Questions & Answers about Kabbalah
By Gahl Sasson
Edited by Steve Weinstein
What is Kabbalah?
Kabbalah is an ancient spiritual system designed to create harmony and balance in the individual as well as the universe. It allows us to communicate with and receive messages, Light and sustenance from the divine. Kabbalah elucidates the world both seen and unseen. It provides answers to the questions of how and why we are here. The guiding principles of Kabbalah simultaneously explain and orchestrate the birth of the universe and every process of creation, large or small, that you can name.
Kabbalah views the creation of the cosmos not as a single episode that happened way back when, but as a continual process or dance between the divine and all sentient beings. And once we decide to join in this everlasting dance, all the possibilities of the universe magically open up to us. Kabbalah transmits recipes to create our lives exactly as we wish them. It teaches us that the same spiritual framework that God used to fashion the cosmos can be employed by anyone to construct any project, work of art, business success or personal relationship.
According to Kabbalah, we are not subject to our karma, but we can actually transcend it. By balancing and improving our thoughts, emotions, actions, and material situations through the tools and lessons of Kabbalah, we can actually rectify (Tikkun in Hebrew) our karma and our lives, our fellow human beings, and the rest of creation. That is our job. That is why we are here. And when we recognize our true purpose and harness the teachings of Kabbalah to our daily lives, we inevitably create more peace, treasure, and happiness for ourselves and all those around us.
What does the word Kabbalah mean?
In Hebrew, Kabbalah means “to receive” or “to accept.” This spiritual system teaches us how to receive more light and spiritual energy from God so that we can share it with others. Kabbalah aims to make us all conductors or cables of Light (the word cable in Latin and eventually English actually derives from the same Hebrew root that makes up the word Kabbalah). At heart, Kabbalah explores the balance between reception (the feminine forces or in Chinese the Yin) and action or giving (the masculine forces or Yang). For most human beings, harmonizing these primary archetypes is always a challenge. When should we adopt the strategy of the go-getter and run around, make appointments, send out resumes, promote ourselves, expand our business, discipline our kids, travel and write checks for goods and charities? In other words, when should we extend ourselves to world and take action? And, on the other hand, when should we simply relax, let go, meditate, dream and have faith that we will receive what we need? Kabbalah instills strategies we can implement in our everyday lives to balance these two fundamental forces of human nature. It shares this core emphasis with spiritual systems from all over the globe. The Taoists, for example, instruct that the balance between the Yin and Yang leads to the Way, while Kundalini Yoga employs breath and poses to harmonize the masculine pingala and feminine ida—the dual energy tracks that mark the path of the Kundalini serpent. Native American tradition, meanwhile, honors a metaphoric ideal called the Pollen Path, in which the red masculine energies conjoin with the blue feminine forces to form the yellow path of enlightenment and balance.
An alternate definition of Kabbalah is “to accept.” Kabbalists understand that everything that occurs in our lives and in the world is part of necessity—or that which needs to happen. All that comes to us, whether it is good or what we perceive to be bad, is part of the great scheme of things. Kabbalah helps us to accept everything—our strengths and good fortune as well as our imperfections and mishaps. And through this acceptance, Kabbalah posits, we move another step closer to understanding both our circumstances and the purpose of our lives. The simple act of swimming in the ocean serves as a good example of this Kabbalistic axiom. You dive in knowing where you want to swim and you actively propel yourself in that direction. But at the same time, you must be open to accepting the influence of the ocean’s currents. Fighting and gnashing against obstacles or the unforeseen often defeats our true goal. Accomplished navigators understand that sometimes the fastest course between two ports requires them to take a ride on the strong currents of the sea, even if that means floating further from their destination for a while.
Where did Kabbalah come from?
Well, no one knows. Like chess, Tarot and other marvels on earth, the absolute origin of Kabbalah is lost in time, space and mythology. Many Kabbalists believe that the basics of this spiritual system originated on the muddy banks of the Nile in Ancient Egypt, and that Moses then transported the knowledge in the Exodus in an effort to build a new and more enlightened society. Jewish mystics through the centuries proceeded to practice and codify Kabbalah as a branch of Judaism that aimed to answer existential questions that were not addressed by the regulations and rituals of Torah and organized religion. To avoid persecution from the orthodoxy, these Kabbalists often trained in secret or presented their teachings as esoteric interpretations of the Bible. (Throughout history, spiritual and esoteric sects like the Muslim Sufis and Christian Gnostics have been similarly hunted by the entrenched powers of their religions.) Most scholars then point to a reformation in theological thought during the 12th and 13th Centuries that incorporated the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle as well as new scientific ways of looking at the world. Judaism, especially in the writings on Kabbalah, embraced many of these modern philosophies, and in the process served to upgrade and universalize the creed.
