#104 A Kabbalistic Journey Through Time (3)

Two towering kabbalistic figures of the 16th century are examined in this third part of David’s lecture series, A Kabbalistic Journey Through Time.

David explores the ideas of Rabbi Moshe (Moses) Cordovero (the RaMaQ) and Rabbi Yitzchak (Isaac) Luria (the AR”Y), whose contributions to Kabbalah – both emerging in late 1500s in the town of Tzfat – have been seismic.

 

The lecture investigates the RaMaQ’s book, Pardes Rimonim (The Orchard of Pomegranates), and its exploration of:

  • rational emanations
  • ein sof (infinite)
  • the relationship between Divine influence and the sephirot
  • the four worlds
  • the immanence of the Divine in reality
  • the divine element in the human soul
  • the revelation of God in meditation, kavannot, and mystical experience.

The AR”Y did not write down his vast kabbalistic teachings. The recording of his ideas was left to his students, chief among whom was Rabbi Chaim Vital. It was Vital who compiled the book Etz Chayim (Tree of Life), the cornerstone text of Lurianic Kabbalah. This book, which was to change forever the landscape of Jewish Mystical thinking, contained many transformative kabbalistic concepts, including:

  • tzimtzum (contraction)
  • primordial man (Adam Qadmon)
  • the domain of chaos (tohu);
  • shevirah (shattering)
  • integrated configurations known as ‘partzuphim’
  • tiqun (repair)
  • the maintenance and repair of the World of Emanation
  • the trapped sparks of lower worlds
  • the five levels of the individual soul
  • the responsibility of souls to repair the world

David provides an overview of these concepts, a picture of the men from who they emerged, the historical setting of this extraordinary revolution in mystical thinking, and the legacy of these ideas.

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#103 A Kabbalistic Journey Through Time (2)

“The Zohar is not a book but a phenomenon.”

David’s second lecture in his series, A Kabbalistic Journey Through Time, explores the extraordinary ideas and contributions of the:

  • Zohar,
  • Tikkunei HaZohar,
  • and Sefer ha-Temunah.

In his discussion of the Zohar, David examines its dynamic interpretation of the Torah and how it applies this interpretation to the structure of the sefirot. He also looks at the way the Zohar explores the cosmic links between G-d, Israel, creation, and history.

The Tikkunei HaZohar, David explains, is concerned with the Divine presence in the various domains of the universe as well as in exile. Among other things, he considers the Tikkunei HaZohar’s discussion of the feminine Divine presence – the Shekhinah – and Her quest to find unity and completion with Her male counterpart, the blessed Holy One.

The final text David examines is Sefer HaTemunah, which is predominantly concerned with the Divine in time. All things emanate from G-d and return to Him, David explains, and time is divided into cosmic cycles.

In discussing these three important texts, David provides the historical and cultural background to their emergence in Jewish history and their impact on mystical thinking. He also shows his audience the size and presentation of the books and discusses their availability for interested readers – in English, Hebrew, and Aramaic.

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#102 A Kabbalistic Journey Through Time (1)

David provides a remarkable historical overview of the origins of Kabbalah through the emergence of its early fundamental texts. The series explores numerous questions regarding the development of Kabbalah:

  • What are the key kabbalistic books to have shaped our understanding of Jewish mysticism?
  • When did they appear?
  • And what were the profound ideas they contributed which would shape our understanding of the mystical dimensions of heaven and earth?

This first lecture in the series examines three early kabbalistic texts:

  • Sefer Yetzirah,
  • Sefer Bahir, and
  • Sha’arei Orah

and discusses numerous ideas, including:

  • The creation of the universe,
  • Attributes of the sefirot,
  • Divine interaction with the world,
  • The divine flow of energy and wisdom,
  • Cosmic time,
  • The reincarnation of soul,
  • Divine male and female imagistic symbols, and
  • The patriarchs and other figures from the Bible as representations of Divine attributes.

David maps out the timeframe and locations of the development of Kabbalah through Jewish History. He explains the context of the evolution of Jewish mystical thinking, its influences, impacts, and legacy.

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#101 The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva (4)

This final part in David’s four-part Zoom series in the lead-up to Yom Kippur, The Power of Challenge, the Challenge of Teshuva, looks at the issue of repentance and forgiveness within community.

David examines three fascinating and, at times, heartbreaking stories from Jewish History of people who have:

  • accepted their mistakes,
  • sought communal acceptance of their penitence,
  • found revelation in teshuva.

Exploring the experiences of:

  • Rabbi Yonah of Girona, a medieval rabbi who explored the concept of seeking forgiveness for misdeeds from the deceased;
  • Uriel de Costa, a 17th-century radical thinker with a tragic story of communal punishment; and
  • Franz Rosenzweig, the 20th-century philosophy who found inspiration in the idea of teshuva.

In each of these episodes, David draws out the principle of individual repentance and its relationship to communal acceptance, connection, and redemption. He also provides essential historical and cultural background to the stories, giving context and depth to the ideas and events discussed.

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#100 The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva (3)

This third lecture in David’s Zoom series, The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva, different ways the Talmud discusses the concept of teshuva.

David explores three illustrative episodes from Tanach and the Talmudic period identified by the sages as:

Examples that teach the importance of teshuva
Halachic guidance in the process of seeking – or bestowing – forgiveness
The importance of self-responsibility in teshuva.

