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Kabbalah: The Inside Story

by Rabbi Berel Bell

  

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Rabbi Shimon began: Woe are they whose hearts are stuffed and whose eyes are closed! So many secrets are hidden in the  Torah, and they pay no attention to them. They only want to eat the "straw" of the Torah - the simple meaning, or the "garment" of the Torah. They don't taste from the deep intellect which it contains within.1  

Those who learn the stories of Torah only on the superficial level, without the Kabbalah, cause good to be transformed into bad, and create many obstacles.2

Through the course of history, there have been nine major famines; immediately before the Messianic Age, there will be a tenth. But the hunger pangs will be of a different sort, as the prophet said,3 "Behold, days are coming, said G-d, the Lord, when I will send hunger to the world; not a hunger for bread, and not a thirst for water - but to hear the words of G-d."4

Elijah the Prophet said to  Rebbe  Shimon bar Yochai: Many people down below will derive nourishment from this book of yours [the Zohar], when it will be revealed [finally] in the last generation, before the End of Days. But it has been already been revealed for hundreds of years!? Close to the Messianic Age, however, even the deepest passages will be explained.5

Since in the future, the Jewish people will taste from the Tree of Life, i.e. the Zohar, they will be redeemed from exile with mercy.6

Finite humans are obviously unable to fathom the Ways of the Infinite. One the other hand, the Torah is given to us to study and understand
On the Surface 

Even a cursory reading of the Five Books of Moses is likely to leave a person full of questions. The central figures often behave in questionable ways, and sometimes seem to be questionable role models. In addition, G-d's motives are frequently enigmatic. He seems to want one thing, and then structure events so that everything becomes unnecessarily complicated. We are often unable to understand what His goals are and why He chooses such convoluted paths to reach them.  

The Oral Tradition passed down from Mount Sinai and recorded in the words of our Sages helps elucidate the text. The classic biblical commentaries engage in unraveling these stories, and one can find numerous explanations to many of these puzzles. However, their answers are sometimes difficult to reconcile with the text; they sometimes fit the text but stretch the imagination; they sometimes contradict each other; they sometimes solve one enigma - only to raise others which might be even more numerous and more difficult to solve; and most importantly, these explanations sometimes help only to resolve the difficulty of one particular episode. We are often left wondering how the details fit into the broader picture; and even regarding the story itself - couldn't things have been done in some easier, more straightforward way?

Finite humans are obviously unable to fathom the Ways of the Infinite. On the other hand, the Torah is given to us to study and understand. From it we are supposed to draw inspiration and guidance, even down to the details of our daily lives. How can we do so when the message is so obscured by questions?

The obstacle becomes more acute when we consider the difference between this generation and previous ones. Years ago, virtually everyone in the Western world was somewhat familiar with the content of the Bible, and accepted its veracity. Today, many are unaware of even the most basic ideas, and are skeptical of its authority. Their questions are worse than just unsolved intellectual puzzles. They often represent the first - and seemingly insurmountable - barrier to seriously considering anything having to do with faith or "religion."

Inner Dimensions

But the thirst and curiosity is there. This thirst is evident throughout the world in the explosive interest in Kabbalah, Bible codes and the like. This dimension of the Torah has a very special relationship with other levels of Torah interpretation. [Note: The Ginzei Yosef, in fact says that the 10th "hunger" for the "words of G-d", mentioned above, is the desire for Kabbalah. He also explains how this is alluded to in the story of Abraham and Sarah going to Egypt.]7

Footnotes

  • 1. Zohar Chadash, Tikunim II:93b. See also Zohar III:152a.
  • 2. Tikunei Zohar, 1b.
  • 3. Amos 8:11.
  • 4. Bereishit Rabba on Gen. 25:3, Gen. 40:3, and Gen. 64:2.
  • 5. Tikunei Zohar, end of Tikun 6, Kisei Melech, ibid.
  • 6. Zohar, Raya Mehemna, III:124b.
  • 7. Gen. 12:10 (quoted in Yalkut Mashiach U' Geula, Lech Lecha, p. 70-73).

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RELATED CATEGORIES

History » Patriarchs, 12 Tribes
Torah » Kabbalah » Kabbalistic Concepts

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Zohar
The most basic work of Jewish mysticism. Authored by Rabbi Shimeon bar Yochai in the 2nd century.
Kabbalah
Jewish mysticism. The word Kaballah means "reception," for we cannot physically perceive the Divine, we merely study the mystical truths which were transmitted to us by G-d Himself through His righteous servants.
Rebbe
A Chassidic master. A saintly person who inspires followers to increase their spiritual awareness.
Chassidut
The teachings of the Chassidic masters. Chassidut takes mystical concepts such as G-d, the soul, and Torah, and makes them understandable, applicable and practical.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Abraham
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
Sarah
First Jewess, first of the four Jewish Matriarchs, wife of Abraham--the first Jew. Lived in Mesopotamia, and then Canaan, in the 19th century BCE.
Jacob
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Isaac
Second of the three Jewish Patriarchs, son of Abraham and Sarah. Lived in Canaan (Israel); b. 1712 BCE, d. 1532 BCE.
Esau
Rogue son of Patriarch Isaac and Matriarch Rebecca. Elder twin of Patriarch Jacob.
Rebecca
Second of the Jewish Matriarchs. Wife of the Patriarch Isaac, and father of Jacob. b. 1675 BCE, d. 1553 BCE.
Leah
Fourth of the four Jewish matriarchs. Elder daughter of Laban, wife of Patriarch Jacob, and mother of six of the Tribes, including Levi and Judah.
Adam
The first man, created by G-d on the sixth day of creation. He was banished from the Garden of Eden after eating from the forbidden fruit of the forbidden knowledge. Died in 2830 BCE.
Judah
1. The fourth son of Jacob and Leah. He was blessed by Jacob to be the leader of the tribes. Consequently, the Davidic royal dynasty is from the tribe of Judah. 2. The southern part of Israel which was occupied by the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and always remained under the reign of the kings from the tribe of Judah.
Joseph
Firstborn son of Rachel and Jacob. Because he was Jacob's favorite son, his brothers conspired against him and sold him into slavery He ended up in Egypt where he became viceroy of the land, and eventually brought his entire family to Egypt. Died in 1451 BCE.
Elijah
A legendary prophet who lived in the 8th century BCE, and saved the Jewish religion from being corrupted by the pagan worship of Baal. He never died, he was taken to heaven alive. According to Jewish tradition, he visits every circumcision and every Passover Seder table.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.