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Rebbe Yitzak Luria ben Solomon, Ha-Ari 1534--1572 Kabbalah is Jewish mysticism.

Early kabbalah was apparently greatly influenced by the Persian apocalyptic religions. Groups such as the Essenes describe what would happen in the final battle of good versus evil [viz. Lamech Scroll] Influenced by the Greeks, early kabbalists (Jewish mystics) also speculated about creation and the "End of Days". Like all mystical traditions, Kabbalah was stringently limited to an elitist group of scholars capable of understanding its mysteries. The Mishnah states, "Whoever thinks about four things, it would have been better if he had never been created: what is above (the nature of God), what is below (the nature of death), what was before time, and what will be hereafter (at the end of time)." However, this rule did not apply to the rabbis themselves.

Gradually, the focus of Kabbalah switched to envisioning the divine realm itself. Our sages viewed the Divine as being both close and yet impossibly remote. It was impossible ever to actually understand the Divine, but it was possible to catch glimpses of the spiritual world which held the Divine throne. This concentration led to angeology. The Book of Ezekiel begins with the prophet's vision of the divine chariot, the Merkavah. The Merkavah became the symbol of early Kabbalah's search for the heavenly realm, and there are numerous descriptions of the Divine Throne and the angels' activities. This kabbalistic study is called Merkavah mysticism. Early Kabbalah also concentrated on ways to ascend to the heavenly world (a process ironically called "descending to the Merkavah, the Chariot,") while still alive. This process always involved asceticism and meditation. It is important to note that Kabbalah was not a fad for kooks, as was once believed. We are told of four leading rabbis, all involved in the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court, who explored the transcendent realm, called "pardes" (paradise): Rabbi Azzai, Rabbi ben Zoma, Acher, and Rabbi Akiva. One died---Azzai One looked and became mentally ill----ben Zoma One looked and became a heretic----Acher Only Rabbi Akiva "ascended in peace and descended in peace." The fact that Rabbi Akiva and other sages were involved in this spiritual exploration emphasizes how "mainstream" Kabbalah was for the great scholars of that time. It continued to play a significant role in Jewish tradition,

reaching its zenith in the 16th century. Kabbalah's greatest period was under the charismatic leadership of Isaac Ben Solomon Luria, known as the Ari (1534-1572). By the time of the Ari, there were two separate foci of Kabbalah. One form was primarily theoretical: it attempted to understand the hidden secrets of the Divine and understand the Jew's role in the eternal universe. The other form was practical: it attempted to harness the power of the Divine and use it to change the world. Practical Kabbalah involved amulets against illness and evil spirits and even enabled the advanced practitioner to bring clay to life. A student of Kabbalah who could commune with the souls of departed righteous Jews was functioning at a theoretical level, while a student of Kabbalah who healed terminally ill people by using the divine name, was functioning at a practical level. Through discussions with his disciples, the Ari provided a philosophical system to the discipline of Kabbalah which has influenced Kabbalah even to this day. He did practically no writing himself; his system and his teachings were written down by his primary disciple, Chaim Vital, after the Ari's death. It is impossible to describe Lurianic Kabbalah, but, with the understanding that all descriptions are already false because words oversimplify, this is an attempt: Prior to the appearance of the Ari, one of the primary cosmological realities of Kabbalah was that there are ten separate levels (called Sefirot) of creation. The lowest and least spiritual level is, of course, our world, the physical. The Divine transcends all of these levels, but the Divine's emanations are the creative force for each of these levels.

The Ari began by noting the interrelationships of these different sefirot. Rather than being independent, they are interconnected and subgrouped, corresponding to five aspects of the Divine. Luria concentrated on the process of creation. Originally, the Divine created with too much of the Divine's emanation. It was more than any creation could bear (even spiritual sefirot), and that original creation exploded, producing shards which poison all subsequent creations. Those shards, TOO MUCH OF GOD'S EMANATION, are the source of what we call "evil" in our world. In order for any creation to take place successfully, the Divine had to contract the creative emanations through filtering sefirot. The sefirot thus acted like a set of screens, limiting the amount of divine emanation that could penetrate. This process of contracting the Divine emanation is called tzimtzum. Every Jew is directly linked to the Divine by soul emanations through both the sefirot and the physical world (a much lower level, of course). Through prayer, focus (kavanah), and mitzvot, it is possible for a Jew to be aware of the higher sefirot and, through them, to commune with past souls. The soul is a spark of the divine emanation within us. It is possible, through study, knowledge, and concentration, to send that spark back up through the sefirot while the Jew is still alive. The Ari laid great store in the hidden numerical meanings of Hebrew words to aid in this sefirot exploration. Most important, the Ari taught that a Jew's actions affect the amount of divine emanation present within the world. Through mitzvot, a Jew can bring more holiness (more divine emanation essence) into the world. Through this process, a Jew can repair the world from the original damage produced by those exploding spiritual shards, that is, evil. This process of being able to repair the world is called Tikkun Olam. By bringing enough divine emanation

into the world (via mitzvot) Jews could cause the Messiah to come. Luria, with his charismatic personality, brought into his Kabbalah system the assumption that Tikkun Olam and the arrival of the Messiah were just around the corner. His ideas, disseminated by Chaim Vital, ignited the esoteric Jewish world and indirectly led to the powerful response Jews had to Shabbetai Tzvi a hundred years later. A hundred years before, Rabbi Joseph Gikatilla authored Sha'ar Orah, the Gates of Light, a kabbalistic treatis on the Shemot haShem. Just a hundred years before Gikatilla, Rabbi Moshe de Leon compiled and edited the Sefer haZohar. And, a hundred years after Shabbatai Tzvi, Moshe Chaim Luzzatto came into the world, succeeded by the Baal Shem Tov, founder of contemporary Chassidut. And finally, we had in this generation, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneershon, past-Rebbe of Chabad Chassidut. It is said that in every generation, the Neshama haMoshiach incarnates in one righteous Jew for the possibility of redeeming Israel and the world. And these would be those pure and pious Tzaddikim, the above-named Kabbalists of reknown, who in each generation had the possibility of redeeming Israel, if only Israel would have listened to, and followed their teachings.