THE KABBALAH – Part 1
You remember how it was when you were a small child? How everything was new and full of wonder? Even if you had a hard childhood, your mind would open from time to time, everything around you would fall away, and you felt yourself joined with something higher. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t tell me you don’t remember.
Even as a young adult, when you were first exploring new books and music, love and sex, you had the nagging feeling that there was something behind it all, some kind of secret – not quite like the secret codes you played with as a child, but still a way of changing and hiding a deeper message. And maybe you tried to find clues to this message in your Scriptures, or in science, or in art and literature, and you felt you almost had it, but it still eluded you.
And there were bills to pay, kids to raise, endless meetings and interviews and hasty late-night dinners in front of the television before you dropped off to sleep exhausted. You found the answers that worked for you, and they worked well enough, and you stopped asking the questions, not because you didn’t care anymore, but just because you had other things to do.
So here you are. Maybe now you’re at what they call middle age (whatever that means) and you start counting your birthdays in terms of how many down, how many to go. You wonder what comes next. In those private moments you’ve never spoken of to anyone, you wonder why you bother at all. You’re tired – tired of everything, all the time. You catch yourself thinking that if something happened to you, and you didn’t have to do this anymore, perhaps it wouldn’t be an altogether bad thing. An early retirement, you could say ... and then the alarm clock rings, and it’s time to do it all again.
What brought us here, and why? We’ve looked for answers to these questions in books, you and I, and we know that none of the answers we’ve found have been satisfactory. What we need is not for someone to hand us a diagram with our place clearly marked in the Master Plan (although let’s admit it, that would be nice, woudn’t it?) – what we really need is to learn a new way of thinking. Or maybe it’s an old way of thinking. Or maybe it’s a way of not-thinking.
Or maybe ...
(End of Part 1)
THE KABBALAH – Part 2
When I was in my mid-teens, my mother gave me my first book about Kabbalah. It was “The Book of Letters” by Lawrence Kushner. You have to see this book: it’s bound in natural colored cloth, printed on cream-colored paper; it’s not typeset, but written in the author’s hand in plain and elegant English and Hebrew calligraphy. There is a copy of the book on my lap, next to my computer keyboard, as I write this. I cannot imagine being without this book.
“Alef is the first letter. It has no sound ...” So begins the book, quietly, like the first letter. “Open your mouth and begin to make a sound. STOP! That is Alef.” At once, intuitively, you know where Kushner is taking you. You’re going to go to the beginning, the place before sound, the place before thought. You’re going to learn new words – and not just the words themselves, or even just their meanings, you are going to learn a new way of thinking.
Over the next fifty-five pages (it is a short book) we learn more than 200 Hebrew words: words like echad (one), bayit (house), hinneni (here I am), sefer (book), and tzedek (righteousness). We also learn that “you cannot pronounce the letter Tet until you go out early in the spring morning and see the dew (tal). Only when you secretly confess to yourself that you really do not understand how the tiny droplets of water have come to be, are you permitted to be cleansed in them.”
Growing up in Rabbi Kushner’s New England, I knew well the chill of the dew on bare feet in the morning, at that time in spring when school is not quite over, but you can at least forget about it long enough to watch the shimmer of the early sun on those droplets. And maybe you weren’t happy in school, and maybe your home life wasn’t so good either, but could put it out of your mind when you saw the dew glistening on the blades of grass.
What was I feeling at those moments? I don’t know. I know that at other times, I was feeling “Shevirat ha-Kelim. The discord and confusion which is the beginning of growing. And then trying to get it all back together again.” So life was not meant to be easy: this much was clear. But what could be broken and shattered could also be mended: “Tikkun. Mending. The repair of the universe.” I didn’t understand what it all meant, but I wanted to find out.
Now there’s another book in front of me: big, square, and slick, printed in eye-popping day-glow colors and metallic silver. The title is “The 72 Names of God – Technology for the Soul (TM)” and the dust jacket informs me that the book is a “National Bestseller”. Its author, Yehuda Berg, is “an ordained Rabbi and is internationally-renowned as a leading authority of Kabbalah.”
The Forword informs us that “the 72 Names are a technology for asserting the power of human consciousness over physicality.” The book is quite emphatic about the “technology” aspect, in fact, using the word ten times in the two-page foreword (and four times in the first paragraph alone).
