What is Kabbalah and what is so attractive about it that prompts the opening of Kabbalah study centers worldwide? Who can learn it and when? We would like to present you with some basic information about Kabbalah so that next time you’re asked if you’ve ever learnt it, what you know about it or come across some of the intriguing and beautiful Kabbalah jewelry on the market and wonder whether to purchase it, you’ll be that little bit better informed.
Kabbalah is the Hebrew word for “receiving”. It is the term used in Judaism to refer to the mystical aspects of religion. Jewish law focuses on what G-d expects from man whereas Kabbalah focuses on G-d’s actual essence. Through learning about the relationship between the Creator and His universe one can learn about ontological questions such as the nature of the universe, the human being and the purpose of existence.
Perhaps this provides a partial explanation for the popularity of Kabbalah in today’s day and age. Celebrities are quite open about their study of Kabbalah and a good number have been seen displaying Kabbalistic tattoos. There are centers all over who will teach Kabbalah to the lay-man. And in the Jewish world too, it has been noticed that there is suddenly an urgent need for more teachings as these. In the age of social-networking whereby we have thousands of friends on Facebook yet cannot count the number of true friends on one hand, in our world of cruel extremes; of plenty in the western countries and starvation in developing countries, in our times of unabashed drug and sexual abuse, people’s souls are crying out. Their souls are crying out for substance, something lasting, something that will do more than provide pleasure here and now. So they turn to Kabbalah.
How to the Rabbis in the Talmud regard the study of the mystical aspects of G-d? it is relayed in a famous story that four Rabbis would learn the mystical Torah together- Azzai, Ben Zoma, Elisha ben Abuyah and Akiva. Azzai unfortunately went mad, Ben Zoma died, Elisha ben Abuyah became a heretic and Akiva was the only one who was not affected negatively by the mystical teachings. The implications of this story are clear- Kabbalah study is not to be taken lightly. In fact, the Rabbis from the medieval period wished to limit the study of Kabbalah only to those people who are mature in both years and character.
The most famous Kabbalistic work is undoubtedly the Zohar which came out into the world in the thirteenth century through Moses De Leon, who claimed it was written by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a Rabbi from the second century. Jewish scholars are divided as to whether the Zohar was written by Moses De Lion himself or Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. The Zohar is written in Aramaic (as is the Talmud) and is in the format of a commentary on the Bible.
When the Jewish people found themselves in the rational, cold modern world, the mystical Kabbalistic learning was regarded as more lowly than logical, rational thought. However, today there has been a renewed interest in Kabbalah and many Jews from all spectrums in Judaism engage in the study of it.