Sources returnpage

Judaism and Kabbalah

Category: Mystic groups and systems

 

The Kabbalah is the mystic branch of Judaism, but in order to understand its place in the Jewish religion I need first to take a look at Judaism.

Judaism

If we go back 2000 to 3000 years and look at how people were organised, we find that the world consisted of a host of tribal groups often warring with another and with very different cultures, languages and approaches to life.  These societies were essentially shamanic.  The groups were organised around powerful and spiritually active leaders upon whose abilities the tribe depended for water and food as well as protection from other tribes and 'natural forces'.

Every shamanic society at that time was capable of spiritual experience.  The means by which it was achieved varied, but if we take India, they used contemplation, hashish, opium, sexual practises, controlled breathing plus a number of other techniques.  The Egyptians and Greeks also used drugs, sound, dancing and sexual practises.  We need to realise that shamanic capability was the norm, not the exception.

What tended to unite tribes was language.  A common language supported inter tribal co-operation and communication and helped in averting wars or disputes over territory.  This was also a time when wandering hunter gatherers became static farmers supported by villages and you cannot become a farmer unless you have land.  Thus land disputes were probably extremely common at this time. 

David Roberts

Men of power were quick to notice this fact and to realise that by grouping peoples together under one leader, they themselves could gain wealth, territory and prestige and the people as a whole could achieve more by specialisation of labour – the distribution of the responsibilities for various tasks to specific people.  This was a time of permanent aggregation of peoples around kings and charismatic leaders.

The Hebrew speaking peoples was no different.  Their leaders devised any number of different ways to unite the different warring tribes.  The tribes of Hebrew speakers were probably nomadic hunter gatherers before this time, as were many tribes, but their leaders invented the concept of a 'homeland' to which they could all go.  They devised set of laws to which the people needed to adhere.  No peoples can unite and work together successfully unless a common set of enforced laws and customs exists, thus this is key to cohesion and the leaders, of whom the most influential was probably Moses, devised these laws and documented them in what we now know as the 'Old Testament' of the Bible.

And this is how Judaism was born, not through a leader or a single 'prophet' but by the gradual accretion of laws which united people, by the use of a common language and by the use of quite subtle forms of coercion to ensure the people pulled together. 

Judaism and the  law

David Roberts - Jerusalem Gate of Damascus

Jewish law is based on the The 'Old Testament' of The Bible.  Over time a group of people emerged within Jewish society whose responsibility it was to both make and enforce the laws and these people were the rabbis.  We tend to think of rabbis as 'religious'.  But a rabbi is a law maker – a lawyer.  The Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Judges [as is implied by their name] were all law makers.  The Pharisees were against Jesus, because he was breaking Jewish law – or appeared to be.

Judaism is thus extraordinarily like Islam in this respect, in that it is run by lawyers and politicians.  Interestingly, Rabbi Hillel in the Talmud said that the whole of the law can be summed up with the words DON'T HURT:

“That which is hateful unto thee do not do unto thy neighbour.  This is the whole of the Torah”.

David Roberts Entrance to the Citadel of Jerusalem

Lawyers being lawyers, and those who wish to control others being as they are, this somewhat simple and obvious rule has been expanded into book upon book of extraordinary rules and regulations.  There is the Talmud, which are the writings of the rabbis, and the Midrash, which contains the numerous interpretations of the Talmud and the Torah

There have been one or two attempts to put a mystical interpretation on the Talmud, which is to say the least comical.  Doing so is a little like trying to put a metaphysical slant on the Common Law of the UK, or the deliberations of the Synod in the collections of state trials, or a theory of transmutation on the laws of Conveyancing!

Religious leaders of all persuasions seem to have a penchant for clinging on to laws which are several thousand years old and utterly irrelevant in this day and age.  Judaism still has laws that determine caste, the food that should be eaten, the order of blessings on a meal, the way people wash their hands and even sacrifices, which given the rule is supposed to be don't hurt seems somewhat contradictory!

Gershom Scholem – On the Kabbalah and its symbolism
All monotheistic religions possess a distinct conception, one might call it a philosophy, of their own history.  In this view, the first revelation expressing the fundamental contents of a religion is the greatest, the highest in rank.  Each successive revelation is lower in rank and less authoritative than the last.  Such a conception forbids a true believer to place a new revelation on a level with the great revelations of the past and obviously creates a serious problem for the mystic.

David Roberts

These days in our democracies, Judaism, Islam and Christianity are something of an odd anomaly in this respect.  It is perhaps somewhat unhelpful to have unelected leaders of these rival political groups still making laws and dictating what people should or should not do, when the people themselves have chosen to organise their lives around the state and democratically run councils and legislatures.

