5.0 out of 5 Beautiful lucid translation and commentary -- a must have!, June 10, 2010
Rabbi Yonassan Gershom (Minnesota, USA) - (TOP 500 REVIEWER) Amazon.com
This review is from: A Tapestry for the Soul: The Introduction to the Zohar (Paperback)
It took me a while to get through this book -- not because it was boring, heaven forbid, but because it was so fascinating, I had to keep stopping to think about what I had just read. This is not a book to read once and then relegated to a dusty shelf. This is a text to read, savor, contemplate and learn from again and again. If you are interested in authentic Jewish Kabbalah, this book is a must-have for both beginners and advanced students.
What Yedidah Cohen has done is to take Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag's "Introduction to the Zohar" and create a running commentary to it by compiling appropriate texts from Rabbi Ashlag's other writings. As Cohen herself states in the introduction: "'A Tapestry of the Soul' is a compilation of Rabbi Ashlag's work taken from a wide variety of his writings, arranged to accompany the on-going text of the 'Introduction to the Zohar,' such that Rabbi Ashlag HIMSELF is teaching the "Introduction.' I would like to point out that this work is COMPILED but not edited; it is really Rabbi Ashlag who is the teacher. Here is authentic Kabbalah."
So in a sense, this book is Ashlag commenting on his own work. That authenticity is important, because there are other translations of "Introduction to the Zohar" out there which are, shall we say, rather garbled and confusing. If you want the authentic Ashlag teachings, then this is the version to buy. Reading it is like having Rabbi Ashlag right there in the room with you, taking you step by step through the basic concepts of the Zohar. Yedidah Cohen writes: on page 15: "It is clear that we have merited a light that no previous generation was privileged to receive. The Kabbalah is accessible to us without pre-conditions of spiritual attainment. Until recently, a person had to be of the stature of a Tzaddik [saint] to have the Kabbalah opened to him; it was not available to women at all. Rabbi Ashlag, in his great love, did that which no other Sage did: He opened the great treasure for everyone."
A very useful aspect of Cohen's compilation is that it contains clear explanations of technical terms that Ashlag sometimes uses without an immediate explanation. This is a common problem with Kabbalah texts in general, because they assume a certain level of Jewish background, without which the metaphors and symbolism are sometimes lost. If I might use a mathematical example: Trying to understand Kabbalah without any prior background is like trying to learn quantum physics without knowing how to count. Without some introductory background, the formulae will be gibberish. And yet, it is possible to write a book about the CONCEPTS of quantum physics for the layperson. (A good thing for me, since I am not a mathematician.) In the same way, it is possible to write about Kabbalah in a way that is accessible to the layperson. This was Rabbi Ashlag's explicit goal. He wanted to make Kabbalah accessible to the average Jew, as a way to revitalize the Judaism of his time. Still, his own circle of students were advanced Torah scholars who had mastered the classical Jewish texts, so he was often assuming a level of learning and background that many modern Jews do not have.
Cohen's book helps to fill this gap. In addition to compiling Ashlag's explanations, Cohen adds some editorial guidance for beginners, pointing out and explaining basic ideas that the texts sometimes take for granted. The result is a very accessible book for anyone interested in Kabbalah. It is arranged into 18 lessons (for the numerical value of CHAI, the Hebrew word for "life" or "living," a number commonly encountered in Jewish mysticism.) Each lesson also contains suggestions for personal inner work (journaling is an excellent idea.) In addition to being a manual for personal spiritual growth, this book would also make an excellent text for study groups. I give it ten stars!
5.0 out of 5 starsExcellent book, June 15, 2010
Shalom Spencer "Shalom S." (Berkeley, CA USA) -
In their first book, In The Shadow Of The Ladder, The author and her late husband (z"l) translated two essays (Rabbi Ashlag titled them: Introductions to the 10 Sephirot and Introduction to the Zohar) and also explained essential concepts and definitions necessary to understand Rabbi Ashlag's deep and profound system of Kabbalah. She then shared her own personal experiences. In this book Yedidah takes The Introduction to the Zohar and uses translations of Rabbi Ashlag's other works as means to explain the entire essay. In addition she uses translated material from Rabbi Ashlag's son, Rabbi Baruch Shalom Ashlag to further explain and provide deep insight into many of the sometimes complex concepts that are covered in this one essay. Furthermore Yedidah offers her own explanations to many of the ideas presented offering advice for practice and making the teachings relevant to ones life.
I found my self riveted to this book (for reasons I cannot honestly explain!) and felt I had learned more from this one text than almost any book I have studied about Kabbalah. Perhaps it is the love and sincerety that went into this book I am not sure. Yedidah has selflessly devoted her life to spreading the teachings of Rabbi Ashlag whether through the written word or on her web site where she shares short audio teachings about Ashlag's material. I felt that even without a teacher who could explain this material I had the next best thing, a book with incredible depth, clear explanations, and teachings that were relevant to my everyday life.