David considers the discussions of the sages in relation to the stories of:

  • King David
  • Rav and Mechilah
  • Elazar bar Dordia.

He also summarises the messages from these episodes and draws them down to their meaning for us as we each consider our actions and failings and come to terms with our individual relationships with teshuva.

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#99 The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva (2)

Part two of David’s Zoom series, The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva, looks at the idea of individual and collective teshuvah in Tanach.

The lecture examines the story of the prophet Jonah and the teshuvah of the city of Nineveh. David explores different views around the city’s repentance and its connection to the divine message entrusted to Jonah for the population. He also discusses Jonah’s struggle with the responsibilities placed upon him and his path towards his own teshuvah.

The other story examined in this episode is that of Menasseh, King of Judah. David discusses prophetic passages that deal with Menasseh’s repentance and its reflection in the general prophetic narrative on teshuvah.

As always, David provides overall context to these biblical texts and their associated messages. He also reminds us of the opportunities they offer in our own explorations in teshuvah.

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#98 The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva (1)

he first episode of David’s Elul Zoom lecture series, The Power of Change, the Challenge of Teshuva, considers early biblical figures whose individual examples of teshuva illustrate a range of human responses to this powerful idea of self-investigation, repentance, and remorse.

David examines four biblical stories, those of:

  • Cain
  • Avimelech
  • King Saul
  • King David
each of whom acknowledged their transgressions in varying ways, providing fascinating insights into how different people accept responsibility for their mistakes or misdeeds – and what complete teshuva looks like.
Drawing on biblical narratives and commentary from the prophets, the Talmud and more modern thinkers, David explores ideas of personal responsibility and genuine repentance. He also discusses how these biblical examples address questions of forgiveness and redemption.

As always, David provides biblical and historical context to the discussion and invites his audience to examine these big ideas in relation to the text and themselves.

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#97 Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud (4)

This final episode of David’s four-part series entitled Unorthodox Episodes of the Talmud explores the idea of the evil inclination – the yetzer harah – with a particular focus on problems relating to sexual temptation.

David explains that sages of the Talmud discussed how few things are as powerful as the desire for intimacy. This inclination affects all people, including great spiritual leaders.

Illustrating this point, David examines two stories from the Talmud. The first concerns Rabbi Amrum the Pious, a third-century sage who lived in the Babylonian city of Naharda’ah who fights his evil inclinations. The other looks at a tragi-comic story of Rabbi Hiyya bar Ashi, a student of Rav, who condemned himself in the face of temptation.

Both stories explore moral and ethical considerations concerning intentional, transgression, culpability, and redemption. Other concepts discussed include:

  • individual and communal shame – both in this world and the world to come
  • mystical manifestations of evil
  • the psychology of guilt and self-control
  • recognition of human failings
  • the power of sexual urges
  • whether thinking about a sin carries the same weight as its enactment
  • moral karma
  • the importance of remembering and respecting human relationships in our quest to do right
  • whether suicide is permitted in certain circumstances
  • the importance of humility
  • an appreciation that we may each fail when our moral will is tested.

In examining these two unorthodox Talmudic episodes, David discusses the notion that individuals are often tested in line with their unique moral parameters; that we should be wary of placing ourselves on moral pedestals because we may be found wanting; we are all responsible for our behaviour; and that we must know our limitations and our weaknesses.

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#96 Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud (3)

The third part of David’s series, Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud, explores a fascinating series of interconnected stories involving:

  • a high-level international diplomatic mission, 
  • undercover rabbinical espionage,
  • a cast of remarkable Talmudic rabbinical figures,
  • parental concern,
  • a curious question of Jewish law,
  • the mystical powers of the rabbis, 
  • a sighting of looted treasures from the temple in Jerusalem,
  • and a quest to overturn devastating Roman decrees.

David discusses key Talmudic personalities from the first two centuries, including:

  • Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai
  • Rabbi Yossi Ben Halafta
  • Rabbi Reuben Ben Strobilus
  • Rabbi Yossi HaGellili
  • Rabbi Eleizer Ben Yossi
  • as well as (lehavdil) Ben Tamalia.

He also provides historical context for the events discussed in the Talmudic passages, some of the prevailing cultural and religious norms of the time, and the messages that arise from this unorthodox episode of the Talmud.

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#95 Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud (2)

Part two of David’s Zoom series, Unorthodox Episodes from the Talmud, mixes Jewish history with textual learning and fascinating storytelling.

The talk continues the story begun in the previous episode regarding Rav Kahana, a third-century sage who fled Babylonian authorities to find refuge in the Land of Israel following a violent confrontation in a rabbinical court.

In this lecture, David describes the next chapter for Rav Kahana following his arrival at the prestigious yeshiva of Tiberius. Through a series of unfortunate actions and misunderstandings, Rav Kahana finds himself once again at the centre of dramatic events involving pride, regret, and death.

As David unravels this extraordinary story, he explores:

  • key Talmudic figures and their contribution to Jewish life, history, learning, and continuity
  • the relationships and tensions between some of the great Jewish figures and academies of the time
  • the political and hierarchical structures of these rabbinical academies
  • the power of the sages and consequences of unsettling them
  • how concepts of right and wrong do not always resonate through centuries
  • the unexpectedly mystical nature of elements of the Talmud.

This lecture places in context the historical situation of the Jewish communities in Babylonia and the Land of Israel. It also reminds us of the importance of Torah scholarship in relation to the shape and influence of different parts of the Jewish world.

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