Going to see Pride and Prejudice when one is more or less in the middle of preparations for a Kabbalah test lends itself to some very strange dreams. Cute movie, though.
In other news, the great Kabbalah scholar Daniel Matt was in town this weekend, scholar-in-residencing at a local shul. I went to the Friday night talk, and it was OK–very lucid, but pretty basic. During the Q and A I got him to say that “The Zohar is a projection. There’s definitely a lot of projection in there.” He is a Kabbalist, of course, so he then had to spend a bunch of time talking about why it was important and useful and such nonetheless. But I was satisfied. I appreciate the Hasidic move of internalizing and psychologizing Kabbalah; this stuff is a very useful metaphor, in in the right context. It’s just when people claim that, say, these ornate metaphysics of the soul after death, or the shocking and I think heretical notion that God is a two-gendered being trying to unite and copulate* are absolute reflections of external reality that I get a bit twitchy.
And now, time for a day. Onward.
*Anthropomorphism, anyone? And such a problem to monotheism! I hold by Rambam–it’s a much better idea to talk about what God is not than to find yourself in such theologically treacherous waters.
I agree that it makes me twitchy to talk about the various kabbalistic cosmologies as if they were real – I prefer my kabbalah nicely diluted into chassidut (or taken more rationally/musar-ish by the likes of people like Moshe Cordevero), but if we’re honest, we have to admit that it’s pretty clear that many of the kabbalists saw no problem with building these elaborate structures and considered them real.
I think that’s why I would have to agree with the rationalists that kabbala was a Xianizing influence (rather than the kabalists counter claims, nuh-uh, it was you! to the rationalists).
Still, there’s a lot of interesting stuff in there, if you can sift out the psychedelic haze. Now that there’s a regular demand for kabbala in our shuls, I try to help people understand that the kabbala center is teaching narishkeit – that what the kabalists were actually doing was building a complicated cosmology which reflected their experience of pain and exile as well as a meditative practise to assist them in this endevor (heavily influenced by Platonism – just tell me Abulafia wasn’t a Platonist!!) that kabala was in essence an intellectual exercise designed to pour meaning into the living out of a halachic obligation system.
I intend to write an article sometime soon about the positive reasons for anthropomorphism….. it’s gotten an awfully bad press since about 1000 C.E., and I think it needs a defense.