Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Book Recomendation

I teach part time in a Jewish High School. The following was my response today to a fellow teacher who asked me to recommend a book for teaching Kabbalah to class. 

Hi ...,

In different years I have used different texts. The common denominator between all the texts that I used was that I was always very familiar with the source material independently from the text's presentation and therefore, able to easily modulate in accordance with the level of the student body. It also allowed me to think outside the text and bring that perspective into the classroom.

For example, this past year we used the anthology called "The Kabbalistic Tradition" by Prof. Unterman. When we read his translations from the Ari z"l on the beginnings of the cosmos, I was able to share with my class ideas culled from the classic commentaries on the original text and also, what some Rabbis who specialize in teaching Kabbalah have orally conveyed to me. So the key might not always be the text itself, as well as how familiar the teacher is with the material to begin with.

Kabbalah is a very vast topic that includes many sub-topics. So you can really work teaching Kabbalah from many angles. Let me suggest two classics that are short and I think if you wanted to you can teach yourself over the span of the Summer. Both are available in English.

The first classic I'd suggest is "Shaar HaYichud V'Emunah", meaning the "Gate of Unity & Faith".  It's all about the first verse of Shema and what it means that "G-d is One". I'd suggest skipping the introduction and going right to Chapter One (as the introduction relies on knowledge of a different work by the author). You don't have to buy it. Its available on-line with a linear translation (and commentary worked into the translation). This is what I am strongly considering teaching this year. Here's the link:

The second classic I'd suggest as a possibility is "Tomer Devorah", meaning the "Palm Tree of Deborah". It's short and sweet. It's about how the mystical "Thirteen Attributes of Compassion". The author tells us what these thirteen attributes of compassion look like inside ourselves and urges us to cultivate them and be develop into forgiving people in an act of imitating G-d's ways and drawing down divine forgiveness into the world.
The book is available with a good quality English translation facing the Hebrew text. Here's a link where the book can be bought.

One year I also taught "The Everything About Kabbalah Book". Its also nice. Here's a link.

Another, year I taught Kabbalistic Astrology from Melinda Ribner's "Kabbalah Month by Month. Here's a link if you want to explore it.

I hope I gave you enough material to work with. If you want to discuss anything you can call me at ...

Best Wishes,

Friday, June 24, 2011

Got Ya !



Cower into a corner.
You can't run or hide.
Light's gonna get ya !


'Cause you are Light.
You're just disguised,
Hiding from yourself.

Don't turn yourself in.
Just turn "inside out".

You will be exposed,
But, drunk with truth.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

User Friendly


" ... In the future the Jewish People will taste from the Tree of Life, which is this Book of the Zohar. They will then emerge from exile with love."   (Zohar III, 124b) 

When it comes to Kabbalah, I'm a big fan of being "user friendly". I'd much rather be among those who explain mystical ideas to the simple folk than be a celebrated Kabbalist kept on reserve to lead a disciplined life of purity, saintliness and spiritual perfection. Such a life feels to me beyond my reach, as I am concerned that might crack under the pressures of spiritual discipline.

However, because of the times we are in, I trust that the teachings of the Zohar are also available to regular Jews like myself. My trust springs my belief in what the Faithful Shepherd (our teacher Moses) related to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, " ... In the future the Jewish People will taste from the Tree of Life, which is this Book of the Zohar. They will then emerge from exile with love." 

It seems to me like this passage is referring to the average simple Jew. The great saintly giants of Torah were already familiar with the Zohar for at least 700 years and the Jews still have not exited exile with love. So obviously, the Faithful Shepherd must have been referring to another audience for the Zohar's teachings, namely, us regular Jews. If he's referring to us, then there must also be a way to present these teachings to us in a "user friendly" manner,  as there's no other way for us to understand them. Perhaps, we might not be able to access the levels attained by true Torah sages while studying Zohar on our own "user friendly" level. Yet, regardless of which level is accessed, we still taste sweet nectar gushing forth from ripe fruits decorating the "Tree of Life" like gleaming gems.  

This why I blog. I want to contribute to a sweeter world, to end the exile for all people with love. When the Jewish people emerge from exile so does the rest of humanity, as every part of the body and soul of humanity is a single integrated whole. Everyone is blocked in some way from reaching their sweetest potential. This is what exile looks like. With the Creator's help, it is my hope in the near future to occassionally use my blog to teach quotes from the Zohar itself and share my understanding of their meanings. This accords with my understanding of the Zohar's prediction, "In the future..."

While the intent of the prediction certainly includes studying Kabbalistic ideas, it probably includes the direct study of the Zohar as well, since the language actually specifies," this book". I am yearning and excited to integrate new features into my presentation of user friendly ideas from Kabbalah. 


