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Three Categories of Kabbalah

by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan

"Inner Space" and "Meditation and Kabbala"

  

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The study of Kabbalah is divided into three basic areas: the theoretical, the meditative, and the practical.

The theoretical deals with the form of the mysteries, teaching the structure of the angelic domains as well as of the sefirot, or divine emanations. With great success, it deals with problems posed by the many schools of philosophy, and it provides a conceptual framework into which all theological ideas can be fitted. It also provides a framework through which the mechanism of both the meditative and practical Kabbalah can be understood. The vast majority of Kabbalah texts and Kabbalah study today deals with the theoretical Kabbalah.

" The practical Kabbalah...was a kind of white magic..."

The practical Kabbalah, on the other hand, was a kind of white magic, dealing with the use of techniques that could evoke supernatural powers. It involved the use of divine names and incantations, amulets and talismans, as well as chiromancy, physiognomy and astrology. Many theoretical Kabbalists, led by the Ari, frowned on the use of such techniques, labeling them as dangerous and spiritually demeaning. As a result, only a very small number of texts have survived at all.

An important point which is often lost is that Kabbalah cannot stand by itself without the entire corpus of the revealed Torah
The theoretical Kabbalah essentially gives us a description of the spiritual realm. Practical Kabbalah tells you how to get into this inner space. Very often, the theoretical Kabbalah is an important guide once you are in there. Otherwise, it is like taking off in a plane; you need maps and charts to make sure you will be able to land. The theoretical Kabbalah gives you these landmarks; in other words, which world you are in, whether on the side of good or of evil, etc.

"Kabbalah cannot stand by itself without the entire corpus of the revealed Torah..."

The meditative Kabbalah stands between these two extremes. Some of the earliest meditative methods border on the practical Kabbalah, and their use is discouraged by the latter masters, especially those of the Ari's school. Within this category are the few surviving texts from the Talmudic period. The same is true of the teachings of the Thirteenth Century master, Rabbi Abraham Abulafia, whose meditative works have never been printed and survive only in manuscript.

An important point which is often lost is that Kabbalah cannot stand by itself without the entire corpus of the revealed Torah; it is an integral part of the Torah. There is not a single Kabbalistic work which does not contain quotations from the Bible, the Talmud and the Midrash and require a profound knowledge of all of these. Bible, Talmud, Midrash and Kabbalah all work together.

Republished from www.kabbalaonline.org


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RELATED CATEGORIES

Torah » Kabbalah » About

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.
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.
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.
Kabbalistic
(adj.) Pertaining to Kabbalah—Jewish mysticism.
Midrash
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).