How do I learn Kabbalah?

January 18th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 46 comments

Question:

I am studying kabbalah.  Last year my kabbalah mentor suggested I buy the Zohar book at close to $400 which I couldn’t afford.  Now, it is selling for $72. They say it is translated in English.  My question is if it will have the same effect of spiritual benefits if it is not in its original language.  Will I be spending my money for nothing.  Thank you!

John R.

Answer: 

Dear John,

We’re going to try to answer this delicately because we are  aware that our answer may dismay you. But you did ask, right? 

Imagine if someone offered you a high-priced pill to solve a physical problem you were having, let’s say high blood pressure, and your blood pressure went down. Did the pill work? It is indeed possible that the pill worked in accordance with well established medical and pharmacological principles.  However it is also possible that the pill  was really a  placebo made from innocuous ingredients.  It was your miraculous human mind and its belief in the efficacy of the pill that was responsible for the health improvement you experienced.   To the chagrin of many, and to the amazement of some doctors, that can and does happen. 

Kabbalah (also known as caballa, kabala, kabbala, Qabala, etc….) is an authentic part of ancient Jewish wisdom. However, we can assure you with no doubt whatsoever  that people who publicly teach it or claim to be teaching it to students who have no solid background in Hebrew, Scripture, Mishnah, Talmud, and Halachah, may be teaching some interesting things but they are not teaching Kabbalah.  

Imagine someone claiming to be teaching nuclear physics to students who have no background in algebra, physics, chemistry, calculus, let alone thermodynamics.  It’s laughable really, right?  Kabbalah is exactly the same. It is quite  impossible to understand the real Kabbalah without many years of study and mastery of the underlying basics. It usually isn’t available on the open market, but rather passed privately from a very limited number of teachers to very specifically chosen students. 

Your teacher may indeed have valuable information to impart, but the term Kabbalah is perhaps being used in a generic way. There is no way that we can judge if what you are learning is equivalent to buying a Rolex watch on a Manhattan street corner for $20 or if your teacher is providing value and using the name ‘kabbalah’ just to suggest a tie to ancient spiritual secrets.  

Would a copy of the Zohar help you? If you believe that reading it has spiritual powers then it might, akin to that placebo pill we mentioned earlier. We would, however, suggest that you find a less expensive way to attain your goal. We would also suggest judging anything you are learning based on measurable improvements in your life not on assuming that it is spiritual magic and certainly not based on being told that spending some more money will allow you to see amazing and wondrous things. 

Sadly, there is no shortcut to authentic wisdom any more than there is to authentic physical health and vitality.  It takes time and work.  Seldom is a $400 or even a $70 book necessary.  

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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46 comments

Linda says:

Proverbs 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.

Susan Lapin says:

Well, we certainly won’t argue with that!

Ruth says:

Dear Susan:
I heard that Kabbalah was Jewish mysticism; is that incorrect?
I believe if I read my Bible and prayed for the Holy Spirit to enlighten me as I go, there is more than enough wisdom to change my life. By beholding we become changed.
Thank you for your wisdom and the books and CDs you offer.
Ruth

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Hello Ruth–
I’m sure that Susan will try and respond also but she is really busy preparing for Shabbat today and tomorrow as we are blessed with many guests. For now, I’ll answer as closely as possible to how I think Susan might do.
The term Jewish mysticism carries baggage and so although it is a popular translation for kabbalah it is neither accurate nor helpful. Kabbalah is no more “mystical” than a 300 ton hunk of aluminum remaining up in the air and carrying hundreds of people over oceans. Now that is really mystical.
You are 100% correct in saying that we all have more than enough to work on and grow in wisdom without even approaching the gates of Kabbalah.
We are grateful for the opportunity of serving you,
Cordially
RDL

George says:

Ok. This topic is very interesting to me. In my Christian experience i have had the priviledge of being in different circles. We are fairly conservative, believe that God still works supernaturally and have a large family. The vast majority of teachers i have heard or spoke with have all said that kabbal is occultic and to be avoided. It is the stuff of evil spirits. I am being honest here not to provoke but to get your honest response. I have not looked into it in any depth because i am very busy viewing life through the lense of the new testement. Help me to understand what this is all about and how this is not something even the old testament calls divination.

Mike says:

Greetings George,
Kabbalah is defined by “_________________” By _______ “nothing less than the most profound expression of humanity’s desire to understand the divine.” much the same as Islam has Sufi which is also relate to esoteric search. I might suggest you read “____________”: a guide by _______.”

