Showing posts with label Kabalah. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kabalah. Show all posts


Rav Eliyahu from Vilna. The Vilna Geon

Rav Eliyahu from Vilna held from learning Torah to a high degree. But there obstacles preventing people from learning Torah. And the main one seems to be  a kind of spiritual obstacle. It seems like the Torah is so precious that one needs some kind of extra merit to be able to learn and keep it. At least this looks like what the Vilna Geon was thinking. The Torah is the main thing. And the tzadik is connected and tied to the Torah. So for people that have fallen from the Torah, the way to get back to Torah is to be close to a tzadik.

 I think however the only advice is that one should do his best to go out and get the basic books of Torah and to learn them on his own. That is  the Old Testament,  The Babylonian Talmud, the poskim--that is the Rambam, Tur, and the Shulchan Aruch of Joseph Karo, the  basic commentaries Rabbi Akiva Eiger, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik [Chidushei HaRambam], and the writings of Isaac Luria. Do this in your own home so  you are not dependent on others to have a place to learn Torah.

And there is something to be gained from this endeavor.  He who accepts on himself the yoke of Torah from heave there is removed from him the yoke of the government and the yoke of making a living.

And if anyone needs to learn Torah it is certainly not just frum(Orthodox) people. Everyone needs to learn Torah because everyone needs to become free from the government and free of  drudgery. I have never hear of a person who enjoys waiting in line at government agencies or enjoys interaction with any government, or enjoys having his time wasted on drudgery. Why not take the words of the sages at face value and start to learn Torah today?
But clearly not everyone is fit to learn Torah. There are obstacles that are placed in front of people to keep them from this great gift. There are questions in philosophy which make even the existence of a law given by the First Cause impossible. That is metaphysics has had a good number of of people that thought it is impossible. And then there are questions in one's own mind? I can't account for all the questions but I think a good deal of them have to do with abuse of Torah. And there are lots of variations of that. Like, "If Torah is so great why is so and so a jerk?" Or "If Torah is so great why did so and so suffer." These are all good questions. The last was asked by Job and God told him that his questions were good questions and that his friends that claimed he was suffering because of sin were in fact wrong. And in fact we know from the very beginning of the book that he was suffering in spite of his being righteous. So by analogy to the first question it is possible to say it also is a valid question. But in spite of this it is expected of us to do our best to discover Gods will for our lives and to fulfill it. That fact that others do not succeed to not mean we should follow their example.

This does not mean not to go to university. The Vilna Geon clearly himself  wrote  book on Trigonometry and told one of his students to translate all of Euclid into Hebrew and to publish it. Not does this mean not to work for a living. It only means that when one is not working or doing university he should learn Torah in every day in this way. To have one session in the Old Testament in Hebrew. He should start from the beginning and have place marker in the book and just say the words in order. If one does not understand Hebrew then he should learn it with an English translation along side of it. Don't do any commentaries because then you will never finish it.  You  need to get to the end. Then the second time you can add commentaries if you want. Then you need to have a separate session with the Gemara. Start from Brachot and say page after page until you have finished Shas at least once. And the same goes for the Rambam and the Tur and the writings of Isaac Luria.

I should mention  that none of the above requires one to accept any particular set  of beliefs.  All one is required according to Rabbi Joseph Albo is rather common sense propositions. That things had a beginning and so needed something to begin them- a first cause you could call it. And that there was only one first cause. Not two or more. Its seems straightforward enough. It is hard to know what kind on alternative reality people need to believe in in order to deny either of these simple propositions.


The Kabalah of Isaac Luria

1) Learn the Eitz Chaim (Tree of Life) of Isaac Luria Ashkenazi. [No introductions. Just the actual book itself. Introductions are a waste of time at best and mostly pervert the meaning of Isaac Luria.] If possible, learn it with Talmud and Musar. But even by itself the Tree of Life of Isaac Luria is an amazing masterpiece. And it is different from other masterpieces in that it has the ability to open up the higher spiritual worlds,- if one learns it in the right way. The other writings of the Ari [abbreviation for HaElohi Rabbi Isaac Luria]--the Pri Eitz Chaim and the Shemona Shearim [Eight Gates] are good, but without the background of the Eitz Chaim are not possible to understand.

