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Who Can Study Kabbalah?

Who Is Permitted to Study?

Every person, regardless of gender, race, religion or nationality is permitted to study the wisdom of Kabbalah. For that reason, Kabbalists have always tried to circulate this wisdom in both Israel and the world over, to bring this option to everyone’s awareness. This is especially true of those whose souls are ripe for the study of the wisdom of Kabbalah. Through study they can correct themselves and attain the purpose of Creation. Others who still don’t feel it necessary to study Kabbalah should be aware of this system should they want to study it later. This allows them to accelerate their progress toward the correction phase.

If we read Talmud Eser Sefirot (The Study of the Ten Sefirot), one of Kabbalah’s most prominent works, written by Baal HaSulam in the previous century, we will see that from the very first page, Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam) explains that every individual can and should study Kabbalah. It is absolutely necessary for those who have a single question burning in their hearts: “What is the meaning of my life?”

Although the wisdom of Kabbalah is a vast and complex science, Rabbi Ashlag opens his book with a simple, human question, one we can all recognize. Those who feel dissatisfied with the answers can find the answer in the wisdom of Kabbalah, and only there. There is no other way! A person who does not ask, “What is the meaning of my life?” will not benefit from the wisdom of Kabbalah.

Past Prohibitions

In the past, men under forty years of age who were not married, and women, were forbidden to study Kabbalah. But it was the Ari who determined that from his generation onward, Kabbalah is permitted to all men, women and children, provided they are imbued with a desire for spirituality, testifying to the maturity of their souls.

Our desire and passion for spirituality, and our search for the meaning of life are the only testimonials to our readiness to study the wisdom of Kabbalah. Moreover, Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook answered the question of who can study Kabbalah with the simple words: “Anyone who wishes it.”

Prior Knowledge

There is no need for any prior knowledge in order to study Kabbalah. It is a science that deals with one’s spiritual contact with the Creator. If one feels a need to study the Upper World, the knowledge acquired in this world will be of little help. The students wish to understand the laws of the Upper World, not the laws of this world. Therefore, such people should not be met with demands or prior conditions of certain courses needed before they can begin their studies.

The only requirement is to read the right books and to have a genuine desire for spirituality. That is, the Light is attained only by the need for the correction of desire. The human mind acts as an aid to carry out our egoistic desires. If we try to understand the Torah only through the intellect, we will be able to perceive the science of it, but not the Light.

Therefore, people who learn only about the practical laws of the Torah and perform them mechanically, without correcting their hearts, are called Gentiles. They have the knowledge, but not the Light. The Torah is the Light of the Creator that enters one’s corrected vessels, while the knowledge is a proficiency in what is written where and how. One can be proficient in the entire Torah, know the entire Talmud by heart, but still not have any real spiritual attainment.

This phenomenon also exists in the study of Kabbalah: one can be proficient in all the texts of Kabbalah and master the text like a university professor, but that does not mean that all one’s desires have been corrected, or that one has replaced egoism with altruism.

That is the true purpose of our Creation and the purpose of the giving of the Torah. If we learn and apply the test as we study, we correct our nature. Only then is it considered to be studying Torah. But if we learn only to acquire knowledge, this is all we are considered to be doing.

Therefore, a real teacher does not demand proficiency from his students. On the contrary, he wants to see their doubts, their weakness, their sensation of lack of understanding, and their dependency on the Creator. These signs testify to the beginning of the process of equalizing with the Upper Forces.

If beginning students becomes proud of their knowledge and demonstrate confidence and self-esteem, it is because the more they learn the more proficient they become, just as in any other knowledge. However, the wisdom of Kabbalah, unlike any other study, and against common sense, should not increase one’s knowledge, but the sensation of the lack of it.

During the Study

Baal HaSulam, in the Introduction to Talmud Eser Sefirot (item 155) writes:

Therefore we must ask, why then, did the Kabbalists obligate each person to delve in the wisdom of Kabbalah? Indeed there is a weighty thing here, worthy of being publicized, that there is a magnificent, invaluable remedy, to those who delve in the wisdom of Kabbalah. Although they do not understand what they are learning, through yearning and the great desire to understand what they are learning, they awaken upon themselves the Lights that surround their souls.

This means that every man from Israel is guaranteed the ultimate attainment of all these wonderful attainments that God resolved, in the Thought of Creation, to grant each creature. But he who has not attained it in this life will attain it in the next and so on, until he has completed that which He preliminary thought of.

And while man has not attained perfection, these Lights, that are destined to come to him, are deemed Surrounding Lights. That means that they stand ready for him, awaiting his attainment of the vessels of reception. Then these Lights will clothe within the able vessels.

