Aish Hatorah is now offering the same Torah as the Kabbalah Centre

This article by Adam Jacobs of Aish presents Sefer Yetzirah as an ancient esoteric wisdom of different forms of energy and states of consciousness, useful for our secular lives. The way this shell game works is to draw equal signs between different things and not worry about whether the associations works. Sefer Yetzirah= 32 states of consciousness= Huxley on altered states of consciousness= right-brain left brain pop psych= Freud= Chabad modernization of chochma and bina. As one commenter put it “where are the other 30 states and how do you actually attain them.

Aish usually likes the esotericism of creating a gematria to artificially connect a Zohar to modern psychology, implying we have from Sinai a deeper well of contemporary pop psych than the secular world. This one caught my eye because of the scientology or Kabbalah Centre language of guidebook, harness, tools, and benefit. It is a “guidebook that explains the tools and techniques.” I wonder which traditional commentaries is he reading? Notice also the lack of for its lack of reference to God.

People have always said that those who know kabbalah should offer something to compete with the Kabbalah Centre. American academics say that we should teach them to read Zohar and understand it as myth, symbols, and history. But that isn’t useful tools and techniques. Chabad teaches about your neshoma and your connection to God.. But is also not an esoteric guidebook to manipulate the world. Now, we have Aish giving the world what it wants: a Da Vinci Code that will make your material life better.

What makes this article even more interesting is that Irwin Kula of CLAL showed up in the comments in order to call Adam Jacob’s bluff. Kula states that “traditional people like to imagine that the latest science is in the ancient texts. Kula then calls on Jacobs to get beyond the gobbeldy gook and admit that if one is interested in these topics then read the scientific literature. Kula asks Jacobs the empirical question of whether religion offers any teachings about any states of consciousness.

Rabbi Adam Jacobs
Managing Director, Aish Center in Manhattan Posted: November 7, 2010 – Full Version Here
The most ancient (and still used) text of the Kabbalah is called the Sefer Yetzirah or Book of Formation, and its contents are generally attributed to the Biblical patriarch Abraham. The book opens with a discussion of the “32 Mystical Paths of Wisdom,” paths derived from the 10 digits on our hands (quantity) plus the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, which we use to construct language and thereby describe reality (quality). These paths are also reflected in the 10 sefirot — spheres of energy that are the building blocks of physical reality yet also relate to character traits as well as states of consciousness:

The Sefer Yetzirah is a guidebook that explains the tools and techniques that are required to enter these states. One important (and practical) distinction that we can all make and relate to concerns the states of chochma (expansive subconsciousness) and binah (the conscious mind). Long ago, the Kabbalah knew that creativity was housed in the right brain and analytical thought in the left. Freud and Jung were familiar with these kabbalistic works and borrowed heavily from them (as did Newton and others).

Therefore, we are all familiar with these two states of being. Chochma is what we experience when we are at our creative best — when we are in “the zone” and experiencing a natural, easy flow. Artists, musicians and other creative people know it well and they also know that they are able to achieve, channel and create in that space in ways that would be impossible in normal waking life. Chochma is not concerned with life’s practicalities

Chochma is the dimension where, as Aldous Huxley wrote, “we see the world as it truly is … infinite”. He also said that in order to do that, the “doors of perception” needed to be cleansed. The Torah is the instruction manual that guides us along that path.

Binah is our analytical, practical and down-to-earth state. One that is useful for accounting, problem solving, computer programming, paying bills on time and the like. It is grounded and practical and has the ability to take the inspiration from chochma and “make it real…Though useful, binah does not always bring us to tranquility, harmony and big picture thinking.

For a stunning, impactful and crystal clear example of what I’m describing, have a look at this video of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain scientist describing the effects of a stroke that shut down her left brain. What she describes is simply pure chochma consciousness in its most distilled form as her binah was completely switched off. It’s as beautiful as it is astounding. This is the state that the Sefer Yetzirah is teaching us to access, and there are wondrous benefits available to all those who succeed in harnessing and bonding these two great powers of the mind.

The right left brain version of Chabad seems traceable to a source like this.

Jacobs seems inspired by secular new age works like this Personal Kabbalah: 32 Paths to Inner Peace and Life Purpose

I recommend this book if you’re looking for personal and professional success and fulfillment. It not only explains ancient wisdom in non-religious, contemporary, practical terms, it also gives you methods for accomplishment. The techniques in this book work for personal use as well as business.

It is a good thing that Jacobs speaks as the authentic tradition. Image where he would be if he could innovate. As one commenter put it- “this makes Scientology believable”. Kula grasps the important point is that one readers of this pseudo-scientific religion dont really want a deep understanding because if they did they would read popular science. The question that Kula does not ask is:Why are people satisfied with this? Why are the successful MBA’s, that he gives private classes to at 10K each, happy with this?

Rabbi Irwin Kula comments

I really do appreciate both the creativity of your response and its precision-quite an example of integrating chochmah and binah- which is nothing more than an ancient language for what we know as right brain and left brain. Traditional people often like to see contemporary scientific discoveries hinted at in their past traditions as it gives them a sense that their religious inheritance is really smart especially as it is becoming irrelevant to increasing numbers of people.

