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Kabbalah - An Overview

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KABBALAH
AN OVERVIEW
of the Godhead and Sefirot

by Dr. James Trimm

WHAT IS KABBALAH?

The word "Kabbalah" is a Hebrew word meaning "received." In the Talmud the word KABBALAH was used to describe the portion of the Bible following the Torah. In post-Talmudic literature the term KABBALAH was used to describe the Oral Law. However the word KABBALAH has come to be used to describe only the area of Jewish Mysticism.

During the middle ages the Jewish Mysticism of Kabbalah came to be abused by proponents of witchcraft and Hermetic Magic. As a result many people falsely identify Kabbalah itself with witchcraft and Black Magic. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Kabbalah can be a dangerous thing. If properly understood it can greatly enlighten ones understanding and relationship with the Infinite One. However if misunderstood Kabbalah can be perverted into Paganism, Polytheism, Black Magic, and Witchcraft. Kabbalah is like fire. In the stove fire is beneficial but outside the stove fire is extremely dangerous and destructive. Kabbalah must be utilized and understood within the context of Torah Observant Judaism. Outside of that context it can destroy you.

In Rabbinic Judaism today Kabbalah has its foundation in three important books:

    The Sefer Yetzirah

    The Bahir

    The Zohar

However Jewish Mysticism existed long before these books and in fact Jewish Mysticism is reflected in certain documents in the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as the writings of the first century Jew Philo.

In ancient times Kabbalah was called by other names. These include Sitrei Torah, Razei Torah and Torat HaSod. In those days Jewish mysticism was divided into two areas called Ma’aseh Bereshit (the Account of in the Beginning) and Ma’aseh Merkavah (Account of the [divine] Throne-Chariot). This mystical material was regarded as sacred. The ancients knew how dangerous it could be. As a result the Mishna tells us:

They do not expound upon… Ma’aseh Bereshit before [more than] two, or Ma’aseh Merkavah before [more than] one unless he was a sage and understands of his own knowledge.
(m.Hagigah 2:1)
 

PaRDeS: The Four Levels of Understanding the Scriptures

The Hebrew/Aramaic word PARDES is spelled in Hebrew and Aramaic without vowels as PRDS. PaRDeS refers to a park or garden, esp. the Garden of Eden.


The word PRDS is also an acronym (called in Judaism "notarikon") for:

[P]ashat

(Heb. "simple")

[R]emez

(Heb. "hint")

[D]rash

(Heb. "search")

[S]od

(Heb. "hidden")

These are the four levels of understanding. Each layer is deeper and more intense than the last, like the layers of an onion.

Pashat - The first level of understanding is PASHAT (simple).

The Pashat is the literal meaning.

Remez - The next level of understanding is called in Hebrew REMEZ (hint).

This is the implied meaning of the text. Peculiarities in the text are regarded as hinting at a deeper truth than that conveyed by its PASHAT.

Drash - Another level of understanding the Scriptures is called in Hebrew "drash"  meaning "search", this is the allegorical, typological or homiletical application of the text. Creativity is used to search the text in relation to the rest of the Scriptures, other literature, or life itself in order to develop an allegorical, typological or homiletical application of the text. This process involves eisogesis (reading of the text) of the text.

Sod - The final level of understanding the Scriptures is called in Hebrew "SOD"

meaning "hidden". This understanding is the hidden, secret or mystic meaning of a text. (See I Cor. 2:7-16 esp. 2:7). This process often involves returning the letters of a word to their prime-material state and giving them new form in order to reveal a hidden meaning. An example may be found in Rev. 13:18 where the identity of the Beast is expressed by its numeric value 666.

It is very important to realize that when we speak in terms of Kabbalah we almost always speaking of things on the Drash and Sod levels of understanding. We will be speaking of G-d in terms of masculine and feminine attributes. This is to be understood on the allegorical and mystical levels, taking this literally will lead you directly into paganism.
 

EYN SOF

The Torah tells us that G-d is eternal (Dt.33:27).From this we understand that G-d is infinite or boundless. In Jewish mysticism the term Eyn Sof is used to describe G-d as being eternal, infinite and boundless. Eyn is a Hebrew word meaning "there is not" or "without", while Sof is a Hebrew word meaning "end, termination, border or definition." Since G-d is Eyn Sof, G-d is without definition. This creates a basic problem. The minute we attempt to define G-d we have given him borders and are no longer talking about Eyn Sof. There is no way that we can define Eyn Sof, moreover we cannot even comprehend Eyn Sof since we would have to have an infinite number of bytes in our brain to comprehend the infinite. This creates a natural gulf between man and G-d. Being finite we cannot even comprehend Eyn Sof, much less have a personal relationship with Eyn Sof.
 

