Jewish Kabbalah: An Introduction


Kabbalah is a discipline of metaphysical, religious, philosophical and esoteric knowledge. The Hebrew Kabbalah, where qabbalah (קַבָּלָה ) literally means tradition, is the mother of all subsequent Kabbalistic systems, since there are many types of Kabbalah that, moreover, have been altered over time and cultural evolution, and with it its methods and purposes.

The objective of the Jewish Kabbalah is to discover the form of union of the imperfect universe with God, or with the perfect, infinite and immutable existence. This interrelationship of the world offers a mystical vision of existence, albeit based on the religion of the Jewish people. More specifically, the Hebrew Kabbalah sought to discover the deepest and most secret meaning of the cosmic connection through the Oral Torah (Mishnah) and the Written Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), and the extensive rabbinic literature, gathered under the name of Talmud, through different methods, to understand a linked relationship of the existence of the universe in full relationship with the divine existence itself, in a mirrored manner. In this way, mystical experiences will also be indisputably linked to the historical process of the Jewish community.

There is a small struggle between the mystics and the religious authority, which is found, in fact, in the same texts. The texts can be interpreted and reinterpreted, it is said of them that they have "six thousand faces". This multiplicity of meaning is one of the principles of Kabbalah. But at the same time, the cabalistic mystic only has visions and signs of the Jewish tradition, as it happens with the mystics of any other religion, who only glimpse things of what they believe in, or rather, of the culture of which they are part. part. For this reason, it is not surprising that the kabbalah itself, due to its interest, derived in other aspects, such as the Christian, or the western esoteric. And in this way, doors are also opened for an open study of Kabbalah, not closed to a religious community or mystics belonging to it. For this reason we find cabal notes in Pico della Mirandola (S.XV) and in Crowley (S.XX)

The origins of the Hebrew kabbalah are usually located around the 11th century, in Europe. However, its roots in notable esotericism can be seen in certain Talmudic passages where death and rebirth are spoken of in an initiatory manner. In the south of France, the Bahir appears, a text of barely forty pages with unconnected explanations of biblical passages and theosophical questions, rejected by many for its open expositions about the nature and plan of God. Around these descriptions there was controversy in medieval times and even today, since God appears as a complete entity that "divides" in his creations, and so, many people, including Rubin (1893), label the cabalists as concealed polytheists. This text spoke of middot, the divine virtues or powers.

In the 13th century appears the work that represents the central pillar of the cabalistic tradition, the Book of Splendor or Zohar, pseudepigraphic of Rabbi Moshé de León (1240-1305) who attributed his knowledge to a rabbi of the 2nd century, Simon ben Yojai. The Sefer Yetzirah, or Book of Creation, a text of supposed earlier origin, but fixed and more accepted around the 13th century, and harmonized in the 16th century with the Zohar itself, is another of the key texts of Kabbalah, where the secrets revealed to Abraham by God are exposed.

The Kabbalah ends up being, from the less mystical and more philosophical, even theosophical point of view, an enumeration of virtues in order of importance, strictly related to the idea of ​​divine perfection. For this reason, it received a lot of attention and different aspects of a common or similar thought extracted from it what was parallel to them, such as Christian Gnosticism. But it is also a search for answers. When these somehow coincide or are influenced by the medieval Muslim and Christian world, even Hellenic, turning Kabbalah into something complex and occult, as well as ethnic, was a poor but unifying goal.

The Kabbalah gained interest on the part of the Jews themselves as a result of their expulsion from Spain, where the social collapse of the community could only be understood within a structured and sustainable divine plan, something similar, why not, to what could be thought with the destruction of the Temple in the year 70. But from the 18th century, perhaps due to the immersion in European culture, Kabbalah and its study fell somewhat into apparent oblivion. But little by little, with the rise of nationalism, the memory of exile, plans for geographic relocation and anti-Semitism, the cabal returns to conform as part of Jewish culture and a reflection of their sufferings in a common whole of the universe.

The study of Torah from the kabbalistic point of view, together with that of the works: that we have mentioned above, can be interpreted in various ways directly (peshat), allegorically (remez), comparatively or bindingly (derash), and esoterically (sod ).

Kabbalah, directed mainly by the text of the Zohar, focuses on the existence of an Infinite (En-Sof), existing forever. Therefore, "nothingness" does not exist, but it is a supra-existence. There are, emanating from the Infinite, ten sefirot ("emanations") through which it is revealed and manifested. They are not literal emanations, but changes of will. According to the Sefer Yetzirah, there are 32 paths of wisdom, made up of the 10 emanated spheres or sefirot and their links or paths, which turn out to be the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, that it is enough, as it is an introduction, to mention them here: Aleph א, Beth ב, Gimel ג, Dalet ד, Hey ה, Vav ו, Zayin ז, Chet ח, Teth ט, Yod י, Kaph כ, Lamed ל, Mem מ, Nun נ, Samech ס, Ayin ע, Pei פ, Tzadi צ, Qoph ק, Reish ר, Shin ש and Tav ת.

Of these it is said that there are three "mother" letters Aleph א, Men מ and Shin ש, which correspond to the three primordial elements, air or "breath" of God, that is, the vital breath, fire and water. ; there are seven "double" letters Beth ב, Gimel ג, Dálet ד, Kaph כ, Pei פ, Reish ר and Tav ת, which are associated with the seven days of the week and the mythical Creation, or with the seven astrological planets; and the remaining twelve letters, ה ו ז ח ט י ל נ ס ע צ ק, with the months of the year, the zodiacal constellations or the twelve tribes of Israel.

