A Novel Kabbalist
A talk with Mitchell Chefitz, author of a novel about kabbalists and kabbalistic themes.
I first met Rabbi Mitchell Chefitz seven summers ago. He led a prayer session one morning, and as we prayed he showed us how to bring our bodies into prayer, mapping our motions from left to right and forward and backward to invoke the diverse energies of God, which are known by the kabbalists [mystics] assefirot
A few years later, I stayed at Mitch's home in Miami. He's the rabbi of a fascinating organization, Havurot of South Florida.Havurot
in the singular--are small, informal lay-led prayer and study groups that generally meet in members' homes. Mitch's organization is a set of interlocking havurah groups that formed, in part, around Mitch's teachings after he left a more conventional Reform synagogue.
Mitch is a tall, lean man with a graying beard and a neat black yarmulke who enjoys riding around on a motorcycle. He told me once that mystical experience should give a person more courage to take risks. He knows risk. In addition to being a rabbi, he's spent time as a commodities trader. And now he's taken a new on a new risk and a new role: novelist.
His new book, his first novel, is called "The Seventh Telling: The Kabbalah of Moshe Katan." It is as unlike the conventional novel as Mitch is unlike the conventional rabbi. At one level, it's the story of Stephanie and Sidney, students of the fictional kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Katan, who meet with a group of their students to tell a sequence of stories. Encoded in the stories are teachings from Kabbalah and Hasidism, and signaled in the variations of the stories are clues and hints about the relationship between Stephanie and Sidney. Behind this storytelling is the biography of Rabbi Moshe Katan himself, and at stake is the fate of his relationship with his wife, Rivkah.
I caught up with Mitch during his book tour and asked him a few questions about his new book.
RK: At this stage of your life, why did you decide to write a novel, and how did you go about learning to do such a complex work of fiction?
Mitchell Chefitz: I've tried several times over the last decade[?] to write something about a modern approach to the Kabbalah. Each attempt emerged dry, empty. About six years ago, I dropped my second son off at college in New Jersey and continued on to Boston to say good-bye to my father, who was dying of cancer. I had a long drive home to Miami, alone. I-95 is probably not the best place to meditate, but it was on that trip home I had the notion to write not a treatise about the Kabbalah but a novel that would in itself be an expression of the Kabbalah.