Wednesday, 2 March 2011

A Tour of Jewish Mysticism: Ma'asei Bereishit


Just over a month ago I asked the question: Do you need be an expert to use Kabbalah?

Rather than answer the question now, I’d like to take you on a tour of the history of Jewish mysticism. Showing you the different schools of thought and practice through the past 2000 years. It will not be a comprehensive guide, but will hopefully provide sufficient information to show the evolution of ideas and concepts in Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism in general.

To get started let’s look at Ma'asei Bereishit: “The Workings of Creation.”

In the excellent “The Encyclopedia Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism” by Rabbi Geoffrey W. Dennis, the entry on Ma'asei Bereishit contains the following extracts:
“...Starting in antiquity, Jewish disciples of the esoteric have engaged in metaphysical speculation about the powers and events surrounding the creation of the universe. This branch of Jewish occult knowledge is called Ma'asei-Bereishit...”

“...The mishnah explicitly cautions against pursuing questions of what preceded Creation (Chagigah 2:1), though the restrictions they impose on learning Ma'asei Bereishit are slightly less stringent than those surrounding inquiring into the other branch of Jewish esotericism, the Ma'asei Merkavah...”

“...The tract Sefer Yetzirah is clearly the major work of Ma'asei Bereishit and its influence is so significant that over eighty commentaries on it – philosophical, mystical, and magical – presently exist...”
So in previous postings when I refer to Ma'asei Bereishit or add this label to the posting, I’m really referencing Sefer Yetzirah rather than any of the very few other texts that deal with Ma'asei Bereishit.

Rather than republish a lot of information about Ma'asei Bereishit and Sefer Yetzirah, here are a few links for those who want to do additional reading:
The next part of answering the question “Do you need be an expert to use Kabbalah?” will be an introduction to Ma’asei Merkavah “The Workings of the Chariot” that delves in to the visions of Ezekiel and Isaiah.