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What is Kabbalah?
Kabbalah is the soul of Torah.
Torah has internal and external dimensions. The external dimensions, which you could think of as the body of Torah, are the laws and stories. The internal dimension, which is the soul of Torah, is Kabbalah (or Kabala or Cabala, depending on how you spell it). For instance, “Thou shalt not steal” is the external dimension of Torah. Understanding what the deeper dimensions of stealing are, and what spiritual damage can be done by stealing, is the internal dimension.
Kabbalah is a mystical map. Kabbalah is the spiritual DNA of the universe.
Kabbalah gives us an internal map of existence. It is a map of the inner workings of the stuff in the physical world that we experience every day. It is a tour guide through the unseen dimensions of the universe. Just like a cartographer writes a map physical spaces and places, a Kabbalist writes a mystical map. Everything in the material, the physical world has a spiritual counterpart. Kabbalah is all about the spiritual counterparts.
When many people think of Kabbalah, they think of the Kabbalah tree of life. The tree of life is one of the spiritual maps that we spoke of in the previous paragraph. It is a map of the spectrum of the intellectual and emotional dimensions of human experience, which have corresponding spiritual counterparts. The intellectual and emotional dimensions in the tree of life are known as “sefirot”.
The following image is an artistic representation of the sefirot:
Kabbalah is an experience more than it is a study. It is the experience of reception.
Kabbalah is much more than an academic survey of facts. The word itself, in Hebrew, means “reception” — to receive. It is more about living than understanding. That is why it must be taught in person by a master Kabbalist, and not studied alone. In this context, “reception” means the reception of student from a teacher of the Zohar, the 2000-year-old esoteric book of Jewish mysticism, written by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
Learning Kabbalah is called “Entering the Garden”.
Certain journeys in life must be earned. Learning Kabbalah is one of them. The phrase “entering the garden” comes from a famous story in the Talmud:
“Four great, great sages entered the garden. They went into an ecstatic state, a state of mystical and spiritual ecstasy, and three of them did not survive, did not come out intact. One came out insane, one died, one became an apostate. He was overwhelmed and confused and unable to relate to certain things he witnessed and experienced. Rabbi Akiva was the only one who “entered in peace, and exited in peace.” – Rabbi Simon Jacobson, from Kabbalah: The Inner Journey Kabbalah, not something to play with. It is an experience of a greater nature than what most people are ready to undergo. Before you enter the garden, you must be ready to receive. That means that you are mature enough to enter the garden and that you are spiritually grounded enough to channel the wisdom of Kabbalah. Be wary of commercialized group Kabbalah classes: True Kabbalah is meant to be studied one-on-one and in-depth, with a personalized learning approach. Kabbalah magic is also a bit of a myth: Learning the spiritual dimensions of the world does not give a person magical powers. What it gives a person is a deeper relationship with G-d.
Kabbalah is a deeper explanation of your relationship with G-d.
Reality has many layers. Kabbalah helps a person to connect to their soul and to develop a deeper relationship with the Creator. The purpose and benefit of learning the spiritual dimension, the soul, is to unite Heaven and Earth.
“We have been charged with the responsibility of taking all the elements of our material world—our families, our work, our daily concerns—and channeling them toward G-d, the one true unifying element both within and outside ourselves. Leading a unified life means leading a life of harmony, a life in which we have brought spirituality into our every moment.” – Toward A Meaningful Life
To sum it up: Kabbalah is the study of the soul: The human soul, and the soul of Torah, and the soul of everything in the material world.