Origins of the Kabbalah

ALD 72 Names of God Red Bracelet I have wanted to write this article for years. It is not meant to be a snobbish or elitist attack against a modernized Kabbalah which saw a popularity resurgence over the last decade. Nor are my intentions to question the sanity of popular culture icons who tell the tabloids tales of their Amazing Grace by the auspices of one Rabbi Yehuda Berg. Nor do I wish to get in the face of Starbucks cup touting, Kabbalah preaching gentiles and say:

"Brother or sister, you are immature! Judaism is a complex institution which requires years and years of study. Not until one has honed enough well-earned erudition in the basics should one be permitted to tackle the Kabbalah. And it is my understanding that perhaps you'd be better off just keeping the law of the Saturday Sabbath than reading Yehuda Berg, if you are looking for points in Heaven, let alone seeking spiritual elation!"

My intentions are to clear up any misunderstandings about Jewish mysticism � and explain what, exactly this ancient knowledge is all about. There was once a young Rabbi who lived in Israel during the second and third centuries A.D. His name was Shimon ben Yochai. He and his contemporaries were known as the Tannaim. They studied at a yeshiva (school for Jewish learning) in Bnei Brak, called Yavneh, under the guidance of the great Rabbi Akiva.

Now in these days, the land of Israel was under the rule of the Roman Empire. Less than 100 years prior, the Jews had revolted against the Romans and the Holy Temple had been destroyed. Now the only thing that the Jews had, to keep their nation united, was the study of the holy Torah. Eventually the evil Emperor Hadrian forbid the study of Torah, under the pains of death and many great Torah scholars and teachers were being executed. Rabbi Akiva however refused to stop teaching and so he was locked in prison, awaiting execution. His students began to visit him in his prison cell to learn his many important lessons; Shimon ben Yochai was one of these students.

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After the Roman's killed Akiva by tearing off his flesh with iron combs while he proudly cried, "Hear O Israel, the Lord is G-D, the Lord is One", three of his students sat in a vineyard at Yavneh and discussed what they should do next. These students were Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yose the Galilite, and Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai. Rabbi Yehuda suggested that they take a friendly approach to the Roman authorities. Rabbi Yose expressed no opinion and Rabbi Shimon spoke very negatively of the Roman tyrants. The Sages were not aware that their conversation was being overheard by a young Jew, named Judah ben Gerim. Judah ben Gerim had turned into a spy for the Roman authorities. He reported the conversation of the Sages to Hadrian. They decreed honor and rank for Rabbi Yehuda, exile for Rabbi Yose, and death for Rabbi Shimon, who dared to challenge them.