Kabbalah: The Toledano Tradition: Part II*

Z'ev ben Shimon Halevi


In Kabbalah, the most immediate and important area of study and practice is one's own self. Without knowledge of human nature there can be no wisdom or understanding, indeed any development. The lower Trees of Jacob's Ladder, that is, of the body and the psyche, are the two most accessible. When the anatomy of the physical organism is put on the Tree, the whole of the organic evolution can be seen. There are, for example, the seven levels of Nature. At Malkhut are the mineral, metal and elemental dimensions. Above, at Yesod, are the lower plants; then come the higher plants. These are followed by plant-animals; over them are seen the invertebrates, above which come the higher animals. At the top is humanity which incorporates all that is below. As regards the physical body, the four Worlds are seen in miniature in the mechanical, chemical, electronic and conscious levels.

All these levels are in the potential of the fertilised egg of the mother. However, according to Kabbalah, the body's configuration already exists in the World of Formation. Called the zelem or shadow, it is gradually filled out as the individual grows physically from infancy to adulthood. The zelem also carries the psychological character over from the last and previous other lives. This accounts for the difference between siblings, even though they have the same family and ethnic genes. The embryonic body is connected with the psyche at the moment of conception and is fused with it at the moment of birth.

Some people can remember their birth and even what occurred prior to it. Such a memory can recall departing from old friends in the higher Worlds or having a flash forward insight into their fate, which is partly determined by the state of the cosmos. A birth chart is about the astrological principles that govern life on Earth. For example, there can be no summer and all its activities without the Sun being in a certain position in the northern hemisphere. It has also been noted, over thousands of years, that people born in the winter tend to be introvert while the zodiacal position of the Moon appears to influence the character of the ego. The disposition of the planets has a similar effect on various aspects of the psyche. A strong Venus, for example, seems to generate a sensual temperament, while an afflicted Mars stimulates indecision.

The psyche is half-embedded in the body. Where they interact is the domain of the Nefesh or the instinctive mind. Freud called it the "Id", the sexual drive with its libido and mortido principles, that is, flight or fight, submission and aggression reflexes. In contrast, the soul triad of the Tree pivots on the Self of Tiferet that relates to Jung's view of individuation. The lower part of the psyche intermeshes with the electro-magnetic field of the body. The result is that the psychological capacity to act, think and feel is greatly influenced by the senses and the state of the body. The ego or ordinary mind is more or less automatic, due to the demands of the body and the attitudes and habits acquired from the family and society. These are stored in the upper side triads as the Super Ego and Ego Ideal, which manifest as the unconscious punishment and reward complexes that govern most people's lives.

The ancient and medieval Kabbalists did not know about the anatomy of the body in detail, but they did understand the levels present within. They saw the carnal organism in terms of the four elements; earth being its solids, water its fluidic processes and air as the activating life principle. Fire was related to consciousness. The rabbis also recognised the mineral, vegetable and animal levels of intelligence within mankind and classified individuals according to their conduct.

The psychological Tree is a very complex entity. However, everything is integrated and interacts through the sefirot, triads and paths. In general, the side pillars and triads are concerned with active and passive functions, while those on the central column are associated with various degrees of consciousness. Body awareness is easy to identify and so, to a degree, is that of the ego. The feeling triad can be identified with psychic sensitivity, such as picking up others' moods, while the awakening triad is where we are particularly alert.

The triad of the soul is the place of Self-consciousness and choice. It is here that free will is exerted. However, this can only be applied to the full when the individual has their psychological centre of gravity well established in this soul triad. For most people, the soul lies hidden in the unconscious.

The soul triad is centred between the emotional complexes and the triads of concepts, to which it has access and by which it is influenced. The emotional triads contain all the personal experiences of pain and pleasure which evolve into a vast number of interconnected memories. Some of these are easily accessible and some are not, for a number of reasons. They can range from lack of potency to strict repression. For example, one cannot remember people who are not memorable or those one would rather forget. The triads concerned with concepts are about the values of one's family, ethnic background and culture. The left-hand triad is about structure and restraint. For example, an orthodox Jew would never consider eating pork or think robbing a bank acceptable, while their right-hand dynamic triad would consider giving to charity and devout prayer as obligatory. This is the power of cultural conditioning.

The great triad of Tiferet, Binah and Hokhmah is the transpersonal spiritual dimension that is deep within the unconscious. For those who consider inner development, this is the Land of Milk and Honey. Such a spiritual experience of this cosmic order is obtained through the psychological Hokhmah or Revelation, Binah or Reason and Daat, the veil before the Divine triad at the head of the Tree of the psyche. This has, through Keter, its Crown, direct contact with the bottom sefirah of the highest Tree. Here is where the three upper Worlds of Formation, Creation and Emanation meet. Below, at the place of the Self, the Keter of the body, the Tiferet of the psyche and the Malkhut of the spirit come together. This means that there are three aspects to the Self; Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Once the essential simplicity of the Tree and Jacob's Ladder has been absorbed, it is easy to comprehend the system. This is why the study of theory is important.

There are three spheres of influence. The Personal Consciousness is centred on the ego and mostly concerned with the routine of life. The Self with its three levels is the pivot of the Individual Unconscious. From here it is possible to attain an insight into the Collective Unconscious, the Spirit and the cosmos. Here is the place of prophecy and the gateway to the Divine.

This is the broad outline of the lower half of Jacob's Ladder. One may react intellectually or emotionally to its wondrous elegance. However, it is action that is required to make such knowledge real and part of one's life. It is not enough to read every book on Kabbalah or even practise some of its exercises. Nor is it enough, as one group did, to sing and chant texts they did not understand, believing this would enlighten them. It is only by a commitment to applying increasing consciousness to the theory and practice that Kabbalah becomes real.


A school of the soul might take place in the back room of the synagogue, the salon of a private house or even out in the open, as described in The Zohar. The meeting place is the Malkhut of the Tree of a school. Like any organism or organisation, a school is based on the sefirotic model. Otherwise it will not function as a complete entity.

