I was watching a news report the other day about Madonna (now known as Esther). She was discussing how Kabbalah has changed her life, the new views she has and the insight she has gained from learning with her Rabbi. She apparently even keeps a kosher home. My question is - what are your thoughts on the masses learning Kabbalah? Is it a good thing? Or is it a fad?
I'm not sure how authentic the "Kabbalah" being studied by Madonna is, but I would imagine there are much worse things she could be doing with her time. If it has indeed made her a better person - good for her.
The renewed interest in Kabbalah is a good thing. The Kabbalists always said that although in earlier generations Kabbalah was a restricted area of study, a time will come when these teachings will become available to everyone. Its blend of profound thought and down to earth spirituality is much needed today.
The question is not so much who can study Kabbalah, but who can teach it and how it is taught. Some modern exponents of the Kabbalah claim that it is a separate religion, distinct from Judaism. This claim is not only untrue, it is self-destructive, and one should beware of such teachers.
The Kabbalists call Jewish mysticism the Pardes, meaning "The Garden." If you see a beautiful flower in a garden, you may have the urge to pick it and take it home to enjoy its beauty. But a flower won't last long out of its natural habitat. Once it is disconnected from its life-force it will very quickly wither and die.
Taking Kabbalah out of its Jewish context and removing it from Jewish practice, is like picking a flower from a garden. It looks beautiful and smells nice for a while, but soon it starts to wither, rot and stink. Kabbalah is a living, breathing spirituality that is nourished by the rich soil of Jewish wisdom and practice. But those who are calling it a separate religion, for the obvious reason of gaining a wider audience, are turning something deep and holy into just another passing fad. It looks good, creates a stir, but won't last.
While one can taste the teachings of Kabbalah even without being particularly observant of Judaism, you can't detach it from its source. Kabbalah is the heart of Judaism. A body without a heart is lifeless. A heart without its body is useless. Judaism without its mystical side can become dry and unattractive. But Kabbalah without the grounding of practical Judaism is an uprooted flower.
We are a searching generation. We've tried empty materialism and it has failed to sustain us. We have experimented with spiritual escapism and it has left us floating towards nowhere. It is time to taste the fruits of The Garden, the deepest mystical insights grounded in the fertile soil of the Jewish tradition and observance. That's real Kabbalah.