A BALANCED LOOK AT JEWISH KABBALAH AND THE HASIDIC TRADITION IN THE LIGHT OF
THE ORIGINAL TEACHINGS OF THEOSOPHY
THEOSOPHY ON THE ORIGINS OF KABBALAH
Many people today have heard the word “Kabbalah” and some know the basic fact that it’s the term for the esoteric side of the religion of Judaism; in other words the deeper, more mystical, more spiritually powerful aspect of the Jewish religion.
In the commercially minded West, it has recently ended up being vulgarised through distorted popular versions, to which the vast majority of real Jewish Kabbalists are strongly opposed. One of the popular distortions is the connecting of Kabbalah with ceremonial magic, i.e. elaborate rituals using Kabbalistic symbolism to try to evoke otherworldly entities. This is not a feature of the real Kabbalah and, as students of Theosophy are aware, ceremonial magic is something H. P. Blavatsky, her colleague William Q. Judge, and their Teachers the Masters of Wisdom, were very much against and warned people about.
In HPB’s books and writings she makes reference most often to things from the texts and philosophies of Indian religions, primarily Hinduism and Buddhism, but after that it is Jewish Kabbalah of which she most makes mention. There is such a thing as Christian Kabbalah but she was very critical of this and viewed it as just another distortion and dilution of the real thing.
But what does the term even mean? In her “Theosophical Glossary” entry for “Kabalist” she explains that “Kabala” is literally “an unwritten or oral tradition,” although we should add that it is not now an entirely unwritten tradition but it was to begin with. She continues:
“The kabalist is a student of “secret science,” one who interprets the hidden meaning of the Scriptures with the help of the symbolical Kabala, and explains the real one by these means. The Tanaim were the first kabalists among the Jews; they appeared at Jerusalem about the beginning of the third century before the Christian era [i.e. so about 2,300 years ago]. . . . This secret doctrine is identical with that of the Chaldeans, and includes at the same time much of the Persian wisdom, or “magic” . . . Some show it as coming from the Biblical Patriarchs, Abraham, and even Seth; others from Egypt, others again from Chaldea. The system is certainly very old; but like all the rest of systems, whether religious or philosophical, the Kabala is derived directly from the primeval Secret Doctrine of the East; through the Vedas, the Upanishads, Orpheus and Thales, Pythagoras and the Egyptians. Whatever its source, its substratum is at any rate identical with that of all the other systems.”
There was mention in that quote of Chaldea; Chaldea was a nation which was absorbed into Babylonia, modern day Iraq, over 2,000 years ago. In numerous places HPB speaks of what she calls the Chaldean Kabbalah and in particular the Chaldean Book of Numbers (not to be confused with the Biblical book of Numbers), a text unknown to the world and dismissed by sceptics as just a figment of HPB’s imagination. But she insistently maintained its existence and in “The Secret Doctrine Dialogues” (p. 498) she says “In the Chaldean Kabbalah, in the Book of Numbers, you have the wisdom of the Hebrew initiates . . . The Chaldean Kabbalah, moreover, the Book of Numbers, agrees perfectly with the eastern arrangement, and disagrees with the present orthodox Kabbalah in its diagrams. . . . I had a rabbi who had the real Book of Numbers – and there is another; I have only seen two in my life, and I don’t think there exist more. He had fragments of the Chaldean Kabbalah.”
So it’s implied that the Kabbalah of today’s Judaism has diverged in some respects from its Chaldean source.
In some of her articles HPB speaks further, albeit with great brevity, of her own Kabbalistic training:
“The first, the best, the dearest as the most revered of the friends of our youth, one with whom we corresponded to the day of his death, and whose portrait we treasure as a relic, the learned Rabbi, in short, with whom we studied the Kabala – was a Jew. Let [our critic] inquire, and he will find that we have a number of Jews in our Society, both in America, Europe and here; and that many of our valued and most intelligent friends are Jews.” (“Doomed” article)
“I have studied the Kabbala under two learned Rabbis, one of whom was an initiate . . . a Hebrew initiated Rabbi, in Palestine.” (“Tetragrammaton” article)
And in her article “The Kabalah and The Kabalists” she affirms, “There are initiated Occultists, who are Kabalists, scattered hither and thither, most undeniably, especially in Germany and Poland.”
By that, she obviously meant they are among the Ashkenazi Jews, but that was a few decades prior to World War 2, after which the Jewish population in those countries was severely diminished.
And in an article titled “The Secrecy of Initiates” she says “The Mysteries – of the Jews were identical with those of the Pagan Greeks, who took them from the Egyptians, who borrowed them, in their turn, from the Chaldaeans, who got them from the Aryans, the Atlanteans and so on – far beyond the days of that Race.”
THE PLACE OF KABBALAH IN THE JUDAISM OF TODAY
Before we focus in on the actual subject, it’s necessary to briefly explain that just like any other religion, Judaism is today not just one thing but that there are multiple forms of Judaism. Ethnically speaking there are two primary groups of Jews in the world, known as the Sephardic Jews and the Ashkenazi Jews.
The Sephardic Jews are the Jews of the Middle East, North Africa, the Mediterranean and, more closely to us in the UK, the Spanish and Portuguese Jews. The Ashkenazi Jews are usually in appearance much more European-looking and “Ashkenaz” is the Hebrew word for Germany and surrounding areas. They grew and developed in Europe but despite looking physically unrelated to the Sephardic Jews, DNA studies have found that their far back ethnic origins are indeed in the Middle East, just as they have always claimed. Today, 80% of all the Jews in the world are Ashkenazim and so they vastly outnumber their Sephardic cousins. All view Israel as their true home, even if they have never been there or rarely visited.
Both Sephardic and Ashkenazi Judaism include Kabbalah but because of the greater size and influence we’re going to focus in this article particularly on Ashkenazi but that too exists in various different forms. The simplest way of putting it is that there is:
#1. Orthodox Judaism, which is the majority of Ashkenazi Jews and who are very religiously observant but nonetheless maintain connection and involvement with other people and modern society.
