The Kabbalah

Early Cosmogonic Speculation

(1) A Mystical System Rooted in Antiquity

Legendary Beginnings

"The Qabalah may be defined as being the esoteric Jewish doctrine. It is called in Hebrew QBLH, Qabalah, which is derived from the root QBL, Qibel, meaning 'to receive'. This appellation refers to the custom of handing down the esoteric tradition by oral transmission, and is nearly allied to 'tradition'."
"The Qabalah 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 children of earth, they 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 the Qabalah 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 law-giver was enabled to solve the difficulties which arose during his management of the Israelites, in spite of the pilgrimages, wars, and 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. Moses also initiated the seventy elders into the secrets of this doctrine, and they again transmitted them from hand to hand."
     - McGregor Mathers, Introduction to The Kabbalah Unveiled

"In exactly the same way, when the true interpretation of the Law according to the command of God, divinely handed down to Moses, was revealed, it was called the Kabbalah, a word which is the same among the Hebrews as 'reception' among ourselves; for this reason, of course, that one man from another, by a sort of hereditary right, received that doctrine not through written records but through a regular succession of revelations....In these books principally resides, as Esdras with a clear voice justly declared, the spring of understanding, that is, the ineffable theology of the supersubstantial deity; the fountain of wisdom, that is, the exact metaphysic of the intellectual and angelic forms; and the stream of knowledge, that is, the most steadfast philosophy of natural things."
     - Pico della Mirandola

"The goal of the Kabbalah is to obtain a complete understanding of God, the universe and their inter-relationships. It strives to achieve this understanding through the use of symbols and analogies, particularly the Jewish holy books."
     - Simcha Kuritzky, "Kabbalistic Magic" Part IV

To Jewish mystics, every letter in the Hebrew alphabet was a channel to the life force of God and possessed of sacred meaning. Hebrew numbers were also represented by letters so that names and words had numerical values. Finding associations of words with the same value revealed a complex series of hidden meanings beneath the text of the Torah, the book of law attributed to Moses. In fact, the entire Torah can be considered to be a single long word spelling out one of the names of God. The significance of the name of God goes back to ancient Egypt where knowing the name of a god allowed one to gain power over that god.

"Strange and sometimes obscure are the names given to God, the King who thrones in His glory. We find names such as Zoharariel, Adiriron, Akhtaricl,' and Totrossiyah (or Tetrassiyah, i. e. the Tetras or fourfoldness of the letters of God's name YHWH?), names which to the mystics may have signified various aspects of God's glory. In this context it is well to remember that the chief peculiarity of this form of mysticism, its emphasis on God's might and magnificence, opens the door to the transformation of mysticism into theurgy; there the master of the secret 'names' himself takes on the exercise of power in the way described in the various magical and theurgical procedures of which this literature is full. The language of the theurgist conforms to that of the Merkabah mystic. Both are dominated by the attributes of power and sublimity, not love or tenderness. It is entirely characteristic of the out-look of these believers that the theurgist, in adjuring the 'Prince of Divine Presence,' summons the archons as 'Princes of Majesty, Fear and Trembling.' Majesty, Fear and Trembling are indeed the key-words to this Open Sesame of religion."
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) pp. 56-57

The Kabbalah "uncovers many of the infinite layers of the secrets of life, of Creation, of the soul, of the heavenly spheres.
It penetrates beyond the garments and the body of the Torah.
It is the very core and soul of Torah, the ultimate revelation of Divinity - exposing the inner meaning, effects and purpose of Torah and mitzvot.
The illumination emanating from the Kabbalah ignites the soul of man, setting it on fire in the awareness of a deeper and higher reality. Its study and insights are themselves mystical experiences.
The Kabbalah is all this - but always and exclusively within the context of Torah."
     - "The Authenticity of Kabbalah"

Prophets and Visions
The early plebeian Israelites were Canaanites and Phoenicians, with the same worship of the Phallic gods - Bacchus, Baal or Adon, Iacchos - Iao or Jehovah'; but even among them there had always been a class of initiated adepts. Later, the character of this plebe was modified by Assyrian conquests; and, finally, the Persian colonizations superimposed the Pharisean and Eastern ideas and usages, from which the Old Testament and Mosaic institutes were derived. The Asmonean priest-kings promulgated the canon of the Old Testament in contradistinction to the Apocrypha or Secret Books of the Alexandrian Jews - kabbalists."
     - H. P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled

"Early Hebrew prophecy and Bacchism are similar in some aspects. The Qabbalists called the Holy Spirit, the mother, and the Church of Israel, the daughter. Solomon engraved on the walls of his Temple, likenesses of the male and female principles, to adumbrate this mystery; such it is said, were the figures of the cherubim. This was, however, not in obedience to the words of the Torah. They were symbolical of the Upper, the spiritual, the former or maker, positive or male, and the Lower, the passive, the negative or female, formed or made by the first."
     - Isaac Myer, The Qabbalah

"Each soul and spirit prior to its entering into this world, consists of a male and female united into one being. When it descends on this earth the two parts separate and animate two different bodies. At the time of marriage, the Holy One, blessed be He, who knows all souls and spirits, unites them again as they were before, and they again constitute one body and one soul, forming as it were the right and left of one individual."
     - The Hebrew Zohar

"'And when They are conjoined together, They appear to be only one body.'
"Hence we learn that the Masculine, taken alone appeareth to be only half the body, so that all the mercies are half; and thus also is it with the Feminine.
"'But when They are joined together, the (two together) appear to form only one whole body. And it is so.'
"So also here. When the Male is joined with the Female, They both constitute one complete body, and all the Universe is in a state of happiness, because all things receive blessing from Their perfect body. And this is an Arcanum."
     - The Kabbalah Unveiled

"...The earliest Jewish mystics who formed an organized fraternity in Talmudic times and later, describe their experience in terms derived from the diction characteristic of their age. They speak of the ascent of the soul to the Celestial Throne where it obtains an ecstatic view of the majesty of God and the secrets of His Realm. A great distance separates these old Jewish Gnostics from the Hasidic mystics one of whom said:' 'There are those who serve God with their human intellect, and others whose gaze is fixed on Nothing.... He who is granted this supreme experience loses the reality of his intellect, but when he returns from such contemplation to the intellect, he finds it full of divine and inflowing splendor.' And yet it is the same experience which both are trying to express in different ways."
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 5

The earliest visionary experiences centered on the throne-chariot of God (merkabah).

"The Rabbis of the Talmud speculated on these mysteries, particularly when they were commenting on Genesis and the visions of Ezekiel. [See 'References in Pharisaic Circles'.] The speculations were later embroidered by new ideas that entered Jewish thought from the Syriac Greeks, the Zoroastrian Babylonians, and the Gnostic sect of the Byzantium Christians. From these foreign and domestic concepts and myths, the Jews wove into their mysticism ideas of upper and neither worlds, angels, and demons, ghosts and spirits - ideas that had been unknown or of little importance to the Jews until then."
"By the first century it had become a proper subject for scholarly study. Philo Judaeus speculated on the Platonic idea of emanations as intermediaries between God and the physical world. The Roman philosopher Plotinus (205-270) traveled in the East and returned to combine Indian, Persian, Greek, and Jewish mystic theories into a systematic structure of these emanations."
     - Harry Gersh, The Sacred Books of the Jews

According to Plotinus (205-270 AD), "there are stages in the soul's ladder of ascent. The first includes purification, the freezing of the soul from the body, and the practice of the cardinal virtues. In the second the soul rises above sense-perception to Nous through contemplation. A third and higher stage, already ineffable, leads to union with Nous. Finally there is the climax of the whole ascent in mystical and ecstatic union with the One."
     - John Ferguson, An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Mysticism and the Mystery Religions

"He will lapse again from the vision: but let him again awaken the virtue which is in him, again know himself made perfect in splendor; and he shall be again lightened of his burden, ascending through virtue to Nous, and then through wisdom to the Supreme."
     - Plotinus

"As the Kabbalah evolved, it came to share certain ideas with other ancient mystical systems, including those of the Gnostics and Pythagoreans. The Kabbalah did not restrict itself solely to instruction on the apprehension of God but included teachings on cosmology, angelology, and magic."
     - Ancient Wisdom and Secret Sects

"Many of the basic ideas and principles found in the Kabbalah are also found in Gnosticism because both were in the Eastern Mediterranean near the time of Christ. Both attach an importance to knowledge, called the 'gnosis' or the knowledge of God. This knowledge does not come from rational thinking but is inspired by God. As in Gnosticism, sin is not considered to be wrong doing but ignorance which separates humankind from God. The knowledge, specifically the 'gnosis', unites humankind to God - to know God is to be God. Those sharing this 'gnosis' are the elect; they are the enlightened ones who share the knowledge of God, although they may not lead perfect lives."
     - Alan G. Hefner, "Kabbalah"

"Thou shalt have no business with secret things."
     - Apocryphal Book of Ben Sirach 3:22 (2nd century BC)

Kabbalism "is distinguished by renewed interest in purely cosmogonic speculation, whose spirit often enough is entirely Gnostic. In the earlier literature - certainly during the phase represented by the Hekhaloth -theoretical questions have no place; its spirit is descriptive, not speculative, and this is particularly true of the best examples of this genre. Nevertheless it is possible that there was a speculative phase in the very beginning and that the famous passage in the Mishnah which forbids the questions: 'What is above and what is below? What was before and what will be after?' refers to theoretical speculation in the manner of the Gnostics who strove after 'the knowledge of who we were, and what we have become, where we were or where we are placed, whither we hasten, from what we are redeemed.'
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 74

(2) Documents from the Talmudic Era

Spelling and Pronunciation Conventions

Hechalot / Hekhaloth ends with a "t" as there is no "th" sound in modern Hebrew.

Merkavah / Merkabah is written with the letter Bet (without a dot inside) and is pronounced as the English letter "v".

Sfirot / Sphirot is written with the letter Peh (without a dot inside) and pronounced as an "f". The letter is often written as "ph" because there is no "f" in Hebrew.

Both Merkavah and Hekhalot contain the letter Khet which has no equivalent in English. (It is not pronounced as it is written "kh" but has a guttural sound.)

(Thanks to Liora Bernstein)

The Origins of Hekhalot Literature
"Not only have the seers perceived the celestial hosts, heaven with its angels, but the whole of this apocalyptic and pseudepigraphic literature is shot through with a chain of new revelations concerning the hidden glory of the great Majesty, its throne, its palace...the celestial spheres towering up one over the other, paradise, hell, and the containers of the souls."
     - Baldensperger, Die messianisch-apokalyptischen Hoffnungen des Judentums, p. 68

"The Hekhaloth were different 'chambers' or 'halls' through which mystics advanced during meditation."
     - Alan G. Hefner, "Hekhaloth"

A reference to imagery of the Hekhalot can be found in the apocryphal Fourth Book of Ezra, written around the end of the 1st c. CE.

