Friday, October 17, 2008

Kabbala is beyond understanding?

mekubal 's comment to "Agada & Kabbala - learning things beyond comprehen...":
With all due respect to the great Tzadik R' Brody, his explanation is quite simplistic. To say that we are learning basics only for use in the world to come, in many ways is contrary to the initial pledge of the Jewish people, Na'aseh and Nishma. Even in Kabbalah this has been the shita taught to me by luminaries such as R' Kaduri Z"L, R' Shalom Shmueli Shlita and R' Beniyahu Shlita.

There is a level of doing and action, starting in the Kavanot of Tefila. Then extending into the various Tikunim, that coupled with Teshuva and observance of the mitzvot allow us to become proper vessels for the supernal light.

Finally there is the attainment of Ruah HaKodesh, which the sages still tell us is available in every generation, and even in these last generations we have seen such luminaries as R' Sharabi, the Baba Sali and R' Kaduri who attained these lofty heights, and they are the ones who are revealed to the masses. Concealed within the Kabbalistic academies there are many who have also achieved such heights buy hide from public view. People whom I have seen great Gedolim such as R' Yosef or R' Eliashiv come to seek counsel and blessing from.

Obviously these luminaries have a level of understanding of Kabbalistic concepts and workings that baffle the mind. In my studies I ran into a difficulty in the Kavanot of Sephirat HaOmer, excluding the details, I explained my difficulty to one of these Rabbanim and asked for a Teretz(when performing the kavanot these small details can make a world of difference). When I agreed to answer me I broke out my MP3 recorder and notebook. He said, "Its quite simple..." 45min later and with ample notes, I went back to review what he said, to gain the understanding for myself. It took me two weeks to comprehend what he told me, and in all honesty I don't think I managed to internalize it and really understand it, until well after Shavuot.

So there is definitely a level of understanding that is possible even today. In Shaare Kedusha, Helek 2, Shaar2 or 3(sorry I don't remember the exact reference), R' Haim Vital first quotes sources stating that the study of all of Pardes is a Torah injunction. Then he states that on the fateful day of judgment when the heavenly court asked us what did you learn, they will not simply state "what did you learn," rather they will ask, "what did you learn from P'shat, from Remez, from Drash, and most importantly from Sod?" He then states that it will not be the material that we can recount that will be to our benefit and save us from the wrath of angels and reincarnation, but rather it will be what we understood.

Thus if understanding more than elementary concepts is only possible in the days of Mashiah, R' Vital has made it impossible for us to live. There is no hope for us. Rather we must say that in truth, understanding can be achieve, even on rather exulted levels, but as with all Torah, full understanding will only be achieved in the days of Mashiah.

Much as our Rabbis of blessed memory told us concerning Moshe Rabbeinu. In Pirkei Avot, it states Moshe Kibel Torah M'Sinai. The commentators ask why Kibel? The overall answer was he was given all that he was capable of receiving and understanding, but he was not given all the Torah. Even Moshe Rabbeinu, on such a high and exalted level was not capable of understanding it all, even for him that that will have to wait for the days of Mashiah. Is that to say that Moshe Rabbeinu did not understand Torah ChV"Sh? Not at all! It simply tells us that until the days of Mashiah, there is always another level ahead of us.

In fact the Ari Z"L states in Shaar Ruah HaKodesh, Drush 1, that in the last generations before the revelation of Mashiah, many people will achieve a level so close to Moshe Rabbeinu, that it will be nearly indistinguishable.

So then it seems to me that we must in fact say that understanding is possible, and that we can in fact understand a great portion of Sod, far more than the elementals.

7 comments :

  1. Rav Kook says about this:

    חסרון גדול בלומדי קבלה רגילים, מה שאינם משוטטים בתחילה בשכלם, ממקורותיה של תורה, להשכיל בענינים האלוהים. כי אם הם מלעיטים את עצמם ברמזי למודים הכתובים בספרים. שעל ידי זה אין שכלם מתרומם כי אם איזה רגש כהה מאיר בקרבם. כי אם אחר שהאדם משוטט כשכלו לדעת את ה' והוא מצרף לזה שקידה הגונה בשכלי חכמים וחדותם הנאמרים בעניני הרזים לכל פרטיהם, אז הוא מתעלה. והעולם כולו מתעלה עמו, וזוכה לעצמו וזוכה לכנסת ישראל ולכול התלוים בה והוא הכול ממש.

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  2. Rav Kook gives an answer that is solidly within Chassidishe thought. However, it is still at odds with classic Kabbalistic sources. I have no real desire to enter into the a dispute between Gedolim, as I am not one.

    However, Chassidishe thought, and that of Rav Kook does deviate quite a bit from traditional Kabbalistic thought, and the meforshim on those sources through the generations. I am not saying that either one is right or wrong, just pointing out that comparisons are not easily made as they have very different perspectives.

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  3. I do not think that anybody is disputing what Rav Kook is saying. Even the biggest proponents for the general public learning kabbala would admit to this. There is an saying that if you think that you understand quantum mechanics you don't know quantum mechanics. For anybody undertaking the study of nistar this certainly holds true.

