Kabbalah Is Not Philosophy
In ancient times, Kabbalah inspired great minds to search for meaning, but the branch called “philosophy” was soon to veer off in another direction.
Perhaps we think of Kabbalists as secluded people hiding in dim, candle-lit chambers, writing magical scriptures. Well, until the end of the 20th century, Kabbalah was indeed kept secret. The clandestine approach toward Kabbalah evoked numerous tales and legends surrounding its nature. Although most of these tales are false, they still baffle and confuse even the most rigorous thinkers.
But Kabbalah was not always secret. In fact, the first Kabbalists were very open about their knowledge, and at the same time, very much involved with their societies. Often, Kabbalists were their nation’s leaders. Of all these leaders, King David is probably the best known example of a great Kabbalist who was also a great leader.
The involvement of Kabbalists in their societies helped their contemporary scholars develop the basis of what we now know as “Western philosophy,” which later became the basis of modern science. In that regard, here’s what Johannes Reuchlin, a humanist, classics scholar, and expert in ancient languages and traditions, writes in his book, De Arte Cabbalistica: “My teacher, Pythagoras, the father of philosophy, took his teaching from Kabbalists … He was the first to translate the word, Kabbalah, unknown to his contemporaries, to the Greek word philosophy… Kabbalah does not let us live our lives in the dust, but elevates our mind to the height of knowledge.”
But philosophers were not Kabbalists. Because they did not study Kabbalah, they couldn’t fully understand the depth of Kabbalistic knowledge. As a result, knowledge that should have been developed and treated in a very specific way was developed and treated incorrectly. When Kabbalistic knowledge migrated to other parts of the world, where there were no Kabbalists at the time, it also took a different course.
Thus, humanity made a detour. Although Western philosophy incorporated parts of the Kabbalistic knowledge, it ended up taking an entirely different direction. Western philosophy generated sciences that researched our material world, that which we perceive with our five senses. But Kabbalah is a science that studies what happens beyond what our senses perceive. The changed emphasis drove humanity in the opposite direction from the original knowledge that Kabbalists obtained. This change in direction took humanity on a detour that resulted in the general misconception of what Kabbalah is really about.