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What is Kabbalah?

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What is Kabbalah?

Kabbalah is theology in the fullest sense - including ontology, cosmogony and cosmology.

It is not speculative philosophy based on human insight nor theories derived from human reasoning.

It is a study, as it were, of Divinity and of the relationship between G-d and His Creation, based on the premises of revealed truth.


The Kabbalah takes man beyond the normative understanding of reason.

It goes beyond the exoteric part of Torah and transcends normative existence.

It uncovers many of the infinite layers of the secrets of life, of Creation, of the soul, of the heavenly spheres.

It penetrates beyond the garments and the body of the Torah.

It is the very core and soul of Torah, the ultimate revelation of Divinity - exposing the inner meaning, effects and purpose of Torah and mitzvot (good deeds).

The illumination emanating from the Kabbalah ignites the soul of man, setting it on fire in the awareness of a deeper and higher reality. Its study and insights are themselves mystical experiences.

The Kabbalah is all this - but always and exclusively within the context of Torah.

As a body cannot function without a soul, so the soul is ineffective without the body.

The soul of the Torah (nistar, the esoteric part of the Torah) can never be separated from the body of the Torah (nigleh, the exoteric parts; Halachah, the commandments and practices prescribed by the Torah).

Kabbalah reduced to spiritual or philosophical symbolism, stripped from the observance of the mitzvot, is worthless mumbo-jumbo, an empty shell.

This is the first and foremost difference between Jewish mysticism and all other kinds and forms. That is why Jewish mysticism can never fall into the category of a cult.

The great mystics and philosophers outside Judaism, in the East and in the West, were honest and sincere sages.

They did seek truth.

They did not look for answers to justify or verify any of their preconceived notions. They were not indulging their egos. And many did discover and develop profound theories and insights which stir the imagination and move the human spirit.

Some had glimpses of ultimate reality. Yet, in spite of all this, they worked in a chameleonic void. They could move only as far as finite and fallible man is able to reach on his own.

Their insights or findings, therefore, are either humanly verifiable (that is, logically self-evident truth or tautologies) or else speculative truth which at best contains an element of possibility but never the assurance of certitude.

The Kabbalah, on the other hand, builds on the revealed truth of Torah.

The validity of its speculative theories and subjective experiences must be, and is, tested and verified by that truth in order to be worthy of consideration, to be viable and acceptable. It has, and continually uses, objective criteria to make it consistent with, and as reliable as, Halachah.

The Essence of the Wisdom of Kabbalah

The Kabbalah teaches the cause effect connection of our spiritual sources. These sources connect according to the constant and absolute rules aiming for a higher goal - the comprehension of the Creator by all of his creations that exist in this world.

According to the Kabbalah, both mankind as a whole and each and every individual has to attain his highest point of understanding the goal and the program of the creation in all of its fullness. In each generation there were people who by constant self work reached a certain spiritual level. In other words, while walking up the ladder, they managed to reach the top.

Any material object - from the micro to the macro world and its actions are controlled by the spiritual forces that permeate our whole universe. It might be pictured as if this universe lies upon a net, weaved from these forces.

As an example, let's take the smallest living organism whose sole aim is to support its existence for a time long enough to procreate the next generation. How many forces and complex systems function in that organism! And how many of those systems has man's eye and limited experience failed to notice Multiplying those forces by the vast number of living creatures that have ever existed in our world - meaning the Universe and the spiritual worlds - we will only have a vague and remote idea about the number of spiritual ties and forces that control us.

The great variety of the spiritual forces can be imagined as two equal and interconnected systems. The only difference between them is that the first system comes out from the Creator and goes down through all of the worlds until it reaches ours. The second one comes out of our world and goes all the way up according to the rules already developed and acted upon in the first system.

The first system in the Kabbalah is called "The Order of the Creation of the Worlds and Spirit". The second one is called "Comprehension or the Steps of Prophecy and Spirit". The second system supposes that those who wish to reach the peak will have to act according to the laws of the first system, and this is exactly what is studied in the Kabbalah. However, in the spiritual world the main factor of discovery and comprehension is not time but rather the purity of spirit, thought, and desire.

In the material world there are many forces and phenomena which we do not directly feel. For example, electricity, magnetic waves, etc. The effect of their actions, their names, are familiar even to children. Even though our knowledge about electricity is limited, we have learned to use this phenomenon for our certain needs. We call it by name just as naturally as we call bread - bread and sugar - sugar.