    This in itself gives weight to the opinion that learning Kabbala today is more of a preparation for the tora of moshiach. Al of the writings that we have through Rav Chaim Vital on behalf of the Ari Hakodesh is the sum of the Ari's teachings of a two year period before he passed away. The Ari himself said that he had barely scratched the surface in giving over what he knew. He said that he struggled to provide a tsinor dak in order to bring down his ideas. That alone should give one humility in approaching this subject. Enough said.

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  4. Mekubal said...

    "However, Chassidishe thought, and that of Rav Kook does deviate quite a bit from traditional Kabbalistic thought, and the meforshim on those sources through the generations. I am not saying that either one is right or wrong, just pointing out that comparisons are not easily made as they have very different perspectives."

    Could you explain to me just how on earth Chassidic thought has strayed from traditional Kabbalistic thought, considering the fact that many non-Chassidic mekubalim enthusiastically read and teach based on many chassidic texts? Also Rav Kook himself was a huge mekubal. I heard it from Rav Mordechai Scheinberger Shlita himself putting Rav Kook on the same level as the Ramchal in the ability to pen profound kabbalistic ideas disguised within plain Nigla writings.

    An even better question would be just what on earth is traditional kabbalistic thought? There are many differant schools of kabbalistic thought. The Arizal himself was anything but traditional in his day.

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  5. I have to agree with Rabbi Oliver's comment (on the original post) that there is no real disagreement between the position of the Noda B'Yehuda (who is quoting Rav Noach of Brod with clear approval) and the position that "Mekubal" is presenting. The Noda B'Yehuda is clearly not saying that no comprehension of the concepts of kabala are possible. He is saying that whatever understanding we are able to glean is only a "hakdama rechoka" to the true reality expressed by these concepts.Only in Olam Haba - "באשר יפשט החומר מעל הצורה שלנו" - will we be able to truly comprehend the complete meaning of these concepts. This is true even for the greatest mekubalim. As Chazal make clear in the sugya of ארבעה נכנסו בפרדס (Chagiga 14b) even the greatest mystics, who are able to acheive a degree of direct knowledge of the spiritual reality, must still be aware that their mystical perceptions are not full reality.

    A few specific issues:

    ● Describing the opinion of the Noda B'Yehuda (or, as the Noda B'Yehuda describes him, כבוד אותו צדיק הרב מוהר"ר נח במהור"ר לוי זצ"ל מבראד) as "simplistic" is improper. The term "simplistic" is a disparaging way of expressing disregard for an opinion as not worth serious consideration. Even if "Mekubal" were correct in believing that the opinion of the Noda B'Yehuda is in contradiction to the approach taught to him by his teachers, this would only indicate a difference of opinion among the great Torah masters.

    "To say that we are learning basics only for use in the world to come, in many ways is contrary to the initial pledge of the Jewish people, Na'aseh and Nishma."

    The idea that there are aspects of Torah knowledge that exist simply for the purpose of "דרוש ולקבל שכר" is well established (Sanhedrin 71a). Moreover, one can argue (based on R' Yisrael Salanter Ohr Yisrael 31) that this idea is implicit in the declaration of naaseh v'nishma, in that the declaration of naaseh clearly already implies those aspects of Torah study necessary to fulfill the mitzvos, thus nishmah is coming to indicate the significance of Torah study even without practical application. (This is not my original vort. In fact, until I looked it up now, I thought that R' Yisrael Salanter said it himself, but on review of the letter I see that he does not mention naaseh v'nishma (unless I'm missing it). I suspect I heard it told over once; if anyone has the original source, I would appreciate it.)

    In Shaare Kedusha, Helek 2, Shaar2 or 3(sorry I don't remember the exact reference), R' Haim Vital first quotes sources stating that the study of all of Pardes is a Torah injunction. Then he states that on the fateful day of judgment when the heavenly court asked us what did you learn, they will not simply state "what did you learn," rather they will ask, "what did you learn from P'shat, from Remez, from Drash, and most importantly from Sod?" He then states that it will not be the material that we can recount that will be to our benefit and save us from the wrath of angels and reincarnation, but rather it will be what we understood.

    First, if it would be possible for you to look it up and give us the exact reference this would be deeply appreciated. After looking over the shaarim you referenced (and briefly reviewing practically the entire sefer) I have been unable to find any such discussion in Shaarei Kedusha. Of course, I might just be missing the relevant piece.

    In any event, it should be self-evident that R' Chaim Vital is not saying that only if one has a full and complete comprehension of the material will one gain merit from his studies. If this were true then, indeed, R' Chaim Vital would have "made it impossible for us to live" - regardless of the statement of Noda B'Yehuda. While it is difficult to say with certainty without seeing the actual text, I am fairly confident that this statement is only coming in contradiction to those who study (or read) kabalistic texts with no comprehension whatsoever. Such a practice does exist. However, if someone studies Torah, including kabalah, and strives to the best of his ability to understand what he is studying, clearly he gains the full merit for his study.

    "...but as with all Torah, full understanding will only be achieved in the days of Mashiah."

