Kabbalah – Before We Begin
For many years, I had a desire to learn Kabbalah. Like many of you, I headed toward the New Age/Occult/Magick sections of bookstores only to end up frustrated and throwing the book across the room while yelling random curses! Very little was explained and something always seemed as though it was missing. The books seemed for those “in the know” but left out anything and everything for beginners… even while claiming to be a book for beginners! GRRRR!
Then my Grandmother died. I chose to disconnect from the internet to deal with paying her expenses with my limited small income. Before I disconnected, I downloaded many pdf’s… and unknowingly, downloaded quite a few on Kabbalah.
So there I am.
Internetless and browsing thru the pdf’s.
There I see it.
A folder full of stuff on Kabbalah…
Not just Kabbalah, but very very very Traditional Jewish Kabbalah!
I dug in and went OH MY STARS!
Everything that had been missing was right there.
Everything that had been left out of the New Age/Occult/Magick books on Kabbalah was right there.
And that is when I learned something very important. To understand Kabbalah fully one must know the history of Kabbalah. That is your starting place. This will lay the building blocks of your foundation to understanding Kabbalah.
Here comes MY PERSONAL definition.
There are two branches within Kabbalah.
To understand Kabbalah, one must know BOTH since they BOTH work hand-in-hand TOGETHER with a good overview of the HISTORY of Kabbalah!
The logical/rational/intellectual approach tends to LEAVES OUT the esoteric/occult/mystical/magickal.
The esoteric/occult/mystical/magickal approach tends to LEAVES OUT the logical/rational/intellectual.
BOTH APPROACHES ARE NEEDED!
Both sides tends to throw the baby out with the bath water, as the old saying goes. So through out this study, we will attempt to approach learning Kabbalah from BOTH sides to find the middle ground where understanding can grow, and to help us along in our journey.
To begin, let’s start with step #1:
THROW OUT (OR AT LEAST LOCK THEM IN A CHEST FAR, FAR, FAR AWAY FROM YOU) ALL BOOKS ON KABBALAH FROM THE NEWAGE/OCCULT/MAGICKAL WESTERN KABBALISTIC PERSCPECTIVE TEMPORARILY!!!
Let’s learn a little history! Yayyy!
How did Kabbalah begin?
- Ask modern day Western Kabbalists and they will declare that Kabbalah began with Moshe de Leon in Spain and the writing of Zohar.
- Ask a Rabbi and they will say it began with Abraham.
- Ask a historian and they will say, “we don’t know”.
Answer #3 is the most likely answer. The problem revolves around Moshe de Leon. Did he create Kabbalah or did he discover Kabbalah like he claimed? After his death, Rabbi Yitzchak of Acco, went to see the original manuscripts only to be told by de Leon’s widow that it was all a creation of de Leon and he never discovered any old manuscripts.
Rabbi Yitzchak of Acco was a disciple of Ramban, and wanted to confirm what de Leon had sworn under oath…. that the manuscripts were real, and to know if de Leon was pulling a big con job to get money. The story of his visit was written in Sefer HaYuchasin.
Most Rabbi’s AND historians agree that Mrs. de Leon was most likely lying due to her own personal illiteracy.
In that time period (late 1200s to early 1300s), paper was valuable.
Old manuscripts, written on pieces of parchment, etc. could all be sold to be reused or made into kindling for fire. A widow who needed money could have very well sold any paperwork left behind by deceased spouse. Not realizing the paper had real value, it would have been easy for it to have been sold. It was a typical behavior of the time period.
That is what Rabbi’s and historians believe happened in this case, and poor Mrs. de Leon was too embarrassed by the situation to admit what she had done. So she decided to claim it was all a lie.
Everyone BUT Western-based Kabbalists believe this to be the real story behind Moshe de Leon and Kabbalah. AND it is very plausible that this is the real story because there were students of Kabbalah BEFORE, and DURING, the time de Leon allegedly to have created it. Those students had seen the original manuscripts and CONFIRMED that the publication by de Leon WAS those manuscripts! Many Rabbi’s of de Loen’s time was overjoyed to see this book published but also fearful because of the Inquisition and the persecution of the Jews in Spain.
So if de Leon didn’t create the Zohar, who did?
Kabbalah began as an Oral Law within Judaism. Part of the Zohar was written by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi) and called “The First Mishna”. It was written during the 13 year hiding period of Rabbi Shimon and his son from the Roman occupation in a cave.
The remainder of the Zohar was written by various disciples of Rashbi over many, many generations except for one portion written by Rabbi Abba.
Some think that Ramban sent them by his son to de Leon. Others think the manuscripts were hidden in a vault and discovered by an Arabian King who sent to the de Leon to be translated. Others think that they were discovered in Heidelberg by Spanish conquistadors.
The Zohar has had quite a dramatic history!
But why should we care?
Because it gives a basis to understanding the branches. It is through the two branches I mentioned earlier that you will find yourself leaning toward, and becoming a part of one of the many smaller branches within Kabbalah. It also gives a basis for understanding how the branches work, and why they work. Which in turn determines the path you take in Kabbalah. And the added bonus is that you will be able to explain to others about Kabbalah with confidence.
But why should we care!?
Let’s talk two branches.
The logical/rational/intellectual branch says all that stuff prior to de Leon is old school. We’re new school and the new school is theoretical and philosophical. It is about teaching us to become better people and be a better person toward others. It is about the mind, our thinking caps and how to use our thinking caps in much better ways. And since we have NO WAY of knowing God, we can use the tool God gave us – our brain/intellect – to make better choices in life, in the here and now. (Rav. Michael Laitman is a good example for this branch)
The esoteric/occult/mystical/magickal branch says all that stuff prior to de Leon is a gold mine of Oral Law, the Key to unlocking the mysteries of Unity of God as well as how to be a better person, and how to be a better person toward others. It is a treasury of how to get answer to prayer and spiritual grow. It is the bread and butter of Law of Attraction that makes modern day Law of Attraction seem like a jackass! (All the prophets in the Bible, The Golden Dawn, A.E. Waite, Madonna, etc. are good examples of this branch)
Understanding each branch gives us an overview of the whole which allows us to make the best decision possible for the path that we wish to take in Kabbalah.
Westernized Kabbalah IS NOT a bad thing BUT to understand it one must put it away temporarily.
I would highly encourage you to research the history of Kabbalah on your own.
If you have any questions, just ask! 🙂