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Mike
We appreciate you writing and trying to help George. For obvious reasons, the policy of our ministry is not to publish links or recommendations unless we have reviewed them thoroughly and are prepared to endorse them. The book you mention would not fit that requirement. To compare kabalah to sufi, is, I am afraid, to reveal a little confusion. Not to say that sufi has zero value but there is no similarity to kabalah at all. I am happy that this topic has resonated with so many people. You certainly seem to have voyaged a little on the seas of esoteric spirituality.
Cordially
RDL

Mike says:

Thanks Rabbi Lapin, As a freemason and Christian I try to gain a understand from my Brothers of Jewish, Islam, Hindu, to better understand my Christian faith and live a life studying and trying to be better than I was yesterday….esoteric is great for learning but I discover according to an author that “sometime it is deeper that the average mind can bathe!” Which is why your my rabbi…..keeps me safe, and on the right path ….and I would love to see an episode of an overview of the different Temples in the old testament 😉 thank you Susan and Rabbi Lapin for all that you do.(no need to publish)

Franz Resch says:

Here is a link to a brief overview of the Kabbalah.. http://_______________________________
Rabbi Lapin or Susan, would you kindly rate this overview and it’s source?

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Franz-
Thanks so much for writing. As I mentioned to Mike above, the policy of our ministry is not to publish links or recommendations unless we have reviewed them thoroughly and are prepared to endorse them. The brief overview of Kabbalah to which you refer does not pass this test. As I have explained above, information on kabalah written or presented by people who do not practice the Torah would be about as valid as BBQ tips from a vegan or advice on spicing a marriage from a man who’s never lived with a woman. I wouldn’t take car maintenance advice from someone who’s never had grease under his finger nails and I wouldn’t take spiritual advice from a Jew who declines even to attempt to follow God’s rules for Jews. That’s what’s wrong with the overview to which you refer.
There is great spiritual satisfaction to be gained without even coming close to the gateways of kabalah.
Cordially
RDL

Franz Resch says:

Dear Rabbi Daniel Lapin,
Very much appreciate your response as I do understand the difficulty in validating the many sources your readership may inquire about. It has been rather enlightening to read your responses to the various questions on the subject. Especially your reference to the Star of David. I have to read up on it in Though Shall Prosper.
Gratefully Yours,
Franz

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear George–
Thanks for writing. Kabbalah is certainly esoteric. It discusses the power of mind over matter but I can assure you there’s nothing dark or occult about it. It is no more and no less than a high level of coming to know and love God.
Not to provoke of course but primitive tribesmen on a remote, isolated desert island find a modern automobile that someone parachuted down onto the island. Utterly unaware of its intended usage, they use it as a fort to protect themselves from the arrows of the enemy tribe. They may even determine that it was a gift from their great god, Bawanapidrona.
This is a little like when the scientifically naive watch liquid helium climb up a test tube apparently defying gravity. They also don’t quite grasp the full significance of what they are seeing. Similarly, with all due respect, those who have told you Kabbalah is occultic are unfortunately not knowledgeable on the topic. You may take it as reliable when I tell you that nobody not fluent in Hebrew and Aramaic can have even the most microscopic knowledge of Kabbalah, let alone understand it. They see the car but have no idea of what it really is. They see the green liquid defy gravity but miss the significance.
You can safely continue your studies and ignore everything you hear about kabbalah. The term Kabbalah has become a little cultish (not occultish) and faddish and as the term is thrown about, it has as much to do with authentic kabbalah as lemon jello has to do with the works of William Shakespeare. Hope this helps you, George.
Cordially
RDL

George says:

Thank you very much for taking the time to explain from your perspective. Always interesting.

