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Kabbalah: A Love Story
By Lawrence Kushner
Morgan Road Books
Though a pleasant read, the main message of Kabbalah: A Love Story by Lawrence Kushner - a rabbi associated with the Jewish spirituality movement - is unlikely to make any major headlines or be seen on a Hollywood screen.
The main message of the book, which the front cover flap promises will answer "one of the heart's eternal questions," would appear to be simply the first lesson in Pop Relationships 101: You gotta give it to get it.
Okay, there's a bit more to it than that, but basically the oh-so-brilliant discovery Moshe de Leon, one of the characters in these parallel love stories, is supposed to have made through stimulating but chaste discussions with his lover is that you can't fully become one with another unless you give yourself totally to the other and discover your true nature. This theory can also (surprise, surprise) be applied to one's relationship with God, but somehow it takes Rabbi Kalman Stern, a character in the other love story and a student and teacher of Kabbala who yearns for "a sign," an awfully long time to figure it all out.
One day Stern, middle-aged and slightly overweight, discovers a mysterious text within the binding of a copy of the Zohar which he found many years ago in a tiny synagogue in Safed and tries to decipher its meaning and its history .
There is a lot of back-and-forth discussion between the love interests in the two stories about things like the meaning of life and the timeline of existence and space. There are also flashbacks to different possible scenarios at the synagogue where Stern discovered the mysterious text and a tie-in with the Holocaust.
The love story is sweet, and somewhat mystical, with flashbacks to a 13th-century relationship between de Leon and his fictional, enigmatic love, known for most of the book only as "senora" - the wife of a rich courtier in Spain.
In contrast, Kushner describes the tentative modern-day dance between Kalman and Isabel Benveniste, an astronomer who suddenly discovers (thanks to Kalman) her hidden Spanish Jewish roots.
Though I must admit to relative ignorance about Kabbala and the Zohar, Moshe de Leon did exist and is believed to be the Zohar's true author, although he claimed to have only edited and transcribed it, attributing its content to the second-century Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai.
Considering this is the only thing I gained from the book, a better title might have been Kabbala Lite.
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