The next element, at Yesod or the Foundation, is that of the students. They may meet at an annual congress, a weekly gathering or an everyday meeting. Some schools may come into being for a short period, others for just a teacher's lifetime or be in existence for several centuries. They may consist of a handful of committed individuals or a large ongoing stream of people passing through an organised system of training. Unlike the usual academic or religious establishments, a school of the soul may have no fixed outer form. Moreover, it may be radical or conservative by nature, depending upon the need of the time and place.

One example of an unconventional school was the medieval rabbi who had his wife teach basics to newcomers. This was done discreetly as it did not conform with the current culture but she had the knowledge and skill to teach and was better at introducing the system. Contrary to common belief, as there were women Judges in the Bible so there have been female mystics. The wife of the great Rabbi Akiba, according to legend, had greater foresight than he.

Schools have different levels within the ways of Action, Devotion and Contemplation. Some are preparatory groups which introduce people to the theory and practice of their particular line. A course might take a year with each individual tested to see how committed they are to the Work. They might be asked to do certain mundane duties such as cleaning, buying food or taking notes. The story of Jacob having to work many years to make Rachel his wife is symbolic of this. Often the most seemingly keen quickly drop out, usually to go to another school and then another, all of their lives, always backing off when real effort is required.

There are schools of the soul and teachers that are not what they appear to be. For example, a school may be no more than a shell of what was once a living tradition. In another case, a school might be run by people who are too concerned with the money it can generate. Such organisations are usually maintained by people who are more interested in power than development. Some of the hallmarks are a certain arrogance, excessive discipline and intolerance.

In a living school there is usually an openness and respect for other esoteric traditions. The teacher treats everyone as an individual, regardless of how long they have been on the Path of Truth. A genuine school of the soul helps the student to become increasingly aware of their inner processes as well as their fate and the higher Worlds.

The awakening triad of Tiferet, Hod and Nezah is concerned with meetings and initiations. The real process of initiation takes place within each person as they begin the next phase of development. It can sometimes occur during a meeting stimulated by a remark from the teacher, during a ceremony or even at home. It can also happen while on an inner journey to the celestial Jerusalem. This is a kabbalistic exercise in which, through a guided meditation, one might visit the Academy on High. Through an act of conscious imagination, it is possible to encounter one's own Inner Teacher. Such a moment of vision and revelation can change the outlook of a lifetime.

The soul of a school usually takes its character from the school's founder. They may have long passed on but their legacy continues until it is no longer relevant in a new period. Often such advanced people will choose to be reborn to renovate the school or start another that has a new mission. An example of this was the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hassidic school, who had to transform a very difficult historic situation.

The spirit of a school is a combination of its oral and written teaching that links it to a mainstream spiritual tradition, such as Kabbalah. The intellectual structure of philosophy, law and science together with the dynamic factors of religion, art and literature are the basis of civilisation. At the centre of the spiritual triad is Daat, the esoteric factor of direct knowledge and experience. In Islam the Sufis hold this position, while in ancient China the Taoists represented the mystical dimension of the empire. Without the presence and influence of the schools of the soul, there would be no civilisation.

In the topmost triad is the essential Teaching, which is universal. An example is Neoplatonism, the teaching of Plotinus of Alexandria, which has underpinned the philosophical and inspirational aspects of the Christian, Islamic and Jewish mysticism. Such real knowledge is to be recognised by Native American, African and Asian shamans as well as by the spiritual masters of India, China and Japan. It is only the outer form that is different.

The importance of Kabbalah is that it is part of the Judeo-Christian-Hellenic tradition that underlies the history of Western spirituality. This was recognised in the Renaissance by the European intelligentsia. Indeed, Kabbalah made a contribution to the various schools of the soul such as the Alchemists and Freemasons. The Alchemists invented a complex, technical language which only the initiated could understand. Their texts and practices talked about making gold out of lead. This was a symbol about transforming the grosser parts of a human being into a more refined spiritual vehicle. It was based upon kabbalistic principles, as was Freemasonry that used Solomon's Temple as a model.

At the present time, Kabbalah is undergoing a reincarnation, not out of ancient or medieval texts and practices but contemporary science and psychology which are the equivalent to the language of symbolism of the Bible and the metaphysics of the Middle Ages. There was tremendous resistance to philosophy in the Middle Ages with books being burnt and people declared heretics for introducing a seemingly radical new form. The same resistance by the ultra-traditionalists is occurring in this 21st century but no one can stop development if it is meant to happen. There is no religion higher than Truth.


The process of human evolution began with the first two souls incarnating on Earth. It continues within each of us as individuals. In potential, everyone is unique. This is seen in the astrological birth chart which sets out the pattern of the current life. However, not all avail themselves of their full possibilities but prefer, for that life, to remain at a level that is comfortable, either because they do not wish to make any effort, or they choose the familiar rather than risk the uncertain on the road of personal development.

This choice also relates to societies. Some communities choose to remain within an old and familiar pattern while others, at crucial points in their history, realise that change is vital to their collective development. In the former case there is no evolution and so, as has happened throughout history, they stagnate or disappear, overwhelmed by a more dynamic culture. Those that do rise to historic opportunities flourish, or flounder if they misuse their moment of destiny.

Fortunately with each reincarnation of an individual or soul group, the possibility of activating their potential is always present. This is dependent partly upon what their distant or recent past has brought into the present. If it is negative, a lesson has to be learned but, if positive, they can then fulfil the role for which they were "called forth, created, formed and made", as the Bible puts it. Here is where the chain of fates becomes destiny within the fabric of history. This is seen in individuals and soul groups who move through time, being reborn at just the right time and place to stimulate a new phase of art, invention or discovery and even a great civilisation. Such individuals and soul groups at the spearhead of history volunteer to reincarnate when they are needed because of their long experience, skill and vision. They could remain in the upper Paradise or one of the seven levels of Heaven but, from time to time, they choose to descend Jacob's Ladder to help humanity to fulfil its mission. This is a very long-term operation that has been going on over tens of thousands of years.

