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The Divine Orchard

I have traveled through a long dark night of the soul. As I emerge from this sacred time of exploration and wonder, I am still unable to fully understand it, yet I can share that I feel as though I have traveled through the Divine Orchard that the Kabbalists speak of…

The following is my own mystical interpretation of the famous passage of the “Four Who Entered the Divine Orchard” from the Babylonian Talmud (Hagigah 14b):

Four seekers entered the Divine Orchard. The first seeker said to the others: “When you reach the stones of marble, do not speak the words: 'water, water'...for it is said: 'You that speaketh falsehood shall not be established before my eyes.'” The second seeker gazed and died. Of this seeker it is said: “Precious in the sight of the Divine is the transcendence of physical form.” The third seeker gazed and was stricken with Holy Madness. Of this seeker it is said: “Hast thou found the sweetness? Consume that which is sufficient, or be filled to overflowing.” And the fourth seeker cut down the shoots in renunciation. In the end, only the first seeker departed in peace.

  • The first seeker sees the truth behind form, and leaves in peace.

  • The second seeker gazes at the Divine and loses body, for one cannot gaze upon that which is formless without losing form.

  • The third seeker gazes at the Divine and loses mind, for one cannot gaze upon that which is beyond thought without losing thought.

  • The fourth seeker gazes at the Divine and loses heart, for one cannot gaze upon that which is beyond love and fear without losing all attachment.

During my journey into the orchard, I felt all four forms of seeking within me: At times I felt as though I was going to die, and at other times I felt as though I was transcending my constructs of the physical universe; At times I thought I was losing my mind, and at other times I felt a loosening of my mental constructs; At times I felt myself losing heart and faith, and at other times I felt a loosening of my emotional attachments; and throughout the process I felt a soft whispering presence holding me and showing me the way through the orchard’s maze of truth and illusion.


Louis Jacobs. Jewish Mystical Testimonies. New York: Schocken Books, 1997.

Gershom Scholem. Jewish Gnosticism, Merkavah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition. New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1960.

Isidore Epstein. The Soncino Press Babylonian Talmud: Ta’anith/Megillah/Hagigah. Brooklyn, NY: The Soncino Press, 2001.




In Beginning
In The Beginning
Before The Beginning
Eternal Light
The Divine Orchard
The Awakening Self
The Divine Name
Season of Liberation
The Ten Lessons
Kabbalah Q&A




What readings or books would you suggest for studying Kabbalah this way?

What themes or ideas have been most important to you in your study? (I know this could be very complex, that there could be many, but hearing a few real questions or issues from a practicioner would be very interesting.)

My own experience comes more from the modern non-traditional approaches to Kabbalah. I've studied the Judaic Kabbalah more to understand the origins of the modern material than as an applied philosophy.

Posted by: Bill


I am struck by the clarity, and the balance of simplicity and depth of your questioning.

I find it hard to suggest specific readings or books for studying Judaic Kabbalah either on it’s own, in parallel with Esoteric Kabbalah, or as part of an integral spiritual practice. This is because it is my belief that one must seek and find the books that are seeking you. The approach I use for any of the paths I study is to follow my inner guidance and be open to the signs around me. Sometimes a book has come to me through recommendation, sometimes I have felt a book call to me energetically, and sometimes I find the books by opening them at random and reading a passage and seeing if something is calling me. All that said, here is a list of some of my favorite books on Judaic Kabbalah:

"Kabbalah – The Way of the Jewish Mystic" by Perle Epstein (A rich and deep introduction)

"Kabbalah and Exodus" by Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi (A deep exploration of the mystical beneath the biblical)

"Kabbalah – Tradition of Hidden Knowledge" by Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi (A graphical introduction and overview)

"Miraculous Living" by Rabbi Shoni Labowitz (A wonderful introduction with gentle and simple practices)

"The Essential Kabbalah" by Daniel C. Matt (A good general introduction and overview)

- And any book by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan.

The themes or ideas that have been the most important to me in my study of Kabbalah include: Kabbalah is both about cosmology and practice; the study of the cosmology is a practice in itself and opens the mind in mysterious and hidden ways; Sacred texts are multileveled documents with hidden layers of multi-dimensional meaning and truth; every prayer, every blessing, every act of seeking wisdom and truth, and every act of kindness brings more light and love into the world; and most of all Kabbalah is about becoming a vehicle for receiving Divine light and wisdom, it is about making (re-membering) oneself into a Holy Altar for the Divine Presence.

