Kabbalah (Hebrew: קַבָּלָה, literally “parallel/corresponding,” or “received tradition”) is an esoteric method, discipline, and school of thought that originated in Judaism. A traditional Kabbalist in Judaism is called a Mekubbal (מְקוּבָּל).
Kabbalah’s definition varies according to the tradition and aims of those following it, from its religious origin as an integral part of Judaism, to its later Christian, New Age, and Occultist/western esoteric syncretic adaptations. Kabbalah is a set of esoteric teachings meant to explain the relationship between an unchanging, eternal, and mysterious Ein Sof (infinity) and the mortal and finite universe (God’s creation). While it is heavily used by some denominations, it is not a religious denomination in itself. It forms the foundations of mystical religious interpretation. Kabbalah seeks to define the nature of the universe and the human being, the nature, and the purpose of existence, and various other ontological questions. It also presents methods to aid understanding of the concepts and thereby attain spiritual realization.
Kabbalah originally developed within the realm of Jewish tradition, and kabbalists often use classical Jewish sources to explain and demonstrate its esoteric teachings. These teachings are held by followers in Judaism to define the inner meaning of both the Hebrew Bible and traditional Rabbinic literature and their formerly concealed transmitted dimension, as well as to explain the significance of Jewish religious observances.
Traditional practitioners believe its earliest origins pre-date world religions, forming the primordial blueprint for Creation’s philosophies, religions, sciences, arts, and political systems. Historically, Kabbalah emerged, after earlier forms of Jewish mysticism, in 12th- to 13th-century Southern France and Spain, becoming reinterpreted in the Jewish mystical renaissance of 16th-century Ottoman Palestine. Safed Rabbi Isaac Luria is considered the father of contemporary Kabbalah. Twentieth-century interest in Kabbalah has inspired cross-denominational Jewish renewal and contributed to wider non-Jewish contemporary spirituality, as well as engaging its flourishing emergence and historical re-emphasis through newly established academic investigation.
The Zohar is the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. It is a group of books including commentary on the mystical aspects of the Torah (the five books of Moses) and scriptural interpretations as well as material on mysticism, mythical cosmogony, and mystical psychology. The Zohar contains discussions of the nature of God, the origin and structure of the universe, the nature of souls, redemption, the relationship of Ego to Darkness and “true self” to “The Light of God”, and the relationship between the “universal energy” and man. Its scriptural exegesis can be considered an esoteric form of the Rabbinic literature known as Midrash, which elaborates on the Torah.
The Zohar is mostly written in what has been described as a cryptic, obscure style of Aramaic. Aramaic, the day-to-day language of Israel in the Second Temple period (539 BCE – 70 CE), was the original language of large sections of the biblical books of Daniel and Ezra and is the main language of the Talmud.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (“Rashbi”), a rabbi of the 2nd century during the Roman persecution who, hid in a cave for thirteen years studying the Torah and was inspired by the Prophet Elijah to write the Zohar. This accords with the traditional claim by adherents that Kabbalah is the concealed part of the Oral Torah.
Tikunei haZohar, also known as the Tikunim (תקונים), is a main text of the Kabbalah. It is a separate appendix to the Zohar consisting of seventy commentaries on the opening word of the Torah, Bereishit (בראשית), in a style of Kabbalistic Midrash. Containing deep secret teachings of Torah, stirring dialogues and fervent prayers, the explicit and apparent theme and intention of Tikunei haZohar is to repair and support the Shekhinah or Malkhut — hence its name, “Repairs of the Zohar” — and to bring on the Redemption and conclude the Exile.
Tikunei haZohar is almost entirely in Aramaic, except for quotations from Tanakh that are used in building the lessons. The Aramaic of Tikunei haZohar differs somewhat from the Aramaic of the Talmud, and from the Aramaic of the rest of the Zohar.
By Tikunei haZohar’s own account, the book was composed by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Rabbi Elazar (see the story of their hiding in the cave, below), with contribution from the soul of Ra`aya Meheimna (The Faithful Shepherd, i.e. Moshe) and from Eliyahu, of blessed memory; and with help from the souls of Tzadikim, headed by the soul of Adam haRishon and several Sabbas (“Elders”) who came from Gan Eden to reveal new secrets of the Torah to Rabbi Shimon and his “Chevraya Kadisha” (“Holy Friends”). This accords with the text of Tikunei haZohar having a somewhat different a dialect from—and much less stylistic variation than—the rest of the Zohar, which according to tradition was compiled by Rabbi Shimon but includes earlier sources and contains additions by later generations.
