Kabbalah is an interpretation (exegesis, hermeneutic) key, "soul" of the Torah (Hebrew Bible), or the religious mystical system of Judaism claiming an insight into divine nature.
The term "Kabbalah" was originally used in Talmudic texts, among the Geonim, and by early Rishonim as a reference to the full body of publicly available Jewish teaching. In this sense Kabbalah was used in referring to all of known Oral Law. Over time it became a reference to doctrines of esoteric knowledge concerning God, God's creation of the universe and the laws of nature, and the path by which adult religious Jews can learn these secrets.
Kabbalah, according to the more recent use of the word, stresses the esoteric reasons and understanding of the commandments in the Torah, and the occult cause of events described in the Torah. Kabbalah includes the understanding of the spiritual spheres of creation, and the ways by which God administers the existence of the universe.
According to Jewish tradition dating from the 13th century, this knowledge has come down as a revelation to elect saints from a remote past, and preserved only by a privileged few. It is considered part of the Jewish Oral Law by the majority of religious Jews in modern times, although this was not agreed upon by many Talmudic and medieval scholars, as well as many modern liberal rabbis and a minority of Orthodox rabbis.
The Shining Ones
According to adherents of Kabbalah, the origin of Kabbalah begins with the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible). According to Midrash, God created the universe with "Ten utterances" or "Ten qualities." When read by later generations of Kabbalists, the Torah's description of the creation in the Book of Genesis reveals mysteries about the godhead itself, the true nature of Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life, as well as the interaction of these supernal entities with the Serpent which leads to disaster when they eat the forbidden fruit, as recorded in Genesis 2.
The Bible provides ample additional material for mythic and mystical speculation. The prophet Ezekiel's visions in particular attracted much speculation, as did Isaiah's Temple vision (Chapter 6). Jacob's vision of the ladder to heaven is another text providing an example of a mystical experience. Moses' experience with the Burning bush and his encounters with God on Mount Sinai, are all evidence of mystical events in the Tanakh, and form the origin of Jewish mystical beliefs.
Jewish mystical traditions always appeal to an argument of authority based on antiquity. As a result, virtually all works pseudepigraphically claim or are ascribed ancient authorship. For example, Sefer Raziel HaMalach, an astro-magical text partly based on a magical manual of late antiquity, Sefer ha-Razim, was, according to the kabbalists, transmitted to Adam (after being evicted) by the angel Raziel. Another famous work, the Sefer Yetzirah, supposedly dates back to the patriarch Abraham. According to Apocalyptic literature, esoteric knowledge, such as magic, divination, and astrology, was transmitted to humans in the mythic past by the two angels, Aza and Azaz'el (in other places, Azaz'el and Uzaz'el) who 'fell' from heaven (see Genesis 6:4).
This appeal to antiquity has also shaped modern theories of influence in reconstructing the history of Jewish mysticism. The oldest versions of the Jewish mysticism have been theorized to extend from Assyrian theology and mysticism. Dr. Simo Parpola, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, has made some suggestive findings on the matter, particularly concerning an analysis of the Sefirot. Noting the general similarity between the Sefirot of the Kabbalah and the Tree of Life of Assyria, he reconstructed what an Assyrian antecendent to the Sepiroth would look like.
He matched the characteristics of En Sof on the nodes of the Sepiroth to the gods of Assyria, and was able to even find textual parallels between these Assyrian gods and the characteristics of god. The Assyrians assigned specific numbers to their gods, similar to how the Sepiroth assigns numbers to its nodes. However, the Assyrians use a sexagesimal number system, whereas the Sepiroth is decimal. With the Assyrian numbers, additional layers of meaning and mystical relevance appear in the Sepiroth. Normally, floating above the Assyrian Tree of Life was the god Assur, this corresponds to En Sof, which is also, via a series of transformations, derived from the Assyrian word Assur.
Jewish forms of esotericism did, however, exist over 2,000 years ago. Ben Sira warns against it, saying: "You shall have no business with secret things" (Sirach iii. 22; compare Talmud Hagigah 13a; Midrash Genesis Rabbah viii.).
Apocalyptic literature belonging to the second and first pre-Christian centuries contained some elements that carry over to later Kabbalah. According to Josephus such writings were in the possession of the Essenes, and were jealously guarded by them against disclosure, for which they claimed a hoary antiquity (see Philo, "De Vita Contemplativa," iii., and Hippolytus, "Refutation of all Heresies," ix. 27).
That books containing secret lore were kept hidden away by (or for) the "enlightened" is stated in IV Esdras xiv. 45-46, where Pseudo-Ezra is told to publish the twenty-four books of the canon openly that the worthy and the unworthy may alike read, but to keep the seventy other books hidden in order to "deliver them only to such as be wise" (compare Dan. xii. 10); for in them are the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the stream of knowledge.
Instructive for the study of the development of Jewish mysticism is the Book of Jubilees written around the time of King John Hyrcanus. It refers to mysterious writings of Jared, Cain, and Noah, and presents Abraham as the renewer, and Levi as the permanent guardian, of these ancient writings.
