Kabbalah Q&A. Since I have been asked many questions about Kabbalah
throughout this blogging journey, I thought I would try to answer
some of the most basic questions here.
WHO SHOULD STUDY?
the study of Kabbalah in Judaism was reserved for Jewish men over
the age of 40. Aside from the cultural and patriarchal issues
involved in this stance, these constructs represented the belief
within the tradition that the study of these mystical teachings
required a high level of maturity, and extensive knowledge and
training within the other, more exoteric teachings of the tradition
(Torah and Talmud). The age of 40 also has a mystical meaning to it
as well; 40 is the total number of the 10 Sefirah or branches of the
Tree of Life, manifesting through the Four Worlds of Creation (see
My own belief is
that these traditional conditions for the study of Kabbalah still
hold true on a symbolic and/or archetypal level: For me, being
Jewish means to be a devoted seeker of the Divine Oneness; since it
is believed that the Divine Presence (Shekhinah) is a feminine
energy, those who study Kabbalah should symbolically hold the
masculine stance towards this presence in order to attain union with
it; and one must be psychologically healthy, emotionally mature, and
have some knowledge of the tradition before entering into the
experiential mystical practices of Kabbalah.
There are also
those who say that it is dangerous to study the Kabbalah if these
traditional conditions are not met, and once again, I would agree on
a more symbolic/archetypal level: It is my belief that any advanced
psycho-spiritual practice like that of the Kabbalah, can be
dangerous for those not prepared to loosen the perceptual bounds of
the traditional constructs of both personal and consensual reality.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THE KABBALISTIC MATERIAL?
In my view, there are three major theories about the origin of the
Kabbalah: One theory holds that the teachings that would one day
become the Kabbalah were communicated to Abraham and passed down
from one generation to the next through an ever-expanding oral
tradition; Another theory holds that the Kabbalah was transmitted to
Moses at the same time that he was given the Torah and the other
Oral Teachings that would eventually become the Talmud, or the
codified Jewish Law; and still another theory holds that the
teachings of Kabbalah were developed by Judaic mystics after the
first millennium CE.
It is my
understanding that there is historic evidence for the existence of
Kabbalistic teachings dating back to the early Talmudic period (74
CE). Many Kabbalists and Biblical historians also point to hints of
Kabbalistic teachings and practices in the writings of the Prophets,
and within the Torah itself.
My own belief is
that all three theories are true on some level; that the teachings
of the Kabbalah slowly developed over the span of Judaic history,
first beginning as simple mystical understandings and practices,
then developing into more and more complex system of oral teachings
and spiritual exercises, and finally becoming a codified and written
WHAT ABOUT ALL THE DIFFERENT KABBALISTIC SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT AND
There are many different schools of Kabbalistic thought and practice
both within and outside of Judaism. Within Judaism, there are many
different systems of Kabbalah related to the different mystics who
codified the teachings and practices to fit their particular
mystical approach; these include the Kabbalistic teachings and
systems of Moses Cordovero, Isaac Luria, Moses Luzzatto, Rabbi
Simeon bar Yohai, Abraham Abulafia, and the Baal Shem Tov. There are
also more recent permutations within the tradition, including more
pop culture oriented movements like that of The Rav and the Kabbalah
There are also
many systems of Kabbalah (Cabala, Cabbala, or Qabalah) outside of
Judaism, including Hermetic traditions like that of the Order of the
Golden Dawn, along with various other Alchemic and esoteric
traditions. Many of these teachings come from a long list of
non-Judaic mystics and spiritualists including Franz Bardon, Madame
Blavatsky, Aleister Crowley, A. E. Waite, Israel Regardie, and Paul
also influenced and been influenced by other mystical systems; one
can find Kabbalistic signs on most Tarot decks, and many see traces
of neo-Aristotelian and Neo-Platonic thought within the teachings of
Judaic and non-Judaic systems of Kabbalah.
position on all these different schools and influences is...that it
is all God in Drag (as Ram Dass likes to say). It is my belief that
each method speaks to different people, and/or speaks to each of us
at different times and phases of our journey. There is a poem I
often like to remember when I am asked to comment on what I think of
all these different and often seemingly divergent mystical
paths...it says: “Oh Stream of Life, Run Ye Slow, or Run Ye Fast,
All Streams Reach the Sea at Last.” So for me, if a path speaks to
me, then I take it; and if that path stops speaking to me and
another path calls me, then I take that one; because in my heart and
mind I feel a single great river running through all these streams,
all rushing towards that wondrous mystical ocean of oneness.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BASIC CONCEPTS IN KABBALAH?
While Kabbalah is a very complex system with a vast cosmology, I
believe there are some basic concepts common to most, if not all, of
the different Kabbalistic traditions. My perception of these basic
concepts includes the idea of a formless, nameless Source of
existence (EIN SOF); the emergence of the energy of that source
through a process of emanation, creation, formation, and
manifestation (THE FOUR WORLDS); the movement of this energy through
the different worlds is channeled through a mystical structure (THE
TREE OF LIFE) with numerous pathways (32 PATHS) and ten main
branches or hubs (THE TEN SEFIROT).
These are just a
few of the basic concepts of the tradition, and each of them is
merely a tiny spark on the edge of a vast mystical universe of
teachings and practices.
Here are some resources for further exploration of the vast mystical
universe of the teachings and practices of the Judaic Kabbalah,
which is the form of Kabbalah I am personally drawn to.
Some Classic Books of the Judaic Kabbalah Tradition
Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation. Translated by Aryeh
Kaplan. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser.
Translated by Aryeh Kaplan. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser.
Translated by Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon. New York: The
The Way of God by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. Translated by
Aryeh Kaplan. Jerusalem: Feldheim Publishers.
Tevunoth, The Knowing Heart: The Philosophy of God’s Oneness by
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. Translated by Shraga Silverstein.
Jerusalem: Feldheim Publishers.
Gates of Light by Rabbi Joseph Gikatilla. Translated by Avi
Weinstein. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Some Modern Books About Judaic Kabbalah
Daniel C. Matt.
The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism. New
York: Harper-Collins Publishers, 1995.
Kabbalah: The Way of the Jewish Mystic. Boston: Shambhala
Z'ev ben Shimon
Halevi (Warren Kenton). Kabbalah: Tradition of Hidden Knowledge.
New York: Thames and Hudson, 1979.
Z'ev ben Shimon
Halevi (Warren Kenton). Kabbalah and Exodus. York Beach, ME:
Samuel Weiser, 1980
Kaplan. Meditation and Kabbalah. York Beach, ME: Samuel
Green. Seek My Face, Speak My Name. Northvale, NJ: Jason
Rabbi David A.
Cooper. God is a Verb: Kabbalah and the Practice of Mystical
Judaism. New York: Riverhead Books, 1997.
Labowitz. Miraculous Living: A Guided Journey in Kabbalah through
the Ten Gates of the Tree of Life. New York: Simon & Schuster,
Rabbi Steven A.
Fisdel. The Practice of Kabbalah: Meditation in Judaism.
Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1996.
Dr. Philip S.
Berg. Kabbalah for the Layman. Jerusalem, Israel: Research
Centre of Kabbalah, 1981.