What is Kabbalah?

The term “Kabbalah” is widely known to the public, but it is also widely misunderstood. Kabbalah or parts of it have been integrated with the “New Age” philosophy, occultism, and other esoteric systems. What most people don’t know is that Kabbalah in its pure form is a discipline as old as Judaism itself. Initially, it was the sole property of the priestly caste that decided it was too esoteric and complex for the general population. Kabbalah means “tradition.” Kabbalah was essentially lost after the Destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. The rabbis inherited the mantle of teaching, Torah interpretation, and legal decision making while a few Jewish Mystics preserved Kabbalah as a secret doctrine. The Hasidic movement made Kabbalah a public property and gave us its current form. The Hasid’s unlike the priestly caste introduced Kabbalah to the general Jewish population. Fortunately, if not for them and the earlier Mystics we would not have known of the “Secret Doctrine of the Son” known and taught within the priestly caste preserved by the Jewish Mystics and later appropriated by the Christian movement. This teaching informed the doctrine of the Incarnation of Christ with some Christian modifications. So, we can see that the Incarnation is not a precept foreign to Judaism and may in the future play an important part in uniting Judah, Israel and her companions under the Kippur (covering) of the blood of Yahshua.

The foundation of Kabbalah is the Torah. Without this foundation Kabbalah is just another teaching without substance. What we see promoted, as Kabbalah today is nowhere near the real thing. People who have been exploited by this pseudo Kabbalah have received not Kabbalah but pop psychology and in the popular genre of self-help craze teachings that pretend to have some connection to Kabbalah. Kabbalah principally is Jewish mysticism. People who are fooled by this false presentation of Kabbalah cannot be totally blamed because in most disciplines, you expect to learn and comprehend something after studying it. But Kabbalah is mysticism, and when it comes to mysticism, people expect to be mystified by esoteric applications. Humans are willing to accept incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo when practiced under the label of mysticism, which leaves the discipline open to all kind of charlatans. So, if you start from the premise that Kabbalah is supposed to be mysterious, enigmatic and incomprehensible then you have set yourself up for accepting the false. It’s mysticism after all! The American College Dictionary defines mysticism as “the doctrine of an immediate spiritual intuition of truths believed to transcend ordinary understanding, or of a direct, intimate union of the would with the Divinity through contemplation and love.” The complete union of the soul with G-d is the target of mysticism.

So much inanity is presented in the name of Kabbalah, it is important to educate believers in some basic understandings. That is why this study was initiated, to equip you with the information that gives you the ability to discern the real from the false.

With the Torah as it’s guide, Kabbalah has flourished albeit sometimes darkly and sometimes brilliantly for over five thousand years. When you become learned in this subject you will see Kabbalah manifested in the theology of Christianity as well as in the everyday life of Judaism. So incorporated is Kabbalah into these systems that it has gone unnoticed. As to Judaism Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, a contemporary noted Jewish writer and thinker, said of Kabbalah that it is, “the official theology of the Jewish people.” Kabbalah is the first attempt by Jewish writers to define and describe G-d, which is the primary work of theology. Steinsaltz’s assessment is certainly correct in this light. Within Christianity the process of discovery is less obvious on the surface.

In order to understand what Kabbalah is and what it isn’t we must recognize that Kabbalah is to Torah what philosophy is to science. Torah is G-d’s Word delivered to us in two forms the Written and the Living. We can see the results of living Torah. It is experiential in that aspect. It is quantifiable and can be rationally perceived. Kabbalah like philosophy to science addresses Torah giving us a greater abstract construct that should convey a greater understanding. Kabbalah then strives to overcome the usual boundaries between the individual and the Absolute and that is the great mystical achievement.

Actual reality is beyond the finite senses of a human being and it is here that Kabbalah tries to construct a system to give us an understanding of the Greater Reality, G-d. Science that addresses observable phenomena may draw conclusions from the data. The scientist ponders this data and constructs a theory of what the entire system might be like based on empirical evidence. Kabbalah essentially functions in the same sense.

There are some things that are nearly impossible to convey with useful definitions however intelligently chosen. For example describe to yourself the color orange, or what an apple tastes like, or the smell of a fragrant flower. You are confronted with the limitations of human language for no matter how talented you are you cannot convey the sense adequately. Now, consider how much more difficult is it to describe the ineffable, the infinite, The Eternal, The Absolute. Because of human limitations many have thrown up their hands in defeat and admonish us that we only know what we experience. Others have taken a different track and have chosen to define G-d by negatives. G-d is not…. Accurate, but not very fulfilling.

Into this gap Kabbalah has moved. Mysticism transcends the intellect, and hinges on the idea that G-d is immanent, inherently present. In its pure form Kabbalah recognizes that G-d is within us not unlike the Christian doctrine of the indwelling spirit. In less coherent forms it leads to pantheism. Gershom Scholem, the great contemporary scholar of mysticism wrote, “There is no mysticism as such, there is only mysticism of a particular religious system.” So we see that although the goals may be the same the methods differ from belief system to belief system.

The principal tool of the Jewish mystic is the Torah, the Revealed Word of the Holy One. Like science, the Torah gives us facts that are fully perceived sensually and rationally quantifiable. Like philosophy, Kabbalah gives us the grander abstract picture that the facts present.