Posted on Friday, September 19th, 2008
Daily Camera (Boulder, CO)
July 20, 2002
Section: Portraits Faith
Kevin Williams, Camera Staff Writer
Caption: Marisa Sobczak, 6, asks her father Flloyd a question during a Kabbalah class taught by Yehudis Fishman. Yehudis Fishman teaches
Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism.
Photos by Cliff Grassmick Daily Camera
'Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music" -- Angela Monet
In the crush of the day to day world, meaning often gets lost. We wake up, go to work, come home, eat, go to bed. The next day we press rewind and play and then do it all over again. But why? To what purpose? Where is the meaning? Kabbalists are not afraid to ask these questions. What`s more, they`re not
afraid to answer them.
"(Kabbalah) provides a blueprint for understanding the universe as well as human nature," says Yehudis Fishman, teacher for the Orthodox congregation Aish Kodesh in Boulder. "It gives you a road map of where you need to go ... it takes you to realms beyond that which can be perceived by ordinary consciousness."
An ancient aspect of Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah delves deeply into the nature of divinity, creation, the origin of the soul and our purpose for being here. Fishman`s "road map" includes stops in prayer, study, discussion and action. For millennia, Kabbalah was suppressed by the religious establishment and shrouded in a veil of secrecy.
"I think it`s becoming more popular," says Fishman, who teaches a class on
Kabbalah at the Jewish Community Center.
"It`s coming from a real longing for spirituality... it`s a reaction against the
materialism of the world."
Dating back more than 4,000 years, The Book of Formation, thought to be
authored by Abraham the Patriarch, was the first written work on Kabbalah.
It is said that this treatise, which has influenced most of the world`s great
religions, contains the mysteries of the universe in its few, short pages. The
book contains epigrams, somewhat like the Tao Te Ching, and talks about the
deeper understanding of the creation of the universe. In the second century,
R. Shimon bar Yochai followed with the Zohar, a profoundly spiritual work
that explained all the secrets in The Book of Formation.
"Its (The Zohar) objective was to act as the intermediary between man and
the divine -- to operate a toll booth that stood between God and our soul,"
writes Yahuda Berg in "The Power of Kabbalah" (Jodere Group).
Today, slivers of wisdom contained in those texts are available to the masses.
Berg says in his book on Kabbalah that humankind can be characterized by
one word -- desire. And the object of that desire is uninterrupted happiness
But if that`s what we seek, why don`t we have it?
Kabbalah says there is a curtain standing in the way of
everlasting happiness, one that splits a person`s world into two realms,
defined as the 1 percent and the 99 percent.
The 1 percent contains reaction to external events, temporary and fleeting
fulfillment and a place where the majority of desires remain unfulfilled.
"Unfortunately, most of us are running after the 1 percent kind of thing,"
The 99 percent is a world of absolute order and perfection, of action and total
fulfillment, infinite knowledge and endless joy.
"We`ve all experienced that (joy) in moments of a relationship ... the whole
world could disappear," Berg explains. "We have those feelings of total
happiness, total ecstasy, total fulfillment, but those moments are few and far
The trick is to string those moments together, which is one of the "secrets" a
student can learn from Kabbalah.
"It`s digging, digging for gold," says Rabbi Yair Davis of Boulder. "But the
gold that we`re digging for isn`t the stuff that`s going to make us rich
physically, but spiritually."
And the shovel you use must be molded from experience and tempered with
study, Davis says.
Jonathan Bein, a 41-year-old from Boulder, is a student in Fishman`s
"The teaching is very unifying," he says. "It allows us to see the godliness in
all of us."
During class, participants will read various texts written by Kabbalistic giants
such as R. Isaac Luria, a 16th century Kabbalist.
Prayer books containing elements of Kabbalah, such as pieces of the Zohar
that look at uniting heaven and Earth, will be read at times as well.
Ideally, a practitioner of Kabbalah will have a solid foundation in Judaism
and a desire to learn, says Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, a professor at
Naropa University who held the school`s World Wisdom Chair from 1996-
"It takes someone who wants to study this seriously to be initiated into the
teachings," he says.
As with any religion, the more believers submerse themselves in tradition, the
more they can carry away.
"So it is with Kabbalistic prayer," Schachter-Shalomi says. "You go into the
words much deeper and everything you say becomes a reality for you. Then
you have experiences that take you places.
"Some people get to it with their intuition and it`s wordless for them; some
people get to it with their mind, some people with their heart."
Growing up, Schachter-Shalomi was drawn to people whose quality of soul
and life inspired him.
"Sometimes I say to people I`m a spiritual peeping Tom," he says. "I want to
see how people get it on with God."
For him, Kabbalah has been the key to touching the divine, providing
experiences that are beyond the physical world.
"I have found that whenever you try and put it into words, people approach it
with cynicism," Schachter-Shalomi says. "The experience is total."
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Filed in Aish Kodesh In the News