1. The Zohar Is Considered the Primary Text of Kabbalah

For anyone wishing to venture into the world of Kabbalah, the most important text is often the Zohar, which is typically published in three volumes. Written in Western Aramaic (the language of the Holy Land), its language is often difficult to understand, even for those used to learning Hebrew and Babylonian Aramaic.

Read: What Is the Zohar?

2. It’s Not the Oldest Kabbalistic Book

The Zohar was the first comprehensive kabbalistic work and has become the source for all later authoritative kabbalistic teachings. But it was by no means the first. Works such as the Sefer Yetzirah (“Book of Creation”) and the Bahir (“Illumination”) were extant before the Zohar was published. Unlike the Zohar, these works are short and cryptic to the point that they are incomprehensible to the student attempting to study them without a guide.

Read: Is Kabbalah for Everyone?

3. Zohar Means “Splendor”

Throughout the ages, especially before it was widely publicized, the Zohar has been referred to as “Midrash,” “Midrash Yerushalmi,” and other names. However, the name Zohar, meaning “Splendor” or “Radiance,” is how the Zohar refers to itself.

4. It Was Authored By Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai

Reading the Zohar, one discovers that the text, brimming with the Torah’s deepest mysteries, contains the teachings of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (known by the acronym "Rashbi"), and his disciples (the Chevraya in Aramaic). Rashbi, who flourished in the second century, is also one of the primary teachers of Jewish law. His opinions are cited frequently in the Mishnah, the bedrock of the Talmud.

Read: Stories of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai

5. The Author's Name Hinted at the Beginning

The Zohar begins by parsing the first word of the Torah, bereshit, “in the beginning.” The text explains that this means “in the beginning of the King’s desire.” The word used there, bereish (בריש), is an anagram of the acronym Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.1

This follows the custom of an author of a Torah book alluding to his name in either the title or the opening line of his book.

6. It Conveys Teachings of Elijah and Souls of the Righteous

Most of the Zohar consists of teachings taught to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai by Elijah the Prophet and the souls of the righteous throughout history who revealed themselves to him.

Read: Elijah the Prophet

7. It Was Written by Multiple Scribes

We refer to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai as the author of the Zohar, and he did write some of it (such as the part described as "the First Mishnah") while hiding in a cave from the Roman authorities who wanted to execute him.

However, the Zohar itself describes how Rabbi Abba, one of Rabbi Shimon's foremost disciples, was tasked with transcribing the bulk of Rabbi Shimon’s teachings.2

Some say that this extended another generation, to the disciples of Rabbi Shimon’s disciples, who recorded oral teachings they had received. Thus, the Zohar’s authorship spanned several generations.

Read: The Zohar’s Mysterious Origins

8. It Was Hidden for Many Years

The Zohar was concealed for more than a thousand years, since the study of the Kabbalah was restricted to only a select few qualified individuals. It was revealed in the 13th century and published by one of the leading Spanish Kabbalists, Rabbi Moshe de Leon (c. 1240 – 1305). How he came across these manuscripts is a subject of many legends and traditions.

The Zohar (and the Tikunei haZohar, see below) was first printed in Mantua, Italy, in 1557-58, more than 150 years after it was “revealed.”

9. It Wasn’t Always Divided into Parshiot

The standard Zohar is organized according to the Torah portions, with various teachings loosely connected to the content of the Torah portion, perhaps similar to the format of many midrashim.

Many explain that this was not always the case and that this division was made during the Geonic period (sometime between 589–1038 CE).3

10. It Contains Tikunei haZohar

Alongside the primary text, the Tikunei haZohar (“Rectifications of the Zohar”) was printed as a separate work. It discusses 70 permutations of the first word of the Torah, bereshit, and also contains commentaries on various other sections of Scripture. Each one of these commentaries is called a tikun (lit. “rectification”).

11. The Additions Are Known as Zohar Chadash

After the Zohar was printed, more manuscripts (both from the Zohar and the Tikunei haZohar) were found. About 30 years after the first edition of the Zohar was printed, the manuscripts were gathered and arranged according to the Torah and the five Megillot and printed in Thessaloniki (Salonica) in 1587. These manuscripts became known as the Zohar Chadash (“New Zohar”).

The term "Zohar" can either refer to the original Zohar text or to the entire collection.

12. There Are Even More Sections

Beyond the Zohar Chadash and the Tikkunei Zohar, the Zohar further contains several smaller treatises such as the Idra Rabah, Idra Zuta, Raya Mehemna and Midrash HaNe'elam.

13. Only a Portion Survived

Some Kabbalists maintain that the Zohar currently in our possession is a mere fragment of the original work. If we had the entire work of the Zohar, it would constitute an entire “camel load.”4

14. It Will Bring Moshiach

The Zohar records that Elijah proclaimed that “in the merit of the study of this book [the Zohar], the Jewish people will leave the exile in a merciful manner.”5

May it be speedily in our days!