On this page you may view actual questions I've received about kabbalah via email and my answers. Hopefully these kabbalah snippets of information will help you and perhaps spur questions of your own.
Please email if you have other thought provoking questions.
Q. I've read that there are all these laws surrounding who can learn kabbalah...like you have to be male, 40 etc. Yet you say you are a kabbalist. I'm confused.
A. Traditional Rabbinic Kabbalah, has very delineated avenues of study. It was developed so that individuals who pursued the mystic's path would not get too far out there and go insane, it was also a way of "legitimizing" their revelations with the community, instead of being a threat to it. With that in mind, there is a very formalized methodology on how one approaches the study of kabbalah in Rabbinic tradition, for instance: You have to be male; you have to be over 40; you have to be fully versed in Talmud, Torah, Mishnah, the Aggadah and all other classic Jewish texts; you have to study under a Rabbinic master; you have to be married; you have to follow all 613 commandments of Jewish law...the list goes on. In Jewish tradition, you and I, being non-Jews are obliged to follow the laws set out by Noah (Noahide law) and it is the obligation of a Rabbi to teach a gentile through the Noahide laws if it is requested. Being that we only have to follow Noahide Law, we are not subject to the strictures of Jewish Law, therefore we can study Kabbalah if we're female, under 40, not married, etc. and a Rabbi is still obligated to work with us...BUT, let us be polite! He will find non-Jewish Kabbalah (such as Gareth Knight's) not founded on good Jewish Kabbalistic principles; even if he personally did think it was good (which is doubtful, since his strictures would STRONGLY dissuade him from ever reading it) he still could not comment on it or pursue it's line of thought because it does not follow the pattern of his faith and their commandments, and the form traditionally used to verify "gnosis." So, if one is wise, and wants to learn, one doesn't push it, but instead only shares Kabbalistic information and experiences in a format that the Rabbi is familiar with. For instance, when talking about God, you would type: "G_d, blessed be His Name" because it is Jewish law to say a blessing every time you mention G d and it is also taking G d's name in vain to put the vowels in it.
Q. But with all those traditional strictures on who can be a kabbalist, it seems that it is only in the last decade or so that women have become students and teachers of kabbalah. Is this true?
A. Women have not been officially allowed to be involved with Kabbalah from a Jewish perspective since about 400 AD, before that there is a rich history of women kabbalists and mystics and teachers. Since that time they have been "hidden" often within the gentile community, such as Theresa of Avila. I have taught kabbalah for over two decades and till recently lived in California. I have not had a problem with local Rabbinic authority, had I lived somewhere else though, to this day, the study of the traditionally Jewish aspects of this subject would have been difficult to share. The net has opened this up a lot. I now have Orthodox and Chassidic Rabbis who can converse over e-mail with me freely and not be ostracized by their community. It also helps that I am gentile, therefore I fall under Noahide law and not Jewish, so it is easier for them to talk to me and justify it.
Q. I don't note any practices in kabbalah that involve social isolation, such as those practiced in other faiths that have a monastic or hermit tradition. Why?
A. The problem arises with the premise that one must isolate oneself from normal activity to be in connection with Spirit. True "realization" from my experience, is when one can maintain connection in the middle of Time's Central Square on New Year's Eve! AND have a good time. From my traditional "Kabbalistic" perspective, community...life...spirituality ALL are to be integrated...NEVER separated. Kabbalah is very pragmatic. It is a practice that is to be done "in the world." Its fruit is the ability to maintain equanimity and the conscious connection to Spirit while dealing with work, bills, family, politics and all the thousands of activities involved in living life.
This world is a reflection of all...one can find all realities here as everywhere else...as above, so below, as within, so without. I do not find that the goal of Kabbalah is to escape this reality, but rather to make the current reality greater by encompassing more. The connection to Spirit does not mean forsaking the here and now...life is the gift...as G d said, "and it was good." The text doesn't say this aspect or that aspect is good, or that it really is better somewhere else...it is good...Kabbalah offers a way for us to integrate the paradoxes, not escape them.
Q. Our logic must be 'broken'" seems to be a key to just about any mystical tradition--I'm thinking of Zen meditation, Hindu meditation, Christian contemplative prayer--all have the element of quieting the mind, the rational aspect. Here's my question...how, in the Kabbalah tradition, is that done?
A. Unlike some forms of Eastern meditation the mind in kabbalah is not made to be a blank slate, rather it is kept active and guided into resonances that transcend the mind of logic. This is done through a myriad of approaches. There is no one system in kabbalah.
One could use the Tree of Life and it's paths, utilizing guided imagery. One can use sound as in mantras. One can use the imagery of tarot (not a traditional kabbalah methodology but definitely a step child of the traditional system). One could focus on the individual sephirah trying to activate and embody each essence. One can contemplate/meditate on the various levels of the Torah from it's metaphorical aspects to the letter and/or number combinations. Every act and all acts throughout one's daily life, even washing dishes and going to the bathroom within traditional kabbalastic Judaic practice are to be seen as a blessing and to be blessed...this is another process. To realize G_d in every moment and every action, thus shifting the conscious mind towards Spirit in every nuance of life. Even the method of writing Hebrew from right to left is a physical act that activates the right brain or non-linear thinking processes. Modern quabalah tend to utilize much ritual in its approach, replete with incense. Hassids often use dance. Most individual kabbalists after exploring a variety of methodology create a combination of these various methods that work for them.
