In essence, the Kabbalah is basically just an ancient Jewish tradition of mystical interpretation of holy scriptures. That is to say, it allows for the decoding of passages in the Torah, and other sacred texts. Like most mystery schools, at first, the teachings were all transmitted orally. However, since then, they have been written down in a number of different forms, using sophisticated esoteric methods, including complex ciphers. In Hebrew, the term Kabbalah means “receiving”, in every sense of the word. It is a time-honored occult method for attaining enlightenment, that originated in Judaism, and has been handed down from master to apprentice for generations. According to Talmudic legend, it all began in the 2nd century, when Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai became a critic of Roman society. Then, fearing persecution and execution, he fled and hid for more than a decade in a cave in occupied Israel. The issue was that the Romans were violently anti-Semitic and would kill Jews for practicing their faith, so mystics had to remain hidden and their teachings had to become more and more encoded over time. As part of this, the rabbi meditated on the Torah and became a formative figure in the history of the Kabbalah.
Much later, in the 11th century, the Crusades brought forth an attempted genocide of Jews, as the Christians fought for control of the Holy Land. This created an exodus of people, who brought the Kabbalah with them in both written and oral traditions. By the 13th century, Jewish mystical teachings had spread throughout much of Europe, including what is now Spain, France, and Germany. In 1280, an influential Spanish rabbi revealed a very important Kabbalistic text entitled the Zohar, meaning “splendor” or “radiance”, depending on the translation. In many ways, this is a magnum opus of the Kabbalah, but it is written primarily in Aramaic, not Hebrew. The work combines numerology, alchemy, Bible verses, Jewish mysticism, and many other concepts, to create one of the cornerstones of Kabbalistic teachings. However, during the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century, the Jews were forced into exile yet again. As a result, the persecution brought about more secret teachings among Kabbalists. Many of those refugees migrated to the Holy Land where Orthodox Jews went to Jerusalem, while Kabbalists settled in Safed, where many believed the Messiah would someday be born.