Wide Free Shipping !
> A Brief History Of Kabbalah
A Brief History of Beginning
By Rabbi Sinai Julian
Three and a half thousand
years ago an event occurred in an empire at the edge of Afrika that would have a major impact on the lives of every single human
being that has lived since and will yet live on Earth.
The Creator of
the Universe gave three million newly freed slaves from the corrupt Egyptian civilization
of the time a glimpse of His infinite reality.
The three million terrified
former slaves, known as the Hebrews, begged their leader Moshe to intercede on
their behalf since it was inconceivable to them that they could possibly survive
the slavery. The Creator consented and Moshe proceeded up Mount Sinai,
where he received the Torah straight from The Holy One, Blessed Be He.
The Torah thus became Hashem's direct communication with the People of Israel
and through them to the rest of the world.
What Moshe brought down in
physical form was a written text divided into Five Books. He also brought with
him two other vitally precious treasures.
The first was an oral explanation
of how to perform and integrate into our lives the Commandments (mitzvoth)
enumerated in the written Torah. This was passed down through the generations
as The Oral Tradition and survives to the present day as The Talmud.
The second treasure was the key that unlocks the deepest mysteries of underlying
metaphysical truths about the nature of Creation and The Infinite Creator, hidden
in the words and the very letters of the Written Torah.
This key was
also passed down through the generations, but only to a restricted chosen few
in each generation. These spiritual giants, who exist in every generation, preserved
that which gradually over the centuries they refined and revealed through the
written word. Their efforts brought forth more than three thousand texts in print
alone, which today comprise that which is collectively known as "Kabbalah." (Hundreds
more exist in manuscript form in private collections and libraries scattered throughout
The Kabbalah has been compared by many to the modern science
of physics. What physics attempts to do is to explain the substance of the universe
(i.e. Creation) and how it works. It is both a theoretical science and a practical
The science of Kabbalah also explains the basic nature of Creation
and has two aspects as well - one theoretical and the other practical. Not surprisingly,
most of the discoveries being made in Physics today coincide with what we already
know from Kabbalah.
The word "Kabbalah" itself comes from the Hebrew
root word "kabal" which means "receive". The implication is that the knowledge
of the Kabbalah is "received" by the scholars of each generation from those of
the previous generation, reaching all the way back to the original "receiving"
by Moshe at Mt. Sinai from G-d Himself. The Mishna says that "… Moshe transmitted
it (the Torah) to Joshua, Joshua passed it on to the Elders of Israel, the Elders
transmitted it to the Prophets, the Prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly,
Moshe, being the master of all prophets that he was, understood
the Torah completely. He was the perfect vessel to receive the complete knowledge
contained within the Torah, including its deepest mysteries. Thus, the Mishna
in Tractate Avot (Fathers) says that "Moshe Kibel (received) Torah" because he
was the original mold from which all future prophets were to be formed. His was
a complete and perfect kabbalah of the prophetic message from The
In the Book of Numbers (27:20) it says that when Moshe handed
over the reins of leadership to Joshua, G-d told Moshe to "Invest him (Joshua)
with your spirit…." Therefore when it says that he "…transmitted it to Joshua,
etc.", the Sages of the Talmud explain that Moshe gave Joshua the necessary methods
and disciplines for entering into a prophetic state; the "keys" for acquiring
-- "receiving" -- prophecy. This is the tradition of Kabbalah.
the ensuing period of the Prophets, the secrets of Kabbalah were guarded by the
Master Prophets of each generation and taught to a select few disciples. With
the closing of the period of the Prophets about to come to an end as the destruction
of the First Holy Temple drew near, the prophet Ezekiel was shown a fantastic
vision called "Ma'aseh Merkava" (the Workings of the Chariot). In
this powerfully intense vision, Ezekiel is shown (and thereby we as well) the
secrets of The Creation or, in other words, the Kabbalah.
words are words of mystery and hardly understandable to the uninitiated, it is
the first time that these secrets were committed to ink and parchment. In Tractate
Chagiga in the Talmud, the Sages of Blessed Memory instruct that,
Merkava may be taught only to individual students one at a time and
they must be wise, understanding with their own knowledge."
Roman Conquest and the ensuing destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Holy Temple,
continued the long exile and dispersion until this day.
that there was a great danger that the Oral Tradition (including Kabbalah) could
be lost with the scattering of the Jewish People, it became apparent to the Sages
that it would have to eventually be committed to writing.
Under the leadership
of Rabban Yochanon ben Zakai, the Sages began to gather and consolidate all the
accumulated Oral Torah knowledge.
In the year 130 C.E. the Jews of Eretz
Yisrael could no longer tolerate the outrages perpetrated by the Roman oppressor
and rebelled. With Rabbi Akiva as the spiritual inspiration and Simon Bar Kochba
as the military leader, the Jews actually succeeded in expelling the Romans. For
three years the Land was free. But it was not to last.
The Romans returned
and ruthlessly re-conquered the Jewish Homeland, this time setting out to completely
eradicate all trace of this bothersome stubborn people. The land of the Jews,
Judea, was renamed Palestine after the ancient Philistines.
As the Romans
re-conquered every town and village they rounded up all the Jewish residents brought
them to the coast and put them on any boat to come along to be sent to wherever
in Empire the boat happened to be going. In addition, the study of Torah and the
performance of its mitzvos became forbidden in the Land of Israel but not elsewhere
in the Roman Empire. Living life as a Jew was easier elsewhere than in the Land
of Israel itself. Thus was the scattering of the Jewish People complete.