But forgetting about the gobbeldy gook of all this (which you point out quite humorously) especially when you can actually get a far deeper understanding of both chocmah and binah from reading Daniel Pink and other neuroscientists I have a question for you. And forget about the god stuff and the esoteric theological language that presumes all this is true in some metaphysical way, do you think there are a variety of levels/ states of consciousness that we have access to or can experience that can be parsed/explained with enough detail that we can recognize them. In other words besides asleep and awake are there other levels of awareness (making no metaphysical claim about them) that give us insight into ourselves/our world that are worth trying to attain. And last do you think there is a possibility that – admittedly in an inaccessible language and often crudely – ancient wisdoms happened upon some of those states and tried to record them in ways that might help us understand them better.

11 responses to “Aish Hatorah is now offering the same Torah as the Kabbalah Centre

  1. I do not understand why the knee jerk response from Aish to people who should know better (Melila) is to make Kabbalah about some kind of mystical praxis thing. I did not ever see Mary Carruthers telling us to get in touch with our inner troubadour while reading contemporaneous (and equally erotically charged) literature. Even mnemotechnics class was not about being “in the zone” with the ancient Rhetorica as Herennium (still used!). And Dante is not about ascending levels with Virgil as you climb to meet your inner Beatrice. Maybe we need an article on the hermeneutics of magical thinking.

  2. Once Lurianic Kabbalah was opened to the world all sorts of problems resulted. There were good reasons for kabbalah to be esoteric during much of its history. It is subtle. It requires great self discipline and judisciousness or else it can easily verge into all sorts of nonsense.

    • When was this point when it was not “opened to the world?” Do you mean the yearlong period when ARI teaches his confraternity in Safed?

    • While there is much to discuss about the pros and cons of “opening” Lurianic kabbala (or any kabbala, for that matter) to the general population, fail to see what bearing that would have on the article by Jacobs. There is no real Kabalah – Lurianic or otherwise – in the whole article. There’s nothing esoteric there; in fact, there doesn’t appear to be much there at all. It’s just “shake and bake” pseudo-psychology and pseudo-mysticism using Kabalistic terminology without any concern for how the terms are actually used in actual Kabalistic works.

  3. You could do the same sham thing with a text of Bava Kama if that is what would get people’s attention. Today it happens to be kabbalah. But once kaballah loses its esoteric flavor perhaps they will branch out into other texts.

    Did you know that the for avot nizikin correspond to four energies within a person? Oh wait, that’s Hippocratic medicine. Sorry, they correspond to the four nucleotides of DNA . Truly the building blocks of all life. Modern science is only now discovering the ancient wisdom of Jewish tort law.

  4. I
    Where was your post that you mentioned a long time ago about a problem in the remak that the ari takes care of? Was that about the zimzum? At any rate I just want to say I find your blog often to be a breath of sanity

    • The relationship of the two Mekubalim is complex. The ARI had a copy of the Ramak already in Egypt and in many places accepts and builds on the Ramak. On the other end, many of the students intersperse their teachings. There are things in the Etz Hayyim or shemonah shearim that are entirely ramak.

  5. I have regretted for a long time not learning more remak.
    By the time I got interested in kabalah I was a year away from going to Israel so I did not have time or effort to spend on the remak. All I did was the ari.
    But still I am curious what was that post you did a long time ago that i think you said the ari answered something about the zimzum (or something in the zohar) that the remak could not answer by his static system.
    But I don’t think it was about the zimzum because to me that looks like a completely lurian doctrine. I think you had said there was something in the zohar that the remak could not explain but the arizal could.

  6. Let us review the mission of the Aish Center: to create a renaissance of Jewish pride in New York City.
    Rabbi Jacobs is successful at what he does because he knows how to speak to the secular crowd. He is able to give them a taste of something so huge it cannot be put into words, let alone print, in the form of a blog post that NY’s young, unaffiliated Jews will read.
    It’s clear to me that this is just a taste. 32 types would fill volumes, not an article.
    Thank Gd Rabbi Jacobs knows his audience and can speak directly to them. That’s why you have young Jewish professionals traveling New York City with Rabbi Jacobs in their pocket.
    Give him some credit; he’s dedicated his life to brining Yiddishkeit to the unaffiliated, and he’s doing a phenomenal job. I am a case in point.

    • I think the point of the post is that some of us have had entire banquets of Kabbalah from straight Zohar and thirteenth century to sixteenth century and later along with major secondary literature. Until now, we have not come across this specific taste. So maybe this is something new, or takeout from some other establishment down the road. That is not to say it is not good, useful, satisfying or any other adjectives. It just might not have anything to do with Kabbalah.

    • It looks like you are a young Jewish professional traveling Judaism in R. Jacob’s pocket. Maybe the view from his pocket is nice, but it’s myopically free of real engagement with our textual traditions.

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