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Email inquiries with my response are subject to editing. I will not post your comments if you do not want me to, so if you are not willing to have your inquiry or comments posted please let me know.  In general, the most recent dialogues appear. Earlier dialogues can be accessed through the links directly below.

Because the size of this dialog page has become so large and cumbersome I will be transitioning to multiple dialog pages on various themes. An index to these theme centered dialogues appear below. In writing the author you can address any of the already existing themes or start a new dialogue.

Prior Dialogue Themes

Authorship of the Zohar

Kabbalah and the Coincidence of Opposites

Jewish Mysticism and the "Dark Night of the Soul"

Jung and the Kabbalah: Dialogue

Kabbalah and Martin Heidegger

Kabbalah and Psychotherapy: Dialogue

Nietzsche and the Kabbalah

Kabbalah and Jewish Orthodoxy

Kabbalah and Other Spiritual Traditions

Kabbalah and Physics

Kabbalah and Postmodernism

Kabbalah, God and the "Unknown"

Authorship of the Zohar

Dialogue on the Red String

Kabbalah and the Nature of Symbols and Metaphors

Kabbalah and Technology

Kabbalah, Walt Whitman, and the Coincidence of Opposites

12-04 Numinosity in the Kabbala


Robert Rosenstein queries as to whether there is a concept or a sense of the “numinous” in Jewish Mysticism.


Dear Robert Rosenstein


Thanks for your very interesting inquiry, which I will try to respond to.


Rudolf Otto suggested that mysticism in general  (and the Kabbalah is no exception) emphasizes the non-rational or supra-rational elements in religion, often at the expense of rational considerations. While I certainly have a great respect and interest in these non-rational, numinous elements of Jewish mysticism, my own interpretation of the Kabbalah and Hasidism seeks to uncover the rational, philosophical implications of Jewish mysticism and may therefore give the misleading impression that for the Jewish mystics the numinous is not an ever-present object of concern. In fact, the Lurianist, Chayyim Vital, held that  "The secrets of the Torah and her mysteries are not revealed to human beings by the power of their intellects, but by means of divine vitality that flows from on high, through God's messengers and angels, or through Elijah the prophet, may his name be a blessing" (Chayyim Vital: Introduction to Sefer Etz Chayyim, p. 7--quoted in L. Fine, Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos: Isaac Luria and His Kabbalistic Fellowship (Stanford University Press, 2003).


The Lurianic theory of the Holy Sparks, suggests that there is an element of divine numinosity in all things and that an individual should be open to an experience of the holy in each of his or her daily encounters. (Jung makes reference to the "sparks" which he calls "scintillae" in the Mysterium Coniunctionis.)  Indeed, for the Kabbalists, the act of performing the mitzvot is one of "uplifting the sparks" inherent in all things, and thus bringing out the numinous in the material entities, words and actions that comprise the mitzvot. It is for this reason that the mitzvot must be performed with kavannah, which I like to think of as "mindfulness" in the Vipassana Buddhist sense of being fully present to, observing and aware of one's  sensations, experiences and actions during their performance. By being "mindful" in the performance of mitzvot, and in each of our actions, we are able to raise the sparks that are inherent in all our actions and encounters. (I personally do not think we must have any special ideas or concepts in our heads when we perform any act with Kavannah--such may or may not be present--the important thing is that we are present and in the present). The Hasidim speak of devekut ("cleaving"), and the resultant joy in prayer, the performance of the mitzvoth, and life itself. Such devekut leads to a non-rational, mystical experience of what Otto calls the element of fascination in the experience numinous, which includes, amongst other things, an experience of joy, wonderment and rapture.


The Kabbalists and Hasidim also enter into another aspect of the numinous spoken of by Otto as "creature consciousness" which to me is a somewhat antiquated phrase through which Otto describes the experience of one's own "nothingness" in the face of an infinite, ineffable, divine. The Hasidim speak of bittul ha-yesh, the nullification of that which is (the self), an annihilation of the ego before the absolute, unapproachable, overpowering and transcendent.


Interestingly, there is not a very strong tradition of unio mystica in Jewish mysticism,  which makes the Jewish mystical experience particularly suited to a description in Otto's terms. The numinous, as Otto explains it, is something wholly (and holy) other, mysterious, fearful, awe-inspiring, etc. On the other hand, there is an interesting blending between immanence and transcendence in the Jewish view of holiness. Otto makes reference to the Hebrew term Qadosh (holy) in his initial description of the numinous. In Isaiah 6:3 we find the famous phrase that has worked its way into the daily prayer book:  "Holy, holy. holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole world is filled with his glory." The Lord of Hosts is both infinitely transcendent and completely near.


Finally, Otto is somewhat critical of the tendency in the prophet Ezekiel to intertwine the numinous with the hyper-imaginative and the mythological, a tendency that at times tends to make the Kabbalah baroque in its complexity. Hasidism attempted to cut through the complexities of the Kabbalistic theosophy (and mythology) to arrive at a simple, straightforward experience of the holy in every day life.


I hope I have pointed in the direction of an answer to your question.


Sanford Drob



12-1-04 (1) Jung, Kabbalah, and the Nazis.  (2) Psychology and the Alter Rebbe: Dialogs with Nachshon Zohari 

Dear Dr. Drob,

I just finished reading your article Jung and the Kaballah.  I enjoyed it very much and I believe you are right on the money in your interpretation of the influence of Kaballah on Dr. Jung.  I am a psychotherapist and Chassidic Jew living and working in Denver, CO and have been combining Jungian and Kaballistic concepts with my clients for years with very positive results.  I have recognized their compatibility for a long time.  I am interested in knowing if you've ever learned the Tanya by the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi.  I believe his exposition of the benoni, the intermediate man, and the struggles he encounters (and IY'H overcomes) are extremely pertinent and helpful in applying Kaballistic concepts in a psychotherapeutic setting.  If you had time it would be interesting to have a dialogue with you on this matter, but if you don't, I would still like to extend a yasher ko'ach to you and encourage you to continue your good work.

Kol Tov,

Nachshon Zohari, LCSW

Response of Sanford Drob


Thanks so much writing! Coincidentally I was working on finishing my book on Jung and the Kabbalah and listening to a shir on Chassidus on the "Tanya line" here in Brooklyn at around the same time you wrote me.

I am somewhat familiar with Tanya as I used to attend a shul in Park Slope, Brooklyn where the Rabbi (Shimmon Hecht) was from Chabad. I have a great deal of interest in Chabad thought, and I wrote about some of the issues your raise regarding the benoni etc. in an article  I wrote a number of years ago on Freud and Chasidus that I published in the Jewish Review and in my book Kabbalistic Metaphors, (Jason Aronson in 2000). I am particularly interested in the Chabad perspective on the coincidence of opposites, and indeed the shir I was listening to this morning was on this idea as it is expressed in Pirke Avot (where we are told of both the superiority of ha-olam haba (this world) and ha-olam ha-zeh (the world to come) I am certainly curious to hearing your thoughts on these matters as they relate to psychotherapy, etc. 

One of the problems I have had in completing my book on Jung is how to deal with his purported early anti-semitism and the optimism he had that Hitler and the Nazis would somehow catalyze the creative soul of the German people. I wonder if you had any thoughts on this.


From: Nachshon Zohari 12-2-04

Thanks so much for writing back.  I believe the most important thing to take away from the Alter Rebbe's exposition of the benoni [the “intermediate man” SD] is to accept that I am a benoni (not a tzaddik) and therefore struggle defines who I am as a human being.  Chassidus teaches that we should not be depressed by this thought, but rather, elevated and joyful.  Instead of berating myself over my "sinful" nature I can see myself engaged in a cosmic struggle. As I am sure you know, Yisroel means "struggles with G-d."  Chassidus teaches that if we truly want to win over the yetzer hara we must approach the battle with joy.  So many of my clients are ridden with guilt, regret, and despair but when I provide a Chassidc (Kaballistic) context for their lives I can see their eyes get wide with wonder and a new sense of hope.  I believe Nietzsche's statement, "If I have a why nothing can stop me," is so true.  Kaballah provides the "why," which is enough to keep most people going (and joyful) in their struggle.

In terms of Jung's attitude toward the Nazis I don't think there is any need to be apologetic for him.  Jung's life (as he would be the first to admit) was constantly evolving, and through his journey, he probably went down more than a few ill-advised paths.  I believe it is difficult to judge someone who lived through that time without being there oneself.  As the famous Milgram shock studies showed, even nice "normal" folk will savagely kill people under the right set of conditions.  The Nazis certainly took up all sorts of achetypical symbols in their quest to rouse the German people back to a place of pride after the loss of World War I and then the Great Depression.  If you've ever seen footage of the Nuremberg rallies you could see why someone like Jung would get excited about what was happening.  In my mind, the most important thing to know about a person is how does he react when he discovers that he is dead wrong about something.  Jung's changed attitude after the war, and the visions that resulted from his illness, shows me that he learned from his mistake. This then propelled him to a much higher place (which is the whole point of being born).

Kol Tov,



Dear Nachshon: Yashur koach! I love your concise formulations and while I believe the Jung problem is a bit more complicated than you say I am essentially in agreement with your formulation.


11-8-04 Kabbalah. Psychotherapy and the Coincidence of Opposites

Dear Dr. Drob,


I wrote an email to you a couple of months ago inquiring for resources related to a clinical application of the Kabbalah for my masters paper.  Thank you for your response, the sources proved useful.  I have some questions or thoughts regarding some of your writings, which I have found particularly useful.


I am interested in coincidenta oppositorum, how this philosophy is articulated in the kabbalah, and specifically how this concept can be used psychotherapeutically (since it seems in many ways to exist in many psychotherapeutic schools of thought). 

I am confused in a couple areas of this philosophy.  Question 1: Is the term coincidenta oppositorum, stated by socrates in his doctrine of opposites, are the two related?  I am wondering the origins of this concept; although as I think you have implied that it seems to have arised in many wisdom traditions at different time periods. 


Question 2: this question is a bit lengthy and allow me to apologize if my thoughts are not articulate. My understanding of coincidenta oppositorum, and its psychological implications, is that one aspect of mental health and spiritual growth is the capacity to tolerate the experience of opposites. Psychotherapeutically, gestalt seems address this quite well.  What I wonder is whether we ever experience opposites on some absolute level.  Allow me to give an example:


Suppose  a client says I love my father and I hate my father.  Semantically these appear to be opposing statements.  Perhaps even the emotional quality of love and hate appear to be in complete opposition.  However, if we include the reference points, behind these statements we may find that the the love and hate this client feels contains many non-opposing references. For instance, if the client said I love my father because he taught me a just moral system, versus I hate my father because he is unavailable emotionally.  Now we find that even though the raw emotional quality of love and hate may be oppositional, we find that perhaps the holistic experience of loving a father’s moral system and hating a fathers emotional neglect are not actually opposites because there meaning units are not in opposition.  It seems that there are certain arenas of experience in this example that psychological opposition is experienced and other arenas where it is not; the raw emotion of love and hate versus the emotion with its attached meaning. 


So, I bring this all up because I wonder if a part of our role as a therapist is not only the facilitation of tolerance of opposites, but also aiding the client to identify the areas in which two seemingly opposite emotions are not actually in some absolute opposition when we look a bit deeper at the reference point.  Is there ever some absolute opposition in our minds (meaning, if we include the reference points on a very specific level, will they always be different, and isn't the references of love always included on some level in our experience of love, even as a newborn)? And of course I wonder whether this was all semantics, and I am misunderstanding the meaning of coincidenta oppositorum.


Thank you,

Keith Kurlander


Sanford Drob responds:

Dear Keith:

I found your query very interesting and well thought through and, as is often the case with good questions, it has prompted me to analyze the topic more thoroughly than I had before. Below you will find my response to part of your question. I will have to research the history of the coincidentia oppositorum idea more thoroughly to answer your more historical query. Perhaps you can share with me what you learn about this in your own researches.

I would like to have your permission to post your question along with my response and any further comments you may have on the Dialog portion of the Newkabbalah website. If you agree you may (only if you like) want to edit your question to take out any personal references or in any way you see fit prior to my posting it.

I should also refer you, if you have not already seen these, to my articles  The Coincidence of Opposites in Jewish Mysticism and Fragmentation In Contemporary Psychology: A Dialectical Solution (which are on the internet, the latter also appeared in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology), to my discussion of the problem of coincidentia oppositorum on pages 206-210 of my book Kabbalistic Metaphors, and a brief discussion of the idea of the coincidence of opposites in psychotherapy in Part I of An Interview with Sanford Drob on Kabbalah and Psychotherapy (also on the New Kabbalah website). Finally, I discussed the opposites and contradictions within the psyche as these apply to psychotherapy in some detail in an article I wrote for the Jewish Review in 1989, entitled "Antinomies of the Soul," which I hope to have on this website shortly. I think the question of the opposites in the psyche is an extremely important issue in psychotherapy. Jung, of course, has written a great deal about this topic.

The phrase coincidentia oppositorum (the coincidence of opposites) like many philosophical notions carries with it considerable ambiguity. I believe that we can distinguish between 'weak' and 'strong' senses of this concept. The weakest sense of coincidentia oppositorum appeals to the empirical observation that apparently opposing ideas, feelings and intentions often coincide within the same subject or mind. Progressively stronger senses of this idea rest on the assertion that there is a causal or logical relationship between opposing ideas, feelings and motives; for example, the Jungian notion that an idea or feeling compensates for the excesses or deficiencies of its opposite, or Derrida's view that a particular 'reading' is possible only because of the opposing ideas or readings it excludes. Perhaps the strongest sense of coincidentia oppositorum rests on the assertion that opposing, indeed contradictory, ideas are both true and that the assertability and truth of each is completely dependent upon the assertability and truth of its opposite. (I have attempted to provide examples of this strong use of the coincidence of opposites in both S. Drob: Fragmentation In Contemporary Psychology: A Dialectical Solution, where I discuss the interdependence of certain opposing philosophical views as free will and determinism, and in S. Drob: The Coincidence of Opposites in Jewish Mysticism where I apply the coincidentia idea to theology and the "word-thing" distinction). A weak version of the coincidentia idea might hold with Walt Whitman that the human psyche is vast enough to contain contradictory ideas, e.g. both perfect faith in God and atheistic unbelief, but only the strong version would hold that a person's faith was logically dependent upon his unbelief, and vice versa.

As you astutely point out, an analysis of this idea is complicated by several factors. The first of these is that apparently opposing or contradictory ideas and assertions may actually have partially or wholly different meanings or referents, in which case the opposition between them would be largely a function of vagueness and non-specificity. A second, related, complication arises from the possibility that an object, event or state of mind can be accurately described through what appears to be contradictory ideas simply because it is being described from two different perspectives or in two different ways (the same act can be both good and evil, depending upon one's point of view). Finally, it is not always clear whether the poles of a supposed opposition actually contradict one another or are rather simply opposites in some psychological or other non-logical sense (an example of this might be an individual's anger and attraction to the same person), in which case no special philosophical doctrine would be needed to reconcile them.

Given the complexity of the analysis of coincidentia oppositorum, we would also expect a similar complexity in proposals to 'resolve' such oppositions or bring them into the state of 'unity' that is described by certain mystics (e.g. Cusanus, Azriel) and certain psychologists (Jung) who have made use of the coincidentia idea.

First, we might hold that by simply clarifying our terms and their referents will remove any apparent contradictions in our talk about mind and the world. For example, clarifying the senses in which a person 'loves' and 'hates' his mother, or the senses of 'God" in which an individual believes in and does not believe in God, will remove apparent contradictions generated by overly general and vague language.

Similarly, it might be thought that seeming contradictions can be resolved by specifying the differing value criteria that are brought into play in making apparently contradictory assertions. Life might turn out to be both meaningful and meaningless, human nature may turn out to be both fundamentally good or evil because were are surreptitiously applying different value criteria (or definitions of meaningful and good) at the same time. Again. By specifying our criteria the contradiction is removed.

So far we have discussed points of view that would render the notion of coincidentia oppositorum misleading or valueless. A more positive view of the doctrine emerges from a recognition that the major dichotomies in human thought and experience (being and nothing, matter and mind, cause and effect, meaning and absurdity, male and female, outside and inside, science and religion, etc.)  reflect oppositions in value and that a coincidence of such  oppositions involves the reintroduction of a value that has been excluded by the historical privileging of its supposed opposite. This, I suppose, is the suggested 'resolution' that follows from the Jungian notion of compensation and Derrida's deconstruction.

Another perspective on the coincidence of opposites is taken by those who hold that there are indeed fundamental antinomies that exist in both thought and the world that cannot be resolved through semantic analysis, and which require more than a "compensation" if we are to gain a satisfactory understanding of them. Some are of the view that such antinomies are irresolvable, while others (e.g. Kant, Findlay, Steinsaltz) suggest that their resolution requires the positing of a 'higher world' in order to resolve them. Still others (e.g. Hegel) suggest that a new form of 'dialectical' or 'bilinear' thinking is required in order to assimilate the poles of a contradiction and pass over into a higher integrating conception. 

In addition to those who hold that contradiction is somehow inherent in the nature of things there are those who believe that contradiction is not of the world-in-itself (whatever that may be) but is introduced into the world by thought and language. This view is very different, and should be distinguished from the view described earlier that apparent contradictions are merely semantic. i.e. due to vagueness and imprecision in the use of terms). On the view I am now discussing, the very distinction between words and things, which is introduced by language, conditions an infinite series of other distinctions that are necessary for practical life, science and culture but which nevertheless rend apart a primary unity. These distinctions give rise a series of contradictory yet interdependent ideas, beginning with the notions that (1) distinctions between things are necessary for there to be language and (2) language is necessary for there to be distinctions between things. While some suggest that such linguistically-generated  'contradictions' can only be resolved through a cessation of language and thought (traditional mysticism) I have suggested that a turn to bi-linear or dialectical thinking can demonstrate the logical interdependence of the dichotomies and antinomies engendered by language and thereby provide us with a glimpse (even within thought and language) of a unified whole.

So much for the philosophical aspects of the coincidentia idea. I will now make some brief remarks on the applicability of this notion to psychology, particularly to psychotherapy.

