What is Kabbalah?

Discussion in 'Occult.. Research' started by webmaster, Sep 13, 2003.

  1. webmaster

    webmaster Administrator Staff Member

    What is Kabbalah?
    Kabbalah predates any religion or theology. It was given to mankind by the Creator, without any prerequisites or preconditions. According to kabbalistic teachings, the universe operates according to certain supremely powerful principles. By learning to understand and act in accordance with these precepts, we will vastly improve our lives today, and ultimately we will achieve true fulfillment for ourselves and for all humanity. Just as basic physical laws such as gravity and magnetism exist independently of our will and awareness, the spiritual laws of the universe influence our lives every day and every moment. Kabbalah empowers us to understand and live in harmony with these laws -- to use them for the benefit of ourselves and the world.

    Kabbalah is much more than an intellectually compelling philosophical system. It is a precise description of the interwoven nature of spiritual and physical reality -- and it is a full complement of powerful, practical methods for attaining worthy goals within that reality. Simply put, Kabbalah gives you the tools you need to achieve happiness, fulfillment, and to bring the Light of the Creator into your life. It is the way to gain the peace and joy you want and deserve at the very core of your being.

    The wisdom of Kabbalah has been passed down to us by Abraham, Moses, and the other patriarchs and matriarchs of the Bible, and by the great kabbalists of history, including Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and Rabbi Isaac Luria. Indeed, one of the most important aspects of Kabbalah is the passing of its teachings from master to student over many generations -- and today it is Rav Berg who carries on the legacy of Kabbalah by bringing its wisdom to the world.

    For millenias, Kabbalah was suppressed by those who did understand it, but even the ancient kabbalistic sages chose to keep their knowledge hidden. These great kabbalists realized that the time was not yet right to make this wisdom available to humanity in general. Meanwhile, intolerance and fear caused those in power to criminalize the study of Kabbalah and to persecute those who dared to undertake it. But throughout this long era of repression, kabbalists always understood that a very different time was coming -- a time in which the world would at last be prepared to receive Kabbalah, and free to do so as well. A crucial milestone in that new era was reached in 1922, when The Kabbalah Centre was established in Jerusalem by Rabbi Ashlag.

    Before Einstein...
    Before Moses...
    Before Mankind...

    There was Adam.

    Adam was not an ordinary man living in an earthly garden paradise, as a literal reading of the Bible might suggest. Rather, he is a being who lives in a dimension beyond our physical universe. His essence consists of all the souls who have walked this planet-past, present, and future.

    The very first book of Kabbalah was given to Adam by the entity Raziel. This text is so profound, and its secrets hold such a high level of spiritual energy, that by today's standards one would not be allowed to pronounce its words; for speech has the power to ignite tremendous forces of energy.

    Randomly uttering words from the Book of Adam would be equivalent to a small child playing with high voltage wires. The book is a blueprint of creation. Consider it the DNA code of the cosmos.

    The first century.

    A time of holocaust.

    The Roman Empire occupied the Land of Israel, and the streets were bathed in blood.

    The Romans launched a severe crackdown on the spiritual activities of the Israelites. The greatest sage of the era - a man who would be called the Father of the World - was sentenced to death.

    His name, Rabbi Akiva.

    His crime, the love of God.

    Thousands gathered in the streets to witness the grim execution. Akiva's skin was brutally ripped from his body with razor-sharp iron combs. The shadow of death consumed him at a pace that was immorally unhurried.

    But the mystic Akiva had mastered the physical world. He experienced excruciating pain for only an instant before the ecstasy of spiritual energy filled his entire being; he departed this world with untold joy in his heart.

    He left behind his most cherished disciple, a man who would become the greatest Kabbalist in history, a giant among mystics: the revered sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yokhai.

    The Roman Empire feared the mighty Yokhai even more than Akiva. Thus, another death sentence was handed down. The mystic sought refuge in a secluded cave in Piquin, Israel with his son. For 13 long years, they were forced to hide out from Caesar's army.

    Seeking to attain the same control over the material realm as his great teacher, Rabbi Shimon buried himself into the ground, neck deep, each day of his seclusion. During these long years of painful isolation, he received instruction in the mystical arts of Kabbalah. His teachers were Moses and Elijah the prophet.

    When leadership of the Roman Empire changed hands, Rabbi Shimon and his son were free to return to Jerusalem. The years of intense pressure from the earth had scarred and mangled the mystic's body. But the spiritual Light that radiated from his soul made it hard for ordinary men to stand in his presence.

    To protect the secrets of the universe that were revealed to him, Rabbi Shimon called upon one student - Rabbi Abba - to commit his teachings to written word. Abba had an extraordinary gift for writing in the abstract language of metaphor and parable. Thus, the secrets would be safe, deftly concealed inside abstruse stories, making it difficult for the wicked and unworthy to grasp and misuse this ancient power.

    Thus the Zohar, the ultimate spiritual work on Kabbalah, was born. To this day, the Zohar ("Book of Splendor") is acknowledged as the definitive and authoritative work on Kabbalistic wisdom.

    The manuscript was considered a work of mysticism and magic by the people of the generation.

    In hindsight, the reason is obvious.

    The Zohar expounded upon ideas and concepts that were centuries ahead of their time. In an age where science determined the world was flat, the Zohar depicted our planet as spherical, with people experiencing day and night at the same time, in different time zones.

    The Zohar describes the moment of creation as a Big Bang-like explosion. It speaks of a universe that exists in ten dimensions. It explores the notion of parallel universes.

    These speculations were considered heretical and frightening. Yet, they were not the most fantastic to appear in the Zohar. That designation belongs to the next idea....

    The 13th Century.

    A great Spanish Kabbalist named Moses Deleon makes a startling discovery. The sage uncovers the Zohar manuscripts in a cave in Israel. In terms of spiritual significance, the recent discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls pales in comparison to the unearthing of the Zohar.

    Remarkably, Rabbi Shimon wrote that the concealment of the Zohar would last 1200 years from the time of the destruction of the Holy Temple.

    Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 CE. Moses Deleon revealed the Zohar in the year 1270.

    1200 years elapsed before the Zohar finally saw the light of day, just as Rabbi Shimon anticipated.

    The Year 70
    (1200 years apart)

    Moses Deleon's discovery generally went unnoticed by the world. But it was a significant turning point for mankind, as the Light of the Zohar radiated into the world for the first time in history. Its arcane verses rendered the work inaccessible to the masses. However, the energy emanating from its mystical text sparked the collective unconscious of a generation. The power of the Zohar propelled the world out of the Dark Ages

    The 16th Century brought forth the most influential Kabbalist in history: Rabbi Isaac Luria.

    A brilliant scholar by age 13, he was called "The Ari," which means "The Holy Lion."

    The Ari had the gift to explore the innermost depths of the Zohar. He lived as a hermit for 13 years, probing its mysteries. It was not unusual for the Ari to meditate upon one verse of the Zohar for many months, until the hidden meaning was revealed to him.

    The Ari uncovered extraordinary secrets inside the Zohar's poetic words. He described a system of evolution that went far beyond what Darwin would explain centuries later. The Ari wrote:

    A time will come when men of science will, in their search for the missing link between man and animal, attempt to consider the monkey as that living form from which man evolved.
    —Tree of Life, Gate 42, Ch. 1

    The Ari explains, however, that the monkey is a "fraudulent image" of man. Like man, the monkey possesses five digits on each hand. But unlike man, it cannot make use of its thumb by operating it. The thumb corresponds to the highest dimension in a ten-dimensional reality—a level known as Keter. The thumb is the key to human intelligence, according to the Ari.

    In fact, Keter is the source of all intelligence that permeates our physical world. Though we may marvel at the intelligence of the monkey, its physical (and metaphysical) DNA is preset—a monkey cannot move out of its animal category. This limitation of intelligence is signified by its inability to operate its thumb.

    Remarkably, scientists now tell us that man’s evolutionary advantage was rooted in the “opposable thumb”. The thumb allowed us to create tools and therefore, was key to the evolvement of human intelligence.

    The Ari revealed a remarkable code explaining how the spiritual energy of the Messiah would begin to express itself in our physical world in the year 1948 on a Friday afternoon.

    Some 500 years later, the state of Israel was born in the year 1948. Israel's statehood was ratified by the U.N. on a Friday afternoon.

    The Ari demonstrated uncanny powers during his lifetime. It was reported that on one occasion he gathered his disciples for a long journey to Jerusalem to spend the Sabbath. Everyone was bewildered as to how they could possibly reach the city in time, for the Sabbath was fast approaching.

    The Ari was a man who lived the concept of mind over matter. Said he:

    The elements of time, space, and motion are merely an expression of the limitations imposed by the physical body on the soul. When the soul has sway over the body, these limiting factors cease to exist. Let us now proceed to Jerusalem, for our physical bodies have lost their influence over our souls.
    After engaging in meditation and mystical song, the Ari and his disciples arrived before the sun had set, to usher in the Sabbath.

    The Ari's greatest legacy was his Kabbalistic composition The Writings of the Ari, compiled by his most cherished student, Rabbi Haim Vital. This profound work gave birth to what is known as Lurianic Kabbalah.

