What is Kabbalah?
What is the purpose of studying Kabbalah? What effects (both tangible and intangible) does this have on a person? With areas of Torah study like character development and Jewish law, the purpose and effects are obvious. With Kabbalah, this is not the case. So what's it all about?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Kabbalah is best defined as "Jewish metaphysics." Just as physics deals with interactions and relationships within the physical world, Kabbalah deals with interactions and relationships within the spiritual world, as well as the interconnection between the physical and spiritual. It addresses such ideas as an infinite God creating a finite universe, body-soul relationships, etc.
Just as physics has its principles and descriptive formula, so too Kabbalah has its principles and descriptive formula. Though one may be exposed to popularized explanations of physics, a true understanding of the physical universe (such as sub-atomic physics) requires an in-depth study of standard physics with a strong background in calculus, etc. So too Kabbalah cannot be understood without a firm grasp of Talmud, Code of Jewish Law, and other primary Jewish works. The study of Kabbalah is like "graduate work" built upon a firm base of the revealed written and oral Torah.
Further, Maimonides writes that Kabbalah should be studied only after one has passed the age of 40. Without a huge base of Torah and years of maturity, one lacks the ability to correctly understand Kabbalah. Even worse, one who misunderstands Kabbalah could actually cause spiritual destruction upon himself and others.
The Hebrew word Kabbalah literally translates as "received," since it is a tradition that has been "received" from previous generations. The roots of this tradition are very old, with the earliest Kabbalistic writings can be traced back to the very first Jew, the patriarch Abraham. The main book of Kabbalah, "The Zohar," was written by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai about 2,000 years ago.
The reason to learn Kabbalah is simply because it contains the deepest secrets of the universe! Kabbalah explains how everything in the physical world is a metaphor for a spiritual concept. For example, hair appears on the power-points on a body: arms, head, groin. Therefore, hair represents power. The Torah concept of a Nazir (one who refrains from cutting hair, among other things) is tapping into the deep wellsprings of spiritual power. (See the biblical story of Samson, who strength waned when his hair was cut.)
You should be aware that popularized accounts of Kabbalah are often misrepresented and wrong.
Nevertheless, there are certain basic Kabbalistic concepts that can be grasped by one who does not have an extensive background. These ideas are found in "The Way of God," written in the 18th century by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lutzatto. There is an English translation published by Feldheim. Also, see an online course, "Kabbalah 101" at: www.aish.com/sp/k/