The traditional creation story of Kabbalah relates that Adam “received” the wisdom of Kabbalah after the fall from Eden as a manual that explained how to get back to heaven. (Yes, self-help books are the first known literary material). He then passed it to his sons and on down the generations until it reached Abraham, the father of monotheism and the three great religions of the West. Some Kabbalists believe that Abraham wrote the first Kabbalistic book called Sefer Yetzirah (the Book of Formation). Moses is said to have received (Kibel in Hebrew, from the same root as Kabbalah) the entirety of Kabbalah directly from God on Mount Sinai. This spiritual wisdom was then transmitted orally through countless generations of brilliant and eccentric rabbis. Finally, the 13th Century Spanish scholar, Moshe de Leon, collated and elucidated the bulk of these teachings in a multi-volume classic called the Zohar or The Book of Splendor, which is considered to be the preeminent book in the canon of Kabbalistic literature.
Is Kabbalah only for Jews?
This is similar to the question: does Yoda and his teaching belong to George Lukas? Well, he did write the character and he did conceptualize the Star War trilogy, but the entity Yoda has roots in other realms. You can say that Gorge Lukas channeled Yoda and the Force from some higher more pure source. Yoda's teachings can be found in Taoism, Samurai's wisdom and many other ancient doctrines. As for Kabbalah and Judaism. It is true that Kabbalah was written by Jews and kept alive by the sacrifice of many Jewish scholars, but the roots of Kabbalah transcends time and space, as well as nationality. Its root is with the One. Spirituality is synonymous with unity, oneness and love. Insisting that yoga is reserved for Indians, Christ for Christians, and Taoism for the Chinese alone undermines the message at the heart of these magnificent systems. In the Golden Age of Spain (the 12th to 14th Centuries), Christians, Muslims and Jews interacted routinely and fertilized each other’s cultures, rituals and ideas. Science and philosophy grew like wild flowers after heavy winter rains. In this open society, the spiritual truths that enriched and benefited one group also enriched and benefited all. For example, Pico della Mirandola re-interpreted Kabbalah using Christian theosophy and symbols. Christian Kabbalah became known as Cabala. The Renaissance in Europe also influenced the study and evolution of Kabbalah. In Elizabethan England, Francis Bacon mastered Cabala and spread the knowledge among his fellow philosophers. Kabbalah was also integral to the work and tenets of the Free Masons, who built their Masonic temples according to the original blueprint of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. They also employed Hebrew words, chants and Kabbalistic talismans in their architecture and rituals. Other non-Jews that studied and advanced Kabbalistic thought included Meister Eckehart, Raymond Lully, Lorenzo de Medici, Cornelius Agrippa, Guilliam Postel (who translated the Zohar and Sefer Yitzerah into Latin), Jacob Boehme and William Blake. Every alchemical book, written by Muslim, Christian or Jew, contained Hebrew words and Kabalistic symbols. The philosophies of alchemy and Kabbalah eventually became nearly synonymous within the world of Hermetic mysteries. But having said that it is important to keep in mind that Kabbalah was preserved to our present day by thousands of Jews that risked their life and the life of their families to give us this beautiful healing modality.
Why is Kabbalah associated with Magic and spells?
Kabbalah became famous in the Middle Ages for its ability to manifest objects from thin air. Many contend that Jesus of Nazareth himself was a brilliant Kabbalist, whose ability to exorcise demons, transform water into wine and heal lepers emerged from his mastery of the secrets of Kabbalah. The notorious legend of the Golum tells of Eastern European mystics animating an artificial intelligence from mud. Even the magician’s word ABRACADABRA comes from Aramaic—the root language of Hebrew that was spoken by Christ and the language used in most Kabalistic texts. Abracadabra translates to “I will create that which I speak.” But Kabbalah of today isn’t about black Lodges, invoking demons, or planting curses on others. Instead, Kabbalah supplies the tools for the personal magic of growth and fulfillment. Kabbalah grants us the capacity to fulfill our wishes and transform the potential (our ideas or dreams) into actualities (physical stuff). Kabbalah helps us to practice mind over matter—or better still, imagination over matter.
