Rabbi Phillip Berg, known as the Rav by his followers, died in a Beverly Hills hospital this morning. The Rav was the head of the Kabbalah Center and influenced the lives of thousands of Jewish and non Jewish people alike. Although suffering from the effects of a stroke from 2004, the Rav kept active with affairs of the Kabbalah Center and continued to give lectures until the end.
The Kabbalah Center gained considerable popularity due to the unusually large number of superstar attendees. Michael Jackson, Guy Ritchie, Roseanne, Sandra Berhnard, Monica Lewinsky, Demi Moore, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ivana Trump are just some of the people’s lives that The Kabbalah Center influenced. Madonna has also been enthusiastically involved and her concerts have included Kabbalah center themes. The Rav renamed her, Esther. In return she promoted the Rav’s work, wrote books for his causes and successfully popularized the ancient myth of red string bracelets that works as a tool to avert bad energy.
Born in New York as Shraga Feivel Gruberger, Rav Berg’s life was shrouded in mystique, suitable for the leader of a spiritual organization that was his Kabbalah Center. Believed to be approaching 90 years of age, his actual date of birth is shrouded in secrecy and hair dye that created an appearance of a man far younger.
From his first marriage he had many children but some of them ceased contact with their father when he divorced their mother and went on to convert his secretary to Judaism and then marry her in 1969. Karen Berg became a charismatic and spiritual leader in the footsteps of her husband. She believed that Kabbalah is a mystical learning from ancient Judaism that has modern meanings and guidance but she begged The Rav to teach her and to build a learning center that should publicize their interpretation of Kabalistic thinking. Traditionally the books of the Zohar were forbidden study except for men who have passed the age of forty.
The Kabbalah Center has generated millions of dollars since it began. It has centers in many countries including Canada, Mexico and London and the Center was wealthy enough to buy, or be donated the buildings from where they function. The Rav’s sons have published many books that promote themes of the Kabbalah and are sold worldwide. Meanwhile there are strong sales of the Kabbalah Center’s red string at $26 each, although the same string can be purchased elsewhere for a fraction of the cost. Pocket size versions of the complex and virtually unreadable Zohar are sold at the Kabbalah Center to anyone who believes that owning the text will bring luck to them.
In the early days the the Rav built the Kabbalah Center as a place of learning. The Rav gave classes and shared the themes behind the ten luminous emanations, the core of Kabbalah. Today, his legacy is an organization that influences Jews and non Jews, straight and gay, famous and infamous, poor and rich.
The Rav will be buried in Tsfat, Israel.
by Ruth Pike