"O Lord who inhabitest eternity, whose eyes are exalted and whose upper chambers [hekhaloth] are in the air, whose throne [merkavah] is beyond measure and whose glory is beyond comprehension, before whom the hosts of angels stand trembling and at whose command they are changed to wind and fire..."
     - 4 Ezra 8:21-22a

"The Hekhalot literature is a bizarre conglomeration of Jewish esoteric and revelatory texts produced sometime between late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. The documents have strong connections with earlier apocalyptic and gnostic literature and claim to describe the self-induced spiritual experiences of the 'descenders to the chariot' that permitted these men to view Ezekiel's chariot vision [the Merkavah] for themselves, as well as to gain control of angels and a perfect mastery of Torah through theurgy."
"This material is of particular interest for the study of divine mediation and mystical/revelatory experiences, because the Hekhalot documents claim to detail actual practices used to reach trance states, gain revelations, and interact with divine mediators."
     - James R. Davila, "Hekhalot Literature and Mysticism"

Baruch Halperin "observes that, by reciting given texts from the hekhalot literature, the student was able to achieve the same results as those who actually experienced the ascent."
     - Dr. Steven S. Tuell, "Deus absconditus in Ezekiel's Prophecy"

According to Sitrey Tefila ve-Hekhalot (Mysteries of Jewish Prayer and Heavenly Palaces) Hekhalot literature frequently served as the inspiration for liturgical texts of the Talmudic period

"The outstanding documents of the movement appear to have been edited in the fifth and sixth centuries when its spirit was still alive and vigorous. It is difficult to establish exact dates for the various writings, but everything points to the period before the expansion of Islam. The world reflected in this literature has evoked in the mind of more than one scholar comparisons with the pattern of Byzantine society. But there is no reason for assuming that the descriptions of the celestial throne and the heavenly court simply reflect the mundane reality of the Byzantine or Sassanid court, if only because the roots of their central theme go much too far back for such an hypothesis. At the same time there can be no reasonable doubt that the atmosphere of these writings is in harmony with contemporary political and social conditions.
"All our material is in the form of brief tracts, or scattered fragments of varying length from what may have been voluminous works; in addition there is a good deal of almost shapeless literary."
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/74) p. 44

The Scribes
"The only sustained effort to locate the community behind the Hekhalot literature has been made by David Halperin [Faces of the Chariot: Early Jewish Responses to Ezekiel's Vision, 1988]. He argues, on the basis of a passage found in some manuscripts of the Sar Torah text (paras. 304-305), that the 'people of the land,' the uneducated people who were held in contempt by the rabbis, made theurgic use of the myth of the ascent of Moses to seize the Torah from heaven, and that the result was the Hekhalot literature."
"I propose then, that the composers of the Hekhalot literature were a group of professional scribes who lacked formal rabbinic training and whose socio-economic position probably suffered as a result. They envied the superior station of the rabbis and defied them with another skill common in their own profession -- magic. The 'descenders to the chariot' (the only self-designation they have given us) were familiar with and no doubt transmitted, augmented, and used the Jewish magical literature. But they also developed a strain of magical praxis that from an anthropological perspective is closer to shamanism than anything else. They were, to paraphrase Hultkrantz ['A Definition of Shamanism', Temenos 9 (1973) 25-37], social functionaries who, with the help of guardian spirits, attained ecstasy in order to create a rapport with the supernatural world on behalf of the members of their group. According to their beliefs they used theurgy to compel angels to take them to the otherworld and to give them an infallible knowlege of Torah. They in turn passed on the power from their experiences to their community (which on various levels seems to have been as narrow as a circle of adepts and as broad as the human race)."
     - James R. Davila, "Hekhalot Literature and Mysticism"

"Hekhalot texts do tend to summon angels (never God, I believe) in a very premptory way, and they ask for various types of esoteric wisdom and theurgic power."
     - James R. Davila, "Ancient Magic (The Prayer of Jacob)"

"According to an account given in the 'Greater Hekhaloth', which one is tempted to correlate with a similar passage at the end of the Fourth Book of Ezra, it was even the custom to place scribes or stenographers to the right and left of the visionary who wrote down his ecstatic description of the throne and its occupants."
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 63

"He [the Lord] answered me and said, 'Go and gather the people, and tell them not to seek you for forty days. But prepare for yourself many writing tablets, and take with you Sarea, Dabria, Selemia, Ethanus, and Asiel -- these five, because they are trained to write rapidly; and you shall come here, and I will light in your heart the lamp of understanding, which shall not be put out until what you are about to write is finished. And when you have finished, some things you shall make public, and some you shall deliver in secret to the wise; tomorrow at this hour you shall begin to write.'"

"And on the next day, behold, a voice called me, saying, 'Ezra, open your mouth and drink what I give you to drink.' Then I opened my mouth, and behold, a full cup was offered to me; it was full of something like water, but its color was like fire. And I took it and drank; and when I had drunk it, my heart poured forth understanding, and wisdom increased in my breast, for my spirit retained its memory; and my mouth was opened, and was no longer closed. And the Most High gave understanding to the five men, and by turns they wrote what was dictated, in characters which they did not know. They sat forty days, and wrote during the daytime, and ate their bread at night."
     - 4 Ezra 14:23-26, 36-42

The End of a a Living Movement
The unedited texts of the oldest documents, the "Lesser Hekhaloth" are full of voces mysticae. "Every secret name seemed to provide a further piece of protective armour against the demons-up to the point where the magical energy was no longer sufficient to overcome the obstacles which blocked the way to the Merkabah [throne-chariot of God]. This point is really the end of the movement as a living force; from then on it degenerates into mere literature."
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 51

"For my friend [Rabbi Akiba], who endures the suffering of ascending and descending to the merkabah, I have fixed a blessing [to be recited] three times a day in the heavenly court and in the earthly court. I will love and I will redeem any household where it is repeated"
     - Hekhalot Zutarti

"The implication seems to be: Akiba made the hazardous journey; stay-at-homes who recite the appropriate formula can share, vicariously, in its benefits."
     - Baruch Halperin, 'A New Edition of the Hekhalot Literature,' JAOS 104 (1984): 550

"...In the Merkabah mysticism with which we are dealing here, the idea of the Shekhinah ['light of God'] and of God's immanence plays practically no part at all. The one passage in the 'Greater Hekhaloth' which has been adduced as proof of the existence of such conceptions is based on an obviously corrupt text. The fact is that the true and spontaneous feeling of the Merkabah mystic knows nothing of divine immanence; the infinite gulf between the soul and God the King on His throne is not even bridged at the climax of mystical ecstasy.
"Not only is there for the mystic no divine immanence, there is also almost no love of God. What there is of love in the relationship between the Jewish mystic and his God belongs to a much later period and has nothing to do with our present subject. Ecstasy there was and this fundamental experience must have been a source of religious inspiration, but we find no trace of a mystical union between the soul and God. Throughout there remained an almost exaggerated consciousness of God's other, nor does the identity and individuality of the mystic become blurred even at the height of ecstatic passion. The Creator and His creature remain apart, and nowhere is an attempt made to bridge the gulf between them or to blur the distinction. The mystic who in his ecstasy has passed through all the gates, braved all the dangers, now stands before the throne; he sees and hears - but that is all. All the emphasis is laid on the kingly aspect of God, not his creative one..."
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) pp. 55-56

(3) The "Greater Hekhalot"

Descent of the Merkabah (Throne-chariot of God)
The "Greater Hekhalot" is "is the Jewish visionary text of the Hekhaloth school originating from the Talmudic phase of Jewish mysticism during the first century AD."
     - Alan G. Hefner, "Greater Hekhaloth"

The written version as it survives today is dated ca. 500 C.E.

"In the 'Greater Hekhaloth'...and from then on in almost all the later writings, the visionary journey of the soul to heaven is always referred to as the 'descent to the Merkabah.' The paradoxical character of this term is all the more remarkable because the detailed description of the mystical process nonetheless consistently employs the metaphor of ascent and not of descent. The mystics of this group call themselves Yorde Merkabah, i. e. 'descenders to the Merkabah' (and not 'Riders in the Chariot,' as some translators would have it),' and this name is also given to them by others throughout the whole literature down to a late period. The authors of the 'Greater Hekhaloth' refer to the existence of these Yorde Merkabah as a group with some sort of organization and identify them in the usual legendary fashion with the circle of Johanan ben Zakkai and his disciples. Since the 'Greator Hekhaloth' contain Palestinian as well as Babylonian elements - the earliest chapters in particular bear unmistakable traces, in their subject-matter as well as their style, of Palestinian influence - it is not inconceivable that the organization of these groups did indeed take place in late Talmudic times (fourth or fifth century) on Palestinian soil. As a matter of ascertained fact, however, we only know of their existence in Babylonia, from where practically all mystical tracts of this particular variety made their way to Italy and Germany; it is these tracts that have come down to us in the form of manuscripts written in the late Middle Ages.."

