Cover image for Practical Kabbalah : a guide to Jewish wisdom for everyday life
Practical Kabbalah : a guide to Jewish wisdom for everyday life
Wolf, Laibl.
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Publication Information:
New York : Three Rivers Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xiii, 256 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
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BM723 .W6 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Kabbalah is an ancient Jewish wisdom that explains the laws of spiritual energy. Up until very recently the Kabbalah was reserved for the elite, those who only after years of scholarship and practice were allowed to enter this mystical realm. However, one doesn't need to devote one's life to intense study to reap the rich rewards of the Kabbalah. With just a basic understanding of a few key concepts, our lives can be enriched immensely. We can then begin to fulfill our deepest dreams and reach our most important goals, becoming the people we long to become.

By learning to understand the Sefirot--the ten spiritual properties that flow from the cosmic source into our heart--we can connect to the universe and profoundly transform our experience of daily life. For example, Hessed, or "loving-kindness," represents the desire to be generous, while Gevurah is the desire to focus intently or withhold. These properties must be balanced in order for harmony and well-being to occur. Rabbi Laibl Wolf shows how to maintain that balance and enjoy a healthy and productive life by using simple meditation and creative visualization techniques to grasp the spiritual nature of our life.

Practical Kabbalah draws upon ancient wisdom but offers a modern interpretation and easy-to-understand techniques for delving deeper into our selves and our world and for reaping the bounteous gifts that were always meant for us.

Author Notes

Laibl Wolf (Rabbi), LLB, MEdPsych, is an internationally renowned lecturer in the fields of mind and emotion mastery and personal growth. He has been invited to lecture in 165 cities in the past five years alone, indicating the reputation and wealth of experience, not to speak of stamina, that he possesses. He has founded the Human Development Institute, a foundation dedicated to the progress of humankind through insight and personal mastery. Being one of the few traditional exponents of Kabbalistic teachings while having studied law and psychology as well, he combines the wisdom of the past with a modern and progressive view of the present.He has appeared extensively in the media and has been keynote speaker at international conferences, including those of the International Psychological Association, the International Transpersonal Association, the International Mind/Body/Immunity Conference, and the American Orthodox Union of Rabbis.He has produced an extensive set of self-mastery and meditation audiovisual materials that are available on four continents. These explore the teachings in a more experiential manner, and have the advantage of the author's emphases as well.He resides in Melbourne, Australia, with his wife, Leah, and their three children.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Kabbalah is the traditional and most commonly used term for the esoteric teaching of Judaism. In its wider sense, it signifies all the successive esoteric movements in Judaism that evolved from the end of the period of the Second Temple and became active factors in Jewish history. Wolf explains that he wrote this book to make the basic teachings of the Kabbalah relevant to daily life while providing the reader with a taste of the original intent. The book is divided into two sections. The first provides a general introduction to the tradition of Kabbalah and the second examines the 10 spiritual flows known as the Sefirot (Hebrew for numbers) that form the foundation of Kabbalah. Wolf, an Orthodox rabbi living in Australia, uses a variety of meditation exercises and creative visualizations that could help in achieving an emotionally balanced life, spiritual growth, and a feeling of self-worth and self-esteem. Practical Kabbalah is not for everyone, of course, but it's an excellent basic guide for readers interested in this complex subject. --George Cohen

Publisher's Weekly Review

Kabbalah is the richest repository of ancient Jewish mysticism. Its myriad writings express the profundity of God's mysteries and "explain the eternal laws of how spiritual energy moves through the Cosmos." For centuries, holy men have devoted their entire lives to plumbing its depths. Rabbi Wolf, who leads workshops and seminars on Kabbalah, believes that the great wisdom of Kabbalah can be used in everyday life to achieve balance and harmony. In the first section of the book, Wolf provides a useful introduction to the history of Kabbalah and its interpretation. He discusses Kabbalah's many layers and paints a picture of the kabbalist, someone whose life is devoted to prayer and the study of Kabbalah. In his second section, Wolf elaborates upon the 10 Sefirot, "the spiritual energies of Mind and Emotion," that make up Kabbalah. The Kabbalah teaches that the universe's creation is incomplete and these Sefirot are the tools we can use to "create the environment through which the universe can be perfected." For example, Wolf interprets "Hessed" as the "unlocking flow of love." He notes that "Hessed is the dominant flow that propels us to a state of oneness and unity." As in the other meditations, Wolf offers a variety of meditation exercises on the Sefirot so that the Sefirot can be woven into everyday life. The author uses stories from Hasidic teachers, biblical stories and personal anecdotes to illustrate the ways that Kabbalah can guide seekers to spiritual unity. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Two rabbis, a world apart (Benyosef in Jerusalem, Wolf in Australia), take quite different approaches to bringing the Kabbalah to modern readers. Kabbalah, a set of ancient mystic Jewish teachings, dates from ancient times but reached its flowering in 18th-century central Europe. Over the centuries, there have been many great teachers of Kabbalah. Benyosef bases his teachings on those of Rafael Moshe Luria, a modern master of Kabbalah and a direct descendant of the famous 16th-century Kabbalist R. Isaac Luria. Benyosef guides the reader through the holidays and festivals of the Jewish year and shows how these events can be celebrated and understood via concepts developed by Moshe Luria. The text will speak to those already familiar with the Kabbalah and who wish to contrast the Lurian approach with that of other Kabbalists. Beginners will find the text rough going. In contrast, Wolf (who bases his teachings on those of the late Lubavicher Rebbe Schneerson) shows how the Kabbalah fits into other mystic traditions such as Zen Buddhism and Hinduism. Using meditation exercises, Wolf, who is also a psychologist, hopes to bring the reader to inner peace and spiritual communion with God. Recommended for larger religion or Judaica collections.ÄOlga B. Wise, Compaq Computers Inc., Austin, TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Abraham -- The Rebel Mystic     You may have read somewhere that Kabbalah is a mystical phenomenon that emerged from the medieval period of history, a thirteenth-century creation. This is only part of the story. The academic texts tell us that Moses de Lyon published the major text of Kabbalah, known as the Zohar (the Inner Light), in the medieval period. However, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai had already handwritten this work a thousand years earlier in ancient Israel. And he had written it on the basis of an oral tradition that went back another seventeen hundred years.     The Kabbalah of the Torah (the body of law and instruction that provides structure to Jewish society and personal spiritual disciplines for its members) is incredibly old and can be traced back to Abraham, who is credited with having composed Kabbalistic works. But even predating this, we know that Noah and Adam were fully conversant with its teachings.     The Kabbalah is enshrouded in mystery. Today academics still debate how it may have evolved and how its spirit moved through the centuries. I have not set out to write a history book or analysis of theological writings. At the same time, it is necessary to provide a brief background so the reader understands the roots of Kabbalah. The interpretation that follows is gleaned from mystical writings. Some learned academics may differ with this view, but my teachers assure me that what follows resonates with the Cosmic truths contained in the holy texts. Abraham was tall and gaunt. The desert sands had sharpened his facial features into fractured contours. An imposing and stoic figure, he impressed those around him with his regal bearing and the clarity of his vision. He was the most celebrated leader in the Middle East.     Despite the trappings of obvious wealth and comfort, Abraham lived a spartan life. He took meticulous care of his flocks of sheep and even more so of his shepherds. After all, he too was a shepherd. Nicknamed the Ivri (the Hebrew), Abraham was a living legend throughout the land. He was a shepherd-king and a warrior of renown. But most of all he was known as the wise mystic who had an altogether strange notion of a single Deity. He could summon powers from Above to decimate an army or heal a sick child, and he saw things that others could not see. Angelic forces whispered in his ear. It was known that he received instructions from the mysterious G-d.     Let us imagine Abraham standing on the sand hill, the desert Tel, thinking of days gone by. He recalls the rebelliousness of his youth; how he challenged the idolatrous ways of Mesopotamian polytheism; how he was thrown into the fiery furnace by the Mesopotamian king and defied all the laws of nature by surviving the intense heat without a blemish. Then came the transforming instructions from Above, when G-d ordered Abraham to leave the country of his birth and travel to a strange land.     We see him now, standing in that new land, holy energy vibrating through his body. This land will one day be named after his grandson Israel. Until the end of days it will remain the crossroads for warring armies that seek dominion of their faith.     When Abraham heeded G-d's order he was already fully proficient in what was to become known as Kabbalah. He had even authored a major Kabbalistic text-- Sefer HaYetzira (the Book of Creative Formation). He was an acclaimed astrologer and conversant in the magic and witchcraft of the East. In his youth Abraham had turned his back on the negative forces of tum'ah (spiritual blemish) and adopted the pathway of spiritual monotheism. This rebellious stance earned him his calling card--the Ivri , meaning the "other-sider," or the "outsider." The word Ivri became anglicized as "Hebrew."     