The beginnings: Kabbalistic history of civilization by Rabbi Yaacov Haber


Many years ago I read a fascinating article written by Alfred Jospe in 1965 exploring why Jews in general, and specifically college aged Jews, seem to disconnect from their heritage. As he explains, it is at that age that the sophistication of secular studies stands in stark contrast to the very elementary understanding of religion. ‘They have the religious sophistication of ten or thirteen year olds’ and therefore, ‘as the student is thrust into the college atmosphere, the often vacuous and pale religion of his childhood is eaten away by the acids of the intellectual challenge of the university. He discovers that whatever he may know of religion does not seem to present a live intellectual option and that the Judaism he has acquired at home and in religious school rarely addresses itself to his deepest needs and ultimate concerns as a human being.’ Simply put, ‘what they know of the Jewish heritage does not illumine their understanding of the predicaments of life’. Having acknowledged this reality Jospe offers a number of practical suggestions including investment in Jewish learning for college-aged students that ‘starts on the level of the students themselves and addresses itself to their concerns and predicaments’.

Of course, most people would likely nod their heads in agreement with both the observations and suggestions of Jospe. Yet, as we prepare ourselves to start reading Sefer Bereishit in shuls around the world, many of us know – in our heart of hearts – that our understanding of this incredible book is not far off from the ‘religious sophistication of ten or thirteen year olds’ and even those who have the skills to read the text and perhaps even some of the commentaries rarely know more than a handful of profound vertlach (short insights) to spice up their understanding. We all know there is so much more to Sefer Bereishit but many of us are really unsure where to turn to – until now.

Rabbi Yaacov Haber’s ‘Beginnings: The Kabbalistic History of Civilization’ addresses many key themes of Sefer Bereishit while explaining, with clarity and depth, its many spiritual messages as revealed by the great Classic, Chassidic and Kabbalistic teachers of Judaism.

I should make it clear that I am generally wary of books that invoke Kabbalah in their title as I often I find that this term is used to justify readings and interpretations that run counter to classic texts and teachings. Yet in ‘Beginnings’ Rabbi Haber provides a wonderful balance between textual analysis and discussion and a fusion of readings of classic commentaries through the lens of more mystically inclined texts and teachers such as the Zohar, the Sfat Emet, and the Maharal. Moreover, in contrast to many other books in the genre, Rabbi Haber has provided clear references as well as a topic and source index which is a real asset to the enthusiastic reader.

I have often likened the difference between simple readings of Torah, nuanced readings of Torah, and Kabbalistic readings of Torah to swimming, snorkeling and deep sea diving respectively, and what Rabbi Haber has done in ‘Beginnings’ is invite readers to delve deeper into the sea of Torah and experience a profoundly moving and deeply compelling view of many of its most magnificent treasures.

Beginnings: The Kabbalistic History of Civilization’ is a book for all learners aged 18-80 (and beyond!) which reveals some of the most profound messages of Bereishit and addresses the ultimate concerns that we face as human beings. Moreover, I am quite certain that this wonderful book will be a real asset in enriching the teaching of Sefer Bereishit by high school, seminary and adult education teachers. To purchase a copy of this book, click here