So it is a technology. Well. If it is a technology, then it must be practical, efficient, and reliable. I certainly hope it works better than my AOL dial-up or Windows Millennium Edition.
But if it is a technology, then it must also be inscrutable. Anything technological has already been theorized, understood, studied, researched and developed, and is now in full production, ready for consumer use. Science – or what used to be called “natural philosophy” – belongs to the conjoined realms of understanding and experience. Technology, by definition, does not ask to be understood or even thought about; only used. Did your computer come with a brochure explaining the fine points of silicon doping and photolithography? Neither did mine.
What are the 72 Names? They are combinations of three Hebrew letters each, derived from Exodus 14:19-21 by a simple algorithm (one letter from each verse, in order, reading the middle verse backward). The book promises that by meditating faithfully on the various letter combinations, certain specific effects can be achieved. Of course, there is a stipulation: the Names will not do anything for you unless you commit to “proactive behavior” and renounce “ego games”.
Well and good: the 72 Names of God help them who help themselves. But these little tricks – being proactive and dealing with that nuisance called the ego – does the book offer us any practical advice regarding these things? Is it not astonishing that whole shelves of self-help books, even entire religions, have been devoted to these tasks, yet Berg offers us not so much as a handful of pointers for keeping the mind and body still during meditation, or winning friends and influencing people?
And conversely: once we’ve got will and ego under control, what will the 72 Names do for us that mere meditation, prayer, study, and action alone will not? On this point, too, the book is resolutely silent.
But let me stop nitpicking over the book; now I want to visit Yossi Kein Halevi’s article on Yehuda Berg and his Kabbalah Centre.
(End of Part 2)
THE KABBALAH – Part 3
Yossi Klein Halevi visited the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles earlier this year (he was there for Purim), and in the May 10 print issue of The New Republic, he tells us about it.
“In the prayer room they call ‘the war zone’, where the cosmic battle against Satan is fought, several dozen young men are swaying to the rhythms of the morning Jewish service,” the article begins. It is like an Orthodox synagogue, Halevi notes, except for “some oddities”: some men wear kippot, tallitot, and tefillin (the normal acoutrements of a weekday morning service) while others do not. “The Centre has transformed Kabbalah – considered by Jews to be the inner sanctum of Jewish thought – into generic, nondenominational mysticism.” The various triliteral terms of the 72-letter Divine Name may now be found imprinted on T-shirts and trucker’s caps. According to Halevi, “the Centre claims that merely scanning the text of the Zohar, the seminal thirteenth-century commentary on the Bible, offers divine protection. You don’t have to understand what you’re reading; in fact, you don’t even have to know how to read the Hebrew letters to absorb their magical properties.”
So it has come to this. Lawrence Kushner, writing in 1975, could tell us of the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet: “Bait is a house, Bayit. It is of the ground. ... The dot [in the middle of the letter] which is called a dagesh represents one who lives within. When Jacob our father slept in the wilderness, he was certain that he was alone. But when he awoke, he had learned about Bait: “Surely G-d has been in this place, and I didn’t even know it!” (This verse would provide the title for a later book by Kushner.) The text goes on to observe: “All the other letters might fall over, but not Bait [which is flat on the bottom]. See how the base of a Bait is so close to the earth. The ground. Bend your knees to the ground and be blessed. A blessing: beracha.”
We have learned the shape of the letter, and two words. We have also learned something about seeking the Mysterious One, and about awareness, and about humility.
But we have learned nothing at all about the letter’s magical powers, so what good is it?
Back to Halevi. “In the Centre’s world, though, the spiritual quest isn’t about God, but about the seeker. The Centre does teach the need to give to others – and Madonna, for one, credits it with making her a better person. Accompanying the Centre’s candles for better sex is a divine name and a prayer ‘to purify my desires so that I share love and energy with my partner, putting his or her needs ahead of my own.’ But, as the Centre’s own literature makes clear, the motive for such altruism is selfishness.” As the article quotes one Kabbalah Centre disciple, “It has nothing to do with being a good person. It’s about not hurting myself.”
“The Centre doesn’t merely trivialize Kabbalah; it inverts its intention. ... Where Kabbalah’s goal is to transcend this world, the Centre’s goal is to master it,” says Halevi. “ ‘The Centre doesn’t speak about God, but about “the light”, which is an impersonal force,’ says a professor of religious studies researching the group. ‘If you link into the right name, you get the right result. The Centre turns God into our remote-control panel.’”