Review Jerusalem Post
Rabbi Zvi LeShem
Rabbi Yehuda Lev Ashlag (1886-1955) was one of the most famous Jewish mystics of the 20th century. Popularly known as “the master of the Sulam” (ladder), after his commentary on the Zohar, his works are studied in a variety of settings, from esoteric groups of hidden mystics to the glitzy commercialized Kabbala centers where, for the right fee, anyone can engage in the hidden knowledge of the Kabbala. In recent years Ashlag has received much attention in academic circles as well.
Against this almost schizophrenic backdrop, Yedidah Cohen’s unique and refreshing work, A Tapestry for the Soul, makes its appearance. Cohen studied with a student of Rabbi Baruch Ashlag, son and primary student of the original Rabbi Ashlag, who made aliya from Warsaw in 1922. This work includes a translation of Ashlag’s Introduction to the Zohar, with an extensive commentary as well as suggestions for “inner work,” such as journaling.
The unique aspect of this project is that most of the commentary is not Cohen’s own composition, but is made up of selections from other works of the two Ashlags, woven together (like a tapestry) in an inter-textual dialogue to elucidate the main text, divided into 18 lessons. In Cohen’s words: A Tapestry for the Soul is a compilation of Ashlag’s work taken from a wide variety of his writings, arranged to accompany the ongoing text of the Introduction to the Zohar, such that Ashlag himself is teaching the Introduction: “It is really Rabbi Ashlag who is the teacher. Here is authentic Kabbala.”
What is Ashlag’s system as presented here? Key kabbalistic concepts such as the four worlds, the 10 sefirot and the parts of the soul inform Ashlag’s unique system, in which the ideas of Jewish mysticism are harnessed for human perfection, paving the way for the redemption.
In his view, the primary human movement is the development from egotism to altruism, from the desire to receive to the desire to give. During this process one develops from a created being whose primary function is to receive God’s influence, to a more godlike creature who desires to give for the sake of giving. He thus transforms himself from “difference of form,” which separates him from God, to “affinity of form,” by which he comes closer to God, and a meaningful life, while simultaneously improving the world.
Cohen’s translation is clear and readable and her apparent mastery of the Ashlagian corpus enables her to bring parallel texts from the father and the son to flesh the Introduction. Occasionally the quotations are lengthy and could have been edited, but by and large the topics under discussion are thoroughly clarified. Cohen also attempts to keep the reader focused on “what all of this has to do with me,” as we are reminded to think about the personal issues, recall similar experiences and to write in our journals.
The book, enhanced by a biography of Ashlag and “kabbalistic art” by Avraham Lowenthal, would have benefited by including the complete text of Ashlag’s Introduction, or at least the full chapter at the beginning of each lesson. I would have preferred to read the entire chapter straight through before beginning to compare it with parallel works.
To return to the issue of the “authenticity” of the Ashlagian teachings presented here: As described above, there exists a great discrepancy in the presentation of his teachings, partly as a result of Ashlag’s own belief in the open dissemination of elitist kabbalistic teachings. The crass commercialism of the Kabbala Center is this process taken to its extreme. Other scholars continue to teach this material only to select initiates.
Where does Cohen fit in on this continuum? In stressing the “authentic” nature of her presentation, which relies primarily upon the writings of the Ashlags themselves, she positions herself within the orthodox rendition of the material. And yet, here and on her Web site, www.nehorapress.com, she stresses the universal nature of the approach; “Rabbi Ashlag addresses all of us, Jew and non-Jew, religious and secular. His concern is universal, being the establishment of the world of love for all humankind.”
She changes the masculine gender of the original texts to read “he or she” and she strongly downplays the difference between “religious” and “secular” Jews, explaining that even “religious” Jews don’t keep all of the mitzvot, whereas “secular” ones keep more than they are aware of. Thus her policy is to teach Kabbalah to all without regard to level of observance. The obvious question is what would Ashlag himself have to say about this. Rabbi Avraham Gottlieb, a leading student of the younger Ashlag, whom Cohen herself quotes in her work, seems to take a different approach. In a lengthy letter apparently written in response to the Kabbala Center phenomenon, he writes with great passion that both of the Rabbis Ashlag felt strongly that the study of Kabbala when unaccompanied by strict mitzva observance was a blasphemous distorted approach attempting to perfect the soul while ignoring the body, and that any experience of spiritual growth on the part of a nonobservant Kabbala student was simply an illusion.