Far into the future is the End of Time and the Fourth and final Journey, when every person and community will have completed all that was possible in this cosmic cycle. Then the Great Ladder of Existence will be rolled up and every being will return to the Divine Realm. According to tradition, they have to account for their performance before taking their original position within the radiance of Adam Kadmon. At this point the final brush-stroke will be made, as the accumulated experience of all humanity adds the Light of Self-consciousness to the eye of this Divine Self-portrait. When the Absolute gazes upon this now complete image, God beholds God in the Mirror of Existence.

So it is that history is much more than one's own personal journey, the saga of humanity and the story of the universe. History is about your moment by moment contribution to evolution, as the future becomes the past in the process of the Eternal Now. Here is where I AM THAT I AM is present in each and all of us. Such is the kabbalistic view of history.

* Selected chapters from A Kabbalistic View of History: Introduction to the World of Kabbalah. Text and illustrations © Z'ev ben Shimon Halevi. Published by Kabbalah Society (www.kabbalahsociety.org)

Kabbalah: The Toledano Tradition: Part I*

Z'ev ben Shimon Halevi


The purpose of the universe has been known for some millennia. This knowledge came about through prophetic visions. In the earliest stages of human evolution ignorance, superstition and custom prevailed. However, as experience increased over many reincarnations, there arose a dim recognition of both a natural and a supernatural order in the universe. Over time, the oldest souls in many ancient cultures identified a single source of Existence. This was usually signified by a special name. Some Native Americans called the Godhead Manitou, the religious philosophers of India spoke of Brahman, while the mystics of China used the word Tao to define the Way of the Deity. Elsewhere there were different terms for the Absolute such as the One, the Good or the Unknowable. In the Bible, God was called by various titles such as the Creator. During the Middle Ages, rabbis coined the terms Ayin, or Absolute Nothing, and En Sof, or the Infinite Without End. Kabbalah, the mystical tradition of Judaism, will be the main frame of reference that our study will use.

The Teaching, or Torah in Hebrew, is the ground-bed of Kabbalah, going back to Abraham's initiation into the Mystery of Creation by Melchizedek around 1850 BCE. Kabbalah is a body of knowledge about the visible and invisible Worlds and their inhabitants, including the methods whereby one may perceive and serve the purpose of Existence. Its key is the diagram known as the Tree of Life. This metaphysical gem of sacred geometry will be used to demonstrate how universal laws operate at every level.

The first esoteric principle to be understood is that the Absolute is the origin of everything. However, before "any-thing" existed, there was just the Holy One, who was beyond existence. Because God wished to behold God, a Cosmic Mirror had to be brought into being. First, a void was generated out of nothingness, willed by the Absolute withdrawing in order to allow it to emerge. Into this void were emanated ten Divine principles which were to be the governing laws of Existence.


The Tree of Life unfolds in the form of a Lightning Flash. Starting at Keter, the Crown, the source of Emanation, the process moves to the expansive sefirah of Hokhmah, or Wisdom, at the head of the right-hand active pillar, and then across to Binah, or Understanding, at the top of the left-hand passive pillar. From here it zigzags down the Tree, through the non-sefirah called Daat, or Knowledge, that is to veil the three supernal sefirot above. The Lightning Flash proceeds to the expansive sefirah Hesed, or Mercy, on the right and then across to the contractive sefirah Gevurah, or Judgement, on the left, before coming to Tiferet, or Beauty, at the centre of the Tree complex. The process then continues down to Nezah, whose Hebrew root meaning is Repetition, which is the dynamic wheel of cycles, and across to Hod whose root meaning is to shimmer or vibrate. From here the Lightning Flash descends to Yesod, or Foundation, on the central axis of the Tree, before terminating at Malkhut, or the Kingdom.

These ten sefirot or numbers and the unmanifest one of Daat, which represents the "Word" of God, compose the ordered pattern of the radiant realm of potentiality. The levels of Divine intellect, emotion and action and the twenty-two paths fuse into the metaphysical and symbolic master model of the Tree of Life. This scheme is the basis of the subsequent Worlds and processes that will come into being and is to be seen in every entity in Existence.

The Tree of Life is sometimes seen as the Kavod, or Glory of God, presented allegorically as a humanoid figure called Adam Kadmon. This is said to be the first radiant outline of a Divine Self-portrait. Much has yet to happen to fill out the details of the image. The twenty-two connecting paths of the Tree between the sefirot begin this process by adding the various triads. These allow different flows within the many circulation systems. The origin of this diagram is found in the seven-branched candlestick, or Menorah, whose design was given to Moses on Mount Sinai. It has eleven nodal points, four divisions, two wings hung on a central column and twenty-two decorations. Made from a single piece of gold, it represents the unity of Existence. The Menorah sets out in metaphysical form the scheme of the primordial World of Emanation, as it came to be called. This is the Divine dimension from which all things come into being and to which they return at the End of Time. As such, this realm of radiance both reveals and conceals the Godhead.


Each sefirah of the Tree of Life has a God Name associated with it. The highest, at the Crown is EHYEH ASHER EHYEH, in Hebrew, or I AM THAT I AM. The first I AM is the Absolute's intention of manifesting as the ultimate SELF. The word THAT is the Mirror of Existence, by which the second I AM may behold itself in the reflection of SELF-realisation.

In order to accomplish this, three lower Worlds were brought into being. The spiritual World, or Heaven, which emerges out of the Divine realm, is described in the Book of Genesis. The first seven Days set out the emergence of Time; that is, actuality arising out of potentiality. Each Day of Creation defines a level of heavenly reality. From this World of Ideas, as Plato defined it, comes the World of Forms, symbolised by Paradise or the Garden of Eden. Thus the Idea or spiritual essence of the Rose is the basic archetype for all forms of roses. The Garden of Eden contains within it the prototype forms of every mineral, plant and animal that will appear on the material plane, the last and lowest of the four Worlds.

