Miracles and Magic in Jewish Kabbalah

First, The Hebrew word of a miracle is called “נס”, and for magic is “קסם”. Because man is made in the image of God he contains all four worlds, and because he has free will he can, unlike any other creature, ascend or descend in them. This possibility gives a human being the potential to operate in any world and manipulate its powers and this is the basis of magic and miracles.

However, such an event is not easy to accomplish for while a human being contains a body in which reside the soul, spirit and Divine Attributes, only this lowest and densest body is in any way organized to be manipulated by his will.

Miracles in The Bible

The reason for this is hinted at in the story of the fall from garden of eden, where Adam and Eve misused their gift of choice and were sent down into Asiyyah, to be placed under the constraint of denser physical laws, where they could do the least damage until they were mature enough to re-enter Eden.

Miracle For Humanity

Let us then begin our study of magic and miracles by examining the Asiyyatic parallel. As has been noted, the mass of humanity works under natural law and thus, while free will operates, it is confined to entirely physical matters.

For example, mankind may profoundly interfere with the ecology of the planet which is something no other Earth species can do. Indeed, our present pollution problems and nuclear war-games illustrate the power of modern science which is, in principle, a kind of Asiyyatic magic. On the more individual level, a person may tamper with his own body and produce remarkable effects normally unknown to natural man. This is also a kind of magic, if one regards magic as a working knowledge of a particular world. The key difference between pure science and magic is will and this belongs to the psyche and the Yeziratic world.

Miracle Mindset

When dealt with intelligently, the body works well and at a high pitch over a long period. This kind of performance is possible when the laws of the body are understood and its powers developed under will.

With skillful and thorough training, the body can not only out-run a horse over a great distance but carve the most delicate filigree, handle great machines and survive in places where no animal or plant could bear to live. All this is accomplished if there is the Knowledge and will.

The same principle applies to the powers of the psychological body of Yezirah except that in most people the organization of the psyche is not only vague and inefficient but usually out of trim because of misuse in the current life and probably in previous lives. This situation usually precludes any manipulative skill in, let alone consciousness of, the magical world of Yezirah.

The same situation occurs in the miraculous realm of Beriah for, while the spirit is undoubtedly present, it has no real organization beyond a general interaction of the Beriatic Sefirot. As for the Divine realm of Azilut, this remains as a remote presence, a hidden light behind a fuzzy soul and an inexperienced spirit.

Develop Miracle and Magic Capabilities

In order to practice magic or perform miracles, a human being has to develop a separate and effective organism in each World which the Will can train and then control before acquiring the powers of those Worlds. However, besides the obvious work that has to be put in to gain the knowledge, substance and power of invisible realms, there is the question of morality.

‘A man may be strong but he may not be good’, runs an old proverb. In this is contained the battle between the good and evil impulse. On the physical level, natural law takes care of justice as general providence balances things up.

Thus, nations and individuals who become excessively aggressive generate opponents who check them. Likewise, when a person or nation becomes lazy, the crises created by economic poverty or political injustice stimulate work or revolution and reform.

However, on the psychological level things are more subtle and a person may think he can abuse the laws of Yezirah and escape the consequences because they cannot be seen physically. This of course is a mistake; here too the debit and credit will manifest sooner or later in life or after death.

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On the ordinary level of mankind this process takes care of itself but, in the case of those who have developed Will and, with knowledge, power in the invisible Worlds, the situation is different for they can bring about effects of which vegetable and animal people have no notion.

An example of this was a certain enigmatic magician of the western tradition who could fascinate and frighten people by his deliberate use of the laws of Yezirah upon their psyches. While these demonstrations of the subtle powers of the mind were impressive, the magician’s motivation was open to question.

As often happens, providence withdrew his considerable potency and knowledge and genuine magic turned into illusion. He died, it is recorded, a perplexed old man who had forgotten what the point of the work was.

It is interesting to note that the Talmud states that no magician may enter Heaven; that is, that no person still immersed in Yezirah can pass beyond the guardian Cherubim into Beriah.

Such an error or misdemeanor can cost an advanced soul an important phase of its spiritual development. Real (as against conventional) morality begins with an individual’s development because, as he rises out of the lower Face of Yezirah, he acquires more power to influence not only his fellows but the Yeziratic World as a whole.

