Kabbala*

the esoteric wisdom of the Torah handed down from Moses to Joshua and then down through the generations. Often divided into Kabbala Iyunit (contemplative or analytical Kabbala) and Kabbala Maasit (practical Kabbala). Sometimes spelled "cabala" or "qabalah" by non-Jewish schools.


Kabbala: Contemplative and Practical

Kabbala Iyunit

Kabbala Iyunit (or "Contemplative Kabbala"), the category to which the majority of kabbalistic texts in circulation today belong, attempts to explain the process whereby, through the will of the one infinite G-d, the created finite realm came into being and is constantly directed. Kabbala Iyunit also analyzes the nature of the relationship between Creation and the divine source from which it emerges. On a deeper level, Kabbala Iyunit explores the complex character of the divine reality itself-- in particular, the paradox of the transcendence of G-d and the consequent inability of human thought to grasp Him at all, together with His immanence and active relationship with finite Creation.

An additional aspect of the contemplative tradition is the use of various meditative techniques to ponder the Divine and the esoteric underpinnings of the material world. These include meditations on Hebrew letter permutations and ways in which the sefirot (supernal divine forces) harmonize and interact. Some ancient forms of kabbalistic meditation produced a visionary experience of the supernal "chambers" and the angelic beings who occupy them. This is known as the Heichalot tradition.

These techniques are also sometimes used as a means of rectifying imperfections in the soul, rather than producing spiritual knowledge or elevation.

Kabbala Iyunit has thus been characterized as a descriptive "anatomy" of the divine reality. Kabbala is concerned with the technical identities and "locations" of, and relationships between, the worlds (planes of reality), the sefirot (divine emanations), and the order in which they evolve from one another and affect one another in the vast chain of being, known in kabbala as the seder hishtalshelut--the process by which divine energy (or "light", in kabbalistic terminology) devolves from higher spiritual planes to lower ones, eventually to become manifest in this physical plane of existence.

 



Mysteries and Truth

Translated by M. Steinberger and E. Linas

As we have heard, so we have seen. (Psalms 48:9)

As we have explained elsewhere, this verse means that words of the kabbalistic mysteries of the Torah are celestial matters which no eye has seen besides that of G-d. They are wondrous things.
" Without the reasons provided by Kabbala, a great number of mitzvot cannot be ascribed to any root..." 

This is because the secrets of Torah teach us about the Essence of G-d and the aspects of that essence which He bestowed in the upper worlds - things which astonish and frighten those that hear of them. There things depend only on pure faith, not on reason - i.e. only on the pure faith that a person holds that these are words of truth.

Thus, the secret aspect of Torah is called "the way of truth" for two reasons: First, it is intrinsically true, for it is the truth of the Torah. Also, it is the reason behind the mitzvot, so that without the reasons provided by Kabbala, a great number of mitzvot cannot be ascribed to any root or reason. Thus, through the way of Kabbala, a person finds satisfaction with all of the Torah and its mitzvot.

About the essence of the Kabbala, it says at the beginning of Pirkei Avot, "Moses received the Torah from Sinai and gave it to Joshua." In other words, it was transmitted as a tradition orally from one generation to another. In this regard, the holy Zohar always calls Moses "the faithful shepherd". [Faithfulness, here,] has two aspects: One, as we have written, is that Kabbala is the truth of the Torah and its mitzvot; the second is that a person must believe in his heart that the matter is pure truth, as if he saw it with his own eyes without any distortion.

One who does not believe this with complete faith should not attempt to study it nor interest himself in it in any way, as the kabbalists have warned. And so King David said: "As we have heard so we have seen", meaning that we have perfect faith in the receiving of the Way of Truth which is in our hands. That which we have heard and received through our ears is as if we had seen it with our eyes; there is no distinction here between hearing and seeing.

[From Sha'arei Aruchah 40, as anthologized in Peninei Avir Ya'akov, p. 213]

 

Qabbalah - Kabbalah

Tree of Life

Kabbalah is an interpretation (exegesis, hermeneutic) key, "soul" of the Torah (Hebrew Bible), or the religious mystical system of Judaism claiming an insight into divine nature.

The term "Kabbalah" was originally used in Talmudic texts, among the Geonim, and by early Rishonim as a reference to the full body of publicly available Jewish teaching. In this sense Kabbalah was used in referring to all of known Oral Law. Over time it became a reference to doctrines of esoteric knowledge concerning God, God's creation of the universe and the laws of nature, and the path by which adult religious Jews can learn these secrets.

Kabbalah, according to the more recent use of the word, stresses the esoteric reasons and understanding of the commandments in the Torah, and the occult cause of events described in the Torah. Kabbalah includes the understanding of the spiritual spheres of creation, and the ways by which God administers the existence of the universe.

