By Marcia Montenegro (page 1 of 3)

In the garden: The shattering of vessels

In Kabbalah, Adam and Eve are viewed as symbols of male and female energy, and as metaphor for the "primordial Vessel whose existence" came before creation, thus encompassing all the souls of humanity to come (Cooper, 43; P. Berg, 245-46). The presence of the Serpent, considered a fragmenting force, was necessary for creation; otherwise, all would unite with God (Cooper, 87). This gave man the opportunity of earning the Light on his own (Y. Berg, 217).

One of the hidden meanings of the story is that there are two Gardens of Eden, one above, and one below, and reuniting these two Gardens is the goal of humankind (Y. Berg, 51). Yehuda Berg believes that the forbidden fruit was a sexual act between Eve and the Serpent (Y. Berg, 49, 56). Another writer interprets the sin as Adam driving out the Shekhinah by eating only from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and not from the Tree of Life, thus separating Shekhinah from her "husband," Tiferet, and separating consciousness from unconsciousness (Matt, Zohar, 18). This act caused Adam and Eve to lose their garments of light and fall into a lower physical form, becoming clothed with garments of animal skin (Matt, Zohar, 48).

Philip Berg's interpretation of the fall is that Adam and Eve chose with good intentions to have more Light, since this is what the Serpent offered. This choice was wrong, but because the Serpent's temptation enhanced the difficulty of their choice, it was also worthy (P. Berg, 246-47). This sounds contradictory, but Berg explains that evil comes from God and serves the Creator. Cooper says that everything, including evil, has divine nature (Cooper, 160). Adam and Eve took a second bite of the fruit, done out of self-serving motives, thus short-circuiting their ability to receive the fullness of the Creator's Light and moving them back to the material level with a knowledge of death and evil (P. Berg, 118, 248-49). God's command that Adam must now work the land was not literal; rather, it meant that he must "rebuild the Vessel of yourself through your own work in the world" (P. Berg, 119).

Death as the result of disobeying God in the garden, according to Cooper, is not punishment but "the reality of a creation that has duality" (Cooper, 248). Death is merely separation "merging back into Oneness" (Cooper, 248).

In Kabbalah, the Tree of Life is like a fountain of God's light, flowing ever downward. This was free flowing in the Garden of Eden, but humankind has disrupted this flow and is in shattered vessels, which it must rebuild on his own. The garden must be regained.

The art of correction and redemption

As in the Eastern religions, Kabbalah teaches reincarnation, the belief that we die and are reborn, living many lives, ever seeking to advance spiritually. We are in a process of repairing our broken vessels, which may take many lifetimes. This process of reparation and "mending the world through intense soul-work and acts of creative love and justice" is called tikkun, and is also referred to as "healing" or "correction" (Matt, xi; Cooper, 249).

Kabbalists believe that a wise soul, called a Tzaddik, is able to affect the Upper World and help bring more light into creation; the patriarchs were such people (P. Berg, 156-64; 193). When a critical mass of humanity spiritually advances, it tips the scale in favor of all humanity, and will bring us back to a connection with the immortality we had before the fall (P. Berg, 244; also Y. Berg, 220). We all have sparks of the Divine and are shards, albeit broken ones, of the original Vessel in the Garden. We can fix ourselves, regain what was lost, and reverse the Fall for all of humanity (P. Berg, 139, 249-251). All will be readmitted to Paradise (P. berg, 121). Our days spent doing good deeds are "woven into a garment of splendor that will clothe the soul as she enters God's presence in the world to come" (Matt, Zohar, 46).

On the practical level, the Kabbalah teaches a person how to climb the Tree of Life, the branches of which are like the "rungs on a ladder to enlightenment" (Matt, Zohar, 120). Cooper explains that there are three ways to ascend to higher consciousness: study and scrutiny of behavior; seclusion, contemplation, and soul-searching; and having a constant awareness of the implications of everything one does (Cooper, 171-72). Any action in the universe affects the rest of the universe; thus we are to be mindful of our actions (Cooper, 179).

