Kabbalah is the school of Jewish mysticism that explains the relationship between the Eternal God and His immanent creation.
Portae Lucis by Joseph Gikatilla (1248-1325) – Diaspora Museum, Tel Aviv

Italian version


Kabbalah is a Jewish doctrine that combines mystical and esoteric teachings that aim to understand the hidden aspects of God’s life and the relationship between God and His creation. The Hebrew term Qabālā (קַבָּלָה) translates to “reception,” referring to the practice of transmitting knowledge through oral tradition and is synonymous with “tradition.”

The investigation into the historical origins of Kabbalistic thought is a multifaceted undertaking. Certain Kabbalists maintained that the revelation of Kabbalah was bestowed upon the first man and his immediate successors through divine intervention. Scholars have determined that Kabbalah initially incorporated several elements that were comparable to Hellenistic Gnosticism, Palestinian Theosophical Judaism, Persian religion, and Iranian cults, which can be traced back to the construction of the Second Temple [1].

The term Qabālā refers to the Jewish esoteric current, which originated from an ancient past and gained significant traction from the 12th century onwards. Before its spread, the Talmud [2] fuelled speculative mysticism. The Bible contains several passages, such as creation accounts and prophetic visions, that discuss the nature of Divinity and the universe. Those of the Talmud focus on the Ma’ase Bereshith (The Work of Creation, a treatise on mystical cosmology) and the Ma’ase Merkabah (The Work of the Chariot, on the Divine Chariot of the vision of Ezekiel [2a]) and are specifically related to the names of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai. The mystics of the Merkabah entered the Pardes, the “Garden of Divine Wisdom,” according to the Talmudic expression, and described their experiences. Having managed to escape from the physical world, they have integrated into the celestial sphere. Initiated into the most profound mysteries, they made contact with the Divine.

The Hekhaloth literature, the “Heavenly Palaces,” which dates back to the age of the Gaonim [3], contains various tales of this type. However, the principal mystical work was the Sepher Yetzirah (The Book of Creation), which employs a symbolic key to explore the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the ten Sephiroth. The Kabbalah reached its pinnacle with the Zohar, published by Moises De Leon in 1300, destined to become the Jewish mystics’ Bible. The Zohar promptly obtained exceptional traction and was disseminated by Spanish exiles in all the countries where they found hospitality after expulsion, including Turkey, Palestine, Egypt, Italy, Germany, and Holland.

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

The practical Kabbalah

Practical Kabbalah (Ma’asit Kabbalah, Heb. קַבָּלָה מַעֲשִׂית) is a tradition encompassing various aspects of ceremonial magic, including invocations, spells, and the knowledge of divine and angelic names. Its primary focus lies in the creation of amulets and talismans. However, throughout its history, the tradition has faced accusations of deviating towards impure magic, and as such, it has remained a minor practice for theological and meditative teachings.

The literal Kabbalah

An understanding of the fundamental principles of literal Kabbalah is essential, as it is referenced extensively throughout Kabbalistic literature. This practice involves the manipulation of Hebrew letters and numbers and can be broken down into three distinct categories: Gematria, Notaricon, and Temurah.

Gematria

Gematria (Heb. גמטריא) is the metathesis [4] 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 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 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 make 314. Thus, one is the symbolic expression of the other; the angel Metatron, of whom God said, “My name is in him,” is said to have been the guide of the children of Israel during the exile. Regarding the Gematria of the sentences we have, for example (Gen. 49:10) [5], Yeba Shiloh [6], “Shiloh will come” = 358, which is the numbering of the word Messiah. And the passage of Genesis 18: 2, [7] Vehenna Shalisha, “And behold, three men”, is numerically equivalent to Elo Mikhael Gabriel Ve-Raphael, “These are Mikhael, Gabriel and Raphael”; for each sentence, the value is 701.