While language, as the vehicle of psychotherapy, helps to clarify our thoughts and feelings, it also limits and obscures them. This is because in expressing oneself one must choose between two poles of an opposition or select one set of words from an indefinite array of possibilities. One says I dislike x, or miss doing y, or feel angry about z, and one has already committed oneself down a path that may (and generally is) only partially and inexactly true. What I feel about my wife, my son, my dead father is … but when I say what I feel I have revealed something and concealed or ignored much more. That words both reveal and conceal is, according to Kabbalistic thought, a result of the Tzimtzum, the notion that all creation involves concealment and limitation. The psychotherapy patient will often, even as he or she speaks, have the sense that the words he/she is saying are not quite right, or that they are the very opposite of what he/she means to say, or that his/her words and their opposite are both true. It is important that the therapist and the patient both understand this, and that the therapist does not work to hard to dissolve the individual's contradictory beliefs, feelings, and attitudes by artificially pointing out the different senses, for example, in which the individual loves vs. hates his/her father, mother, spouse or self. Rather the therapist and client must both be open to the possibility that both beliefs ore feelings are present at once in a single sense, and that the client's developing and working through one train of thought and feeling does not preclude him or her developing another opposing trend on another occasion, and  further that these two trends of thought are linked together, and even interdependent, in a variety of as yet unknown ways. Further, the therapist and client need to be open to the possibility (and wisdom) of silence. If language divides psychic realty, at times silence may be the only way to make it whole.

The Kabbalists associated two of the Sefirot in particular with the harmonizing of opposites, Binah (Understanding) and Rachamim (Compassion, Empathy and Mercy). According to the Zohar and later Kabbalists, understanding and (especially) compassion are the essential midot or traits that enable the world to exist as these traits tend to, as Moses Cordovero put it "sweeten all judgments" and neutralize the bitterness of divine decrees; decrees that would categorize a person or an act as hateful or sinful. The trait exemplified by the Sefirah Rachamim, is said to create a balance between Chesed (overflowing love), and Din (Strict judgment) so that God can be accepting of humanity's imperfections and flaws (Palm Tree of Deborah, Ch. IV). Cordovero held that just as God is merciful to humankind, we should always show compassion and mercy to ourselves and others, especially to those who offend or provoke us, because even they have good qualities that should soothe our anger and cause our heart to delight in their virtue. (Ch. I. Attribute 6). The process of understanding and compassion/empathy enables both therapist and client alike to contain the contradictions inherent in the human soul and to see these as even necessary for the psyche's development and individuation.

Good luck on your project and please keep me posted on its progress.

Sanford Drob

9-3-04 Derrida and Jewish Mysticism

What was Derrida’s reply to Levinas’ ‘accusation’ of him being a modern day representative of Lurianic Kabbalah? Best Wishes,

Tom Bland

Response: With regard to your question, when Derrida, on another occasion was asked about his connection with mysticism he rejected the "charge" saying that mysticism, if it stands for anything, stands for the proposition that the absolute, the unity of all things, or God, can be present to a subject in a singular act of mystical consciousness. When interviewed on this very issue he responds by saying:  "I am not mystical and there is nothing mystical in my work. In fact my work is a deconstruction of values which found mysticism, i.e. of presence, view, of the absence of a marque, of the unspeakable."   Translated by PK, 1995- the German transcript of this interview is found in Florian Rötzer's book, Französische Philosophen im Gespräch, Munich 1986, pp. 67-87, here: 74 (Klaus Boer Verlag, ISBN 3-924963-21-5). I deal with this a bit more in the revised version of Derrid and the kabbalah which I just posted on my website. In sum, I don't think Derrida has it right about all forms of mysticism. SD

Dear Sanford,

I think when we look at Derrida’s work through his own definition of mysticism, his work is clearly not mysticism. However there seems to be a trace of the mystical that runs through his work. It is closer to Freud’s conception of the mystical has defined in a private correspondence with Georg Groddeck when he wrote, ‘Now every clever person comes to a point where he starts to turn mystical, where his most personal thinking begins.’ (Groddeck, The Meaning of Illness, Karnac, 1997.) Although I would not call Derrida a mystic, I do think there is the possibility of the mystical in his work.

‘In sum, I don't think Derrida has it right about all forms of mysticism.’

I would agree, for example, Derrida’s definition does not open a way into Buber’s sense of the mystical. All the best, Tom

Kabbalah and Symbolism




I have a few observations on your recent dialogue relating to symbolic and discursive meanings.  It seems to me that looking at this issue dialectically, which I am sure you have done, can be helpful.  The movement from symbolic to discursive might be seen as describing, in this terminology, nothing more than the creation process.  The universal "symbol" is negated  resulting in a particular discursive meaning or meanings.  But the birth of the discursive meaning is not the end of the process.  The discursive meaning includes or recognizes the original universal meaning, which gives new power and significance to the original symbol.  I am assisted in this view by some reading of your former mentor, J. N. Findlay, The Philosophy of Hegel, An Introduction and Re-Examination (I found a used copy on Amazon!), and the chapter on Hegel in your Kabbalistic Metaphors. Or, the original symbol might be seen as a vessel which is shattered by the  research and discovery of discursive meanings, but then the multiple meanings are dialectically restored to become a new symbol inviting further shattering.  As I understand the New Kabbalah, your writings follow much this same process.  The basic Kabbalistic symbols are applied to specific thinkers (Hegel, Jung, Freud, etc.), which amounts to  a partial negation of the original symbol. But then both the original symbol and the application become richer for our reading and contemplation.  Your frequent referral to the coincidentia oppositorum explains the mutually enhanced values.


Take Care,


Charlie Coons


Jewish Mysticism and the “Dark Night of the Soul” 8-31-04


I will try to answer your question regarding Kabbalah and the “dark night of the soul”, but I invite others with more knowledge on this topic to answer as well.


As I understand it, the “dark night of the soul” is a  period of blankness, stagnation and suffering that follows upon the mystics’ initial illumination and which, through creating a state of impotency and despair in those who experience it, ultimately paves the way for a more lasting and secure unitive experience. Founded, in part, upon the mystics’ own awareness of his unworthiness and imperfection, the dark night is a period in his or her experience during which the light of illumination is in complete eclipse. Evelyn Underhill refers to it as the “complementary negative consciousness” to the positive pole of mystical enlightenment, an experience that is necessary for the completed transformation of the mystic’s character. The “dark night” is a sort of gloom and depression, yet one that is experienced as having a peculiar philosophical and theological moment.  In contrast to those positive religious experiences in which one feels at one with a cosmos filled with meaning, the dark night is a negative mystical experience in which one feels isolated and alienated in a meaningless world. Perhaps one feels doomed by a malevolent power, or experiences a horror at the mere thought of having to bear yet another moment of one’s, and this world’s existence. In such a state, one loses faith, and believes, if one is honest with oneself, that the ideas that there is a God, an objective meaning to existence, or anything of enduring value, are absurd fantasies that one had fooled oneself into accepting as a bulwark against the harsh, naked truth. St. John of the Cross experienced the dark night as an utter abandonment by God, as a withering away of the spiritual world and life, and a consciousness of a profound emptiness. Others have spoken of a spiritual and emotional aridity or indifference, a dulling of the intellect and an utter lack of passion for anything whatsoever.


Some who enter the “dark night” apparently emerge with an even greater conviction of the world’s meaningfulness, of divine beneficence and providence; others are swallowed up by it and (if they emerge at all) emerge as thoroughgoing skeptics and atheists, who comprehend that all meaning is self-created and therefore relative and transitory; while still others come to a recognition that the “All” encompasses both light and darkness, faith and unbelief, mystical ecstasy and unimaginable suffering. Indeed, the “dark night of the soul” can lead to an appreciation of what the 13th century Kabbalist, Azriel, spoke about as the union of all contradictions, including “faith and unbelief” which is the infinite, Ein-sof. Underhill tells us “destruction and construction here go together: the exhaustion and ruin of the illuminated consciousness is the signal for the onward movement of the self towards other centres; the feeling of deprivation and inadequacy which comes from the loss of that consciousness is an indirect stimulus to new growth” (Mysticism, p. 386).  She continues by offering that the “dark night…is really a deeply human process, in which the self which thought itself so spiritual, so firmly established upon the supersensual plane, is forced to turn back, to leave the heightd and pick up those qualities which it left behind. Only thus, by the transmutation of the whole man, not by a careful departmental cultivation of that which we like to call his ‘spiritual’ side can Divine Humanity be formed” (Mysticism, p. 388).


In Jewish mystical literature we do not, as far as I can tell, many “confessions” of experiences of the dark night of the soul. However, the notion of darkness as part of the soul’s journey to the absolute is clearly present in (1) the basic symbols of Kabbalistic theology, for example, Ayin—nothingness, Tzimtzum—divine concealment, Shevirah—shattering of all fixed values, experiences and ideas, and Kellipot—the imprisonment of divine soul sparks in the dark world of the “shells”), (2) midrashic and later Chassidic tales (e.g. those of Rabbi Nachman) which symbolically recount the excruciating struggle of the human soul to maintain its faith in divine providence, and (3) rituals (e. afillat apayim—falling on the face) that symbolize the soul’s journey into death as a mean’s of attaining devekut or attachment to God.


The entire Lurianic cosmology suggests that humanity and the finite world in general is distant and alienated from God as the very condition of its existence (Tzimtzum); further humanity’s freedom necessitates a condition in which humankind is fallen into a dark realm in which divine light is further dimmed and even completely obscured (Kellipot). Given these cosmological conditions it is a wonder that the dark night of the soul isn’t a common and even natural spiritual state.


I am aware of a description of the dark night of the soul in Hasidic literature which is discomfiting inasmuch as it has no obvious ‘happy’ resolution. Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kotzk (1789-1859), the famous “Kotzker rebbe” was said to be completely uncompromising in his quest for faith, honesty and truth. He abhorred indifference and rote piety, and taught his followers that they must renew their quest for faith, self-knowledge and truth on a daily, if not minute to minute basis. For the Kotzker it was the passionate process of reaching for these ideals which is important, and one is deluded if he or she believes in a “final attainment.”


Nineteen years before the Kotzker’s death, on a now infamous Shabbat evening which the Hasidim refer to simply as “that Friday night, the rebbe experienced something which transformed his own life and those of each of his followers. It seems that the Kotzker had been suffering from intractable headaches and had traveled to Lvov in search of a medical specialist who might afford him some relief. Many different stories have been passed down regarding what occurred that Friday night in Lvov; that the Kotzker blew out the Shabbat candles, that he cast his Kiddush cup to the ground, that he removed his yarmulke and smoked a pipe on Shabbat, and that he declared “there is neither justice nor judge” (Aryeh Kaplan, Chasidic Masters, p. 173). When he returned to Kotzk, Rabbi Menahem Mendel remained secluded for the next nineteen years; leaving his room only once a year for bedikah Chametz (the mandatory search for unleavened bread) on the morning of the eve of Passover.


It would certainly seem that the Kotzker had some sort of mental breakdown; yet Abraham Joshua Heschel, in his account of the Kotzker’s “dark night” says that we simply do not know why the Kotzker had to go to such extreme lengths in his quest for truth. Perhaps there can be no clear boundary between a nervous breakdown and the religious experience of the dark night of the soul.


One possible explanation of, or factor in why the “dark night” is rarely described in Jewish mystical literature may derive from the Jewish admonition to remain joyous in the face of what was indeed centuries of dark nights for the Jewish people. For example, Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav (1772-1810) who himself suffered immensely obver the loss of his son and wife said “You may fall to the lowest depths, heaven forbid, but no matter how low you have fallen, it is still forbidden to give up hope. Repentance is higher even than the Torah, and there is therefore no place for despair” (Quoted in Kapla, Chassidic masters, p. 110).


Lawrence Fine, in his book on Isaac Luria and his mystical fellowship, points out that the spiritual adept becomes involved in an act of ‘mystical death’ when reciting the prayer “Tachanun” which follows the Shemoneh Esrei (Eighteen Benedictions) in the prayer service. According to the Zohar, when reciting this supllicatory prayer the individual must regard himself “as if he has departed this world, and has separated himself from the Tree of Life and died near the Tree of Death” (Zohar 3: 120b-121a, Fine, p. 240). Fine points out that at this “vulnerable moment” the petitioner is ready to accept the consequences of his sin in death itself. It was customary amongst the mystics to prostrate themselves and appears as if dead when reciting this prayer. Luria interpreted the Zohar’s prescription here as a call for the adept to descend to the lowest depths of the lowest world of Assiyah, the realm of the Sitra Achra (the “Other Side), the Kellipot and evil. Fine also points out that there is an erotic, almost orgasmic, aspect to to this ritual that results in a spiritual depletion akin to death, as once the mystic descends he is enjoined to concentrate upon gathering the “female waters” and divine sparks concealed in this lower realm, facilitating their liberation and ascent by attaching them to his own soul (and thereby aiding in the cosmic reunification of the male and female aspects of God). The adept’s descent into the world of the Kellipot, his sojourn into the realm of death is an act of self-sacrifice that is made in order to rescue and liberate sparks of holiness from evil’s grip (p. 243). Fine points out, however, that in making this descent the adept must be careful to avoid becoming permanently enmeshed in the realm of death and evil. Only the truly righteous should risk engaging in this dangerous ritual. However, according to Moses Yonah, one of Luria’s disciples and expositors, one who successfully completes this ritual is as one who has been created anew after having died and left this world. He achieves a new level of spirituality from which he can resist the temptations of sin and penetrate the mysteries of the Torah. At the same time this ritual facilitates the healing of the cosmos by liberating the divine sparks from their imprisonment in the realm of the Kellipot.


The Hasidim had held that one should not attempt to suppress one’s “strange thoughts” (for example thoughts that one should abandon faith and Torah or engage in illicit sexual relations) but rather should to focus upon them and mentally attach them to their sefirotic point of origin (for example, illicit passion, like all love, originates in the Sefirah Chesed).  Some Hasidic masters even held that one should intentionally explore the strange thoughts associated with each sefirah, and find them within oneself in order that they might be sublimated and elevated into the spiritual realm. These early Hasidim, held the world, even its so-called negative aspects, is sacred a, and that all things and all experiences, even those that might induce a “dark night of the soul” are an opportunity for an encounter with God.


Interestingly, David Bakan, in his book, Sigmund Freud and the Jewish Mystical Tradition, argues that Freud, by delving into the depths of the unconscious, continued this Kabbalistic/Hasidic tradition of “descent for the purpose of ascent.”


I am in the process of exploring the idea (and experience) that psychoanalysis--broadly conceived-- is (paradoxically) a secular vehicle for achieving the sort of spiritual depths that were available to pre-modern adepts only through piety, meditation, confession and prayer; a vehicle that amongst other things allows one the freedom of unencumbered, even infinite speech and dialog, that assists one in liberating the “sparks” from one’s own psyche, and permits a full, open and meaningful exploration of one’s personal “dark night of the soul,” but I will leave my comments on this theme for another day.


Further Thoughts on “Nothingness”: From Charles Coon

Dear Sanford,


Since writing last, I have read much of Franklin Wolff's primary writing (Experience and Philosophy) together with Thomas McFarlane's article (The Heart of Franklin Merrell-Wolff's Philosophy- note available on the web  Additionally, I have reviewed your article on your website, Ein-Sof, Nothingness and the Problem of Creation Ex Nihilo.  So I thought I would send a few comments leading to the difficult subject of creation Ex Nihilo.  Wolff's "Consciousness-without-an-object,” it seems to me, might be considered in an analogous manner to the Ein-Sof.  He says that this Consciousness is neither Being nor non-Being, and generally represents a transcendence which is unaffected by the relative subject-object universe. Wolff says that the universe is produced by a process of negation, and then he comes close to what you say in your article, in referencing Schneur Zalman's thought, about whether the world appears as Yesh or nothingness, depending from where one is looking. From a perspective of Recognition (Wolff), or transcendence, the world appears as nothingness. Is this observation or projection of nothingness related to the creative process? To Tzimtzum?


In considering that creation starts with a negation, might it also be considered that this very negation has a "something" aspect which is also present, and this coincidence could be a way to interpret creation Ex Nihilo. One of Wolff's aphorisms is:  "24.  All objects exist as tensions within Consciousness-without-an-object that tend ever to flow into their own complements or others."  Might we say then that the negation connected with creation flows into a something, which flows into nothing, which flows into something, ad infinitum?  (revelation and concealment?)  In this way the coincidence of opposites would have a role in creation.  Which brings to mind Thomas McFarlane's article (a great article I think), and his Illustrations and Exercises discussion, following Wolff, of the coexistence of objective and non-objective consciousness. Perhaps another way of saying that negation and objects, as complements, might be recognized (Recognized?) in either or both aspects (again revelation and concealment).  The role of the observer or creator would then be a critical matter.




Your notion that “negation connected with creation flows into a something, which flows into nothing which flows into something, ad infinitum” is present in the Lurianic Kabbalah’s three moments of negation and their complementary affirmations. The dynamics of the Lurianic system turn on these alterations: the original Ayin, which flows seamlessly into Ein-sof’s very being, the Tzimtzum (Contraction) which becomes the condition for the being of the world, and Shevirah (Breakage) which sets the stage for the world’s redemption in Tikkun hao-Olam.  For Luria, the entire cosmogenic process is one that originates in negation.


I have some further thoughts regarding Ein-sof and nothingness, which I had in connection with my reading of Daniel Matt’s interesting paper on Ayin, that will share below:


Divine Forgetting, Forgetting Divine


The Kabbalists, showed a remarkable tendency to negate and invert the traditional order of discourse and reason. For example, Shimon Labis in Ketem Paz wrote, “Concerning everything that cannot be grasped its question is its answer.”  (see Daniel Matt, “Ayin: The Concept of Nothingness in Jewish Mysticism,” in Essential Papers on Kabbalah, Lawrence Fine, ed.  New York: New York University Press, 1995, p. 96, note 37). Indeed, as I pointed out in Symbols of the Kabbalah (pp. 206-7), the Kabbalists occasionally regarded the Sefirot, the constituents of God and the world as “questions” and therefore developed the foundation for an interrogative as opposed to a propositional metaphysics. 