The biblical titles "Fowl of the Air" and "Fish of the Sea" are symbolic terms for the archangels, who inhabit the airy World of the Spirit, and the angels, who exist in the watery World of Formation. The "Beasts of the Field" are those creatures that will live in the physical World of the earthy elements. This fourfold scheme is seen in the prophet Ezekiel's vision of a fiery humanoid figure seated upon the Throne of Heaven, which rests upon a vast Chariot hovering above the footstool of the Earth. These four realities and their respective inhabitants make up a hierarchy of levels, with the "Eternal Now" of the vertical Kav line binding time and space together. This locks all the Worlds into a Great Tree, known as Jacob's Ladder. Such a metaphysical scheme shows all the laws and processes of Existence. In general, those that live in the lowest realm of Nature are oblivious of the higher levels, even as most people are unaware that the Sun is the engine of almost everything that moves on Earth.

The primordial World of Emanation is the place from whence humanity comes. This makes mankind quite different from all other creatures. According to Kabbalah, every individual is a spark of pure consciousness within the Divine being of Adam Kadmon. At some point, each one of us is sent down through the Worlds to experience all the levels of Jacob's Ladder so that "God may behold God" through our individual Self-realisation in the process of evolution. However, before humanity could execute its mission, the physical universe had to reach a stage of development into which mankind could incarnate.

Materiality came into being through an intense burst of radiation. Scientists call this the "Big Bang". In some esoteric teachings this event is described as a Divine flower opening out into a vast cosmic bloom of fire. This, according to physics, condensed into the simplest element of hydrogen. Under gravitational compression this atomic unit was transformed into increasingly heavier substances taking up one of the four states of matter; radiance, gas, fluid or solid. The faint resonance of that primal explosion still reverberates throughout the physical universe. The Hindu tradition calls it the sound Aum, while Christian mystics define this first note as the "Word". The sacred echo of this utterance is the second "I AM" returning to its source as galaxies, stars and planets emerge in the process of differentiation and evolution.


According to many spiritual traditions, humanity pre-existed its physical manifestation. Some mythologies speak of a Golden Age or a place where humans walked with the gods in a state of innocence. In Kabbalah, Paradise, or the World of Formation, is called the Treasure House of Souls where Adam and Eve, the archetypes of humanity, dwelt before their descent into matter.

Symbolism was the language of the ancient world, explaining natural and supernatural phenomena with poetic rather than scientific precision. Many myths are symbolic depictions of the non-physical realms. They were not meant to be taken literally but were a way of describing other dimensions. While there were many cultural differences, the accounts of the higher Worlds and their inhabitants were remarkably similar, indicating that there was an objective reality which lay beyond sense perception.

The early shamans, who explored the upper levels of Existence through the vehicle of dreams and visions, presented their revelations through rituals and art. These were developed into a variety of images of the invisible Worlds. At first, explanations were transmitted by the oral tradition and symbols. With the advent of writing, detailed accounts of the origin of Existence were set down. Perhaps the best known is the Hebrew Book of Genesis. While it was set out in story form, it contained many metaphysical ideas. These were hidden in the text so as to avoid confusion among the uninitiated who could not understand, for example, the difference between the One of the Godhead and the ten Divine principles that governed the universe. Divinity was seen as a reflection of the Absolute who was beyond Existence. Kabbalists say the Bible has four levels; literal, allegorical, metaphysical and mystical which correspond to the physical, psychological, spiritual and Divine Worlds. Read at these levels, the Bible is a goldmine of esoteric knowledge. Take the following example.

Adam in the World of Creation was the first humanoid image to be mentioned in the Bible. This androgynous being was a spiritual version of Adam Kadmon, the symbol of the Divine World of Emanation. In the World of Formation, humanity was divided into Adam and Eve, that is, separated out into millions of soul mates. These belonged to specific soul groups associated with particular parts of the anatomy of Adam Kadmon. Here in the Garden of Eden each pair of psyches, originally a single spirit containing a Divine spark, were differentiated into distinctly male and female entities.

In biblical mythology, the story of the temptation of Adam and Eve presents the principle of free will and karma, known in Kabbalah as "Measure for Measure". The couple had but one commandment to obey - not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge - which they chose to break. This is seen as a set-up in which the Creator teaches them their first lesson about consequences and also gets them out of the pleasant comfort zone of the Treasure House of Souls and down to Earth. As they had only themselves to blame for being disobedient, the couple could not complain. When Adam and Eve became incarnate, or put on "coats of skin", as the Bible describes it, they became all too aware of the law of cause and effect at the immediate physical level. However, unlike angels and animals, humanity was not totally subject to cosmic or instinctive limits because, having the faculty of Self-consciousness, humans could reflect upon, adjust and alter their situation for good or ill. This unique capacity marked them out from all other creatures in the Heavens and on the Earth. Humanity is not just a physical entity confined by Nature. Indeed, its composition has the potential to live in all four Worlds. As such, because of their innate capacity to be aware of all the levels, humans have the special role of being the organ of perception for God throughout Existence.

Apes were the most advanced creatures on the planet before humanity arrived. They had, in their physical body, all the experiences of the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms up to that stage of development. However, millions of years ago, somewhere in Africa, two primates, a male and female, were probably born into a clan of apes but with human psyches. When these two matured, one may speculate, they recognised a mutual affinity and left their community, as young ape couples often did, to start a new line. This family developed over thousands of years into quite a different species, despite having almost the same physical genes. They pondered the present and the past and wondered about the future, being more conscious than the cleverest of apes. So it was that they continually improved their terrestrial situation. This is the evolutionary drive in humans.

Over time these early people grew in numbers, spread and separated as more and more souls from the Treasure House of Eden incarnated into their communities. Because of necessity, or perhaps just out of curiosity, some left Africa to explore Europe and Asia. This expansion resulted in the three basic ethnic divisions of humanity, symbolised by the three sons of Noah in the biblical legend. As each generation adapted to different climates and terrains, so the wheels of reincarnation returned most souls to the same geographic area and tribe with which they had been associated. This would be an inevitable process as a common karma and culture would draw mutually familiar souls together. In this situation, those who had been reborn the most times usually became the elders of the tribe.

