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The Kabbalah of Writing

Mystical Practices for Inspiration and Creativity

Published by Inner Traditions
Distributed by Simon & Schuster



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About The Book

A mystical system for harnessing divine inspiration in your writing

• Explains how the 10 sefirot—the channels of divine creative life force—can be used to develop writing and give you the power to grow as a person and a writer

• Explores each sefira in detail and how it can be used to manifest creative visions through words

• Provides writing exercises and imaginative techniques to help you receive the mystical wisdom of the Kabbalah, develop your creative powers, and open yourself to inspiration from the divine

Revealing how the ancient spiritual tradition known as the Kabbalah can be applied to the art of writing, award-winning author Sherri Mandell presents a mystical system for developing creativity and harnessing divine inspiration in your storytelling and other written works.

Sharing insight from her own spiritual journey and her years of teaching writing, Mandell explains how the characteristics of the 10 sefirot—the channels of divine creative life force that make up the elemental spiritual structure of the world—can be used to think about and develop writing in a profound way and give you the power to grow as a person and a writer. She explores each sefira in detail and how it can be used to manifest creative visions through words. Showing how writing can be healing and redemptive, she provides writing exercises and imaginative techniques to help you create a writing practice that allows you to appreciate the richness of life, retrieve its divine beauty, and share your unique wisdom.

By unveiling how writing can become a spiritual path, a pilgrimage to discover the sacred stories within, Mandell shows that sharing your inner truth and expressing your personal gifts of imagination through writing is part of your individual spiritual mission as well as an essential part of the spiritual evolution of the world.


From Chapter 2. Inspiration: Chochmah

We often begin writing because something inspires us: touches us or interests us. We’re curious, open to experience. The word inspiration derives from the Latin inspirare, “breathe or blow into.” In the Torah, we are told that man was created by God by breathing or blowing into him. “And God formed man, dust of the ground, and breathed the breath of life into his countenance and so man became a living being.” Inspiration is sourced in the divine.

Inspiration gives us the gift of being alert to our world: divinity may be hiding anywhere. Too often we belittle the topics that surround us. For example, we may not think it worthwhile to write essays about the tedious aspects of raising children or doing laundry or driving to work. But almost anything—a game of touch football or weeding in the garden—can become an opening to a larger truth.

In her essay “The Death of the Moth,” Virginia Woolf observes a moth fluttering about her windowpane, which leads her to reflect on the overwhelming majestic powers of life and death. She wonders about death choosing a common moth as an adversary.

When we pay attention to the glory and mystery of the ordinary, we enter our lives more fully. We may collect bits of experience and ideas that inspire us—from our reading, thinking and activities—which can then be woven together in a way that surprises us. This amassing of material, almost like raking or gathering, can feel like a form of divine supervision or hashgacha pratit, which means “divine providence. The image or information you need to for your essay appears as if by magic. An idea for your essay floats into your head when you’re walking or listening to a podcast. Sometimes the best creative gifts are small ones that we receive when we are not expecting anything, like the Ferris wheel that I noticed last week when I drove near my home, which had magically appeared on the horizon, delighting me with its sudden unlikely appearance.

We may think that we have to write about dramatic events and wait for them to occur, when all around us, still, small stories wait to be noticed and recorded. In the Book of Kings, we learn about Elijah, a fiery prophet who fights against idol worship and who is also a miracle worker, able to travel between this world and the next. Yet when Elijah meets the divine, God is not in the mighty wind or the earthquake or the fire that God sends to him. God is in a still small voice.

In this chapter, you’ll learn about inspiration—how it can be sourced in the mundane or in beauty or in discomfort. Yet the nature of inspiration can be problematic: it is exciting and attractive, even compelling, yet uncontrollable and evanescent.

Writing Exercise: Small Gifts

Write about something small that happened to you this week that might have just passed you by, that you might have forgotten. It could be something simple, like the way the sun rose so early and its blazing light was so overwhelming that it woke you at three-thirty in the morning. You could write about a change in the landscape, a conversation that you had with your son, or a decision that you needed to make. You could write about the way people wait for a bus. Try to sense what was unique in the experience, its small and shining significance.


Inspiration is often sourced in curiosity. Chochmah literally means “the power of what.” Mah hu: What is this? In an essay called “Wonderlust,” Tony Hiss speaks about deep travel, the ability to journey somewhere new and see vividly and wonder: What is this thing that my mind or eyes or ears alight on? What does it look like? Smell like? Sound like? Feel like? What does it remind me of? What is it made of? How did it get here? Deep travel doesn’t require a trip to India or New Zealand or Africa—which is lucky since as I’m writing this, very few planes are flying because of the coronavirus.

Writing can provide an opportunity to immerse ourselves in the present so that we see things as if we’ve never seen them before. Maybe this is close to what Keats refers to as negative capability: “when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without an irritable reaching after fact and reason.” We see differently because we shed our preconceptions and certainties. We reject the commonplace. In her poem “The Summer Day,” poet Mary Oliver wonders if this close attention is a form of prayer.

