What is Kabbalah? – Kabbalah Definition
What is Kabbalah? Kabbalah is an ancient wisdom tradition. Its roots are thousands of years old stemming from the Torah/Bible and the wisdom of Abraham, Moses, and the ancient prophets. Kabbalah definition: Kabbalah often described as a form of Jewish mysticism, or as the concealed inner aspects of the Jewish tradition. This knowledge is accessible to anyone with a sincere desire to learn, and the right teacher as a guide.
What is Kabbalah? Kabbalah is an original source-knowledge that guides one to:
- To know one’s destiny and the soul’s purpose in this life
- To rise above the sense of self only to a higher state of being, beyond “for me only,” to an attitude that considers the “other more than oneself”1
- To experience a sense of true freedom and self-knowing and to author one’s own life script, instead of being led by others
- To connect with the source of all creation and live spiritually (in Olam Elion), and physically (in Olam Hazeh), right here on earth, with full clarity, grace, and happiness.1
My kabbalah teacher expresses it this way:
“When we build and develop that “spiritual sense” beyond our limited five senses we enter into a new spiritual dimension of being, and shifting from the “will for me only” to align, think and act with the “will of the creator.” – Kabbalist Samuel Avital, from GoKabbalahNow
For more information on what Kabbalah is read on below and check out my Kabbalah Essentials articles:
- What is Kabbalah: Kabbalah Definition
- Kabbalah Tree of Life
- Meanings of the Hebrew Letters
- Recommended Kabbalah Books
Without the right background, kabbalistic wisdom can be confusing and impenetrable. That is why I am creating the Walking Kabbalah Blog, where you can learn more about the practical basis for living Kabbalah. This blog contains transformative principles shared with me over the course of 10 years of study with my teacher, Samuel Avital, which have changed my life completely. I consider it an amazing resource for beginning to not just think about, but live, kabbalah.
Finally, to study kabbalah, the most crucial task is to find an authentic kabbalist to teach you. That is no easy task. You can read suggestions from my teacher here: Finding a Kabbalah Teacher
What is Kabbalah? – To Receive
Kabbalah definition: What meaning of Kabbalah in Hebrew? The word Kabbalah קבלה means to receive, and is related to the Hebrew word for tradition. Kabbalah is more than just information – it is a living knowledge and because of this must be transmitted from authentic kabbalist to student, as it has been passed down since ancient times.
In kabbalah, the influence of the Creator can be compared to the sun. Outside, the sun shines continuously, but if our windows are dirty, or our shades are drawn, we cannot see it. So, learning kabbalah is the art of learning to clean ourselves of the negativities and distortions that cloud the clear lens through which we experience spirituality and feel the profoundness and beauty of life.
It is also interesting to compare the word Kabbalah to our English word cable, which actually derives from the same root word. If a cable is connected, energy flows through it. Similarly if we live in alignment and connection with the source of all life, (that is, following the ways of God), we experience a greater sense of life connection and energy.
What Kabbalah Is Not
Now you know the Kabbalah definition. What Kabbalah is not includes: a cult, anything to do with magic, occultism, tarot cards, talismans, red bracelets, self-help, new age philosophy, etc. Some people have been confused about this because certain self-proclaimed “magical” or occultic groups have attempted to take symbols of the kabbalah such as the tree of life, and use them in a distorted way.
This is probably because they hoped to by doing so to piggyback on the knowledge and credibility of actual kabbalists, who were often respected and revered sages. It is very important to realize that these groups have no real understanding of Kabbalah. The information they provide is actually that of their own distorted traditions, and has nothing to do with actual kabbalah.
Real kabbalah has its roots in the Torah (the first part of the bible) and has been practiced by respected and spiritually committed Rabbis and sages throughout history. There is nothing magical or occult about it.