According to Jewish tradition dating from the 13th century, this knowledge has come down as a revelation to elect saints from a remote past, and preserved only by a privileged few. It is considered part of the Jewish Oral Law by the majority of religious Jews in modern times, although this was not agreed upon by many Talmudic and medieval scholars, as well as many modern liberal rabbis and a minority of Orthodox rabbis.

 

Origin of Jewish Mysticism

The Shining Ones

According to adherents of Kabbalah, the origin of Kabbalah begins with the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible). According to Midrash, God created the universe with "Ten utterances" or "Ten qualities." When read by later generations of Kabbalists, the Torah's description of the creation in the Book of Genesis reveals mysteries about the godhead itself, the true nature of Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life, as well as the interaction of these supernal entities with the Serpent which leads to disaster when they eat the forbidden fruit, as recorded in Genesis 2.

The Bible provides ample additional material for mythic and mystical speculation. The prophet Ezekiel's visions in particular attracted much speculation, as did Isaiah's Temple vision (Chapter 6). Jacob's vision of the ladder to heaven is another text providing an example of a mystical experience. Moses' experience with the Burning bush and his encounters with God on Mount Sinai, are all evidence of mystical events in the Tanakh, and form the origin of Jewish mystical beliefs.

Jewish mystical traditions always appeal to an argument of authority based on antiquity. As a result, virtually all works pseudepigraphically claim or are ascribed ancient authorship. For example, Sefer Raziel HaMalach, an astro-magical text partly based on a magical manual of late antiquity, Sefer ha-Razim, was, according to the kabbalists, transmitted to Adam (after being evicted) by the angel Raziel. Another famous work, the Sefer Yetzirah, supposedly dates back to the patriarch Abraham. According to Apocalyptic literature, esoteric knowledge, such as magic, divination, and astrology, was transmitted to humans in the mythic past by the two angels, Aza and Azaz'el (in other places, Azaz'el and Uzaz'el) who 'fell' from heaven (see Genesis 6:4).

This appeal to antiquity has also shaped modern theories of influence in reconstructing the history of Jewish mysticism. The oldest versions of the Jewish mysticism have been theorized to extend from Assyrian theology and mysticism. Dr. Simo Parpola, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, has made some suggestive findings on the matter, particularly concerning an analysis of the Sefirot. Noting the general similarity between the Sefirot of the Kabbalah and the Tree of Life of Assyria, he reconstructed what an Assyrian antecendent to the Sepiroth would look like.

He matched the characteristics of En Sof on the nodes of the Sepiroth to the gods of Assyria, and was able to even find textual parallels between these Assyrian gods and the characteristics of god. The Assyrians assigned specific numbers to their gods, similar to how the Sepiroth assigns numbers to its nodes. However, the Assyrians use a sexagesimal number system, whereas the Sepiroth is decimal. With the Assyrian numbers, additional layers of meaning and mystical relevance appear in the Sepiroth. Normally, floating above the Assyrian Tree of Life was the god Assur, this corresponds to En Sof, which is also, via a series of transformations, derived from the Assyrian word Assur.

Jewish mystical traditions always appeal to an argument of authority based on antiquity. As a result, virtually all works pseudepigraphically claim or are ascribed ancient authorship. For example, Sefer Raziel HaMalach, an astro-magical text partly based on a magical manual of late antiquity, Sefer ha-Razim, was, according to the kabbalists, transmitted to Adam (after being evicted) by the angel Raziel. Another famous work, the Sefer Yetzirah, supposedly dates back to the patriarch Abraham. According to Apocalyptic literature, esoteric knowledge, such as magic, divination, and astrology, was transmitted to humans in the mythic past by the two angels, Aza and Azaz'el (in other places, Azaz'el and Uzaz'el) who 'fell' from heaven (Genesis 6:4).

This appeal to antiquity has also shaped modern theories of influence in reconstructing the history of Jewish mysticism. The oldest versions of the Jewish mysticism have been theorized to extend from Assyrian theology and mysticism. Dr. Simo Parpola, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, has made some suggestive findings on the matter, particularly concerning an analysis of the Sefirot. Noting the general similarity between the Sefirot of the Kabbalah and the Tree of Life of Assyria, he reconstructed what an Assyrian antecendent to the Sepiroth would look like. He matched the characteristics of En Sof on the nodes of the Sepiroth to the gods of Assyria, and was able to even find textual parallels between these Assyrian gods and the characteristics of god. The Assyrians assigned specific numbers to their gods, similar to how the Sepiroth assigns numbers to its nodes. However, the Assyrians use a sexagesimal number system, whereas the Sepiroth is decimal. With the Assyrian numbers, additional layers of meaning and mystical relevance appear in the Sepiroth. Normally, floating above the Assyrian Tree of Life was the god Assur, this corresponds to En Sof, which is also, via a series of transformations, derived from the Assyrian word Assur.

