Romancing the Kabbalah: Kushner’s mystical novel is a work of love
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars
Rabbi Harold Kushner’s 2007 mystical novel is more than a spiritual romance (although it reads quite well as one); it is a celebration of Jewish mysticism and spiritual insight that uses rich metaphor and prose to immerse the reader in an experience rather than just tell a story. Interwoven plots, historical revelations, and profound insight make “Kabbalah” an entertaining introduction to Jewish mysticism. The most profound insight is also one of the simplest– “People become mystics … for one of three reasons: because they’ve had a mystical experience, because they want one, or because they’re in love.”
Story: Hidden within the binding of an ancient text that has been passed down through the ages lies the answer to one of the heart’s eternal questions. When the text falls into the hands of Rabbi Kalman Stern, he has no idea that his lonely life of intellectual pursuits is about to change once he opens the book. Soon afterward, he meets astronomer Isabel Benveniste, a woman of science who stirs his soul as no woman has for many years. But Kalman has much to learn before he can unlock his heart and let true love into his life. The key lies in the mysterious document he finds inside the Zohar, the master text of the Kabbalah. (From amazon.com)
Spiritual/metaphysical content: Medium. Although the book offers only a brief introduction to a very complex subject, Kushner’s spiritual novel can help a reader new to Jewish traditions understand the power and allure of the Kabbalah. In the end, Kalman discovers that “knowing ultimate truth and giving yourself to your lover are effectively identical. You move from this World of Separation to the World of Unity by giving yourself away, and once you can do that, new life is the reward.”
My take: Kushner’s first novel operates on many levels at once, and all deal with love. The late-blossoming romance between Kalman and Isabel parallels another love story in 13th-century Spain that suggests how the Zohar came to be written. However, the greatest love story to me is Kalman’s (and Kushner’s) love for the Zohar itself. To read Kabbalah is to immerse one’s self in the magic of Jewish mysticism, where we discover our true nature only by opening ourselves to love.
The story feels like magical realism in spiritual expression, rich with metaphors that help expose essential truths– “That’s the way it is with a good book: Just when you think you’ve read all its words, the damn thing falls apart in your hands and you have to start all over again.” The novel suffers from a predictable plot and stiff characters, but the beauty of the message, the pull of those multi-layered love stories, and the powerful questions Kushner poses both engaged and challenged me to the last page.
Kabbalah: A Love Story, by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner
Hardcover, 208 pages
Buy at Amazon