Academics argue about the origins of the word Ivri . It could have been adopted from his famous forebear of similar name, Eiver, the great-grandson of Noah. Or it might simply note that his origins were from across the Euphrates River, the other side of the proverbial tracks, hence "the other-sider." Perhaps it was simply a nasty epithet thrown at him by the ruling classes to convey their displeasure at the fast-growing popularity of this upstart. Whatever its origins, his name has been recorded for posterity.     Abraham's dreams for the success of the generations to come were pinned on his son Isaac, born of his wife, Sarah. The future of the dynasty was dependent on this loyal and unassuming son. In Isaac he detected the qualities that would steer the newly emerging Hebrews through the spiritual minefields of the East. It was to safeguard Isaac that Abraham had cast out his other sons--the sons born to him by his second wife, Hagar. These youths had been a poor influence on Isaac, entangled as they were in the beliefs of the prevailing cults of polytheism and witchcraft.     We can imagine Abraham's sadness as he recalls their bitter parting, and his prayers as he remembers the gifts he bestowed upon them--insights and spiritual powers with which they might navigate the higher realms. If his sons were to play with the fire of idolatry, at least they would have a moral compass to guide them in a positive direction. Abraham's gifts would allow them to see the nature of evil-- shem hatum'ah , the dark side of higher reality. Would they use their knowledge wisely? He didn't know. He only hoped that these teachings would hold them in good stead as they departed for the land of the East--the biblical code name for Hodu--India.     And here we find the beginnings of the great encounter between the East and the future West. It makes understandable the remarkable parallels between mystical Judaism and the Eastern pathways of Buddhism and Hinduism. East Meets Early West We conjecture that upon arrival in ancient India--Hodu--Abraham's sons began to share their insights with the indigenous peoples who even named the great river, the Indus River, after the father who sent them here. In Brahmin Indus means "the other-sider"--the Ivri! Furthermore, their Deity-- B R A H M A N , is simply a rearrangement of the basic letters of the father's name-- A B R A H A M . Abraham's great-grandson Ashurim was said to have created the spiritual commune known as the ashram . Interestingly, the Aramaic translation of the Bible, Targum Onkelos, translates ashurim as "camps" or "communes." Other Hebrew concepts began to creep into the Eastern people's belief systems. Ram , elevated deity in the East, in Hebrew means "elevated." Veydah is etymologically related to the Hebrew word for "knowledge" and "insight," deyah. Tamas, Indian for "impurity," is obviously the Hebrew word tameh , with the same meaning.     Apart from terminological similarities, we can also discern conceptual parallels. For example, a concept like reincarnation, tulku in the East, is the Hebrew teaching of Gilgul HaNefesh , the cyclical reincarnation of the wandering of the soul. Karma, the "baggage" carried from the previous lifetime, reminds one of the Hebrew hashgacha pratit , the specific cause-and-effect relationship molded by past lives. The tests and openings that constitute moments of opportunity to change one's reincarnative destiny are called bardos in the East and nissyonot in Hebrew. Parallel Terminology and Concept HEBREW EAST MEANING Ivri Indus Other-sider Avraham Brahman Father of nation Deyah Veydah Knowledge Ashurim Ashram Spiritual wealth Ram Ram Elevated Tamei Tames Spiritual Impurity Gilgul Tulku Reincarnation Hashgacha Karma Next life "baggage" Nissayon Bardo Test, opportunity The Nature of Breath An interesting and significant approach to meditation in the East focuses on the science of breathing. Congruent with this is the anthropomorphic association of breath with creation as outlined in the Hebrew Bible: "And He breathed the living soul into his [Adam's] nose." The Hebrew word for "breath" is neshima , while the word for "soul" is neshama . The connection is obvious. Focusing on breath is focusing on the life force itself. The Hassidic masters of Kabbalah offered the meditational imagery of G-d's investiture in the world as the process of memalleh --the filling of the world with G-dly presence, just like breath filling the lungs.     Emptying the mind, which is another Eastern meditational teaching, is akin to the Kabbalistic teaching that the world derives from a void, an emptiness known as halal . (Is this the progenitor of the Greek hyle , which means "the basic material from which the Cosmos was sculpted"?) Emptying the mind creates the basis for the contemplative filling process, memalleh, known in Hassidic meditation as hitbonenut .     The Kabbalah does not teach that the "science of breath" is an end in itself, nor the emptying of the mind a virtue in its own right. Rather, they are disciplines that lead to greater insight and are instructed by defined devotional practices. The Early Kabbalists Abraham was proficient in what was to become known much later as Kabbalah. He often called upon its mystical powers as well as its practical wisdom. The shepherd-king had studied in the great spiritual teaching center known as the Academy of Shem and Eiver, established by Noah's son Shem (the father of the Shemites , or Semitic peoples) and Shem's own grandson Eiver, who was Abraham's forebear.     