Sunday, 19 September 2004
New Age Pseudo-Judaism sucks in the stars By Carrie Tomko

The Queen of Pop has changed her name to Esther in the name of a faddish pursuit that is sucking in the stars.

Following in the footsteps of Hollywood divas Gwyneth Paltrow, Demi Moore and Winona Ryder, pop-star Madonna has remade herself at London's Kabbalah Centre, home of the trendy crash course in ancient Jewish gnosticism. In fact, the Queen of Pop has changed her name to Esther, she says, in order to rid herself of any 'negative energy.' Carrie Tomko examines what's behind this New Age sucker-religion--and what's not.

Kabbalah, cabala, quabala, qabalah--those are some, but not necessarily all of the possible spellings of the new old religion that America pop-artist formerly known as Madonna has embraced. Taking Madonna seriously, particularly when she uses her spirituality in commercial ways, is a little bit like believing in Santa Claus. You want it to be true, but your common sense says—er—probably not.

Kabbalah, a form of mystical Judaism, is an esoteric teaching intended for men over 40 who have spent their lifetime studying Torah. Gershom Sholem is considered a good source of information for those who want to make a serious study of the topic. But there is also the simplified version, Practical Kabbalah, offered by the Kabbalah Centre. So put on your red string bracelet to ward off evil, and take a tour of Kabbalah Madonna-style, at the Kabbalah Centre website.

There you will learn that the "Zohar is the actual Tree of Life spoken of by all religions. It is the ultimate instrument for generating endless miracles." So when you pack for your trip to the Kabbalah Centre, leave your magic wand at home. The "Zohar banishes all forms of darkness from our world, including disease, depression, discontent, and even death itself." To accomplish these miracles--to turn on the light of the Zohar--one holds the book, meditates upon it, and learns the wisdom contained in it.

Rest assured that your newfound magical instrument is not religious. The Kabbalah Centre assures the student that Kabbalah's spiritual power is "universal"—it's available to Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and all of humanity, since "everyone is entitled to happiness and a fulfilling and productive life free of chaos." When you embrace Kabbalah, you will be in the company of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Plato, Pythagoras, Newton, Shakespeare, Freud, and the greatest minds of science, religion and politics," according to the Centre’s website. How can you go wrong?

If this sounds like something you should have investigated yesterday, the website setting out the Kabbalah courses is where you begin.

Before you pay your tuition, however, perhaps a little information about this mystical system is in order. Michael Berg, of The Kabbalah Centre, describes what he calls "The Way" in a book by the same title. Berg, and his brother, author Yehuda Berg are sons of Kabbalist Rav Berg and his wife Karen, leaders of the first Kabbalah Centre in Jerusalem, which Rabbi Brandwein, founder of the Centre, passed on to them at his death. Of Kabbalah, Berg says:

Although it is really the Creator's gift to all mankind, Kabbalah has for centuries been identified with the esoteric or secret tradition of Judaism. Access to kabbalistic books and teachings had been granted only to scholars whose qualifications had been established over many years, or even over an entire lifetime. (The Way, p. 2)

Death, specifically the fear of the death of those he loved, was the impetus that led Michael Berg to write The Way, a method to: "fulfill our destiny as human beings--and that destiny is nothing less than happiness and fulfillment of an order completely different from anything else we've ever known. ...Kabbalah has the power to ultimately end death and suffering in the world..." (ibid., pg. 4-6)

Kabbalah, as Berg describes it, "gives us the tools to stay connected to the Creator's Light, and we accomplish this by drawing out the Light that is already within us." (ibid. p.17)

Kabbalah existed before the universe came into being and was given to Adam in Eden. Berg says that Adam and Eve "were real people who did eat a fruit from a forbidden tree. At the same time, it is an allegory of humanity's descent from a spiritual state of being to a mortal life on the physical world." (ibid. p. 25)

Kabbalists refer to the "spiritual dimensions of reality" as the Upper Worlds. The first kabbalistic text is the Sefer Yetzirah or The Book of Formation composed by Abraham. This text contains the explication of the "mystical powers of the Hebrew alphabet, whose letters were employed by the Creator in many different combinations to create the physical universe." (ibid. p.26)

Hebrew letters, in other words, are the foundation of the material world, including the sun, moon, and stars. There is a specific energy attached to each letter, and each one reveals an aspect of the creator. The most important book of Kabbalah, though, is the Zohar or Book of Splendor "composed in Aramaic two thousand years ago by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai." (ibid. p. 26-28)

A significant development in Kabbalah took place under the guidance of the Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria, at the end of the fifteenth century, when the Jews were struggling with understanding their exile from Spain which came with "the rise of a fanatical Catholicism in the Iberian Peninsula, an edict of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella." (ibid. p. 28) A vision of the prophet Elijah prompted Rabbi Luria to move to Safed in Galilee to join other kabbalists in the area. Safed remains a center of Kabbalah today.

