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    The Baal Shem Tov against Kabbalah? – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. I have heard that the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, was against Kabbalah (mysticism). Could this be true?

    Title page of the Kabbalistic work, the Zohar, Mantua, 1558

    A. Though it seems strange, the answer is yes. The Baal Shem was concerned that the Kabbalah was becoming so popular because it tends to focus on metaphors. He feared that people would fail to distinguish between metaphors and reality.

    Chassidism later promoted Kabbalah by teaching that metaphors had to be understood as such. Hence it insisted on the difference between “light” (the metaphor) and shefa (the flow of Divine energy).

    It is an age-old problem in the history of religion. People should recognise that the symbol is only a path to a goal.

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