The study of Kabbalah is divided into three basic areas: the theoretical, the meditative, and the practical.

The theoretical deals with the form of the mysteries, teaching the structure of the angelic domains as well as of the sefirot, or divine emanations. With great success, it deals with problems posed by the many schools of philosophy, and it provides a conceptual framework into which all theological ideas can be fitted. It also provides a framework through which the mechanism of both the meditative and practical Kabbalah can be understood. The vast majority of Kabbalah texts and Kabbalah study today deals with the theoretical Kabbalah. The practical Kabbalah…was a kind of white magic…

The practical Kabbalah, on the other hand, was a kind of white magic, dealing with the use of techniques that could evoke supernatural powers. It involved the use of divine names and incantations, amulets and talismans, as well as chiromancy, physiognomy and astrology. Many theoretical kabbalists, led by the Ari, frowned on the use of such techniques, labeling them as dangerous and spiritually demeaning. As a result, only a very small number of texts have survived at all.

The theoretical Kabbalah essentially gives us a description of the spiritual realm. Practical Kabbalah tells you how to get into this inner space. Very often, the theoretical Kabbalah is an important guide once you are in there. Otherwise, it is like taking off in a plane; you need maps and charts to make sure you will be able to land. The theoretical Kabbalah gives you these landmarks; in other words, which world you are in, whether on the side of good or of evil, etc. Kabbalah cannot stand by itself without the entire corpus of the revealed Torah

The meditative Kabbalah stands between these two extremes. Some of the earliest meditative methods border on the practical Kabbalah, and their use is discouraged by the latter masters, especially those of the Ari's school. Within this category are the few surviving texts from the Talmudic period. The same is true of the teachings of the Thirteenth Century master, Rabbi Abraham Abulafia, whose meditative works have never been printed and survive only in manuscript.

An important point which is often lost is that Kabbalah cannot stand by itself without the entire corpus of the revealed Torah; it is an integral part of the Torah. There is not a single kabbalistic work which does not contain quotations from the Bible, the Talmud and the Midrash and require a profound knowledge of all of these. Bible, Talmud, Midrash and Kabbalah all work together.

[From "Inner Space" and "Meditation and Kabbalah"]

Editor's note: Even students without a thorough knowledge of "the entire corpus of the revealed Torah" can grasp, and benefit from, basic kabbalistic concepts. This site's introductory section is created for that purpose.To begin learning the fundamentals of Kabbalahh, go to our Kabbalah for Beginners Tutorial (click here).