Studying with New Eyes
When we study the spiritual wisdom of Kabbalah, most of us start to take our own knowledge for granted. We learn certain terminology and concepts and then come to accept them without much further thought. For instance, we learn that the Ten Sefirot are named Keter, Chochmah, Binah, etc. We may assume that these are the names that were given to them by the Ari, and so that is simply what they are called. However, in Ten Luminous Emanations, Rav Ashlag explains that the Ten Sefirot are sometimes referred to by different names at different times, and that we should not just accept the terminology as a given. He teaches the importance of questioning why things are named what they are and why things are the way they are. This lesson should influence all aspects of the way we study the wisdom.
It says in the Midrash that, every time we look at a teaching, we should look at it as though it were brand new to us. The kabbalists teach that one of the dangers of studying wisdom from the time we are young is that we tend to still look at the wisdom with the same eyes as we get older. When we study the Torah as a child, for instance, we understand it only on a very basic level. As we grow up and continue to study, we tend to think that we will add on to our knowledge. The problem with this idea, however, is that we are only building upon our lack of understanding. What did we first understand when we were children? Very little. As we continue to study, it is as though we are building a house upon a faulty foundation.
Every single one of us falls for this. When we come to something that we have learned before, we don’t push aside our preconceived notions and try to approach the material with new eyes. According to Rav Ashlag, when we study from the Zohar or any of the writings of the kabbalists, even if we think we know a concept, it is better to not simply repeat it to someone, but to go back to the source, read it again, and then explain it. When we assume we know a concept and try to explain from memory, we give others only what we have in our limited understanding. But if we go back to the source, we give to them directly from the kabbalists. The most important conclusion here is to make sure that every time we come to study the wisdom, we push aside the younger knowledge that we have and come to it brand new. Hopefully we are smarter, have more information, are in a higher place spiritually, and are able to receive more from the wisdom. If we don’t approach the material with fresh eyes, then we build on lack and that won’t get us anywhere!
The Introduction to the Zohar says that before we pray, we must connect to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Why? Because if our work begins from where we are now, we can accomplish very little, because our own spiritual foundation and understanding is still so small. If a person views his work as his own work, it would take a million years to get to the level of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! But there’s a gift. We are able to attach our consciousness to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If we take the work of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and we work on top of their work, then we have the ability to accomplish much more on a spiritual level.
It is important to understand that our own understanding of the wisdom is limited. The more we study and grow, we expand our ability to receive more and more from the wisdom. But we can never forget that our knowledge is still imperfect. That is why we must push aside what we think we know and come to the wisdom as though it were brand new to us every time we study. By doing this and by connecting to the work of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the kabbalists, we build our knowledge upon a healthy, strong foundation rather than one of lack. Through this, we have the ability to reveal so much more Light than we could from our own limited understanding.
*Adapted from Michael Berg’s Ten Luminous Emanations lesson 35.