Who hasn’t noticed “practical Kabbalah seminars” all over the Jewish world of late, from Hollywood to Tel Aviv.
Jews who are seeking to find themselves and spiritual answers are often “advised” to learn the secrets of the Kabbalah, the masterful work of Jewish mysticism.
However, perhaps this piece of advice should be not be taken so seriously.
In the title, “Faith and Folly”, written by Rabbi Yaakov Hillel and published by Feldheim in 1990, Rabbi Hillel advises that “No one should use Practical Kabbalah unless he has been informed by Elijah the Prophet or shown clear signs that G-d wills it and his soul is suited for it. The “Tannaim” and “Amoraim” (Rabbis of the Talmud) and sages of later generations who used Practical Kabbala all had such revelations or signs. In the absence of such permission, one should not even try to acquire the knowledge, lest one be tempted to use it. In this regard, Rabbi Hillel quotes Rabbi Guttmacher, the author of Tzafnat Pa’ne’ach, in his explanations of the sayings of the Rabbah bar bar Chanah, “ma’mar 9”.
Meanwhile, the foremost proponent of the Kabblah, Rabbi Yitzhak Luria of Tzfat, also known as the “Arizal”, forbade the use of Practical Kabbalah (Sha’ar Ha-Mitzvot, Parshat Shemot).
Moreover, the Arizal even refused to teach Practical Kabbalah to his closest disciple, Rabbi Chayim Vital. R. Chayim studied it on his own, but did not receive it as a tradition from his teacher.
Meanwhile, in the classic Rabbinic work known as “Sefer Ha-Brit”, you can find the following warning: “All the books of the Practical Kabbalah, whether in manuscript or in print – even if they bear the names of famous Kabbalists – are likely to be counterfeit, and are surely filled with mistakes. Even in authentic works, such as Brit Menuchah and Sefer Raziel HaMalach, the Rishonim deliberately inserted errors in order to make the books unusable part 2, Divrei Emet 11:2).”
Rabbi Hillel concludes in his study that “only a few of the famous Sages of Israel, to whom all parts of the holy Tora were known, studied Practical Kabbala in secret by themselves, but did not use it – except in rare cases, under specific conditions, to save the public or sactify the Name. Their works on Practical Kabbalah, such as those of R. Chaim Vital and the Ramaz, were never published and never intended to be publicized. Those who publish books about Practical Kabbala, the Names, the nostrums and lots are denigrating sacred wisdom, causing the public to stumble, and desecrating the Name by inviting ignoramuses to set themselves up as miracle men. “
Should a Jew conducting a spiritual search turn to practical Kabbalah for answers?
The question remains if the Jew is capable of doing so.
Perhaps there are other more practical options for the seeker of Jewish spirituality.