by Charles (Prana) Feldman

I reserved the book The Zohar Annotated and Explained, which is translated and annotated by Daniel C. Matt, because I knew Swami Y was using this book in his summer Zohar classes. I was curious to read it for myself. Yet after the book was due back in the public library system, whoever had it out didn’t return it. Finally, the book came in and I showed it to someone at the Vedanta Society, which led to much hilarity, because I found out that it had been Swami Y who had had the book out, and had tried to renew it but couldn’t, because someone (who turned out to be me) had asked to take the book out next.

Anyway, Swami Y suggested I put something on the Vedanta blog about this book. If I wasn’t going to write on the blog, I don’t know if I would have finished the book, because it is hard to remember the esoteric terms from one chapter to the next. I still don’t remember most of them.

It says that the Torah, the Jewish Bible, reveals its secrets only to those who are ready for them. It talks about a number of stories that bible readers are familiar with, but adds a mystical meaning to them. It talks about the sefirot, which are the ten sparks or manifestations of God. It weaves the Shekhinah, the Divine Mother, into the stories.

I think that the Zohar shows that different religions have mystical paths, and all have the same mystical essence to them. I am glad I got to take this excursion into mystical Judaism, since Judaism is my birth religion. I do find Vedanta easier to understand and more straightforward. When I was in second grade, in Hebrew School they presented bible stories to me, which I thought I was supposed to take as literally true, which spoiled them for me. I have never gotten over that.

I tend to get my spiritual sustenance from books, which may be why I am writing this at a time when many of my friends are involved in a meditation retreat. Maybe I will be ready to do that next year. Yet, Judaism does emphasize study and learning as a practice, which may be why my temperament is in that direction. The book closes with Moses Cordovero, a Kabbalist, saying: “For each soul has a unique portion in the Torah.” This is similar to the idea in Vedanta that we each have different temperaments and constitutions, so we each take different paths. Swami Vivekananda even said that the ideal would be for each of us to have our own religion.

This book may be interesting, especially for those who are familiar with bible stories.