The mystical philosophy or theosophy of the Jews is called the Kabbala. The word is derived from the Hebrew Kabal, signifying to receive, because it is the doctrine received from the elders. It has sometimes been used in an enlarged sense, as comprehending all the explanations, maxims, and ceremonies which have been traditionally handed down to the Jews; but in that more limited acception, in which it is intimately connected with the symbolic science of Freemasonry, the Kabala may be defined to be a system of philosophy which embraces certain mystical interpretations of Scripture, and metaphysical speculations concerning the Deity, man, and spiritual beings. In these interpretations and speculations, according to the Jewish doctors were enveloped the most profound truths of religion, which, to be comprehended by finite beings, are obliged to be revealed through the medium of symbols and allegories. Buxtorf (Lex. Talm.,) defines the Kabbala to be a secret science, which treats in a mystical and enigmatical manner of things divine, angelical, theological, celestial, and metaphysical; the subjects being enveloped in striking symbols and secret modes of teaching. Much use is made of it in the high degrees, and entire Rites have been constructed on its principles. Hence it demands a place in any general work on Masonry.
In what estimation the Kabbala is held by Jewish scholars, we may learn from the traditions which they teach, and which Dr. Ginsburg has given in his exhaustive work, (Kabbalah, p. 84,) in the following words: "The Kabbalah was first taught by God himself to a select company of angels, who formed a theosophic school in Paradise. After the fall, the angels most graciously communicated this heavenly doctrine to the disobedient child of earth, to furnish the protoplast with the means of returning to their pristine nobility and felecity. From Adam it passed over to Noah, and then to Abraham, the friend of God, who emigrated with it to Egypt, where the patriarch allowed a portion of this mysterious doctrine to ooze out. It was in this way that the Egyptians obtained some knowledge of it, and the other Eastern nations could introduce it to their philisophical systems. Moses, who was learned in all the wisdom of Egypt, was initiated into it in the land of his birth, but became most proficient in it during his wanderings in the wilderness, which he not only devoted to it the leisure hours of the whole forty years, but recieved lessons in it from one of the angels. By the aid of this mysterious science, the lawgiver was enabled to solve the dificulties which arose during his management of the Israelites, in spit of the pilgrimages, wars, and the frequent miseries of the nation. He covertly laid down the principles of this secret doctrine in the first four books of the Pentateuch but withheld them from Deutewronomy. This constitutes the former the man, and the latter the woman. Moses also initiated the seventy elders into the secrets of this doctrine, and they again transmitted them from hand to hand. Of all who formed the unbroken line of tradition, David and Solomon were first initiated into the Kabbalah. No one, however, dared to write it down till Simon ben Jochai, who lived at the time of the destruction of the second Temple. Having been condemned to death by Titus, Rabbi Simon managed to escape with his son, and concealed himself in a cavern where he remained for twelve years. Here in this subterranean abode, he occupied himself entirely with the contemplation of the sublime Kabbalah, and was constantly visited by the prophet Elias, who disclosed to him some of its secrets, which were still concealed from the theosophical Rabbi. Here, too, his disciples resorted to be initiated by their master into these divine mysteries; and here Simon be Jochai expired with this heavenly doctrine in his mouth, whilst discoursing on it to his disciples. Scarcely had his spirit departed, when a dazzling light filled the cavern, so that no one could look at the Rabbi; whilist a buring fire appeared outside, forming as it were a sentinel at the entrance of the cave, and denying admittance to the neighbors. It was not till the light outside, and the fire outside, had disappeared, the disciples percieved that the lamp of Israel was extinguished. As they were preparing for his obsequies, a voice was heard from the heaven, saying 'Come ye to the marriage of Simon b. Jochai; he is entering into peace, and shall rest in his chamber!' A flame preceded the coffin, which seemed enveloped by and buring like fire. And when the remains were deposited in the tomb, another voice was heard from heaven, saying 'This is he who caused the earth to quake and the kingdoms to shake!' His son, R. Eliezer, and his secretary, R. Abba, as well as his disciples, then collated R. Simon b. Jochai's treaties, and out of these composed the celebrated work called Sohar i.e., Splendor, which is the grand storehouse of Kabbalism."
