The Kabbalah centres on a complex scheme of numerical symbolism and esoteric theology, influenced by neo-Platonism, Hermetic literature and perhaps Sufism. It is elaborate and bizarre, and sometimes seems as complex as Greek mythology. Kabbalists often insist that the schemes are not meant literally: they are symbols of a spiritual reality that is beyond human comprehension. Yet the detailed discussion of the sefirot and the diagrams of their links often get so complex and artificial that the word "Cabala" came to be a synonym for obscurity and secrecy.
Underlying everything is Ein Sof, the infinite, indefinable origin of all things, the cause of causes. Ein Sof is often seen not as an old man with a white beard, not as a personal God at all, but as an impersonal, unnamable Being without qualities, thoughts or feelings, very similar to Lao Tzu's Tao or Meister Eckhart's "simple ground" beyond God. Everything is one, nothing exists but the one divine being. This position is also very similar to that of the Sufi philosopher Ibn Al'arabi.
The idea is sometimes so strongly expressed that it seems pantheistic, yet there is still the insistence that though everything that exists is God and is in God, God extends infinitely beyond that. In this sense the kabbalah is panentheistic rather than truly pantheistic.
(Paul Harrison, World Pantheist Movement)
from Daniel Matt, The Essential Kabbalah, Castle
Non-duality: nothing exists but Ein Sof, the endless.
The essence of divinity is found in every single thing - nothing but it exists. Since it causes every thing to be, no thing can live by anything else. It enlivens them; its existence exists in each existent. Do not attribute duality to God. Let God be solely God. If you suppose that Ein Sof emanates until a certain point, and that from that point on is outside of it, you have dualized. God forbid! Realize, rather, that Ein Sof exists in each existent. Do not say "This is a stone and not God." God forbid! Rather, all existence is God, and the stone is a thing pervaded by divinity. Moses Cordovero, Shi'ur Qomah.
Before anything emanated, there
was only Ein Sof. Ein Sof was all that existed.
Similarly after it brought into being all that exists, there is nothing but it.
You cannot find anything that exists apart from
it . . . God is everything that exists,
though everything that exists is not God. It is present in everything, and
everything comes into being from it. Nothing is devoid of its divinity.
Everything is within it; it is
within everything and outside of everything. There is nothing but it.
Moses Cordovero, Elimah Rabbati.
Everything is linked
Everything is catenated in its mystery, caught in its oneness . . . The entire chain is one. Down to the last link, everything is linked with everything else, so divine essence is below as well as above, in heaven and earth. There is nothing else. Moses de Leon, Sefer ha-Rimmon.
God's presence maintains all things
is outside of God. This applies . . . to everything that exists, large and
small - they exist solely through the divine energy that flows to them and
clothes itself in them. If God's gaze were withdrawn for even a moment, all
existence would be nullified . . . Contemplating this, you are humbled, your
Moses Cordovero, Or Yaqar.
Creation conceals and reveals God
powerful light is concealed and clothed in a garment, it is revealed. Though
concealed, the light is actually revealed, for were it not concealed, it could
not be revealed. This is like wishing to gaze at the dazzling sun. Its dazzle
conceals it, for you cannot look at its overwhelming brilliance. Yet when you
conceal it - looking at it through screens - you can see and not be harmed. So
it is with emanation: by concealing and clothing itself, it reveals itself.
Moses Cordovero, Pardes Rimmonim.
Ein Sof is beyond understanding or expression
Ein Sof cannot be conceived, certainly
not expressed, though it is intimated in every thing, for there is
nothing outside of it. No letter,
no name, no writing, no thing can confine . . . Ein Sof has no will,
no intention, no desire, no thought, no speech, no action - yet there is nothing outside of it.