There is, in turn, a cosmic division, where the three mother letters are manifested in the World, the Year/Time, and Man; the seven double letters correspond to certain aspects of the previous three: in the World, to the planets, in the Year/Time, to the days of the week, and in Man, to his two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and his mouth; the twelve simple letters, in the constellations, the months of the year and twelve parts of the body: the hands and the feet -two and two-, the two kidneys, the intestines, the liver, the stomach, the spleen, the bile and the throat.

These relationships were the ones that gave way to a thought that was more esoteric than religious mystical, and that formed an identity of the Kabbalah as a magical tool. Not surprisingly, for many, Kabbalah began as a magical practice, until its philosophical abstraction, which, however, only accentuated its esoteric nature and the interest in it outside its circles.

The ten sefirot, organized in the sefirotic tree or Tree of Life, are the following:

The first sefirah is Keter, "the crown". It is the potential, the energy, the will. From this will arise the second sefirah, Hochma, "knowledge", from which it is said that this wisdom somehow channels into En-Sof, the infinite, and distributes it through the sefirot, being the masculine principle, and the third, Bina, "understanding", the rational process, being the feminine principle. These three sefirot make up the indivisible Triangle, the Great Face or Arik Anpin. The following sefirot are the Lesser Face or Zeir Anpin, and between them there is an abyss that can only be crossed through an invisible sefirah, Daat, consciousness, or according to others, conscience: it is, in some way, man's ability to transcend .

The fourth is Jesed, or Gedulah, mercy, greatness; it is the generous will. The fifth is Geburah, or Din, "courage", "right", represents power. The sixth sefirah is Tiferet, "beauty", but understood, almost in the manner of the Greek kosmos, as "order", since within the scheme of the Tree, it connects with five of the other sefirot.

The seventh sefirah is Netsaj, "victory" or "eternity", it is understood as the feminine part of God, the polarity, the feeling and the passions. And Hod, the eighth sefirah, "the splendor", will be, of some way, its opposite, since it implies controlled thought.

The ninth sefirah is Yesod, "the foundation", it reflects the light of the higher sefirot and is exposed to Malchut, "the reign", the tenth sefirah, which receives the influence of the higher ones but has the ability to nullify them.

The sefirot are shown, mainly, as attributes of God and his will, which are linked in macrocosm and microcosm with the World and the human being. But they were also associated, as seen above, with planets and body parts, as well as angelic beings, as will be seen in a future article. Another point in common with external esoteric traditions that allowed comparison and syncretism.

Although the traditional representation is that of the tree, there are many methods to represent the cabalistic. Geometric shapes in general give a lot of play, but perhaps the circumference has been the most, since it allows the concentration and expansion of the sefirot and the creation of the so-called five worlds (olam) to be carried out in a concentric and centrifugal way:

The first is the Assiah, the underworld, where physical acts take place. The second is the Yetzirah, the mental, astral world. The third, the Beriah, the world of Creation, of the spiritual; the fourth, the Atzilut, the world of the divine, where the primordial sefirot are found. And finally, Adam Kadmon, the point where the infinite light (Or Ein Soft) is found and an interrelation with it and the Infinite is manifested. It is the beginning of Energy and Consciousness.

There are those who number these worlds in reverse, taking into account their magnificence and their creational order. However, in circular representations, the Infinite world is the circle closest to the center and therefore the smallest, so that its importance is not measured by its size but by its origin.

Each of these letters is associated with a numerical value that is used in gematria, as will be seen later: from Aleph to Yod they mean one to ten. From Kaph to Qoph, the tens from 20 to 100. Reish, Shin and Tav are 200, 300 and 400, and with a slight graphic change, Mem, Nun, Pei and Tazdi would correspond to 500, 600, 700 and 900 .

There are, for interpretation, two forms of analysis. The first is more "doctrinal" -although, as has been verified, there does not exist, due to its mystique, doubt and even rejection, a closed Kabbalistic doctrine-, focused on the analysis of texts or words from the Biblical group, which analyzes events from the supralunar (metaphysical) and sublunary (earthly) worlds.

The second method, artificial and symbolic, is preferred by all those far from the more traditional kabbalah and more focused on esotericism. Here the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, from specific texts or more randomly, are arranged in a table so that they can be read from the front and back, vertically and horizontally, or with the bustrophedon technique - a word from the Greek, where the text, at the end of a line, instead of returning to the start of the next, it continues down and in reverse order, like directions when plowing fields.

Various messages can be extracted from these texts using various techniques. The most common are the gematria or numerical value of the letters - also existing in the Pythagorean school -, through which to know dates, quantities, people...; the notaricon, or taking the initials of words to create a new one - let's not forget that Hebrew language lacks vowels, which makes this creation and its multiple interpretative possibilities possible -; and the temurah, which alters and substitutes letters following a "wheel" of the Hebrew alphabet. The first with the last of the alphabet, for example, or with the twelfth in succession, or with the preceding one, etc.

But just as there are virtues, there are also weaknesses, imperfections. These receive the name Qlifot, something like "shell" in Hebrew, from which the meaning of the superficial is extracted, the vain, which ignores the deep. Consequently, there is a Tree of Death or evil, whose branches take names of infernal beings. These, in the branches of the tree, instead of losing "divinity", gain in impurity. Yet they continue to be a part of God and creation.

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada -


-Saban, M.J. La cábala: la psicología del misticismo judío. Kairós, 2016

-Scholem, G. La cábala y su simbolismo. SXXI ed., México 2001

-Scholem G. Los orígenes de la cábala. Paidós Orientalia, Barcelona 2001

Related posts:
>Magicology (III): the two sides of the same coin
>Sephirotic correspondences.
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