Kabbalah is the school of Jewish mysticism explaining the relationship between the eternal God and his original creation.

Portae Lucis by Joseph Gikatilla (1248-1325) – Diaspora Museum, Tel Aviv

Italian version


We can define the Kabbalah as the Jewish esoteric doctrine. In Hebrew, it is called Qabalah, a term deriving from the root QBL, Quibel, which means “to receive”. The name refers to passing on knowledge through oral transmission and is synonymous with “tradition”.

The term Qabalah was used in a more specific sense, to start from the 11th century, to indicate the Jewish esoteric current, which, while having its roots in a very ancient past, developed and flourished beginning from the 12th century. Before its diffusion, it was the Talmud [1] that fueled speculative mysticism. Several passages in the Bible – creation accounts, prophetic visions – contain doctrines about the nature of Divinity and the universe. Those of the Talmud is centred on the Ma’ase Bereshith (The Work of Creation, a treatise on mystical cosmology) and the Ma’ase Merkaba (The Work of the Chariot, about the Divine Chariot of the vision of Ezekiel) and are more specifically related to the names of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai. The mystics of the Merkaba – who entered the Pardess, the “Garden of Divine Wisdom” in the Talmudic expression – have described their experiences. Having managed to escape from the physical world, they have integrated into the celestial sphere, starting here in the most profound mysteries and directly contacting the Divine. We find various tales of this type in the so-called Hekhaloth literature, the “Heavenly Palaces”, which dates back to the age of the Gaonim [2]. However, the main mystical work was the Sepher Yetzirah (The Book of Creation), which treats the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the ten Sephiroth in a symbolic key. The Kabbalah reached its apogee with the Zohar, published by Moises De Leon in 1300 and destined to become the Bible of the Jewish mystics. The Zohar was destined to conquer the Jewish world with exceptional speed. The Spanish exiles propagated it in all the countries where they obtained hospitality after being expelled: Turkey, Palestine, Egypt, Italy, Germany, Holland.

The Kabbalah is generally classified into three sections: the practical Kabbalah, the literal Kabbalah and the dogmatic Kabbalah.

The practical Kabbalah

The practical Kabbalah (ma’asit Kabbalah, Heb. קַבָּלָה מַעֲשִׂית) has to do with ceremonial magic, invocations, charms and knowledge of the divine and angelic names for the creation of amulets and talismans. It always remained a minor tradition with respect to theological and meditative teachings, when not openly opposed for the accusations of deviation towards impure magic.

The literal Kabbalah

The literal Kabbalah concerns the permutation of Hebrew letters and numbers and is referenced a bit anywhere in the kabbalistic literature, so a knowledge of its main principles is required. It is divided into three parts: Gematria, Notaricon and Temurah.

Gematria

Gematria (Heb. גמטריא) is the metathesis [3] of the Greek word γραμματεια ( grammateia, grammar) or, according to some, of γεωμετρία (geometry). It is based on the relative numerical value of the words. Words with the same numerical value are considered explanatory of each other, and this theory is extended to sentences as well. Hence the letter Shin, Sh, is 300, and it is equivalent to the number obtained by adding the numerical values ​​of the letters of the word RVCh ALHIM, Ruach Elohim, the spirit of Elohim; and it is, therefore, a symbol of the spirit of Elohim. For R = 200, V = 6, Ch = 8, A = 1, L = 30, H = 5, I = 10, M = 40 we have a total of 300. Similarly, the words AChD, Achad, Unity, One, and AHBH, Ahebah, love, each make 13. For A = 1, Ch = 8, D = 4, the total is 13; and for A = 1, H = 5, B = 2, H = 5 the total is always 13. And again, the name of the angel MTTRVN, Metatron or Methraton, and the divine name ShDI, Shaddaï, each makes 314. Thus the one is the symbolic expression of the other; in fact, it is said that the angel Metatron, of whom God said “My Name is in him”, was the guide of the children of Israel in the course of the exile. Regarding the Gematria of the sentences we have, for example (Gen. 49:10) [4], Yeba Shiloh [5], “Shiloh will come” = 358, which is the numbering of the word Messiah. Hence also the passage of Genesis 18:2, [6] Vehenna Shalisha, “And behold, three men“, is equivalent in numerical value to Elo Mikhael Gabriel Ve-Raphael, “These are Mikhael, Gabriel and Raphael”; for each sentence, the value is 701.