As a result of these persecutions the Oral Tradition brought down to the Jewish
nation from Mt. Sinai, in particular the Kabbalah tradition, was in danger of
being forgotten or, even worse, changed and twisted to accommodate the perceived
needs of every local community of Jews.
To preserve Jewish identity and
survival as a people at all the Oral Tradition would have to be consolidated,
organized and written down. Rabbi Akiva started the process of consolidation and
organizing. He wrote down his "received" tradition and gave it the name "Sefer
Yetzira" (Book of Formation).
Three other main pillars of
the Kabbalah were also committed to writing during this period of persecution,
violence and upheaval; Sefer Bahir (Book of Illumination) by Rabbi
Nehunia ben Hakanah, Pirkei Hekhalot Rabatai (The Greater Book of
Divine Chambers) by Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha and The
Zohar (The Book of Splendor) by Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi).
Zohar, in particular, became the primary source for the study of theoretical
Kabbalah. It was said to have been revealed to Rashbi by the Prophet Elijah while
Rashbi and his son were hiding from Roman persecution in a cave for thirteen years.
When it became clear that it was safe to emerge, Rashbi and his son established
a school of Torah with the main emphasis on the closely guarded Secrets the of
Torah (i.e. Kabbalah). This school survived for many years after the death of
Rashbi and seventy years later, his disciples and students wrote down his most
important teachings which then became the main body of what eventually was called
For more than a thousand years, what we today call
Zohar consisted of volumes of notes and writings handed down from
the Rashbi and his disciples and kept from the general public by a small secret
society of Talmudic scholars which through the years had grown from the original
school of the Rashbi.
Finally in the mid-Thirteenth Century CE, one of
the greatest Kabbalists of all time, Rabbi Moshe de Leon had the privilege and
task of editing and finally publishing The
Zohar as we know it today. Enough was already known of Zoharic
literature by the great scholars of the time that it gained acceptance
as a valid understanding of Torah with few objections.
Since the publication
of the Zohar,
two other periods of Jewish history have produced major developments in our understanding
In the sixteenth century CE, the city of Zefat in northern
Israel became a magnet for great rabbis and scholars of Kabbalah. The greatest
among them was a young and brilliant scholar born in to Ashkenazi parents in Jerusalem
and sent to live with his uncle in Egypt where he was taught by the famous Torah
scholar, R. Bezalel Ashkenazi, author of the Shita Mekubetzet.
The young genius' name was R. Yitzhchak Luria, also known as the "Ari" (acronym
for Adoneinu Rabbi Yitzchak). After years of study and seclusion in Egypt, he
was told in a dream by Elijah the Prophet that his time was limited and he needed
to go to the Land of Israel to give over what he had learned. In 1569 CE he arrived
in the holy city of Tzfat and within a short time gathered around himself an illustrious
circle of disciples who included R. Yosef Caro, author of the Shulchan Aruch,
and R. Chaim Vital.
At the time of the Ari's arrival in Zefat. Chaim
Vital was already well known and respected as a great scholar of Torah and its
secrets. Upon meeting the Ari for the first time, the Ari said that his whole
purpose in learning and teaching was so that Chaim Vital would learn from him
and become his disciple. And so it was. Over the next two years the Ari spoke
volumes and Chaim Vital took copious notes. In those two short years the Ari managed
to transfer to his devoted disciple the entire wealth of his knowledge, creating
a revolution in Jewish thought that has reverberated throughout the Jewish world
to this very day.
Upon his sudden passing in 1572 CE, the Ari confered
onto his beloved disciple, R. Chaim Vital, the momentous task of organizing and
codifying all he had been taught.
The Ari's brilliant understanding of
the Zohar and all the rest of the Kabbalah, set forth by R. Chaim
Vital, made it more accessible than ever before. Through his genius he had been
able to systematize and create a context for the esoteric knowledge found in the
Zohar and all the other metaphysical works of Torah.
the Lurianic system of Kabbalah is by and large the accepted way of understanding
the secrets of Torah.
One more major development in Kabbalah is worthy
of mention in such a short essay such as this; the advent of the Chassidic movement
in the early 18th century. Founded by the charismatic and spiritual giant Israel
ben Eliezer, known as the Ba'al Shem Tov, Chassidism took the Lurianic knowledge
of Torah and applied it to the way a Jew needs to live his/her life.
Chassidism takes the esoteric knowledge unleashed by the Ari and applies it to
the way one must view life and serve HaShem through the observance of the mitzvos
(commandments) given to us in the Torah.
The most profound expression
of this is to be found in the Chassidic masterpiece and foundational work popularly
known as the Tanya,
authored by the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi.
The writing and publication of the Tanya
was a monumental spiritual and intellectual accomplishment that has had worldwide
impact on the Jewish world. It remains to this day one of the most influential
spiritual guides ever produced, translating the unfathomable mysteries of Kabbalah
into a practical guide for the average Jew for living every day.
more than ever before, the sacred world of Kabbalah is of central importance in
our day-to-day lives. Through the works of the Chassidic Masters, Kabbalah provides
a practical guide for living. As a description of G-d's physical creation, with
modern discoveries in physical sciences corroborating with increasing frequency
accepted ancient truths revealed to us in Kabbalah, it has become the ultimate
tool for understanding G-d's world and the true meaning of Torah as G-d's revelation
to His world. Combined with the learning and doing of the Torah's Mitzvot, The
Way of Kabbalah will bring the final redemption and the coming of the Holy Messiah,
may it happen speedily in our days.