CAPE TOWN, South Africa (VINnews) — Rabbi Lionel Mirvis, who passed away Monday in his Capetown home at the age of 93, became famous originally due to his developing unique methods of teaching Kabbalah, which he developed 50 years ago. Rabbi Mirvis, who is also the father of the current Chief Rabbi of Britain Ephraim Mirvis, taught Kabbalah based on the esoteric Sefer Yetzirah, a book attributed to Adam HaRishon.
He later developed his method into graphic kabbalah, which he called, “the truth of the Torah, starting with the earliest, in Genesis, to the latest, in science”. He lectured widely on the subject, and produced a popular series of DVDs. His approach related to the modern world, his compelling thoughts and interpretations developed through a fusion of Talmudic, mathematic, and scientific knowledge.
Although Rabbi Mirvis taught and popularized Kabbalah, he eschewed using Kabbalah as a shortcut to spirituality. He focused on the theological aspects of Kabbalah and on the deeper significance of the ideas behind it, applying them to the modern world. In a seminal work published in 1974, he researched the various different divine names mentioned in the Torah and attempted to find a specific meaning for each name in its context in the Torah.
Rabbi Mirsky wanted Kabbalah to help people solve their problems. In a recent interview with the South African Jewish Report, he reflected on how Kabbalah could help modern civilization by focusing on the more neglected inner world:
“The world in general, and Western civilisation in particular, is struggling to deal with rapid change. People fear the tomorrow, and have difficulty making the correct decisions about crucial issues that have an impact on the future.
“Today’s rapidly-changing world is a consequence of the information explosion. It’s ironic that the genius of the mind that has brought about all these changes knows everything about the external world, yet knows nothing about the world within.
“In contrast, the ancients knew about the inner workings of the human mind and little about the world at large.
Initially Rabbi Mirvis had not pursued a rabbinical career, and embarked on an academic career which garnered him four degrees in the humanities as well as being a qualified civil and structural engineer. But his restless mind sought to focus on Jewish thought and Kabbalah and he therefore studied Semicha in Israel, later becoming spiritual leader of three major congregations He also served as a dayan (religious judge) on the Cape Town Beth Din and lectured in the department of religious studies at the University of Cape Town, designing courses which included Kabbalah.
Rabbi Mirvis also authored a book, The Gem of Many Facets, which he wrote under the name of “Yahalom”, which means “diamond” and is the Hebrew acronym of his name, Yehuda Leib Mirvis. He is survived by his second wife (his first wife died in the 1980’s) as well as children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.