A Jew must always use his intellect to understand Torah concepts. This is not akin to the pursuit of a secular philosopher. Yahadut requires man’s full intellectual involvement. At the end of the day, since there are concepts we can’t possibly understand (along with notions that the Torah prohibits us to ponder about) we are obligated to follow the tradition, even in the absence of a cognitive understanding. Our best efforts are limited. Even Moshe Rabbenu had limitations. Abandoning one’s seichal is akin to idolatry, since it leaves one vulnerable to any emotional experience or encounter.
This is not to denigrate or deny the emotions. As human beings we have emotions, and we needn’t apologize for them. But our emotions must always be guided and tempered by Torah. And Torah can only be understood with intellect. There is no such thing as Jewish mysticism. A thousand books have been written on this fictitious subject. The root of the problem is that a large number of Jews have a distorted notion that Kabbalah is a mystical system. As such, when the people behind the phenomena of an Amuqah speak in broad generalities about “practices approved of by many reputable mekubalim”, they earn a forbidden certificate of kashrut. My question invariably is this: Who are these nameless, amorphic, “mystics”?
The best way to resolve this tragic mindset is to understand definitions of concepts. Let us first define Kabbalah. The mere mention of the word conjures up perverted ideas that have no basis in authentic Jewish thought. If one wants a definition of a Torah concept, one refers to the Gedolim of Torah. The great Gaon Rav Cham Zimmerman (of blessed memory) noted the following:
“Kabala has nothing to do with mysticism. That is why all our Chachamim and Gedolei hador were against Shabtai Zvi’s fraud, deceit , and mystical absurdities. Kabala is only a continuation, a perush on all aspects and units of Halacha, how they pertain to the mental-ruchniyot worlds…..
Kabala is built on pure logic. People who are ignorant in Halacha can tell us nothing in Kabala.” (Torah and Reason, pg. 22)
Emotions Follow Intellect
In Judaism, emotions always follow knowledge, never the other way around. Practitioners of hitbodedut and shrine-hopping (shrine hoppers if you will) do the exact opposite. They construct (or deconstruct) “knowledge” based on their own primitive needs and emotions. This isn’t Judaism.
Jewish superstitions are not harmless folklore. They distance Jews from The Creator. I don’t believe that it’s better to let Jews keep their narishkeit intact. Certainly not when a particular practice involves the possible abrogation of biblical prohibitions. In this specific case, at the very least, going to Amuqah skirts the periphery of prohibitions relating to idolatry, in the form of praying to the dead. (For that matter, so does writing kvitlach to dead people.) And the periphery drops right into the abyss. If you love your fellow Jew, you will do anything within the stretch of your arm to save them.
I have tremendous sympathy for the suffering of Jews who inadvertently pursue a false path that masquerades as “holiness.” Heaven Forbid that one should feel anything but love for such unfortunates. They are not culpable for false ideas that were taught to them by those they venerate. Yet losing oneself in a false system is a Jewish tragedy, and it will not bring comfort to them. And ironically, those who pursue strange paths in order to draw nearer to the Creator, are in actuality distancing themselves from Him.
This is a critical point, and yet it can be a tremendous comfort. We have the ability to pray directly to The Almighty. What can be more comforting to Man than this constant opportunity?