2) A word of warning: All books of chasidut on Kabalah written after the events of the time of Shabatai Tzvi (note 6)  borrow a lot from Shabatai Tzvi and his false prophet, Natan. Even when they are not crypto followers of the Shatz [short for Shabatai Tzvi], they unknowingly use his basic approach to Kabalah. So it is important to give people an idea of which books were not affected by the teachings of the Shatz, and thus can be learned and studied without fear of being infected by the terrible virus (in a spiritual sense) that affected the Shatz. The books of Kabalah that were unaffected by the Shatz and have no secret teachings which stem from the Shatz are Sefardic. That means Rabbi Yaakov Abuchazeira's (note 1) books and Shalom Sharabi's (note 2) are all highly recommended. Almost all books of Kabalaist type of teachings in the Ashekenazic world after the Shatz are full of interpretations that come directly from the Shatz, even though I think this happened unintentionally. [But in these sensitive areas intention does not mean much. A mistake is still a mistake. It is just like a mistake in making a bridge  in which it does not matter how well meaning the student is. A mistake is still a mistake.] [I just know that people are wondering about the Ramchal (note 5) and Komarna. I think they are OK, but it is safer to go with the Sefaradi books I mentioned above. I hate to say it, as I myself am Ashkenazi, but in this case the Sefardim got it right. Notes (note 1) Rabbi Yaakov Abuchatzira wrote many books and a lot do not deal with Kabalah at all. But there are books in which he deals with some Kabalah and they are excellent. (note 2) The Nahar Shalom by the Reshash [short for Shalom Sharabi] has a vast system based on modifications that the Ari added towards the end of the Eitz Chaim and the famous Drush HaDaat. (note 3) Pri Eitz Chaim is a book by Reb Chaim Vital about how to apply the concepts of the Eitz Chaim to prayer (note 4) The Eitz Chaim is the text from Isaac Luria which gives the basic structure of all the higher spiritual worlds. (note 5) Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lutzato, author of the famous Musar book, Mesilat Yesharim (note 6) The Shatz was a false messiah. His follower Rabbi Nathan in Israel was a tremendously and famous, brilliant, scholar of Talmud and Kabalah wrote very influential books on Kabalah that initiated approaches and ideas in Kabalah that were and still are widely accepted by Ashkenaic Jews. Perhaps a bit more detail is proper here. The Shatz was basically weak minded Baal Teshuva. When he came to the most famous tzadik Hador in those days Nathan from Gaza, Nathan told him that he is the messiah. I mean how would you react if you got an interview with Reb Moshe Feinstein and he told you that you are the messiah? After that this Tadik and the Shatz were accepted by 99% of world Jewry as being the promised Messiah. Just by mentioning the name of the Shatz people did amazing miracles all over the world.--Witnessed and recorded and notarized. Even up to the revival of the dead. This was even in places that people never saw the Shatz. After he became an apostate the Jewish people went through a period of great regret and there was a purge of all documents that could tie anyone to that movement.

 Appendix ) The Tzadik of Komarna wrote a kind of running commentary on the Five Books of Moses based on the Ari'zal and to me it looks very straightforward and kosher.

) The student of The Vilna Geon, Reb Chaim from Voloshin has a book called the Nefesh Hachaim which is the best of all Kabalah based books to come out of the Ashkenazi Jewish world . ) There are dangers of learning Kabalah for people that are not properly spiritually prepared, even authentic Kabalah. All the more so is there danger in learning Kabalah that is not authentic.

 )  kabalah is best learned as a part of a normal Torah curriculum,  Babylonian Talmud, The Yerushalmi Talmud, The Poskim Rishonim i.e. the Rif the Rosh the Tur and the whole Shulchan Aruch with all its commentaries with the writings of the Ari .

 I think  that Musar is important. But Musar is a highly limited tool in character correction.  (Musar means books of classical ethics based on the Torah and Talmud.) And then I think about Kabalah. And it occurs to me my own very inspiring experience with learning the writings of Isaac Luria. And then it occurs to me the effect I have seen Kabalah usually has on people.
 And then I think about the Gemara, Rashi, and Topsphot. Also I think about my experience and then I think about other people's.

