* One * MANHATTAN On this day the light had disguised itself as the first ordinary orange rays of a September sunrise over the East River. It easily eclipsed the big red neon Tower Records sign and silhouetted all the sheets of newspaper scurrying over Broadway's empty sidewalks. It ricocheted off the windows on the building across the street and then flooded Kalman's office. And for a moment, light was everywhere. And everything was light. Kalman opened the door and squinted in the brightness. Winded from climbing three flights up the utility stairwell, he was proud his forty-six-year-old constitution could still take them in stride. He set his coffee on the desk, hung his parka over the back of a chair, and began unpacking his bag--teaching notes, books, a folder of last week's marked-up homework. Finally, he peeled the tape from the flap of a bubble-wrap envelope protecting a very old volume of Zohar, the master text of Kabbalah. Kalman had picked it up in Israel decades earlier; the caretaker of a little out-of-the-way synagogue had given it to him. "Here," the old man had said. "Take it, it's yours--has your name on it." So he took it. He'd been using it ever since as a pedagogic prop, a teaching aid for his courses on mysticism. How could he possibly have imagined that, after all these years, the back cover of the book was about to come unglued and give birth to another page? That's the way it is with a good book: Just when you think you've read all its words, the damn thing falls apart in your hands and you have to start all over again. The leather of the cover was long gone; only the interior pastedowns had survived the continents and centuries. Similarly, all that remained of the binding was naked stitch work. The back cover was even more distressed--a sandwich of several barely-glued-together and delaminating layers. The extremes of New York's climate had taken their toll on whatever adhesive properties the old glue might still have possessed. Indeed, the book was so insubstantial, it seemed more pneumatic than corporeal--a child's helium balloon in imminent danger of floating away. The paper of the pages had a bluish cast and was so softly textured, it felt like cloth; wormholes embroidered the edges and much of the gutter. Many margins were embellished with handwritten notes. The title page bore the names or biblical verses poetically alluding to the names of generations of owners. And at the bottom there was printed a verse from the Book of Job: "What is hidden shall come into the light." Then, like a man swearing an oath in court, Kalman placed his open palm on the book and mused, "And what was hidden has come to me!" He closed his eyes and smiled. Kalman's office was at the back of the library stacks, a destination distinguished primarily by the fact that it could be reached from the stairway door by at least half a dozen different paths. And each one was through a different maze of aisles created by floor-to-ceiling gray metal shelves of books and--if you bothered to flip on the switches as you walked by--illuminated by overhead fluorescent lights. There were routes for every mood: You could walk through medieval Europe and the Holocaust; you could walk through commentaries on the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, or the Koran; you could walk through the Talmud, the history of Israel, Jewish ethics, or Jewish humor. But no matter which path you chose, it was through books, literally thousands and thousands of them, all waiting patiently for readers like flowers for bees. "So you're interested in becoming a rabbi. . . ." Kalman set down her letter and smiled at the red-haired young woman sitting on the other side of his desk. "Yes, I am, Rabbi Stern. I'm particularly interested in Kabbalah." "Which is why, I suppose, the deanKushner, Lawrence is the author of 'Kabbalah: A Love Story' with ISBN 9780767924139 and ISBN 0767924134.