Q. I am a 16 year old who loves to explore all religions and experience a connection to the mystery of my being. I have became so curious as to the practices of kabbalah, that I decided to look it up and thus discovered your web site. From what I have personally observed, it seems like kabbalah could be terribly dangerous if it got out of control. It seems like it would take extreme training and perhaps physical endurance? Would you say that kabbalah is dangerous if one is experiencing intense emotional states at a certain time? Or perhaps if their physique is weak?
A. All good questions:)
ANY practice can be dangerous, even meditating/prayer/contemplation.
For me it all depends on the stability of the individual. If a person is well balanced, drug free, not paranoid, not looking for away to "escape" reality, emotionally even, has a good sense of self and the ability to say "no" to others, has a good sense of skepticism and their self esteem is in proportion to their abilities...then it is highly unlikely they will run amuck in any practice they choose to explore.
Dion Fortune was an excellent writer and pragmatic facilitator of the twentieth century. She has many books that outline the pitfalls of certain personality types when they work with the mystical side of any tradition.
Check out some of her books, I have found all of them excellent and even her novels are a delight. Her practices are not my personal methodology, I don't personally do ritual, scrying etc. (I've sampled but they are not my personal choices). But the need for psychological stability and the practical occult advice throughout her works are applicable for any practice.
Also the benefit of any practice is only if it makes your every day life fuller and more meaningful for you. If you do a practice and your relationships become rocky, you can't hold down a job, your bills go unpaid, etc...then that is not a good practice for you. If on the other hand the practice helps you to be a better person, gain equanimity in your life, your relationships improve and you don't grumble about the housework any more, then you have a benefit!
Q. I see a lot of mention of "The Tree of Life" in kabbalah. Is that not the tree of good and evil in the Garden of Eden that we are told eating from caused humanity's fall?
A. In regards to your question/concern over tree of life/tree of good and evil. From a kabbalistic perspective, these are two different trees...the tree of life is in the Garden of Eden and can only be glimpsed when one goes beyond time (the "end of days") and this can be accomplished with 4th dimensional consciousness as in physics...at that point one transcends time. It is a metaphor that consciousness, as long as it is bound by the wants/desires of this plane of matter cannot comprehend or even apprehend the Tree of Life. The Tree of Good and Evil is a metaphor for the plane of matter (where we dwell) and since everything above is reflected in below, and all is made in G_d's image...then even the tree of Good and Evil can act as a metaphorical blueprint in our journey back to our primordial roots of spirit. We are only damned (dam as in blocked, as in a reservoir holding back water) because to "eat of the tree of good and evil" allows our consciousness to perceive duality, our minds to create time and therefore we block the all encompassing flow of Spirit which is everywhere and everywhen...we put boundaries on creation, boundaries on G_d and limit our reflection to that which we can comprehend. To sin in the original Hebrew means to "miss the mark"...the "mark" or target we are aiming for is to perfectly reflect G_d, therefore when we allow ourselves to be limited in perception or "react" because of what appears to be real in this dimension we "miss the mark" we "eat" (buy into) the tree of Good and Evil...our goal is equanimity, to act, not react, to be in the world but not of it. This then allows us then to transform the Tree of Good and Evil into the Tree of Knowledge (Daath, the hidden sephira...see my article).
The schematic of the Tree of Life that kabbalists use is but a metaphor to use as a meditational tool/schematic to transform consciousness from the this plane to one that is less dual in nature and therefore can glimpse the original blueprint or Tree of Life.
An excellent novel, which is also a great teaching allegory, of this ascent from a kabbalistic perspective, The Tree of Life etc., is: The Four Who Entered Paradise by Howard Shwartz...I highly recommend it for your own study on this question.
Q. I am working on a model of the Tree of Life and visited several web sites for details, however most of the sites I visited had discrepancies on certain aspects of the Tree. Therefore I am hoping that you can clarify what each sephira is associated with and the spelling of the various spheres.
A. Note that there is no "authoritative" correspondences between sephirah and planets. The tree is a tool, much like a file cabinet, people, astrologers, meditators and kabbalists all have personal experiences that guide them to place the planets in conjunction with certain sephirah. There are some systems more commonly used than others, but that is because so many do not do their own homework and meditations but prefer to rely on someone else's revelation.
The spelling of the sephirah will likewise never be resolved in English. They are names in Hebrew. The original has no vowels for instance, thus the rendering of a word in English becomes problematic. Even the letter "a" in Hebrew when translated to English is spelled differently by Sephardic and Ashakanazi Jews. One spells it alef, the other aleph. Neither way is right or wrong. Again, one can meditate on the energy various vowels give to a word, and the form consonants take for that energy...then one will find a spelling that will fit their meditative experience or a concept or word, including the sephirah (alternately sefira, sephira or sephirah...plural can be sephiroth). In the Torah is a list of the sephirah, look it up in a Hebrew Torah to see the actual glyph spelling that is rendered there and go from there.
