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What is Kabbalah

Author: Lena Santos

Kabbalah can be interpreted and explained in different ways. The differences can be attributed to the point of perspective of the author, his religion and/or his belief. Kaballah is quite difficult to categorize since its philosophy cannot be verified and not based on historic fact.

Kabbalah is believed to have developed in Babylonia, Spain, Italy and Provence between the 6th and 13th centuries AD among Jews. Kabbalah means “to receive” referring to God’s revelation to Jews. The revelations were not written down but were passed on through succeeding generations through narratives. Kaballah used to be part of mainstream Judaism but later on applied to a select few who were believed to have been given the secret knowledge to interpret the true meaning of the Hebraic Scriptures or the Christians’ Old Testament.

Kabbalah is part of Jewish mysticism. Mysticism is not really a new concept for it has been part of every known belief or religious affiliation. If Judaism has Kabbalah, the Christians have Christian mysticism; the Islam has Sufims; Hinduism has Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism. Mysticism is perceived to be a departure from mainstream religions and that practitioners and believers of such are more “enlightened”.

Kabbalah is an offshoot of Judaism. Its philosophy is based on the speculative character or nature of divinity, the origin and fate of the human soul, the creation and man’s role in the universe. Mysticism has been a part of Judaism. Visitations by angels, prophesies, visions and dreams as expressed in the Torah are considered mystical experiences by some Jews. There are Jews who believe that there are parts in the Talmud where hints (vague as they may be) of a school for the mystics taught only to the most advanced student. Even today, only Jews who have undergone extensive studies of the Torah and Talmud can begin to study the mystic Kabbalah. On the other hand, non-Jews have studied and embraced the principles and concept of Kabbalah for centuries, even before Kabbalah has taken a more “popular” route when celebrities started to “practice” the philosophy.

Kabbalah claims to adhere and inspired by the Scripture but in reality it does not search for the plain and simple truths of the Scripture. Kabbalah is all about “magic” and mysticism. It is subjective and uses methods such as numerology in trying to find hidden meanings to suit one’s teachings and beliefs. This is the Kabbalah that has been distorted and warped for centuries by occultists and mystics.

The occultists and mystics are not limited to Jews. During the Renaissance period there were many “enlightened” Christians who took Kabbalah (Hermetic Kabbalah) out of its context and re-interpreted its doctrine to fit their Christian belief. Early Christians, also, were not able to reconcile with only one God that they started the sainthood route for more idols to pray to and intercede for them to God. The Age of Enlightened happened for one, because of the many rituals and traditions practiced by the Roman Catholic that went against the teaching of the Bible. On the other hand mystical symbols of Kaballah were taken out of its perspective and used in reading tarot cards, magic and divination that were not originally part of Jewish Kaballah. The “Hollywood” Kabbalah borrows the language, symbols, traditions and superstitions of the Jewish Kabbalah but its teaching are not from authentic Jewish sources.

What then is Kabbalah? For Judaism Kabbalah the main thrust is that of the concept of God as Ein Sof, the Ten Sefirot and the tree of life. In Kabbalah God is above all things and that its concept is beyond description. Ein Sof (without end) is the true essence of God. True, God, even in Abrahimic religions, is everlasting. This would mean that God is not bounded by time and space. In Christianity, God is omnipresent and omniscient and omnipotent. In Jewish Kabbalah, the Ein SOF has no direct contact with the universe but connects and interacts with the universe through the Ten Sefirot.

The Ten Sefirot is both feminine and masculine attributes of God. They are as follows in descending order.

  • Keter- the crown

  • Chokhmah – wisdom

  • Binah- understanding and intuition

  • Chesed – mercy

  • Gedulah- greatness

  • Tiferet- glory

  • Netzach – victory

  • Hod – majesty

  • Yesod – foundation

  • Malkut – sovereignty

It is worth to note that the five of the qualities are mentioned in the 1 Chronicles 29:11- Yours, O Lord, is the greatness (gedulah), the strength (gevurah), the glory (tiferet), the power (netzach), and the splendor (hod).

The Ten Sefirot is not 10 separate entities but is the different attributes of God. The Sefirot is commonly represented by the Kabbalah Tree of Life. Emphasis is given to the placement of these attributes in the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. The Ten Sefirot is believed to connect with all of universe including man. It is believed that every bad or good thing that we do reflects on the Sefirot which eventually affects the universe, man and God.

Kabbalist have sprung up like mushrooms. They are people from different religious backgrounds who have found their “calling”. Kabbalah is esoteric but that could be questioned for there are a lot of distorted kabbalah movements today. It may still be esoteric but a group claiming to be adherents of Kabbalah actually “preaches “ the philosophy of Deepak Chopra.

Is Kabbal Bibiical? Since there are no written or historical reference to Kabbal in the Torah and the Bible, the concept of Kabbal is akin of New Age philosophy with a twist.

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