When read literally, the Vedas seem like hymns, rituals, and magic spells devoted to many gods, goddesses, and spirits all seasoned in a warrior triumphalism. But the parabolic commentaries of the Upanishads and distillations of the epics and Puranas reveal a clearer vision of a dynamic nonduality which acknowledges the infinite variety of manifestation. This is Dharmic thought at its best. Kabbalistic tzaddikim, like Dharmic sages, are able to see nondual reality not merely through but active in the heart of phenomena.
Unfortunately, many books on Kabbalah today reflect the largely dualistic habits of human thought. To use one of David Chaim Smith’s favorite words, they use language patterns which tend to reify rather than liberate our conceptual frameworks. Smith’s art has always served to undermine this tendency in the receptive viewer, and in the several interviews I have heard with the man I have always been impressed with his uncompromising push toward the luminous space of transpersonal Holiness.
Unlike the endless literature of neo-nondualism, which often seeks to transcend sectarianism by merely abandoning the discipline of sect rather than digging deeply into it, Smith’s writing in The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis does not shy away from the detailed analysis of kabbalistic teachings; and unlike much post-Golden Dawn “Hermetic” Kabbalah, Smith is not afraid of diving deeply into the Bible itself, as the gnostic container of kabbalistic wisdom.
As the full title suggests, The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis: Commentary on the First Three Chapters presents a multilayered exploration of the first three chapters of the Bible’s first book. In true kabbalistic fashion, each verse is picked apart by word and phrase, and then by numerology (gematria). This is not, as a famous modern occultist asserts, a game for confusing the cognitive faculty into abeyance, but is instead a very real flowering of gnostic insight. More, it is a means of making plain the interweaving natural to these concepts. Far from tricking the mind, gematria sets it to the very deliberate task of dissolving its own limitations. The Bible thus revealed is not different from the mind reading it: capable of opening or closing according to the angle of approach.
David Chaim Smith’s artwork is on display, here, small in number but representative in scope. All in grayscale, it resembles the famous alchemical woodcuts of the Renaissance though often more abstract in its composition. Though not integral to the text, the more complex pieces serve as powerful contemplative supplements, while the simpler diagrams directly illustrate the concepts being explored.
Though slightly familiar with Smith’s approach when I was offered a digital review copy of this book, I did not know what to expect from his writing style. His writing is clear but extremely dense. While concise and comprehensible, The Kabbalistic Mirror is no leisurely beach read. Far from a criticism, this is just a heads-up for the reader: be prepared to rearrange your brain.
I recommend this book in particular for two audiences: occultists looking to understand kabbalistic roots, and the many people born into either Christianity or Judaism trying to find a deeper spirituality in the Bible. In any case, approach this book with fresh eyes; read it the way you might read a book on a totally unfamiliar mystical tradition. Find the memory of the first time you read Herman Hesse, Gustav Meyrink, or Tao Te Ching, and bring those eyes to The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis. The work required from even a cursory reading will be repaid manifold as David Chaim Smith reveals the inner significance of the biblical creation as a living myth rather than the dry bones of our cultural assumptions.