A chariot for the shekhinah: Identity and the ideal life in sixteenth-century kabbalah

Journal of Religious Ethics 37 (3):385-418 (2009)
Abstract
In this paper, I seek to present the range of issues involved in the efforts of sixteenth-century kabbalists to understand the nature of selfhood, and the paths prescribed for the formation of an ideal life. I reflect on the mystical writings of Moshe Cordovero, Eliyahu de Vidas, and ayyim Vital—probing their conceptions of core identity, the polarity between body and soul, and the ethical guidance for a life well lived. In so doing, I consider the following additional themes, and their relation to the matrix of self-formation and religious identity: reincarnation and rebirth; the virtue of humility and self-effacement; the cultivation of wisdom; ideals of piety and prophetic experience; asceticism; and the spiritual transcendence of desire. In presenting this wide range of constituent themes, I argue that sixteenth-century kabbalists understood the soul to be the ultimate marker of personal identity (nuanced and complicated by the doctrine of reincarnation), and that they formulated a vision of an ideal ethics in which the human being functions as an earthly vessel for the divine presence. What is more, the preparation of that vessel required a degree of humility so extreme that the attainment of ideal personhood ultimately involved the effacement of that very identity
Keywords mysticism  self  soul  reincarnation  ethics  identity
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Moses ben Jacob Cordovero (2004). Tomer Devorah. Mosheh Daṿid Yeḥezḳel LandaʼU..

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