obvious that this is a false prophet that comes to deny the prophecy of Moshe. And he will be put to death, for he spoke on behalf of Hashem who has not commanded him to do so as he commanded to Moshe that these commandments are for us and for our children until eternity.
B) Why is it also stated in Torah: “I will establish a prophet for you from the midst of your brothers”? He will not come to establish a new religion but to enforce the Torah and to warn the people that they should not violate it as said the last of the prophets: “Remember the Torah of Moshe.” And if he commands us within the permissible boundaries, such as “go to a certain place,” or “don’t go there,” “make a war today,” or “don’t make a war today,” “build a wall today,” or “don’t build a wall,” it is a commandment to listen to him, and one who transgresses his words is liable to death by heaven; as it is said: “there was a man who did not listen to the words of the prophet that spoke in My Name, I will demand from him.”
D) And also if he tries to change things that we already know, and claims that Hashem commanded him to do this, and he changes Halacha, this is a false prophet and is liable to death even if he can show a sign or a miracle. Behold, this prophet comes to deny the Torah in which it is said: “It is not in Heaven.”
We therefore learn from these words that if there comes a person who wants to cancel even one the commandment from all of the commandments, this is unacceptable even though he can be a big person with power to perform signs and miracles. In the time of the Sanhedrin this person would be put to death, but today we do not practice the death sentence since we do not have the Sanhedrin. And for those people who are advancing on the path of Pinimiut of Torah (inner portion of Torah), of course they can neither correct nor punish, G-d forbid, their fellow Jews, but rather they focus on their own correction, as their own correction influences the whole world. And therefore we are not engaging in physical or verbal confrontation with any person or organization. And from the citations that were brought above we can understand how awful deviation from Judaism is in the eyes of Hashem, and how much we have to be careful to stay away from all of those, as our sages said: “move away from Kiure and from anything that is similar to it.” And every deviation and every reform and every attempt to touch the holy of holies of Torah and commandments of Israel is obviously Kiure, which is unbearable and unforgiveable. And therefore each of us will make his own soul-calculations, “because on whichever path a person chooses to be lead he is lead.” And he will save himself with contact with everything that may push him away from the original path of Israel. And it is already written in the Zohar, “Do not listen to a good thing from a wicked person.” Because even though he is saying a good thing, the spirit of Tumah (impurity) intervenes in his words and the listener becomes Tammeh (impure) and falls from the original Jewish path and from the path of our Rabbis.
This article will be translated later (here we have the beginning, end needs to still be translated.)
And to compliment this discussion we would like to add here an additional article from the Admore (blessed be his memory), that should clarify these things.
What is Truth and Falsehood in Spiritual Work
Fist of all we have to understand how both truth and falsehood can be in the service of the Creator, specifically, how the service of Hashem can exist in falsehood, how can such a thing be said?
And here Zohar HaKadosh (introduction to the book of Zohar) says Baal Hasulam: “it is part of the holy one to give joy to the impoverished as he is able to because in those days, in Holidays, the Holy One comes to see those broken Cailim (vessels) that belong to him. And he comes to them and he sees that they have nothing to be happy with. He cries about them and then He ascends to the top to extend the world.”
Baal Hasulam (blessed be his memory) explains this article as following: “We need to understand, first of all, the midrash of our sages that when the world was created, and it was told to angels ‘we shall make a man in our image,’ behold, Kindness advised to create the world. The Truth said ‘do not create, because all of it will be falsehood,’ Righteousness said ‘The world needs to be created, as it will create righteousness,’ and Peace said ‘the world should not be created, as it will constantly be in conflict.’ What did the Creator do? He took Truth and threw it to
Rambam said: “therefore, when we teach young children and women and the general population, we do not teach but to serve Hashem from fear and for the sake of receiving reward until their mind expands and they become wiser. We also reveal to them this approach very carefully.
From the words of Rambam we see that we have to start serving Hashem in the situation of lo lishma (not for the sake of Hashem) and it is even forbidden to reveal to them that there is a thing as lisham (for the sake of Hashem). And therefore they have to know that they are performing Torah and Mitzvot to receive reward. This is the actual perfection and there is nothing to add to it but quantity, i.e. to give more time and more effort in order to perform Torah and Mitzvot. And they have to be happy that they are performing Torah and Mitzvot beliving that they will receive reward for it.
We therefore find that in order to serve Hashem compealtly it is forbidden for them to know that there is such a thing that is called lishma (for the sake of Hashem) for the reason that they are still not capable to enter the service of Hashem lishma. Therefore if someone tells them that the key of service of Hashem is lishma, they will reply “but how can we perform Torah and Mitzvot shelo lishma if this is not considered a real word?” They are yet incapable to work lishma, therefore they will remain neither here nor there, which means that lo lishma will not be important to them, but they will also see that they can not attain lishma. Therefore it is forbidden to reveal to them that there is a thing that people need to perform for the sake of giving (lehasbia). Therefore while they do not know this concept they can think that they serve Hashem fully and that they are righteous, and from that they have energy to work, as they are happy to be the servants of Hashem and they look at other people who do not perform Torah and Mitzvot as animals, since they do not have higher intellects than animals and other living creatures. And therefore it is written in Etz Chaim: “and behold, the creator did not give Torah but to remove barriers from silver that dresses the soul, and via the intention of the person in Torah and Mitzvot he performs spiritual work on his neshamah (soul), and via the Torah thins the Nogga of the world Yetzirah, which dresses Ruach and by performing physical Mitzvot this thins the Nogga of the world Asiya and becomes a garment of the soul.