In light of the above, it would seem that Cohen is walking a thin line of popularizing the teachings of Ashlag while still situating herself within the orthodox position and avoiding the vulgarization to which they have been subjected. The question of boundaries in an area such as this are quite sensitive, and while Cohen may be faulted for pushing the envelope a bit in the direction of openness, her work is nonetheless a very valuable alternative to the vast amount of spurious “Kabbala” that is available, and for that as well, she deserves to be commended.
The writer is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shirat Shlomo in Efrat. He holds a PhD in Jewish philosophy and is the author of Redemptions: Contemporary Hassidic Essays on the Parsha and the Festivals
Association of Jewish Libraries
Nira G. Wolfe,
A Kabbalah primer for adults, The Tapestry for the Soul includes Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag’s Introduction to the Zohar with excerpts from his other writings and suggestions for the reader’s inner work. Yedidah Cohen, an experienced student and teacher of Kabbalah, presents a clear and organized version of the basic life questions that Rabbi Ashlag confronts in his Introduction to the Zohar. Starting with inquiries about God and the creation, he progresses to examination of the soul, the nature of the body, free will, suffering and the purpose of one’s life in this world and the higher worlds. The culmination of the book is the innermost aspect of the Torah and its relationship to Israel and the World.
Including tables, notes, glossary, bibliography, resources, and indexes, and also original art work by Avraham Loewenthal, the author produces a very attractive and pleasing volume. Biographies of Rabbi Yehudah Lev Ashlag and Yedidah Cohen are included. The Tapestry for the Soul is a worthwhile addition to any kabbalah collection. Lay persons interested in the subject will embrace it.
Nira G. Wolfe, Independent researcher, Highland Park, IL; Head Librarian Hebrew Theological College (retired), Skokie, IL
Review Maayeni HaYeshua-
Weaver of Souls
Rabbi Ran Sarid
Yedidah Cohen author of the book “A Tapestry for the Soul” explains the basic premises of the Kabbalah in a clear and innovative way, delving into the depths of the human soul.
In order that we should really get prepared for the upcoming festival of Shavuot, on which the Torah was given, we are asked during these days of the counting of the Omer, to enter into the cave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, and to learn about our essence and about the different attributes of the soul . This we can learn only from one source and that is the well-spring of the Torah of the Kabbalah. A new book that I discovered to be an up-to date guide in the paths of these mysteries came into my hands from the mystical town of Safed ( where else?) “A Tapestry for the Soul by Yedidah Cohen”
Before people like myself raise an eyebrow and wonder “What is a woman doing amongst us?” I shall only say that the book is endorsed by the Chief Rabbi of Safed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu and with this book it becomes clear that the contribution of women does not stop with faith, Chassidut or even with Gemorrah but women are also contributing within the territory of the hidden.
And this is how it happened: One day I received a book to check, in connection to marketing. I wasn’t sure about it and I left it lying around at home. At the time, I didn’t pay attention that my learned wife was becoming deeply interested in the book, until one day she asked me where I had got it from? To my surprise she explained that although she had studied many books in her life, she had never come across one which clarified the basic ideas of the Kabbalah in such a clear and systematic way. I was curious. I phoned the author, and a woman of middle age, full of life, answered me with a slight English accent. She told me that she had been studying the material of Rabbi Yehudah Lev Ashlag, “the Baal HaSulam” and that of his son for many years, and she understood there was a need to arrange their teachings in an explanatory way. Their teachings are profoundly concerned with the inner search, which so much occupies us, and which provides the real motive for many aspects of our lives.
At this stage I myself became interested. I took the book into my own hands and started to read. I found it to be really well constructed. Its foundation is the Introduction to the Zohar by Rabbi Yehudah Lev Ashlag, in which is to be found many principles of Rabbi Ashlag’s system. Yedidah Cohen explains Rabbi Ashlag’s words by using comparable excerpts from his other writings and from those of his son Rabbi Baruch Shalom Halevi Ashlag . All the terms of the Kabbalah receive the illumination of a fresh and lucid explanation. Questions concerning the inner meaning of the association of the soul with the body get a detailed answer. The book also gives suggestions on how to work with the material through journal writing in order in clarify and internalize the learning. The author demonstrates an impressive knowledge both of the teachings of Rabbi Ashlag as well as a clear understanding of the depths of the soul. I found A Tapestry for the Soul to be an up-to-date and appropriate key with which to open the door to the cave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
Rabbi Ran Sarid is a graduate of the Yeshiva Mercaz HaRav, Jerusalem, and among the founders of the Yeshivat Hesder in Ramat Gan. He teaches at Midreshet Aviv and is in the forefront of promoting works of genuine Jewish thought and culture through his company “Dabri Shir”, famous for its stand at the Jerusalem central bus station.