Notaricon

Notaricon (Heb. נוטריקון) comes from the Latin word notarius, stenographer. There are two forms of Notaricon. In the first, we take each letter of a word as the initial or abbreviation of another word to form a sentence. So each letter of the word Berashith, the first word of Genesis, is placed at the initial of a word, obtaining Berashith Rahi Eloim Sheyequebelo Israel Torah: “In the beginning, the Elohim saw that Israel would accept the law”. There are six fascinating specimens of Notaricon composed with this same word Berashith by Solomon Meir Ben Moses, a Jewish Kabbalist. He embraced the Christian faith in 1665 and took the name of Prospero Rugers. These all have a Christian tendency, and thanks to them, Prospero converted another Jew, who had been a staunch opponent of Christianity. The first is Ben, Ruach, Ab, Shaloshethem Yechad Themim: “The Son, the Spirit, the Father, their Trinity, Perfect Oneness”. The second is Ben, Ruach, Ab, Shaloshethem Yechad, Thaubodo, “The Son, the Spirit, the Father, you will equally worship Their Trinity.” The third is Bekori Rashuni Asher Shamo Yeshuah Thaubodo: “You will worship My firstborn, My first, whose name is Jesus”. The fourth is Beboa Rabban Asher Shamo Yeshuah Thaubado: “When a Teacher comes whose Name is Jesus you will adore him”. The fifth is Bethulah Raviah Abachar Shethaled Yeshuah Thrashroah: “I will choose a virgin worthy of giving birth to Jesus, and you will call her blessed.” The sixth is Beaugoth Ratzephim Assattar Shegopi Yeshuah Thakelo: “I will hide in bread baked in wood, and you will eat Jesus, My Body”. The Kabbalistic importance of these sentences as a support to the doctrines of Christianity can hardly be overstated.

Temurah

Temurah (Heb. תְּמוּרָה) is permutation. According to specific rules, we replace a letter with another letter that precedes or follows in the alphabet; therefore, from a word, we can form another word with a different spelling. So the alphabet is folded precisely in half, in the middle, and we place one half on top of the other; then alternately substituting the first letter or the first two letters at the beginning of the second line, twenty-two commutations are produced. These are called “Tzirupa’s Combination Table” (tab. 1). As an example, we give the method called Albath.

1110987654321
KITChZVHDGBA
MNSOPTzQRShThL
Tabella 1

Each method takes its name from the first two pairs that compose it, being the system of pairs of letters the basis of the whole since both pair letters are replaced by the other letter.

Thus, for Albath, from RVCh, Ruach, DTzO, Detzau is formed. The names of the other twenty-two methods are: ABGTh, AGDTh, ADBG, AHBD, AVBH, AZBV, AChBZ, ATBCh, AIBT, AKBI, ALBK, AMBL, ANBM, ASBN, AOBS, APBO, ATzBP, AQBTz, ARBQ, AShBR and AThBSh. To these must be added the ABGD and ALBM modes. Then there is “The Rational Table of Tziruph“, another set of twenty-two combinations. There are also three “Tables of Commutations“, known respectively as the Right, the Adverse and the Irregular. A square of 484 boxes is made to compose them, inside which the letters are written. For the “Right Table“, we report the alphabet in the first line from right to left; we do the same in the second row of boxes, starting with R and ending with A; in the third, we begin with G and finish with B; and so on. For the “Adverse Table”, we write the alphabet from right to left backwards, starting with Th and ending with A; in the second line, we begin with Sh and finish with Th and so on. The “Irregular Table” is too long to describe. In addition to these, there is a method called Thashraq, which is simply writing a word backwards. There is still a fundamental form, called the “Kabbalah of the Nine Rooms”, or Aiq Bekar (tab. 2).

300 30 3 200 20 2 100 10 1
000 00 0 000 00 0 000 00 0
Sh L G R K B Q I A
600 60 6 500 50 5 400 40 4
000 00 0 000 00 0 000 00 0
M finale S V K finale N H Th M D
900 90 9 800 80 8 700 70 7
000 00 0 000 00 0 000 00 0
T finale Tz T P finale P Ch N finale O Z
Tabella 2

We inserted the numbering of each letter at the top to show the affinity between the letters in each room. Sometimes this method is used as a cypher, taking parts of the figure to show the letters they contain, putting a period for the first letter, two for the second, etc. So the right corner, which includes AIQ, will answer for Q if it has three dots or circles in it. And again, a square will answer for the final H, N, or K depending on whether it has one, two, or three points inside it, respectively. So also for the other letters. But there are many different ways to use the Kabbalah of the Nine Rooms. By way of example only, through the form of Temurah called Athbash, it is found that in Jeremiah  25:26, the word ShShK, Sheshach, symbolises BBL, Babel. [7]. In addition to all these rules, there are some hidden meanings:

  1. in the form of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet; 
  2. In the form of a particular letter at the end of a word when it is different from that typically used when it is a final letter. 
  3. in a letter written in the middle of a word with a character generally used only at the end;
  4. in any letter written in a smaller or larger body than the rest of the manuscript, or in a letter written upside down;
  5. in the variations found in the spelling of certain words, which in some places have one more letter than in others; 
  6. in the peculiarities observed in the position of points or accents and in certain expressions believed to be elliptical or redundant.

