It’s not often that an author hides such a wide-ranging and impressive work behind a title as simple and unassuming as “The Four Keys of Kabbalah” by Rabbi Yisrael M. Rice, longtime Chabad emissary to Marin County in Northern California.

Couching Kabbalistic and Chassidic concepts in relatable language and analogies, Rice deftly lays out the purpose of creation, human suffering and everything in between, and then goes on to draw direct lines between these big-picture concepts and how these truths are to be incorporated into everyday life.

Chairman of the editorial board and member of the executive committee of the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI), Rice has been on the forefront of Jewish adult learning for decades, and this book does not disappoint, bringing fresh perspective and relevance to timeless Torah wisdom.

Here, Rabbi Rice shares some of the genesis of the book, as well as what he hopes it will accomplish for readers:

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

A: I came to Marin County in 1987 and was excited to share Chassidism with the people I met. But I was disappointed. I would teach something I found earth-shatteringly revolutionary, and people would shrug and say, ‘What does this have to do with me?’ I realized that there was a problem with the messenger (me). I set about looking for a better way to convey these concepts which I have found to be so powerful and empowering. This eventually became a seminar, which gave birth to a series of JLI courses, and then this book.

Q: A reader of this book is immediately struck by how you begin with universal “macro” concepts, the Keys of Kabbalah, but you don’t stop there, tracing those ideas into actual mitzvah observance and going into the specifics of the various mitzvahs.

A: That’s right. I worked very hard to build a bridge between very big ideas and very small changes we can make in our lives, painting with broad strokes but filling in the fine details as well. To me, the two poles are both crucial and have a symbiotic relationship. Without the big picture, our Jewish observance—our very lives—lacks vitality and purpose. On the other hand, if it does not lead to action, the big picture is stunted. In other words, meaning is discovered through both deep understanding and doing something with that understanding.

Q: It’s clear that you paid a lot of attention to how you convey the book’s concepts, and there is a lot of rich storytelling, vivid analogies, as well as a touch of humor. Who is the book intended for?

A: My intention is to reach any person who is looking for deeper meaning behind Judaism. But it is applicable to any person, Jew or non-Jew, and most of it is perfectly understandable with minimal background information.

Q: Without giving away too much of the book, can you share what the Four Keys are?

A: Sure. They are:

  1. Everything that exists is brought about by a Divine spark;
  2. The Divine spark is concealed;
  3. The purpose of this hiddenness is for us to discover and uncover the spark;
  4. Only through discovery do we have ownership, and that gives meaning and value to us and our life’s work.

But spelling out the Four Keys is only the first part of the book. I then go on to demonstrate how these four keys unlock meaning in our everyday lives, including the performance of various mitzvahs.

Q: What has it been like to release a book during Covid, when conventional book signings and speaking engagements are virtually impossible?

A: You just said the key word: virtual. I have had Zoom speaking engagements where Chabad Houses or community centers bring together 50, 100 people for a conversation and we then share a link where people can buy the book. I have had Zoom book-signings showing people as I inscribe the book for them and then pack it up for shipping.

And there have been hidden blessings as well. Chabad emissaries are giving out a lot of care packages these days. Some have purchased cases of books to put into the packages, which is something I would have not expected.

Q: How does this relate to the very popular JLI courses you have authored? Is the book a product of the courses?

A: I would say it’s really the other way around. Over the course of decades, I wrote down and refined the ideas in the book. Along the way, a separate tributary opened up in the form of the JLI courses. Perhaps these courses will fuel future books.

Q: Do you have any final thoughts for readers?

A: The profound mystical idea is simple and elegant. More importantly, it's waiting for you to bring to life in your own unique way.

The Four Keys of Kabbalah (including signed copies by request) can be purchased at kabbalahkeys.com and Amazon, where it is also available as a Kindle e-book.

Rabbi Yisrael M. Rice
Rabbi Yisrael M. Rice