I've not yet had the opportunity to learn any kabbalah up close. I've skirted around it, learned excerpts brought in other seforim like Nefesh HaChaim and the like, read about its importance and am aware of the huge amount of it out there but I've not yet sat down and made serious study of it. My coming thoughts should be understood in this light.
I've always had a problem with the mystical side of Judaism. Not because I don't believe it's not there, chas v'shalom. It's quite clear there is much to this universe that is not physical, that is not quantifiable by physical means and which does not follow the laws of nature. The easiest example I can think of is the subject of tumah and taharah. It's easy to make the mistake of thinking that it is some kind of contagious affliction, especially the way physical contact or even close proximity transmit it. But even a cursory study of the rules around tumah and taharah make it clear that we are dealing with something supernatural. Why do sealed clay pots resist tumah? Why is the sprinkling of the ashes of the parah adumah the only cure for tumas meis? None of these things make sense from a simple, physical perspective.
I guess what bothers me is how it's presented. The Zohar, for example, is something I've had issues with. Leaving aside the ongoing debate on whether or not it's the genuine work of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai the biggest problem I've had with it has been how to fit in into the schema of Jewish law as I understand it.
Perhaps I'm just a simple person but for a long time I understood that God presented the Torah, both in Oral and Written form (but no apps) at Sinai. The function of the Oral Law was to teach us how to understand the framework of the Written law and apply it in daily life.
Then along comes the Zohar which seems to me to exist as a parallel Oral Law for the spiritually special. In other words, yes you could learn and follow the Talmud but if you really want to practice genuine Judaism it isn't enough. You need to go a level higher and follow the Zohar.
And what concerns me is the question: Why would God give us two parallel sets of laws, one for the unwashed masses and one for the special? Doesn't the Torah emphasize there is to be one law for everyone? Am I really doing my best to serve my Maker by following Talmudic law or am I just fooling myself becaise I'm really just doing a childish version of Torah practice? And most annoying of all, if the Zohar is genuine Jewish law why is there almost no allusion to it in the Talmud, something like "And when you're ready for a higher level of observance..." or the like?
On the other hand I read an excerpt from the Yismach Moshe that might have helped my thinking. After going through the whole PRD"S schemata he notes that different people, depending on their spiritual level, reach different levels at which certain expectations appear. Some people function at a basic level and for them the Gemara is fine. Some people, having built themselves up spiritually, develop a new type of relationship with the Ribono shel Olam and so for them it's not that it's wrong to follow the rulings of the Talmud but because of their enhanced level the rulings of the Zohar are more appropriate for them.
But then that got me thinking in a different direction. We are all supposed to strive to connect to the Creator. Does this include a desire to strive towards higher levels of spiritual understanding? By not feeling a need to move beyond Gemara and embrace Zohar study, am I not fulfilling my purpose?
I'm still working on that one.