Torah Talks

Greg Leake emails: Hi Luke,

I looked at Torah Talks despite my busy schedule lately. I thought I might venture a word about the Kabbalah.

Although Rav Berg and the Kabbalah Center in LaLa Land is popular, neither has a good reputation among people who are interested in the Kabbalah generally. They are seen more or less as Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Baker were in the Christian world.

It might interest you to know that the Kabbalah has long since escaped being exclusively an interest of the Jewish faith. It began to be Christianized in the 14th or 15th century, and in the Christian take on Kabbalah Christ is often associated with Tiferet. There is also an interest in the esoteric world, and in fact during a period in the 1900s when Kabbalah had virtually disappeared, it was kept alive primarily by the interest of British estoericists. One way to know which version of the Kabbalah you are reading is that generally the Hebrew edition is spelled with a K, the Christian with a C, and the esoteric as a Q. To some extent these are three different traditions all stemming from the same origin, but have developed in somewhat different directions. My view, as someone who has found the study of theosophical systems to be interesting, is that ultimately the Kabbalah is the Kabbalah, and insight can come to one from any of these sources.

Another point is that the Kabbalah does not consider itself to be a challenger to any religion. It’s place relative to different religions may be somewhat as yoga is seen relative to various religions. You can be a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Jain, a Sikh, a Christian, or a Jew and still practice yoga. The Kabbalah is often seen from a similar point of view. Naturally, some Orthodox Jews who regard themselves as Kabbalists would disagree with my explanation. They believe that one must be steeped in Torah for a very long time before one can study Kabbalah. In the old days, women were not allowed to study the subject.

Incidentally, I do not consider myself to be an expert, but I do know a little something about the subject.

Luke, one of the reoccurring themes in your discussions about your own aspirations is the desire to be ingratiated and accepted by some group. I’m not sure if you mean this to exclusively be Jewish groups, or you mean a broader focus. I think one of the best insights you’ve had is the idea that you get your biggest acceptance from idiosyncratic writers who don’t care very much about the herd instinct and social upward mobility of groups anyway. On the one hand, things you have said suggest that you would very much like to find yourself with this acceptance. However, one of the most interesting things about you is your assertion of your independence and a desire to prevail as a unique personality in the face of collectivism that demands the suppression of your true nature.

My view is that one part of religion is just as collectivist and committed to conformity as any other collectivist group. My feeling is that this ultimately grows out of the herd or pack instinct and is a part of religion that sometimes does as much to negate spirituality as it does to serve it. People I know who have achieved ingratiation into some affection group often wonder why they bothered once they get there. Anyway, if you accept who you are, I don’t think it matters a great deal whether everyone else accepts you or not. Your soul brothers are those idiosyncratic writers you talked about, and some people are just never going to get over your background as a reporter on the porn industry.

You know, one of the things that the Kabbalah says is that people with a checkered background who have found G-d are frequently more useful and more beloved by G-d than someone who has never strayed. In the Kabbalah the virtue of a person is entirely based on how related to G-d they are. Not what some might perceive as misbehavior in their past.

With all of the talk about sex I thought I would say that in my opinion celibacy always has the tendency to focus people’s attention on sexuality where otherwise the attention might be more moderate. Whether we’re talking about priests in the Roman Catholic Church or celibacy and chastity in Judaism, it’s always about gilding the fig leaf. The Jews that I know who are single are running around like horny devils all the time with sex seldom straying from their minds. Whereas in Protestant circles the idea as a generalization (obviously, there are differences, as you know) is that you shouldn’t have sex before marriage, but everybody fully understands that there is going to be some fooling around, especially in serious relationships where marriage is at least possible. And even after marriage, sex doesn’t come up unless a couple wants to bring some particular problem to the pastor. At least in my experience this more moderate approach to sexuality seems to work the best. To insist on celibacy is simply to spotlight it and insist that everyone become preoccupied with sexuality to the exclusion of other subjects they could more profitably be spending their time on.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
This entry was posted in Torah and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.