Now as far as names of sephirahs these are not always the same in all systems. Geburah has not always been the common name assigned to the sphere one now commonly sees it placed in. Earlier it was known by a word that correctly translated means "fear"...the fear that is associated with "awe". This was too difficult a concept for Europeans and eventually it became common practice to associate this sphere with the word Geburah, which means "strength." But the sphere importantly represents the concept of "form" versus flow, or "law" versus "mercy" therefore an added appellation to help get the point across is "severity". Do note that the saving grace of this sphere though is "HUMOR"...within the purview of this orb lies the ironies of life.
The same comes with translation of most Hebrew words, such as a name of a sphere. An example is Hod, "glory or splendor?" Again realize what the purpose of this orb is. It is the orb of the mind and logical thinking. The plane of the scientific investigator. A light bulb goes off in the mind and they have an answer! Is that light bulb glorious or splendid? It is the same association that Christians place on the star of the East and why most churches face east, toward this source of illumination. For me, "illumination" would be a more appropriate word for the sphere.
Another item to note is how words are sounded. "Aretz" or "Aritz"? Again neither is correct or incorrect as the original has no vowels. But this is a good example as how vowels change the flow of energy. Aretz with the "e" vowel would call forth an energy that would be mentally processed, one that could be observed and analyzed. Aritz with the "i" energy would call forth an energy that would directly enter and empower the speaker/meditator. Which is appropriate to call forth? It is according to the situation...there is no right or wrong...it is what is APPROPRIATE in any given moment.
Q. The biggest issue I have is with the sphere Daath, there is not enough information on it other than the name Daath and the meaning "Knowledge." Also, is YHVH Elohim the G d of the Daath sphere?
A. Is YHVH the G_d of Daath? Interesting question. YHVH rightly understood means creation. One gains the orb of Daath by experience upon the plane of manifestation and by understanding that goes beyond the three dimensional paradigm. Thus I would say that when an individual reaches Daath, or raises Malkuth to the level of Daath, that creation would not be G-d or a god, but rather a tool one had learned by. One would encompass the ability to control and create. Remember the Ain Soph Aur which only has one seventh of its essence extruded into the tree is what is considered G-d. Even the Elohim, the creators of our universe according to Genesis, are sub to that concept. To a kabbalist, YHVH, creation, (which is added much later in Genesis) represents the rules of this plane of existence...while on this plane we must of necessity bow to those laws...thus from that perspective YHWH becomes the one and only G-d of this paradigm.
Q. How can I use the sephirot in my life in terms of practical things?
A. The sephiroth are like the file cabinets for the experiences of life...and how the files relate to each other are the paths of wisdom...some of the best texts on the psychological aspects of the sephiroth and how to relate them to every day life are by Halevi and readily available.
Q. I have a question....how long must one meditate on a daily basis in order to overcome the influences of this world?????
A. It's not that I think, it is learning to do all of one's activities as if meditating...whether one is washing dishes or driving a car...and that takes a long time, but I believe it is what is meant by "being in the world and yet not of it" and "state of grace"
Q. How can I be sure that the kabbalistic teachings I am getting are "real" Jewish teachings?
A. Understand that the mystics walk, the path of the flame, (within Judaism and Christianity known as kabbalah) is a journey that all seekers walk/experience. One will find, when studying the mystical traditions from all religions that the basic concepts and experiential results are the same, so are the majority of practices used to attain the altered states of consciousness. What differs with kabbalah (and what makes it based within Judaism) is that the practices for meditation are based on and used in conjunction with the Torah and Rabbinic commentaries (past experiences of other Jews who did the same practices and applied them to Jewish texts). But you will find as you experience kabbalah (not study, that is observing) and the insights associated with the meditations that it will not only make you cleave to Spirit more, and fill you with all, but that you will also develop a wider perspective, and realize how G_d speaks to all people everywhere, at all times through various cultural symbols and metaphors. And yes, the experiences though similar to all people are varied in interpretation as there are people to experience it, because each human is a unique reflection of G_d and has a unique place to fulfill within the Divine Plan. This individualized interpretation of experience is most apparent in the mystic walk of Jewish contemplative kabbalah.
The entire Torah with no vowels, or word breaks requires the meditative/contemplative practices to unfold it. That is why it is referred to as the "living word" because it is an open ended system of contemplation that can infinitely expand with your consciousness and perspectives of a given moment. This is why there are over 900 approved rabbinic translations of the first 5 letters of the Torah we usually translate as "In the beginning." It is also why it is taught that there are many levels of interpretation... "for G d's house has many mansions" is just one way of saying that all of our viewpoints are valid if we come from our own experience. The one thing kabbalah is not, is dogmatic, so rejoice!
Q. Do you worship the Hebrew Goddess Asherah and the Hebrew God El ?
A. Worshipping gods and goddesses would not be the semantics to use in kabbalah. Kabbalah at its basis does recognize the divine feminine and masculine, always realizing it is all but different facets of the One.
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