This occurs as the result of either a single -minded will to master the powers of Formation or as the natural fruit of spiritual development. If it is the latter, the morality of the person is watched over by the Malkhut of Beriah in the Self which, in conjunction with the Yeziratic Gevurah and Hesed, purifies the psyche through the psychological Judgement and Mercy of the Soul. If the person merely wishes to acquire power in the World of Angels he is no more than a magician.

A Kabbalistic Magician

A Kabbalistic magician is one who understands the laws and principles of Yezirah. By developing contact with his own psychological archetypes, he can gain access to and use the Forces and Forms of that World.

The training is long and hard and the will has to be subjected to a rigorous discipline because to fail during a crucial magical operation can cost a magician his sanity.

The practice of magic has been in existence since remote times all over the world because all people are constructed on the same psychological model despite differences in race, creed or personal temperament. The archetypes of Great Mother and Father are universal, as are the images of the Maiden and the Trickster, the Warrior and the Great King.

They occur in alchemy and astrology and, although they may appear in crude or sophisticated guises, they are the same principles that operate in the witch doctor’s ritual or on the psychologist’s couch. For most people, direct experience of them takes place in dreams when the unconscious clothes their forms to reflect the mood of the day.

The magician merely reverses the process and makes the archetypes or angelic powers flow through a system of forms he has made and so influence psychological, then physical events according to his Will.

Miracles Outside of Christianity

There is much inaccurate superstition talked and written about magic. Most of the information that is available in our culture is the dead end of a Western esoteric tradition that took aspects of Kabbalah and adopted its principles for spiritual development.

Alas, often all that is left is literally the outer form or shell, without the inner content, which people attempt to practice without any discipline or knowledge of its real purpose. A person may perform an ancient and complex ritual exactly and endlessly without any result if he does not know the purpose. However, if by chance he does evoke an archetype there is a very fair chance of his being temporarily taken over by it, as many untrained magicians have found out.

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The reason for this is a Yeziratic law that the World of Formation is not stable by nature and that those who seek power in it, unless well anchored below in Asiyyah or under the obedience of Heaven in Beriah, will be swept along by the psychological tide of their own making. The ancient story of the sorcerer’s apprentice who lost control of his spell, and Doctor Faustus’s end in demonic disintegration, are clear warnings of the cost of practicing magic without knowledge or for the wrong reasons.

In Jewish Kabbalah magic is discouraged, although an acquaintance with its principles is expected. Needless to say, there have been Kabbalistic magicians and their reputation down the ages bears out the efficacy of their skill. However, it must be repeated that to be caught in Yezirah in the process of spiritual growth is a great temptation and it is an important initiation to be aware of the powers and not be fascinated by them.

Indeed, the reason why the Talmud was so strict in its injunction that the magician will be denied entrance to Heaven was that many of the Jews of the post-Temple period were as preoccupied with magic as their Gentile neighbors. Such was the interest in the arts of Yezirah that their degenerate forms continued until quite recent times, when amulets against bad childbirth or houses burning down were brought to the West by Polish and Russian Jewish immigrants in the nineteenth century. That supernatural powers were credited to Kabbalists goes back into early history.

Besides Aaron with his rod that turned into a snake before Pharaoh’s magicians, there have been the various masters of what came to be called practical Kabbalah. The list of its practitioners ranges from users of the primitive sorcery of love potions and protections against the evil eye, through Rabbi Low of seventeenth-century Prague, who made a golem or living creature of clay, to the Baal Shem Tov, the great wonderworker of the eighteenth-century Hassidim.

Not all the accounts of the magical and miraculous events are reliable, as people often credit wonderworkers with powers they do not actually possess because they either wish to believe them to be real or, more probably, just like to hear an amazing tale. An example is the story of Rabbi Naphtali Cohen of Frankfurt who was reputed to have made the Sun shine at night.

