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Judaism is based on the public Revelation at Sinai, when the Torah was given to Israel. The historical event of Sinai attests to the divine source and nature of the Torah, and the Torah in turn serves as the exclusive criterion for any subsequent claims and teachings.

Authentic Jewish mysticism is an integral part of Torah, and Torah determines what is authentic Jewish mysticism.

The general term for Jewish mysticism is Kabbala. Kabbala means "tradition". The Kabbala is not a compound of personal insights. It is not a collection of reports of what various sages and saints had to say on the meaning of life and ultimate values - based on their mystical experiences or visions. It is not a system born in a vacuum.

The Kabbala and its teachings - no less than the halacha - are an integral part of the Torah. They are traced back to the historical roots of Sinai, part and parcel of "Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it…."

To be sure, in various works of the Kabbala one can find reports of mystical experiences, visions, the supernatural - all those things and more which we normally link to mysticism. They are there, but they are not the essence or even a major part of the Kabbala. At best they are effects, possibilities of potential effects that may accompany a mystic's life. The authentic mystic, however, will not seek to manipulate, and will shun interference with the natural order instituted by the Creator.

The authentic mystic seeks knowledge, understanding. He wants to "Know the G-d of your father", to fulfill the precept of "You shall know this day and consider in your heart that G-d He is G-d in Heaven above and upon the earth below - there is nothing else." He seeks to realize and understand this axiom not only as an intellectual affirmation of truth but as a living reality within the limits of his capacity - profoundly sensing the literal omnipresence of G-d, with a penetrating understanding and knowledge, as much as possible.

The Authenticity of Kabbala

Kabbala is theology in the fullest sense - including ontology, cosmogony and cosmology. It is not speculative philosophy based on human insight nor theories derived from human reasoning. It is a study, as it were, of Divinity and of the relationship between G-d and His Creation, based on the premises of revealed truth.

The Kabbala takes man beyond the normative understanding of reason. It goes beyond the exoteric part of Torah and transcends normative existence. It uncovers many of the infinite layers of the secrets of life, of Creation, of the soul, of the heavenly spheres. It penetrates beyond the garments and the body of the Torah. It is the very core and soul of Torah, the ultimate revelation of Divinity - exposing the inner meaning, effects and purpose of Torah and mitzvot. The illumination emanating from the Kabbala ignites the soul of man, setting it on fire in the awareness of a deeper and higher reality. Its study and insights are themselves mystical experiences.

[from "The Mystical Dimension" Vol. I by Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet]