Introduction to Kabbalah


  • Kabbalah dates from Eden.
  • It came down from a remote past as a revelation to elect Tzadikim (righteous people), and, for the most part, was preserved only by a privileged few.
  • Talmudic Judaism records its view of the proper protocol for teaching this wisdom, as well as many of its concepts, in the Talmud, Tractate Hagigah, 11b-13a,
  • Early kabbalistic knowledge was transmitted orally by the Patriarchs, prophets, and sages (hakhamim in Hebrew), eventually to be "interwoven" into Jewish religious writings and culture.
  • According to this view, early kabbalah was, in around the 10th century BCE, an open knowledge practiced by over a million people in ancient Israel.
  • Foreign conquests drove the Jewish spiritual leadership of the time (the Sanhedrin) to hide the knowledge and make it secret, fearing that it might be misused if it fell into the wrong hands.
  • For a few centuries the esoteric knowledge was referred to by its aspect practice—meditation Hitbonenut
    • Rebbe Nachman of Breslov's Hitbodedut (Hebrew: הִתְבּוֹדְדוּת‎), translated as "being alone" or "isolating oneself", or by a different term describing the actual, desired goal of the practice—prophecy

The word "Kabbalah" stems from the Hebrew root "kabal", meaning "to receive". The term implies that it is a certain kind of wisdom that is received.

Who Knew Kabbalah?

Throughout the period of the Prophets, the Kabbala was guarded by the master prophets and transmitted to select disciples. During this time, the Sanctuary, and later the First Temple, served as the focal point for all prophetic experience. When the Temple was about to be destroyed the prophet Ezekiel was shown a vision which was to signal the end of a thousand year period of prophecy. This vision is known as Maaseh Merkava, the Discipline (or Workings) of the Chariot

From the 5th century BCE, when the works of the Tanakh were edited and canonized and the secret knowledge encrypted within the various writings and scrolls ("Megilot"), esoteric knowledge became referred to as Ma'aseh Merkavah (Hebrew: מַעֲשֶׂה מֶרְכָּבָה‎)[31] based on the Book of Ezekiel and Ma'aseh B'reshit (Hebrew: מַעֲשֶׂה בְּרֵאשִׁית‎),[32] respectively "the act of the Chariot" and "the act of Creation"

