This volume is part of a series of works presented as "a guided tour" of the Jewish faith, people, history, and beliefs. Lawrence Kushner is the perfect person to give us this overview of Jewish mysticism. As the author of more than 10 books, he sees the primary themes of this tradition as "an inexpressible reverence before the awe and mystery of creation, the conviction that sacred text contains the key to unlocking the secret of being, and a resultant yearning to lead a life of holiness and righteousness."
With great succinctness and erudition, Kushner presents 50 Jewish mystical ideas, each one covered in a biblical verse, classical maxim, or phrase. He draws heavily on the Torah and its commentators, Kabbalistic sages, and Hasidic teachers. In three book divisions, Kushner moves from the presence of God to the yearning all mystics have for communion with the Holy One.
I was immensely moved and touched by Abraham Joshua Heschel's emphasis upon wonderment as the touchstone for all spiritual life, by Pinchas of Koretz's view that a person can be put on earth "just for the sake of uttering one word or making a single gesture that he performs for the Holy One," and by Dov Baer of Mezritch's belief that we are here to bring pleasure to God. Again and again, Kushner draws us back to the essentials of this path that include devotion, self-annihilation, service of others, restoring harmony, and living day by day in light of Isaiah 6:3, "God's presence is the fullness of the world."
Near the end, Kushner demonstrates his knack for making difficult concepts understandable to all: "Core religious experience is beyond words and reason. That doesn't mean that it's antirational, spaced out, or navel contemplating, but merely that the numinous transcends logic. To put it bluntly, if you can explain it, it ain't God." Amen. Nothing more to say.