Kabbalah – the ancient study of Jewish mysticism – continues to be one of the spiritual movements du jour in Hollywood and around the world. If you are interested in exploring why Kabbalah is relevant today, you should attend one of the lectures by world-renowned author and lecturer Dan Matt when he makes a rare visit to NYC on Halloween Weekend (10/29 – 10/31). To experience Matt’s thoughtful wisdom, below are highlights from an interview with him about various teachable moments from the Kabbalah.
Importance of Kabbalah
Kabbalah shows us how to see beneath the surface and discover deeper meaning — in the Torah and in our lives. Kabbalah jolts us out of our religious habits and makes us confront new possibilities. For example, the Zohar (the masterpiece of Kabbalah) reads the opening verse of the Torah not as “In the beginning God created”… but rather: “With beginning, [the Unnamable One] created God.” This sounds shocking or heretical. But the point is that our usual understanding of God is pretty childish. What we think of as God is only one limited aspect of the infinite divine reality, which transcends and explodes all names.
Ultimately, God is Ein Sof, the Infinite. But, being finite creatures, it’s hard for us to comprehend or relate to Infinity. We need mental images of God. Yet all images are inadequate; so Kabbalah insists that we not limit ourselves to any one image or set of images. For example, most religious texts portray God almost exclusively in masculine terms. Kabbalah fills out the picture by showing that God is equally male and female: God as Father or King is balanced by the figure of Shechinah, the feminine Divine Presence. There is a dynamic relationship between the He and She of God, and it’s up to us to unite the divine couple by living virtuously, ethically, and spiritually.
The Jewish mystics speak of divine sparks hidden within all things. God is not someone up there running the show; God is the energy that animates all material existence. We can discover and “raise” the sparks by cultivating our awareness, by looking for spiritual opportunities. One of Shechinah’s many names is the Secret of the Possible. The challenge is to actualize the divine potential in ourselves and in the world by choosing how to live lovingly and wisely. We can start by quieting our cluttered, busy mind with a few minutes of silence each day. Then it’s easier to identify the sparks, the possibilities of transformation.
Garden of Eden in Our Lives
We all know the famous story near the beginning of Genesis about the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. It’s clear that God expels Adam and Eve from the garden. But the Zohar asks a startling question: Who threw whom out of the Garden? Through a very artistic and radical reading of the text, the Zohar suggests that Adam expelled God from the Garden! This seems impossible or heretical. But one way to understand this is that in some sense we’re still in the Garden — we just don’t realize it because we’ve lost touch with the spiritual dimension of life. The challenge is to reconnect with the divine reality that we have banished from our lives, to welcome God back in.
Matt’s NYC Lecture Tour
Friday (Oct. 29): Community Shabbat Dinner: “Shekhinah: The Feminine Half of God – Exploring Kabbalah. 7-10 pm. B’nai Jeshurun,
257 W. 88th St. (Reservation required, www.bj.org)
Saturday (Oct. 30): Raising the Sparks: Finding God in the Material World. 5:00-6:30PM. 257 W 88th Street Frankel Hall (No reservation required, www.bj.org)
Sunday (10/31): Wisdom of Kabbalah. 10 am-1 pm, Open Center,
22 E. 30th St. ( Reservation required, www.opencenter.org )
Daniel Matt, one of the world’s leading authorities on Kabbalah, has published more than 10 books, including “The Essential Kabbalah” and “God and the Big Bang.” Currently he is engaged in the immense project of translating and annotating the Zohar, and so far he has completed six volumes of “The Zohar: Pritzker Edition.” For this work, Matt has been honored with a National Jewish Book Award and a Koret Jewish Book Award; the latter called his translation “a monumental contribution to the history of Jewish thought.”