Judaism: What is Kabbalah? What is Jewish Spirituality?
There is much interest in Kabbalah in today's world. It is a subject that is mystical and esoteric, describing the heavenly realms. Our sages study this material after a solid logical basis from the written Torah and the Gemara have been formed. Why? The topic involves thinking in certain terms that are based more in spiritual matters than in every day matters. The basics of spirituality are faith and trust in the Creator.
Faith (Emunah) and Trust (Bitachon) Page at Jewish People Unite
We have had scholars who have been able to bring these spiritual matters to light in texts that we can study. Originally, the Zohar (Kabbalah) was written down by the students of Shimon Bar Yochai, who taught it to them.
Shimon Bar Yochai
The Zohar explains a spiritual reality of the world beyond what we can perceive. Knowing that there is a spiritual ecosystem is important because we live in a world of intentions, where there are this world and eternal consequences for our thoughts and deeds:
Intentions Page at Jewish People Unite
Rabbi Moshe Cordevero, who lived in the 1500's, wrote Tomer Devorah, which you can find online for free at:
Tomer Devorah Day by Day Learning in English
and you can view a free online class (10 videos) by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohem on Naaleh.com
Tomer Devorah Video Classes by Rabbi Cohen on Naaleh.Com
Tomer Devorah is the basis for understanding the Thirteen Attributes of the Creator. Hebrew/English book: Tomer Devorah - Hebrew/English Edition
Rabbi Moshe Cordevero was the teacher of the
who formally organized and prepared the Kabbalah into a text over 1000 years after Shimon Bar Yochai lived. Tomer Devorah instructs us regarding the Thirteen Attributes of the Creator. Each person has to understand that we have a higher part to us, and that the expression of that higher part is towards emulating the lovingkindness and truth of the Creator. Each of us has a spark of the Creator in our soul. Our soul gives us the ability to have integrity. It is the spiritual energy given to us each day by the Creator through which we are able to choose to do good deeds in this world.
If a person mistakenly allows themselves to commit this soul, this higher part of our being, to something less than emulating the Creator Himself, his spiritual energy will be directed at tasks likely to fall short of truth and likely to fall short of eternal benefit. Everyone wants to go first class – obtaining the maximum pleasure possible in a lifetime and living to the fullest. Experiencing connection to the Creator is the maximum pleasure possible in this world – that means conforming ourselves to be like the Creator. Why?
When we are close to someone, it is because we are like that someone. By conforming our conduct in this frame of reference to what we know is pleasing to the Creator, we utilize our time and resources toward imprinting these qualities into our being, and those qualities exist not only in this frame of reference but for all eternity. Every thing, every relationship, every thought and feeling can be seen as an opportunity to bring light and benefit in cooperation with the will of the Creator.
The counterfeit trap is to conduct ourselves in this frame of reference with arrogance and self-absorption. This is an easy trap because it is hard to rise above our egos to see our higher eternal self. Yet if we fail at this, and we mistakenly fall into the trap of seeing ourselves as all powerful, it is a counterfeit high that leaves no room for anything except ourselves and there is nowhere to transcend to. It is an illusion that will crumble.
For this reason, we must be careful to apply determination and “whatever it takes” mentality first and foremost to increased closeness to the Creator Himself. And increased closeness means to conform ourselves to be like Him, whose seal is truth and characteristics are lovingkindness and mercy. His Name means judgment and justice and mankind is instructed to set up courts, but as individuals, when we model ourselves after Him, this is not our purview. Judgment and revenge are the realm of the Creator alone, for only He knows the entire truth of any matter.
When a person chooses to think: "In what way can I emulate my Creator in this instance that will be in accordance with His Will and bring Him pleasure?" and then does it, a person is able to bring His Light into the world and this will imprint upon the soul and give benefit for all eternity.
The Arizal made the information in Tomer Devorah more usable. In the same era, the Maharal lived, and he compiled Netivat Olam on how to understand our evil inclination. The book, which is in Hebrew, was the subject of a 10 week long online class at Naaleh.com, a class given by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller. The class is free but you have to register at
Rebbetzin Heller Maharal Netivat Olam 1
Rebbetzin Heller's class discusses the Yetzer Hara and how it operates, flourishing whenever a person feels a sense of lack. This understanding is crucial in our lives so that we are able to make good choices, because we all feel lack. And yes, we make choices because we have free will to do so.
