Basics in Kabbalah – What is Kabbalah? – Part 5

Wisdom and Prophecy

More so than the practical tradition of Kabbalah, the contemplative tradition of Kabbalah provides the optimal medium for attaining Divine enlightenment, while operating within the realm of the human intellect.

 

It is explained in Kabbalah that the capacity for inner reflection derives from the realm of souls, a realm that is hierarchically superior to the realm of angels (the realm from which derive the exotic forces elicited through practical Kabbalah).

According to Kabbalah, the purpose of creation is to provide God with a “dwelling place in the lower realms.” Kabbalah seeks to achieve this by channeling Divine light into the progressively denser conduits of human thought, feeling, and deed, and from there into the rest of material reality. By working within the realm of human consciousness, the contemplative tradition sensitizes one to the infinite Divine nuance within creation.

The elevation of thought to the point where it invites Divine wisdom and understanding constitutes the peak of spiritual accomplishment.

For this reason, Kabbalah sees wisdom as having an advantage over even such high states of enlightenment as prophecy. Prophecy, by its very nature, transcends ordinary experience to reach the holy, while wisdom elevatesordinary experience into the realm of the holy.

The advantage of wisdom over prophecy as a pathway to enlightenment is evident from the teaching of the sages that “the wise man is greater than the prophet.”

The prophetic experience, although extraordinarily vivid in its imagery, is divorced from normative here-and-now sensual experience and thus remains essentially impenetrable by others. Through prophecy we may arrive at the ultimate approximation of Divine thought, but without necessarily impacting the self or creation as a whole. Wisdom, on the other hand, serves to translate our deepest experiences of God and the world into the terminology of ordinary consciousness that can be conveyed and understood by others.

The only individual for whom wisdom and prophecy merged into a single stream of enlightenment was Moses. He was able to receive prophecy while still in full possession of his normative human faculties, thereby providing the quintessential model of rectified knowledge. He was both the wisest of men and the most Divinely attuned–the greatest of prophets; the only human being who could, as it were, meet God “half-way up the mountain.”

The Kabbalistic tradition, though grounded in the prophetic experience of the patriarchs and sages, has moved steadily over time in the direction of conveying its wisdom to progressively wider circles of recipients. This is part of a providential plan that sees the greatest benefit to God and creation in the cultivation of a spiritual consciousness firmly grounded within physical reality. This plan is evident from numerous references in the Bible; for example Isaiah states:

 … the earth shall be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea … eye to eye, they shall see the returning of God to Zion …

Kabbalah, as the framework within which Jews have historically evolved their unique understanding of reality, represents both a legacy of prophecy and of wisdom. This is portrayed vividly in gematria, the Kabbalistic system of calculating numerical values of Hebrew words and thus discerning their deeper meaning.  Thus, we see that the numerical value of the Hebrew word kabbalah is 137, which is equal to the combined value of the words chochmah, “wisdom,” (73) and nevuah, “prophecy,” (64).

Through the wisdom of Kabbalah, we learn to “hear” that which the Israelites “saw” at Mt. Sinai. Once we fully comprehend the conceptual significance of that vision, we will once again begin to “see” God, but with our natural senses intact, and not only for the moment, but for all time thereafter.

 

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