The Wisdom of the Kabbalah: Handed down in the oral tradition for thousands of years and transcribed in fourteenth-century Spain, the Kabbalah is the classical expression of Jewish mysticism. This collection draws from the main work of Kabbalah—Sepher ha-Zohar, or The Book of Splendor.
The Wisdom of the Talmud: Developed in the Jewish academies of Palestine and Babylonia, the Talmud is the rabbinical commentary on the Torah. From man’s purpose and miracles, to marriage and wellness, to consciousness and community, the Talmud considers the practice of faith on a daily basis through a changing world. This approachable guide explores how interpretation of the Torah has informed Jewish life for thousands of years.
The Wisdom of the Torah: In Hebrew, the word Torah means instruction, and for thousands of years, the Torah has provided instruction in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The inspirational selections in this collection include some of its most powerful and poetic passages, such as “The Poems of King David,” “The Parables of King Solomon,” and “The Love Songs of King Solomon.”
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Why is there so much interest today in the ancient, esoteric school of thought known as Kabbalah? Celebrities from Madonna and Roseanne Barr to Ashton Kutcher and Donna Karan have brought new attention to this mystic tradition, albeit in a somewhat watered-down form. Red Kabbalah string bracelets appear on the wrists of Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton and countless more latter-day followers of New Age pop culture trends. But is the current interest in the study of Kabbalah just a fad, a feel-good religion lite? If not, what relevance can this mystical aspect of rabbinical Judaism have for us in the twenty-first century?
The word kabbalah derives from the Hebrew word for "receiving"; in its contemporary, mundane form in the language of modern Israel, the word is used in reference to hotel reception desks and restaurant receipts. In its traditional, sacred sense, kabbalah applies to the knowledge of God received by those who devote themselves to its study. In addition to receiving wisdom, adherents also emphasize the notion of giving-to the community and the broader world. For individual deeds, performed by the tzaddik, the righteous one, Kabbalah teaches how to reestablish the divine order of things and bring about Tikkun, or restoration of the world.
On the surface, the Kabbalah appears to consist of mind-bogglingly complex interpretations of the metaphoric language of the biblical verses, accompanied by often dizzying numerological schemas. But a deeper reading of the texts reveals its wisdom, as the Kabbalah aims to explain the profound mysteries of the Universe, meaning God's creation.
The origins of Kabbalah are nearly as old as the Talmudic tradition itself. Originally, as with a vast amount of biblical literature and its accompanying commentary, the wisdom of Kabbalah was transmitted orally. Although its beginnings most likely go back many centuries further, the earliest publication of the Sepher ha-Zohar (The Book of Splendor), the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah, dates only to the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century.
It was then that Jewish scholars, principally in Spain, began to commit to written form scriptural knowledge that had been passed down orally for generations — but which was considered esoteric (forbidden to be discussed openly in public). The Zohar is a group of books, including commentary, on the mystical aspects of the Torah (the five books of Moses) and scriptural interpretations, as well as material on theosophical theology, mythical cosmogony, and mystical psychology. The selections that appear in The Wisdom of the Kabbalah are taken from the Zohar. The Zohar is not considered complete without the addition of certain appendixes, which are often attributed either to the same author, or to some of his immediate disciples. These supplementary portions are almost always printed as part of the text with separate titles, or in separate columns.
In the Zohar, the ten rabbis represent the ten emanations of God: Wisdom, Reason, Knowledge, Greatnesss, Strength, Beauty, Eternity, Majesty, Principle, and Sovereignty. As the chief among them, Rabbi Schimeon, representing Wisdom, reveals to his companions a vision of the Unknowable One: they are given a glimpse of the immensity of the Creator. Of course the Unknowable One can only be perceived by man in some symbolic form, and what follows in Socratic dialog style is the deconstruction of a vision.
At times almost hallucinatory, at others excrutiatingly detailed (the hairs on the beard of the Great One are counted), the dialog and exposition contained in this volume are an attempt to decribe the indescribable, "the Arcanum of Arcana ... what men can neither know nor comprehend, nor can they apply their rules of science to it." This is not science, it is not even precisely theology — it is gnostic, gnomic literature at its zenith. The tools that are used are the words, letters, numbers, single strokes of language that are man's best attempt to have even a glimpse of the immensity of Creation, to see the countenance of the Ancient of Days.
