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A Guide to the Hidden Wisdom of Kabbala

Chapter 4: The History of
Kabbalah and The Zohar
Part I
The first Kabbalist we know of was the patriarch Abraham. He saw the
wonders of human existence, asked questions of the Creator, and the upper
worlds were revealed to him. The knowledge he acquired, and the method
used in its acquisition, he passed on to coming generations. Kabbalah was
passed among the Kabbalists from mouth to mouth for many centuries. Each
Kabbalist added his unique experience and personality to this body of
accumulated knowledge. Their spiritual achievements were described in the
language relevant to the souls of their generation.
Kabbalah continued to develop after the Bible (the Five Books of Moses) was
written. In the period between the First and Second Temples (586 BCE – 515
BCE), it was already being studied in groups. Following the destruction of the
Second Temple (70 CE) and until the current generation, there have been
three particularly important periods in the development of Kabbalah, during
which the most important writings on Kabbalah study methods were issued.
The first period occurred during the 2nd century, when the book of The Zohar
was written by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, “the Rashbi.” This was around the
year 150 CE. Rabbi Shimon was a pupil of the famous Rabbi Akiva (40 CE –
135 CE). Rabbi Akiva and several of his disciples were tortured and killed by
the Romans, who felt threatened by his teaching of the Kabbalah. They
flayed his skin and stripped his bones with an iron scraper (like today’s
currycomb) for cleaning their horses. Following the death of 24,000 of Rabbi
Akiva’s disciples, the Rashbi was authorized by Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi
Yehuda Ben Baba to teach future generations the Kabbalah as it had been
taught to him. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and four others were the only ones
to survive. Following the capture and imprisonment of Rabbi Akiva, the
Rashbi escaped with his son, Elazar. They hid in a cave for 13 years.
Part II
They emerged from the cave with The Zohar, and with a crystallized method
for studying Kabbalah and achieving spirituality. The Rashbi reached the 125
levels man can achieve during his life in this world. The Zohar tells us that he
and his son reached the level called “Eliyahu the Prophet,” meaning that the
Prophet himself came to teach them.