Moving Commentary 6
Yesterday, 14 Shevat was the yahrzeit of R Aryeh Kaplan z”l, one of the most important teachers of Torah in the 20th century, and a huge influence on my early life. I would not have realized it, were it not for the fact that a new friend, the son of my new publisher called and asked if I wanted to go to the kever. We initially hired security to accompany us; unfortunately, such is the reality for visitors to Har Zeisim today. But the hired gun, who got there before we did, turned around when he spotted three armed members of the Mishmar HaGevul right near the kever. He felt he was no longer necessary. We were able to drive up to within feet of the grave. Once there, we were protected by the zechus of the greatest authentic popularizer and explicater of kabbalah in a century; by two young female soldiers standing guard at their post; and by a third soldier who must have been uncomfortable hanging out with the women. Instead, he spent his guard duty time loudly reciting Tehilim at the nearby kever of a Sefardi mekubal.
All this, of course, was going on just a few paces from the site where the two Temples once stood. Until such time that we can once again hear the rustling of the garments of the kohanim as they silently perform their avodah, it was the sweetest sound imaginable
It’s often hard for me to believe that I’m actually here in Yerushalayim. I’m glad you’re here now as well. Lot’s to experience, lots to share. Baruch HaBa.
Ever since I was a child and heard about the story of the Golem, I have been both captivated as well as intimidated by the teachings of the Kabbalah. I dreamed of becoming a Kabbalist myself, as it meant to me at the time that I would have such spiritual powers that I could one day make a Golem myself.
That was back then, when I was much younger and fully idealistic in my orientation. Subsequent years of simply living on this Earth, combined with coming across the works of Bertrand Russell, kind of obfuscated all that, turning me into quite a skeptic. I am just being honest here when I say that some of the Artscoll books have little appeal to me, as they strike me as being too schmaltzy, trying their darndest to get me to become frum through purely emotional appeal.
And then there was Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, and if I may say so, his student and college, Rabbi Adlerstein. There they were, simultaneously super frum yet speaking the language of a skeptical scientist. This has enormous appeal to me. It tells me that one does not have to sacrifice any part of one’s brain to have the kind of beliefs about the universe that Torah Jews have. Nor has either individual in question, avoided Jewish mysticism as a way to solve the problem of over-sentimentality in Judaism. Like the Chovetz Chaim who actively engaged in conversation despite his being so immersed in the laws of proper speech, so have Rabbi Kaplan and Rabbi Adlerstein not hesitated to plunge fully into the world of Jewish mysticism, even with their skeptical scientist state of mind.
I am pretty sure I own every single book in English ever written by Rabbi Kaplan. I dare not open his Sefer Yetzirah, however. Perhaps it is the child in me that feels scared that I might find out the ultimate secrets of creation there, and I am just not quite ready to be G-d just yet. Meanwhile, I cannot recommend highly enough such essays of his as “If You Were G-d,” in which he somehow manages to summarize all of Jewish theology and history in a total of about twenty pages. It is simply magnificent. His two-volume work called Handbook of Jewish Thought, is like an Encyclopedia of Judaism, covering just about everything there is to know about the deeper teachings of Judaism, yet again managing to do so in just two normal-sized books. Everything he wrote is so worth reading, such as some anthologies of his works. It continues to be a tremendous loss to our Jewish community that somebody that special died so young, but that often seems to be the way of too many noteworthy Kabbalists.