Berg is not complimentary of Gershom Scholem, claiming he offers scholarly knowledge but lacks wisdom. (ibid. p. 33)

The cosmology of Kabbalah as described by Michael Berg departs from the cosmology of the old Testament. According to Kabbalah, first there was nothing but the Light which is God the Creator, an "infinite positive energy" existing before the creation of time and space. In Kabbalistic terms Light is a code word for an "all- encompassing radiance of divine love," defined primarily as an infinite and unbounded desire to give and share of itself." (ibid. p. 38-39)

The need to share necessitated a recipient of that giving, and thus a receptive "Vessel" was created. This Vessel was composed of the nature of the Light and thus of the desire to share, but its purpose was to receive the giving of the divine light. Thus was established a duality--a conflict between giving and receiving. The Vessel's receiving energy sought unity with the giving energy of which it was created, but could not achieve that unity because of its dual nature of receiving and giving. The Vessel rebelled against the Light, causing the Light to withdraw. As the separation grew--as the Light withdrew--the Vessel slid further into darkness and "experienced an indescribable sense of withdrawal from the Creator's nurturing Light." This duality of intention was intensified as the Light began to return. While the Vessel desired the return of the Light, it was not prepared to receive the full force of the giving Light. In the moment that the Vessel took the full force of the Light it shattered from the intensity. The fragments of this shattering became the universe. (ibid. p. 41)

Thus in Kabbalistic teaching as described by Michael Berg, God's first creation was imperfect, a failed experiment in creation which by its very nature defines the reality of God or divine essence as imperfect. Instead of original sin which consists of free will in rebellion, in Kabbalah as described by Berg, we have instead properly directed intentions filling a Vessel incapable of sustaining them because of an inherent flaw in its created nature, in contradiction to the Scriptural evidence that what God made was good. Interestingly, however, this comes rather close to the "big bang" theory which science uses to explain the universe.

In Kabbalah, this universe, exploding into existence out of the flawed first creation of the divine essence comprises everything we know in the physical world, all of it striving for unity with the Light, its essential nature; but failing to achieve that unity because it is imperfectly made and not of the identical substance of the original. This resembles gnostic duality.

As Berg describes it, the Vessel aspired to Oneness with the Creator. Its intention was to transform its essence from receiving for itself alone to absolutely selfless giving and sharing. The Vessel strove to be of an equal substance with the Light. The process began at the instant of restriction, "when the Vessel ‘pushed back’ and stopped receiving the Light." Berg goes on to say, "And the process is continuing at this moment--because the intention of the Vessel was not fulfilled, and we are fragments of the Vessel in the physical world." (ibid. p. 42)

"Transformation"--the essence of "The Way"--means "becoming a being of giving and sharing,"or becoming one with the Creator. (ibid p. 43) Humanity strives for this reconnection, a sort of self-redemption to overcome the flaw in our nature, using the methods described in Kabbalah to accomplish this transformation.

In Catholic cosmology, God is the essence of goodness and perfection. Scripture tells us His creation is good. Until sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, God and man were in intimate communion according to CCC 54, and after the fall, the promise of salvation was given to lift up Adam and Eve. At no time in Catholic cosmology is the entirety of created reality defined in such a way that it can have a singular mind of its own as the Vessel in Kabbalah is described. Creation does not "think" as a single entity, and is therefore incapable of deciding to "push back."

Rather than being fragments of what had once been whole, the created material world around us was placed here intentionally by the Creator. Each moment of special creation is defined in Scripture. Our world is not an accident resulting from the imperfection of the first creation, but rather our created world is a reflection of the goodness of the Divine Creator. We do not strive to overcome the flaw inherent in our created nature, but rather we embrace the salvation offered to us through the sacrifice of love given to us by the Son.

Evil results not from our desire to be more like our Creator, a desire we cannot achieve because of our essentially different essence, as Kabbalah describes it; but rather evil results from our rejection of our essential nature and of the divine essence. We are not cursed with the need to transform ourselves, but rather we are blessed with the gift of redemption provided to us by the God who loves us and made us in His image. By grace we are enabled to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. (CCC 1996) We do not, however, merge with God, but rather remain a separate entity for all of eternity. A soul in communion with our Creator in the bliss of Heaven, or condemned for eternity to the pains of Hell. All that is required of us is that we cooperate with our salvation.

It is not possible to hold both Catholic cosmology and Kabbalistic cosmology in tandem. The two are contrary to each other.

