Basics in Kabbalah: What is Kabbalah? Part 3 – Contemplative Kabbalah

There are two basic types of Kabbalah:

  • Kabbalah iyunit, “contemplative Kabbalah,” seeks to explain the nature of God and the nature of existence via intellectual and meditative techniques.

  • Kabbalah ma’asit, “practical Kabbalah,” seeks to alter the nature of existence and change the course of events via ritualistic techniques.

Although we will see that the distinction between “contemplative Kabbalah” and “practical Kabbalah” can often be quite arbitrary, the proper definition of these two types of Kabbalah will help us to better understand the mystical discipline of the Jewish people, its limitations and ramifications.

 Contemplative Kabbalah

Kabbalah iyunit is the category to which belong the majority of Kabbalah texts in circulation today. It sets out to explain the process whereby the created realm evolved into autonomous existence through the will of an infinite Creator; it elaborates as well upon the nature of the interaction between creation and the Divine source from which it emerges.

On an even deeper level, contemplative Kabbalah explores the complex nature of Divine reality itself–in particular, the paradox of God being immutable and yet active and reactive in His relationship with His creation.

The contemplative tradition also embraces various meditative techniques, often mistakenly identified with practical Kabbalah.These techniques are used to ponder the Divine subtext of reality and include the contemplation of Divine Names, of Hebrew letter permutations, and of the ways in which the ten sefirot–the manifestations of Divine light and energy–harmonize and interact. Some ancient forms of Kabbalistic meditation actually produce a visionary experience of higher spiritual “chambers” or worlds.

By means of meditation and concentrated focus on Divine unifications that take place in the higher worlds during the time of prayer, the worthy Kabbalist will surely draw light and blessing into our physical realm. His prayers will be potent and their results manifest. He will change things for the better. This is not, however, practical Kabbalah, for indeed every righteous individual–not only the Kabbalist–with every good deed that he performs, in addition to the immediate effect of his act draws Divine energy into reality and changes the course of nature for the better.

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