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Are there any seforim which serve as an introduction to learning Kabbalah? These seforim, I imagine, would give the basic terms and ideas of Kabbalah along with some explanation for the novice learner.

Any personal experience with particular seforim would be highly valuable.

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  • 11
    Try Talmud Bavli by Rabbi Ashi.
    – Double AA
    Apr 9 '19 at 21:35
  • 1
    @DoubleAA Actually I don't think he ever got Semichah, you might want to correct that title....
    – Yehuda
    Jan 27 at 23:44

11 Answers 11

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Inner Space from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (written by his students based on his teachings) is a great intro in English. He goes through the concept of ein sof, tzimtzum, the four worlds, the sefirot, partzufim etc.

Another great Sefer is Nefesh Hatzimtzum, an English translation of Nefesh Hachaim (from Rabbi Chaim Volozhin) by Rabbi Avinoam Frankel. There are extended footnotes and a second volume that gives English translation to a lot of the Kabbalah that Nefesh Hachaim is based on.

Finally there is the Sefer שפתי חן (I forget the author) which is specifically written as an intro to the Kabbalah that chassidus is based on.

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You do not specify if you are looking for an English or Hebrew book. In English, you could try The Thirteen Petalled Rose: A Discourse On The Essence Of Jewish Existence And Belief by R Adin Steinsaltz.

See also here

This new and expanded edition of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s contemporary classic, which includes two additional chapters, seeks to bring the fundamental notions of Kabbalah to an ever-growing audience of spiritual seekers.

The title of the book comes from the symbolic image used to represent the People of Israel in the opening lines of the mystical Jewish text known as the Zohar. In The Thirteen Petalled Rose (perhaps Rabbi Steinsaltz’s most famous work), he seeks to open new vistas for understanding the man-God relationship and how moral human beings should conduct their lives.

The Thirteen Petalled Rose addresses profound topics like good and evil, Divine revelation, the human soul, holiness, ethical ways of life, the Torah and its commandments, the search for the self, and the nature of spiritual worlds and their relationship to the physical. The expanded edition also features a new preface by the author, as well as new chapters on the Kabbalistic view of prayer and devotion.

Rabbi Steinsaltz’s vast knowledge of science, psychology, mysticism and philosophy come together in The Thirteen Petalled Rose as he translates the ancient concepts of Kabbalah into an intelligible language for a new generation of readers.

Alternatively, I found R Yitzchak Ginsburgh's What You Need to Know About Kabbalah to be an excellent introduction.

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  • The original Hebrew version was published as שלושה עשר עלי השושנה
    – b a
    Apr 10 '19 at 17:50
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  1. Shomer Emunim Hakadmon (Rabbi Yosef Irgas), generalities and introduction to abstract language

  2. Amud Haavodah (Rabbi Boruch Kosover), optimization of the first. Very long but very clear.

  3. Shaare Ora (Rabbi Yosef Gikitilia, a rishon), introduction to the torat hasefirot.

  4. Mishnat Chasidim (Rabbi Immanuel Chay Richi), compilation of torat Haari.

  5. Klale Hatchalat Hachochma (Arie Leyb Lipkin).Very short introduction based almost only on Ramchal and Gra. Great for memorization.

There are a lot of books, including books of Ramchal. But Ramchal writes in a very concise way and is hard to grasp. There is no classical book unanimously accepted. The main problem is to learn that kabala is to avoid confusion between abstraction of concepts and words used in common language, it's not easy to leave concrete thinking. Anyways the Shomer Emunim is almost universally accepted as the first step. There are books with definitions, as klale hatchalat hachochma, compilated from Ramchal and Gra, but in my experience they don't help as Shomer Emunim. Sefer Habrit is well known. I don't know it. Many tendencies learn Sifre Rav Chayim Vital at first, Otsrot Chayim, but with Shyur only. Some tendencies are mistrustful toward books there are not from Ramak or Ari.

Note :. I'm not able to understand Kabala, but I make efforts to learn it a little. All the sefarim in this list are from great rabbanim.

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  • Could you please fix the sentence "The main problem is to learn that kabala is abstraction and concrete thinking it's not easy to leave concrete thinking."? I would fix it, but I am not 100% sure what you are trying to say.
    – Mike
    Dec 23 '20 at 2:50
  • I mean that we have a tendency to interpret abstract concept that are called allegorically by words used in common language to describe concrete objects. When we read such words in kabala, it's hard to leave concrete representation. E.g. igul, kav, that are words used in geometry addressing 3 dimensional objects
    – kouty
    Dec 23 '20 at 4:36
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In the Even Israel printing of the Vilna Gaon's commentary to Mishlei, there is a long (50 pages or so) introduction written by the publisher, Rav Yisroel Yaakov Vidovsky, which goes through a lot of background which I found helpful as introductory knowledge. It requires strong textual skills.

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  • Any online copies you are aware of?
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Apr 11 '19 at 3:47
  • @Dr.Shmuel sorry, not that I know of. But I'm a poor internet researcher. Apr 11 '19 at 3:50
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Rb Wolbe complained about the yungerleit in the Mir learning kabbalah. He said - If you don't understand Mesillas Yesharim, then don't learn kabbalah, and proceeded to give four examples of how the Mesillas Yesharim can be understood al pi kabbalah.

See also Rb Wolbe's non-haskamah to Patterns in Time (Chanukah).

I think his point was (and I think Rav Hirsch made the same point) that you can learn technical kabbalah and know how all the words fit together, and it will mean astoundingly nothing if you do not understand the reality it represents.

Or in other words, if you don't understand the amkus of the aggadatah in Shas (nod to @DoubleAA above) or even Medrash Rabbah, then why would you bother learning kabbalah.