#2. Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, called Haredi Judaism; many consider “ultra-orthodox” a pejorative term but scholars and most people use the term simply for sake of clarity and so we will also. The ultra-orthodox are famed for their self-enforced social isolation from the rest of society and extreme social conservatism which most famously expresses itself in their distinctive clothing and appearance – the black hats, black suits, beards, curled sidelocks, etc.
#3. Reform Judaism, which is also known as Liberal Judaism and Progressive Judaism. Socially speaking, this is much more in line with the modern world; it allows female Rabbis, makes no distinction between the sexes, accepts and even celebrates LGBT members, imposes no obligations or rules about clothing and appearance – but it is also highly rationalistic and sadly denies most of the metaphysics, including generally ignoring the Kabbalah and largely dismissing it as outdated superstition.
Interestingly, it is the ultra-orthodox who preserve, keep alive, and give prominent importance to Kabbalah. Hasidism is the main form of ultra-orthodox Judaism and in a Hasidic book titled “The Key to Kabbalah” we find these words: “Kabbalah is part and parcel of the Oral Torah tradition, and it is incumbent upon every Jew to study all areas of Torah according to their ability – including Kabbalah – as mandated in the code of Jewish law.”
AN INTRODUCTION TO HASIDIC IDEAS AND SPIRITUAL PRACTICES
“Hasidism” literally means “The Pious” or “The Ones of Piety.” It first arose in Eastern Europe during the mid 1700s and spread rapidly and was seen as a revival of mystical Judaism.
Its founder, Israel ben Eliezer, is known as the Baal Shem Tov or, for short, the Besht, “Baal Shem Tov” meaning “Master of the Good Name.” That didn’t just mean that he had a good reputation but that he was a Master of the knowledge of the “divine names” or “names of God” and knew how to use them to produce beneficent occult effects, which included remarkable healings and exorcisms. Much of his life is shrouded in mystery but we know that he was born into a poor family in an area which was then part of Poland but now part of Ukraine.
Before Hasidism became known by that name, its adherents were called “Di Freyliche,” literally “The Happy” or “The Joyful Ones.” This was due to the emphasis on the importance of Simcha, the Hebrew word for Joy and in particular a true spiritual joy arising from within. One of the early Hasidic Masters is quoted as saying, “It is not a sin to be sad but sadness can bring on the greatest sins.” Depressive sadness must however be avoided at all costs, they said, and with the knowledge we all have today about clinical depression and its potential consequences we can all understand why that is.
The most fundamental and core teaching in Hasidic Judaism is that of the immanence, or, the inner presence of the Divine within and throughout the entire Universe. The Tikunei appendix to the Zohar says, “Leit Atar panuy mi-néya,” meaning “Nothing is devoid of Him.”
The Zohar, by the way, is called “The Book of Splendour” or “Book of Light” or “Book of Radiance.” It is the foundational text of the Kabbalah and is actually a compilation of various books and dialogues. It was compiled by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, also known as Rashbi, of the 2nd century C.E./A.D. It was partly written by him and partly “the product of generations of masters and their disciples.” The Zohar was largely kept secret for over 1,000 years until Rabbi Moshe (Moses) de Leon began publishing it in Spain in the early 1300s. The Sifra Detzniyutha, often spelt Siphrah Dzeniouta in HPB’s writings, is “The Book of Concealed Mystery” and is a part of the Zohar.
HPB said the Zohar was actually compiled in the 1st rather than 2nd century and calls it “the true Kabalah of the Initiates, which is lost and whose original is to be found in the Chaldean Book of Numbers.” It “is lost” – to all except real Initiates – she said, because “the Zohar we have now is not the Zohar left by Simeon Ben Jochai to his son and secretary as an heirloom. The author of the present approximation was one Moses de Leon, a Jew of the XIIIth century.” (“The Theosophical Glossary” entry for “Qabbalah”)
Matter would be null and void without the spiritual essence it possesses, the Hasidim say, and similarly Spirit cannot become manifested except through vehicles and forms of substance and matter. Most Theosophists will recognise that teaching from the Third Fundamental Proposition of Vol. 1 of “The Secret Doctrine.”
And just as Theosophy speaks of the descending arc of involution from purest spirit into the depths of matter and then an ascending arc of evolution, from matter back up to spirit, the first Rebbe (Rabbi) of the Chabad school of Hasidism wrote, “This is the purpose of Creation; first from Infinity to finitude and then reversed, from the state of the finite back to that of the Infinite.” This was his commentary on Genesis 28:20-21, which reads, “If God will be with me, and He will guard me on this way upon which I am going, and He will give me bread to eat and a garment to wear, then I shall return in peace to my Father’s House, and the Lord will be my God.”
Now, obviously, hardly anyone reading that verse in the Bible or the Torah would ever be likely to understand or perceive in it the deeper and more powerful spiritual meaning as explained by Hasidism. But once a person has a knowledge of esoteric philosophy and symbolism – which is a universal, non-sectarian science, and which is made clear to us throughout the writings of H. P. Blavatsky, particularly in “The Secret Doctrine” – whether the person derives that knowledge from what we call Theosophy or from the Kabbalah or from Gnosticism or Hermeticism or Hinduism or Buddhism or Sufism or ancient Greek or Egyptian teachings or anything else, they are then able to naturally, as if by second nature, perceive and see the real hidden doctrine, the true teaching, veiled in the exoteric wordings and narratives.
And this concept of the divine immanence or omnipresence naturally leads to what is called Devekut, which means mystical union and blissful reunification with the Divine. Like real spiritual Yoga – which literally means “Union” too – it is both a goal and a practice, the practice being one of inner communion. They say that since the Divine is everywhere, a connection with the Divine is capable of being experienced at any time, in any place, and upon any occasion or circumstance and that everyone and anyone can do so. Those less learned, or unlearned, in the esotericism may experience it as a deep sense of heartfelt emotion during prayer and worship, whilst the most learned and advanced leaders are said to experience a state of utmost divine ecstasy, no doubt similar to what Theosophy and Indian religions would call Samadhi.
