What Is Kabbalah?

Kabbalah isn't for everyone. But it can help those who are interested explore spirituality, God, the afterlife, and more.

The Talmud [the compilation of Jewish oral law and scripture commentary] has a famous story about four great sages who entered "the orchard," a metaphor to describe a mystical experience, in which they sent their souls "to the heavens" to gaze on the celestial spheres. As a result of this intense experience, the Talmud tells us, one of the sages died, one became insane, one became a heretic, and only Rabbi Akiva walked away whole.

It was the Talmud's way of warning us that over-involvement with mysticism is dangerous. Its esoteric knowledge isn't for everybody. For that very reason, the teachings of Jewish mysticism are known as Kabbalah, literally "received." These ideas were only to be received by direct word of mouth from master to disciple so that the one who transmits its information could be certain of the worthiness and the emotional maturity of the one receiving it.

In time, it was even suggested that there is a minimum age requirement for receiving this secret knowledge: No one under the age of 40 was permitted entry into the club of kabbalistic students.

QUOTABLE
"Salt adds flavor to food, though it is not itself a food. The same is true of the Kabbalah. In itself it is hardly comprehensible, and it is tasteless, but it adds flavor to the Torah."
-- Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Lyadi (1747-1813), founder of the Lubovitch movement

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Just a little before the year 1300, in Spain, a book made its appearance that for the first time revealed some of the mysteries of this tradition. Its authorship is unclear. Some claim it was penned by the second-century Palestinian teacher, Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai, a kabbalist who lived in a cave as a hermit for 13 years, and who hid his work from public view until it was miraculously discovered many centuries later. Others believe that the man responsible for "revealing" the book, the Spanish Kabbalist Moses de Leon was in fact the author.

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