 My suggestion is to learn the written Law along with the oral explanation-- the Mishna and the Gemara. Also Musar [Ethics] for character improvement. Also Kabalah after doing the Talmud a few times. The reason is that without Kabalah it is very hard to see what is going on inside of the Torah. I mean to say the we Jews think that the Torah is divinely inspired, and that it hints to great hidden wisdom. But it is hard to see any of that wisdom on the surface level. So Kabalah is an attempt to scratch the surface of the Torah to discover its hidden depths. Kabalah has a bad name by gentiles as if it is some kind of magic. If that would be what it is about, then their critique would be justified. But that is not what it is about at all. When you sit down to learn Torah whether the Oral or written Torah don't you wonder what is the deeper meaning of the stories about Abraham, Isaac, Yaakov? That is what people like the Gra {The Villna Geon} Isaac Luria, and Moshe Kardovaro, and Shalom Sharabi wanted to understand.

However Kabalah is at best a commentary on the Oral and Written Law. It is not meant to take the place of Talmud learning and it was never intended to do so.  And at this point it is important to justify the Oral Law.
What is is and why is it necessary?

When we come to look at the Written Law/the Old Testament we find the first issue that confronts us is that of interpretation.. How do you resolve things that look like contradictions? Or how do you solve the problem that sometimes a verse says things that could have been said with less words. What are the extra words for? When we assume that this document is divinely inspired we have to know that there is a good reason for every word. This is the place of the Oral Torah. That is to resolve these issues. The Talmud does not claim to be Divine. It only claims to be a rigorous examination of the verse of the Torah and the highly human attempt to get one coherent doctrine out of it. It assumes that it is not open to individual interpretation. It is meant to be a book of Laws for the Jewish people. and no law book is open to individual interpretation.
How would it look in a court of Law if the defendant could say to the judge Your honor I am afraid you interpretation of this law about murder is incorrect. In fact it does not mean what you say at all. It only means not to murder unless you are angry and can't help yourself.
Also I think it is important to make a difference between the idea of a tzadik and the idea of the written and Oral Law.

 The tzadik/saint is not supposed to be a replacement for the Torah. However we also know that it is common in Breslov to conceive the Tzadik/saint as being the central issue.


I know that kabalah in general considered related to the Neo-Platonic point of view, but I found my own experiences were more in accord with the school of thought of Kelly Ross and the Freisians.]

I know many people are interested in spirituality.This desire can be channeled into crummy world view systems .
Personally, I went more for The Five Books of Moses and Talmud. But that was simply because I had and have an inherent love of Torah. [This was something I really did not get from my Reform Synagogue. It was more a combination of the influence of my wonderful amazing parents and also a great love of philosophy.] I was not expecting any great revelation of light or Divine experiences.
But as a logical step after doing a certain amount of Talmud at the Mir in NY I got involved in the kabalah of Isaac Luria and went to  Israel.


But there is at any rate a good lesson for people that are interested in true spirituality. Apparently from what I can tell the books of the Ari [Isaac Luria] and being in Israel are a remarkable help in this direction.

But one shouldn't go into this expecting magical powers. I have seen many of the Kabalists in Israel and for some reason it does seem to me that most of them got caught up in the phantom  zone [the intermediate zone in the terminology of a Hindu mystic]


David Abuchatzeira, the older brother of Bava Sali

The subject of David Abuchatzeira, the older brother of Bava Sali who was killed by Muslim fundamentalists in Morocco. 

A few stories about the  Abuchatzeira family

To begin with one minor story. The younger brother of David Abuchatzeira,  Isaac used to go around in Morocco collecting money for the school of Reb Masud in Tapilalt.  Issac loved a drink of alcohol called Irak. He got to one home, and asked for money. After they gave he asked for a drink. They said they do not have any. He said, "Yes, you do. I see it in such and such a place in your home." 
They said, "Yes, but that is saved for our son's Bar Mitzvah and the future weddings of our children."
He said, "Give some to me now, and I promise to you that that supply will never run out, -but only on condition that you never look inside to see it."

They did as he asked. After that they never ran out for many years. They simply lowered the bucket into the supply which was in an underground cistern and the bucket always came up full. This sufficed for all their children's weddings and bar mitzvahs.

