Monday, May 30, 2005

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Question: Is it ok to study the Zohar?

I was sent a kind but surprisingly difficult question...(edited to retain meaning but adjusted for brevity and to remove any identification)...

I've been studying Judaism for a while. I don't think I will convert, and I'm focused on the 7 laws G-d gave Noah. I've seen questions about studying the Zohar, and while it's not my focus (or serious interest) right now, is it allowed for me?

While question was brief, forgive me for giving a long answer. Further, at the start let me note that I am not a rabbinic authority who decides such issues. I think I can provide some thoughts on the issues around the question but should not be relied upon as an authoritative answer. If any authoritative readers note any mistakes here, please let me know and I will correct (or even remove) this post.

Important (and serious) disclaimer over, here we go (much of this is from a response to a similar question I gave on another blog)...

Through the course of history, there have been nine major famines; immediately before the Messianic Age, there will be a tenth. But the hunger pangs will be of a different sort, as the prophet (Amos 8:11) said, "Behold, days are coming, said G-d, the Lord, when I will send hunger to the world; not a hunger for bread, and not a thirst for water - but to hear the words of G-d." (Bereishit Rabba on Gen. 25:3, Gen. 40:3, and Gen. 64:2)

Eliyahu (Elijah) the Prophet said to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (author of the Zohar): Many people down below will derive nourishment from this book of yours [the Zohar], when it will be revealed [finally] in the last generation, before the End of Days. But it has been already been revealed for hundreds of years!? Close to the Messianic Age, however, even the deepest passages will be explained. (Tikunei Zohar, end of Tikun 6, Kisei Melech, ibid.)

(Quotes from KabbalaOnline.Org)

In discussions of End of Days prophecies according to Jewish tradition, Rabbi Yess (his somewhat confusing site here) brings this known kabbalistic idea...

Whenever a great influx of Holiness occurs it is opposed by spiritual impurity...

It should be apparent to anyone that if you are given the wrong directions you will never get to your proper destination...

Religion is a real good business. Convince enough people that you know all about Him (Upstairs) and that you speak with knowledgeable authority about G-d’s Wishes and you have made yourself a power to be reckoned with in any society. Lotsa money in it too.

We live in a confusing time. More information that we could possibly absorb in a lifetime available at our fingertips. War. Cultural conflicts. Mass facts and news from around the world.

Kabbalah is an exceedingly complex philosophical-religious-mystical-theological system. It's sufficiently complex that it has historically recommended that people not become involved in it until age 40 and having a firm and complete foundation and grasp of Jewish religious texts [specifically the Tanach (old testament and prophets), Talmud (jewish legal-philosphical-oral tradition), and Shulchan Aruch (Jewish Law)]. It's sufficiently complex that traditionally there was concern that those without the complete grasp of the above could not approach the depth and complexity without getting hopelessly confused, particuarly in the spiritual sense. This being the case, the knowledge was historically kept to limited circles.

However, given the complexity, it's cool stuff. In today's world, science presents itself as knowing all (except when it doesn't, see this). All that G-d, religion and soul stuff seems a bit old fashioned.

Along comes Kabbalah, an ancient mystical system, that has a thorough, complete and complex spiritual system that rivals the awe inspiring complexity of science. You got quarks and super-strings, we got sephirot and divine energy channels. You've got the big bang, universal expansion and curved space, we've got tzimtzum (divine energy contractions), the Or En Sof (the infinite light), and the Kav (the light-channel from the creator and the infinite to the finite).

Finally, G-d can stand on His own against science. And that's a good thing. Suddenly, the majority of people who have successfully been convinced that G-d is passe', that faith and belief was no longer enough in our complex scientific well defined over-stimulated world, have an option to hold their own and bolster faith and belief.

But, "Whenever a great influx of Holiness occurs it is opposed by spiritual impurity". Free will requires an option, reward requires difficulty in achievement.

It's Complex

It's pretty difficult to understand DNA. Try explaining it to a 10 year old (I have, it's not easy, don't think I've succeeded yet). There's a series of foundational concepts that are absolutely required to get even the most simplistic understanding.

