Friday, 4 February 2011

Book Review : The Essential Zohar: The Source of Kabbalistic Wisdom


 In this book (ISBN 978-0609609279 )  the author,  Rav P.S. Berg, embarks on quite a monumental task: to disclose the wisdom of the Zohar – the most influential and important of all kabbalistic texts – in a readable and easy to understand format and also aimed at everyone, regardless of faith or religion. The Zohar is a very complicated and difficult text, which requires careful study and a more than passable acquaintance with Torah and Talmud.

I started to read this book quite eagerly but -alas!- I was disappointed almost right from the start. This task clearly and painfully has proven too formidable for Mr. Berg. The book is divided into three parts: an introduction to the Zohar and its history followed by an exploit of some general teachings and in part three an analysis of various well-known biblical stories and concepts. I somewhat enjoyed reading parts 1 and 2, but definitely lost interest in part 3, which read more like a biblical exegesis than anything else.

To me, the book never fulfilled its promise of unlocking an all-encompassing, profound and life changing wisdom, as propounded in the introduction. At no point in the book did I get the feeling that something substantial, something really valuable had been revealed. “Be nice to each other, and be a good person” seems to sum it up. All too true, but we probably don't need reference to the Zohar for this!

Another point that made me rapidly loose interest is the almost constant reference to various 'kabbalistic wisdoms', that we as readers have to take at face value in order to follow Berg's reasoning. And unfortunately, he needs to use this technique too often when dealing with a document so intricately intertwined in a vast body of knowledge and wisdom.

To me the title “Essential Zohar” does not cover the contents of this book, as I feel it hardly touches the surface of what the Zohar really has to offer humanity. I would not recommend this book to serious students of Kabbala, the mysteries or judaeica.

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