Dont call God He, insists Kabbalah author, teacher

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Everyone wants to know the secret to a happy, fulfilling life. But where does that secret reside? "Some people feel the Kabbalah has that in it," says Rabbi David Cooper, author of the new book "God is a Verb: Kabbalah and the Practice of Mystical Judaism."

The view of Jewish mysticism as a reservoir of answers to some of life's most vexing questions may help explain kabbalah's soaring popularity in recent years.

More than that, though, kabbalistic teachings, which strive to heighten man's consciousness of Divine presence in the universe and which for centuries were made accessible to only a handful of practitioners, have increasingly been made available to the general public.

Still, though numerous books on the colossal subject have been written in the past several years, "most people interested in kabbalah are frustrated when they pick up a book in the bookstore," Cooper contends. "They still find it a little bit abstruse and obscure."

The founder of the Heart of Stillness Hermitage in Boulder, Colo., and author of several books on Judaism says his latest book differs from others on the subject in its simple, straightforward presentation of such Kabbalah basics as ein sof, the notion of God as utterly unknowable and unreachable.

In many cases, he illustrates his explanations with the voices and stories of Chassidic masters, as well as stories from the Torah, Talmud and Mishnah.

"I'm attempting to present a user-friendly approach to Kabbalah that does not delve into the scientific as much as the practical application of how we can live our lives seeing the world through the eyes of a kabbalist," Cooper says.

During an upcoming national book tour, he will teach a class on kabbalah Thursday, Sept. 18 at the Learning Annex in San Francisco.

Titled "Kabbalah and Consciousness for Inner Serenity," the class, according to the Learning Annex brochure, will touch on such subjects as the spiritual laws of the universe and using these laws to make positive changes in one's everyday life. It will also explore metaphysical tools for meditation and increasing intuition.

While here, Cooper will also read from his book at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 23 at Black Oak Books in Berkeley.

In the mid-1980s, Cooper, 58, left a lucrative career as a political consultant in Washington, D.C., and embarked on a pressing spiritual journey.

"I realized I was more drawn to spiritual life than to money, fame and all that goes with being in the world on that level," he says.

At that point, after many years of Buddhist meditation, he and his wife, Shoshana, traveled to Jerusalem's Old City, where he delved deeply into Jewish study and found himself repeatedly entranced by Kabbalah.

"I just gravitated to every mystical teacher and every Chassidic teacher who was presenting anything anywhere in Jerusalem," says Cooper, who this spring was himself a featured teacher at a major Jewish meditation conference in San Francisco.

A student of Renewal Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and a leader of spiritual retreats for Jews and non-Jews alike, Cooper believes many answers lie in a view of God that encourages humans to emulate qualities that God represents — wisdom, love and compassion, for example.

"We have the misunderstanding in the West that there is a thing out there called God and we give it a name and we genderize it," Cooper says. "We call it he and him, and we have an implicitly dualistic relationship."

Instead, Cooper prefers to view God as "a process" of which we are an integral part.

Thus comes the title of Cooper's book. "`God is a Verb' is shorthand for saying, `Don't look at God out there,'" he says.

"I would say I define God as everything that defines me."

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.