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For many, a dose of Jewish mysticism constitutes exactly the right prescription

Kabbalah Before Age 40

Kabbalah Before Age 40

Kabbalah Before Age 40
For many, a dose of Jewish mysticism constitutes exactly the right prescription

We are often asked how it is permitted to teach Kabbalah to young and not strongly educated Jews, who are not even close to being "40 years of age and expert in Talmud and Jewish law." Did not "the Rabbis" forbid it when the student lacks the above-cited qualifications?

Let us be clear. First of all, intoductory lessons are not within the purview of the prohibition that the Rabbis referred to. Let us examine the best known exposition of it, the ruling of Rambam:

"I say that it is not proper to dally in Pardes [i.e., mysticism] till one's belly is filled with 'bread and meat,' knowledge of what is permitted and what forbidden, and similar distinctions in other classes of precepts."

This quote must be understood in its context. It is found at the end of the fourth chapter of "Laws of the Torah's Foundations", the first section of his 14-volume exposition of Jewish law, Mishneh Torah. These four chapters themselves consist of an outline of "Maaseh Merkavah" and "Maaseh Bereishit," the mystical study of the Creator and His Creation that Rambam then proceeds to restrict to accomplished Torah scholars. Yet he clearly states in his introduction to the entire work that it is for all Jews, not just for those with the above qualifications!

We can presume that Rambam's intention in discussing these topics was not to aid and abet the violation of his own ruling, but rather to demonstrate that studying these first four chapters does not constitute "strolling in Paradise," only glimpsing it. And not only does he consider this mere glimpse permissible, he places it first; the sip of "wine" should precede the meal of "bread and meat"! His reasons are clear: this study is integral to the maximum fulfillment of the five basic Jewish mitzvot with which he chose to head his ordering and explanations of the commandments. These are to 1) know, 2) love, and 3) fear G‑d, and to realize 4) His oneness and 5) His uniqueness. This study is integral to the maximum fulfillment of the five basic Jewish mitzvot . . .

Indeed, although no principles of Judaism are more fundamental than these five, and unlike all the other positive commandments the obligation to fulfill these five is constant, very few teachers are addressing them in depth. Yet it is precisely these mitzvot that shape Judaism's unique belief system. Without proper knowledge of them, it is no wonder so many people perceive Judaism as being solely a philosophy or a system of ethics (or—heaven help us—a mere cultural/ethnic heritage). Yet the Rambam is emphatic that these commandments are not merely articles of passive faith; they necessitate study and an intense effort to comprehend the Creator.

The "mystical" teachings of the Safed kabbalists and the chassidic masters, when presented properly, constitute an important vehicle for making these basic tenets more accessible and attractive. How could a Jew possibly object to their utilization for such a purpose? How unfortunate that the inner teachings of Torah are neglected while myriads of Jews hunger for what they have to offer . . . !

True, the risk exists that these teachings can easily be misunderstood and/or distorted. But in our generation we have to equally consider the risk in not utilizing this facet of the Torah. Countless numbers of contemporary Jews have been turned off to Judaism because of what they perceive as a lack of meaningful personal relevance. Most never make it past the tedious years of pre-bar/bat mitzvah "Hebrew Schools." Those who do are confronted at every turn by intimidating lists of do's and don'ts, without anyone being able to depict for them the inner beauty of the mitzvot and the divine significance of their fulfillment. How unfortunate that the inner teachings of Torah are neglected while myriads of Jews hunger for what they have to offer, without even realizing that these teachings exist!

Even for the more Jewishly sophisticated, the encounter with the "inner teachings" is often of great practical significance. Many, if not most, Jews feel an urge to know that there is deep underlying meaning to the mitzvahs, that they are not merely hollow "rituals." We may not fully comprehend the mystical explanations, but everyone gains from them at least the awareness that something special is going on, and this alone is frequently enough to reshape the perspective of someone alienated from Judaism, as well as to breathe new life into the practices of many lackadaisical mitzvah observers. Indeed, even fully committed religious Jews are delighted and stimulated by the discovery of an unseen dimension to observances they have always taken for granted. Prayer and blessings without kavanah are like a body without a soul . . .

