When I started this journey just over five years ago, I was coming from a place of interest in Jewish Magic & Mysticism from a narrow angle. Trying to plumb these mysteries without much knowledge of Hebrew or core Jewish texts, there was only so far I could go. Don’t get me wrong, authors such as Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, Prof. Moshe Idel, Prof. Gershom Scholem, and a whole host of other authors took a quite a long way in to this vast area of study.
However, as I started trying dive deeper – the main barrier that I kept coming up against was my inability to read primary source texts due to my lack of knowledge of Hebrew. Rather than focus on just learning the language, the path that I took was to study the core texts and try to build up a small portion of knowledge that many of the great Kabbalists over the centuries assume their readers have already gained in their early years.
What I have discovered since then is that when not dealing with the complex realms of Jewish laws, there is a huge wealth of opinions, philosophies, and world-views that have flourished. Since the exile following the Roman conquest there has not been a central religious authority (Sanhedrin) to impose uniformity. There is a main stream current of Rabbinic laws, but even within that there is room to manoeuvre as each ruling is judged on an individual basis. Traditions and customs carry a lot of weight too.
Four levels of Interpretation
When I mention that there is plenty of leeway for creativity, interpretation, and innovation of thought in interpretation of texts – I am of course referring to the four levels of interpretation. These are referred to as PaRDeS.
Here are some handy links:
The four levels of intepretation of the Torah are:
- Pshat: is the simple interpretation of the Torah
- Remez: is the different hints and allusions which are contained within the Torah.
- Drush: expounds upon the deeper meaning of the verses of the Torah.
- Sod: is the esoteric, mystical part of Torah.
The last part, Sod, contains within it Kabbalah.