Thursday, January 6, 2011

Book shines light on ancient belief system

Well, it's not Friday, but it is time yet again for another posting of Interesting Jewish Stories & Facts (IJS&F). Today let's keep it simple and explore the mystical and ancient beliefs of Kabbalah. IJS&F will return to its regularly scheduled slot next week ... maybe!

Even though the study of Kabbalah has become popular – even trendy – in recent years, most people have no clue about this ancient belief system.

Rabbi Yehuda Berg understands this point and has written a book that tosses aside much of the esoteric wordplay generated by kabbalists and scholars over the years and focuses instead on how its teachings can change a person's life.

"The Power of Kabbalah" doesn't ignore the cosmic – after all, the book's original subtitle is "This book contains the secrets of the universe and the meaning of our lives" – but it's clearly aimed at the masses. Why else include an endorsement from Madonna (yes, that Madonna) on the cover, above the title?

And Berg, an Orthodox Jew who is associated with an educational outreach program, the Kabbalah Centre, that offers classes in at least 50 locations worldwide, makes it clear that a person doesn't have to be Jewish or particularly religious to benefit from the wisdom of kabbalah.

"I just read that 35 percent of Americans are on anti-depressants," Berg said during a phone interview from his office in Los Angeles. "All people are looking for something to make them feel better, something that brings meaning into their lives. Kabbalah offers a way for everyone to find such meaning."

"The Power of Kabbalah" is easy to understand and includes just enough of the mystical mumbo jumbo found in ancient texts to give readers a taste of the complex nature of Kabbalah. But discussions of weighty, often indecipherable topics – bread of shame, light and darkness, the 1 percent and 99 percent worlds – are focused and clear.

"Wisdom doesn't have to be complex, humdrum and heavy," Berg writes in his book's introduction. "In Kabbalah, after all, wisdom is called the light."

Perhaps. But the light of Kabbalah has remained in darkness for thousands of years, studied by only a handful of mystics who were often viewed as wackos, hidden from the masses who often believed the secrets of Kabbalah could actually drive them insane.

"That was thousands of years ago," Berg says. "Study was secretive and difficult, emotionally exhausting. But today, the world has changed and studying Kabbalah is elevating." So, what are some of the secrets that Berg uncovers and explores in his book?

> There's the theological: God is a constant, the light that has always been.

> The psychological: All of humanity is driven by desire. We are our own worst enemies.

> The scientific: Ancient kabbalists held that reality exists in 10 dimensions and that six of those dimensions are compacted into one. Scientists today call that idea the superstring theory.

> The mystical: Time is an illusion, the distance between cause and effect.

> The paradoxical: The final outcome of any life process will be the exact opposite of the first impression – what appears easy will be hard, what seems hard will be easy.

All of this, ultimately, seems to make sense and – icing on the cake – is interesting and fun to read. "No hocus-pocus here," says Madonna in her endorsement. "Nothing to do with religious dogma, the ideas in this book are earth-shattering and yet so simple."

Overstated? Sure. But Berg's book does manage to lift a heavy veil of darkness from the mystical world of Kabbalah and, for those willing to spend some time with it, a special light does seem to shine from its pages.

No comments:

Post a Comment