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August 23, 2009


Yaakov Feldman

Perhaps we can draw an analogy between the differences between classical physics and quantum physics. When we apply Ramak's Kabbalah we're using "classical" Kabbalistic theories, which while exceedingly handy in the everyday world, nonetheless don't touch upon the depths that Ari's "quantum" Kabbalah do. Agree?

Ari Newberg

What a wonderful post. I personally feel more aligned with Ramak's Kabbalah as it is a continuation of the chain of tradition. Ari's Kabbalah is not just a new interpretation but a departure, which in many places plainly contradicts the historical Kabbalah. This is something that should be discussed and re-evaluated.


One should point out, however, that ARI's Kabbala is clearly based on teh Idra's. Until Ari, these sections were incomprehensible. Ramak's teachings fit very well with the rest of the Zohar, especially Tikkunim. What this means is that Zohar itself contains two disparate traditions.

It is a major problem that Ari's kabbala are presented as if it came from Heaven as a new revelation. I am not enough of an expert but I strongly suspect that if someone truly qualified actually sat down and traced central Lurainic concepts to Zohar, he would find most of them within it. This plus the tradition that Ari studied Zohar in seclusion on an island in the Nile and developed his system that way, suggests that if someone took Ramak's approach to Ari's teachings, he could enrich us all by showing antecedents and sources of Ari in the Zohar.


There is a famous comment from the Vilna Gaon (printed in Keser Rosh) to the effect that "where philosophy ends, kabbalah begins, and where the kabbalah of the Ramak ends, the kabbalah of the Ari begins." (see http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=21127&st=&pgnum=534)

With regard to the source of the Arizal's teachings, if my memory serves me correctly, I believe the Gaon agreed with Avakesh, that they were derived from the Idra Raba, Idra Zuta and Sifra D'tzniusa. In fact, I seem to remember reading that the Gaon's commentary on Sifra D'tzniusa is devoted, in part, to demonstrating this connection.


In my opinion, the main problem with Lurianic Kabalah is that it is largely incompehensible and does not seem to relate in any meaningful way to realiry.
Beyond the basic principles such as the Tzimtzum, which enabled a finite universe to be created and governed, the Shevirah and Tikkun, which brought about the required balance of Good and Evil needed to facilitate Free Will, and other such basics, the DETAILS of the Partzufim etc, seem totally incomprehensible and not connected to the real world in any meaningful way. Indeed, the so-called Sefaradi Mekubbalim admit that they don't understand any of it and that our job is simply to parrot the words, try to resolve contradictions, and hope that in the Next World we will understand what it is all about. I do not envy such an attitude to a system that supposedly reveals the most profound and detailed description of God's relationship to Man and the Universe.


David, I think Yakov Feldman's analogy (earlier in the comments) between physics and kabbalah is relevant to your concern about the incomprehensibility of the kabbalah of the Ari.

Classical Newtonian physics is a very sophisticated presentation of how the world works, which enables to accomplish incredible feats of precision. The basic principles are straight-forward and intuitively satisfying, while application can be quite demanding intellectually. (That's why rocket scientists are smart!)

Ultimately, however, when we get down to the REAL TRUTH of the physical universe, Newtonian physics is not really true. Instead we have relativity and quantum mechanics, both of which involve concepts which are counter-intuitive, paradoxical, and almost incomprehensible to anyone without years of training and experience. To the layman, much of it seems like nonsense. Beginning students in these areas, who already have serious training in mathematics and other areas, still need to largely "parrot" the ideas until they eventually develop a sense for these concepts.

Ultimately, it should not be surprising that the true, ultimate nature of the universe, whether physical or spiritual, may well be extraordinarily complex. In fact, the surprising thing is that it is within human comprehension at all.


I long ago considered the possibility you raised - I myself majored in Theoretical Physics. But the analogy is not good. The underlying philosophical difference between Classical Physics and Modern Physics is that Classical Physics claimed to describe what IS, whereas Modern Physics admits that science cannot make any claims as to what IS, but only as to what is OBSERVED, and the equations of Quantum Physics and Relativity can be checked and confirmed by OBSERVATION of the real world, regardless of what really IS or whether or not these theories conform to our notions of common sense. The details of Lurianic Kabbalah, although highly complex ans multi-dimensional, do not seem to parallel the real world in any meaningful way.

Ari Newberg

I also think it is hypocritical of Chaim V. to criticize the Kabbalists up to the time of the Ari. The Ari's system is clearly borrowed from other systems (i.e. the adoption of Abulafia's techniques).

I guess we should not forget that each Rebbe becomes an infallible source of authority for those who follow them. This has been the case with the Chasidic sects- particularly Lubavitch and Breslov. The followers of the Ashlag also claim that their Rebbe was the greatest and final expositor of Kabbalah. Abraham Abulafia claimed that his system was far greater than those who were simply engaged in theoretical speculation. Someone is always better than everyone else. I personally believe that one should study from multiple sources and draw a picture of what resonates within the soul.


I am not sure that ARI burrowed much from R. Avraham Abulafia, although Ramak does quote him in Shaar Hatserufim, as he quotes everybody who preceded him(R. Kaplan writes about this in Meditation and Kabbala). R. Abulafia does not even have Sefiros in his system.

We will discuss this in a alter post but one way to understand Ari is that he attempts to portray moods and emotional and perceptive states that interact, interdigitate and give birtha nd nurture each other as they develop within the psyche. Ramak's system is more static in that it describes them as they finally take shape.

Ari Newberg

The Ramak quotes from Abulafia quite a bit in his Pardes Rimonim. I say that the Arizal taught from Abulafia because the furth section of Vital's Shaare Kedusha is based on Abulafia's Chaye Olam Haba.

Abulafia makes reference to the Sefirot but doesn't focus his efforts on expounding the theoretical system as he believed his prophetic system was far superior to those which simply engaged in an intellectual pursuit of Kabbalah.

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The details of Lurianic Kabbalah, although highly complex ans multi-dimensional, do not seem to parallel the real world in any meaningful way.

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we should not forget that each Rebbe becomes an infallible source of authority for those who follow them. This has been the case with the Chasidic sects- particularly Lubavitch and Breslov.

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