December 10, 2017

Kabbalah 101

Ben-Gurion University, as part of IsraelX for edX, is offering an Introduction to Kabbalah. The course, described as Learn about the major ideas and practices of the Kabbalah in their historical and cultural setting. The About is ...major ideas and practices of the Kabbalah in their historical and cultural settings because information available non-academic...misleading and confusing.

I am taking this course, and posting some info on Tikkun Olam that I found inspiring. The professor states According to Talmudic tradition, there are 613 commandments that corresponds to the 248 limbs and 365 tendons in the human body. Online resources verify that these commandments are known as Mitzvot.

According to Kabbalistic theory, a specific pathway (as a detailed, Jewish directive for practice) may spiritually treat a specific illness of the world on a spiritual level (aka the "spiritual body") and, in the same way (as below so above and as above so below), treat a corresponding physical ailment on a material/physical level.

In my opinion, and on a first glance at introductory level, I noticed too many commandments to absorb at once. I also noticed that many of the traditional 613 commandments (for example, those referring to sacrifice practices from ancient times) seem irrelevant/weird/dangerous/illegal/unethical to contemporary spiritual/religious practice, which would lead a person to interpret, what is the intention? How is the intention relevant to contemporary practice?

For example, a commandment To offer only animals which are at least eight days old would not be appropriate for most faiths. Of course, we do not sacrifice animals anymore. But, if we did (which of course we do not) then the intention may have been to offer something that had reached an acceptable level of maturity. So, as an example of a contemporary interpretation of this same commandment: offer a rose in bloom, or a bud that has already started to bloom, because a tightly closed, green rose bud is unlikely to bloom if cut too soon from the bush.

Other commandments are easier to work into a spiritual practice, although a knowledge of correspondences (for holidays, etc) and Judaic practice seems important for a user-friendly interpretation.

To go through each of the 613 commandments and interpret in such a way, would be extremely time consuming. However; it might be a very interesting practice for a group. I wonder what might transpire, if a (large) group of Pagan/Wiccan people were to investigate these commandments as a team, along with the corresponding Tikkun Olam (the repairwork that is done via adhering to a specific commandment in response to a specific situation or ailment) ... and re-interpret them on a Pagan/Wiccan level? World peace, perhaps?

I don't believe this type of project, on this topic and at this level of complexity, has been done before, and it's too big a project for one person. Similarly, I believe following 613 commandments (as reinterpreted to be acceptable in contemporary Paganism/Wicca) might be better as a group effort, since it might probably be too hard for any one person to interpret all the commandments, or even to remember and follow them all.

It's also not clear exactly what texts might be most helpful to resource to link a commandment with a specific intended result...I'm finding some extremely generic info on Tikkun Olam, and not at all the specific remedies referenced in the coursework. Nothing about correspondences between specific limbs/tendons and the commandments, except some references to Hebrew texts that haven't yet been translated. (Pri Yitzchak, a Chassidic text published in 1834, and Sefer Chareidim by R' Elazar Azikri, for example)

Some sources suggest that the 248 positive commandments (what to do) correspond to the 248 limbs, bones and significant organs of the body, while the 365 negative commandments (what not to do) correspond to 365 sinews and ligaments, and the 365 days of the year.

I'm thinking of this as a possible development of spiritual/magical practice, for whomever is interested in the idea. Is anyone familiar with the 613 Commandments and Tikkun Olam in traditional, non-magical, Judaic Kabbalah?

Here's my interpretation, so far, for the 613, ordered according to the list in Wikipedia (accessed 12/10/2017). If you have any suggestions, or interpretations, please post a comment.

1. Know that there is a divine presence.
2. Do not be confused by different names and attributes given to the divine presence.
3. Know that the divine presence is a unifying presence.
4. Love the divine presence.
5. Beware of dangerous aspects that may exist within the divine presence.
6. Hallow or sanctify the name or names you recognize as divine.
7. Do not profane the name or names you recognize as divine.
8. Do not destroy books or other objects associated with the name or names you recognize as divine.
9. Listen to wise and enlightened people who speak the name or names you recognize as divine.
10. Do not constantly test the divine presence.


Toward the end of the course we are introduced to Hasidic Kabbalah, and the teachings of the magid of Mezrich, Rabbi Dov Ber. As I understand it, within the belief system he offered his students, Dov Ber taught that there was yet another way to heal ourselves and our world. We are provided this short passage, written by the magid of Mezrich:

Sometimes we see a person, who wishes to purify himself, wishing to pray with great intention before the Holy One, Blessed be He. And he makes great preparation for this, but as he is standing to pray, an alien thought occurs to him. Such thoughts are not accidental. They were sent in order that they should be elevated back to their source.

For instance, if an alien thought concerning improper love, or improper fear, etc. occurs to him, he should reject this thought and attach himself to the supernal love, or the supernal fear. Then, he concludes his prayer with great enthusiasm, and thus pulls out the sparks from the kelipot.

Dov Ber felt that extraneous thoughts that come to us during spiritual practice (for example, during meditation) have a reason for existence, and that there is a way to elevate our practice by actively engaging in these thoughts in a specific way. This is in contrast with the idea, practiced in contemporary meditation, to empty ourselves of thoughts so that we can meditate. It is similar, though opposite in direction, to advice to "ground ourselves" and release excess energies to the earth.

Dov Ber's idea is that these apparently random thoughts should be noticed, and that we should recognize them as coming down to human level from the divine upper levels of the Kabbalah's tree of life. In doing so, we link the thought at human level to an energy which exists at a divine level, which is the level that the thought is sent from.

We do not examine the thought, keep it, wonder about it, or meditate upon it. Rather, we raise the thought to a divine level where we release it up to the divine with joy (rather than releasing it to the earth) and allow this thought to return to its divine source.

The joyous energy that is created within, at a human level in order to raise the vibration of the thought to a divine level, becomes a private and personal celebration and an enjoyable part of the spiritual practice rather than a mere distraction. It was never our personal thought, which came barging into our meditation, prayer or spiritual practice; it is a divine thought which we should return to the divine from whence it came.

In doing so, we heal any damage from the divine, caused to the divine by the divine loss of an idea; healed by returning the thought at and to a higher, divine level.

By accepting, recognizing, joyously raising the energy of the external thought to reach and return to divine levels in a skyward direction, rather than ignoring the thought or returning it to earth, we reach peace and repair the damage to our consciousness (or the human condition) as well, in the same way as previous teachers had suggested would only be accomplished by following hundreds of commandments.

In my humble opinion, considering a different way to meditate, pray or perform personal practice may be much easier than attempting to follow hundreds of commandments.


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