More disturbing stories emerge: the man who filled his swimming pool with Kabbalah Mountain water (blessed by leaders of the Centre) to cure his fatal illness, or the one who left his wife anf family to pursue his involvement with the Centre. What kind of place is this?
Then Halevi brings us to a scene at the Centre on Saturday night (the end of the Jewish Sabbath): after the meal, Centre members – Madonna among them – recite the traditional Grace After Meals (known as “bentching” – a rare Romance word in the Yiddish language, being derived from the French “benediction”). They’re reading the Hebrew prayers from transliterated texts – remember, no one has taught them to actually read the letters. To the writer, Madonna appears “hunched down, in an uncharacteristic humility.”
You remember 1986? A long time ago, I know. Maybe you’re too young to remember. America was slowly winding down its long struggle with something called the “Soviet Union”. The internet didn’t exist, and home computers were still a novelty. And so was MTV, but there were some pop artists who were learning to master the medium.
That was the year a wildly popular and inventive singer released a song called “Live to Tell”. Madonna was not quite 28 years old.
(End of Part 3)
THE KABBALAH – Part 4
I know where beauty lives
I've seen it once, I know the warmth she gives
The light that you could never see
It shines inside, you can't take that from me
There’s someone inside, behind the mind, behind the feelings. This is the soul, the deep self. It strives and struggles to make its way through the world, knowing that this is its only way back home.
It knows what you’ve always suspected, that there is a deep underlying order, far below what the eyes and ears can find and far beyond what the mind can grasp. You’re dimly aware of this deep self, but if you think of it at all, you treat it as a problem to be solved, or a figment of your overworked imagination. You tell yourself you really need to get out more.
But still, you wonder ...
You’re not the only one:
“Rabbi Isaac said, ‘The light created by God in the act of Creation flared from one end of the universe to the other and was hidden away, reserved for the righteous in the world that is coming, as it is written: Light is sown for the righteous. Then the worlds will be fragrant, and all will be one. But until the world that is coming arrives, it is stored and hidden away.’
“Rabbi Judah responded, ‘If the light were completely hidden, the world could not exist for even a moment! Rather, it is hidden and sown like a seed that gives birth to seeds and fruit. Thereby the world is sustained.’” – The Zohar (translated by Daniel C. Matt in The Essential Kabbalah).
Depending on who you listen to, the Zohar was written in the First Century by Rabbi Simon bar Yohai, or around 1280 by Rabbi Moses de Leon. Don’t worry about it. The Kabbalah is the unfolding story of the soul’s search for itself, and the Zohar is one of its chapters.
The Book of Creation (Sefer Yetzirah), a much shorter book than the Zohar and older by almost all accounts, also speaks of the soul’s search. It describes an orderly universe, created by means of mystical “letters” and by other quantities called “Sefirot”, a universe in which there is a correspondence between form, number, and sound, and between space, time, and the soul. An appendix to the Book of Creation, called the Thirty-Two Pathse of Wisdom, describes these entities in detail. (You can find a translation of the Thirty-Two Paths, with commentary, at The Ocean Names of Night.)
This is the literature of the soul’s journey. It is often chaotic, sometimes contradictory, always symbolic and usually opaque. Is the Kabbalah Jewish? It can’t seem to make up its mind. It wants to be quintessentially Jewish, but it also wants to be universal – which is perhaps the most Jewish thing about it.
But isn’t it that way with all of us? Don’t we all have to struggle with that tension, the conflict between our uniqueness as individuals and our universality as human beings? And isn’t that what makes us human?
(End of Part 4.)
THE KABBALAH – Part 5
You know how you tell a really good Orthodox shul? I mean, every synagogue has its good points – charismatic rabbi, nice architecture, good food on Shabbos afternoon. But in a really good shul, you don’t have to be anybody except who you are. They don’t care if you’re rich or famous, whether you’re converted or if you “look Jewish” or not; they don’t worry about how you’re dressed or what kind of university degree you have. Their priority is the Torah – everything else is trivial in comparison.
