Zohar means Radiance, and The Book of Zohar is the fundamental book in the wisdom of Kabbalah. It is the key enabling one to reveal the spiritual part of the universe, hidden to our five senses, and the Upper Force that governs everything and brings everything into being.
It was written by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, or Rashbi, a great Kabbalist who lived in the 2nd century CE. Rashbi attained all the wisdom that was to be recorded in The Book of Zohar while hiding from the hostile Roman authorities in a cave in Northern Israel. Together with his son Rabbi Elazar, Rashbi spent 13 years living in this cave, eating fruits of a carob tree and drinking water from a nearby source. In that time, the father and son had attained all the degrees of the spiritual world, and were able to feel the Upper Force or the Creator with utter clarity.
13 years later, Rabbi Shimon and his son reemerged from the cave, assembled a group of disciples, and wrote The Book of Zohar along with them. Kabbalah explains that ten men were necessary to write this unique book, because their souls corresponded to ten spiritual forces called “Sefirot.” Only together were they able to create the common spiritual vessel able to perceive the highest degrees of the spiritual world.
Therefore, when The Book of Zohar describes Rabbi Shimon and his students, it actually refers to the qualities that exist in the spiritual world. The ten sages had attained these spiritual qualities through their souls and were able to record them in a book.
The book was written in a special way. Rashbi knew that the text had to conceal its spiritual content, because this information was intended for those who would live two millennia later – us. This is why he had one of his students, Rabbi Aba, write it. Rabbi Aba was able to put the spiritual information in a concealed manner. He wrote The Book of Zohar by listening to Rashbi and recording what he said in a way that an uninformed reader could comprehend only the shallowest, most external layer of the text. For instance, here is how the book starts: Rabbi Chizkiyah opened, “It is written, as the rose amongst the thorns.” The text is beautiful and poetic, yet requires a spiritual attainment in order to decipher its true meaning.
Hence, when we read The Book of Zohar without the needed preparation, it appears as a series of fantastical tales and legends. And to learn how to read it properly, we should start with the writings of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, also called Baal HaSulam, after his Sulam (Ladder) commentary on The Book of Zohar. Baal HaSulam composed a comprehensive, accurate, and systematic interpretation of The Book of Zohar. His goal was to unveil the book to the public and make it suitable for the souls of our time.
The Book of Zohar was to be concealed for two thousand years, waiting for humanity to desire spirituality. And this is happening in our time, when more and more people are asking about the purpose of their very existence. That is why The Zohar is now becoming revealed to all by the great Kabbalists who have concealed it until now.