Posts Tagged With: kabbalah

Kabbalah…Do or Don’t?

There is a lot of interest in Kabbalah these days.  From Madonna to Hasidic Jews, it seems at times as if the whole world (or at least the alternative world) is captivated by Jewish mysticism in one way or another.  In fact, a lot of the time, it seems like it has become so mainstream that people don’t even know its Jewish mysticism, and instead think that it is either a completely new religion, or that it is not religious at all and is just a type of “spirituality.”  My wife’s late grandmother (not jewish or religious in any way), may her memory be a blessing, even spoke of kabbalah lessons during the last year or so of her life.  This I see as one of the dangers of kabbalah, but the reason for the danger is thicker.

Imagine, if you will, a person who learns that there is a thing called an automobile, and that it is something that can carry a person down the road.  Then, without even having a clue about how to drive, he goes out and buys the world’s fastest and most expensive sports car and hits the streets of San Francisco.  This is about the same thing as one who delves into kabbalah without having first the proper knowledge and practice in torah to utilize it properly.

To put it another way, kabbalah is like the frosting of a cake, and torah is the cake.  One who eats only frosting is bound to get sick.  So too, a person who learns and practices only kabbalah will end up with a spiritual bellyache.

It is no wonder that kabbalah is as intriguing as it is.  For many disenfranchised Jews of the last 40 years kabbalah has shown them that the very spiritual experience that they sought out in disciplines like Buddhism, and Hinduism was already present in the Judaism of their ancestors.  Such a comfort was this, that many of these Jews have come back to Judaism, with a heavy influence on kabbalah.  Unfortunately, most of these jews were not raised in torah judaism, and so the foundation for such practices was not well formed, and learning since their return to Judaism has either been incomplete or tempered by kabbalistic views.  This can often have the effect of diminishing importance of torah learning and observance as such things take a back seat to the excitement and clear ethereal nature of mystic practices.

So, what then is the problem with such things?  As jews, our contract with the Almighty is to keep torah, and although there are certainly mystical teachings that may be drawn from torah, the observance of torah is to be done in the physical world, in the natural rather than the supernatural.  Without the strong grounding in such observance that is provided by years of learning and practice in torah, kabbalah threatens to keep one’s head in the clouds without keeping their feet on the ground, and turns torah observance into a question of subjective morality and relevance.

This, perhaps, is the reason that the sages from ancient to present have stated that it is ill advised at the least, and forbidden at worst, to teach kabbalah to a jew that is less than forty years of age–and this is considering that said jew has always been torah observant.

So what then is my suggestion for one who is interested in kabbalah?  Be patient.  Learn the foundation of torah, and how to implement it.  We all can probably agree that getting a credit card without income, let alone the knowledge and discipline to keep it up to date, is a bad idea.  In the same way, kabbalah isn’t inherently bad, or evil, but it is a further tool of a much larger spiritual discipline.

If you are interested in learning further, I suggest learning torah from Rambam (Maimonides), whose very straight forward and practical teachings are a mainstay of torah learning for application.  I also suggest the book The Gerus Guide, the only step-by-step guide to orthodox conversion in the world, which can be purchased at http://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?keyWords=the+gerus+guide&categoryId=100501  Whether you are a non-jew interested in conversion, or a jew interested in furthering observance, this book is a very, very good guide for you, which does not expect that you can jump in all at once.

For Rambam, consider Mishneh Torah, which can be purchased with english translation on amazon or at any online jewish bookstore such as:

http://www.feldheim.com, http://www.artscroll.com, http://www.eichlers.com

First and for most though, one should be well versed in the tanach (hebrew bible).  A good translation can be had in the Stone Edition tanach, which has commentaries as well to explain some of the classic teachings of the text.

If you have any questions, I can provide more links or give personal advice on good places to look or start.

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Near Death Experience–or–Near Life Experience

sparkyI was working on my house this evening, and there was a wire in the way of what I was doing.  Noting that it was an old wire, and thinking that I had made all the old wiring obsolete five years ago when I rewired the house, I thought nothing of prying on it.  I thought it was dead.  As it turned out, it was very much a live wire.  Not only was it a live wire, but it was carrying the 220V that were going to our water heater!

So here I was, prying on this wire with the claw end of my Titanium Stiletto head hammer, completely oblivious to the life-threatening voltage running through the wire.  I guess I was prying too vigorously at the wire which was also against the raw edge of a thin metal bracket, when, blammo!!  Sorry for the old school Batman sound effect, but there really is no way to accurately describe it otherwise.  Bright sparks flew all over, a few loud pops were heard, and all the power went out in the house!

This is what Wikipedia has to say about titanium sparks, ” Although titanium is a non-ferrous metal, it gives off a great deal of sparks. These sparks are easily distinguishable from ferrous metals, as they are a very brilliant, blinding, white color.”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spark_testing

I stood there, unable to move, mesmerized by the event that had just taken place.  If I had chosen to buy the new DeWalt metal handles hammer that I saw a few months ago, I might not be around to write this post.  The wooden handle of my hammer, although not the greatest of insulators, is not very conductive and this might be the only thing that kept me from serious injury or even death.  

What could I do?  Very simply, I lifted my head and said, “Baruch atah Hashem, elokeinu melech haolam (the source of blessing are you Hashem our G-d, king of the universe) who has saved me from danger.”

My wife asked me if my life flashed before my eyes, and I said no–sparks did, a lot of bright sparks!  She said, “no, that was your life!”  She said it jokingly, but there are branches of Judaism in which kabbalistic (mystic) teachings say that the world is filled with “lost sparks” that are needing to be raised up in holiness to return to the creator.  Maybe my life has been a succession of doing this.  I would like to think so, but I’m not so sure.

Maybe your “life flashing before your eyes” isn’t so much about what you’ve already done, but is a glimpse into what you need to do or will do?  That would be the idea, I think, behind a “near life experience.”  Who knows?  I’m just happy that it turned out the way that it did instead of the alternative.

An atheist, or even many theists for that matter, may say that it was just a coincidence.  I don’t believe in coincidence, I believe in choice.  Sometimes we have no idea how choices will effect our lives.  I am very glad that my friend Marc chose to give me this hammer years ago.  If I had chosen to buy a metal handled hammer, no more me (and I’d be out $70).  If I’d chosen to use my pry bar–the correct tool for the job–no more me.

I posted the picture on Facebook of my hammer, and wrote a bit about it.  Most of the comments were made from amazement.  One of my atheist friends, however, said, “If god exists and heaven is so great- why is god great for keeping you alive? Seems like a bit of a ck block to me? [sic]”

Now, I have no problem with people having different views.  He’s atheist, that’s fine.  I don’t think that I will ever understand though, why many atheists and theists alike feel the need to be rude and force their crap on others.  Even from a purely secular moral standpoint it is just plain rude.  It is so rude, in fact, that for generations there has been an idiom, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” repeatedly drilled into many of us by our mothers.

Whatever.  Perhaps G-d was not “saving” me.  I choose to believe that he did.  I believe that it was a miracle, just as amazing as waking up every morning.  You may see this as biology, and physics, I see it as the Creator directing the steps of man.  If you don’t believe this, good for you, and I hope for you success in all your endeavors.  When it comes to this though, you live in your world, and I’ll live in mine.

From now on though, this is my “lucky” hammer, and his name shall be “Sparky.”  I don’t believe in luck, so that is just a euphemism.  Really, it will simply be a reminder of how close one can come to tragedy, and how quickly it can happen.  I will likely keep it forever, and I am not prone to do that sort of thing.

Peace my peeps.

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