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Kabbalah-the yoga of the west?

by Alfred Esch

Is the centuries-old Kabbalah really making a come back? Quite often we can read about this old mysticism in the newspapers nowadays. Rabbi Berg’s Kabbalah Centre in the USA is spreading world-wide, with many branches. Famous TV- and film-stars are involved in modern kabbalah and in the western world kabbalah seeks to make man and society healthier by this ancient ‘science’.

The word kabbalah

The word kabbalah just means ‘tradition’. The original Hebrew stem ‘k-b-l’ means ‘that what is received’ and points to the wisdom and mystic knowledge received directly from God, as this tradition indicates.

It is said that God originally revealed the kabbalah-mysteries to angels, who, in turn, passed them on to Adam, Noah, Abraham and Sarah. So Abraham would have written the Book of Creation (= Sefer Yetsira).

In the dictionary kabbalah is called: ‘the occult knowledge and mysticism of the Jews in the midddle ages’. Sometimes kabbalah is described as ‘a mystical movement in Jewry, concerning the deeper meaning of the letters and words, hidden in the Hebrew text of the T’Nach (= Old Testament)’. Kabbalah especially directs towards the Story of Creation and visionary parts of Scripture and seeks to reveal what happened before Creation and whatever there is above the visible skies.

Four ‘worlds’

Kabbalah takes the view that there are four ‘worlds’, manifesting themself in the devine as well as in the earthly realm. Based on Isaiah 43:7 (Even every one who is called by My name; for I have created him for My glory; I have formed him; yea, I have made him.) these four worlds are named:

- Atsilut = the world of radiation or nearness

- Beria = the world of creation

- Yetsira = the world of composition

- Assiya = the world of action

According to the kabbalists the Book of Creation (= Sefer Yetsira) is the foundation of all their literature. It describes the universe, consisting of Sefirot (= atmospheres) and explains relationships between heaven and earth; the angel-world and the life on earth. Important also is the interpretation of the mystical power of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, revealing the secrets of the universe and of God Himself. The Talmud tells us that some rabbis used the Sefer Yetsira for their magic practices and exorcism.

Philosophic character

In the 12th century kabbalah took on a more philosophic character with the publishing of the Book of the Radiant Light (= Sefre ha-Bahir). This book was originaly written in the 1st century by Nechuniya ben Hakana. The Spanish mystic Moses de Léon (1240 – 1305) wrote the Zohar (Book of Shine). This Zohar consists of a large collection of commentaries on the Torah and certain parts of the T’Nach. Later on more mystical scriptures were added. In the Zohar we also find the Tree of Life, used to reach spiritual enlightenment.

Since the beginning of the 13th century the Spanish town of Gerona was the main centre of the kabbalists. But when the Jews were driven out of Spain by anti-Semitism (Inquisition) many found safety in the Palestine town of Safed (Zefat). It was actually in Safed that the decision was made that the secret kabbalah would no longer be restricted to old, wise, initiated scribes. Every one should have access to the kabbalistic treasures, for then more people could get into contact with the Shechina (= the holy presence of God) and contribute to the redemption and the restoration of the world. After assuming large proportions round 1750 (especially in Poland) and a relapse in the 19th century, a revival followed in the 20th century.

The Gematria

The Gematria needs special mention. This numerical mysticism grew from the 8th till the 11th century and influenced kabbalah greatly. It was seen as a way to reveal hidden biblical meanings. The letters of the Hebrew alphabet each have their own numerical value (aleph = 1, bet = 2, gimel = 3 etc.). This numerical symbolism was already established with the Babyonians, Assyrians and Egyptians, who used it in their astrology.

Parallel with other religions

Studying kabbalah we immediately notice the relationship with many other spiritual and mystic doctrines. We see parallels with Hinduism, the ideas of Plato, Buddhism, the Koran and even with old Persian religions. Freemasonry, Theosophy, Mysics, Templers, Rosicrucians and many others based their doctrines on kabbalah. The Freemason Ragon even said that kabbalah is the ‘key to all occult science’.

The kabbalah in the light of de Bible

How should we judge kabbalah in the light of the Bible? While the kabbalists seek what was before Creation and what is beyond our visible world, Gods Word warns us in Deuteronomy 29:29 ‘The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and our children...’. Where kabbalah has man work out the redemption of the world by himself, the Bible says that ‘we are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 3:24). God’s Word shows us ‘the Beloved; In whom we have redemption through His blood’ (Ephesians 1:6,7). In the Sefer ha-Bahir mention is made of Gods character and the existence of satan. It is also put that evil is an integral part of God Himself! We know that ‘God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all’ (1 John 1:5) and ‘what communion hath light with darkness?’ (2 Cor. 6:14). Kabbalah distinguishes Lucifer from satan. Lucifer is seen as less malignant than satan. Though 2 Cor. 11:14 teaches us that satan is exactly the same as the ‘angel of light’ (Lucifer). As mentioned above, the Sefer Yetsira was used in practising magic and exorcism. The Old Testament clearly condemns magic, witchcraft, sorcery and enchantments. See for instance: Lev.19:26, Deut.18:10, 2 Kings 17:17, Jer. 27:9, etc. In the Zohar the purpose of human life is said to be: ‘becoming one with God by consciously raising your own soul. But the Bible teaches that ‘we turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven...’ (1 Thess. 1:9,10).

Concluding, we see that kabbalah tries to find the connection between man and God and spiritual powers in the universe, but without considering what the Bible has to say on these subjects. In fact the classical kabbalist is busy with nothing less than magic and occultism. Why would we seek the way to God by the vague, difficult and extra-biblical path of kabbalah? God Himself gave us His Word, as a ‘light unto my feet, and a light unto my path’ (Psalm 119:105) and Christ said: ‘no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me’ (John 14:6). Thank Him for the Word, that ‘endureth forever’ (1 Peter 1:25) and ‘is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek’ (Rom. 1:16).