Notaricon

The term Notaricon (Heb. נוטריקון) originates from the Latin word “notarius,” which means stenographer. There are two distinct forms of Notaricon. The first involves taking each letter of a word and using it as the initial or abbreviation of another word in order to form a sentence. So, each letter of the word Berashith, the first word of Genesis, is placed as the initial of a word, resulting in Berashith Rahi Eloim Sheyequebelo Israel Torah: “In the beginning, Elohim saw that Israel would accept the law.” There are six fascinating specimens of Notaricon composed of 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 phrases 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, the perfect Oneness”. The second is Ben, Ruach, Ab, Shaloshethem Yechad, Thaubodo, “The Son, the Spirit, the Father; you will equally adore their Trinity”. The third is Bekori Rashuni Asher Shamo Yeshuah Thaubodo: “You will worship My firstborn, whose name is Jesus”. The fourth is Beboa Rabban Asher Shamo Yeshuah Thaubado: “When a Master comes whose name is Jesus, you will worship him”. The fifth is Bethulah Raviah Abachar Shethaled Yeshuah Thrashroah: “I 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 phrases as a support to the doctrines of Christianity cannot be underestimated.

Temurah

Temurah (Heb. תְּמוּרָה) is a permutation technique that involves replacing letters in a word with other letters that either precede or follow them in the alphabet based on specific rules. To achieve this, the alphabet is folded in half such that one half is placed on top of the other. By alternately replacing the first letter or the first two letters at the beginning of the second line, twenty-two permutations can be generated. These are called “Tzirupa Combination Table” (tab. 1). As an example, let’s take the method called Albath.

1110987654321
KITChZVHDGBA
MNSOPTzQRShThL
Table 1

Each method takes its name from the first two pairs that compose it, being the system of pairs of letters at the base of the whole since both pairs 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 “Switching Tables”, known as the Right, the Adverse and the Irregular. To compose these tables, a square of 484 boxes is created, inside which the letters are written. For the “Right Table”, we report the alphabet in the first row from right to left; we do the same in the second row of boxes, starting with R and ending with A; the third one begins with G and ends with B; and so on. For the “Adverse Table”, we write the alphabet backwards from right to left, starting with Th and ending with A; in the second line, we begin with Sh and end with Th and so on. The “Irregular Table” is too long to describe. Also, there is a method called Thashraq, formed by simply writing a word backwards. There is still a fundamental form called “Kabbalah of the Nine Rooms”, or Aiq Bekar (Table 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
Final M S V Final K N H Th M D
900 90 9 800 80 8 700 70 7
000 00 0 000 00 0 000 00 0
Final T Tz T Final P P Ch Final N O Z
Table 2

We have entered 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. Again, a square will answer for the final H, N or K depending on whether it has one, two or three points, respectively. So also, for the other letters. However, there are many different ways of using Nine Chambers Kabbalah. For example, through the form of Temurah called Athbash, in Jeremiah 25:26, we find that the word ShShK, Sheshach, symbolises BBL, Babel [8]. In addition to all these rules, there are 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 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 Yod, I, written in the lower-left corner, etc.

In Isaiah 9:6-8 [9], the letter M in the centre of the word Lemarbah (by multiplication) is written with the final M character instead of the ordinary central spelling. Thus, 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. It follows that the word takes on 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 more extensively 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 years the first temple lasted, etc.

It should also 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, i.e., curse. And the letters of Berashith, 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 makes 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 doubled first letter, BB, we have BBR, Bebar = through the Son. If you read all but the first letter, 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 we leave out the first and accept the following, we form RASh, Rash = head. If we omit the first two and take the following two, they give ASh, Ash = fire. If we combine the fourth and the last, we have ShTh, Sheth = foundation. And again, if we put 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 foundation of the supernal man (Adam Kadmon), through his righteous covenant”, which is a brief compendium of the teachings of the” Book of Concealment “.

The dogmatic Kabbalah

The doctrinal component of the Kabbalah is found in the dogmatic Kabbalah. The written Kabbalah comprises several treatises from different eras, with the most significant being the Sepher Yetzirah and its corresponding correlations, as well as the Zohar with its accompanying developments and commentaries.

