Home > Jewish Mysticism > Introduction
According to Rabbi Steinsaltz, Jewish mysticism – or Kabbalah – is the official theology of the Jewish people. Although the world of Kabbalah is profoundly symbolic and abstract, its teachings are of tremendous significance to the individual and to society alike. Its influences are evident in all Jewish spheres – the prayer book, the Talmud, and Jewish philosophy.
Kabbalah is not a separate area of Torah knowledge, but rather the hidden, spiritual dimension of the revealed aspects of the Torah. These revealed facets of Torah – such as halakha (Jewish law) – speak primarily about visible, physical things; Kabbalah, on the other hand, speaks directly about spiritual entities, like the system of olamot (spiritual “worlds,” or graduated levels of reality) and sefirot (divine “attributes,” or channels of divine energy) through which God creates, sustains and directs the universe. It also discusses the interaction between those entities and the performance of mitzvot in the physical world. It is for this reason that Kabbalah has been called the soul of the Torah.
The character of Kabbalah is perhaps manifested most clearly in Hasidut. By changing the terminology of Kabbalah yet maintaining its messages, Hasidut offers a simpler, more accessible way of unlocking its secrets.
The Hasidic movement, which has prompted dramatic changes in the outlook of the Jewish people, began in the late 18th century with the teachings of Rabbi Yisrael Ba’al Shem Tov. By re-emphasizing the value of every Jew, the Ba’al Shem Tov provided his disciples with the opportunity to link the individual closer to the Almighty. Hasidism has breathed new vitality into Jewish life, offering an alternate route to the arduous and, for some, unattainable path of study.