When Madonna and Britney Spears began wearing red string bracelets on their left wrists to ward off the evil eye, Kabbalah took a hit in the mainstream world, and some devoted followers of the Jewish mystical teachings were upset that celebrities were trivializing it.
Avraham Loenwenthal explains concepts found in the Kabbalah in his Gallery of Mystical Art in Safed. [Sheri Shefa photo]
But when a group of Canadian students and young professionals travelled to Israel on a subsidized tour organized by Jewish Urban Meeting Place (JUMP) – a new centre in Thornhill that offers Jews a place to “hang out, be inspired and JUMP in” – they met with a Kabbalist who was intent on showing them how “awesomely awesome” the Kabbalah is.
Avraham Loewenthal, who is originally from Detroit, made aliyah in 1994 and currently lives in a flat below his Gallery of Mystical Art in Safed, a northern Israeli city known as the centre of Jewish mysticism.
Before Loewenthal made the move to Israel, he began studying meditation while studying psychology and painting in university.
“Someone in college told me about this book Jewish Meditation. I read this book in college and it changed my life. I started reading it, and I was just like, ‘Wow, there’s this kind of stuff in Judaism?’”
He said the book, written by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, was so dense that it took him about six months to get through it, but it floored him.
“I was like, “This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever read in my life… To make a long story very short, there was another book on the Kabbalah by Aryeh Kaplan, and I read another book by Aryeh Kaplan, and then I moved to Tzfat [the Hebrew name for Safed].”
Although Rabbi Kaplan was soft-spoken, even skeptics wouldn’t be able to resist his charisma, passion and infectious positivity, Loewenthal said.
“The reason we were created is for every single one of us to experience the greatest possible goodness that could ever possibly be,” Loewenthal added. “It says in the Kabbalah that the only reason we were created was for every single one of us to bliss out so big that we can’t even imagine what we are talking about. It’s a really awesome idea.”
But reality is getting in the way, he said.
“There isn’t one person in the world who is experiencing infinite goodness. There is a lot of suffering. Right now in the world, every single day, there are 24,000 people dying of starvation. Every single day, after day, after day, year after year, and that’s just one thing happening in the world.”
During his brief lecture about the basic subject matter of the Kabbalah, Loewenthal explained that the texts deal with life’s biggest questions: What is the meaning of life? What is our soul? What is God? Why are we here?
He said that according to the Kabbalah, the process of creation has three stages and that everything we go through in life is part of the process of spiritual transformation.
“Every single one of us has a body and a soul. Our bodies are here in the world for so many years and then they’re gone. The Kabbalah is trying to get us to realize that the part of us that is really us is something that is here forever, is something that so awesomely awesome, you can’t even imagine how awesome it is.”
He said that another concept is that everyone’s soul is part of one universal soul and we all go through experiences together.
“When all the spiritual transformations are complete, all the infinite goodness is finally going to become real to everybody in a place of eternity.”
Loewenthal added that Kabbalists believe that the purpose of creation was to give infinite goodness to everybody – and God doesn’t fail in his plans.
“So we know that there is a 100 per cent guarantee that every single one of us, every single one in the world, no matter what we do, every single model of creation, will come to experience all infinite goodness.”
He said that miracles are happening before our eyes, but people are so caught up in their daily lives, they don’t realize they’re happening.
“If we can think of the bigger perspective for one second and go back 2,000 years, we were all living in the land of Israel. We were a holy, holy spiritual nation. Two thousand years ago, we were kicked out of the land of Israel, we spread throughout the whole world, but we left with an ancient tradition so that way into the future, we could gather from all over the world and come back to the land of Israel,” he said.
“Where were we 65 years ago? In the Holocaust. In the past 65 years, in front of our eyes, Russia falls. And the Jews come back. South Africa falls, and the Jews come back… It is a miracle. Nothing like that has ever happened in history. It’s happening so fast, we don’t even realize that it’s happening. It’s such a trip.”