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pre-Genesis Unveiled


“…The Holy One declared, ‘A (new) Torah shall emerge from Me …” (Vayikrah Rabba 13:3)

The word "new" here in cast in parenthesis because there's a classical commentary who believed that this instance of the word "new" was a manuscript error that later crept into the official version. (see Yifeh To'ar) However, there are others authorities, like the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who seem to accept it either as part of the original text or as part of the inner intent of the original text. The implication of accepting the word "new" as part of the original text or as part of it's intent is an expectation that the Messiah will reveal freshly new Torah teachings, never previously made public. This understanding echoes the Kabbalistic tradition that the Messiah's Torah teachings will be on a higher spiritual level than any Torah teachings publicly taught in prior times.

The core of the Torah is the Ten Commandments. Rabbi Saadia Gaon teaches that all of the Torah's other commandments derive from these ten. The Ten Commandments are like the seeds containing the rest of the commandments in a seminal sense. Imagine a large multifaceted tree emerging from a single tiny seed. So too, each of the Ten Commandments blossoms into a multitude of additional commandments. Therefore, when the Jews huddled "as one person with one heart" around Mount Sinai, they were not merely treated to ten does and don'ts, but, also to the inner core of the entire Torah. Over the course of their next 40 years in the desert, the basic Ten Commandments had unpacked as our present day Torah scroll - the way a buried seed unpacks its genetic code in an earthen womb to sprout, grow and flourish into a verdant tree.

A master of Kabbalah, Rabbi Moshe, shared with me that there was something unique about the first set of tablets. They contained the Torah which the Messiah will eventually teach - the higher spiritual teachings designed for a spiritually enlightened era. The Creator's plan was for the Jews to attain a heightened state of national unity and kindness, thereby enabling them to be worthy of a truly spiritually advanced version of the Torah. Being the conduit for this spiritually advanced Torah, positioned Moses to be the Messiah leading the world into a new spiritually enlightened era. However, the sight of the golden calf ruined the situation. The Jews no longer retained the necessary level of unity and sharing. A mutiny broke out as the "mixed multitude" saw an opportunity to ascend to power in Moses' absence, leading to the tragedy of many worshiping the golden calf. The first tablets never even had a chance to really reach the people, as Moses shattered them, rather than risking the Jews having exposure to a higher standard of Divine expectations than they truly ready for.

After the tablets shattered, Moses pleaded with the Creator for forty days. The Creator allowed Moses to ascend Mount Sinai for another forty days. During this period he received the second set of tablets, which was on a much lower spiritual level than the first set. The teachings of the second set lacked the spiritual depth and wealth of the first set. He descended the mountain and so began Torah in its current form.

Of course, until the Messiah arrives one can only imagine what makes the Torah of the first tablets so amazingly different from today's Torah. Kabbalistic texts drop hints here and there. One particular insight into the difference between the two sets of tablets which really riveted me came from Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Bagdad. He transmits a tradition from earlier mystical sources that the Messiah will reveal a sixth book to the Torah scroll, in addition to the five already present.  Surprisingly, the placement of this sixth book will be before Genesis. Apparently, it will reveal what happened prior to the current Biblical creation story. (See “Od Yosef Chai”, Page 237)

For quite a while I tried to understand how Rabbi Yosef Chaim’s revelation or for that matter the entire Kabbalistic tradition on this subject does not contradict one of Judaism’s thirteen central tenets of faith, “I completely believe that this Torah will not be exchanged and nor will there be another Torah from the Blessed Creator”. (See the conclusion of the morning liturgy in many Jewish prayer books.)

Over the course of years, my mind every so often revisited this question, seeking a creative resolution which somehow combined the elements of the Messiah’s Torah being previously “given” and yet, inaccessible until the right time. Maintaining such a balance would ensure that even when the Messiah will reveal his teachings, they will somehow be a part of what was already received at Mount Sinai and therefore, not contradict the central tenet of Judaism that "...this Torah will not be exchanged and nor will there be another Torah..."

One idea which ran through my mind was that there might be another book of the Torah somehow encoded in the current five books. When the Messiah arrives, he’ll merely reveal the code and before our eyes a new book will appear which was always waiting there to be discovered. Based on the book's content, it will be eminently evident that the book belongs before Genesis.  Hand scribed copies of this book will be attached to the beginning of every existing Torah scroll for ritual reading and published versions will be available for study.

Another idea which crossed my mind is maybe this book is already encoded somewhere in nature. For instance, maybe there’s a way of reading the night stars as sketching Hebrew letters, which in turn form a complete Torah scroll – containing all six books. This way, the book is present as a previously given revelation and not truly new.

