How did Kabbalah Begin? Brief History of Jewish Mysticism

How did Kabbalah begin? At the center of Kabbalah and by
that I mean an ancient mystic stream of Judaism not this place
in LA. At the center of Kabbalah is a book called the Zohar which is a book that collects knowledge from even older Jewish mystical works. It looks at verses in the Bible and ideas in Judaism through the lens of the ten sefirot. Put simply each of these sefirot is a way to interact with an aspect of God Through these sefirot, the Zohar created new ways to think about lots of the
Bible and really to think about Judaism in general. Mystical ways. Now the Zohar was written in the 13th century in a culture where there was both
intellectual curiosity and deep religious fervor. In this culture this
was in northern Spain on one hand they were influenced by the teachings of
Maimonides who was a Jewish thinker with a Greek philosophical perspective. So, he said you can’t ever know what God does just what God doesn’t do. In other words
you shouldn’t ever assume God’s actions have a direct effect on you. It’s an intellectual way to approach God. and then they were influenced by Christian
Europe’s religious fervor. God has a direct effect on me. so how can God simultaneously
have an effect and not have an effect? Mysticisms answer is
there are multiple aspects to God. We can’t interact with God who is
unknowable at say the Ein Sof but we can interact with 10 constricted aspects
of God, the sefriot. A small group of people wrote about this in 13th century
northern Spain. One was Nachmanides and his interpretations of the Torah and the other was Moshe de Leon who collected older texts that formed into the Zohar. These older texts focused on trying to understand some difficult sections in the Bible like the logic behind creation or the chariot vision of Ezekiel and the
apocalyptic visions of Daniel. Notably only a small group of scholars are read
any of the Kabbalistic text including the zohar as it was generally accepted
that studying them might drive you mad. That is until two hundred and fifty
years later. So 60 years after the Spanish Inquisition, Isaac Luria in Safed entered the picture. To greatly generalize, at this time Jews were in a
down place. The whole focus of the religion was on living in the past and being sad about where we are now,
not in Spain having fun. Lauria had this revelatory idea to take the principles of Kabbalahism found in the Zohar and
evolved them instead of it mostly being about understanding
the sefriot, Kabbalahism was now about collecting sparks Lauria said the world was
originally a perfect vessel but it was destroyed and it’s up to us to collect
all of the pieces. Each time we do a good deed, we’re collecting these sparks and
taking another step towards the Messiah. For instance the way a person held a
kiddush cup could create a spark as holding it in a certain way showed off
God’s name. Lots of traditions Jews do to this day
were created by Lauria and people that followed him. Kabbalat Shabbat for instance. So with Lauria instead of being sad
about the past suddenly Judaism was about looking
towards the future and the hope of salvation by the Messiah and these thoughts were wildly popular. It got people to follow many more traditions
and it’s significantly spread Kabbalah. It continued to grow until it brought
about the Messiah. Well it it brought about someone who claimed to be the
Messiah and this through a major wrench in people’s faith in the movement so the
story continues with this guy Sabbatai Zevi he was a false messiah he was
a person who almost brought down Judaism.

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