It is not surprising, therefore, to find this cosmology being embraced by systems opposite to Catholicism, specifically New Age which seeks the Light. Freemasonry, too, long held to be anti-Catholic by several popes, seeks Light. It is a central tenet of the Craft.

The three great lights of the Lodge are symbols to us of the...first three Sephiroth, or Emanations of the Deity, according to the Kabalah, Kether, the omnipotent divine will; Chochmah, the divine intellectual power to generate thought, and Binah, the divine intellectual capacity to produce it... (Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma, p. 202)

Sephiroth, Kether, Chochmah, Binah are all terms ascribed to parts of the Kabbalistic tree of life. In fact there are over 60 references to Kabalah/Kabalist in the index of Morals and Dogma. Pike indicates that: The contained Light is the Soul of the vessels, and is active in them, like the Human Soul in the human body. The Light of the Emanative Principle [Ainsoph] inheres in the vessels, as their Life, internal Light, and Soul... (ibid. p. 755)

Kabbalah plays an important part in the doctrine of Scottish Rite Freemasonry, which contains the more esoteric upper degrees to which a Mason advances once he has completed the first three degrees of the Blue Lodge.

The Grand Lodge of British Columbia has a paper on their website entitled "Kabbalah and Freemasonry" which says of the Kabbalah:

Much use is made of it in the advanced degrees, and entire Rites have been constructed on its principles. Hence it demands a place in any general work on Freemasonry.

The Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Kabbala also speaks of the En-Soph, the Sephiroth, the Zohar. In Conclusion the entry states:

Finally, it [Kabbala] has decidedly no right to be considered as an excellent means to induce the Jews to receive Christianity, although this has been maintained by such Christian scholars as R. Lully, Pico della Mirandola, Reuchlin, Knorr von Rosenroth, etc., and although such prominent Jewish Kabbalists as Riccio, Conrad, Otto, Rittangel, Jacob Franck, etc., have embraced the Christian Faith, and proclaimed in their works the great affinity of some doctrines of the Kabbala with those of Christianity. The entry for Raymond Lully indicates: spite of his praiseworthy zeal and his crown of martyrdom, Raymond has not been canonized. His rationalistic mysticism was formally condemned by Gregory XI in 1376 and the condemnation was renewed by Paul IV.

Of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola it states:

Innocent VIII was made to believe that at least thirteen of these [Mirandola's] theses were heretical, though in reality they merely revealed the shallowness of the learning of that epoch. Even such a mind as Pico's showed too much credulity in nonsensical beliefs, and too great a liking for childish and unsolvable problems. The proposed disputation was prohibited and the book containing the theses was interdicted, notwithstanding the author's defence...He destroyed his poetical works, gave up profane science, and determined to devote his old age to a defence of Christianity against Jews...

There in another grave problem with Kabbalah for a Christian. Michael Berg states:

Kabbalah teaches that we will return to this world in many incarnations until we achieve complete transformation.

Work left uncompleted in this life is undertaken again in a future life until the task of transformation is done. Reincarnation is a fundamental tenet of Kabbalah. The world and our place in it cannot be understood without this key principle. (The Way, p. 86)

Reincarnation is anathema for a Catholic.

CCC 1013 explains: When "the single course of our earthly life" is completed, we shall not return to other earthly lives: "It is appointed for men to die once." There is no "reincarnation" after death.

Kabbalah and Freemasonry both teach that man's lifetime assignment, his great work, is to transform himself into the likeness of God. Michael Berg says:

When we come into this world, we are given the exact amount of time that's necessary to complete our spiritual work. ...we can never become complacent in our spiritual work. ...we must build our entire lives toward achieving transformation. (The Way, p. 85)

Everything that happens in the physical world is a reflection of our soul's progress (or lack of progress) on the path toward oneness with God. (ibid. p. 87)

Albert Pike puts it this way:

The Great Work is, above all things, the creation of man by himself; that is to say, the full and entire conquest which he effects of his faculties and his future. (Morals and Dogma, p. 773) If man must "transform" or "create" himself, he has no need of a Savior. Jesus Christ has no place in the plan Kabbalah and Freemasonry present to man. Man must save himself through his own efforts in these systems.

There is no place for a Catholic in the Kabbalah Centre's philosophy and cosmology. Madonna's red string bracelet will not keep the evil of the undermining of the faith away. from a Catholic who dabbles in the teachings of the Kabbalah Centre.

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The cosmology of Kabbalah as described by Michael Berg departs from the cosmology of the old Testament.

At no time in Catholic cosmology is the entirety of created reality defined in such a way that it can have a singular mind of its own as the Vessel in Kabbalah is described.
The Kabbalah Centre assures the student that Kabbalah's spiritual power is "universal"—it's available to Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and all of humanity, since "everyone is entitled to happiness and a fulfilling and productive life free of chaos."
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