which transcends the boundaries of time and space and refers to a reality not
grasped by means of ordinary human cognition, is one of the central sources of
inspiration of religious thought. It is an attempt to decode the mystery of
divine existence by penetrating to the depths of consciousness through
language, memory, myth, and symbolism. Delving deep into the psyche, mystics
strive to redeem perceived reality from its immediate meaning.
Mystical texts constitute a history of this
religious creativity, of man's attempt to reveal the divine structure
underlying the chaos of reality and thereby endow life with hope and purpose.
By offering an alternative perspective on the world that gives expression to
yearnings for freedom and change, mysticism engenders new modes of authority
and leadership; as such it plays a decisive role in moulding religious and
social history. For all these reasons, the mystical corpus deserves study and
discussion in the framework of cultural criticism and research.
This study is a lyrical exposition of the Jewish
mystical phenomenon. It is based on a close reading of the hundreds of volumes
written by Jewish mystics and incorporates mystical testimonies drawn from the
different countries and cultural environments in which Jews have lived. Rachel
Elior's purpose is to present, as accurately as possible, the meanings of the
mystical works as they were perceived by their creators and readers. At the
same time, she contextualizes them within the boundaries of the religion,
culture, language, and spiritual and historical circumstances in which the
destiny of the Jewish people has evolved..
succeeds in drawing the reader into a mystical world. With great intensity, she
conveys the richness of the mystical experience in discovering the infinity of
meaning embedded in the sacred text; teasing out the recurring themes, she
explains the multivalent symbols. Using copious extracts from Jewish mystical
sources, she illustrates the varieties of the mystical experience from
antiquity to the twentieth century. She succeeds in eloquently conveying how mystics
try to decipher reality by penetrating beyond its apparent boundaries: how they
experience spiritual powers symbolically, imaginatively, or visually; how
hidden truths are revealed in visions or dreams, in an epiphany or as
`lightning'; how they are `engraved' in the mind or illuminate in the soul.
Most of the texts she draws on are written in very obscure language, but the
skilful translations communicate the mystical experiences vividly and make it
easy for the reader to understand how Elior uses them to explain the
relationship between the revealed world and the hidden world and between the
mystical world and the traditional religious world, with all the social and
religious tensions this has caused.