Within the Zohar’s commentary on this week’s parasha, Ha’azinu, is the treatise known as the Idra Zuta. This text describes the well-known narrative of the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, and includes his very last discourse to his students. It is one of the most profound and penetrating teachings in the Zohar. It isn’t a coincidence that it was wedged within Ha’azinu, which our Sages similarly described as the deepest and most cryptic parasha of the Torah. A significant part of the Idra Zuta concerns matters of light and vision. Incredibly, the Zohar describes things that scientists only uncovered centuries later. In fact, one of these famous scientists may have used the Zohar as the inspiration for his discovery! Continue reading
In this week’s double parasha of Nitzavim and Vayelekh we read that “The hidden things are for Hashem, our God, and the revealed things are for us and our children forever, to fulfil the words of this Law.” (Deuteronomy 29:28) One of the common explanations for the “hidden things”, nistarot, is that it refers to Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition. Unfortunately, the term “Kabbalah” is among the most misunderstood and misused today. Some people think it refers to a religion of its own, or some sort of cult. Others think it is a secret book. Many more associate it with black magic or witchcraft (God forbid). It has given rise to the English word “cabal” (a sinister or conspiratorial group). None of these things are even remotely true.
Kabbalah simply refers to the more complicated, esoteric teachings of the Torah. As is well-known, the Torah can be studied on four levels: peshat, “simple”; remez, “allusions” (reading between the lines); drash, “allegory” and metaphor; and sod, “secret”. Kabbalah is primarily concerned with the latter category. Like other mystical systems, its purpose is to guide the person into a deeper understanding of God, the universe, and one’s soul. It involves a great deal of metaphysics and cosmogony, prayer and meditation, along with a heavy emphasis on penance and tikkun, “spiritual rectification”. A large part of Kabbalah is about understanding God’s mitzvot on a deeper level. Reincarnation and related spiritual migrations play a sizeable role, as does the cosmic struggle between the forces of good and evil. Ultimately, Kabbalah is about elevating ever-higher and drawing as close to God as possible.
What follows is six big myths about Kabbalah, and why they are totally wrong. Continue reading
Monday evening is the start of Lag b’Omer. This special day commemorates a number of important events in the history of the Jewish people. One of these is the revelation of Jewish mystical teachings (Kabbalah) by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Recall that Rabbi Akiva lost 24,000 students during the days of the Omer, then managed to instruct five new students before being executed by the Romans. Those five students—Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai, Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua, Rabbi Yose, and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi)—transmitted the bulk of the teachings in the Mishnah. In other words, it is these five rabbis that kept the Oral Torah alive. Of the five, Rashbi is by far the most famous, and the only one that has a holiday in his honour. What was it that made him so special, and distinguished him from the others? Continue reading