At this point I shall quote what His Holiness the Sahabji Maharaj said to Paul Brunton:

The trouble is that for the first 50 years or so  a religion is pure and vital.  Later it degenerates into a mere philosophy; its followers become talkers – not religiously living men.  Finally it descends for its last and longest phase into the arms of hypocritical priests.  In the end hypocrisy becomes accepted as religion”

Strictly speaking therefore Judaism is a political movement, run by lawyers, very old, but political in nature.

The tribes and the Bible

David Roberts-Mount-Tabor from Esdraelon

Shamanic capabilities tend to be inherited.  Tribes across the world used various means to identify these tribal groups and hence inherited capabilities, the most common was the 'totem'.  Where temples or other permanent structures existed, the genealogy was often recorded on the walls of the buildings.  Where there was a writing system, it was recorded in writing.  And this is why there is such attention paid to the genealogy of the Jewish tribes in the Bible. The 'Bible' [as it is now] was the book recording the lines of shamanic capabilities.

The role of the Prophets

How do you enforce a set of laws that unite a people when you have no police force and no organisation or structure that provides a legislative mechanism? You need a carrot and a stick and you have to use what the people already know or believe.

The answer is you use fear and superstition coupled with a set of people who purport to bring the laws from a 'greater authority' than the leader. 

First you have to simplify the people's understanding of a spiritual world that does exist, but which has grown hopelessly confusing for them.  So you use the simple expedient of saying 'all that you were told  about levels and layers and spiritual hierarchies and Suns and Moons and stars is not true anymore, from now on all you have to remember is that there is one powerful God who is a vengeful God and punishes anyone who doesn't follow the law and rewards those who do by accepting them in heaven'.  We will call him the Father because you all know what your father was like when you were young.  He could be kind if you were good, but if you were naughty he beat you to a pulp with a stick.

 

Then you use, and carefully interpret in your favour, the experiences of a few shamanically gifted folk – the prophets – to convince people that this is true.  Every time something catastrophic happens – locusts, storms, plagues – you interpret it to mean that 'God' was wrathful about something – and you find the something He was supposed to be wrathful about and thus help the law making.

The whole of the section in the Old Testament of the Bible which deals with the Prophets is a history of the events that hit the new Jewish people, with an interpretation of the event geared towards providing lessons to be learnt, especially moral ones.

I am not being critical here, this was, given the time and conditions, a very reasonable thing to do and far easier than arguing with the people, or setting up a costly police force.

Some idea of the challenge with which the leaders were faced is given by the descriptions in the Book of Prophets, where Hosea describes 'swearing, lying, murder, stealing, adultery and bloodshed followed by bloodshed'.

We have all of these today in considerable profusion, and our governments and police forces seem ill equipped to deal with them – especially as in some cases it is the people's representatives who appear to do most of the swearing, lying, incitement to bloodshed, stealing and adultery.

David Roberts-Gaza.-hand-colored-lithograph

All acts of hurt serve to divide, acts of love serve to unite and aggregate, thus there was every reason to try to get the people to work together under the banner of love – for their own happiness, security, and peace of mind.  It is obvious to me but appears to be none too obvious to people in general, that acts of hurt create unhappiness – in the hurter as well as the hurt.  They also create a form of anarchy – a sort of free for all of selfishness.

The vengeful God approach seemed to work reasonably well up to a point.  It certainly calmed the tribes down a bit, although it is clear that belief in this was not universal.  There will always be the sceptics.  The disadvantage of course is that if all this advice was supposed to be coming from on high, then as times changed you couldn't change it to suit the changed circumstance.  You were left with laws which in reality you had devised, purporting to come from a higher power, that you wanted to change but couldn't.  Hoisted with your own petard.  And we still have this in all three major religions, because all three are based on the same approach.

David Roberts

The leaders of the Jewish tribes then added the extra flourish to the story by adding that this God had chosen them as a people.  Now this was a clever move.  Any set of people who think they have been chosen and are thus being watched all the time are going to behave a lot better.  And it tended to work, because the Jewish people did not know that the entire world's population had spiritual experiences and in profusion, that spiritual experience in other cultures was actually more frequent than it was in Jewish society, principally because the mechanisms of obtaining it were better known and freely available and thus not withheld from the people.

What this means, however, is that spiritual experience amongst Jewish people is actually very rare.

It is rare because the mechanisms by which it can be obtained were withheld from the people, in order that this combination of extensive law makers and single lone and controlled prophets could be prolonged and used.  Judaism is not a religion geared towards spiritual experience, which is somewhat ironic given the prominence of  the Bible in most western and middle eastern cultures.

