QUESTION: Is there a Kabbalistic teaching about salvation and eternal life?
Is it Kabbalistically accurate that if the soul is eternal, then the eternality of the soul does not depend upon any belief or action?
If so, then why would a Kabbalistic rabbi like Yeshua teach that salvation only comes thru a certain belief and action?
I would appreciate your clarifying this for me. Thank you.
ANSWER: Dear Jennifer,
Thank you for your inquiry.
It seems that your questions are based on a speculation that Jesus Christ was a kabbalist. At the present time, there is no scholarship or historical data (by credible historians) to support this notion. In fact the word, "Kabbalah" (to receive) was not commonly used until the 12th century CE (over 1,000 years after Christ):
"The word 'Kabbalah' is the traditional term for the esoteric teachings of Judaism and for Jewish mysticism during the Middle- Ages from the 12th century onward." (Scholem, 1974)
Therefore, during the approximate years of 1 - 33 CE, there is no evidence of an organized Kabbalistic movement in Israel. It is possible, however, that an "oral mystical tradition" may have existed in antiquity (according to Jewish folklore) based on the Torah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and possibly a "lost book" of Enoch. If this type of tradition existed, it would have been considered a form of Jewish mysticism.
During the early years of the first century CE, the Hebrew Bible would have been the primary source for esoteric teachings (prior to the Talmud). Accordingly, Jewish writings on the nature of the soul (during the lifetime of Jesus) would have been based on Hebrew texts. However, within these books, there is scant information on: the afterlife, the concept of salvation, or the eternal validity of the soul. Yet, there are a few examples of the Hebrew Bible’s philosophy on an afterlife:
"An early common theme is that death means rejoining one's ancestors. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and other patriarchs are "gathered to their people" after death (see Gen. 25:8, 25:17, 35:29, 49:33; Deut. 42:50; 2 I. 22:20). In contrast, the wicked are "cut off (carry-out) from their people" (Gen. 17:14; Ex. 31:14)."
"Other imagery emphasizes the finality of death: the dead are like dust returning to dust (Genesis; AK. 3:19-20) or water poured out on the ground (2 Samuel 14:14)."
"Another recurring biblical image of the afterlife is as a shadowy place called Sheol. It is a place of darkness (Psalm 88:13, Job 10:21, 22) and silence (Psalm 115:17), located in low places (Numbers 16:30, Ezekiel 31:14, Psalm 88:7, Lamentations 3:55; Jonah 2:7, Job 26:5). In 1 Samuel 2:6, God puts people in Sheol. In Isaiah 14:9-10, the departed in Sheol rise up to greet leaders who have now been brought low as they are."
- Rich, Robinson, & Seminarian)
To address your question about the experience of the soul in an afterlife state, the Zohar (DeLeon, 1285 CE) speaks of "a renewed utopic world of the future - the World of Resurrection (olam hat'chiah). This is the place where righteous souls go to after death - and presumably, they have been going there since the first death. This place is also called the World of Souls. It's where souls exist in a disembodied state, enjoying the pleasures of closeness to God." (Astor, 2015)
According to modern Kabbalah (post 12th century CE), The World of Resurrection is the ultimate reward (according to the Talmud). In this world "body and soul are reunited to live eternally in a truly perfected state. However, this world only comes into being after the Messiah appears on earth and will be initiated by an event known as the Great Day of Judgment (Yom HaDin HaGadol). In this place the body becomes eternal and spiritual in conjunction with the soul. (Astor, 2015)
In conclusion, detailed answers to your questions can be found in the literature from “modern” Kabbalah (1100 CE - 1700 CE). Conversely, Jewish texts from the time of Jesus (1 - 33 CE) offer only brief glimpses of an afterlife, the search for salvation, and the eternal nature of the soul.
I hope this information is helpful to you.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Thank you very much for your help.
I thought that Kabbalah went back to Abraham.
Is the World of Resurrection similar to the Christian concept?
I am interested in understanding the Kabbalistic view of the Messiah
who appears on earth to initiate the Great Day of Judgment.
Thank you for the follow-up question.
There are some Kabbalists who believe that this tradition goes back to Abraham. However, there is no scholarship to support this claim, and the Hebrew Bible does not state that Abraham had any knowledge of Kabbalah (or any esoteric oral tradition).
The concept of resurrection is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible in the Book of Daniel (12:1):
..."and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. 2 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence. 3 And they that are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn the many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever." (JPS, 2015)
This Jewish concept of resurrection carried over to Christianity and became the pivot point for a new 3-part (triune) Godhead. However, in Judaism, the Resurrection cannot occur until they believe the messiah has come.
According to Astor (2015), the Kabbalistic belief in a "World of Resurrection" (or more commonly known as The World To Come) refers to a heavenly place where righteous souls enter after death. However, this metaphysical domain will not exist until after the messiah comes and after the Resurrection takes place. So, there are differences between the Christian notion of resurrection and Jewish/Kabbalistic beliefs on this topic.
In reference to the Kabbalistic view of a messiah, "one of the principles of Jewish faith enumerated by Maimonides is that one day there will arise a dynamic Jewish leader, a direct descendant of the Davidic dynasty, who will rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, and gather Jews from all over the world and bring them back to the Land of Israel. All the nations of the world will recognize Moshiach to be a world leader, and will accept his dominion. In the messianic era there will be world peace, no more wars nor famine, and, in general, a high standard of living. All mankind will worship one G‑d, and live a more spiritual and moral way of life." (Dubov, 2015)
As for a "great day of judgement" - this is a Christian belief, and there are no reliable references that link this concept to Kabbalah. Interestingly, Kabbalah teaches that the soul returns to the earth (Gilgul) to reach a higher state of illumination. However, (Malachi 3:4-24) speaks about the "End of Days,” and continues with “Behold, I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of God.” (Meiliken, 2010).
From Kabbalistic literature, there are numerous stations in a soul’s journey which can be grouped into three general phases:
1) The wholly spiritual existence of the soul before it enters the body; physical life;
2) Post-physical life in Gan Eden (the “Garden of Eden,” also called “Heaven” and “Paradise”);
3) The “World of Resurrection/World To Come” (olam haba) that follows the resurrection of the dead."
(Yaffe & Tauber, 2015)
I hope this information is helpful for you - Bob Waxman, Ph.D.