Kabbalah also Qabalah is a form of Jewish mysticism, representing itself as a school of ancient mystical teachings traditionally taught only to those who had reached the age of 40 and who had already learned Torah and Talmud. The Talmud discusses the existence of the soul and speculates when it becomes attached to the body. Jewish tradition teaches that the souls of all Jews were in existence at the time of the Giving of the Torah and were present at the time and agreed to the Covenant. There are many stories of spiritual levels of reality similar to Christian heaven and purgatory, of wandering souls and reincarnation. In the Middle Ages, some of these mystical teachings were committed to writing. Many of these writings were asserted to be secret ancient writings or compilations of secret ancient writings. In Judaism, most cosmological issues are wide open to personal opinion, and are extensively discussed in these teachings. The Jewish mystical school of thought came to be known as Kabbalah, from the Hebrew root קבל Qof-Beit-Lamed (QBL) expanded to קַבָּלָה (QBLH) meaning "to receive, to accept." The word is usually translated as "tradition." According to ancient kabbalistic tradition, the genuine mystical doctrine of Kabbalah is transmitted only face-to-face by word of mouth from teacher to pupil, and is complete only when the pupil has been brought to the profound mystical experience of gnosis (direct personal knowledge) and praxis (proficient ability). The mystical teachings of kabbalah were partly written in the Book of Zohar ("Splendor"), and these incomplete teachings have been distorted by mystics and occultists and New Age practitioners, and novelty-seekers and celebrities in the pop-culture, all of them having in common a rejection of traditional Christianity.
Mysticism in Judaism
Mysticism and mystical experiences have been a part of Judaism since the earliest decades before the Christian Era.
Kabbalah is said by its apologists to be one of the most grossly misunderstood parts of Judaism. The mystical doctrines contained in it are said by its students and masters to have been revealed and entrusted to Ezra the Scribe 400 years before the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth. Mysticism is an integral part of Chasidic Judaism, and passages from kabbalistic sources are routinely included in traditional Jewish prayer books.
Many traditional Jewish stories involve the use of hidden knowledge to affect the world in ways that could be described as magic, which was condemned by the Law of Moses. The Talmud and other sources ascribe supernatural activities to many great rabbis, claiming that some rabbis pronounced one of the names of God and ascended into heaven to consult with the God and the angels on issues of great public concern. One scholar is said to have created an artificial man by reciting various names of God. Much later stories tell of a rabbi who created a man out of clay (a golem) and brought it to life by putting in its mouth a piece of paper with a name of God on it. However, this area of Kabbalah is not something that is practiced by the average Jew, or even the average rabbi. There are a number of stories that discourage the pursuit of such knowledge and power as dangerous and irresponsible. As these stories demonstrate, this kind of knowledge was traditionally thought to be far too dangerous to be distributed blindly to the masses.
It is important to note that all of these magical effects are said by kabbalists to be achieved through the power of God, not Satan, generally by calling upon the name of God. These practices and techniques produced phenomena, which kabbalists claim include the miracles of the prophets, or the miracles that Christians ascribe to Jesus. According to some New Age practitioners, Jesus performed his miracles using kabbalistic techniques learned from the Essenes, a Jewish sect of that time involved in mysticism.
Ein Sof and the Ten Sefirot
According to Kabbalah, the true essence of God is so transcendent that it cannot be described, except with reference to what it is not. This true essence of God is known as Ein Sof, which literally means "without end," encompassing the idea of a lack of boundaries in both time and space. The Ein Sof in this "truest form" is so transcendent that It cannot have any direct interaction with the universe. For this reason an incarnation of God is said to be impossible. The Ein Sof interacts with the universe through ten emanations from this "truest form" essence, known as the Ten Sefirot. The Sefirot are commonly represented in the diagram commonly known as the Tree of the Sefirot or the Kabbalistic Tree of Life and displayed in chart form in color.
These Sefirot correspond to qualities of God. In descending order they are,
- Keter (the crown),
- Chokhmah (wisdom),
- Binah (intuition, understanding),
- Chesed (mercy) or Gedulah (greatness),
- Gevurah (strength),
- Tiferet (glory),
- Netzach (victory),
- Hod (majesty),
- Yesod (foundation) and
- Malkut (sovereignty).
Kabbalists assert that the middle five qualities are mentioned explicitly and in order in I Chronicles 29:11:
- "Yours, O Lord, is the greatness (gedulah), the strength (gevurah), the glory (tiferet), the power (netzach), and the splendor (hod)."
This verse passage has been translated in widely varying ways, but the Masoretic Hebrew text corresponds to the names of the Sefirot in order. See multiple translations of 1 Chronicles 29:11.
There is supposed to be great significance to the position of these various attributes and their interconnectedness. The Ten Sefirot include both masculine and feminine qualities, and Kabbalah pays a great deal of attention to the feminine aspects of God. See Shekinah Glory.
According to serious kabbalists some take this too literally and regard the Sefirot as deities. The Sefirot are not separate deities. They are intimately a part of God, and yet they are in contact with the universe in a way that the Ein Sof is not. The Sefirot connect with everything in the universe, including humanity. The good and evil that we do resonates through the Sefirot and affects the entire universe, up to and including God Himself.
Descriptions of the operations of the Ten Sefiroth are seen in Christian Scholastic philosophy as analogous to the levels of authority and ministries of the nine choirs of angels together with the soul of man in the material body as analogous to the tenth (Malkuth).