Sepher Yetzirah

The “Book of Formation”, also known as the Sepher Yetzirah, in Hebrew ספר יצירה, is a manuscript attributed to the patriarch Abraham by mystics. However, modern historians have differing opinions on its origin. Some believe it was created during the Talmudic period, while others suggest it is of medieval origin. The book delves into the subject of cosmogony, which is symbolised by the ten numbers and twenty-two letters of the alphabet. These are collectively referred to as the “thirty-two paths”. Rabbi Abraham Ben Dior later authored a mystical commentary on these paths. In Kabbalah, the term “path” refers to a hieroglyphic idea or the sphere of ideas associated with any glyph or symbol. Numerous manuscripts of this book exist, categorised as either Short or Long Versions. All of them have undergone significant editing and commentary from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century.

Zohar

The Zohar (Heb. זֹהַר), or “Splendour”, is considered an essential treatise in Kabbalah. It comprises a mystical commentary on the Torah, which is the collection of the five books of Moses or the Pentateuch, written in medieval Aramaic and Hebrew. This work explores various subjects, including the nature of God, the origin and structure of the universe, as well as the nature of souls. It is important to note that the Zohar is not a single book but rather a collection of texts that integrate canonical interpretations, theology, and mysticism.

Asch Metzareph

The Asch Metzareph, or the “Purifying Fire”, is a hermetic and alchemical text that examines the relationship between metals and planets. It is believed to have been authored between the 16th and 17th centuries and was published in Latin by Knorr Von Rosenroth in his work, Kabbalah Denudata (The Kabbalah Unveiled). Unfortunately, the original Hebrew version of the text did not survive.


[1] The Second Temple, also known as Herod’s Temple, served as a reconstructed version of the original Jewish temple situated in Jerusalem, which was obliterated by the Babylonians in 587 BC.

[2] The Talmud (teaching) is part of a corpus of scriptures that collects the tradition of the Torah, the oral law. It is a commentary on the Mishna (from a root meaning “to repeat” since repetition alone allows you to memorise what is taught), which contains oral laws and traditions. The Mishna comprises six orders concerned with sanctifying work, the Sabbath and holidays, marriage law, civil and criminal law, sacrificial worship, and ritual purities and impurities.

[2a] This is the chapter on Ezekiel’s first vision of the Cherubim, one of the most variously interpreted (1:15-21); “Then I looked, and I saw one wheel on the ground beside each of the four beings. The appearance of the wheels and their construction was like gleaming jasper, and all four wheels looked alike. Their structure was like a wheel within a wheel. When they moved, they would go in any of the four directions they faced without turning as they moved. Their rims were high and superb, and the rims of all four wheels were full of eyes all around. When the living beings moved, the wheels beside them moved; when the living beings rose up from the ground, the wheels rose up too. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise up beside them because the spirit of the living being was in the wheel. When the living beings moved, the wheels moved, and when they stopped moving, the wheels stopped. When they rose up from the ground, the wheels rose up from the ground; the wheels rose up beside them because the spirit of the living being was in the wheel.”

[3] The Gaonim were the leaders of two prominent Babylonian religious academies during the period of Jewish captivity. Their primary responsibility was to provide interpretations of Jewish law whenever the Talmud was insufficient in addressing new issues that arose during this era.

[4] From gr. “Metathesis”, transposition. It is a grammatical figure composed of the transposition of phonetic elements in a word or sentence.

[5] One of the verses of Genesis concerning the announced Messiah: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

[6] The second part of Genesis 49:10, which in the revised version of the Bible is translated as “… until tribute comes to him,” is reported differently in some versions: “… Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” Shiloh (Heb. שִׁילוֹ) is an ancient city in Samaria, the central region of old Israel. Its meaning is uncertain; it is sometimes translated as a messianic title or “peacemaker”. According to some Christian exegetes, the verse prophesies the coming of Christ.

[7] It is part of the verses of Genesis about Abraham’s intercession for Sodom: “He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth.”

[8] The verse is part of the chapter on the Punishment of Babylon: “And all the kings of the north, far and near, one with another; and all the kingdoms of the world which are on the face of the earth. Also, the king of Sheshach shall drink after them.” The drink is the wine of wrath (Jer. 25.15), and Babel is the Hebrew name for Babylon.

[9] Isaiah 9:6, coming and power of the Messiah: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:8, threats against the kingdom of Israel: “The Lord has sent a word against Jacob, and it will fall on Israel.”

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