Departmental Bulletin Paper Kabbalah:Divine Catastrophe And Human Redemption

Mark N. Zion

Vol.23pp.21 - 50 , 2015-03-30
Kabbalah, the culmination of mystical and esoteric traditions that stretch back thousands of years, has recently taken a more central place internationally as a source of spiritual inspiration. Kabbalah is seen today as Judaism’s most important gift to world culture. This may show that people, in an age impatient with more difficult material, still want to encounter works that are spiritually and imaginatively on the heights. Kabbalah accepts catastrophe as a fundamental reality of life, not exactly a vision that fosters positive thinking. It also concentrates on the absolute need for human responsibility, not a very comforting message for those looking for easy answers (and Kabbalah does not yield its secrets easily). Kabbalah as we know it today formed from opposing forces within Judaism, between the rational (represented by Aristotle) and the intuitive (represented by Plato), a dialectic that I will touch on. Kabbalistic teachings, however, were not well-known until very recently and in fact went through a two hundred year exile (exile being one of Kabbalah’s great themes), banished by rationalists of the Enlightenment, only to be resuscitated by people searching for their traditional roots and by some of the world’s most gifted scholars. Here I will give an overview of a few basic teachings from the central works of Kabbalah, with a focus on catastrophe and redemption. Human goodness as a way to heal the world, a cosmic drama in which everyone plays a part, is perhaps Kabbalah’s greatest lesson for global civilization.

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