A Vision of the Future: Jewish Mysticism in the Twenty-First Century

TO a large extent, the steady advance of materialism, scepticism and atheism in the modern world has seen the gradual withdrawal of the Jewish mystic, and whilst these visionaries were once fairly commonplace within their respective communities they are now part of a religious dimension that, for outsiders, is becoming increasingly more difficult to penetrate. As one writer has observed, the

Jewish mystical path is long, arduous, austere, joyous, isolated and communal, ethereal and earthly all at once. For two thousand years it was plagued by charlatanism from within and hostility from without; in modern times it has virtually disappeared. [1]

Perhaps, amid a vast proliferation of New Age claptrap, one of the few interesting sources of Jewish mysticism in the twenty-first century comes to us in the shape of Sanford L. Drob.

An accomplished psychologist, philosopher and artist, Drob is currently based at the Fielding Graduate University in California and has produced some outstanding work on the relationship between Lurianic Kabbalah and various forms of Western thought. Not only has Drob capably demonstrated that Isaac Luria’s (1534-1572) ideas can be linked with Neoplatonism, Advaita Vedanta and Zen Buddhism, but also Western thinkers such as G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831), Friedrich Schelling (1775-1854) and Hector Sabelli (1937-2012).

Using his theoretical and practical knowledge of psychology, Drob has discovered that each of these seemingly disparate scraps of philosophy and spirituality contain a common thread and that it is possible to unite them beneath the banner of what Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) described as the coincidentia oppositorum. As Drob explains:

It is important to state from the outset that the notion of the coincidence of opposites, if brought to its logical conclusion, requires that we consider even the most general philosophical oppositions to be interdependent ideas. This includes, as Jung noted, oppositions related to the coincidence of opposites itself. Thus the idea that philosophical oppositions are in coincidentia oppositorum is complemented by and interdependent with the notion that such oppositions are in conflict. While this leads to a contradiction – i.e. that the interdependence of opposites leads to a conclusion that the opposites are distinct and not interdependent – this contradiction (like other philosophical contradictions) is not fatal to the coincidentia idea but essential to it. [2]

What this process achieves, therefore, is a dissolution of opposites through which it becomes possible to formulate both a view of reality and a unification at the level of the Absolute.

As far as Jewish mysticism is concerned, this idea can be seen in the work of the first Rebbe, Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812):

[Looking] upwards from below, as it appears to eyes of flesh, the tangible world seems to be Yesh and a thing, while spirituality, which is above, is an aspect of Ayin (nothingness). [But looking] downwards from above the world is an aspect of Ayin, and everything which is linked downwards and descends lower and lower is more and more Ayin and is considered as naught truly as nothing and null. [Looking] upwards from below, as it appears to eyes of flesh, the tangible world seems to be Yesh and a thing, while spirituality, which is above, is an aspect of Ayin (nothingness). [But looking] downwards from above the world is an aspect of Ayin, and everything which is linked downwards and descends lower and lower is more and more Ayin and is considered as naught truly as nothing and null. [3]

What Zalman means by this, is that the Kabbalistic principles of Yesh (being) and Ayin (nothingness) represent a complementarity of opposites in the sense that looking upwards from the earthly realm seems to offer a radically different perspective to that of the downward interpretation of the Divine and yet they form part of the same interdependent system. Jung’s psychological approach, then, is a modern echo of the early Hasidic understanding of Kabbalah.

Zalman’s son, Rabbi Dov Baer (1704-1772), believed that everything derives its nature and power from that which is opposite to itself:

For the principle point of divine completeness is that […] in every thing is its opposite and […] that all its power truly comes from the opposing power. [4]

Later Hasidics, like Yosef Yitzhak Schneerson (1880-1950), continued the tradition of the coincidentia oppositorum by insisting that day and night are both part of the overall experience of the ‘day’ itself. He compared this to the complementarity that exists between aspects of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, such as Chesed (kindness) and Gevurah (judgement).

Drob finds traces of this dialectical idea in one or two of the German Idealists and Hegelian philosophy, in particular, bears a remarkable similarity with the teachings of Kabbalah. This is what Hegel has to say in his Science of Logic, which was published between 1812 and 1816:

Speculative thought […] consists solely in grasping the opposed moments in their unity. Inasmuch as each moments shows, as a matter of fact, that it has its opposite in it, and that in this opposite it rejoins itself, the affirmative truth is this internally self-moving unity, the grasping together of both thoughts… [5]

By utilising the work of Hegel and other nineteenth-century examples in which the timeless principle of the coincidential oppositorum is at work, both Hasidic and philosophical alike, Drob relates them to the studies of Carl Jung. We know that the Swiss psychologist had an interest in Jewish mysticism from a February 1954 letter that he sent to a Wesleyan reverend by the name of Erastus Evans (1902-1969), in which he mentions that he had recently discovered the Kabbalistic ideas of Shevirat ha-Kelim and Tikkun ha-Olam:

In a tract of the Lurianic Kabbalah, the remarkable idea is developed that man is destined to become God’s helper in the attempt to restore the vessels which were broken when God thought to create a world. Only a few weeks ago, I came across this impressive doctrine which gives meaning to man’s status exalted by the incarnation. I am glad that I can quote at least one voice in favour of my rather involuntary manifesto. [6]

Despite the fact that Jung was not familiar with the Hebrew language, towards the end of his life he took a deep interest in both Lurianic Kabbalah and the Christian Kabbalah of Christian Knorr Von Rosenroth. Indeed, in his Mysterium Coniunctionis (1954) Jung discusses the Kabbalah in some depth and refers to the Tree of Life, Adam Kadmon and the Shekhinah. He is then able to relate these concepts to his own psychological archetypes, something the Hasidim were never able to do prior to the development of psychology itself. Jung even claims that he had a series of visions inspired by the Safed mystic, Moses Cordovero (1522-1570), and was also in possession of material by Rabbi Joseph ben Abraham Gikatilla (1248-1305) that focussed on one of Jung’s own chief interests: dreams.

It was Jung’s immense fascination with Gnosticism which finally led him in the direction of Issac Luria and other Kabbalists, but there had always been something lacking in his earlier work. As Drob explains:

The major difference is that Gnosticism has no equivalent concept or symbol for the Kabbalistic notion of Tikkun ha-Olam, the restoration of the world. As we have seen, for the Gnostics (as well as for Jung in the Septem Sermones), the goal of spiritual life is not a restoration, but an escape from what they regard to be this worthless, evil world. The Gnostic identifies with the divine spark within the self in order to transcend the physical self and the material world. The Kabbalist holds a radically different view. Although there are also escapist or “Gnostic” trends within the Kabbalah, the majority of Kabbalists held that the realization of the divine spark both in the person and the material world, brings about an elevation, restoration and spiritualization of the individual and the environment. In Gnosticism the world is escaped, in the Kabbalah it is elevated and restored. The latter view is one that is much more congenial to Jungian psychology, not only on the obvious principle that for Jung life in this world, and the world itself, is worthwhile, but also with respect to the (less obvious) psychological interpretation which Jung places on the Gnostic myths. [7]

Interestingly, just as the coincidentia oppositorum results in a form of completion, so too was Jung’s own work greatly enhanced by his belated familiarity with Jewish mysticism. Psychologically, Kabbalah actually solves the dangerous problem of the multiple self by encouraging a dialectics in which our perceived opposites are incorporated within the sanctity of our own being. This imitates Kabbalah in respect of unifying the Four Worlds of Atziluth, Beri’ah, Yetzirah and Assiah that were first discussed in the mystical writings of the Merkabah-Hekhalot literature. Ultimately, the result is what Jung describes as individuation and it is through the sterling efforts of Sanford L. Drob that these important associations are finally beginning to come to light.

Although my own 2019 work, Jewish Mysticism, dealt with the Jewish mystical tradition and its path from the early days of paganism and Biblical prophecy right through to modern Kabbalah, it must also be seen in a wider perspective and, as Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi (1933-2020) rightly states:

The Work of Unification must involve contact with other spiritual traditions. At this level the outer forms of worship become less important: mystics meet in a spiritual World that is above form. A Jewish Kabbalist might converse with a Muslim Sufi or a Christian contemplative and discover the same reality beneath differing theories and practices. This unity at the spiritual level does not mean that the outer form of a tradition is redundant – each religion has its role to play – but that all human begins are made in the same Divine image. [8]

This coming-together of the Sacred and Profane is a perfect fulfilment of the Hermetic maxim ‘as above, so below’ and finally brings Jewish mysticism out of the shadows and into the wider domain of what is known as the philosophia perennis. Indeed, perhaps one day Luria and others will be discussed alongside scholars of Comparative Religion like Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) and Georges Dumézil (1898-1986), not to mention Traditionalist School aficionados such as René Guenon (1886-1951), Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998), Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877-1947), Julius Evola (1898-1974) and others.


1. Frank, Adolphe; The Kabbalah: The Religious Philosophy of the Hebrews (Lyle Stuart, 1977), p.193.

2. Drob, Sanford L.; Archetypes of the Absolute: The Unity of Opposites in Mysticism, Philosophy and Psychology (Fielding Graduate University, 2017), p.26.

3. Zalman, Schneur; Likutei Torah, Devarim, quoted in Rachel Elior’s The Paradoxical Ascent to God: The Kabbalistic Theosophy of Habad Hasidim (State University of New York Press, 1973), pp.137-8.

4. Baer, Dov; Ner Mitzvah ve-Torah Or, II, quoted in Rachel Elior’s The Paradoxical Ascent to God: The Kabbalistic Theosophy of Habad Hasidim (State University of New York Press, 1973), p.64.

5. Hegel, G.W.F.; Science of Logic (Cambridge University Press, 2010), p.122.

6. Jung, C.G.; Letters, Volume 2 (Princeton University Press, 1973), p.157.

7. Drob, Sanford L.; “Jung and the Kabbalah” in History of Psychology, Volume 2, Number 2 (1997).

8. Halevi, Z’ev Ben Shimon; Kabbalah: Tradition of Hidden Knowledge (Thames & Hudson, 1979), p.92.

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