For example, the form of the Hebrew letter Aleph, A (א), is said to symbolise a Vau, V (ו), between a Yod, I (י), and Daleth, D (ד); hence the letter itself represents the word IDV, Yod. Similarly, the form of the letter He, H (ה) represents Daleth, D, with a Yod, I, written in the lower-left corner, etc.

In Isaiah 9:6-8 [8], the word Lemarbah (by multiplication) is written with the character for the final M in the middle of the word, rather than with the ordinary initial and middle letter. It follows that the total numerical value of the word, instead of being 30 + 40 + 200 + 2 + 5 = 277, is 30 + 600 + 200 + 2 + 5 = 837, for Gematria Tat Zal, the Giver of abundance. Therefore, writing the final M instead of the ordinary character, the word is charged with a different kabbalistic meaning.

In Deuteronomy. 6:4 et seq., there is the prayer known as “Shema Yisrael”. It begins like this, ShMO IShRAL IHVH ALHINV IHVH AChD, Shema Yisrael, Tetragrammaton Elohino Tetragrammaton Achad: “Listen, Israel the Tetragrammaton your God is the One Tetragrammaton”. Here, the letter O in ShMO and the D in AChD are written larger than the other letters in the text. The kabbalistic symbolism implicit in this occurrence is explained as follows: the letter O, being 70 its value, shows that we can explain the law in seventy different ways, and D = 4 represents the four cardinal points and the letters of the Holy Name. The first word, ShMO, has 410, the number of years of duration of the first temple, etc.

It is also to be noted about the first word of the Bible, BRAShITh, Berashith, that the first three letters, BRA, are the initial letters of the names of the three persons of the Trinity: Ben, the Son; Ruach, the Spirit; and Ab, the Father. And again, the first letter of the Bible is B, which is the initial letter of Berakhah, blessing; and not A, which is Arar’s, curse. And Berashith’s letters, if we consider their numerical value, express the number of years between the Creation and the birth of Christ, therefore: B = 2000, R = 200, A = 1000, Sh = 300, I = 10, and Th = 400, for a total of 3910 years. Pico Della Mirandola gives the following calculation for BRAShITh: joining the third letter, A, to the first, B, we obtain AB, Ab = Father. If the second letter, R, is added to the first doubled letter, BB, we have BBR, Bebar = in or through the Son. If you read all the letters except the first, you get RAShITh, Rashith = the beginning. If we join the fourth letter, Sh, the first, B, and the last, Th, we have ShBTh, Shebeth  = the end of rest. If we take the first three letters, they form BRA, Bera = created. If leaving out the first we take the following, they make RASh,  Rash = head. If omitting the first two, we take the following two, they give ASh, Ash = fire. If we join the fourth and last, we have ShTh, Sheth = foundation. And again, if we place the second letter before the first, we have RB, Rab = large. If we put the fifth and fourth after the third, we have AISh, Aish = man. If we combine the first two with the last two, we get BRITh, Berith = alliance. And if we add the first to the final, we have ThB, Theb, sometimes used for TVB, Thob= good. Considering all these mystical anagrams in their order, Pico derived the following sentence from the word BRAShITh: Pater in filio (aut per Filium), principium et finem (sive quietum) creavit caput, ignem et fundamentum magni hominis fædere bono: “In Son, the Father created the Head, which is the beginning and the end, the vital fire and the foundation of the supernal man (Adam Kadmon), through His just covenant”, which is a brief epitome of the teachings of the “Book of Hidden Mystery”.

The dogmatic Kabbalah

The dogmatic Kabbalah contains the doctrinal part. There are many treatises from various eras and values ​​that make up the written Kabbalah. The most important are the Sepher Yetzirah and its correlations and the Zohar with developments and commentaries.

Sepher Yetzirah

The Sepher Yetzirah (Heb. ספר יצירה), or “Book of Formation”, is ascribed to the patriarch Abraham. It deals with cosmogony as symbolised by the alphabet’s ten numbers and twenty-two letters, known as the “thirty-two paths”. On these later, Rabbi Abraham Ben Dior wrote a mystical commentary. The term “path” is used in the Kabbalah to mean a hieroglyphic idea, or rather the sphere of ideas, which can be associated with any glyph or symbol.

Zohar

The Zohar (Heb. זֹהַר), or “Splendor” is considered the most important treatise of the Kabbalah. It is a mystical commentary on the Torah (the five books of Moses or the Pentateuch), written in medieval Aramaic and Hebrew. It deals with the nature of God, the origin and structure of the universe, the nature of souls, and other related topics. The Zohar is not a book but a group of texts integrating canonical interpretations, theology and mysticism.

Asch Metzareph

The Asch Metzareph, or “Purifying Fire”, is hermetic and alchemical and deals with the relationship between metals and planets. It was probably written between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and published in Latin by Knorr Von Rosenroth in his Kabbalah Denudata (The Kabbalah Unveiled). The original Hebrew text has not survived.


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