For the Kabbalists understanding the divine may then require acts such as questioning (without answering) and forgetting (rather than remembering). Since the divine is unknown, unnamable, and identified with no-thing, the epistemological categories that pertain to it are absence rather than presence and forgetfulness rather than memory.   According to David ben Judah ha-Hasid “The Cause of a place to which forgetting and oblivion pertain...nothing can be known of It, for It is hidden and concealed in the mystery of absolute nothingness.  Therefore forgetting pertains to the comprehension of this place” (Matt, “Ayin: The Concept of Nothingness,” p. 81). Rabbi David’s point seems to be that while for all other things one knows by remembering, i.e. by having one’s object of knowledge present before one’s mind’s eye, in the case of Ein-sof, the proper vehicle of contemplation is “forgetting,” an intentional unknowing.  One thinks one has something in mind, something to ask, something to say, and suddenly it has disappeared, one realizes that one has forgotten.  That experience, that mode of awareness, that forgetting, is somehow akin to what one must achieve in “contemplating” Ein-sof.  The contemplation of Ein-sof is not of a presence, but rather the reverse, of a complete absence, a complete lack of knowledge; not a studied unknowing, but the absence of memory, an “I forgot,” and perhaps even a “Forget I,” a self-forgetting.  A similar idea is present in the Kabbalist’s Ezra and Azriel, who speak of the highest contemplation as a fisat ha-mahashavah, an “annihilation of thought (Matt, “Ayin: The Concept of Nothingness”, p. 82).


The Undying nature of Symbols and Metaphors? Dialog With Gary Jaron 7-27-04

Dear Gary:
Thank you for sharing with me your recent work which elaborates upon a variety of kabbalistic symbols and metaphors. Your writing me has prompted the following thoughts:

The Jungian analyst Wolfgang Giegerich has recently written a challenging article, “The End of Meaning and the Birth of Man” (Journal of Jungian Theory and Practice, Vol. 6, No. 1 2004) in which he argues that the era in which symbols and symbolic experience as a foundation for an all-encompassing religious life ended with the birth of the modern age. Giegerich quotes Jung to the effect that as long as a symbol (e.g. those of the Kabbalah) are alive it is an expression of something that cannot be characterized in any other or better way. But, as Jung puts it, "the symbol is only the unfinished embryonic form of a given meaning." For Giegerich, the symbol remains unborn until it is provided a better, non-symbolic expression. However, with the birth of such meaning the symbol dies as a symbol, becomes demystified and de-mythologized. Giegerich suggests that with the modern era a new subject was born that must in effect kill off symbolic meanings and give new birth to discursive meanings which more clearly express the symbol's multiple, but definable, significances. This, indeed, for Giegerich is in effect the birth of consciousness out of the collective unconscious. For Giegerich it is impossible to return to the place where we are simply enveloped in symbolic/mythological significance, and any effort to do so rests upon an intellectual regression and benumbing of full consciousness.  I wonder how you would respond to Giegerich’s argument. It occurs to me that my own work with the New Kabbalah follows Giegerich's model (of giving birth to conscious meanings from hitherto unconscious symbols) but I am not certain if I agree with his whole analysis.

Gary Jaron’s Comments 7-27-04

As for Giegerich's article and ideas.  I think he and Jung are mistaken.  The symbol is not an 'unfinished embryonic form'.  The symbol is a finished and complete embryo!  The symbol is waiting to be born, that Giegerich has right, and when it is born it does so in the non-symbolic conscious expression which does de-mythologize it. Your own book is a great example of the power of the symbol.  You took them and gave them birth into non-symbolic language.  But that does not mean the symbol is finished.  The power of the symbol is it potentially can inspire new meaning.  It does not reach fulfillment when it is explained in non-symbolic language.  The symbol is complete once it is created in metaphoric language.  The potential to be explainedin non-symbolic language is a by product of the power of the symbol.
We use symbols and metaphors to explain things.  They are our best method  of thinking creatively.  They are much more effective means of communication than the discursive non symbolic language.  The symbol and the metaphor are like the egg of the phoenix.  A symbol dies when it  ceases to inspire and create an emotional response from those who  encounter it.  But a symbol can rise up from the ashes of its so-called death and be re-born into new meaning.  That is its power. For example: The dying and resurrecting god is a symbol that has not died.  It still evokes meaning.  [That was a multi-layered purposeful use of symbolic language.  I meant in that one sentence 1) the ancient myths of dying & resurrecting gods, like Tammuz, etc live on in Jesus, 2) Jesus has gotten  to be a more potent image, look how big a hit Mel Gibson's movie was.  3) Christianity is on the rise in numbers and influence in the US.  Again a sign of the power of that symbol.  4)The dying & resurrecting god is another metaphoric symbol for the power of metaphors and symbols!  I'm sure we could find many more explanatory meanings out of the sentence  "The  dying and resurrecting god is a symbol that has not died."  Which is the
whole point I am trying to illustrate.

Metaphors & symbols are better means to communicate than explicit discursive non-symbolic language.  Thinking only symbolically is not effective either.  You need a mix.  A 'mature' thinker uses both, and so does a 'mature' civilization.  Using symbols not a sign of regression.
For example science uses both a symbolic language and a non-symbolic explicit language.
Science would be ineffective if it only used one or the other.  Western Civilization was maturing culturally when it created the non-symbolic language which science needs in order to test its theories.  Scientific progress depends on it.  But new theories cannot be developed without symbolic language.

A culture that only lives in the world of symbols and metaphors will not make science and hence will be an 'immature' culture.  [The very use of the words 'mature - immature' is an act of using metaphoric language!]

A science will cease to be creative if it ceases to find new metaphors and symbols by which it can explore and answer those unanswered questions of how the universe works.

The myth of creation that was started in the Zohar and Luria expanded is a myth that still has power - your book is an example of that power.

Symbols and metaphors are part of the unconscious language.  Jung and Giegerich are correct.  But, this is not primitive in a historic sense. It is not something we as a culture outgrow or outgrew.  That notion is incorrect.  Metaphors and symbols are 'primitive' in the sense of being part of our thought processes that we developed prior to the more formal systems of logical and analysis, that non-symbolic discursive language. We can not think new thoughts or ideas without symbols and metaphors.  When we are inspired to make use of symbols and/or a metaphors it is an example of our unconscious thought processes trying to communicate with our conscious mind!  They are literally the gifts of the Muses.

Gary Jaron
Walt Whitman, New Kabbalah and the Coincidence of Opposites


I found your recent dialog with Michael Hoppe interesting, especially with reference to his comment on Walt Whitman, and Whitman's famous line, "Do I contradict myself?...."  I am participating in a poetry discussion group this summer and the first poet we are considering is Walt Whitman.  I thought I would send along a few comments on Whitman which come to mind in relation to your New Kabbalah, and the coincidentia oppositorum.


Whitman's Leaves of Grass was published in its final form in 1892, after a lifetime of revision.  It might be said that his life was a creative process which can be seen as a continuing shattering and restoration of  his book, a book which he thought of as a companion and a person.  The process only stopped with his death, but seemingly would have continued indefinitely, to the end of his life.  Reminds me of your article on the creative writing process in which many Kabbalistic elements are present.


In Song of Myself, Whitman considers the meaning of grass, "A child said What is the grass?  fetching it to me with full hands;  How could I answer the child?  I do not know what it is any more than he."  Grass seems to represent the unknowable.  He guesses that "the grass is itself a child...or a uniform hieroglyphic...Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones..."  Grass, to Whitman, seems perhaps to suggest an image of God, a language underlying everything, and God in a macrocosmic as well as a microcosmic sense. Later he says, " I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars." 


Whitman seems to relate to the idea of the unity of the knower, the known, and the act of knowing in many places, for example, also in Song of Myself, "To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow, All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means."  Additionally, his attempt to identify much of the detail of the world within this poem, details he finds within himself, expresses such unity. 


And then about evil in Myself, Whitman says, "I am not the poet of goodness only, I do not decline to be the poet of wickedness also...Evil propels me and reform of evil propels me, I stand indifferent,..."  Perhaps a statement of the coincidentia of evil and good, and the transformation of evil into good. 


Then, there is this in which Whitman seems to be considering himself in an Adamic and Seferotic way, "Divine am I inside and out...If I worship one thing more than another it shall be the spread of my own body, or any part of it...Dazzling and tremendous how quick the sun-rise would kill me, If I could not now and always send sun-rise out of me...We also ascend dazzling and tremendous as the sun...With the twirl of my tongue I encompass worlds and volumes of worlds..."


Whitman's mention of his internal "contradictions," as cited by Michael Hoppe, seems to be the most direct indication of the coincidentia oppositorum as central  to his person and thought. 


Then, Whitman's When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, one might start in many places to show the unity and blending of his thought.  The hermit bird, whose death song is "Sadly sinking and fainting,...and yet again bursting with joy. 


So I guess that I would urge any visitors to your website to read the best and powerful poetry of Whitman and note the relationship to the New Kabbalah, and especially the underlying coincidentia oppositorum in many of these poems.


Charlie Coon


The Paradox of Giving and Receiving (5/04)


Dear Dr. Drob,


I have just finished your wonderful, comprehensive book Symbols of the Kabbalah and enjoyed it so much I have ordered Kabbalistic Metaphors and eagerly look forward to reading it as well.  The breadth and depth of your approach is truly inspiring.


Some of versions of the Lurianic creation story I have read include an aspect you did not touch upon in your book and I am wondering if you have any comments on it from a philosophical or psychological perspective. I ask because it involves a fascinating paradox and you have such a keen appreciation of the 'coincidence of opposites.'   I'm sure you already are aware of this version (which I encountered in The Way by Michael Berg and Rav P.S. Berg's The Essential Zohar; I gather it has come through the teachings of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, but I haven't yet read any of his writings). 


(For simplicity's sake, I will refer to the Vessel as singular, which is how I first encountered it in these readings.) According to what I read, there was the original, primordial creation of the Vessel (ex niliho) which received the Light of the Creator. They originally existed in perfect harmony. The perfect giver and the perfect receiver. But, in the same way a glass will warm up when you pour hot liquid into it, the Vessel took on the qualities of the Light of the Creator -- of wanting to give, to create. This caused a paradox within the Vessel: it was designed as the perfect receiver and yet it now wants, also, to give. To create. In an attempt to resolve this paradox, the Vessel pulled back against the Light and this, in turn, caused the Creator to withdraw, to contract. The vessel immediately realized its "mistake" and the Light came back in and then the shattering occurred.


I find it fascinating, the notion of tzimtzum taking place in reaction to the Vessel pushing away in its attempt to resolve a paradox, the paradox of receiving and giving. Passive and active.  Especially, as you demonstrate in Symbols, the Lurianic Kabbalah is all about coincidentia oppositorum. 


Do you know where this version of creation originates?  If you have any comments on it at all, especially any psychological dimensions, I would be most appreciative.  Psychologically we are taught to build a container in which opposites can co-exist -- and here it is being shattered in the primordial beginnings.


When I first encountered this story of creation, tzimtzum, the shattering of the vessel(s) (and, later, the restorative tikkun), it had a profound impact on me; in addition to thinking about it as a story of something that happened, in the past tense, at the beginning of creation, I also realized it is happening, now, in the present tense, deep within my psyche. Paradox and creation, here and now. That's why it is so great to come across your writings and your 'rational-mystical' approach which is teaching me a way to reconcile similar, seemingly opposing tensions within myself.  (I am reminded of Walt Whitman's "Do I contradict myself?  Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes!")  Your writings help to unite the multitudes.


Meanwhile, I hope that your book on Jung and Kabbalah is finding a publisher!  I will be purchasing a copy.


Thank you for your excellent contribution. I'm so glad I happened upon your website.


Respectfully yours,


Michael David Hoppe


Victoria, B.C. 




Dear Michael Hoppe:

Thank you very much for your most articulate and interesting letter. It is certainly very satisfying to me that you have thought deeply about the ideas in my book and carried these thoughts into your own life. The quote from Whitman is wonderful and gets precisely at one of the most important   aspects of not only Kabbalistic thought but also at what I regard to be therapeutic thought in general: the capacity to live with antinomies, opposites and contradictions--on the spiritual, intellectual and emotional level. My own reading of the Kabbalah is that it creates an open economy of thought and feeling and shatters all rigidities and dogmatics. This reading grows out of my understanding of (1) the symbol shevirat-ha-kelim (breaking of the vessels) (2) the idea that Ein-sof is a Unity of Opposites, and (3) the Kabbalistic view that Torah has an infinity of interpretations. Now, of course, if one reads Vital and other Kabbalists there is plenty that is dogmatic and closed in their writings as well--the stringent atonements for minor sexual prohibitions come to mind, and there are many others as well--but I believe that the principles that underlie the Lurianic system create the very "therapeutic container of all" that your email suggests.

I need to think more about the paradox of giving and receiving, so I will make just a few very brief associations. Of course, for Luria, the acts of Tikkun are a wonderful gift to God as they actually help constitute and complete the actualization of Ein-sof itself. In this regard we might consider the French philosopher Jacque Derrida's understanding of a gift as something that is given without creating debt and without any expectation of recompense. All other gifts are really barter and exchange and are not truly gifts. I am reminded of Maimonides degrees of charity: the highest is where neither giver nor receiver know each other's identities!


Re: Kabbalah and Orthodoxy (3/30/04)

My wife, Bracha and I (Sheldon Stern) enjoyed hearing you speak last Friday night at the Park Slope Jewish Center.  I do have a question from your talk...  Your mentioned how Chasidus uses Kabbalah in its orientation.  Are you limiting this to Lubavitch or are you talking about Chasidus in general and includes most sects or all sects of Chasidus from the Belz, to Satmar, Munkash, Bobover etc?  What is the relationship between Chasidus and Kabbalah and did this emerge as part of Chasidus?  Should we all not become Chasidim?  I've met many Chasidim and find them most hospitable ....  I'm just curious how Kabbalah enters into their lives or do they think of it.  The emphasis has always been on Gemorrah and Torah Learning.  This emphasis creates the foundation upon which probably Kabbalah can be understood.  I'm sure you’re aware of the tradition that only Rabbi Akiva came out unscathed from its study while Alisha Ben Avuyah the teacher of Rav Meir became known as Acher and left the fold after learning Kabbalah, and another went insane.  So the tradition was that you had to be at least 40 years old, have learned all of Shash (entire Talmud) and married.  My impression of learning Kabbalah before learning Aleph Bet namely a rich Jewish Knowledge of Torah or Tanach and Gemorrah is like learning Calculus before learning how to add two and two.  I' m interested in your response.




Sheldon B. Stern, Psy.D.


Sanford Drob’s Response

With regard to your questions I'll try to answer them briefly to the best of my capacity. Clearly, the Chasidim, beginning with the Baal Shem and the Maggid were all influenced by the Jewish mysticism that preceded them, including the early Chariot (Heikhalot) Literature, Sefer Yetzirah, the early Kabbalists, the Zohar, Cordovero and especially Luria and his disciples. While not all Chasidic practices can be traced directly to Lurianic sources (e.g. devekut, hitbodedut) much of the vocabulary and conceptual framework of the Chasidic masters is borrowed from the Lurianic Kabbalah; though in some instances the Chasidim altered and even seem to have reversed the significance of the Lurianic conceptions. Joseph Weiss, in his book "East European Jewish Mysticism and Chasidism,” points out, for example, that while for Luria, the notion of Tzimtzum indicated G-d's withdrawal from the cosmos, for the Great Maggid it indicates  G-d's indwelling in the cosmos. My own attraction to Chabad/Lubavitch thought stems from its "double movement" approach, an approach that suggests a coincidence of such opposing views, depending upon one's perspective. For example: Schneur Zalman writes: "(Looking) upwards from below, as it appears to eyes of flesh, the tangible world seems to be Yesh and a thing, while spirituality, which is above, is an aspect of Ayin (nothingness).  (But looking) downwards from above the world is an aspect of Ayin, and everything which is linked downwards and descends lower and lower is more and more Ayin and is considered as naught truly as nothing and null" (Schneur Zalman Likutei Torah, Devarim, fol. 83a ).  As for the question of whether all of us should become Chasidim, this is obviously a very personal question, but I can imagine a far worse fate for the world.

With regard to study of Kabbalah prior to learning Gemorrahh and the rest of "Torah," I think that several reasons have been offered for this: (1) The Kabbalah provides an explanation of the hidden significance of the mitzvoth; how then can one understand the hidden explanation without first understanding the mitzvoth themselves, (2) The Kabbalah can lead to dangerous results and ideas unless it is understood within a traditional Jewish context (it can lead to heresy even death, as your reference to Akiva illustrates), (3) a certain personal and psychological maturity is necessary in order to assimilate the profound significance of the Kabbalah, and one (at least traditionally) obtains that only through an education in Shas etc. I would be interested in hearing more on this topic.

I myself do not feel very strongly one way or the other on this issue. In this day and age with so many books, teachers, spiritual masters, Jewish Kabbalists and non-Jewish Kabbalists available and peddling their versions of Kabbalah, the idea of limiting and/or sanctioning study can no longer be enforced. Further, if those with level heads and Jewish backgrounds desist from speaking about Kabbalistic matters, there are plenty who will fill the void with popularizations, etc. My own background in philosophy and psychology has led me to the view (and I admit this is controversial) that our comprehension of the Kabbalah can be greatly enriched through understanding it within the context of western philosophical and psychological thought; that the Kabbalah itself had a profound if indirect impact on that thought (e.g. upon alchemy, German philosophy--e.g/ Boehme, Schelling, Hegel,  Freud and Jung), and that the Kabbalah has many points of contact with the mysticisms of other traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism) that can make for interesting and fruitful dialog. I am a universalist at heart, and while I have a deep love for Yiddishkeit I see my Judaism as a means for extending myself not only to Jews, but to all people, and beyond to the environment and world as a whole. I believe that each of the species, peoples, and individuals of the world should be actualized in their essences and united in a common purpose and that it is our spiritual duty to facillitate this actualization. In this I follow the Chabad thinker R Aron in his dictum that it is the fundamental divine purpose that the world should be differentiated and revealed in each of its finite particulars and yet united in a single infinite source.


It was very nice meeting you and your wife on Friday night.