It offers a cosmogony based upon the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and connected with Jewish chronology and Messianology, while at the same time insisting upon the heptad (7) as the holy number rather than upon the decadic (10) system adopted by the later haggadists and the Sefer Yetzirah.
The Pythagorean idea of the creative powers of numbers and letters was shared with Sefer Yetzirah and was known in the time of the Mishnah (before 200 CE).
Early elements of Jewish mysticism can be found in the non-Biblical texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, such as the Song of the Sabbath Sacrifice. Some parts of the Talmud and the midrash also focus on the esoteric and mystical, particularly Chagigah 12b-14b.
Many esoteric texts, among them Hekalot Rabbati, Sefer HaBahir, Torat Hakana, Sefer P'liyah, Midrash Otiyot d'Rabbi Akiva, the Bahir, and the Zohar claim to be from the talmudic era, though it is clear now that some of these works, most notably the Bahir and Zohar, are actually medieval works pseudepigraphically ascribed to the ancient past.
In the medieval era Jewish mysticism developed under the influence of the word-number esoteric text Sefer Yetzirah. Jewish sources attribute the book to the biblical patriarch Abraham, though the text itself offers no claim as to authorship. This book, and especially its embryonic concept of the "sefirot," became the object of systematic study of several mystical brotherhoods which eventually came to be called baale ha-kabbalah - possessors or masters of the Kabbalah".
The Western Esoteric (or Hermetic) Tradition, a precursor to both the neo-Pagan and New Age movements, differs from the Jewish form in being a more admittedly syncretistic system. However it shares many concepts with Jewish Kabbalah.
Hermetic Kabbalah probably reached its peak in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a 19th-century organization that was arguably the pinnacle of ceremonial magic (or, depending upon one's position, its ultimate descent into decadence).
Within the Golden Dawn, Kabbalistic principles such as the ten Sephiroth were fused with Greek and Egyptian deities, the Enochian system of angelic magic of John Dee, and certain Eastern (particularly Hindu and Buddhist) concepts within the structure of a Masonic- or Rosicrucian-style esoteric order. Many of the Golden Dawn's rituals were published by the legendary occultist Aleister Crowley and were eventually compiled into book form by Israel Regardie, an author of some note. The credibility of Crowley is inconsistent at best, though, as many of the rituals published were actually manipulated versions.
Crowley made his mark on the use of Kabbalah with several of his writings; of these, perhaps the most illustrative is Liber 777. This book is quite simply a set of tables relating various parts of ceremonial magic and Eastern and Western religion to thirty-two numbers representing the ten spheres and twenty-two paths of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.
The attitude of syncretism embraced by Hermetic Kabbalists is plainly evident here, as one may simply check the table to see that Chesed "Mercy" - corresponds to Jupiter, Isis, the color blue (on the Queen Scale), Poseidon, Brahma, and amethysts. These associations are not shared with the Jewish Kabbalah.
Although popular within certain groups, especially the Thelemic Orders such as the O.T.O., Crowley is not without critics. Dion Fortune, a fellow initiate of the Golden Dawn, disagreed with Crowley. Samael Aun Weor has many significant works that discuss Kabbalah within many religions, such as the Egyptian, Pagan, and Central American religions, which is summarized in his work The Initiatic Path in the Arcana of Tarot and Kabbalah.
Fiction -- Umberto Eco's 1989 novel Foucault's Pendulum weaves Kaballistic concepts into an imagined global conspiracy involving Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, druidism, and the Knights Templar. The book's ten sections are named after the ten Sefiroth.
Many people are studying Kabbalah as they search for healing and answers to the questions ... Who are we, why are we here, and what is the transition humanity and the planet is experiencing?
The Kabala is presented, symbolically in the form of The Tree of Life.
The Tree contains ten centers called sephiroth. In a numerological sense, the Tree of Sephiroth has significance. Between the 10 Sephiroth run 22 channels or paths which connect them, a number which can be associated with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
In addition to each of this channels being assigned a letter of this alphabet, each path is also identified with one of the major trumps of the Tarot deck of symbolic cards. When combined with the 10 Sephiroth, these 22 paths make the number 32 which makes reference to the 32 Qabbalistic Paths of Wisdom and also the 32 degrees of Freemasonry.
To envision the tree, consider each of these ten spheres as being concentric circles with Malkuth being the innermost and all others encompassed by the latter. None of these are separate from the other, and all simply help to form a more complete view of the perfected whole.
To speak simply, Malcuth is the Kingdom which is the physical world upon which we live and exist, while Kether, also call Kaether and Kaether Elyson is the Crown of this universe, representing the highest attainable understanding of God that men can understand.
Hypothetically there also exists an Eleventh Sephirah called Daath. According to Karen Chapdelaine, its meaning is the Abyss and its universal element is Neptune which makes it an important element of the Tree of Sephiroth.
It should be noted, however, that the first Qabbalists did not include any such sphere, making Daath a contested point of philosophical discussion. The Jewish Kabbalists that do accept this entity state that it is not a Sephirah, but rather that absence of one. In the Jewish tradition, the idea of an eleventh Sephirah is tantamount to blasphemy, as stated in the Sefer Yetzirah: "Ten Sephirot of Nothingness, ten and not nine, ten and not eleven."
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