How could it help me?
The benefits of studying and most importantly applying the principles of Kabbalah in daily life are as infinite as the thoughts in your head. Kabbalah enables anyone to bring a state of healthy equilibrium into his or her life. Kabbalah teaches us how to accept life’s course—to flow or dance with the challenges and circumstances that we confront rather than to fight and complain. Kabbalah can help you to fulfill your dreams. Kabbalah can help you to manifest what you need in order to receive more light and then share it. Kabbalah can improve your relationships. Kabbalah can augment your health. Kabbalah can bolster your outlook. Kabbalah can help you to become more compassionate and loving. Kabbalah can enhance your ability to meditate and amplify your intuition. This practical down-to-earth system grants you the capacity to live the life you’ve always wanted to live—the life that you deserve. Kabbalah also provides an elaborate bank of symbols that will help you to interpret signs, synchronicities and dreams. Kabbalah does to the Universe what psychoanalysis does to the human psyche. It offers a framework that explains the meaning of existence as it unfolds before your eyes. Some call Kabbalah the Yoga of the West. In short, it is a comprehensive and universal doctrine designed to help anyone create health, abundance, creativity, peace, and joy.
What is the Tree of Life?
The Tree of Life is the oldest and most important symbol in Kabbalah. It functions as a spiritual organizer that contains the entire cosmos in one diagram. Designed, interpreted and used by mystics for thousands of years, this living blueprint of the energies of the universe consists of ten spheres and twenty-two paths that connect them. The spheres radiate as symbolic representations of ten distinct archetypal forces: Will, Wisdom, Understanding, Compassion, Judgment, Love, Relationship, Communication, Sexuality/Death and Practicality. The twenty-two paths that connect the spheres reflect the interactions of the archetypes. For example, the sphere of Compassion (named Mercy in the Tree of Life) sits opposite the sphere of judgment (which is called Severity). The path called Strength connects this pair, indicating that for the Kabbalists the ability to harmonize compassion and judgment brings forth strength. The Tree of Life can be used for guided mediation, contemplation, and divination, as well as to organize, integrate and make sense of all the events, circumstances and ephemera of every person’s life. It gives us the ultimate tool for gaining the ability to balance the masculine and feminine, the expansive and restrictive. And just as actual trees take in sunlight, water and nutrients from the earth and then give back oxygen (the breath of our very lives), it teaches us how to receive in order to share.
“A Wish Can Change Your Life,” by Gahl Sasson and Steve Weinstein, which will be published in October 2003, documents the mysteries, mechanics and mythology of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, while simultaneously outlining an enlivening and practical program of self-transformation, enrichment and wish fulfillment.
Is Kabbalah connected to Astrology or Tarot?
Yes. For several hundred years, scholars from varied religions and cultures have noticed that Kabbalah, Astrology and Tarot overlap and intermingle in numerous ways. For example, every sphere in the Tree of Life is associated with a different heavenly body. The Sefer Yetzirah, the oldest text in Kabbalah, assigns a Hebrew letter to each zodiac sign and planet. The twenty-two paths of the Tree of Life, which according to Kabbalah correspond to the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, also relate directly to the twenty-two Major Arcana in the Tarot deck. Looking again at the path of Strength on the Tree of Life between the spheres of Compassion and Judgment, we find that Kabbalists have marked this connecting road with the Hebrew letter Teth and the astrological sign Leo. The power and strength of the lion (Leo) is an evocative symbol in myriad traditions. In addition, the letter Teth symbolically connotes the serpent—Kundalini’s coiled serpent that runs up and down the spine. And it is no coincidence that astrologers associate the spinal cord with the sign of Leo. Kabbalah and the Tree of Life actually serve to connect just about all spiritual and esoteric traditions from all over the globe and all ages of history. The myths, rituals and philosophies of just about every culture and religion on the planet all find a home within the expansive framework of Kabbalah and the Tree of Life.