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 The Kabbalah Mystique

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PostSubject: The Kabbalah Mystique   Wed Nov 15, 2006 4:27 pm

By Jeff Mishlove

The kabbalah (also cabala and kabala) was an esoteric system of Jewish mysticism based largely on an oral tradition and on the obscure biblical commentaries known as the Zohar.

http://jeff.zaadz.com/blog/2006/5/prophecy_and_kabbalah

Much of the kabbalah involves a symbolic arithmetic in which the letters of the Hebrew alphabet are quantified - words in the Bible with the same numeric value are thought to have esoteric equivalence.

The clearest indications of a relationship between Jewish mysticism and psi training stem from the writings of kabbalists during the 13th century in Spain. For the first time, in the particularly influential rabbinic circle of Gerona, books were written ‘in attempts to bring the major ideas of esoteric kabbalah to a wider public, whereas these teachings had previously been reserved for a select few. Scholem notes that it is doubtful that these kabbalists would have had any great influence were it not for the stature of one of their colleagues, Moses ben Nahman (Nahmanides) (c. 1194-1270), who was the highest legal and religious authority of his time in Spain.

The Gerona kabbalists advocated a new form of “prophetic kabbalah” in which visions of the future were obtained through a combination of techniques involving the use of sacred names, numerology, and “a powerful renewal of ecstatic tendencies.”

The second exponent of a “prophetic kabbalah” in 13th century Spain was Abraham Abulafia, whose influence extends to the present day and who was himself influenced by German pietist Jews known as Hasidei Ashkanaz a well as Sufis whom he met during travels in the east. Scholem describes his system as follows: “This mystical discipline made use of the letters of the alphabet, and especially of the Tetragrammaton and the other Names of God, for the purpose of training in meditation. By immersing himself in various combinations of letters and names, the kabbalist emptied his mind of all natural forms that might prevent his concentrating on divine matters. In this way he freed his soul of its natural restraints and opened it to the divine influx, with whose aid he might even attain to prophecy…. Abulafia himself described quite explicitly and in a seemingly objective manner, just what were the obstacles and dangers, as well as the rewards, that such mystical experience could bring…. The techniques of ‘prophetic kabbalah' that were used to aid the ascent of the soul, such as breathing exercises, the repetition of the Divine Names, and meditation on colors, bear a marked resemblance to those of both Indian Yoga and Muslim Sufism.”

Ginsburg (1864/1956) offers another description of Abulafia's teachings: “To have the prophetic faculty and to see visions ought to be the chief aim, and these are secured by leading an ascetic life, by banishing all worldly feelings, by retiring into a quiet closet, by dressing oneself in white apparel, by putting on the fringed garment and the phylacteries; by sanctifying the soul so as to be fit to hold converse with the Deity; by pronouncing the letters composing the divine names with certain modulations of the voice and divine pauses; by exhibiting the divine names in various diagrams under divers energetic movements, turnings and bendings of the body, till the voice gets confused and the heart is filled with fervor. When one has gone through these Practices and is in such a condition, the fullness of the Godhead is shed abroad in the human soul: the soul then unites itself with the divine soul in a kiss, and prophetic revelations follow as a Matter of course.”

Abulafia's status as a mystical poet and influential kabbalistic teacher is recognized by historians. The status of his prophecies have yet to be evaluated, although he wrote 22 unpublished prophetic treatises. In 1296, he moved to Jerusalem where he had a revelation of the restoration of a Jewish state in Israel. On the other hand, earlier in 1281 he had had a call from God to convert the Pope, Martin IV, to Judaism.

Scholem notes a trend within the literature of kabbalah to avoid discussing “occult phenomena,” that he associates with a general tendency of kabbalists to refrain from discussing their experiences in the autobiographical form, which was common in the mystical literature of both Christianity and Islam. However, he does mention a personal memoir written by one anonymous disciple of Abulafia. Scholem also mentions some of the forms which kabbalistic prophecy is said to take. He notes that in a number of places, “prophecy is defined as the experience wherein a man sees the form of his own self standing before him and relating the future to him.” In other rare cases, initiates are said to perceive “invisible letters that spelled out the secret nature of each man's thoughts and deeds which hovered every head.” These letters relate to the concept of the “aura,” which was well-known to kabbalists as the ha-avir ha-sppiri or “saphiric ether.” It was said to surround all men and provide a record of all their movements.

Scholem further notes various sources that refer to spiritualistic phenomena produced both spontaneously and deliberately: “… the ‘levitating table' … was particularly widespread in Germany from the 16th century on. According to one eyewitness report, the ceremony was accompanied by a recital of Divine Names taken from practical kabbalah and the singing of psalms and hymns (Wagenseil, Sota. 1674). An acquaintance of Wagenseil's told him (ibid., 1196) of how he had seen some yeshiva students from Wuerzburg who had studied in Fuerth lift such a table with the aid of Divine Names. Specific instructions for table levitation have been preserved in a number of kabbalistic manuscripts (e.g., Jerusalem 1080 8 o). The use of divining rods is also known in such literature, from the 15th century on at the latest.”

Scholem points out that for a period of about three hundred years, roughly from 1500 to 1800, kabbalah was widely considered to be the basis of authentic Jewish theology. Other approaches were considered minor and during this time there were no open polemical attacks on the teachings of the kabbalah. It not clear that this influence included the area of psi training apart from prayer, customs, and ethics.

In the l9th century, Jewish mysticism was revived with the growth of the Hassidic movement, founded by Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, more commonly known as the Baal Shem Tov or “master of the holy name.” The Hassidic movement continued the kabbalistic practices of previous generations and added an element of emotional enthusiasm and intensity resulting in grassroots movement which challenged the leadership of the rabbinical scholars of the time. Many tales indicative of psi functioning are told of the Hassidic rabbis and their students.

The term Baal Shem, or Baal Shem Tov, had been used for centuries to refer to adepts of kabbalistic formulas and wonder workers. Often the term was associated with charlatans and adventurers who were treated with disapproval by kabbalistic scholars such as Abulafia. Some of these reputed wonder workers were clearly fictitious characters; at other times the title was accorded to liturgical poets; the term also referred to inscribers of amulets based on holy names. Scholem describes this class of individuals, known as ba'alei shem as follows: “In the 17th and 18th centuries the number of ba'alei shem who were not at all talmudic scholars increased. But they attracted a following by their real or imaginary powers of healing the sick. Such a ba'al shem was often a combination of practical kabbalist, who performed cures by means of prayers, amulets and incantations, and a popular healer familiar with segullot (‘remedies') concocted from animal, vegetable, and mineral matter. The literature from that period teems with stories and testimonies about ba'alei shem of this kind, some of which, however, were written in criticism of their characters and deeds. It was generally thought that the ba'alei shem were at their most efficacious in the treatment of mental disorders and in the exorcism of evil spirits.”

It is clear from Scholem's description that the existence of such a class of people provides only the slightest suggestion of efficacious psi training programs within the kabbalistic tradition. Many were undoubtedly charlatans; and of those who may have had genuine powers, the available literature in English provides no indication regarding their training.


Article from: http://jeff.zaadz.com/blog



Indirectly Related Books:

CLIMBING THE TREE OF LIFE

MYSTICAL KABBALAH
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