Those highest leaders and teachers are often spoken of as the “Masters” of Hasidism. Please note that we are not saying that they are Masters in the specific Theosophical sense and meaning of that word but are simply relating that Hasidism calls them by this term. Having gained Devekut their mission is now viewed as being to help guide their respective flocks or followers or disciples to it.
How might it be done practically? Primarily through Bitul ha-Yesh, which means “Negation of the Material Illusion.” A true devotee must learn to see beyond the outer material level of things, realising that although it serves a necessary purpose it is not the reality. The One Reality, the Only Reality, is God or the Divine. Abandon material concerns as much as possible, become as oblivious as you can to the material distractions that surround you, deny the more animalistic and sensual impulses of the body, transfer your attention from the “animal soul” to the “divine soul,” begin to perceive not with “the eyes of the flesh” but with “the eyes of the intellect,” – the real intellect being part and parcel of the spiritual – meditate and contemplate quietly on the hidden divine dimension of all that exists, and view your true self, your real nature, as the INFINITE – this, Hasidism says, is essentially how to do it. This is the practice of Bitul ha-Yesh.
But do not actually ignore or develop an antipathy or hatred for the physical world and worldly concerns, they add, but rather do all this with perfect Hishtavut – equanimity.
And it’s safe to say that anyone who’s been properly studying Theosophy for a while will see that what was just described is exactly the same as what Theosophy says. There isn’t even one apparent difference or contradiction. “Negation of the material illusion” is also one of the core practices in the Advaita Vedanta or Non-Duality form of Hinduism taught by Adi Shankaracharya, who is highly revered in Theosophy. Advaita Vedanta teaches one to say “Neti, neti” – “not this, not this” – “my true Self is not any of this but rather I am THAT, I AM Brahman, the Absolute, the Infinite, the Divine.” And William Judge repeatedly advises us to remind ourselves every day that we are “not this” but that “I am THAT.”
In HPB’s book “The Key to Theosophy” she mentions (p. 108) how the Zohar says the soul must receive what is called “the holy kiss” from the spirit. And in Jewish scriptures, kissing is usually a metaphor or allegorical code word for this Devequt that we’ve been speaking about, the mystical union and blissful reunification. Moses, Aaron, Miriam, all were said in the scriptures to have “died by a kiss from the mouth of the Lord.”
What we’ve just been describing is basically an inner motion upwards, from the material towards the Divine, but Hasidism also speaks of “Hamshacha” – literally “drawing down” or “absorption of the divine outflow.” That means that if and when one rises in consciousness to the higher levels of reality, one can then bring back down to the physical plane some of the power which animates and energises those higher levels. And this can manifest in greater spiritual insight, for example, or exuberant joy, or in material improvements such as better health, healing from ailments and diseases, and the removal of existing troubles and obstacles.
THE TZADIKIM (MASTERS OF HASIDISM) AND THE MESSIAH
A characteristic which sets Hasidism apart from even other mystical branches of the Jewish religion is what is known as the Tzaddiq – the Righteous One.
Many from a Christian background may be familiar with the name of Melchizedek, who is a mysterious figure who appears briefly in the Book of Genesis. HPB very strongly indicated in her commentaries on the Gnostic Gospel called the Pistis Sophia that in reality Melchizedek was one of the many names that have been applied to the ultimately nameless great Being who “The Secret Doctrine” calls the Great Sacrifice, the Wondrous Being, the Nameless One, the Initiator, the Solitary Watcher, the Maha-Guru who dwells at Shambhala, the supreme head of the whole great hierarchy and brotherhood of the Masters of Wisdom.
The “zedek” of the name Melchizedek is this same word “Tzaddiq,” “righteous one.”
The text called the Tanya, written by the founder of Chabad Hasidism, says that the title of “Tzaddiq” is really a description of the state of that particular individual’s soul and that a Tzaddiq has transmuted their animalistic and lower inclinations into pure holiness, freedom from all temptations, no sense of the personal ego, and thus serves as a Merkabah or vehicle for the energy and influence of the Divine.
According to the Talmud, at least 36 Tzadikim are living on the Earth at all times, working anonymously and without their true nature being publicly known. The Talmud says that it is due to these Tzadikim that the world has not been destroyed. We can see here quite a strong similarity with what Theosophy says about the Mahatmas, Masters, Adepts, and Their selfless bodhisattvic work for humanity.
In Hasidism, it is maintained that not all of these 36 Tzadikim are actually necessarily anonymous and hidden and that some of them have in fact played leading Rabbi roles within Hasidism. Hasidic communities centre socially around a leading Rabbi and often they are referred to as “Tzadik” but more commonly as “Admor,” a Hebrew acronym for “Our Master, Teacher, and Rabbi,” or just simply as “Rebbe,” the Yiddish equivalent of “Rabbi.”
Hasidism states that one of those Tzadikim that are ever present on the Earth is supreme, higher than all the others, and is the reincarnation of Moses. They also say that every generation there is a great soul born into Hasidism who has the potential to become the Messiah and who will become the Messiah if, and only if, the Jewish people have made themselves worthy and ready for that long awaited occurrence. Such a person is known as the Tzaddik Ha-Dor, meaning Tzaddik of the Generation.
The Tzaddik of an Hasidic community is not only the spiritual but also the societal and political leader and is a theurgist, a practical occultist, a spiritual guide and shepherd, and believed to be able to enter and function on other planes of being besides the physical and also to be concerned with what Theosophists would call “raising up the whole mass of manifested matter” or in the Hasidic phraseology, “elevating the divine sparks concealed in even the most lowly of places.”
As it is acknowledged that many people are not currently capable of attaining Devequt in the way that was outlined earlier, the Tzaddik is held as a focus of devotion and it is said that cultivation of devotion and reverence towards the Tzaddik will aid the person in their spiritual progress. Hasidic Tzaddiqs were originally appointed as such by personal merit but eventually it was changed to become an hereditary thing and the saying “There can be no Tzaddik but the son of a Tzaddik” was introduced. A similar deterioration of the original ideal occurred with the Brahmin or priestly caste in India.
