Wednesday, 20 July 2011

From the Books: What the Kabbalists Assume You Know and Do

Following on from my previous post on morality, I’d like to mention a bit more assumed knowledge and practice.

This is something that came out of a post Treadwells event chat with Frater Acher. He highlighted to me the following: that in the Hermetic and Western Esoteric traditions there are gaps in knowledge about what that the Jewish Kabbalists assumed their readers would know and practice.

For example, the Jewish prayer said three times per day was instituted by the men of the Great Assembly so that Jews in whatever part of the world would pray the same in Hebrew, previously when the Temple stood aside from the sacrifices people would pray when they wanted and in the language that they knew best.

To these prayers (18 blessings) others were added and such as the Shema, the declaration of faith in the Torah, the psalms, laws of the sacrifices and other prayers. In fact the order of prayer is structured in such a way that the person goes up and up in levels of consciousness according to the four “worlds” Asiyah, Yetzirah, Beriyha and Atzilut.

Never Assume
 In a nutshell the Kabbalists assumed that their readers:
  • Were thoroughly familiar with Hebrew
  • Had studied all of the Tanach (5 Books of Moses, Prophets & Writings)
  • Had studied of the Talmud (Oral law in Mishnah and Gemmara)
  • Had studied Midrash (Homiletical tales meant to teach a deeper meaning)
  • Had studied all of Halachah (Jewish laws and customs)

Then there are also specific Kabbalistic techniques such as Gemmatria, Notarikon, etc.

The reason that I am pointing this out is not to make you feel ignorant. Of the above list I only know bits and pieces. My point is that without this assumed knowledge, if you’re trying to make use of the techniques and information in these books then you are pretty much guaranteed to lose something in translation.

The techniques will work but you should bear in mind that you're using them based in incomplete understanding. As a project manager I need to point out this risk, personally speaking I’m mitigating it by slowly learning all of the assumed knowledge.