Misunderstanding and misrepresentations
Misunderstandings of kabbalism stem largely from the fact that the teachings of Kabbalah have been so badly distorted by mystics and occultists. Kabbalah was popular together with "spiritual" alchemy among Christian intellectuals during the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods, who reinterpreted its doctrines to fit into their Christian dogma. The same ideas of the macrocosm and microcosm in Jewish mysticism and Christian Humanism were found in earlier Greek philosophy, that the whole of the great cosmos of the universe of spirit and matter as the whole body of God ("as above") is found reflected in the minor universe of the human being, body, soul and spirit ("so below"), Man as the image of God and the image of the whole cosmos. The ten sefirot of the kabbalistic tree of life are frequently represented in graphic diagrams showing them as colored spheres superimposed over the image of the human body to demonstrate this correspondence of human and cosmos.
In more recent times, many have wrenched kabbalistic symbolism out of context for use in tarot card readings and other forms of divination and magic that were never a part of the original Jewish teachings. This fact does not stop many New Age practitioners from falsely (and often, with full awareness, deceitfully) claiming that they are.
Any "how-to" books on the subject of "practical kabbalah" can be safely dismissed as not authentic Jewish tradition because true kabbalistic practices and techniques are never distributed impersonally to a faceless general public. They have always been thought by those who have entered deeply into Kabbalah to be far too dangerous to be distributed to the common masses, and for this reason much of the deeply esoteric Kabbalah has never been entrusted to writing. Schools of Metaphysics offering in-depth courses of instruction in Kabbalah do not teach Kabbalah. Only disciples who have full knowledge of Torah and all of the Talmud in Hebrew, who are at least 40 years old, married, of proven sound mind and mature and devout disposition, and have been carefully tested and chosen by the teacher (they are never chosen by themselves), are secretly recruited for study and training and given, by slow and patient degrees, over a period of a decade or more, eventually, full knowledge of genuine Kabbalah. Those who truly know Kabbalah are over 60 years old.
Today, many well-known celebrities have popularized a new age pop-psychology distortion of kabbalah. It borrows the language of kabbalah and the forms of Jewish folk superstitions, but at its heart it has more in common with the writings of Deepak Chopra than with any authentic Jewish source.
Saint Paul (previously Saul of Tarsus, who studied at the feet of Rabban Gamaliel), shows in his letters indications that he, as a rabbi acknowledged and authorized by the Great Sanhedrim in Jerusalem, knew the esoteric doctrines and traditions of Judaism "far beyond those of my contemporaries". He counted all of this as "rubbish" compared to the knowledge of Jesus Christ and him crucified, "a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."The letter to the Colossians is an informed refutation and rebuttal of esoteric philosophy and empty mystical practices. Paul desired that they might "have all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, of Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Against the doctrine of the utterly transcendent Ein Sof with its emanations of ten Sefirot and all kabbalistic practices he wrote:
[Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven ... See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily ... Let no one disqualify you, insisting on selfabasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? (Colossians 2:8-9 18-20 RSVCE, boldface emphasis added)
Similarly, the letter to the Hebrews says immediately at the beginning: "He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power."
Saint John and Saint PeterCompare John 1:1-3, 14.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. ... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (RSVCE boldface emphasis added)Saint Peter states plainly and unequivocally
[W]e did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye-witnesses of his glory. (2 Peter 1:16 RSVCE boldface emphasis added)And Saint John says
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life--the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us (1 John 1:1-2 RSVCE, boldface emphasis added)
Christianity and Kabbalah
Christian biblical doctrine about Jesus clearly dismisses as totally irrelevant and erroneous the Jewish mystical teaching of Kabbalah.
- Jesus as a true rabbi emphatically stated to his disciples, "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." Those self-chosen individuals who have heard and read about Kabbalah, who have convinced themselves that they are inwardly called to study and master its secrets, and, after seeking for a teacher whom they themselves have decided to regard as genuine (based on standards that they have decided to apply for discernment), who present themselves to a reputed master of Kabbalah as ready candidates self-prepared for study, and therefore worthy of acceptance, have by this very fact already proven themselves to be full of arrogant self-pride and delusion, and therefore absolutely unqualified to enter into its study. A genuine teacher of Kabbalah will dismiss such seekers with respectful advice to pursue "more useful studies" and no longer waste their time and their youth with such matters. There are an abundance of charletans and pretended masters of secret doctrines who are ready to receive them as disciples, "teachers" who have no knowledge of the truth, but who are very eager to victimize them, to "make them captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy" (Colossians 2:8), and receive both their adoration and their money. See 2 Timothy 3:1-9.
- kabbalah (dictionary.com)
- Macrocosm (thefreedictionary.com)
- CARM Christian Apologetics & Ministry: What is Kabbalah?
- New World Encyclopedia: Microcosm and Macrocosm (newworldencyclopedia.org)
- Talking Philosophy: Macrocosm--Microcosm, posted by Jeff Mason on December 11, 2009 (blog.talkingphilosophy.com)
- Occult Advances an example of pop New Age "Kabbalah", displaying images of the ten sefirot superimposed over the human form.
- Psychospiritual Alchemy: Introduction to Psycho-Spiritual Alchemy, by P. T. Mistlberger
- Regarding insanity and Kabbalah (truekabbalah.org) kabbalist warnings of risk of demonic possession
- The Chabad Lubavich Rebbe: Psychopath or Charlatan?, by Rabbi Yeshayahu Leibowitz
- The Jewish Week: Messiah Fervor For Rebbe Denounced (thejewishweek.com)
- CANA Christian Answers for the New Age: "Deepak Chopra's Third Jesus: The Persistent New Age Jesus", by Marcia Montenegro, written May/June 2008 (christiananswersforthenewage.org)
- A Foreword to Kabbalah Study for Christians. A Cautionary Foreword: Seeking Wisdom and Using Discernment. Should We Study Kabbalah? (hebrew4christians.com)