We are often asked how it is permitted to teach Kabbalah to young and not strongly educated Jews, who are not even close to being "40 years of age and expert in Talmud and Jewish law." Did not "the Rabbis" forbid it when the student lacks the above-cited qualifications?
Let us examine the best known exposition of this, the ruling of Rambam:
"I say that it is not proper to dally in Pardes [i.e., mysticism]till one's belly is filled with 'bread and meat,' knowledge of what is permitted and what forbidden, and similar distinctions in other classes of precepts."
This quote must be understood in its context. It is found at the end of the fourth chapter of "Laws of the Torah's Foundations", the first section of his 14-volume exposition of Jewish law, Mishneh Torah. These four chapters themselves consist of an outline of "
Maaseh Merkavah" and "Maaseh Bereishit," the mystical study of the Creator and His Creation that Rambam then proceeds to restrict to accomplished Torah scholars. Yet he clearly states in his introduction to the entire work that it is for all Jews, not just for those with the above qualifications!
We can presume that Rambam's intention in discussing these topics was not to aid and abet the violation of his own ruling, but rather to demonstrate that studying these first four chapters does not constitute "strolling in Paradise," only glimpsing it. And not only does he consider this mere glimpse permissible, he places it first; the sip of "wine" should precede the meal of "bread and meat"!
His reasons are clear: this study is integral to the maximum fulfillment of the five basic Jewish mitzvot with which he chose to head his ordering and explanations of the commandments. These are to 1) know, 2) love, and 3) fear G‑d, and to realize 4) His oneness and 5) His uniqueness.
Indeed, although no principles of Judaism are more fundamental than these five, and unlike all the other positive commandments the obligation to fulfill these five is constant, very few teachers are addressing them in depth. Yet it is precisely these mitzvot that shape Judaism's unique belief system. Without proper knowledge of them, it is no wonder so many people perceive Judaism as being solely a philosophy or a system of ethics (or—heaven help us—a mere cultural/ethnic heritage). Yet the Rambam is emphatic that these commandments are not merely articles of passive faith; they necessitate study and an intense effort to comprehend the Creator.
The "mystical" teachings of the Safed kabbalists and the chassidic masters, when presented properly, constitute an important vehicle for making these basic tenets more accessible and attractive. How could a Jew possibly object to their utilization for such a purpose?
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