Sandy Drob

Sheldon Stern responds:


Years ago when I became "frum" at the age of 15/16 after meeting Steve Riskin, "Stevy Wonder" I call him, of course it is now Rabbi Shlomo Riskin.  I heard him discuss the revelation of G-d on Mt. Sinai and along with my own concerns about death and dying, waking up with cold sweats just out of my own fears of finality, and what he said was quite important at the time.  Through Halacha from Holaych, one walks and gets close to Hashem by the mitzvahs just Moses saw the "Back" of G-d.   However, as I matured in college to an extent, I took on the study of psychology because I really saw it as a parallel to Judaism.  Just as Judaism looks at the Holy of Holies the most sacred of places, so also I look at dealing with patients and the human mind as the Holy of Holies and one must treat it as a sacred allowance to deal with the inner dynamics, thoughts, behaviors, feelings etc the patient presents.  I see no contradiction between the two.  Ultimately between psychology, Judaism, Talmud and Kabbalah there appears to be a unity of spirit in terms of coming to terms with the sacredness of life and all things regardless of their triviality as in your displayed example on Friday night of the styrofoam cup having Chesed.  But the ultimate goal appears to be what Maslow called, "Self Actualization." but in a spiritual sense that pervades one's relationship to the "all."   I do not consider myself as a Talmud Chochom and that is for sure!  The minutia of Gemora can be quite taxing and boring and the way that Orthodoxy is going today to the far right is very distressing for me.  Because just as the Talmud is an ongoing discourse on the Law with arguments and counter arguments with on ongoing respect for opposite opinions with a thesis (Mishnah) and antithesis (argumentation) and finally the thesis V'Chain Halacha just as in Hegel's dialectical materialism.  But I do not see the same respect with the right of Orthodoxy.  We Jews are minority let alone Orthodoxy being a minority within a minority and its quite sad to me that we always appear to do quite well and alienating ourselves from each other let alone the non-Jews of the world.  Maybe its time for Orthodoxy to deal more effectively with the Midos inherent in Talmud such as in Pirkei Avoth and also review the Kabbalah as a core of faith and spirituality in the doing of the Mitzvahs and that the duality should be inherent and synthesized in Judaism's practice.  The Midoth have been missed in terms of translating the Halacha on an interpersonal level.  I see constant judgments made of others observance…This is the pilpulism you talked about wherein the person  as a person is bypassed with its place being the minutia of observance.  I know the Vilna Gaon was quite the enemy of the Chassidim but there was a need for them because Jews were alienated from Judaism then precisely for the same reason they are alienated from Orthodoxy.  


Sanford Drob responds:

I found your description of your path within halakhic Judaism very interesting and inspiring. I was particularly moved by your characterization of psychology, along with Talmud and Kabbalah as each a means of coming to terms with life's sacredness. The difficulties of maintaining a genuine commitment to halakhic Judaism in the context of an orthodox world that has moved increasingly towards an obsessive, almost competitive, view of observance, is one of the things that troubles me about some people's "frumkeit." My observation is that such principles as shalom bayit, guarding one's tongue (re: Loshen hara) and what one rabbi once described to as the sixth book of the Shulkhan Arukh (The Book of Common Sense) need greater emphasis, and things like the degree of one's kashruth and the color of one's suit, could become outer trappings that lead one to miss the point of Torah. Still, I have a great deal of respect for those who strive to live both within the halakha and contemporary life and thought.

Re: Dennis McCort’s “Going Beyond the Pairs” 2/25/04

Dear Sanford,


I have completed reading the book you mentioned in a previous email, Dennis McCort's Going Beyond the Pairs, and found it most illuminating.  The parallels with your work, particularly your theme of rational mysticism, seem to be very much evident. I would be  interested to see any observations you might have on McCort's essay on Franklin Merrell-Wolff.  Especially, Merrell-Wolff's fifty-six aphorisms.  The manner in which the aphorisms are broken down---the first five are "pre-manifestation," aphorisms 6 through 50 are a second phase and express "manifestation," number 51 is "recapitulation," and, finally the "triumphant return" of the final five aphorisms---seem to parallel quite closely Kabbalah symbols and categories. I think McCort must not be aware of  the centrality of the coincidentia oppositorum in the Kabbalah, with only the one brief reference in his book. But the best aspect of the book, in my view, is the coincidentia and the struggles of the writers and thinkers to experience it.  And then the Joy that comes when It is Recognized, to use Merrell-Wolff's term.  McCort notes that Merrell-Wolff wrote that "a brief experience of this Joy would be worth any effort and any amount of suffering that could be packed into a lifetime..."  Amazing! He also says that Merrell-Wolff is "an undiscovered Master."  (I enjoyed this essay enough to order a copy of Wolff's Pathways.)  Absolutely no hurry Sanford, but I will look forward to any comments you might have on this book. Hope all is going well in your work.


Charlie Coon


Response: Kabbalah and the Coincidence of Opposites


Dear Charlie


Thanks so much again for your observations. I agree that Merrell-Wolff’s aphorisms seem to follow a trajectory that parallels the Lurianic dynamic and I will have to take a closer look at them with this idea in mind. With regard to McCort and the Kabbalah, he does suggest that the “Zen-like style and spirit” of Kafka’s short-fiction “can be at least partly accounted for by his immersion in the lore of his Hasidic Jewish background” (Going Beyond the Pairs, p. 15, cf. p. 78). I should point out that within the fabric of Jewish Mysticism the idea of the coincidence of the opposites reaches its fullest expression in the thought of the Chabad Chasidim.


There can be little doubt that an intuition of the coincidence of opposites is emblematic of mystical experience. As William James, W.T. Stace and others pointed out long ago, mystics of varying religious and even non-religious backgrounds and persuasions speak of a falling away of distinctions and a blending of opposites that is both supremely joyful and spiritually illuminating. In particular, the distinctions between mind and nature, between ego and non-self and between self and God have been described. However, the question that has preoccupied me in my work, which has been inspired by the appearance of the coincidentia idea in Jewish mysticism, is as you recognize, whether there is a rational or intellectual path to the mystical unity; whether such unity has certain derivatives and manifestations that can be intellectually grasped and understood.


Hegel was probably the last great philosopher to hold that the identity of opposites could be demonstrated rationally, and his view that coincidentia oppositorum yielded a logical principle was treated with such scorn by the generation of philosophers to follow him that the idea of finding a rational/philosophical parallel to the mystic quest became an anathema to serious philosophers. Even Stace, a philosopher who was highly sympathetic to mysticism eventually came to the view that in trying to make a logic out of the coincidence of opposites Hegel fell “into a species of chicanery. For every one of his supposed logical deductions was performed by the systematic misuse of language, by palpable fallacies, and sometimes, as Russell has pointed out, by simply punning on words.” (W.T. Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy, p. 213). Stace, who early on wrote a sympathetic, and now much maligned book on Hegel’s system, gave up the idea that coincidentia oppositorum could be shown to be a rational principle, holding that “the identity of opposites is not a logical, but definitely an alogical idea” (ibid.). Later philosophers, such as Merrell-Wolff, who have considered the verities of mysticism from a rational, philosophical point of view, have had to find their homes outside of academic philosophy, or been relegated to the academic fringe. My own teacher, J.N. Findlay who was applauded for his descriptive books on Meinong, Hegel, and Plato, was barely humored for his original rational-mystical works (The Discipline of the Cave, The Transcendence of the Cave). It is thus with a certain trepidation that I have attempted to introduce into my own work the idea that certain of, if not all, the polar opposites of western metaphysics and psychology are mutually interdependent in a manner that can be understood on a rational level. I recently published an analysis of seven polar opposites that I believe are foundational in psychology and attempted to show how positions taken by various theoreticians with respect to these opposites [(1) free will vs. determinism, (2) materialism vs. phenomenology, (3) reductionism vs. emergent properties, (4) public vs. private criteria, (5) individual vs. system (6) facts vs. interpretations and (7) knowledge vs. unknowability] generate the variety of psychological schools and are responsible for psychologies perpetually fragmented state. I proposed that by understanding these oppositions as mutually dependent ideas, i.e. as examples of coincidentia oppositorum, we can move towards an appreciation of the human psyche as a whole. I tried to argue, for example, that public (behavioral) criteria for the use of psychological language is interdependent with private (introspective) criteria, and that thus two competing points of view on the nature of (and usefulness of the concept) of mind are completely dependent upon one another. I can email you this article. I hope that I was not engaging in a “species of chicanery” or “word play” in suggesting these psychological coincidentia. I, further, believe that a coincidentia oppositorum can be demonstrated with regard to other, more metaphysical and theological polarities, including God and humanity, theism and atheism, identity (or unity) and difference, etc., and this is the direction of much of my current thinking.


I was very happy to see McCort take the coincidence of opposites seriously in an academic/philosophical context, and was especially excited to be introduced by McCort to the work of Merrell-Wolff, with whom I sense a kindred spirit. But even they, correct me if I am wrong, hold that the coincidence of opposites can only be mystically experienced and not demonstrated through logic. McCort (p. 95) says that he “attempts to…come as close as language allows” to describing the coincidence of opposites, but in the end holds that it is in the realm of the unsayable.  Merrell-Wolf’s aphorisms are an articulation in philosophical terms of the implications of mystical experience and not as I read them (some of McCort’s glosses to the contrary), an effort to ascend to the absolute through purely rational/philosophical means.


My own views differ somewhat from McCort’s, who seems to hold that the “primal unity” intuited by the mystics is a coincidentia oppositorum.  He states, for example that the coincidence of opposites is “the most fundamental archetype,” that it is “prior to all phenomena,” and “it is the no thing that makes everything possible.” (p. 5). My view at present is that the coincidence of opposites is actually a symptom of the primal unity’s sundering into phenomena, The primal unity itself knows no opposition and is therefore in no need of reconciliation. The concept of opposition does not apply to the primal unity but only to the sundered, finite world of everyday experience. Thus the coincidence of opposites is something that applies to our world of opposition and strife and not to the primal unity itself. Indeed, we might say that the coincidence of opposites is the trace or echo of the primal unity in our finite world. I am of course speaking somewhat metaphorically here, but in understanding the interdependence of seemingly opposite ideas I think we can retrace the steps of the primal unity as it fell into finitude and was sundered into phenomena. I think it is the primal unity that is in the realm of the un-sayable, but that the coincidence of opposites can be expressed in language: not only through paradox and what I call “bilinear thinking,” but through articulating the conceptual interdependence of presumably opposing ideas. I think it is possible, for example, to even articulate in language the interdependence of subject and object, words and things (the signifier and the signified), and identity and difference, polarities that seem to underlie many of other bipolar distinctions and philosophical controversies.  I also believe that it is possible to articulate the interdependence between such philosophical views that “the signified is another signifier” and “signified and signifier are and must remain distinct.” As is the case with psychology I believe that supposedly opposing views in philosophy are dependent upon the truth of their presumed opposites. I have no illusion of proving this (since any proof might well generate an opposite view that itself would be true) but I am working on the direction of a general demonstration.


Sanford Drob


Re: Jung and the Kabbalah From Charles Coon 12/27/03


I just want to say once more how fortunate I feel to have discovered your New Kabbalah website.  I am relatively new to Kabbalah and find your depth and clarity to be wonderful… In reading your article on Jung and the Kabbalah I recalled Harold Bloom's writing in his recent Genius.  He says (p. 11) "Fierce originality is one crucial component of literary genius, but this originality itself is always canonical, in that it recognizes and comes to terms with precursors."  His statement seems applicable to Carl Jung, with reference to Jung's effort to be original in the face of his debt to the Kabbalah.  In other of Bloom's works he seems to be saying that originality is extremely difficult in light of a strong literary precursor.  I guess that's it for now.  Again, Dr. Drob, many thanks for your website.


Charlie Coon


Response 12/28

Thanks for your interest and comments. Jung had a complex relationship with a number of literary and philosophical precursors, including Nietzsche, Plato, Kant, the Gernan Romantics, Hegel, as well as those he openly recognized such as the alchemists. What I have tried to do in a series of papers, most of which are not posted on my website, is to demarginalize the Kabbalah as an influence on Jung, and to show why Jung would have been particularly anxious about such an influence prior to World War II. After the war, he was much more open to Jewish mysticism, writing about his Kabbalistic visions and stating in an interview on his 80th birthday that the Hasidic rabbi, the Maggid of Mesiritch actually anticipated his entire work.  This is interesting to me because the Maggid and other Hasidim psychologized the Kabbalah in much the same way as Jung psychologized alchemy  (and insofar as alchemy itself was greatly influenced by the Kabbalah--see the work of Raphael Patai--Jung thereby also psychologized the Kabbalah). I do not, however believe either that psychology is the only or necessarily the best way of comprehending the Kabbalah, or that the Kabbalah is the only or necessarily best way to understand the development of Jung. The influences are convoluted and complex--and when we look at Jung, we can begin to see how any one thinker is indebted to the entire fabric of western  (and in Jung's case parts of Eastern) thought, and that a thinker's originality consists in how that fabric is folded, twisted and turned. Although my more orthodox or fanatical friends don't like it went I say this, the Kabbalah too is a fabric of influences, some Jewish, Greek, Gnostic and beyond. My own interpreation of the Kabbalah is that humankind completes creation and God Himself  (Tikkun ha-Olam) in part through the great dialog that is the history of ideas, and that by participating in that history we can grasp something of the divine.

Sanford Drob


From: Charles Coon 12/31/03 Dear Sanford:


One more quick comment on the Jung issue.  I suppose that all of the "influences" one is exposed should be considered, in a real sense, as "raw materials" which we use in our creative endeavors. 


Re: Mars Landing and the Kabbalah.  From: Charles Coons,  Monday, January 05, 2004 9:20 PM  Subject: Mars Landing


I watched the PBS NOVA program last evening on the successful Mars landing by the "Spirit" spacecraft, and I thought that the "search for life" may be an interesting New Kabbalah topic.  The scientific and engineering skills of the crew, and their emotions (elation and fear) during the intense six-minute landing were interesting to watch.  Previous successful missions to Mars, which were fewer than the unsuccessful ones, were deficient, as reported in NOVA, in terms of "science return."  So we might say that the new mission was designed with a renewed scientific "will"  which, however, had to be tempered with engineering knowledge concerning risk and probabilities of success.  So these two technical activities took place in an opposing or dialectical manner, and an appropriate spacecraft was thereby created which served their needs.  Looking at the space program more broadly, might we say that the tragedies of the space shuttles are analogous to "Breaking of the Vessels" and a "Tikkun" mending may be underway, perhaps a mending which is emphasizing unmanned technology?  At a different level, the NOVA program showed a similar analogy in the wind and gravity forces which initially broke the landing parachute and the ballooning devices, and a restoration was necessary to demonstrate that, at least by tests on earth, that the equipment as a system would work properly.  Finally, an analogy might be drawn concerning the search for life in general.  The Science publication (vol 303, p59) reports that only one-tenth of the stars in our galaxy might provide the right conditions to support life, and that based on very conservative parameters, a "galactic habitable zone" for the Milky Way has been defined.  The Mars mission used only the criteria of a possible earlier presence of water to decide where to look for life. The criteria will no doubt need to be expanded in the future.  It seems that what may be  at play here is God's  desire for self-awareness, and all of these efforts might be considered to be contributory to an evolutionary increase of this Awareness. 




What I find most interesting are your comments about the literal Breaking of the Vessels with the space shuttle, which possibly  brought about a Tikkun, emendation or repair in the space program. I think that the entire dynamic from Ein-sof through Tzimtzum, Sefirot, Shevirah and Tikkun articulates the creative process in general, and it is hardly surprising to find rupture (Shevirah) and emendation (Tikkun) in virtually every successful endeavor.


With respect to God’s increase in self-awareness, one might say that the great obstacles to travel, discovery, and understanding posed by the physical universe, provide the ideal setting to push “mind” or “spirit” to the utmost limits of its capabilities; in Hegelian terms conditioning the progress of the world-spirit and “Absolute” and in Kabbalistic terms, actualizing the potential of Ein-sof, and developing the Sefirot (e.g. wisdom, knowledge and understanding) to their greatest level of actuality. The same, of course, can be said of all challenges to human enterprise and creativity: the challenges associated with disease, war, inhumanity, etc., each of which bring humanity to the “brink,” imposing a real chance of disaster, but also providing the possibility that the sefirotic qualities that are said by the Kabbalists to be the traits of God and the archetypal components of the world will be actualized to their fullest. As Adin Steinsaltz has put it, only a world on the brink, one in which there is a genuine possibility of failure but within which there is yet hope, can be a world in which creation is actualized to its fullest. Such a world, the worst of all possible worlds in which there is yet hope, can become the best of all possible worlds—in which divinity/humanity is most fully realized. When I think of the vastness of the astronomical cosmos and the challenges it poses to human knowledge and enterprise I am reminded of Rav Steinsaltz’s theorem.

Sanford Drob

Re: Nanotechnology  and Kabbalah: From: Charles Coon 1/12/04  

Here are a few more thoughts on technology, or more specifically the advance of technology in a Tikkun context.  Nanotechnology is portrayed in the press as one of the next technological leaps, which will transform life on earth in countless ways including the manufacture of products using atoms and molecules as building blocks, and such things as nanocomputers and nanocameras which increase thinking capacity and move through bloodstreams for medical diagnostic purposes.  What is involved is the manipulation of matter at the atomic level, and the main promoter of this technology, Dr. K. Eric Drexler, speaks of using tools at the molecular level almost like we  speak of the use of tools in our garage tool chest!   Apparently one of the key strengths of nanotechnology, but also a significant danger, is the possibility of evolution and replication of small-sized robots (perhaps with evil intentions), and the possibility of multiplying out of control, resulting in  "a microscopic mechanical cancer," according to Kenneth Chang, writer for the New York Times (December 9, 2003).  The popular writer, Michael Crichton's novel, Prey, treats the possibility of this technology going awry in this way. So we might say that the Tikkun (restoration)  aspect of  technology is almost simultaneously opposed by a Shevirah (Breaking of the Vessels)  aspect.  Since the start of the industrial revolution (and prior in more primitive settings), advances were always accompanied by negativities:  dangers inherent in the automobile, industrial destruction of the environment, etc.  Perhaps the Shevirah aspect is even stronger in consideration of the development of  scientific byproducts such as weapons of mass destruction. Accordingly, a dialectical understanding encompassing both Tikkun and Shevirah, seems to be most appropriate here.  And when the Shevirah aspect seems particularly strong, we might remember what you said about Adin Steinsaltz' statement that only a world on the brink, yet with hope, can become the best of all possible worlds in which divinity/humanity is most fully realized. Another Kabbalistic consideration might be that the idea of control (Din) will become increasingly important to contain the unbounded nature of science advancement in general, and the nanotechnology replication problem in particular!


