In the last couple of decades, the Chasidic movement geared its teaching toward spiritual Judaism. Unlike the rigid, outward, rules and regulation of Orthodox Judaism, the Chasidic movement, and especially the Lubavitch section, framed and displayed for the people a brand new kind of Judaism. A vibrant and experimental Judaism that seeks to be relevant and truthful. This movement, with it's emphasis of spiritual life, positioned itself to sit on the shoulders of the giant Kabbalah which is based on the "ספר הזוהר "-Sefer Hazohar- (Book of Splendor).
Great scholars like Carlibach, Kook and others, were so successful in introduced Kabbalah study to modern Judaism that today it is viewed by many as a new wave of spiritual Judaism. Kabbalah today is identified with Jewish celebrities such as the late Elizabeth Taylor, Jeff Goldbloom, and even non-Jews as Madona. What is the pull that the Kabbalah has on people? Why is there a renewed interest in mystical spiritualism with all its colorful options? To answer this question we need first to take a look at what the Kabbalah has to offer.
Some key ideas of the Kabbalah
The Kabbalah is trying to achieve an intimate union with God through personal experience. It teaches that acquiring knowledge of the mystics of the godly realm is necessary to achieve this union. Starting with the " ספר ההיכלות "- Sefer Hahechalot- ( Book of Palaces), the Kabbalistic mindset was aimed at acquiring a lofty knowledge on godly mystery and the higher realm.
"ספר היצירה "- Sefer Hayetzirah- (Book of creation), illuminates "Ten Sephirot"-Enumerations- which according to the belief emanates from God. According to Kabbalah, the the Sephirot illustrate the outward embodied of God and His inward character. " הבהיר "-Habahir- ( book of Illumination), is trying to picture God's nature by developing a theory that there are different powers and dimensions in His existence. Even the godly boundaries are investigated and mapped out by a "hidden tree" that tries to picture the structure of God's creative powers. God, who is referred to as "אין סוף " -Ein Sof-( infinite), is an unknown. The only way to know Him is through His attributes, as defined by the Ten Enumerations. The Sephirot are inseparable from the Ein Sof. As the Book of Zohar puts it, The Sephirot are God and god is the Sephirot. Together they represent what the Kabbalists call " העולם העליון "- Haolam Haelyon- ( the higher realm).
Under the Haolam Haelyon, there exists our world " העולם התחתון "-Haolam Hatachton- (the lower realm). ( Later on, Kabbalists from the town of Tzefat will insist that there actually three worlds that are higher than our world, each of them with a similar structure of Sephirot).
The lower realm (world) is parallel to the higher realm (world), even as the higher world is characterized by perfection and harmony, the lower world is flawed and broken. Our world, (in a Neo-Platonic way) illuminates the higher world. The material world is a perspective to what is going on in the realms of the invisible Sephirot. The Kabbalah claims that sin caused God to exit this world, and that explains why His presence is not available to the dwellers of this world.
The Kabbalah also teaches that since man was created in God's image, every human possesses an inner perspective of the structure of the Sephirot, נשמה -Neshama-(soul)-which is the connection to the God who sits in Heaven. On the basis of this unnatural connection the Kabbalah teaches that humans can influence the higher world. Every effort of humankind has a strong influence on the cosmic order of the universe. Mankind was given a large task-repairing the damage that sin caused. In Chasidic circle this is known as " תיקון עולם "-Tikkun Olam-(repairing the world). The means to achieve Tikkun Olam are the Mitzvot.
Under Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, Kabbalah studies were formulated and refined to include the idea that the redemption of the world and the return of the Messiah can be enhanced through the efforts of the Jewish people, with the Kabbalah as the key. In order to support this mystical plan, the literal interpretation of the Tanach were set aside. The names of biblical figures and places in the Tanach became symbols pointing to the "Sphirot" and their mystical role. All kind of numerical systems were invented, supposedly to study the "mystical codes" in the writing of the Tanach and every Hebrew letter received a mystical meaning. Assemblies in Tzefat and later in Russia and Europe, are aspiring to reach mystical perfection in order to free the redemption and usher the return of the Messiah from heaven.
Custom like דבקות -Dvekut- (loyalty, devotion) through mystical meditation and "כוונה"-Kavanah (intent) were employed in order to experience nearness, and partnership with the Almighty. With the growing influence of Chasidic Kehilot, these Kabbalistic customs became an important part of modern Judaism today. Modern Orthodox scholars, like Rav Abraham Itzchak Kook and Arieh Kaplan, made the Kabbalistic theology and philosophy quite popular, as did The Lubavitch Rebbe.
But the question remains, Is the Kabbalah a true teaching?
Does the Tanach support the idea of Kabbalah?
The complete base of Tanach Mitzvot (holiness and love for neighbor) was newly defined and directed by the Kabbalah. Whereas the Tanach reminds us of the need to fight sin and return to God with vigor, the Kabbalah teaches that God's respite can be achieved through the efforts of mankind. The mystical composition of the Kabbalah bestows upon mankind powers that it actually does not posses. the Kabbalah is trying to be a kind of cosmic machine, fueled by a religion that is based on human works that allegedly can control diety. " The "trick" of Kabbalistic theology is its effort to try and change completely the sovereignty of God. The role of keeping the Mitzvot was newly defined. Instead of keeping the Mitzvot because "that is what we supposed to do," The act was given a cosmic meaning which gives mankind the role of a star on the stage of redemption, taking away God's role in it. It of course stands opposite the message of the Bible that clearly teaches that God Himself is the Initiator and purchaser of redemption.
Next: Redemption, Kabbalah VS. Torah.