"Originally, we have here [in the 'Greater Hekhaloth'] a Jewish variation on one of the chief preoccupations of the second and third century gnostics and hermetics: the ascent of the soul from the earth, through the spheres of the hostile planet-angels and rulers of the cosmos, and its return to its divine home in the 'fullness' of God's light, a return which, to the gnostic's mind, signified Redemption. Some scholars consider this to be the central idea of Gnosticism.' Certainly the description of this journey, of which a particularly impressive account is found in the second part of the 'Greater Hekhaloth,' is in all its details of a character which must be called gnostic."
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) pp. 47, 49

Liturgical Power of the Hekhalot Tracts
"The most important sources for our understanding of this atmosphere are undoubtedly the numerous prayers and hymns which have been preserved in the Hekhaloth tracts. Tradition ascribes them to inspiration, for, according to the mystics, they are nothing but the hymns sung by the angels, even by the throne itself, in praise of God. In chapter iv of the 'Greater Hekhaloth,' in which these hymns occupy an important place, we find an account of how Rabbi Akiba, the prototype of the Merkabah visionary, was inspired to hear them sung at the very throne of glory before which his soul was standing. Conversely, their recitation serves to induce a state of ecstasy and accompanies the traveller on his journey through the gates. Some of these hymns are simply adjurations of God; others take the form of dialogues between God and the heavenly dwellers, and descriptions of the Merkabah sphere."
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 57

"His throne radiates before Him and His palace is full of splendor.
His Majesty is becoming and His Glory is an adornment for Him.
His servants sing before Him and proclaim the might of His wonders, as King of all kings and Master of all masters, encircled by rows of crowns, surrounded by the ranks of the princes of splendor.
With a gleam of His ray he encompasses the sky and His splendor radiates from the heights.
Abysses flame from His mouth and Armaments sparkle from His body."
     - "Zoharariel, Adonai, God of Israel," in the "Greater Hekhaloth"

"The Hekhalot Rabbati begins with R. Ishmael's question, 'What are these songs that one recites who seeks to observe the vision of the chariot so as to descend safely and to ascend safely?' (para. 81). Starting in para. 94, songs of the angels who attend the throne of God are given. This collection of songs concludes, 'R. Ishmael said: R. Akiva heard all these songs when he descended to the chariot. He seized and learned them from before the throne of glory, for His attendants were singing before it' (para. 106). Near the end of the Hekhalot Rabbati we are given a set of songs that are recited daily by the throne of glory, which the descender to the chariot should also sing (paras. 251-57 = 260-66). The Maaseh Merkavah begins with R. Ishmael requesting 'a prayer by which a man prays the praise of RWZYY YHWH God of Israel' (para. 544)."
     - James R. Davila, "Hekhalot Literature and Shamanism"

"From the text itself it is clear that the one who descends to the Chariot ascends to the upper worlds only in spirit, whereas his body remains among his disciples as if lifeless. When he returns from his mystical voyage it is as if he wakes up, his soul returns to his body, and he turns and speaks to his disciples as usual. In modern language, one can hypothesize that this was some type of trance, a suspension of the senses, in which the person is cut off from the reality around him and feels his soul floating in another realm. Some of the hymns of the Chariot include sections which repeat themselves with a cadence, and one my hypothesize that they were used by those who descended to the Chariot as part of the ceremony which brought the individuals to the above mentioned emotional state."
     - Joseph Dan, The Ancient Jewish Mysticism (1993), p. 119

"You are declared holy, God of heaven and earth,
Lord of Lords,
Magnificent One of magnificent ones,
God of the cherubim,
Rider of the cherubim.
God of hosts,
And His rulership is over the hosts.
God of the attendants,
And His name is declared holy over the attendants.
He is His name and His name is He.
He is in He and His name is in His name.
A song is His name and His name is a song.
ZWPH ZP ZWY ZY HSY HWHSYN RMYY YHH HW RG BRQ GH HW YLH HY H HW HWB DRY YL RHY RS L DRW ZRYZ Y' WY' ZRYZ. Eye to eye, strength in strength, might in might, greatness in greatness, support in support, poor in poor, shadow 'in the shadow of DY he will take refuge.' (Ps 91:1). You are declared holy, King of the world, since everything depends on Your arm and all declare praise to Your name, for You are the Lord of the worlds and there is none like You in all the worlds. Blessed are You YY', the holy One in the chariot, rider of cherubim.'"
     - Maaseh Merkavah (para. 588)

"Almost all the hymns from the Hekhaloth tracts, particularly those whose text has been preserved intact, reveal a mechanism comparable to the motion of an enormous fly-wheel. In cyclical rhythm // the hymns succeed each other, and within them the adjurations of God follow in a crescendo of glittering and majestic attributes, each stressing and reinforcing the sonorous power of the world. The monotony of their rhythm - almost all consist of verses of four words - and the progressively sonorous incantations induce in those who are praying a state of mind bordering on ecstasy. An important part of this technique is the recurrence of the key-word of the numinous, the kedushah, the trishagion from Isaiah vl, 3, in which the ecstasy of the mystic culminates: holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. One can hardly conceive of a more grandiose proof of the irresistible influence which the conception of God's kingdom exercised on the consciousness of these mystics. The 'holiness' of God, which they are trying to paraphrase, is utterly transcendent of any moral meaning and represents nothing but glory of His Kingdom. Through various forms of the prayer known as the kedushah, this conception has also found its way into the general Jewish liturgy and left its imprint on it."
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) pp. 59-60

"Alone this meditative journey the divine names of God would be repeated in a Mantra while the mystics would project their consciousnesses into spirit-vehicles which journey to each hall in turn. In each of the chambers a sacred 'seal' was presented to an archangel who guarded that chamber.
"Just before reaching the seventh chamber, the mystics would enter a chariot that would lift each of them up to a profound state of mystical ecstasy, an experience called Merkabah."
     - Alan G. Hefner, "Greater Hekhaloth"

"That the mystic in his rapture even succeeded in penetrating beyond the sphere of the angels is suggested in a passage which speaks of 'God who is beyond the sight of His creatures and hidden to the angels who serve Him, but who has revealed Himself to Rabbi Akiba in the vision of the Merkabah.'"
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 63

Ascending the Seven Heavens

(1) Preparation

Physical Characteristics of Initiates
     a. The art of judging human character from facial features.
     b. Divination based on facial features."
          - American Heritage Dictionary

"(Anyone) whose [hair color (?)] is medium and not extreme, whose eyes are 'neither light nor dark, whose nose is long 'and attractive, whose teeth are even, whose beard 'is sparse but not extremely so, whose limbs 'are [s]mooth [and neither] thin nor thick: '[ ] He will possess a [sp]irit '[characterized by... He will suffer] oppression."
     - 4Q561 ("An Aramaic Horoscope") Col. 3

"He who is born in the constellation of Libra, on the first day, in Jupiter or in the moon: when he, the child, is born in these two hours, he is only born little and small and sallow. And he shall have a sign on the fingers of his hands and the toes of his feet, or an extra finger [or 'toe'] on his hands or on his feet. And this man shall be a ready . And three lines in (the form of) crowns are on his forehead and the middle one is broken into three, and they are wide lines. And he is one of the good. And at the age of seven months and ten days he shall become sick and shall be in hot water. They shall ascend upon him and anyone who sees him says that he shall not be saved from this...."
     - 3 Enoch 2b 15-22

"The Hekhalot literature itself does not indicate how one is chosen to become a descender to the chariot. However, a closely related and overlapping genre of literature, the physiognomic texts, seems to indicate that certain physical characteristics are required of initiates in order for them to be accepted into the group. One of these, 'The Physiognomy of R. Ishmael [PRI],' is a Hebrew text originally published from several manuscripts by Gershom Scholem, who dates it to the Talmudic period....Presented as a revelation to R. Ishmael by the angel Suriah (as in the Hekhalot literature), it describes the outward physical characteristics that indicate to the initiated whether a person is righteous or wicked and what that person's fate shall be. A number of the descriptions of the righteous tend to indicate that they are numbered among the descenders to the chariot. They are repeatedly described as 'meriting (from one to four) crowns' (PRI paras. 5, 12, 18, 37), which brings to mind the various references to the Great Seal and Fearsome Crown mentioned in the Hekhalot literature (e.g., paras. 318-21 = 651-54). One description indicates that the subject is 'a son of two worlds' (PRI para. 4), which Scholem compares to the comment in Merkavah Rabba that the reciter of the Shi'ur Qomah' has good in this world and rest for the world to come' (para. 705). Another reads, 'And if he has one (line) that stands on his forehead, thus he ascends opposite those who bind on crowns' (PRI para. 32). Scholem points out that 'binders of crowns' seem to be a category of angel mentioned twice in the Hekhalot Rabbati. Other passages describe the good man as exceptionally wise (PRI para. 20) and 'a son of Torah' (PRI para. 31), both characteristics of those who participate in Sar Torah theurgy."
     - James R. Davila, "Hekhalot Literature and Shamanism"

"Chapter 13 of the 'Greater Hekhaloth' lists eight moral requisites of initiation." Also this fragment, "in which the angel Suriyah reveals to Ishmael - one of the two principal figures of our Hekhaloth tracts - the secrets of chiromancy [palm reading] and physiognomy, has a title taken from Isaiah III, 9: Hakkarath Panim, i. e. 'perception of the face,' and in fact this passage from Isaiah first received a physiognomic interpretation in the fourth century, as a Talmudic reference to the subject shows."
"Those who passed the test were considered worthy to make the 'descent' to the Merkabah which led them, after many trials and dangers, through the seven heavenly palaces, and before that through the heavens, their preparation, their technique, and the description of what is perceived on the voyage, are the subject-matter of the writings with which we are concerned.
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) pp. 48, 49

Induction of Trance States

"Let him who would join himself to the prince of Torah wash his garments and his clothes and let him immerse (in) a strict immersion as a safeguard in case of pollution. And let him dwell for twelve days in a room or in an upper chamber. Let him not go out or come in, and he must neither eat nor drink. But from evening to evening see that he eats his bread, clean bread of his own hands, and he drinks pure water, and that he does not taste any kind of vegetable. And let him insert this midrash of the prince of Torah into the prayer three times in every single day; it is after the prayer that he should pray it from its beginning to its end. And afterward, let him sit and recite during the twelve days, the days of his fasting, from morning until evening, and let him not be silent. And in every hour that he finishes it let him stand on his feet and adjure by the servants (and?) by their king, twelve times by every single prince. Afterward let him adjure every single one of them by the seal."
     - Instructions attributed to R. Akiva, Sar Torah, paras. 299-300

"The earliest documents (~100 - ~1000 A.D.) associated with Kabbalah describe the attempts of 'Merkabah' mystics to penetrate the seven halls (Hekhaloth) of creation and reach the Merkabah (throne-chariot) of God. These mystics used the familiar methods of shamanism (fasting, repetitious chanting, prayer, posture) to induce trance states in which they literally fought their way past terrible seals and guards to reach an ecstatic state in which they 'saw God'."
     - Colin Low, "cabalah.cln"

