20 things you need to know about Kabbalah
Kabbalah — is that a science? Who was the first kabbalist? Where did the monkeys come from? Why is Madonna learning Kabbalah? Why in the past was Kabbalah considered a dangerous thing? Kabbalah and astrology – is there a connection between the two? Did the founder of Christianity have anything to do with Kabbalah?
People with little or no background in Judaism often ask questions when they hear the words “Kabbalah” and “Kabbalist”. We have prepared a list of 20 such key questions that tackle these issues. The questions are addressed by a writer and journalist Esther Kaye, author of “At the root of the Lurianic Kabbalah.”
1. Is Kabbalah a science?
Kabbalah, as a theory, actually appears quite scholarly; it’s possible to draw diagrams for the longest time where you can squeeze in the Creation, the Compression, the Concealment, the Line, the Vessels and their breaking…
But Kabbalah is not limited to theory. The word in fact means “to take, to receive” – that is, to accept and receive from someone. Kabbalah is a part of the Torah.
2. Who was the first Kabbalist?
The first Kabbalist was Adam. Knowing the essence of all created beings, he was able to name animals and proved to be very good at it. In the word “nachash” for instance, one hears the hiss of a snake, in the word “aryeh” – one can hear a lion’s roar, in the word “behema” – one can make out “bohemian” (animal-like)… and so on. While he was handing out names, he realized that everyone had a mate except for him! Which he thought was rather suspicious. So he was given a mate, a wife and since then the number of Kabbalists has greatly increased.
3. What’s the kabbalistic view of the Original Sin?
Kabbalah considers sin as a sort of “missing the target”. That is, we could have maintained a closer relationship with God, but chose to pull back and enjoy autonomy. The sin committed by Eve was linked to her desire to invade the forbidden, create a revolution and extract the sparks of holiness through repentance. She was punished, but the concept of punishment is different in Kabbalah. It’s more of a purification of consciousness, which is good, not punishment in the sense of someone getting their just deserts.
4. What’s the relationship between the inspired teachings of Kabbalah and the cut and dry letter of the law of the Halachah (Jewish Law)?
Kabbalah emphasizes love while Jewish law reflects fear and awe. These are the two wings which we use to soar off to the Creator. There are some psalms of David which “highlight” the first letters of the word KABBALAH and HALACHAH. There is also a special meditation on the merging of these two aspects.
This is somewhat similar to a normal film camera and a digital one. Halachah at its basic level is simple and cuts to the chase by rendering decisions. Kabbalah is complex, subtle, multi-dimensional, and modular. Rabbinic rulings are, as a rule, based on Halachah but at times Kabbalistic interpretations are taken into consideration.
5. Who is the main Kabbalist?
For us it’s our Rebbe. All of his responses, nuances, preferences, and customs are imbued with Kabbalah. In Chabad, people are extra-cautious during Passover in terms of food and additional restrictions are commonplace, again because of Kabbalah. Chabad Chassidim will not even drink a cup of water on a plane during Sukkot — because of Kabbalah (and that can be an 11-hour ride). A great many small Kabbalistic details — like the astral thread — permeate a Chabadnik’s life. In prayer there are many details – all according to Kabbalah. For instance, an insistence on special-glatt kosher meat is once again Kabbalah-based. Kabbalists sleep, walk, and eat with special stringencies. Here, in Chabad, the stringencies are taken upon oneself but one can hardly call himself a kabbalist.
6. The creation of the world, were those actual days or some other, non-24 hour days?
Had the very first Shabbat in the world not been an ordinary 24-hour day in a simple sense, we would not have been keeping all the Sabbaths since then. Since that first Sabbath was a real 24-hour day, all the preceding days were real as well. God unfolded the picture of Creation within six normal days.
7. What was prior to the Creation?
There were other worlds. They had no duration in time but were in some sense superior to ours.
8. Where did the monkeys come from?
Monkeys, according to the Midrash, are a degraded form of some of the humans who participated in the construction of the Tower of Babel. Rabbi Chaim Vital writes that the monkey in its development occupies an intermediate stage between animals and man. “Just as there are intermediate links between minerals and plants (corals and some rock formations which grow and multiply), between plant life and animals (in the Talmud, there is a description of a dog whose umbilical grows from the ground and if it’s severed, the dog dies). Likewise, between animals and humans, there too exists an intermediate stage which is the monkey. And between the Creator and His creation stand righteous men, like Abraham.”
9. Why is Madonna learning Kabbalah?
She has a high-level soul and she wants to fix up her existence. But those who are teaching her are giving her a watered-down version of the teachings and that’s why she’s unable to get to the actual observance of the commandments and to reach the essence.