(ד) וָאֵ֡רֶא וְהִנֵּה֩ ר֨וּחַ סְעָרָ֜ה בָּאָ֣ה מִן־הַצָּפ֗וֹן עָנָ֤ן גָּדוֹל֙ וְאֵ֣שׁ מִתְלַקַּ֔חַת וְנֹ֥גַֽהּ ל֖וֹ סָבִ֑יב וּמִ֨תּוֹכָ֔הּ כְּעֵ֥ין הַחַשְׁמַ֖ל מִתּ֥וֹךְ הָאֵֽשׁ׃ (ה) וּמִ֨תּוֹכָ֔הּ דְּמ֖וּת אַרְבַּ֣ע חַיּ֑וֹת וְזֶה֙ מַרְאֵֽיהֶ֔ן דְּמ֥וּת אָדָ֖ם לָהֵֽנָּה׃ (ו) וְאַרְבָּעָ֥ה פָנִ֖ים לְאֶחָ֑ת וְאַרְבַּ֥ע כְּנָפַ֖יִם לְאַחַ֥ת לָהֶֽם׃ (ז) וְרַגְלֵיהֶ֖ם רֶ֣גֶל יְשָׁרָ֑ה וְכַ֣ף רַגְלֵיהֶ֗ם כְּכַף֙ רֶ֣גֶל עֵ֔גֶל וְנֹ֣צְצִ֔ים כְּעֵ֖ין נְחֹ֥שֶׁת קָלָֽל׃ (ח) וידו [וִידֵ֣י] אָדָ֗ם מִתַּ֙חַת֙ כַּנְפֵיהֶ֔ם עַ֖ל אַרְבַּ֣עַת רִבְעֵיהֶ֑ם וּפְנֵיהֶ֥ם וְכַנְפֵיהֶ֖ם לְאַרְבַּעְתָּֽם׃ (ט) חֹֽבְרֹ֛ת אִשָּׁ֥ה אֶל־אֲחוֹתָ֖הּ כַּנְפֵיהֶ֑ם לֹא־יִסַּ֣בּוּ בְלֶכְתָּ֔ן אִ֛ישׁ אֶל־עֵ֥בֶר פָּנָ֖יו יֵלֵֽכוּ׃ (י) וּדְמ֣וּת פְּנֵיהֶם֮ פְּנֵ֣י אָדָם֒ וּפְנֵ֨י אַרְיֵ֤ה אֶל־הַיָּמִין֙ לְאַרְבַּעְתָּ֔ם וּפְנֵי־שׁ֥וֹר מֵֽהַשְּׂמֹ֖אול לְאַרְבַּעְתָּ֑ן וּפְנֵי־נֶ֖שֶׁר לְאַרְבַּעְתָּֽן׃
(4) I looked, and lo, a stormy wind came sweeping out of the north—a huge cloud and flashing fire, surrounded by a radiance; and in the center of it, in the center of the fire, a gleam as of amber. (5) In the center of it were also the figures of four creatures. And this was their appearance: They had the figures of human beings. (6) However, each had four faces, and each of them had four wings; (7) the legs of each were [fused into] a single rigid leg, and the feet of each were like a single calf’s hoof; and their sparkle was like the luster of burnished bronze. (8) They had human hands below their wings. The four of them had their faces and their wings on their four sides. (9) Each one’s wings touched those of the other. They did not turn when they moved; each could move in the direction of any of its faces. (10) Each of them had a human face [at the front]; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right; each of the four had the face of an ox on the left; and each of the four had the face of an eagle [at the back].

Who is allowed to study Kabbalah?

(א) אֵין דּוֹרְשִׁין בַּעֲרָיוֹת בִּשְׁלֹשָׁה. וְלֹא בְמַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית בִּשְׁנַיִם. וְלֹא בַמֶּרְכָּבָה בְּיָחִיד, אֶלָּא אִם כֵּן הָיָה חָכָם וּמֵבִין מִדַּעְתּוֹ. כָּל הַמִּסְתַּכֵּל בְּאַרְבָּעָה דְּבָרִים, רָאוּי לוֹ כְּאִלּוּ לֹא בָּא לָעוֹלָם, מַה לְּמַעְלָה, מַה לְּמַטָּה, מַה לְּפָנִים, וּמַה לְּאָחוֹר. וְכָל שֶׁלֹּא חָס עַל כְּבוֹד קוֹנוֹ, רָאוּי לוֹ שֶׁלֹּא בָּא לָעוֹלָם:

"The Maaseh Merkava may be taught only to individual students [one at a time], and they must be wise, understanding with their own knowledge.

This policy continued until after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.


"I say that it is not proper to dally in Pardes [i.e., mysticism] till one's belly is filled with 'bread and meat,' knowledge of what is permitted and what forbidden, and similar distinctions in other classes of precepts.

What is Kabbalah?

Kabbalah is referred to as the "soul" of the Torah, the Kabbalah is an ancient Jewish tradition which teaches the deepest insights into the essence of G‑d, His interaction with the world, and the purpose of Creation. Kabbalah teaches the essential Jewish cosmology, integral to all other Torah disciplines. Sometimes called "the Inner Torah" or the "Wisdom of Truth", it offers a comprehensive overall structure and plan for the universe, as well as a detailed understanding of the particulars of our lives. The student of Kabbalah is made aware of the personal as well as the collective rectification process and is encouraged to play an active part in it.

