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Jewish mysticism differs radically from all other mystic schools.

Uniqueness of Jewish Mysticism

Uniqueness of Jewish Mysticism

Intermediate Intermediate
Uniqueness of Jewish Mysticism
Jewish mysticism differs radically from all other mystic schools.

Judaism is based on the public Revelation at Sinai, when the Torah was given to Israel. The historical event of Sinai attests to the divine source and nature of the Torah, and the Torah in turn serves as the exclusive criterion for any subsequent claims and teachings.

Authentic Jewish mysticism is an integral part of Torah…

Authentic Jewish mysticism is an integral part of Torah, and Torah determines what is authentic Jewish mysticism.

The general term for Jewish mysticism is "Kabbalah". "Kabbalah" means "tradition". Kabbalah is not a compound of personal insights. It is not a collection of reports of what various sages and saints had to say on the meaning of life and ultimate values - based on their mystical experiences or visions. It is not a system born in a vacuum.

Kabbalah and its teachings - no less than Jewish Law - are an integral part of the Torah. They are traced back to the historical roots of Sinai, part and parcel of "Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it…."

To be sure, in various works of Kabbalah one can find reports of mystical experiences, visions, the supernatural - all those things and more which we normally link to mysticism. They are there, but they are not the essence or even a major part of Kabbalah. At best they are effects, possibilities of potential effects that may accompany a mystic's life. The authentic mystic, however, will not seek to manipulate and will shun interference with the natural order instituted by the Creator.

The authentic mystic seeks knowledge, understanding. He wants to "Know the G‑d of your father", to fulfill the precept of "You shall know this day and consider in your heart that G‑d He is G‑d in Heaven above and upon the earth below - there is nothing else." He seeks to realize and understand this axiom not only as an intellectual affirmation of truth but as a living reality within the limits of his capacity - profoundly sensing the literal omnipresence of G‑d, with a penetrating understanding and knowledge, as much as possible.

Kabbalah is theology in the fullest sense - including ontology, cosmogony and cosmology. It is not speculative philosophy based on human insight nor theories derived from human reasoning. It is a study, as it were, of Divinity and of the relationship between G‑d and His Creation, based on the premises of revealed truth.

Kabbalah…uncovers many of the infinite layers of the secrets of life, of Creation…

Kabbalah takes man beyond the normative understanding of reason. It goes beyond the exoteric part of Torah and transcends normative existence. It uncovers many of the infinite layers of the secrets of life, of Creation, of the soul, of the heavenly spheres. It penetrates beyond the garments and the body of the Torah. It is the very core and soul of Torah, the ultimate revelation of Divinity - exposing the inner meaning, effects and purpose of Torah and mitzvahs. The illumination emanating from Kabbalah ignites the soul of man, setting it on fire in the awareness of a deeper and higher reality. Its study and insights are themselves mystical experiences. Kabbalah is all this - but always and exclusively within the context of Torah. As a body cannot function without a soul, so the soul is ineffective without the body. The soul of the Torah, (nistar, the esoteric part of the Torah) can never be separated from the body of the Torah (nigleh, the exoteric parts; halacha, the commandments and practices prescribed by the Torah). Kabbalah reduced to spiritual or philosophical symbolism, stripped from the observance of the mitzvahs, is worthless mumbo-jumbo, an empty shell.

This is the first and foremost difference between Jewish mysticism and all other kinds and forms. That is why Jewish mysticism can never fall into the category of a cult.

The great mystics and philosophers outside Judaism, in the East and in the West, were honest and sincere sages. They did seek truth. They did not look for answers to justify or verify any of their preconceived notions. They were not indulging their egos. And many did discover and develop profound theories and insights which stir the imagination and move the human spirit. Some had glimpses of ultimate reality. Yet, in spite of all this, they worked in a chameleonic void. They could move only as far as finite and fallible man is able to reach on his own. Their insights or findings, therefore, are either humanly verifiable (that is, logically self-evident truth or tautologies) or else speculative truth which at best contains an element of possibility but never the assurance of certitude.

Kabbalah…builds on the revealed truth of Torah…

Kabbalah, on the other hand, builds on the revealed truth of Torah. The validity of its speculative theories and subjective experiences must be, and is, tested and verified by that truth in order to be worthy of consideration, to be viable and acceptable. It has, and continually uses, objective criteria to make it consistent with, and as reliable as, halacha.

Conclusion (p.108-110)

At this point, though, we must realize that Jewish mysticism - Kabbalah and Chassidism - is not just a legitimate and respectable part and dimension of authentic Judaism, of Torah.

The Torah is an organism, a complete whole in which every part is most intimately interrelated and interwoven with every other part; in which everything is interdependent upon everything else. The Torah is an organism analogous and parallel to, and in complete interaction with, the organism of the universe in general and the organism of man in particular. No part or particle, therefore, can be taken in isolation from the others.