It was at one of those shuls that I met actress/comedienne Sandra Bernhard a few years ago. This was in San Francisco, where I was living at the time. The congregation didn’t have its own building (although it used to, many years ago); we met in an office building downtown. It was a small, eclectic, and devoted group. Services were led by a man named Henry, a tall, unkempt, and brilliant man who had arrived as a refugee from Germany in 1945. He was highly regarded as a scholar, both as a talmudist and as a kabbalist; he also made a terrific tuna salad. Services were held on Friday night (Sabbath eve) and Saturday; if you stuck around for Saturday evening services at the end of the Sabbath, you’d find the small group singing “baruch elokeinu she’branu likhvodo”, a verse from the prayerbook, in solemn tones.
I didn’t know who she was at first, because she went by her Hebrew name Sarah. (This wasn’t an affectation; it’s common for Jews to switch from their common name to their Hebrew name in the synagogue.) She must have been in town on a tour. She was there for Sabbath morning services and the meal afterwards; I don’t remember much of the conversation but she seemed relieved to be able to just relax. I don’t remember whether she was there for one of Henry’s talks on kabbalah; if she was, she might have been treated to a detailed discussion of the connection between the Messiah and the lowest sephirah, Malkhut, perhaps making mention of the gematria (Hebrew numerology) of the word “malkhut”. (It’s 496, in case you were wondering.) Henry often emphasized the importance of the Shekhinah, or feminine Divine presence, in connection with the Messianic Age.
Sandra Bernhard is still learning kabbalah, dammit! and is now one of the high-profile disciples of the Kabbalah Centre (along with Barbra Streisand, Elizabeth Taylor, Britney Spears, and various other celebrities mentioned by Yossi Klein Halevi.) According to the blurb on the back of the book, Sandra says that we must “tap into the 72 Names of God IMMEDIATELY!”
But “immediately” isn’t the word most meditation teachers use for serious practice. Something seems to be missing here. The Berg family are certainly not the only ones, or the first ones, to make mysticism available to the general population. Whey, then, are they at the center (or centre) of this new fad? Halevi thinks he knows the answer, and he may be right; I’ll come back to his article “Like A Prayer” in The New Republic, and add some thoughts of my own.
I don’t know what Sandra Bernhard is learning from the Bergs’ Kabbalah Centre now that she has become a devotee. I hope it’s as good as listening to Henry. But I’ll bet they can’t touch his tuna salad.
(End of Part 5.)
THE KABBALAH - Part 6
Will it grow cold, the secret that I hide?
Will I grow old?
You’ve had those moments when you heard a song, and you had to drop everything, because nothing else was happening except the song? You just stand there with your eyes closed, literally entranced, bewitched by the music and the words and the voice? And for a moment it seems that everything in your life is contained in the song, like a secret hidden in some kind of code, and you wish you could reveal that secret to the world, but you know you can’t, because if you did, the world would crumble before its beauty? You know the feeling, right?
(Oh. Well, maybe it’s just me, then. But you get the idea.)
The song “Live to Tell” was one of those moments for me. Hearing it, I was sure that it was the work of someone who, like me, was searching for the path back to that higher place that we all come from and to which we are all destined to return. “If I live to tell the secret I knew then, will I / ever have the chance again?”
So picture Yossi Klein Halevi sitting with the Bergs and Madonna at the Kabbalah Centre. Madonna is sounding out the words to the Birkat ha-Mazon, while Halevi is mentally taking notes for his article in The New Republic.
What is Madonna Ciccone thinking as she recites the Hebrew words? Has she found what she was looking for?
Halevi closes the article with some intriguing hints about the Kabbalah Centre: an unnamed source familiar with the Centre says, "They don't tell everyone who walks through the door that it's really about immortality ... but subtly, the more you get into it, the more they reveal their real agenda." The author ends with a wry speculation: "What, after all, is more likely to entice a sex symbol confronting middle age than the promise of eternal youth?"
Perhaps many things, I think. It is easy for a male journalist to dismiss an attractive, seductive female entertainer as a "sex symbol" - and undoubtedly, whatever else she may be, Madonna certainly is that. But remember that Madonna's early role model, and the source of her principal public persona, was Marilyn Monroe - another talented, intelligent young woman who gained fame by marketing herself as a "sex symbol". Madonna, now ten years older than Norma Jeane Baker at the time of her death, must have had occasion to think about what she is going to do with the rest of her life.
A news item on Madonna suggests that there is more to this person than a "sex symbol confronting middle age". Madonna has announced that she is taking the Hebrew name Esther; she is also toning down the public sexuality. I think both of these things are important.