Accordingly, all of the names in the Kabbalah seem to give a real (material) notion of a spiritual object. But if we think about it, it is not only spiritual objects that we don't have an idea about. We don't have an idea about the Creator Himself, just as we don't have a real idea of any object, even one that is felt by our own hands.

The thing is that we don't feel the object itself but rather our reaction to its actions and influence. These reactions give us what seems to be knowledge, although the object itself, its essence remains hidden. More than that, we cannot even comprehend ourselves! Only actions and reactions is all that we know about ourselves.

Science, as an instrument of researching the world is divided into two parts; the study of the properties of matter and the study of its form. In other words, there is nothing in the universe that doesn't consist of matter and form. For example, if we take a table as a combination of matter and form, then the matter is the wood, and the carrier of the form is the shape of the table. Another example; the word liar, where the matter is the body of the man that carries the form, the lie.

The part of science that deals with the study of matter is based on experiments. On the basis of those scientific experiments, conclusions are drawn. However, the part of science that studies form, without any connection to matter, especially those forms that have never been tied to matter (for example, communism as an ideal!) cannot be based on experiment. That is because there is no such thing as form without matter in our world.

The separation of form from matter is possible only in our imagination. Therefore, all of our conclusions in this case are based only on theoretical premises. The whole field of higher philosophy belongs to this category of science and mankind has often suffered because of its groundless conclusions. The majority of contemporary scientists turned their back on this method of study, since there is absolutely no certainty in the validity of the conclusions.

By exploring the spiritual world, man himself actually discovers that his very feelings are only wishes from above for him to feel that way. He feels it as a separate existing object and not as a part of the Creator while all of the surrounding world is only an illusion of the action of spiritual forces on us.

I will clarify this thought with an example:

"Once upon a time a poor man lived in a small village. He drove a wagon, had a couple of horses, a house and a family. Suddenly a wave of misfortune came upon him. The horses fell, his wife and children died, the house fell apart and because of his grief, he died soon after. And then the decision is being taken in the highest court, just what to give to such a long suffering and tormented soul to assure its happiness. They decide to give him the feeling that he is alive, that he has his family with him, his house, and his good horses. They make him feel content with his work and with his life."

These feelings are interpreted just as we feel in a dream, that what is happening to us in a dream is very real. It is only our feelings that create the picture of our surroundings. So then, how can we distinguish an illusion for reality ...

Kabbalah as a science of the world is also divided into the study of matter and form. However, it has a remarkable quality that shows its superiority over other methods of science. The part of it that deals with the study of form without matter is totally based on experimental control and therefore can be verified and tested!

The Kabbalist, having risen to the spiritual level of the studied object, receives all of its qualities himself. Thus, inside himself he feels a complete understanding and can deal practically with different kinds of forms before their material embodiment. It is as if he is watching all of our illusions as an observer from the outside!

The Kabbalah, just as any other science, uses certain symbols and terminology to describe objects and actions. The spiritual force, the world, the sfira are called by the same name which we use for the same object controlled by this force in our world. Since every material object or force has a respective spiritual object or force that controls their actions, there is a completely accurate "fit" between the name taken from the material world and its spiritual root - the source. Naming a spiritual object is therefore possible only to a Kabbalist who has himself reached a very high level of insight.

He has reached that level of the spiritual object itself and he sees the way it effects and influences our world. The Kabbalists write their books and pass on their knowledge using this language. This language is extremely precise. It is based on the spiritual source of the material object and cannot change. The link between the object and its spiritual source in unchangeable. This is quite different from our everyday use of the language. Our earthly, everyday language is gradually loosing its accuracy since it is tied only to the outer form. A simple basic understanding of the language is not enough. Even if we know the name of a lower material object, we still cannot understand its higher spiritual form. Only if we know the spiritual form can we comprehend and see its material implementation, "the branch".

This brings us to the conclusion: First it is essential to understand the spiritual source of the material object. We have to know its nature and properties. Only then can we pass to its branch in our world and study their interaction. This is the only way for the true understanding of the language of the Kabbalah.

A natural question arises however. How can a beginner master this science when he cannot even properly understand his teacher The answer is very simple. It is only possible when we spiritually lift ourselves up above this world. This is possible only if we rid ourselves of all of the traces of material egoism and accept the spiritual values as the only ones. Only the longing and the passion for the spiritual in our world, that is the key for the higher world.

Continue to: History of Kabbalah

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