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Kabbalah Defined

Kabbalah Defined


Kabbalah: That which is received. That which cannot be known through science or intellectual pursuit alone. An inner knowledge that has been passed down from sage to student from the earliest of times. A discipline that awakens awareness of the essence of things.

We enter this world and our senses meet its outer crust. We touch the earth with our feet, water and wind splash against our skin, we recoil from the bite of fire. We hear sounds and rhythms. We see shapes and colors. Soon we begin to measure, to weigh and describe with precision. As scientists, we record the behaviors of chemicals, plants, animals and human beings. We video-tape them, observe them under a microscope, create mathematical models of them, fill a supercomputer with data about them. From our observations we learn to harness our environment with inventions and contraptions, and then pat ourselves on the back and say, Yes, we got it right.

But we ourselves, our consciousness that is examining this world, we reside on a deeper layer. That is why we cannot help but ask, What about the thing itself? That which is there before we measured it? What is matter, energy, time, space — and how do they come to be?

To explain our world without examining this inner depth is as shallow as explaining the workings of a computer by describing the images viewed on its monitor. If we see a ball moving up and down on the screen, would we say that it is rebounding against the bottom of the screen? Do the gadgets on your scroll bar really exert some force on the page inside the window? Does the menu bar really have drop-down menus hidden behind it?

The author of a user-friendly software environment has followed consistent rules so that we can work comfortably within it. If it is a game of any complexity, he had to determine and follow a very large set of rules. But a description of those rules is not a valid explanation of how it works. For that, we need to read his code, examine the hardware, and—most importantly—look through his original concept paper. We need to see it the way its author sees it, as it evolves step by step from a concept in his mind through the code that he writes, to the glowing phosphor pixels on the screen.

The code behind reality, the concept that breathes life into the equations and makes them real. Men and women have sacrificed their food, their comfort, traveled great distances and paid with their very lives to come to know these things. There is not a culture in the world that does not have its teachings to describe them. In Jewish teaching, they are described in the Kabbalah.

According to tradition, the truths of the Kabbalah were known to Adam. What his mind held, no mind since has been able to conceive. Yet he was able to transmit a glimmer of this knowledge to a few of the great souls that descended from him, such as Hanoch and Methuselah. They were the grand masters who taught Noah, who in turn taught his own students, including Abraham. Abraham studied in the academy of Noah's son, Shem, and sent his son Isaac to study there after him. Isaac in turn sent his son Jacob to study with Shem and with Shem's great-grandson, Eber.

Adam, Noah, Abraham—these were fathers of all humankind. That is why you will find inklings of the truths they taught wherever human culture has reached.

Nevertheless, the essential source for the Kabbalah is not Adam or Noah or even Abraham. It is the event at Mount Sinai, where the primal essence of the cosmos was laid bare for an entire nation to see. It was an experience that left an indelible mark on the Jewish psyche, molding all our thought and behavior ever since.

At Sinai, inner wisdom became no longer a matter of intuition or private revelation. It was now a fact that had entered our world and became part of history and the experience of common mortals.

That is why Kabbalah cannot be called a philosophy. A philosophy is the product of human minds, something that any other human mind can come play with, squeezing and stretching it according to the dictates of his own intellect and intuition. But Kabbalah means, that which is received. Received not just from a teacher, but from Sinai. Once a student has mastered the path of this received knowledge, he or she may find ways to extend it further, as a tree branches out from its trunk. But it will always be an organic growth, never touching the essential life and form of that knowledge. The branches and twigs and leaves will go just where they should for such a tree—never will a Maple become an Oak, never will a student reveal a secret that was not hidden in his teacher's words.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Anonymous Texas December 26, 2016

Most of the great Kabbalists' families were celebrating their Yartzeits by age 40 Moshe Cordovero, the Arizel, Moshe Chaim Luzzato, Rebbe Nachman, etc.. Reply

Meira Shana San Diego January 2, 2015

Why learning Kabbalah ONLY AFTER learning Torah Aside from being the age of 40 - a magical number that suggests that's when a man knows all he needs to know about Torah so that he can then study Kabbalah.