    Lurianic Kabbalah became the definitive school of Kabbalistic thought, and had a dramatic impact on the world. Eminent contemporary scholars are only now discovering the profound influence this great Renaissance Kabbalist had on such intellectual luminaries as Sir Isaac Newton.

    Professor Allison P. Coudert contends in her book The Impact of the Kabbalah in the Seventeenth Century:

    Lurianic Kabbalah deserves a place it has never received in the histories of Western scientific and cultural developments.

    The great mathematician and philosopher Leibniz, who invented calculus and, in turn, those tiresome math classes we endured in high school and college, was profoundly influenced by Kabbalah. Isaac Newton—considered by many to be the greatest scientist ever—secretly studied Kabbalah, wherein he found ideas that bear a striking resemblance to some of his greatest scientific discoveries.

    All knowledge and material appearing on this web site is rooted in Lurianic Kabbalah.

    At the young age of 38, Isaac Luria left this world after having made a stunning impact on Kabbalah. This remains unprecedented to this very day.

    He left a spiritual system that, when fully disentangled and deciphered, will enable humanity to take control over its individual and collective destiny—a road map and guide for the body and soul that will relieve people of their chaos, fear, pain, and suffering.

    It is said that Luria came to this world for one purpose: to instruct his disciple, Rabbi Chaim Vital, in the Lurianic system of Kabbalah.

  2. webmaster

    webmaster Administrator Staff Member

    The Kabbalah
    Early Cosmogonic Speculation
    (1) A Mystical System Rooted in Antiquity

    Legendary Beginnings

    "The Qabalah may be defined as being the esoteric Jewish doctrine. It is called in Hebrew QBLH, Qabalah, which is derived from the root QBL, Qibel, meaning 'to receive'. This appellation refers to the custom of handing down the esoteric tradition by oral transmission, and is nearly allied to 'tradition'."
    "The Qabalah was first taught by God himself to a select company of angels, who formed a theosophic school in Paradise. After the Fall the angels most graciously communicated this heavenly doctrine to the disobedient children of earth, they furnish the protoplasts with the means of returning to their pristine nobility and felicity. From Adam it passed over to Noah, and then to Abraham, the friend of God, who emigrated with it to Egypt, where the patriarch allowed a portion of this mysterious doctrine to ooze out. It was in this way that the Egyptians obtained some knowledge of it, and the other Eastern nations could introduce it into their philosophical systems. Moses, who was learned in all the wisdom of Egypt, was first initiated into the Qabalah in the land of his birth, but became most proficient in it during his wanderings in the wilderness, when he not only devoted to it the leisure hours of the whole forty years, but received lessons in it from one of the angels. By the aid of this mysterious science the law-giver was enabled to solve the difficulties which arose during his management of the Israelites, in spite of the pilgrimages, wars, and frequent miseries of the nation. He covertly laid down the principles of this secret doctrine in the first four books of the Pentateuch, but withheld them from Deuteronomy. Moses also initiated the seventy elders into the secrets of this doctrine, and they again transmitted them from hand to hand."
    - McGregor Mathers, Introduction to The Kabbalah Unveiled

    "In exactly the same way, when the true interpretation of the Law according to the command of God, divinely handed down to Moses, was revealed, it was called the Kabbalah, a word which is the same among the Hebrews as 'reception' among ourselves; for this reason, of course, that one man from another, by a sort of hereditary right, received that doctrine not through written records but through a regular succession of revelations....In these books principally resides, as Esdras with a clear voice justly declared, the spring of understanding, that is, the ineffable theology of the supersubstantial deity; the fountain of wisdom, that is, the exact metaphysic of the intellectual and angelic forms; and the stream of knowledge, that is, the most steadfast philosophy of natural things."
    - Pico della Mirandola

    "The goal of the Kabbalah is to obtain a complete understanding of God, the universe and their inter-relationships. It strives to achieve this understanding through the use of symbols and analogies, particularly the Jewish holy books."
    - Simcha Kuritzky, "Kabbalistic Magic" Part IV

    To Jewish mystics, every letter in the Hebrew alphabet was a channel to the life force of God and possessed of sacred meaning. Hebrew numbers were also represented by letters so that names and words had numerical values. Finding associations of words with the same value revealed a complex series of hidden meanings beneath the text of the Torah, the book of law attributed to Moses. In fact, the entire Torah can be considered to be a single long word spelling out one of the names of God. The significance of the name of God goes back to ancient Egypt where knowing the name of a god allowed one to gain power over that god.

    "Strange and sometimes obscure are the names given to God, the King who thrones in His glory. We find names such as Zoharariel, Adiriron, Akhtaricl,' and Totrossiyah (or Tetrassiyah, i. e. the Tetras or fourfoldness of the letters of God's name YHWH?), names which to the mystics may have signified various aspects of God's glory. In this context it is well to remember that the chief peculiarity of this form of mysticism, its emphasis on God's might and magnificence, opens the door to the transformation of mysticism into theurgy; there the master of the secret 'names' himself takes on the exercise of power in the way described in the various magical and theurgical procedures of which this literature is full. The language of the theurgist conforms to that of the Merkabah mystic. Both are dominated by the attributes of power and sublimity, not love or tenderness. It is entirely characteristic of the out-look of these believers that the theurgist, in adjuring the 'Prince of Divine Presence,' summons the archons as 'Princes of Majesty, Fear and Trembling.' Majesty, Fear and Trembling are indeed the key-words to this Open Sesame of religion."
    - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) pp. 56-57

    The Kabbalah "uncovers many of the infinite layers of the secrets of life, of Creation, of the soul, of the heavenly spheres.
    It penetrates beyond the garments and the body of the Torah.
    It is the very core and soul of Torah, the ultimate revelation of Divinity - exposing the inner meaning, effects and purpose of Torah and mitzvot.
    The illumination emanating from the Kabbalah ignites the soul of man, setting it on fire in the awareness of a deeper and higher reality. Its study and insights are themselves mystical experiences.
    The Kabbalah is all this - but always and exclusively within the context of Torah."
    - "The Authenticity of Kabbalah"

    Prophets and Visions
    The early plebeian Israelites were Canaanites and Phoenicians, with the same worship of the Phallic gods - Bacchus, Baal or Adon, Iacchos - Iao or Jehovah'; but even among them there had always been a class of initiated adepts. Later, the character of this plebe was modified by Assyrian conquests; and, finally, the Persian colonizations superimposed the Pharisean and Eastern ideas and usages, from which the Old Testament and Mosaic institutes were derived. The Asmonean priest-kings promulgated the canon of the Old Testament in contradistinction to the Apocrypha or Secret Books of the Alexandrian Jews - kabbalists."
    - H. P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled

    "Early Hebrew prophecy and Bacchism are similar in some aspects. The Qabbalists called the Holy Spirit, the mother, and the Church of Israel, the daughter. Solomon engraved on the walls of his Temple, likenesses of the male and female principles, to adumbrate this mystery; such it is said, were the figures of the cherubim. This was, however, not in obedience to the words of the Torah. They were symbolical of the Upper, the spiritual, the former or maker, positive or male, and the Lower, the passive, the negative or female, formed or made by the first."
    - Isaac Myer, The Qabbalah

    "Each soul and spirit prior to its entering into this world, consists of a male and female united into one being. When it descends on this earth the two parts separate and animate two different bodies. At the time of marriage, the Holy One, blessed be He, who knows all souls and spirits, unites them again as they were before, and they again constitute one body and one soul, forming as it were the right and left of one individual."
    - The Hebrew Zohar

    "'And when They are conjoined together, They appear to be only one body.'
    "Hence we learn that the Masculine, taken alone appeareth to be only half the body, so that all the mercies are half; and thus also is it with the Feminine.
    "'But when They are joined together, the (two together) appear to form only one whole body. And it is so.'
    "So also here. When the Male is joined with the Female, They both constitute one complete body, and all the Universe is in a state of happiness, because all things receive blessing from Their perfect body. And this is an Arcanum."
    - The Kabbalah Unveiled

    "...The earliest Jewish mystics who formed an organized fraternity in Talmudic times and later, describe their experience in terms derived from the diction characteristic of their age. They speak of the ascent of the soul to the Celestial Throne where it obtains an ecstatic view of the majesty of God and the secrets of His Realm. A great distance separates these old Jewish Gnostics from the Hasidic mystics one of whom said:' 'There are those who serve God with their human intellect, and others whose gaze is fixed on Nothing.... He who is granted this supreme experience loses the reality of his intellect, but when he returns from such contemplation to the intellect, he finds it full of divine and inflowing splendor.' And yet it is the same experience which both are trying to express in different ways."
    - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 5

    The earliest visionary experiences centered on the throne-chariot of God (merkabah).

