Kabala: While on One Foot

(Stein Atle Vere 2012. Kabala: While on One Foot. brakha.blogspot.com).

The Torá תּוֹרָה (often Torah) is the sacred scroll that forms the first five books of the Tanakh (Jewish Bible). The study of the Tora expands to include the sacred texts that apply and explain the Tora, the rest of the Tanakh, Mishna, Talmud, and so on. In its widest sense, Tora is synonymous with Yahadut (Judaism), a comprehensive spiritual heritage and way of life. During the Classical Age, the sage Hilel (Hillel) defines the essence of Tora. “It that is hateful on you, you will not do it to your companion.” This teaching summarizes the essence of the Tora legal tradition. It also summarizes the essence of the Tora spiritual tradition, Kabalá קַבַּלָה (Kabbalah).

Tree of Life
(Stein Atle Vere ©2012. Image: Kabala while Standing on One Foot. brakha.blogspot.com).
Here the Tree of Life that comprises the Ten Sfirot (Sepherot) of Kabala (Kabbalah) maps out a teaching by Hilel (Hillel),
who sumarizes “all of the Tora (Torah)” into a single sentence.
What Hilel says is the essence of all of the Tora, is likewise the essence of all of Kabala.

Kabala is Tora

Kabala is an aspect of the study of the Tora. Kabala is Yhudi spirituality. It literally means the “reception”, being an area of Tora study that each generation receives from the previous generation.

Tora tends to cluster into three areas of study: Halakha (Halachah), Agada (Aggadah), and Kabala (Kabbalah).
• Halakha is the “way” of life, the Yhudi legal tradition.
• Agada is the “tale” of life, the Yhudi narrative tradition.
• Kabala is the “reception” of life, the Yhudi spiritual tradition.

The Essence of the Tora

The book of the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) reports an incident concerning the ancient sage, Hilel (Hillel). He then summarizes the essence of the Tora. A man challenges the teachers of the Tora to explain the entirety of the Tora culture within a reasonably short amount of time, while he as a listener can remain standing on one foot.

All of the Tora while standing on one foot
(Stein Atle Vere ©2012. Hyperliteral translation, Hebrew and italic Aramaic: Talmud Bavli, Seder Moed, Msakhat Shabat 31a. brakha.blogspot.com):

Again, an (other) deed:
In (the deed of) one (Nonjewish) foreigner that came before (the sage) Shamai.
(The foreigner) said to him:
Make me a resident (adopting me into the kinship of Yisrael) on condition that you teach me all of the Tora, all of it, as I am standing on one foot.
(Shamai) pushed him (over) by the cubit (measuring stick) of the building, that is in his hand.

(The foreigner) came before (the sage) Hilel.
(Hilel) made him a resident.
(Hilel) said to him:
(It) that is hateful on you, you will not do (it) to your companion.
This (teaching), it is all of the Tora, all of it.
And all-else (in the Tora), it is (detail) explaining it.
Go conclude (the explanations, learning them by heart).

שוב מעשה
בנכרי אחד שבא לפני שמאי
ע"מ שתלמדני כל התורה כולה כשאני עומד על רגל אחת
דחפו באמת הבנין שבידו

בא לפני הלל
אמר לו
דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד
זו היא כל התורה כולה
ואידך פירושה הוא
זיל גמור

The text is originally and mostly in Hebrew. But the Talmud adds comments in Aramaic, and translates the saying by Hilel into what is already a famous rendition of the saying in Aramaic.

Whatever you hate to happen to you, dont do to others.

The Essence of Kabala

This saying that summarizes the essence of all of the Tora, is therefore also the essence of all of Kabala. Kabala is a subset of the study of the Tora.

Kabala (Jewish spirituality) is about what a person actually “does”. It is a spirituality of physical actions.

Moreover, Kabala is about what one “doesnt do”. Only certain actions have merit, those that make the world a better place. One must avoid actions that worsen the world.

It is easy to see, striving to do good actions is spiritually good.