Taking another name - a Hebrew name, for example - is a big step. Yes, some people do do it frivolously, but when you ask to be known by another name, whether or not it replaces your old one, you are making a big change in your life. If you change your name, your parents may not take kindly to it. (Mine certainly did not.) Madonna, who was named after her mother (as was I), emphasizes that her assumption of the Hebrew name is "in no way a negation" of her mother, who died when Madonna Jr. was very young.
The news item also indicates that she is no longer interested in the "raunchy pop vixen image". "I don't regret it, but it's just ... I mean everybody takes their clothes off now. And then what? You know? And -- and then what?"
It's interesting, too, that she takes the name Esther, which is associated with the Jewish holiday of Purim. Halevi's article mentions a Purim celebration at the Kabbalah Centre, where, in the author's estimation, "Jews can pretend to be non-Jews, non-Jews can pretend to be Jews, and everyone can pretend to be Kabbalists." Halevi plays the scene for laughs, but the joke is really on him, because the ambiguity of identity is exactly what Purim is about - and I think this may help us to understand Madonna better.
The holiday of Purim and the book of Esther are unique in many ways. Esther is the only book of the Hebrew Scriptures in which the Divinity is never mentioned by name. It is also the only book set wholly in the diaspora, and the only book in which Jews are called by the name we use today: not Hebrews, not Israelites, but survivors of the Tribe of Judah - Jews.
And Purim, the holiday derived from the Esther story, is a law unto itself. While the moderate, sacralized use of wine or liquor is common at Jewish festivals, Purim is the only holiday on which we are actually expected to get drunk - so drunk, tradition tells us, that we should no longer be able to distinguish between "cursed be Haman" and "blessed be Mordechai". And above all, of course, Purim is a masquerade festival - and the only time when Jewish law officially sets aside the prohibitions of Deuteronomy 22:5, permitting celebrants to dress outside of their assigned gender.
Purim isn't one of the major Jewish holidays. Its origins are not in the Torah, but in the historical period, and so the Sabbath-like strictures that apply to Passover, Rosh HaShanah, and especially Yom Kippur do not apply to Purim. In fact, Purim is the one Jewish holiday that can never fall on the Sabbath. And yet tradition holds that in the Messianic Era, when redemption has come to the world and all other holidays are abolished, Purim alone will still be observed.
In taking the name Esther, Madonna has taken on the identity of the Jewish queen of Persia in the Biblical book of the same name. (I always identified with Vashti myself.) In the Jewish reading, Esther represents the "hidden Jew": either the Jew who must hide her or his identity for fear of persecution, or, still more allegorically, the higher Divine self that stays hidden within each person.
Perhaps Madonna is no longer content to entertain the king's court by presenting - however skilfully - the image that the outside world wishes to see. Now she can begin to come to terms with her spiritual identity as a woman, as a human being. Now, as Esther, she can begin to reconcile her public image with her true self.
(End of Part 6.)
THE KABBALAH - Part 7
No one is watching you, and yet you feel you're being watched. Maybe you've had this feeling from time to time; maybe you have it now. You don't believe in God - you gave up this guy named "God", this old man in the clouds with a white beard, long ago. So you subtract things - prophets and saints, churches, synagogues and mosques, you subtract the body from the soul and the soul from the body, and you subtract everything but the random interaction of subatomic particles. And this is the only truth you're left with, but because it has no meaning, none at all, you subtract even that.
And yet you are still left with something.
Where do you go from here?
Do you turn back to the guy named God? That was where the process started, after all; so perhaps you can begin there. But He always disappointed you - because you expected Him to be human, like a man, and idealized, powerful, all-good and all-compassionate man, but somehow human nonetheless. And God failed you; he failed your expectation. He failed to be human.
But God is not a man. You always knew this, intellectually, but it only hits you now. The guy named God is an illusion, but there's something else that is more than real. It is not human, and you hesitate to call it "He". You hesitate to give it any name at all, but you have to come up with something, so you write the word with letters missing - G-d - because the whole enterprise is futile anyway. Or you could use another word, something neutral, Spirit, or Light, or Mystery, or The Way.
