Book Review

Open Secrets: The Letters of Reb Yerachmiel ben Yisrael by Rami M. Shapiro, Consortium/Monkfish Book Publishing, Rhinebeck, NY, 2004; 128 pages, ISBN 0974935921, paperback, $14.95.

You ask me of God: to define the Nameless, to place in your palm the ultimate secret. Do not imagine that this is hidden somewhere far from you. The ultimate secret is the most open one. Here it is: God is All. . . . What we truly are is God manifest in time and eternity. Know this, live well, and be easy.

This moving volume consists of a fictional collection of letters from a 19th-century Eastern European rabbi, a composite of several genuine hasidic rabbis. They address such subjects as God, death, the soul, good deeds, and whether all religions are true. About duality, one letter says:

Some would argue that God is a divine spark inside each being. Others would argue that God is above and outside Creation. I teach neither position. God is not inside or outside. God is the very thing itself! And when there is no thing, but only empty space? God is that as well.
Picture a bowl in your mind. Define the bowl. Is it just the clay that forms its walls? Or is it the empty space that fills with soup? Without the space, the bowl is useless. Without the walls, the bowl is useless. So which is the bowl? The answer is both. To be a bowl, it must have both being (the walls) and emptiness (the space).
It is the same with God. For God to be God, for God to be all, God must manifest as being (Yesh) and emptiness (Ayin).
Yesh is the manifestation of God that appears to us as separate entities -- physical, spiritual, and psychological. Ayin is the manifestation of God that reveals all separation to be illusory: everything is simply God in differing forms. God is All, there is nothing else (ain od).

These letters beautifully express the meditative teachings of the Hasidic philosophy, particularly that of avodah be-bittul (the annihilation of all separate existence), in a way that is relevant to all peoples. -- Eloise Hart

(From Sunrise magazine, October/November 2004; copyright © 2004 Theosophical University Press)

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