The history of Kabbalah

A long history of holy texts, wisdom and spiritual teachers

The History of Kabbalah
One of the most important aspects of Kabbalah charts the lineage of its teachings from master to student over its 4000 years of extraordinary history. Its controversy is millennia old – where a single Kabbalist would hand down this wisdom generation to generation often amidst the contempt of the traditionalists.

The lineage of Kabbalists follows a fascinating story, the briefest overview of which starts with:

Abraham is the Patriarch of Judaism, the seed of Christianity and the father of Islam; he authored the text Sefer Yetzirah (the book of Formation – the understanding all of creation). Originally preserved through these three religions and as the spiritual root predating them, Kabbalah holds the key to the existence and solution to all pain and suffering that has since stemmed from them.

Moses was given both the written Torah (the 5 Books of Moses) and the oral Torah (the Kabbalah to decode its ‘layers’). The Kabbalah, however, was tightly guarded and concealed to avoid its misuse by non-spiritualists.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai
Rabbi Shimon lived in 70 C.E. a time when the Roman Empire forbade the teaching of Torah and thus his teacher Rabbi Akiva was sentenced to a brutal death.

Rabbi Shimon and his son fled and sought refuge in a secluded cave in Piquin, Israel where they spent the next 13 years.

Throughout these 13 years Rav Shimon was immersed in the spiritual teachings of Kabbalah. With his 10 students the texts of the Kabbalah were finally revealed
in written form – the books of Zohar.

The books are both educational and meditative indeed it is taught merely to own the Zohar connects us to the energy of blessings and protection.

The Ari
In the 16th Century came one of the greatest Kabbalists of all time, Rabbi Isaac Luria. By the age of 13 “The Ari” (“The Holy Lion”) was already a brilliant scholar and admired by many. Before his death at the age of 38 (destroying the myth of not studying till 40!), the Ari famously pieced together the texts of the Zohar for the first time in history.
Lurianic Kabbalah became the definitive school of Kabbalistic thought, and had a dramatic impact on the world. Eminent contemporary scholars are only now discovering the profound influence this great Renaissance Kabbalist had on such intellectual luminaries as Sir Isaac Newton.

The Ba’al Shem Tov
Rav Israel ben Eliezer was born in 1698, in Poland, and passed away there in 1760. During his lifetime he was known as the Ba’al Shem Tov (Master of the Holy Name).

Although the Ba’al Shem Tov was attacked by more traditional factions, the movement to re-awaken Kabbalah that he founded quickly gained a vast following.

Rav Ashlag
Rav Ashlag wrote and published many great works including the Talmud Eser Sefirot (The Study of the Ten ‘Sefirot’) and his ‘Sulam’ Commentary on The Zohar, part of which makes up the present volumes. The work comprises a translation of The Zohar from Aramaic to Hebrew, as well as a detailed commentary and interpretation.

Rav Ashlag formalised the Kabbalah Centre in the city of Jerusalem in 1922.
Many leading rabbis of his generation applauded this historic opening. Others vehemently opposed it, fanning the flames of controversy that surrounded the dissemination of this spiritual wisdom. Rav Ashlag faced scorn and physical violence in his decision to share this wisdom with his contemporaries.

Rav Brandwein
Rav Brandwein succeeded the great Rav Ashlag as the spiritual leader of the Kabbalah Centre. Before his death, Rav Ashlag told Rav Brandwein that he would soon merit his own students, and that one of them would help bring this wisdom to the world, amid great protest and scorn.
A gentle and devout soul, Rav Brandwein was a man of the people. He evoked a deep love in all those with whom he came in contact. Both atheists and pious men had great reverence for him.

The Rav and Karen Berg
The Kabbalist Rav Berg carries on the legacy of illustrious masters seeking to bring the long-hidden wisdom of Kabbalah to the world. Together with Karen Berg, his wife, they brought Kabbalah out of obscurity. In so doing, the Rav faced criticism and even violence from those determined to restrict kabbalistic wisdom from the people.

Born in New York City to a family with a long spiritual tradition of scholars and teachers, the Rav’s upbringing followed a traditional religious path, and he was ordained at Torah VaDaat, the renowned rabbinical seminary. After studying in Israel with the great Kabbalist Rav Yehuda Brandwein, however, the Rav made the decision to devote his life to bringing Kabbalah to the world to fulfill the work of the Kabbalists. Though distributing education materials to all those with a desire to learn the Centre creates greater spiritual spiritual strength within each individual. Through its global charitable projects, there is a greater social responsibility within communities. This was always the Kabbalist’s job – to create a better life for all of humanity.
Suggested further reading Education of a Kabbalist by Rav Berg.

Marcus a student of Kabbalist Rav Berg is one of the leading teachers at the Kabbalah Centre London. He currently spearheads many European and African charitable projects, and coaches individuals and companies to achieve lasting success and balance.
Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.