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Is it forbidden to study kabbalah until the age of 40?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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Rabbi Shabbatai HaKohen, (a.k.a. The Shach - a 17th century commentator on the Code of Jewish Law) says1 "there are those who say that one should wait until the age of forty before learning Kabbalah, for it says in the Mishnah2 'forty is the age of wisdom.'"

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that this applied before Chassidut - the teachings of Kabbalah as prepared for the masses - was revealed to the masses by the Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chassidut. During that time, the esoteric parts of Torah were considered to be a luxury, and only an elite few were privileged to be privy to Torah's inner dimension, and it was necessary for one to have exceptional knowledge and wisdom to study kabbalah.

chassidut has been revealed to everyone because it isn't a luxury anymore
Today, however, chassidut has been prepared for, and revealed to, everyone because it isn't a luxury anymore. Today, chassidut is necessary in order to be able to live as a G-d fearing Jew who loves and fears G-d. The longer the Galut progresses, the darker (spiritually) it becomes. In order to combat this darkness it is necessary to have the powerful light of chassidut.

As the Moshiach told the Baal Shem Tov, "[I will come] when your wellsprings (of chassidut) will spread forth outwards." The dissemination of chassidut into those areas (both within ourselves and in our surroundings) that are "outside" (spiritually) is what will bring us our righteous Moshiach.

Footnotes

  • 1. Yoreh De'ah, ch. 246 s.k. 6
  • 2. Mishnah tractate Avot 5:22

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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.
Moshiach
The Messiah. Moshiach is the person who will usher in an era of peace and tranquility for all of humanity when there will be no jealousy or hate, wars or famine. This is a fundamental Jewish belief.
Chabad
Chabad, an acronym for Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding, is the name of a Chassidic Group founded in the 1770s. Two of the most fundamental teachings of Chabad are the intellectual pursuit of understanding the divine and the willingness to help every Jew who has a spiritual or material need.
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.
Lubavitcher
One who follows the teachings of the Chassidic group which was formerly based in the Belarus village of Lubavitch. Today, the movement is based in Brooklyn, New York with branches worldwide. The Lubavitch movement is also widely known as "Chabad."
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.
Baal Shem Tov
Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), Polish mystic and founder of the Chassidic movement.
Galut
Traditionally translated to mean exile. It refers to the state of the Jewish people until the coming of the Messiah.
Mishnah
First written rendition of the Oral Law which G-d spoke to Moses. Rabbi Judah the Prince compiled the Mishna in the 2nd century lest the Oral law be forgotten due to the hardships of the Jewish exiles.
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.