Less obvious, refusing to do bad actions is in some ways more spiritually vital. Altho avoiding the bad actions seems like only a minimal requirement, it is a prerequisite for a community of people who are doing good actions, mutually, in a sustainable and expanding way. Bad actions disrupt the ability of the community to function. Thus even if one does good actions less often, simply avoiding bad actions is still making a real effort to maintain the good activity of a community. What the community can do cooperatively is powerful, far more powerful than the sum of the good actions that each individual can do separately.

The general rule for deciding which actions to do and which actions to avoid, is using ones own experience. What does one desire to happen to oneself? Generally, one should do the equivalent for others. What does one hate to happen to oneself? Generally, one should stop oneself from doing equivalent to others.

This general rule is all of Kabala. ALL of it. The rest of Kabala is just commentary that goes into more detail.

Tikun Olam

Whatever actions a human does to others, the universe eventually does the equivalent actions back to that human doer.

Kabala emphasizes how God creates, sustains, and maintains the universe in such away that the universe itself responds in kind. When a doer does an abundance of deeds to fulfill the desires of others, helping others become able to share, then the universe reciprocates in kind. The universe ensures an abundance of deeds happen to the doer to fulfill the doers desires to share. In other words, the doer experiences even more blessings while making an effort to share those blessings with others.

Oppositely, when a doer does actions to fulfill ones own desires in a predatory way that is hateful to other humans, this lack of sharing shuts off the blessings that is to flow toward others. Likewise, the universe itself responds in kind, to ensure a cessation of the flow of blessings toward the predator. Eventually the resources of the predator dry up.

Often this universal principle is called “karma” from the Hindu tradition. Kabala calls it Tikun Olam תיקון עולם , “the Restoration of the World”. The world is currently incomplete and requires humans to do sharing actions in order to restore it to its fully beatific potential. As individuals bless the universe, the universe likewise blesses the individuals.

The Tikun (Restoration) is a slow process requiring many humans across thousands of years. The Tikun culminates in the Days of Mashiakh (Messianic Era). Beyond that era of compassion, the Tikun will culminate in a mode of reality beyond what humans can currently imagine.

Each human makes the world a better place when making an effort to do desirable actions - and making an effort to avoid doing hateful actions.

The Greatest Desire of All

Surprisingly, we also desire the frustration of desires.

The frustrations of desire are death, poverty, isolation, disability, childlessness, and so on. The lack of blessings is opportunities built into the world. In the absence of a blessing, each individual can become a blessing. Where someone is poor, one can make an effort to share money with that person. Where someone endures a disability, one can make an effort to assist and accommodate that person. And so on.

By fulfilling the desires of others, we become as God. God fulfills desires.

It is easy to understand the concept of God as one that is “powerful”. Actually, the concept of God is one that “bestows compassionate actions” גומל חסדים . The power has no purpose except to fulfill the compassionate desires of others.

The desire to become as God is the greatest desire of all - and the reason this universe comes into existence in the first place.


The activity of Tikun Olam is evident in the “tale” about Hilel and Shamai.

This Non-Yhudi (Nonjewish) student wants to become a “resident” among the doers of the Tora, the Yhudi (Jewish) community. But his actions are mixed. On the one hand, he wants to understand the Tora and become part of the life of the Tora - good efforts. On the other hand, he lacks patience and seriousness - these are less good here.

Likewise, the universe itself mirrors his physical efforts back at him with the same mixed results. Via Shamai, the universe responds to him with impatience and lack of seriousness. Afterward, the student makes a special effort to muster some persistence. Via Hilel, the universe itself responds to him in kind, and patiently and seriously fulfills his desire.

On principle, Shamai greets every human with a friendly welcoming face. When Shamai pushes the man away with a “cubit” measuring stick, it isnt to be cruel. This a method of teaching. Putting the teaching prop into words, by the exact same measure of the hateful action that this man does - in this case expressing a lack of patience and seriousness - the universe mirrors back the same amount - in this case occassioning experiences that also lack patience and seriousness.

