Preface of Rabbi Chaim Vital
I have seen those who seek to ascend, but they are few. They long to climb up, but the ladder is hidden from their view. They contemplate the books of the ancients, seeking to discover the paths of life; the way upon which to tread and the deeds that will uplift their soul to its supernal root, so that they may adhere to He who is Eternal Perfection, blessed is He; similar to the prophets who spent all their days cleaving to their Maker. Through that cleaving the Holy Spirit rested upon them and showed them the path where light dwells, enlightening their eyes in the secrets of Torah, as King David, peace be upon him, said, “Unveil my eyes, that I may behold wonders from your Torah.” The Holy Spirit guided them on a straight path to the “InhabitedCity” that is prepared for those who ascend.
After the prophets came the ancient Chassidim. These were hermits who sought to follow in the footsteps of the prophets and emulate them. Living in caverns and deserts, they secluded themselves from society. Some remained secluded in their homes but behaved like those in the deserts. Day and night they never ceased praising their Creator through studying the Torah and singing the Psalms of King David, peace be upon him, which gladden the heart. This they did constantly, until their mind cleaved to the supernal lights with powerful and mighty yearning. This was their practice all their days, until they arose to the level of receiving the Holy Spirit, prophesying ceaselessly. However, since each one acted alone and the character of one person is dissimilar to that of another, the means and methods of how these holy men served HaShem, blessed is He, were lost to us, so that we cannot emulate their ways.
Because of this, the hearts and knowledge of the following generations dwindled and people who attained the Holy Spirit vanished. These holy men went to their resting places, leaving us groaning from thirst and hunger. Finally, hopelessness of ever exploring this wondrous wisdom sprouted in the hearts of men. Only two or three grains may be found in a stalk of wheat; one in a city or two in a clan who seek water but there is none, for all vision has been sealed. This is because the methods of how to approach and come closer to the inner holiness were never written in a book.
Later, there arose men who sought to attain spiritual levels by invoking the angels through the power of incanting their holy names. However, they hoped for light and behold darkness; for the angels they conjured were of a very low order who were appointed to affect matters of this, lowly world. This being the case, they are composed of good and evil and themselves perceive neither Truth nor the supernal lights. Therefore, they revealed matters that were admixed with good and evil, truth and error and vain things; matters, such as mystical cures, alchemy (the art of transforming silver into gold and copper or tin into silver), amulets, oaths and incantations. Furthermore, these people fell to imbibing wine and strong drink.
If only they would have been as devoted to studying Torah and doing mitzvoth! They would have learned from the example of the four great sages of Israel who entered Paradise. Not one of them left unscathed, except for the saintly Rabbi Akiva, and even in his case, the attendant angels attempted to eject him. Had not HaShem helped him, he would not have entered in peace and left in peace. If even the greatest sages of Israel were thus endangered, how much more so, we, who cannot begin to compare to them?
Truth be told, these holy sages aspired to attain very great levels, bordering on prophecy. Therefore, they were placed in harm’s way. However, in regard to us, would that we should merit even a tiny glimmer of the Holy spirit, such as the revelation of Eliyahu the Prophet, which many have merited to attain, as is well known; or such as the revelation of the souls of the righteous, as mentioned often in Sefer HaTikunim-The book of Rectifications.
Furthermore, even in our times, I have witnessed holy men who merited attaining all this. Moreover, there is such a level that a person’s own soul, because of its great refinement, is revealed to him and directs him in all matters. All these ways are within reach to those who are worthy of them, even in our times. Still and all, great discernment and much experience are necessary in order that it be established upon truth, for perhaps a different spirit visited him; one that is impure. All this will be explained in Part Three, Gate Eight.
Due to all the above, I feel compelled to free true seekers of their difficulties, by supporting their right hand and instructing them concerning the path they should follow. Therefore, I have decided to compose this book, small in quantity but great in quality; may it enlighten the wise.
I have called it, “Gates of Holiness”. In it, I will explain hidden matters that have never been taught in previous generations. I have received these teachings directly from the mouth of the holy man of G-d, the messenger of the L-rd of Hosts, my master and teacher, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the holy Ari’zal.
Being that these are concealed and hidden matters that have forever been secret, I will, therefore, reveal only a hands-breadth while concealing two thousand cubits. Thus, with great difficulty, I will unlock the gates of holiness and push them open just a crack, merely the width of a pin. May it be that those who are worthy merit entering the inner sanctum. HaShem is good and will not deprive goodness from those who walk in purity.
I have divided the book into four parts:
Part One – Regarding saintly and ascetic conduct that leads to the attainment of the Holy Spirit. This part is divided into six gates.
Part Two – Words of rebuke, including an explanation of reward and punishment in connection to the positive and negative mitzvoth. This part is divided into eight gates.
Part Three – Regarding how to attain the Holy Spirit. This part is divided into eight parts.
Part Four – Regarding methods of meditative “unifications” through which the Holy Spirit may be attained. I, personally, have tried and tested these and have found them to be effective. However, I will only enumerate their details briefly, by way of signposts that point the way.