There have been a few Tzaddiks of different branches of Hasidism who were believed by many of their followers to be the Messiah even though they themselves didn’t specifically claim to be. The most recent and most well known was Rebbe Schneerson (1902-1994), also known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who was the 7th Rebbe of the Chabad stream of Hasidism.
This leads on to what was briefly mentioned earlier, that within Hasidism there are multiple and distinct branches or streams or groups; the term they use for these is Dynasties. The Dynasties are usually named after a particular Eastern or Central European locality where the group first began or where its founder was born or lived. There are actually around 200 different Hasidic dynasties in existence in the world today. That large number is partly due to various splits, schisms, divisions, and disagreements, that arose over the years. All share the same core teachings and practices such as those we’ve spoken of but differ in numerous less major matters.
Relations between many, but not all, of the Dynasties are cordial though and intermarrying between members of different Dynasties is known to occur. Some of the largest and most internationally present Dynasties today are Chabad, Satmar, and Belz. And, similarly to New York, London, particularly North London, and especially areas such as Stamford Hill, is home to thousands of members of each of these and numerous other Hasidic dynasties.
On that subject of the Meshiach or Messiah, H. P. Blavatsky in at least four places in the second volume of her first book “Isis Unveiled” (p. 328, 238, 256, 203) discredits the idea that Jesus was genuinely the Messiah that the Jewish scriptures had prophesied. She says there and elsewhere that Jesus came with a mission, a reforming mission, but she never once says that he was the Messiah promised to the Jews. That Messiah, she writes, has still not yet come, and that is because it actually refers to that future occurrence prophesied in so many religions, whether it be the Hindus’ coming of the Kalki Avatar, the Buddhists’ coming of the Buddha Maitreya, the Imam Mahdi of the Muslims, the expected Saoshyant (often rendered “Soshiosh” in Theosophical literature) of the Zoroastrians, or what Christians mistakenly call “the return” of Christ, and so on.
And in her article “Lamas and Druzes” and elsewhere, HPB explains that this – which is not due to happen until the end of the Sixth Root Race, the next major vast epoch after our present one, many hundreds of thousands of years from now – will not take the form many expect, for it will not be the incarnation of one special individual but rather a collective incarnation into the whole of humanity of the one Divine Wisdom Itself.
REINCARNATION AND KARMA IN JEWISH BELIEF
Now what about reincarnation? Earlier we explained that the highest Tzadik ever-present on the Earth is believed to be the reincarnation of Moses. HPB’s article “The Kabbalah and The Kabbalists” declares that only true initiates can know anything whatsoever about who Moses was and is. William Quan Judge in “The Ocean of Theosophy” writes, “Abraham and Moses of the Jews are two other Initiates, Adepts who had their work to do with a certain people; and in the history of Abraham we meet with Melchizedek . . . Moses was educated by the Egyptians and in Midian [Note: Anyone raised as a Christian is sure to remember hearing about Moses in Egypt from childhood Bible stories]; from both he gained much occult knowledge, and any clear-seeing student of the great Universal Masonry can perceive all through his books the hand, the plan, and the work of a master.” (p. 8)
But reincarnation, the periodical rebirth on Earth of the soul, for all human beings and not only a few great ones, is a very prominent teaching and belief in Judaism, not only in the past, as some mistakenly believe, but also in the present day. It has never stopped being so.
Or to be more precise, it is a prominent teaching and belief in orthodox Judaism and in particular ultra-orthodox Judaism, for these are the forms of Judaism that have kept alive the Kabbalah and believed it to be of extreme importance. But as the orthodox and ultra-orthodox say, every Jew who claims to believe and take seriously their scriptures is by definition a believer in reincarnation even if they don’t realise it, seeing as the Book of Job – to give just one example – says “Naked I left my mother’s womb and naked I shall return there.” (Job 1:21)
Hasidism teaches that the soul is something so potent that it cannot fully incarnate into a physical body and so it projects a ray of itself to become enmeshed with the body and the brain. Accordingly, they say that the personality should not be confused with the soul itself; we find exactly the same idea in Theosophy’s teaching about the Higher Manas – the Higher Ego, the reincarnating Individuality – incarnating as a Lower Manas, a personal ego-consciousness, in a body, or the distinction and interrelation between what we call the “permanent individuality” and the “present personality.”
Reincarnation is called in Hebrew “Gilgul Haneshamot” and so much is said about it that we can only attempt to very briefly give the basics here. They say, as Theosophy does, that reincarnation continues for the soul until it has reached the highest levels of spiritual perfection and purification and that some souls who no longer need to reincarnate do however continue to do so out of compassion for the rest of humanity and solely in order to benefit others, whether the others be an entire generation, a nation, a family, or even just one person who needs it. This clearly parallels the Bodhisattva or Nirmanakaya ideal that we talk about so often and which is also a prominent feature of Mahayana Buddhism.
Although Judaism obviously doesn’t use the Sanskrit word “Karma” they do teach that part of reincarnation is the necessity of atoning for one’s past misdeeds and repaying debts to others. They point out that in the Kabbalistic science of Gematria, which is the numerical value contained within letters and words, “Gilgul” or “Reincarnation” has exactly the same value as the word “Chessed” – kindness. Rebirth is in actuality a “kindness” or mercy for the soul, for without it we could never grow, improve, learn, perfect ourselves, and balance out all the imbalance that we ourselves have created. The perfect justice of the Law of Karma is perfect mercy, Theosophy maintains.
Collective Karma and group reincarnation is also noted. The Chabad Lubavitcher Rebbe, the one who many followers thought to be the Messiah, stated that the Shoah – the holocaust murder of approximately 6-million European Jews at the hands of the Nazis during the time of the Second World War and which reduced the world’s Jewish population by almost 70% – could partly be explained by this principle of reincarnation and rectification of sins but added that it is impossible to imagine that such a horrendous collective sin could ever have been committed that could have entirely warranted such brutal atrocities of extermination. We have to humbly confess that the exact reasons for it are ultimately beyond us, he concluded.
