Only two events take place on a regular basis, where thousands of people from dozens of countries gather in one place. The first is an event of competition hostility. It takes place once every four years, and it is called the Olympic Games. The second the exact opposite: it is an event of friendship and collaboration. This event happens every year, and it is called the “World Kabbalah Convention.” At the Olympic Games, people from all over the world come to compete against each other and prove the superiority of their countries. At the World Kabbalah Convention, people from all over the world come to unite with one another and prove the superiority of unity over differences. 11,000 athletes competed during the sixteen days of the last Olympic Games in Rio, while 9,000 participants united during the (only) three days of last year’s World Kabbalah Convention.
Next week at Ganei Hataaruch, Tel-Aviv, the miracle of unity will happen once again. From all over Latin and Central America, the US and Canada, Western and Eastern Europe, people will flock to Israel to unite. Africa, too, will have a sizable representation, as will Japan, China, India, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. But perhaps the icing on the cake is the growing attendance from Muslim countries, primarily Turkey, but also the Palestinian Authority.
The World Kabbalah Convention is probably the biggest peace event worldwide, and it is happening every year. Moreover, regional “daughter” events take place several times a year in various places throughout the world. Each year, a Kabbalah convention is held in Latin America, North America, Western Europe, and Eastern Europe. Due to security concerns, participants from countries where the Muslim regime is stricter tend to attend the conventions held in Europe rather than in Israel. The only words that can be said about these gatherings are “Seeing is believing.”
Why People Come
Until the mid 1990s, very few people truly knew about Kabbalah. It was shrouded in mystery, fear, and misconception. But the more people became desperate to figure out what is going on with their lives, the more this ancient wisdom gained renown. The greatest kabbalist of the 20th century, Rav Yehuda Ashlag, known as Baal HaSulam for his Sulam (Ladder) commentary on The Book of Zohar, explained in the introduction to one of his prime compositions, The Study of the Ten Sefirot, for whom the wisdom of Kabbalah is intended. In his words: “If we set our hearts to answer but one very famous question, I am certain that all the doubts [about studying Kabbalah] will vanish from the horizon. This indignant question is a question that the whole world asks, namely, ‘What is the meaning of my life?’ It is indeed true that historians have grown weary contemplating it. Particularly in our generation, no one even wishes to consider it. Yet the question stands as bitterly and as vehemently as ever. Sometimes it meets us uninvited, pecks at our minds and humiliates us to the ground before we find the famous ploy of flowing mindlessly in the currents of life as always.”
Since the mid 1990s, there has been a surge in the number of people looking to understand the world they live in—why they were born and why they are here. Because Kabbalah answers these questions on the deepest level, they come to study.
Why Specifically Unity
Even in antiquity, our ancestors knew all too well that “the inclination in the heart of man is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21). The book, Pirkey de Rabbi Eliezer (Chapters of Rabbi Eliezer) tells us that at the time of Babylon, the ego reigned supreme. According to the book, the builders of the Tower of Babylon would “push up the bricks [to build the tower] from the east, then descend from the west. If a man fell and died, they would not pay him any mind. But if a brick fell they would sit down and wail, ‘Woe unto us; when will another come in its place?’ Abraham, son of Terah, passed by and saw them building the city. He cursed them and said, ‘May the Lord swallow their tongue.’”
As egoism deepened among Abraham’s countryfolk, his curse came true in a very gruesome manner. Pirkey de Rabbi Eliezer explains further that the Babylonians “wanted to speak to one another but did not know each other’s language. What did they do? Each took up his sword and they fought each other to the death. Indeed, half the world was slaughtered there, and from there they scattered all over the world.”
Abraham realized that the ego could not be subdued, nor should it be. He realized that the whole purpose of the ego is not to elevate one person above another, but to compel people to unite above it. Today we can see how true this notion is. The more we avoid uniting, the more self-centered we become, and the more depressed this makes us as we grow lonelier.
