Kabbala & Dishonesty
Mekubal: Over on Bad4's blog(1) , I was presented with an argument that certain aspects of Kabbalah are dangerously close to (or possibly even) Avoda Zara. I was presented with the work "Tohar Hayihud"(2) by an anonymous Torah Scholar, which essentially makes the claim that Kabbalah, on account of things such as the Sephirot, does not hold to the belief of an absolute unity. Let me start by saying that I respect that Scholar's research, and his familiarity with sources. It was quite an interesting read. Unlike some other commentators, I don't believe that anything the author said was Kefira or out of the bounds of authentic Orthodox Judaism in any way. However, I do think that he made two major errors.
First, he presented the position of the "Rishonim" as being overly monolithic, as if the Ramban was some sort of oddity in the world of Torah Judaism at the time, neglecting the fact that a good number of other Rishonim were also heavily involved with Kabbalah, he overlooked personalities such as the Raavad, Rabbeinu Yona, the Rosh and the Tur, Yosef Giktalia, Shimon D'Min'Acco to name but a few. Also in this vein he states that the view of the faith as proposed by the Rambam was essentially a continuation of previous monolithic system, which, quite frankly is not true, as this article from Hashkafa Circle(3) will clearly demonstrate.
Second major mistake, he presents an inaccurate view of what Kabbalists believe. He seems to state that Kabbalists actually view things such as the Sefirot as being existent. Which is not the case, as I have already done one post on. However to really firm this up I offer you a piece of the Eitz Haim(daf 14c):
"Therefore it is an apparent matter that there is body and no resemblance of a body, G-d forbid. All of these descriptions and images it is not that they actually are like this, God forbid. Therefore they are to soothe the ear in order that the person will be able to understand lofty and spiritual things will be precieved and registered in the intellect of mortals, thus permission has been given to speak in the manner of descriptions and images... Even the verses of the Torah itself answer and speak in this manner such as when the pasuk says, "the eyes of HaShem wonder in all the earth"..."
Just as we are no more supposed to actually think that HaShem has hands, feet, eyes, ears, or nose, despite them being referenced in the Torah, same with the Sephirot and such things spoken about in Kabbalah. They are simply constructs to help us understand. In reading the writings of the Ari (more accurately Haim Vital's transcription of the Ari's teachings) it is important to understand that they were not given over to beginners. Most of the Ari's students had giluy Eliyahu HaNavi before they started learning with the Ari. Thus what the Ari gave only a single paragraph here and there to, others have written substantial works on. Two that are considered absolutely foundational for the study of Kabbalah are Shomer Enumina (HaKadmon) and Kise Eliyahu. These two works spend an incredible amount of space explaining how none of these things about which we talk truly exist, they simply are constructs to help conversation.
Are there people who call themselves mekubalim who in their arrogance have thought that they could bypass these works, and skip right into the meat of things? Yes absolutely, and yes they are completely off about the unity of HaShem. Hey, I know whole Yeshivot that follow this heresy. However there are crazies in every sect of Judaism, we need not name names or point fingers. Just as it would be wrong to reject Litvakim or Hasidim because of the extremists and crazies that populate their midst, it would be wrong to reject Kabbalah simply because there are some who don't seem to be read what is written on the page, or think that they are above the commentaries of generations past.
Reader – June 10: The problem my friend is that you chose not to post my reply to your questions. I merely quoted from Rivash, Rabbeinu Nissim, Chazon Ish etc. If you chose to be selective in what you wish others to read, be honest with yourself and just say you are not interested in honest debate regarding the most fundamentals of Yahadus. That is fine, there are many people like yourself who wish to frame the debate in a way that they can just close their eyes and say it isn't so because to say it is so would force them to evaluate everything they thought correct before. This approach is as old as time, I was just hopeful that you would be honest to deal with the "facts" and not the emotions. I assume I was wrong.
You refused to publish my reply to your misquote of the Rivash (a Rishon by the way, and a Talmid of the Ran, not some wild eye Maskil that you seem to accuse anyone who disagrees with you). The Rivash doesn't say that he didn't comment on the topic because he did not learn Kabbalah from an adept teacher. What he said was that you mustn't study it unless it is from a Chacham M'kubal (an accepted Chacham) and then he goes on, "vadayan ulay", and only then "maybe".
Do you mean to say that this is not a telling comment on his position? When the Rivash quotes his Rebbe the Ran, who told him privately that the Ramban Z"L forced himself too much to "believe in Kabbalah" ...is that not a telling comment?
When the Rivash quotes someone who says that the Christians believe in three (trinity) and the Mekuballim believe in ten (Sefirot) is that not a telling comment?