The Academy of Shem and Eiver was not a public center of learning. Its portals were restricted to the early initiates--those destined to carry the spiritual teachings of a future Torah in its early path through the desert. The Hebrew patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were tutored in this academy. Jacob reputedly studied these esoteric spiritual disciplines for fourteen years. The architects of the Jewish nation thus acquired a spiritual discipline that was to become the hallmark of the future People of the Book. Jacob's son Judah reopened the academy in the very heart of ancient Egypt, and it continued to function secretly throughout the four hundred years of exile and slavery in Egypt, even in the presence of Ramses II himself.     Yet Abraham was not the first Kabbalist. The knowledge of the spiritual forces that constitute the Cosmos and maintain its physical and spiritual integrity were already known to the first Person--Adam. And herein lie some fascinating teachings.     So let us leave Abraham, the first Hebrew, and visit the dawning of the very first millennium in the person of Adam, also known as Harishon ("the First One"). The Letters of Creation Who was this two-legged humanoid who stared down all other creatures? Was he/she/it human? Kabbalah informs us that Adam, primordial Person, was initially a man-woman composite--an androgynous being. Only later was Adam split into two, the predominant masculine component located in Adam and the feminine in Eve. Even today man possesses latent femininity, and woman, latent masculinity. The masculine-feminine duality encompasses all of creation. Even the Hebrew letters upon which we will be meditating contribute to essentially masculine and feminine components of language. Ultimately these letters relate to masculine and feminine spiritual forces.     In the mystical tradition of Kabbalah, an individual's feminine component is more prophetic, prescient, and gifted in spiritual skills. Hence the patriarchs' wives, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, were spiritually gifted. Even the G-dly presence that envelopes the prophet is called the feminine Shechina (indwelling).     Yet the concepts of masculinity and femininity are not absolute. Man and woman can exhibit both masculine and feminine expressions. This duality operates throughout nature. Earth is feminine and accepts the masculine activity of people--both men and women--of seeding the soil and nourishing the seed, giving rise to progeny--the harvest.     The spiritual energies that define Mind and Emotion possess masculine and feminine properties, and throughout the Kabbalah we find gender imagery. This will be discussed in detail in part 2.     In truth, Adam was not really human like you and me. His connection to the nature of creation was literally "out of this world." He intuited the twenty-two creative forces that shape the universe and understood the separate paths they took in entering the realm of the "here and now." With this understanding he transposed the mystical pathways he saw into twenty-two distinct shapes. Each became a letter in the Hebrew alphabet.     Adam also understood the energies associated with each of these letters. He replicated their individual energies through the breath as it rose from his lungs, impinging on the larynx--and then becoming shaped as sounds through the five aspects of his mouth: the lips, tongue, teeth, palate, and throat. This resulted in twenty-two sounds--the various sounds of the Hebrew alphabet. Adam used the articulation of sound to express the depth and beauty of life.     Each letter of the Hebrew language is a window into a higher reality. The letters constitute a language known as Lashon HaKodesh --"the Holy Tongue"--Hebrew. That is why the Kabbalah places great emphasis on the analysis of words and letters, their numerical equivalence, interchangeability, shapes, and the end-of-word final letters. Each nuance opens up a panorama of spiritual depth, far more complex than any grammatical construct might suggest.     Consider a simple exercise. The word for "wanting" or "desiring" (ratzah) is made up of the three Hebrew consonants that make the sounds R-TZ-H. These three consonants also form the basis of the word meaning "the adversary" ( hatzar )--H-TZ-R. Further still, another word made up of these three consonants--TZ-H-R--means "clarity" or "enlightenment" ( Tzohar --also Anglicized as Zohar ). A fourth combination of these three consonants is TZ-R-H, meaning "trouble" or "constraints" ( tzarah ). In English these words seem unrelated. But in Kabbalah the fact that these words possess the same root letters means that they are inherently connected.     So we learn that directing our will and desire incorrectly creates an internal adversary --that is, trouble--within and without. Directing it correctly brings enlightenment and clarity of spirit.     If the letters of the Hebrew alphabet are symbols depicting the basic spiritual components of creation, then their combination as the Torah provides a total blueprint of that creation. Let us explore this blueprint and learn more about the spiritual aspects of creation. Copyright © 1999 Laibl Wolf. All rights reserved.