While these creative strivings might (or might not) have some truth to them, recently a much more straightforward resolution dawned on me. The messiah’s Torah has previously descended as part of the package crafted for the Jews at Mount Sinai. Moses literally descended with the entire Torah, including the sixth book, encapsulated the first set of tablets. Since Moses already brought it down, the Messiah is merely restoring what Moses has already given - but, we did not yet receive.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Writing a Book


There was once a man who every so often showed up at a particular synagogue and made some nice acquaintances among the general membership. Though this was not his "regular synagogue", there were occasions when he was visiting the area and found it was convenient to attend.

On one of these visits, a member asked him, "What are you keeping busy with?"

"Oh, I'm writing a book" he causally responded.

On his next visit, several months later, he bumped into the same person and was asked "How's your book coming along?"

"Oh, just fine", he smiled.

Over the course of a year, he made several more visits.  With each visit a larger group grew around him, curiously inquiring about the development of his book. He deflected their inquiries with vague assurances that everything was developing as planned.

About a year and a half passed.  One morning, he found himself praying in the same synagogue again. After the prayers concluded, a by now impatient group gathered around him pleading "So, can we see your book already?"

To which the "author" pointed his finger heavenward and quoted from the Talmud, "All of our deeds are written in a book!"


(1) Your actions are in the midst of writing a more powerful story than your pen. Are you proud of how your story is turning out?

(2) People tend to be somehow more full of life in their "artistic moments" than in their daily "hum drum" activities. Their lives are sometimes sharply divided between creativity and responsibility. What this story is teaching is that every moment is ultimately an "artistic moment". One is not just writing a book when s/he's sitting in front of a word processor. One is writing a book with every moment of life. So fill every moment with life and celebration!


Monday, June 6, 2011

"An Inner Dialogue" ~ in search of clarification and consistency


On quite a number of my previous blogs I claim that the soul needs an earthly body to be "giving". Prior to her descent into earthly existence, the soul enjoys the bliss of the spiritual realms in paradise. In these pristine realms there are no opportunities for her to give and no need to either. All souls have their needs taken care of by the Creator Himself, as they are bathed in His nurturing divine light. Souls exchanging gifts in paradise would be like offering copper in the presence of glittering heaps of gold. It would be senseless for souls to give.

Recently, I have questioned my own literary outpourings of this notion in light of passages in Jewish mystical texts which clearly depict souls performing acts of kindness. For example, early on in the Saba D'Mishpatim section of the Zohar there's a discussion about a saintly soul couple, male and female, twining in paradise. Their union frees souls exiled to the "husks", unenlightened realms. They then give birth to them; i.e. they transfer them into a state were they can descend into human bodies. There's another depiction in "The Gate of Reincarnation" of saintly souls saving other souls from the clutches of these unenlightened realms. 

Besides, what is documented in mystical texts. There are also stories of souls praying for earthlings or transmitting to them divine knowledge via dreams. All together this builds a picture of souls doing kindness, even as dwellers of the spiritual realms.

These teachings bring up some challenges to my own previous writings:

A) Not every region in the spiritual realms seems like a pleasurable paradise. There are souls that seem to be stuck in the "husks", the unenlightened realms - until they have their opportunity for elevation. So how can I claim that the souls are enjoying paradise and have all their needs cared for before coming down to this realm?

I would say that inhabiting the "husks" is a temporary condition. Souls who find themselves there did not start off there. Such a residence is a temporary consequence for having taken a wrong turn on their journey. Therefore, even these souls were originally plushly pampered in the heights of paradise before their earliest earthly descent.Their original state is still preserved in their core memory. In many, it's an unconscious memory driving their behavior, as they unconsciously attempt to imitate the sweet nurturing of their original state on an earthly stage - attempting to craft earthly life into a "parallel paradise". 

For others, doing time in the "husks" might have wrapped this memory in more layers - making for more difficult access. Their selfish behavior is coming from being over cocooned in layers of insensitivity. Still, the original memory is lurking beneath the wrappings. It just needs to be exposed.

(As a side note, I am not convinced that every unenlightened realm is necessarily painful. Some might be regions of spiritual bliss. Their inhabitants might be in a state of deep spiritual pleasure, but, just blocked in some way from further growth and /or awareness. Of course, there are also the painful realms as well, which are ultimately castles built on illusion and will one day vanish.)

B) If souls can have union,birth other souls, rescue other souls, pray for others and transmit messages how can I claim that souls have no opportunity for giving in paradise and need the earthly realm in order to give?

Although there are vivid examples in Jewish mysticism of souls doing acts of giving, it is still not the same as giving on the earthly plane. In paradise, such giving is really "passive channeling". There are purified souls who behave as channels for the Creator's kindness. Their behavior is not their own volition. Whereas, on the earth plane, even though each and every act of kindness is also an act of "channeling the Creator's kindness", still, people can often freely choose whether or not to play that role.  Therefore, in a sense, the giving really becomes a person's own act of giving. The giving is credited to the one who chose to continue the chain of kindness.