Sof there is no aspect
anywhere to search or probe; nothing can be known of it, for it is hidden
and concealed in the mystery of
According to Gershom Scholem, the world’s greatest authority on the subject Kabbalah, simply stated, is a form of Gnosis that underlies certain "Jewish mystical theology." The Fundamental tenets of Kabbalah, according to Scholem, are as follows: "Over and above disagreements on specific details that tend to reflect different stages in the Kaballah's historical development, there exists a basic consensus among kabalists on man's essential nature...At opposite poles, both man and God encompass within their being the entire cosmos. However, whereas God contains all by virtue of being its Creator and Initiator in whom everything is rooted and all potency is hidden, man's role is to complete this process by being the agent through whom all the powers of creation are fully activated and made manifest. What exists seminally in God unfolds and develops in man… Because he alone has been granted the gift of free will, it lies in his power to either advance or disrupt through his actions the unity of what takes place in the upper and lower worlds... his principal mission is to bring about Tikkun Olam or restoration of this world and to connect the lower with the upper." 1. The concept of tikkun, or restoration, involves the problem of evil, and again according to Scholem, "the root of evil resides within the Ein-Sof (hidden God) itself." Evil, therefore, for the kabalist is simply the sitra ahra or "emanation of the left" and at the end of time, through the process of man's work of tikkun even the devil, "Samael will become Sa'el, one of the 72 holy Names of God". ... "In Greek this is called apokatasis (sic)"..."To use the neoplatonic (Plotinus) formula, the creation involves the departure of all from the one and its return to the one." 2.
A Brief History
Although many adepts claim that the Kabbalah, or secret oral tradition, goes back
to Moses or even Adam, Scholem places its practical
beginnings in the
Once again, according to Scholem,
the development of Kabbalah was coeval with
Hellenistic syncretic religion and Gnosticism. Both
Hellenistic Gnosis and Rabbinical Gnosis were based on the theory that there
are spiritual emanations of God (Aeons and Archons
for the Greek, Sephirot for the Hebrew) which
fill the primordial cosmos. These, if properly understood and harnessed lead
back to the deity. Historically, the esoteric teachings contained in the Kabbalah passed from such groups as the Essenes, or
The influence of the Kabbalah
on segments of Christian thinking has flourished since the Renaissance. It was
openly quoted in the works of such influential thinkers as Pico della Mirandola, Johannes
Reuchlin, Agrippa of Nettesheim, Cardinal Egidio da Viterbo,
the Franciscan Friar, Francesco Giorgio of
The Doctrine – Dialectical Monism
In a much simplified exposition of the basic Kabalistic doctrine, all begins with Ein-Soph ( alt. Ayn- Soph, En-Soph) the infinite, or literally without measure. Like the Gnostic "God beyond god" or Pleroma, it contains within its essence both the active and passive ( male and female, good and evil) principles in their full potential. In the beginning, before there was anything, the eternal source, Ein-Soph contracted itself within and then filled the subsequent void with emanations of its own essence. This contraction and expansion is called the Zimzum. (See: Fig. 1 ( below left)
According to the Zohar (Book of Splendor), what was engraved first on the void were the words: "Let there be light." in the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Subsequently, El Gadol (Great God) emerged from the primal ether on the right as the masculine principle and Elohim (Darkness) emerged on the left as the feminine principle. Then appeared the actual "Light" signifying "that the Left was included in the Right and the Right in the Left." 9. From the initial point of light streamed forth, in concentric circles, ten mystical numbers or paths known as Sephiroth. The names of these Sephiroth are as follows: Keter (Crown); Binah (Intelligence); Hokmah (Wisdom) Gevurah (Justice); Gedullah (Greatness); Tiferet (Beauty); Hod (Honor); Nezah (Victory); Yesod (Foundation); and Malkhut (Kingdom). These Sephiroth would come to form Adam Kadmon the celestial archetypal man.
