Guest Posting From Rabbi Dovid Sears: The Authenticity of the Zohar
Rabbi Dovid Sears, author of many books on Chassidic thought including The Path of the Baal Shem Tov and the newly-released Shir Na'im/Song of Delight, provided the material for the posting below. It is excerpted from an e-mail interchange between himself and a person studying Breslover Chassidus.
Over the last year, I have been coming closer to Breslover Chassidus, baruch Hashem. I learn different Sifrei Breslov, including Likkutei Moharan. Certain of Rebbe Nachman's writings refer to the Zohar or are based on the Zohar in part. I however have serious doubts whether the Zohar is authentic, i.e., written by Reb Shimon Bar Yochai and his school, versus written by Rabbi Moses de Leon of Granada. I still believe that even if the Zohar is not authentic, there is much in Rabbi Nachman's works that stand independent of the Zohar, and therefore that people such as myself can still justifiably follow Reb Nachman's ways. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Rabbi Nachman (Sichos ha-Ran 278) explains the anachronisms in the Zohar by saying that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai continued to teach his school of talmidim even after his death. (So did the ARI zal continue to teach his talmid, Rav Chaim Vital, in his dreams for more than twenty years. So did the spirit-teacher of the Beis Yosef teach him from the "next world." There are other examples of this phenomenon, as well.)
I seem to remember that the Komarno Rebbe took a similar position on the Zohar as Rabbi Nachman. Other tzaddikim believed that the core of the Zoharic books comes from the immediate circle of Rabbi Shimon, while later accretions were eventually added to the manuscript. Still others speculated that Rabbi Moshe De Leon contacted the soul of Rabbi Shimon through a Divine Name and thus received the teachings.
However, whatever the explanation, our greatest tzaddikim and sages accepted the Zohar despite these questions, including the RaMBaN, Rabbi Yitzchok min-Acco (see what Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan says about the latter's investigation of the Zohar's authenticity in "Meditation and the Kabbalah"), Rabbi Moshe Zaccuto, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, the Beis Yosef, RAMA, Baal Shem Tov, Maggid of Mezeritch, RaMCHaL, Chasam Sofer, Baal ha-Tanya, Vilna Gaon, Rav Chaim of Volozhin, Chayei Adam, Magen Avraham, Be'er Heitiv, Malbim, RaSHaSH, CHIDA, Ben Ish Chai, Chofetz Chaim, Aruch ha-Shulchan, Baal ha-Sulam, Rav Kook, Rav Sonnenfeld, the Darkei Teshuvah, Imrei Yosef, Reb Ahreleh Roth, Baba Sali -- the list goes on and on. Personally, I defer to these sages, and assume that they are better qualified than I am to evaluate this.
Rabbi Nachman's writings are suffused with Zoharic ideas and teachings, so much so that Reb Noson added the Rebbe's teaching about Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai ("Lechu chazu") prior to the first lesson in Likkutei Moharan. According to Breslover oral tradition, when he was on his way to Uman the Rebbe remarked, "Our entire mission is to be mamshikh kedushas Reb Shimon -- to draw into the world the holiness of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai" (see Rabbi Noson of Tiveria's Netziv Tzaddik). So I can't imagine how you could subtract the Zohar from the derech and hashkofah of Breslev.
HOWEVER... even if you cannot accept the Zohar as the work of Rabbi Shimon and his school, I don't see why you have to negate its truth. Whoever wrote it must have been a very awesome tzaddik for his work to change the face of Yiddishkeit and revolutionize the entire kabbalistic tradition!