UNLOCKING THE MYSTERY OF KABBALAH

Unlocking the mystery of Kabbalah




Madonna, who practices Kabbalah, sports a red string on her left wrist during one of her concerts.
Photo by: Special to The Dispatch

Obliquely referred to as "Jewish mysticism" by most press outlets, Kabbalah, which has been linked with stars like Madonna, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Britney Spears and many others, defies such a simple explanation.
Kabbalah explores the esoteric realm of faith - the something extra that goes beyond dogma or belief structure in nearly every religion, according to Dr. Lloyd Abrams, a Sonoma County psychologist who has also been a Rosicrucian student for the last 10 years.

Esoteric faith is the moment we reach Nirvana or discover that the "Spirit of the Lord" has descended, he said, and it's incorporated into almost every language and philosophy now.

"Kabbalah isn't a church or a religion, per se," said Abrams. "It is a series of terms, concepts and things that give you the tools to contemplate a higher consciousness. Like any tradition that's been around thousands of years, there are many versions."

What Kabbalah is depends on whom you talk to, experts contend, but both Abrams and David Unterman, cantor emeritus for Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, agree that the practice is concerned with balance and the esoteric.

"There are stories that help to explain the idea of Kabbalah," said Unterman. "One rabbi says we should carry two scraps of paper with two things written on them. On one, 'The world was created for my sake,' and on the other, 'I am only dust and ashes,' so when we feel depressed or unworthy, we take out the one that says the world was created for us, and when we get overly egotistical and think 'everything is just for us,' we should take out the other. The idea is to find a balance between those two extremes."

The discipline is more of a continuum, he said.

"It goes from theoretical Kabbalah which has to do with how to make choices to some magical things like healing and getting people to fall in love, which I don't do," Unterman said. "Basically, a mystic is someone who is not satisfied with simply reading prayers, but wants to experience the presence of God. "

Thus, Kabbalah has not remained a purely Jewish practice. When Christian monks began translating the works of the Romans and Greeks into Latin during the European renaissance, they also began to translate and transcribe the works of great Hebrew leaders.

Upon the discovery of Kabbalah in these texts, these same monks adopted it to their own system of beliefs, mining its tenets for any clues that their supreme deity, Jesus, really was the son of God and looking for other esoteric signs that would prove his cosmic connection, said Abrams.

As a result, the Western mystic tradition was born, leaving the studies of alchemy and Christian mysticism, of Rosicrucians and Freemasons in its wake.

But Abrams is troubled by the popularization of Kabbalah and what he sees as the watering-down of its message.

"Maybe it's just a matter of simplification or the extent to which it gets turned into psychotherapy or superstition versus more sophisticated thought," said Abrams. "Really, if you want to learn about it, though, there are zillions of books on Kabbalah now. Some of them are sort of scholarly and some of them sort of throw terms around pretty loosely."

But don't take someone promising to teach or practice Kabbalah at his or her word just because that person has tied on a red string, one of the accoutrements associated with the practice.

According to Unterman, Kabbalah is inclusive and accepting of different views, and the only way to tell the difference between teachers is their own style, he said.

"One can't just call something Kabbalah," said Unterman. "You have to live it. You have to ask, how do you live your life? What do you do daily? What do you do weekly? That becomes the important thing. Everything we do here affects the entire universe, and that makes every action we do extremely important."

As recommended reading for novices, Abrams suggests "Kabbalah: The Way of the Jewish Mystic," by either Perle Besserman or Perle Epstein, depending on the publication date.

For further reading, they should note that among followers of the Jewish faith, the main spelling of "Kabbalah" remains, but different spellings can give curious outsiders an idea of what the group is about. Christian mystics, for example, tend to spell the discipline "Cabalah," while those interested in the magical powers that Kabbalah is said to possess tend to be more attracted to "Qubalah."

If superficial studies of the religion leave you wanting more, Abrams suggests the following books: "Inner Space" by Aryeh Kaplan and "Seek My Face," by Arthur Green.

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