In the Judeo-Christian world, we are constantly confronted with the undeniable reality of the influence of the Bible on our culture. Even if we consider ourselves exclusively agnostic, we must acknowledge that without the tradition of the Hebrew Bible (known to non-Jews as the Old Testament) there would be no New Testament, reliant as it is on the earlier tradition: many episodes in the Gospel are "prefigured" by events in the Old Testament. And even though many of us know nothing of the Koran, we must understand that it acknowledges and honors Moses and Jesus as great prophets, albeit in a lesser light than the Last Prophet, Mohammad. Over the centuries, the Bible and its history has clearly had a profound influence, however its words have been interpreted by the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths that share it.
Kabbalah potentially frees those of us who accept the notion of a universal creator (in whatever form) from the cultural limits of "religion" as we know it. Kabbalah is based on the "theology" of schechinah, essentially the idea that every part of creation contains a particle of the Creator's being, and each of us shares in what is considered the divine essence. We all then have a place in creation, and a responsibility for that same creation.
Kabbalah represents a perhaps more universal sense of the yearning than is represented by any established religion, or the adherence to any exclusive belief. The meaning of our existence here on earth has for virtually every culture presented the most profoundly perplexing but urgent question for thoughtful people with or without a spiritual inclination. We are all, believers or nonbelievers, in our hearts or in our souls (metaphors intended) searching for a connection to something that we know or profoundly hope will answer the question: what is the meaning of life? The attempts throughout human history to find purpose in this earthly life — the search for power, glory, wealth, martyrdom, a legacy — are innumerable and range across millennia and cultures, let alone religious aspirations. They attribute for much of the motivation behind the strife and selflessness of mankind throughout world history.
Hebrew has long been considered an ambiguous language by modern standards, and care in its interpretation is essential. In its written form, classical Hebrew contains only twenty-two consonants (the markers indicating vowels having been established perhaps a thousand years after the biblical period), ten numbers, and two verb tenses, indicating perfect, or completed, and imperfect, or ongoing, action. Kabbalah teaches that every Hebrew letter, word, number, even the accent on words of the Hebrew Bible contains a hidden sense; and it teaches the methods of interpretation for ascertaining these meanings. Each letter in Hebrew is used to represent numbers: Hebrew, unlike many other languages, never developed a separate numerical alphabet. By converting letters to numbers, Kabbalists were able to find a hidden meaning in each word, and discover encoded messages in the Torah.
In contrast, the Talmud, in essence interpretation upon interpretation, commentary upon commentary, represented the legalistic side of Judaism. This "Oral Law" arguably defined the Jewish people, with its ritual sanctions on dietary, sartorial, and sexual practices, among other aspects of quotidian life. Many of the formulations were acknowledged and adapted by successor beliefs, sometimes not without controversy (halal preparation is commonly perceived to be the same as kosher; the wisdom of male circumcision, in spite of medically acknowledged benefits, is debated to this day). However, the laws promulgated in this way set the Jewish people apart; and because, at the simplest level, others feared outsiders or resented those who set themselves apart, the Jews were singled out for persecution beyond comprehension. Yet the tradition prevailed.
Interest in Kabbalah, the mystical side of Judaism, has waxed and waned through the centuries. But the influence is wide ranging. The ideas contained in Kabbalah appear in the gnomic symbols of the Freemasons (and from them, perhaps, the rituals of the Church of Latter Day Saints, the Mormans), and — along with Gnosticism and alchemy — inspired psychologist Carl Jung to formulate his notion of archetypes and the collective unconscious in the last decades of his life. And today, of course, Kabbalah centers have sprung up from Jerusalem to London, New York to Los Angeles.
Traditionally, Kabbalah teachings have been considered so complex and so easily misinterpreted that few have been initiated into its secrets. Students were cautioned to approach the texts only after a solid grounding in Jewish law and literature. For most of its history, study of the Kabbalah was limited to a select handful of gifted (of course male) rabbinical students, or to devout married Jewish men over forty.
While the traditional, orthodox strain of Kabbalah remains active, today the teachings of the Kabbalah have attracted a broader audience. For many, the discipline's elements include the study of mystical texts, prayer, and meditation in an attempt to draw closer to the divine. Many contemporary followers assert that it offers not a "religious" but a spiritual connection to the infinite — that through prayer and meditation, and reading of the mystical texts, a person can reconnect to the energy of Creation and draw closer to the divine. The process, they claim, can lead to a new understanding of the self and others, and reconnection with the world around us.