(Also, Sanford, I just read your website article on the "Double Movement" and found it terrific.  It seems that the necessity to understand transcendent and immanent solutions in a dialectical manner, as you described, is needed in all religions.  I have found that this thought is taking root in some places in progressive Christianity today.  It is interesting that the understanding goes way back in the Kabbalah…)


Re: Post modernism and the Kabbalah. Charles Coon 1/31/03


I have read your article derived from working notes for a book you say you are preparing on postmodernism and Kabbalistic thought.  I will have to say that I found this article considerably more difficult than your other writings.  I am wondering if there is a predicted publication date for your book.  Postmodernism is becoming quite important in religion writing, as I am coming to appreciate.  Otherwise, I hope everything is going well with you.  I am still reading your writings with great pleasure.  Take Care, Charlie Coon



You are not the first person to tell me that my writings that relate to postmodernism, Derrida, Wittgenstein, etc. are difficult and I wonder if it is the nature of the subject matter or my manner of presentation.

Other than a couple of articles I have no publication scheduled at present----my publisher Jason Aronson is apparently selling or terminating his business and I will need to find a new publisher for my book on Jung and the one on Kabbalah and postmodernism when it is finished. Recently I have been preoccupied with the notion of coincidentia oppositorum (I have been reading Dennis McCort's "Going Beyond the Pairs") and the views of binary opposition that are present in mysticism and deconstruction. The mystics, like Hegel, view the interpenetration of the opposites as evidence of or a vehicle to Unity, whereas the deconstructionists view it as evidence of the bankruptcy of metaphysics and the impossibility of achieving a totalizing perspective on the world. I believe that the Lurianic notions of Shevirah (Rupture) and Tikkun (emendation/restoration) provide us with the opportunity to reconcile unity and difference but in a matter that is continually subject to revision. The Lurianic Kabbalah is a totalizing perspective that contains within it a dynamic (Shevirah and Tikkun) that provides for its own transcendence and revision. I think that the great contribution of postmodern thought to theology is its fundamental challenge to all dogma and the call to insert relativistic, revisionistic, perspectivalist ideas into our conception of God, the world and ourselves. I think we can do this without surrendering all notions of an Absolute; how to do this is a great intellectual challenge.

Sanford Drob



1/21/03 Dialog on Kabbalah and Psychotherapy: Tom Shmuel Rooth and Sanford Drob


The following is an edited version of a brief exchange on the subject of Kabbalah and psychotherapy. Anyone is welcome to join in this dialogue by contacting S. Drob at


10/12/03 From: Tom Shmuel Rooth


I am beginning graduate studies at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, and want to find materials that address clinical applications of Kabbalah.  Are you able to suggest any?  I hope to pursue bringing Kabbalah into clinical application, and to build a practice (eventually) that incorporates them into an integral approach.  Any suggestions will be helpful.


10/13 From: S. Drob


As for clinical applications of Kabbalistic ideas, if you have not done so already you might want to read my article "THIS IS GOLD": FREUD, PSYCHOTHERAPY AND THE LURIANIC KABBALAH" which is in the "articles" link of my New Kabbalah website.  I have not seen much on Kabbalistic psychotherapy (you may want to check out books by Edward Hoffman) but judging from emails I have received there seems to be a growing interest in this area among current graduate students in psychology. I have also heard from people who are interested in the interface between Jewish mysticism and such figures as Bion and Lacan.  I am now completing a book on Jung and Jewish Mysticism, which is more theoretical than clinical in nature.

While I believe that Kabbalistic principles provide a significant basis for an overall view of the cosmos and the human psyche, I would caution against falling into the Jungian error of finding specific Kabbalistic symbols in the dreams, etc. of one's patients, or of indoctrinating one's patients with Jewish mystical symbolism.

Please let me know how your work proceeds and if you don't mind make me aware of anything you find particularly interesting on your topic.

12/1 From: Tom Rooth


I want to thank you for so graciously taking the time to respond to me, and for the insights and information you provided to me both personally and on your website.  I just completed my paper on “The Clinical Kabbalah,”…I use your email as a basis for proffering that while Kabbalah provides a sound philosophical and theological foundation for a therapist, to compel a client to learn Kabbalah as part of receiving therapy may not be in the client’s best interests.  Nonetheless, at this time I remain interested in creating a clinical Kabbalah, and finding ways in which its principles may apply to a therapeutic setting, certainly from the perspective of the therapist’s attitudes, and perhaps as a means of methodology with clients.  I’m just a beginner; I have plenty to figure out, yet.  One thing I have figured out already is that not many people have written about using Kabbalah as a template for therapeutic practice.


I love Symbols of the Kabbalah.  I have not had time to sit down and read it from introduction to conclusion, and admit to using it as a reference when I wrote my paper, but find it to be one of the more clearly written pieces I’ve read.  The parts I read, plus your website writings, greatly interest me.  I look forward to reading more about Jung.


You asked me to update you on anything interesting that I encountered in this process, and I believe I have, although it may be old hat to you.  I think that the sefirot offer ways to frame or reframe pertinent questions to clients, so that a therapist can avoid negative connotations when asking a client to clarifying thoughts or feelings.  For example, perhaps I would ask a historically violent man how, when he uses his male power to dominate a situation at home, if he is increasing or decreasing his honor; it may make him question if his method brings him what he really wants.  Does he want only power, or does he also want balance and joy in his home?  Is discipline a thing he enforces, or is it also something lives by example?  I am only hypothesizing, here, but feel as if I have found a way to use the sefirot in therapy: their complementary qualities provide ways to cause clients to reflect on their behavior, and perhaps not only see a behavior they would rather have, but a way to bring it into being.  .



12/7 From: Sanford Drob

Thanks for writing and I am glad to hear of your progress and that you find my work interesting and helpful. I agree that the complimentary qualities of the Sefirot can be useful in capturing some of the features of good psychotherapy. The blending of chesed and gevurah, i.e. kindness and judgment, in rachamim (compassion) seems to me to be a particularly good description of the posture that a therapist must take with his/her clients, as well as the attitude that the client must take towards him or herself. I would also, of course, recommend the Lurianic dynamic of Ein-Sof, Tzimtzum, Sefirot, Shevirah, and Tikkun, etc. as a model of the entire therapeutic process (which in my view mirrors the creative process in general--therapy at its best creates or forges a soul or self). One could conceive of Ein-sof as the full holding space of the therapeutic encounter, a space that the therapist must withdraw from (Tzimtzum) in or to allow the client's values, being and conflicts to emerge in their own right (Sefirot). Once this occurs the client fully experiences the contradiction and conflict, inherent in an unrestored (pre-Tikkun) psyche, leading to a shattering of aspects of his/her psychic world (Shevirah), which must then be emended/restored/re-created in therapy (Tikkun). At each phase of the treatment each of these phases are operative, but at any given point, one of them (e.g. Shevirah, i.e. rupture) may be more salient than any of the others.

As I think more deeply about the Lurianic dynamic I see it as a general model of creativity, language, and transformative change--which would, of course, include psychotherapeutic change. As you can see in my books I believe that this dynamic is present throughout the entire history of thought and is in some sense a perennial philosophy.

The Sefirot are also dynamic in some of their aspects, but in attempting to derive a psychology from them one runs the risk of simply amassing a series of traits, values or faculties, and losing sight of the creative/psychotherapeutic process. I believe the Sefirot in and of themselves are more conducive to the development of an axiology (system of values) and such an axiology--as your example illustrates has implications for psychotherapy, but I think we need the full Lurianic dynamic (of which the Sefirot are the positive objects but not the dynamic itself) in order to achieve a Kabbalistic psychology. The dynamic aspects of the Kabbalah (and here I am referring primarily  to Tzimtzum, Shevirah, Kellipot, Birur and Tikkun)are important because they bring to the fore the negative experience of emptiness, dissolution, uncertainty, evil and the unknown that are so important for therapy (and life) but which most patients (and many therapists) seek to avoid at all cost.

12/31/03 The Red String

Several people have recently asked me my thoughts regarding the power of a “red string” that has been wrapped around the tomb of Rachel to ward off the evil eye.  My thoughts on this topic involve a meditation on the views of certain Kabbalists that “faith” lies at the foundation of our world (Azriel) and that the world as we know it is a construction of the imagination (Schneur Zalman). My views here are not meant to be final. Perhaps they can be regarded as a starting point for further discussion.


The use of amulets to ward off the “evil eye” has a long and controversial history within Judaism. The rabbis of the Talmud seem to have taken their use and efficacy for granted, though later Rabbis, such as the Rambam (Maimonides) considered them folly. Sefer Yetzirah gives instructions for their preparation and Nachmanides and others sympathetic to the mystical strand of Judaism supported their use. They became an important part of the “magical” traditions of the practical Kabbalah.

There is certainly a tradition of wearing a string that was wrapped around the tomb of Rachel as a means of warding off the harmful effects of the evil eye (i.e. other’s envy).  I have also heard it said that this simple string is a sign of humility and that when one sees it on one’s own wrist it is a reminder of one’s lowly origins, and that it is in this way that the string counteracts our own narcissism and (thus) other’s envy. Finally, there is an old tradition that since Rachel is a matriarch of Israel the red string is particularly efficacious in warding off danger to pregnant women and children.

While not everyone will find them meaningful, I do believe that objects like the red string have the power to channel one’s own faith and spiritual/psychological energy in a positive manner. Indeed, many spiritual symbols function in this way, and their impact is directly proportional to the faith of those who participate in them (i.e. the individual who wears the string him or herself and the community around him/her that invests the string with their own spiritual energy). As a psychologist I might call this power “suggestion” but it is not “mere suggestion.”  It is a very important power indeed, one that is responsible for a large percentage of the healing that occurs not only in psychotherapy, but in medicine in general. It is the power of mind, and especially the imagination, over our minds, our bodies and even our world. It is an extremely powerful force that is constitutive of much of what we call personality, identity, mental illness, and mental health. The power of the imagination is evident in myth, art, and spirituality, and engenders within us a faith that can transform our lives. The “magic” involved in the red string is not supernatural, rather it is a magic that is omnipresent: it is the magic of the collective imaginal and symbolic worlds within which we live.


The imaginary order is a very powerful one.  While we may think that we are living exclusively in and functioning according to the rules of an objective world, described by an objective, scientific language, we are all also actually living in collective “imaginal” worlds that are subject to rules and effects that are not readily accounted for within objective/scientific systems of thought and discourse. Psychologists call the effects of the imaginal realm the power of “suggestion,” “transference,” “auto-hypnosis,” the “placebo effect” or “hysteria” but this is only from the perspective of an objective point of view that seeks to minimize, derogate and control the imagination. From within the perspective of the imagination itself these effects are far more varied, and are known by the names of their corresponding images and symbols, names that are actually much closer to our lived experience than the language of psychology: “Torah,” the “red string,” the “Zohar,” the “Wailing Wall” in Jerusalem, etc.


It is important not to be trapped by the idea that there is something wrong with or inferior about the imagination. While we should always subject our imagination to the scrutiny of intellect and reason, “imagination” and “faith” are neither inferior forms of thinking nor psychological states that somehow supervene upon “objective reality.” Rather “imagination” and “faith” are foundational for any view we take upon ourselves and the world. According to the Kabbalist Azriel, “faith” is actually at the very origin of the world: it is “the place where the Nought is connected to Being” (Scholem.  Origins of the Kabbalah, p. 423). For this reason, when one channels one’s faith, one is channeling the very power of creation itself. My understanding of this is that the faith each of us has in life, in ourselves, in our community, in humanity in general, in science and God (to take several important examples), is the existential ground not only of our view of the world but of the world itself, for without such faith we would have no cause for interacting with being in such a manner as to experience a world at all.


We should also note that in the Chabad interpretation of the Kabbalistic doctrine of Tzimtzum, the whole of creation lies within the imaginative order: According to the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, Schneur Zalman of Lyadi:


Such acosmism led the Chabad Hasidim to boldly assert that the world as we know it is an illusion.  According to Schneur Zalman:


Earth and heaven are like a curtain that separates, for they do not see His blessed unity, and in truth they are merely fantasies for it is imagined that there is a world, but in truth there is only simple unity…and our seeing the existence of the world is only imagination” (Schneur Zalman, Boneh Yerushalayim, p. 54, sig. 50. As quoted in Elior, The Paradoxical Ascent to God, p. 108.)


This is a very complex topic and one should not get the idea that for Schneur Zalman the fact that the world of finite things is in the order of the imagination means that this world does not matter (as there is also a sense in which this “imaginary” world is fully real and necessary for the completion of God Himself!). The point I am making here is that Schneur Zalman held that, at least from a certain point of view, the world of everyday life is an imaginative construction. It thus stands to reason that our imagination can have a profound impact upon it.


We are all continually re-imagining ourselves and re-imagining our world, and it is the faith that what we imagine today is a possible reality for tomorrow that both makes the world alive, and allows us to participate in its reform or Tikkun. The phenomenon of the red string participates in this imaginative aspect of earthly life.


Sanford L. Drob


Comments on The Red String 1/3/04: Charlie Coon




I thought I would send along a few comments on your very interesting "The Red String."  The connection between "imagination" and "faith" seems to be most significant.  You list  examples of various elements of faith, such as ourselves, our community, humanity in general, science, and God.  Might we treat these elements (and perhaps others), as they are formed in the imagination, in a manner analogous to how we consider the components of the Sefirot, expecting that there are dynamic interactions among the elements, inclusions of each in all of the others, so that faith would indeed become the "simple unity" which Schneur Zalman envisioned?  The imagination would then be much larger than perhaps is normally thought, and would be unique for each person.  For example, a scientist would have a heavy element of technical understanding, or a literary person would have a heavy component of understanding of human personality.  But real faith in all persons would necessarily be characterized and qualified as a simple unity.  Then, might we say that when faith does exist as this unity (understanding that faith, and vision, do not exist, or are degraded, unless there is such a unity), our worldview is most truthful, and this view would then in actuality constitute, as you say, the existential ground of the world itself?  (Faith as building blocks of Tikkun.)


So are imagination and faith a unity? Is faith most simply a recognition of the "spark" within?


Thanks and Best Wishes,


Charlie Coon



2/10/03 Kabbalah and Heidegger’s Dasein

Dear Dr. Drob:

Why did the values that emerged from the Ein Sof correspond to justice, wisdom, etc.?

Why not injustice and ignorance?

Basically, why did good manifest as divinity rather than evil?

I see no sufficient reason as to why, but also no need for one outside of man.

The reason I state this is because of your notion of Faith, as the starting point for these values in the human consciousness. That the human must act as the foundation. Do you see any similarities between this and Heidegger's notion of Care as the Being of Dasein. That significance for the world comes from Dasein {SD human reality].



Dear Mark:

Your point is a good one. Given the Kabbalist's view that there is an integral connection between God and Man, that the two are mutually interdependent, creating and completing one another, it stands to reason that the ground for the basic Sefirotic values can be found in the heart, faith and commitment of man as much as it can by looking "towards the heavens" in the direction of a transcendent God.

"Just as the Supernal Wisdom is a starting point of the whole, so is the lower world also a manifestation of Wisdom, and a starting point of the whole." (Zohar 1:153a)

In a way you might say (following Azriel) that the place where the human and supernal points of view meet and coincide is the arena of "faith," or of "Care" in Heidegger's terms, the commitment to the totality or at laest some aspect of the cosmic enterprise "with all one's soul and all one's might." Recall that the first manifestation of the Tzimtzum is Adam kadmon, the Primordial Man, which implies that human desire, values and commitments lie at the core of, and are at the very manifestation "being" itself--and this, I think is quite close to the Heideggerean notion Dasein.

By the way, the kabbalists did hold that prior to the emergence of our world, there were myriads of other worlds based on different Sefirot formulae that were created and instantly self-destructed. It is, on their view, the only world that could survive is one with the specific balance of sefirotic values, e.g. Kindness and Judgment, that is contained in our world! It is only in such a world (as Adin Steinsaltz says: "the worst possible world where there is yet hope" that human action can have a meaning. So we are again back to human action and desire.

We haven't exhausted the subject, but this is certainly a start.

Thanks for sharing this with me.

Sanford Drob

2/03 On the Authorship of the Zohar

Several people have written asking me for my views on the authorship of the Zohar:

I am a philosopher, not a historian, and I don't feel I have anything original to contribute to the question of the authorship of the Zohar. I am willing to accept the scholarly consensus that it was written rather than "discovered" by Moses de Leon in the 13th century, but that it contains images, concepts and ideas, that are much older. I believe that there is a gnostic influence on the Kabblah, but I have also read scholars who hold that Gnosticism itself has ancient Jewish origins. Yehudah Liebes has written that the Zohar indeed absorbed many non-Jewish ideas, but I regard that as a strength rather than an indication of its lack of authenticity. I believe that the world is in one great intellectual and spiritual conversation and am more interested in following its thread than in articulating the boundaries of various spiritual practices and ideas.

In the end the question of the authorship and date of the Zohar really doesn’t much matter to my faith or appreciation of the Kabbalah, precisely because the whole “Jewish authenticity” issue is one that I no longer regard as important, or ethically justifiable. My concern about those who defend an early date for the Zohar is that they may do so out of an ideological commitment rather than a dispassionate examination of the historical data, but my mind remains open on the issue.

Sanford Drob

2/03 If everything is in the Torah, how can other traditions be bearers of truth?

With regard to the question of whether everything is in the Torah I think that there is both a narrow and a broad way in which we can take this idea. On the narrow interpretation, we should insulate ourselves from all non-Jewish forms of knowledge and wisdom because everything that is of importance is in our Torah and all else—secular knowledge, other cultures and belief systems—should thereby be excluded. In the broader interpretation, the Torah, the Jewish way of life and inquiry, is large and strong enough to be open to and ultimately encompass all knowledge and wisdom. The choice that one makes between these points of view is a critical one. I have opted for the latter, but I acknowledge that my view is not without its dangers, including the dilution of Jewish practice, cohesiveness and identity. These are high prices to pay, but for me the other option, an effort to narrow one’s focus to only those things that are “authentic Yiddishkeit” does justice neither to our G-d given faculties of reason, the divine intention in creating a multi-cultural world, nor, ultimately, to Judaism itself. Further, I believe that the idea that one has the corner on an “authentic truth” can and does lead to bigotry and the reactionary tendency to stamp out everything that is a threat to one’s own culture and point of view (witness certain elements within the Muslim community). I am in accord with the Chabad thinker R. Aaron who states: “...the essence of His intention is that… all realities and their levels be revealed in actuality, each detail in itself, and that they nevertheless be unified and joined in their value, that is, that they be revealed as separated essences, and that they nevertheless be unified and joined in their value.” I interpret this to mean that each of the world’s particular manifestations (and cultures) are important in and of themselves, but they must be understood as part of an ultimately infinite totality in G-d.

2/03 Aren't other religions, e,g. Hinduism avodah zara (idol worship)?

