International Order of Kabbalists - Beginner's Introductory Lectures

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Public Lecture: Was presented on May 24th 2022 at 19:00 GMT (IOK Room 1)

Zohar and the Written Kabbalah.

This presentation, given last March, was recorded and is in the process of final editing. When published, you will be able to acess the video from our Videos page.

This lecture introduces you to the mysteries of the Sepher Ha Zohar. The Hebrew word 'Zohar' means 'Radiance' and also 'Splendour.

The tradition that we in the Order subscribe to is that the Kabbalah was received in ancient Biblical times directly from God to Abraham. The deeper meanings of the Kabbalah have always remained a purely oral tradition, however, the secrets of which were communicated from master to pupil by tracing the symbols of the Tree of Life in the desert sands.

Before describing the 'Sepher Ha Zohar' it is important to mention that the earliest known texts of the Written Kabbalah appeared around 3 000 BCE with the appearance of the 'Sepher Yetzirah', that translates as the 'Book of Formation', or 'Book of Creation'. This small book of some 2000 words, was written in Mishnaic Hebrew.

The Hebrew word 'Mishnah' means ‘study by repetition’. It is the first major written collection of Jewish oral traditions known as the Oral Torah, and it is the first major work of rabbinic literature. Mishnaic Hebrew descendeded directly from ancient Biblical Hebrew.

The Sepher Yetzirah was supposedly authored by Abraham and edited by Rabbi Akiva.

The Sepher Yetzirah is also known as Hilkhot Yetzirah, or Laws of Formation. It classifies the cosmos into “32 Paths Wisdom”, being the ten Sephiroth of objective existence connected together by twenty-two subjective Paths each of which is attributed to one of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The Sepher Yetzirah remains an important source of Kabbalistic teaching.

The Bahir, which means 'Illumination', is another written text that appeared in France in 1176 CE. It is an overview of the essential concepts of Kabbalistic literature and is very cryptic, being mostly written in parables and allegories.

This book was published by Rabbi Yitzhak Ha-Ivver, also known as Isaac the Blind. He attributes the Bahir to Rabbi Nehunya ben Ha-Kana, a Talmudic sage who lived in the first century CE. The Bahir begins with a quote by the Rabbi, followed essentially by a series of commentaries on this quote.

The Bahir also introduces the concept of the Tzimtzum, the self-constriction of God’s Light. Although a source of confusion for many scholars, it is one of the most important philosophical concepts of the Kabbalah. The concept of the Tzimtzum has also been elaborated in the book of Etz Chayim, the Tree of Life, written by Rabbi Isaac Luria. The mystery of the Tzimtzum is discussed in more detail in our public lecture entitled 'Introduction to Kabbalah'.

Later, in the 13th century, a Jewish Kabbalist by the name of Moses Ben Shem Tov who lived in the city of Leon in Spain, wrote a collection of books on Kabbalistic philosophy called the Sepher Ha Zohar.

Sepher Ha Zohar means “Book of Radiance” or “Book of Splendour”. Written in medieval Aramaic, the Zohar is a mystical treatise on the Hebrew Torah. Moses de Leon attributed it to Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, also known as the Rashbi, a tannaitic sage who lived in ancient Judea during the second century CE.

The Tannaim were advanced rabbinic teachers whose writings are recorded in the Mishnah, and were the transmitters of an oral tradition that was passed from teacher to student. The Tannaitic period lasted for two hundred and ten years, from about the year 10 to 220 CE.

The Sepher Ha Zohar has become the foundational text of the Kabbalah and is considered by Kabbalists as one of the most important of the rabbinical mystical treatises, rivalling the Old Testament.


To be continued...