It is my belief that all mystical paths, including both Judaic and Esoteric Kabbalah, can be studied together because ultimately they speak the same language, the language of the search for the unknowable and unspeakable truth, and it is only the religious-cultural forms of the paths that appear to be discreet and different.

I hope you find these words helpful and may light and wisdom guide you on your search.

In gratitude,

- Mark

Posted by: Mark Allan Kaplan


Thank you Mark, that is an interesting book list, and except for the second Halevi, which has been fairly available, I haven't read any of them.

I note that you mention practice, which sounds similar to some of the ways I have 'studied Kabbalah', by doing meditative practices to make the ideas, themes, and patterns of the Kabbalistic material vivid in my imagination and to imprint them in my mind and thoughts. Is this the type of practice you are talking about?

I note that you also mention prayer and blessing. Are you doing an active ritual practice as well?

I have not been much affected by the ideas of traditional "textual" Kabbalah, the interpretation of sacred documents, and the like. I imagine this is more convincing for someone coming from a Jewish background or a religious background highly oriented to believe in "The Book"; my family was pretty much American agnostic. ;-}

I found your last interest the most interesting- " it is about making (re-membering) oneself into a Holy Altar for the Divine Presence.", although I prefer to use somewhat less religious language, still, the feeling of some of my practices is I think similar to what you describe. It certainly feels "Holy" when you are immersed in it. Could you speak more about this, how you approach it, what practices you might use?

Posted by: Bill


Yes, Bill, I believe that one of the ways the study of Kabbalah becomes a practice is by using the ideas, themes and patterns of the Kabbalistic cosmology as a kind of active imagination meditation template to imprint them in your mind and thoughts. Another variation of this practice I employ is using the Kabbalistic cosmology as a kind of mental-perceptual construct in my everyday life. When I am observing an experience I sometimes try to see if the pattern of the experience resonates with any of the patterns from Kabbalah and then use that awareness as a template for action. For example, when I am creating, I use the perceptual construct of the four worlds (emanation, creation, formation, and manifestation) as a way of moving through the creative process... I receive an inspiration (emanation); the inspiration unfolds into an idea or concept (creation); the idea-concept unfolds into patterns and forms (formation); and finally there is the act of expressing or extending this into the material realm (manifestation).

Another way of "practicing" Kabbalah is through the incorporation of prayer and blessings into everyday experience as a way of sanctifying the world. The ultimate goal of these practices is to reach a point of blessing everything and everyone in your life and having a prayer on your lips at all times, thus making every moment sacred. When you see a bird, a rainbow, or a child, when you hear laughter, the wind in the trees, or the ocean waves, you say a prayer of gratitude; and when you see or hear something or someone lost or in distress, you bless them and prayer for them.

The process of textual Kabbalah, the interpretation of sacred documents, might be more resonant for someone who is Jewish, but I also think anyone can benefit from it and that this form of exegetical practice can be used on the sacred texts of any tradition. When you get into the practice of perceptually digging deeper and deeper into a text, you are training your mind to look for hidden patterns and meanings. This can be extended to life experiences as well. The native traditions read nature in this way (Nature as Sacred Text), observing the movement and sounds of animals and natural forces and perceptually uncovering the hidden messages.

It is my belief that every sacred text (and life experience) has hidden messages from the higher realms, and it is part of the journey of awakening to open our eyes to these Divine signs. I use the term Divine to cover any perceptual construct we have of a higher source, force, being, intelligence or realm of existence, be it God, Jesus, Allah, the Tao, Buddha Nature, Atman, Great Spirit, Goddess, or the Force... basically that thing beyond things that is within us and beyond us.

This brings us to the question of Divine Presence. In Kabbalah this is called the Shekhinah and it is the energetic presence of the Divine. I have felt this presence in every tradition I have practiced; it is the flowing presence of the Tao, the energy of Ki, Chi, and prana. This energy feels like a presence to me because I believe it has an intelligence and an awareness that is beyond any human capacity we can imagine. This is the force of Intelligent Design that some of the scientists are now talking about. For me, the energy of this presence is experienced as I draw near to the threshold between matter and spirit. It is as though I can almost feel the vibrational level of the universe that lies just beneath the physical plane. This presence feels like a dipping into the river of dancing molecules and atoms that rushes within and around us. To me it feels wHoly...because there is a sense of whole(i)ness about it.