Yehuda Berg gives detailed advice on overcoming selfish, reactive behavior with unselfish, proactive behavior. In fact, Berg considers Satan a code word for the "ego-driven, reactive behavior" in which we seek to receive for the self-alone; this we must avoid (Y. Berg, 109, 117). He offers several principles for being proactive such as: never blaming others or external events; remember that obstacles are an opportunity to connect to the Light; internal change is created through the Hebrew alphabet; and the negative traits one sees in others are reflections of one's own negative traits (Y. Berg, throughout the book but summarized on 230-31).

Yehuda Berg also teaches the Certainty Principle. Using the story of the exodus as an example, he explains that God did not part the Red Sea; instead, Moses and the people proceeded with certainty and this gave them the power to part the waters. When one overcomes one's reactive nature, one will be given the ability to overcome the natural laws, but one must act with certainty (Y. Berg, 173). Berg also explains that one of the tools Moses used was the 72 names of God, a sequence of letters that gave him "access to the subatomic realm of nature" (Y. Berg, 195).

One must accept responsibility for everything in our lives, according to Philip Berg, even our own death (P. Berg, 120). We "print our own ticket" to Paradise through our individual work (P. Berg, 121). Michael Berg advises one to rediscover who we truly are, to realize we must share in order to take on the Creator's essence. By doing this, we will bring about the world's transformation, and can even bring about the end of pain, suffering, and death itself (M. Berg, 51-52; 90-91). According to Philip Berg, this final transformation will happen upon the arrival of the Messiah (P. Berg, 162).

Kosher Kabbalah> The critics and the hype

The Kabbalah Centre has been severely criticized by some Orthodox Jewish rabbis for commercializing and undermining the teachings of the Kabbalah. The Bergs teach men and women of all ages and faith backgrounds, who have little or no knowledge of the Torah, and they do a brisk business of selling books and other products. The publicity has led many to decry the Kabbalah Centre as pop-culture Kabbalah. To compare the popular Kabbalah Centre with the real thing "is the relationship between pornography and love," according to Adin Steinsaltz, a Hasidic rabbi in Jerusalem (Cohen). Another rabbi said the difference was similar to the difference between Barney and a pre-historic dinosaur (Elihu Salpeter, "Pop Kabbalah," July 14, 2004, http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArtVty.jhtml?sw=Pop-kabbala+&itemNo=451278 ).

The Bergs and others respond that we are living in times when kabbalists need to share this wisdom so that humanity can face its challenges (Matt, Zohar, xi; P. Berg, 249, 263; Y. Berg, 218). One rabbi, who is not affiliated with the Bergs, writes that revealing the secrets of the Kabbalah can create the "potential of a paradigm shift that will change our very thought process and our relationship with the Divine" (Cooper, viii).

What also has seemingly incensed so many rabbis is the superstar connection with those like Madonna, giving the appearance of a celebrity culture merrily partaking of an ancient wisdom. Orthodox rabbis consider Kabbalah to be a sacred treasure that should be approached with reverence and respect. They claim this attitude is sorely lacking in those associated with the Kabbalah Centre.

The Kabbalah Centre's connection to celebrities and its commercialization of Kabbalah products have made it a more visible target of criticism (the Kabbalah Centre and the controversy surrounding it was featured in a 20/20 television program aired in June, 2005). The method of teaching and the public availability, even aside from the commercialization, is likely a key factor in producing the discomfort of the orthodox rabbis.

It should be noted, however, that the Kabbalah Centre is not the first to offer Kabbalah outside its usual tradition. Teachings on the Kabbalah prior to the Kabbalah Centre's popularity have been available to the general public since the latter half of the twentieth century, including several books mentioned in this article. In the mid-1980's, an organization where I taught astrology offered a popular two-year course on Kabbalah

A Response: Esoteric versus Clear Revelation

Ein Sof is considered remote and unknowable, and the Tree of Life is believed to be a revelation of Ein Sof's attributes. The biblical God, however, is not remote; He is intimately involved with His creatures and has revealed His attributes through nature (Rom. 1.20), His Word (Heb. 1.1), and Christ (John 14.9), not through mysterious puzzles.