Gershom Scholem – On the Kabbalah and its symbolism

David Roberts

When Israel Baal-Shem, the 18th century founder of Polish Hasidism, put forward the mystical thesis that communion with God (devekuth) is more important than the study of books, it aroused considerable opposition and was cited in all the anti-Hasidic polemics, as proof of the movement's subversive and anti-Rabbinical tendencies.... as to the efforts of the authorities to contain the strivings of the mystics within the traditional framework, ... they usually do their best to place obstacles in the path of the mystic.  They give him no encouragement and if in the end the obstacles frighten the mystic and bring him back to the old accustomed ways - so much the better from the standpoint of authority...Since Talmudic times we also find a decided disinclination to let mystics organise communities of their own, [all of which] has been highly effective in 'taming' mystics and holding them within the limits imposed by traditional authority. .. This explains, no doubt, why the documents of [Jewish] mysticism are extremely rare. Because of their subversive character, the authorities suppressed and destroyed them; where they have come down to us, it is because their authors resorted to an ambiguity of expression that makes our interpretation of the texts questionable.

Hence the history of Jesus - a Jewish mystic.

Jerusalem from the mount of olives - David Roberts

The Kabbalah

Gershom Scholem – On the Kabbalah and its symbolism

The more the philosophers and theologians strove to formulate a unity which negates and eliminates all symbols, the greater became the danger of a counterattack in favour of the living God, who, like all living forces, speaks in symbols.
Inevitably, men of intense religious feeling were drawn to the full, rich life of the Creator, as opposed to the emptiness, however sublime, of a pure and logically flawless theological formula.
And it is this counterattack, this 'reaction,' which has given so much dramatic tension to the history of Judaism in the last 2,000 years.
For not only the popular religion responding to the simple Jew's undiminished need of expression, but also the great impulses of Jewish mysticism are to be understood in this light. And this brings us to the special problem of the Kabbalah.
In the esoteric tradition of the Kabbalah, the highly ramified mystical tendencies in Judaism developed and left their historical record. The Kabbalah was not, as is still sometimes supposed, a unified system of mystical and specifically theosophical thinking.
There is no such thing as 'the doctrine of the Kabbalists.'

Chagall

Kabbalah means the secret wisdom and it is the term used by Jews to refer to the various traditions of Jewish mysticism down the ages.  It may also be spelt Qabbalah or Cabbalah – a Hebrew word meaning 'that which has been received'.  Followers of Kabbalah view the teachings of this branch of Judaism as the 'truth' as it was derived by spiritual experience.

Traditional Kabbalists are usually very conservative; have traditionally excluded women; have also traditionally excluded the young – study of the Kabbalah was once discouraged until a man reached 40; and was not taught to anyone who was not married.  Kabbalists regard modern interest in Kabbalah with suspicion and the whole doctrine is highly exclusive being entirely Jewish.  Kabbalists were and are expected to be well versed with Jewish religious teaching.

This said it is at odds in many of its beliefs with Judaism.  God is both male and female, for example and reincarnation is believed in.  There is also considerable argument within its fraternity about the spiritual discoveries made, which is fair enough because in any discovery process there may be several interpretations of the same described phenomena, but it is noticeable that quite a few theologians have added their twopenny worth and won the day, despite never having had an experience of any sort.  So what we may be witnessing is a rather degraded system.

Kabbalah is also not an inclusive system, which puts it at odds with just about every other true spiritual tradition.  One could argue it is not a mystic system at all, since a true mystic is not exclusive nor do they ally their system with a religion.  It is not at all like the Sufi movement, for example, which accepts a person from any religion, alchemy which is worldwide, or the yoga movement which is now a worldwide system.

But Kabbalah has influenced a whole raft of other systems from the Golden Dawn movement to the Theosophy of Blavatsky.  Furthermore it was studied by people such as Picus de Mirandola, Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, Robert Fludd, Henry More, Thomas Vaughan, Louis Claude de Saint Martin and Eliphas Levi amongst very many, so its influences have been extensive. 

Some history

David Roberts - Encampment

Ask an academic about the origins of Kabbalah and he will say it shows influences from Akkadia, Babylonia, India, China, ancient Egypt [which given the flight of Moses is not unexpected], the Greeks and especially Plato, even Christian Gnosticism.  But I think they have missed the point.

It may of course be true that these influences do exist and in turn the Kabbalah had its own influence.  Ghengis Khan and his conquest of Asia and large parts of Europe opened the way for ideas, Alexander also did much the same.  Furthermore, Islamic influence cannot be ruled out.  Islam has the same roots, and documents like the Zohar were written in Spain – a Sufi stronghold.

But mystic thought often does travel along exactly the same lines, because it is mystic thought.