I don’t believe that Hinduism, for example, is necessarily Avodah Zarah, but my view of Avadah Zarah may be somewhat unconventional; I see it is an idolatrous worship of the finite, and by this I mean a close-minded commitment to one interpretation, one point of view and hence one specific understanding of G-d and the world to the exclusion of all others. Thus on my understanding, we Jews can be as guilty of Avodah Zarah as anyone else, though we have within our faith, and, particularly within our mysticism, a way of thinking and believing that is continually open to the new and the infinite, and which provides us with the impetus to emend and restore our own fragmented and necessarily partial conceptions. This is one reason why I place such a strong emphasis on the Shevirah and Tikkun in my philosophy and theology. The Shevirah, suggests that the Ein-sof continually overflows and shatters any narrow conception that we may have of G-d and religion, and thus shatters avadah zarah wherever it attempts to rear its head in the belief that “I know.” To the extent that the mystical traditions of other faiths tend to be open to the unknown in this way (and I believe they are) I regard them as portals to G-d. I do not believe anyone (particularly anyone outside these traditions) has the capacity to pronounce them authentic or inauthentic.

2/03 Are all mysticisms the same?

While I certainly believe that there is something of value in all mysticism, I am not sure that all mysticisms are the same. For example, I believe there is a historical dimension to Jewish mysticism that appears to be absent or at least less prominent in the mysticism of the east (I discuss this in Kabbalistic Metaphors in the Chapter on Indian philosophy). As for why we should follow Jewish mysticism, I don’t think we should follow any creed, but rather that for us as Jews, the Kabbalah is our unique portal to a universal G-d, whose nature we can never fully know or circumscribe. As to why “Jewish mysticism” rather than “Christian Mysticism,” etc. you may as well ask me why I should love my parents rather than those of my friend. It is because they are my parents and I turn to Jewish Mysticism is because I am a Jew. I may learn to love my friend’s parents as well as my own, but it would be very hard to love my friend’s parents in the way that I can love my own. There is one further reason why Jewish mysticism recommends itself to me: As I understand (or interpret) it, the Kabbalah is continually criticizing its own foundations and re-inventing itself, and is thus precisely the opposite of Avadah Zarah. It is a system of thought and experience that is continually open to the divine, rather than one that closes itself off to G-d by circumscribing the divine in an act of human hubris. The Kabbalah thus serves as a beautiful dialectical complement to the definite prescriptions of G-d of normative Judaism. These are themes that I will more fully explicate in a book I am writing on Jewish mysticism and postmodernism.

Kabbalah and Physics 5/25/02

Dr. Drob:


I've read both your book on the new Kabbalah and I was impressed. I've read over 50 books on kabbalah and I have to rate yours at the top. I am a mathematical physicist; I teach math and physics at Cal State Dominguez Hills (the smallest of the4 CSU in L.A. county), my bachelor's degree is in physics and my PhD in math. I do research on my own version of a unified field theory, which is closer to what Einstein envisioned than are the current fads. I am writing a book "God is the Unified Field and Einstein is the Prophet." I've found a lot of similarities between Einstein and Kabbalah. While I know that Pauli studied kabbalah, I have found nothing about Einstein's studies. I do know that he endorsed the view of God expressed in "The Soul of the Universe" by Gustaf Stromberg, which is a modern interpretation of the view of Spinoza.


I've been a student of mysticism in general since 1973 and have studied kabbalah for 10 years. My view is that Ein-Sof is the unified field and in a form of kabbalistic word play. I think that Ein-Sof should be thought of as a code for Einstein-Sofia, meaning a merger of science and ancient wisdom.

--- Thomas Love


Dear Thomas Love:

Thank you for your kind words about my two books. I am very glad that you found them of interest. I find your ideas of great interest as well, as the connection between Kabbalah and modern science is an area that I am just beginning to explore. I would be very interested in hearing more about the Einstein connection, unified field theory, Pauli's interest in the Kabbalah and your book. Perhaps you would like to share something you have already written or published that I would post, fully credited, on the New Kabbalah website. After all, what you seem to be engaged in is precisely what I like to refer to as the "New Kabbalah."

In this connection I recently became aware of Martin Rees book Just Six Numbers, where he argues that six numerical values, describing (1) the strength of the forces which bind the nuclei of atoms, (2) the relationship between those binding atomic forces and the force of gravity between atoms, (3) the density of matter in the universe, (4) the strength of a previously unsuspected cosmic "anti-gravity," (5) the amplitude of irregularities in the expanding universe, and (6) the number of spatial dimensions in our cosmos, underlie the physical properties of our universe.

It made me think of how Vital in his Sefer Ez Chayyim speaks of "thousands upon thousands and myriads upon myriads" of worlds, an idea which the Kabbalist's linked to the midrashic myth of the innumerable worlds that were created and destroyed because they did not possess the proper balance of characteristics that could sustain them. The Zohar speaks of these worlds as "sparks of blackness" which like the sparks from a blacksmiths hammer striking the anvil "flared, shone, and then went out."

At any rate the six numbers seem to me to be something of an analog to Luria's notion of Tzimtzum: the contraction of the infinite in just such a manner that there is a balance of Chesed and Gevurah and other Sefirotic forces so as to permit the emergence of the created world. By the way while Rees seems to think that ours is the highest of worlds, most hospitable to life, the Kabbalists leave open the possibility of higher worlds, in which the Sefirot are arranged somewhat differently, but which permit a higher, more developed form of consciousness.

What are your thoughts on this?

Sanford Drob

Dr. Drob,


The connection between science and mysticism has been made in far too many books for me to mention them all, but I'll start:

The Tao of Science

The Tao of Physics

The Medium, the Mystic and the Physicist (Lawrence LeShan)

Quantum Questions (Ken Wilbur)

The Soul of the Universe (Gustaf Stromberg)

Science and Occultism (I.K. Taimni)

Pondering the reality behind the illusion of the world we live in is the job of the physicist. In just the same way as pondering a koan, or an obscure verse of scripture leads the mystic to an experience with God, so focusing on a question about nature leads the scientist to a mystical encounter with the mind of God. The is no difference between Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree and Newton sitting under the apple tree. Both sat in the presence of God.


--- Tom Love


--- EarthLink: The #1 provider of the Real Internet.


I just bought "Just Six Numbers", I'll get back to you with commentary.

--- Thomas Love


Further Thoughts on Nietzsche and the Kabbalah 4/29/02

Mark, Thanks for your note. Several people have inquired about Nietzsche and the Kabbalah, enough to make me consider the topic more seriously than I had done in the past. As you might gather I have a very strong interest in Jung, and I hope to tackle Jung's seminar on Zarathustra in the coming year. This may be another clue to my grasping the subject of Nietzsche and the Kabbalah. As for Heidegger, I have always thought that his notion of Dasein is a key to a contemporary understanding of Primordial Man (Adam Kadmon), as each overcomes the distinctions between man, the world and being as such. What are your thoughts on this, and have you read anything else that moves between kabbalah and contemporary philosophy?

Sanford Drob


On Egyptian Theology 5/4/02: From Mark

This might interest you, I was reading your article on Derrida and the Lurianic Kabbalah, and I found it fascinating. It sparked an interest to go over some parts in Erik Hornung's Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt. Here are some interesting points.

Page 255:
These characteristics strive after a universal scope, but do not become immeasurable. Again and again we saw how Egyptian gods can be extended endlessly, can enter into more and more names, combinations, manifestations, modes of action and response in the cult, and yet remain limited in their nature and existence. Here too Egyptian religion is the opposite of an "absolute religion." It places in doubt the "eternal values" to which we aspire and wrenches our thinking away from its all too familiar paths.

I am no expert on Derrida, but is this sort of what he proposed in the idea of play. This has sort of a postmodern ring to it, and is this also the Lurianic notion of values shattering to be repaired again.

Here is another interesting point from the book dealing with existence and differentiation.
P176: Then comes the surprising observation that there were "not yet two things"(CT II, 396b; III, 383a), an apparently unnecessary repetition, sure there was in any case "no thing at all". But this statement is an explicit expression of the Egyptian view that before creation there was an unity, which could not be divided into two things, just as the creator god is often called the "one who made himself into millions" (n. 105 above). "Two things" and "millions" are here the opposite poles of a single phenomenon----the diversity of the existent-----which is denied in the case of the nonexistent. Nonexistence is one and undifferentiated. The creator god mediates between it and the existent and separates them. He is the original one, who emerges from the nonexistent and marks the "beginning" of the process of coming into being by differentiating himself into the plurality of "millions"------the multiplicity of the gods.

Would I be correct in seeing similarities with Derrida in that it is difference that is the necessary precondition for Being. For example, in Hegelian logic Being and Nothing are the same due to the fact that Being is Indeterminate. Difference is a necessary precondition for a Determinate Being. Also would Keter be similar to the creator god that mediates between nonexistence (Ein Sof) and existence (differentiation), it is the point of manifestation for Being.

Again I probably can't think of any philosophy or philosopher that has Kabbalistic ideas that you probably don't already know of. The later Schelling with his idea of the dark drive in God, that is potential that realizes itself in Understanding (bright principle). For example, here are some quotes from

Even in God, the perfect comes from the imperfect
God, too, develops. God is actualizing Himself.
Prior to the Actual Perfect God of Wisdom and Good, God's Potential must exist
That is the Unconscious, Dark Drive that endeavors to represent Itself
Ultimately this Primordial Existence is no other than Volition (das Wollen).
The Predicates of the Primordial Existence can only belong to this Volition.
Such Predicates as i) Groundlessness (no cause = die Grundlosigkeit), ii) Eternity (die Ewigkeit), iii) Independence of Time (die Unabhängigkeit von der Zeit), and iv) Self Affirmation (die Selbstbejahnung), can only belong to Volition.
Therefore, the Ground for God's Existence is the Dark Aspiration (der dunkle Sehnsucht). It is the Drive of the Unconscious to become Conscious. The Goal of this Aspiration is Understanding, Logos, the Word. God finally reveals Himself in Logos, in the Word, in Understanding. When this dark Aspiration (dieser dunkle Sehnsucht) subordinates itself as matter and organ to Understanding, God becomes the Actual God, becomes Spirit and Love.

The Opposition in Nature and Human-being
The world reveals itself not only as the expedient order and beauty, but also as a rupture and disorder. What is perfect, rational, harmonious and expedient in the world is the product of Understanding. Contrary to this, such irrational residues as rupture, irregularity, deformity, illness and death have their origin in the dark Ground. Everything has within itself these two principles.
The egocentric will (der Eigenwille) is rooted in the Nature within God or the dark Ground, while the universal will comes from God's Understanding.

In God, the dark principle and the bright principle are inseparably unified, while in the human being, these two principles are separated.
Out of these two principles, the freedom of human volition makes the human independent.
The human-being can move from truth to falsity, can bring one's own egoism to dominance, and can lower the spiritual within oneself to the mere instrumentality.

Or with God's help, the human can remain intrinsic and can subordinate a particular love (desire) to the universal will of love.
The (morally) good is to overcome one's opposition. For everything is revealed in its opposites. If the human was overcome by temptation, it is one's own free choice and is a sin.

The (morally) evil is not a mere absence or non-existence of the (morally) good. The evil is something positive in itself.

The evil is to make the egoism independent, i.e., to reverse the proper order between the particular will and the universal will and separate the one from the other. The possibility of separation of those two wills exists in God's dark Ground. Namely, the potentiality of the evil exists in the Divine Dark Ground, and yet the actuality of the evil is the free act of the creature. Schelling also construed freedom in the same sense as Kant did and used the concept of "intelligible freedom" (die intelligible Freiheit). Freedom, according to Schelling, is not only far from compulsion, but also is clearly distinguishable from contingency or arbitrariness. The human being chooses his /her own intelligible essence beyond time. At the outset of creation, i.e., since Eternity, the human-being pre-destines (prädestinieren) himself/herself. Therefore, the human being is responsible for his/her own action in the sensory world, which is the necessary result of the free primary action.

I am no expert on Schelling, but it seems as if he is very influenced by the Kabbalah here. I have heard this is due to the fact that Schelling was influenced by Jacob Boehme in this part of his philosophy, and most German mystics were heavily influenced by the Kabbalah.


Author’s Response 5/4/02

Dear Mark

Thank you for your very interesting observations. The material regarding the Egyptian Gods is new to me and fascinating. Schelling is certainly an interesting figure: I treat his connection to the Kabbalah in Kabbalistic Metaphors, pp. 83-5 and tangentially in the chapter on Hegel. The material you quote from here almost sounds as if it could have been written by Schneur Zalman or any other early Chabad thinker. You're right about the Boehme connection: Hegel uses the terms Adam Kadmon and the Sefirot in a couple of places and I think he attributes these to Boehme. However, I also think that we are dealing with a perennial philosophy that manifests itself in like minds in different places and times.

Anyway, how did you come to be interested in this material. Are you a philosophy student? Would you mind if I posted your observations on my web page?

Sanford Drob


On  Goedel, Derrida, Wittgenstein and the Kabbalah  5/5/02 From Mark

Dear Dr. Drob:

I was thinking about Derrida, Wittgenstein and Kabbalah, and I have a theory, I would like to know your input on it. Have you ever heard of Goedel's Proof. That essentially the axioms that make a system consistent, cannot be proven by the system itself, it deals with completeness and consistency. Is the Tree of Life essentially a consistent but incomplete system? Is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil essentially the knowledge of the incompleteness of the Tree of Life, when Adam and Eve eat of the knowledge they have a consciousness which has the ability for knowledge beyond starting axioms, but that essentially makes their consciousness an inconsistent system. Now we have the concept of language games which is the never-ending altering of words to reach new scopes of understanding.

I probably oversimplified parts. I believe the correct interpretation is that Adam and Eve before eating from the Tree of Knowledge were kind of like a robot based on a consistent, incomplete system but complete for Eden. It is the Tree of Knowledge which is essentially the expansion of space and possibilities that a created dualism that made the consciousness of the human have the possibility for never-ending completeness, but now it can't be a strict consistent system. Forgive my redundancy.

Now language games is essentially the ability for words to have multiple meanings and has root in the open possibility and inconsistency of consciousness acquired from the eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.



Author’s Response 5/9/02


Thanks for your astute observations. This is all very interesting. I will have to give much more thought to your ideas re Godel's theorum, but the way I see the Lurianic system is that it is a system that is both without a "foundation" and which by its very nature is always incomplete, i.e. breaking apart and transcending itself towards something new and different. This is the very rhythm of Shevirah and Tikkun.


On Tikkun

Dear Dr. Drob:

This brings up what I consider to be the unique aspect in Judaism, Tikkun. Correct me if I am wrong in this, but the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is just like an empty space, now the shattering happens so that a rebuilding can happen to correct all of that empty space. The Tree of Life is the values for a set system, The Tree of Knowledge is empty space(possibility), the shattering must happen to destroy the system, then there must be a rebuilding to encompass and correct the empty space.

The East seems to take a somewhat different perspective with the idea of Karma, and the Tree of Soma, and The Tree of Seeds. Essentially the Tree of Seeds is just part of the phenomenal agitation that is the successive rebirths depending on ones Karma, and the Tree of Soma is conjoinment to the Absolute. The goal in the East seems to be to move towards the Tree of Soma and gain the final liberation, one desires to escape the wheels of Karma. Besides that I see many similarities between the Ein Sof and Brahman which you have definitely noticed. BTW, you comment on the personal / impersonal deity in the dialog section. I am curious as to your thoughts on this, Buber speaks of an I It, I Thou relationship. Now the I thou relationship causes the consciousness to have a natural attracting to the quality and see it's relationship with everything. So when an individual perceives of Gevurah, is the conscious engagement with the God Form, Elohim, just the manner of having an I Thou with Gevurah, and making it more real to the individual and seeing it's relationship to everything else better.



Dear Mark:

Thanks for your patience. I'm intrigued by what you say regarding the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life, but I would like to learn more. Is the equation of the Tree of Knowledge with "empty space" and "possibility" something that appears in the tradition, or is it your own idea. I have the same question with respect to your understanding of the "Tree of Life." How is it that you get to these equations? Also, why do you say that it is empty space that must be corrected in Tikkun? Aren't the values and system the one's that are in need of being corrected and restored? Also your thoughts about the Indian tress are interesting. I'd like you to direct me to where I can laern something more about "seeds" and "Soma."

With regard to Buber's I-thou and the Lurianic Kabbalah, I think that there is a contradiction or contrary here in need of reconciliation. Buber, you may know, criticized Jung for his Gnosticism, i.e. for his locating the divine in the depths of the individual's self or psyche as opposed to locating Him in the encounters between two distinct subjectivities. I think that the same criticism can be directed towards at least a common interpreattion of the Kabbalah--and mysticism in general--which sees the divine as something interior to consciousness, rather than appearing in one's dialogic encounters with others and the world. There is, as I see it, a potential coincidentia oppositorum between these dialogic (personal) and mystical (impersonal) views of God. However, it is not a coincidentia that I have worked out fully as yet. I wonder what your thoughts are on this.

Sanford Drob


5/29 Mark to SD

Dear Dr. Drob:

The ideas I had about the Tree of Life and Tree of Knowledge were kinda thoughts of mine, I had from reading your site.   To clarify things much better, I recently read a section in Deconstruction in a Nutshell, in the scetion in which Derrida talks about the idea of Khora, I like his description of it as Place, in the singular.  This Place (Khora) creates unknown possibilities, this place(empty space) must be corrected.  But it seems as if there is always more empty places from this original Place.  Your dialectic summed it up beautifully.  The other interesting thing in that book (Desconstruction in a Nutshell) was the difference between Justice from the perspective of Heidegger and Derrida.  It seems that Heidegger is focused on a gathering(Versammlung), this seems to be a little like the Partzuf idea, this arranging of the soul structure in the proper order.   Also, I am trying to find the exact locations for the Tree of Soma / Tree of Seeds.   I  believe it is in the Buddharamsa Sutta book 1, verses 1 -20, it is in the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and for a Zoroastrain source it is in the Bundahishn.

