A Whole New Kabbalah Game

After coming across the news that Rabbi Philip Berg, the guy who taught Kabbalah to Madonna and other celebrities, died yesterday, I thought I’d take a look at what Kabbalah actually is. I had been under the impression that it was basically Jewish numerology. It’s true that part of Kabbalah is the idea that numbers and letters have significance beyond the obvious, and even personality. As such, the very letters of the Torah are of utmost importance, and can be used to find hidden knowledge. More than that, however, Kabbalah appears to be a mystical study of how an infinite God interacts with a finite world. The unknowable God makes himself known through ten emanations, or sefirot.

And yes, that’s how the villain from Final Fantasy VII got his name, although I’m not sure how he relates to the manifestations of God. Maybe the game creators just thought it sounded mystical.

As with many such lists that rely on the importance of a specific number, there’s some argument as to what the ten sefirot actually are, with some including Da’at (knowledge) instead of Keter (literally “crown,” but more accurately understood as divine will). There’s a lot more to Kabbalah than that, mostly quite complicated, as befits a system of mysticism. Exactly how Kabbalah got started isn’t clear, with believers claiming it developed pretty much concurrently with the Torah and was taught orally by the prophets and patriarchs, but this would be pretty difficult to prove. The name wasn’t known to have been used until the eleventh century AD at the earliest, and means “receiving” or “tradition.” Some aspects of the practice were adopted by Gentiles interested in the study of magic, and generally taken out of their Jewish context. For instance, the ten sefirot were sometimes used for divination, in combination with Tarot cards and such. The Kabbalah has also been associated with black magic, but while some followers do think it can be used to magical effect, these are only with the direct involvement of God.

Today, Kabbalah is mostly part of Orthodox Judaism, but New Age gurus like Berg have adopted a form of it that largely removes Jewish tradition from the equation. Instead, it mixes in mind-cure philosophy and belief in astrology, non-corporeal extraterrestrial beings, demonic possession causing mental illness, and masturbation creating demons. Berg also sells magic water and red ribbons to ward off the evil eye. I’m not entirely sure why this kind of thing bothers me. After all, as an atheist, I don’t believe in the ten sefirot any more than I do predicting the future based on a poker hand or the positions of the planets. Part of it is the obvious profiteering at work, but I also think there’s a certain amount of disrespect in divorcing such a practice from its origins. It’s like how yoga, which in Hinduism is a path toward connection with the divine, has in the United States become essentially aerobics on a mat. Even though I’m not religious, I still feel it kind of cheapens the original idea.

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8 Responses to A Whole New Kabbalah Game

  1. Glenn I says:

    An issue of Alan Moore’s Promethea is built around the kabbalah schematic. I don’t like everything Moore creates, though he’s always using his brain, which is nice. I think Promethea is my favorite Moore project.

    • Nathan says:

      I haven’t read much by Moore. I liked Watchmen pretty well, but what I’ve seen of Lost Girls bugged me. Not even so much because of the pornography as that it sucked the magic out of the stories.

  2. WayBeyondRedemption.... says:

    I am an almost 69 year old Jewish Atheist…. I’ve tried to watch the Kabbalah instructions on JLTV on a few Friday afternoons…. It’s all gobble-d-gook. Another scheme to explain what the ‘ancient minded’ of old Hebrews couldn’t wouldn’t & didn’t understand about the world…. It’s all crap! Like the rest of Religion.

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  5. Berg’s version of Kabbalah is not the true tradition. It is as far removed from true Kabbalah as astrology is from astronomy. If you want to learn real Kabbalah go to http://Kabbalah.info or http://perceivingreality.com

  6. bill eldridge says:

    Amen

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