It's not learning Kabbalah to better understand Torah. First one must truly study and understand Torah.

One doesn't first drive a car - first one has to learn the basics of gas and brakes and steering and looking in all directions, being aware of other drivers, pedestrians, children on bicycles, etc., etc., etc.

Only when practicing and studying is one ready to learn additional things - like going for license, or being educated enough to try to go into racing professionally.

My analogies might not be precise -- just food for thought. Reply

Elina hillsborough, NEW JERSEY via December 31, 2013

According to tradition "Gd will judge those who try to put words in His mouth" This is what you are doing...every time when you are open your mouth you put out your words, meaning yours and just yours opinion... Reply

Gil Great Neck December 30, 2013

Kabbalah On a different note, it appears that you are discussing the "racial unconscious" of the Jewish people. We observe different races, ethic and national groups who exhibit the same "ah-ha" when they are exposed to the same stimulus as to the humanities, scientific, mathematical, philosophical, spiritual, political, religious, insights. In studies of the feral child, they are usually mentally challenged, to use the P.C. term. As to the post about the study of Kabbalah at times leading to insanity, on a medical basis, those who "succumb" to the studies were initially suffering from an autistic spectrum or schizophrenic disorder. Studies of other metaphysical disciplines do not have this propensity. Reply

David Austreng Vancouver, WA December 29, 2013

Tzvi... You continue to amaze me... HaShem has made a special route to deep wisdom - that route is found in your words. My deep and sincere appreciation that HaShem has created souls such as you. B"H!

Never tire, your life is a gift from the upper realm to this earth. May HaShem bless you with great strength and patience with all of your students.

dvd Reply

Doreet Eugene OR November 8, 2013

Kabbalah I understand that "that which is received" is what some people termed as "mysticism."It essentially is connection to G-d and the higher reality that lies under this physical, stage-like theatre front we live in, Even Shakespeare devined that "all the world's a stage, and all the men and women in it, only actors." This world is a play, a artificial construct hiding the true reality underneath.The real world is underneath this. (some people refer to death as "going home," because this isn't our real home, we go back there, in death.)and is often said to be "the true reality."This discipline, then, helps one to "recieve" perhaps "be open to"real knowledge of the deeper layer. Shakespeare would be very pleased. Me also. THANK YOU! :) Reply

"Used to be conservative" Eugene, Oregon June 26, 2012

Kabalah. i t makes Kabalah almost sound like Buddism. As for seeing the "what is matter, energy, time, space?" that is almost investigative theoretical physics.

i have always had the "problem" of seeing, receiving, deeper awareness of what is behind the solid reality, and I sense so much reality under ours sometimes. almost like a curse. ! I really am way too sensitive, so i recognize a lot of underneath reality most people don't. . sometimes i could almost see all the answers to all problems, on a bare, old blank wall. I KNOW there is more than we see every day!! if you let yourself see the reality under ours, you understand our world is only a big prop, not the real world. yes, people are only actors. where you go when you die, is probably the real world. so yes, i "receive" a deeper awareness of all things, often, like a hook up to other worldly places.

i'm not psychotic; this runs in my dad's family. we live in our brains a lot. strange stuff happened to us./? Reply

Francis Las Vegas, NV December 29, 2011

Fearful of Learning I've read before that a few recommendations prior to engaging in a study of Kabbalah is that you be a man of at least 40, married and in a stable environment as some have lost the wits about them, the account I read was of five who studied, one may have died, others went mad, only one prevailed in keeping his sanity. This and personal experiences have kept me frightenedly away from Zohar books. Other accounts I've read discussed the teachings and understanding thereof does not come from within the written and is to be understood. I was once an amateur astronomer and am an amateur mathematician of some sort now. I found interesting main-stream physics rebuttal of Him where for the big bang to mathematically be understood Euclidean Geometry is required and there are a few things thereof that are also requisites to set up the proof:

-rigin and

A dimension requires an origin to define it, origin is a term within geometry so arguably these requisites are in order. Reply

matt January 3, 2011

where to look- or HOW more likely the question We are told of this inner sanctum time and time again- and therefore I could only be encouraged to look within, though the question is how.
Our body is one octave that receives impressions from objects on the same octave - matter.
the Emotional center is the next octave- where words are not needed but felt in truth- or disguised as desires depending on the current statis of mind.
Given we cannot see our essence with physical eyes due to the /shell/husk.. one must develop a bridge via the emotional octave within and maintain this connection untill a matching resonance is found to higher vibrations outide of us in this holy octave. In saying that- G-d knows if your faking, and if you do attain- you better be sincere with the 'right' thirst.

have I birthed my own jewish understanding via a sharing of the thirst King David had- a thirst for wisdom and truth over the body, afer having transmuted his worldly fleshy desires at the base- the top of the thigh. Reply

izzy ny May 2, 2010

my opinion Kabbalah/Chassidus has literaly changed my life; I live the Torah. Judaism feels alive!!! Looking now at Judaic law (Halachah) is like looking at concrete Kabbalah.

tis awesome! Reply

Gil Great Neck, N.Y. / USA April 30, 2010

Kabbala But will this put food on my table? This is mental onanism. There is enough in this world to overwhelm the mind. We call it sensory overload. As the old Jewish joke goes - when during the Shachret minyon , the the men are discussing Torah and truth - the rabbi slams his hand on the Bima and scolds the group with the admonishment - "keep Kosher and lets daven." Reply

me again April 28, 2010

ACCORDING TO TRADITION I thought Kabbala was the philosophy made by human minds?!?
For every time you or anyone else quotes it you say "according to tradition"

Commentary on Torah is good for teaching
As long as it doesn't go against scripture.
Gd will judge those who try to put words in His mouth Reply

Anonymous w April 28, 2010

nice intro I like kabbalsitic teachings. I am able to follow until mathematical mathematical models get too complex. So i remain on the bubble so to speak, and am happy enough to have gotten that far, and hold no illusions to delving further into math that is beyond me. I have enough trouble keeping up with practicing to learn to read Hebrew, learning the Siddur, simple Torah, customs, traditions, legends etc.
But, it's always nice to get a refresher of what kabbalah means since it takes various definitions. I hadn't heard yours directly, so thank you for putting it out there. Reply

Anonymous harare, zimbabwe April 27, 2010

kabbalah and roots Is kabbalah traditional judaic teaching, or a more new age approach? Reply

Elina Hillsborough, nj via October 12, 2009

Kabbalistic meaning of the Star of David Star of david never mention in the Torah and it is not belong to Judaism.
Kabbalistic meaning of the Star of David -
The two triangles represent the descent of the souls from above downward and their ascent from below upward. The fact that they overlap stands for the Creator’s particular and general governance of Malchut (David). Reply

Anonymous summerville, sc October 12, 2009

star of david is the star of david biblical? Reply

Mirayim Aliede Ebonyi State, Nigeria January 26, 2009

kabbala i have been reading books on kabbala for more than two years,although it have tranform me in many ways like from a negative person to a proactive person but i still find it very hard to activate the 72names, i want to dive into kabala deeping,how do i do that.

I also find kabbala very interesting it make one to understand the torah very i wish the chabad will open a kinaset in Nigeria for we only have consevative judiam right now in my part of the country. Reply

ELINA via August 18, 2008

This wisdom is no more and no less than a sequence of roots, which hang down by way of cause and effect, in fixed, determined rules, interweaving to a single, exalted goal described as, “the revelation of His Godliness to His creatures in this world.” Reply

archivegrl boulder, co, usa May 23, 2008

The School of Shem and Ever what happened with it? (I know the cave is still marked) what's the lineage of it after Ever? or, where can I look for this info? Reply

Tzvi Freeman (author) May 13, 2008

Re: reception Steve K, I don't know how on earth or heaven you got that out of anything I wrote. But I love you anyways ;-)

Kabbalah literally means a tradition. It is a highly creative tradition of highly original souls, but a tradition nonetheless. There is a traditional, true understanding of the inner meaning of mitzvahs and there are interpretations that are simply not true. Reply

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