    "The Rabbis of the Talmud speculated on these mysteries, particularly when they were commenting on Genesis and the visions of Ezekiel. [See 'References in Pharisaic Circles'.] The speculations were later embroidered by new ideas that entered Jewish thought from the Syriac Greeks, the Zoroastrian Babylonians, and the Gnostic sect of the Byzantium Christians. From these foreign and domestic concepts and myths, the Jews wove into their mysticism ideas of upper and neither worlds, angels, and demons, ghosts and spirits - ideas that had been unknown or of little importance to the Jews until then."
    "By the first century it had become a proper subject for scholarly study. Philo Judaeus speculated on the Platonic idea of emanations as intermediaries between God and the physical world. The Roman philosopher Plotinus (205-270) traveled in the East and returned to combine Indian, Persian, Greek, and Jewish mystic theories into a systematic structure of these emanations."
    - Harry Gersh, The Sacred Books of the Jews

    According to Plotinus (205-270 AD), "there are stages in the soul's ladder of ascent. The first includes purification, the freezing of the soul from the body, and the practice of the cardinal virtues. In the second the soul rises above sense-perception to Nous through contemplation. A third and higher stage, already ineffable, leads to union with Nous. Finally there is the climax of the whole ascent in mystical and ecstatic union with the One."
    - John Ferguson, An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Mysticism and the Mystery Religions

    "He will lapse again from the vision: but let him again awaken the virtue which is in him, again know himself made perfect in splendor; and he shall be again lightened of his burden, ascending through virtue to Nous, and then through wisdom to the Supreme."
    - Plotinus

    "As the Kabbalah evolved, it came to share certain ideas with other ancient mystical systems, including those of the Gnostics and Pythagoreans. The Kabbalah did not restrict itself solely to instruction on the apprehension of God but included teachings on cosmology, angelology, and magic."
    - Ancient Wisdom and Secret Sects

    "Many of the basic ideas and principles found in the Kabbalah are also found in Gnosticism because both were in the Eastern Mediterranean near the time of Christ. Both attach an importance to knowledge, called the 'gnosis' or the knowledge of God. This knowledge does not come from rational thinking but is inspired by God. As in Gnosticism, sin is not considered to be wrong doing but ignorance which separates humankind from God. The knowledge, specifically the 'gnosis', unites humankind to God - to know God is to be God. Those sharing this 'gnosis' are the elect; they are the enlightened ones who share the knowledge of God, although they may not lead perfect lives."
    - Alan G. Hefner, "Kabbalah"

    "Thou shalt have no business with secret things."
    - Apocryphal Book of Ben Sirach 3:22 (2nd century BC)

    Kabbalism "is distinguished by renewed interest in purely cosmogonic speculation, whose spirit often enough is entirely Gnostic. In the earlier literature - certainly during the phase represented by the Hekhaloth -theoretical questions have no place; its spirit is descriptive, not speculative, and this is particularly true of the best examples of this genre. Nevertheless it is possible that there was a speculative phase in the very beginning and that the famous passage in the Mishnah which forbids the questions: 'What is above and what is below? What was before and what will be after?' refers to theoretical speculation in the manner of the Gnostics who strove after 'the knowledge of who we were, and what we have become, where we were or where we are placed, whither we hasten, from what we are redeemed.'
    - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 74

    (2) Documents from the Talmudic Era

    Spelling and Pronunciation Conventions
    Hechalot / Hekhaloth ends with a "t" as there is no "th" sound in modern Hebrew.

    Merkavah / Merkabah is written with the letter Bet (without a dot inside) and is pronounced as the English letter "v".

    Sfirot / Sphirot is written with the letter Peh (without a dot inside) and pronounced as an "f". The letter is often written as "ph" because there is no "f" in Hebrew.

    Both Merkavah and Hekhalot contain the letter Khet which has no equivalent in English. (It is not pronounced as it is written "kh" but has a guttural sound.)

    (Thanks to Liora Bernstein)

    The Origins of Hekhalot Literature
    "Not only have the seers perceived the celestial hosts, heaven with its angels, but the whole of this apocalyptic and pseudepigraphic literature is shot through with a chain of new revelations concerning the hidden glory of the great Majesty, its throne, its palace...the celestial spheres towering up one over the other, paradise, hell, and the containers of the souls."
    - Baldensperger, Die messianisch-apokalyptischen Hoffnungen des Judentums, p. 68

    "The Hekhaloth were different 'chambers' or 'halls' through which mystics advanced during meditation."
    - Alan G. Hefner, "Hekhaloth"

    A reference to imagery of the Hekhalot can be found in the apocryphal Fourth Book of Ezra, written around the end of the 1st c. CE.

    "O Lord who inhabitest eternity, whose eyes are exalted and whose upper chambers [hekhaloth] are in the air, whose throne [merkavah] is beyond measure and whose glory is beyond comprehension, before whom the hosts of angels stand trembling and at whose command they are changed to wind and fire..."
    - 4 Ezra 8:21-22a

    "The Hekhalot literature is a bizarre conglomeration of Jewish esoteric and revelatory texts produced sometime between late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. The documents have strong connections with earlier apocalyptic and gnostic literature and claim to describe the self-induced spiritual experiences of the 'descenders to the chariot' that permitted these men to view Ezekiel's chariot vision [the Merkavah] for themselves, as well as to gain control of angels and a perfect mastery of Torah through theurgy."
    "This material is of particular interest for the study of divine mediation and mystical/revelatory experiences, because the Hekhalot documents claim to detail actual practices used to reach trance states, gain revelations, and interact with divine mediators."
    - James R. Davila, "Hekhalot Literature and Mysticism"

    Baruch Halperin "observes that, by reciting given texts from the hekhalot literature, the student was able to achieve the same results as those who actually experienced the ascent."
    - Dr. Steven S. Tuell, "Deus absconditus in Ezekiel's Prophecy"

    According to Sitrey Tefila ve-Hekhalot (Mysteries of Jewish Prayer and Heavenly Palaces) Hekhalot literature frequently served as the inspiration for liturgical texts of the Talmudic period

    "The outstanding documents of the movement appear to have been edited in the fifth and sixth centuries when its spirit was still alive and vigorous. It is difficult to establish exact dates for the various writings, but everything points to the period before the expansion of Islam. The world reflected in this literature has evoked in the mind of more than one scholar comparisons with the pattern of Byzantine society. But there is no reason for assuming that the descriptions of the celestial throne and the heavenly court simply reflect the mundane reality of the Byzantine or Sassanid court, if only because the roots of their central theme go much too far back for such an hypothesis. At the same time there can be no reasonable doubt that the atmosphere of these writings is in harmony with contemporary political and social conditions.
    "All our material is in the form of brief tracts, or scattered fragments of varying length from what may have been voluminous works; in addition there is a good deal of almost shapeless literary."
    - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/74) p. 44

    The Scribes
    "The only sustained effort to locate the community behind the Hekhalot literature has been made by David Halperin [Faces of the Chariot: Early Jewish Responses to Ezekiel's Vision, 1988]. He argues, on the basis of a passage found in some manuscripts of the Sar Torah text (paras. 304-305), that the 'people of the land,' the uneducated people who were held in contempt by the rabbis, made theurgic use of the myth of the ascent of Moses to seize the Torah from heaven, and that the result was the Hekhalot literature."
    "I propose then, that the composers of the Hekhalot literature were a group of professional scribes who lacked formal rabbinic training and whose socio-economic position probably suffered as a result. They envied the superior station of the rabbis and defied them with another skill common in their own profession -- magic. The 'descenders to the chariot' (the only self-designation they have given us) were familiar with and no doubt transmitted, augmented, and used the Jewish magical literature. But they also developed a strain of magical praxis that from an anthropological perspective is closer to shamanism than anything else. They were, to paraphrase Hultkrantz ['A Definition of Shamanism', Temenos 9 (1973) 25-37], social functionaries who, with the help of guardian spirits, attained ecstasy in order to create a rapport with the supernatural world on behalf of the members of their group. According to their beliefs they used theurgy to compel angels to take them to the otherworld and to give them an infallible knowlege of Torah. They in turn passed on the power from their experiences to their community (which on various levels seems to have been as narrow as a circle of adepts and as broad as the human race)."
    - James R. Davila, "Hekhalot Literature and Mysticism"

    "Hekhalot texts do tend to summon angels (never God, I believe) in a very premptory way, and they ask for various types of esoteric wisdom and theurgic power."
    - James R. Davila, "Ancient Magic (The Prayer of Jacob)"

    "According to an account given in the 'Greater Hekhaloth', which one is tempted to correlate with a similar passage at the end of the Fourth Book of Ezra, it was even the custom to place scribes or stenographers to the right and left of the visionary who wrote down his ecstatic description of the throne and its occupants."
    - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 63

    "He [the Lord] answered me and said, 'Go and gather the people, and tell them not to seek you for forty days. But prepare for yourself many writing tablets, and take with you Sarea, Dabria, Selemia, Ethanus, and Asiel -- these five, because they are trained to write rapidly; and you shall come here, and I will light in your heart the lamp of understanding, which shall not be put out until what you are about to write is finished. And when you have finished, some things you shall make public, and some you shall deliver in secret to the wise; tomorrow at this hour you shall begin to write.'"