More than twenty-five centuries ago, an Arab named Ayoub discovered the mysterious Spirit in the tempest of personal tragedy. His story comes down to us in one of the longest books of the Bible, written in an uncommonly opaque Hebrew and bearing the Hebrew form of his name - Iyov, or Job. Job's friends try to explain away his suffering, offering either blame or false hope. Job will accept neither. What galls him so is not the fact of his suffering, but the unfairness of it. Rejecting the sugarcoated theodicies of others, he finds no peace until he is confronted by the voice from the whirlwind, and declares: "I will ask, and you will inform me."
So evocative is the language of the Divinity's final address to Job, that the kabbalistic commentator Ra'avad discerns "fifty gates of wisdom" in chapters 38 and 39 of the book. But really, if you just read the passage aloud - even in a good English translation - you will get a sense of the mystery that Job must have experienced. And I think that is the main point.
Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, who lived in Warsaw at the time of the Nazi invasion, saw more death and cruelty than anyone should ever have to see. And yet - somehow - he kept teaching Torah, and he left a record of his teachings from the years 1940 to 1942. Unearthed by a construction worker after the war, this last work of Kalonymus, titled "The Holy Fire", is the spiritual diary of a man watching his world being destroyed.
In an entry dated Parashat Mishpatim, 5702 (February 1942), Kalonymus writes: "We learn from the commentaries that the voice of G-d at the giving of the Torah [on Mount Sinai] traveled from one end of the Earth to the other, and that Israel heard the voice of G-d in all the winds of the world. This comes to teach us that we must not think of the physical world as being far from the Torah, nor in opposition to it: it is not so. The voice of the Torah is heard from the whole world, because the world too was created by the word of G-d and the word of G-d is the essence of the world; it is only that human beings use the world in an evil way, and destroy the world that was 'created with ten commands' (Avot 5:1). And whoever uses the world for good, the world itself helps them in their study and deeds. ... For the world was created by the word of G-d, and the Torah is the word of G-d, and in fact the Creator is one with the Divine Word; and the whole Torah is contained in the Ten Commandments, and all the Ten Commandments were spoken as one word. And the Word of G-d in the creation of the world, and the Word of G-d in the Torah, are one."
Near the end of "The Holy Fire", shortly after the passage quoted above, Kalonymus (himself a kabbalist) returns to the Jewish mystical doctrine one more time. He is discussing the configuration of the ten Sephiroth, the potentialities or dimensions which kabbalists (and now physicists) tell us underlie the fabric of creation. In a conundrum going back at least to the sixteenth century, scholars have offered various ideas as to how the Sephiroth might best be schematically represented. Interestingly enough, Kalonymus eschews the familiar "Tree of Life" diagram (which can be found in any popular book on the Kabbalah) and returns to the older model of concentric rings. He presents two alternative views: "In the configuration of 'circles', each higher level encircles its [lower] neighbor, so that the Divinity surrounds all of them, and the World of Action [i.e., the lowest, material level] is at the center. In the 'direct' configuration [so called even though it is also circular], every lesser level enwraps its [higher] neighbor, so that the ray of the Infinite is found at the center, and the World of Action is outside." The first configuration, in which the greater surrounds the lesser, represents the body, for we stand surrounded by ever greater mysteries. The second, in which the greater is concealed within the lesser, is the way of the soul, for "there the soul, not the body, is of the essence."
Let's picture this. Warsaw is in ruins and Nazis are prowling the streets. Kalonymus' whole family have been murdered, and his people are being shipped off to the gas chambers day by day. He himself will make that trip in a few weeks. And here he is, writing about the unity of the world, and the soul, and G-d.
The paradox of the Jewish tradition is the tension between the individual and the universal. The festival of Purim plays on this tension by turning Jewish identity on its head ("queering" it, as we'd say nowadays) and deliberately blurring boundaries of identity. (Jews can dress like goyim, and even drink like goyim!) Because of a Jewish woman who went undercover in the Persian regime, the Jews of Persia were spared a fate like that which befell Europe's Jews in a later age. And this is the messianic symbolism of Purim: it calls on us to imagine a day when, without losing our Jewish identity, we will no longer be separate and segregated from "the nations"; rather, Israel and the nations will have evolved toward a higher commonality.
It would be easy to laugh at Madonna's interest in Kabbalah and to dismiss her as another shallow, fad-following entertainer; but I won't do that. I do hope that she can look beyond the Bergs' Kabbalah Centre for inspiration. I think she is looking for the same thing we are all looking for: to find meaning and our place in the world.
This post, occasioned by an article in The New Republic, originally appeared in seven installments in May and June 2004.