Kabbalah is difficult to read, so a few suggestions are given to ease the effort.
When one reads Kabbalah for the first time, unless the reader is experienced in both platonic (dialogue) philosophical writings and philosophy written in scriptural form, it will be slow, tedious, and mentally taxing. I feel the task was made easier for me because I had read Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy by the 17th century Kabbalist Anne Conway, and all of the Gnostic Gospels. To further challenge the reader, there are often multiple senses of meaning being carried concurrently. As a result, there are several preliminary suggestions one might consider before actually reading Kabbalah (especially Zohar).
- Kabbalists make a fundamental assumption that Torah’s passages were given to humanity with several concurrent meanings being carried simultaneously. Some meanings are explicit and can be understood in a quite literal sense. Many other meanings are implicit, and can be understood with somewhat greater difficulty through linguistic analysis. Finally, there are the deepest meanings which require mystical understanding before they are realized. Because of this, the subject matter being addressed in one paragraph of Zohar can switch from one sense of meaning to another, which can be frustrating to the virginal reader. Sepher Yezirah is not dialogue and each paragraph covers but one sense of meaning, but the scriptural sources are rarely mentioned. Sepher Yezirah is a subtle, mystical, and complicated philosophical analysis of creation. Much of Sepher Yezirah seems to have been deduced a priori, which means "understood through logical progression". However, Sepher Yezirah seems easier to grasp after reading Zohar. The Book of Concealed Mystery was translated by Von Rosenroth in the 17th century and is also not dialogue, but is considerably easier to grasp than either Zohar or Sepher Yezirah. Regardless, the Book of Concealed Mystery and Sepher Yezirah are said to come from understanding thet multiple layers of scriptural meanings in the same fashion as Zohar.
- Zohar, arguably the central book of Kabbalism, is mostly the record of dialogues between Rabbis, and seems to have been written during the second century AD. The Book of Conceled Mystery may have been subsequently written in the years immediately following Zohar, and Sepher Yezirah written a few decades after Zohar. Thus, much of the terminology in these three works reflects the language spoken among Jews roughly 1800 years ago. The Rabbis are sometimes arguing with each other, other times supporting each other, or occasionally asserting their personal view. This is the Platonic mode of philosophy. In the dialogues one must be careful. Most of the differing interpretations of biblical passages in Zohar are entirely possible, with each different idea accepted due to the assumption of multiple meanings. (see #1, above) However, a minority of the stated opinions are apparently incorrect. This is where the reader should be paying close attention to the words spoken by Rabbi Simeon, who is essentially the chairman of the rabbinical symposium. When he says another Rabbi is wrong, pay strict attention. He’s very kind in the way he admonishes incorrect interpretation. A very good teacher. Never rude or judgmental; always considerate.
- It is believed the sections and passages of Zohar that are not dialogue are the teachings of Rabbi Simeon, unless otherwise stated to be the work of one of the other Rabbis.
- Some of the concurrent meanings relate to the physical world around us, some to the development of a moral code of conduct, and still others relating to mystical explanations of deeper, fundamental questions (e.g. God, Angels, and Time, to name a few). As the dialogues jump back and forth between the concurrent meanings, it can be confusing (to say the least). Take your time, and take a break from it once in a while. Let it all be mentally “collated” for a while before continuing on.
- There will be a constant referral to the “secret doctrine”. This of course can be understood to be Kabbalism itself. But, this does not mean something clandestine, confidential or in any way top-secret. Rather, it means that most of the meanings to the passages in scripture, and the method of analysis used to derive these meanings, are not superficial or obvious to the casual reader. Trying to understand scripture in a superficial, literal fashion often produces an inflexible, inaccurate meaning leading to contradiction and teachings so incorrect as to be nothing more than nonsense. The secret doctrine is the least contradictory way to understand scripture and makes the most sense. In other words, Kabbalism is not something “hush-hush”, reserved only for the trusted elite. It is ultimately intended for the whole world.
- Some of the passages in Zohar refer to the linguistic and phonetic analysis used by ancient Kabbalists in order to derive the Kabbalistic explanation of scripture. The first time I read Zohar, these passages literally blew my mind. Kabbalists deduced the Big Bang Theory more than 1800 years ago through linguistics and phonics? As counter-intuitive as it seems, this seems to be exactly what they did. Regardless, I skipped over the linguistic stuff the first time reading Zohar, and I don’t feel my comprehension suffered much as a result. Now, the second and subsequent readings…the linguistic analysis is starting to make sense, but I think this would only benefit scholarly nerds like me. :-)
- Kabbalistic explanations of scripture, the meaning of God & Angels, substance, Adam & Eve, and etc., will be new and sometimes shocking to the virginal reader. Some of the ideas presented will totally contradict traditional Judeo-Christian dogmas, central to what has been taught by all non-Kabbalist ministers, priests and rabbis for about 2000 years. This can be an exceedingly difficult barrier to accepting Kabbalistic truths. Incorrect teachings of scripture have been continually inflicted on the "faithful" for many, many centuries and cemented into the traditional collective consciousness as paradigm. Coming face-to-face with the exposure of these incorrect teachings can be psychologically disturbing and produce a terrible feeling of guilt, which is the result of the severe socio-theological conditioning for more than a millennium. Much of what Kabbalism teaches is heresy to traditional Judeo-Christianity, and brings fear to the individual. Traditional Judeo-Christians are conditioned to avoid heresy like the plague, and shrink away from the fear it generates. This fear is anticipated and considered a positive emotion in Zohar, which says the only "right fear" is that which occurs at the beginning of wisdom and knowledge. Breaking through Judeo-Christian guilt-conditioning when reading Kabbalah can be emotionally painful, but once the breakthrough occurs the rewards are bountiful beyond words.
- Many of the sacraments and rites referred to in Kabbalah are entirely relative to the practice of orthodox Jewish religion. For non-Jews, much will seem new and confounding. If the reader does not know any orthodox Jews, then it will certainly be a revelatory experience. But, don’t worry about it. The idea is to apply Kabbalism to everyone, not make everyone orthodox Jews. Kabbalism can, and ought to be applied to all religions; Kabbalist Christians, Kabbalist Moslems, Kabbalist Taoists, Kabbalist Buddhists…and etc. Maybe, just maybe, we can better prepare humanity for the Eighth Stage of Creation. No, that’s not a typo. Kabbalah openly speaks of an "Eighth Day”, when humanity shall be eternally reunited with the angels, sin will have been eliminated from all the world, and the entire human race will come together as one, forever. World without end…Amen.