Writing Exercise: Observing and Appreciating

Inspiration can be found in nature and in the everyday: “Today is the day that God created. Let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118).

• Take a walk in nature and observe your surroundings. Use your senses. What does a small slice of nature look like, smell like, feel like? Listen to it. Touch it. What do you see that you never saw before? Write a detailed description.

• Write about something that you are inspired by today in the present tense. You can describe an unexpected moment of beauty or insight.


As beauty can serve as inspiration so can our insecurities. Robert Atwan, series editor of The Best American Essays, writes: “I’m not usually sold on epiphanies, especially of the life-transforming type. I’m more interested in the opposite experience: not those rare moments of startling insight or realization, but—what I suspect are more common—those sudden flashes of anxious confusion and bewilderment. I distinctly recall one of these reverse epiphanies (is there a word for these?) shortly after I began high school.”

Rabbi Yaakov Leiner, whose teachings are gathered together in a book called Beit Yaakov, teaches that small annoyances should not be dismissed: “We must believe that in such times, when one has no inner peace—then most of all one’s position is infinitely more profound and superior to the (times when the) intellect reigns. Indeed, God wishes, through them, to teach one new and holy lessons and appreciation of His ways.” Even those experiences that seem annoying and insignificant may be filled with God. I can’t help thinking about the coronavirus, a very big global annoyance and for many a tragedy. Yes, many of us who sheltered were annoyed and frustrated. But this time was also one of revelation: understanding what is really important to us, who we love and how we want our lives to be. Some people also discovered activities that they didn’t have time for before—like drawing or prayer or meditation or listening to the birds. One day during the pandemic, I was doing dishes, rushing through them, and then I realized: I am in no hurry. I can enjoy this chore. This global annoyance and tragedy has given those of us who are well the gift of time.

Writing Exercise: Annoyance and Challenge

• Write about something that bothers you, a moment of confusion or bewilderment, rupture or uncertainty. Let that moment inspire you.

• Write about the coronavirus. What was a particular challenge you faced? One of my students wrote a beautiful essay about her coronavirus insomnia—the anxieties that woke her and plagued her (pun intended) at four in the morning.


Difficult emotions can inspire us to write, and yet sometimes we don’t want to admit how resentful, jealous, or angry we feel. However, when a writer is willing to voice and explore darker feelings like fear, jealousy, humiliation, or anger that are not always shared in ordinary life, the reader may feel the great pleasure of intimacy, the confirmation of his own fears and shadows.

Less, the 2018 Pulitzer Prize–winning novel by Andrew Sean Greer, tells the story of a minor novelist’s travels to writing events around the world to escape his former boyfriend’s wedding. The narrator reveals a series of humiliations, but he leavens it with so much intelligence and humor that the reader can’t help but take pleasure in the cascade of embarrassing and defeating encounters.

We may also resist inspiration because an inner voice says that we don’t have permission to speak. Our narrative is dangerous. We suppress the story because we are afraid of revealing too much, harming others or ourselves, betraying even those who have hurt us. One needs to hold back and yet the story must be told.

“Art is confession; art is the secret told. But art is not only the desire to tell one’s secret; it is the desire to tell it and hide it at the same time,” wrote Thornton Wilder.

Sometimes we want to tell our secrets. Yet if our desire is vengeance, if we are motivated to get even with somebody, the reader may sense the narrator as bitter and untrustworthy.

Yet divulging secrets does not have to entail a complete confession. Confession, while titillating, can sometimes be degrading or melodramatic. Writer Emily Fox Gordon distinguishes between a confession, which is blurted out to a person who has some power over us, and a confidence, which is written to a confidante or friend, creating an equal relationship. She explains that writing that confides, that whispers, that tells secrets without hurting others has the advantage of offering a stable narrator who invites the reader in. The narrator is not interested in exposing everything—showing the guest his dirty laundry and garbage—but in providing a relationship.

Privacy may be an outmoded term, but our privacy deserves respect. You can write a memoir without exposing family secrets, alluding to them without describing every detail—not because you can’t tell the story but because you choose to respect your own dignity. Not everything needs to be told. The world is one where God is revealed and concealed at the same time. We may choose to do something similar in our work: expressing the emotions of our story while suppressing some of its secrets. Such essays may be even more powerful because the reader feels the undercurrents of pain in the gaps in the story. Writer Beth Kephart calls writers who don’t divulge every detail artful dodgers, trusting the reader with “secret unsaids.” You maintain the power of the emotion, the inner story, while playing with and transforming the outer circumstances.

It’s a very hard balance, especially if you’re a parent. There are many things I will not write about in a memoir because I don’t want my children to read about them. I know this may be an unpopular position, but I find it necessary. Another option for keeping one’s privacy is writing and sharing a story in a writing workshop with a small group of people who will keep your confidence. Sometimes my students say, “This piece is only for our class. And thank you for letting me trust you with this story.” Yet another solution toward maintaining privacy is to transform elements of your story into fiction. In a novel I recently finished writing, the outer body of the story has very little to do with my life, while the inner struggles of the characters are close to my own. In other words, you can change “the dress” but keep the fire of the inner conflicts—“the body.”

