The two primary kabbalah books are the very compact Sefer Yetzirah and the equally rarefied Zohar. Most other kabbalah books are commentaries upon these very basic kabbalah books or upon their teachings. Many kabbalah internet sites contain these works as well as a wide range of kabbalah books. The kabbalah internet sites for the Kabbalah Centre and for the Sacred Texts of Judaism are particularly accessible. The Kabbalah Centre makes the Hebrew and English Zohar available at zohar.com, while Sacred Texts of Judaism at sacred-texts.com/jud include the first English translation of the Sefer Yetzirah.
Put into writing no later than the Mishna period, the Sefer Yetzirah has six chapters (or “pirqe”, singular “pereq”); it is the first of all kabbalah books and is attributed to Avraham Avinu. The entire Hebrew text can be memorized for reflection with reasonable effort. The book traces the various permutations of significant numbers and patterns through their various applications in creation. Its primary message is that the particular marks of the one God can be traced in every experience known to man.
Pereq 1: From the 10-named God come 10 sefiroth (principles, emanations), which are witnessed throughout creation in the covenants of the hands and feet, the ten dimensions, etc. Pereq 2: The 22 letters are also principles, the foundations of all creation, categorized as 3 mothers, 7 doubles, and 12 singles. Pereq 3: The 3 mothers, alef, mem, and shin, are witnessed in three-part dialectic tensions, the three elements of air, water, and fire, etc. Pereq 4: The 7 doubles (letters which carry a second sound if pointed by dagesh) are witnessed in the seven points of a three-axis coordinate system, the sun, moon, and visible five planets, etc. Pereq 5: The 12 singles are witnessed in the twelve signs of the zodiac, the twelve months, etc. Pereq 6: The interactions between the numbers 3, 7, and 12 are described, and all are recognized as manifestations of one God and faithful King over all; Avraham Avinu is blessed by God with the revelation of this material and with the covenant.
The Zohar (or Sefer Hazohar) preserves kabbalah beliefs of the later Gemara period but was not published until around 1270 A.D. Possibly the most widely used of all kabbalah books, it describes a rich tapestry of detailed symbolic interpretation of all 54 subdivisions (parashioth) of Torah, revealed in conversations among the rabbis. Much of the commentary is taken from the Babylonian Talmud and Midrashim and adapted for its mystical setting.
The Zohar synthesizes this Torah study into an extended array of source material for kabbalah beliefs that, unlike the brief Sefer Yetzirah, can hardly be summarized comprehensively. Some of its most recurrent themes are the nature of God, the nature of souls, the order of Creation, the order of God’s chariot (the merkabah of Ezekiel 1), the reconciliation of male and female in echad, and the relationship of God and man in experience.
This overview of the most basic building blocks of cosmic symbolism can only scratch the surface. As we begin to indicate how the blocks can be put together, the excitement of combining the kabbalah beliefs into new forms will become obvious.