Jewish Personalities

The Author of the “Sulam”, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Ashlag

1. The author of the “Sulam” was born in Poland, on 5 Tishrei. He became famous for teaching and writing a commentary on Kabbalah. His real name was Rabbi Yehuda Leib Halevi Ashlag. He became known as Baal HaSulam after the commentary he wrote on the Book of Zohar which was called “HaSulam.

2. In his youth he studied in the Gerrer yeshiva. Rumor has it that even at this young age he studied Kabbalah, while hiding pages from the holy Ari’s “Tree of Life” between the pages  of Talmud. At the age of 14, he already was thoroughly proficient in the Talmud, including its commentaries.

3. At the age of 17, he received rabbinical ordination ladder by the leading rabbis of Warsaw.

4. The Baal HaSulam married Rebecca Roiza Abramovich when she was 16 years old. The couple had 11 children, three of whom died young.

5. His principal works are Talmud Eser Sefirot (16 volumes, based on the writings of the Ari), and his commentary HaSulam to the Book of Zohar. He wrote numerous works on kabbalistic subjects, including Beit Sha’ar HaKavanot, Introduction to the Book of Zohar, Foreword to the Book of Zohar, Introduction to Kabbalistic Wisdom, Foreword to HaSulam Commentary, General Foreword to Etz Chaim, and Foreword to Talmud Eser Sefirot— all of which provide rudimentary material for the study of Kabbalah. The Baal HaSulam likewise wrote several pamphlets —Matan Torah, HaAravot and HaShalom. His last work was Kitvei HaDor HaAcharon, an analysis of various societies which also included an outline of a detailed plan for building a future optimal society.

6. After he became famous for his spiritual achievements in Poland, he decided to move to the Holy Land, even though his wife, Rebecca, was in an advanced state of pregnancy at the time. She gave birth on the ship traveling to Israel and called her daughter Bat-sheva. They arrived on 16 Tishrei 5682 (1921) during the intermediate days of Sukkot. The couple disembarked with several of their children at the Jaffa port, and they settled in Jerusalem’s Old City.

7. Since the Baal HaSulam was penniless when he came to the Holy Land, and he didn’t want the locals to know his spiritual stature, he decided to make his living by tanning hides to produce parchment for Torah scrolls and mezuzot. He also manufactured soap with a soap machine he had brought from Poland. Despite his humility, people soon realized that the Baal HaSulam was a great scholar and tzadik and appointed him to positions in the community.

8. In 1926, he went to London for two years, and wrote his commentary Panim Meirot and Panim Masbirot to the holy Ari’s book Etz Chaim, without leaving his home for the entire period of writing. During this period, he also composed most of his melodies, with the help of a piano.

9. The Baal HaSulam’s custom was to get up at one in the morning and study until dawn. When he felt tired, he would dip his feet in ice water, or put small, sharp stones in his shoes. Many times, his son Baruch Shalom, would stay up to wake his father for his studies.

10. It is related about the Baal HaSulam that he would occasionally travel with his students to Tiberias, Safed, and Meron on a horse. He visited Peqi’in to see the cave where Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, had hidden away.

The Baal HaSulam died on Yom Kippur, 10 Tishrei, 5715 (1954) at the age of 69, and was buried in Jerusalem on Mount Hamenuchot.

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