In twenty-six chapters, Rabbi Howard Cooper of London uses the ancient Jewish mystical interpretive practice of "PaRDeS" used on sacred texts to discern the Plain or literal meaning, Reminders, hints or allusions that the subject evokes, Deeper spiritual meanings, and the Secret of mystical meanings. The author puts these tools to work in his assessments of awe, bodies, illness, justice, orifices, sport, xenophobia, and much more. This paperback sparkles with insights and enthusiasm about the riches of everyday spirituality.
For example, Rabbi Cooper describes what he learned from an old and frail teacher, Rav Munk, in Jerusalem who would pause his teaching in mid-morning and slowly pour himself a cup of tea: "Daily, I waited for those few minutes while everyone else went off for a cigarette and I could watch and absorb devotion in action. Through how he drank his tea, Rav Munk taught me a form of reverence, of practical spirituality, which had more impact on me than all the traditional knowledge he imparted through his formal words as a teacher. I have always been grateful for this lesson in how paying attention to the physical, bodily details of everyday life can give us an opening to 'infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.' "
The Hasidic tradition is filled with similar stories about students who would go to any lengths to learn from rebbes. The author quotes one of these:
"Rabbi Kahana once went and hid under Rav's bed to see how his teacher conducted himself when he had intercourse with his wife. He noted that Rav chatted and joked with her before having sex.
"Rabbi Kahana said: 'It's as if he's never tasted such good food before!'
" 'Kahana, are you in here?’ said Rav. ’Get out, it's not good manners.'
"Rabbi Kahana said: ’It is Torah and I have to learn.' "
Cooper points out that any aspect of life can hold a deep spiritual teaching for those who truly look for its meaning. The author concludes this story with his own affirmation of the process: "And his teacher's sexuality is just as much a part of what Rav has to teach as any words of wisdom he might utter. The body's activity becomes the site of knowledge. And sex is seen as a form of religious activity, a spiritual resource." This kind of adventuresome quest informs Cooper’s openness to God’s presence in the midst of life. The resulting book is a fascinating read rich with wisdom.