1) What Is The Zohar?
The Zohar is a collection of commentaries on the Torah, intended to guide people who have already achieved high spiritual degrees to the root (origin) of their souls.
The Zohar contains all the spiritual states that people experience as their souls evolve. At the end of the process, the souls achieve what Kabbalah refers to as “the end of correction,” the highest level of spiritual wholeness.
To those without spiritual attainment, The Zohar reads like a collection of allegories and legends that can be interpreted and perceived differently by each individual. But to those with spiritual attainment, i.e. Kabbalists, The Zohar is a practical guide to inner actions that one performs in order to discover deeper, higher states of perception and sensation.
2) Who Is The Zohar For?
As mentioned in answer no. 1, The Zohar was written for people who have already achieved spiritual perception. It contains the depictions of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi), who attained all 125 degrees of the spiritual ladder of degrees. Rashbi expressed the entire spiritual path and titled it Zohar (“radiance” in Hebrew).
The Zohar is built so that only those who achieve a certain spiritual level can benefit from what they read in it. Prior to studying The Zohar, one needs to study other texts that teach how to properly approach the text in The Zohar.
3) Who Wrote The Zohar, & When?
According to all Kabbalists, and as the beginning of the book writes, The Zohar was written by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi), who lived in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE. There are views in scholastic circles stating that The Zohar was written in the 11th century by Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe de Leon. This view was contradicted by Rabbi Moshe de Leon himself, who said that the book was written by Rashbi.
In the Kabbalistic approach, the question of why The Zohar was written is far more important than the question of who actually wrote it. The purpose of The Zohar is to be a guide for people to attain the origin of their souls.
This path to the origin of one’s soul consists of 125 stages. Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag writes that a Kabbalist who has passed these stages and shares the same perception as that of the book’s author, sees that its author could be none other than Rashbi.
Background On Rabbi Shimon:
To fill the spiritual vacuum left by the death of his students, the great Rabbi Akiva chose a select five men to whom to pass over the secrets of the Torah. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai stood out amongst them and eventually wrote the secrets of the Torah – the Kabbalah – in his work, the holy Zohar.
4) Why Was The Zohar Hidden For So Long?
The Zohar was kept hidden for 900 years, between the 2nd and the 11th centuries CE, since those who possessed its wisdom understood that at the time, people did not need it and would misunderstand its contents.
Only in the 16th century CE did a Kabbalist arise who explained the fundamentals of Kabbalah - The Holy Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572). The Ari stated that from his time on, the wisdom of Kabbalah was ready to be opened to everyone.
Commentaries on the works of the Ari and The Zohar appeared only in the 20th century - the century that saw the fiercest outburst of human desires in history. During this period, a unique soul appeared - that of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam). Baal HaSulam explained the wisdom of Kabbalah in a way our generation could understand. Moreover, Baal HaSulam was the only Kabbalist in the 20th century who wrote commentaries on The Zohar and on the works of the Ari.
This does not mean that there were no great Kabbalists before him, but only that their works are not easily understood by contemporary students. Today’s popularity and high demand for Kabbalah testify to our generation’s readiness to absorb its universal message, and to comprehend the authentic texts that speak of the root of our lives and how to attain it.
5) Where Do I Find Out More About The Zohar?
The Zohar cannot be understood and felt directly, but requires preconception of spirituality, before one approaches the book. The greatest Kabbalist of our time-Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam)-wrote introductions to The Zohar precisely to guide one’s approach to this profound book prior to studying it.
Such articles cultivate one’s spiritual qualities to perceive the Higher reality. Additionally, these texts provide knowledge of how to approach certain terms, phrases, and concepts in The Zohar, to maximize its use as a guide for spiritual attainment, avoiding being lost in materialized depictions that the human mind is prone to form.
The Bnei Baruch Kabbalah Education & Research Institute provides not only these introductions, but free lessons on them, as well as shorter articles describing concepts from The Zohar, and how to prepare for the encounter with these concepts.
Discovering The Zohar means discovering your inner world and your unlimited potential. Bnei Baruch wishes you success in your spiritual advancement!
If you're interested in The Zohar and everything it has to offer at a deeper level, we recommended starting with a beginner course in the fundamentals of Kabbalah. Courses are free, and there are self-study video classes available to start immediately, as well as a live course that starts on April 6, 2011.