Because the psyche does not die like the body, experience is carried over from life to life. One effect is that less evolved people tend to recognise and depend upon the inherent wisdom of more advanced individuals and seek their guidance. In time, these natural leaders become the chiefs and shamans of their tribes. Evidence of respect for great men and women is to be seen in prehistoric tombs containing food and possessions for use in the afterlife in which most cultures believed. In some cultures, the dead were seen as the wise ancestors who watched over the living. It was believed that they reincarnated to guide their people. This transmigration of souls over many lives is a major factor in esoteric history and is a reasonable explanation of why some persons are distinctly more intelligent and talented than most people.

This brings us to the concept of the Four Journeys. Reincarnation is a process that relates to human evolution in the context of the Divine plan. The First Journey is the descent of humanity from the highest World of Divinity down through the realms of Creation and Formation into physicality. Upon being incarnate, an individual begins the Second Journey of ascent in the return through general evolution towards the Godhead. This is accomplished both at the personal and collective levels, as seen in people's fates and the progression of humanity from the prehistoric hunter-gatherer culture towards global civilisation.

The Third Journey is concerned with those individuals who are no longer dominated by vegetable and animal compulsions, as they have become fully human. These advanced beings return to Earth, by choice, to aid the development of mankind. They may appear to be ordinary or extraordinary people but their characteristic is quite distinct in that they are clear about their earthly mission and destiny. These are the lesser and greater saints, sages and mystics who know why, when and where to be born.

The final Fourth Journey is at the End of Time when all that is possible in this cosmic cycle has been achieved. This is the Resurrection spoken of in many spiritual traditions.

* Selected chapters from A Kabbalistic View of History: Introduction to the World of Kabbalah. Text and illustrations © Z'ev ben Shimon Halevi. Published by Kabbalah Society (www.kabbalahsociety.org)

Shekhinah Theology of the Future

By Rabbi Leah Novick

For most of our history, the Shekhinah has been our way of embracing the Divine Mother through the filters of our culture, literature, myth and religious rituals. All of these have been part of the retention of the memory of “God the Mother”; albeit in subtle forms. While we have loved and protected her as our ethno-particular variation on understanding the Divine Feminine; Shekhinah is beyond all of our previous conceptualizations.

In the present era, Shekhinah is already planetary Gaia and source of  inter-galactic connectedness. The future Shekhinah is Mother to the entire Cosmos---“Eym Kol Ha Olamim.” In that scheme of things, what would the simplest “Shekhinah theology of the future” look like?

1) Universal awareness of the divinity in all beings that elicits the tenderness, respect, love, and caring that we associate with the Divine Mother.

2) Widespread experience of the holiness in all the earth or Gaia, which would make it impossible to pollute, destroy or to exploit this planet or others.

3) Universal sharing and teaching of all spiritual wisdom traditions.

Such a messianic era will involve the unification of consciousness across all boundaries, genders, ethnic identities and religions. That collective awareness, based on the unity of all beings in the Source would foster respect for the beauty of differences; allowing humanity to enjoy real mutual tolerance.

The challenge as I see it is that we are still in the process of developing Gaia consciousness. That process was given a “jump start” by the moon landing and space program which enabled us to see our planet as a living organism. It has not yet translated into committed protection of the environment or the election of national leaders with such priorities.

Likewise the accelerated development of the computer and its by-products of the Internet and e-mail have enabled people all over the world to access technology rapidly and enjoy almost instantaneous contact with each other. Those developments, which have the potential for international networking and the cultivation of greater harmony are already providing a great deal of information, but are not necessarily filtered for more enlightened functioning.

So we are still reliant on the writers, the healers, musicians, the poets, the teachers, the spiritual leaders, who must provide not only the new thinking, but the capacity for sharing their own experiences of illuminated states to larger numbers of people around the world. That issue of widespread experience of the presence of God on this earth, and in all the beings is the basis of the Shekhinah future.

We might also consider a parallel scenario in which the great beings of all the religions are returning together to the planet; providing a spiritual epiphany to the earth; a kind of universal and rapid enlightenment process. This will speed-up the ability for all of us to enter the state of harmony we have so long struggled for.

Jewish prophetic literature is replete with poetic descriptions of that time in the future when all people will come to worship at God’s holy mountain. Our mystical literature is rich with understanding of altered states and the human capacity to reach the Divine. In fact, that kabbalistic wisdom of the nature of the universe may well be our main contribution to the future.

To disseminate that knowledge in a more crystalline form will require some internal clean up of both language and attitude. The literature is burdened with the preoccupation of assuring the Jewish future and the unique place of Klal Yisrael (the community of Israel) in the redemption. It is that zenophobia and focus on separation that needs to be sorted out of our holy literature if we are to cleanse our collective psyche and pass our mystical wisdom on to future generations.

To move from the particular to the universal requires a shift in thinking and language, not only around the holiness of the people, but the land of Israel. In this time of major challenge to the health of the planet, we need the larger view (mochin d gadlut) of seeing all the earth as holy and all its residents as children of the Shekhinah. As Mother of all she must hover over all places of worship, all study groups, all good deeds; she cannot remain the proprietary guardian of minyanim of male Jews.

The other major klipah or flaw is the medieval association of the feminine with the demonic. In the progression from Gevurah to the Sitra Achra we see the fear of the feminine asserting itself and vetoing both spirituality and logic. Over and over again in the Zohar, we are confronted with the concept of the Divine Feminine in Malchut, deriving her light and power from her union with her consort Tiferet (even though we have examples of her deriving it from the upper Mother, Binah or connecting directly to Keter).

While we may appreciate this carryover of the "Hieros Gamos” from pre-Judaic times, it places the Shekhinah in a state of perpetual dependency on the masculine sexual energy for her empowerment. Likewise her penetration by the forces of evil makes her the equivalent of the raped woman who is now defiled and unable to continue in her legitimate role (the Zoharic concept of the servant women Lilith taking over in place of the Matrona and cohabiting with the Divine King).

