A friend just told me yesterday he is going to graduate school with a concentration in Jewish mysticism and its history.
I myself have read very little Jewish mysticism and kabbalah and so forth. I remarked that my own plans to do doctoral work with a concentration in Ezekiel will bring me across texts in merkavah mysticism (merkavah means chariot and refers to the divine chariot vision at the beginning of Ezekiel). There is a subtext in Jewish writings from the early period of mysticism about the Divine Chariot vision, including many Talmudic texts.
In spite of my lack of experience with Jewish mystical texts, I did have a phase of life in which I read Christian mystics. A guest in my home library might notice The Cloud of Unknowing and The Interior Castle on my shelf, for example. I also enjoyed Bernard of Clairvaux’s homilies at one time, especially in Song of Songs. I regard Augustine as a bit of a mystic and count Confessions among the best books I have ever read.
I am familiar with and still have a leaning to that sort of deep emotional and transcendent longing.
I have some distrust for Kabbalah. The Lurianic myth behind kabbalistic thought is something I find appalling. God contracted into his innermost being to leave room for creation? In the process the six lower emanations burst and cracked vessels of divine glory require people to do mitzvot to restore the glory to its place? It reminds me of a Christian theology called Process Theology, in which God’s power is not absolute and in which evil could possibly win the cosmic battle.
Like many others, I prefer a simpler idea of Tikkun Olam (repair of the world) — not God needing our help to get the sparks of his glory back, but God leaving some of the work of healing and restoration to his creatures as a gift to us.
All of that preface leads up to my recommendation of and some thoughts about the newly reprinted edition of Paul Philip Levertoff’s Love in the Messianic Age (2009, Vine of David).
The book is very brief, with short biography of Levertoff (1878 – 1954), born to an Orthodox Jewish family with Chasidic ancestry in Belarus, who became an Anglican priest after concluding that Yeshua is Messiah. Levertoff worked in many areas to build a Jewish Christianity, making, for example, a communion liturgy integrated with Jewish liturgy (someone help me here — I can’t remember if he integrated communion with the Amidah or simply with Kiddush or what).
Levertoff is one of those amazing figures, like Edersheim, the two Lichtensteins, Rabinowitz, and others who preceded Messianic Judaism by decades, but in some ways anticipated it.
Vine of David is the new imprint of First Fruits of Zion dedicated to projects such as this Levertoff volume. They also plan to produce a complete Messianic Siddur, release more Levertoff books, a commentary on Matthew with notes by Yechiel Lichtenstein, and more. See more about these worthy projects building a legacy for Messianic Judaism at vineofdavid.org.
I am reading Levertoff slowly. It is a very short book, but one worth going over and over. He has distilled the thought of Hasidism and kabbalah, removing or omitting some of the troubling ideas, and integrating it with Yeshua-faith and, interestingly, the Gospel of John.
In other words, Love in the Messianic Age is a sort of Jewish-Christian distillation of the best of Jewish mystical thought integrated with the Fourth Gospel. If that does not sound like intensive spiritual reading I don’t know what does.
Some of the troubling ideas of kabbalah remain and Levertoff’s theology would not match mine in many areas (no surprise). Nonetheless, this is a book to return to again and again, like wisdom literature. The ideas and concepts draw the reader into the edges of the shekhina, illuminating the soul.