I am Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia, one of the earliest cabalists – I hear that today Kabalah is well known because of a pop artist named Madonna. Well, I belong to very early times, the thirteenth century to be exact. I was born in 1240 at Saragossa, in Aragon and left this world in 1291. I studied the Bible and Talmud when I was very young and by age eighteen I was wandering the world after my father died. I am the founder of a unique kabbalah (mystical tradition), known as “ecstatic kabbalah” or qabbalah nevu’it. I was initially a student of the writings of Moses Maimonides and of Hillel of Verona.
I continue to talk to people till today through my writings that include Sefer haYashar (The Book of the Righteous), Sefer ha-Ot (The Book of the Sign), Or HaSechel (Light of the Intellect), Imre Shefer (Words of Beauty), Get HaShmot, Gan Na’ul]] (commentary on Sefer Yetzirah), Otzar Eden Ganuz (another commentary on Sefer Yetzirah), and Sefer HaCheshek. I have produced about twenty-six writings of which I consider twenty-two of them to be prophetical and based on my communication with God.
During my early years, I went to Palestine to find the legendary river Sambation and the lost Ten Tribes. However, I was disappointed to find that the land had been almost left barren because of the last Crusades. On my way to Rome, I stopped in Capua and studied philosophy under Hillel – more famously known as Hillel ben Samuel ben Eliezer of Verona. I was not satisfied with the philosophy I gathered though I valued the Maimonides very much. I was also eager to teach others. I wrote on cabalistic topics, philosophy and grammar and most of the time, I enjoyed being surrounded with students who were enthusiastic like me.
I had my first visions in Spain. I would like to share my experience of enlightenment with you. On the night in which this power was conferred on me, just after midnight, I worked on the Great Name of God, consisting of seventy-two names, permuting and combining it. But when I had done this for some time, the letters took on in my eyes the shape of great mountains. I trembled and felt weak. My hair stood on end, and it was as if I was in another world. Suddenly, I fell down, for my legs felt so weak. Something resembling speech emerged from my heart and came to my lips and forced them to move. I thought perhaps this is, a spirit of madness that has entered into me. But then, I found my lips uttering wisdom. I said to myself “This is indeed the spirit of wisdom.”
When I was thirty-one, I immersed myself studying the book “Yeẓirah” and the commentary of the German mystic, Eleazar of Worms. This gave me, my first taste of mysticism. I was deeply fascinated. Suddenly, letters of the alphabet, numerals, and vowel-points, all became symbols of existence. I studied the names of God, particularly of the four-lettered YHWH. I could see that different combinations and permutations of letters had an illumining power. I studied divine names and the consonants of the tetragrammaton, the symbolical employment of letters as numerals. I named my cabalistic system “prophetical cabala”.
Kabbalah – as many of you might have heard – are the secret mystical teachings of Judaism aimed at achieving union with God. Though they are founded on the Torah they are not an intellectual discipline and were traditionally transmitted orally from master to pupil. Many versions of the kabbalah exist, the oldest being the Merkabah. Classical kabbalah is sourced from the 13th century Sefer ha-Zohar (Book of Splendour) written by Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai. Every kabbalist aims to merge with God as a spiritual achievement as it brings the rest of the cosmos closer to God.
Central to the kabbalist’s practice was the ‘Tree of Life’, which he ascended symbolically through meditation. The Tree illustrated the path of reaching the Divine during one’s lifetime. The seven lower paths were Sovereignty, Foundation, Endurance, Majesty, Beauty, Loving-kindness and Judgment, and corresponded to the seven energy centers along the spine. The top three—Understanding, Wisdom and Crown (Humility)—were mystical steps to unity with God. To ascend the Tree of Life, the kabbalist visualized each path vibrating with its specific color, along with images of corresponding Hebrew letters denoting names of God (like YHVH), and planets, angels, metals, body parts and energy centers. Breath and sound were important in this.
I developed the ‘short path’ to God. This was through tzeruf – the technique of letter permutation and based on the belief that each Hebrew letter has attributes and numerical values, which when meditated upon, unify mind and body and bring the mystic in contact with higher planes of consciousness. To meditate on these letters is to meditate on all Creation, and to become one with the Whole. The tzeruf would begin at midnight and we, the mystics would write sacred letters, visualize the Tree and do breathing techniques. An ecstasy, called shefa, would descend upon is, bathing us in sensations of air, heat, and rushing water or oil. The kabbalah has always been an exclusive path to God-realization, divorced from mainstream Judaism. It is to be transmitted to only those “who were ready”.
The systems that existed earlier were inferior because they just characterized God as En-Sof (“the Being without end”), with the Sefirot as vague intermediaries, and with the doctrine of the transmigration of souls. Moreover, I consider the method of the previous system was mostly speculative. My system of understanding is based on prophetism and is based on direct communication between man and God. I desired to call myself “Berechiah,” but I had to misspell it to make it aggregate 248, the same as my given name. I used processes like notarikon (regarding each letter in a word as the initial of some other word, and so making of it an acrostic), temurah (substitution of one letter for another), and ziruf (connecting various letters of the same word) to get similar totals of names.
I felt that with such knowledge, and practice of certain rites and ascetic practices, I could become a prophet. As a prophet I did not aim to work miracles and signs, but to achieve the highest degree of perception and be able to understand deeply the nature of God, solve the puzzles of creation and the problems of human life, know the purpose of the precepts, and understand the deeper meaning of the Torah. I left the work of developing this knowledge system further to my best disciple, Joseph Chiquitilla. Looking back now, I feel I gave Cabala, a visionary turn. Owing to my influence there has been a growing tendency to juggle with the names of God and angels, and to employ gematria in its most diverse forms. And, let me add, I was the first one to include the idea of Trinity in the Cabala.
I left Spain and in 1279, in Greece, I wrote the first of my prophetic books – “Sefer ha-Yashar” (The Book of the Righteous). Then, I had an inner voice telling me to got to Rome in 1980 to effect the conversion of Pope Nicholas III on the day before New Year 5041. The Pope, hearing of my intent, immediately made arrangement to burn me at the stake near the inner gate of Suriano. But I was not deterred. I reached Suriano on August 22. As I crossed the outer gate, I received the news that the Pope had died from a stroke during the previous night.
When I returned to Rome, I was put in prison for about four week by the Minorities. I spent some time in Sicily as a prophet and Messiah. Under very difficult conditions and after traveling a lot, I compiled my book, “Sefer ha-Ot” (The Book of the Sign) on the little island of Comino, near Malta, 1285-88. In 1291 I wrote my last work “Imre Shefer” (Words of Beauty); after this guess no one knows where I went.
- Chopra, Parveen and Swati (2002). Kabbalah: Way of the Chosen One. Life Positive. Special Issue. March 2002. http://www.lifepositive.com/Spirit/god/god-realization.asp#kabala
- Abraham_Abulafia. (n.d.). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved February 14, 2007, from Reference.com website: http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/Abraham_Abulafia
- Mysticmasters.com (2006). Abraham Abulafia. http://www.mysticsmasters.com/AbrahamAbulafia.html
- Kohler, Kaufmann (2006). Abulafia, Abraham Ben Samuel. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=699&letter=A