The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism - Daniel Chanan Matt (1996)
The Wisdom of Kabbalah
HOW TO APPROACH KABBALAH
WHAT SHOULD your intention be as you draw near to this wisdom?
Pursuing the straight path, dividing your time between Bible, Talmud, and this wisdom, partaking of each. Learning this wisdom for its own sake: to enter its mysteries, to know your Creator, to attain a wondrous level of comprehension of the Torah, to pray in the presence of your Creator, to unite the Blessed Holy One and Shekhinah by enacting the mitsvot. This is the worship pleasing to God. Then you will walk the path safely. When you lie down, you will not fear. Faithfully God will make you aware of aspects of the divine Torah that no one else has yet attained. For each soul has a unique portion in the Torah.
Try to learn from someone who has followed paths of integrity, as far as possible, for the treasures of God have been entrusted in that person’s hands. Do not chase after those who boast of their knowledge. Their voices roar like the waves of the sea, but they have only a few spoonfuls of wisdom. Many times I have experienced this myself.
This has also befallen some authors, who compose books with riddles, rhyme, and flowery language; their words are encumbered by excess. We need not go into this; it is improper to cast aspersions on that which is holy. The books to which you should cleave, in order to improve, are the compositions of Rabbi Shim’on bar Yohai, namely, the various parts of the Zohar. Of the books of his predecessors: Sefer Yetsirah and Sefer ha-Bahir. Of more recent works: The Fountain of Wisdom, Chapters of the Chariot, Chapters of Creation, and similar writings. Cleave to these in love; you will then succeed in this wisdom, provided you delve deeply and reflect intensely. Then you will discover most of what is found in the more recent commentaries, which you will no longer need. It is not our intention to declare these latter writings unfit, but rather to designate for the seeker the path that is short, although it is long.
Peruse these books in two ways. First, go over the language of the text many times, taking notes to remember fluently. Do not delve deeply at first. Second, study with great concentration, according to your ability. Even if it seems that you do not understand, do not stop, because God will faithfully help you discover hidden wisdom. As a parent trains a child, so does God purify one engaged in this wisdom, little by little. I have experienced this innumerable times.
If something in this wisdom seems doubtful to you, wait. As time passes, it will be revealed to you. The essential reward of this wisdom is derived from waiting for the secrets that will be revealed to you in the course of time. This is demonstrated in several passages in the Zohar; often something that had been doubtful to them for a long time would suddenly be seen anew. They had a saying for this: “I have been pursuing this word all the days of my life!”
Those who persevere in this wisdom find that when they ponder these teachings many times, knowledge grows within them—an increase of essence. The search always leads to something new.
SOMETHING YOU cannot explain to another person is called nistar, “hidden,” like the taste of food, which is impossible to describe to one who has never tasted it. You cannot express in words exactly what it is—it is hidden. Similarly with the love and awe of God: It is impossible to explain to another what the love in your heart feels like. This is hidden.
But calling the wisdom of Kabbalah “hidden” is strange. How is it hidden? Whoever wants to learn—the book is readily available. If one does not understand, he is ignorant. For such a person, the Talmud is also hidden! Rather, the secrets hidden throughout the Zohar and the writings of the Ari are based entirely on cleaving to God—for one worthy to cleave.
WHOEVER DELVES into mysticism cannot help but stumble, as it is written: “This stumbling block is in your hand.” You cannot grasp these things unless you stumble over them.