The Kabbalah (also Cabala, Kabala, Qabalah) is system of thought which was originally included in Jewish theosophy, philosophy, science, magic and mysticism. 'Kabbalah' is Hebrew for "that which is received" and refers to a secret oral tradition of teaching which extends from teacher to pupil.
Kabbalah, which is the spelling usually preferred by scholars, specifically refers to oral mystical teaching not normally revealed to the general population, but passed on from the adepts to the initiates.
The term "Kabbalah" itself was first applied to secret mystical teachings in the eleventh century by Iba Gabriol, a Spanish philosopher, and has since become applied to all Jewish mystical practice.
Although the Kabbalah is founded on the Torah, the Jewish scriptures and other sacred writings, it is no intellectual discipline; and the mystic is not to practice it in solitude, but is to employ it to enlighten humanity. The Kabbalist seeks two things: an union with God while maintaining a social, family, and communal life within the framework of traditional Judaism. Those who have adopted the Kabbalistic teachings have modified these latter aims.
In legend God taught the Kabbalah to some angels, who in turn after the Fall taught it to Adam. The Kabbalah was to help humankind to return to God. It then passed to Noah, to Abraham and Moses. Moses included the first four books of the Pentateuch, leaving out Deuteronomy, in the Kabbalah before he initiated seventy Elders into it. The Elders initiated others into it. It is thought that David and Solomon were Kabbalistic adapts. Eventually the oral tradition ended and the knowledge was written down.
Many of the basic ideas and principles found in the Kabbalah are also found in Gnosticism because both were in the Eastern Mediterranean near the time of Christ.
Both attach an importance to knowledge, called the 'gnosis' or the knowledge of God. This knowledge does not come from rational thinking but is inspired by God. As in Gnosticism, sin is not considered to be wrong doing but ignorance which separates humankind from God. The knowledge, specifically the 'gnosis', unites humankind to God--to know God is to be God. Those sharing this 'gnosis' are the elect; they are the enlightened ones who share the knowledge of God, although they may not lead perfect lives.
The Kabbalists share similar goals as did the Gnostics: each group set out to answer the religious paradoxical questions of life. Such as why does the world possess both good and evil characteristics when it was created by a God Who is all good? Why is the world finite when it was created by an infinite God? Similar questions which are asked concerning the world can also be asked of humankind. Of all of the questions concerning God's relationship with the world and humankind, there seems to be one ultimate question: God, by his very nature of being infinite, all good and knowing, seems unknowable; then, how is it possible for humankind to know him?
The Kabbalah seems to serve to answer this question in two ways: the first is in the explanation that every idea contains its own contradiction, and God Who is the sum of all ideas contains all contradictions. Therefore God is both good and evil, just and unjust, merciful and cruel, limitless and limited, unknowable and knowable. All things, which contain their contradictions or opposites, unite to form a greater whole which is God.
From this first answer comes the Kabbalah's second answer which indirectly relates God to the world. God is seen as a mirror from which shines a brilliant light. This brilliant light is then reflected onto a second mirror, then onto a third, then to a fourth, and so on. With each succeeding reflection the light loses some of its brilliancy until when it finally reaches the finite world it shines very dimly.
Within this concept of the reflection of light lies the Kabbalist's theory for the creation of the world. In the begin- ning there was just God, and from himself he sent an emanation, often described as light. From this first emanation evolved nine more, ten in all, called the "sephiroth."
The ancient Kabbalists taught that the brilliant lights of the sephiroth constitute the sacred name of God. Their reasoning was that the sephiroth was the world, or universe, and God is the world. Therefore, the sephiroth are the facets or parts of God, and they also are facets of the universe.
The origin of the Kabbalah centers around a short book titled "Sefer Yetzirah" (Book of Creation). The origin dating of the book is unknown but it is known to have been used in the tenth century, but may have been composed as early as the third century. The book tells that God created the world by the means of thirty-two secret paths of knowledge which are the ten "sephirots" and the twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet. It is believed the ten sephirots were originally thought as referring to numbers but later representing emanations from which the cosmos was formed.
Each of the ten emanations within the sephiroth is called a "sephirot," and together they form what is called the Tree of Life. This Tree is the central image of Kabbalistic meditation; for again, each sephirot describes a certain aspect of God, and taken together as the sephiroth they form the sacred name of God. The Tree also describes the path by which the divine spirit descended into the material world, and the path by which humankind must take to ascend to God.
Another basic teaching shared by Gnosticism and the Kabbalah was that the divine spirit, or the soul, had descended from God and became trapped in the human body or matter. This was a prevalent theory shortly after time of Christ within the Mediterranean area. This and other religious teachings exemplify how such teachings can reflect the beliefs of the peoples of the time.
The first nine sephirots form three triangles with the sephiroth with the tenth sephirot forming the foundation or base. When meditating upon the sephiroth the Kabbalist can concentrate upon any one of the three images which the triangles are said to represent. The images are analogous to God's relationship to humakind and the world. The first triangle represents in impregnation of the female by the male thus creating the world and child, the second triangle represents the development of the world and child, and the third triangle is the adult person or the finished product of the world.
The triangles also depict the human body: the first triangle is the head, the second is the trunk and arms, the third being the legs and reproductive organs which is based on the analogy of the relation between man and God.
An illustration of the sephiroth or Tree of Life is as follows:
Kether, the supreme crown, (God)
Chesed, mercy, greatness
Geburah, strength, rigor
Tiphareth, beauty, harmony
Netzach, victory, force
Malkuth, kingdom (world)
With the help of the sephiroth humankind ascends to God by gaining the meaning of each sephirot one at a time. The accomplishment of ascending from one sephirot to the next is an attainment of knowledge.
Making one's way through the sephiroth is exceedingly difficult. Because each sephirot is said to be divided into four sections that run the Four Worlds that compose the cosmos. They are Aziluth, the world of archetypes, from which come all manifestation of forms; Briah, the world of creation, here the archetypal ideas become patterns; Yetzirah, the world of form, here the patterns are expressed; and Assirah, the material world.
Also within the sephirot is the sacred, unknowable and unspeakable name of God: YHVH (Yahweh), or the Tetragrammaron. The Tetragrammaron is so sacred that other names pertaining to God such as Elohim, Adonai and Jehovah are substituted in scripture for it. The letters YHVH correspond to the Four Worlds.
The second description of the sephiroth pictures the world or universe made up of layers, or outer skins such as surrounding an onion. This was generally how the world was viewed from ancient times to the sixteenth century. God was thought to reside in the outer layer, and things closely related to God were within the next outer layers. The most inner layer of this configuration contained the material world. The spiritual soul of humankind descended from the outer layer, or God, to the inner layer, or the material world.
This onion-skin configuration of the world is definitely shared with Gnosticism whose chief teaching was that the divine spirit was entrapped in matter, especially the soul in humankind. It is only through the attainment of knowledge that the spirit can escape its material confinement.
The Kabbalah, which is based on the theory of the soul's descent from and ascent to God, is made up of ten sephirots instead of nine which is due to the influence of the Pythagorean theory. Earth has a separate sphere to itself. Above this the next seven sephirots correspond to the planets, with the top two corres- ponding to the stars and the Prime Mover or God.
Each sephirot is guarded by angels who determinedly try to turn climbers back on their ascent to God. On the bottom sephirots there are plenty sinister intelligences who can easily trapped a soul in ignorance. The Kabbalist hold that some persons can achieve an union with God even before death.
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