The Kabbala is divided into two kinds, the Practical and the Theoretical. The Practical Kabbala is occupied in instructions for the construction of talismans and amulets, and has no connection with Masonic science. The Theoretical Kabbala is again divided into the Dogmatic and Literal. The Dogmatic Kabbala id the summary of the rabbinical theosophy and philosophy. The Literal Kabbala is the science which teaches a mystical mode of explaining things by a peculiar use of the letters of words, and reference to their value. Each of these divisions demands a seperate attention.
I. THE DOGMATIC KABBALA. The origin of the Kabbala has placed by some scholars at a period posterior to the advent of Christianity, but it is evident, from the traces of it which are found in the Book of Daniel, that it arose at a much earlier day. It has been supposed to be derived originally from the system of Zoroaster, but whether its inventors were the contemporaries or the successors of that philosopher and reformer it is impossible to say. The doctrine of emanation is, says King, (Gnostics, p.10,) "the soul, the essential element of the Kabbala; it is likewise the essential element of Zoroastrianism." But as we advance in the study of each we will find important differences, showing that , while the idea of the Kabbalistic theosophy was borrowed from the Zendavesta, the sacred book of the Persian sage, it was not a copy, but a development of it.
The Kabbalistic teaching of emanation is best understood by an examination of the doctrine of the Sephiroth.
The Supreme Being, say the Kabbalists, is an absolute and inscrutable unity, having nothing without him and everything within him. He is called EN SOPH, "The Infinite One." In this infinitude he cannot be comprehended by the intellect, nor described in words intellible by human minds, so as to make his existence perceptible. It was necessary therefore, that to render him comprehensible, the En Soph should make himself active and creative. But he could not become the direct creator; because, being infinite he is without will, intention, thought, desire, or action, all of which are qualities of a finite being only. The En Soph, therefore, was compelled to create the world in an indirect manner, by ten emanations from the infinite light which he was and which dwelt. These ten emanations are the ten Sephiroth, or Splendors of the Infinite One, and the way in which they were produced was thus: At first the En Soph sent first forth into space one spiritual emanation. This first Sephira contained within it the other nine, which sprang forth in the following order: At first a male or active potency, proceeded from it , and this, the second Sephira is called Chocmah or "Wisdom." This sent forth an opposite female or passive potency, named Binah or "Intelligence." These three Sephiroth constitute the first triad, and out of them proceeded the other seven. From the junction of Wisdom and Intelligence came the fourth Sephirah, called Chesed or "Mercy." This was a male potency, and from it emanated the fifth Sephira, named Giburah or "Justice." The union of Mercy and Justice produced the sixth Sephira, Tiphereth or "Beauty;" and these three constitute the second triad. From the sixth Sephira, Nitzach or "Firmness." This was amale potency, and produced the female potency named, Hod or "Splendor." From these two proceeded, Isod or "Foundation;" and these three constituted the third triad of the Sephiroth. Lastly, from the Foundation came the tenth Sephira, called Malcuth or "Kingdom," which was at the foot of all, as the Crown was at the top.
This division of the ten Sephiroth into three triads was arranged into a form called by the Kabbalists the Kabbalistic Tree, or the Tree of Life as shown in the following diagram:
In this diagram the vertical arrangement of the Sephiroth is called "Pillars." Thus the four Sephiroth in the centre are called the "Middle Pillar;" the three on the right, the "Pillar of Mercy;" and the three on the left, the "Pillar of Justice." They allude to these qualities of God, of which the benignity of the one modifies the rigor of the other, so that the Divine Justice is always tempered by the Divine Mercy. C. W. King in his Gnostics, (p.12,) refers the right hand pillar to the Pillar Jachin, and the left hand pillar to the Pillar Boaz, which stood on the porch of the Temple; and "these two pillars," he says, "figure largely amongst all the secret societies of modern times, and naturally so; for these illuminati have bowowed without understanding it, the phraseology of the Kabbalists and the Valentinians." But an inspection the arrangement of the Sephiroth will show, if he is correct in his general reference, that he has transposed the pillars. Firmness would more naturally symbolize Boaz or Strength, as Splendor would Jachin or Establishment.
