SAMPLE TOPICS FOR TEACHING IN THE JEWISH COMMUNITY
Mystical Theology: Ideas of God in Kabbalah and Hasidism Light emanating from the depths of Infinity; the unbroken Oneness of All. The feminine Shekhinah and the ten sefirot; the earth suffused with divine presence. These are some of the many images and symbols used by Jewish mystics to describe the nature of God and faith. We will delve into texts from Kabbalah and Hasidism that offer radically unexpected ways of thinking about God in Judaism.
Mystical Autobiographies: Reports of Jewish Mystical Experience Like spiritual practitioners of other religions, Jewish mystics have frequently reported the use of meditative techniques and the attainment of revelatory states of consciousness in their quest for the Divine. In this session we will study first-person descriptions of such experiences and instructions for these practices.
Mysticism and Ethics in Judaism What is the relationship between spirituality and the moral life? In this session we will explore the ways in which Jewish mystics understood the cultivation of virtue as an integral dimension of mystical practice, of a person’s realization of the divine image. Issues to be explored include: the ideal of compassion, control of anger, and care for the poor.
Is the Human Being Divine? Soul and Body in Jewish Mystical Thought Influential kabbalists argued that the soul is the essence of a person and that the soul is a direct emanation from God. So can we claim that there is a true distinction between Divinity and humanity? We will study sources from Kabbalah and Hasidism that develop this subject, seeking to understand how Jewish mystics defined the core of human nature.
Discovering God in the Natural World: Insights from Kabbalah and Hasidism Divine sparks beneath the surface of the mundane. Nature as a window onto the divine mystery. Wilderness as the audible song of revelation. Like their counterparts in other spiritual traditions, Jewish mystics have articulated the wonder and holy power of Nature's Temple, the manner in which the earthly is experienced as an indwelling of God. In this session, we will explore several classic expressions of this phenomenon, studying the words of medieval kabbalists alongside the teachings of Rebbe Nahman of Bratzlav and non-Jewish masters such as Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Love of Neighbor, Love of God: How the Two are One in Jewish Mystical Thought The imperative to love (ve-ahavtah) appears in at least three ways in the Torah: the command to love God, to love one’s neighbor as oneself, and to love the stranger. In this session we will explore mystical sources that characterize these loves as inseparably intertwined; that one encounters God in the face of the other.
The Zohar: Between Mysticism and Literature The Zohar is the single most important body of creativity in the history of Jewish mysticism, and one of the greatest pillars in all of Jewish culture. In this session we will explore several key features of the Zohar, with special attention to its literary qualities (both poetic and narrative) and its rich theological imagination.
Entering the Word, Opening the Heart: Prayer and Kavvanah in Jewish Mysticism In Jewish mysticism, the thirst for divine presence, the mediative contemplation of God, centers upon the life of prayer—the intersection of mind, heart, and soul. In this session we will explore the range of approaches and insights offered by kabbalists and hasidic mystics alike into the life of worship and devotion. Examples include the kabbalistic contemplative practice of ascending in mind through the ten sefirot to the root of Infinity (Ein-Sof); the teaching of the Ba’al Shem Tov that the person should envision each word of prayer as filled with divine light; and the practice of R. Nahman of Bratzlav that one must allow time to break open one’s heart to God with the greatest honesty—in seclusion and in one’s most natural vernacular speech.
The Layers of Torah: A Path to God in Jewish Mysticism The mystics teach us that the Torah is filled with deep mysteries about the inner life of God, and that we must always strive to interpret the text beyond its surface level of meaning. It is through that search for deeper meaning that we may see the Torah as a doorway to the presence of God in the world.