Sunday, September 30, 2018

New Year, New (Aspiring) Me

The New Year (Rosh Hashannah) has come and gone, followed by Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and now the festival of Succot (Booths) is almost over. Coinciding with this annual cycle is the end of reading a weekly portion from the Five Books of Moses (written Torah) and starting again at Genesis.

Having spent quite a bit of time in prayer and a little bit of time in contemplation – I was reminded of a dream that my wife had a few years ago. The dream coincided with the arrival of a Kabbalistic book that I had ordered and then forgotten about. After the book arrived, I put it with a pile of other books that I classified ‘too advanced for me right now, possibly this life-time’.

The day that the book arrived my wife had a dream in which she visited by a great rabbi (the author of the book) who told her that I was unfit to read the book due to a long list of reasons. My wife told me the dream the next morning, when I mentioned it again a couple of weeks later – but she had already forgotten all bout it. However, I had not, and the message that he had passed along about all the reasons why I was unfit to study his book stayed with me.

In the past couple of weeks, I realised that the author’s criticism was valid. It’s hard enough taking constructive criticism from one’s boss, but to take criticism in the form of a sharp rebuke from a dead Kabbalist left quite an impression. Well his words have finally taken root and I am starting the long journey to being the person who I need to be in order to study his book and others like them.

Why make all this effort? Why not just go ahead and study it now? For similar reasons that flight crew and ground crews do so many checks before an aeroplane takes off. To make perilous journeys requires a lot of preparation. If the practitioner is not ready then the best outcome is that nothing happens.

Extending the metaphor above beyond what it should be used for, I am both the pilot and the plane. I am the channeller or Divine energy and part of the channel. Let the long journey commence with the start of this new year.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Re-Discovering Old Books

Inspired by Rabbi Lord Sack’s commentary, in his book ‘Lessons in Leadership, on the weekly reading portion** - “Shoftim” (Judges); I decided to revisit the books that had originally started me on the path of learning about Jewish mysticism.

My all-time favourite is ‘The Thirteen Petalled Rose’ by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. It’s not just a fantastic book on Kabbalah, but it a book of Kabbalah itself. I have lent the book out many times and each person who has persevered and read praised the clarity with which the concepts were communicated.

My next starter book goes at a slightly faster pace, but packs a lot in. This is ‘Inner Space’ by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. Each time I read this book my level of understanding of the basics increases. The glassblower analogy that he gives on pp.17 about the different ‘levels’ of the soul really helped me to understand the unfolding of the levels of revelation of the human soul.

The third book is a slightly odd choice, ‘The Soul of the Matter’ by Gershon Winkler. The latter two chapters on ghosts, spirits, and dybbuks; we well as demons, magic, and superstition gave me much to think about (despite the brevity of the book).

There are lots of other really goods books on Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism. But there are no, in my opinion, many good introductory books that are packed with original thoughts and are at the same time very accessible.

** The five Books of Moses, also known as the Torah or Written Law (in contrast to the Oral law) is read each week in an annual cycle that starts and finishes after the Jewish New Year on the festival day called Simchat Torah.