Religious Experience and the Kabbalah

It could be argued that, as all life is worship, so every aspect of life might be seen as a religious experience. Community events such as festivals and rites of passage reflect the emotions of the individual and the community. Feelings such as awe, worship, wonder, praise, thanks, concern, joy and sadness are all expressed in these events and are shared by the whole community.

The scriptures recount many examples of religious experiences. The patriarchs, for example, have many meetings and conversations direct with G-d. As the scriptures progress the Prophets continue to receive revelations from G-d.

In recent times there have been accounts of religious experiences from the period of the 20th century Holocaust. However, Judaism is not a religion which expects that sort of relationship with G-d.

One of the most significant portrayals of religious experience and its quest can be found in Kabbalistic Judaism.

Kabbalah is Jewish mysticism. It dates from the first centuries CE and developed further in Spain and Provence in the 13th century with the Sefer ha-Zohar – The Book of Splendour.

In its earliest forms, followers sought an ecstatic version of G-d’s throne, the chariot seen by Ezekiel:

Above the expanse over their heads was the semblance of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and on top, upon this semblance of a throne, there was the semblance of a human form. From what appeared as his loins up, I saw a gleam as of amber-what looked like a fire encased in a frame; and from what appeared as his loins down, I saw what looked like fire. There was a radiance all about him. Like the appearance of the bow which shines in the clouds on a day of rain, such was the appearance of the surrounding radiance (Ezekiel 1:26-28a).

Spanish Kabbalah was more concerned with esoteric knowledge about the nature of the divine world and its connections with the world of creation.

Medieval Kabbalah draws on Neo-Platonism and Gnosticism and is expressed in symbolic language.

The Sefer ha-Zohar gives a cosmic-symbolic interpretation of Judaism and of the history of Israel. Therefore the observance of the mitzvot has cosmic significance.

This cosmic aspect is developed further in the 16th century Lurianic Kabbalah, developed by the Rabbi and mystic, Isaac Luria (1534 – 1572).

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