10. Is the performance of the commandments the essence of Kabbalah?
Yes, plus a deep understanding of what each commandment accomplishes and projects in the higher worlds. The word “Kabbalah” has the same letters as the word “Akbalah”, i.e. a projection, a parallel line. We think that a man’s beard is just facial growth but it turns out that in the “Sephirot” the beard stands for 13 attributes of mercy. Similarly, different parts of the body are “laid out” within and projected onto the system of “Sephirot”. When, as a result of the fulfillment of the commandments, the entire light is pulled into the body (and a body is a vessel for the light) – that particular creation’s purpose has been fulfilled. If all the vessels have been cleansed and the whole light pulled in, the purpose of Creation is complete. The Abode of the Souls — Knesset Yisrael — is where the souls emanate from during their descent into the body.
11. The Abode of the Souls — is that an abstraction?
In all the books on the Kabbalah, we find mention of such concepts as the light from the level of the head of Adam, or mention is made of Adam’s nose, ears, mouth, chest or heels. This is very confusing unless we picture Adam — as, let’s say, an hourglass in the form of a human figure where every grain of sand spilling out, metaphorically speaking, is a soul descended from a certain level. This characterizes the soul’s original position in the “body” of Adam and the higher its initial “station”, the stronger its potential. This can also mean that it can be placed deep within the “Klipot” (unclean shells). We find that the souls of Abraham, Ruth, David all emerged through “bargaining” with the Satan, the antithesis of the holiness of God. Having agreed to lower those high souls deep inside the “Klipot”, the Almighty, in a manner of speaking, “bypassed” the Satan’s resistance and opposition and made it possible for these souls to come into the world.
12. Reincarnation — is that truth or fiction? Can I learn about my past “gilgulim”?
“Gilgul” means a circle, that is, sometimes the soul must pass a new circle of wandering around the world. The word “reincarnation” is derived from the Latin “carne” meaning “meat, flesh”, that is the soul again and again comes into this world in different physical embodiments. At times there may be a short-lived attachment to someone else’s soul, i.e. a so called “ibur Neshama” (joining someone else’s soul temporarily). For example, Nadav and Avhiu (the High Priest Aaron’s sons who died prematurely) came and helped Pinchas in the episode with Zimri and Cozbi.
Reincarnation is not a fantasy. Its purpose is to fix those aspects of the soul which have not yet been rectified. Speaking today to someone about their past lives is usually pure speculation because our world is by definition a world of concealment. This information can be provided only for practical use in terms of Torah commandments. For example, the Arizal revealed to Rabbi Chaim Vital his previous incarnation so as to help R. Chaim Vital achieve a deep level of concentration over a very short period of time.
13. What exactly was revealed?
The Arizal explained that the soul of Rabbi Chaim was connected with the soul-source of Cain. That particular soul had descended into the world many times, each “trip” designed to fix up a particular aspect of it. Jethro is Cain, his nickname — haKanye is indicative of that. He gave Moshe (who was a reincarnation of Abel) his daughter in marriage. Later, this same soul came down as Rachav. Still later, it appeared as Cheber-Kenni, husband of the famous Yael. Cheber has the same letters as Rachav. Later on, Yael came down as the high priest Eli (again, a letter permutation of the same name). Rachav subsequently was embodied in Chana. Since in Chana the male element was dominant, it was difficult for her to conceive. Eli gave her his blessing which opened up the door to her femininity being more assertive since Eli embodied that feminine trait. Chana mentions Rachav in her song with the following hint: “Rechav pi al oivai” (open my mouth so I’ll swallow up my enemies). These and other embodiments were revealed by the Arizal to his student for a reason. From the general public the theory of reincarnation, however, was hidden for quite a long time. Kabbalah was considered a dangerous business.
14. Why was Kabbalah considered dangerous?
Because it is human nature to get sidetracked and not do what is needed and useful but rather something that is exciting and unhealthy. A person might be able to delve into the secrets of life while forgetting the most basic of their duties. The Ramak writes the following: “There are those that gaze at the stars while being oblivious to the abyss under their feet.”
It was said in the past that whoever studies Kabbalah will not live to old age. These restrictions have been lifted only in the last centuries by the promise of Rabbi Chaim Vital — “Those who will study my books will not experience negative consequences.”
15. Kabbalah and astrology — is there a connection between them?
Kabbalah can not ignore the rigid structure of this material world based on the principle of subordination “senior in rank”, or what’s called in Chasidic philosophy as “seder-ishtalshelut”. If you know that certain factors (stars, planets, comets) — will have a negative impact, then why, knowing this, deal with such possibilities?
