The Thirteen Petalled Rose

This material world is not everything, not by a long shot, but it has effects that go far beyond the worlds we can even imagine. Or so I have been told.

I have finished reading Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’ book, The Thirteen Petalled Rose. That was fast. Normally the commute bus to work, 45 minutes each way, is my reading time. I got this book in Kindle format so I could read it on my Android smartphone even in the dark. But already it bright enough to read both in the morning and evening, so I can return to the paper books. I must admit I love ebooks though, for their ability to let me highlight freely, without feeling that I am somehow destroying the book. After all, I can read it with or without the highlights at any time. And there was quite a bit to highlight in this one.

There is no denying that this is a Jewish book, written by a Jew for Jews. And I am not Jewish. For that reason, I cannot review it the way it deserves. There are things in there that I cannot and should not understand. It is not that the book is cryptic, far from it. It is one of the best examples I have seen of “luminous prose” in a book of religion or philosophy. (At least if we don’t count Ryuho Okawa, whose books are lightly edited transcriptions of his speeches.) The parts that do not rely on specific Jewish knowledge or experience were surprisingly easy to read, and yet never approaching the level of platitude: Rather, there was a taste of poetry in them. I felt the enthusiasm of the author, seeking to share his beautiful vision of the world and the Jewish life.

But in the end, there are so many things that are simply different in the life of someone raised in a family of observant Jews. There are so many things taken for granted, so many words that have a meaning not easily translated. And when I came to such things, I struggled, then accepted that there are things I am not meant to know. Accepting this, I moved on, taking with me what I could from the text. But there are still treasures left, I am sure, for the intended audience.

While I found the book an easy read, I suspect it may strain the mind of those who are unfamiliar with mystic or esoteric literature at all. This is not a practical outward “how-to”, giving advice on what to say or do in various situations. Far from it. There is not really any commandment in it. Rather it seeks to impart understanding. The reader is, one hopes, able to see the deeper meaning of the things he already does.

It is obvious that Rabbi Steinsaltz is a broad-minded and ecumenical person. While he sees the Jewish people as the priests of the world, he holds every human sacred, and believes that salvation is not only for those who follow his own faith, much less his particular branch of the faith. As such, his book is an inspiration and a light even to the gentiles.

Recommended for the experienced religious reader, of any faith.  Newbies to Christianity should probably hold off until they are thoroughly familiar with their own faith, before reading books of other religions, even this one.

The convinced atheist will almost certainly find this book meaningless. It is written in and by faith.