The Zohar Chadash (parashat ki tavo, daf 73a) states that because no human knew the hiding place of Rabbi Shimon and his son, the Chevraya Kadisha would send notes to Rabbi Shimon with their questions by means of a dove, and he would reply to them the same way, via the dove. Rabbi Shimon was distressed that there was nobody to reveal the secrets of the Torah to the Chevraya Kadisha, and therefore when he went out from the cave he began to reveal secrets of the Torah to them, part of which is the book Tikunei haZohar.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai was the 2nd-century sage in ancient Israel, said to be active after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. He was one of the most eminent disciples of Rabbi Akiva, attributed by many Orthodox Jews with the authorship of the Zohar, the chief work of Kabbalah.
According to the Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai criticized the Roman government and was forced to go into hiding with his son for thirteen years. They sheltered in a cave (which local tradition places in Peki’in). Next to the mouth of the cave, a carob tree sprang up and a spring of fresh water gushed forth. Provided against hunger and thirst they cast off their clothing except during prayers and sabbath to keep them from wearing out, embedded themselves in the sand up to their necks and studied the Torah all day long. There he wrote Tikkunei HaZohar with Moses, Elijah the Prophet and Adam. He and his son left the cave when they received a bat qol (divine revelation) saying that the Roman emperor had died and consequently all his decrees were abolished.
Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag (1885–1954) or Yehuda Leib Ha-Levi Ashlag, also known as the Baal Ha-Sulam(Hebrew: בַּעַל הַסּוּלָם, “Author of the Ladder”), was an orthodox rabbi and kabbalist born in Łódź, Congress Poland, Russian Empire, to a family of scholars connected to the Hasidic courts of Porisov and Belz. Rabbi Ashlag lived in the Holy Land from 1922 until his death in 1954 (except for two years in England). In addition to his Sulam commentary on the Zohar, his other primary work, Talmud Eser Sefirot is regarded as the central textbook for students of Kabbalah.
Ashlag systematically interpreted the wisdom and promoted its wide dissemination. In line with his directives, many contemporary adherents of Ashlag’s teachings strive to spread Kabbalah to the masses.
Isaac (ben Solomon) Luria Ashkenazi (1534 – July 25, 1572) (Hebrew: יִצְחָק בן שלמה לוּרְיָא אשכנזי commonly known as “Ha’ARI”(meaning “The Lion”), “Ha’ARI Hakadosh” [the holy ARI] or “ARIZaL”the ARI, Of Blessed Memory, was a foremost rabbi and Jewish mystic in the community of Safed in the Galilee region of Ottoman Syria. He is considered the father of contemporary Kabbalah, his teachings being referred to as Lurianic Kabbalah. While his direct literary contribution to the Kabbalistic school of Safed was extremely minute (he wrote only a few poems), his spiritual fame led to their veneration and the acceptance of his authority. The works of his disciples compiled his oral teachings into writing. Every custom of the Ari was scrutinized, and many were accepted, even against the previous practice.
Who was Rabbi Avraham Abulafia?
Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia was the founder of the school of “Prophetic Kabbalah”. He was born in Zaragoza, Spain in 1240 and is assumed to have died sometime after 1291, following a stay on the small and windswept island of Comino, the smallest of the three inhabited islands that make up the Maltese archipelago.
Abulafia’s literary activity spans the years 1271–91 and consists of several books, treatises on grammar, and poems, but amongst which only thirty survive. He wrote many commentaries: three on the Guide of the Perplexed – Sefer ha-Ge’ulah (1273), Sefer Chayei ha-Nefesh, and Sefer Sitrei Torah (1280); on Sefer Yetzirah: – Otzar Eden Ganuz (1285/6), Gan Na’ul, and a third untitled; and a commentary on the Pentateuch – Sefer-Maftechot ha-Torah (1289).
In his later books, Abulafia repeatedly elaborated upon a system of seven paths of interpretation, which he used sometimes in his commentary on the Pentateuch, which starts with the plain sense, includes also an allegorical interpretation, and culminates in interpretations of the discrete letters, the latter conceived of as the path to prophecy. Abulafia developed a sophisticated theory of language, which assumes that Hebrew represents not so much the language as written or spoken as the principles of all languages, namely the ideal sounds and the combinations between them. Thus, Hebrew as an ideal language encompasses all the other languages. In his writings, Abulafia uses Greek, Latin, Italian, Arabic, Tatar, and Basque words for purpose of numerology.