Therefore one should not say that performance of Torah and Mitzvot without intention is not true (G-d forbid), but as we learn from the writings of Arizal that from all actions that a person does he removes the Nitzutzim (sparks of holiness) from the Clippot that descended to our world during the Breaking of Vessels. We therefore have to divide between commandments without intentions and Torah without intention versus Torah and Commandments with intentions, as it is said: “performance of Mitzvot thins the Nogga of the world Asiya and becomes a garment of the soul.”
And as for the falsehood, we have to explain that since the goal of the creation is to satisfy the creations so that a man can achieve it in reality, i.e. that he will see how revealed the good and the bounty in the world that cannot be seen by the creations because they do not have the real Cailim which they can leverage to see the good and the bounty which is revealed in the world. Therefore the creatures still see that people suffer, and thus they can deduce from it that while they perform Torah and Mitzvot without intention lehaspia (to bestow), they still cannot see the truth that exists in the goal of creation that is to bestow to the creations. And we find that those who keep the Torah and Mitzvot and still have not merited to have the right intention, do perform corrections in keddusha by performing Torah and Mitzvot even though they do not have intention, which means that Keddusha expands based on their actions. However since they are not capable to see the outcome of their actions in spirituality, they cannot attain the spiritual changes that resulted from their work even though this work was performed lo lishma.
We therefore find that when they say that lo lishma is called “falsehood,” it relates towards the creations, i.e. the creations cannot still see the truth and the outcome of their performance of Torah and Mitzvot without intention, but in reality the corrections did take place in spirituality as was written by Arizal that from each action and action in Torah and Mitzvot, spitiual corrections are made. As we can see from Halacha that if a person can act to influence his neighbor not to desecrate shaboos, for example his neighbor needs a favor from him and for this he will keep shabbos, than the person is obligated to act to ensure that his neighbor does not desecrate shabbos. And so we can ask: here there is no intention to keep shabbos, as his neighbor will keep shabbos only as a requirement that his friend forces on him, and if so, what benefit can come out from such work? But as we already learned that each action and action that we perform even without kavanah achieves its objective; that by it we release the Mitzutzei Hakadesha (spark of holiness), yet creations are incapable of seeing those corrections because those corrections can hurt them since they still exist under the control of the desire to receive. Therefore since the person does not see the corrections that are being preformed by him he cannot receive them yet from the bounty that opens up as a result of his actions. And therefore, since he does not see this bounty, he cannot hurt himself since he does not see that there is something that he can receive. But the person must believe that each action and action of Torah and service is a very important thing, and once he merits to attain the second nature which is called “desire to bestow,” then he will be capable of seeing the truth; that the goal of the Creation is to bestow the creations. We therefore can now understand that when it is said that lo lishma is called “falsehood,” this only relates to the vision of the person, since the person is yet incapable of seeing the actual goal of creation.
And from this we can also understand why lishma is called “emet” (truth), since when a person merits to the level of lishma a person comes to the level of Love of Hashem, and then the person sees the truth; that the goal of creation is only to bestow Good to creations. And in addition the person has to merit and to see how the upper supervision treats all creations in the manner of complete and total goodness, and this is a very high level where a person sees how the Creator treats him personally in a manner of total goodness. Yet the person still needs to see that the Creator acts in the same way towards all of the creations, i.e. in a manner of total goodness, and for this reason lishma is called “truth,” because by performing the service in the mode of lishma the person merits and sees the truth that the Creator treats all of his creations with complete goodness.
And as written in the introduction to the Talmud Esser HaSphirot: “And therefore our sages warned us about the condition that obligates in performance of Torah lishma specifically so thus he will merit by it to earn life, as Torah is the source of life. And one should invest all his might to find the glow from the face of the King of Life, which means to attain revealed supervision, which is called the glow from the face. Therefore the whole time that a person did not merit to come to the level of lishma he exists in Hester Panim (concealment of the face), which means that he still does not see how the creator leads the world in the manner of total goodness. We also find that he exists in the mode of falseness, as he says, “Whoever said that the goal of creation is to bestow good for creations is a liar, as we see the opposite.” And on the other hand, one who learns the Torah lishma merits and sees the truth because he himself merits to see all the good that he receives from the Creator, and moreover he has come to the level of perfection and to see how the Creator deals with the whole world with the goal of bestowing the creations, and therefore we find that the matter of truth and falsehood is always directly related to what the person attains.
And from the set above we can see that one who studies Torah lo lishma, which is equal to falsehood, it is only because the person is yet incapable of seeing the truth of how the Creator leads the whole world with total goodness, and as Arizal wrote from each action a person performs in holiness, corrections are made, but the person is yet incapable of seeing the results of his performance of Mitzvot that creations are doing even lo lishma even for his own sake. It is therefore that Rambam said that we have to start the work with children and women in a manner that orients them to believe in reward as every act of Mitzvot in itself triggers spiritual changes.