  • Merkebah - The earliest Jewish mystics, of whom there is a written record, were the Merkebah or chariot mystics who flourished in the first few centuries AD in Palestine and Babylonia.  They developed both exercises and forms of meditation to gain spiritual experience.  Some of the ideas of the Merkabah mystics are to be found in the texts known as the Heikhalot texts which describe not only the techniques, but a little of the landscape of the spiritual world.
    One of the works of the Merkebah mystics was the Sefer Yetzirah or the 'Book of Formation' which is actually like a form of spell book.  It became a handbook for white magic in the Talmudic period
  • David Roberts
    Zohar mysticism – the next major step forward came from Spanish mystics and was documented in the Zohar, now the principal text of the Kabbalah.  All the books in the Zohar were produced in the late 13th century by a fellowship of mystics under the leadership of Moses de Leon.  The various parts of the Zohar are mostly written in literary Aramaic, with some sections in Hebrew and 'recount the teachings of Simeon bar Yochai' and his companions in 2nd century AD Palestine
  • Lurianic kabbalah – this emerged in the 16th century and originated from the work of one man Isaac Luria Ashkenazi.  He appears to have accumulated a lot of eastern and ascetic ideas and these are to be found in the writings of his disciples.  The system was only taught for 2 years, but spread after his death. 
  • David Roberts - ascent of mount sinai
    Sabbatai Zevi – was a Jewish Rabbi who lived at a time  marked by upheaval as numerous groups broke from Jewish law. Two centuries after Zevi's death in 1676, many Jews still supported his doctrines.  The Sabbateans were vigorously opposed and were eventually forced into hiding by the methodical and sometimes brutal opposition of almost all the leading rabbis, who were determined to root out Zevi's “kabbalistically derived anti-traditional teachings and his influence upon the Jewish masses”. By the nineteenth century Jewish Sabbateans had been reduced to small groups of hidden followers.
  • Hasidic/Chasidic Jews - The Hasidic Jewish movement started in Eastern Europe in the 18th century and spread to Russia, the Ukraine and on to Poland.  As a result of the last war, however, Hasidism  was virtually destroyed and the pockets of Hasidic Jews now found in the USA, the UK, and Israel are a shadow of the original movement.  The original group used dance, music, and chanting to obtain spiritual experiences ranging from ecstasy, and visions to 'miracles' – principally healing.  They used the Kabbalah and their leaders were mystics.  In effect no leader could be a leader unless they had had extensive spiritual experience.  Their famous and influential leader Baal Shem Tov spoke with the authority of one who had been 'there'.  In addition to the leader the group called the Zaddikim were those who also had had experiences.
    The Hasidic Jews have left a legacy of useful spiritual practises, [which I have incorporated on the website], but with few people able to teach them and even fewer who understand them.

In essence therefore, although this latter branch of mysticism is about the only one we can hopefully look to to get any spiritual practises, it is stretching the bounds of credulity to call any collection I put together a system, at most it is just a collection of practises that appear to have worked for some. 

The coding

David Roberts - Banks Of The Jordan, April 2nd 1839

Much of the literature that has passed down the ages was originally transmitted orally.  Now we all know what happens when something is transmitted orally, it gets corrupted – the game of Chinese whispers is based on just this fact.

Eventually, the teachings were written down and the Sepher Yetzirah [Book of Creation] and Zohar  appeared.

But the result is something  that looks like a  book of magic and is absolutely full of symbols, full.  A E Waite [who was not Jewish, but a Christian academic], whose book on the Kabbalah I have partly used, and which is, to say the least, a bit off the mark at times, actually said there was some doubt in his mind whether it was worthwhile ploughing through what appeared to be 'unintelligible rubbish, considered by some as merely meaningless jargon'.  But then he would, because he understood nothing of the symbolism.  But having said this, there are real problems with the texts. 

But we do have a number of brave and persistent people we can turn to for help on this who have made a valiant effort to decode the 'rubbish' and bring some light on the matter.  Gershom Scholem's scholarly books proved a godsend.

Beliefs

Kabbalah does appear to have been influenced a little by eastern systems, which is to its advantage, as the symbolism can then be decoded as it is universal symbolism.

Great Work

 

The Torah to all but those of a mystical persuasion, is the 'Old Testament' of the Bible which includes Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  It is generally known [I hope] that these are themselves symbolic - entirely symbolic.  But the name The Torah is synonymous in mystical thought to the Great Work which therefore includes the concept of destiny.  The Hebrew Alphabet has been devised so that it includes every key part of the creation. This is why it has 22 letters [and not 24] each one symbolic.

Energy/Egg

See 003115

 The Egg [although in the Kabbalah it is circular not egg shaped] is recognised and energy.

Within Kabbalistic myth one also has the existence of 'islands'.  The legend in the Kabbalah says that during the creative process, the 'vessels' [this is allegorical] holding the divine Light broke [shevirat ha-kelim] and some Holy sparks [Nitzotzot] of the divine became entrapped in the broken shells [Kelippot].

