When non-Jews ask about Judaism, they commonly ask questions like: What is the nature of God? Do you believe in heaven and hell? What happens to us after death? The answers to questions like these characterize most religions. While Jewish law (Talmud) focuses on what it is God wants from man, the area of Judaism and Jewish thought that discusses these issues falls under the realm of Jewish mysticism and the Kabbalah.
Kabbalah is the name applied to the whole range of Jewish mystical activity.
The word Kabbalah comes from the Hebrew root Qof-Beit-Lamed, which means “to receive, to accept.” If you have spent any time studying or reading about the Kabbalah, you can not help but to notice that there are many alternative spellings of this word. The reason for this is that some letters in the Hebrew alphabet have more than one representation in the English alphabet. For example, the letter “Qof” can be written either as K or Q or even as a C. This has led some authors choose one spelling for the word Kabbalah while others select another. In the end, they are all talking about the rich mystical tradition that has been a part of Judaism since its earliest days
According to its supporters, intimate understanding and mastery of the Kabbalah brings man spiritually closer to God and as a result man can gain insight into the inner-workings of God’s creation. Since it deals with universal principles, i t works to explain not only the way our inner and outer worlds are constructed, but why. It teaches a method which allows the spiritual seeker to live in accord with the guiding force behind the whole of reality.
The History Of Kabbalah
While it is not clear exactly where the mystical traditions of the Kabbalah originated, some texts claim this mystical system originated with Moses on Mount Sinai while others say it was provided by the angels to Adam as a means of returning to grace after the fall of man. According to Kabbalistic tradition, the concealed dimension of the Torah – the Kabbalah – was transmitted orally by the Jewish patriarchs, prophets, and sages of ancient times. However, after prophecy ceased and the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, a new era dawned for Kabbalah. Teaching of the Kabbalah began to emerge and around the second century A.D. Since that time and even today it is used by many as a guide for exploring our inner truths.
The most famous work of Kabbalah, the Zohar, was revealed to the Jewish world in the thirteenth century by Moses De Leon. The Zohar was in the form of a commentary or interpretation on the five books of the Torah (the first 5 books of the Old Testament). Whereas most commentaries interpret the Torah as a storyline and legal work, mystics, such as Moses De Leon, tend to interpret it as a system of symbols which reveals the secret laws of the universe.
Scholars have identified the study of the Kabbalah as being the Yoga of the West. Its foundation, beliefs and tenets echo those of the yogic system including the chakras. It has been theorized that the ideas and methodology used in the chakra system represent abstract ideals that are to be achieved. The Kabbalistic system, on the other hand expresses itself through the use of specific notions and concrete symbols, which bring unconscious thoughts, ideas and behaviors into our conscious awareness.
Prohibitions Surrounding the Study of Kabbalah
Over the years, prohibitions arouse around the study of Kabbalah. The rabbis of the Talmud regarded the mystical study of God as being important yet warned that it could be dangerous. There’s a famous story in the Talmud where four great sages entered a garden. They went into an ecstatic state, a state of mystical and spiritual ecstasy, and three of them did not survive. One came out insane, one died and one renounced his faith. It was only Rabbi Akiva who entered in peace, and exited in peace.
It was this episode, later experiences of individuals who became mentally unbalanced while engaging in mystical activities and the disaster of the false Messiah Shabbetai Zevi that caused seventeenth-century rabbis to legislate that kabbalah should be studied only by married men over forty who were also scholars of Torah and Talmud. In recent times, the prohibitions regarding the study of Kabbalah, even in Orthodox communities have been relaxed.
Types of Kabbalistic Practices
There are two types of Kabbalah: contemplative and practical.
Practical Kabbalah seeks to alter the nature of existence and change the course of events via ritualistic techniques. It can be seen as a kind of white magic, dealing with the use of techniques that could evoke supernatural powers. Its goal is to bring about practical changes, through the intervention of God. Examples can be found in the Bible with stories such as Moses drawing forth water from the rock, or of Aaron’s staff being turned into a snake. It utilizes the utterance of divine names and incantations, amulets and talismans, as well as chiromancy, physiognomy and astrology. In recent times, this is form of Kabbalah is often practiced by non-Judaic Magical or practitioners ofHermetic Kabbalah.
The other form of Kabbalah, Contemplative Kabbalah, seeks to explain the nature of God and the nature of our existence via intellectual and meditative techniques.
This form of Kabbalah is what is often found when reading most written works on Kabbalah. Much of this branch grew out of the study of the Holy Scriptures. Various techniques for revealing the underlying meaning of the Holy texts include: Gematria, Notariqon and Temurah, which explore into the relationships and hidden meaning of numbers, letters and phrases of words. In turn, theories of how the universe was created and the essential nature of God and man, are explore and summarized through the symbol or glyph we know as the Tree of Life.
To a Kabbalist, the representation of the Tree of Life is often seen as visual road map which we can follow as we venture into the realm of the unconscious and the unknown. It is made up of 10 spheres or sephirah that symbolize the emanations or qualities of God. According to Kabbalistic tradition, the Ten Sefirot correspond to ten levels of creation or the ten different ways God reveals himself to us.
They can also be thought of as objective energy centers and discrete states of consciousness that are available to us or as a description of the unfolding energetic transition from God to Man. They constitute the inner structure of reality and account for the dynamic relationships that take place both physically and spiritually where they provide us with a model of personal growth and development. This is because hidden within each sephirot is a concealed motivational force that corresponds to distinct psycho-spiritual states of the human soul.
There is so much more that can be discussed when talking about the Kabbalah, but this should get you started along this exciting path of self-discovery.
The Kabbalah gives us tools that enable us to explore all aspects of our inner and outer selves and help us to know ourselves better and understand our relationship with the world around us. It can also be used as a tool to open ourselves up spiritually and become better acquainted with God. Regardless of how you choose to utilize the wisdom the Kabbalah, find gratitude in all your work and learning’s and be open to receiving its blessings.
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