Teaching and Learning Kabbala Today

What do you think of the modern practice of teaching Kabbalah to the masses through Hassidut? Doesn’t the Mishna forbid this? Was the AriZal correct in saying that the time had come to teach Kabbalist teachings to the wider public?
  1. I cannot claim to know with any certainty what the Ari said or did not say. We have nearly nothing written by his hand. We do have the writings of his student R. Hayim Vitale. Perhaps the Ari said all that is reported in his name in the Sh’mone Sh’arim written by RHV, and perhaps not. Some of those reported statements are very problematic, such as the claim that there are 12 gates corresponding to the 12 tribes through which the various nushaoth rise up to Heaven (See Sha’ar HaKawanoth, Drush ‘Alenu l’Shabe’ah, Drush 1). There is no basis for identifying the nushaoth currently in use with the ancient tribes of Israel, particularly since these nushaoth came into existence many centuries, at the very least, after most of those tribes disappeared. I would prefer to believe that various unreliable notions were mistakenly attributed to the Ari, or deliberately attributed to the Ari in order to lend them credence. This unfortunate phenomenon is well known and documented.
  2. It should be pointed out that Hazal (Mishna Haghigha 2:1) state plainly and unambiguously that mystical teachings are not to be taught to the wider public. On what basis some would contradict the Mishna is unclear.
  3. It is plain to me that 99% of those who study Qabalistic and Hasidic texts would do better to study T’hilim with one or more commentaries. I do not refer to reciting T’hilim without understanding, but rather to studying each pereq of T’hilim with perushim such as Rav Sa’adhya Gaon, Rashi, R. Avraham b. ‘Ezra, Malbim or Rav Hirsch. It is high time that all Jews realise that T’nakh in general, and T’hilim in particular, need to be learned b’iyun, in depth, just like Talmud. A person who does so will be rewarded with an authentic and balanced understanding of Tora Judaism, and an intimate relationship with HASHEM. What more could one ask for?
Rabbi David Bar-Hayim
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