Thes ten Sephiroth are collectively denominated the archetypal man, the Microcosm, as the Greek philosophers called it, and each of them refers to a particular part of the body. Thus the Crown is the head; Wisdom the brain; and Intelligence, the heart, which was deemed the seat of understanding. These three represent the intellectual; and the first triad is therefore called the Intellectual World. Mercy is the right arm, and Justice the left arm, and Beauty is the chest. These three represent moral qualities; and hence the second triad is called the Moral World. Firmness is the right leg, Splendor the left leg, and Foundation the privates. These three represent power and stability; hence the third triad is called the Material World. Lastly, Kingdom is the feet , the basis on which all stand, and represent the harmony of the whole archrtypal man.
Again, each of these Sephiroth was represented by a Divine name and by an Angelic name, which may be thus tabulated:
These ten Sephiroth constitute in their totality the Atzilatic world or the world of emanations, and from it proceeded three other worlds, each having also its ten Sephiroth, namely, the Briatic world or the world of creation; the Jetziratic world or the world of formation; and the Ashiatic world or the world of action: each inhabited by a different order of beings. But to enter fully upon the nature of these worlds would carry us to far into the obscure mysticism of the Kabbala.
These ten Sephiroth, represented in their order of ascent from the lowest to the highest, from the foundation to the Crown, forcibly remind us of the system of Mystical Ladders which pervaded all the ancient as well as the modern initiations; the Brahmanical Ladder of the Indian mysteries; the Ladder of Mithras, used in the Persian mysteries; the Scandavian Ladder of the Gothic mysteries, and the Masonic mysteries the Ladder of Kadosh; and lastly, the Theological Ladder of the Symbolical degrees.
II. THE LITERAL KABBALA. This division of the Kabbala, being, as has already been said, occupied in the explanation of sacred words by the value of the letters of which they are composed, has been exstensively used by the inventors of the high degrees in the symbolism of their significant words. It is divided into three species: Gematria, Notaricon, and Temura.
1. Gematria. This word, is evidently a rabbinical corruption of the Greek geometria, is defined by Buxtorf to be "a species of the Kabbala which collects the same sense of different words from their equal numerical value." The Hebrews, like other ancient nations, having no figures in their language, made use of the letters of their alphabet instead of numbers, each having a numerical value. Gematria is, therefore, a mode of contemplating words according to the numerical value of their letters.
Any two words, the letters of which have the same numerical value, are mutually convertible, and each is supposed to contain the latent signification of the other. Thus the words in Genesis xlix.10, "Shiloh shall come," and of "Messiah," both have numerical value of 358, according to the above table. By Gematria, applied to the Greek language, we find the identity of Abraxas and Mithras. The letters of each word having in the Greek alphabet the equal value of 365. This is by far the most common mode of applying the literal Kabbala.
2. Notaricon is derived from the Latin notarius, a short hand writer or writer in cipher. The Roman Notarii were accustomed to use single letters, to signify whole words with other methods of abbreviation, by marks called "notae." Hence, among the Kabbalists, notaricon is a mode of constructing one word out of the initials or finals of many, or a sentence out of the letters of a word, each letter being used as the initial of another word. Thus of the sentence in Deuteronomy xxx. 12, "Who shall go up for us to heaven?" in Hebrew the initial letters of each word are taken from "circumcision," and the finals to form "Jehovah;" hence it is concluded that Jehovah hath shown circumcision to be the way to heaven. Again: the six letters of the first word in Genesis, "in the beginning," are made use of to form the initials of six words which constitute a sentence signifying that "In the beginning God saw that Israel would accept the law."
3. Temura is a rabbinical word which signifies permutation. Hence temura is a Kabbalistic result produced by a change of permutation of the letters of a word. Sometimes the letters, are transposed to from another word, as in the modern anagram; and sometimes the letters are changed for others, according to certain fixed rules of alphabetical permutation, the 1st letter being placed for the 22d, the 2d for the 21st, the 3d for the 20th, and so on. It is this way the Babel is made out of Sheshach and hence the Kabbalists say that when Jeremiah used the word Sheshach (xxv. 26) he referred to Babel.
An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry: By Albert Mackey, M.D. 1894 (pg. 389 - 392)