Tag Archive: Sephardic

Rabbi Yaakov Hillel—A Real Kabbalist

While I am not of Sephardic decent, I have a great amount of respect for their practices and heritage. Indeed, I even enjoy praying at the occasional Sephardic Minyan and listening to the Middle Eastern incantations and melodies. Recently, I was fortunate to meet with and speak to one of the most well respected Sephardic Sages of our time-the great Rabbi Yaakov Hillel. Accordingly, I thought it would be appropriate to enlighten my readership to some of his English and Hebrew books that exude the wisdom of Judaism.

In his first book to ever be translated into English, Faith and Folly: The Occult in Torah Perspective (Tamim Tehiyah) Rabbi Yaakov Hillel, the Dean of Yeshivat Chevrat Ahavat Shalom in Jerusalem and a authoritative figure on mystical subjects, tackles the issues of superstitions, astrology, palmistry, sorcery, and other esoteric practices. In this 119 page book, Rabbi Hillel guides us clearly and concisely through the practices, telling us what is sanctioned and what is forbidden today.

It is worth noting however, that he strongly does not approve of Practical Kabbalah:

“If a person uses Practical Kabbalah…the evil that adheres to the good will cling to him. His soul which he had hoped to purify, will be sullied with evil (Faith and Folly page 45).”

“No one should use Practical Kabbalah unless he has been informed by Eliyahu Ha-Navi or shown clear signs that God wills it and his soul is suited for it (ibid page 47).”

In fact, the holy Arizal not only forbade teaching this form of Kabbalah to his disciple Rabbi Chaim Vital, but he also prohibited the use of Practical Kabbalah (Sha’ar Ha-Mitzvot, Parashat Shemot)

While there is much more that can be discussed on this topic, it is worth surveying the sources that Rabbi Hillel provides us. Quickly, we will all be able to make an educated opinion as to both our study of Torah and spiritual focus.

Additionally, another work of his that has recently been made available to the English speaking public is titled, Roni Akarah: A Guide for the Childless Couple. Whether one is religious or unaffiliated, Jewish or non-Jewish, infertility afflicts thousands of couples every year. To that end, this book is written with wisdom and sensitivity and is a treasure house of knowledge and encouragement for a Jewish husband and wife.

Finally, arguably the most recognized work of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto is Messillat Yesharim (The Path of the Just).  Nowadays however, some people feel that they can’t relate to the ebb and flow of this work. In light of the above, while many fine translations have been written for this work, the way in which Rabbi Yaakov Hillel presents and explains Luzzatto’s words in Ascending the Path, truly makes it once again relevant for our generation.

Amongst the many books that he has authored in Hebrew, I have most enjoyed the small but powerful Ad HaGal HaZeh. Rabbi Reuven Boshnack provides a nice summary of just some of the points that Rabbi Hillel discusses. Truthfully, what I benefited from the most was not just the Rabbi Hillel’s clear style of conveying esoteric concepts, but it was the organized Table of Contents that helped me navigate the work despite the complicated ideas written in Hebrew. Likewise, I enjoyed the fact that every quote was sourced and annotated to its fullest extent. Indeed, while I enjoyed the fact that the most recent English book from Rabbi Yaakov Hillel, Ascending Jacob’s Ladder, spoke to both the layperson and scholar alike, I felt that it was lacking his normal citations that apparently had been lost in translation

All in all, with thousands of Jews and non-Jews alike searching for knowledge of “Kabbalah,” but instead receiving a watered down version of pop-psychology mixed with a tea spoon of traditional Jewish mysticism, I would encourage any seeking soul to learn from the words of Rabbi Yaakov Hillel-A Real Kabbalist!

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