Thus, even when the vessels are absent, when we delve in this wisdom, mentioning the names of the Lights and the vessels related to our souls, we are immediately illuminated to a certain degree. However, they illuminate us without dressing in the internality of our souls, since we do not have the vessels needed to receive them. Indeed, the illumination we receive time and again when studying, draws to us grace from Above, imparting us with a bounty of sanctity and purity, greatly furthering us toward our perfection.

A Spiritual Guide

It is hard to tell a genuine spiritual teacher from one who pretends to be such. These days, everyone wants cheap and easy fun, quick answers, and quick solutions. People can easily be misled by eloquent speakers and overlook the properties of spiritual guidance, which by nature are not theatrical.

If that is the case, how can we identify a spiritual teacher in this generation? A spiritual teacher may be proficient in many fields—science, religious laws and customs, education, and so on.

However, it is not enough to know what is written in Kabbalah books to become a spiritual guide. Such a person can only understand the wisdom, and our sages warn us: “Wisdom in the Gentiles, believe, Torah (Light) in the Gentiles, do not believe.”

The word “gentile” refers not to a non-Jew, but to an egoist yet to be corrected. Such a person may display impressive knowledge in Kabbalah and boast about it before one’s students, displaying knowledge with accurate citations from the texts, and so on.

This display of knowledge may at first lead beginners to consider this teacher a spiritual person. This is because beginning students cannot see what spirituality is, and without it there is no way to examine its absence or presence in anyone. A beginner goes through such fundamental changes in the beginning of the journey that it is difficult to understand what is going on within, much less assess another person correctly.

A beginning student is illiterate even with regard to the written Torah, and might take any person for a great teacher. However, there is a fundamental difference between a Kabbalist and a person proficient in the Torah: in Kabbalah, a teacher is more than just a rabbi, he is a spiritual guide. The meaning of the Hebrew word “Rabbi” is “Great.” The teacher and the student experience the spiritual path simultaneously.

The purpose of the teacher is not that his students will fear and respect him; on the contrary, he wants them to study in such a way that they will develop fear, respect and love for the Creator; he wants to place them face to face with His power. He wants to teach them how to turn directly to the Creator. Those who go through spiritual development will feel at some point the sensation of ignobility, weakness, egoism, and the vileness of their own desires.

After we experience these feelings, we can no longer be proud of ourselves, since we begin to see that everything we receive comes from the Creator. That is why a Kabbalah teacher is a modest person who lives a daily life just like every one of us, not a sage who is disconnected from this world.

That is why neither a Kabbalistic teacher nor his students are arrogant; they do not force their ideas on others, nor do they preach. The purpose of the rabbi is to turn the student toward the Creator in every single matter, not toward himself. In all other methods, even when they pretend to be a Kabbalist, students begin to feel awe toward the teacher, not toward the Creator.

The wisdom of Kabbalah is the most practical science of all. Everything is subject for experimentation by the student. That is why a Kabbalistic spiritual guide is a coach who works alongside his student. Even when the student does not feel it, the rabbi always helps him and directs him.

A Wise Disciple

A wise disciple is a person who wishes to learn from the Creator Himself. But what can we learn from the Creator? The Creator’s sole property is His desire to delight His creatures. To the extent that one wishes to acquire this precise property, meaning delight the Creator, one merits the title “a wise disciple,” meaning the disciple of the Wise (the Creator).

Those who attend lessons gradually begin to feel that they do not understand anything. That is already the attainment of a basic truth. The Creator gives him that feeling because He wants to bring them near to Him. When the Creator does not want someone near Him, He gives him satisfaction in life, in his family, and in work. In fact, it is only possible to evolve through a perpetual sensation of dissatisfaction.

Kabbalistic knowledge is not valid before it goes through one’s heart, one’s emotions. We may study any science in the world without changing our attributes; there is not a single science that demands scientists to change their views and correct themselves. This is because all sciences revolve around accumulating knowledge about the outer part of our world, though even science is beginning to find out about the dependency between the results of an experiment and the attributes of the scientist who held it. In the future, scientists will discover that any real knowledge can be attained only if the researcher equalizes his own properties with those of the subject of study.

We are all given many chances to begin our progress in the right direction. It is important to identify them and not miss out any that we are given by the Creator. We must strive for Him alone and try to see His guidance in everything that happens to us, in every thought that comes to our mind.

The greatest Kabbalists wrote of how one must advance toward the spiritual world. The Creator gives us so much more than we need to advance; we must be thankful to Him and to the Kabbalists for having given all this to us.

The teachers that have conveyed to us the desire of the Creator and the purpose of His Guidance, were at such a high spiritual degree, it is beyond our imagination, all the more so before we attain even the first and lowest spiritual degrees.

The great Kabbalists found special words to describe the operations of the Creator for us; they clothed His light and His actions in words and phrases. The Kabbalists wrote on a level we could understand at the beginning of our journeys, so that afterwards, through our hard work and by delving into the text, we will be able to feel His Light directly and completely.

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