On the other hand, you may choose to tell the whole story because you need to and are willing to deal with the consequences. My friend, poet Jane Medved, got the following advice in a master class: if you’re going to jeopardize a relationship, make sure that it is worth it. You better have a great piece of writing if you’re going to take such a risk. Your relatives may be angry. An uncle may stop talking to you. A sister may write a competing memoir. Or your family may not even notice.

Writing Exercise: Shame and Anger

• Write about an experience where you felt a sense of shame. Shame is one of the most powerful forces in our lives. Tell the whole story. Next talk directly to somebody in the story. Tell him what you couldn’t say then. Now talk to your shame. What do you want to say to it? Let the shame answer you. Use any of these sections in an essay.

• Anger can also serve as an inspiration. What makes you furious? Tell the reader and let it rip. Don’t hold anything back.

About The Author

Sherri Mandell is an award-winning writer who has contributed to numerous magazines and journals, including USA Today, The Times of Israel, Hadassah Magazine, and the Jerusalem Post. She is the author of several books, including a spiritual memoir The Blessing of a Broken Heart, which won a National Jewish Book Award in 2004. She holds a master’s degree in creative writing and studied Kabbalah with teachers in Jerusalem. For the past 20 years, she and her husband have directed the Koby Mandell Foundation in Israel whose flagship program is Camp Koby, a therapeutic sleepaway camp for bereaved children. She lives in Israel.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Inner Traditions (January 17, 2023)
  • Length: 160 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781644116104

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Raves and Reviews

"Mandell offers an inventive exploration of the Kabbalah as a resource to help readers improve their memoir and essay writing practices, and to discover the 'divine beauty' of their lives. This thoughtful guide balances practical advice with emotional insight, without being overtaken by mystic overtones. Aspiring writers with a spiritual bent will appreciate Mandell’s unique approach."

– Publishers Weekly

“Whether you are new on your spiritual path or think you have seen and read it all, The Kabbalah of Writing will guide you down fascinating new avenues of spiritual awakening using simple, easy-to-accomplish tools and writing prompts to help you create the life of your dreams. A treasure trove of a book just waiting to be discovered by those ready to take their spiritual understanding and practices to brilliant new heights!”

– Royce Christyn, author of Scripting the Life You Want

“Sherri Mandell is brilliant, captivating, and relentlessly honest. Her book is a must for anyone who loves to write and wants to learn to write better.”

– Brian Kiley, comedian, Emmy Award-winning writer, and head monologue writer for Conan O’Brien

“Sherri Mandell takes us on a breathtaking journey through the spiritual energy of the ten sefirot and shows how each one opens a new doorway into the practice of writing. This is a world where kindness honors our inner voices, boundaries help us edit and focus, and harmony creates moments of insight. Mandell collects guidance from poets, essayists, psychologists, philosophers, and sages alike in a conversation that engages literary wisdom with sacred texts. Bursting with wisdom and practical advice, inspiration and writing prompts, Mandell shows us how to reveal and give voice to our own unique stories.”

– Jane Medved, author of Deep Calls to Deep and Olam, Shana, Nefesh

The Kabbalah of Writing is rich with the most practical suggestions for writers, simple to follow, and abundant with possibility. Mandell shows us by example how to live a reading and writing life every day. Her book is a welcome guide for anyone seeking to link spiritual growth with literary experiment.”

– Ilana M. Blumberg, Ph.D., author and associate professor of English at Bar-Ilan University

“The Tree of Life is a map of the Divine’s creative process, and a core Kabbalistic teaching is that we are partners with the Divine in completing and perfecting our part in that process. Sherri Mandell has given writers a great gift as she teaches us how to use the Tree of Life in our creative process, revealing our work to be the holy partnership that it is and enabling us to reach new creative depths and heights.”

– Mark Horn, author of Tarot and the Gates of Light

“I have never read a book that accomplishes so many goals without overwhelming the reader or oversimplifying the material. The Kabbalah of Writing incorporates a serious treatment of the sefirot interspersed with an illuminating survey of ‘writers writing about writing,’ peppered with personal anecdotes that warm the heart, and topped with an adventurous array of writing exercises.”

– Sarah Yehudit Schneider, author of Kabbalistic Writings on the Nature of Masculine and Feminine

“Highly original, beautifully conceived, The Kabbalah of Writing is a gift not only to aspiring writers but to anyone seeking to enhance their creative and spiritual potential.”

– Yossi Klein Halevi, senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute

“Such poetic, light, penetrating wisdom riffles through these pages like an evening breeze in Jerusalem. This book contains just about everything I need to know to write better and live more richly.”

– Ruchama King Feuerman, author of In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist

“This book is a psycho-spiritual manual that applies the wisdom of the sefirot to the sacred art of creative writing. Freewheeling anecdotes, from personal experience, from Torah, and a multitude of celebrated writers, are sure to help us live more deeply, with greater courage and humor.”

– Jean-Pierre Weill, author of The Well of Being

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