Patricia Lynn Stordahl says:

I love your explanations. They are so common sense and down to earth. You are not afraid to just tell the truth and if people open their ears and hear what wisdom you have to impart then we all are the wiser for it. Thank you for sharing.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

You are kind, Patricia,
and I appreciate it. I have had the benefit of great Torah teachers; people who were the result of an unbroken chain back to Moses and who bridged the gap between the intellectual greatness of pre World War 2 Europe and the Jewish spiritual resurgence of Israel and the unexpected vitality of American Judaism. All I do and all I want to do is convey their teachings onwards to our readers, viewers and listeners here.
Cordially
RDL

Rabbi, have you read “______” ? It’s a great book about the God fearing mathematician, “______”. A good portion of the book is about the Kabbalah’s influence on _______’s life and work. Obviously, I have no idea how accurate it is with regard to the history of the Kabbalah, but it’s math history is very good.
Respectfully,
John F.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Jonathan,
I’m happy you wrote, thanks you but you might be as unhappy with my response as Mike and Franz above, but telling the truth is more important to me than popularity. As I mentioned above, the policy of our ministry is not to publish links or recommendations unless we have reviewed them thoroughly and are prepared to endorse them. I have not read the book to which you refer but it does sound interesting. I have quite a collection of books dealing with the interface between mathematics and God, physics, philosophy and poetry, and technology and Torah. The book you ask me about might fit into this part of my library. I will try to fit in time to explore it.
Cordially
RDL

I completely understand. The protection you provide for your platform and audience is a great service, which I thank you for. May God continue to bless you with more of his children to serve.

P.S. Is it possible to get a few names of those books you speak of?
Respectfully,
John

Peter Mojassamian says:

Dear Rabbi Lapin,
Since you seem to know what Kabbalah is really all about, how about giving us an introductory primer? Maybe this is asking too much (subject matter being so vast), but I’m sure you are able to convey something about it so at least we get an idea what it is all about and for.
Thanks
pm

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

That’s quite a challenge, Peter–
Kabalah in Hebrew means the received. In my book Thou Shall Prosper http://rabbidaniellapin.com/product/thou-shall-prosper-hardcover-book/ I explain the inner meaning of the Star of David (that’s kabalah) I explain how it graphically depicts the growth of scientific knowledge as time passes along with the shrinkage of spiritual knowledge. Nobody would pay heed to a scientist who insisted on a theory “because it’s what my grandfather taught me”. In the spiritual arena, authenticity does not come from research or from the pages of the latest issue of Psychology Today. It comes from faithful transmission of every detail that transpired at Sinai. (That’s kabalah) So it’s most important feature is that it is ‘received’
It is about getting closer to God and about mind over matter (that’s also kabalah) and I think that is enough for one comment. Part of wisdom is knowing what to say and more importantly knowing what not to say. (that’s also kabalah)
By the way my grandfather assured me that anyone who claims to know kabalah definitely doesn’t.
Cordially
RDL

Peter Mojassamian says:

Thank you Rabbi Lapin,
I have read your book and think very highly of all your writings, CDs, podcasts, etc. Is there something you can refer to that one can read to get more, or it has to be just by word of mouth?
Thanks
pm

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Hello Peter–
you can try any thing written by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. He wrote in English and is reliable.
Cordially
RDL

Jordan Cowdery says:

Hello,

I too have been interested in discovering Kabbalah and “extra-Biblical texts” that I would know YESHUA more, yet I don’t want to become confused about the 66 canon SCRIPTURES. While many are well intending, I simply don’t trust the depth of understanding by some “Western” preachers and teachers of The “Jewish” G-d. I’m so frustrated right now. With each day, I learn something new about G-d, only to “feel” like HE’s so immeasurable that I don’t know HIM at all? I believe HIS WORD, but knowing HIS Ways are not automatically acquired in studies. As a born and raised American, I want to know what it is I believe, and work that belief/faith properly and appropriately according to the ways of G-d and not an assumption. Yes, believe in John 3:16, and accepted The Christ as my Savior, but (Q.1) what’s the faith of following YESHUA (called)? (Q2.) Did HE oberserve all ancient Jewish customs? (Q2-b.) Should I follow suit to please HIM even though I’m not a Jew? I’m very appreciative of The Grace and Mercy of G-d, but I want to do what is accurate and acceptable to HIM, and not simply kick back and know that The Blood of YESHUA is enough to cover my personal sin, as well as dishonor of the true roots of The Bible and set way HE wants HIS people live. Please tell me your thoughts on what I’ve asked, as well as any additional comments you may have. BTW – I didn’t address you as “Rabbi”, “Teacher”, or “Master” because YESHUA says not to do so. As simple as it may be, I don’t even know if my view of that statement is correct?!

