Kabbalah Origins and Definition
Kabbalah' is Hebrew for "that which is received" and refers to a secret oral tradition of teaching which extends from teacher to pupil.
The term "Kabbalah" was first applied to secret mystical teachings in the eleventh century by Ibn Gvirol, a Spanish philosopher, and has since become applied to all Jewish mystical practice.
The Kabbalah is founded on Jewish sacred writings. It is not an intellectual discipline. The Mekubal (Kabbalist) mystic is to use it publicly to enlighten humanity. The Kabbalist seeks two things: an union with God while maintaining a social, family, and communal life within the framework of traditional Judaism.
According to legend, God taught the Kabbalah to angels, who taught it to Adam, to help humankind to return to God. It then passed to Noah, to Abraham and Moses. Moses included the first four books of the Torah in the Kabbalah, leaving out Deuteronomy, before he initiated seventy Elders into it. The Elders initiated others into it. It is thought that David and Solomon were Kabbalah experts. Eventually the oral tradition ended and the knowledge was written down.
Kaballah and Gnosticism
Kabbalah is like Christian Gnosticism. Both attach an importance to knowledge, called the 'gnosis' or the knowledge of God. This knowledge does not come from rational thinking but is inspired by God. As in Gnosticism, in the Kabbalah sin is not considered to be wrong doing but ignorance, which separates humankind from God. The knowledge, specifically the 'gnosis', unites humankind to God. Those sharing this knowledge are the enlightened ones, although they may not lead perfect lives.
Another basic teaching shared by Gnosticism and the Kabbalah was that the divine spirit, or the soul, had descended from God and became trapped in the human body or matter. This was a prevalent theory shortly after time of Christ within the Mediterranean area. This and other religious teachings exemplify how such teachings can reflect the beliefs of the peoples of the time.
The Kabbalists share similar goals to the Gnostics: each group set out to answer the religious paradoxes of life. For example, why does the world possess both good and evil characteristics when it was created by a God Who is all good? Why is the world finite when it was created by an infinite God? The ultimate question is: God, by his very nature of being infinite, all good and knowing, seems unknowable. If so, how is it possible for humankind to know him?
The Kabbalah seems to serve to answer this question in two ways: the first is in the explanation that every idea contains its own contradiction, and God Who is the sum of all ideas contains all contradictions. Therefore God is both good and evil, just and unjust, merciful and cruel, limitless and limited, unknowable and knowable. All things, which contain their contradictions or opposites, unite to form a greater whole which is God.
Kabbalah and Sephiroth
From this first answer comes the Kabbalah's second answer, which relates God to the world. God is a mirror from which shines a brilliant light. This brilliant light is then reflected onto a second mirror, then onto a third, then to a fourth, and so on. With each succeeding reflection the light loses some of its brilliance until when it finally reaches the finite world it shines very dimly.
Within this concept of the reflection of light lies the Kabbalist's theory for the creation of the world. In the beginning there was just God, and from himself he sent an emanation, often described as light. From this first emanation evolved nine more, ten in all, called the "sephiroth."
The ancient Kabbalists taught that the brilliant lights of the sephiroth make up the sacred name of God. Their reasoning was that the sephiroth were the world, or universe, and God is the world. Therefore, the sephiroth are the facets or parts of God, and they also are facets of the universe.
Kabbalah and Sefer Yetzirah
The origin of the Kabbalah centers around a short book titled "Sefer Yetzirah" (Book of Creation). The book is known to have been used in the tenth century, but may have been composed as early as the third century. The book states that God created the world by the means of thirty-two secret paths of knowledge which are the ten "sephiroth" and the twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet. It is believed the ten sephiroth were originally thought as referring to numbers but later representing emanations from which the cosmos was formed.
Kabbalah Triangles and Tree of Life
Each of the ten emanations within the sephiroth is called a "sephira," and together they form what is called the Tree of Life. This Tree is the central image of Kabbalistic meditation; for again, each sephirot describes a certain aspect of God, and taken together as the sephiroth they form the sacred name of God. The Tree also describes the path by which the divine spirit descended into the material world, and the path by which humankind must take to ascend to God.
The first nine sephiroth form three triangles with the tenth forming the foundation or base. When meditating upon the sephiroth the Kabbalist can concentrate upon any one of the three images which the triangles are said to represent. The images are analogous to God's relationship to humanity and the world. The first triangle represents in impregnation of the female by the male thus creating the world and child, the second triangle represents the development of the world and child, and the third triangle is the adult person or the finished product of the world.
The triangles also depict the human body: the first triangle is the head, the second is the trunk and arms, the third being the legs and reproductive organs which is based on the analogy of the relation between man and God.
The Kabbalah has been accepted into Western occult ceremonies and practices, and vice versa. In the sixteenth century symbols of alchemy were embodied into the Christian Kabbalah. The Christian Kabbalah is said to have been used to prove the divinity of Christ.
Union of Opposites in the Kabbalah
The Kabbalah principle that God contains all ideas and their contradictions definitely forms the bases for the magical laws of polarity and synthesis. Both laws are based on the theoretical assumption that all ideas or conceptions contain their opposites, examples of these are: white and black, up and down, right and left. The essence of each idea also contains the essence of its opposite. A typical clear, but not too magical, illustration is that a black ink pen does not show up well on a black or dark colored background. It requires a white or light background to bring out the black ink. The opposites complement each other to produce the writing or drawing. The Kabbalah union of opposites is also similar to the Chinese Yin-Yang concept.
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