    "And on the next day, behold, a voice called me, saying, 'Ezra, open your mouth and drink what I give you to drink.' Then I opened my mouth, and behold, a full cup was offered to me; it was full of something like water, but its color was like fire. And I took it and drank; and when I had drunk it, my heart poured forth understanding, and wisdom increased in my breast, for my spirit retained its memory; and my mouth was opened, and was no longer closed. And the Most High gave understanding to the five men, and by turns they wrote what was dictated, in characters which they did not know. They sat forty days, and wrote during the daytime, and ate their bread at night."
    - 4 Ezra 14:23-26, 36-42

    The End of a a Living Movement
    The unedited texts of the oldest documents, the "Lesser Hekhaloth" are full of voces mysticae. "Every secret name seemed to provide a further piece of protective armour against the demons-up to the point where the magical energy was no longer sufficient to overcome the obstacles which blocked the way to the Merkabah [throne-chariot of God]. This point is really the end of the movement as a living force; from then on it degenerates into mere literature."
    - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 51

    "For my friend [Rabbi Akiba], who endures the suffering of ascending and descending to the merkabah, I have fixed a blessing [to be recited] three times a day in the heavenly court and in the earthly court. I will love and I will redeem any household where it is repeated"
    - Hekhalot Zutarti

    "The implication seems to be: Akiba made the hazardous journey; stay-at-homes who recite the appropriate formula can share, vicariously, in its benefits."
    - Baruch Halperin, 'A New Edition of the Hekhalot Literature,' JAOS 104 (1984): 550

    "...In the Merkabah mysticism with which we are dealing here, the idea of the Shekhinah ['light of God'] and of God's immanence plays practically no part at all. The one passage in the 'Greater Hekhaloth' which has been adduced as proof of the existence of such conceptions is based on an obviously corrupt text. The fact is that the true and spontaneous feeling of the Merkabah mystic knows nothing of divine immanence; the infinite gulf between the soul and God the King on His throne is not even bridged at the climax of mystical ecstasy.
    "Not only is there for the mystic no divine immanence, there is also almost no love of God. What there is of love in the relationship between the Jewish mystic and his God belongs to a much later period and has nothing to do with our present subject. Ecstasy there was and this fundamental experience must have been a source of religious inspiration, but we find no trace of a mystical union between the soul and God. Throughout there remained an almost exaggerated consciousness of God's other, nor does the identity and individuality of the mystic become blurred even at the height of ecstatic passion. The Creator and His creature remain apart, and nowhere is an attempt made to bridge the gulf between them or to blur the distinction. The mystic who in his ecstasy has passed through all the gates, braved all the dangers, now stands before the throne; he sees and hears - but that is all. All the emphasis is laid on the kingly aspect of God, not his creative one..."
    - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) pp. 55-56

    (3) The "Greater Hekhalot"

    Descent of the Merkabah (Throne-chariot of God)
    The "Greater Hekhalot" is "is the Jewish visionary text of the Hekhaloth school originating from the Talmudic phase of Jewish mysticism during the first century AD."
    - Alan G. Hefner, "Greater Hekhaloth"

    The written version as it survives today is dated ca. 500 C.E.

    "In the 'Greater Hekhaloth'...and from then on in almost all the later writings, the visionary journey of the soul to heaven is always referred to as the 'descent to the Merkabah.' The paradoxical character of this term is all the more remarkable because the detailed description of the mystical process nonetheless consistently employs the metaphor of ascent and not of descent. The mystics of this group call themselves Yorde Merkabah, i. e. 'descenders to the Merkabah' (and not 'Riders in the Chariot,' as some translators would have it),' and this name is also given to them by others throughout the whole literature down to a late period. The authors of the 'Greater Hekhaloth' refer to the existence of these Yorde Merkabah as a group with some sort of organization and identify them in the usual legendary fashion with the circle of Johanan ben Zakkai and his disciples. Since the 'Greator Hekhaloth' contain Palestinian as well as Babylonian elements - the earliest chapters in particular bear unmistakable traces, in their subject-matter as well as their style, of Palestinian influence - it is not inconceivable that the organization of these groups did indeed take place in late Talmudic times (fourth or fifth century) on Palestinian soil. As a matter of ascertained fact, however, we only know of their existence in Babylonia, from where practically all mystical tracts of this particular variety made their way to Italy and Germany; it is these tracts that have come down to us in the form of manuscripts written in the late Middle Ages.."

    "Originally, we have here [in the 'Greater Hekhaloth'] a Jewish variation on one of the chief preoccupations of the second and third century gnostics and hermetics: the ascent of the soul from the earth, through the spheres of the hostile planet-angels and rulers of the cosmos, and its return to its divine home in the 'fullness' of God's light, a return which, to the gnostic's mind, signified Redemption. Some scholars consider this to be the central idea of Gnosticism.' Certainly the description of this journey, of which a particularly impressive account is found in the second part of the 'Greater Hekhaloth,' is in all its details of a character which must be called gnostic."
    - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) pp. 47, 49

    Liturgical Power of the Hekhalot Tracts
    "The most important sources for our understanding of this atmosphere are undoubtedly the numerous prayers and hymns which have been preserved in the Hekhaloth tracts. Tradition ascribes them to inspiration, for, according to the mystics, they are nothing but the hymns sung by the angels, even by the throne itself, in praise of God. In chapter iv of the 'Greater Hekhaloth,' in which these hymns occupy an important place, we find an account of how Rabbi Akiba, the prototype of the Merkabah visionary, was inspired to hear them sung at the very throne of glory before which his soul was standing. Conversely, their recitation serves to induce a state of ecstasy and accompanies the traveller on his journey through the gates. Some of these hymns are simply adjurations of God; others take the form of dialogues between God and the heavenly dwellers, and descriptions of the Merkabah sphere."
    - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 57

    "His throne radiates before Him and His palace is full of splendor.
    His Majesty is becoming and His Glory is an adornment for Him.
    His servants sing before Him and proclaim the might of His wonders, as King of all kings and Master of all masters, encircled by rows of crowns, surrounded by the ranks of the princes of splendor.
    With a gleam of His ray he encompasses the sky and His splendor radiates from the heights.
    Abysses flame from His mouth and Armaments sparkle from His body."
    - "Zoharariel, Adonai, God of Israel," in the "Greater Hekhaloth"

    "The Hekhalot Rabbati begins with R. Ishmael's question, 'What are these songs that one recites who seeks to observe the vision of the chariot so as to descend safely and to ascend safely?' (para. 81). Starting in para. 94, songs of the angels who attend the throne of God are given. This collection of songs concludes, 'R. Ishmael said: R. Akiva heard all these songs when he descended to the chariot. He seized and learned them from before the throne of glory, for His attendants were singing before it' (para. 106). Near the end of the Hekhalot Rabbati we are given a set of songs that are recited daily by the throne of glory, which the descender to the chariot should also sing (paras. 251-57 = 260-66). The Maaseh Merkavah begins with R. Ishmael requesting 'a prayer by which a man prays the praise of RWZYY YHWH God of Israel' (para. 544)."
    - James R. Davila, "Hekhalot Literature and Shamanism"

    "From the text itself it is clear that the one who descends to the Chariot ascends to the upper worlds only in spirit, whereas his body remains among his disciples as if lifeless. When he returns from his mystical voyage it is as if he wakes up, his soul returns to his body, and he turns and speaks to his disciples as usual. In modern language, one can hypothesize that this was some type of trance, a suspension of the senses, in which the person is cut off from the reality around him and feels his soul floating in another realm. Some of the hymns of the Chariot include sections which repeat themselves with a cadence, and one my hypothesize that they were used by those who descended to the Chariot as part of the ceremony which brought the individuals to the above mentioned emotional state."
    - Joseph Dan, The Ancient Jewish Mysticism (1993), p. 119

    "You are declared holy, God of heaven and earth,
    Lord of Lords,
    Magnificent One of magnificent ones,
    God of the cherubim,
    Rider of the cherubim.
    God of hosts,
    And His rulership is over the hosts.
    God of the attendants,
    And His name is declared holy over the attendants.
    He is His name and His name is He.
    He is in He and His name is in His name.
    A song is His name and His name is a song.
    ZWPH ZP ZWY ZY HSY HWHSYN RMYY YHH HW RG BRQ GH HW YLH HY H HW HWB DRY YL RHY RS L DRW ZRYZ Y' WY' ZRYZ. Eye to eye, strength in strength, might in might, greatness in greatness, support in support, poor in poor, shadow 'in the shadow of DY he will take refuge.' (Ps 91:1). You are declared holy, King of the world, since everything depends on Your arm and all declare praise to Your name, for You are the Lord of the worlds and there is none like You in all the worlds. Blessed are You YY', the holy One in the chariot, rider of cherubim.'"
    - Maaseh Merkavah (para. 588)

    "Almost all the hymns from the Hekhaloth tracts, particularly those whose text has been preserved intact, reveal a mechanism comparable to the motion of an enormous fly-wheel. In cyclical rhythm // the hymns succeed each other, and within them the adjurations of God follow in a crescendo of glittering and majestic attributes, each stressing and reinforcing the sonorous power of the world. The monotony of their rhythm - almost all consist of verses of four words - and the progressively sonorous incantations induce in those who are praying a state of mind bordering on ecstasy. An important part of this technique is the recurrence of the key-word of the numinous, the kedushah, the trishagion from Isaiah vl, 3, in which the ecstasy of the mystic culminates: holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. One can hardly conceive of a more grandiose proof of the irresistible influence which the conception of God's kingdom exercised on the consciousness of these mystics. The 'holiness' of God, which they are trying to paraphrase, is utterly transcendent of any moral meaning and represents nothing but glory of His Kingdom. Through various forms of the prayer known as the kedushah, this conception has also found its way into the general Jewish liturgy and left its imprint on it."
    - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) pp. 59-60

