Thursday, March 15, 2007
LURIA, THE CABALA, AND CHABAD
No discussion of the Kabbalah is complete without Rabbi Isaac Luria (called The Ari). Chabad.org, a division of the Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center, under the auspicies of the Lubavitch World Headquarters, founded by Rabbi Yosef Y. Kazen, pioneer of Torah Judaism, describes Luria this way:
Rabbi Isaac Luria's personality inspired all the great men who had penetrated deeper than most mortals, into the world of Cabbala. The Ari died at the age of thirty-eight years, mourned by the entire Jewish people. Despite his short life, he left an indelible impression on religious Jewish life and religious reaching. He introduced many holy Minhagim (customs) which have become part and parcel of our customs and services. His songs and prayers have been widely adopted and partially incorporated into the Siddur. Entire communities guide themselves by the "Nusach HoAri" and much of his teachings has been used to form the basis of the great Chassidic movement. Due to his influence and inspiration Judaism was able to withstand the onslaughts of many creeds and ideas that were promoted during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He certainly counts among the holiest and most important leaders of the Jewish people.
Luria, according to the article, began with Halachah and progressed to the Zohar, the main work of Cabbala.
In his tireless efforts to penetrate the inner chambers of the Torah, he discovered much of the true meaning of the Jewish faith. He was able to work out a whole system of a Cabbalistic doctrine on the world, and on the role of the Torah and its commandments in the life of man....he set out to cleanse the world of the spirit of impurity and to replace the rule of evil by the recognition of G-d.
Of the Lurianic Kabbalah, Gershom Scholem writes:
It is, indeed, surprising that in the very heart of Judaism ideas and notions sprang up which purported to interpret its meaning better than any others, and which yet represent a relapse into, or if you like a revival of, the mythical consciousness. This is particularly true of the Zohar and the Lurianic Kabbalah, that is to say, of those forms of Jewish mysticism which have exerted by far the greatest influence in Jewish history and which for centuries stood out in the popular mind as bearers of the final and deepest truth in Jewish thought.(MAJOR TRENDS IN JEWISH MYSTICISM, p. 22)
Chabad Lubavitch are wholehearted supporters of Luria. Scholem gives him credit for having great influence in Jewish history, but not all Jews are quite so complimentary toward Luria.
At the Jews for Jesus website an article on the history of the Kabbalah offers these comments:
It was...from Safed that Rabbi Isaac Luria would develop his "redemptive" brand of kabbalistic philosophy. The climate of political upheaval and the massive forced removals of the Jewish people had given rise to speculation that the world was in the midst of the "birth-pangs" of the Messiah. Luria was hard-pressed to explain the terrible state of exile that characterized the Jewish people. He expanded the kabbalistic doctrine of the exile of the Shechinah (or Divine Presence) into a mystical theology of redemption and promoted a rationale for the performance of good deeds which was designed to hasten and even produce the coming of the Messiah.
Lurianic Kabbalah would ultimately give rise to Sabbatianism, the messianic movement of the seventeenth century that proclaimed Shabbetai Zevi as King Messiah and in so doing, led Jewry into despondency for decades. Lurianic Kabbalah would also, through the popular mystical Chassidic movement, exert a strong influence on the future thinking of Judaism. Modern Judaism and its raison d'être is heavily grounded in the Lurianic notion that the Jewish people exist in order to prepare the world for the arrival of the Messiah.
Sabbatianism was a devolution in Judaism--a Jewish heresy. Scholem says
Fired with Messianic fervor in the seventeenth century, Kabbalism became an explosive force in the great Messianic movement centering round Sabbatai Zevi, which even in its collapse provoked a mystical heresy, a heretical Kabbalah, whose impulses and developments, paradoxically enough, played a significant part--long overlooked and becoming clear to us only today--in the rise of a modern Judaism.(ON THE KABBALAH AND ITS SYMBOLISM, p. 90)
Professor Lawrence Fine discusses Lurianic Kabbalah at MyJewishLearning.com, describing the cosmology contained therein. The explanation is too long to quote here. I suggest you read it at the website if you want to see how Jewish cosmology differs from Catholic cosmology. He makes a couple of related statements that do address what I have been writing about.
[Pre-eminent 16th-century kabbalist] Isaac Luria taught what amounts to a 16th-century version of a gnostic myth...