"R. Ishmael said: I was thirteen years old and my heart was moved on each day that began with fasting. As soon as R. Nehuniah ben HaQanah revealed to me this mystery of Torah, Suriah, prince of the Presence, was revealed. He said to me: (As for) the prince of Torah, Yophiel is his name. Let anyone who seeks him sit forty days in fasting. Let him not eat his morsel with salt, nor let him eat any kind of filth. Let him immerse (with) twenty-four immersions. Let him not gaze on various dyed things. Let his eyes be pressed down to the earth and let him pray with all his might. Let him set his heart on his prayer, and let him seal himself with his seal and invoke twelve words."
"I sought this mystery, and I sat for twelve days in fasting. As soon as I saw that I could not serve by means of fasting, I made use of the name of forty-two letters. And PRQDS, the angel of the Presence, descended in rage, so that I shrank back, falling backward. He said to me: Mortal, son of a putrid drop, son of a maggot and a worm! You made use of a great name! It has taken for you arrays of Torah! I am not giving to you until you sit for forty days. At once I stood with all my might, and I carefully invoked three letters, and he ascended. (This: BR BYH GDWLT TYT BYH.) And I sat forty days in fasting and I prayed three prayers at dawn, three at noon, three at the afternoon offering, and three in the evening. And I invoked twelve words on every single one. And for the last day I prayed three (times) and invoked and PRQDS, the angel of the Presence, descended, and with him were angels of mercy. And they placed wisdom in the heart of R. Ishmael."
     - Maaseh Merkavah, paras. 560, 565

"This mystical ascent is always preceded by ascetic practices whose duration in some cases is twelve days, in others forty. An account of these practices was given about 1000 A.D. by Hai ben Sherira, the head of a Babylonian academy. According to him, 'many scholars were of the belief that one who is distinguished by many qualities described in the books and who is desirous of beholding the Merkabah and the palaces of the angels on high, must follow a certain procedure. He must fast a number of days and lay his head between his knees and whisper many hymns and songs whose texts are known from tradition. Then he perceives the interior and the chambers, as if he saw the seven palaces with his own eyes, and it is as though he entered one palace after the other and saw what is there. The typical bodily posture of these ascetics is also that of Elijah in his prayer on Mount Carmel. It is an attitude of deep self-oblivion which, to judge from certain ethnological parallels, is favorable to the induction of pre-hypnotic autosuggestion. Dennys [The Folklore of China, p 60] gives a very similar description of a Chinese somnambulist in the act of conjuring the spirits of the departed: 'She sits down on a low chair and bends forward so that her head rests on her knees. Then, in a deep measured voice, she repeats three times an exorcism, whereupon a certain change appears to come over her. In the Talmud, too, we find this posture described as typical of the self-oblivion of a Hanina ben Dosa sunk in prayer, or of a penitent who gives himself over to God."
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) pp. 49-50

A common visionary experience shared by shamans during initiation is the disintegration and the reduction of the body to a skeleton. The following excerpt is from the Thanksgiving Psalms, attributed to the Teacher of Righteousness.

"All the foundations of my frame crumble. My bones are separated, and my bowels are like a ship in a raging storm. My heart roars as to destruction, and a spirit of staggering overwhelms me."
     - 1QH + 4Q429 Frag. 1 Col. 15-4-5a

(2) The Journey

Gatekeepers and Dangers
"Finally, after such preparations, and in a state of ecstasy, the adept begins his journey. The 'Greater Hekhaloth' do not describe the details of his ascent through the seven heavens, but they do describe his voyage through the seven palaces situated in the highest heaven. The place of the gnostical rulers (archons) of the seven planetary spheres, who are opposed to the liberation of the soul from its earthly bondage and whose resistance the soul must overcome, is taken in this Judaized and monotheistic Gnosticism by the hosts of 'gate-keepers' posted to the right and left of the entrance to the heavenly hall through which the soul must pass in its ascent."
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 50

"Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals."
     - Revelation 5:1

"In the Hebrew [Book of Enoch] there is an account of the description given by the Patriarch to Rabbi Ishmael of his own metamorphosis into the angel Metatron, when his flesh was transformed into 'fiery torches.' According to the 'Greater Hekhaloth,' every mystic must undergo this transformation, but with the difference that, being less worthy than Enoch, he is in danger of being devoured by the 'fiery torches.'"
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 52

A similar fiery danger can be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

"But You, O [G]od, You protect its [the trees of life's] fruit with the mystery of powerful warriors, holy spirits, and the whirling flame of fire so that none may [come to the] fountain of life, nor with eternal trees drink the waters of holiness, nor make his fruit flourish with [the plan]t of the heavens."
     - Thanksgiving Hymn lQH + 4Q428 Frag. 7 16:11b-13a
(attributed to the Teacher of Righteousness.)

Magical Seals and Passes
"The longest and most detailed description of the descent to the chariot is in R. Nehuniah's instructions to the academy in the Hekhalot Rabbati. After explaining how to summon the angel Suriah (para. 204...), he described how God sits enthroned in the center of the seven concentric palaces. Eight angels guarding the gate of each palace must be shown the proper seal (i.e., a nomen barbarum) before letting the descender to the chariot pass. The angels and seals for each gate are listed. In particular, the monstrous nature of the angels guarding the sixth and seventh palaces is belabored in horrific detail. However, the descender to the chariot who follows instructions exactly will pass through every obstacle to be welcomed before the throne of God and allowed to observe the angelic liturgy (paras. 205-37)."
     - James R. Davila, "Hekhalot Literature and Shamanism"

"The discussions between the traveller and the gate-keepers of the sixth palace, the archons Domiel and Katspiel, which take up a good deal of space, clearly date back to very early times. One of their more unexpected features is the recurrence of rudiments of certain Greek formulae and standing expressions, which the editors in Babylonia were not longer capable of understanding and apparently regarded as magical names of the divinity'...It is difficult to say whether it indicates a concrete influence of Hellenistic religion, or whether the employment of Greek words by the Aramaic-speaking Jewish mystics is merely analogous to the predilection for Hebraic or pseudo-Hebraic formulae characteristic of the Greek-speaking circles for whom the Egyptian magical papyri were written."
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) pp. 53-54

"We [disciples including R. Ishmael the author] came and sat before him [Nehuniah ben HaQanah], and the associates were a whole crowd standing on their feet, because they were seeing to the globes of fire and the torches of light that they had set as a barrier between us and them. And R. Nehuniah ben HaQanah sat and set out in order all the matters of the chariot: descent and ascent; how one who descends, descends and how one who ascends, ascends: When a man seeks to descend into the chariot, he calls on Suriah, prince of the Presence, and adjures him one hundred and twelve times by WRWSYY YWY who is called WRWSYY WRQ WRBYL WPGR RWYLYY ZBWDYL and ZHRRYL NDL and QDHWZYY DHYBYRWN and DYRYRWN YWY God of Israel. And he must be careful not to add to the one hundred and twelve times, nor to subtract from them. And if he adds or subtracts, his blood is on his own head. But his mouth must only enunciate the names and the fingers of his hands must count to one hundred and twelve. And at once he will descend into and will have authority over the chariot. "
     - Hekhalot Rabbati, paras. 203-205

"In both cases, the soul requires a pass in order to be able to continue its journey without danger: a magic seal made of a secret name which puts the demons and hostile angels to flight. Every new stage of the ascension requires a new seal with which the traveller 'seals himself' in order that, to quote a fragment, 'he shall not be dragged into the fire and the flame, the vortex and the storm which are around Thee, oh Thou terrible and sublime.' The 'Greater Hekhaloth' have preserved a quite pedantic description of this passport procedure; all the seals and the secret names are derived from the Merkabah itself where they 'stand like pillars of flame around the fiery throne' of the Creator.'
"It is the soul's need for protection on its journey which has produced these seals with their twin function as a protective armor and as a magical weapon. At first the magical protection of a single seal may be sufficient, but as time goes on the difficulties experienced by the adept tend to become greater. A brief and simple formula is no longer enough. Sunk in his ecstatic trance, the mystic at the same time experiences a sense of frustration which he tries to overcome by using longer and more complicated magical formulae, symbols of a longer and harder struggle to pass the closed entrance gates which block his progress. As his Psychical energy wanes the magical strain grows and the conjuring gesture becomes progressively more strained, until in the end whole pages are filled with an apparently meaningless recital of magical key-words with which he tries to unlock the closed door."
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 50

Description of the Seven Heavens
"The cosmology of the Hekhalot literature is, not suprisingly, inconsistent in detail; but in its broad outlines it conforms well to the parameters of shamanic cosmology. A description of the world tree forms an inclusion for R. Nehuniah's instructions to the academy in the Hekhalot Rabbati. R. Nehuniah prefaces his instructions with the comments,"
     - James R. Davila, "Hekhalot Literature and Shamanism"

"What does this character [of the descender to the chariot] resemble? A man who has a ladder inside his house on which he ascends and descends; there isn't any living creature who can prevent him....I will recite before [the academy] the mysteries, the concealed things, the gradations, wonders, and the weaving of the web that is the completion of the world and on which its plaiting stands, the axle of heaven and earth, to which all the wings of the earth and inhabited world and the wings of the firmaments on high are tied, sewn, fastened, hanged, and stand. And the way of the ladder on high is that its one head is on earth and its other head is on the right foot of the throne of glory."
     - Hekhalot Rabbati, paras. 199, 201, cf. para. 237

"...The 'Greater Hekhaloth' gives promise of the revelation of 'the mysteries and wonderful secrets of the tissue on which the perfection of the world and its course depends, and the chain of heaven and earth along which all the wings of the universe and the wings of the heavenly heights are connected, sewn together, made fast and hung up'. But the promise is not carried out, the secret not revealed. The magnificence and majesty of God, on the other hand, this experience of the Yorde Merkabah which overwhelms and over-shadows all the others, is not only heralded but also described with an abundance of detail and almost to excess."
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 56

"I [R. Akiva] had a vision of and observed the whole inhabited world and I saw it as it is. I ascended in a wagon of fire and gazed on the palaces of hail and I found GRWSQ GRNSQ that sits on MQLYLK'."
     - Hekhalot Zutarti, para. 366

"To the dimensions of height, width, length and time the Kabbalists have added the dimension of spirituality. In the positive spiritual direction are the seven heavens. Farthest from Earth is Araboth, which contains uncreated objects and is the permanent residence of men's souls. It is associated with the emanation Greatness (Kindness). Makhon, the second heaven, contains the precipitants rain, snow, hail, fog, and dew. Makhon is presided over by Moses the Law Giver and the emanation Law, and emits a lightning bolt into Ma'on, the third heaven, presided over by Father Abraham who alters the bolt into four 'rays of foundation' corresponding to the four spheres of emanations along the central axis and are colored black, white, red and green. The third heaven is filled with harmonizing lights and sounds that sing praises to God, and is symbolized by the emanation Beauty. Above this is Zebhul, a spiritual Jerusalem corresponding to the emanation Victory which is the positive aspect of cosmic power. In this city is a tabernacle, personified by Metatron, with Michael as high priest, surrounded by the souls of martyrs. There is also a heavenly tribunal of seven lights. The fifth heaven is called Shekhakim and is associated with Glory. It contains millstones whch grind manna for the righteous and is presided over by Jacob and the twelve heads of the Israelite tribes. It is surrounded by a river of fire wherein reside the angels of destruction, and this river is held back by a colorless light of monotheism, which is fueled by prayers from below and projected out from Shekhakim as an archetypal alphabet of 22 colors."
     - Simcha Kuritzky, "Kabbalistic Magic" Part IV