    "Alone this meditative journey the divine names of God would be repeated in a Mantra while the mystics would project their consciousnesses into spirit-vehicles which journey to each hall in turn. In each of the chambers a sacred 'seal' was presented to an archangel who guarded that chamber.
    "Just before reaching the seventh chamber, the mystics would enter a chariot that would lift each of them up to a profound state of mystical ecstasy, an experience called Merkabah."
    - Alan G. Hefner, "Greater Hekhaloth"

    "That the mystic in his rapture even succeeded in penetrating beyond the sphere of the angels is suggested in a passage which speaks of 'God who is beyond the sight of His creatures and hidden to the angels who serve Him, but who has revealed Himself to Rabbi Akiba in the vision of the Merkabah.'"
    - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 63

    Ascending the Seven Heavens
    (1) Preparation

    Physical Characteristics of Initiates
    a. The art of judging human character from facial features.
    b. Divination based on facial features."
    - American Heritage Dictionary

    "(Anyone) whose [hair color (?)] is medium and not extreme, whose eyes are 'neither light nor dark, whose nose is long 'and attractive, whose teeth are even, whose beard 'is sparse but not extremely so, whose limbs 'are mooth [and neither] thin nor thick: '[ ] He will possess a [sp]irit '[characterized by... He will suffer] oppression."
    - 4Q561 ("An Aramaic Horoscope") Col. 3

    "He who is born in the constellation of Libra, on the first day, in Jupiter or in the moon: when he, the child, is born in these two hours, he is only born little and small and sallow. And he shall have a sign on the fingers of his hands and the toes of his feet, or an extra finger [or 'toe'] on his hands or on his feet. And this man shall be a ready . And three lines in (the form of) crowns are on his forehead and the middle one is broken into three, and they are wide lines. And he is one of the good. And at the age of seven months and ten days he shall become sick and shall be in hot water. They shall ascend upon him and anyone who sees him says that he shall not be saved from this...."
    - 3 Enoch 2b 15-22

    "The Hekhalot literature itself does not indicate how one is chosen to become a descender to the chariot. However, a closely related and overlapping genre of literature, the physiognomic texts, seems to indicate that certain physical characteristics are required of initiates in order for them to be accepted into the group. One of these, 'The Physiognomy of R. Ishmael [PRI],' is a Hebrew text originally published from several manuscripts by Gershom Scholem, who dates it to the Talmudic period....Presented as a revelation to R. Ishmael by the angel Suriah (as in the Hekhalot literature), it describes the outward physical characteristics that indicate to the initiated whether a person is righteous or wicked and what that person's fate shall be. A number of the descriptions of the righteous tend to indicate that they are numbered among the descenders to the chariot. They are repeatedly described as 'meriting (from one to four) crowns' (PRI paras. 5, 12, 18, 37), which brings to mind the various references to the Great Seal and Fearsome Crown mentioned in the Hekhalot literature (e.g., paras. 318-21 = 651-54). One description indicates that the subject is 'a son of two worlds' (PRI para. 4), which Scholem compares to the comment in Merkavah Rabba that the reciter of the Shi'ur Qomah' has good in this world and rest for the world to come' (para. 705). Another reads, 'And if he has one (line) that stands on his forehead, thus he ascends opposite those who bind on crowns' (PRI para. 32). Scholem points out that 'binders of crowns' seem to be a category of angel mentioned twice in the Hekhalot Rabbati. Other passages describe the good man as exceptionally wise (PRI para. 20) and 'a son of Torah' (PRI para. 31), both characteristics of those who participate in Sar Torah theurgy."
    - James R. Davila, "Hekhalot Literature and Shamanism"

    "Chapter 13 of the 'Greater Hekhaloth' lists eight moral requisites of initiation." Also this fragment, "in which the angel Suriyah reveals to Ishmael - one of the two principal figures of our Hekhaloth tracts - the secrets of chiromancy [palm reading] and physiognomy, has a title taken from Isaiah III, 9: Hakkarath Panim, i. e. 'perception of the face,' and in fact this passage from Isaiah first received a physiognomic interpretation in the fourth century, as a Talmudic reference to the subject shows."
    "Those who passed the test were considered worthy to make the 'descent' to the Merkabah which led them, after many trials and dangers, through the seven heavenly palaces, and before that through the heavens, their preparation, their technique, and the description of what is perceived on the voyage, are the subject-matter of the writings with which we are concerned.
    - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) pp. 48, 49

    Induction of Trance States

    "Let him who would join himself to the prince of Torah wash his garments and his clothes and let him immerse (in) a strict immersion as a safeguard in case of pollution. And let him dwell for twelve days in a room or in an upper chamber. Let him not go out or come in, and he must neither eat nor drink. But from evening to evening see that he eats his bread, clean bread of his own hands, and he drinks pure water, and that he does not taste any kind of vegetable. And let him insert this midrash of the prince of Torah into the prayer three times in every single day; it is after the prayer that he should pray it from its beginning to its end. And afterward, let him sit and recite during the twelve days, the days of his fasting, from morning until evening, and let him not be silent. And in every hour that he finishes it let him stand on his feet and adjure by the servants (and?) by their king, twelve times by every single prince. Afterward let him adjure every single one of them by the seal."
    - Instructions attributed to R. Akiva, Sar Torah, paras. 299-300

    "The earliest documents (~100 - ~1000 A.D.) associated with Kabbalah describe the attempts of 'Merkabah' mystics to penetrate the seven halls (Hekhaloth) of creation and reach the Merkabah (throne-chariot) of God. These mystics used the familiar methods of shamanism (fasting, repetitious chanting, prayer, posture) to induce trance states in which they literally fought their way past terrible seals and guards to reach an ecstatic state in which they 'saw God'."
    - Colin Low, "cabalah.cln"

    "R. Ishmael said: I was thirteen years old and my heart was moved on each day that began with fasting. As soon as R. Nehuniah ben HaQanah revealed to me this mystery of Torah, Suriah, prince of the Presence, was revealed. He said to me: (As for) the prince of Torah, Yophiel is his name. Let anyone who seeks him sit forty days in fasting. Let him not eat his morsel with salt, nor let him eat any kind of filth. Let him immerse (with) twenty-four immersions. Let him not gaze on various dyed things. Let his eyes be pressed down to the earth and let him pray with all his might. Let him set his heart on his prayer, and let him seal himself with his seal and invoke twelve words."
    "I sought this mystery, and I sat for twelve days in fasting. As soon as I saw that I could not serve by means of fasting, I made use of the name of forty-two letters. And PRQDS, the angel of the Presence, descended in rage, so that I shrank back, falling backward. He said to me: Mortal, son of a putrid drop, son of a maggot and a worm! You made use of a great name! It has taken for you arrays of Torah! I am not giving to you until you sit for forty days. At once I stood with all my might, and I carefully invoked three letters, and he ascended. (This: BR BYH GDWLT TYT BYH.) And I sat forty days in fasting and I prayed three prayers at dawn, three at noon, three at the afternoon offering, and three in the evening. And I invoked twelve words on every single one. And for the last day I prayed three (times) and invoked and PRQDS, the angel of the Presence, descended, and with him were angels of mercy. And they placed wisdom in the heart of R. Ishmael."
    - Maaseh Merkavah, paras. 560, 565

    "This mystical ascent is always preceded by ascetic practices whose duration in some cases is twelve days, in others forty. An account of these practices was given about 1000 A.D. by Hai ben Sherira, the head of a Babylonian academy. According to him, 'many scholars were of the belief that one who is distinguished by many qualities described in the books and who is desirous of beholding the Merkabah and the palaces of the angels on high, must follow a certain procedure. He must fast a number of days and lay his head between his knees and whisper many hymns and songs whose texts are known from tradition. Then he perceives the interior and the chambers, as if he saw the seven palaces with his own eyes, and it is as though he entered one palace after the other and saw what is there. The typical bodily posture of these ascetics is also that of Elijah in his prayer on Mount Carmel. It is an attitude of deep self-oblivion which, to judge from certain ethnological parallels, is favorable to the induction of pre-hypnotic autosuggestion. Dennys [The Folklore of China, p 60] gives a very similar description of a Chinese somnambulist in the act of conjuring the spirits of the departed: 'She sits down on a low chair and bends forward so that her head rests on her knees. Then, in a deep measured voice, she repeats three times an exorcism, whereupon a certain change appears to come over her. In the Talmud, too, we find this posture described as typical of the self-oblivion of a Hanina ben Dosa sunk in prayer, or of a penitent who gives himself over to God."
    - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) pp. 49-50

    A common visionary experience shared by shamans during initiation is the disintegration and the reduction of the body to a skeleton. The following excerpt is from the Thanksgiving Psalms, attributed to the Teacher of Righteousness.