 

Textual Antiquity of Esoteric Mysticism

Jewish forms of esotericism did, however, exist over 2,000 years ago. Ben Sira warns against it, saying: "You shall have no business with secret things" (Sirach iii. 22; compare Talmud Hagigah 13a; Midrash Genesis Rabbah viii.).

Apocalyptic literature belonging to the second and first pre-Christian centuries contained some elements that carry over to later Kabbalah. According to Josephus such writings were in the possession of the Essenes, and were jealously guarded by them against disclosure, for which they claimed a hoary antiquity (see Philo, "De Vita Contemplativa," iii., and Hippolytus, "Refutation of all Heresies," ix. 27).

That books containing secret lore were kept hidden away by (or for) the "enlightened" is stated in IV Esdras xiv. 45-46, where Pseudo-Ezra is told to publish the twenty-four books of the canon openly that the worthy and the unworthy may alike read, but to keep the seventy other books hidden in order to "deliver them only to such as be wise" (compare Dan. xii. 10); for in them are the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the stream of knowledge.

Instructive for the study of the development of Jewish mysticism is the Book of Jubilees written around the time of King John Hyrcanus. It refers to mysterious writings of Jared, Cain, and Noah, and presents Abraham as the renewer, and Levi as the permanent guardian, of these ancient writings.

It offers a cosmogony based upon the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and connected with Jewish chronology and Messianology, while at the same time insisting upon the heptad (7) as the holy number rather than upon the decadic (10) system adopted by the later haggadists and the Sefer Yetzirah.

The Pythagorean idea of the creative powers of numbers and letters was shared with Sefer Yetzirah and was known in the time of the Mishnah (before 200 CE).

Early elements of Jewish mysticism can be found in the non-Biblical texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, such as the Song of the Sabbath Sacrifice. Some parts of the Talmud and the midrash also focus on the esoteric and mystical, particularly Chagigah 12b-14b.

Many esoteric texts, among them Hekalot Rabbati, Sefer HaBahir, Torat Hakana, Sefer P'liyah, Midrash Otiyot d'Rabbi Akiva, the Bahir, and the Zohar claim to be from the talmudic era, though it is clear now that some of these works, most notably the Bahir and Zohar, are actually medieval works pseudepigraphically ascribed to the ancient past.

In the medieval era Jewish mysticism developed under the influence of the word-number esoteric text Sefer Yetzirah. Jewish sources attribute the book to the biblical patriarch Abraham, though the text itself offers no claim as to authorship. This book, and especially its embryonic concept of the "sefirot," became the object of systematic study of several mystical brotherhoods which eventually came to be called baale ha-kabbalah - possessors or masters of the Kabbalah".

 

Hermetic Kabbalah

The Western Esoteric (or Hermetic) Tradition, a precursor to both the neo-Pagan and New Age movements, differs from the Jewish form in being a more admittedly syncretistic system. However it shares many concepts with Jewish Kabbalah.

Hermetic Kabbalah probably reached its peak in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a 19th-century organization that was arguably the pinnacle of ceremonial magic (or, depending upon one's position, its ultimate descent into decadence).

Within the Golden Dawn, Kabbalistic principles such as the ten Sephiroth were fused with Greek and Egyptian deities, the Enochian system of angelic magic of John Dee, and certain Eastern (particularly Hindu and Buddhist) concepts within the structure of a Masonic- or Rosicrucian-style esoteric order. Many of the Golden Dawn's rituals were published by the legendary occultist Aleister Crowley and were eventually compiled into book form by Israel Regardie, an author of some note. The credibility of Crowley is inconsistent at best, though, as many of the rituals published were actually manipulated versions.

Crowley made his mark on the use of Kabbalah with several of his writings; of these, perhaps the most illustrative is Liber 777. This book is quite simply a set of tables relating various parts of ceremonial magic and Eastern and Western religion to thirty-two numbers representing the ten spheres and twenty-two paths of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.

The attitude of syncretism embraced by Hermetic Kabbalists is plainly evident here, as one may simply check the table to see that Chesed "Mercy" - corresponds to Jupiter, Isis, the color blue (on the Queen Scale), Poseidon, Brahma, and amethysts. These associations are not shared with the Jewish Kabbalah.

Although popular within certain groups, especially the Thelemic Orders such as the O.T.O., Crowley is not without critics. Dion Fortune, a fellow initiate of the Golden Dawn, disagreed with Crowley. Samael Aun Weor has many significant works that discuss Kabbalah within many religions, such as the Egyptian, Pagan, and Central American religions, which is summarized in his work The Initiatic Path in the Arcana of Tarot and Kabbalah.

Fiction -- Umberto Eco's 1989 novel Foucault's Pendulum weaves Kaballistic concepts into an imagined global conspiracy involving Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, druidism, and the Knights Templar. The book's ten sections are named after the ten Sefiroth.

 

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