Judaism: Free Will page at Jewish People Unite
Understanding that we have free will and why allows us to look into suffering and evil.
The goal of Jewish spirituality is to enlighten us with Torah principles so that with our free will we select the thought, word or deed that is best-fitted to the situation to please the Creator and provide us with spiritual growth. Choosing something for our spiritual growth over our ego wants and desires is the first step. To do so, we have to have the skill to be emotionally and intellectually honest, to be introspective and committed to emulating the Thirteen Attributes of the Creator and to recognize that the feeling of lack is what leads us away from our spiritual goals (remaining connected to the Creator and His Will). When we know that everything the Creator sends is for our ultimate good (and that if it happens it is His Will and therefore for good), we can avoid the rationalizations and torment that often lead us to do the wrong thing. But this requires honesty and dedication to truth.
Rabbi Yissochar Frand writes that "in our day and age, the standard of truthfulness has sunk to new lows. That is really not surprising. It is generally agreed that we live in the predawn of the Messianic Age, and the Mishna (Sotah 49b) tells us that one of the hallmarks of our age is the disappearance of truth. And, indeed, if we look around contemporary society, we are struck by the total bankruptcy of truth.
Rabbi Frand goes on to share that lying has become endemic to society. The public has become accustomed to having the government lie and then cover it up…lying is thoroughly pervasive in the business world, from the oft-repeated “the check is in the mail” to the guiding principle that determines policy by the likelihood of getting away with it.”
When people have the self-discipline to dedicate themselves to truth and to total responsibility, they are able to bring goodness into the world. Translated, this means that if something insulting or upsetting happens to me, my first reaction may be to defend myself in a manner through which I may commit a wrong-doing, in word or deed. Remembering that this occurrence has come from the Creator, and exercising my emotional and intellectual honesty, I may see that there is a grain of truth that this current humiliation is intended to purge from my soul, purifying me. By accepting the suffering without blaming the party inflicting it, I succumb to His Will and to truth. And if I do not see the grain of truth, the matter remains the same, for the purpose of the humiliation may be known only to the Creator. But we struggle here with our egos and the natural desire to stand up for our honor and respect. We are placed into a struggle of good and evil because we feel a lack and look to blame another person for the lack.
The struggle of good and evil is defined by psychology. From a psychological perspective, according to psychiatrist Dr. M. Scott Peck, in his book
People of the Lie
evil is defined as "…the use of power to destroy the spiritual growth of others for the purpose of defending and preserving the integrity of our own sick selves. In short, it is scapegoating. (p.119-120)" Dr. Peck goes on to say that evil is that which kills the spirit. Dr. Peck describes evil as real and palpable in our lives and defines it because Dr. Peck says that it must be recognized in order to heal it. People who are evil attack others instead of facing their own failures or limitations or need to improve. They construct layer upon layer of self-deception in order to avoid the pain of self-examination and, by doing so, often succeed in deceiving others. They are therefore the People of the Lie. Dr. Peck offers the hope of overcoming evil not by destroying it but by summoning the courage to confront it in all its ugliness and heal it through the combined powers of scientific understanding and the powers of love and faith.
Dr Peck continues by defining a personality disorder called evil:
1. Consistent destructive, scapegoating behavior, which may often be quite subtle
2. Excessive, albeit usually covert, intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury
3. Pronounced concern with a public image and self-image of respectability, contributing to a stability of life-style but also to pretentiousness and denial of hateful feelings or vengeful motives
4. Intellectual deviousness, with an increased likelihood of a mild schizophrenic-like disturbance of thinking at times of stress.
He stresses how difficult it is to examine evil people in depth because it is their nature to avoid the light. Denying their imperfection, the evil flee both from self-examination and any situation in which they might be closely examined by others.It is characteristic of those who are evil to judge others as evil. Unable to acknowledge their own imperfection, they must explain away their flaws by blaming others. And if necessary they will even destroy others in the name of righteousness.
