To Be or Not to Be?
“…to have emerged from nothing, to have a name, consciousness of self, deep inner feelings, an excruciating inner yearning for life and self-expression—and with all this yet to die. It seems like a hoax.” (Ernst Becker, The Denial of Death)
But more than a hoax, Kabbalah shows that life and death are completely not what we thought they were
Death is one of the most unsettling, yet fascinating, phenomena we all face. At one point or another, it touches the lives of each of us, forcing us to ask profound, seemingly unanswerable questions. Children begin wondering about this phenomenon from very early on. Whether the curiosity is brought about by the passing of a pet or a relative, children begin asking their parents why people die, where one goes after death, and if one ever comes back from “the other side.”
Adults are no less intrigued by death. Many of us love to see an exciting horror flick, with gruesome scenes of the dead rising from their graves in the midst of a dark and chilly night. Lately there are many psychological dramas on this topic, such as movies where a deceased loved one is still present in the protagonist's life.
Such scenarios are not restricted to the cinema alone. Many people make a handsome living by “communicating” with the dead. And anyone who has studied the Bible knows about the “resurrection of the dead” that's expected to occur with the coming of the Messiah.
“Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves … And I will put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live…”
In fact, not only the Bible, but the greatest Kabbalistic text, The Book of Zohar, talks about such a resurrection. “The dead shall rise with their flaws,” reads the mysterious text (The Book of Zohar, “Emor,” 17). Are these verses trying to say that we will actually witness a “horror film” scene in real life? Will we be the witnesses—one dark night, beneath the full moon—to the dead emerging from their graves and joining the rest of us in celebration of the Messiah, who will come in riding on a white horse?
Shattering the Myth
In his article, “Introduction to the Book of Zohar,” Kabbalist Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), author of the Sulam (Ladder) Commentary on The Book of Zohar, lifts the veil from the Zohar's text, uncovering the true meaning behind “the resurrection of the dead.” He writes, “Bear in mind, that the entire wisdom of Kabbalah is founded on spiritual matters that neither occupy time nor space.” (Talmud Eser Sefirot, chapter 1, item 1)
In other words, any Kabbalistic text, including the Holy Scriptures, should be read with the understanding that not a word of it deals with the physical categories of time, space or any physical objects. So how are we to understand the Biblical description of the “resurrection of the dead”?
First, we must relinquish the outdated myth that “the dead” (that is, a collection of bodies in advanced stages of decay) will rise to their feet, break through their marble tombs and invade the world of the living. Like all descriptions contained in holy books, the “resurrection of the dead” is a process that deals with people's souls, not their bodies.
A Spiritual Language
In Kabbalah and holy books such as the Scriptures, words like “brain,” “bones,” and “flesh” do not refer to our physical bodies. As surprising as it may sound, they actually name the spiritual vessels that constitute our souls. Hence, “the resurrection of the dead” is a spiritual process where we revive our spiritual “bodies”—our souls.
Baal HaSulam explains that each of us will go through this spiritual process during our lifetime in this world. To understand this, we must learn about the process our souls went through before reaching their present state.
"Behold that before the emanations were emanated and the creatures were created, the Simple Upper Light had filled the whole existence and there was no vacancy, such as an empty atmosphere, a hollow or a pit, but all was filled with Simple Boundless Light"
Isaac Luria (the Ari),
Tree of Life
In the above quote, the great 16th century Kabbalist, the Ari, describes the state that preceded our existence. The “Upper Light” refers to the Creator, whose only quality or desire is to bestow upon the Creatures. The Creator’s thought instantaneously caused the emergence of the human soul—a spiritual entity that consists of innumerable individual souls, seamlessly interconnected and intertwined.
Since the Creator’s only wish is to delight the Creatures, He endowed them (us) with the ability to receive all the delight and abundance that He wishes to give. This means that He created us with a nature totally opposite to His—the desire to receive pleasure.
As soon as the Creator created this will to receive, or “the soul,” He filled it with infinite abundance, called “Light.” In this state, the soul resembled a fetus in its mother’s womb, where all its needs were provided for, and it was surrounded by warmth and nourishment. However, just like a fetus, the soul was unaware of the processes it was undergoing or even its own existence.
Since the soul was not yet aware of its existence, the pleasure it could feel in this initial phase was limited: Though it was enveloped by the Infinite Light, it could not truly enjoy it since it never had the chance to desire that Light. Just as we cannot enjoy a delicious meal without first developing an appetite, so Creation could not feel all the abundance that the Creator wished to bestow upon it.
In order to advance from this state, the soul went through several processes to develop its awareness. It became detached from the Source of pleasure, the Creator, because only then could it develop a true desire for Him. This detachment from the Creator, the absence of Light within the soul, is what we feel as “this world.” It serves an important purpose, giving us the opportunity to develop our desire and freely choose to return to the Creator. Thus, we will acquire the awareness we need to feel the Light in its entirety. Only then can we consciously feel how the “Upper Light” surrounds and fills us with its endless warmth and love.
Death and Resurrection
The state of “this world” is what we presently feel after the Creator detached the human soul from Himself and distanced it from His Light. This is a temporary phase whose purpose is to enable us to find our way back to the Creator through our own free will.
This detachment from the spiritual world is also called “spiritual death” because we do not feel our lives in the spiritual world, where we are connected with the Creator. In other words, “spiritual death” is the state where our nature is so opposite to the spiritual nature, we don’t even feel the spiritual world’s existence.
The method of Kabbalah was specifically designed to help us transform our nature so we could climb back up to the spiritual level of the Creator. Only then will we experience the “resurrection of the dead”—meaning the resurrection of our souls and our ability to sense His Light.
The method lies in replacing our egoistic intention with the intention of loving and giving—the Creator’s qualities. Through the entire process of correction and ascent, one finds oneself in the midst of a battle between two qualities or forces—the force of receiving, on the one hand, and the force of giving, on the other.
Gradually, one reveals one’s egoistic nature, of which one was not aware, and starts to identify this state as “spiritual death.” One begins to feel how all his desires are driven by the quality of self reception, and feels increasingly repelled by this quality. Eventually, one reaches a point where one clearly identifies the egoistic inclination which prevents him from ascending to the spiritual world and reconnecting to the Source of life—the Creator.
At this point of awareness, a person is utterly repelled by the egoistic intention, while at the same time feeling the greatest yearning to resemble the Creator. As one turns to the Creator with a plea from the bottom of one’s heart, the Creator is revealed to the person, endowing him with the quality of true, unconditional love and bestowal.
When one attains this spiritual quality, one breaks free of his egoism and enters the spiritual world. One’s soul is “revived” or “resurrected,” and one feels the spiritual life just as he did when he was first created.