The term “Kabbalah” applies only to writings that emerged in medieval Spain and southern France beginning in the 13th century

Jewish Kabbalah is a set of esoteric teachings meant to explain the relationship between the unchanging, eternal God–the mysterious Ein Sof (אֵין סוֹף, "The Infinite")–and the mortal, finite universe (God's creation).It forms the foundation of mystical religious interpretations within Judaism. They often use classical Jewish scriptures to explain and demonstrate its mystical teachings

Sometimes translated as “mysticism” or “occult knowledge—is a part of Jewish tradition that deals with the essence of God.

Kabbalists believe that God moves in mysterious ways. However, Kabbalists also believe that true knowledge and understanding of that inner, mysterious process is obtainable, and through that knowledge, the greatest intimacy with God can be attained.

Traditional practitioners believe its earliest origins pre-date world religions, forming the primordial blueprint for Creation's philosophies, religions, sciences, arts, and political systems.[9] Historically, Kabbalah emerged after earlier forms of Jewish mysticism, in 12th- to 13th-century Spain and Southern France,[3][7] and was reinterpreted during the Jewish mystical renaissance of 16th-century Ottoman Palestine.[3] Isaac Luria is considered the father of contemporary Kabbalah; Lurianic Kabbalah was popularised in the form of Hasidic Judaism from the 18th century onwards

Why must we study Kabbalah?

At this time [the Messianic Era]…a spirit will go out and will not return - this is the spirit of Mashiach. Woe to those who cause him to depart and leave the world, never to return! These are those who make the Torah as a dry [barren] place and do not desire to involve themselves in the wisdom of the Kabbalah. Woe to those, who bring about poverty and war and disgrace and murder and destruction in the world. (Tikunei Zohar, Tikun 30)

The letters of the word "Bereishit" ["In the Beginning…", Gen. 1:1] can be rearranged to read "atar yavesh", which means "a river [i.e. Torah] destroyed and dry". At that time when it is dry, the children below scream out in unison and say "ShemaYisrael!" - yet there is no sound and no answer. This is regarding he who causes Kabbalah and wisdom to depart from the Oral Torah and the Written Torah and causes others to not attempt [to understand] them, saying that there is nothing but the simple meaning [peshat] in the Torah and Talmud.One is obligated to involve himself to the best of his ability in the secrets of the Torah…

Certainly [they are] as if they cause the [divine] flow to depart from this garden and river [above]. Woe to him - it would have been better that he had not been created in the world and not learned any Oral Torah, for it is considered as if he has returned the world to formlessness and chaos and causes poverty in the world and a lengthening of the period of exile. (Tikunei Zohar, Tikun 43)

Rabbi Avraham Azulai

Behold, without knowing the wisdom of the Kabbalah, one is like a beast…because he performs the mitzvahs without the reason/taste of the mitzvahs, only performing the mitzvahs like "scholarly" people. And they resemble beasts who eat hay, which doesn't have the flavor of food meant for humans. And even if one is very involved in business matters and very preoccupied, he shouldn't exempt himself from occupying himself in this wisdom [Kabbalah]. You should try to carve out some time from your daily activities each day in order that time will remain for immersing in this wisdom, because it is the foundations of the Torah. You are not exempt from the Inner Torah [i.e. Kabbalah], because, without it, a person is an ox who eats straw.The masses, both those great and small [in Torah], should occupy themselves [in the study of Kabbalah]…

Vilna Gaon

He that is able to understand secrets of the Torah and does not try to understand them will be judged harshly, may G‑d have mercy. (Even Shlema 8:24)The essence of the Redemption depends upon learning Kabbalah…

Rabbi Shneur Zalman

Every person, for the sake of the rectification of his [precious Divine] soul, must occupy himself in the study of Torah at every level of "Pardes"-- basic, hinted, interpreted, secret – according to his ability to grasp and to understand. Anyone who is able to grasp and to understand much, but is lazy and only fulfills part of his potential, his soul will have to return in another incarnation until he attains all that is possible for his soul to grasp and understand in all the levels of Torah, whether it be the most straightforward of laws, or hints, interpretations and secrets. Because whatever his soul is able to grasp and to understand in all the different levels of Torah knowledge is required for the complete rectification of his soul. It is impossible for his soul to be completely rectified and bound with its Divine source from which it was hewn without this complete knowledge.

