SOURCES: WHY LEARN PENIMIUS HATORAH?
Rabbi Chaim Zwick
For a more thorough analysis of the sources in Hebrew, click here.
There are numerous benefits to learning the hidden dimension of Torah. On a daily basis we are forced to confront and make sense of many of life's challenging questions, good & evil, reward & punishment, free will, life after death, reincarnation etc. Equally difficult to comprehend is why Hashem created the world, the underlying mechanisms that impact and guide our existence, mankind's unique purpose in creation, and the role Torah and Mitzvot play in Hashem's ultimate plan.
Penimius HaTorah is literally the master key that provides a basis and framework to help us better understand that which is driving and guiding our reality. What is of paramount importance is its unique ability to simplify and unify the many complexities of the Torah and outside world.
The revealed Torah answers the questions WHAT and HOW, whereas, the hidden Torah answers the question WHY. Understanding the deeper reasons behind Torah and Mitzvot, is essential and fundamental when the ultimate goal of Yiddishkeit is a meaningful relationship with Hashem. As the Ramchal explains, it is impossible to properly fulfill the fundamental Mitzvot of Yeddos Hashem and Emunas Hashem without the study of the inner wisdom of Torah.
The Arizal explains that as we approach the Messianic Era, the study of Penimius Hatorah is of critical importance. In his words "It is a Mitzvah to reveal this wisdom now." He basis this on a statement from the Zohar "With this book (i.e. the Zohar), the Jewish people will be redeemed from their exile with mercy."
The Gedolia Tzaddikim throughout the generations have all explained only the study of the inner dimension of Torah, as revealed in the Zohar, has the power to prevent the difficult traumatic events otherwise required for us to make the transition from our present state of consciousness to the level required of the Messianic Era.
Even though in earlier generations this Limud was reserved for only those of special stature, from the year 5300 of creation with the revelation of the Arizal's Torah a dramatic shift occurred. This change was further magnified with the arrival of the Baal Shemtov, the Vilna Gaon and Rav Sholam Rashabi by the year 5500 of creation - opening up this study to anybody that felt an inner yearning to forge a deeper, more profound relationship with their Creator.
By the year 5600 of creation or 1839 C.E. this dramatic shift intensified as stated in the Zohar, Parshas Vayaira, "After 600 years of the 6th millennium, the gates of supernal knowledge (Penimius HaTorah) will burst open above, along with the wellsprings of (secular) wisdom below." This is all a result of our close proximity to the final redemption and the great necessity to spread this wisdom throughout the world, beginning the process whereby we prepare ourselves to enter the 7th millennium.
This is symbolized by Israel, who start preparing themselves on the afternoon of the 6th day, for Shabbos. In this manner, the 6th millennium exactly parallels Friday, which is the 6th day of the week. Towards "noon" of the 6th millennium (the year 5600) everything is accelerated as all the final preparations are made to usher in the great Shabbos. The Chazal tell us, nothing gives Hashem greater pleasure than the spreading of these wellsprings of wisdom and mercy throughout the world proclaiming and revealing Hashem's kingship.
Despite the fact that there is an opinion that one should not begin to study Penimius Hatorah until the age of 40, the great masters of Kabbalah and Chassidut did not agree with this opinion. Many of the greatest teachers of Kabbalah - including the Arizal, the Ramchal, & Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, did not even live until that age.
Chazal explain that in previous generations learning the revealed Torah was sufficient. However, before the final redemption, the Yetzer Hara with its power of deception will strengthen itself greatly, sensing its final demise. Forced to confront a cunning Yetzer Hara, we are a generation facing many difficult challenges from both inside and out.
There are many amongst us whose natural inclination is to serve Hashem by rote, whose Yiddishkeit is dull & lifeless - lacking any resemblance of meaning and purpose. Rather than Torah & Mitzvot born out of an inner yearning and passion to connect - they become burdens, obligations and habitual rituals that must be fulfilled. As the Rashbi wrote in the Zohar with great sadness and trepidation regarding the plight of the Jewish nation..." they have taken a vibrant torah and rendered it dry and lifeless, their eyes are closed, in a deep slumber, blinded from the truth. They are deeply flawed in their Avodas Hashem, lacking a real appreciation of Hashems loving kindness.
The Jewish souls once innate connection to a divine creator is now threatened - covered up with many layers of mundane consciousness. This is why the Vilna Goan compares our generation to the Chazir - (the pig), kosher on the outside but treif on the inside. Therefore our Sages tell us our only hope in overcoming this powerful Yetzer Hara of the Messianic Era will be through the superior power of Penimus Hatorah.
