Rabbi Isaac Luria – Master of the Kabballa

  • Rabbi Yitchok Luria announced in the introduction to his books Eight Gates to the Kabballa that times have changed and it is important for everyone to learn the Kabballa.
  • The Kabballa, the Zohar and Torat Hakana revealed in Judaism the secret of two spiritual supernal lights which interact in life.
  • They are connected to the two laws of Moses the Oral Law exclusively dealing with Jewish religion, the commandments and their observance and the written Law containing the secrets of God and the universe, universal and national.

On the 5th of the Jewish month of Av which falls out this year on August 8, 2019 is celebrated the memorial date of the Kabballist from the city of Zefat in the Galilee.  People will come from all over the world to pray at his grave site in the Old Cemetary in Zefat on this day. Rabbi Yitchok Luria became famous even in the gentile world through the kabbala centers of Rabbi Philip Berg where in California the famous singer Madonna became interested in his teachings.

When Madonna performed at Eurovision 2019 after the performance she went to visit Zefat to renew her connection to the Kabballa.  Rabbi Yitchok Luria announced in the introduction to his books Eight Gates to the Kabballa that times have changed and it is important for everyone to learn the Kabballa. In this way he promised that will come the redemption.  Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu the chief Rabbi of Zefat to Madonna a letter requesting that she respect the holiness of the land of Israel and the city of Zefat and request from everyone accompanying her to dress properly when visiting holy places. The letter was published in the Israel news.

The grave of the Arizal located in the old cemetery.

Even though the Arizal proclaimed the importance of spreading the Kabballa there is opposition to Rabbi Philip Berg and his Kabballa centers which teach Kabballa to reformed Jews and to gentiles.  The traditional opinion is that Kabballa should only be learned after learning all of the books on Jewish law Talmud and Halacha. The Arizal in his introduction to his books teaches that the Kabballa is of primary importance and that after learning Jewish law most of the time should be spent in the study of the Kabballa. He did not intend that children in Day Schools should learn Kabballa where they begin to study Mishna and Gemara with Jewish law.  According to the Arizal child education is only a preparation for the study of Kabballa.

In a controversial part of his introduction he attacks Rabbis that have not learned the Kabballa that they are not qualified to lead their congregations. He compares them to those that built the Tower of Babel for personal gains and not for the sake of HaShem the name of God.  In his introduction he gives a brief history of the study of Kabballa.  At Mount Sinai was received by Moses and the Jewish people all the secrets of the Torah including the laws and commandments.  The light of God received at Mount Sinai was of the highest level of Kabballa called Mercava or divine chariot.  The whole generation of the wilderness which wondered forty years before entering into Israel knew the secrets of the Kabballa. They not only learned Kabballa but they lived Kabballa eating Manna food from heaven each morning and drinking water from a mystical well. In the wilderness the Jews received prophesy.  Moses is called the greatest of all prophets but there were many prophets.  Prophesy is connected to divine revelation.

Kabbalah (Hebrew: קַבָּלָה, literally “reception, tradition” or “correspondence” is an esoteric method, discipline, and school of thought of Judaism. A traditional Kabbalist in Judaism is called a Mequbbāl. The definition of Kabbalah varies according to the tradition and aims of those following it, from its religious origin as an integral part of Judaism, to its later adaptations in Western esotericism (Christian Kabbalah and Hermetic Qabalah). Jewish Kabbalah is a set of esoteric teachings meant to explain the relationship between God, the unchanging, eternal, and mysterious Ein Sof (אֵין סוֹף, “The Infinite”), and the mortal and finite universe (God’s creation). It forms the foundation of mystical religious interpretations within Judaism.

During the forty years that the Jews wandered in the wilderness, children were born after the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai on the 6th day of Sivan fifty days after Exodus from Egypt.  The children of the generation of the wilderness were not all on the level of their fathers.  Of the generation of the wilderness only Joshua and Calev entered the land of Israel from the generation of the wilderness.  Joshua was the student of Moses chosen to be his successor.  The learning of Kabballa which was stressed in the wilderness became secondary to the learning of Torah law after the Jews entered into Israel with Joshua.  There was still prophesy during the period of the first temple which stood for over four hundred years but in the time of the second temple prophesy died out. When the Jews went into exile after the destruction of the second temple, the secrets of the Kabballa and prophesy were forgotten until twelve hundred years later when was discovered the Zohar.

About the year 1200 AD was discovered manuscripts containing mystical secrets which were forgotten during the exile.  The main manuscript the Zohar The book of Splendor is attributed to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai who lived shortly after the destruction of the temple a student of Rabbi Akiva one of the ten martyrs.  One of the first to examine these manuscripts was the Ramban Nachmonides.  The Zohar was accepted as being authentic and about six hundred years ago Rabbi Moses Cordevero living in Sefat studied and commented on the Zohar.  The Zohar contained parts which conflicted with Orthodox Judaism but these parts were overlooked.  The depth of knowledge of all aspects of the Torah of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai could not be denied. The Arizal was the student of Rabbi Moses Cordevero also called the Ramak.