    "All the foundations of my frame crumble. My bones are separated, and my bowels are like a ship in a raging storm. My heart roars as to destruction, and a spirit of staggering overwhelms me."
    - 1QH + 4Q429 Frag. 1 Col. 15-4-5a

    (2) The Journey

    Gatekeepers and Dangers
    "Finally, after such preparations, and in a state of ecstasy, the adept begins his journey. The 'Greater Hekhaloth' do not describe the details of his ascent through the seven heavens, but they do describe his voyage through the seven palaces situated in the highest heaven. The place of the gnostical rulers (archons) of the seven planetary spheres, who are opposed to the liberation of the soul from its earthly bondage and whose resistance the soul must overcome, is taken in this Judaized and monotheistic Gnosticism by the hosts of 'gate-keepers' posted to the right and left of the entrance to the heavenly hall through which the soul must pass in its ascent."
    - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 50

    "Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals."
    - Revelation 5:1

    "In the Hebrew [Book of Enoch] there is an account of the description given by the Patriarch to Rabbi Ishmael of his own metamorphosis into the angel Metatron, when his flesh was transformed into 'fiery torches.' According to the 'Greater Hekhaloth,' every mystic must undergo this transformation, but with the difference that, being less worthy than Enoch, he is in danger of being devoured by the 'fiery torches.'"
    - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 52

    A similar fiery danger can be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    "But You, O [G]od, You protect its [the trees of life's] fruit with the mystery of powerful warriors, holy spirits, and the whirling flame of fire so that none may [come to the] fountain of life, nor with eternal trees drink the waters of holiness, nor make his fruit flourish with [the plan]t of the heavens."
    - Thanksgiving Hymn lQH + 4Q428 Frag. 7 16:11b-13a (attributed to the Teacher of Righteousness.)

    Magical Seals and Passes
    "The longest and most detailed description of the descent to the chariot is in R. Nehuniah's instructions to the academy in the Hekhalot Rabbati. After explaining how to summon the angel Suriah (para. 204...), he described how God sits enthroned in the center of the seven concentric palaces. Eight angels guarding the gate of each palace must be shown the proper seal (i.e., a nomen barbarum) before letting the descender to the chariot pass. The angels and seals for each gate are listed. In particular, the monstrous nature of the angels guarding the sixth and seventh palaces is belabored in horrific detail. However, the descender to the chariot who follows instructions exactly will pass through every obstacle to be welcomed before the throne of God and allowed to observe the angelic liturgy (paras. 205-37)."
    - James R. Davila, "Hekhalot Literature and Shamanism"

    "The discussions between the traveller and the gate-keepers of the sixth palace, the archons Domiel and Katspiel, which take up a good deal of space, clearly date back to very early times. One of their more unexpected features is the recurrence of rudiments of certain Greek formulae and standing expressions, which the editors in Babylonia were not longer capable of understanding and apparently regarded as magical names of the divinity'...It is difficult to say whether it indicates a concrete influence of Hellenistic religion, or whether the employment of Greek words by the Aramaic-speaking Jewish mystics is merely analogous to the predilection for Hebraic or pseudo-Hebraic formulae characteristic of the Greek-speaking circles for whom the Egyptian magical papyri were written."
    - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) pp. 53-54

    "We [disciples including R. Ishmael the author] came and sat before him [Nehuniah ben HaQanah], and the associates were a whole crowd standing on their feet, because they were seeing to the globes of fire and the torches of light that they had set as a barrier between us and them. And R. Nehuniah ben HaQanah sat and set out in order all the matters of the chariot: descent and ascent; how one who descends, descends and how one who ascends, ascends: When a man seeks to descend into the chariot, he calls on Suriah, prince of the Presence, and adjures him one hundred and twelve times by WRWSYY YWY who is called WRWSYY WRQ WRBYL WPGR RWYLYY ZBWDYL and ZHRRYL NDL and QDHWZYY DHYBYRWN and DYRYRWN YWY God of Israel. And he must be careful not to add to the one hundred and twelve times, nor to subtract from them. And if he adds or subtracts, his blood is on his own head. But his mouth must only enunciate the names and the fingers of his hands must count to one hundred and twelve. And at once he will descend into and will have authority over the chariot. "
    - Hekhalot Rabbati, paras. 203-205

    "In both cases, the soul requires a pass in order to be able to continue its journey without danger: a magic seal made of a secret name which puts the demons and hostile angels to flight. Every new stage of the ascension requires a new seal with which the traveller 'seals himself' in order that, to quote a fragment, 'he shall not be dragged into the fire and the flame, the vortex and the storm which are around Thee, oh Thou terrible and sublime.' The 'Greater Hekhaloth' have preserved a quite pedantic description of this passport procedure; all the seals and the secret names are derived from the Merkabah itself where they 'stand like pillars of flame around the fiery throne' of the Creator.'
    "It is the soul's need for protection on its journey which has produced these seals with their twin function as a protective armor and as a magical weapon. At first the magical protection of a single seal may be sufficient, but as time goes on the difficulties experienced by the adept tend to become greater. A brief and simple formula is no longer enough. Sunk in his ecstatic trance, the mystic at the same time experiences a sense of frustration which he tries to overcome by using longer and more complicated magical formulae, symbols of a longer and harder struggle to pass the closed entrance gates which block his progress. As his Psychical energy wanes the magical strain grows and the conjuring gesture becomes progressively more strained, until in the end whole pages are filled with an apparently meaningless recital of magical key-words with which he tries to unlock the closed door."
    - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 50

    Description of the Seven Heavens
    "The cosmology of the Hekhalot literature is, not suprisingly, inconsistent in detail; but in its broad outlines it conforms well to the parameters of shamanic cosmology. A description of the world tree forms an inclusion for R. Nehuniah's instructions to the academy in the Hekhalot Rabbati. R. Nehuniah prefaces his instructions with the comments,"
    - James R. Davila, "Hekhalot Literature and Shamanism"

    "What does this character [of the descender to the chariot] resemble? A man who has a ladder inside his house on which he ascends and descends; there isn't any living creature who can prevent him....I will recite before [the academy] the mysteries, the concealed things, the gradations, wonders, and the weaving of the web that is the completion of the world and on which its plaiting stands, the axle of heaven and earth, to which all the wings of the earth and inhabited world and the wings of the firmaments on high are tied, sewn, fastened, hanged, and stand. And the way of the ladder on high is that its one head is on earth and its other head is on the right foot of the throne of glory."
    - Hekhalot Rabbati, paras. 199, 201, cf. para. 237

    "...The 'Greater Hekhaloth' gives promise of the revelation of 'the mysteries and wonderful secrets of the tissue on which the perfection of the world and its course depends, and the chain of heaven and earth along which all the wings of the universe and the wings of the heavenly heights are connected, sewn together, made fast and hung up'. But the promise is not carried out, the secret not revealed. The magnificence and majesty of God, on the other hand, this experience of the Yorde Merkabah which overwhelms and over-shadows all the others, is not only heralded but also described with an abundance of detail and almost to excess."
    - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 56

    "I [R. Akiva] had a vision of and observed the whole inhabited world and I saw it as it is. I ascended in a wagon of fire and gazed on the palaces of hail and I found GRWSQ GRNSQ that sits on MQLYLK'."
    - Hekhalot Zutarti, para. 366

    "To the dimensions of height, width, length and time the Kabbalists have added the dimension of spirituality. In the positive spiritual direction are the seven heavens. Farthest from Earth is Araboth, which contains uncreated objects and is the permanent residence of men's souls. It is associated with the emanation Greatness (Kindness). Makhon, the second heaven, contains the precipitants rain, snow, hail, fog, and dew. Makhon is presided over by Moses the Law Giver and the emanation Law, and emits a lightning bolt into Ma'on, the third heaven, presided over by Father Abraham who alters the bolt into four 'rays of foundation' corresponding to the four spheres of emanations along the central axis and are colored black, white, red and green. The third heaven is filled with harmonizing lights and sounds that sing praises to God, and is symbolized by the emanation Beauty. Above this is Zebhul, a spiritual Jerusalem corresponding to the emanation Victory which is the positive aspect of cosmic power. In this city is a tabernacle, personified by Metatron, with Michael as high priest, surrounded by the souls of martyrs. There is also a heavenly tribunal of seven lights. The fifth heaven is called Shekhakim and is associated with Glory. It contains millstones whch grind manna for the righteous and is presided over by Jacob and the twelve heads of the Israelite tribes. It is surrounded by a river of fire wherein reside the angels of destruction, and this river is held back by a colorless light of monotheism, which is fueled by prayers from below and projected out from Shekhakim as an archetypal alphabet of 22 colors."
    - Simcha Kuritzky, "Kabbalistic Magic" Part IV

    "Through the contraction and withdrawal of the Shekhinah, to allow for the contracted world of human experience, what remains are the 'sparks' of that contraction (tzimtzum), each of which inhabits a human soul. This spark, within each of us, is a source of divine wonder and splendor, which through prayer and ecstatic dance, may more fully enlighten our face, showing us the holiness within which we dwell. The 'great way' is through deep inner prayer, in which that spark longs to return to its supreme Source. The soul, in inward contemplation becomes a Throne and the light of the Shekhinah rests above the head and flows with luminous joy through and about the devout, deep in prayer."
    - Zos Imos, "Jewish Mystical Traditions"

