Daniel Matt's continued wonder at the confounding brilliance of kabbalistic writings is evident in this loving presentation of the key texts from the Jewish mystical tradition. This fine sampling of works from the earliest medieval European texts to 20th-century interpretations includes poems, symbolic stories, meditations, and ruminations by such important figures as Moses de Leon, Moses Cordovero, Isaac Luria, and Abraham Isaac Kook. Matt's translations have both a spareness and a poetic flair that makes reading these highly esoteric selections a richly moving experience.
The words of 14th-century mystic Shem Tov ibn Shem Tov, for example, are rendered with a startling immediacy: "How did God create the world? Like a person taking a deep breath and holding it, so that the small contains the large. Similarly God contracted his light to a divine handbreadth, and the world was left in darkness. In the darkness God carved cliffs and hewed rocks to clear the wondrous paths of wisdom." A short introduction traces the history of Kabbalah, explaining its salient concepts and symbols, and extensive notes provide background on the featured texts and writers. A brief bibliography is provided for those who will want to savor more of these extraordinary texts after tasting their richness in this collection. --Uma Kukathas [via]