On p. 102 of “Answers To Questions on The Ocean of Theosophy,” Robert Crosbie, in answering the question “If the law of reincarnation is just, why is it that the Jewish race has been so persecuted?” says in part: “The tendency of selfishness is to increase with each incarnation, and if a people or individuals continue in that course, they will continually injure others and bring about their own re-actions at the hands of those injured. So if we find any people particularly marked out for persecution, we may be sure that as egos in other times they had been the offenders and are reaping what they sowed.”
He said that during the time of the First World War; most likely, had he lived into the period of 1939-1945, there would have been much more nuance in his answer, as there is a big difference between persecution and holocaust. Perhaps “separativeness” would have been a more descriptive word there than “selfishness.” The traditional separativeness of the Jewish people was much more universally applicable historically than it is now, although it still remains as persistent as ever with the majority of the ultra-orthodox. There are no simplistic explanations and no simplistic solutions. However, part of the root cause of such difficulties will be touched upon in a moment.
Despite similarities mentioned above, there are numerous differences between Hasidic and Theosophical reincarnation teachings, such as that reincarnation only continues in the human kingdom for the soul who rectifies at least some of its past misdeeds. If for three successive lifetimes the soul does not rectify anything at all – and which we’d probably all agree would be an extremely rare situation – then it reincarnates no more as a human but starts being reborn in the animal kingdom instead and, if necessary, the vegetable kingdom and even lower. That is the Hasidic view.
The Theosophical is that once we have reached the human stage of evolution, it is absolutely impossible to re-enter any of the lower kingdoms. An evil and unremittingly degenerate individual can become more and more animalistic from life to life but they will not literally re-become an animal. There is part of us which does enter the animal and other kingdoms but that part of us is not the soul but relates to the “life atoms” of prana and our astral body. You can click here to read The Transmigration of Life Atoms.
THE SEPARATIVE IDEA OF “JEWISH SOULS” AS SUPERIOR TO ALL OTHER SOULS
The most controversial and untheosophical aspect to Jewish reincarnation teachings is the separative doctrine that there are Jewish souls and non-Jewish souls and that on the soul level they are inherently different from one another. Not entirely different but still inherently different.
All souls without exception come from the Divine Essence, they say, so all souls are divine, but so-called “Jewish souls” have an additional layer or extra aspect which is necessary because they have more commandments and obligations to fulfil than those of other religions and ethnicities. And this, they say, means that “Jewish souls” are judged far more strictly than other souls because more is expected and required of them spiritually. Although this idea therefore emphasises self-responsibility, it also bespeaks a strong belief in spiritual superiority, one which is seen throughout the well known Bible stories of “God’s chosen people.”
According to their teachings, Jewish souls generally reincarnate only as Jews, and non-Jewish souls reincarnate in all the other religions, ethnicities, and so forth.
But it does sometimes happen that a Jewish soul gets reincarnated as a non-Jew, yet they say that this only happens as essentially a type of Karmic punishment and in particular if in a previous lifetime the Jew lived in a non-Jewish way. People who may be born as Goyim or gentiles, non-Jews, but who feel very strongly and persistently that they are inwardly Jewish and have an all-consuming attraction and inclination towards Judaism and the Jewish life, are permitted, even by the ultra-orthodox, to convert to Judaism, although it involves a very lengthy and challenging process. They are seen as being Jewish souls who have ended up in a non-Jewish body and who are seeking their way back.
Most people are already aware that no proselytising is ever undertaken in Judaism to try to find converts; instead any would-be converts are left to find Judaism of their own accord.
As for Theosophy, this timeless, esoteric, universal Wisdom-Philosophy maintains that all souls are of the same nature and that we all reincarnate in any race, nation, religion, and culture that is needed by our Karma, and this may be Jewish in one life, Indian in the next, African in the next, and so on. None of us are spiritually “bound” to any particular race, religion, or society.
It is not at all implausible, however, that one might reincarnate in the same nationality or ethnicity for numerous lifetimes in a row. If one has developed a very powerful love, affectionate feeling, and attraction for one’s racial or ethnic group or country, that powerfully colours one’s “skandhas” (the tendencies, characteristics, and attributes, which constitute our personal self and re-combine for each new incarnation) and becomes a force of Karmic affinity that can magnetically and irresistibly draw us back to our beloved group, over and over again. Eventually, of course, change has to intervene, as there is only so much that can be gained from going through the same or very similar experiences and circumstances over and over.
Interestingly, it is not only love which will do this but also hate. Repulsion is just another form of attachment, explains Theosophy, and those who are negatively fixated on a particular people – whether that people be Jews, African Americans, Australian aboriginals, so-called “gypsies,” or whoever – are very likely to find themselves reborn among them, as one of them. The very nature of magnetism demands it. This is perhaps one reason for the continuing persecution of the Jewish people, i.e. people with very strong antisemitic feelings, prejudice, and hatred are very likely to end up as Jews . . . and must then experience and suffer themselves the very animosity and aggression that they themselves once felt and expressed. As said above, nothing about this is simplistic!
The main reason that the majority of people, even people who are interested in spirituality and religion, are not aware that reincarnation is a central doctrine of Judaism today is because of the Hasidic strong dislike of, and in some cases ardent opposition to, the internet.
So next to none of the 200 Hasidic dynasties even have a single basic simple website, let alone one that presents and explains their teachings. And as they don’t seek converts and don’t see any reason for non-Jews to need to know about the teachings and practices which they hold sacred, they feel no need to try to educate the world at large.
Education of their own members takes place in the home, in the school, in the synagogue, and so on. The notable exception to all this is Chabad, which has many extensive websites, a huge social media presence, and so forth, and which tries to clarify and explain its teachings in detail for both Jews and non-Jews alike. But if one doesn’t already happen to know of Chabad, one isn’t likely to come across the Hasidic reincarnation explanations online.
THE DEVIL, THE AFTERLIFE, AND PROBLEMS IN HASIDISM
Mention of reincarnation naturally brings up the question of the afterlife and even of “the devil.”