We explained earlier that the inner dimension of Torah is a cosmic code, providing us a workable model to better understand the underlying structure and fundamental blueprint for creation. Now let us try to articulate in more detail what this model is and how it provides us a window into the deeper patterns of Hashem's creation.
Our Sages tell us Hashem created everything in pairs, hot & cold, day & night, body & soul, male & female, positive & negative etc, all imprinted and modeled after the ultimate pair - Hashem & the Jewish people. This means that the ultimate paradigm for human existence is Hashem and the Jewish people, and that every other creation in the upper and lower worlds is nothing more than a replica or metaphor, created and designed specifically as a tool or vehicle to depict this relationship. Its ultimate purpose being to provide us greater understanding as we endeavor to forge a deeper, more meaningful connection with our creator.
This being the case our job in creation is the unification of polar opposites or pairs, as a stepping stone to the ultimate unity of Hashem and the Jewish people. Therefore a person that doesn't unify the hidden and revealed aspects of the Torah is creating a fundamental breach in this definitive model of human existence - and ultimately undermining Hashem's plan for his creation.
This dramatic movement towards Penimus Hatorah was inspired by many of the great luminaries of previous generations. The Rashbi, the Ramak, the Arizal, the Maharal, the Rashash, the Gra, the Ramchal and the Baal Shemtov, to name a few, considered this wisdom so paramount to Hashem's ultimate plan for creation, that many of them used uncharacteristically harsh language to express their disappointment in any Jew that wasn't receptive.
The "Leshem" conveyed his anguish by stating that he was literally astonished by so many Talmidei Chachomim that have absolutely no understanding of this Limud. How can they possibly hold themselves back from something so special - and of such paramount importance? All their rationale and justifications are unfounded!
The "Vilna Gaon" explained that a person that has the ability & capacity to learn Penimus Hatorah and declines - will face harsh judgment, since he is holding back the final redemption. The Gaon continues to clarify, a person that does not understand Sod, (the inner wisdom of Torah) does not really grasp the Pshat (the simple, revealed aspects of the Torah).
According to Rav Chaim Vital (Eitz Chaim) , the sin of Adom HaRishon partaking from the Tree of Good & Evil, is that he did not choose to eat from the Tree of Life - which represents the learning of Chochmas HaEmes.
The Arizal in Shaar Mitzvot explains, every person has an obligation to learn all four branches of the Torah - P'shat, Remez, Drush & Sod. He continues to clarify, if a person learns all 3 branches, but doesn't learn Sod, his soul will be forced to suffer the great anguish of reincarnation.
According to the Zohar by learning 1 hour of Penimus Hatorah - a person can accomplish more and make a greater Tikkun (rectification) in the upper, spiritual worlds than he could by learning an entire year of the revealed Torah. The language of the Zohar harshens and intensifies as the Rashbi elucidates the final fate of the Jewish nation as the Messianic Era approaches. He explains all the suffering, affliction, anguish, hardship, poverty, distress, anti-Semitism and tragic death that continues to plague the Jewish nation throughout their lengthy exile is all because of their refusal to embrace and learn the inner dimension of Torah.
The great visionary leaders of the previous generation understood that only the Inner Dimension of Torah has the power to reveal to us the true drama of G-d's creation. In this divinely inspired game of hide-and-seek, G-d conceals himself in order to give us the opportunity to find him. He promises us that if we seek him out, with a purity of heart, we will ultimately find him.
This deeply felt yearning of the soul to not be satisfied with the status quo, but rather to journey, explore and seek a deeper, more meaningful and profound connection with our creator is what the study of Penimius Hatorah is all about, and ultimately what is required of the Jewish nation at this critical stage in our history.
Does this negate the fundamental role the Oral Law has always maintained in Judaism? Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions regarding the relationship of the revealed and hidden aspects of the Torah. Can a body exist without a soul? Can a soul exist without a body? The answer is obviously no. The revealed and hidden aspects of the Torah represent a body/soul relationship and are ultimately two aspects of one unified whole. To achieve true perfection, both must be learned and are of paramount importance.
While it is true that there are many things that are beyond our comprehension, there is plenty that is within our grasp. Penimus Hatorah provides the basic underlying structure and framework for approaching the Torah and life in a meaningful organized way. The mystical models and spiritual templates outlined in the inner dimension of Torah are the blueprints for creation and all reality. When correctly applied to any given situation, they provide clarity and direction and the security of knowing that every detail of life is eminently worthwhile and of great cosmic significance.
For a more thorough analysis of the sources in Hebrew, click here.
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