Kabbalah – origin, meaning, and controversy

Posted by on Mar 29, 2021

When a tourist comes to Israel, one of the first thing he or she learns is the word Kabbalah. To check into a hotel, the tourist goes to the kabbalah – the reception desk in modern Hebrew. Hence, Kabbalah means reception, acceptance, or received knowledge.

Kabbalah: the reception desk a tourist checks in

Kabbalah: the reception desk a tourist checks in

While the Hebrew word kabbalah is not found in the Tanak, its primitive root verb is indeed in the Scripture, as we read in Exodus,

Make fifty loops in the one curtain and make fifty loops on the edge of the end curtain that is in the coupling of the second, the loops shall hold to each other. (Exo 26:5)

The Hebrew word behind the translation “hold” is קָבַל kaval, which literally means to (take) hold, receive, (under-) take, but literally or figuratively: receive, accept, admit, choose. When one holds something, he has received or accepted it. From this word other Hebrew words are derived: קֹבֶל kovel, in the sense of confronting, as standing opposite in order to receive; it also means a battering ram. A similar word is קָבָל kaval, spelled identically as the primitive verb kaval, but has the meaning of opposite, in front of. The applications of קָבָל kaval are as follows:

receive, accept: Job 2:10, Pro 19:20, 1Ch 12:18, 2Ch 29:22, Est 4:4, 2Ch 29:16.

take: Ezr 8:30, Est 9:27, Est 9:23, 1Ch 21:11.

hold: Exo 36:11-12, Exo 26:5.

Hence, the meaning of the modern Hebrew word kabbalah: someone or something that stands opposite or in front of to receive or accept someone or something: קַבָּלָה‎ kabbalah, a reception desk, or tradition, as one receives something and hands it down.

Kabbalah: the ancient Jewish tradition

Kabbalah קַבָּלָה‎, “reception, tradition”, is an ancient Jewish tradition of mystical interpretation of the Bible; it is an esoteric method and school of thought in Jewish mysticism. A Kabbalist, a person who adheres to the teaching of Kabbalah, is called מְקוּבָּל‎ mekubbal; it originates from קָבַל kaval and means someone who has received the tradition. The Kabbalists consider Kabbalah as a necessary part of the study of the Hebrew Scripture, the Tanak. This school of thought defines the inner meaning of the Tanak and its concealed dimension. The fundamental Kabbalistic text is the collection of teachings called Zohar, which was first published in the 13th century. Until then the teachings in Kabbalah were carried on orally. According to the Zohar, Torah study is done on four levels of interpretation or exegesis. These four levels are called פַּרְדֵּס PaRDeS, Hebrew “orchard”, especially the Garden of Eden, from the first letters PRDS. This is also the Aramaic word Paradis for “paradise”. These four levels of interpretation of the Biblical text are:

(1) Peshat פשט‎ “simple”: The Peshat is the literal meaning; the plain and simple interpretations of the text.

(2) Remez רֶמֶז‎ “hint”: This is the implied meaning of the text through the allegoric meanings and allusion.

(3) Derash דְרָשׁ‎ “search”: The text is searched for peculiarities that are regarded as hinting at a deeper truth than that conveyed by its Remez.

(4) Sod סוֹד‎ “hidden”: the inner, esoteric meaning of the text. Sod is the deepest level of studying and interpretation of the Tanak. This deep level of interpretation is the hidden, secret or mystic meaning of the text. Sod often involves turning the Hebrew letters of a word to their numbers (Gematria) and seeking connection with other words or phrases with the same number in order to reveal a hidden meaning. The Sod level of Kabbalah uses the Bible code as an instrument for searching the truth (see below). The best example of Sod is found in Rev 13:18 concerning the number of the name of the beast, 666.

For instance, when the Creation is read through the prism of Kabbalah, it reveals not only the mysteries about the Creation but also about the Creator Himself, the nature of Adam and Chavah, the Garden of Eden, גַּן gad עֵדֶן‎ eden, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life. Some examples of esoteric experience and evidence of mystical levels in the Tanak are: Ya’akov’s vision of the ladder to heaven, Mosheh’s encounter with the burning bush, the parting of Red Sea, the Creator’s revelation on Mount Sinai, Ezekiel’s vision in Chapter 1, Isaiah’s vision in Chapter 6. The best example of Kabbalistic interpretation in the Apostolic Writings is in the Gospel according to Yochanan, as we read,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with Elohim, and the Word was Elohim. He was in the beginning with Elohim. All came to be through Him, and without Him not even one came to be that came to be. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (Joh 1:1-5)

Kabbalah is often referred to as the “soul” of the Torah, which teaches the deepest insights into the essence of the Creator, His interaction with the world, and the purpose of Creation.

Rabbi Kaduri and the Mashiach

Rabbi Yitzchak Kaduri

Rabbi Yitzchak Kaduri and the name of Mashiach

Yitzhak Kaduri the Rabbi and kabbalist, before he died in Jan 28, 2006, revealed the name of the Mashiach (Messiah) using six words that hinted his name. The secret note written in a traditional Kabbalistic way reads thus:

Concerning the letter abbreviation of the Messiah’s name, He will lift the people and prove that his word and Torah are valid. This­, I have signed in the month of mercy (Jewish month of Elul), Yitzhak Kaduri

The Hebrew transliteration of the text above in bold with the hidden name of the Messiah reads:

Yarim Ha’Am Veyokhiakh Shedvaro Vetorato Omdim

The initial letters of “He will lift the people and prove that his word and Torah are valid” in Hebrew spell out the Hebrew name Yehoshua (short form Yeshua)(Source: Kaduri.net)

The controversial side of Kabbalah

However, in their search for a deeper and hidden meanings of the texts of the Torah and Tanach the Kabbalists might have gone too far. Along with its positive intention to find the absolute truth, Kabbalah often comes along with some controversial “interpretations” that go as far as “reincarnation”. Reincarnation, according to Kabbalah, is the transmigration of the soul after death in the so-called Gilgul neshamot “cycles of the soul”: a rebirth of the soul in a new body over and over again. In the Hindu or Buddhist religion, reincarnation is that a person may be reborn successively into one of five classes of living beings (god or human or animal or hungry ghost or denizen of Hell) depending on the person’s own actions. The Kabbalah’s concept of reincarnation is not to be confused with the reincarnation of those religions. The concept of reincarnation does not appear overtly in the Hebrew Scripture or classic rabbinic literature and was rejected by various medieval Jewish philosophers. However, Kabbalah stands as it has become central to the Judaism and Jewish culture.

Another problematic issue in Kabbalah comes along: “dualism”. Although Kabbalah propounds the Unity of Elohim, one of the most serious and sustained criticisms is that it may lead away from monotheism, and instead promote dualism. Kabbalistic texts, such as the Zohar, appear to affirm dualism, as they ascribe all evil to the separation from holiness known as “the other side” which is opposed to “the Side of Holiness”. Also, according to Kabbalah, Elohim exhibits dual natures, i.e., masculine-feminine dualism, while He is still in the ultimate unity. For example, because Elohim created man in His image, male and female He created them, He has masculine-feminine nature. Kabbalah also teaches that man was originally created male and female in one body (hermaphrodite), and then He split (literally) the man into male and female.


May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.