The Eight Gates of the Arizal
Undoubtedly the greatest influence upon the study of Kabbalah has been the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, known by the acronym "Arizal". In 16th Century Safed, he revealed a complex and dynamic new dimension to Jewish mysticism in particular, and Torah study, in general. Today, the vast majority of serious study of authentic Kabbalah is the study of the writings of the Arizal and his students. Besides the central "textbook" of Kabbalah in his writings, "Etz Chaim", translated as "Tree of Life", is a vast collection of his teachings that were assembled by his primary student Rabbi Chaim Vital and his son, Rabbi Shmuel Vital. These teachings are known as the "Eight Gates" and comprise the majority of topics covered by the Arizal. Later, other texts were published, most of which deal with similar subject matter but with many new insights. Following is a listing and brief description of each of the "Eight Gates".
The Eight Gates
"Shaar Hakdamot", or "Gate of Introductions" covers the main themes of the structure of Creation and the process of its rectification.
"Shaar Maamarei Rashbi", or the "Gate of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's Teachings", is a series of expositions based on particular passages of the Zohar, transmitted by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, from the 2nd Century. Some of these teachings are but brief clarifications of the Zohar, while others are nothing less than new revelations as to the nature of Creation, as only hinted at by the Zohar, considered the foundation text of Kabbalah.
"Shaar Maamarei Razal", or the "Gate of Sages' Teachings", explains the mystical depths of a great many statements made by the Talmudic sages and general topics in the Oral Torah.
"Shaar HaPasukim", or "Gate of Verses", reveals spiritual depths and background to events and subject matter in the Bible.
"Shaar HaMitzvot", or "Gate of Commandments", teaches the mystical basis for particular commandments, including a great many meditations associated with them.
"Shaar HaKavanot", sometimes translated as "Gate of Meditations", teaches the mystical underpinnings behind the daily order according to Jewish law, particularly the daily prayers. The second half deals with Shabbat and holidays. This vast body of knowledge not only teaches about the daily rituals and prayers, but includes a vast system of meditative practices as well as unique Kabbalistic customs pertaining to mitzvah observance.
"Shaar Ruach HaKodesh", or "Gate of Divine Inspiration", is comprised of hundreds of particular Kabbalistic meditations geared to heal and purify the soul, as well as attain higher levels of consciousness. It also includes a number of introductions to the topic of prophecy in general.
"Shaar HaGilgulim", or "Gate of Reincarnations", is a lengthy treatment of the topic of reincarnation, the nature of the soul and the process of perfection necessary for each person. It also includes detailed accounts of the majority of Biblical figures and their respective reincarnations and soul roots.