"Through the contraction and withdrawal of the Shekhinah, to allow for the contracted world of human experience, what remains are the 'sparks' of that contraction (tzimtzum), each of which inhabits a human soul. This spark, within each of us, is a source of divine wonder and splendor, which through prayer and ecstatic dance, may more fully enlighten our face, showing us the holiness within which we dwell. The 'great way' is through deep inner prayer, in which that spark longs to return to its supreme Source. The soul, in inward contemplation becomes a Throne and the light of the Shekhinah rests above the head and flows with luminous joy through and about the devout, deep in prayer."
     - Zos Imos, "Jewish Mystical Traditions"

"Next is Rakiya, the firmament. Symbolized by the emanation Foundation, this heaven supports the heavenly bodies, which are endowed with divine knowledge. The lowest heaven is called Vilon (lit. veil), which shields the heavens during the day and 'rolls' down each night. It is associated with the Kingdom, is the main source [of] prophetic visions, and is presided over by Joseph, the interpreter of dreams. Below the Earth spiritually are seven abysses, known as Gehenna, Death's Shadow, Death's Gate, Filth, Destructive Whirlpools, Place of Perdition and Sheol. Interpretations on these vary considerably; however, it is generally held that they are made up of tohu (impure earth), bohu (impure water), and darkness (opposite of fire). Associated with the heavens, and perhaps above them, are the seven hekhalot (palaces) in the merkavah (Divine Chariot). The seventh palace leads to the Throne of God, symbolized by sapphire and emerald. Here the souls of mystics travel outside of their bodies and rise up to the Veil of God. The veil is not physical, for God has no physical form; it is a symbol for the limitations of Man's comprehension of God.
"These palaces are dangerous, and the mystics who travel them must carry with them the seals of the two angels designated for each gate to show to the eight angels who guard each of the seven entrance ways. Those that do not have the proper seals are said to be swept away in a fiery tornado. The sixth palace is particularly hazardous, for it is made of sparkling marble, and if the traveller mistakes it for water the angels chastise and punish him for his ignorance."
     - Simcha Kuritzky, "Kabbalistic Magic" Part IV

"But if one was unworthy to see the King in his beauty, the angels at the gates disturbed his senses and confused him. And when they said to him: 'Come in,' he entered, and instantly they pressed him and threw him into the fiery lava stream. And at the gate of the sixth palace it seemed as though hundreds of thousands and millions of waves of water stormed against him, and yet there was not a drop of water, only the ethereal glitter of the marble plates with which the palace was tessellated. But he was standing in front of the angels and when he asked: 'What is the meaning of these waters,' they began to stone him and said: 'Wretch, do you not see it with your own eyes? Are you perhaps a descendant of those who kissed the Golden Calf, and are you unworthy to see the King in his beauty?'...And he does not go until they strike his head with iron bars and wound him. And this shall be a sign for all times that no one shall err at the gate of the sixth palace and see the ethereal glitter of the plates and ask about them and take them for water, that he may not endanger himself."
     - Munich manuscript of the "Greater Hekhaloth"

"Once one negotiates the seven gates he will be seated in the bosom of God (of whom several names are given) (paras. 413-17). In this case the goal seems to be the magical granting of a wish. R. Akiva instructs,"
     - James R. Davila, "Hekhalot Literature and Shamanism"

"Make your request (as follows): May there be favor from before You, YHWH God of Israel, our God and the God of our fathers. (_Nomina barbara_), may You give me grace and lovingkindness before Your throne of glory and in the sight of all Your attendants. And may You join to me all Your attendants so as to do such and such, O great, mighty, fearsome, strong, valiant, magnificent, and eminent God! "
     - Hekhalot Zutarti, paras. 418-19

Sefer Yetsirah

(1) Background of the Book

Speculations on Genesis
"The two earliest forms of Jewish mysticism were maaseh merkabah, writings which explored the mysteries of the Throne on its Chariot as revealed in the first chapter of Ezekiel, and maaseh bereshith, speculations on the first chapter of Genesis with special emphasis placed on cosmology and cosmogony."
     - The Secret Garden: An Anthology in the Kabbalah, David Meltzer Ed. (1976) p. 3

"The most influential book from the Maaseh Bereshit school is called Sefer Yetsirah, ('Book of Formation/Creation'), written sometime between the Third and Sixth centuries. This is the book of mystical teachings that appears in the episode Kaddish. These schools, as well as other less popular ones, merged to become what is still referred to as Kabbalah.
     - B. Pilgrim, "A Monstrous Love: The X-Files, Kaddish, and Mystical Judaism"

Mythological Beginnings
"The Book is said to be Abraham's meditations on the laws of creation immediately before his first revelation from G*d (Gen 12.1-3). It portray the origin of the universe in the combinations, reversals, and augmentations of the letters and symbols which underline all human speech."
     - "Sefer Yetsirah" Time Line

"When Abraham our father arose, he looked and saw and investigated and observed and engraved and hewed and combined and formed and calculated, and his creation was successful. Then the Master of all revealed Himself to him, and made a covenant with him and with his seed forever. He made a covenant with him on the ten fingers of his hands, and this is the covenant of the tongue; and on the ten toes of his feet, and this is the covenant of circumcision; and tied the twenty-two letters of the Torah to his tongue and revealed to him their secret. He drew them through water; stormed through air, He kindled them in fire, and melted them into ten double and twelve simple letters."
     - Sefer Yetsirah 3:24 (translated by Phineas Mordell)

"The Sefer Yezira is believed to have come from the 'Oral Law' which the Lord gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Moses was said to have received the Oral Law along with the Written Law, according to Jewish tradition."
"The 'Oral Law' was passed from mouth to ear generation after generation until it was finally written down by Abraham, the patriarch. He is considered the original author of the Sefer Yezira who wrote the book upon his conversion from idol worshipper to the religion of the True God."
"According to a statement in Rokeah (Hasidut Zakuyyut 'Arum), at age 48, Abraham was moved by the deeds of the generation of the Tower of Babel to reflect on God and the universe. He first studied for three years by himself,. Afterwards, by the command of God, he was taught by Shem, until he became so wise he composed the Sefer Yezira.
Then God appeared to him, took him unto Himself, kissed him, called him His friend, and made a covenant with him and his descendants forever. (Legend of Jews, Ginsburg, 210 Sefer Yezira 6.)
"The 'tradition' (Qabala) was then passed down orally to his sons, then to:
     Jeremiah, who passed it on to
     Joseph b. Uziel, who passed it to his son,
     Ben Sira who passed it to his son, Uziel.
     It was transmitted until the sages of Jerusalem put it to writing at a time when the Jews were at a period of destruction, sometime in the first or second century AD."
          - "History of the Sefer Yezira"

Dating the Written Work
"The written version has affinities with Babylonian, Egyptian and Hellenistic mysticism during the 2nd century BCE, when such a combination of influences was present. It became one of the most frequently and earliest published works of Jewish lore. Sefer Yetsirah was the first systematic treatise of Jewish mysticism between the 3rd and 6th century. Its influences were late Hellenistic and possibly Neoplatonic mathematical mysticism combined with Rabbinic Merkavah theories."
     - "Sefer Yetsirah" Time Line

c. 70 C.E.
The oldest reference to the sephiroth is in the Talmud.

"Ten agencies through which G*d created the world, vis: wisdom, insight, cognition, strength, power, inexorableness, justice, right, lore, mercy."
     - Talmud, Haggigah 12a

The sephiroth as combinations of the Holy name are also referred to in Sanhedrin 65b, 66b and 67.b .

"What [magic] is entirely permitted? Such as [the magic] performed by R. Hanina and R. 'Oshaia, who spend every Sabbath eve in studying the Laws of Creation, by means of which they created a third-grown calf, and ate it."
     - Talmud, Sanhedrin 67a

"The Talmud does not specify how or why the 'Laws of Creation' worked, but the Sefer Yetzirah does. Creative magic 'worked' for the rabbis because Creation itself was, after the formation of the sefirot and the letters, a mechanical -- a magical -- process."
     - Dr. David Blumenthal, Conclusion to "Understanding Jewish Mysticism"

120 C.E.
The authorship of Sefer Yetsirah is often attributed to Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph (c. 120 C.E.) who lived in time of Emperor Hadrian and was the pupil of R. Joshua ben Chananja. Akiba was later killed during the Bar Kochba revolt.

6th c. C.E.
The earliest references to the Sefer Yetsirah appear in the Baraita di-Shemu'el and in poems by Eleazar ha-Kalir.

11th c. C.E.
The earliest manuscript? of the Sefer Yetsirah - found in the Cairo Genizah and published by A.M. Habermann (1947).

According to Gershom Scholem, the Sefer Yetsirah was written some-time between the third and sixth centuries in Palestine "by a devout Jew with leanings towards mysticism...[his] aim was speculative and magical rather than ecstatic."
"It is the earliest systematic treatment of the Jewish mystical doctrine. It has been called the earliest scientific treatise in the Hebrew language. It contains the germ of a system of Hebrew phonetics and of a natural philosophy and physiology based on that doctrine."
     - The Secret Garden: An Anthology in the Kabbalah, David Meltzer Ed. (1976) p. 41

A Speculative Treatise
"Sefer Yetsirah is extant in two versions: a shorter one which appears in most editions as the book itself, and a longer version which is sometimes printed as an appendix. [The total length is less than thirty-two pages.] Both versions were already in existence in the tenth century and left their imprint on the different types of the numerous manuscripts...In both versions the book is divided into six chapters of mishnayot or halakhit, composed of brief statements which present the author's argument dogmatically, without any explanation or substantiation. The first chapter in particular employs a sonorous, solemn vocabulary, close to that of the Merkabah literature. Few biblical verses are quoted. Even when their wording is identical, the different arrangement of the mishnayot in the two versions and their resultant altered relationship one with the other color the theoretical appreciation of the ideas."
     - Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah (1978) p. 23

(2) The Spritual Dimension of Creation

"This book introduced the ten sefirot, the divine emanations of God. The sefirot evolved later into a central theme within Jewish mysticism, and literally became 'the central symbol system of Kabbalah.' Gematria was also born in bereshit mysticism. The Sefer Yetsirah gives an account of creation that involves the divine letters of the Hebrew alphabet in order to effect creation. Gematria is the system of recombining letters into mystical combinations, in order to effect that same creative process, and thereby achieve co-creatorship and healing of the universe."
     - Ecstatic Kabbalah

Sefer Yetsirah, Chapter 1Dr. David Blumenthal,
"Understanding Jewish Mysticism"
-------Verse 1-------      
"With thirty-two wondrous paths of Wisdom engraved Yah, the Lord of Hosts, [God of Israel, the Living God, King of the Universe, Almighty God, merciful and gracious, High and Exalted, dwelling in eternity, whose name is Holy, and created His universe with three books, with text (Sepher), with number (Sephar), and with communication (Sippur)." "The thirty-two wonderful paths of wisdom are the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet plus the first ten numbers of the decimal system. These ten numbers correspond to each of the Sephirot."

