If you are afraid of being cursed by the evil eye, there is a solution—wear a charmed red string around your wrist. At least, that’s what certain Hollywood celebrities are practicing. Such mumbo-jumbo is part of an occult, mystical system known as the Kabbalah.
The Kabbalah (also spelled Cabala, Qabbalah) is an esoteric school of thought that arose in Judaism during the Middle Ages. The word Kabbalah means “received,” for this is a philosophy supposedly received from the ancient elders of Israel. It is an eclectic system that is composed of traditional Jewish elements, magical and occult practices, Neo-Platonic philosophy, and the writings of Jewish mystics. It has some parallels with Gnosticism and Hermeticism. It is essentially a theosophical system, i.e., it seeks to explore the inner workings of the Deity and make them comprehensible to human reason. Its central philosophy involves a mythology about the creation of all things. God, called the Ein Sof (Infinite) is a purely spiritual being who caused the creation of the universe from his own Being. In the beginning there was only the Ein Sof. Then from him/it there proceeded a series of emanations, each one somewhat lower than the preceding. Finally, the last emanation burst into the material world. Literally the divine was shattered into a myriad of spiritual “sparks” that were scattered throughout the cosmos. Each human being possesses one of these divine sparks. Salvation consists of returning to our original divine status. This is accomplished through study and knowledge, mystical experience and (sometimes) magical rites. The ultimate goal is union with God again. Universal salvation involves a complete restoration of all the sparks to the Ein Sof.
One of the classic texts of the Kabbalah is the Zohar, or Book of Splendor. This work describes the process the soul needs to undergo in order to return to the divine. Another important work is the Sefir Yesira, which describes the Sefirot. The Sefirot are the various sequential emanations of the Divine essence. These ten emanations or attributes of the Ein Sof are laid out in a diagram called the Tree of Life. It is by working your way up this Tree of Life that you are able to reawaken your soul to its true divine nature, and return to God.
In the Kabbalah God is described as both masculine and feminine. The feminine aspect of the divine is the Shekinah, or glory of God. God is basically an impersonal, mystical being in the Kabbalah. Kabbalistic writings also describe the original man, known as Adam Kadmon. The original Adam was a divine being, both male and female. However, because of the Fall, the male and female were separated from one another. Thus, we all have a sense of separation, not only from the divine, but from our holistic original self.
As noted above, there are also magical elements in the Kabbalah. A number of Kabbalistic writings involve magical formulas, casting spells, rituals to conjure and control spirits (both angels and demons), and various forms of divination. Many of these occult practices involve arcane study of the names of God and various spirits. There is also a great of emphasis on the mystical interpretation of the Torah, such as the numerical value of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (called Gematria). The use of magical words and names in the Kabbalah is reminiscent of ancient Egyptian magical practices.
The actual study and practice of the Kabbalah can run the gamut from base superstition to very sophisticated philosophy. The form of Kabbalah most popular today is usually looked down upon by serious students of Jewish mysticism. It is considered a dilution of true Kabbalistic teaching. However, the popular Kabbalah has been promoted by Hollywood celebrities, and enjoys a wide appeal as a result. Both the popular and more elevated forms of Kabbalah are still to be avoided, considering their mystical, occult beliefs and practices.
Summary of Beliefs
God: There is one God, an impersonal, dual being (both masculine and feminine). All creation came into being through a series of emanations from the one divine being.
Jesus: Christ is ignored and considered irrelevant to the Kabbalah. Basically, since the soul is already divine, the need for a mediator is unnecessary.
Salvation: Salvation consists of returning to our divine origins. This is accomplished through study and learning Kabbalistic teaching, moral and ethical discipline, and mystical experiences. Thus, salvation is completely a matter of our works and effort.
Human nature: Man was originally a divine being, and can return to union with the Ein Sof.
Afterlife: Some assert the existence of heaven and hell, although hell is generally considered temporary. Kabbalists usually believe in reincarnation.
Scripture: The Bible is interpreted mystically and allegorically. Various Kabbalistic works are considered authoritative, e.g., the Zohar, the Sefira Yesira, the Book of Bahir, etc.