    "Next is Rakiya, the firmament. Symbolized by the emanation Foundation, this heaven supports the heavenly bodies, which are endowed with divine knowledge. The lowest heaven is called Vilon (lit. veil), which shields the heavens during the day and 'rolls' down each night. It is associated with the Kingdom, is the main source [of] prophetic visions, and is presided over by Joseph, the interpreter of dreams. Below the Earth spiritually are seven abysses, known as Gehenna, Death's Shadow, Death's Gate, Filth, Destructive Whirlpools, Place of Perdition and Sheol. Interpretations on these vary considerably; however, it is generally held that they are made up of tohu (impure earth), bohu (impure water), and darkness (opposite of fire). Associated with the heavens, and perhaps above them, are the seven hekhalot (palaces) in the merkavah (Divine Chariot). The seventh palace leads to the Throne of God, symbolized by sapphire and emerald. Here the souls of mystics travel outside of their bodies and rise up to the Veil of God. The veil is not physical, for God has no physical form; it is a symbol for the limitations of Man's comprehension of God.
    "These palaces are dangerous, and the mystics who travel them must carry with them the seals of the two angels designated for each gate to show to the eight angels who guard each of the seven entrance ways. Those that do not have the proper seals are said to be swept away in a fiery tornado. The sixth palace is particularly hazardous, for it is made of sparkling marble, and if the traveller mistakes it for water the angels chastise and punish him for his ignorance."
    - Simcha Kuritzky, "Kabbalistic Magic" Part IV

    "But if one was unworthy to see the King in his beauty, the angels at the gates disturbed his senses and confused him. And when they said to him: 'Come in,' he entered, and instantly they pressed him and threw him into the fiery lava stream. And at the gate of the sixth palace it seemed as though hundreds of thousands and millions of waves of water stormed against him, and yet there was not a drop of water, only the ethereal glitter of the marble plates with which the palace was tessellated. But he was standing in front of the angels and when he asked: 'What is the meaning of these waters,' they began to stone him and said: 'Wretch, do you not see it with your own eyes? Are you perhaps a descendant of those who kissed the Golden Calf, and are you unworthy to see the King in his beauty?'...And he does not go until they strike his head with iron bars and wound him. And this shall be a sign for all times that no one shall err at the gate of the sixth palace and see the ethereal glitter of the plates and ask about them and take them for water, that he may not endanger himself."
    - Munich manuscript of the "Greater Hekhaloth"

    "Once one negotiates the seven gates he will be seated in the bosom of God (of whom several names are given) (paras. 413-17). In this case the goal seems to be the magical granting of a wish. R. Akiva instructs,"
    - James R. Davila, "Hekhalot Literature and Shamanism"

    "Make your request (as follows): May there be favor from before You, YHWH God of Israel, our God and the God of our fathers. (_Nomina barbara_), may You give me grace and lovingkindness before Your throne of glory and in the sight of all Your attendants. And may You join to me all Your attendants so as to do such and such, O great, mighty, fearsome, strong, valiant, magnificent, and eminent God! "
    - Hekhalot Zutarti, paras. 418-19

    Sefer Yetsirah
    (1) Background of the Book

    Speculations on Genesis
    "The two earliest forms of Jewish mysticism were maaseh merkabah, writings which explored the mysteries of the Throne on its Chariot as revealed in the first chapter of Ezekiel, and maaseh bereshith, speculations on the first chapter of Genesis with special emphasis placed on cosmology and cosmogony."
    - The Secret Garden: An Anthology in the Kabbalah, David Meltzer Ed. (1976) p. 3

    "The most influential book from the Maaseh Bereshit school is called Sefer Yetsirah, ('Book of Formation/Creation'), written sometime between the Third and Sixth centuries. This is the book of mystical teachings that appears in the episode Kaddish. These schools, as well as other less popular ones, merged to become what is still referred to as Kabbalah.
    - B. Pilgrim, "A Monstrous Love: The X-Files, Kaddish, and Mystical Judaism"

    Mythological Beginnings
    "The Book is said to be Abraham's meditations on the laws of creation immediately before his first revelation from G*d (Gen 12.1-3). It portray the origin of the universe in the combinations, reversals, and augmentations of the letters and symbols which underline all human speech."
    - "Sefer Yetsirah" Time Line

    "When Abraham our father arose, he looked and saw and investigated and observed and engraved and hewed and combined and formed and calculated, and his creation was successful. Then the Master of all revealed Himself to him, and made a covenant with him and with his seed forever. He made a covenant with him on the ten fingers of his hands, and this is the covenant of the tongue; and on the ten toes of his feet, and this is the covenant of circumcision; and tied the twenty-two letters of the Torah to his tongue and revealed to him their secret. He drew them through water; stormed through air, He kindled them in fire, and melted them into ten double and twelve simple letters."
    - Sefer Yetsirah 3:24 (translated by Phineas Mordell)

    "The Sefer Yezira is believed to have come from the 'Oral Law' which the Lord gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Moses was said to have received the Oral Law along with the Written Law, according to Jewish tradition."
    "The 'Oral Law' was passed from mouth to ear generation after generation until it was finally written down by Abraham, the patriarch. He is considered the original author of the Sefer Yezira who wrote the book upon his conversion from idol worshipper to the religion of the True God."
    "According to a statement in Rokeah (Hasidut Zakuyyut 'Arum), at age 48, Abraham was moved by the deeds of the generation of the Tower of Babel to reflect on God and the universe. He first studied for three years by himself,. Afterwards, by the command of God, he was taught by Shem, until he became so wise he composed the Sefer Yezira.
    Then God appeared to him, took him unto Himself, kissed him, called him His friend, and made a covenant with him and his descendants forever. (Legend of Jews, Ginsburg, 210 Sefer Yezira 6.)
    "The 'tradition' (Qabala) was then passed down orally to his sons, then to:
    Jeremiah, who passed it on to
    Joseph b. Uziel, who passed it to his son,
    Ben Sira who passed it to his son, Uziel.
    It was transmitted until the sages of Jerusalem put it to writing at a time when the Jews were at a period of destruction, sometime in the first or second century AD."
    - "History of the Sefer Yezira"

    Dating the Written Work
    "The written version has affinities with Babylonian, Egyptian and Hellenistic mysticism during the 2nd century BCE, when such a combination of influences was present. It became one of the most frequently and earliest published works of Jewish lore. Sefer Yetsirah was the first systematic treatise of Jewish mysticism between the 3rd and 6th century. Its influences were late Hellenistic and possibly Neoplatonic mathematical mysticism combined with Rabbinic Merkavah theories."
    - "Sefer Yetsirah" Time Line

    c. 70 C.E.
    The oldest reference to the sephiroth is in the Talmud.

    "Ten agencies through which G*d created the world, vis: wisdom, insight, cognition, strength, power, inexorableness, justice, right, lore, mercy."
    - Talmud, Haggigah 12a

    The sephiroth as combinations of the Holy name are also referred to in Sanhedrin 65b, 66b and 67.b .
    "What [magic] is entirely permitted? Such as [the magic] performed by R. Hanina and R. 'Oshaia, who spend every Sabbath eve in studying the Laws of Creation, by means of which they created a third-grown calf, and ate it."
    - Talmud, Sanhedrin 67a

    "The Talmud does not specify how or why the 'Laws of Creation' worked, but the Sefer Yetzirah does. Creative magic 'worked' for the rabbis because Creation itself was, after the formation of the sefirot and the letters, a mechanical -- a magical -- process."
    - Dr. David Blumenthal, Conclusion to "Understanding Jewish Mysticism"

    120 C.E.
    The authorship of Sefer Yetsirah is often attributed to Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph (c. 120 C.E.) who lived in time of Emperor Hadrian and was the pupil of R. Joshua ben Chananja. Akiba was later killed during the Bar Kochba revolt.

    6th c. C.E.
    The earliest references to the Sefer Yetsirah appear in the Baraita di-Shemu'el and in poems by Eleazar ha-Kalir.

    11th c. C.E.
    The earliest manuscript? of the Sefer Yetsirah - found in the Cairo Genizah and published by A.M. Habermann (1947).

    According to Gershom Scholem, the Sefer Yetsirah was written some-time between the third and sixth centuries in Palestine "by a devout Jew with leanings towards mysticism...[his] aim was speculative and magical rather than ecstatic."
    "It is the earliest systematic treatment of the Jewish mystical doctrine. It has been called the earliest scientific treatise in the Hebrew language. It contains the germ of a system of Hebrew phonetics and of a natural philosophy and physiology based on that doctrine."
    - The Secret Garden: An Anthology in the Kabbalah, David Meltzer Ed. (1976) p. 41

    A Speculative Treatise
    "Sefer Yetsirah is extant in two versions: a shorter one which appears in most editions as the book itself, and a longer version which is sometimes printed as an appendix. [The total length is less than thirty-two pages.] Both versions were already in existence in the tenth century and left their imprint on the different types of the numerous manuscripts...In both versions the book is divided into six chapters of mishnayot or halakhit, composed of brief statements which present the author's argument dogmatically, without any explanation or substantiation. The first chapter in particular employs a sonorous, solemn vocabulary, close to that of the Merkabah literature. Few biblical verses are quoted. Even when their wording is identical, the different arrangement of the mishnayot in the two versions and their resultant altered relationship one with the other color the theoretical appreciation of the ideas."
    - Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah (1978) p. 23

    (2) The Spritual Dimension of Creation

    "This book introduced the ten sefirot, the divine emanations of God. The sefirot evolved later into a central theme within Jewish mysticism, and literally became 'the central symbol system of Kabbalah.' Gematria was also born in bereshit mysticism. The Sefer Yetsirah gives an account of creation that involves the divine letters of the Hebrew alphabet in order to effect creation. Gematria is the system of recombining letters into mystical combinations, in order to effect that same creative process, and thereby achieve co-creatorship and healing of the universe."
    - Ecstatic Kabbalah

    Sefer Yetsirah, Chapter 1 Dr. David Blumenthal,
    "Understanding Jewish Mysticism"
    -------Verse 1-------
    "With thirty-two wondrous paths of Wisdom engraved Yah, the Lord of Hosts, [God of Israel, the Living God, King of the Universe, Almighty God, merciful and gracious, High and Exalted, dwelling in eternity, whose name is Holy, and created His universe with three books, with text (Sepher), with number (Sephar), and with communication (Sippur)." "The thirty-two wonderful paths of wisdom are the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet plus the first ten
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    Kabbalah is the name applied to the whole range of Jewish mystical activity. While codes of Jewish law focus on what it is God wants from man, kabbalah tries to penetrate deeper, to God's essence itself.