On a Personal God 5/30/02


Dear Dr. Drob:

I find the idea of the personal and impersonal God to be interesting. I wonder if the outlook Buber takes to Jung is that of a false dichotomy. I just got your book, Symbols of the Kabbalah, and I am skimming it now, and I noticed the place in which you stated that Vedanta and Kabbalah does not see a dichotomy between the psyche and world, and essentially they are a unify, whereas psychology and Gnosticism don't blend them in as well. For example, I believe that Raja Yoga sees man as essentially needing to regain his true self and unify with God, the focus is on the "I", whereas Bhakti Yoga sees a Personal Deity that one must have devotion to, the "I" must vanish to the "All" or "God". I guess the main point is that instead of seeing Buber and Jung as contradictory, it can be complimentary. One has Knowledge and Insight into Chesed, he understands the sefiroth, then he sees it in reality, how it works in relation to him, and everything else, then he has the I - Thou with El, and out of this relation with El, Gevurah is understood much greater as a concept, then the relationship with El deepens, etc.. I see a complimentary aspect.

I guess that to really elicit a change of consciousness, it is necessary for the religious Jew to have Gevurah manifest as Elohim, Chesed as El, Tifereth as the Tetragrammaton, etc., as it is for the Zoroastrian to have Truth and Justice manifest as Asha Vahista, the Bright Mind as Vohu Manu, etc.




6/1/02 Mark to SD

Dear Dr. Drob:

I was wondering your thoughts on this.  Can the I-Thou relationship transcend to an ultimate unity?  Can the I-Thou be seen as a relationship to one's self into eternity.  This comment is from Kabbalah and Exodus by Z'ev ben Shimon Halevi, page 15.  God wished to behold God and be known, and so the mirror of Existence was called forth and man the image of God placed within it.  Also here is a comment from

Trika Shaivism teaches that Shiva has manifested this external world for only one reason-to create the possibility of recognizing his own nature. And furthermore, the Kashmir Shaiva understands that this objective universe, a manifestation of Lord Shiva's Svatantrya Shakti, is a means, a tool, to be used to realize the universal reality of Shiva.
This, Kashmir Shaiva's say, is the play of the universe. Because of Lord Shiva's freedom, his Svatantrya, this universe is created solely for the fun and joy of this realization. It is Shiva's play to seemingly leave his own nature so that he can find it and enjoy it again. This is the dance of Shiva, the joyous game in which he is continuously creating this universe--to lose himself and then find himself.    

Also, this tradition seems to incorporate the Bhakti element also, that of devotion to Shiva, which in reality loses himself as the individual.  I see the I-Thou as essentially engaging in a relationship with one's eternal Self.  But where Martin Buber would disagree with me is that the I feel the I-Thou should transcend to I.  He seems to want to keep the duality of I and Thou rather having it transcend to a unity.  But interestingly, Kabbalah has the idea of Yechidah as the highest soul, doesn't that mean unity?  He states that the I and Thou is relation and reciprocity, one is giving of his whole Being, changing the Thou, and Being changed by the Thou, I feel the idea of unity (Yechidah), is the logical next step after the I-Thou.


7/20/01, From: avi

On Nietzsche and the Kabbalah

I appreciate your efforts very much, and I agree with the value of the questions you raise. Have you read Nietzsche? If so, how do you view his philosophy through the kabbalistic lens? Following is a quote from Nietzsche's Zarathustra which may especially deserve commentary: "Unconcerned, mocking, violent: Thus wisdom wants us. She is a woman and always loves only a warrior."

Author’s Response

Dear Avi:

Thanks for writing. I think there is much in Nietzsche that can help us in the formulationof a New Kabbalah. First off, Nietzsche is really the founder of the anti-foundationalist, deconstructive point of view, a point of view that traditional religion must first pass through prior to becoming relevant to contemporary thought. Nietzsche in effect plays the role in western philosophy that the "Breaking of the Vessels" plays in kabbalistic theosophy; he is a total tearing asunder of all that seemed certain and an opportunity to start anew. On the other hand, Nietzsche, like the Kabbalists, understood the complete interrelationship between all ideas and all things: "In the actual world, in which everything is bound to and conditioned by everything else, to condemn and to think away anything means to condemn and think away everything." (The Will to Power. p.316). So Nietzsche provides us with an opportunity to be both non-dogmatic, non-foundational, multi-perspectival and at the same time comprehensive and, in a way, systematic. His comment here is actually very good description of Ein-sof.

After Nietzsche we can hardly view theosophy as anything other than a poetic vision of the universe, i.e. a product of the imagination--yet it is just such productive imagination that on my view provides us with the kabbalistic key to mystical truth. For Nietzsche, myth as much as science, is an avenue to truth. Finally, Nietzsche is the hermeneutic philosopher par excellence: for him all philosophy is a commentary on an unknown text, and this fits in very well with the kabbalistic conception of truth being a commentary on a hidden, ideal Torah.

Finally, Nietzsche respected the infinite play of possibility and indeed regarded this play as the one conception of God that might make some sense, an idea that I believe is very close to the multi-perspectivism and infinite play that I take to be present in Jewish mysticism.

As for your quote, I need to give it some more thought, but it certainly tells us that "wisdom" is not merely a cognitive enterprise but requires an engagement with one's entire soul.

Please feel free to dialogue on this and other topics further. Sanford

7/8/01, From: John Eades (

On Symbols of the Kabbalah.

Just finished wading through SYMBOLS, which merits further study, and can't wait to dig into METAPHORS.

Unbelievable and awesome! After 25+ years of studying world mysticisms, Jung, and Jewish mysticism in particular, and a recent study of the "problem of evil," your work connects a lot of loose ends and is itself a coincidentia oppositorum and mysterium coniunctionis of Kabbalistic thought. I am so pleased and blessed to have discovered your profound work and look forward to future offerings. You reinforce my conviction that an infinite Creator can only be apprehended from an infinite number of points of view. Thank you so much for the viewpoints you have been able to share. Shalom!

Author’s Response


Thank you very much for your very kind comments about my Symbols of the Kabbalah. I’m curious, how did you come to obtain my books?

That "an infinite Creator can only be apprehended from an infinite number of points of view" becomes a challenge to any "system" of thought, theosophical or philosophical that attempts to provide an account of the godhead, the world, mankind, etc. The question of maintaining the basic structure of the Lurianic "system," while at the same time respecting the postmodern deconstruction of all foundations and systems, is what is occupying me in my current work on Luria, Wittgenstein and Derrida. The key to this, it seems to me, is that the Lurianic kabbalah is, via the dialectic of Tzimtzum, Sefirot, Shevirah, and Tikkun a system that when applied to itself continually deconstructs and reinvents itself, thus continually bringing more and wider perspectives to bear on its original problematics. Again, thanks for your most kind comments: as an author I am deeply gratified by your appreciation of my work. Please feel free to dialog with me further on issues of mutual interest.


3/24/01 From H.B. On the "Unknown" and the Existence of God.

I have read your responses to my questions, and I appreciate very much
your willingness to enter into this dialog.

The responses include references that I will have to check out. However
it is clear to me that there are the makings here for a continuing
dialog, and that we will likely butt heads on some of this.

One of the areas I will be questioning has to do with your assumption
that there is a necessity or a good in certain things being unknown.
Frankly, to me that sounds like much orthodox religious effort to avoid
the issue. The fact is that there are numerous things that, as far as
most of us are concerned, we know to a certainty. "Certainty" meaning
well enough not be concerned as to the reliability of our
perception. I have never heard it said that knowing these things to a
certainty gives rise to a class of tyrants. What is special about the
subject matter of the questions I have asked that causes a different
result. I hardly thing that the divine plan was to keep us in the dark
so as to avoid the rise of tyrants.

Another area has to do with whether there is a God. Your answer
suggests that there is not a God as distinct from everything else, but
rather that all of "creation" and God are one. If I had to guess, I
would say that is likely so. However, as an element of that which has
been created I have a consciousness as I can only surmise do you and all
the other creatures I encounter. The question, which I do not think you
have addressed, is whether there is a person who is God, as I am a
person, who is HB. Does He (God) have a consciousness? Did he
willfully decide to create? Or, as I get from your comments, is this
more like a Buddhist universe, in which there is one vast life force
from which we and other creatures come and to which we return, like
moister from and to the ocean, with individuality (and therefore
consciousness) being lost upon reversion?

By the way, you have a tendency to open parentheses and not close them. This
is a grave philosophical fault or a gateway to cosmic truth, I am not
sure which.


Author's Response

More on the Axiological "Unknown"

Thanks again for your thoughtful responses and inquiries. I will try to respond to each as best as I can. First I will try to clarify my views with regard to the "good" of there being an unknown, and whether "knowing things to a certainty gives rise to a class of tyrants."

I do believe that for all practical purposes there are many things that we know for certain (although many things that past generations believed they knew for certain are now known to either be false or only approximations to the truth). Further, I am not of the opinion that we should throw up our hands cut off rational inquiry into the most important philosophical, spiritual, or ethical questions. Indeed, my books are efforts to provide rational, philosophical interpretations of Kabbalistic symbols that others, most notably Gershom Scholem, have held to be impenetrable to the rational mind (see Ch.1 of Symbols of the Kabbalah). Nevertheless, I believe that there are a class of questions, amongst which are the questions about the existence of God, the purpose of creation, and the existence of evil, about which reasonable people not only disagree, but about which we cannot even agree whether and how to go about finding the answers. (Many twentieth century philosophers—e.g. Wittgenstein—held that many such questions are to be dissolved rather than answered). In fact, I think that a philosophical question is one about which rational minds can and do disagree about at least two things: (1) whether the question has meaning, and (more importantly) (2) what criteria should be used in evaluating proposed answers. Now, certain questions that were once thought to be philosophical (e.g. certain questions about the nature of space and time) are now, for the most part, relegated to science, and others, e.g. the nature of mind, are held by some to be philosophical and others to be scientific in nature. I have no problem with science trying to take over philosophy’s territory, and I believe that scientists should attempt to reformulate certain questions that were once thought to be philosophical, in ways that they can answer. What I am opposed to is any system of belief, whether it be scientific, religious, or whatever, that holds that it has a corner on truth.

It’s not knowing (some) things to a certainty that gives rise to tyranny, but rather believing that one knows certain very important things—like what God wants, which religion holds the truth, what are the paths of salvation and damnation--that is tyranical. The Spanish Inquisition is a good example of tyranny founded upon such dogma. While certain orthodox (and liberal) apologists may attempt to obscure the challenge to religion by saying "its all mysterious and unknown," I believe the greater danger of orthodoxy is that it claims to know the roads to salvation and hell, and which of these roads you and I are traveling. My own interest is in attempting to outline the nature and limits of human knowledge with regard to so-called spiritual or metaphysical matters. I think these limits are not nearly as great as many theologians think, I think they are movable (and should be moved), but I also think that there are good epistemological and axiological reasons to believe that they can’t be eliminated altogether, and one of them, yes, is to prevent what I think is the potential tyranny of believing that one has absolute knowledge about matters of theology.

On the Existence of A Personal vs. Impersonal God

I consider the question of a "personal god" at some length in Ch. 2 of SK. There I describe how for the Kabbalists, Ein-sof is an impersonal "that" rather than a personal "I", "He" or "She", but through its engagement with and expression in a world Ein-sof becomes the "personal" God of the Bible. I describe how the actions of a tzaddik (the saintly man or woman), of a Baal Teshuvah (one who repents before his creator) and of one who pours his heart out in prayer, we actually witness the transformation of Ein-Sof into a personal deity. This very thought it expressed by the Indian poet Tulsidas (d. 1623)

There is no difference between the Personal and the Impersonal...He who is Impersonal, without form and unborn becomes Personal for love of his devotees.

I guess I believe something like this—that the potential for a personal God, like everything else, exists within the infinite being of the universe, but that it takes the personal actions, entreaties and love of men and women to actualize that potential and make the personal God real. The personal God becomes phenomenologically real in those critical life moments when one reaches out with heart, mind and soul (and somehow feels compelled) to curse, thank, praise or entreat God. At such times God becomes very personal and very real.

In order to answer your question more fully, I need to make an aside regarding the Kabbalistic doctrine of "coincidentia oppositorum," a doctrine that holds that seemingly incompatible views are not contradictory but actually mutually interdependent.

I believe that the only way we can obtain anything like a synoptic view of the world is through a procedure that is not unlike that of the Hegelian dialectic. I think we go nowhere when we try to defend one philosophical or theological position as against all others, and I believe there is a more inclusive dialectical mode of thinking that is called for in matters of philosophy and theology. T believe that through a sustained inquiry into perspectives that we had originally thought to be incompatible and even contradictory, we can come to see that certain contrasting positions, for example "God created man" and "Man created God" (I think it was Pascal who quipped ‘God created man and man returned the favor’) exist in a state of coincidentia oppositorum, or reciprocal interdependence. The physicist Neils Bohr once said that shallow truths are truths whose opposites are false, but "deep truths" are truths whose opposites are also true.

I have tried to show in my recent work on the fragmentation in contemporary psychology that different perspectives in psychology (biological, behavioral, cognitive, experiential, systems, psychoanlytic, etc.) each rest upon certain deep philosophical assumptions about the nature of mind that only appear to contradict the underlying assumptions of the other schools. The poles of these "contradictory" assumptions, e.g. "free will and determinism" "objectivism and constructivism," "individualism and collectivism," "public and private criteria for mental states," only appear to be mutually exclusive, but are rather mutually supportive and interdependent. For example, inquiry into the problem of free will and determinism reveals that without the regularity of material-causal effects free choice would be impossible. However, inquiry into how we determine the existence of specific causes (and causes in general) reveals that without the possibility of reasoning in the light of evidence (which presumes a certain freedom from material causality) we could not determine anything reliable about causality. In a recent paper I have tried to show that the different paradigms in psychology are best conceived of as alternative maps whose deep conceptual structures are interdependent ideas, thus providing a rationale for holding that each perspective is essential for a synoptic view of the whole.

I believe that something like this is at play not only in psychology but also in philosophy and theology. I believe that the perspectives arrived at by the great traditions of Eastern and Western thought may appear to be contradictory or incompatible, but are in truth based upon interdependent beliefs and assumptions. They, like the various theories in psychology, are akin to various two-dimensional maps of a "globe" that we cannot see in itself. Philosophical and theological perspectives are like different cartographic projections of the earth’s sphere (e.g. Mercator, Polar, so-called "Equal Areas"), each depicting something true about the world, but each also yielding distortions that can only be corrected through the other projections. Thus I do not wish to discard either the Indian conception of a universal life-energy, nor the Judaeo-Christian conception of a personal God, nor even an atheistic point of view from my attempt at synopsis. In this regard, I would note that the Kabbalist Azriel of Gerona (13th c.) wrote that the Infinite God (Ein-sof) is the place where faith and disbelief coincide. I like to think of Ein-sof as the point where philosophical and religious ideas pivot, or swing-over, into their opposites. I believe that the history of philosophy and religion provides us with a series of only seemingly contradictory maps of the realms of idea and spirit, and for reasons just vaguely articulated, I choose not to discard any. I believe the Lurianic Kabbalah provides a dialectical framework that enables one to be inclusive, yet rigorous and systematic in one’s eclecticism. Some of these ideas are present in SK and KM, but they will, I hope, be more clearly articulated in a book I am currently writing on Mysticism and Post-Modernism.

I sometimes worry about the ethical implications of my inclusive theology and philosophy (e.g. don’t I want to discard Hitler’s or Alfred Rosenberg’s "philosophy"?) and I have tentatively concluded that those philosophies that limit discussion and inquiry and as such are enemies of inclusiveness—are rather low on my hierarchy of valuable points of view. However, they may still be useful depictions of what the Kabbalists would speak of as "the Other Side." Further, I believe that one must, for practical purposes, operate within or out of a tradition or traditions— mine is largely constituted by Judaism and Western Philosophy/Psychology—without elevating that tradition to the level of having privileged access to the "truth." We are now, more than at any time in the past, fortunate enough to have our thinking informed by multiple traditions—and as such are in a better position than ever to articulate a more global philosophy, one, for example, that is informed by both Western and Eastern thought.

On the Philosophical Significance of "Open Parentheses"

(As for opening parentheses and not closing them. Although I hadn’t thought of this before [and am in process of correcting such errors on my website, I actually like the idea of truth as a never-ending, indeterminate aside that wanders away from the main discussion. As a psychoanalytically oriented psychologist I certainly hold that such wanderings are the means to insight in psychotherapy, and since I believe that the macrocosm mirrors the microcosm, they may very well be the means to insight into the world as well…

Kabbalah and the "Big Questions"

3/19/01 From H.B.

I have several questions:
I have received your two books. After I have finished reading
them will I be any closer to knowing:
a) Is there a Creator;
b) If so, does He view us as anything special, as distinct from
His other creations;
c) Is there life after death;
d) If so, after death is there an awareness of life before
e) Is there a grand scheme and, if so, do my dogs fit into it in
any way other than temporarily, i.e., how do their long term prospects
compare to ours, and why?
f) If life is not fair (as it obviously is not for many), does
the balance ever get readjusted to compensate those who were short

For me, the most important of these questions has to do with the existence of suffering and its unequal distribution. That is the reality from which most organized religion primarily derives both its appeal/power and its weakness.

Is it fair to say that the unknown, as you use that term, means that which cannot or probably cannot be known?

3/24/01 Author's Response

I will try to respond to at least some of your questions, beginning with the question about the "unknown."

The Nature of the Unknown in the New Kabbalah

The kind of "unknown" that I am talking about when I say that the Kabbalah has a "healthy respect for the unknown," is not so much empirical (a probable unknown) or epistemological (a logically necessary unknown) as it is moral and ethical unknown. The Kabbalists refer to their ultimate, Ein-Sof (literally "without end" or the Infinite) in negative theological terms, as that which is unknown, cannot be spoken about or characterized in any way. The contemporary philosopher, Jacques Derrida, takes up the problem of "negative theology" in several of his works—and concludes that the possibility of plurality, difference, and democracy rests upon the notion that absolute knowledge is impossible. If certain knowledge were indeed possible and one could know for certain the answers to questions about God, humanity’s purpose, the right way to live, etc. then the differences in culture, plurality of perspectives, hopes, and searching that characterize human beings in a pluralistic society would come to an end, as an elite that knew the truth would feel compelled to impose this truth on everyone. History is full of examples of those who oppressed others in the name of "truth." While there are good epistemological reasons (some broadly having to do with limitations imposed upon us by language) for holding that we can never apprehend the "transcendental object" and hence never know absolute truth, there are also compelling moral reasons for maintaining that the absolute is always, as Derrida puts it, "the impossible," beyond our reach. This view is, I believe, highly compatible with the negative theology of the Kabbalah, and, as Derrida himself intimates, with the Jewish prophetic view of God and the Messiah—as that which is always yet to come. Keeping this in mind, let’s examine some of these ultimate questions as they are addressed in the Kabbalah, and in particular in what I refer to as the New Kabbalah.