-------Verse 2-------      
"Ten Sefirot of Nothingness plus twenty two [foundations] letters: Three Mothers, Seven Doubles, and Twelve Elementals." "...Seven pairs of the letters [of the Hebrew alphabet] have the same shape, with one member of each pair having a dot in the middle. The dot changes the pronunciation of the letter slightly. These are the 'seven doubles.' Twelve letters have no dotted pairs, there are called 'simple letters'. That leaves three letters which the author calls the 'Mothers'."

-------Verse 3-------      
"Ten Sefirot of Nothingness: The number of the ten fingers, five opposite five, with a single covenant precisely in the middle, like the circumcision of the tongue [speech] and the circumcision of the membrane [male organ]." "The symbolism is two-fold: (1) the covenants of the flesh and of the spirit are the main tools of creation, the one human, the other divine; and (2) the sex organ and speech are the metaphors for the creative process."

-------Verse 4-------      
"Ten Sefirot of Nothingness: Ten and not nine; ten and not eleven. Understand with Wisdom, and be wise with Understanding. Examine with them and probe them, make a thing stand on its essence, and make the Creator sit on his base." "...The reader is told 'test' and 'explore' -- that is, to try to combine letters and numbers to 'create' as G-d did....By it, some rabbis were reported to be able to create small animals and homunculi (animated clay men; see the Golem). In performing these acts, the practitioner 'sets the Creator in His place,' i.e., becomes (in a small way) like him."

-------Verse 5-------      
"Ten Sefirot of Nothingness: Their measure is ten which have no end. A depth of beginning, a depth of end; a depth of good, a depth of evil; a depth of above, a depth below; a depth east, a depth west; a depth north, a depth south. The singular Master, God faithful King, dominates them all from His holy dwelling until eternity of eternities." "In this section the basic dimensions and 'borders' of reality are delineated: the physical dimension bounded by the six directions of the sphere, the temporal dimension bounded by beginning and end, and...the moral dimension of reality."

-------Verse 6-------      
"Ten Sefirot of Nothingness: Their vision is like the 'appearance of lightning', their limit has no end. His Word in them is 'running and returning'. They rush to his saying like a whirlwind, and before His throne they prostrate themselves." "And the living creatures [chayot] run and return like the appearance of lightning."
     - Ezekiel 1:14

-------Verse 7-------      
"Ten Sefirot of Nothingness: Their end is embedded in their beginning, and their beginning in their end, like a flame in a burning coal. For the Master is singular, He has no second. And before One, what do you count?" "The first image here, 'end ... fixed in their beginning,' is easily decipherable: a circle, which is the perfect geometric form, is generated....Without the coal [God], there is no flame [the sephirot]. The flame is the coal in another form..."

-------Verse 8-------      
"Ten Sefirot of Nothingness: Bridle your mouth from speaking and your heart from thinking. And if your heart runs, return to the place, as it is written, 'The Chayot running and returning'. Regarding this covenant was made." "Note that it is the heart, and not the brain, which is the organ of thinking and consciousness. This is true in other rabbinic sources too, when one is told to 'direct one's heart' i.e., consciousness, to G-d. The 'covenant' is the agreement of the initiates not to speak openly of the mysteries."

-------Verse 9-------      
"Ten Sefirot of Nothingness: One is the Breath of the Living God, blessed and benedicted be the Name of the Life of worlds. Voice, Breath and Speech. This is the Holy Breath (Ruach HaKodesh)." "The enumeration of the sefirot begins. Each constitutes a realm within which the Creator carries out a specific creative activity."

-------Verse 10-------      
"Two: Breath [Ruah] from Breath [Ruah Elohim Hayyim]. With it engrave and carve twenty-two foundation letters - three, Mothers, seven Doubles, and twelve Elementals - and one Breath [Avir] is from them." Ruah Elohim Hayyim - 'the Spirit of living Elohim' "refers to the creative spirit of God, which is, however, not identical to God Himself."
Ruah - 'Spiritual Air' "is intangible, and offspring of Spirit yet different from it, and parallel to water and fire. The function is clear: it is the realm in which the holy letters are created."
Avir] - 'Elemental Air' "refers to air, one of the 'Four Elements' which encircle the Earth (cf. chap. 3 of Sefer Yetzirah)."

-------Verse 11-------      
"Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God [Ruah Elohim Hayyim] was hovering over the waters."
     - Genesis 1:2
"Three: Water and Breath. With it engrave and carve chaos and void, mire and clay. Engrave them like a garden plot, carve them like a wall, cover them like a ceiling." "Note that, all through this section, the Creator's activities are described as 'hewing and engraving' or, better perhaps, as 'hewing and stamping' (as one stamps and image on a coin)."

-------Verse 12-------      
"And God said, 'Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.' So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. God called the expanse 'sky.'"
     - Genesis 1:6-7
"Four: Fire from water. With it engrave and carve the Throne of Glory, Seraphim, Ophanim, holy Chayot, and Ministering Angels. From the three establish His dwelling, as it is written, 'He makes His angels of breaths, His ministers from flaming fire' (Psalms 104:4)." "The Seraphim are fiery angels (Isaiah 6:2). The Hayot are the complex holy creatures, and the Ophanim are the wheels with eyes, both in Ezekiel's vision."

-------Verses 13-14-------      
"Five: With three of the simple letters seal 'above'. Choose three and place them in His great Name: YHV. With them seal the six extremities. Face upward and seal it with YHV.
Six: Seal 'below'. Face downward and seal it with YVH.
Seven: Seal 'east'. Face straight ahead and seal it with HYV.
Eight: Seal 'west'. Face backward and seal it with HVY
Nine: Seal 'south'. Face to the right and seal it with VYH.
Ten: Seal 'north'. Face to the left and seal it with VHY.
These are the Ten Sefirot of Nothingness. One is the Breath of the Living God. Breath [from Breath], Fire [from water, and the extremities], up, down, east, west, north and south."
"Having generated the four realms (Spirit, Spiritual Air, Spiritual Water, and Spiritual Fire), and having created within these realms the letters, the primal chaotic matter of the universe, and the heavenly messengers, God now sets boundaries to space. He uses three letters of the Tetragrammaton (His Holy Name), which he infuses with Spirit. He then 'seals' -- sets limits -- to the six dimensions of space. Note that God faces east."

Magical rites such as the adjuration of the prince or archon of the Torah, Sar Torah and the "putting on of the name" can be found in the Sefer Yetsirah. "The revelation sought through the performance of such rites is identical with that of the Merkabah vision. The 'Prince of the Torah' reveals the same mysteries as the voice which speaks from the throne of fire: the secret of heaven and earth, the dimensions of the demiurge, and the secret names - the knowledge of which gives power over all things."
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) pp. 77-78

Jewish Mysticism During the Middle Ages

(1) The Two Schools

Merging Traditions
"From Babylonia and Palestine, Jewish mysticism moved into the Jewish communities of Europe and blossomed there. Every community produced its own mystic literature, mystic belief, and mystic practices. There were distinctive Spanish, French, Italian, and German Kabbalahs. Some were mainly 'practical', dealing in magic; others were mainly 'speculative', emphasizing philosophical explanations; many combined practical and speculative Kabbalah in equal parts."
     - Harry Gersh, The Sacred Books of the Jews

"The term 'Kabbalah' originated in France around the 12th century as a term to describe the rapidly merging schools of Jewish mysticism. The two main schools were know as Maaseh Merkavah (The Matter of the Chariot) and Maaseh Bereshit (The Matter of Creation). Maaseh Merkavah deals with the various paths that a person may take to spiritual and intellectual enlightenment. These mostly concerned meditation and mystical prayer, following certain formulas. A good overview of its teachings can be found in a book from the early medieval period, Hekhalot Rabbati (The Book of Great Halls). However, it was soon superseded in popularity by Maaseh Bereshit, which speculated on how God actually went about creating the universe, as well as seeking ways to understand the divine power behind that creation."
     - B. Pilgrim, "A Monstrous Love: The X-Files, Kaddish, and Mystical Judaism"

"These two esoteric disciplines were connected in the sense that, according to mystical cosmogony, the heavens and spheres of the Divine Throne were situated 'above' the earth and firmament. Practitioners of ecstatic Merkabah mysticism experienced an ascent of the soul, in which they passed through various heavenly spheres until they finally beheld the vision of the Throne of Glory. Gershom Scholem equates the mysteries of the Throne and the Divine Glory revealed there to be parallel in Jewish esoteric tradition to the revelation of the Divine in Gnosticism."
"The study and teaching of both forms were highly restricted and not to be taught in public."
     - The Secret Garden: An Anthology in the Kabbalah, David Meltzer Ed. (1976) p. 3

"Thou art not allowed to investigate that which is below, that which is before (in the ultimate future), and that which is behind (at the beginning of things), but only that which is from Creation on."
     - Genesis Rabba, 1

Maaseh Merkavah
Voces magicae: "magic words," - non-Greek words and names which were considered to possess great power

"The emphasis in the text [Maaseh Merkavah] is on language, on the correct recitation of the words to achieve the ritual. The particular focus is on the divine Name, Which can be employed in unusual ways. The author relates the structures of the text to the linguistic ideologies. The complex structures of the text begin to unfold in light of the theories about the ritual function of language.
"The hymns include praise of the deity and voces magicae, words that have no semantic meaning, but draw attention to sounds of letters in God's name. Since God's name is used to create the world, the sounds of the name are creative, but the Name cannot be spoken. The hymns create a multiplicity of Name-equivalents, words that have the functional status of the divine Name and which can be employed in ritual. Voces magicae are not so much nonsense as they are logical extensions of the linguistic theory."
     - Review of Naomi Janowitz's The Poetics of Ascent: Theories of Language in a Rabbinic Ascent

The liturgical Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, part of the corpus of Dead Sea scrolls, also uses voces magicae, in this case as a mantra to induce visionary trances based on merkavah imagery.