After the death of Arizal, Judaism reached a crisis period.  Shabtei Tzvi learned in Kabballa claimed to be the Messiah.  Almost all the leaders of Israel believed in him.  Eventually he was revealed to be a false Messiah who even converted to Islam. About three hundred years ago began Chassidism a new movement in Judaism spreading the Kabballa and preaching Messianic ideals.  Today the Kabballa is learned in the way of Chassidut taught by Chassidic masters and by Sephardic Kabballa schools which learn exclusively the works of the Arizal commented on by later Kabballists, Rashash, Torat Chochom, and other  Sephardic Kabbalists.  The difference between the study of Kabballa of Chassidism and Sephardic schools is Chassidism tries to unite wisdom of the Kabballa with the heart and love including in it song and dance, while in Sephardic schools the study is almost completely intellectual. Both Chassidic and Sephardic schools follow Halacha Jewish law also called the Oral Torah.  Both Chassidic and Sephardic schools of Kabballa today consider the study of Jewish law of ultimate importance as much or more than the study of Kabballa.

The Kabballa, the Zohar and Torat Hakana revealed in Judaism the secret of two spiritual supernal lights which interact in life which are connected to the two laws of Moses the Oral Law exclusively dealing with Jewish religion, the commandments and their observance and the written Law containing the secrets of God and the universe universal and national.  They are described in the Kabballa Zohar and Hakana as two distinct lights, connecting to Adam and connecting to Jewish unique lineage.  According to the Oral law there is only one spiritual source called the side of holiness.  According to the Zohar there are two spiritual connections to God and each one connects to another Messiah.  The great difference in thought between Kabballa and traditional Judaism on the goals of redemption through the Messiah became a factor in the future of Jewish thought and philosophy. Even today there are traditional Rabbis that deny the need for studying the Kabballa. The Kabballa of the Arizal is unique because it only discusses the side of the secrets on the Jewish side of holiness Jewish law and ignores the other side Universal truth. The Jewish scholars of the Talmud preferred the study of the Kabballa of the Arizal because it removed all conflicts between mysticism and traditional Halacha. The Universal aspect of the Kabballa is in the Zohar but commentaries emphasize the religious aspect of the Kabballa rather than faith.

Madonna is dedicated to Kabbalah, and in 2004 she adopted the name Esther which in Persian means “star”. She has donated millions of dollars to New York and London schools teaching the subject. She faced opposition from rabbis who felt Madonna’s adoption of the Kabbalah was sacrilegious and a case of celebrity dilettantism. Madonna defended her studies, saying: “It would be less controversial if I joined the Nazi Party”, and that her involvement with the Kabbalah is “not hurting anybody”. The influence of the Kabbalah was subsequently observed in Madonna’s music, especially albums like Ray of Light and Music. During the Re-Invention World Tour, at one point in the show, Madonna and her dancers wore T-shirts that read “Kabbalists Do It Better”.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed memory comments on the conflict between the two sides of holiness in reference to the coming of the Messiah. It says that Elijah the prophet will escort the Messiah into the world announcing his coming.  This can happen in one moment.  This occasion will be called the Great Sabbath.  However God created the world for people to build in it a dwelling place for God which requires work.  Before the Sabbath comes six days of work. The Kabballa of the Arizal gave Jewish scholars and interested students work to learn and master his teachings in preparation for the coming of Elijah the prophet.  When Elijah and the Messiah will come there will be great joy Sabbath rest and redemption from all suffering. However the world will continue to exist with everyday activities.  The Arizal added to Jewish life teachings of Mystical Judaism even to be learned after the coming of the Messiah he should come soon in our days.

Madonna is anxious to see the Messianic era revealed in this world and through visiting the holy city of Sefat she renewed her connection to Arizal and the Kabballa. Surely many other gentiles and Jews from all backgrounds need strengthening of faith. The Kabballa has come to Judaism and the world in the battle against Atheism.  There are two aspects of the nation of Amalek revealed in two portions of the Torah.  Amalek is the nation whose will is to make all of humanity atheists. Amalek is also called the nation which seeks to destroy the Jewish people. For the battle against Atheism the spreading of the Kabballa is crucial and there are no prerequisites for learning the Kabballa.

The Messiah will remove the suffering from life but there will still remain work to do both spiritual work and secular work.  About this said the Rambam, in the times of the Messiah the world will continue to exist according to its natural way. People will have a direct connection to God through faith as well as the connection to God through religion and scripture. The whole world will know God from child to adult. (Jerimiah 29).

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David Wexelman

Rabbi David Wexelman is the  author of five books on the topics of World Unity and Peace, and Progressive Jewish Spirituality. Rabbi Wexelman is a member of the American Friends of Maccabee, a charitable organization helping the poor in the United States and in Israel.  Donations are tax deductible in the USA.
http://www.worldunitypeace.org

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