25 Questions
& Answers about
Kabbalah


2. What does the word Kabbalah actually mean? Are other terms also used for the same body of wisdom?

Kabbalah is a Hebrew word from the root kabel, which means receive. A kabbalah is a received teaching or tradition. The Kabbalah refers specifically to the body of received mystical teachings of the Torah.

In English transliterations, the word Kabbalah appears in various spellings, such as Qabalah, Cabala, Kaballah, Kabbala, Kabala, Kabalah. These are different transliterations of the same Hebrew word.

By no means all works bearing the name Kabbalah are authentic. The term has been falsely used by many different kinds of charlatans, leading detractors to associate it with magic and witchcraft, which are the very opposite of the true Kabbalah.

In rabbinic Hebrew, the word kabbalah refers to an item or items of Torah knowledge received from a reliable source. The term is applied both to the biblical prophets (as in Rashi on Exodus 12:39) or to teachings from the Oral Law handed down by the rabbis to their students by word of mouth.

The use of the word kabbalah to refer specifically to the esoteric wisdom of the Torah is found only in later literature. The Mishneh, the first written compilation of the Oral Law (dating from the 2nd century C.E.), refers briefly to the esoteric wisdom of the Torah as Ma'aseh Bereishit, Work of Creation and Ma'aseh Merkavah, Work of the Chariot (Chagigah 2:1).

The Talmud and legal codes refer to the esoteric wisdom as PARDES, The Garden (Chagigah 14b; RAMBAM (Maimonides), Mishneh Torah, Foundations of Torah 4:12). The Talmud also refers to the esoteric wisdom and its practical application as Sefer Yetzirah, The Book of Formation (Sanhedrin 65b) or Hilchot Yetzirah, The Laws of Formation (Sanhedrin 67b).

It was with the spread of mystical knowledge to wider circles from the 1300's onwards that the Hebrew word Kabbalah came to be used more specifically in reference to the esoteric tradition, and this is the name that is most generally used today.

Other Hebrew terms for the wisdom of Kabbalah are: CHOKHMAT HA-EMET, the Wisdom of Truth, CHOKHMAH NISTERET, Hidden Wisdom, or the acronym of the latter, CheiN, which is the Hebrew word for Grace or Favor.

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