Some Principles of Kabbalah
The Oneness of God – The first principle of teachings of Kabbalah (and Judaism in general) is the Oneness of the Creator. God is the one source of everything in existence. Connected to this is the idea that everything we go through in life is not just a physical experience, but actually, a spiritual one. To the kabbalist, each person’s soul is here for a purpose and has certain restorations to do in this life. In this light, every life event that occurs, whether apparently ‘good’ or ‘bad’, every person that we meet, etc, has come to us for a reason, and is an opportunity for learning and growth. To the kabbalist, normal human life events are not ‘normal’ at all, but are actually spiritual learning opportunities.
The Vessel and the Light – One of the principles in Kabbalah is that of the Vessel and the Light. A kabbalist might say that there are actually only two things in existence – a vessel (the physical world) and the light (spirituality). The purpose of the physical world is simply to act as a container for the spiritual. However, currently, the vessel is flawed and cannot contain the full measure of the light. Therefore, it is the job of humankind to repair the flaws in the vessel, so that we can experience closeness with the Creator, and so that we can experience spirituality, even while living our normal physical lives – uniting the light and the vessel. This brings us to the repair and restoration, the tikkun, which is explained below.
Tikkun – The idea of Tikkun (restoration, repair) is that the Creator has given a responsibility to humanity, which is to create restoration in the world. This is to repair the problems in the world – to end things like war and cruelty, via acts of kindness, living in justice, etc.
However, the kabbalist will say to restore the world, restore yourself first . Ultimately, this involves an involved path of refining and restoring oneself. Many more superficial spiritual traditions may try to go around this point, but it absolutely essential for the student of kabbalah. Once again, this is because kabbalah is not information; it is not a set of things to memorize, but actually involves an entirely different state of being. In order to even approach kabbalah, one must learn to be a better person. Without that, memorizing charts of sefirot, or learning about world of emanation, will be of no use whatsoever. Otherwise, the flaws in our character are like blocks that prevent us from realizing our true sense of spiritual connection.
The Tree of Life – The Tree of Life is probably the most known set of symbols of the Kabbalah. It can be considered a type of map of consciousness. The Tree consists of the 10 Sefirot (Sefiroth). Each Sefirah (singular of sefirot) corresponds to a quality of Godliness.
Keter – The Crown
Hochmah – Wisdom, or Gedulah, Greatness
(Da’at) – (Knowledge, quasi-sefirah, sometimes listed as the 10th sefirah in place of Keter)
Binah – Understanding
Hesed – Complete Kindness and Mercy
Gevurah – Judgement, Strength
Tiferet – Glory (Also called Rahamim, Mercy, because it balances between Kindness Hesed, and Gevurah, Judgment)
Netzah – Victory
Hod – Majesty
Yesod – Foundation
Malchut – Kingdom
The five middle sefirot qualities are named explicitly and in order in I Chronicles 29:11: “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness (gedulah), the strength (gevurah), the glory (tiferet), the power (netzach), and the splendor (hod).
This Tree of Life is an entire topic unto itself and is one of the core concepts in kabbalah, so I recommend reading more about it using these resources.
Origins of Kabbalah
Origins Many Kabbalists believe that the wisdom of kabbalah originates from Abraham, Moses, and the Prophets, and has been passed down throughout time.
Middle Ages and the Zohar During the middle ages, many mystical kabbalistic teachings were committed to writing in books like the Zohar, the “Book of Splendor”. The Zohar is certainly the most well known, and some believe the most central kabbalistic book, although many other kabbalistic books exist. The Zohar was recorded by Moses de Leon, who attributed the book as the mystical writings of 2nd century Talmudic sage, Rabbi Shimeon Bar Yochai (Rashbi), the disciple of the famous Rabbi Akiva. However, many scholars believe Moses de Leon wrote the work himself during the middle ages.