    I would just point out that I don't believe the Noda B'Yehuda is talking about Moshiach in this passage but "olam haba". His description of the future "באשר יפשט החומר מעל הצורה שלנו" would not seem to apply to yemos hamashiach.

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  6. Which non-Chassidic Mekubalim teach Chassidut? R' Beniyahu Shmueli, allows it to be taught in the Yeshiva only in English using English seforim. Considering that he paskens according to the Ben Ish Hai, that unequivocally states that he does not view it as Kabbalah, as the Ben Ish Hai says that this is Ossur. Other Rabbanim that I know that are against it, are R' Hedayya, R' Batzri, R' Hillel, R' Dweck, R' Avihai and R' Eisenbock. Those are the Roshei Yeshivot of nearly every Kabbalistic Yeshiva that I can think of.

    As far as how they are different, that is a more complicated question. Have you ever studied both in depth? Personally I studied Chassidut(Tanya) at the "770" Yeshiva as well as Likutei Moranan with some Bratslavers. From my own studies I believe that Chassidut and Kabbalah are widely divergent on things as foundational as the Unity of HaShem. HaShem according to Kabbalah is a complete Unity, and the Sephirot are simply emanations, which are completely separate from HaShem, while being illuminated and sustained by Him. In Chassidut, HaShem and the Sephirot, and thus all of creation, are an inseparable unity. This takes their view outside of classic monotheism into monistic pantheism, and this one of the Vilna Gaon's problems. This also allowed for R' Yosef Yitchock Schneerson's famous statement, "The Rebbe is nothing less than G-d clothed in a body." Which has lead to many of the divergences in Chabad Meshichistim.

    When I started my Kabbalistic studies with R' Kaduri Z"L, I asked him if I should continue learning Tanya, his statement was "Flee from the unclean thing." When I asked him more pointedly about Bratslav Chassidut, he said, "There is abundant truth their, but it as much like Kabbalah as night is like day, the teachings are as close as East is to West." All due respect to R' Kook, and I understand he was a great man and scholar, however R' Kaduri is believed to be the greatest Mekubal to live since the RaShaSh. It is also telling that in all writings of the Ben Ish Hai on Kabbalah, R' Kaduri's teacher, he never quotes Chassidut or the Ramhal, believing the former to have been deficient in their understanding, and the latter(the Ramhal) to have been lacking key pieces, thus his system also diverges from that of the Ari and his predecessors.

    As far as the Ari Z"L teaching R' Vital, he was R' Vital's primary teacher for only two years, but they had learned together for several years before that. Also the Ari had other students, who R' Vital often quotes when his own knowledge is deficient. However, according to the Torat Hakham(65a)(a Talmid of the RaShaSh and according to the RaShaSh a gilgul of R' Vital), he, the Torah Hakham recieved it as a Kabbalah that R' Vital wrote Eitz Haim purposefully disordered and with many errors, and in a comment on Shaar Kavanot on the same page he writes, "R' Vital is lying to you. Having been warned in a dream concerning Shabbtai Tzvi, the Holy Rav intentionally confused his work so that only true Tzadikim and students of the holy Mekubalim would be able to understand." R' Vital's son completed this work of confusion when he published his father's works, he intentionally changed some of the details, and wrote that he, not his father composed, arranged the final composition of Shaar Kavanot. The falsehood of this is on ready display as the Hebrew University where they have on display an original version of Shaar Kavanot in Rabbi Vital's own handwriting.

    As far as the Ari being non-traditional, there I would also have to disagree. He quite clearly follows the path of those before him from the Zohar, through the Ramban and the Ramak to himself. He was an innovator and by far revealed more directly than those before him, however system as R' Vital states in several places does not preclude those that have gone before him, but rather focuses on that which they had, until the point left concealed.

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  7. LazerA,

    Tiufta...

    My choice of the word "simplistic" was bad. I had no intention of disparaging any Torah Luminary or their opinion. A better phrasing, would have been, "it is but a single viewpoint and their are others of equal merit and the brevity of his words causes forces a simplified explanation of a complex issue."

    As far as Shaare Kedusha, it is Helek 2 Shaar 2. However, the mistake is mine in that I confused the explanation given by R' Kaduri in the shiur with text. He quoted Eliyahu Raba Perek 21(toward the end) as well as the Zohar Chayei Sarah, Behalotecha and Yitro and finally something from Resheit Hokhma. He was talking fast, so I didn't manage to scribble down exact page numbers in the Zohar and Resheit Hokhma, though I do still have the recordings somewhere, I may be able to dig those up. Though you are absolutely correct in stating that neither R' Vital or R' Kaduri meant that complete or total understanding was necessary, rather that there has to be some level of understanding.

    I agree that the Noda B'Yehuda was probably actually speaking of the world to come. My statement of Yemei Mashiah is what my own Rabbis have taught me. I have it from the mouth of R' Shalom Shmueli that there will be no Torah Study in the world to come, that the final revelations come either for the Soul in Gan Eden or for those here in Yemei Mashiah. I don't have his sources for that, it is rare enough that he gives detailed explanations of anything that I didn't want to press my luck.

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