If you were cast away on an island with just one Jewish text for company, which would you choose?
This week: Rabbi Larry Tabick selects the poetry of the Zohar
Am I allowed multiple volumes on my desert island? If so, I’ll take the three volumes of the Zohar.
I’m not a very practical person and would find life on an island by myself extremely challenging, but having the Zohar would give me a never-ending source of solace and fascination.
The Zohar is the classic text of Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, and I’ve never had enough time to study it. Compiled in the 13th century, it purports to record the conversations of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his disciples on the Torah and ‘life, the universe and everything’.
It teaches that God continually creates, maintains and renews the world. It urges us never to lose sight of the spiritual component of life, no matter what stresses we face.
If I’m not allowed the whole thing, can I have the first volume, on Genesis, please? Its first exposition of Genesis 1:1 (‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth’) would keep me busy in contemplation for days.
It describes (or attempts to describe) the indescribable timeless moment when, from within divine infinite Nothingness, there emerged the Something that would lead to the creation of the Universe: ‘In the beginning it was the will of the Sovereign [to] engrave engravings in the supernal light.
A spark of blackness emerged in the sealed within the sealed, the secret of the Infinite, a mist within matter, implanted in a ring, neither white nor black, neither red nor green, no colour at all. ’ (Zohar I,15a). The great innovative kabbalist, Isaac Luria, known as the Ari (The Lion), who lived in the 16th century, spent years secluded on an island in the Nile studying the Zohar.
Maybe, just maybe, while I’m on my island, I’ll get one good idea. God willing!
• Larry Tabick is rabbi at Shir Hayim Hampstead Reform Synagogue, lecturer in Kabbalah at the Leo Baeck College and author of The Aura of Torah