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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 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. This type of hidden wisdom that has been conveyed over the centuries, attempts to clarify the relationship between the Divine and earthly worlds.
Hayyim ben Joseph Vital (1542–1620), was a prominent and accomplished Jewish kabbalist and writer. Although he is best known for collating and editing the teachings of his master Rabbi Isaac Luria, he has left a prolific literary legacy of his own. Vital’s Otsrot Hayim (Treasures of life), is an important work that frames the kabbalah system and contains the additions and glosses of Moses ben Mordecai Zacuto and Nathan ben Reuben Shapira, two well-known kabbalah scholars active in the 17th century CE.
Produced most probably in Italy in the 17th century CE, this paper manuscript of Otsrot Hayim is provided with a series of elaborate kabbalistic diagrams intended to visualise some of Luria’s complex theories which were popularized in Vital’s writings. The cursive handwriting of the unidentified scribe is tricky to read.
Browse through the entire manuscript on the Digitised Manuscripts website.