Monday, September 26, 2005


Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, The Cave, The Zohar

From Lag B’Omer site

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was a student of Rabbi Akiva, who was the spiritual leader of the Bar Kochba Revolt against Rome in 135 CE, which began in glory and ended in tragedy.

His teacher was one of the four great Sages who entered the "Pardes," the "Orchard" (an intellectual pursuit of esoteric knowledge) who probed the depths of Kabbalah, and came out mentally and spiritually whole. Clearly, Rabbi Akiva was the recipient of a living tradition which he passed on orally to his beloved student, Rabbi Shimon.
As a student of the spiritual leader of the revolt, bar Yochai was pursued relentlessly by the Romans. He and his son, Rabbi Elazar ben Shimon, took refuge in a cave, where they remained for thirteen years.
In the Cave During those years, Rabbi Shimon studied Torah with his son, the Revealed Torah and the Hidden, or Secret, Torah, the "Torat HaSod," also known as "Kabbalah," and translated, or mistranslated as "Jewish Mysticism."
Rabbi Shimon wrote down the latter material, for the first time, in a book called the "Zohar," meaning "Splendor" or "Radiance."
The first time Rabbi Shimon came out of the cave, he was completely "out of tune" with the people of his generation. He observed Jews farming the land, and engaged in other normal pursuits, and made known his disapproval, "How can people engage themselves in matters of this world and neglect matters of the next world?"
Whereupon a Heavenly Voice was heard, which said "Bar Yochai, go back to the cave! You are no longer fit for the company of other human beings."
Rabbi Shimon went back to the cave, reoriented his perspective to some extent, and emerged again. This time, he was able to interact with the people of his generation, and become a great teacher of Torah, the Revealed and the Hidden.


What Kabbalah is and Isn't


Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

In order to understand what Kabbalah is and what it isn't, let us use the following illustration.

The kabbalist describes the abstract but we can still sense that there is a concrete and solid reality that he is grappling with.

A researcher sits in his lab examining all sorts of atomic phenomena. He smashes atoms at great speeds, and records what he sees happening. He is very meticulous in his work, and may even draw some immediate conclusions from the data at hand. But he leaves it at that.
A great scientist picks up these notes, reads them and ponders their meaning. He begins to construct a mega-picture. He tries to envision what the entire system may be like. He knows that there are no instruments, nor can there be, to actually see the particles he imagines, and therefore he gropes for metaphors that will accurately connect the bits of data that the physicist collected. Thus, he begins to speak of "super strings," "atomic tunnels," "energy bridges," and "ten dimensions."

A third person, who has a highly fertile mind but with no sense of science, is eavesdropping. His imagination has been fired and, in no time at all, he is carrying forth about people that have mysteriously disappeared in "atomic tunnels," and unlimited sources of energy contained in various of the "ten dimensions."

These three people illustrate the different approaches to Kabbalah.

The "data" or facts that Kabbalah deals with are the narrative of the Torah, and its entire body of religious law. The "researcher" represents a person who sees the laws and narrative as they are, understands their immediate meaning, but does not get the larger picture.

The "great scientist" represents the Kabbalist who sees the various local points and then begins to get a feel for the greater picture. He needs metaphors to describe the abstract unity he perceives, and he is aware that this tool is likely to be vague and only approaching the understanding that he has acquired. Although limited by the tools at his disposal, the complex picture the great scientist communicates can still give us a sense of the reality that he is grappling with.

And then there is the pseudo-Kabbalist -- "the eavesdropper" -- whose Kabbalah is basically unrelated to Torah, except perhaps as a springboard for his imagination. He has discovered "sources of energies," "divine emanations," and ways to "expand consciousness," but it all stems from his fanciful illusions.


Kabbalah is to Torah what philosophy is to science.

Like science, the Torah gives us the facts that are fully perceived sensually and rationally quantifiable.

Like philosophy, Kabbalah gives us the grander abstract picture that the facts present.


What IS Kabbalah?

by Rabbi Yonah

The Kabbalah is not a Mapquest.

Kabbalah is not one methodical way to a knowledge of God and the Universe. Kabbalah refers to many different traditions, wisdoms, beliefs, and practices that have informed Jewish life for thousands of years.

The word “Kabbalah” comes from the Hebrew root which means “to receive.” The many books, teachings, practices, and beliefs that together constitute the kabbalah was once a very secret ancient knowledge. It originated with the given of the Oral and Written traditions a Sinai.

Kabbalah is intrinsically part of a greater collective Jewish knowledge and wisdom, and cannot be separated from the Torah.

Learning of Kabbalah was generally preceded by expertise in Jewish knowledge, the Torah, Talmud, Midrash, Halacha, etc.

Kabbalah was a part of ALL streams of Jewish life, from Sephardic to Ashkenazi, from German to Lithuanian. From Turkey to Spain, from Iran to Egypt.

In the 18th century Chasidic Master, the Baal Shem Tov, opened the world of Kabbalah to unlearned, yet pious Jews.

One of the most studied texts of Kabbalah today is the Tanya, which has acceptance among all streams of Chasidic Jews. This is followed by the Zohar, the Sefer Yetzira, and others.

Today, in a world that is more fractured, and Jewish groups strive for relevance, many turn to Kabbalistic teachings.

The real Kabbalah can only be truly known within a pious life that is guided by the basic Jewish principles as set out in the Torah. Nonetheless, many lessons from Kabbalah are available to all of us.



Hello and Shalom!

Thank you for checking out the Kabbalah and Madonna Blog. It was a pleasure to meet you all and I look forward to your questions, ideas, and comments.

I will be posting notes, and links and other such stuff. Also I may include some random things just for kicks.

Wishing you a very happy Rosh Hashanah and a sweet New Year.

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