One day the wife of the family could not contain her curiosity any longer and had to take one peek to see what in the world was going on. She could not believe how their original tiny supply could have provided so much. When she lifted the cover to look, all she saw was a well that was as dry as a desert and an empty broken bucket in the bottom of the well. That was the last day that it ever provided any Irak.
 Once I was at the home of the daughter of Bava Sali [Yisrael Abuchatzeira] and was discussing the importance vitamins and proper nutrition every day. She told me that she does not know about such things but she remembered that when she was a small girl it was her job to bring a daily meal to her father. It those days Bava Sali was in the attic in their home and did not come out for about two weeks at a time. No one really knows what he was doing in that tiny room for two weeks. He might have been learning Torah or praying or whatever. There is no information about it. But she would come in the morning, and leave a plate of food at the entrance to the attic. And in the evening she would return and the plate was always still there untouched.
Once in a Mikvah in Safed a grandson of a Moroccan Jew told me that his father once had the opportunity to drive Bava Sali in Morocco to the capital city. In Morocco in those days there was a severe penalty for speeding. Still Bava Sali had to get his destination on some public business, so he told the driver to ignore the speed limit. As they were speeding, a police motorcycle started to chase them, and signaled to pull over. They ignored his warning. So the policeman took out his pistol and stated shooting at them. At that point the driver was terrified out of his wits. Then, as he looked out into his rear view mirror, he saw the police motor cycle explode.  

I think I knew some descendants of David Abuchatzeira in Netivot. One was the wife of my downstairs neighbor. I used to go to them for Shabat. The last Shabat I was there there were a few kids there also that also were descended from Reb David, but I forget how. They were normally learning in a school in Bnei Brak called named after Avraham Kalmanowitz  the founder of the Mir  in  New York

There was a woman who did not keep mitzvahs but she heard about Bava Sali so drove from Kiryat Shmona to Netivot for a blessing. She was not let in because Bava Sali never talked with women. She told her request to the gabai [servant] and related the message to Bava Sali. Bava Sali asked for a check, and she wrote out some sum and she received a bottle of water in return. The blessed water was in fact quite usual but asking for a check never happened on any other occasion I have heard of. She drove back to Kiryat Shemona [about a six hour trip.] She got home and put the bottle of water on the kitchen counter and went to wash up. As she was washing she began think to herself I have running water here in my home! And bottles too! Why did I have to be so stupid to go to Netivot to get a bottle of water? When she returned to the kitchen the bottle of water was gone. Instead right where it had been place was her check.

David Abuchatzeira was like a square in Flatland that was taken into Spaceland--our 3-d world -and was sent back to proclaim the reality of worlds beyond this world.


In terms of Kabalah

I wanted to mention a small point about Isaac Luria  [האריז''ל the Ari ]and the famous system of  the Reshash [Shalom Sharabi]. We know that the Reshash did base his interpretation of Isaac Luria on that essay called Derush Hadaat [דרוש הדעת essay concerning Intelligence] which does not show up in any of the writings of the Ari himself. And I have on occasion found things in the Ari concerning Daat that do not seem to go along with that Drush Hadaat. But on other occasions I find things in the Ari that seem to indicate clearly what the Reshash was saying.
 A good example of this concerns the pitcher (כד) of water that Rebbecca lowered into the well when she met Eliezer, the servant of the patriarch Abraham. In one place the Ari says the crown of "Girl" (כתר דנוקבא) has only two pitchers--the two lower thirds of the glory of Man (שני שלישי התפארת של זעיר אנפין). In that place the Ari is talking clearly about the vertical direction. In another place he says the two side pitchers are taken away and she is left only with the middle one. Unless you say like the Reshash you are stuck with an open contradiction.

But the main thing that I think Luria is trying to get at does not seem to come through learning Kabalah.

While  for me learning the Eitz Chaim עץ חיים gave me a good orientation, but still when I got to Israel, it seemed to me that the actual experiences of attachment with God came not through learning Kabalah, but rather by talking with God in  a forest. I was in Safed at the time, so there were lots of areas to wander around in those days.  Even I was hoping to spend more than one day --and make it an over nigher. But  I never did. My drive for serving God was I am sad to say highly limited. I saw the importance of Hitbodadut {conversation with God} but   and of fasting also. But never had the kind of drive that Bava Sali had when he did fasted for weeks  On one hand I felt a responsibility to come home to my wife at night so she would not feel alone. But that tuned out later to be  false reasoning. She would have done a lot better in life if I had gone all out towards the tzadik direction instead of my general lukewarm approach.  