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Jordan–
Oh my! What a letter! it would be futile for me to attempt to do it justice in a comment here but I’ll mention just a few points. Studying His word is one of the very best ways of getting to know Him. This is similar to me saying that the best way to get to know Beethoven is by studying his music. However knowing God isn’t a destination; it’s a bit asymptotic. You can get closer and closer but you can’t reach Him while still hindered by a body. That delight awaits us in the future.
Your Q1: I have no idea. I thought that was Christianity.
Your Q2: I am not expert on this but I don’t think anyone knows for sure but I would certainly think so.
Your Q2-b: It would be irresponsible and unprofessional for me to try answer this without investing far more time in getting to understand you, your family and your entire material and spiritual situation. I am sorry, Jordan. This is as good as I can do.
Finally, my name is Rabbi Daniel Lapin. It is entirely appropriate to address me that way as many great and knowledgeable Christian leader friends do all the time.
Cordially
RDL

Jordan Cowdery says:

Thank you very much Rabbi Daniel Lapin for your insightful response.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thank you for receiving it Jordan

Peter Mojassamian says:

Dear Rabbi Lapin,

The following is my reaction to Jordan’s queries, but I am not sure if what I put down is appropriate or even it might be offensive to you especially that I am referring him to checkout Rabbi _________.
So I leave it up to you to let me know if it’s appropriate to post this as an answer to him or not. After all he asked you the question, but at the same time since this seems to be an open forum, I felt I could help him in some small way.
Thanks for your wonderful ministry. I am very appreciative of you and what you are doing and want to have a good relationship with you all the time.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Peter–
I despise our culture’s current tendency to take offense at everything real or imagined. I go further. Your taking offense at something I said is not an automatic indictment of my words. Maybe you just have tissue paper think skin. Maybe you like being offended. It is possible that my words were rude or false so let’s talk about it. But telling me you’re offended is simply informing me of your feelings which frankly just aren’t that important in a conversation about ideas. All of which is to tell you, no, Peter, nothing you say comes even close to offending me.
However, our policy is not to publish recommendations, references or websites unless we know them well and have checked them out. I don’t know the rabbi you mention, so we edited out his name. I hope this is not offensive to you!!
We appreciate you very much and thank you for staying in touch.
Cordially
RDL

Peter Mojassamian says:

Thank you dear Rabbi Lapin for your reply.
I’ve never been offended by you in any shape or form and think very highly of you, so I am wondering what gave you the idea that I was offended by you in the first place?
Thanks
pm

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Oh dear Peter–
I am terribly sorry–I absolutely did not think you were offended…I was trying to give a general example of people who quickly get offended and used the word “you”. I should have written “Some people” or some similar formulation. I absolutely did not intend to suggest that I thought that you, Peter, were offended at all. Please forgive me
Cordially
RDL

Peter Mojassamian says:

But yes, you are correct that I was sensitive that I might offend YOU – as you mentioned that is the influence of the culture that has rubbed on me. I will need Ancient Jewish Wisdom to be able to think straight about it. I know it’s wrong thinking but don’t know how to implement it in life. Thanks for making me aware of it.
pm

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Peter,
as mentioned just above, I apologize for my couching my example of people who take offense in the 2nd person. I know you weren’t offended and neither was I. We are having an interesting and valuable exchange. So, accept my apologies for how I phrased my example.
Cordially
RDL

Peter Mojassamian says:

Dear Rabbi Lapin,
Thank you so much for that explanation.
Much blessings to you and the family.
Peter

Kent Nauman says:

I found insight in a 2-hour presentation of Kabalah by …

Susan Lapin says:

We don’t like sounding like a broken record, but we aren’t going to post everyone’s suggestions. We think that for most people learning Kabbalah simply isn’t possible. Certainly, you can get some insights and glimmers of it, but we truly suggest that there are much better areas in which to focus one’s attention.

Oh, wow! What a fascinating series of responses you are getting–and giving! My late dearly beloved household Philosopher had not had the privilege of reading the work of you and Susan, but he would have loved your perspective. He quoted the definition of Kabalah as Jewish mysticism and would have agreed that that doesn’t go nearly far enough. He stressed that mysticism may involve a certain amount of occultism but that it is important not to confuse the two. Our spiritual tradition emphasizes another “layer” of Bible interpretation–sometimes mislabeled as “metaphysical”– dating back to Philo Judaeus and involving among other things the translation of proper nouns into their root meanings, opening the door to much of what you discuss and he would have welcomed. We Christians of whatever flavor can learn so much from you as “our Rabbi”.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

