What is Kabbalah?
Kabbalah, what is it really? It is possible that someone once heard: “Well, that’s quite a Kabbalah,” or even otherwise: “Bet you a kabbalah?” In the first case, someone probably meant some problem or difficulty that someone faced. To bet someone a kabbalah colloquially means to lay out the cards, as in solitaire, and make a good omen. There are several different (contrived) interpretations of unfolded cards that can be found on the Internet. This information does not have to be taken seriously, but rather as something we look at with what is called a wink. On the other hand, it is true that occult Kabbalah was used for magical, divination purposes.
What is Kabbalah really? Well, Kabbalah is originally a certain stream of mystical thinking. In its basic version, it deals with ways of translating, explaining the text of the first few books of the Old Testament, but not only. The next level of initiation is an approach more related to esotericism, and more specifically – to the esoteric method of treating Old Testament texts. Particularly useful in this was gematria, or the study of additional hidden meanings of words, related to their numerical value. And here a tiny word of explanation: the individual letters of the Hebrew alphabet were assigned numerals. These are, respectively: from 1 to 9 (the first nine letters), full tens (the next ten letters), and 100, 200, 300 and 400 (corresponded to the last three letters).Here is an example of gematria in practice: Quoted in the first book of the Bible, the description of the creation of the world in Hebrew has 434 words, and exactly the same numerical value has the word “delet”, meaning door in Hebrew. The (rabbis’) allegorical explanation is that the description of the creation of the world is a “doorway” to understanding the Bible in general.Other practices relevant to the field of Kabbalah were temura and notarikon. Temura (from Hebrew for “transformation”) involves rearranging letters in a word so that a given letter corresponds to the previous or next letter. This was used, among other things, to ponder the nature and terms of God. Notarikon, on the other hand, is a method of developing the initial or last letters of a word into specific sentences. Both methods were used for mystical meditation, meditating on sacred texts. It was meant to enrich, enlighten the soul of the reader (meditator) to discover additional meaning of the message hidden in these texts.
Other important texts for Kabbalists are the books of the Book of Creation, Sefer Yechir, as well as the Book of Splendor, the Zohar, which treats the attributes of God, or the writings of other mystics, such as the Sephardic, Zaragoza-based Abraham Abulafia and Isaac Luria. It is possible that notarikon in particular was used to create and explain prophecies based on sacred texts. In this way, the texts were somehow combined with an attempt to predict the future. Perhaps in this lies the seed of an occult branch of Kabbalah that also served divination?
Kabbalah mysticism was for a long time somehow hidden from the common man, passed on in closed circles from master to disciple. Something quite different was the Hasidic movement, once very widespread in Poland, present-day Ukraine or the former lands of Galicia. The essence of Hasidism was not intellectual deliberation, but seeking contact with the Most High through joyful, often ecstatic dancing and singing. This, too, was a form of prayer. Hasidism was very popular especially among the poor, uneducated followers of El-Shaddai, the Almighty. And here’s how He was referred to in the mystical book Sefer Jecira:
“Yah, Yahweh of Hosts, the God of Israel, the Living God and King of the World, El Shaddai the Loving and Merciful, the High and Exalted, the Dweller on High and the Holy One – His Name.”
Few probably know that Kabbalah-related concepts have their references in modern culture, literature and film. How is this possible? Well, in hidden Kabbalistic symbolism, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet brought to mind a golem. Who (or what) was a golem? It is an earthen creature similar to a man, but devoid of a soul. It was supposed to be animated by the letters of the divine Name, written on a piece of parchment, placed in its mouth. This is consistent with one of the tenets of Kabbalah. It sounded more or less like this: if God speaking creates, a mystic immersed in the Divine Spirit can do the same. This is the origin of the magic phrase we all know: abracadabra. Yes, the seemingly “familiar” abracadabra derives from the Aramaic language, where avra k’davra means: “saying-I create”.
However, let’s return to the golem. According to legends and legends, such a creature could move and follow commands, but was supposed to be blindly obedient to the man who directed it. You might say, an early European form of zombie, wouldn’t you? In one of the more contemporary stories, such a zombie rebels against its human “creator,” and is so strong and aggressive that the only way to avoid general disaster is to destroy it. Doesn’t the character of Frankenstein from Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel come to mind a bit at this point?
Cabalistic motifs can also be found in the works of Franz Kafka, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and from the native backyard – in the works of Bruno Schulz, author of “Cinnamon Shops” and “Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass.”
In the film sphere, Jan Potocki’s “The Saragossa Manuscript”, directed by Wojciech Jerzy Hass (1964), has passed into the classics of Polish cinema. There, too, one can easily find references to Kabbalah, both in the book and its film adaptation.
Kabbalah is (or seems to be in its most commercial edition) an inspiration also for many quite contemporary artists of the music scene and beyond. The interest in Kabbalah by many celebrities can be cited here. These include: Madonna, Demi Moore, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and more closely, for example, Kayah, Otylia Jedrzejczak or Maryla Rodowicz, and more recently (probably) Malgorzata Kozuchowska. I just wonder if tying a red thread on their wrist entailed some kind of spiritual revolution in them? The issue of inner transformation is interestingly put by a contemporary lecturer, Michael Laitman: “The path of Kabbalah is a long, difficult process of redefining goals in a person’s life, reassessing oneself, clearly defining the direction of a person’s desires.”
As a separate strand of mysticism, it has lived to see many studies. If someone reading this text feels an inner need for spiritual further education, that’s great. Wanting to expand his knowledge of the history and development of Kabbalah, he will easily find information, both in print and electronic form. It is enough only to wish perseverance in reading.