Spirit

There is a belief that everything is spiritually 'animated'  and that everything has  spirit.  For many of the true initial Kabbalists everything had spirit and function - an animating principle - and they would have found no argument with Shinto beliefs for example.  The later terminology however is devastatingly confusing.

The Trinity

The Creator [Elohim] and Created [Atzikuth] are both recognised with the Creator coming first in the sequence of activity that was the creation.  There is also recognition that the Created is used to create the copies of the software used to animate the physical [called manifest] plane.

The Zohar
When Elohim willed to make the world, He produced a concealed Light from which all the manifested lights were afterwards radiated, thus forming the superior world

Intelligences

represented by the Inverted tree symbol,

There is belief in a hierarchy of Intelligences that are pure spirit.

Rabbi Isaac Luria
One should not be seduced by one's own sins to associate the celestial emanations with a physical nature.  For above there is not anything material.  We do not actually have permission to reflect on reality before the emanation of the world and we are not allowed to compare it in any way to known forms and images.  We only speak in parabolic manner to satisfy the needs of comprehension, but a wise person will understand by himself that this does not reflect on actual representations of divine reality

A number of Kabbalists claim to be guided by Daemons, which very confusingly means a sort of spirit helper as opposed to one's Higher self.  Jung's use of the word Daemon and the Greek's Daemon is the higher spirit, so whether this is a problem with the translation I do not know – quite probably.

Marc Chagall - 'Aaron in front of the golden candlestick with
seven branches'.  The candlestick in Kabbalism combines the
Rings and the Planets - all seven major Intelligences

The changing of the names of Intelligences from the planetary names to the biblical names appears to have taken place in medieval times during the constant editing of the Bible by theologians and lawyers wanting to provide a separate ‘system’.  Spirit entities are described in Ezekiel's Merkabah vision or the Seraphim of Isaiah, but the names seem to have come later.  See also Intelligences and their synonymous names.

Metatron, for example, is considered one of the highest of the angels in Merkabah and Kabbalist mysticism and often serves as a scribe. He is briefly mentioned in the Talmud  and figures prominently in Merkabah mystical texts. Michael, who serves as a warrior (Daniel 10:13) is looked upon particularly fondly. Gabriel is mentioned in the Book of Daniel (Daniel 8:15–17), the Book of Tobit, and briefly in the Talmud, as well as many Merkabah mystical texts. 

Levels and layers


The Kabbalistic symbol to represent the Egg and its levels and layers
shares its symbolism with the cup and ring marks of Celtic and many
other mystic groups.  The line is the celestial pole

The Kabbalah states that the order of creation is a spiral emanating from the centre and going down in vibrational levels so that the physical is created last, the software spirit first See observation 003118.

The layer above the physical level is recognised as being a mirror image of the physical.  In other words it is the software equivalent of the hardware layer.  And in terms of which symbolic layer it belongs to, the level above the 'Earth' level is the 'Water' level, again this ties in with all the other systems.

According to the Kabbalah, there are four realms and our world is the last world: the world of action (Assiyah).   The level and layer names are the normal ones – Air, Water, Earth, Fire. 

 

‘Angels’ exist in the aether level as subsets of the functions of God. They are an extension of God to produce effects in this world. After an angel has completed its functions, it ceases to exist. The angel is in effect a sum of certain functions.

Judaic and Kabbalistic beliefs here do not tally incidentally.  I am describing the Kabbalistic view.  There is no devil in Kabbalistic belief.  God or the Godhead – the Ultimate Intelligence is both male and female and all function – thus there is no devil.

But there is a recognition of ‘demons’ and ‘evil spirits’ which we have created  - the 'Sitra Achra' – the forces of evil.

Adir Bamaron part 1 – Mitzcha Degulgalta Rava Deravin by Moshe Chaim Luzzato
It is obvious that when we talk of the Emanator.... we are only talking about his actions not about his nature or essence at all.  You should know that even when we mention him under the name of Infinite Godhead there is no reference to his essence at all only to his activities..... we can have no involvement with him, we can only contemplate something of his illumination.

David and Bathsheeba, by Marc Chagall

The Three worlds

 The spiritual world of the mind and body is split up into three  

  • The three levels are the NEFESH which is shared by all living creatures and is equivalent to the Subconscious  - it is largely symbolically  ‘female’
     
  • The NESHAMAH is the Higher spirit, which is both male and female.  'the higher level is only activated by people of great spiritual development'
     
  • The RUACH is the intellectual and thinking part of the overall software functions  - Conscious - and is principally symbolically ‘male’

 It is worth noting that some texts imply that the nefesh is the entire soul, whilst the ruach is the autonomic system.  But this is not correct, as the autonomic system, by definition is not part of 'us' but part of the body.  