And an honor it is, dear Deb,
to be your rabbi! You have a tradition of translating Biblical proper nouns into their root meanings? Really? That is directly out of ancient Jewish wisdom. Does your tradition mention reversing the letters of Biblical characters’ name root letters. For instance the first person about whom the word CHEN (grace) was used was Noah. In Hebrew his name is N-CH And of course his quality, grace, is spelled in Hebrew CH-N. But it seems you know this.
Wonderful
Cordially
RDL

Molapo says:

Good day,

I am a black South African who has wondered about many different things about God and life in general and have since walked the path of finding truth. In that walk I too also stumbled upon Kabbalah and found it interesting. However, to echo the words of Rabbi Daniel and Susan, I quickly found out that whatever I thought I was learning was NOT true Kabbalah. I subsequently read a book by the revered Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan which quickly showed that truly, anyone not well versed with Hebrew, Talmud, Gemara, Pshat, Gematria and Halacha, has no business delving into Kabbalah. It is simply a deeper aspect of the knowledge of God that would take many years of devoted study AND orthodox observance of Jewish laws, to even go into it.

Rabbi Daniel and Susan are right to say there are many areas one can focus on, to improve one’s spiritual vitality and character. I have found this in reading and studying the Torah, reading books on Mussar(Ethics), listening to Torah lectures and reading some books of Rabbi Daniel.

I would encourage anyone wanting to learn more about God to start with the Torah and if possible, Hebrew as well. Guaranteed, your life will never be the same again.

Sorry for long post!

Regards

Jordan Cowdery says:

Thank you for your suggestion/advice:)

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Molapo–
What an incredibly interesting letter! Thanks so much for writing. First of all, in addition to a shared outlook on kabbalah, we also share something else. I don’t know if you know this about me but I was born and raised in Johannesburg. In my mind’s eye i clearly see the yellow mine dumps along the Witwatersrand and when I close my eyes I can smell sunrise over the Drakensburg Mountains. I find myself sometimes wondering about trying to visit Africa again. It’s been a few years since i was there.
Okay, enough of this nostalgia-laden trip down memory lane and back to serious business. I can’t really add anything to your excellent summary other than to say that unlike several other books referenced by some of our other friends on this page, anything by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan whom you mention is solid. I had the great merit of studying together with him before his untimely passing exactly 33 years ago.
I would imagine that you have quite a story to tell; clearly you have journeyed upon a spiritual odyssey. I look forward one day to meeting you and hearing about it.
Cordially
RDL

Mariam Sayegh says:

I so much desire to study aramaic, could you please point me where I could study aramaic?

Susan Lapin says:

Afraid not. Sorry that we can’t help.

Rev. Margaretmary Staller says:

I am reading “________” by __________ for daily guidance. He has translated a 20 volume edition (Zohar) which I know is beyond my needs and knowledge. If he were to teach in my area I would certainly be there. In today’s world we all need spiritual tools for daily living. A spiritual director who knows Jewish life is of much help- Margaretmary Staller

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Rev. Margaret–
It is the policy of our site and ministry not to publish links or recommendations to people or books that we have not scrutinized or don’t endorse. This is to avoid people viewing information on our site as having our imprimatur when such is not the case. But I am happy that the book you mention is providing you with daily spiritual guidance. When you refer to the author as a spiritual director who knows Jewish life, well, I am not so sure. But if it works for you, that is wonderful.
Cordially
RDL

Rev. Margaretmary Staller says:

I did not mean to imply that __________ is a spiritual director but as an author. The spiritual director I was thinking of is a teacher of Religions of the World and is married to a practicing Jew. I am truly blessed to have this woman in my spiritual life.
I appreciate all the time you give to this daily gift and it is a gift. Thank You.

(Rev.) Margaretmary

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Rev Margaretmary–
Thanks for the clarification. You are most kind and I appreciate you. Just one point of clarification from me that you might find interesting is that when you say that this teacher of religions of the world is married to a practicing Jew, well, it just ain’t so. How can I possibly say this without even knowing the people involved?
Elementary, my dear Margaretmary, elementary. Since you say the teacher is married to a practicing Jew I deduce that the teacher is not a practicing Jew else you’d have phrased it differently.
That given, no practicing Jew is ever married to a non practicing Jew or for that matter to anyone who isn’t Jewish at all. For many reasons it entirely contradicts being a practicing Jew in dozens of very real and practical ways. Make sense? I hope so.
Blessings
Cordially
RDL

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