Kabbalah presents Ein Sof's attributes more as abstract principles than personal qualities. The God of the Bible, however, is revealed as having personal attributes; He can think (Ps. 147.5), feel (Ps. 116.15), and will (Rev. 4.11), and He relates to His creatures (humans) in whom He has also placed those personal attributes (Gen. 1.26-27).

Ein Sof's attributes are said to be dualistic (male and female) and opposites are balanced within Ein Sof. The biblical God does not unite opposites. He is one (Deut. 6.4); He is a perfect unity of righteousness, justice, truth, mercy, and love, but these do no coexist in balance with their opposites within God. First John 1:5 clearly states that "God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all" and that the God of truth "cannot lie" (Titus 1.2).

Ein Sof is incomplete, since he needs man in order to complete his plan. But an incomplete God is an imperfect God, and cannot be God at all. If God is the standard for righteousness, He must be perfect and complete. The God of the Bible existed from all eternity (Gen. 1.1; Col. 1.17) in complete perfection in Himself (Exod. 3.14; Matt. 5.48; Acts 17.25). His creation of man was not out of necessity, but for His pleasure (Rev. 4.11).

Kabbalah teaches that the Torah is encoded with hidden meanings. In contrast, historic Christian interpretation assumes that God communicated the Torah to Moses in a normal fashion, and that the text says what it appears to say; there is no concealed meaning. Understanding ancient Hebrew grammar, history, culture and literary style is a sufficient method of interpreting the text. Seeking hidden meanings is a hallmark of gnosticism and occultism. Such a method can lead to imposing any foreign meaning on a text that one wishes. Furthermore, this implies that the Torah is insufficient revelation, since the Zohar is needed to uncover its meaning; thus, the additional revelation (the Zohar) is more complicated than the Torah itself! An esoteric text does not clarify a plain text. The God who created humans is able to communicate sufficiently to them in the Torah; no special key to unlock its meaning is needed.

The Kabbalah is essentially gnostic; that is, one must learn the spiritual secrets of the Torah through the cryptic and intricate Zohar, and then advance through knowledge and actions. This is in strong contrast to Biblical, orthodox Christianity, which is essentially relational and is based on a clear, direct revelation from a personal God and on the historical death and resurrection of God's Son, Jesus Christ. We do not need to delve into esoteric realms to find the truth; truth is readily found in God's word, and was declared by the Messiah, Jesus Christ (John 14.6). Nor do we earn redemption by works, but rather redemption is offered through the atonement of Christ. When one trusts Christ, one knows God, and is adopted by Him as a child (Gal. 4.5; Eph. 1.5).

In Kabbalah, The Shekinah is sometimes called Eden, and the Torah is the Garden where God hid the light. By becoming vessels of light, we can regain Eden. In contrast, the Bible teaches that it is God who will redeem all creation, making it a "new heaven" and a "new earth" (Isa. 66.22; 2 Pet. 3.13). This redemption began with Christ's death on the cross, and was the greatest tikkun of all. His work provided healing, that is, redemption, for all who trust Christ and ultimately for the whole physical creation (Rom. 8.21-23; complete redemption of our bodies (1 Cor. 15.12ff) and of physical creation is in the future after Christ's return.

In trusting Christ, we are reconciled with our Creator, delivered from His wrath on sin, and gain a relationship with God, who loves us (John 3.16; Rom. 5.9; 2 Cor. 5.17-19). Light versus darkness is a theme in both the Kabbalah and the Bible. The true light, however, is not in the Tree of Life, but in Christ, who proclaimed, "I am the Light of the world" (John 8.12).

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