While kabbalah beliefs, practice, and meditation all arise simultaneously and spontaneously from the committed soul due to its resonation with the cosmos, the kabbalah beliefs are often regarded as coming first, as informing practice and meditation. True to form, we have already introduced the very core of universal kabbalah beliefs (iyunith) prior to discussing maasith and nevuith.
The foundational kabbalistic principles already discussed are regarded as relatively self-evident from Reason (those who disagree will need to harmonize their views with other studies prior to beginning kabbalah). The kabbalah beliefs built on this foundation, such as the significance placed on the four consonants of “paradise”, the 10 digits, the 22 letters, or the 72-letter verses, are not self-evident from Reason and are thus “received” from Faith in the self-evident foundation. Accepting these kabbalah beliefs as their truth is revealed through experience comes more easily when one realizes that even the self-evident truths were not always so: they too were taught to us, and all has been “received”, not self-derived.
A Jewish proselyte stated his desire to be taught only Torah without interpretation, that is, taught by Reason but not by Faith. Rabbi Hillel taught him the correct alefbeth the first day, and the second day taught it backwards as if backwards were the correct order. When the proselyte complained, Hillel said that just as he must rely on teaching for the order of the alefbeth, he must rely on it for other matters of Faith that are not self-evident.
The 10 traditional Biblical names of God are 10 manifestations of Other within the experience of Self. Recognizing that these are manifestations of one echad, the kabbalist Moses de Leon (publisher of the Zohar) denotes the echad by an 11th name, Ein Sof (the ineffable or unlimited). While this name is useful for building one’s conception, just as names like the transcendent Other, or Yahweh, a common contradiction must be avoided. “Ein Sof” is not literally a concept for that which is so ineffable as to be inconceivable. (Some Christians unconsciously use the same contradictory definition for the word “Godhead” in attempting to explain the concept of Trinity.)
The fact is that the word “inconceivable” is meaningless, because it has no referent. To link the word “inconceivable” with any referent is to conceive it. No knowledge whatsoever can be posited except about that which is conceivable; it is meaningless even to posit or conceive that “nothing can be conceived about the inconceivable”.
So by “Ein Sof”, the kabbalist literally means, not God “unmanifest”, but God manifest as mystical unity within some manifest diversity. The cosmic Other, or the Vast Interconnectedness of All Things. Sometimes a skilled kabbalist teaches about Ein Sof correctly but using technically inconsistent language; but this too is kabbalah.
These universal kabbalah beliefs lead one to regard all experience of the cosmos as a unified and intelligent story. Though Ein Sof will never be apprehended in fulness by any man (completely), all things that are apprehended are manifestations of Ein Sof (incompletely and sufficiently).
The two truths are profoundly liberating. No thing within the cosmos need be understood completely; and any thing within the cosmos may be understood to any degree of sufficiency. Even God may be understood sufficiently to any degree, whether one means Ein Sof (the Wholly Other), or one of the manifestations (such as the sefiroth). Physicists like Stephen Hawking are in search of the grand unified Theory of Everything: they can take heart that, for seekers of order within complexity, the “mind of God” is being revealed to every degree desired. Yet none but God should ever presume to know the mind of God truly.