The Tzelem is the template for the body, used to both create a human form and also to heal it.

There is recognition in the Zohar of the mapping of these functions onto the brain.  Interestingly, the Intellectual left side brain is regarded as potentially the evil side and the right side creative emotional and animal like brain is recognised as the potentially 'good' part.

The Zohar
He joins himself with both spirits, one on the right  and one on the left, even the good to the right and the evil to the left and these are the two spirits which are appointed ever to remain by man.  If he strives after perfection, the evil spirit is restrained, so that the right rules the left and then both unite to secure him in all his ways.

In many societies, left handedness is looked on a something wrong and I suspect it is passages like this that may be to blame in that they were totally misinterpreted.  We might be better to think of a right hander as the evil one because their left brain is more active – scheming, plotting, planning and mislearning!

The left hander with their more active right brain is actually potentially closer to the 'good' according to this quote!  Either way, the objective is to try to get the right brain in control of the left brain – so the 'feminine' is more in control of the 'masculine'.  Functionally this means more love, more compassion, more gentleness and more caring.

Exodus 3:14
13 And Moses said [to the angel]: 'Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, …. they shall say to me: What is His name? what shall I say unto them?'
14 And [the angel] said unto Moses: 'I AM THAT I AM'; and He said: 'Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: I AM hath sent me unto you.'

Tat Tvam Asi. 

The Sephirot

Corregio

The Sephirot is the Spiritual path.  The concepts section provides a full decription  - see Sephirot

The highest point and the culmination of all Kabbalah spiritual practise is unity – the act of uniting the lower and upper worlds of your mind – the masculine with the feminine, the divine takeover of the will – starting with the [optional] kundalini experience, ecstasy, moksha and ending in annihilation.  As such, the aim is identical to that of the other systems from Shinto, to Hindu, to Alchemy, to Buddhist to Kahuna to Sufi.

The name given to this unity in Kabbalism is BITTUL HA-YESH – annihilation of the self and it is the ultimate goal for Hasidic Jews.

Symbolically, as in all systems it is achieved by the unity of the feminine side with the masculine side, and the achievement of balance.

The Zohar – Idra Zuta
The beauty of the female is completed by the beauty of the male.
When the Bride is united to the king in the excellence of the Sabbath, then are all things made one body.  And then the most Holy God sitteth on his throne, then are all things called the complete name, the Holy Name.  When this Mother is united to the King all the worlds receive blessing and are found in the joy of the universe.

The stages of the spiritual path are also described in terms of various states – Child, Daughter of the King[ Princess], the Male Servant, the Mother, the Son, the Father etc all of which are essentially points of progress related to either your feminine or masculine functions and how much they have been changed or improved.  If improving your perceptions for example, you are said to be in the Mother or Daughter stage, if you are working in the Memory or relearning beliefs, then you are in the Son or Father stage.

The final stage which is the unity of the Will with the Higher spirit and the obliteration of the will, is not 'the end 'as far as this spiritual path is concerned.  There is a document in the Zohar called the Faithful Shepherd that describes what may happen to some who have been through this process.

 Occasionally, it says, a man of unity, a righteous man may be chosen by the spiritual world as a form of sacrifice to the progress of the Great Work.  In effect to move things on there has to be a martyr.  The person will know, because he/she will know their destiny.

The average punter loves martyrs, and their cause becomes hugely boosted once they become a martyr.  A living promoter of a worthy cause is always in the difficult position of being human – all too human. Being human, any critic can jump on whatever mistake is made or wrong word said and the cause is damaged.  But once the cause has been explained by the potential martyr, their death immediately focuses attention on the cause and not them.

Since anyone who has been through this process is absolutely unperturbed about death, although they may not be quite as unperturbed about the dying process, the idea of being a martyr to a cause is relatively easy to take, and since by that time their main watchword is 'thy will be done' they won't have any problem with their fate.

Note that under no circumstances is this meant to include suicide.  Martyrs do not kill themselves, they are killed. 

 

Techniques

It is clear from reading all the texts of both Judaism and the Kabbalists that there has been a mighty battle between those who want to impose law and order and those who sought spiritual experience.  You may think the two should go together, but there is a clash in objectives. 

The prophets were there to provide the right input for control and political power, as such spiritual experience by anyone other than those who provided the right input – toed the line as it were, was ignored or suppressed.  

The rules and regulations that accumulated around the law and order group were, as we have seen, enormous, book after book of regulations of what you shouldn't do and what you should do.  This was control of a high order, though whether it actually worked or not is another thing, as you have to have considerable power, authority and be extremely ruthless to carry it off.  One of the major restrictions was around sex.  No acceptance of homosexuality, sex only within marriage, extensive rules about marriage and how it was to work and little acceptance of the use of sexual energy for anything other than producing children.  All good law and order stuff, a stable family produces stable children and adults capable of contributing to society and hence the power of the group.  But it totally excludes the use of sexual energy as a mechanism of spiritual experience.

