Kabbalistic Concepts

Seeing Past the Illusion of this World

The Shabbat that falls during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat of Returning. This year, it is the Shabbat of the portion Vayelech.

The portion Vayelech has all the teachings Moses gave to us before he left this world. And in the beginning of it, Moses says something very strange to the Israelites: "I am 120 years old today. I can no longer exit and enter." What does that mean? Rashi, the great kabbalist, tells us it means that Moses is saying, essentially, "I cannot access the wisdom anymore; therefore, I cannot give it to you." A righteous person, before leaving this world, has the totality of Light revealed to him or her. Knowing that, how is it possible for Moses to say that everything is blocked off to him now? It does not make any sense and cannot be understood literally. So, what is the secret behind it?

That this world is an illusion. Very simply put, nothing of what we see, think, or experience is real. We believe, for instance, that we read the Zohar, the Torah, or the words of Rashi and other great kabbalists and understand them. However, what we are understanding is really a diminished and clothed wisdom. Throughout his 40 years of leadership, Moses was teaching the Israelites - I do not want to say a dumbed-down version - but the only version they could understand, the only version we can understand. Therefore, our experience, even of the words of Moses, are of a diminished understanding.

The kabbalists teach that when Moses was in his last day in this world, the Creator said, “I am going to give everything to you.” Moses had already received the 49 Gates of Binah, Wisdom, and the 50th was revealed to him on this day. And once Moses was connected to that realm, he could no longer speak to anybody, because the frame of reference the Israelites had was completely different than the truth. As such, when Moses says, "I can no longer speak to you. I can no longer teach you," it is not because he had lost anything, but because he had received everything. They cannot understand a word he is now saying, because they are still living in the realm of illusion. 

And we all live within – and buy into – this realm of illusion every moment of every day. Therefore, the wisdom and understanding we think we receive or extract is almost nothing. Of course, any connection to the Zohar or Torah or writings of the kabbalists brings great Light; but real Light, a real connection, is not attainable from where we are.  And we have to start there, knowing that everything we see and think is based on the world of illusion that we have bought into.

To further this understanding, I want to share a story:

There were two great students of the Maggid of Mezeritch, Rav Shmelke of Nikolsburg and Rav Pinchas, his brother. They asked the Maggid of Mezeritch: when a person sees and experiences darkness, pain, and negativity, how can it be that he blesses it, and sees and experiences it only as Light?

The Maggid of Mezeritch answers them, “I am not the right one to elevate you to that state; go to my student, Rav Zusha of Anipoli.” So they go to Rav Zusha and tell him their teacher, the Maggid of Mezeritch, sent them to him to teach them. They ask, “How can we get to a state of consciousness where we see negativity, and experience pain and darkness, but see it as blessing?” Rav Zusha answers them, “I have no idea why the Maggid of Mezeritch sent you to me to teach you this teaching; I have never had anything negative happen in my life.”

Those who know the story of Rav Zusha know he had a very difficult life; if we looked at him, externally, we would see pain and darkness. And yet Rav Zusha said, “I do not know why the Maggid of Mezeritch, our teacher, has sent you to me to teach you the consciousness of blessing on the darkness, because I have never experienced anything bad.” And that is the secret Moses wants to give us on this Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; there is a state of consciousness that we have to get to in which we understand that any pain or darkness we experience is built upon the lie and illusion of this world.

Moses says to the Israelites, “I have come to this place now where I see there is only Light; there is no darkness, there is no pain. And I want to help elevate you.” On Shabbat Shuva, Moses comes to us and says, “Take all of your sadness, take all of your darkness, and come to my side, the place that only sees goodness, blessings, and Light.” But first, we have to believe that realm exists and know it is not only one of the greatest gifts possible, but that is also available to us. Rav Zusha and Moses experienced this state, where there was not – nor ever can be - any experience of pain or negativity, and we need to know that on the Shabbat of Vayelech, Shabbat Shuva, Moses desires to give it to us.

On Shabbat Shuva, we can ask for the consciousness that sees past the illusion of this world, experiencing only Light, never darkness or negativity. And when we have this consciousness, all darkness is transformed into Light, and all judgment is transformed into mercy.

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