Mysticism During Talmudic Times

During the time when the Talmud was set in writing, it seems that the rabbis were very cautious about mysticism. While some deigned to speak about Kabbalah, others were quick to tamp down the desire to explore the mystic side of things. There was some speculation among the rabbis of the Land of Israel during the era of the Talmud that matter existed prior to Creation. However, the head of the Sanhedrin at that time, Rabban Gamliel II also known as Gamliel of Yavneh, held a dissenting view and accepted on faith that prior to Creation, all was "null and void."

Not Enclosed

The kabbalists who lived during the Talmudic period made the clear statement that, "God is the dwelling-place of the universe; but the universe is not the dwelling-place of God." Perhaps it was this contention that led to the Talmudic and Midrashic references to God as being called: HaMakom (the place). Philo commented that the reason for this designation is due to the fact that "…God encloses the universe but is Himself, not enclosed by anything." (De Somniis, i. 11).

Bipolar Nature

Despite the tiptoeing around the issue of mysticism at this time, there was recognition that God had two attributes: Midat HaDin, or the attribute of justice, and Midat HaRahamim, or the attribute of mercy. Because of these early commentaries on the nature of God, the bipolar nature of these attributes is emphasized as basic doctrine within the Kabbalah. Building on this idea, the ten realms or the Sefirot, consisting according to one view of wisdom, intuition, knowledge, kindness, intent, creative power, eternity, steadfastness, foundation, majesty, must be the means through which God created this world, since the world has been created. Most commentators had no trouble accepting this idea, and many understand the first verse in Genesis to mean, "By wisdom God created the heaven and the earth." The Midrash Rabbah on Genesis goes so far as to equate "wisdom" with "Torah."

Earlier Sources

The figure known as Metatron also receives mention in the Talmud and is referred to in the Heichalot, a Jewish literary collection from the Tamudic era and earlier. Many of the themes running through later Kabbalistic works were based on the Heichalot and the Heichalot is believed to be based on even earlier sources, some of which contain traditions relating to Enoch, whom some believe is a manifestation of Metatron.

Metatron is referred to as a "lesser" God by some sources, while other references state that Metatron is the transubstantiation of Enoch, the grandfather of Noah. The rabbis of the Talmud explained that Metatron was God's scribe and therefore attained such a lofty position that he was entitled to sit on God's throne.