The idea of a personal and even anthropomorphic Satan or devil figure that acts as a kind of anti-God, such as taught and believed in by many Christians, is denied in Kabbalah. Hasidic teachings say that as it’s a dualistic idea it cannot be true, since there is only ONE – that is, the Divine. There are evil people and there are evil entities that exist outside of the physical plane but there is no one supreme Satan or “Lord of all darkness,” they say.
References in the scriptures to “satan” they explain as simply meaning a range of “adversary” figures, which is what the word “satan” literally means. This is also how HPB explains such matters in “The Secret Doctrine.”
As for what happens between death and rebirth, this teaching differs greatly from the Theosophical one. Theosophy for various reasons recommends cremation rather than burial but the Jewish teachings say the opposite and view cremation as having some type of detrimental occult effect.
Theosophy says that after an initial and usually unconscious period on astral levels (Kama Loka) in which the higher immortal part of our being separates itself from the lower and unspiritual principles, that immortal part passes into a self-created “heaven” state (Devachan), unwittingly projected out of its own consciousness and giving it whatever type of heavenly afterlife it had believed in and expected and hoped for while alive on Earth. This is an entirely individual condition (i.e. not shared with others) and is merely the effect of past causes; no new causes are set in motion during this time, it is instead basically an ultra-vivid blissful dream.
That’s according to Theosophy. Hasidism, meanwhile, speaks instead of Metivta D’Rkia or “heavenly academies” where souls are given further spiritual teaching between lives although they do acknowledge that these otherworldly revelations will only be in exact accordance with the spiritual efforts exerted by that soul while on Earth.
They also say that every Friday night to Saturday night – which is the Jewish Shabbat in Hebrew, Shabbas in Yiddish, Sabbath in English – all departed souls receive a temporary elevation which is one of many reasons why they hold Shabbas as being such an important ritual and process. It also provides some brief relief for those souls who spent their lives in “sins of heated passion” and who are believed to now be in Gehinom, a temporary yet terrible state of suffering and punishment between lives.
Hasidic teachings also hold that everyone upon death arrives at a type of heavenly court where angels judge them according to their deeds and misdeeds and ask the soul such questions as, “Were your business dealings faithful? Did you set fixed times for Torah study? Did you engage in procreation?” – the having of multiple children and large families being highly important in Judaism.
But all is not well in the Hasidic world. In their secluded and socially isolated upbringing, many are taught to habitually distrust and even fear and try to avoid as much as humanly possible all non-Jews. This is partly understandable in light of the mass persecutions they have suffered over centuries and especially in the last century, but such separative attitudes and strict isolation cannot have any beneficial effects in the long run.
Whenever any of their members decide to leave the Hasidic communities and enter upon a non-Hasidic life they are generally shunned, threatened, denounced, and cut off from having any more contact with their family and loved ones.
Many of the small number who do find the courage to leave the group are women, no longer able to tolerate the many misogynistic attitudes towards them and strict rules and prohibitions imposed upon them. Married women have to shave their head and keep it shaved, some groups requiring that they then wear a headscarf or type of hat for the rest of their lives, others permitting the wearing of wigs; no makeup is allowed, no colourful clothing, only strictly regulated garments to preserve puritanical standards of modesty – strictly regulated and decreed by the men, that is! – and of course no career is permitted to Hasidic women; their role is defined as that of a dutiful wife, daughter, and mother, nothing else, and they are not even allowed to speak to or interact with any men to whom they are not related.
So it’s certainly very cult-like in these respects, though some of those things are not applicable to the Chabad form of Hasidism.
We may see how at odds this is with the Master K.H., who wrote to early Theosophists, “On the elevation of woman the world’s redemption and salvation hinge. And not till woman bursts the bonds of her sexual slavery, to which she has ever been subjected, will the world obtain an inkling of what she really is and of her proper place in the economy of nature.” And HPB, who stated, “It was [woman] who first took man to the Tree of Knowledge, and made him know Good and Evil; and, if she had been let alone and allowed to do what she wished, she would have led him to the Tree of Life and thus rendered him immortal.” (“Alchemy in the Nineteenth Century” article)
THE KABBALISTIC TREE OF LIFE
The ”Tree of Life” in Kabbalistic terms is the Sephirothal Tree. “Sephiroth” and “Sephirothal” are correctly pronounced “Sfeerowt” and “Sfeerowtal.” Most Jewish people have no idea what Theosophists are talking about when they hear us pronouncing these words the way they are generally spelt in the Theosophical literature.
This Sephirothal Tree is one of the most important and central components of Kabbalah but it has deliberately not been gone into at any length in this article, partly because it would be too predictable to focus on that and instead we wanted to take the opportunity to give other details and information that are not so widely known nor so frequently talked about but which are still highly important. The Tree of Life is all that many people think of when they think of Kabbalah but there is so much more to Kabbalah, as we have hopefully shown.
What we will say here is that in the Lurianic Kabbalah system followed in Hasidism, Kether is not counted amongst the Ten Sefirot (although it is mentioned) and is replaced by Daat, whereas Daat does not appear in some other systems of Kabbalah.
All of H. P. Blavatsky’s statements regarding the Sefirot (this is nowadays the standard accepted spelling of the term) begin with Kether, which she sometimes just calls “Sephira,” and she never mentions Daat, although there is a brief entry for it by Westcott in “The Theosophical Glossary.” Daat is simply intended to represent the point in which all the Sefirot are united in one harmonious whole.
The Absolute, the Infinite, the One Ultimate Reality, does not appear in the Tree of Life as it precedes and transcends all the Sefirot. That Absolute, the Causeless Cause, the Rootless Root, the Sourceless Source of All, is called En Sof, also written as Ein Soph and Ain Soph in Theosophical texts. “En Sof” literally means “infinite,” “boundless,” “endless.” HPB often expresses it as “the endless, boundless No-Thing which is everything.” It corresponds perfectly to the Theosophical concept of the Absolute Infinite Divine Principle, more generally referred to in Theosophy by the Hindu term Parabrahm.