(2) Later Works of the Maaseh Bereshit School

Shiur Komah
"In the Bible, God was sometimes described in human form. In other places, such as Exodus 23:21-22, an angel is mentioned who has the form of a human and who carries within him or represents 'the name of God.' The human figure on the divine throne described in different ways in Ezekiel 1, Daniel 7, and Exodus 24 among other places was blended into a consistent picture of a principal mediator figure who, like the angel of the Lord in Exodus 23, embodied, personified, or carried the name of God, YHWH, the Tetragrammaton."
     - Alan F. Segal, "The Risen Christ and the Angelic Mediator Figures in Light of Qumran" in Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls (James H. Charlesworth, Ed. - 1992), p. 309

"Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. Give heed to him and hearken to his voice, do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression; for my name is in him."
     - Exodus 23:20-21

"Several Jewish traditions discuss the eikon or image of God as Adam's prelapsarian appearance, an especially glorious and splendid form which humanity lost when Adam sinned, since humanity is described as made in 'the image and form of God' in Genesis 1:26: tselem damuwth. The same 'image and form of God' is thereafter associated with God's human appearance in the Bible or the description of the principal angel of God who carries God's name. Most significantly, the human figure on the Merkabah which Ezekiel describes is called: 'the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord'. Thus, God's Glory or kabod can become a technical term for God's human appearances."
     - Alan F. Segal, "The Risen Christ and the Angelic Mediator Figures in Light of Qumran" in Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls (James H. Charlesworth, Ed. - 1992), p. 310

Shiur Komah, literally translated, means "Measure of the Body" (i. e. the body of God).

"The Shiur Qoma dates from the Gaonic period [Babylon, seventh-eleventh centuries], possibly much earlier. It caused great controversy and many authorities denounced it as being grossly anthropomorphic and spurious. Maimonides declared that it should be burned. Its defenders claimed that it was not to be taken literally but had an esoteric meaning. According to Gershom Scholem, the Shiur Qoma must be counted among the oldest possessions of Jewish gnosticism."
     - The Secret Garden: An Anthology in the Kabbalah, David Meltzer Ed. (1976) p. 3

The writing was supposedly a revelation by Metatron to Rabbi Yishmael.

"Does it not seem possible that among the mystics who wrote the Shiur Komah, this figure was identified with the 'primordial man' of contemporary Iranian speculation, which thus made its entry into the world of Jewish mysticism?...There is no denying the fact that it is precisely the 'primordial man' on the throne of the Merkabah whom the Shiur Komah calls Yotser Bereshith, i. e. Creator of the world - a significant and, doubtless, a deliberate designation."
"...The Demiurge becomes, by an exercise of mystical anthropomorphism, the appearance of God on the 'throne of Glory,' at once visible and yet, by virtue of His transcendent nature, incapable of being really visualized."
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) pp. 65-66

(Note: the parasang, used in the verse below, is a Mesopotamian unit of length equal to 5724 meters or 3.6 miles.)

"The width of the forehead is equal to the height of the neck, and so is the shoulder.
The length of the nose [is] like the length of the small finger. The height of the cheek is equal to half the roundness of the head.
These measures are also found in human beings. [The size ofl His lips: seventy-seven parasangs. His upper lip is called GBRH, TYA the lower one HZRGYA.
His mouth is fire consuming fire. when He speaks its name (is) ASDRA.
[the next five words are not translatable]
The crown on His head [is] five hundred thousand by five hundred thousand [parasangs].
its name is VYS.
the precious stone between its homs [rays?] is called YS. AMV ALY YS AMI ALY is engraved on it.
My friend is white and ruddy, distinguished among ten thousand.
His head is bright as the finest gold,
His locks are like waving foliage and black as a raven.
His eyes are doves by streamlets of water.
His cheeks are as a bed of roses...

Two thousand, ten thousand parasangs.
And whoever does not conclude with this verse (Song of Songs 5:10-16) is in error."
     - Shiur Komah 7

Maaseh Bereshith
"This idea of the seven Hekhaloth transforms the old cosmological conception of the world structure revealed during the ascent into a description of the divine hierachy: the traveller in search of God, like the visitor at Court, must pass through endless magnificent halls and chambers. This change of emphasis, like other important aspects of the mystical system to which it belongs, appears to me to be connected with the fundamental religious experience of these mystics, namely, the decisive importance which they assigned to the interpretation of God as King. We are dealing here with a Judaized form of cosmocratorial mysticism concerning the divine King (or Emperor). This form of adoration takes first place, and cosmological mysticism is relegated to the writings concerned with the creation of the world, the commentaries to Maaseh Bereshith."
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) pp. 54-55

The mystical cosmogony consisted of seven levels "below" the earth and firmament. In order of descent, they are:
     1. Gehenna
     2. Shadow of Death
     3. Gates of Death
     4. Filth of mire
     5. Whirlpool of destruction
     6. Place of perdition
     7. Lower Sheol

Between the depths and heavens lies the round world circled by a great sea. The upper levels are entered through gates corresponding to the four cardinal directions which are guarded by angels.

"The throne of Glory is the staircase from the feet of the almighty to all earth..."
"The highest level of the world consists of the Abode of the Gods of Former Times ("angels, legions and the entire army of the upper world"
"Above this abode there is another, of which it is said: BEHOLD THE HEAVENS, SEE YOUR HOLY AND MAGNIFICENT ABODE. Above this abode are the clouds, as it is said: SING TO THE LORD, CELEBRATE HIS NAME, OPEN A PATH FOR THE HORSEMAN OF THE CLOUDS. In the clouds are found justice, charity, judgment, the treasuries of life, benediction and peace, and the souls of the Just, the dew with which the Holy One, blessed be He, revives the bodies of the dead for the LIGHT.

"The span of the arc rests upon the clouds. Lofty with thousands of myriads of measures, it corresponds to the watchmen and to the angels. Above it are found the wheels of ofanim resting on the arc. Lofty with thousands of myriads of measures, the wheels correspond to the seraphim, to the ofanim and to the legions. Above that are found the feet of the living creatures, resting on the wheels of the ofanim. Lofty with thousands of myriads of measures, they correspond to the great princes.

"The summit of the arc rests on the head of the living creatures, from which radiates the rays of majesty. The firmament is like a formidable mirror extending above the rays of majesty. Lofty with thousands of myriads of measures, it corresponds to the princes of purification. Above the firmament is found a foundation and a luminous likeness situated upon the formidable mirror. Lofty with thousands of myriads of measures it corresponds to the verse: THE CHARIOTS OF GOD ADD UP TO THOUSANDS OF MYRIADS.

"Above this is found an abode which is like fire. Placed upon the luminous likeness it is lofty with thousands of myriads of measures. It corresponds to the majestic rays and to the rains of glory. Above this abode there is a throne of sapphire resting on the likeness of the fire. Lofty with thousands of myriads of measures it corresponds to 'strength' and to 'power.'

"Above the throne of sapphire is the throne of Glory itself. Situated on sapphire stone it is lofty with thousands of myriads of measures. It is like the Lord of the entire world whose Glory is established on the throne, as it is said: I SEE YHWH SITTING ON THE LOFTY AND ELEVATED THRONE. Moreover it is said: A WORK OF TRANSPARENT SAPPHIRE WAS AT HIS FEET. The entire world like a talisman hangs from His powerful arm, as it is said: AND AT HIS FEET: THE WORLD.
"The throne of Glory is encircled by the tents of splendor, with sapphire and emerald which conceal it from view, as it is said: THE EYE SHALL IN NO WAY SEE ME. FOR I WILL INVOKE THE NAME OF YHWH TO MAGNIFY OUR LORD GOD."

"This prayer should be recited with fervent intention: You are blessed YHWH, our God, God of our fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob, the great strong and awesome God, God Above All, who has created the heaven and the earth through His compassion! You are the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He!
"Blessed be Your Name! Honored be Your Name! Venerated be Your Name! United be Your Name! That Your Name triumph! Praised be Your Name! Adored be Your Name! That Your memory continue through all eternity! You are seated on the throne of Glory and the living creatures ascend before You.
"You are made of fire! Your throne is iron! The holy living creatures are aflame! Your servants are of consuming flame! You are the Prince above all other princes! Your chariots are above the ofanim! Send David to me, the son of Zalmath, your servant, to lead me to the wise at heart who are ordained for the servants of YH. That he expand my heart and my lips like a fountain that overflows the brim, LIKE A FOUNTAINHEAD WHOSE WATERS NEVER DRY UP!

"You are blessed, YHWH!
Your great Name is above all other names!
Rise up, YHWH, in your power!
We want to sing and celebrate your valor! Celebrate your great and formidable Name! It is holy. I want to sing YHWH all the days of my life, celebrate YHWH as long as I live!"
     - Baraita de Ma'aseh Bereshit (Baraita on the Work of Creation - c. 8th century)

(Translated by Jack Hirschman from a French translation of the original Hebrew)

Shekhinah (Light of God)

"He is like us, as it were, but greater than everything; and that is His glory which is hidden from us."
     - Rabbi Akiba

"Later when the 'Glory of God' had become identified with the Shekhinah, the 'Alphabet of Rabbi Akiba' expressly referred to the 'body of the Shekhinah' as the subject of the Shiur Komah. The employment of this term is proof that its authors had in mind not the substance of divinity but merely the measurements of its appearance."
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 66

Some ancient Jewish sects perceived the Shekhina as the female presence of God on Earth.

