What Is Kabbalah?

Kabbalah is the Hebrew word for "receiving," and is the mystical branch of Jewish wisdom. Kabbalah consists of teachings which are meant to help finite mortals to understand their relationship to their Creator, whose nature is believed to be infinite, eternal, and unfathomable. Kabbalists believe that understanding existence and the relationships between things which exist is the path to spiritual attainment.

A Paradox

Kabbalah attempts to address this paradox between the finite and infinite natures of man and God by furthering the individual's understanding of the nature of the world and of human beings, as well as the meaning of our existence and our own nature. Scholars of Kabbalah are in essence, concerned with ontology: the study of existence and things which exist. The discipline also offers methods by which one can gain understanding of such concepts.

Classic Kabbalah is rooted in Jewish thought and references classic Jewish sources to explain, prove, and illustrate concepts. Traditional Jewish kabbalists believe that the mystic teachings, in turn, help to define the deeper meaning of biblical texts, rabbinic writings, and the meaning of the various Jewish religious observances.

The Orchard

The Zohar is considered to be the main kabbalistic work and this book is studied on four different levels. The levels are labeled with the Hebrew acronym "PaRDeS" which means: "orchard." The four levels include:

*Pshat (plain meaning or lit. "simple")-the literal meaning of the text

*Remez (lit. the "hint")-This is the allegorical meaning to which the text alludes

*Drash (derivative of the Hebrew word "darash"—to seek or inquire)-Comparative meaning as found through rabbinic teachings (midrashic literature, the midrash)

*Sod (lit. "secret")-this is the hidden or inner meaning of the words and is the foundation of kabbalistic study

Modern Environment 

Observant Jews faithful to the strictest form of Judaism believe the Kabbalah to be part and parcel of the study of the Torah, or divine Jewish doctrine. However, classic Torah study deems Kabbalah as the final discipline learned upon the mastery of all the other Torah works. It is rare to achieve this level of mastery, and most traditional Jews never reach this point in their studies. To be overeager to reach this level is considered outré by many Jews. The exception to this rule is the Chassidim, who believe that in the current world, mysticism is meant to be studied early in order to imbue scholars with a sense of the Torah's deeper meanings and to give joy to everyday life, which serves to aid in the preservation of faith in a harsh and difficult modern environment.