“The purpose of the Kabbalah is fraught with misconceptions. A popular misunderstanding is that the study of Kabbalah is meant to transform one into a psychic, or perhaps a clairvoyant, capable of miraculous and otherworldly abilities. This, however, is a misconception. The ultimate purpose in the study of Kabbalah is the perfection of the Self. Making the Self into a better, more expanded individual, more transcendent, more attuned to the essence and roots of one’s soul, this is what Kabbalah comes to offer those who truly wish to receive it.
The criterion of the authentic and Kabbalistic journey is one that comes full circle and where one returns ultimately to the world of the here-and-now. The Talmud tells of four sages who entered the mystical orchard and experienced a transcendental experience. Ben Azzai gazed and died. Ben Zoma gazed and was stricken. In other words, he went insane. Acher (the other) (née Elisha Ben Avuyah) gazed and cut off his plantings, that is, transmogrified into a heretic. Rabbi Akiva entered and exited in peace. The orchard represents the higher spiritual realms. Rabbi Akiva was the only sage, amongst these four great sages, who was able to enter and exit the mystical orchard without being scarred. Being a man of great spiritual stature, a true and well balanced master, he realized that the objective is not to identify with the light and not return, physically, as Ben Azzai did, or mentally as Ben Zoma did. Nor, was it to feel personal release or ecstasy, but rather to go there and return here, with the proper wisdom to serve in the here-and-now. The journey is to come full circle into one’s day-to-day life behaviors.
Now, though, the core of all Kabbalah is the distinct goal and objective to draw down the Infinite Light from the abstract and anchor holiness into one’s day to day reality. And, the early Kabbalists were known as “Men of toil”–their exertions were not of the physical sort, rather they labored throughout their lifetimes to improve themselves and elevate their level of consciousness to the point of a spiritual perception of reality. With the arrival of Baal Shem Tov, this notion took on a new and fresh meaning. With the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, the path became ever so clear as to how this refinement could be achieved.”