This was not the Adam of the Bible but a cosmic prototype for all of reality akin to the Neo-Platonic Demiurge. The Sephiroth may also be displayed as the descending Azilut –"emanations" - which form the "Tree of Life." Fig. 2 (above right)
The first three Sephiroth: Keter (Crown); Binah (Intelligence); and Hokhma (Wisdom) received the "Light" and contained it. (See the three faces in the diagram above) Thus the divine essence is preserved in a tripartite interrelationship, or immanent "Trinity" within the mind of Adam Kadmon, the macrocosm and within the mind of individual man, the microcosm. The following seven Sephiroth could not contain the light and shattered, forming shards of coagulated energy (matter) called Kelippot. Again, following the Neo-platonic or Gnostic doctrine, the farther the Sephirah lies from the center, the denser the matter. Malkhuth, therefore, as farthest away from the center, forms the earthly kingdom or the feet of Adam Kadmon. (See again: Fig.1, )
Through the break up of the Sephiroth, the equilibrium and unity of God has been destroyed. The "light" and the "dark" of the primal Light have been separated and it is the obligation of man to re-establish both his own inner unity or wholeness and the wholeness of God. To accomplish this project called Tikkun, The Jewish people as Knesset Israel have the predominant role. According to the Kabbalah, from the earliest Spanish manuscripts onward, the Jewish race has seen itself as the representative of the Shekhinah, ** (see below) the feminine principle split off from God, reminiscent of the Gnostic Sophia. 10. According to kabalistic (Hasidic) Tradition it is said: "Just because of this split, God needs man, whose task it is to reunite the riven opposites within the divine personality itself. From this point of view the exile of the Jewish people receives deep and special meaning. For this exile of the people corresponds in the `upper world, so to speak, to an exile of the Shekinah (supposed feminine half of God) who went into exile with them. The return of the Jewish people from exile therefore means, in Jewish mysticism, the redemption of the Jewish people; it is above all an earthly image, and likeness of an inner-divine drama of redemption, of the homecoming of the Shekhina to God... So while man needing redemption strives to restore the disturbed world order, he is at the same time working toward the redemption of God and his union with the Shekhinah and thus toward the restoration and realization of the wholeness of God." 11. A tradition also holds that the final Masiach, messiah, who will achieve Tikkun Olam, concordia discors or "world harmony," will be a manifestation of the Shekinah, i.e., female.
Within the overall historical perspective and purpose of the Kabbala i.e. the ultimate complete unity of God and creation, there are two fundamental problems to be resolved. First is the relationship of the individual human being to God and second the problem of evil.
For the Kabalistic initiate, while awaiting the final restoration of history, there are various techniques available for personal spiritual development. One is meditation on the mysteries of the Sephiroth called Kavvanah and another involving numerology is called Gematria. The technique of Kavvanah involves mental concentration on the combinations of the sacred names which pave the way for ecstatic union with the divine source, Metatron, (alternately known as the prince of God's countenance, Prince of this world, Angel of light, or ones own true self). 12. This union is mystically known as Zivvug ha-Kadosh, or coupling face to face, which is said to produce an internal harmony of the restrictive (passive) powers of Din and the out flowing (active) powers of Rahanim. Once again one finds Concordia Discors, or Coincidentia Oppositorum, the fusion of opposites as object of the endeavor. 13.
Seen in this light, the parallel between Kabbalah and the Eastern Religions is quite obvious. It is, of course, the resolution in harmony of the passive Yin and the active Yang according to the Tao which produces the "enlightened" state where "all duality merges into oneness, a noble path that leads to contentment and peace." 14. In reality, according to Gershom Scholem, "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." 15. Gematria on the other hand, involves the belief that the Hebrew alphabet is the first emanation of Ayn-Sof and that the arrangement of these 22 letters, according to their numerical value, make up the seventy-two sacred names of the All Holy as well as the cosmos. Gematria can be used for the concordance of Biblical texts and messianic prophecy as well as in calling up spirits. 16. This latter property may be employed, at least in theory, both for good and for evil. The manipulator of spirits, (good or evil) is called a Ba’al Shem or master of the divine names. 17. According to legend, in the 16th century, Rabbi Loewe used Gematria to create a fearsome creature called the Golem to protect the Prague Ghetto.
The problem of evil for the Kabalistic is complex, as, if all comes from and is contained in the Ayn Sof, what man calls evil must be intrinsic to the divine nature. What is it, then, in the divine nature that may be called "evil"? Once again, according to Scholem: "The determining factor is the estrangement of created things from their source of emanation, a separation which leads to manifestations of what appears to us to be the power of evil. But the other [evil] has no metaphysical reality ... outside the structure of the Sephiroth ... the Sepher Gevurah as `the left hand of the Holy One blessed be He,' and as `a quality whose name is evil' … has many offshoots in the forces of judgement, the constricting and limiting powers of the universe"
Cutting through the flowery rhetoric, it would appear that Evil, for the Kabalist, is any force that restricts or limits (divine) human freedom and creativity. It [evil] reverts to that part of God which is designated, " Pure judgment, untempered by any mitigating admixture, [which has] produced from within itself the sitra ahra (the other side)… The `emanation of the left.' " 18. According to Nathan of Gaza, the grand apologist of 17th century Shabbetean Kabbalah The first light was entirely active [creative] and the second light entirely passive [restrictive] immersed in the depths of itself. "The root of evil is a principle within the Ayn-Soph itself which holds itself aloof from creation and seeks to prevent the forms of light which contain thought from being actualized, not because it is evil by nature but only because its whole desire is that nothing should exist apart from Ayn-Soph." For the Kabalistic, of whatever school, neither good nor evil, exist as such. Whatever meaning there is to existence involves Tikkun or the restoration of harmony and balance between the forces of expansive light and restrictive darkness until all is once again absorbed in the Ayn-Soph.