To the mans merit, he takes the lesson to heart and avoids taking personal offense. Instead, he makes an extra effort to become a resident among the Yhudim (Jews). Because of this, the universe blesses his efforts, and he finds Hilel who is known for his compassion and insight. Hilel succeeds in sharing the Tora in a way that can fulfill this mans desires.

Notice, the mans desires remain the same. He still wants to know the Tora in brief. But in this case, he channels his desires thru active efforts that no longer express impatience and unseriousness. Instead, his actions express his desire for deep insight so as to make sense of the bewildering details of the culture of the Tora.

Foreign Resident

According to Tora, the concept of “conversion” sotospeak is more like becoming a resident or even a citizen in another country. In the case of the Tora, the resident becomes a member of an ancient tribal kinship system. There are two different kinds of resident. (Often it is ambiguous which one is meant.) There is the “inhabiting resident” גר תושב , this is a Non-Yhudi (Nonjew) who lives as a member of a Yhudi (Jewish) community. Such person does the basic requirements of the Tora, namely the Laws of Noakh, including trusting God and doing general principles of good actions. This one remains Non-Yhudi. Note, only Yhudim (Jews) need to do the rest of the Tora, such as keeping kosher. An inhabiting resident can affiliate with the Yhudi community in any number of ways, intimately by marriage, distantly by mutual alliances, and so on. Now the other kind of resident, sotospeak, is an “altruist resident” גר צדיק . In this case, the altruism refers to the love for the Tora to the point of self-identification. This member of the Yhudi community formally becomes a Yhudi, and takes on all of the cultural activities that the Tora requires Yhudim to do and to not do. Such a person is truly Yhudi and is actually no longer a Non-Yhudi. In either case, the resident is a member of the spiritual community, is part of Am Yisrael (the kinship of Israel), and the active presence of God dwells among them, and inside them.

Tree of Life

Look at the “map” of Kabala (the illustration near the top of this post). It is a map of the spiritual states that the Tora alludes to and that the study of the Tora discovers. Kabala calls this map, the Tree of Life עץ חיים . The map has ten circles. Each circle represents a Sfira סְפִירָה (Sephirah), a distinctive spiritual state. The word Sfira literally means a “numbering”, and refers to the ability to count different ways that God interfaces the universe, despite God Godself being One. This numbering only applies to within the diversity of the creation of the universe. Of course, without creation, there is no numbering. The Tree of Life is a “theory of everything”, mapping out the states of the spiritual journey, the states of the existence of the universe, the ways God engages the universe at different states, and everything else really.

The context is, a sage summarizes the whole Tora briefly within the amount of time that a student can remain “standing on one foot”. Here four Sfirot (Sephiroth) gain emphasis to map out the Tora in brief:

• “Compassion” חסד (the one doing good deeds) on the right,
• “Overpowering” גבורה (the one not doing bad deeds) on the left,
• “Adornment” תפארת (“Do”: the one doing deeds wisely in balance) in the center,
• “Kingship” מלכות (“Desire”: the desire for deeds) below the three, is the physical world where deeds happen.

Notice, the possible deeds from above fulfill the desire below. Desire motivates action.

Technically, the word “all” כל in the phrase “all of the Tora” כל התורה corresponds to an additional Sfira in the map, the one in between Adornment saying “Do” and Kingship saying “Desire”. This is “Foundation” יסוד that channels the flow of possible actions above into the physical world below. Nevertheless, the four Sfirot around this one constitute the essence of the Tora.

While there are other spiritual states in this map - plus an endless sea of profound yet encrypted insights - the essence of Kabala is these four spiritual states. These four Sfirot organize and structure the rest of the ten.

The physical universe is also called the world of “Doing” עְַשִׂיָּה , where the activities - the “deeds” - happen. However the world of the “Doer” עֹשֶׂה - the one who does these actions - is at a higher spiritual state. This Doer is God. The actions within the physical universe are God revealing Godself by means of what are ultimately compassionate activities. (If we ask why does the universe exist rather than not exist, this fundamental axiom of abundance, of simply existing in the first place, is an aspect of the Compassion of God.)

But this “Doer” can also be each and every human individually - as a spiritual being - who freely does desirable actions and refuses to do hateful actions.