Kabbalistic Sacred Text:

The Zohar

  • A collection of written, mystical commentaries on the Torah, is considered to be the underpinning of Kabbalah.
  • The Zohar (Book of Splendor), one of the main pillars of Kabbala, was taught by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai around 135 C.E.
  • It was first written down in 13th-century Spain, likely by the Castilian kabbalist Rabbi Moshe (Moses) de Leon
  • Written in medieval Aramaic and medieval Hebrew, the Zohar is intended to guide Kabbalists in their spiritual journey, helping them attain the greater levels of connectedness with God that they desire.

Why wasn't the Zohar written down initially?

There was a tradition that if the Oral Torah was endangered to the point of being forgotten, it was permitted to be put it into writing.

The sages redacted the traditions they had received (keeping it a secret) in order to preserve them from oblivion during the violent times in which they lived.

During the thirteen years that Rabbi Shimon (RASHBA) spent hiding in a cave with his disciples, he taught what he had received from his teachers. During this time as well, he received Divine Inspiration (Ruach HaKodesh) and merited the revelation of Elijah the prophet.

Who Eventually Wrote the Zohar down?

RASHBA - wrote down the "mishnah"

The ARI (1534-1572)

Heaven gave permission for a sage, the Ari, to commit a greater proportion of Torah secrets to writing. This was a condensation of the light, but was nevertheless permitted because the heart-vision of each generation was diminishing, necessitating the conduit of letters in order to transmit the divine light.

As the generations continued to decrease in wisdom and holiness, more and more Torah secrets had to be presented in written form, otherwise people would have been unable to perceive the light.

The main body of the Zohar was written down by his disciples some seventy years after his death.

Kabbalah received its biggest transformation in the Jewish world with the explication of its new interpretation from Isaac Luria (The ARI 1534–1572), and by his disciples Hayim Vital and Israel Sarug. Both transcribed Luria's teachings (in variant forms) gaining them widespread popularity

Major Themes of the Zohar

  • the nature of God and the cosmos,
  • the creation of the world,
  • the relationship of God to the world through the sefirot,(attributes of God),
  • the nature of evil and sin,
  • the revelation of the Torah,
  • the commandments, holidays, prayer,
  • rituals of the ancient Temple,
  • the figure of the priest,
  • the experience of exile,


Letters, numbers and words in the Zohar are considered to be powerful entities, indeed the very building blocks of Creation. The power of language includes both divine speech, that creates and continues to re-create the world each day, and human speech, which can influence both this world and the divine realm through prayer and contemplation.

Within the soul of every individual is a hidden part of God that is wait­ing to be revealed.

Contemporary Kabbalah

It was upon the teachings of the Zohar that the two greatest Kabbalists of modern times built their entire systems: Rabbi Moses Cordovero (d. 1570), known as the Ramak, and Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572), universally referred to as the Ari, an acronym for "Elo-hi Rabbi Yitzchak", "The G‑dly Rabbi Isaac".

Moses Cordovero writes, “The essence of divin­ity is found in every single thing, nothing but It exists….It exists in each existent.”

The Ari

The Ari explained that the mysteries of the Torah are a kabbala- literally "something that is received". It is not a knowledge that can be attained through the finite quality of the letters, but a perception that must be "received" from a master who himself received from one before him. The perception of the esoteric tradition is then a merging of spirits with the Divine which, by its very essence, cannot be condensed into letters.

