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Kaballah: Jewish Mysticism

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A Small Look into Jewish Mysticism

Brandon R. Williams


Dr. Elder

Often Kabbalah is defined as a body of mystical teachings of rabbinical origin, often based on an esoteric interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Many when thinking about Jewish mysticism they think of the involvement of magic and ceremonies, but when looking deeper and finding the truth we find many more definitions than the broad textual definitional above. To even understand the slightest aspect of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism we must scratch the surface of the tradition by taking a broad look at the texts of Kabbalah, the oral tradition, the mystery of understanding God, the aspects of good and evil and how we as humans relate to God. All of these aspects can be found within the mysterious tradition of the Jewish culture. As times have past though, the traditions within Judaism have been taken and forced into other religious thought and modern theory. The most common of these is Modern Kabbalism of the Kabbalah Centre. The Kabbalah Centre has incorporated Jewish Kabbalah with modern logical theory. But, Jewish Mysticism is more in depth than many can understand. To truly understand Kabbalah, Kabbalists spend a lifetime to understand the hidden meanings buried within the Torah. I strive to understand the basic concepts of Kabbalah and how the Jewish culture utilizes the Kabbalistic texts and the mystery of the Torah.

Kabbalah became a reference to doctrines of esoteric knowledge concerning God, God's creation of the universe and the laws of nature, and the path by which adult religious Jews can learn these secrets. Originally, however, the term Kabbalah was used in Talmudic texts, among the Geonim, and by early Rishonim as a reference to the full body of publicly available Jewish teaching. In this sense Kabbalah was used in referring to all of known Oral Law. According to the more recent use of the word, stresses the reasons and understanding of the commandments in the Torah, and the cause of events described in the Torah. Kabbalah includes the understanding of the spiritual spheres of creation, and the ways by which God administers the existence of the universe.

The texts of Kabbalah, like many of the Rabbinical texts, are ongoing oral traditions. Kabbalistic literature contains the usage of powerful paradigms that are elegant, universal, and easy for anyone to understand when simply pointed out. Within the Rabbinical texts, there are seven primary texts for Kabbalah: the Yetzirah, Bahir, Raziel Ha-Malakh, Pardes Rimonim, Ets KHayim, Sulami and the Zohar.

Yetzirah (йцйшÐ'), which translates to "Formation, Creation" is the oldest text of Kabbalah. The first commentaries on this small book were written in the 10th century, and the text itself is quoted as early as the 6th century. Its linguistic organization of the Hebrew alphabet could be from as early as the 2nd century. Its historical origins remain obscure to modern Kabbalists. It organizes the cosmos into "32 Paths of Wisdom", comprising "10 Sephirot" and "22 letters" of the Hebrew alphabet. It uses this structure to organize cosmic phenomena ranging from the seasons of the calendar to the emotions of the intellect, and is essentially an index of cosmic correspondences.

Bahir (бÐ'йш), which means "Illumination," serves as a kind of epitome that surveys the essential concepts of the subsequent literature of Kabbalah. Despite its name the Bahir is extremely cryptic, and difficult to understand, though not impossible. Much of it is written in parables, which is a simple story illustrating a moral or religious lesson. The Bahir opens with a quote attributed to a Talmudic sage of the 1st century, and the remainder the text is an unfolding discussion surrounding the quote.

Raziel Ha-Malakh (шжйÐoм Ð'омÐoк), which means "Raziel the Angel," is an astral-magical text published in the 13th century in Germany and probably written by Eliezer of Worms. It cites the text of the Yetzirah, explains the concept of mazal "fortune, destinity" associated with Kabbalah astrology, and records an encrypted alphabet for use in mystical formulas.

Pardes Rimonim (фшгс шйоерйн), translated to "Garden of Pomegranates." The was written by Rabbi Moshe Kordovero, published in Spain in the 16th century and the main source of Kordoverian Kabbalah, a comprehensive interpretation of the Zohar and a friendly rival of the Lurianic interpretation.

Ets Khayim (Ñ‚Ñ... Ð*ййн), "Tree of Life" are written teachings of Rabbi Yitzhak Luria, collected by his disciples. It was published in Tsfat Israel in the 16th century. It is a popular interpretation and synthesis of Lurianic Kabbalah.

Sulam (семн), "Ladder", is a translation of the Zohar into Hebrew that includes parenthetical comments. Despite being a late text by a modern Kabbalist, it is widely distributed. Rabbi Yehudah Leib Ashlag wrote and published it in Israel in 1943. In the Sulam, the text of the Zohar includes parenthetical notes that explain some of the cryptic metaphors found in the Zohar, according to the interpretive tradition of Rabbi Yitzhak Luria. Much of the Zohar remains meaningless without the Sulam.

The Zohar (жÐ'ш), which translates to "Splendor" or "Book of Radiance," is the most important in Kabbalah, written in Medieval Aramaic. While organized into commentaries on sections of the Torah, the Zohar elaborates on the Talmud, Midrash Rabba, Yetzirah, the Bahir, and many other Rabbinical texts. The Zohar emphasizes the importance of the Torah as the sustaining force of the universe and as a protector of the Jews.

The mystics had developed a special concept of Torah. Torah came to

be seen as more than instruction and commandments, it was alive. God's Torah was with God from the beginning, was created even before the world as created. It contained the divine blueprint of creation, and remained God's consultant and co-worker in creation and ever after. By equating "Wisdom" with Torah the mystics found proof in Proverbs. (Trepp, 99)




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