The Mysteries of the Kabbalah
Mysticism—the pursuit of ultimate truth through mysterious rites and subjective experiences—has enchanted mankind for centuries. Claiming to offer insights into the deep, dark secrets of the universe, mysticism pledges inclusion into an elite group, entices with assurances of illuminating the meaning of life, and allures by promising a closer connection to God.
Throughout history, cultures have produced their versions of mysticism. The Jewish people are no exception. The most significant, influential form of Jewish mysticism developed from the 10th through the 18th centuries in Israel, Babylon, and parts of Europe. Much of it arose in reaction to the dry, philosophical Judaism of the day. It became known as Kabbalah (“tradition”). Rabbi Meyer Waxman described Kabbalah as “an unsystematic synthesis of all the elements of mysticism which ever found expression in Judaism.”1
There are actually two streams of Kabbalah: practical and speculative. Practical Kabbalah focuses on using mystical formulas to perform miracles or supernatural deeds. By manipulating the names of God, angels, and the actual letters of the Torah, practical Kabbalah claims that certain combinations can be formed to produce whatever charm or outcome is desired, whether it be healing the sick or succeeding in business.
Speculative Kabbalah, which overshadowed and incorporated practical Kabbalah, is more theoretical. It deals with such issues as how an infinite, immaterial God can create and relate to a finite, physical world. The answer, according to Kabbalah, is through mediation. Mediation is accomplished through angels, as well as through 10 emanations from God called sephiroth. These sephiroth, wrote Rabbi Waxman, “are both manifestation of [God’s] substance and media of His will” on Earth. “It is by means of these that the world came into being and is preserved, ordered and governed.”2 The 10 united sephiroth are symbolically illustrated either by the form of a human body, the tree of life, concentric circles, or light in its various gradations.
Another important doctrine of Kabbalah is the idea that everything has two inherent powers, or energies: active and passive, symbolized by male and female. The human soul itself is said to have both male and female parts. Being pre-existent, it is said to split into those parts as it descends from the upper worlds—the male part entering a man, and the female part entering a woman. If a man lives a righteous life, then he will marry the woman who has the other part of his soul, his “soul mate.”
The primary text of Kabbalah is the Zohar (“Splendor”), an enigmatic commentary on the Torah that emphasizes going beyond the literal meaning of the biblical text to a hidden or mystical meaning.
Jewish people have long studied Kabbalah, but in the last four decades interest in Kabbalah has increased significantly, especially with certain Hollywood entertainers, like Madonna, publicly identifying with it. Their “pop” form of Kabbalah, advocated by The Kabbalah Centre, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Los Angeles, has been condemned by traditional kabbalists for opening Kabbalah’s secret teachings to non-Jews and trivializing its doctrines. Traditionalists have also criticized the Centre’s lucrative commercialism (e.g., selling amulets, such as the fashionably popular red string or bendel bracelet, which purportedly protects against the “evil eye,” and marketing a new Kabbalah energy drink).
Kabbalah contrasts starkly with the teachings of the Bible. As to mediation, there is only “one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). As to secrets, the apostle Paul reminded the Colossian believers that no mystical secret was ever going to match God’s revealed secret, namely, the Messiah Jesus, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).
Moses said, “The secret things belong to the Lᴏʀᴅ our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Dt. 29:29). There are some things God has kept to Himself. But we need not be concerned with those. Instead, our attention and obedience should focus on what we know He has revealed in His written Word. The plain teaching of Scripture is what God intends for us, not some ethereal mumbo jumbo reserved for an elite few (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:13).
- Meyer Waxman, A History of Jewish Literature: From the Close of the Bible to Our Own Days, 2nd ed. (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1943), 2:383.
- Ibid., 362.