Once read somewhere (forgot exact source, could be Shomer Emunim Hakadmon from Rabbi Yosef Irgas) that kabala was transferred from Rabbi to disciple in a long chain going to Sinai and taught secretly to special individuals (the need for secret transmission is taught in chagigah 13a), and that one must acquire it only from Rebbi to disciple.

If so, what then was the change in the discovery of the zohar, which became publicly studied? Why was this new teaching accepted since it was not received from one's Rabbi?

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    Can you clarify the Talmudic quote you refer to? I see a rabbinic prohibition/recommendation about class sizes, but nothing about the age of particular material or a guarantee that transmission of any material will continue indefinitely.
    – Double AA
    Jan 4, 2017 at 21:48
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    A help would be to refer the OP to the introduction to Sefer Shomer Emunim HaKadmon from the edition printed in the 60s, I think, in Israel. DoubleAA, didn't you have a link to that in English translation? That intro explains what he is trying to express. Jan 4, 2017 at 22:23
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    @ray Probably best to include a quote and indicate which parts of your claim actually are in the Talmud and which you assume and/or learnt elsewhere.
    – Double AA
    Jan 4, 2017 at 23:45
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    Why do you assume there was a change? What sort of change are you looking for? A change in available knowledge? The answers below are not addressing that, but rather a change in permission to disseminate knowledge, or something like that.
    – Double AA
    Jan 4, 2017 at 23:59
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    Really unclear what you are asking.
    – user6591
    Jan 5, 2017 at 1:10

2 Answers 2


I believe the Alter Rebbe (although I don't remember where) mentions that each 1,000 year period in history can be compared to one of the days of Creation. For instance, the years 0-1000 are compared to the first day of Creation, 1000-2000 are compared to the second day, 2000-3000 are compared to the third day, and on and on. The years 5000-6000, the years we live in now (5777), is compared to the sixth day of Creation, or Erev Shabbos.

Once Moshiach arrives, he will teach everyone the secrets of the Torah (kabbalah) in a way where everyone will fully understand. This is the one thousand year period (6000-7000) that is compared to Shabbos.

There is a mitzvah to taste the foods prepared for Shabbos on Friday. From this the Alter Rebbe teaches that we are allowed to "taste" so to speak the secrets of the Torah during the period of Erev Shabbos before Moshiach comes and teaches us the secrets in a true, fully explained light. This is why we can learn the Zohar openly, and there is no more secretive teaching of it from one teacher to one student.

Here is a scan of the notes I took from my rebbi concerning this principle.

enter image description here

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    I don't see how this answers the question. If the teachings of Kabbalah were all transmitted as Sinai (as the OP believes), then what changed with the "giving of the Zohar"? Are you saying that the discovery of the Zohar didn't add any new information?
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 4, 2017 at 22:49
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    This is a similar idea attributed to the Gra. Since the Zohar was written/discovered at the very beginning of the sixth millennium, it might be interesting to compare them.
    – Shimon bM
    Jan 4, 2017 at 22:59

First a disclaimer; I have not learnt much Kabbalah seforim and alot of what I will be saying is based of what my teachers told me not experience.

If you look at the very old Kabbalah seforim such as raziel hamalach, Sefer yetzirah, bahir to the average student it means nothing it simply isn't saying anything one could understand without it being taught and explained to you by somebody who already knows. Possibly, I assume once one would have a certain amount of understanding they would be able to figure it out on their own. For example the Sefer yetzirah says there are "10 sefiros, bli mah" literally 10 sefiros without anything. That tells you basically nothing.

Zohar is written very differently. It's more like a shuir on the various topics (which in fact it was, to the rashbi's students). There are moshulim and concepts are elaborated on to some extant. I am not going to say it's easy to understand, but whereas the older seforim, things are just stated as they are, Zohar tries to teach it. I would like to compare it to Mishna vs Gemara. The Mishna says in case X the din is Y. No explanation what X is or why the din would be Y. The Gemara comes and explains. Now to us the Gemara still needs much commentary but it's definitely a much more open book than the Mishna. (This is my own comparison, and definitely not a perfect one.)

So to state it philosophically. Pre Zohar kabbalah was meant only for a select few, the greatest of the generation. Post Zohar kabbalah became for everyone.

  • "to state it philosophically" Do you mean pedagogically? I don't know what you mean by philosophically.
    – Double AA
    Jan 5, 2017 at 0:00
  • I don't think this is true at all. Have you ever read any of the Zohar?? Without proper training it's extremely opaque. Even the writings of R' Hayim Vital (which explain the Zohar in accordance with the philosophy of the Arizal, and which allowed for its subsequent popularisation) are closed books to all but the initiated. Have a look at the introduction to Isaiah Tishby's 3-volume The Wisdom of the Zohar to get a sense as to just how much background knowledge is required.
    – Shimon bM
    Jan 5, 2017 at 0:00
  • @shimonbM I didn't mean to say it's like a storybook. I just meant that the targeted crowd was much wider. From trying to learn both older Kabbalah and Zohar I can tell you that the Zohar is much more down to earth. Just as an example try learning Zohar with the pirush masuk bedevash. It's concise and clear with minimal commentary. Older Kabbalah needs a lot more introduction and explanation. I will edit my answer to be more clear.
    – mroll
    Jan 5, 2017 at 0:29

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