Kabbalah and Jewish Renewal

Q: I am a student in high school and I am doing a report on Kabbalah as a form of a Jewish Renewal. If it does not inconvenience you I would greatly appreciate it if you could answer the questions below.

  1. What do you think initially draws people toward Kabbalah? (What do you think people who want to study Kabbalah are in search/need of?)

  2. How do you think Kabbalah fulfills these needs? (And how effective is it?)

  3. For Jews who decide to study Kabbalah do you think that it renews their Judaism? If so why?

  4. What do you think needs to be accomplished in the Kabbalistic Movement in order to make it more mainstream within Judaism and in order to bring more Jews back to religion?

  5. What are the major differences between how Hasidic Jews study Kabbalah and how organizations such as the Kabbalah Center study Kabbalah?

  6. How would you present Kabbalah as a concept of Jewish Renewal to a high school class of Seniors?

Thank you very much for your time.


A:

    1. All souls to some extent sense that there is deeper truth to reality than what meets the eye and the five physical senses. The Jewish soul especially has a very deep existential desire and need to be in contact with the invisible, hidden dimension of reality. Very often, the mundane world, and the initial impression that one receives with regard to the religion which he has inherited from his fathers, gives the misimpression that it is impossible to reach the hidden dimension, which is the true dimension of reality. Some people just give up and  sink into the banality of physical existence. Now in our age, there are many seekers, as this is the most fundamental existential need of the soul, to seek the inner meaning of life and reality. This is essentially the search for the Creator Himself. 

      When a person hears for the first time that Judaism possesses an inner secret and thought called Kabbalah, which is now becoming very well known (at least as a name) around the world, this attracts him. He is seeking the truth, and believes naturally that there were souls in the past and present that found the truth and expressed their findings under the name Kabbalah. It naturally follows that this is the discipline and wisdom that should be studied in order to find G-d.

  • This wisdom is the recording of what the greatest souls in all of history experienced in the inner eye of the mind and heart. Their experience borders on prophetic vision, and ruach hakodesh, the Holy Spirit, that descends on a person. The vessel through which this wisdom is conveyed are the teachings of Kabbalah. They fulfill the basic need of the soul to find truth and to give purpose and meaning to one’s life.

  • A person, due to environmental circumstances and so forth, can be mistaken about what Judaism really is. He might not previously recognize that Judaism has an inner heart and soul, and that all of its teachings are a living body. This living body is actually alive because of the inner heart and soul of the teachings, as expressed by Kabbalah. As soon as a person encounters this, he comes to life.

  • In mainstream Judaism, there are many people who live and believe in and are happy with the main body of the Torah, and that is very good. In order to bring back the multitude of Jews that have distanced themselves from the Torah it is necessary to give them a new spark of inner energy of which they were not conscious within the framework of Judaism. This spark can be relayed through Kabbalah. This is the way to awaken and bring back the entire Jewish People to its true root of life.

  • When coming back to Kabbalah, it is most important to study and receive the Kabbalah from an authentic source. The second source that you mention is not an authentic source and its teachings are not 100%, to say the least. TheChassidic movement, on the other hand, beginning from the Ba’al Shem Tov and his disciples, especially the Chabadunderstanding with regard to Kabbalah, presents the inner soul of all the previous teachings of Kabbalah. As Kabbalah is the soul of the Torah in general, so is Chassidut the “soul of soul”. It teaches the deeper meaning for man in his spiritual service of G-d, and the spiritual rectification of all the powers of his soul. The classic Kabbalah discusses the secrets of the Creation at large. The application of those teachings to one’s spiritual service is what the Chassidicmovement added to the classic works of Kabbalah. In our days it is most necessary to begin in the study of Kabbalah from the Chassidic perspective, which relates the secrets of the whole Creation to the mysteries of the soul and to the practical rectification of the soul of man.

  • The verse says, “Taste and see how good is G-d”. In order to present any topic, one has to present it as a taste of the topic itself. It is never sufficient to talk about something. One has to convey the topic so that it can be experienced. To try to convey a topic from the Kabbalah, it must be presented authentically (100% faithful to the sources) on the one hand, but in an idiom that is appropriate to the audience, in this case a class of high school seniors.

We wish you much success in integrating the light, goodness and sweetness of the Kabbalah, and to be able to convey it to many others. To help to reawaken the Jewish soul and to bring about Jewish renewal and ultimately the imminent redemption of the entire world by Mashiach.

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