The mystical movement known as Kabbalah emerged in about 1200 in Provence, France. Kabbalah means literally “tradition.” It can also be translated as “receiving” or “transmitted teachings.” Kabbalah, therefore, means “tradition” in the sense that it claims to be another stage in the unbroken transmission of the Oral Torah going back to Sinai. Jewish mystics, however, have asserted that Kabbalah dates back to Adam.
The Zohar is the first book to clearly delineate Kabbalistic thought. Written by the mystic genius Rabbi Moses de Leon (1240–1305), this text was once accepted in the canon of orthodox Jewish texts, equal in authority to the Bible and Talmud.
Kabbalah built on Merkabah (a mystic path based on Ezekiel’s vision of God’s throne-chariot) and other forms of Jewish and non-Jewish mysticism. For example, Kabbalists began teach the concept of reincarnation. One of the most important Kabbalistic innovations was to give to the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures) an esoteric interpretation.
The Tree of Life
► Main article: Sefirot
The central teaching of Kabbalah revolves around what Kabbalists have called the Tree of Life, the ten aspects of God diagrammed as a network of ten spheres (called sefirot). The Tree of Life is a blueprint for the inner workings of God, the universe and the soul. Kabbalists diagram this pattern of the sefirot as it extends downward from Ein Sof (the unmanifest, the Infinite) not only in the form of the Tree of Life but in the form of a man, the archetype of God’s creation, that is called Adam Kadmon.
Ein Sof is so transcendent that it cannot be understood by us, and so it reveals itself through these ten divine emanations, which are like channels through which God delivers light and blessings to our world. Kabbalah tells us that we are a replica of the divine and that the sefirot are mirrored in our own bodies and souls. Thus, the Tree of Life is the pattern of the spiritual world as well as the physical world.
As we embody the divine qualities of the sefirot, we activate those qualities in the heaven world and thereby stimulate the flow of God’s blessings into this world. If we do not embody those qualities, we actually disrupt or block the flow of God’s blessings to our world. The goal of the mystic, then, is to embody God’s attributes. We can connect with the sefirot and ascend the Tree of Life through specific prayers, meditations and spiritual practices.
For more information
Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Kabbalah: Key to Your Inner Power
Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Kabbalah: Key to Your Inner Power.