I recently received this comment:
Rabbi, I find your blogs interesting and insightfuil, thank you. My question is...Are these kinds of rituals and esoteric practices necessary for salvation or anything else? What is the purpose of practicing all these types of rituals, incantations, etc...? Is there such a thing as the spiritual elite who can do these things and then the rest of us "normal" spiritual beings?
There are a number of issues embedded here. First, Judaism does not have the issues of "salvation, " at least not as defined in traditional Christianity. Judaism does not have a "one life: pass/fail" metaphysical model. We also do not share in the orthodox church doctrine of "eternal damnation" [I say this with the acknowledgement that the varieties of Christianity and Christian doctrines are virtually infinite and there are no doubt countless nuances to be found among Christian sects]. According to Judaism, virtually all spiritual matter (like the soul[s]) eventually finds its way back to God. At worst, the evil that men do will be "blotted out under heaven," which is to say, annihilated and forgotten. Putting it fliply, God is not a cosmic cat that simply tortures something [even an evil something] for its pleasure for all eternity.
As for the function of the esoteric rituals and practices I describe on this blog, well, their practice is understood to empower us and make our lives better. Perhaps the hardest thing for us to grasp, growing up in the Western theological/philosophical tradition, is just how [potentially] empowered and powerful human being are perceived to be in Jewish tradition. We are potentially "Godly" in the Old English sense of that word, "God-like." Even the angels envy us. These rituals are supposed to give us greater access to that divine capacity and power. That being said, as I remark in my introduction to my book, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism, Jews can and do live happy and spiritually fulfilling lives never practicing, or even knowing, most of these esoteric traditions.
As for who can access such things, well, that's a matter of debate. But regardless of the nuances of that debate, the adepts who do these things are, almost by definition an "elite," because few Jews ever learn these skills, much less master them. That being said, the esoteric tradition is elitism by meritocracy. Anyone can learn these traditions who wishes to. There are no real gatekeepers or priesthood. Even the supposed rules, like - "You have to be 40, married, etc...." before you learn - are in fact meant to be broken [Off the top of my head I can think of three great esoteric masters who taught and died before they reached 40: Isaak Luria, Nachman of Bratslav, and Aryeh Kaplan].
The only real limit is that few have the combination of inclination, knowledge, moral excellence, and aptitude to achieve a real mastery of these traditions.
 the poly-psychic nature of the human soul is a topic for another entry