Also in the conclusions gnosticism again arises:
1) The condition of disarray in which the cosmos finds itself, according to Lurianic Kabbalah, is a result of two different catastrophic "falls," one of an intra-divine nature, prior to and independent of human behavior, the other a consequence of human sin.
2) The material world as we know it, as was the case with the gnostic myths of late antiquity, is deemed repugnant, evil, inhospitable, opposed in every way to that which is immaterial, divine light and the soul.
3) The project of human life is to separate the holy from the material world, and thus divest that world of all existence. All existence will return to its original spiritual condition, a state synonymous with the messianic age. Lurianism is thus, again, like the gnostic myths of an earlier time, a complete rejection of the world as we know it, and of the historical process. The vision of redemption is a fundamentally spiritual one in which all things return to olam ha-tikkun [literally "the world of repair," that is, a world restored to its perfect status before intra-divine catastrophe and before human sin]. Thus, the tikkun of which Lurianic Kabbalah speaks is not that of this world, but of "worlds" beyond it.
4) The responsibility for bringing all this about is a human one, not a divine one. Divinity is, in effect, a passive beneficiary of the actions of human beings.
There is no possibility of fitting Jesus Christ into the concept outlined here. This is self-salvation as No. 4 above explains.
Incidentally, the explanation of the breaking of the vessels described at this website resembles the description of Kabbalah presented by Michael Berg, of Madonna's Kabbalah Center, in his book SECRET.
At the cached version of JewishGates.com, we are told "Kabbalah was stringently limited to an elitist group of scholars capable of understanding its mysteries," and that in the Kabbalah "there are numerous descriptions of the Divine Throne and the angels' activities."
The commonality of Kabbalah and its magical content is addressed:
The fact that Rabbi Akiva and other sages were involved in this spiritual exploration emphasizes how "mainstream" Kabbalah was for the great scholars of that time. It continued to play a significant role in Jewish tradition, reaching its zenith in the 16th century.
Kabbalah's greatest period was under the charismatic leadership of Isaac Ben Solomon Luria, known as the ARI (1534-1572).
By the time of the Ari, there were two separate foci of Kabbalah. One form was primarily theoretical: it attempted to understand the hidden secrets of the Divine and understand the Jew's role in the eternal universe.
The other form was practical: it attempted to harness the power of the Divine and use it to change the world. Practical Kabbalah involved amulets against illness and evil spirits and even enabled the advanced practitioner to bring clay to life.
A student of Kabbalah who could commune with the souls of departed righteous Jews was functioning at a theoretical level, while a student of Kabbalah who healed terminally ill people by using the divine name, was functioning at a practical level.
A brief explanation of the Lurianic Kabbala is given:
Luria concentrated on the process of creation. Originally, the Divine created with too much of the Divine's emanation. It was more than any creation could bear (even spiritual sefirot), and that original creation exploded, producing shards which poison all subsequent creations. Those shards, TOO MUCH OF GOD'S EMANATION, are the source of what we call "evil" in our world. In order for any creation to take place successfully, the Divine had to contract the creative emanations through filtering sefirot. The sefirot thus acted like a set of screens, limiting the amount of divine emanation that could penetrate. This process of contracting the Divine emanation is tzimtzum.
Every Jew is directly linked to the Divine by soul emanations through both the sefirot and the physical world (a much lower level, of course). Through prayer, focus (kavanah), and mitzvot, it is possible for a Jew to be aware of the higher sefirot and, through them, to commune with past souls. The soul is a spark of the divine emanation within us. It is possible, through study, knowledge, and concentration, to send that spark back up through the sefirot while the Jew is still alive. The Ari laid great store in the hidden numerical meanings of Hebrew words to aid in this sefirot exploration.
Most important, the Ari taught that a Jew's actions affect the amount of divine emanation present within the world. Through mitzvot, a Jew can bring more holiness (more divine emanation essence) into the world. Through this process, a Jew can repair the world from the original damage produced by those exploding spiritual shards, that is, evil. This process of being able to repair the world is called Tikkun Olam. By bringing enough divine emanation into the world (via mitzvot) Jews could cause the Messiah to come.
Once again it is easy to see that salvation is brought about by man.
At the mystical judaism website the Katriel Tarot of the Kabbalah is offered for sale.
Neo-Gnostic bishop Stephan Hoeller offers his book THE FOOL'S PILGRIMAGE: KABBALISTIC MEDITATIONS ON THE TAROT for sale at Quest Books. Hoeller's September 2005 lecture was titled "Kabbalah, Tarot and Divination".