Thus, even as it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to pursue the study and practice of the "body" of the Torah - halacha; mitzvahs - so it is obligatory and essential for each and every one of us to pursue the study and inspiration of the "soul" and fruits of the Torah and its interpretation.

To be sure, each of us is limited by his or her natural capacities. No one can absorb the totality of the Torah in its divine infinity. But everyone can and must actualize his or her own potential, can and must reach out as far as his or her abilities can take them.

In fact, nowadays more than ever before, there is a most urgent need for the illumination and inspiration of the mystical dimension of the Torah. This very need is the great vision and contribution of the Baal Shem Tov and Chassidism.

This is what it is all about, and the rest is but commentary. So now let us go forth and study - "to comprehend and to discern, to perceive, to learn and to teach, to observe, to practice and to fulfill all the teachings of G‑d's Torah with love."

The next article in the Kabbalah for Beginners tutorial: Contemplative and Practical Kabbalah

Click here to find out what the Kabbalah for Beginners Tutorial is all about.

Rabbi Immanuel Schochet (1935-2013) wrote and lectured extensively on the history and philosophy of Chassidism and topical themes of Jewish thought and ethics. He was a renowned authority on Jewish philosophy and mysticism. He was rabbi of Cong. Beth Joseph, and professor of Philosophy at Humber College, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
From The Mystical Dimension Vol. 1 Published and Copyright byKehot Publication Society
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Robert L Birt Fort Worth Texas February 8, 2014

Spirit Growth I have had spiritual understanding gained while studying religion at the University of Southern California. In 1968 I converted to Reform movement at Wilshire Temple in Los Angles Cal. My understanding of reincarnation is based on personal experience and learning.
At this time I am a non active person of Jewish identity. My desire is to study this knowledge Reply

Daniel bucaramanga, colombia via January 8, 2014

unique In what way Jewish mysticism differs from other mystic schools? Reply

Jeff B. West Palm Beach, FL August 8, 2012

wish i wish there were more interactions here, on these subjects and questions. Reply

Neal S Bishop Sacramento, CA/USAA March 27, 2012

Kabbala it for everyone & anyone? I have been studying Torah from an Hebraic viewpoint going on 3 years. Having come from the Greek Christian heritage of lies, returning to the truth of Torah has been enlightening, to say the least. However...the "mysticism" of Kabbala troubles me some. I have some difficulty reading some of the Kabbalistic literature, in that some of the conclusions come to do not sit inside my mind as Torah is TRUTH. Therefore, what purpose could there be in continuing to delve into Kabbala if my mindset does not allow me to absorb it as TRUTH? It has been my search for truth that has led me to Torah and it is the truth that I have found in Torah that keeps me there. Is Kabbala study for everyone? Out of all the Torah compliant believers, what % of them believe and study Kabbala? I would truly love to have good conversation on this subject. Reply

Noah July 14, 2017
in response to Neal S Bishop:

The true kabbalah or power of G-d is not taught in books , but is passed from father to son the first born son. You can read all books in the world, but if G-d not choose you to be a vessel and manifestation of his power there is unfortunately nothing you can do about it. Unless your father had the power and past it to you or unless G-d choose you to be his vessel then nothing will happen. Reply

Stephen Newdell Fort Myers, FL September 4, 2010

I'm drawn in Who can rightly speak for all Chasidics? We live in a troublesome world in it's end times, last days before the return of Mossiah. Some are caught up in materialism, which has become, with "science" an all pervasive quasi-faux-religion. For those of us who know without question that material goods are nothing, and that G0d is everything, study of Kabbalah still works. Reply

benjamin alamba Aba , nigeria via July 5, 2010

love you to be my rabbi Rabbi i wish you to be my spiritual guide. Reply

Solomon M. Rabinovitz Monroe, N.C. via April 28, 2010

NEFESH how did we lose it. i find that present day chasidism has lost their souls. They dont have their heart quite emblazoned with that feeling that the REBBE tried to convey to all that clustered around him. There is a void, something missing.Instead of NEFESH the most important thing is gelt.Money seems to be the most urgent part of a chasids life.To do for others has become secondary. Reply

Anonymous glasgow via January 10, 2010

subjectivity vs objectivity As religious experience by definition is as sujective as any other experience it is necessary for their to be a revealed map to enable the seeker to verify the authenticity of his or her experience. We find a classic example of this with the young asspiring prophet samuel who was unaware at first that the voice heard was an inner voice and not that of his mentor Eli.

Studying the concepts of the Kabbalah does not necessarily bring about an experience of these realities. This requires a refining of the persons character in tandemm with the study Reply

David yacolt, wa via November 11, 2009

Understanding Kabbala in context... This presents a wonderful explanation and contextually relevant way to begin integrating the "soul of the Torah" into our daily growth.

Thank you very much,

David Reply

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