"Contemplative Kabbalah", or Kabbalah Iyunit, the category to which the majority of kabbalistic texts in circulation today belong, attempts to explain the process whereby, through the will of the one infinite
G‑d, the created finite realm came into being and is constantly directed.
Kabbalah Iyunit also analyzes the nature of the relationship between Creation and the divine source from which it emerges. On a deeper level, Kabbalah Iyunit explores the complex character of the divine reality itself-- in particular, the paradox of the transcendence of G‑d and the consequent inability of human thought to grasp Him at all, together with His immanence and active relationship with finite Creation.
An additional aspect of the contemplative tradition is the use of various meditative techniques to ponder the Divine and the esoteric underpinnings of the material world. These include meditations on Hebrew letter permutations and ways in which the
sefirot (supernal divine forces) harmonize and interact. Some ancient forms of kabbalistic meditation produced a visionary experience of the supernal "chambers" and the angelic beings who occupy them. This is known as the Heichalot tradition.
These techniques are also sometimes used as a means of rectifying imperfections in the soul, rather than producing spiritual knowledge or elevation.
Kabbalah Iyunit has thus been characterized as a descriptive "anatomy" of the divine reality. Kabbalah is concerned with the technical identities and "locations" of, and relationships between, the worlds (planes of reality), the sefirot (divine emanations), and the order in which they evolve from one another and affect one another in the vast chain of being, known in Kabbalah as the
seder hishtalshelut--the process by which divine energy (or "light", in kabbalistic terminology) devolves from higher spiritual planes to lower ones, eventually to become manifest in this physical plane of existence.
"Practical Kabbalah", or Kabbalah Maasit, involves techniques aimed specifically at altering natural states or events and includes techniques such as the incantation of divine names or the inscription of such names upon amulets. On occasion, these methods have been used to fashion a golem (humanoid) or some other creature. Kabbalah Maasit is meant to be employed by only the most saintly and most responsible of individuals and for no other purpose than the benefit of man or implementation of G‑d's plan in creation.
Even during the mid-16
th century in the era of the great Kabbalist
Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as the holy
Ari, there are indications of these techniques being abused by unfit practitioners. The holy Ari himself admonished his disciples to avoid the practical arts of Kabbalah, as he deemed such practices unsafe as long as the state of ritual purity necessary for service in the Holy Temple remains unattainable.
In essence, there is no clear demarcation between the contemplative elements of Kabbalah and those aimed at influencing or altering existence. As does
Kabbalah Maasit, Kabbalah Iyunit, through its system of
kavanot (guided meditations), can influence the configuration of divine forces affecting our reality. Like Kabbalah Iyunit, Kabbalah Maasit is founded upon knowledge of kabbalistic theory and doctrine.
Of course, the primary objective of Kabbalah (including
Kabbalah Iyunit) is practical-- to reveal in this world the divinity manifest in the hidden planes of reality. The ultimate intention of both types of Kabbalah is to bring the individual--and then all aspects of reality into harmony with the divine purpose for which they were initially created.
[By Moshe Miller]