The Kabbalah Centre

I joined the outer circle of the Kabbalat Shabbat celebration at the reformed synagogue. In the center of the room sat the rabbi, canter and several musicians whose instruments included a harp, violin, and dobro. As I flipped through the pamphlet to lead me through the service, I thought about how ordinary everyone in the room looked—regular grandmas and grandpas and middle-class couples, not the eccentric wizened elders one might associate with an ancient mystical tradition. These were people who shopped at Target and attended their kids’ soccer games. Then the band started up and all the voices joined together. My pamphlet had phonetic translations of the Hebrew and some English explanations, but I opted to play it by ear. These were the usual prayers, but performed in a steady rhythmic fashion. I found I could join, particularly at choruses when phrases and words were repeated over and over in a beautiful hypnotic loop. At one point everyone stood and turned to face the doors of the room. Rising, I quickly consulted my guide and found we were at a prayer to greet the Sabbath. The explanation read, “The Kabbalists used to go out on Friday nights and dance as the sun was setting. It is traditional to face the entry of our prayer-space on the final verse to greet the Sabbath bride.” I had seen this analogy before—Sabbath addressed as a woman, particularly as a wife-to-be—but in this context I understood the connotation on a deeper level. In a sense, we were welcoming our own ability to receive, nurtured by the vessel-like, feminine aspects of Sabbath.

Profound Kabbalistic tidbits arrived at unexpected times throughout my Judaism journey, like offerings dropped in my path, but the one time I went looking for them—when I visited the actual Kabbalah Centre—they were harder to come by. For years, I had been reading about the Kabbalah Centre, usually in the captions beneath tabloid photos of celebrities exiting a building with a little red string freshly tied around their wrist. Or it was Madonna in an interview talking about her life-changing study of this ancient wisdom, and mysteriously revealing that her “Kabbalah name” is Ester. I had no inkling what Kabbalah was and when I decided to visit the Kabbalah Centre in the early stages of my journey I still hadn’t grasped the basics.

I found the place on a busy street in what appears to be an old Spanish-style house. It was the middle of the afternoon on a weekday and no paparazzi were in evidence on the sidewalk outside. Inside, young women seemed to be running the show. One was at a reception desk, another manning the gift shop. A third was wandering from room to room. She approached me. She had a name tag and was something called a “Study Path Manager.” She couldn’t have been more than 25; that she should be the first representative of an ancient wisdom I associated with wizened elders struck me as strange. Maybe she’s very wise, I thought.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“Yes,” I replied, “What is Kabbalah?”

By way of an answer she posed a scenario. “Say you gather the best basketball players in the world,” she said, “but you don’t give them the rules of the game. What happens?”

I stared at her fresh, dewy face. I was confused, how did we know they were the best players if they don’t know the game? “They aren’t able to play?”

“Yes! Kabbalah is the rules.”

She handed me a bright shiny flyer that said, “YOU DESERVE GREAT THINGS” and invited me back for a free seminar on Tuesday night at 7 pm.

15 thoughts on “The Kabbalah Centre

  1. I think that one of the nice things about being a “None” is that you enter each place without fear and with an attitude of curiosity which I find very unlike the folks who feel very definite about their religious, spiritual or philosophical stance. Somewhere in their seeking they got stuck deciding that they had found what they wanted. Which, of course, is not a bad thing but what I notice is it begins the formation of a lot of thoughts and words (not necessarily their own but learned from teachers and readings of the course they have chosen), that from that point on diminishes their curiosity about other teachings and tend to wrap them in an aura of fear or of no value. It reminds me of that sign that says: “My mind’s made up don’t confuse me with the facts.” I don’t consider myself a “None” but I’m glad there are people like Corinna who are free from judgments and fear and who simply walk in anywhere. I smile as I think, “I don’t want her to settle in with any one church affiliation. I like the freedom to be that she gives herself even when she thinks she might have missed something.”

  2. By way of an answer she posed a scenario. “Say you gather the best basketball players in the world,” she said, “but you don’t give them the rules of the game. What happens?”

    I dunno: might they end up marrying a Kardashian?


  3. Hello hello! Frank, I acknowledge your point. And it is a danger in approaching anything. Politics. Science. Health. Faith. I hope it’s one we mostly avoid around here. Corinna, for sure.

    Now, I have also to be honest and say that the instant Corinna was told she could attend the “free” seminar, every hackle on my body went up and my prejudice simply leapt into the forefront. Because if it is a ‘free’ seminar, THAT implies that there are some that are NOT free.

    Knowledge isn’t something you can buy, and faith isn’t something you can purchase and anybody, anywhere of any persuasion who says “for a certain fee, you can get the inside know”, simply….beware. As we continue with Corinna’s journey, hopefully, I will find that my instinctive ‘uhoh’ was wrong?

    Good one, Dave! 🙂

  4. “Ah, there’s the rub” as old Billy S would say. At what point does being well-grounded in your beliefs turn into blindness to the legitimacy of other ways? And by extension, when does being open to everything mean you no longer stand for anything? Madonna makes Kabala an easy target, but there no shortages of shallow personalities in all faiths. As I’ve said before, we all search for the approach that most resonates with us. For myself, although I’ve stuck with the liturgical tradition, my approach and breadth of beliefs have changed substantially over the years—and I attribute a big part of that to Corrinna’s blog and the other miners. If someone really takes the time to listen to other opinions, I think we’ll find there is much more we share than may first appear. I do think it’s possible to show respect and appreciation without pretending to agree. I’d like to think I’d be welcome in Frank’s, Carmen’s, or Merrill’s congregations as much as I would in Walt’s, Ginger’s, or Patti’s, and I know they’d be welcome in mine. But I wouldn’t expect them to say “wow—I’ve found what I’ve been looking for” afterwards, any more than they’d expect me to do the same. And I think that’s okay. What a boring world this would be if we all believed in exactly the same thing in precisely the same way!

  5. Sometimes I feel like I’m in the middle of Frank and Tim….I’m a convinced Christian, yet I continually recognize how fallible I am and how frequently ambiguous my “certitude.” I believe that the Scriptures are from God and they are authoritative, but I keep running into 15 different interpretations of what some say clearly has only one interpretation. All that confused meandering simply to say thanks for the unboringness of this journey.
    I’m not surprised that Sabbath is addressed as a woman…I’m thinking there is something there akin to wisdom, which is, in Hebrew Scripture, addressed as a woman.
    I always find myself skeptical whenever approaching something that has mystical overtones because in my experience it has often led to great subjectivity. But it’s fascinating to me that we humans have such a broad range of approaches to the divine, mystical and…and….whatever not mystical is called….

    • Hey Walt, And I think its interesting that every faith seems to have a strong mystical strain. It just shows that some of us will always want that kind of experience of faith, no matter who we are.

    • Hi Walt–I learned a new word today..”unboringness” Thanks! I’m starting to think maybe there are so many interpretations of the Scriptures because they were meant to be that way. That’s what allows Frank to approach them in his way, and me in mine, and you in yours. I think there are some “out there” interpretations that are clearly wrong or meant to bend the words to a specific person’s meaning, but I also think were written, not just for the cultural context of their times, but to be applied for all times. Each generation finds a new way to apply their teachings to its place and time.

  6. See, there they go again, giving me those vibes — it was when I read the title on the pamphlet, YOU DESERVE GREAT THINGS. Y’know, I don’t think I do DESERVE anything. Just being here on this earth is a grace for which to be grateful. I’ve seen the same sort of catch phrase (YOU DESERVE GREAT THINGS) from teachers of a type of christianity called Word Faith or the Prosperity Gospel, people like Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, etc., etc.

    This “deserve” thing plays into this part of us that looks at what others have and compares it to what we have and says, “It’s not fair. They must know something I don’t.” And the teachers of the “rules” tell us that they will show us how to get more power into our lives, so we can have MORE — money, health, influence — because it’s what we deserve.

    This just rubs me the wrong way. Looking forward to hearing what Corinna learns. Maybe she already has great power, and that’s why we stick around?

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