    There are elements of kabbalah in the Bible, for example, in the opening chapter of Ezekiel, where the prophet describes his experience of the divine: "... the heavens opened and I saw visions of God.... I looked and lo, a stormy wind came sweeping out of the north-a huge cloud and flashing fire, surrounded by a radiance; and in the center of the fire, a gleam as of amber" (1:1,4). The prophet then describes a divine chariot and the throne of God.

    The rabbis of the Talmud regarded the mystical study of God as important yet dangerous. A famous talmudic story tells of four rabbis, Azzai, Ben Zoma, Elisha ben Abuyah, and Akiva who would meet together and engage in mystical studies. Azzai, the Talmud records, "looked and went mad [and] Ben Zoma died." Elisha ben Abuyah became a heretic and left Judaism. Rabbi Akiva alone "entered in peace and left in peace." It was this episode, the later experiences of individuals who became mentally unbalanced while engaging in mystical activities, and the disaster of the false Messiah Shabbetai Zevi that caused seventeenth-century rabbis to legislate that kabbalah should be studied only by married men over forty who were also scholars of Torah and Talmud. The medieval rabbis wanted the study of kabbalah limited to people of mature years and character.

    The most famous work of kabbalah, the Zohar, was revealed to the Jewish world in the thirteenth century by Moses De Leon, who claimed that the book contained the mystical writings of the second-century rabbi Simeon bar Yochai. Almost all modern Jewish academic scholars believe that De Leon himself authored the Zohar, although many Orthodox kabbalists continue to accept De Leon's attribution of it to Simeon bar Yochai. Indeed, Orthodox mystics are apt to see Bar Yochai not so much as the Zohar's author as the recorder of mystical traditions dating back to the time of Moses. The intensity with which Orthodox kabbalists hold this conviction was revealed to me once when I was arguing a point of Jewish law with an elderly religious scholar. He referred to a certain matter as being in the Torah, and when I asked him where, he said: "It's in the Zohar. Is that not the same as if it was in the Torah itself?"

    The Zohar is written in Aramaic (the language of the Talmud) in the form of a commentary on the five books of the Torah. Whereas most commentaries interpret the Torah as a narrative and legal work, mystics are as likely to interpret it "as a system of symbols which reveal the secret laws of the universe and even the secrets of God" (Deborah Kerdeman and Lawrence Kushner, The Invisible Chariot, p. 90). To cite one example, Leviticus 26 records "a carrot and a stick" that God offers the Jewish people. If they follow his decrees, He will reward them. But if they spurn them, God will "set His face" against the people: "I will discipline you sevenfold for your sins...." and "I will scatter you among the nations" (26:28, 33). At the chapter's conclusion, God says: "Yet, even then, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or spurn them so as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them, for I am the Lord, their God" (26:44).

    On this series of admonitions, the Zohar comments: "Come and see the pure love of the Blessed Holy One for Israel. A parable: There was a king who had a single son who kept misbehaving. One day he offended the king. The king said, 'I have punished you so many times and you have not [changed]. Now look, what should I do with you? If I banish you from the land and expel you from the kingdom, perhaps wild beasts or wolves or robbers will attack you and you will be no more. What can I do? The only solution is that I and you together leave the land.' So . . . the Blessed Holy One said as follows: 'Israel, what should I do with you? I have already punished you and you have not heeded Me. I have brought fearsome warriors and flaming forces to strike at you and you have not obeyed. If I expel you from the land alone, I fear that packs of wolves and bears will attack you and you will be no more. But what can I do with you? The only solution is that I and you together leave the land and both of us go into exile. As it is written, 'I will discipline you,' forcing you into exile; but if you think that I will abandon you, Myself too [shall go] along with you."'

    There are many strands of teaching in the kabbalah. Medieval kabbalists, for example, were wont to speak of God as the En Sof (That Which Is Without Limit). The En Sof is inaccessible and unknowable to man. But God reveals Himself to mankind through a series of ten emanations, sefirot, a configuration of forces that issue from the En Sof . The first of these sefirot is keter (crown) and refers to God's will to create. Another sefira, binah (understanding), represents the unfolding in God's mind of the details of creation, while hesed (loving­kindness) refers to the uncontrolled flow of divine goodness. Most of the sefirot are regarded as legitimate objects for human meditation; they represent a way in which human beings can make contact with God. Through contemplation and virtuous deeds, human beings can also bring down the divine grace to this world.

    The greatest scholar and historian of kabbalah in this century was the late Professor Gershom Scholem of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Scholem, himself a nonobservant Jew, was fond of explaining how he became attracted to so esoteric a discipline: "My decision to study Jewish mysticism came the day I visited the home of a famous German rabbi, a person with a reputation for scholarship in the kabbalah.... Seeing on his shelf some mystical texts with intriguing titles, I had, with all the enthusiasm of youth, asked the rabbi about them. 'This junk,' the rabbi had laughed at me. 'I should waste time reading nonsense like this?' It was then . . . that I decided here was a field in which I could make an impression. If this man can become an authority without reading the text, then what might I become if I actually read the books?"

    As a rule, mekubbalim (people who actively study and practice kabbalah) are skeptical of men like Scholem, who studied kabbalah as a university discipline and not from a personal conviction of its truth. One mekubbal, Rabbi Abraham Chen, declared on one occasion before a seminar of Scholem's students: "A scholar of mysticism is like an accountant: He may know where all the treasure is, but he is not free to use it." A precisely opposite view on the value of kabbalah was taken by the late Professor Saul Lieberman, the great Talmud scholar of the Jewish Theological Seminary. In an introduction to a lecture Scholem delivered at the seminary, Lieberman said that several years earlier, some students asked to have a course here in which they could study kabbalistic texts. He had told them that it was not possible, but if they wished they could have a course on the history of kabbalah. For at a university, Lieberman said, "it is forbidden to have a course in nonsense. But the history of nonsense, that is scholarship."

    Lieberman's caustic comment aside, kabbalah has long been one of the important areas of Jewish thought. Ideas that many contemporary Jews might think of as un-Jewish sometimes are found in the kabbalah, most notably, the belief in reincarnation (gilgul neshamot). Between 1500 and 1800, Scholem has written, "kabbalah was widely considered to be the true Jewish theology," and almost no one attacked it. With the Jewish entrance into the modern world, however-a world in which rational thinking was more highly esteemed than the mystical-kabbalah tended to be downgraded or ignored. In recent years, there has been an upsurge of interest in kabbalah, and today it is commonly studied among Hasidic Jews, and among many non­-Orthodox Jews who are part of the counterculture.

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    Keter Elyon


    The Supreme Crown
    Keter is the uppermost aspect of the Sefirot that can be contemplated by humans.

    Even so, this Sefirah is rarely discussed by the Kabbalists.

    Later traditions speak of it radiating 620 "pillars of light."

    Human Imagery (Primordial Man)
    The hoary head.
    The hairs of the beard.
    Names of God
    The point at the tip of the letter "yod" in the Tetragrammaton (the four-letter name of God).
    Ehveh (a form of "I shall be").
    Other Symbols and Images
    Primordial Ether
    "Nothingness," the negation of all thought.
    Arikh Anpin--the Longsuffering (literally: the Long-faced) One.
    The Ancient Holy One.
    Supernal East.
    The origin of Will,
    The dew of Hermon.
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    The Jewish mystical doctrine known as "Kabbalah" (="Tradition") is distinguished by its theory of ten creative forces that intervene between the infinite, unknowable God ("Ein Sof") and our created world.

    Through these powers God created and rules the universe, and it is by influencing them that humans cause God to send to Earth forces of compassion (masculine, right side) or severe judgment (feminine, left side).

    You can learn about the individual Sefirot here
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    Solomon ibn Gabirol (c.1021-69). He wrote a philosophical work, which was not translated into Hebrew from Arabic until nearly 200 years later, since although it does not try to harmonise with Greek philosophy, it also does not quote any Jewish sources.

    It was however translated into Latin, where he was called Avicebron, & the work was called Fons Vitae (Mekor Hayyim or the Fountain of Life). His philosophy did appear in his poems (espec. Mekor Hayyim & Keter Malchut) & had a great influence on the 13th & 14th cent. mystical works of the Kabbalah.

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