In the diagram on p. 200 of “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1 (see below), the Seven Globes of our Earth Chain are illustrated first as per “Eastern Gupta Vidya” and then as per “Chaldean Kabala.” The latter illustrates them with the pattern and names as given in the publicly known Jewish Kabbalistic Tree of Life to the seven lower Sefirot. The triangle standing above them could perhaps be seen as corresponding to the triad of Kether, Chokhmah, and Binah.
The large fold-out Kabbalistic diagram of cosmogony in Vol. 2 of “Isis Unveiled” (between p. 264-265) is also described by HPB as representing “the Chaldean Doctrine,” “the Chaldeo-Jewish.” Although using Jewish Kabbalistic terms, the diagram does not match anything that is publicly known in standard Jewish Kabbalah. The reason is, as said, that HPB is providing it from the Chaldean Kabbalistic sources, which were explained at the start of this article to be the direct and esoterically purer source from which the Jewish Kabbalah is derived.
HPB explains that the Ten Sefirot are intended to illustrate exactly the same principles and details as the ten points of the Pythagorean Triangle, also known as the Tetraktys. (“The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 2, p. 111) She also writes that the seven lower Sefirot are not only universal qualities but the seven chief Hierarchies of Dhyan Chohans within the Cosmos (“The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 339, 579) and says “The Logos . . . emanates from itself – as the upper Sephirothal Triad emanates the lower seven Sephiroth – the seven Rays or Dhyan Chohans.” (“The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 130)
As Theosophy presents almost exclusively a sevenfold system of the macrocosm and microcosm rather than a tenfold one, it might be wondered how the Kabbalistic Tree of Life – and also the Pythagorean Tetraktys, for that matter – can line up with the Theosophical system. The clue is that in a few places the Theosophical literature does disclose that ten is the true total: “This mysterious number Seven, born from the upper triangle △, the latter itself born from the apex thereof . . . is the sevenfold Saptaparna plant, born and manifested on the surface of the soil of mystery, from the threefold root buried deep under that impenetrable soil.” (“The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 2, p. 574)
The term “Adam Kadmon,” literally meaning “Primordial Man” or “Heavenly Man,” is one of the Kabbalistic terms most frequently encountered in Theosophy. Neither in Theosophy nor Kabbalah does it refer to any type of “man” in the usual, literal sense of the word, nor any type of individual divine being; the expression is symbolic and esoteric.
HPB explains that the famous phrase “Let there be light,” in the Book of Genesis refers in reality not to physical light but the projection or radiation of Adam Kadmon from the Absolute. In many places (such as “The Theosophical Glossary” p. 6, 268) she speaks of Adam Kadmon as a synonym for the Third Logos, the Manifested Logos. This would seem to contradict the descriptions, definitions, and explanations of Adam Kadmon found in Lurianic Kabbalah, which are strikingly clear descriptions of the First Logos, the Unmanifested Logos of Theosophical metaphysics, the “point within the circle.” But in some places, HPB does use “Adam Kadmon” in a way that includes the Lurianic definition, such as in “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 137 and Vol. 2, p. 337, where she equates it with Kether, the highest of the Sefirot, and also the “Theosophical Glossary” entry for “Heavenly Adam” on p. 138, which explains it as, “The synthesis of the Sephirothal Tree, or of all the Forces in Nature and their informing deific essence.”
The Baal Shem Tov, the 17th century Polish founder of Hasidism, who was mentioned towards the start of this article, taught that the ten utterances of Genesis (i.e. the series of “Let there be…” decrees) were not only a mere historical occurrence (Theosophy would say that they were in no way ever a literal historical occurrence) but “are an ongoing dynamic, and represent the constant flow of Divine creative energy which vivifies all creation. If G‑d were for one moment to withdraw that energy from the creation, then the world would cease to exist. If G‑d were to withdraw the energy configured in those letters, or figuratively speaking, if He was to stop uttering the words, “Let there be light,” the Light would cease to exist.” “G-d” is the way that “God” is generally written in Judaism, it being considered more reverential.
Let us compare this with what is said by William Judge in his “AUM!” article: “There is pervading the whole universe a single homogeneous resonance, sound, or tone, which acts, so to speak, as the awakener or vivifying power, . . . This is the word, the verbum, the Logos . . . without this resonance or motion among the quiescent particles, there would be no visible universe. . . . the Divine Radiance [is] the Aum. . . . the Divine Resonance spoken of above, is not the Divine Light itself. The Resonance is only the outbreathing of the first sound of the entire Aum. This goes on during what the Hindoos call a Day of Brahma . . . It manifests itself not only as the power which stirs up and animates the particles of Universe, but also in the evolution and dissolution of man, of the animal and mineral kingdoms, and of solar systems. . . . The Divine Resonance, or the au sound, is the universal energy, which is conserved during each Day of Brahma, and at the coming on of the great Night is absorbed again into the whole.”
YHVH, THE FOUR PLANES, AND THE HUMAN CONSTITUTION
Finally, it is important to be aware that Judaism never once speaks of “Jehovah” or “Yahweh.” These are Christian anglicisations of YHVH, the four-lettered name known by the Greek term “Tetragrammaton” or more commonly in Judaism as HaVaYaH. YHVH are the initials of four words: Yud Hei Vav Hei, which are viewed as “The Holy Ineffable Name.” The most frequent everyday Jewish word for “God” is “HaShem,” literally “The Name” and then “Adonai,” “The Lord.”
When HPB speaks critically of the Jewish belief in Jehovah, she is using the word that immediately means something to readers from a Christian background or culture. What she is actually criticising is how the real, esoteric, metaphysical conceptions of the original Kabbalah became degraded and degenerated in popular Judaism into a personal anthropomorphic “God” who is presented as being far more vicious, murderous, jealous, and hateful, than even the vast majority of humans! She doesn’t reveal much about this far from heavenly or divine “tribal deity” of the Jews – and which has unfortunately become the “tribal deity,” for want of a better word, of Christianity too – but does imply that whoever or whatever it is, it is in some sense linked with Saturn.
