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Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag (Baal HaSulam)

An Allegory about the Rich Man’s Son in the Cellar

It would seem that one should be precise with the word Teshuva (repentance/return); it should have been named “wholeness”—that everything is predetermined and each soul is already in its utmost Light, benefit, and eternity.

It was only for the bread of shame that the soul emerged through the restrictions, until it clothed in the murky body, and only through it does it return to its root from before the restriction. Also, its reward for the terrible move it had undergone is that the real reward is the true Dvekut (adhesion). This means that it is rid of the bread of shame, since its vessel of reception has been turned into a vessel of bestowal and its form is equal to its Maker.

Now you understand that if the descent is for the purpose of ascension it is regarded as ascension and not as a descent. And indeed, the descent itself is the ascent, since the letters of the prayer themselves are filled with abundance, while with a short prayer the bounty falls short because the letters are missing. Also, our sages said, “Had Israel not sinned, they would have been given only the five books of Moses and the book of Joshua.”

What is it like? It is like a wealthy man who had a young son. One day, the man had to travel far away for many years. The rich man feared lest his son would scatter his possessions unwisely; hence, he devised a plan and exchanged his possessions for gems and jewels and gold. He also built a cellar deep in the ground, and locked all his gold and gems in there, along with this son.

Then he called his loyal servants and commanded them to guard his son and not let him out of the cellar until he was twenty years of age. Every day, they were to bring him down his food and drink, but under no condition should they bring down fire and candles. And they should also inspect the walls for cracks, so no sunlight would penetrate. And for his health, they were to take him out of the cellar for one hour a day, and walk the streets with him, but carefully watching, so he would not escape. And when he turned twenty, they were to give him candles and open a window and let him out.

Naturally, the son’s pain was immeasurable, especially when he walked outside and could see all the youths eating and drinking and rejoicing in the streets, without guards and without a time limit, while he was imprisoned with but a few moments of light. If he tried to run, he would be beaten mercilessly. And he was most hurt and depressed when he had heard that his father himself had brought all this pain upon him, for they were his father’s servants, doing his father’s command. Clearly, he thought his father was the cruelest man of all time, for who has ever heard of such a thing?

On the day of his twentieth birthday, the servants hung down one candle, as his father had commanded. The boy took the candle and began to examine his surroundings. And what did he see? Sacks filled with gold and every royal bounty.

Only then did he understand his father—that he was truly merciful—and that all he had done, he did for his own good. And he immediately realized that the guards would let him out of the cellar and go free. And so he did; he came out of the cellar, and there were no guards, no cruel servants, and he was the greatest of all the land’s wealthy.

In fact, there is no innovation here at all, for it becomes apparent that he was of great wealth to begin with, all his days, and he only felt that he was poor and indigent, and utterly miserable. And now, in a single moment, he had been given immense wealth and rose from the lowest pit to the highest peak.

But who can understand this allegory? One who understands that the “sins” are the deep cellar and the careful guard that he will not escape. Thus, evidently, the cellar and the careful watch are the “merits” and the father’s mercy over his son. Without them, it would have been impossible for him to become as rich as his father.

But the “sins” are “real sins,” not “mistakes,” and one must not be forced. Rather, before one returns to one’s wealth, the aforementioned emotion rules in its fullest sense. But after one returns to one’s wealth, he sees that all these were the father’s mercies, and not cruelty at all.

We must understand that the whole connection of love between the father and his only son depends on the son’s recognition of his father’s mercy for him, concerning the issue of the cellar, the darkness, and the careful watch. This is because the son discovers great efforts and profound wisdom in these mercies of the father.

The Holy Zohar, too, speaks of it, saying that for one who is rewarded with repentance, the Holy Divinity appears like a kind-hearted mother who had not seen her child for many days. And they made great efforts to see each other, and as a result, suffered many a great danger.

In the end, the long-awaited freedom had come to them, and they were granted the meeting. And then the mother fell on him and kissed and comforted him, speaking softly to him all day and all night. She told him of the longing and the perils along her way, and how she was with him all along, and Divinity did not move, but suffered with him in all the places, only he could not see it.

These are the words of The Zohar: She tells him, “Here we slept; here we were assailed by bandits, and we were saved, and here we hid in a deep hole.” And what fool would not understand the multitude of love, pleasantness, and delight that gushes out of these comforting stories?

In truth, before they met face to face, it felt like torments that are harder than death. But with a Nega (illness/pain), the Ayin (the last letter in the Hebrew word) is at the end of the word. Yet, when speaking comforting words, the Ayin is in the beginning of the word, which is certainly Oneg (pleasure).

But these are two points that shine only once they exist in the same world. And imagine a father and son who were waiting anxiously for each other for days and years. In the end they met, but the son was deaf and dumb, and they could not play with one another. Thus, the essence of love is in royal pleasures.

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