There are three dimensions to almost all forms of Jewish mysticism, which are likely to be understood by only small numbers of people who possess specialized knowledge or interest in the topic:

  • The investigative
  • The experiential
  • The practical

The investigative aspect of Kabbalah in­volves searching the hidden reality of the universe for secret knowledge about its origins and its organization—a quest that is more esoteric than mystical. In Jewish tradition, there are three ways esoteric knowledge can be obtained:

  1. By interpreting sacred texts to uncover nistar (“hidden” meaning)
  2. By oral transmission of tradition from a Kab­balistic master
  3. By direct reve­lation, which might include visitation by an angel or Elijah, spirit possession, or other supra-rational experience

The experiential dimension of Kabbalah involves the actual quest for mystical experience: a direct, intuitive, unmediated encounter with a close but concealed Deity. As Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, mystics “...want to taste the whole wheat of spirit before it is ground by the millstones of reason.” Mystics specifically seek the ec­static experience of God, not merely knowledge about God. In their quest to encounter God, Jewish mystics live spiritually disciplined lives.

The practical dimension of Kabbalah involves rituals for gaining and exercising power to effect change in our world and in the celestial worlds beyond ours. This power is generated by performing commandments, summon­ing and controlling angelic and demonic forces, and otherwise tapping into the supernatural energies present in Creation. The practical aspect of Kabbalah furthers God’s intention in the world, advancing good, subduing evil, healing, and mending. The true master of this art fulfills the human potential to be a co-creator with God.

Understanding Text

According to the Zohar, Torah study can proceed along four levels of interpretation (exegesis)These four levels are called pardes from their initial letters (PRDS Hebrew: פַּרדֵס‎, orchard).

  • Peshat (Hebrew: פשט‎ lit. "simple"): the direct interpretations of meaning.[15]
  • Remez (Hebrew: רֶמֶז‎ lit. "hint[s]"): the allegoric meanings (through allusion).
  • Derash (Hebrew: דְרָשׁ‎ from Heb. darash: "inquire" or "seek"): midrashic (rabbinic) meanings, often with imaginative comparisons with similar words or verses.
  • Sod (Hebrew: סוֹד‎ lit. "secret" or "mystery"): the inner, esoteric (metaphysical) meanings, expressed in kabbalah.

Talmudic Aggadah

Four men entered pardes—Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher (Elisha ben Abuyah), and Akiba. Ben Azzai looked and died; Ben Zoma looked and went mad; Acher destroyed the plants; Akiba entered in peace and departed in peace.

Rashi says that Ben Azzai died from looking at the Divine Presence. Ben Zoma's harm was in losing his sanity. Acher's "cutting down the plantings" in the orchard refers to becoming a heretic from the experience. Acher means "the other one", and is the Talmudic term for the sage Elisha ben Avuya. Rabbi Akiva, in contrast to the other three, became the leading Rabbinic figure of the era.

Kabbalah Iyunit – contemplative Kabbalah

  1. analyzes the nature of the relationship between Creation and the divine source from which it emerges.
  2. The category to which the majority of kabbalistic texts in circulation today belong, attempts to explain the process whereby, through the will of the one infinite G‑d, the created finite realm came into being and is constantly directed.
  3. On a deeper level, Kabbalah Iyunit explores the complex character of the divine reality itself— in particular, the paradox of the transcendence of G‑d and the consequent inability of human thought to grasp Him at all, together with His immanence and active relationship with finite Creation.
  4. use of various meditative techniques to ponder the Divine and the esoteric underpinnings of the material world.

Kabbalah Maasit – practical Kabbalah

  1. Techniques aimed specifically at altering natural states or events and includes techniques such as the incantation of divine names or the inscription of such names upon amulets.
  2. Kabbalah Maasit is meant to be employed by only the most saintly and most responsible of individuals and for no other purpose than the benefit of man or implementation of G‑d's plan in creation.

The ultimate intention of both types of Kabbalah is to bring the individual—and then all aspects of reality into harmony with the divine purpose for which they were initially created.