“Kabbalah” (literally “receiving”) is the name given to the realm of Jewish mysticism. Although its origins are rooted in deep antiquity, going back more than four thousand years, for most of history the actual wisdom of Kabbalah remained virtually hidden from humanity, selectively passed down from teacher to student. Today, while the teachings of Kabbalah are available to the masses like never before, the common understanding of Kabbalah is still often full of misconceptions and misinterpretations. So exactly what is the Kabbalah?
Kabbalist Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam) provides the following definition in his article “The Essence of the Wisdom of Kabbalah”: “This wisdom is no more and no less than a sequence of roots, which hang down by way of cause and effect, in fixed, determined rules, interweaving to a single, exalted goal described as, “the revelation of His Godliness to His creatures in this world.”
In other words, there is an all-inclusive power, or “the Creator,” controlling everything in reality. All of Creation’s forces descend from It. The laws of nature are the forces which are familiar to us, however there are various hidden forces at play as well. Kabbalah holds the knowledge of how these hidden forces are structured, and the laws by which they influence us.
Ein Sof and the Sefirot
While codes of Jewish law focus on what it is G-d wants from man, Kabbalah tries to penetrate deeper into G-d’s Himself. According to Kabbalah, the true essence of G-d is so transcendent that it cannot be described, except with reference to what it is not. Hence, in Kabbalah, G-d is often referred to as “Ein Sof”, which means “without end”, or without boundaries in both time and space. This Ein Sof relates to the created Universe through ten emanations, known as the Sefirot. The Sefirot are G-d’s created mechanisms for interacting with the physical world, and it is the Sefirot that make it possible to speak about G-d’s presence in Creation.
In many places in the Torah, it speaks of G-d as if He had human features, “the eyes of G-d”, the “hand of G-d,” etc. Yet we know that G-d has neither body nor form of body. Why then does the Torah use a human description of G-d? The answer is that the Torah speaks in the language of man. G-d uses these terms so we will have a point of reference in understanding how He acts in relationship with the world. G-d has no eyes,but is aware of everything that happens in the world. G-d has no hand, yet His providence guides the world’s destiny. When the Torah tells us that G-d “made man in His image”, it means that man is a microcosm of the Sefirot, with the entire spiritual infrastructure reflected in him. It is this mystical knowledge, when learned and applied in the proper way, that makes Kabbalah such a powerful tool for spiritual transformation, personal and universal.