Jewish mystics have always been reticent to reveal the esoteric teachings of
Kabbalah. The Talmud says that these secret teachings are to be carefully controlled. As a result, mainstream Jewish scholars prior to the twentieth century rarely explored this segment of hidden knowledge. More important, as the mystical insight of kabbalistic wisdom was reserved for only a handful of practitioners, most people involved in Judaism never had the opportunity to experience the wealth of this treasure within the tradition.
During the last half of this century, great strides have been taken to investigate and make available heretofore inaccessible kabbalistic material. Many texts have been translated and considerable research has been undertaken at institutes of higher learning. However, a gap still stands between the intellectual appreciation of these esoteric teachings and their integration into everyday Jewish practice.
Prior to fifty years ago, anyone saying the things that are addressed in this book might have been ostracized by the rabbinic community. Some readers would have been outraged to see esoteric discussions meant to be read by only a selected few. A large number would have been ill at ease with Torah interpretations from an egalitarian perspective. Still others would have found the mystical teachings of the Zohar quite strange, and in some ways a little too close for comfort to Eastern belief.
Thus, I resonate deeply with the feelings expressed by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, the most prolific modern commentator on Jewish mysticism, who opens one of his books, Meditation and Kabbalah, with the following statement: "It is with great trepidation that one begins to write a work such as this...."
I often encounter objections to elementary mystical Jewish teachings by fellow Jews who are unfamiliar with the scope and breadth of their own tradition. Typically, they are in denial. I have been told that meditation is not Jewish; belief in reincarnation is not Jewish; praying alone is not the Jewish way. These people are mistaken. Indeed, Jewish mysticism is a profoundly sensual, nature-connected spiritual practice that openly discusses angels and demons, souls' journeys after death, reincarnation, resurrection, and the goal of achieving messianic consciousness. This often is a source of considerable embarrassment for some Jewish teachers. They don't like to talk about such things.
Yet one of the biggest complaints of people in the West, Jews in particular, is that our religious traditions are not spiritual enough. We want to feel a connection with the great unknown; we want to experience the secrets of other realities and the meaning of life. We want spiritual practices that touch the heart and nourish the soul. We want a place of sanctuary where we can get a respite from the busy world around us.
Our yearning to reconnect with our essential nature transcends the limits of the intellect. It comes from a place of inner knowing that there is far more to life than material wealth. We know deeply within that the mysteries of creation speak in a language that can be absorbed only through "being" rather than by doing or thinking.
Western religious tradition and mythology are built upon the foundation of the teachings of the Old Testament. Many of these teachings became ossified long ago in fixed beliefs; to challenge them meant to be excommunicated. Now spiritual leaders in the West have had the courage to suggest different possibilities for understanding ancient tales. This new way of looking at things opens the gates for the potential of a paradigm shift that will change our very thought process and our relationship with the Divine.
This book contains many ancient ideas expressed in modern language. It suggests ways of interpreting biblical stories that confront traditional perspectives. All of the material presented has been thoroughly researched and cited for anyone interested who would like to inquire into the sources.
The purpose of this book is to provide insight into the foundation of Western mysticism. The reader does not need a background in traditional religious study to appreciate the ideas discussed herein. Although the base of information is from a Jewish point of view, the insights overflow into Christian and Muslim traditions, for the teachings are universal. This book is also written for people who are drawn to Eastern practices -- Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism -- to add to the dialogue and cross-fertilization of mystical insight between East and West.
If you are among the many people in the West who seek a richer spiritual life in the tradition of your heritage, you will discover within this book a new world of almost endless possibilities. This is not a book simply to be read, but to be experienced. It uses hasidic tales to amplify teachings, and offers exercises for those who would like to integrate practice into everyday life. This is a guide for the person who really wants to nurture the soul and come closer to God. If you are such a person, welcome to the hidden treasures of Jewish mysticism.
From GOD IS A VERB: KABBALAH AND THE PRACTICE OF MYSTICAL JUDAISM, by Rabbi David A. Cooper, Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi David A. Cooper. Excerpted with permission of Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc. All Rights Reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced without permission in writing from the publisher.