Kabbalah, also spelled Qabalah or Cabala, is the term traditionally used to describe the mystic and secret teachings in Judaism. The word kabbalah is derived from the Hebrew root kbl meaning ‘to receive’. In rabbinic literature kabbalah referred to any tradition received orally. Its definition changed around the 10th century CE when it started to refer more specifically to a secret form of received Jewish tradition, namely one that dealt with issues relating to the Divine names.
By the 13th century CE, as the word kabbalah became more widespread in literary sources, its significance – secret knowledge or understanding – imposed itself as the principal meaning of the term. In essence, this type of hidden, wisdom that has been conveyed over the centuries, attempts to clarify the relationship between the Divine and earthly worlds.
Kabbalistic scrolls of this type are rare and the very few that have survived are mostly from 16th-century CE Italy. This scroll contains an elaborate diagram of the kabbalistic ‘Tree of Emanations’. The interconnected circles represent the Sefirot or Ten Emanations manifesting themselves from the highest divine eternity downwards to the worldly domain. The Ten Emanations are essentially channels of Divine energy through which God created and rules the universe. A minimised version of the central diagram is found on the left-hand side, half way down the scroll.
The lower section includes representations of the Divine Throne of Glory (based on the prophet Ezekiel’s vision) and of the famous sage Rabbi Akiva entering paradise. The illustrations are accompanied by many explanatory notes based on Sefer Yetsirah (Book of Creation), and the Zohar (Book of Splendour). The former is regarded as the first kabbalistic handbook and deals with the role of letters and numbers in the Creation. God allegedly created the world with words. The Zohar explores the connection between the Divine and the worldly by way of the emanations, focusing also on the mystical and symbolic meaning of the Jewish commandments and the Torah. It provides an entirely new interpretation for prayer and Torah study.
Browse through the entire manuscript on the Digitised Manuscripts website.