Since many Jews, as we have explained, have at least some Kabbalistic basis to their faith, they generally do not read as literal fact all the things that are said about the “Jewish God” in their Tanakh. “Tanakh” is the word for the Hebrew Bible, the Christian “Old Testament.”
But with the Christian Church having long ago lost or rejected the keys of esotericism and symbolism, many Christians – the fundamentalists and evangelicals especially – take it all literally and believe that their “Jehovah,” who is shown frequently demanding blood sacrifices of humans as well as animals, and who is named responsible for far more deaths in the Tanakh/Old Testament than those attributed to “Satan,” is to be praised, worshipped, and adored. The fault does not lie solely with Christianity, however, as it is clear that at some point the Jewish leaders allowed a gross exotericisation of their otherwise lofty and noble conceptions of the Divine.
HPB’s article “Tetragrammaton” says of the YHVH that, “They are the reflections of the Ain-Soph, the Hebrew Parabrahmam; . . . The “Logos” which we recognize is not the Tetragrammaton, but the CROWN, Kether, which has nought to do with the material plane nor with Macro, or Microprosopus – but which is connected only with the pro-archetypal world.”
In that article, she states that the Y is masculine and corresponds to the Archetypal World and to the sefira Chokmah, the first H is feminine and corresponds to the Creative World and Binah, the V is masculine and corresponds to the Formative World and Tiphereth, and the last H is feminine and corresponds to the Material World and Malkuth. These are the same correspondences as made in the Kabbalistic teachings.
Archetypal, Intellectual–Creative, Substantial–Formative, and Physical Material, are the names on the “Secret Doctrine” p. 200 diagram for the four lower planes of the cosmos. These names do not originate with HPB or her Adept-Teachers; they are the names used in Kabbalah for the four planes, which are also called Atziloth, Briah, Yetzirah, and Asiah, respectively.
The Kabbalistic view of the inner constitution of the human being relates to these four “worlds” or planes, showing that “as above, so below.”
Standing transcendent and above the four, however, they place Yechidah. HPB explains that this is equivalent to Atma or Atman in the Theosophical teachings of the seven principles or components of man; pure universal Spirit, the Higher Self. (“The Theosophical Glossary” p. 137)
Next in order of descent and on the same level as the Archetypal or Emanation World of Atziloth is Chaya. Despite the apparent similarity, this word is not linked with the term “Chhaya” as used in Theosophy in relation to the First Root Race; they are completely different things. The Kabbalistic Chaya is equivalent to the Theosophical Buddhi, the “Spiritual Soul” which radiates Atmic Light. (“Glossary” p. 137)
Then there is Neshamah on the Intellectual or Creative level of Briah. This equates to Higher Manas, the higher immortal Mind-Entity or Higher Ego, the reincarnating Individuality or “Human Soul” (“Glossary” p. 137) . . . but not always exclusively, for “there are the “upper” and the “lower” Neshamah (the dual Manas),” says HPB. (“Glossary” p. 348-349)
Ruach stands on the Substantial or Formative plane, i.e. Yetzirah. “Ruach” literally means “breath” or “spirit” and HPB says the term belongs properly to Buddhi-Manas. (“Glossary” p. 280) It is not used by Kabbalists in that way, however, but is described by them in a way that matches the Lower Manas, i.e. the lower mind, the personal ego-consciousness, linked with Kama, the “Animal Soul” of desires, passions, emotions.
The lowest level of consciousness is called Nefesh and belongs to Asiah, the physical or material world of action. This is equivalent to Prana, vitality or life-energy, and also Kama (“The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 243) and by definition relates closely to Sthula Sharira, the physical body.
Mention is also made of Tzelem, sometimes called the Tzelem Elokim. This is the Kabbalistic name for what we call the Linga Sharira, the astral body or astral double. (“Glossary” p. 348)
So there we have all the Seven Principles that Theosophy teaches compose the human being when in physical incarnation: (7) Atma, (6) Buddhi, (5) Manas (which includes the immortal Higher Manas and the mortal Lower Manas), (4) Kama, (3) Prana, (2) Linga Sharira, (1) Sthula Sharira.
IMPORTANT CLOSING WORDS FROM H. P. BLAVATSKY
H. P. Blavatsky recognised and understood the attraction of many in the West for Kabbalah but while she certainly encouraged its study and exploration she warned that it would be detrimental for the Western world to choose to follow Kabbalah rather than Theosophy or the esoteric teachings of the Eastern Adepts:
“The long pent-up torrent [i.e. the river of “natural mysticism” that was “dammed during the Middle Ages” in the West] has now diverged into two streams – Eastern Occultism and the Jewish Kabalah . . . The two systems threaten the world of the mystics with a speedy conflict, which, instead of increasing the spread of the One Universal Truth, will necessarily only weaken and impede its progress. Yet, the question is not, once more, which is the one truth. For both are founded upon the eternal verities of prehistoric knowledge, as both, in the present age and the state of mental transition through which humanity is now passing, can give out only a certain portion of these verities. It is simply a question: “Which of the two systems contains most unadulterated facts; and, most important of all – which of the two presents its teachings in the most . . . unsectarian and impartial manner?”
“One – the Eastern system – has veiled for ages its profound pantheistic unitarianism with the exuberance of an exoteric polytheism; the other . . . with the screen of exoteric monotheism. Both are but masks to hide the sacred truth from the profane; for neither the Aryan nor the semitic philosophers have ever accepted either the anthropomorphism of the many Gods, or the personality of the one God, as a philosophical proposition. . . . the Jewish Kabalah, with its numerical methods, is now only one of the keys to the ancient mysteries, and . . . the Eastern or Aryan systems alone can supply the rest, and unveil the whole truth of Creation. . . . Even as it stands now, the Kabalah, with its several methods, can only puzzle by offering several versions; it can never divulge the whole truth.” (from “The Kabalah and The Kabalists” article, bold and underlining added for emphasis)
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