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Ecstatic Kabbalah Hardcover – Illustrated, September 1, 2005
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Top Customer Reviews
A warning: if you are looking for the sort of pseudo-Kabbalah being peddled by Rav Berg and the Kabbalah Center, this book is not for you. There is no bottled water here, no red threads or other magical nonsense, nothing to appeal to the Madonna-wannabes. Real Kabbalah is invisible on the outside. There are no fashion statements or other ready-to-wear "spiritual materialist" baloney.
Real Kabbalah is all about quieting down the constant internal monologue so that we can learn to see the Divine in all Its manifestations. Once you get tired of the pop-culture distortions so prevalent today, take off that silly red thread, dump the bottled water onto the begonias, and crack this book. Sit on a chair (or a zafu if you prefer), and try these meditations. You'll gain more self-awareness and God-awareness from one hour of clear mindedness than from a hundred thousand miles of red string.
The only thing missing for advanced students was the Hebrew translation. The English and the transliteration is there for the most part but I would have liked to have the Hebrew without searching for it in my own Hebrew prayer books. After the first few times I did not want to hear the instructions again, so I fast forward to the actual meditations. It would have been nice if the talking were separated from the chanting. Other than that-- enjoy!
The great mystic Abraham Abulafia lived in 13th century Spain, the country that was home to amongst others the great philosopher of reason Maimonides and Solomon ibn Gabirol who wrote such sublime devotional poetry. Abulafia, who was nearly forgotten until Gershom Scholem rescued his work from obscurity, developed a specific system of contemplative practice based on Hebrew letters, words & sounds. Chapter three concludes with a fascinating look at the structure or levels of the soul and the function of the Pure Soul Mantra (Neshama) which is Track Two. The next chapter provides an overview of Abulafia's contemplative practices with detailed exposition on certain sounds & their associated head movements as well as the Shiviti Chant.
The concept of 'boundlessness' underlies the Names of the Divine which Rabbi Cooper explores in great detail. These include 'El' and its many variations & combinations, the Tetragrammaton, the Shekhina and all the others that are found in the Talmud. The chant of Ahavat Olam, a mantra celebrating love without measure, is elucidated. Invoking the Presence is achieved by breathing & visualization practices as demonstrated on Track Seven. In chapter eight, the author deals with the concept of expanded consciousness as reflected in the Magic Mirror Exercise and the Shema (Track Nine). The Shema is analyzed with reference to its individual sounds, its meaning of unity & its purpose of emphasizing oneness.
The final chapter investigates the thirteen attributes of the Divine; it includes discussions of the terms 'tzaddik' (righteous) & 'tikkun' (restoration) and the work of Moses Cordovero. The Appendix provides further information on vocal & silent chanting and the various permutations of Abulafia's sound & breath practices. Illustrations of the Tree of Life, the top 5 Chakras on the human body, the levels of the soul, the aforementioned head movements & the letter Aleph enhance the text; the book concludes with a short note and bibliography of works by the author. The ten tracks on the CD are: Meditation on harmony/Elohai neshama/Abulafia basic chants/Abulafia doublets/Shiviti/Ahavat olam/Y-W meditation/Magic mirror exercise/Shema/The thirteen attributes.
I highly recommend Ecstatic Kabbalah for its clarity, accessibility and the particular issues it addresses. A similar helpful combination of book & CD in the Sanskrit tradition is Healing Mantras by Thomas Ashley-Farrand. Two thought-provoking works on music therapy & sound healing include Sacred Sounds by Ted Andrews and Healing Sounds by Jonathan Goldman whose albums Chakra Chants, Ultimate Om and Holy Harmony are masterpieces of sacred healing sound.
If you have read Rabbi Cooper’s other works, there is not much that is new here. He is influenced by the work of Rabbi Abraham Abulafia, but he also practiced Buddhism and Sufism, and although this book is “Jewish” in primary sense of the word, other influences are apparent.
Ecstatic worship is not about reading books, or even saying standard prayers or engaging in communal worship (although those elements play a part) but rather about the direct encounter between the person and their inner world. So, books like Rabbi Cooper’s really hold the key to unlocking the vitality of Judaism for so many Jews who are disaffected with the normative way their religion is practiced.
But it takes effort, time, patience and practice. It takes work - but it is worth it.