Optimally, mitzvot should be experienced and appreciated at every possible level. Whereas the halachically correct physical performance of a mitzvah is its "body," the intention (in Hebrew, "kavanah") one has in fulfilling the mitzvah, together with the awareness of its significance and consequences, constitute its "soul." Rabbi Chaim Vital (the chief disciple of the Ari and the only one entrusted by him to record his teachings) wrote in Etz Chaim: "Kavanah is in the category of 'light,' while the commandments are in the category of 'vessels,' comparable to the way in which the body is a vessel for the light of the soul" (see also Tanya, part I, ch. 38). Therefore, it follows that "[mitzvot], prayer and blessings without kavanah are like a body without a soul" (see Shenei Luchot HaBrit, part I, 249b).

In the introduction to Etz Chaim, in the context of discussing what he terms the absolute mitzvah to study "the true wisdom" (Kabbalah), Rabbi Chaim Vital also states "to study the mysteries of the Torah before Scripture, Mishnah, and Talmud is at best like a soul without a body, lacking efficacy and accountability" (see also Mystical Concepts in Chassidism by J. I. Schochet). Nevertheless, an exposure to the "light" of the hidden teachings can be the most effective inspiration to forge for oneself the "vessel" of knowledge of the revealed law.

Even if the person has no conscious understanding of the subject matter at all, it is still worth the time and energy invested. A former student at the famous Telshe yeshiva in Europe relates that the great Rabbi Yosef Leib Bloch often referred to kabbalistic concepts during his mussar shmoozen (talks on Jewish ethics) to the students. When people would complain to him that these ideas were too strange and difficult, he would always reply, "The neshamah understands!"

Chasidic thought adds that this understanding of the soul, although subconscious, is highly inspirational: "When the divine soul hears [such teachings], it is able to strongly influence the animating soul of the body. This stimulates an increased motivation for 'doing good,' the 248 commandments, and for 'turning away from evil,' the 365 prohibitions." (HaYom Yom, p. 31)

Many Jews of our generation, whether we like it or not, are interested only in the mystical aspect of Judaism. They want to know, for example, what the holy Ari and his associates taught and how they lived, not just their birth dates and where they are buried. We consider it our obligation to strengthen this connection, not to downplay it. Every Jewish soul has a right to be fed, yet not every one can be nurtured in the same way. For many, a dose of Jewish mysticism constitutes exactly the right prescription.

Yerachmiel Tilles is the co-founder of Ascent-of-Safed, and was its educational director for 18 years. He is the creator of and and currently the director of both sites. He is also a well-known storyteller, a columnist for numerous chassidic publications, and a staff rabbi on, as well as and the author of "Saturday Night, Full Moon": Intriguing Stories of Kabbalah Sages, Chasidic Masters and other Jewish Heroes.
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Michael November 10, 2015

Gentile I took Bible classes for many years, understanding very little and getting much misinformation. When I decided to break with tradition and begin studying on my own, a lot more made sense to me, but I also realized that I could only get so far without beginning to understand the "Old Testament". It really amazed me what was in there (it is often relegated to "optional" in Christianity).Then I realized I had to look into the Hebrew language to understand it even better, and that's what led me to classes at local yeshivas that were open to the public.I never learned so much about the Bible as I have studying with Orthodox Jewish rabbis and people. They introduced Kabbalah to me and then everything started to connect and make sense at a level that is so deep and wonderful that you never want to stop studying. Reply

Esther Mair Toronto, Canada via June 29, 2013

study of kiabbalah by women Is there a Torah or a Rabbinical Halacha which prevents women from studying Kabalah. Reply

Anonymous London via March 17, 2013

To Direction There is no Kabbala Centre in Abuja. You can take classes on-line, through their organisation. Please do not count this as a recommendation. Fun as it is to make friends in person and meet with like minded people at the Centres, it is very much for people who have money. Reply