When the Rivash states that people tried to explain to him the concept of how to Daven using the Sefirot but they uncovered one Tefach and buried themselves in many Tefachim, is that not a telling comment?
You also refused to print by quote from the Tshuvos Chazon Ish, as he states that there is no concept of going after Rov (following the majority view) on issues of Hashkafah (philosophy), but only on issues of P'sak Halacha. You also refused to publish my response to your categorical and incorrect statement that there is no Shul/Kehilla in the world that Berich Shemei is not said. Wrong again. Minhag Ashkinaz as established by Hagon Hatzadik Maran Harav Shimshon Refael Hirsch ZTVK"L, who took it out of the Nusach HaTifilah (prayer text) and returned the Nusach to its original form. He also took all other Kabbalistic oriented prayers out including Kabollas Shabbos. But you won't print this because you want to leave the readers of your blog with the disinformation and dishonest comments that there are no such accepted K'hillos in Klal Yisrael and that you have thoroughly refuted all my arguments.
I would have expected more from someone that comes across as a Mivakesh Es HaEmes and a Talmid Chacham. Such are times that we live.
You want to change the topic and divert the essence of the debate by asking how can it be that so many Torah greats got it wrong. This is not the question at hand. The only question is if the concepts that you believe in are in accordance with the accepted Mesorah from Moshe M'Pi HaGivirah (from God's words) through the time of the Geonim and early Rishonim. That is the only question. But to address your diversion I would say two things. Firstly, according to your position, you would need to explain how all the Geonim including Rav Saadia Gaon, Reishonim like Rambam, Rabbeini Avraham Ben HaRambam, Rabbeinu Meshulam, Ran, Rivash, Meiri, and Meili all got it wrong.
The second point that I would make is that I have to assume that such Torah giants like Ramban and his Talmidim who did subscribe to Kabbalah, must have had a way to resolve the many questions that you have posted, but these answers elude us. If we don't have them, we must resort to the approach of the many great Chachamim that I have already listed because without these answers, your view of Yichud HaShem (God's Unity) is distorted at best and I don't want to think what it may be at worst.
Reader's Addendum – June 17: Since you chose to be dishonest and closed the posting on the Blog, I will post my reply here and end this conversation. You accuse me of dishonesty, and that the T’shuvah M’Ava says nothing of the kind, so please allow me to quote (T’M end of Siman alef, M’HaGaon R’ Eliezer Pilkalish ZTK”L) who says he was Meid that he saw “someone who wanted to make a Bracha on the Esrog Hamihudar of Rabbenu (The Noda B’Yehuda) and when he saw this Ploni say a Yehi Ratzon (L’Shaim Yihud) Koas v’rogaz, he becam angry and said “Bketef Gadol” if anyone makes a Y”R he may not take my Esrog and make a Bracha on it” End quote… See also Sefer Minhag Yisrael Torah who brings this T’shuvah as well.
You are correct in one instance, I was writing from memory and I attributed a quote to the Node B’Yehuda but It should have stated the T’Shuva M’Ahava 9Talmid Muvhak of the N”B), here is the quote:
T’Shuva M’Ahava Siman 26
"I swear by Hashem's Torah that in the Zohar there are many forgeries and destructive statements that have been added. One page of the Babylonian Talmud [containing] the discussions of Abaye and Rava is more holy than the entire Zohar -- the [authenticating] seal of R. Shimon ben Yohai is not affixed to them (i.e., to the words of the Zohar). Anyone with half a mind must admit this, for a number of Tannaim and Amoraim are mentioned who lived many years after R. Shimon ben Yohai ... [This has been] explained by the Gaon (Rabbi Yaakov Emden), who declared that [unidentified] hands have been at work on it (i.e., the Zohar).
And another quote:
Noda B’Yehuda – Yora Deah, siman 93
Concerning the formula “L’shaim Yihud” that has recently spread and has been printed in the siddurim ... in my view this is a sore evil in our generation. Generations prior to our time knew nothing of this formula, and did not say it. They toiled all their days in Torah and Mitzvos, and did everything according to the Torah and according to the Poskim whose words stem from the source of living waters, the sea of the Talmud. Of them it is said; "The integrity of the upright shall guide them" (Proverbs 11:3). It is they who produced fruit above; their piety is great above the heavens! But in this generation of ours ... each one says: "I am the seer! The gates of heaven have been opened to me! The world exists because of me"! ... I have much to say about this, but just as it is a Mitzva to say what will be accepted, so too is it a Mitzva to refrain from saying what will not be accepted. May Hashem have mercy upon us."
You may disagree with my Mesora and point of view but I believe you owe me an apology and a public one at that. Malbim Chavero B’rabim (essentially calling me a liar) is a grave issur even on the internet.