We know that these concepts must be taken to a metaphorical level; we all do that in our teaching. The Divine Union does not have to remain in its heterosexual human model, but can become the focus on the union of the disparate parts of the self (which is how we explain that yichud on the Sabbath especially for those not in partnership or in same sex relationships).

The demonic can be seen in terms of the negative components in the human psyche (rage, violence, rape, etc.) emerging because we are cut off from the feminine, both Divine and human. However, we have reversed the sequence; placing the Sitra Achra on the Shekhinah when it is we who hold that energy.

And what of the man who learns from our sources that his connection to the Divine Presence is based on a sexual relationship with his wife in a Jewish marriage? (“Shekhinah is present only where male and female are united”) It is as if he is being told: “Yes, you can stay in tantric connection with Shekhinah through proper prayer and study, but ultimately you must be married and have children, to be accepted.”

I offer these suggestions as a devoted student of Kabbalah. I have been charmed by the Zohar for decades, and can never get enough of it’s imaginative interpretations. It is as if I have been dancing with these texts, always telling them “enchanté,” I am enchanted with you and your divine insights. In that process, I look the other way or choose to omit those passages that disturb my worldview. And I take recourse in not knowing enough, and waiting for those more expert than myself to do the necessary “make over.”

One question often raised is whether our traditional God-names and energies, including our concept of “Shekhinah” need to be retained in their specificity, in order to provide gates to the Divine for particular cultural or historical groups (Hindu Gods and Goddesses, the Christ, Buddha, Wakantanka, all gateways for leading humanity towards God).

The issue is not homogeneity or giving up who we are, but how to lead a spiritual life in the modern world with all of its distractions. For some people, the return to a more profound and spiritually fulfilling version of their own tradition is essential. For others who cannot, or do not wish to re-create that reality, the inspiration may come from nature or in new spiritual communities with more eclectic paths to esoteric wisdom.

Sefarad — A Short History of the Crypto-Jews (Part I)

Netanel Miles-Yépez

Although many Sefardim think of themselves as descendants of Judean royalty—whose roots in Spain go back to the time of King Solomon—the historical origins of Jewish settlement in the Iberian peninsula are largely covered in the mists of time. Nevertheless, it is clear that the relationship between Jews and Spain is an ancient one, and from the 1st-century onward, the prophet Obadiah’s reference to the “exiles of Jerusalem in Sefarad” (1:20) in the Bible has been understood to refer to the Jewish community of Ispamia, or Spain.

Certainly, Jewish merchants had made their way along the coastlines of the entire Mediterranean very early, probably following Phoenician trade routes, and Jewish settlements probably existed in Spain as early as the 2nd-century B.C.E., following Roman expansion. The Greek historian Strabo also seems to have been speaking of these Jewish settlements and merchants when he said: “This people has already made its way into every city, and it is not easy to find a place in the habitable world which has not received this nation, and in which it has not made its power felt.”[1]

But the major development of a Jewish community in Spain probably didn’t actually begin until 135 C.E., after the Jewish Bar Kokhba revolt failed and the Romans laid waste to Judea. Having witnessed the death of 580,000 of their brothers and sisters in that war, the destruction of over 1,000 towns and villages, and seeing the practice of Judaism forbidden, the surviving Jews had little choice but to leave Judea and rebuild their lives elsewhere. This was the beginning of the Jewish diaspora, the exile of the Jews from their homeland, and their dispersion throughout the world. From that time forward, they seemed destined to be forever ‘strangers in a strange land.’

The archeological record suggests that the Jewish settlers of Ispamia quickly formed separate communities within the larger communities of non-Jews, re-creating Jewish communal life and systems of mutual support. But it also shows how they absorbed many parts of the surrounding culture and mixed freely with it. Indeed, this early tendency toward acculturation—while still preserving the essential features of Jewish identity—would set a precedent that would continue through the centuries, ultimately becoming the hallmark of the Sefardi Jews everywhere.  

The province of Ispamia was one of the wealthiest and most prosperous in the Roman Empire, being rich in mineral resources—gold and silver—as well as having a climate and soil that was ideal for breeding horses and growing grains. And the Jews of the province shared in its wealth, earning a living as farmers and merchants, thoroughly integrated into its society. In fact, it was their very integration and acceptance among the non-Jewish population that first caused alarm among the early Christian ecclesiastical authorities there.

In 306 C.E., an ecclesiastical council was convened in Elvira (later called Granada) to discuss the alarmingly close relationship between ordinary Christians and Jews and the esteem with which some rabbis were held by Christians. At the time, Judaism was still a proselytizing religion and was clearly considered a competitor to its younger sibling. Thus, the Council of Elvira set out to systematically separate Christians and Jews from one another, an action that would have lasting consequences for the Jews of Spain. Farmers were warned by priests not to permit their fruits, which they received from God as a gift of grace, to be blessed by Jews, “so that our blessing should not appear as worthless and despised.”[2] Priests who were friendly to Jews were censured for sitting down to a meal with them and were refused communion until they had atoned for their “sin.” With such sanctions in place, Jewish acquaintances and neighbors quickly became pariahs and everyday relations between Jews and Christians suffered.

In the 5th-century, when Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire, the status of Jews within the Empire became a matter of even greater importance, and attacks against Jews escalated. What had been merely verbal before, now became physical attacks upon their persons and property, and the former prohibitions against contact with them were now turned into restrictions against the Jews themselves. It is in this period that Jews first begin to be characterized as “demons,” and although violence and forced conversions were not encouraged by the Church, they were the inevitable consequence of characterizing Jews as evil to the general populace.

In this same period, wave after wave of Germanic tribes—Suevi, Alani, Vandals and Visigoths—began to overrun Ispamia, ravaging its towns and villages, and eventually establishing their own kingdoms. These German warriors were Arianists, followers of a non-Trinitarian Christianity, who now found themselves rulers over a large population of Catholic, Trinitarian Christians, and a well-organized community of Jews.