All this means  that the techniques available in Kabbalistic thought are very limited by the standards of other systems.  Perhaps one of the greatest and most notable omissions is that of the use of sexual energy.  I suspect that all the prohibitions and restrictions that Christians endured via the Catholic and Orthodox churches derive from Judaism.

So the techniques are very limited and there is very little evidence that some of them worked.  But I have done my best to extract techniques which did work and incorporated them on the site where possible.

The most important techniques seem to revolve around music, beating sounds, rocking and swaying, dancing and very intriguingly humming.....

Charles Burney visiting the Ashkenazi synagogue of Amsterdam in 1772, wrote:
At my first entrance, one of the priests [i.e. the hazzan] was chanting part of the service in a kind of ancient canto fermo, and responses were made by the congregation, in a manner which resembled the hum of bees.

Over-the-town-1918-Marc-Chagall

 

References

Marc Chagall - Burning bush

Major additional sources of information

All the observations related to the following are to be found with their entry on the site:

  • The Zohar - or Book of Splendour, whose observations are found on this site under a separate entry.  The Zohar is one of the chief literary works of the Kabbalists and is revered as a sacred text.
  • The Bible - only the Old Testament, of course, and called the Tanach or Tenakh, it is in the Hebrew language [Daniel is in Aramaic] and contains three main sections: 
  • the Torah or teachings
  • Genesis, Bereshith (בראשית)
  • Exodus, Shemot (שמות)
  • Leviticus, Vayikra (ויקרא)
  • Numbers, Bamidbar (במדבר)
  • Deuteronomy, Devarim (דברים)
  • the Prophets or Neviim – containing the events in the lives of people such as Joshua, Samuel, the Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zachariah and so on.  Some of these are simply stories – myths and legends with a moral.
  • the Writings or Ketuvim – with a variety of stories, myths, prayers, for example Psalms, Proverbs, the story of Job, the Song of Songs, the story of Ruth, Lamentations, the story of Esther, the story of Daniel, Chronicles, Ecclesiastises and so on.
  • The Book of Enoch - is an ancient Jewish religious work, traditionally ascribed to Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah.
  • The Key of Solomon (in Latin: Clavis Salomonis, Hebrew: Mafteah Shelomoh is a set of manuscripts in various translations which contain ‘Kabbalist and alchemical wisdom’.
 

Key texts not on site

The following are not separately described on the site and any observations are found attached to this page:

