What is kabbalah’s gate of entry? Your first step in beginning kabbalah is your wholehearted, unequivocal commitment to pursue what is more than Self. As this is a moral duty to be recognized individually by every creature, we do not spend time here explaining why this is so, as if to convince those who disagree; instead we proclaim that this is so, to affirm those who agree. Rabbi Yehuda Berg of the Kabbalah Centre affirms that one who does not take moral responsibility for one’s actions is not a kabbalist.
In one sense the Other may be equated with the olam hazeh (Hebrew for the present cosmos or universe); this is also the teaching of pantheism. But after beginning kabbalah, you find that the kabbalistic Other transcends being a mere force to be channeled; it is experienced as intelligent and harmonious, as a matrix to be reflected. Later, your commitment will be tested and proven for its actual self-disregard and its fidelity to its pursuit.
Another way to frame this pursuit of Other in beginning-kabbalah beliefs is as Doubt in one’s ability to receive the cosmos as it is, contrasted with Faith in the ability of the cosmos to reveal itself as it is. When the very ground of experience is redefined as Other instead of Self, the “receiving” (literally, “kabbalah”) is dependent on the immediate openness or closedness of the Self, which is controlled by Will.
These seeds of self-denial are the high path of beginning kabbalah. There is also a low path of beginning kabbalah, which attracts many more but also has many more false trails. The low path is the pursuit of experiences, rather than the pursuit of Other by availing oneself to it. Pursuing harmony or deeds in themselves is not kabbalah: it is pursuit of experience of the Other, rather than pursuit of the Other on its own terms.
When adopting the means of kabbalah, particularly the technical and physical means, it will be necessary to consider motive. Superstition is of the low path, inquiry of the high path. The superstitious may still receive, but their intent hampers their receptiveness. In the Jewish population of Mishnaic times, activities widely regarded as superstitious were judged by their intents and motives, with conflicting verdicts.
According to Tosefta (Shabbat), Rabbi Meir held that carrying a crucifixion nail cured inflammation and fever; other rabbis, noting popular superstitious attachment to such nails, regarded them as “drachei Emori” (Amorite ways). The consensus was to make evidence-based judgments: “Whatever is used as a cure cannot be classed among the ways of the Amorite; but when it is not acknowledged to be for a cure, it does come within that category”.
The process of beginning kabbalah involves simultaneous transformation in three areas, knowledge, behavior, and wisdom.
Knowledge or theoretical kabbalah is called kabbalah iyunith. This begins with kabbalah beliefs and understanding of God and the cosmos, and one’s place in the cosmos. Kabbalah iyunith is what is kabbalah in reflection.
Behavior or practical kabbalah is kabbalah maasith. This begins with submitting all one’s actions to judgment for their harmoniousness and resonance. Kabbalah maasith is what is kabbalah in action.
Wisdom or prophetic kabbalah is kabbalah nevuith. This begins with availing oneself to the service of the cosmos. This self-abandonment is particularly risky to the kabbalist, in that competing spirits, attitudes, or voices conflict as to how best to serve the cosmos; beginners can easily be diverted into service of unscrupulous interests. Some say that kabbalah nevuith should not be practiced until age 40. However, kabbalah nevuith can be grown into by ordinary attempts to serve the olam hazeh: by seeking to fix what is broken and supply what is lacking (called “tikkun haolam” in Judaism).