The Kabbalah

By The Rev. Christian D. Ginsburg, LLD.
(Read 19th October, 1863.)


A SYSTEM of religious philosophy, or more properly of theosophy, which has not only exercised for hundreds of years an extraordinary influence on the mental development of so shrewd a people as the Jews, but has captivated the minds of some of the greatest thinkers of Christendom in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, claims the greatest attention of both the philosopher and the theologian. When it is added that among its captives were Raymond Lully, the celebrated scholastic, metaphysician and chemist (died 1315); John Reuchlin, the renowned scholar and reviver of oriental literature in Europe (born 1455, died 1522); John Pious di Mirandola, the famous philosopher and classical scholar (1463-1494); Cornelius Henry Agrippa, the distinguished philosopher, divine and physician (1486-1535); John Baptist von Helmont, a remarkable chemist and physician (1577-1644); as well as our own countrymen Robert Fludd, the famous physician and philosopher (1574-1637), and Dr. Henry More (1614-1687); and that these men, after restlessly searching for a scientific system which should disclose to them "the deepest depths of the Divine nature, and show them the real tie which binds all things together," found the cravings of their minds satisfied by this theosophy, the claims of the Kabbalah on the attention of students in literature and philosophy will readily be admitted. The claims of the Kabbalah, however, are not restricted to the literary man and the philosopher the poet too will find in it ample materials for the exercise of his lefty genius. How can it be otherwise with a theosophy which, we are assured, was born of God in Paradise, was nursed and reared by the choicest of the angelic hosts in heaven, and only held converse with the holiest of man's children upon earth. Listen to the story of its birth, growth and maturity, as told by its followers.

The Kabbalah was first taught by God himself to a select company of angels, who formed a theosophic school in Paradise. After the fall the angels most graciously communicated this heavenly doctrine to the disobedient child of earth, to furnish the protoplasts with the means of returning to their pristine nobility and felicity. From Adam it passed over to Noah, and then to Abraham, the friend of God, who emigrated with it to Egypt, where the patriarch allowed a portion of this mysterious doctrine to ooze out. It was in this way that the Egyptians obtained some knowledge of it, and the other Eastern nations could introduce it into their philosophical systems. Moses, who was learned in all the wisdom of Egypt, was first initiated into it in the land of his birth, but became most proficient in it during his wanderings in the wilderness, when he not only devoted to it the leisure hours of the whole forty years, but received lessons in it from one of the angels. By the aid of this mysterious science the lawgiver was enabled to solve the difficulties which arose during his management of the Israelites, in spite of the pilgrimages, wars and the frequent miseries of the nation. He covertly laid down the principles of this secret doctrine in the first four books of the Pentateuch, but withheld them from Deuteronomy. This constitutes the former the man, and the latter the woman. Moses also initiated the seventy elders into the secrets of this doctrine, an(l they again transmitted them ftom hand to hand. Of all who formed the unbroken line of tradition, David and Solomon were most initiated into the Kabbalah. No one, however, dared to write it down, till Simon ben Jochai, who lived at the time of the destruction of' the second Temple. Having been condemned to death by Titus, Rabbi Simon managed to escape with his son and concealed himself in a cavern where he remained for twelve years. Here, in this subterranean abode, he occupied himself entirely with the contemplation of the sublime Kabbalah, and was constantly visited by the Prophet. Elias, who disclosed to him some of its secrets which were still concealed from the theosophical Rabbi. Here, too, his disciples resorted to be initiated by their master into these divine mysteries; and here, Simon ben Jochai expired with this heavenly doctrine in his mouth, whilst discoursing on it to his disciples. Scarcely had his spirit departed, when a dazzling light filled the cavern, so that no one could look at the Rabbi; whilst a burning fire appeared outside, forming as it were a sentinel at the entrance of the cave, and denying admittance to the neighbours. It was not till the light inside, and the fire outside, had disappeared, that the disciples perceived that the lamp of Israel was extinguished. As they were preparing for his obsequies, a voice was heard from heaven, saying, "Come ye to the marriage of Simon b. Jochai, he is entering into peace, and shall rest in his chamber" A flame preceded the coffin, which seemed enveloped by, and burning like fire. And when the remains were deposited in the tomb, another voice was heard from heaven, saying, "This is he who caused the earth to quake, and the kingdoms to shake!"' His son, R. Eliezer, and his secretary, R. Abba, as well as his disciples, then collated R. Simon b. Jochai's treatises, and out of these composed the celebrated work called Sohar . . i.e., Splendour; which is the grand storehouse of Kabbalism. (Appendix. The Kabbalah: Doctrines, Developments and Literature. pp.181-183).

See also Kabbalah For a more "in depth" consideration of "their view" of Kabbalah based upon publisher Funk and Wagnall's renowned scholar and editor, Louis Ginzberg, PhD. of the "Department of Rabbinical Literature," who led the project of preparing their article "Cabala" in The Jewish Encyclopedia (1901), p. 457-479. kabbalah.htm