The Ari and 16th Century Safed (Tzfat) The other most notable period of kabbalistic study bloomed in 16th century Safed, or Tzfat, in the Galilee. Rabbi Isaac Luria, also known as the Ari, or the Arizal, taught kabbalah during this period. The Ari is the most well-known kabbalist and is considered the father of modern kabbalah. (The Ari himself produced few writings, but his close disciple, Rabbi Hayyim Vital recorded his teachings in books such as Etz Hayyim). Many other great kabbalists created works during this period including, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (the Ramak), author of Pardes Rimonim. Many of the works from this time period expounded on and systematized information from the Zohar and other early kabbalistic works.
There is of course so much more to the history of kabbalah and so many kabbalists of note who have existed throughout history. You can read more about them here:
History of Kabbalah
Key Kabbalistic Books
Some of the most famous original kabbalistic texts include:
- Sefer Yetzirah – The Book of Formation – (c. 3rd-6th century C.E., exact date of origin unknown)
- Sefer HaBahir – The Book of Illumination (c.1180)
- Sefer HaZohar – The Book of Splendor (c. 1280) – the central and most famous book of kabbalah
- Etz Hayyim – The Tree of Life (c. 1592) – the recorded teachings of the Arizal, commentaries on the Zohar.
Importance and Meaning of the Hebrew Letters
The meanings of the Hebrew letters are an essential part of kabbalistic knowledge. Ancient kabbalistic texts refer to the world as having been created through the letters, and kabbalists consider each letter to represent a certain spiritual power or energy. Insight into the underlying meaning of each letter is considered very important to understand kabbalistic texts.
Many kabbalistic meditation techniques, such as those expounded by 13th century kabbalist Abraham Abulafia (1240-1296), involve meditation on Hebrew letters, or on certain combinations of Hebrew letters.
Read more about the Hebrew letters and their meanings here:
So How Do I Learn Kabbalah?
The definition of Kabbalah is not its essence. Information is not knowledge. Just knowing the law of gravity will not give you the ability to fly an airplane, nor will it make you feel the joy of flight. Similarly, facts about the tree of life, the letters, etc, are helpful, but they are not the same as kabbalah. Kabbalah must be a lived wisdom that brings you closer to your true spiritual nature. Otherwise, all the information in the world is merely commentary and noise.
To know and experience what is kabbalah, the most important thing is to find an authentic kabbalist who will teach you. (Just beware that the journey is long, and is not for those who are uncommitted.)
And to help you in the journey, I also recommend reading the Walking Kabbalah Blog. My plan for this blog is to share the culmination of the amazing knowledge I have inherited during 9 years studying intensively with a master kabbalist. It is important for me to share this because it is practical knowledge that you can start applying now and which, if practiced, can have a completely transformational effect on your life, and put you on the path to truly understanding kabbalah. At the risk of sounding repetitive, I will say it one more time – having information on kabbalah will never hold a candle to what it will be like when you experience the real thing.
Wishing you the best on your journey.
What is Kabbalah?
So what is Kabbalah? Kabbalah Definition 1: An Ancient Jewish mystical tradition
What is Kabbalah? Kabbalah Definition 2: The ability to receive the spiritual tradition
What is Kabbalah? Kabbalah Definition 3: A study, but also a set of keys to different way of being and living spiritually while in the physical world.
What is Kabbalah? Kabbalah Definition 4: The true nature of Kabbalah is always a concealed mystery, because it relates to closeness to the Creator, whose greatness is beyond our understanding
Kabbalah Definitions from the Web
Kabbalah Definition from Online Dictionary: The ancient Jewish tradition of mystical interpretation of the Bible, first transmitted orally and using esoteric methods (including ciphers). It reached the height of its influence in the later Middle Ages and remains significant in Hasidism.
Kabbalah Definition from Chabad.org: Often referred to as the “soul” of the Torah, the Kabbalah is an ancient Jewish tradition which teaches the deepest insights into the essence of G‑d
Kabbalah Definition from Wikipedia: Kabbalah (Hebrew: קַבָּלָה, literally “receiving/tradition”) is an esoteric method, discipline, and school of thought that originated in Judaism