On Friday evening, May 6th, and Saturday, May 7th, Rabbi Mark Biller will be with us at Grace once more under the sponsorship of The Center for Religious Studies and Christian Practice at Grace Church. For more details about the weekend with Rabbi Biller or to sign up just call the Church Office (770) 536-0126.
In preparation for Rabbi Biller’s teachings about Jewish mysticism and the Kabbalah I’ve been reading in introductory Kabbalah writings, from translations of the Kabbalistic texts to modern adaptations of the method and spirit of Kabbalah in Jewish prayer and practice. What I have to bring to this four week class is simply to share what I have so far found most interesting in the Kabbalah approach to scripture, to ritual practice, to stories, and to finding ourselves in the midst of God.
I recommended listening to the Krista Tippett interview with Harold Kushner on the Kabbalah, which begins with a snippet from Kushner saying that rationalism is not the only or best way of experiencing our own lives, one another, or God. He suggests the attraction of something else, some other way, and mysticism, and he evokes a voice from the shadows saying, “Hey, kid….How would you like a direct experience of the divine? Would that help your religious life?” Sounds like a pitch for some illegal drug of conscious raising, or perhaps Viagra for the older set. But that vitality, the validity of it as the divine longing in us, is Kabbalah, too.
Kabbalah is many things explored and constructed and lived by many people in many different times. There is no one Kabbalah. And that is part of the attraction of Kabbalah for me, a risky conviction of God’s presence in the particulars of every individual, and the need for discovering and nourishing and honoring that presence in every other particular individual you receive the gift of meeting.
Kabbalah is also a rich way of listening to and engaging with the Biblical text. Kabbalah is also a rich way of welcoming back the play of images into the religious life of Judaism, and into the world. Kabbalah is also a rich way of reimagining, of receiving anew, the covenant law and practice of life together to embody God in the world and with us.
Many of the concerns and visions and revisions and wonders of Kabbalah help me see the arch-enemies of Jesus in the Gospels, the Pharisees, in a different way, not enemies at all. The Kabbalah also reacts to the disciplines of Rabbinical Judaism, but does so while insisting on the truth of the Torah, the Mishnah, the Talmud and all. The Kabbalah helps me realize Jesus and early Jewish Christians like Paul as also seeking to refresh the experience of the divine in our lives.
For me the most powerful and transforming teaching of Rabbi Biller when he came amongst us last Autumn was his saying how the opening of Genesis could be translated as “With beginnings God created…”, and the teaching then that in everything still that is alive in creation, that it is alive precisely in stumbling and trusting in endless beginnings. The most basic fact of you right now is that you are alive in beginning. So, how does the world look, and what will you do next? What is God waiting to discover alive in God because alive in you?
My Amateur Bibliography
I’ve been in touch with Rabbi Biller for his suggestions of a bibliography to prepare for his class. He responded kindly but has been caught up in a visit to his son In Israel. I’ve received beautiful pictures of his visit, of young people dancing in the streets, and more. But so far no reading suggestions. I’m sure he’ll have some when he comes, and I’d recommend waiting upon them before buying anything. I’m the impatient sort where books are concerned, and so have gathered a small collection, some of which I will bring to our first class.
One book not included is The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Kabbalah which describes itself as: What the Kabbalah can do for you? According to the authors of this comprehensive guide, the Kabbalah that Madonna popularized is far from authentic. In fact, the Kabbalah is much bigger and better. Here, readers will discover how it can deliver money, love, health, and many other things. This book might be of interest ONLY if you are serving on the Finance Committee.
Rav P.S. Berg. The Essential Zohar
Peter Cole. The Poetry of Kabbalah
David Cooper. God Is a Verb: Kabbalah and the Practice of Mystical Judaism
Ed. Frederick Greenspahn. Jewish Mysticism and Kabbalah
Aryeh Kaplan. Jewish Meditation
Lawrence Kushner. The Book of Letters
God Was in This Place
Honey from the Rock
Kabbalah: A Love Story
Daniel C. Matt. The Essential Kabbalah
Gershom Scholem. Kabbalah
On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism
On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead: Basic Concepts in the Kabbalah
Origins of the Kabbalah
Rabbi Laibl Wolf. Practical Kabbalah
There is an abundance of books on and about and arising out of Kabbalah, and websites galore. I’d recommend a reluctance to go gathering from all the bushes and berries of Kabbalah publications proliferating on Amazon, and wait for the recommendations of Rabbi Biller. If he sends me any recommendations I will be sure to pass them along to you right away.