What Is Kabbalah?

Kabbalah is the ancient Jewish mystical tradition & teachings regarding the deepest insights into the essence of G‑d, His interaction with the world, and the purpose of Creation. The Kabbalah and its teachings - no less than the Law - are an integral part of the Torah/Bible.

The word "Kabbalah" stems from the Hebrew root "KBL" meaning "to receive". The term implies that it is a certain kind of wisdom that is received.

Origin of Kabbalah

  • Kabbalah dates from Eden.

  • It came down from a remote past as a revelation to elect Tzadikim (righteous people), and, for the most part, was preserved only by a privileged few.

  • Talmudic Judaism records its view of the proper protocol for teaching this wisdom, as well as many of its concepts, in the Talmud, Tractate Hagigah, 11b-13a,

  • Early kabbalistic knowledge was transmitted orally by the Patriarchs, prophets, and sages (hakhamim in Hebrew), eventually to be "interwoven" into Jewish religious writings and culture.

  • According to this view, early kabbalah was, in around the 10th century BCE, an open knowledge practiced by over a million people in ancient Israel.

  • Foreign conquests drove the Jewish spiritual leadership of the time (the Sanhedrin) to hide the knowledge and make it secret, fearing that it might be misused if it fell into the wrong hands.

What is Kabbalah?

Kabbalah is referred to as the "soul" of the Torah, the Kabbalah is an ancient Jewish tradition which teaches the deepest insights into the essence of G‑d, His interaction with the world, and the purpose of Creation. Kabbalah teaches the essential Jewish cosmology, integral to all other Torah disciplines. Sometimes called "the Inner Torah" or the "Wisdom of Truth", it offers a comprehensive overall structure and plan for the universe, as well as a detailed understanding of the particulars of our lives. The student of Kabbalah is made aware of the personal as well as the collective rectification process and is encouraged to play an active part in it.

Jewish Kabbalah is a set of esoteric teachings meant to explain the relationship between the unchanging, eternal God–the mysterious Ein Sof (אֵין סוֹף, "The Infinite")–and the mortal, finite universe (God's creation).It forms the foundation of mystical religious interpretations within Judaism. They often use classical Jewish scriptures to explain and demonstrate its mystical teachings

Sometimes translated as "Jewish Mysticism" it is far from mystical, it is a logical and precise system of thought and is a part of Jewish tradition that deals with the essence of God.

Kabbalists believe that God moves in mysterious ways. However, Kabbalists also believe that true knowledge and understanding of that inner, mysterious process is obtainable, and through that knowledge, the greatest intimacy with God can be attained.

Traditional practitioners believe its earliest origins pre-date world religions, forming the primordial blueprint for Creation's philosophies, religions, sciences, arts, and political systems. Historically, Kabbalah re-emerged after earlier forms of Jewish mysticism, in 12th- to 13th-century Spain and Southern France, and was reinterpreted during the Jewish mystical renaissance of 16th-century Ottoman Palestine

 

Isaac Luria is considered the father of contemporary Kabbalah; Lurianic Kabbalah. 

Who Knew Kabbalah?

Throughout the period of the Prophets, the Kabbala was guarded by the master prophets and transmitted to select disciples. During this time, the Sanctuary, and later the First Temple, served as the focal point for all prophetic experience. When the Temple was about to be destroyed the prophet Ezekiel was shown a vision which was to signal the end of a thousand year period of prophecy. This vision is known as Maaseh Merkava, the Discipline (or Workings) of the Chariot

From the 5th century BCE, when the works of the Tanakh were edited and canonized and the secret knowledge encrypted within the various writings and scrolls ("Megilot"), esoteric knowledge became referred to as Ma'aseh Merkavah(Hebrew: מַעֲשֶׂה מֶרְכָּבָה‎)[31] based on the Book of Ezekiel and Ma'aseh B'reshit (Hebrew: מַעֲשֶׂה בְּרֵאשִׁית‎),[32]respectively "the act of the Chariot" and "the act of Creation"

Rambam: (Mediëval Jewish Scholar)

"I say that it is not proper to dally in Pardes [i.e., mysticism] till one's belly is filled with 'bread and meat,' knowledge of what is permitted and what forbidden, and similar distinctions in other classes of precepts.