All this because a person is not willing to reflect a moment to see that they are human and erred and that the Creator is sending a way to fix and mend what that person needs to spiritually, if they could just admit to themselves and to the Creator the truth. Rather than face the truth and remain connected to the Creator's thirteen attributes, a person will experience a feeling of lack and react to it.
The Jewish spiritual view of evil is that each person is born with an evil inclination - anger and desire. These are triggered whenever we experience a feeling of lack. Lack becomes the blemish off of which the evil inclination (yetzer hara) feeds. To understand the yetzer hara in depth, please click here:
Maharal Classes from Naaleh.com Rebbetzin Heller
The Maharal was followed by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto
who wrote a basic understanding of the spiritual world called the Way of Hashem which is in Hebrew and more of a textbook analysis of the spiritual realms. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto also wrote a book called Path of the Just (Torah Classics Library) (Torah Classics Library) for an individual desiring to achieve holiness. It takes a person from the first step, watchfulness, through the levels of internal work toward achieving holiness. Rabbi Abraham Twerski wrote an English companion to explain some of the concepts.
Lights Along the Way
For video-taped free classes on the Path of the Just (Mesillas Yesharim):
Path of the Just on Naaleh.com
The Baal Shem Tov, who is the forefather of the Chassidic movement, lived around the same time (mid 1700's)as Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. As the Chassidic movement developed, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi compiled a very readable comprehensive text to bring the concepts into terms that every Jew could study and comprehend. His work is called Tanya and it is the basis of Chabad Lubavitch Chassidus. It is also read by other Chassidic branches as well as Talmudic scholars of non-Chassidic branches of Judaism. The subject matter is the good inclination and the evil inclination and how they operate within us.
Lessons in Tanya
Delving into the subject of good and evil in terms of our own choices is what helps us to grow spiritually, to become kind people, to make a difference to others and in the world. There are a whole host of books that bring these types of ideas into readable and understandable terms. One choice that we make every day is what we say. The principles of good and evil play themselves out every time we open our mouths to speak. The importance of seeing the spiritual impact this has on our lives, as individuals and as a people, are explained in a book by the Chofetz Chaim
Proper Speech Chofetz Chaim Lesson a Day
To hear an explanation about how the spiritual reality of the world is affected by what we say, please listen to Rabbi Frand on the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation site
Rabbi Frand on Words
For those interested in texts that help a person gain self-control on a personal level, Dr. Miriam Adahan's book Emotional Maturity Established Through Torah is a guide that may help. It is a roadmap for identifying how our evil inclination exists within us and how, by changing our focus and thoughts, we can move ourselves upward in our beings and respond from our good inclination, building our spiritual selves in the process of bringing kindness and light to the world.
Emotional Maturity Established Through Torah
For stimulating movies and articles that are easy to grasp, please visit
Lori Almost Live
Perhaps the life after death experience of a secular Jewish man conveys the workings of the spiritual realms better than anything. In 2005, an Israeli man died, experienced his trial, and was returned to his body. He is able to re-tell what happened at his trial in great detail. This incident was verified by reliable sources who asked the man to record it because it was so important for people to hear. Each step that the man describes coincides with what we know from our texts about the heavenly court and its processes. You can see this video for yourself at:
Seal of Truth Video
Naaleh.com has several classes that delve into mystical ideas, relating to Chassidic Masters, and to the Jewish holidays of Chanukah and Purim:
Mysticism at Naaleh.com
We live in times when there is talk and great hope for the redemption of the Jewish People. Please visit:
Moshiach Page at Jewish People Unite
In order to merit redemption, we must do teshuva, return sincerely, to Hashem and the 613 mitzvahs (the Ten Commandments). At the root of this return is the concept that the Jewish people are one soul, one unit, in Hashem's eyes. And, within every person is a spark of holiness, a piece of eternity, a part of Hashem. Therefore, loving your fellow Jew is of the utmost importance in the process of teshuva. Please visit the
Human Nature Page at Jewish People Unite on achieving holiness
There are fascinating essays and tools on spirituality, on growth, on coming closer to Hashem, on the Yetzer Hara and much more at:
Nourishment for the Neshama
Judaism: Go to Tomer Devorah Page
Recommended materials (Amazon)
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