THE SEFIROT

Now since Eyn Sof cannot be ascribed any qualities Jewish mysticism maintains that there are shining out from Eyn Sof several emanations called Sefirot (shining ones). These Sefirot are finite and are themselves qualities, attributes or aspects from the infinite one from which they emanate. There are ten of these Sefirot recognized in Kabbalah. They are:

  1. Keter (Crown)
  2. Chokmah (Wisdom)
  3. Binah (Understanding)
  4. Chesed (Mercy)
  5. Gevurah (Strength, Severity)
  6. Tipharet (Beauty)
  7. Netzach (Splendor)
  8. Hod (Glory)
  9. Yesod (Foundation)
  10. Malkut (Kingdom, Kingship)

These are divided into three upper Sefirot:

  1. Keter (Crown)
  2. Chokmah (Wisdom)
  3. Binah (Understanding)

And seven lower Sefirot:

  1. Chesed (Mercy)
  2. Gevurah (Strength, Severity)
  3. Tipharet (Beauty)
  4. Netzach (Splendor)
  5. Hod (Glory)
  6. Yesod (Foundation)
  7. Malkut (Kinfdom, Kingship)
     

 
THE TREE OF LIFE

The ten Sefirot emanated from Eyn Sof are often arranged in a chart known as the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life chart represents the Sefirot in three columns connected by interconnecting paths as follows:


THE THREE PILLARS

The three columns of the Tree of Life chart are known as the "Three Pillars of the G-dhead." These three pillars or columns correspond to three "Supernal Lights" also known as the three Tzachtzachot.

The Encyclopedia Judaica explains these three supernal lights this way:

…above all emanated powers, there exist in "the root of all roots" three hidden lights which have no beginning, "for they are the name and essence of the root of all roots... It is stressed that these three lights constitute one essence and one root which is "infinitely hidden" (ne'lam ad le-ein sof) [literally: hidden until Eyn-Sof], forming a kind of kabbalistic trinity that precedes the emanation of the ten Sefirot.... In the terminology of the Kabbalah these three lights are called tzachtzachot (splendors)…Christians later found an allusion to their own doctrine of the trinity in this theory.
(Article on Kabbalah p. 563)

These three lights/pillars form a t’lita (trinity) as described in the Zohar:

Thus are YHWH; ELOHEYNU; YHWH but one unity, three substantive beings which are one; and this is indicated by the voice which a person uses in reading the words, "Hear, O Israel," thereby comprehending with the understanding the most perfect unity of EYN SOF (the boundless one); because all three are read with one voice, which indicates a trinity [t'lita].
(The Zohar Vol. 2 p. 43)


And the Jewish Encyclopedia says:

The Cabala, on the other hand, especially the Zohar, its fundamental work, was far less hostile to the dogma of the Trinity, since by its speculations regarding the father, the son, and the spirit, it evolved a new trinity...
(Vol. 12, p. 261)

These three pillars or three supernal lights are often identified by the names of the three highest Sefirot which head up each column (Keter (Crown), Chokmah (Wisdom), Binah (Understanding)). The two columns on each side are called Father and Mother as the Encyclopedia Judaica states:

The Sefirot Hokhmah and Binah now become the parzufim of Abba and Imma ("Father and Mother")
(Kabbalah p. 599)

These qualities represent the male and female aspects of Eyn-Sof as the Encyclopedia Judaic also states:

Reference to male and female appear not only in the symbolism of father and mother, son and daughter… but also in the striking use of sexual imagery which is a particular characteristic of the Zohar
(Kabbalah p. 573)

This concept of YHWH being expressed as a Father (Is. 63:16; 64:8; Jer. 31:9 & Mal. 1:6) and a Mother (Is. 66:13) is found in the Tanak itself, in which we are told that the image of G-d in which man was created was "male and female" (Gen. 1:26-27).

The Hebrew phrase "Ruach HaKodesh" (Holy Spirit) is grammatically feminine and is therefore interchangeably termed "Mother" and identified with the feminine aspect of G-d.
 

THE MIDDLE PILLAR

We have already established that the right and left pillars are assigned as Mother and Father, the middle pillar, which balances the feminine and masculine characteristics from the male and female sides, is identified in the Zohar as "the Son of Yah":

Better is a neighbor that is near,
than a brother far off.
This neighbor is the Middle Pillar in the G-dhead,
which is the Son of Yah.
(Ra'aya Mehaimna)

The Middle Pillar is made up of Sefirot 1 (Keter), 6 (Tifaret), 9 (Yesod) and 10 (Malkut) which perfectly balance the feminine and masculine characteristics of the Father and Mother or masculine pillar and feminine pillar. This is significant because 1 + 6 + 9 + 10 = 26 which is the gematria (numerical value) of the Hebrew word YHWH.
 

THE ADAM KADMON

The ten Sefirot are often overlaid on the figure of a man. The Encyclopedia Judaica describes the overlay this way:

The first Sefirot represent the head, and, in the Zohar, the three cavities of the brain; the fourth and fifth, the arms; the sixth, the torso; the seventh and eighth , the legs; the ninth, the sexual organ; and the tenth refers to the all embracing totality of the image…
(Kabbalah article p. 571)

The man thus represented is called the Adam Kadmon (The Primordial Adam; or the First Adam). This image is the very image of G-d in which Adam was created. The Adam Kadmon, is in essence the same as the Middle Pillar of the G-dhead, since he brings both the masculine and feminine aspects of Eyn Sof into perfect balance.


Continue to: Conformed to The Image

Back to: History of Kabbalah


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Last updated: 08/15/08

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