Edward Yisrael Kremer Bronx, New York March 5, 2013

Learning Kabbalah My Father a very Orthodox Jew Read stories of the Reb Shimon Ben Yochaie and his son Eliezer to me when I was around 5 yrs old. As soon as he mentioned the word Kabbalah, I told him, Tatty I want to read that book. He then proceeded to tell me the Bubba Meinser. " You have to be 40 yrs old before you can study it." Well,
the hunger to learn Kabbalah stayed with me. When 15, I began to study secretly.
I studied Kabbalah, Neviim,Yoga, While winning many athletic medals I was having
Spiritual, Mystical experiences. In 1958 at age 20 in the middle of a softball game in Bear Mountain State Park. I was taken out of my body straight into Heaven. I remember every detail of what I saw and how I felt. It lasted probably less than 5 minutes.While I was there Time and this world disappeared. The Light in Heaven
is like the Sun to a Shabbos candle. My book will have more details. Kabbalah can help open our awareness to a truly close relationship with G-D, our Creator. Reply

Anonymous Abuja, Nigeria via November 12, 2012

Direction I would kindly like to know where a kabbalah centre is in Abuja Reply

Anonymous via August 11, 2012

Kabbalah Centre It's a great shame that in some areas, it is only considered right that men (not women) can be taught this. The Kabbalah Centre attracts Jews and Non-Jews, Moslems, and Christians. The Centre, unfortunately, is very expensive price, becoming elitist, catering to the rich and famous, mostly. There is a danger of causing antisemitism because of the perceived greed. Yet, they do inspire a thirst for knowledge of the Kabbalah, until one runs out of money. I have since found a Lubavitcher Rabbi. Reply

Anonymous Albany, NY February 15, 2012

to dolores Absolutely not! Reply

dolores negrete August 11, 2011

Can women study Kabbalah? Is it a "SIN" if women try to study Kabbalah? Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem via October 9, 2010

till one's belly is filled Why does the Rambam use the terminology “till one's belly is filled” as a requirement to learning kabbalah. The answer is because “till one's belly is filled with bread and meat” is a euphemism for Emunas Chacamim. We see this in many places that a person that has Emunah can be filled with a little, (like by Shmita for example a person will only have double on the six year if he will asks “what will I eat on the seveth year?” otherwise the amount of the six year will be able to last for 2 years without the need of him having double.)So in essence the Rambam is saying on needs to have Emunas Chacamim as a prerequisite to learning Kabbalah. This actually makes sense, because being a scholar doesn’t mean that one has fear of heaven. Reply

Noam brooklyn, ny October 3, 2010

etz chaim...Vital i think it is worth mentioning that Rav Chaim says in etz chaim that it is one of the mitzvot for studying Torah, corresponding to one of the 248 positive commandments which is connect to the 248 sinews and in order to fulfill the commandment properly you must study the all aspects of torah (PaRDeS) and if you don't you will ultimatly have to comeback as a reincarnation to fix that blemish of not learning the Full PaRDeS Reply

Anonymous August 10, 2010

Kabbalah Kabbalah may be typically for Jewish men over 40, however the thirst is there even among women and spirituality is universal. If not taught properly to those who thirst for this knowledge then what stops them from learning through a kabbalah center which is from my understanding is not the right venue. Reply


ENQUIRY Kindly be of help to me spiritually as am about to clock 39 years with several issues of life unresolved yet. I am a Nigerian attending a watchman ministry which has been of great help spiritually but I wish to better this. Please do advise appropriately as an intercessor introduced me to this website which I have found useful in the last week. Reply

Achael Ben Uriel Fuengirola, Spain April 14, 2010

Kabbalah in Virginia Beach. Kabbalah is for Jewish married men over 40. Your daughter should learn to swim better. Reply

Anonymous virginia beach, va, usa November 29, 2009

kabbalah my daughter is very interested in learning about Kabbalah. She does not want to do it online. Is there somewhere in Virginia beach where she can be taught kabbalah Reply

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