I know that many Jews and gentiles are interested in a taste of the Divine Light.

I know that many Jews and gentiles are interested in a taste of the Divine Light.
Clearly this explains the popularity of Yoga and Eastern religions. Personally I was never attracted to Eastern religions except as an interest in the philosophy that underlies them.  My search was a kind of philosophical quest that was triggered by my study of Plato and other philosophers and writers [like Kant and Spinoza] during high school.

Yet without intending it I found a interesting path towards the Divine Light that I think it is worthwhile to share with others. It seems that the Divine Light depends to some degree on the concept of world view. For me  learning the Old Testament in a rigorous way was important in forming my world view. I think that world view does not just affect how people act but also how they are acted upon.
The next step involved learning Musar. The Talmud is situation specific. It does not address world view issues. For that one needs Musar [works of Jewish ethics written during the Middle Ages].
The next step in the Eitz Chaim [tree of life] of Isaac Luria. I can't account for the power of this book but it definitely opens a gateway into the divine for people that are properly prepared [sadly it also opens a gateway to hell for those that are not properly prepared.] Then next step was coming to the Land of Israel.

If you put all these four steps together the result should be a powerful influx of Divinity
Christians in general think that Kabalah has something to do with magic.This accounts for the reason many Christians consider it to be evil. and it also accounts for the reason that many people look into it anyway when they are in need of something that they think magic can help them with. However the type of Kabalah that I am referring to here --that of Isaac Luria is a map of spiritual worlds. It is a academic discipline and has nothing at all to do with magic.
And in fact this magical part of religion --whether in the religious world is in fact something I highly disprove of. A further problem with Kabalah is most authors of books of Kabalah after Isaac Luria are in  secret shabatians [followers of Shabati Tzvi.]. This sadly includes books that are traditionally associated with the Hasidim movement of the Baal Shem Tov. And even when the authors are not secret followers of the Shatz they still includes many basic ideas that were originated in the writings of Natan the false prophet of the Shatz.


How to learn Kabalah the best idea is to go to just about any descendant of Rav Yaakov Abuchatziera.

How to learn Kabalah
prerequisite: It is necessary to have learned a lot of Talmud. First of all learning Talmud has a effect of purifying one and also just to understand the Kabalah the basic background of the Talmud is necessary.

Step (1): The first thing to do is to avoid the charlatans [They use kabalistic jargon to sound profound.]
Step (2): The next step is to learn the Eitz Chayim עץ חיים{a two volume work called the Tree of Life} of Issac Luria. It helps to learn all the writings of Rav Isaac Luria, but if you know the basic Eitz Chaim, you already know the basic structure of the Kabalah. The rest is just filling in the gaps. Now if you have come to this step the next step --and this is the step which everyone fails in--is the books of Shalom Sharabi. The major work is the Nahar Shalom [נהר שלום] printed at the end of the Eitz Chayim (עץ חיים). The problem here is simple. The Nahar Shalom [נהר שלום] is a vast system and it is hard to figure out how one part relates to the other. There are a few keys like when you read the word "chaya"often you know you are talking about Atzilut [Emanation].
At any rate, even here there is a major debate between the Ashlag and his disciple who wrote the comments on the printed Eitz Chaim. Between these two giants I dare not say anything.
As far as the present day  teachers of Kabalah --  most is  from Shabati Zvi and has little to do with real Kabalah. [You can not find the books of Natan, the false prophet of the Shatz in print but they are in microfim. Somehow most of new ideas of the Shatz and Natan from Gaza got into all books of Ashkenazim. I do not know how it happened, but it is easy to see.] [Not that I think anyone should read that stuff.]

So to get a unadulterated idea of Kabalah you really have to go to Rav Isaac Luria straight.

Now as for the kabalah of the Moshe Cordovaro and Medieval kabalah and the Heichalot the best bet to to go the Avraham Abulfia. Personally, I think Avraham Abulafia rivals Luria in greatness.

[As for people to learn from, I think the best idea is to go to just about any descendant of Rav Yaakov Abuchatziera.]