This little article explains a bit about the Kabbalah - Jewish mysticism. This branch of mysticism, has become increasingly popular in the United States among non-Jews. It might be a way to convey interest in Judaism to others. We take no stand regarding the meaning or importance of such beliefs. Theories of the origin of the Kabbalah are controversial and explanations differ.
Kabbalah' means "that which is received" in Hebrew. It is a secret oral tradition of teaching which extends from teacher to pupil.
Mystical teachings of this sort are discussed in the Talmud, in tractate Hagigah. The term "Kabbalah" was first used for secret mystical teachings in the eleventh century by Ibn Gaviirol, a Spanish philosopher, and has since beeen applied to all Jewish mystical practices. Others attribute it to13th century CE Spanish Kabbalist Bahya ben Asher. The term has become the main descriptive of Jewish esoteric knowledge and practices. Main Kabbalistic literature includes early works such as Bahir and Heichalot (believed to be dated 1st Century CE, and later works dated 13th century CE of which the main book is the Zohar representing the main source for the Contemplative Kabbalah ("Kabbalah Iyunit").
The Kabbalah is not an intellectual discipline. The Mekubal (Kabbalist) mystic uses the knowledge to enlighten humanity rather than keeping it secret. The Kabbalist seeks union with God while maintaining a social, family, and communal life within traditional Judaism. The system uses numerology, secret formula and wisdom to understand God, calculate the date of the end of the world and perform magic.
According to legend, God taught it to angels, who taught it to Adam, to help humans to return to God after the fall. It then passed to Noah, to Abraham and Moses. Moses nitiated seventy Elders into it. The Elders initiated others into it. David and Solomon are thought to have been expert Kabbalists.
Kabbalah is similar to Christian Gnosticism. Both attach an importance to knowledge, called the 'gnosis' or the knowledge of God. This knowledge is inspired by God. As in Gnosticism, 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.
The Kabbalists and Gnostics share similar goals: each group set out to answer the religious paradoxes of life. The most important question is: God, being infinite, all good and knowing, seems unknowable. If so, how is it possible for humankind to know him?
The Kabbalah answers 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.
From this first reply comes the Kabbalah's second answer to the metaphysical questions, relating God to the world. According to this concept, 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.
The reflection of light expresses the Kabbalist's theory of the creation of the universe. In the beginning there was only God. God sent an emanation, often described as light. This emanation produced nine others, called the "sephiroth."
The ancient Kabbalists taught that the sephiroth constitute 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 aspects or facets of God and of the universe.
Some claim that the Kabbalah centers around a little book titled "Sefer Yetzirah" (Book of Creation), though the Zohar is usually considered more authoritative. The book was certainly in use by the tenth century, but may have been composed as early as the third century. According to Sefer Hayetzirah, God created the world using thirty-two secret paths of knowledge which are the ten "sephiroth" and the twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The ten sephiroth were originally thought to refer to numbers but later came to represent emanations from which the cosmos was formed.
Each of the ten emanations within the sephiroth is a "sephira." 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. The tenth forms 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 represent the human body: the first triangle is the head, the second is the trunk and arms, the third the legs and reproductive organs.
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.
The principle that God contains all ideas and their contradictions forms the basis for the magical laws of polarity and synthesis, both based on the 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. For example, black type does not show up well on a black or dark colored background. A white or light background brings out the black writing. The opposites complement each other to produce the writing or drawing. The Kabbalistic union of opposites is also similar to the Chinese Yin-Yang idea.
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