The Problem of Evil and Suffering

With respect to the question of why the righteous suffer, it is apparent to anyone who has ever experienced a terrible misfortune that theory is of little solace in the face of the actual experiences of trauma, pain and suffering. For example, one of the problems in attempting to provide a theoretical explanation of God’s seeming absence during the holocaust is that whenever we imagine the holocaust we re-experience it, and thus theory becomes completely beside the point of our anguish and rage. Acknowledging this limitation, and thereby confessing a certain impotence in our ability to rationalize evil, I will present several Kabbalistic responses/insights to this vexing problem.

Chayyim Vital, in his Sefer Etz Chayyim (the classic text of the Lurianic Kabballah) tells us that the world we live in is indeed almost entirely evil, mixed in with just a modicum of good. The contemporary Kabbalist and Talmudic commentator, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (see "The Mystic as Philosopher: An Interview With Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz" interprets Vital’s observation in the following paradoxical, but, I believe, insightful manner:

Our world is the worst of all possible worlds in which there is yet hope, and this world on the brink of disaster is paradoxically the best of all possible worlds.

Steinsaltz’s observation forms the basis for what I have, in Chapter Four of Kabbalistic Metaphors, called the "immanent solution" to the problem of evil. Briefly, according to the Kabbalah, the world was created in order to make manifest and maximize the actuality of values or in Platonic terms "the Good." As such it was formed on the basis of ten archetypal values, the Sefirot (Wisdom, Understanding, Kindness, (Moral) Judgment, Compassion, Beauty, etc. However, in order for these values to become concrete, i.e. to become something more than mere ideas, they must be actualized in a realm in which they "matter," i.e. in which they make a genuine difference. That realm, is, according to the Kabbalists, the material world, and it is precisely the terribly difficult conditions of that world and the freedom that enables humanity to make things so much worse, that elicits from individual men and women the acts of great wisdom, knowledge, love, courage, compassion, judgment etc. that fulfill the divine intention in creating a world, i.e. the realization of the good. Up to a certain point, the greater the hardship and evil in the world, the greater the potential for good. Our world exists at that asymptotic point where evil (and thus goodness) is maximized, it is the point just short of making our situation completely hopeless. Further, human freedom is such that there is a genuine possibility that humanity will fail in its endeavour to maximize the good (i.e. destroy the world, allow the Nazis to triumph). This notion is the subject of David Birnbaum’s book, God and Evil. My forward to Birnbaum’s book (God and Evil) summarizes his position, which is related to the Kabbalistic concept of "divine contraction (Tzimtzum). For the Kabbalah, the only meaningful response to the problem of evil, and hence the only meaningful response to the problem of life, is to actualize our human potential to transform evil into good, tragedy into beneficence, ignorance into knowledge, etc.

At this point one might argue that we have something like an explanation for the existence of evil in the world, but one that does not at all touch upon the patent injustice of the suffering of the innocent. To answer this we must supplement our account with what I have called the "transcendent solution." This solution, also presented in Chapter Four of Kabbalistic Metaphors (as well as Chapter Seven, pp. 324-8 of Symbols of the Kabbalah) is also predicated on the thought of Adin Steinsaltzs and the little known but important Neoplatonic philosopher: JN Findlay. Both Steinsaltz and Findlay argue that the world as we know it is shot through and through with a number of antinomies or surds that give rise to the perennial philosophical problems regarding space and time, the universal and the particular, our knowledge of "other minds," the contradiction between free will and causal necessity. As a result of these antinomies the world appears absurd, not right, somehow "out of place." These philosophers argue, that the contradictions of earthly life inexorably point to a higher realm or series of "worlds" in which matter is attenuated, where the universal blends into the particular, and where the injustices of our world are resolved. This is an admittedly speculative and complex subject, and the reader is referred to the relevant places in my books for further explication. I should point out, however, with respect to the inquiry regarding personal immortality and memory of one’s earthly existence in these upper realms, that for the Kabbalah, our individual state of existence is a necessary, but temporary, fallen and (in certain respects) illusory state that is transcended in the higher realms, so I don’t think the Kabbalah offers the sort of personal immortality that has us running about in eternity with our family and friends as if we were continuing on earth, but rather the sort where the essence of ours and their character, ours and their virtues, wisdom and love, are writ large and splendid across the heavens, in a manner that is presumably far more deeply satisfying than any satisfaction on earth. As we read in Pirket Avot (The mishnaic "Sayings of the fathers") One hour in the world to come…Interestingly, Pirket Avot also says the opposite. Both the immanent and transcendent "solutions" to the problem of evil are equally necessary, and as I describe in KM, exist in a state of coincidentia oppositorum, mutual interdependence.

Does the Kabbalah provide a "Grand Scheme" within which we can make sense of human existence?

With regard to the Kabbalist’s "grand scheme" of the universe, this would require us to go into detail regarding the Kabbalistic doctrines of the Breaking of the Vessels (Shevirat ha-Kelim) and Restoration (Tikkun), which are covered elsewhere in this website. In short, for the Kabbalah, the purpose and meaning of life is to raise those sparks of divine light, that have fallen into our world, and lay entrapped within all things, all events and all souls. Each encounter in our lives, each event, each act of self-reflection, provides us with an opportunity to either raise a spark of goodness, or to plunge the world further into darkness.

The Existence of a Creator

Here I must refer you either to Chapter Two of Symbols of the Kabbalah, or to the link to Ein-sof on this website. The Lurianic Kabbalah, as I understand it, regards the entire cosmic system of creation (Tzimtzum), existence (Sefirot) deconstruction (Shevirah) and repair (Tikkun) as a single divine reality, and does not necessarily posit a transcendent, pre-existing God, who created a world external to and independent of Himself. The world is itself part of the divine plenum, and there is a spark of divinity in all things—thus all creation, natural, human, etc. is divine.

The Kabbalistic Significance of the "Star of David"

2/17/01: From Beth

Q: What is the meaning behind the 'sign' of the star of David? There was a link given from a friend of mine which doesn't explain anything. It says (at the end) that it did show up also in 14th century somewhere in the Kabbalah... As far as I am concerned, it is the triangle (2 times) representing the macrocosmos and the microcosmos. But how would you suggest to explain that a little better (or exactly) in your philosophical way? Thank you for your answer.


2/18/01: Response

Dear Beth:

Regarding the Kabbalistic significance of the Magen David (the "Shield of David" or "Jewish Star," "hexagram"), Scholem, in his Kabbalah (Keter, Jerusalem: 1974) points out that the six pointed star is an ancient symbol in use by many cultures. He continues to explain that some have speculated that in rabbinic times it was a symbol for the planet Saturn. It begins to figure as a Jewish magical symbol in the Middle Ages, and was used as a sign by both Jewish and Christian notaries during this period. The Arabs spoke of it as the "seal of Solomon" and it was a frequent symbol used in Arabic magic. The Jews used it in magical amulets, especially those used for preventing or putting out fires. In Kabbalistic circles the hexagram came to be associated with certain names of God, including "Shaddai" and the "great 72 letter name of God."

It was around 1300 that the hexagarm began to be popularly known as the "Shield of David." In Prague it took on an official status as the symbol of the Jewish community. The alchemists used the hexagarm, which they also referred to as the "shield of David" as a symbol of the harmony between opposing principles-symbolized by the elements of fire and water. However, amongst the Kabbalists the symbol took on the connotation of the "shield of the Son of David," the Messiah. The messianic interpretation of this sign was particularly prominent amongst the followers of the 17th century false messiah, Sabbatai Sevi, for whom it became a secret symbol of messianic redemption. The widespread use of the Star of David on synagogues, ritual objects and jewelry does not occur until the 19th century, when Jews seeking to both emulate and distinguish themselves from Christians adopted it as a striking symbol that was clearly distinguishable from the Christian cross. Theodore Herzl adopted it for the early Zionist movement. Franz Rosensweig in Der Stern der Erloesung (The Star of Redemption) gave the Magen David a philosophical interpretation as a symbol uniting God, man, and the world. When the Nazis placed it on Jews as an emblem of shame and death it took on new meaning of renewed Jewish identity in the face of insufferable persecution and evil (The preceding is adapted from G. Scholem Kabbalah, p. 362-9).

While the Kabbalists used the hexagram as a symbol in many of their drawings--an example of which is reproduced on the New Kabbalah website, no clearly defined significance for it seems to have emerged. I very much like your notion that the two triangles of the star unite the microcosm and the macrocosm. One triangle can be understood as the cosmos having its origin in the mind and soul of humanity, the other triangle as humanity having its origin in the mind and soul of the cosmos--together these two "origins" creating the one divine reality. Indeed, the Zohar speaks of "two starting points" of the cosmic system, one in the heavens and the other in humankind: "Just as the Supernal Wisdom is a starting point of the whole, so is the lower world also a manifestation of Wisdom, and a starting point of the whole." (Zohar 1:153a. Sperling and Simon, The Zohar, Vol. 2, p. 89-90.)

Similarly, the hexagram can also be seen as denoting the double movement of spirituality within the Lurianic system; the first that seeks to transcend this earth in favor of a purely spiritual existence, the second which seeks the "drawing down of the divinity from above." (Schneur Zalman, Torah Or, p. 49, trans. Rachel Elior). It is only by simultaneously attempting to both transcend this world and sanctify it that the purpose of the cosmos is achieved. In fact, the effort to transcend the self and corporeal world is itself the road to sanctifying and restoring the world--for only when one has transcended oneself can one put his or her full attention to the needs of another and thereby draw down blessings from above. The double triangle of the hexagram seems to me to be a wonderful representation of this idea of man transcending himself in favor of God and God transcending Himself in favor of the world! (However, one should be warned that the goal of self-transcendence is one that is full of false starts and self-deceits, but this is a topic for another day). I would certainly be interested in learning more about the significance of the Star of David and receiving other's interpretations of this simple and beautiful symbol.

Sanford Drob

Kabbalah, Myth and Truth

2/6/01: From Don Lewis

Dr. Drob:

I have just begun reading your book "Kabbalistic Metaphors" and was struck by the concept that myth should not be judged as "true" or "false" but as "living" or not. it suggests a path for my own investigations to explore…
My question to you is how are myths to be judged in terms of "good" and "evil". One could say that the myth of Aryan supremacy was "alive" to Germans in the 30's and 40's. It has frequently been judged to be "evil" at least in part because it was "false". What then is the relationship between living and dead, good and evil, true and false, in regard to myths?
Don Lewis

2/7/01: Response

Dear Don:

Thank you very much for your very interesting letter. Forgive my lengthy response as it is neither possible to underestimate the importance of your query about myth, truth, good and evil.

Your question goes right to the heart of the ethics of any religious or other discipline that anchors itself in metaphor, myth and spiritual feeling as opposed to reason. For me, your query regarding Aryan supremacy is not merely hypothetical, as Carl Jung, whose work I have been deeply involved with, and who was, in many ways responsible for the revival of contemporary interest in myth and the spiritual value of the irrational aspects of the psyche, himself came perilously close to embracing National Socialism and spoke (albeit descriptively) of Hitler in semi-divine terms. As Jungian psychology is, to my mind, a contemporary revival of Gnosticism, alchemy, and especially the Kabbalah, one must be concerned with the question of whether an immersion in the "living truth" of the Kabbalah could itself lead to such ethically pernicious results.

I am still struggling myself with these very issues-and they will be a major theme of my next book on Jung, Kabbalism and Nazi Mysticism. However, some of my thoughts on this issue appear in Chapter One of my Symbols of the Kabbalah, and I believe underlie my work in general. While I believe that there is much to be said for MaCintyre's view that myth is either "dead" or "alive" I do not agree with this as an exhaustive definition of myth or metaphor, particularly as these pertain to the Kabbalah. In fact, I have argued against Scholem's, and at times Idel's, thesis that Kabbalistic myths have no cognitive or philosophical content and can only be "lived" rather than understood. The entire direction of my work is, in effect, to "project" the Lurianic system, into the rational sphere and examine and evaluate it as philosophy, psychology, etc. While I am not under the illusion that such projection can by any means exhaust the significance of the Kabbalah, I believe that it is absolutely necessary, precisely in order to avoid the irrationalism that can result when myth is taken in purely conative terms. In this regard I am in accord with the spirit of the Chabad Chasiddic doctrine that the emotional Sefirot (Chesed, Gevurah, Rachamim) must come under the dominion of Chochmah Binah Da'as (the ChaBaD), Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge. I believe that the Kabbalah can interact profitably with contemporary rational thought-including psychoanalysis and post-modernism, but also philosophically based ethics and politics, and empirical science.

My answer to your question is thus far very general. However, I think there are several principles intrinsic to Judaism and the Kabbalah that can help answer you a bit more specifically: Amongst these are the humbling principle, found in both the Zohar and Vital, that absolute truth is inherently unknowable and can only be approximated through ever changing metaphors; another is the midrashic notion that there are as many interpretations of Torah as there were souls who exited Egypt, a principle that is likely to foreclose any attempt to corner truth. The Kabbalists also sometimes advocated what I call the "principle of maximal differentiation." This principle is found in the writings of both Chayyim Vital and the Chabad Hasidic thinker, Rabbi Aaron Ha Levi. According to Rabbi Aaron it is a fundamental divine purpose that the world should be differentiated and revealed in each of its finite particulars and yet united in a single infinite source. A related, Kabbalistic-Hasidic principle is the notion that there are sparks of divinity or "soul" in each object, person, moment and event, and that it is the moral task of the individual , at all moments and in each of his or her encounters, to "raise the spark," or help make manifest the divinity or soul that is present in all things, persons, and (by extension) cultures. I believe that these principles each make rational/philosophical sense and that today we must invoke such principles to move towards a Judaism and Jewish mysticism that is deeply rooted in tradition but not nearly so parochial as it has been in the past.

Had Nazism been evaluated against these principles I believe it would have been found more than lacking.

Again, thanks for your very interesting and important inquiry. I would be most interested in any further ideas and comments you have in relation to this or any other topic relevant to the New Kabbalah.
S. Drob

Mitzvoth and the Sefirot / TheZohar on Dreams and Visions

1/29/01: From: Peter Nordquist ( Home page:

I sense a kindred spirit in my initial look at your website. God works through central figures/points,which usually begin small and then expand. The Lurianic Tree as well as the Natural Array Tree of the Gaon of Vilna are featured in the front of Aryeh Kaplan's "Sefer Yetzirah". When I prayed (1 hour meditation about what I should say in my prayer, 1 hour of prayer, and 1 hour of reflection about what I received in my prayer) about the correct version of the Tree Of Life, I received the vision that it was the Natural Array. My further revelation was that Yesod is number 7 and corresponds to the 7th commandment, "Don't commit adultery." Comments welcome. PN

2/4/01: Response

Peter, Thanks for writing. The Zohar does indeed speak of a correspondence between the ten Sefirot and the ten commandments, and holds that when we fulfill each commandment we are helping to perfect not only ourselves but the Sefirotic worlds on high. This is also true for each of the 613 commandments Taryag Mitzvoth that each Jew is commanded to fulfill. The Chasidim added that since one is to "Know Him in all your ways" (Prov. 3:6) one can perform an "infinite number of mitzvot" (Dov Baer, Maggid of Mezhirech, >Or Torah, 147a). I believe this would be true for both Jews and non-jews. As for the connection between the commandment regarding adultery and the Sefirah Yesod (Foundation), this certainly makes logical sense as Yesod is conceptualized in the Kabbalah as the Phallus, the masculine sexual principle that provides masculine energy for the cosmos as a whole. As you pointed out in your email to me some early Kabbalists placed Yesod in the 7th (as opposed to what later became the traditional 9th) position in the order of the Sefirot.

As for receiving "truths" through "visions" the Zohar holds that while this is certainly possible our dreams and visions are often subject to the deceit and distortion of the "other side," and it is for this reason that we must be very careful in interpreting them. While dreams and visions should never be ignored I believe it is important that they be subjected to careful scrutiny in order to separate the wheat from the straw (ZoharI: 130a, b).
S. Drob

Book Translations?

1/22/01 From: beth January 22 2001

Dear S.Drob, Thank you for your invitation to write here in your site. It will be a pleasure. I consider myself very lucky to be here with you from the very beginning of your site.The books you mention here are very new and I doubt I'll find them translated in german language...? dearest regards beth

1/22/01 : Response

Dear Beth: My books have yet to be translated into any non-English languages, but I am certainly open to any suggestions about translating them or any material I've posted on this site. S. Drob

1/22/01 From: tom altizer ( January 22 2001

Great and we certainly need this site. How well you have done!

1/22/01: Response: For those of you who do not know him, Tom Altizer is a world-renowned (should I say "post-Christian") theologian with whom I was privileged to study when I was an undergraduate at Stony Brook in 1971-3. He introduced me to Gnosticism, Hegel, Jung, Nietzsche, and many other thinkers, and personally introduced me to Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, the founder of Jewish Roconstructionism and a colleague of my own (then long-deceased) grandfather, Rabbi Max Drob (see biography under "Articles"). Dr. Altizer encouraged me to pursue my own path in Jewish faith, experience and theology. I am also indebted to him for many other things, including his radical and brilliant use of the concept of coincidentia oppositorum in connection with such polarities as theism and atheism, God and humanity, good and evil, which I subsequently "rediscovered" in Luria and the Zohar. His books, including his latest theological autobiography are available from Barnes and Thank you. Dr. Altizer, for your kind words! Sandy Drob

1/17/01: From Beth

Hello! I do have a great deal of hopes in this site! You combine everything I am interested in. I was looking for a chat and a "place" where we can write about themes (my english...?),and a Question&Answer site.Keep going... beth

1/18/01 Response :

Beth: Thanks for your kind comments on the site. Please feel free to ask questions, post your own views or email me. Sanford Drob

1/5/01 From: Amarilla ( January 5 2001

This site is great! You really did a good job on it and I'm looking forward to buying your new books (they seem wonderful).

The Lurianic Kabbalah is treated in detail in Sanford Drob's Symbols of the Kabbalah and Kabbalistic Metaphors .

If you entered this site via a search engine, and there are no "flash contents" on the left hand side of your screen, the site will function better if you click here and go directly to and follow the instructions at the bottom of your screen to either enter the site or load Flash 4, if you do not already have it.

All material on New Kabbalah website (c) Sanford L. Drob, 2001-4.


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