A while ago, I read a feature article in Time Magazine about the growing popularity of Jewish Mysticism. Recently, classes in Kaballah have started in our community. While I am curious to see what it is all about, the rabbi of our shul says that Kaballah should only be studied after someone has first learned the Chumash, Mishna, and Talmud. Since I have only been a baal t’shuva for a little more than a year, I am still pretty much a beginner. What is your opinion?
First, it is important to understand the growing interest in the study of Kaballah.
According to reports in the media, Hollywood personalities, stockbrokers on Wall Street, and students in college are flocking to Kaballah clubs. While the efficacy of this learning is questionable as long as the would-be mystics remain ensconced in their usual lifestyles, Rabbi Kook teaches that the reason behind this spiritual quest stems from a deep, common source:
“In the last generations, in which the darkness of lust has so greatly increased, and the strength of the body has weakened, until it has become impossible to stand firm against this material onslaught, it is imperative to illuminate the darkness with the mystical secrets of Torah, which know no boundaries, and which elevate seekers on wings of lofty freedom to the highest ascents, and which spread the transcendental joy of the beauty of holiness to depressed and spiritually darkened souls.”
Ours is a very materialistic generation. Living in a capitalistic, consumer-oriented society, we are bombarded by material messages. Like one of Pavlov’s dogs, we are trained to want more money, nicer clothes, a bigger house, a newer car. This obsession with the material world can block out spiritual light completely. Only an intense inner purification, and a connection to transcendental realms, can free us from the physical lusts which block our connection to G-d. It is precisely the secrets of Torah which can lighten the path of t’shuva needed to return to our original pristine source.
Long ago, the Sages of the Talmud warned that as the time of Mashiach approached, a great darkness would envelope the world and the traditional learning of Judaism would be scorned. Today, the world is ready to embrace a universal vision of unity, where all particulars are recognized as part of the whole. The great popularity of the Internet, which connects every household with the global, cyberspace village, is a sign of this quest for universality. In contrast, the normative study of Torah is seen as something specifically Jewish, bounded on all sides with restrictive laws which sever its practitioners from the wide world and its infinite horizons. However, to an experienced “surfer” in the great sea of Torah, what expanses of unity and endless cosmic horizons can be discovered by delving into the secrets of Torah!
Rabbi Kook wrote that it was the job of Torah scholars in our time to make the deeper understandings of Torah available to the Jewish people in a format that they could incorporate into their lives. In effect, his own writings illuminate the deeper foundations of Torah as they are manifesting themselves today with the rebirth of the Jewish nation and the return to our Land. For this reason, for someone embarking on a journey into the esoteric realms of Torah, the writings of Rabbi Kook are an excellent launching point.
Nonetheless, it is true that before G-d allows a person to understand the secrets of Torah, a student must first be well-grounded in the foundations of Torah study, including the study of Talmud and the Halachic codes.
In addition, to enter the secret chambers of Jewish learning, a person must first undergo a great spiritual purification. He must strive to put his life in line with the great moral light of the Torah. This involves the difficult work of refining character traits and abandoning sin.
Rabbi Kook teaches that true, complete t’shuva demands lofty perceptions of holiness.
“This can only be achieved by being immersed in the secrets of life found in Divine wisdom and the esoteric depths of the Torah. This necessitates physical cleansing and the purification of one’s character traits as aids, so that the clouds of lust will not darken the intellect’s clarity. But the study of the Torah must precede everything else, especially the study of the higher, supernal Torah, for it alone can shatter all of the iron barriers which separate the individual and the community from G-d.”
T’shuva and the study of Torah go hand-in-hand. The more a person studies the Torah, the more inspired he is to do t’shuva. Similarly, to the extent that a person purifies himself through t’shuva, his study of Torah will be blessed and made more insightful.
With the blessing that you find a true, Divinely-inspired teacher to guide you into the unsurpassed beauty of Torah, as it says, “With joy you shall welcome a new learning from the elite Tzaddikim.”
1. 1. Orot HaKodesh, Part 1, Pg. 92.
2. See, “The Art of T’shuva,” by Rabbi David Samson and Tzvi Fishman,
3. Sotah 49B.
4. Tikunei Zohar, Tikun 30. Orot, Orot HaTechiya, 57, 59, 64, 67,69. Even Shlema, 11:3.
5. See the books, Mesillat Yesharim and Sha'arei Kedusha.
6. Orot HaT’shuva, 10:1. “Art of T’shuva,” Chapter 14.
7 Ibid, 6:5.
8. Isaiah, 12:3, Targum.