Kabbalah is no different. This doesn't stop some salespeople from trying to sell advanced stuff without noting the foundation necessary for understanding or use.

It's Mixed Up

Kabbalah is different things, depending on who you buy it from. Are there people now making a living off selling this stuff? Definately. Any businessman wants to increase his sales. Package the material for maximum sales potential. Are there unscrupulous people doing their best to line their pockets? Yep.

It's difficult to sort the quality material, the true material, from the well packaged fluff. Even worse, the fluff is not hollow, since the origin is solid, but it's not solid on it's own (or worse, much worse, perhaps it's contaminated, mixed with improper concepts for repackaging or because it's not clearly understood by the seller).

This is the best way to destroy the 'hope' of Kabbalah in improving the world and sowing maximum confusion. Suddenly, Kabbalah, the ancient Jewish mystical tradition of purity and holiness is selling Sexual Energy Kabbalah Candles???

Kabbalah can help us understand our relationship with the Creator, the world, our own soul and spiritual nature. But, both the current sales ploys going on and the complexity can also confuse you, obscure the truth, or worse lead in the wrong direction. There is a Creator, with whom you can connect directly. Kabbalah can give you some techniques for doing this, or rather for upgrading communication channels.

Unfortunately, most of what's being sold is designed for sales, not for effect. Much of it is downright spiritually dangerous.

So, what's the proper path? For Jew and Non-Jew?

Every person is created B'Tzelem Elokim, in the image of G-d. Not of course physically, but in the ability to make decisions, do things, and communicate.

Why should G-d listen to us? What have we done that you deserve being listened to? G-d does constantly, creates and maintains the world. To be the image of G-d, one must also make a point of doing. Of course, we don't have unlimited resources, we have to work with what we have.

Give a hand. Give a smile. Give a kind word. Help a friend. Help a neighbor. Help a stranger. Give some charity. Help a charity. Do good things (meaning, be kind and help other people). Pray to G-d, speak to him directly. If your not Jewish, understand what's expected of you (good resource click here). If you are Jewish, also understand what's expected of you (yes it's different, click here).

Whoa, you say, wait a minute. We have lives, work, families, children, parents, responsibilities. Sorry, one doesn't preclude the other, it may even facilitate it. Put those good actions in the context of work, home, family, neighborhood.

Then, having given, having helped, pray. You have made yourself a partner in the goodness of creation, you've earned the right to speak with the main partner. In Kabbalistic terminology, you've created a vessel to receive and initiated an arousal from below, which should draw an arousal from above.

That's bringing kabbalistic concepts into your life.

Regarding the actual study of the Zohar or other kabbalistic works, I have read that the great sage, saint and kabbalist master Rabbi Yitzchok Kaduri has said that this is inappropriate for non-Jews. However, a some months ago I saw this statement by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh (respected ultra-orthodox hassidic Jewish rabbi and kabbalist in Israel):

Obviously, spreading the wellsprings of Kabbalah to these extremes means specifically addressing every single Jew, regardless of level of observance or commitment to the Torah. Not only that, but even non-Jews, who also require the wisdom of Kabbalah in order to participate in the redemption in a compassionate and merciful manner, should also be addressed and taught those parts of the wisdom that pertain to them.

Trying to square this circle myself from what these sages have said, for non-Jews who are interested in Kabbalah, it would appear that actual study of the Zohar is inappropriate, however learning about and incorporating appropriate kabbalistic concepts into one's life and prayers is ok. For Jews, it's clearly inappropriate as well without the right foundation, but again certain kabbalistic concepts can be incorporated into the path of improving one's relationship with G-d.

Give the quantity of material on the market nowadays, it's critically important to know whether the source is kosher (real, valid and authoritative) and whether it's appropriate for your current level of knowledge.

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1 comment:

  1. I was not born a jew and i study the zohar,the zohar says at this time even a six year old will study the zohar,its the anecdote for what to come,most of the kabbalist was not jews,its the tools for all even though i am a staunch defender of isreal and the jewish practicing nation I do beleive the zohar was for all Gods children,its not religion its strickly a spiritual tool without prejudice and seperation.seperation of people is what creates wars,and choas


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