This was probably a total misconstruction of a psychological event in a suddenly illuminated student’s mind that was reported as a literal happening. By the time the story got to the market place, the Rabbi’s reputation as a magician was made and he was subsequently accused of starting the great fire that burnt out the Frankfurt ghetto in 1711 with his practical Kabbalah experiments. Whether this particular event is true or not is irrelevant; the fact of the matter is that it is theoretically possible, if the Kabbalist has developed the ability to enter the World of Yezirah and go higher into Beriah from where he can create the conditions that will eventually manifest in Asiyyah.

Magic Is Forbidden, Miracles Are Not

At this point it is as well to define the Kabbalistic attitude to the practical use of its knowledge. While magic is forbidden, miracles are not. Magic belongs purely to Yezirah while miracles are the province of Beriah. Generally speaking, magic is used for individual purposes and miracles for meeting a public need or to achieve a cosmic aim.

Thus, it was permitted to ask the local Kabbalists in old Russia to create rain after all other methods had failed or, in time of national disaster, to ask the aid of the Archangels who watch over the nation. The methods by which the miracles were generated were never revealed, not because they were secret but because it required a high level of being and purity to be able to enter Beriah and request the help of Azilut.

The consent of God was absolutely necessary because the balance of the whole Universe might be unduly upset by the miracles. For example, we are told in one legend that God said to a poor rabbi, ‘Should I shift the balance of the World so that you can be rich? You have enough for the purpose of your life.’ So in every practical Kabbalistic operation it is the Will of God that is asked for and accepted, be it for the success or failure of the enterprise. This, to the practical Kabbalist, is the fail-safe clause that takes away the temptation of magic for personal aggrandizement and power. Indeed, the rule is that there must be no element of gain in any sense. The operation can work only if it manifests the Glory of God.

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Kabbalistic Miracles and Magic Examples

As an example of how miracles work Kabbalistically, let us take the act of faith healing so that we may see how it operates throughout the Worlds. A man with a diseased leg comes to a Master and asks if it might be healed. The Baal Shem (which means ‘Master of the Name’) may or may not be a Kabbalist. If he is not, then he has been granted the gift of unconsciously being a channel to the upper Worlds.

If he is a Kabbalist, and he agrees to help, he will proceed according to Sefirotic law. First, he will raise his own level up from the physical contact of his hands on the diseased limb, through to the psychological World of Yezirah where he will imagine the form of a healthy leg. Then he will proceed higher into the Tiferet of Beriah where he will contact, through the Keter of Yezirah, the Malkhut of Azilut. There, in the place of the God Name ADONAI, he will call upon the LORD.

Here it is important to note that the miracle is not precipitated by the correct sound of the Name, as many think, but through the Kavvanah or conscious intention of the Kabbalist. This is to say that the Kabbalist enters into the World of the Divine Attributes and petitions the ELOHIM for help in the matter concerned. If it is the Will of God and it concurs with the purpose of Heaven, a healthy limb is created in Beriah which then fills out the form already made by the Kabbalist in Yezirah. This then passes down via the Beriatic Malkhut of the Kabbalist into the simultaneous Tiferet or Self of the patient and on into the simultaneous Keter of the Asiyyatic Tree of the patient’s body. Here, the leg that has been called forth, Created and Formed is remade into a healthy limb.

The above description is Kabbalistic theory but recurring evidence reveals that the phenomenon is real. An interesting rider is that, after a time, the malady often returns which suggests that either the patient cannot hold a faith link with Beriah, which is vital in order to maintain the form and substance and so reverts to the old psychological and physical habits that created the illness, or the demonstration of the miracle has served its purpose and the Universe moves back into its original balance while the patient, having seen what can be done by the World of Spirit, determines to do it through his own effort.

This concurs with the law that while Grace is initially given to demonstrate or give a glimpse of the upper Worlds, only that won by individual merit is ever sustained. Merit is the upward evolutionary impulse, and relates directly to the level of the Kabbalist’s being on the ten rungs of Jacob’s Ladder. The highest form of practical Kabbalah is that which serves the cosmic aim of bringing all the Universe into full consciousness of itself. This is traditionally called the Work of Creation and is the reason for mankind being born into the Great Exile of the flesh. Here on Earth, Adam and Eve work to redeem not only themselves but all the Worlds of separation that seek to reunite with the Divine One of Unity.