At first, the new German rulers seem to have treated the Jews in much the same way as the rest of the conquered; but after the Visigothic king, Reccared I, converted to Catholic Christianity in 587 C.E., a new persecution and repression of the Jews began. Very quickly—perhaps to curry favor with the Christian authorities in his realm—King Riccared convened the Council of Toledo to “regulate” relations between Christians and Jews. He wished to limit Jewish influence on Christians. Thus, by order of the council, Jews were restricted from certain types of commerce and were absolutely forbidden to proselytize or exercise any authority over a Christian whatsoever.

In 613, King Sisebut convened the third Council of Toledo and himself called for the forced conversion of the Jews of Ispamia. Those who refused would be given 100 lashes, and if they did not then convert, they would be expelled from the kingdom and have all of their property confiscated. Again, though the Christian authorities did not endorse the idea of forced conversions—which could not reasonably produce sincere believers—they raised no strong objection to the king’s brutal tactics and watched as he compelled as many as 90,000 Jews to be baptized by force. As these were obviously pro forma conversions, such measures only succeeded in driving Jewish observance underground, in effect, creating the first known crypto-Jews. That is to say, they continued to practice their religion secretly, always hoping for the return of freedom when they might do so openly.

Nevertheless, the converts could not win for losing. Because their conversions could not be anything but suspect in the eyes of the Christian authorities and population, they were continually looked upon as devious pretenders, as something rotten fouling the practice of ‘true Christianity.’ Thus, the distinctions between ‘Old’ and ‘New Christians,’ ‘baptized’ and ‘un-baptized Jews,’ entered the lexicon of Spain for the first time.

However, the recurrence of different forms of the same anti-Jewish legislation through the centuries of Visigothic rule suggests that these measures were only partially successful, and that Jews continually managed to reassert themselves and integrate back into Spanish society. Nevertheless, the brutality of these coercive laws should not be underestimated. In many cases, the forced converts were required to repudiate Judaism with elaborate and sadistic oaths, often disparaging their former religion in the most lurid terms.

But things were soon to take a turn for the better. Between 711 and 718, most of the territory of Ispamia was conquered by generals of the Muslim Umayyad Caliphate, which had risen to power in Damascus in the 7th-century. The first of these generals was Tariq ibn Ziyad who led a largely North African Berber army into the Iberian Peninsula on the orders of Caliph Al-Walid I, taking the severely weakened Christian Visigothic Kingdom by storm. In 712, after a decisive battle on the Guadalete River, the Visigothic kingdom collapsed. Soon after, Ibn Zayid’s forces were replaced by those of his superior, the Emir Musa ibn Nusair who went on to subdue most of the rest of the Iberian Peninsula. By 718, only the mountain regions of the north remained in Christian hands.

According to Muslim historians, the Umayyad forces actually met with little resistance. This was probably because Ispamia was in a shambles—both agriculturally and politically—after years of natural disasters and despotic rulers. Often, Christians simply abandoned whole towns and villages, leaving the Jews and poorer elements of their population behind to greet the Muslim invaders. It is likely that the Jews who had been so long oppressed by the Christian Visigoths saw the Muslim forces as liberators. Indeed, Muslim accounts testify to this fact, speaking of how these Jews were often deputized by the Muslim soldiers and left as a rear guard while the army continued its advance.

This newly conquered territory would be called in Arabic, al-Andalus, or Andalusia, and would survive for nearly 800 years. Under Muslim rule, the status of Jews was considerably improved, for Muslim law sees both Jews and Christians as ‘People of the Book,’ fellow monotheists whose rights are to be respected. And though there were occasional instances of religious discrimination, most Muslim rulers in Andalusia tended to look upon Jews pragmatically, as potentially valuable contributors to the economy, as well as helpful administrators in the government. This acceptance was enough to create a new atmosphere of hope and creativity among the Jews of Andalusia and quickly led to the flowering of Sefardi Jewish culture. Indeed, it is worth remembering today—when so much of the political dialogue around Islam has become polarized and fallen into caricature—that the first ‘Golden Age’ of Spain, as well as the ideal of Sefarad and La Convivencia, the fruitful co-existence of the three Abrahamic faiths, all took place under a Muslim flag.  

Although this ‘golden’ depiction of Andalusia is often idealized, it is not merely a nostalgic sigh over a mythical ‘Camelot’ in the early history of Islam; it is also reflected in contemporary accounts from the time, especially of those who traveled to its majestic capital. Córdoba, by the 10th-century, was a city without equal, filled with people of all nationalities. Visitors who walked its paved and illuminated streets were awed by its architecture and gardens, and overwhelmed by its amenities; for the city boasted of over 700 mosques, 300 public baths, and 70 libraries. The finer homes in Córdoba even had indoor plumbing. Nowhere else in Europe could one find such splendor and luxury.

An interesting legend from the time deals with both the ideals and the realities of this seeming paradise:

When God was preparing to create the world, Andalusia came as a supplicant and made five requests: clear skies, a sea full of fish, trees filled with every kind of fruit, beautiful women, and a just government. God agreed to each of the first four, but denied them the last request; for if Andalusia had justice as well, it would rival even Paradise! [3]

Nevertheless, there was enough justice to create opportunity for its Jewish inhabitants, and they took advantage of it. Those first ‘deputies’ of the Umayyad invaders set a precedent that would be followed and built-upon for generations to come. Indeed, Jewish courtiers and physicians would become fixtures in Muslim courts, sometimes achieving powerful positions as advisors and administrators. Occasionally, the power and influence of Jewish viziers or prime ministers in Muslim courts was such that some wondered who was actually ruling the kingdom, often arousing dangerous jealousies.