The Zohar, as presented in The Wisdom of the Kabbalah, represents a sampling of the thought that for centuries, if not millennia, has inspired a profound sense of connection between the world as we know it, and the world as we know it can and should be.
Excerpted from "Jewish Wisdom"
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Table of Contents
THE WISDOM OF THE KABBALAH,
II. On the Condition of the World of Vacancy,
III. Concerning the Ancient One, or Macropro-sopus, and Concerning His Parts, and Especially Concerning His Skull,
IV. Concerning the Dew, or Moisture of the Brain, of the Ancient One, or Macroprosopus,
V. Further Concerning the Skull of Macroprosopus,
VI. Concerning the Membrane of the Brain of Macroprosopus,
VII. Concerning the Hair of Macroprosopus,
VIII. Concerning the Forehead of Macroprosopus,
IX. Concerning the Eyes of Macroprosopus,
X. Concerning the Nose of Macroprosopus,
XI. Concerning the Beard of Macroprosopus in General,
XII. Concerning the Beard of Macroprosopus in Particular; and, in the First Place, Concerning Its First Part,
XIII. Concerning the Second Part of the Beard of Macroprosopus,
XIV. Concerning the Third Part of the Beard of Macroprosopus,
XV Concerning the Fourth Part of the Beard of Macroprosopus,
XVI. Concerning the Fifth Part of the Beard of Macroprosopus,
XVII. Concerning the Sixth Part of the Beard of Macroprosopus,
XVIII. Concerning the Seventh Part of the Beard of Macroprosopus,
XIX. Concerning the Eighth Part of the Beard of Macroprosopus,
XX. Concerning the Ninth Part of the Beard of Macroprosopus,
XXI. Concerning the Tenth and Eleventh Parts of the Beard of Macroprosopus,
XXII. Concerning the Twelfth Part of the Beard of Macroprosopus,
XXIII. Concerning the Thirteenth Part of the Beard of Macroprosopus,
XXIV. Conclusion of the Matter Concerning Macroprosopus,
XXV. The Ingress of Microprosopus,
XXVI. Concerning the Edomite Kings,
XXVII. Concerning the Skull of Microprosopus and Its Appurtenances; Namely, Concerning the Subtle Air, and the Fire, and the Dew,
XXVIII. Concerning the Brain and Membrane of the Brain of Microprosopus,
XXIX. Concerning the Hair of Microprosopus,
XXX. Concerning the Forehead of Microprosopus,
XXXI. Concerning the Eyes of Microprosopus,
XXXII. Concerning the Nose of Microprosopus,
XXXIII. Concerning the Ears of Microprosopus,
XXXIV. Concerning the Beard of Microprosopus,
XXXV. Concerning the First Part of the Beard of Microprosopus,
XXXVI. Concerning the Second Part of the Beard of Microprosopus,
XXXVII. Concerning the Third Part of the Beard of Microprosopus,
XXXVIII. Concerning the Seven Last Portions of the Beard of Microprosopus,
XXXIX. Concerning the Body of Microprosopus in General, under the Condition of an Androgyn,
XL. Concerning the Feminine Portion of Microprosopus; and Concerning the Remaining Parts of the Body of Each,
XLI. Concerning the Separate Members of Each Personification, and Especially Concerning the Arms of Microprosopus,
XLII. Concerning the Separation of the Masculine and the Feminine, and Concerning Their Conjunction,
XLIII. Concerning the Judgments,
XLIV. Further Remarks Concerning the Supernal Man,
THE WISDOM OF THE TALMUD,
The Talmud as Literature,
The Forerunners of the Talmud,
The Talmud in Its Historical Setting,
The Theological Elements in the Talmud,
Social Ethics in the Talmud,
Personal Morality in the Talmud,
The Jurisprudence of the Talmud,
Human Wisdom in the Talmud,
THE WISDOM OF THE TORAH,
The Men Behind the Book,
From the Books of Moses,
The Ballad of Job,
Poems of King David,
Parables of King Solomon,
Solomon's Elegy on Vanity,
The Vision of Isaiah,
The Lament of Jeremiah,
Ethics of King Solomon,
Aphorisms of Jeshu ben Sirah,
The Love Songs of King Solomon,