Kabbalah, of course, is aware of these factors. However, we should not overdramatize this. Jews have never given the stars much credence vis-à-vis behavioral influences. Rabbi Chaim Vital was associated with the planet Mars which means bloodshed. In one incarnation, he was a ritual circumciser who once botched up a circumcision with dire consequences. A person may be aware of his nature but the question is what he does with that information. A horoscope is an attempt to get something for nothing, it is a forbidden thing and is a weakness of the heart.
16. Dreams and the Kabbalah – what can you say about that?
Kabbalah deals with dreams seriously only when it is a bad dream and action should be taken to correct the situation. Here we use methods known to us as the principles of positive thinking. One suggestion is to relate this dream to a friend who needs to able to “spin” the dream in a positive light. This has to be done verbally because words have a greater effect on materialization than dreams and thoughts. The key phrase here is: “Chalma tava chazita” which is Aramaic for “You saw a good dream.” In the books on the Kabbalah , this phrase is invested with various “kavanot” – i.e. meditative efforts to obtain letters of the Divine Name. This in turn leads to fixing the source of a negative dream.
Dreams which Rabbi Chaim Vital mentions in his book “Hezonot”, (Visions) – are remarkable prophetic dreams and ciphers with which he describes the process of descent, when a person is first elevated to Supernal heights and is then brought back down into the lower worlds. His description are so vivid that they are completely at home in the 21st century, not the end of the 16th.
17. Pulsa de-Nura and other Kabbalistic tools to get rid of enemies — is that fiction?
You allude to the elimination of Nasser (1970) and Stalin (1953)? Yes, it happened with the use of the esoteric means. If the Jews have a kind of a secret weapon against their enemies, it is not better that it remain a secret? Let us not become like the Israeli media that leak important information that could lead to victory, let it stay a secret.
18. Did the founder of Christianity have any links to Kabbalah?
He used forbidden methods. His motives are still not fully understood. In any case, he was a son of the Jewish people and he has certainly gone through all has the appropriate stages of repentance in the Other World. Representatives of the so-called “judeo-christian ethics” see him as a prophet and a popularizer of the ideas of the Torah and the Kabbalah. Well, popularizers have been many but the end result is what’s important. From Christianity we’ve witnessed rivers of spilled see the Jewish blood as a result.
Jewish wisdom has been adopted by the nations of the world but has that stopped them from being anti-Semitic? And why doesn’t the word “Semite” equally apply to Arabs who are also descendant of Shem? Why “anti-Semitic” is synonymous with “anti-Jewish”? The world is full of ignorance so it might be wise to clear up some of the more basic misconceptions before tackling kabalistic esoterica.
19. How is the concept of the Messiah treated in kaballah?
It’s treated widely and on a deep level. In general, the idea of a messiah is crucial to Judaism in that that it’s the very reason for Creation.
Six thousand years have been granted to transform the world into a new reality. Each millennium has its own characteristics. The weekdays in the week — they are six — lead us into the Sabbath. During that time, the names of G-d, “BAN”, “MA” and “SAG” are each brought out twice. We finally reach the Sabbath which is characterized by the name “AB”. The Sabbath is another level. Its influence begins from Wednesday on gradually dominating more embracing all layers of existence. This is also reflected in the order of the planets based on the day of the week.
The Magic Seven is observable in everything: music, color patterns, and astronomy. It’s architected from the seven Sephirot — the emotional qualities of G-d. The Messiah is symbolic with the last Sephira which is Malchus, i.e. the realization of the Royal Attribute.
This supports the idea that the Lubavitcher Rebbe, being the 7th Rebbe of Chabad is Moshiach, the Messiah.
One could argue that not everyone believes in the Sabbath. For some Friday or Sunday are more important…
However, note that in both time and space, the daughter religions of Judaism tend to gravitate towards the authentic Jewish truth. In space there is a dispute over Jerusalem (the point from which the raw materials were taken for the creation of the first man, Adam). And in time, both daughter religions flank the Sabbath as if to draw from its sanctity. It is clear that in such a way they are trying to suck out all they can out of all of Judaism. This is a clear case of vampirism. As for the Indian Vedas which continue the tradition of Abraham, they state — “He who rests on the seventh day, will live a long a happy life.”
20. Do you plan to publish more books on the Kabbalah?
Yes, it would be good to translate into Russian excerpts from the Kisvey Arizal, specifically passage relevant to the general public. This would give inspiration to the fulfillment of the commandments — whether the Seven Noachide commandments for all humanity or the 613 for the Jewish people because Kabbalah is the very soul of the Torah.