These were makers of Sefardi civilization. That is not to discount the contributions of Jewish rabbis, artisans and merchants, who were the life-blood of their communities, but to say that these courtiers and physicians had access to the citadels of power and privilege, and often used them to improve the situation of their fellow Jews. They also provided their brothers and sisters with an opportunity to participate in a Muslim culture that was reaching its zenith, allowing them to explore new discoveries in science and mathematics, new thinking in philosophy and theology, and new forms of poetry and music, all of which were used to enhance traditional Jewish knowledge and culture. In many ways, Sefarad was a pearl cultivated within the shell of Andalusia, a parallel Jewish civilization growing in the sun of an Islamic empire then at its height.

However, its accomplishments were its own, and there was hardly a field of endeavor in which Sefardim did not excel and make their mark. Indeed, many of the most celebrated personalities in Sefarad were distinguished in more than one in field. Most of them had become accomplished Jewish scholars in their youths, mastered several languages along the way, and had learned to compose poetry on almost every imaginable subject. Over the flesh and bone of this education, they wrapped themselves in the robes of rabbis, physicians, philosophers, astronomers and ministers of state, some of them becoming legends in their own time. It was a world in which religion and art, science and politics were all woven together in one exquisite tapestry.

But Sefarad was not self-sustaining. It was dependant on Andalusian sovereignty. Thus, even as Sefardi culture was reaching its peak, the Muslim star in Spain was about to fall. Indeed, some believe it had started a slow descent shortly after the armies of Umayyad Caliphate had entered the Iberian peninsula in 711.

In 722, the advance of the Muslim forces was stopped at the Battle of Covadonga by Pelayo of Asturias who established a Christian kingdom in the north of Spain. For Christians, this victory marked the symbolic beginning of the Reconquista, or ‘re-conquest’ of Spain for Christianity. By the year 801, the whole of the north had been reclaimed, and although the northwest was briefly retaken by Muslims, by 914 it was permanently occupied by Christians. However, it would take them more than 270 years to secure central Spain and to conquer its jewel, Toledo. But once this was accomplished, around 1250, only the small southern Muslim kingdom of Granada remained, all that was left of once proud Andalusia.

During this process of reclamation, the Jews of Sefarad were caught between the hammer and anvil. On the one hand, they weren’t sure they wanted to live under Christian rule; but, on the other, life under the Muslims was becoming increasingly difficult. As the Muslim rulers were driven back year after year, the Muslim populace began to cling all the more fiercely to their identity as Muslims, and unfortunately, became less tolerant of the Jews in their territories.

In the 12th-century, there were numerous outbreaks of violence against Jews in Andalusia. And when the zealous and religiously intolerant Almohad Muslim forces swept into Iberia from North Africa to stem the Christian advance, things only got worse for the Jews. For the Almohads were not inclined to treat the Jews as a ‘protected people,’ as Muslim law dictated, but put severe sanctions on them and even forced conversions to Islam. So, once again, a religion wedded to political power had created crypto-Jews on Spanish soil.

Under these conditions, the Jews of Iberia had only three choices: to bear with these conditions until they eventually changed; to flee to other, more liberally ruled Muslim lands; or to cross the border into the Christian controlled north of Spain. For many, the latter option became increasingly attractive. The new Christian rulers needed to colonize these recently conquered territories, and in places like Toledo, Saragossa and Valencia, Jews were offered special inducements to settle—land grants, tax exemptions, and the promised protection of the king. As Christians pressed the war on the southern front, once again, Jews were assigned military responsibilities and left as a rear-guard, just as they had been by Muslim forces. They were also given the responsibility of developing the economies of these newly Christian territories, and in some cases, were even given charge over the finances of Catholic religious orders.

So, for a time, Sefarad continued under Christian rule, and the pearl that had matured in Muslim Andalusia was still considered valuable in Christian Spain. After all, Jewish courtiers had been intermediaries between Muslim and Christian kingdoms for centuries and were trusted by both sides precisely because they had no kingdom of their own to serve. Thus, they quickly resumed their traditional roles as courtiers and physicians, only now in Christian courts, and Jewish scholarship and achievement continued along the old lines, though a new flower of Sefardi civilization was emerging—kabbalah.

Kabbalah, or ‘that which is received,’ is the name given to the rich and varied tradition of Jewish mysticism that began to take shape all over Spain at this time. On reflection, it is interesting to note just how much the symbolism of this secret tradition seems to have been influenced by the sunlight and intricate patterns of Spain and its culture in this period. When discussing the origins of the kabbalistic tradition in Spain, some scholars have suggested that, as their world began to destabilize in the 12th-century, the Sefardim began to embrace a more impassioned spiritual outlook and rejected their former rationalism, exemplified by the brilliant philosophy of Moses Maimonides. But others are quick to point out just how influential the thought of Maimonides was on these early kabbalists, introducing them to more refined and sophisticated notions of God and spiritual practice. Whatever the case may have been, it is in 13th-century Spain, with its mix of extreme rationalism and religious fervor, that we first see the emergence of the Zohar, arguably the most important work of Jewish mystical thought, and numerous other classic texts of esoteric wisdom.

Nevertheless, it was becoming clear, even as this new jewel of Sefardi culture was forming, that the fortunes of Sefarad were in decline, having only outlasted those of Andalusia because they were more portable. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the old anti-Jewish legislation was reinstated in many major Spanish cities as anti-Jewish resentment became more and more prominent. This was followed by numerous anti-Jewish riots and forced conversions, creating a new incarnation of crypto-Judaism and yet another reason for despising the Jews. Soon, Spanish rulers were talking about the “Jewish problem” and how they might solve it. Eventually, it was decided—early in 1492—that the only lasting solution was their expulsion from Spain. Thus, the Jews of Sefarad were divided, part being exiled and fated to find new homes—in Morocco, Italy, Turkey and elsewhere—and another part exiled within Spain itself, their Jewish identities hidden under a guise of Christianity, ever hoping to be reunited with their brothers and sisters abroad.


[1] Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 14:115.

[2] Council of Elvira, Canon 49, quoted in Jane S. Gerber, The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sefardic Experience, New York: The Free Press, 1992: 6.

[3] Ibid., 28.