A Mystic Philosopher on East Broadway:
The Life and Studies of S. H. Setzer
“FOUR there were who entered pardes-the ‘garden’ of the esoteric -Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher, and Akiba. Ben Azzai looked and died. Ben Zoma looked and went mad. Acher became an apostate. Only Rabbi Akiba entered in peace and came out in peace.” So does the Talmud warn those who are tempted to study the Cabala, that body of esoteric tradition and teaching which would lift the veil from the mysteries of life and creation.
The most sacred book of the Cabala is the Zohar, which means the “Radiance” or “Shining.” Cabalists claim that the book was revealed in the 2nd century c. E. to Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai while he hid in a cave from the Romans, who then controlled Palestine. Most modern scholars, more skeptical, detect evidence of medieval authorship. They assert that most of the book was written by a Hebrew literary figure of 13th-century Spain, who merely credited his own work to the 2nd-century rabbi in order to enhance the value of the copies he was trying to sell. Whatever the authorship, the book has been sanctified by centuries of Jewish tradition as one of the holiest writings, almost equal in importance to the Bible and the Talmud. Its interpretation of the inner meaning of the Bible, and its own mystic doctrines, have lifted the souls and made fertile the imaginations of mystery-seekers of all religions.
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