  • Sefer-ha-Temmunah – the Book of Configurations, which can mean both the configuration of the Hebrew letters and also the configurations – aeons as it were.  The book appeared about 1250 in Catalonia and its author is unknown.  According to Gershom Scholem the best edition of the book is that of Lwow 1892.  Each ‘creation’ is in effect an evolutionary increment “the creation is expressed in cosmic cycles or shemittah”.  There are seven shemittoth and the completion of them all is called the Great Jubilee.  The theory is based on Deuteronomy.  Each of these cycles is about ‘7000 years’, but this could be allegorical.  It may map in with the Hindu concept of the Yuga – see Centre of Communication.
  • The Book of the Words of the Lord - written by the disciples of Jacob Frank (1726-91) a Polish mystic.  Frank's disciples set down their master's teachings 'after his own spoken words'.  Quotations and notes from this book are to be found in Alexander Kraushar's Frank i Frankiski Polscy Cracow 1895.  The manuscripts used by Kraushar were lost during the second World War when the Polish Libraries were almost entirely destroyed.  An incomplete manuscript of these copious notes has been found in Cracow University library.
  •  
    Sefer Yetzirah  - Hebrew, Sēpher Yəṣîrâh "Book of Formation," or "Book of Creation," ספר יצירה is the title of one of the earliest extant books on 'Jewish esotericism' - the Kabbalah. "Yetzirah" is more literally translated as "Formation"; the word "Briah" is used for "Creation". The book is traditionally ascribed to Abraham.
  • Sefer ha-Yashar ("Book of the Upright/Righteous")  - written in 1279 by Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia (Hebrew: אברהם בן שמואל אבולעפיה‎), the founder of the school of "Prophetic Kabbalah".  Abraham was born in Zaragoza, Spain, in 1240, and is assumed to have died sometime after 1291.  In 1258 when he was eighteen years old his father died, and two years later Abraham began a life of ceaseless wandering.  He wrote industriously on Kabbalistic, philosophical, and grammatical subjects, and succeeded in surrounding himself with numerous pupils, to whom he imparted much of his own enthusiasm.  He himself had numerous visions.
  • Pardes Rimonim (meaning "Pardes-Orchard of Pomegranates", sometimes known as the Pardes) is a primary text of Kabbalah, composed in 1548 by the Jewish mystic Moses ben Jacob Cordovero in Safed, Galilee. It was the first comprehensive exposition of Medieval Kabbalah, though its rationally influenced scheme was superseded by the subsequent 16th century Safed mythological scheme of Isaac Luria.  Cordovera indicated in his introduction that the work was based upon notes he took during his study of the Zohar, the foundational work of the Kabbalah. He noted that he composed the Pardes Rimonim "in order not to become lost and confused in its [the Zohar] depths".
  • Ma’abar Yabbok [The crossing of the River Yabbok] – by Italian Kabbalist Aaron Berakhiah Modena (c 1620).  This is inked to the symbol and concept of the ferry and ferryman - gone, gone gone to the other shore....
  • Perush 'Al ha-Torah (, 1523) – written by Menahem ben Benjamin Recanati (1250-1310) (Hebrew: מנחם בן בנימין ריקנטי‎) , an Italian rabbi.  Described as ‘ a work full of mystical deductions and meanings based upon a symbolic  interpretation of the Bible’; it also describes many visions and ‘celestial revelations’ experienced by Recanati.  He was a kabbalist.
  • Perush ha-Tefillot and Ṭa'ame ha-Miẓwot, published together (1543–1544; and 1581).Also by Menahem ben Benjamin Recanati (see above).  He quotes from Eleazar of Worms & the Spanish cabalists including Nahmanides.  To assist him in his cabalistic researches, he studied logic and philosophy in order to support the cabala by philosophical arguments.
  • Zemiroth Yisrael [1599] – by Israel ben Moses Najara (Hebrew: ישראל בן משה נאג'ארה, Arabic: إسرائيل بن موسى النجارة‎, c. 1555 –  c. 1625) a Jewish liturgical poet, Kabbalist, and Rabbi of Gaza.  The work is both symbolic and allegorical.  It contains 108 piyyuṭim and hymns. Many of Najara's piyyuṭim and hymns have been taken into the rituals and maḥzorim in use among Jews today. 
  • Sefer ha-bahir,  (Hebrew: “Book of Brightness”),also known as the Book Bahir is a  symbolic commentary on the Old Testament, the basic motif of which is the mystical significance of the shapes and sounds of the Hebrew alphabet. The influence of the Bahir on the development of Kabbala (esoteric Jewish mysticism) was profound and lasting.

Extracted from a description written by: The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica
The book seems to have first appeared in Provence, Fr., in the latter half of the 12th century. Kabbalists themselves considered the book to be much older.... An objective assessment of the medieval text seems to indicate that the author of the Bahir incorporated mystical texts and concepts that had earlier made their way to Europe from the East.
The Bahir is ...written in a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic, it successfully introduced into Kabbala—and through Kabbala, into Judaism—an extensive mystical symbolism . The Bahir, for example, contains the earliest-known explanation of the 10 “divine emanations,” which symbolize and explain the creation and continued existence of the universe. These 10 maʿamarot (“sayings”), are divided into 3 upper and 7 lower manifestations.
The Bahir also describes the concept of reincarnation/transmigration of souls (gilgul) and the notion of a cosmic, or spiritual, tree [tree of life]. In addition, evil was said to be a principle found within God himself. The last part of the book draws heavily on an ancient mystical text called Raza rabba (“The Great Mystery”).

People

Marc Chagall - Acrobats

There are a number of entries on this site for people who either were Kabbalists, or who had studied the works of the Kabbalah, or were Jewish mystics.  All the observations related to the following are to be found with their entry on the site:

  Other references

  • Alphabet of Rabbi Akiba - a semi mystical treatise of the early post-Talmudic period
  • Book of the Rational soul - written in 1290 by Moses de Leon in which, amongst other things, he describes the various levels at which the Torah can be understood from literal to entirely mystical - peshat, remez, derashah and sod
  • The Doctrine and literature of the Kabbalah – Arthur Edward Waite. This is very heavy going.  Waite doesn't use one sentence where a page will do, and at times he has an annoying habit of comparing what he finds with the Christian system as though this were some kind of yardstick; this said it is a reasonably comprehensive account of the literature of the kabbalah
  • The Kabbalistic tradition – [penguin classics] – edited by Dr Alan Unterman
  • The Prophets – Abraham Heschel.  Dr Heschel has managed to pick out some wonderful passages showing the wrathful god the prophets invented
  • The Origin of the Kabalah - Gershom Scholem

 

 

16 And Ruth said, entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.

 

 

Observations

For iPad/iPhone users: tap letter twice to get list of items.