How one approaches this presence is through "set and setting." This is what is meant by creating a Holy Alter for the Divine Presence. All the practices of Kabbalah are designed to alter your internal set and setting; your mental, emotional and perceptual field. Many of the worlds traditions have the same intention in their mystical practices as well. It is the stilling of the mind, of the emotions, and it is the transcending of limited awareness that creates an empty space for the force to enter. Set and setting is also affected by external processes as well; physical action and movements from simple rituals like preparing a Sabbath table (as external representation of the inner altar) to mystical practices like Kabbalistic yoga or ophanim. For me it is all about setting an intentional field on all levels of being, internal and external. Externally, it can be as simple as creating a meditation space, lighting a candle, sitting in a special posture, or wearing special clothes. Internally, it can be as simple as observing the breath and as extensive as repeating a thousand names of the Divine. All practice, with the right intention, or Kavvanah, can open us to that presence which is within and around us all the time. When we are truly and fully present, and empty, and willing and open, the presence is there.

There are some specific and fairly advanced Kabbalistic practices for the transformation of one's being into this Holy Altar. An example of one of these practices is a meditative study of the designs and patterns of the Mishkan, the traveling tabernacle of the Israelites and then the performance of a visualization practice in which you visualize yourself entering the outer and inner court (your body and ego), then entering the sanctuary (your psyche and soul), then the Holy of Holies (your Higher Self). Finally, you imagine yourself standing before the Ark of the Covenant. The ark cover rises up and streams of light radiate out of the ark and fill the room with light and energy. You then imagine all this taking place in your heart of hearts and feel the light and warmth spread throughout your being. The light then spreads beyond you and out to all of creation. This is a very powerful process and must be undertaken with the purist of intentions; one must have the intention of becoming a vehicle for the light and love of Divine presence, and not seeking power in any form.

A simpler and perhaps ultimately more powerful practice for creating the container for Divine Presence is the practice of keeping the Sabbath. This practice has many forms from traditional to esoteric, but its essence is the creation of a opening in time and space for the Holy of Holies to enter our lives. All the rituals and laws around the Sabbath are designed with this intent, but these laws and rituals can also become oppressive and can actually take aware from the intent behind them. I believe all of us need a Sabbath - a day in which we set aside the energy of "doing" and embrace the energy of just "being." My own practice consists of spending one day a week (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset) in personal spiritual retreat. For one day I have no plans and make no commitments; I don't drive or buy anything; I don't turn on my computer or think about work; I just take each moment as it comes, attempting to be fully present and be in the flow of things. It has taken me years to get in the groove of this process, but it has been well worth the effort. My only guiding principles are: to discern those thoughts and activities that bring me into "doing" and then stop doing them for one day; and to discern what supports my just "being" in the moment and then just be in that space. This Sabbath-keeping-process creates an intentional field and space-time opening that translates into the creation of a Holy Altar within my being.

Another way of creating this Holy-Altar-intentional-field is to develop the stance that every encounter we have is a Holy Encounter; it is the meeting between I and Thou as Martin Buber described it; and it is that space which the great Kabbalistic Rabbi, Jesus described when he said... "When two or more are gathering in my name..." The Kabbalistic meaning of "gathering in my name" is to gather in the field of Divine Presence. Since this presence exists in all beings, the presence of two or more beings strengthens that field and makes it more accessible and palpable. The practice here is to set the intention that every encounter be used for Holy purposes, surrender all attachment to outcome, and practice seeing the Divine Presence within the person(s) around you and in the space between you. In this way, every encounter we have becomes an opportunity to establish a wHoly Altar within and around us and create a space for the Presence to be revealed.

Well the sun is setting and my Sabbath is approaching. I must go greet the Divine Presence and bathe in being-ness.

Thank you again for the gift of you’re deep questioning and passionate seeking...and for this Holy Cyber-Encounter...


Posted by: markallankaplan




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