 

Why must we study Kabbalah?

At this time [the Messianic Era]…a spirit will go out and will not return - this is the spirit of Mashiach (Messiah). Woe to those who cause him to depart and leave the world, never to return! These are those who make the Torah/Bible as a dry [barren] place and do not desire to involve themselves in the wisdom of the Kabbalah. Woe to those, who bring about poverty and war and disgrace and murder and destruction in the world. (Tikunei Zohar, Tikun 30)

The letters of the word "Bereishit" ["In the Beginning…", Gen. 1:1] can be rearranged to read "atar yavesh", which means "a river [i.e. Torah/Bible] destroyed and dry". At that time when it is dry, the children below scream out in unison and say "ShemaYisrael!" - yet there is no sound and no answer. This is regarding he who causes Kabbalah and wisdom to depart from the Oral Torah and the Written Torah and causes others to not attempt [to understand] them, saying that there is nothing but the simple meaning [peshat] in the Torah and Talmud.One is obligated to involve himself to the best of his ability in the secrets of the Torah…

Certainly [they are] as if they cause the [divine] flow to depart from this garden and river [above]. Woe to him - it would have been better that he had not been created in the world and not learned any Oral Torah, for it is considered as if he has returned the world to formlessness and chaos and causes poverty in the world and a lengthening of the period of exile. (Tikunei Zohar, Tikun 43)

 

The Sages on Learning Kabbalah...

Rabbi Avraham Azulai

"Behold, without knowing the wisdom of the Kabbalah, one is like a beast…because he performs the mitzvahs without the reason/taste of the mitzvahs, only performing the mitzvahs like "scholarly" people. And they resemble beasts who eat hay, which doesn't have the flavor of food meant for humans. And even if one is very involved in business matters and very preoccupied, he shouldn't exempt himself from occupying himself in this wisdom [Kabbalah]. You should try to carve out some time from your daily activities each day in order that time will remain for immersing in this wisdom, because it is the foundations of the Torah. You are not exempt from the Inner Torah [i.e. Kabbalah], because, without it, a person is an ox who eats straw.The masses, both those great and small [in Torah], should occupy themselves [in the study of Kabbalah"

Vilna Gaon

"He that is able to understand secrets of the Torah and does not try to understand them will be judged harshly, may G‑d have mercy. (Even Shlema 8:24)The essence of the Redemption depends upon learning Kabbalah"

Rabbi Shneur Zalman

"Every person, for the sake of the rectification of his [precious Divine] soul, must occupy himself in the study of Torah at every level of "Pardes"-- basic, hinted, interpreted, secret – according to his ability to grasp and to understand. Anyone who is able to grasp and to understand much, but is lazy and only fulfills part of his potential, his soul will have to return in another incarnation until he attains all that is possible for his soul to grasp and understand in all the levels of Torah, whether it be the most straightforward of laws, or hints, interpretations and secrets. Because whatever his soul is able to grasp and to understand in all the different levels of Torah knowledge is required for the complete rectification of his soul. It is impossible for his soul to be completely rectified and bound with its Divine source from which it was hewn without this complete knowledge."

Understanding what the Torah/Bible Really Means....

According to the Zohar,  Torah study can proceed along four levels of interpretation (exegesis)These four levels are called pardes from their initial letters (PRDS Hebrew: פַּרדֵס‎, orchard).

  • Peshat (Hebrew: פשט‎ lit. "simple"): the direct interpretations of meaning.[15]

  • Remez (Hebrew: רֶמֶז‎ lit. "hint[s]"): the allegoric meanings (through allusion).

  • Derash (Hebrew: דְרָשׁ‎ from Heb. darash: "inquire" or "seek"): midrashic (rabbinic) meanings, often with imaginative comparisons with similar words or verses.

  • Sod (Hebrew: סוֹד‎ lit. "secret" or "mystery"): the inner, esoteric (metaphysical) meanings, expressed in kabbalah.

If you are without the Jewish educational background for this complex and mysterious inner dimension of Torah/Bible, known as Kabbalah, you can start with reaching out to us and sign up for our ongoing weekly classes or one-on-one teaching.