"God took me from the midst of the race of the flood and carried me on the stormy wings of the Shekhinah to the highest heaven and brought me into the great palaces on the heights of the seventh heaven Araboth, where there are the throne of the Shekhinah and the Merkabah, the legions of anger and hosts of wrath, the shinanim of the fire, the cherubim of the flaming torches, the ofannim of the fiery coals, the servants of the flames, and the seraphim of the lightning, and He stood me there daily to serve the throne of glory."
     - 3 Enoch 7

(2) The Evolution of the Kabbalah

Sefer Hasidim and Sefir ha-Behir
"The immediate heirs of the Maaseh Merkavah and Maaseh Beresheet traditions were a community of pietists called the Hasidei Ashkenaz, or 'pietists of Germany', active during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. This group, under the influence of their Christian mystic contemporaries, practiced humility and asceticism, and remains best known for its major work, the Sefer Hasidim, a collection of ethical teachings. In addition, the Hasidei Ashkenaz preserved and elaborated on the ancient Jewish mystical teachings, applying them especially to prayer, and developed an increasingly symbolic and mythical strain of mystical thought. To simplify matters somewhat, one may say that this group constituted the link between ancient Jewish mysticism and the soon-to-emerge Kabbalah."
     - Michael Sidlofsky, "Kabbalah: A Brief History"

"By the early middle ages further, more theosophical developments had taken place, chiefly a description of 'processes' within God, and a highly esoteric view of creation as a process in which God manifests in a series of emanations. This doctrine of the 'sephiroth' can be found in a rudimentary form in the Yetzirah, but by the time of the publication of the book Bahir (12th century) it had reached a form not too different from the form it takes today."
     - Colin Low, "cabalah.cln"

"The Kabbalah, at its heart, is a way to bring man closer to the divine. In order to accomplish this, it has to make the divine understandable to the common man.
"In the terminology of the Kabbalah, God is referred to as Eyn Sof (Without End), and is never pictured in human form. Eyn Sof is without form or sex, completely beyond human comprehension. In order to create the universe, Eyn Sof created 10 Sefirot (Channels) each corresponding to a different element of his/her divinity. Think of them as electrical cables. The energy created by a power plant is to great to be of any use, so it is channeled through electrical cables, being stepped down and controlled until humans can make use of it. The power of Eyn Sof is the power plant, and Sefirot are it's cables, channels that bring power to the universe in a more usable form.
"Mankind could not exist without Eyn Sof providing the power. However, in Kabbalah, it is a true circuit. Just as we could not exist without Eyn Sof's power, Eyn Sof could not exist without our belief. We are partners in creation, in our own way equal to Eyn Sof in the care of the universe. In fact, in Kabbalah, angels (melakh in Hebrew, meaning "messenger") are non-physical embodiments of Eyn Sof's power, that can be sent by Eyn Sof or created by the actions of Mankind, for good or evil. These angels are essential for the practical uses of Kabbalah that (according to legend) can create such things as golems. Practical Kabbalah makes use of letters, words and numbers to channel the power of Eyn Sof and it's messengers, using the two way connection to the divine created by the Sefirot, just as machines are designed to take the power we receive from the power plant via cables, and make use of it practical fashion."
     - B. Pilgrim, "A Monstrous Love: The X-Files, Kaddish, and Mystical Judaism"

Sefer ha-Behir
"The first book to begin combining the various mystical elements of Judaism into a single cosmology was Sefer ha-Behir (Book of Brightness), which also introduced the concept that letters and words, when properly combined, possessed mystical power. With the publication of Sefir ha-Behir, Kabbalah began to become more and more accepted by mainstream Judaism, especially in Spain, under the guidance of Rabbi Isaac the Blind, the first great Kabbalist."
     - B. Pilgrim, "A Monstrous Love: The X-Files, Kaddish, and Mystical Judaism"

"The Book Bahir is one of the oldest Kabbalist texts and of primary importance to the development of Kabbalah's symbolic language. Modern scholarship believes it was edited in the twelfth century in Provence, incorporating ancient texts transmitted to Europe from the East -an extension of early oriental gnostic concepts which entered into the mainstream of Jewish mystical thought.
"It's a fragmentary work, a collage of voices on the page which appear and disappear...Often a thought or conversation ends abruptly, resonating a far greater mystery by its incompletion -intangible and ineffable fragments from a lost book.
"The Book Bahir is the earliest source to deal with the Sephiroth, the realm of divine attributes. It also proposes other technical terminology which later become a part of Kabbalah's basic vocabulary; that is, the world of beriah ["creation"], the world of yetsirah ["formation"]. It has the first reference in Kabbalistic literature to the doctrine of transmigration of souls, gilgul."
     - The Secret Garden: An Anthology in the Kabbalah, David Meltzer Ed. (1976) p. 49

Note similarities with the shaman's "world tree".

"It is I [the Lord] who planted this 'tree' so that all the world might delight in it, and I vaulted the universe with it and named its name 'Universe,' for the universe hangs on it and the universe goes forth from it, everything needs it, and they look upon it and yeam for it, and from there the souls go forth. Alone was I when I made it, and no angel can rise above it and say: I was here before you, for even when I vaulted my earth, when I planted and rooted this tree, and let them have joy in one another and enjoyed them myself - 'who might have been with me,' to whom I might have revealed this secret?"
     - Sefer ha-Behir 14c

Raza Rabba
"The Book Bahir was to a large extent directly based on "the book Raza Rabba, 'The Great Mystery', which some Eastern authors of the tenth century named among the most important of esoteric writings....It thus becomes understandable how gnostical termini technici, symbols, and mythologems came to be used by the earliest Kabbalists who wrote their works in Provence during the twelfth century....It can be taken as certain that in addition to the Raza Rabba, which appears to have been a cross between a mystical Midrash and a Hekhaloth text, with a strong magical element thrown in, other similar fragments of ancient writings, with Gnostic excerpts written in Hebrew, made their way from the East to Provence."
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 75

"The Kabbalah attained its first Golden Age in Castille, Spain during the final decades of the thirteenth century. Brilliant, creative figures such as Rabbis Moses de Leon and Joseph Gikatilla pooled their immense scholarship and imaginative powers to produce a richly symbolic, poetic, mythological body of literature which has inspired students of Kabbalah to this day. The major work of the Castille circle is the Sefer ha-Zohar ('Book of Splendor'), a mystical journey through the Torah, Jewish law and legend, the mind of the Kabbalist and the Godhead Itself. Attributed to the second-century Galilean sage, Simeon bar Yohai, the Zohar was, according to modern scholarship, the work of Moses de Leon and possibly others in the Castille school. At the same time, the eccentric Abraham Abulafia, also from Spain, developed an ecstatic form of kabbalistic meditation de-emphasizing the Sefirot and basing itself instead on permutations of Hebrew letters, vovels and biblical phrases. His independent, idiosyncratic form of Kabbalah didn't sit well with the rabbis of his time; however, an Abulafian chain of tradition survived to influence later Kabbalist"
     - Michael Sidlofsky, "Kabbalah: A Brief History"

"R. Akiba said. 'In that hour when I ascended on high, I made marks at the entrances of heaven more than at the entrances of my own house, and when I came to the curtain, the angels of destruction went forth to destroy me. God said to them: 'Leave this elder alone, for he is worthy to contemplate my glory. '
"R. Akiba said. 'In that hour when I ascended to the Merkabah, a heavenly voice went forth from under the throne of glory, speaking in the Aramaic language. 'Before God made heaven and earth, he established a vestibule to heaven, to go in and to go out. He established a solid name to strengthen [or to design] by it the whole world. He invited Man [to this pre-established place] to enable him
To ascend on high,
to descend below,
to drive on wheels [of the Merkabah],
to explore the world,
to walk on dry ground,
to contemplate the splendor,
to dwell with the crown,
to praise the glory,
to say praise,
to combine letters,
to say names,
to behold what is on high,
and to behold what is below,
to know the meaning of the living,
and to see the vision of the dead,
to walk in rivers of fire,
and to know the lightning.
"And who can explain and who can behold what is before all this?
"It is said: For man shall not see Me and live (Exodus 33.-20), and secondly it is said: That God speaks to man and he liveth (Deuteronomy 5.-21), and thirdly it is said: I saw the Lord sitting upon a Throne, etc. (Isaiah 6.-II)."
     - Zohar, Translated by Gershom Scholem

Click here for more information about the Zohar.

Later Theosophical Developments
" The early Hasid tradition, of the German Ashkanazim c. 1230s, like Judah the Hasid, found it's roots in the concept of the tzaddik 'righteous, blameless' man of G-D and whose primordial model was Noah (Gen 6:9) and Abraham (Gen. 15:6). The early movement emphasized ascetic practices, serenity of mind and extreme altruism (cf. Book of the Devout), or as the Pirke Aboth says, 'What is mine is yours and what is yours is yours--such is the way of the Hasid.' The culmination of such practice is both fear and love of the Most Holy, mystical passions which lead to prophetic knowledge and selfless surrender (David, 1982)."
     - Zos Imos, "Jewish Mystical Traditions"

"In this second stage the magical contents cease to represent a Psychical reality and are gradually eliminated; in this way the old texts are gradually replaced by a new devotional literature, at once stilted and lyrical, which employs the elements of the original Merkabah mysticism....[This] includes the numerous texts of the 'Midrash of the Ten Martyrs' and the 'Alphabet of Rabbi Akiba,' both of them writings which were particularly popular among the Jews of the Middle Ages."
     - Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941/1961) p. 51

"In the Sixteenth century, in Safed (then Palestine, now Israel), Kabbalah reached it's nadir, with the rise of Rabbi Isaac Luria, the greatest of all Kabbalists...Many of the hymns and rituals created by Rabbi Luria are still in use today."
"In the Seventeenth century, a false messiah rose up among the Kabbalists named Shabbetai Tzvi, and gathered a large and powerful following. When he was proven not to be the messiah (by converting to Islam in Turkey), Kabbalah fell out of favor and was practically outlawed, since it was believed that the forbidden knowledge about God that he had acquired through his mystical studies had driven him mad.
"Only in the eighteenth century did Kabbalah begin a comeback, through the teachings of Israel ben Eliezar, known as the Baal Shem Tov (Master of the Good Name) [died 1760]. He founded the Hassidic movement, stressing that true piety was not found in studying, but in loving life and all of God's creations. Only through Kabbalah, dancing, singing and meditation/prayer could the divine be understood. Soon, the Baal Shem Tov attracted many followers and students, many of whom went on to form the great rabbinical dynasties of modern day Hassidism. Slowly, as Hassidism became more and more part of the mainstream of Orthodox Judaism, the mystical and Kabbalistic elements from which it grew have been downplayed, but there is still a powerful element of the 'unknowable' just under the surface. Living in Williamsburg, it is likely that the Weiss family of Kaddish belong to the Lubavitcher sect of Hassidism, which is well-known for it's adherence to mystical doctrines."
     - B. Pilgrim, "A Monstrous Love: The X-Files, Kaddish, and Mystical Judaism"

Other Kabbalah Sites
Gateway to the Qabalah
     Contains links to a number of good essays on the Kabbalah
Kabal Barak Negby
     The history and wisdom of the book of Yetzira plus UFO connections, magic and charms
     Colin Low's excellent introduction to the meaning of the Kabblah
Tarot page
     Kabbalistic correspondences in the Tarot deck and secrets of the Alphabet
VTSophia Web Pages
     Sepher Yetzirah; spiritual geometry and a Christian journey of Hermetic esoterism