A Jour­ney into the Zohar: An Intro­duc­tion to the Book of Radiance

Nathan Wol­s­ki
  • Review
By – October 5, 2011
New Age, pop cul­ture Kab­bal­ah, and neo- Hasidism seem to be ubiq­ui­tous. Real kab­bal­ah and hasidic thought are far removed from pop­u­lar (mis)conceptions. For those who wish to take these top­ics seri­ous­ly there are two main paths— acad­e­mia and immer­sion into the lifestyle. There are those who study kab­bal­ah and there are kab­bal­ists. Few stu­dents of kab­bal­ah become adept, even among those who study it assid­u­ous­ly. Fur­ther­more, real prac­ti­tion­ers nev­er teach kab­bal­ah, even direct­ly. There is one-on-one men­tor­ing and tutor­ing for very select stu­dents and even then the path is only shown by hints and veiled lan­guage. If the stu­dent is wor­thy and ready then under­stand­ing and inspi­ra­tion will be grant­ed. Sim­i­lar­ly not all those who study hasidism are hasidim nor are they always ful­ly con­ver­sant with the rab­binic, Tal­mu­dic, and kab­bal­is­tic under­pin­nings of this world­view. 

Cul­tur­al anthro­pol­o­gists, soci­ol­o­gists, and lit­er­ary crit­ics may bring much under­stand­ing to their work, but they are still out­siders. The authors of these three books, how­ev­er, dis­play an uncom­mon under­stand­ing of the genre about which they write. The Kab­bal­ah Read­er is an anthol­o­gy of selec­tions from var­i­ous eso­teric tra­di­tions. It con­tains pas­sages from clas­si­cal texts as well as the writ­ings from some more mod­ern mys­tics or vision­ar­ies. The edi­tor pro­vides a bio­graph­i­cal intro­duc­tion and a few com­ments on each selec­tion. How­ev­er, more help­ful would have been some com­men­tary about the con­cepts con­tained in these selec­tions since mys­ti­cal writ­ings rarely mean only what the text says.

A Jour­ney into the Zohar is an intro­duc­tion to the penul­ti­mate kab­bal­is­tic text. As the rab­binic sages wan­der the land and dis­cuss deep con­cepts, ideas and under­stand­ings, we join them on their jour­ney. The ten chap­ters and the Appen­dix dis­cuss var­i­ous top­ics explored by this mys­ti­cal fel­low­ship. The con­cepts hint­ed at are accom­pa­nied by a com­men­tary and the author tries to make abstruse ideas intel­li­gi­ble to the mod­ern read­er. The Zohar is not only a repos­i­to­ry of kab­bal­is­tic thought; it is also a clas­sic of fan­ta­sy lit­er­a­ture. Com­plex themes are valiant­ly pre­sent­ed, although it still remains dif­fi­cult to ful­ly pen­e­trate an arcane world in trans­la­tion.

Tanya, The Mas­ter­piece of Hasidic Wis­dom is the foun­da­tion text of ChaBaD or Lubav­itch hasidism. Writ­ten by the first Lubav­itch reb­bi, it con­tains the philo­soph­i­cal, reli­gious, eth­i­cal, and mys­ti­cal under­pin­nings to this entire move­ment. It is stud­ied reli­gious­ly by Lubav­itch hasidim and usu­al­ly requires a tutor to explain the text. The goal is to trans­form indi­vid­u­als from their base human­i­ty to reach high­er lev­els of human­i­ty by com­ing clos­er to God. The intense striv­ing, and work­ing on one’s per­son­al­i­ty and under­stand­ing how and why one does this, is the basis of this book. It is pon­der­ous and demon­strates deep under­stand­ings of rab­binic thought, the­ol­o­gy, phi­los­o­phy, and psy­chol­o­gy. There is com­men­tary to each selec­tion and the fifty-three top­ics select­ed pro­vide insight into this sem­i­nal work.

Addi­tion­al books fea­tured in this review:

Wal­lace Greene, Ph.D., has held sev­er­al uni­ver­si­ty appoint­ments, and cur­rent­ly writes and lec­tures on Jew­ish and his­tor­i­cal subjects.

Discussion Questions