Kabbala's origin and the mystical library

It's not surprising that Kabbala, as an esoteric subject with a long and clouded history, is misunderstood.

March 9, 2006 10:16
2 minute read.
kabballah book 88

kabballah book 88. (photo credit: )


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It's not surprising that Kabbala, as an esoteric subject with a long and clouded history, is misunderstood. What is it, precisely? Kabbala is the prophetic aspect of Jewish tradition, according to one Jerusalem-based scholar well-versed in Jewish mysticism who preferred not to be named for this article. It explains why God created the world, how creation took place, how the universe is maintained and what will happen in the final redemption. It also provides a deeper understanding of the biblical commandments and describes a pathway whereby a Jew can connect with God and approach prophecy. Indeed, prophecy is central to understanding what Kabbala is. According to Jewish tradition, Kabbala, which literally means "that which is received," is an integral part of the Torah that was given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Sefer Yetzira - a book describing magical linguistic creative powers dated to the 2nd century, BCE - is attributed in lore to either the biblical forefather Abraham or the talmudic giant Rabbi Akiva. The Kabbala of 16th-century luminary Rabbi Yitzhak Luria Ashkenazi ("the Arizal"), whose teachings are the core of the curricula of all the modern Kabbala yeshivot, is said to have been passed on to him by none other than the prophet Elijah himself. Luria, however, never wrote a book. "I can hardly open my mouth to speak without feeling as though the sea bursts its dams and overflows," he once said. "How can I express what my soul received and how can I put it in a book? It would take all of eternity. All the paper in the world would not suffice, nor all the ink." Rabbi Haim Vital, Luria's most outstanding student during his three incredibly productive years in Safed before his death at the age of 38, recorded Luria's teachings. Vital's books, such as Etz Hayim and Mevo She'arim, are essential reading in haredi Kabbala yeshivot. In Safed, just prior to the Arizal's ascent to prominence, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (the Ramak) wrote significant kabbalistic works that included Pardes Rimonim, a systemization of kabbalistic thought until that time. In addition, most Kabbala yeshivot also study Kavanot Harashash, or "Intentions of Rabbi Shimon Sharabi," (Rashash is Sharabi's acronym). In his book, Sharabi teaches those already initiated into the world of Lurianic Kabbala how to direct their prayers through the proper celestial channels by using holy names and divine intentions. Central texts in the rational school of "Ashkenazi" Kabbala are the books of Rabbi Moshe Haim Luzzatto (the Ramhal) and Rabbi Eliyahu Ben-Shlomo Zalman (the Vilna Gaon). Ramhal and, to a certain extent, the Vilna Gaon turned Kabbala into a practical philosophy for life. Rabbi Meir Faivelson explains that their work differs from the kabbalistic approach of Hassidut, which also interprets Lurianic concepts into a philosophy for living. "The Ramhal and the Vilna Gaon were very systematic, working directly with the kabbalistic texts, whereas the hassidic masters interwove the entire kabbalistic teachings throughout their writings on the service of God," he says.-

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