On this note, probably a good entry to understanding these sources at a more profound level are Pachad Yitzchak and Maharal.

After that I would probably recommend the writings of Reb Yitzchak Eizik Chaver such as Pischei Shearim (intended as an introduction to kabbalah) and his commentary on the Maalas Hatorah.

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I wouldn't buy any Kabbalah seforim. Kabbalah is really for those who learned all of Shas (Bavli and Yerushalmi) and all the Midrashim. Then when you're 40 you start with Zohar. I say that as someone who spent time at a Chabad yeshiva, got into the whole mysticism side of life, tripped out during davening, but realized it was skipping so many steps. Why not Gemarah Rashi, Tosfos first? All the Midrashim? You get the point.

You probably won't like that answer, so I would start with the following websites/online version of seforim before you buy anything:

  1. Iyyun Center for Jewish Spirituality
  2. Chabad's Kabbalah Online
  3. Sefer Yetzirah Gra's Version
  4. Pri Etz Hadar
  5. Baal HaSulam's Introduction to Zohar
  6. Shaar HaGilgulim
  7. Tikkunei Zohar
  8. Sefer HaBahir
  9. Tanya (Lessons in Tanya)
  10. Be'ur Eser S'firot

That's ten links for the ten Sefirot. Whatever you do, Kabbalah Center's stuff is considered assur by many Rabbanim, so don't refer to them or any of their content if you are Orthodox and would like to keep tumah out of your life.

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To get a basic understanding of the Kabbalistic ideas discussed in Sifrei Chassidus, שפתי חן is a fantastic Sefer that I have found tremendously beneficial for my learning of Chassidus, and it has also given a good foundation to build on for Kabbalah in general. There are shiurim available from Rabbi Yoni Levin through the YU Torah website, but the shiur stopped towards the end of the Sefer with no current plans to continue. (Note that the first few shiurim use an older print of the sefer, and at some point in the middle he switches to the newer print. The content is all there, but if you want to follow along make sure you have both copies. The older print can be found here.)

Rabbi Ephraim Goldstein also has shiurim available on ספר דעת אלקים available here. It is fast-paced, but serves as a more-than-basic introduction to Kabbalah. He also has shiurim on קל״ח פתחי חכמה (at the beginning of which he says the shiur assumes you've learned through דעת אלקים) and also on ספר עצ חיים where I believe he says it is meant for someone who has spent at least 2 years learning these inyanim.

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Yedid Nefesh is an excellent introductory sefer to Kabbalah. It goes through concepts with great examples and clear language, and it's based on the Kalach Pischei Chochmah (there's another great link for you) by the Ramcha"l. I highly recommend it.

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  1. Tomer Devorah by the RaMaK, Moshe Cordovero
  2. Books of Rabbi Nachman of Breslev. In this case you learn as you go along, like how you learn going along in Chumash. For example:

...for Ya`akov attained the bekhorah/ firstborn primacy, which is heading/beginning [REiShiYT], which is the idea of Chokhmah/ wisdom. As it is written (Ps. 111): Reishith chokhmah/ the first [is] wisdom." (Likutei Moharan, Torah 1)

and

However, since the light of the intellect is very great, it is impossible to attain it except by means of the aspect of נון [the name of the letter NUN] which is the idea of Malkhut/ kingship, as written (Ps. 72): "lifnei-shemesh yiNnoN shemo/ Let his name rule in front of the sun," and Rashi explained [yiNnoN as]: a term for Kingship..." (ibid.)

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  • "Books of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev" I'll amend this to "exclusively Likutei Moharan." The Likutei Moharan is a most excellent source to begin to understand Kabbalistic concepts. But the rest of Breslov literature, excluding perhaps the Sippurei Maasiyos, is somewhat lighter on explicit discussion of Kabbalah. In fact, the Kabbalah of the Sippurei Maasiyos is virtually impossible to find without an intimate familiarity with the subject matter.... Regardless, the Likutei Moharan has explicit discussions of Kabbalah and their practical applications.
    – Yehuda
    Oct 29 at 4:03
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This isn't answer you are looking for but the answer in "no"

If you are looking online for an introductory Sefer then kabbala isn't for you. Kabbala isn't something you learn or understand through introductory Seforim and there is a major danger in learning Kabala without the proper understanding (see Chagiga 14b and see also what the Maharsha writes there)

You need a rebbi and tremendous amounts of knowledge in other parts of Torah to understand Kabala

Also based on your name (bachur613) I'm guessing you are under forty. The Schach YD 246:6 brings down the cherem from the Vaad Arba Artzos for anyone under forty learning kabbalah.

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    Notably the Shach himself died at 40 (which considering what he accomplished is completely mind boggling)
    – Double AA
    Jan 28 at 2:53
  • Just want to note that some mekubalim never had a Rebbi. Rav Elya Weintraub has a letter where he notes this to be the case for him.
    – Bochur613
    Mar 9 at 22:07
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A good introduction book I read was Kabbalah For Dummies by Arthur Kurzweil.

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    If that is why you think kaballa is irrational, that is the biggest condemnation of the book I could possibly imagine. And to even consider kaballa for someone who is not going to study it with the utmost seriousness is totally, totally wong.
    – Mordechai
    Dec 22 '20 at 22:08
  • @Mordechai I do not comprehend what you wrote. Were you referring to me or the author? I read this book a long time ago. I answered this question because I think this is a good introductory book to kabbalah. I have no idea what you are trying to say. I don't understand your last comment at all.
    – Turk Hill
    Dec 22 '20 at 23:56

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