The Travelling Rabbis
This past weekend we had another rabbi speaker visit our shul as a scholar in residence. I attended two of his speaking engagements and came away with mixed feelings.
This particular rabbi is a Kabbalist and apparently a psychotherapist or something similar in that field. He really did not talk about philosophy or Science vs Torah. He did have a whole bunch of his books for sale. And while he did have some insightful things to say, and was somewhat entertaining, overall I felt like his message was very disjointed. For example, here is a summary of one of his talks:
Let's sing a niggun.
[Part I - Kabbalah]
I was a rebellious youth who, though religious, wasn't in touch with my religion. I came to Jerusalem and while at the Kotel was approached by a man who offered to teach me Kabbalah. I thought that it was forbidden to learn Kabbalah at such a young age and to be rebellious I took him up on it. Once I began to study Kabbalah, the fact that it tied seemingly disjoint concepts and fragments of Judaism into one coherent system really clicked for me.
Let's talk about the view of Creation from a Kabbalistic perspective. In the beginning God, who is Endless Light, which in itself is a meaningless concept, constricted himself to make room for the world in the center of the Endless Light, which is also a meaningless concept - what does it mean to be in the center of Endless Light? God concentrated himself into a ray of Endless Light, which is also a meaningless concept. God then poured this light into a set of vessels. The vessels should have let the light pass through but they misunderstood God's intent and tried to hold on to the light and could not handle it and so they broke.
[Part II - Pop psychology and cliches but positive messages]
If you try to hold on to things then you block the flow and you will actually not have good things keep coming to you. On the other hand if you pass on the good things that come to you, more good things will keep coming. The love you take is equal to the love you make[Oh, wait! Someone else said that, not this rabbi]. Also, we don't spend enough time with our loved ones because this society is too ADD and too focused on substituting money for time. Also, we all have a God shaped hole in our soul and only God can fill it.
[Part III - Learning Torah is goodness]
You should all learn Torah. My kids learn Torah and they are very good kids. Torah makes everyone a good person.
Thank you very much. Questions?
The thing is the Kabbalah talk turned me off. Why? Because he admits himself that the things he says are meaningless concepts. And when people tell me meaningless concepts, it turns me off. Now I am sure what he meant is that there are some deep hidden secrets that lie behind these "seemingly meaningless" concepts, but then why even get into it? Just say that there is some really deep shit that would take you forever to understand in Kabbalah, so I won't even get into it right now. Instead lets talk about spending more time with your kids.
But maybe that's just me. The rest of the crowd was lapping it up. Although, some of these people looked like they spent some time at Berkeley in the 60's...
One final thought... I was always confused how Kabbalah students all seem to start learning Kabbalah before the age of 40, despite the rabbinic ban. It seems that the ban was lifted by Abraham Azulai, a Kabbalist!, who wrote the following:
I have found it written that all that has been decreed Above forbidding open involvement in the Wisdom of Truth [Kabbalah] was [only meant for] the limited time period until the year 5,250 (1490 C.E). From then on after is called the "Last Generation", and what was forbidden is [now] allowed. And permission is granted to occupy ourselves in the [study of] Zohar. And from the year 5,300 (1540 C.E.) it is most desirable that the masses both those great and small [in Torah], should occupy themselves [in the study of Kabbalah], as it says in the Raya M'hemna [a section of the Zohar]. And because in this merit King Mashiach will come in the future – and not in any other merit – it is not proper to be discouraged [from the study of Kabbalah]
That clears it all up very nicely.