These speculations, it seems, are the inevitable result of dialectic opposition in a monistic system. The argument is as follows: If the universe is an overflowing or projection of God, (See Plotinus Ennead 5) and the universe contains what man calls "evil," then "evil" is contained in the nature of God. If, however, God is all good, then evil is not evil, it is but the dark side or foil of good. There is, in fact, no other possible logical solution to the problem of evil in a universe produced by emanation rather than creation from nothing. As man develops his own inner divine potential (individually and collectively) as an emanation of God there must be a balance of the progressive and the restrictive within the person and society to attain the ideal. This was, of course, the "enlightenment" proposed by Leibnitz in his Théodicée. 19. This form of thinking has impacted Western thought from the 16th century to the present.
In terms of eschatology, the imanentist theology of the Kabbalah must inevitably lead to the doctrine of Apokatastasis the reintegration of all spiritual emanations, active and passive, "good" and "evil," into the divinity at the end of time. If God is all, then God can not leave part of himself out side of himself forever. This is precisely what the Kabbalah predicts with its doctrine of Tikkun Olam. After myriad reincarnations, the souls of all men, * as well as of angels and demons, will form once again the unity of God. As the forces of creative light expand in man and dark judgment is absorbed, so also shall it be with God. It is even said that the Arch Devil Samael will be transformed at time's end to Sa’el one of the 72 holy Names of God.20
*It should be noted that there is some dispute among Kabalistic as to whether all sons of Adam or only Jews have within them the "divine spark" or Neshama which would allow re-incorporation to the Ein-Sof. According to the Zohar, only Jewish people come from the "holy side" or sitra di-kedusha from which the divine spark proceeds. Non Jewish people are products of the "other side" or sitra ahra and do not have the "divine" neshama but only the animal soul called nefesh and a spirit of cognitive ability called the ruah. 21.
_ ** The word Shekinah, simply said, does not appear in the Hebrew Bible. The term MiShKaN, from which the word Shekinah is derived, refers to the Sanctuary in the wilderness not the being who dwells therein. As Feminist Hebrew scholar/Rabbi, Lynn Gottlieb in her book, She Who Dwells Within, points out, "The word Shekinah first appears in the Mishna and Talmud (ca 200 CE), where it is used interchangeably with WHVH and Elohim as names of God…. By 1000 CE, the very mythologies so suppressed in the Bible erupted in the heart of Jewish mysticism, known as the Kabul, and Shekinah became YHVH’ wife, lover and daughter." This word only entered into common usage among Jewish thinkers in Medieval Spain where "Kabalistic" (Gnostic) mysticism took root from the writings of Moses de Leon in the Sefer ha-Zohar or Book of Splendor (c. 1280 AD).
As explained by Daniel Matt in his Essential Kabbalah,
"In Kabbalah, Shekhinah
becomes full-fledged She: …the feminine half of God." This doctrine
spread through Southern Europe to
An interesting addendum is that of Polish "convert" from Judaism to Catholicism, Jacob Frank. Frank first claimed himself to be the Messiah in Poland in 1756 as part of a Kabalistic Trinity made up of Attika Kadisha (The Holy Ancient One), Melika Kadisha ( The Holy King –Messiah), and the Shekhinah (feminine earthly half of the divinity). As he was persecuted by the Orthodox Jewish community for his bizarre faith and orgiastic initiations, he and many of his followers came into the Catholic Church precisely to introduce a feminine, or earthly, element, the Shekhinah, into the Christian Trinity under the guise of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (Secretly present in his own daughter Eva, but to be made manifest in the last days as a ultimate feminine Messiah) 22
1. Gershom Scholem, Kaballah (New York: Dorset Press:1974) p.226,227
2. Ibid., 126-128, 227
3.Gershom Scholem Kabbalah
(New York, Dorset Press, 1987) p. 3 - 5. The