To help people rise above their egos and unite, Abraham developed a connection method and presented it to his countryfolk, the Babylonians. In Mishneh Torah (Chapter 1), Maimonides describes Abraham’s struggle with King Nimrod, the ruler of Babylon, who did not subscribe to his idea of unity above self-centeredness. Once the king expelled Abraham from Babylon, the latter wandered toward Canaan and gathered into his group anyone who saw the merit in his way.
Over the centuries, two things happened to the group of students exerting to unite above their differences. The first was that they became a nation once they committed to be “as one man with one heart” and to strive to live by the motto, “love your neighbor as yourself,” thereby implementing Abraham’s legacy. The second thing that happened was that the method of connection that Abraham developed kept changing according to the needs of the times.
Moses brought Abraham’s method to his people, and he too wanted to correct the entire world from egoism. The Ramchal Commentary on the Torah writes that “Moses wished to complete the correction of the world at that time. … However, he did not succeed because of the corruptions that occurred along the way.” As a result, the people who united at the foot of Mt. Sinai and became the Israeli nation, continued to develop the method of connection under King Solomon’s motto (Prov 10:12): “Hate stirs strife, and love covers all crimes.”
Abraham’s connection method kept adapting itself to the needs of the time. By the time The Book of Zohar was written, it had already acquired the name, “The Wisdom of Kabbalah.” And yet, it maintained the original motto: unity above the ego. In the portion, Aharei Mot, The Book of Zohar describes this motto perfectly, as well as its intended goal to unite the entire world: “‘Behold, how good and how pleasant it is when brothers sit together.’ These are the friends as they sit together and do not part from one another. At first, they seem like people at war, wishing to kill one another. Then, they return to being in brotherly love. And you, the friends who are here, as you were in fondness and love before, henceforth you will also not part. And by your merit there will be peace in the world.”
The Difference between Then and Now
At the time of the writing of The Zohar, the world was still not ready for the notion of unity above the ego. It was too preoccupied with selfish aspirations, and strove to emulate the Greek and Roman cultures. As a result, The Zohar was hidden until such time when humanity has had enough of the “pleasures” that the ego can provide.
Today, our planet can barely provide for all of us because we have polluted it. We have grown mighty enough to obliterate humanity within hours, and we are so lonely that depression is the number one cause of illness in the Western world. As a result, today we are more open to solutions suggesting that we should rise above the ego instead of trying to defeat it, which we are beginning to realize is utterly impossible.
This realization is what brings more and more people to the authentic wisdom of Kabbalah—the method of connection that Abraham developed almost four millennia ago. The people who come here arrive with many different views. Some are Muslims, some are Christians, some are Jews, and some have no religion. Some are Democrats and leftists and some are Republicans and rightists. However, they come together not to argue, but to use their different viewpoints as steppingstones to stand on and connect above.
Participants in the World Kabbalah Conventions come to Israel because when they unite, they grasp that humanity is a singular entity consisting of billions of people, who are its cells and organs, and each person’s unique role is precious to us all. Baal HaSulam wrote about this uniqueness in his article, “The Freedom”: “Just as the face of each and every person differs, so their views differ. There are no two people on Earth whose opinions are identical. Therefore, society is cautioned to preserve the freedom of expression of the individual. Each individual should maintain his integrity, and the contradiction and oppositeness between people should remain forever, to forever secure the progress of the free society.”
Indeed, only if we secure our freedom of expression and contribute our uniqueness to humanity, our unity will grow and our sense of confidence and happiness increase. Our lives are meaningful only when we contribute to society. With this mindset of uniting above our differences and contributing our skills to create a vibrant humanity from which all profit, everyone will find fulfillment and a purpose in their lives, and in their every action.
I encourage anyone who wants to taste what unity above all differences feels like to come to the World Kabbalah Convention and share the joy with us. You will find all the information you need at Kabbalah.info or by calling 1-700-509-209 (in Israel). Even if you have no prior acquaintance with Kabbalah, a special time will be dedicated for you, just come and join the unity.
Reprinted with author’s permission from The Jerusalem Post