Excerpts from Kabbalah and the practice of mystical Judaism ~ by rabbi David A. Cooper
Imagine you have a pure light shining within. If you close your eyes, you get a hint of this light glowing deep inside your being. Then say to yourself, “No matter what I may feel about myself, I know that I have a pure soul.”
The next step in this practice is to gently acknowledge that every person we encounter has a pure soul. Every time we see someone, we say quietly to ourselves, “There is a pure soul; there is another pure soul.” Notice that the person could be sweet and amenable, or could have an abrasive personality. It does not matter. The soul of every being is pure. If we continue this practice for everyone we meet, including those in whose presence we have negative feelings, the ways we relate to ourselves and to others will be dramatically affected. As simple as it seems, this exercise opens our hearts.
According to Isaac Lucia, there are fundamental divisions of soul types, such as between Cain and Abel. Whereas the simple reading of the story in Genesis is that Cain murders Abel, the esoteric reading is that each represents primordial Force. Abel represents chesed, the force of expansion; Cain represents gevorah, the force of contraction.
The unfolding of creation is the process of a continuous struggle between opposite poles; light and dark, give and take, up and down, right and left, life and death. The contention between Cain and Abel is the first of many descriptions in the Bible of the ongoing strain between opposing forces.
The Kabbalah of Luria says clearly that the goal for all of creation continues to be the fulfillment of Adam and Eves original task. First we must reinstate the awareness of the Garden of Eden, and then our charge is to redeem fallen sparks so that the universe rises to the next level: messianic consciousness.
The soul in Jewish mysticism is one of the more essential aspects of creation itself. Just as the physical universe could not exist without energy, the spiritual dimension is based upon “soul-matter”. The kabbalistic viewpoint, of course, is that we could not have an inverse without the spiritual realm, and thus we could say that one of the pillars upon which creation rests is the soul.
When we think about the soul, we have a tendency to embody it in some way. We give it an identity: my soul, your soul. We view it as an entity that is somehow connected to the body. Some say it arrives at birth; others say it arrives during gestation or at the moment of conception. Everyone agrees that the soul departs at death. During life it is with us; but perhaps sometimes it is other places as well. We are not sure where it goes after we die, but some say they know.
Linking the soul to an identity is a mistake because it requires a sense of separation. This is like saying that the electricity needed to power a home is distinct from its source at the generator plant. When we see an electrical appliance working, should we assume that the electricity belongs to it? Is the electricity in one toaster distinct from the electricity in the toaster in the adjacent home? Obviously, the electricity does not belong to any of the homes in question, for when the power at the main plant shuts down, every home in the neighborhood turns off.
So too with souls. There is a soul principle, a “great soul”, that embodies all souls.
A survey of religious and philosophical literature in Judaism shows that there are widely divergent points of view concerning the soul. The soul cannot be explored without delving into the mysteries of the purpose of life, reward, punishment, death, heaven, and hell. This may be why the soul is a subject that seems to cause an intellectual rash. One has the sense that a great deal of itching is going on when a philosopher or theologian discusses the soul.
Mystics, however, discuss the soul with disregard for logic, consistency, or concern about agreement with any accepted system. This is because a mystic “experiences” other realities and therefore has no doubt regarding their existence. Moreover, because these realities are not completely disconnected from material reality we see in front of our eyes, the conclusion is clear: some aspect of our material world mediates between realities. Thus, we could say that the soul is a medium that dissolves boundaries of consciousness.
Love is the Souls Sister
We can appreciate the soul better when we get to know her sister. Just as the soul transcends the limits of time and space, so does her sister: love. Does love have time boundaries? Can we give love shape? Sometimes it may seem to have qualities when we put limits on it. In fact, in some situations, we are able to feel the symptoms of love. But this is transient, and love remains intermediate, unbounded, timeless, and completely beyond our comprehension.
Love can be viewed as a unity, a ubiquitous oneness. Yet we experience love in its multiplicity: paternal love, maternal love, romantic love, passionate love, divine love, familial love, brotherly love, and so forth. Each of these expressions of love has a different quality. Each is its own reality.
Would you like to explain love to someone? How does it work? Why doesn’t it always work that way? How do we measure it? You mean we can never determine what pulls people together or what drives them apart? Of course, Love is a mystical experience. That is why it is called the soul’s sister.
Does the fact that we cannot explain love mean that it does not exist? Of course not. We all experience love. Soul is exactly like this. It transcends all limits of consciousness.
The Language of the Soul
Here are a few exercises that help us uncover the way the soul can be experienced. Each exercise can be done in less than five minutes. Pick any one of them.
1) Imagine yourself holding a newborn infant in your arms. Its eyes are open. You know that these eyes cannot focus, but they are looking straight into your own. Close your eyes and take two or three minutes to imagine this look and discover what it feels like.
2) Imagine you are holding an egg that has a live chick in it. Your hands are under a heat lamp, and you can feel the tap-tap of the chick trying to get out. Allow yourself to cradle this egg, feel the movement within, and imagine that as you hold the egg, the chick slowly breaks through the shell to freedom. Close your eyes and feel what this is like.
3) Try to remember the first time you felt that you were falling in love. Do you remember the physical experience? Did it affect your sense, the way you saw things, the way things tasted? What about falling in love was different from your normal, daily life? Let yourself dwell in this memory for a few minutes.
4) Imagine that you have finally met the wisest being that ever lived, whoever that may be. It may have been someone known, or someone completely hidden. In your imagination, notice what it would feel like to be this person. What question would you like to ask this person? Imagine what answer the person might give to your question.
To attune ourselves, we need to broaden our range and let go of preconceived notions. We must learn to hear, see, feel every nuance of our moment-to-moment experience. The language of the soul lives at the edges of thought, or behind it. It is symbolic, metaphoric, poetic. There is always hidden meaning just a little out of reach. It does not matter that we are unable to grasp it with our minds because another part of us is touched, and this is sufficient.
Despite the limitations of our subjective truth, Kabbalist’s believe that via the soul, we get information from other realities. The way we attune to other realities is by using contemplative methods to pierce the veils that obscure our degree of awareness.