Acknowledgments: And it Came to Pass
The advertisement for Kabbalah classes in the Herald Neighbors section caught my eye. Florida International University was offering the course at the Jewish Learning Center on Arthur Godfrey Road, close to my South Beach home. Already an F.I.U. Student, I had just registered at the University of Miami’s Continuing Studies Program to study film. The University of Miami found fault with my very old University of Florida credits and gave me a list of filler courses needed to obtain a degree from their institution. One of them was a religion course. Remembering a Time Magazine story about Kabbalah that centered on Madonna, I wondered why Kabbalah had attracted a superstar who had chosen to parody (some say mock), religion in visuals of her music. I registered for the course.
Dropping the course became a consideration when I received the results of our first, open book pop quiz. (I had not brought my book to class.) As I fidgeted with my thoughts, something brushed up against my leg. Looking under the table, I found attached a label. It read: "Do not drop," referring to the table. I elected to continue with the course, and chose it as the thesis topic for my first University of Miami colloquial: Research Methodology. One of the first things our Rabbi instructor taught us about Kabbalah was: "nothing, nothing happens by coincidence."
I would like to thank Rabbi New for going beyond the visuals of Kabbalah, communicating with us on the level of applied Kabbalah, and I would like to thank Cecilia Leathem and her Kingdom, The University of Miami Library, for the research techniques and wealth of information that enabled me to fathom a very sophisticated and complex subject.
Forward: "In the beginning" of this paper.
Kabbalah is not easy to write about. There is no lack of information or opinions on the subject, and therein lies the first problem. Kabbalah is a weighty topic. Getting "the skinny" on Kabbalah is just not possible. An even bigger problem with writing on this subject is its initial closed and oral evolution. All but the first of the great Kabbalistic works is derivative evolution; they are more akin to tectonic movement than they are to opinion or explanation, and like the tectonic movement of the earth’s plates, the commentaries move across, against and with one another over time. Deciding between them is difficult when they vary. "The older the better" applies to the material I found on the subject. Unfortunately, for the English-speaking, no document predates 1877. Direct study of earlier translations is not possible without knowledge of the Hebrew language.
Creation: Of a Thesis Statement
I have learned: Kabbalah has traveled through time from the obscure, to an explosive cultural influence, back to obscurity, and now, as we approach the Millennium, Chassidic masters of the Jewish religion have brought it to our attention again, convinced that the Messiah will come only when all know the wisdom of Kabbalah: " . . .based on the revelation of King Messiah to the Baal Shem Tov (founder of the Chassidic movement), that he [the Messiah] would appear when the wellspring of the Chassidic/mystical/Kabbalistic tradition disseminated throughout the world."
Therefore: Formation of a Thesis Statement
Kabbalah, the Jewish religion’s interpretation of the mystical creation of the universe, is an ancient account of the beginning of time that has begun to mirror scientific knowledge. It had a profound but forgotten influence on Western history, culture, philosophy and theology. Its current revival should be successful because of the influence of our times, a time when the marvels of our anatomy and our universe are being revealed to us in ever quickening succession.
The Making of a Thesis Statement
I will attempt to explain to my readers the bones of the antiquity, Sefer Yetzirah (the primary Kabbalistic work), and I will cover scholars’ analogies to the sciences. The contribution of the major Jewish mystics and their works will follow. Christians — who became very involved with the Kabbalah — are included in a section on Kabbalistic influence. Their fascination with the Kabbalah propelled it into the secular world.
The Chassidic movement originated approximately three hundred years ago, and it has made a major contribution both to the commentary of Kabbalah and to its recent resurrection from obscurity. Chassidic contribution lays primarily in the application of the Kabbalistic works to earthly spirituality; their emphasis is on the teaching, not the telling of the Kabbalah. Chassidic religious leaders pay little attention to the secular world of the applied sciences. Therefore, it was not a surprise to find that modern Christian scholars draw the most fascinating comparison of current scientific knowledge of "The Big Bang," to the Sefer Yetzirah and the Zohar. The Sefer Yetzirah, thought to be thousands of years old, appeared in written form (most scholars agree), about seventeen hundred years ago. It is primarily a poetic description of creation — "The Big Bang." There is evidence that the revival of Kabbalah today stands at a crossroads. Its "trendiness" threatens to negate its potential to introduce a new golden age of thought, relegating it to a flash in the "New Age" pan. Therefore, I will finish by addressing the perceptions Kabbalah has evoked from the media, its new propellant to the secular world. Kabbalah serves to stimulate awareness of our own "being." One cannot help trying one’s own commentary.
Kabbalah: A Definition.
Many variations of the meaning of the word Kabbalah exist in both scholarly and lay writing on the subject. The most commonly used: "handed down;" "oral tradition;" "secret tradition (learning);” and the more recent favorite of the popular Kabbalah teaching centers, "received." The Oxford Dictionary (American Edition), lists neither Kabbalah, nor Cabala as a defined word; its Christian derivative, cabal, (New York; Berkly Books 1997), 99 appears with the first definition: secret intrigue. One author of a small research paper written in 1971 found no less than seventeen definitions of the word Kabbalah — and ten definitions of mysticism.
Kabbalah is Jewish mysticism that originated at an unspecified time in antiquity; it is attributed to the father of the Jews, Abraham. Its first written form was the Sefer Yetzirah, authored by Rabbi Akiba Ben Joseph (generally accepted as its author by most scholars). It appeared sometime in the second century C. E. according to some scholars, between the third century and the sixth according to others, and to a few, as late as the tenth Century. Kabbalah is not the only body of work that qualifies for the definition of Jewish mysticism; the prophet Ezekiel’s visions of the Chariot Throne of God, Markava, and other written works are included and ran parallel to the evolution of the Kabbalah mysticism. When it became clear to me this was a document of biblical significance, I asked my mysticism course instructor, Rabbi New, why it was left out of the Bible. He explained: "It was not left out; it was withheld." The Bible was written for everyone. Kabbalah was withheld for the spiritual elite. It is Genesis between the lines, a revelation from God to Abraham, to be passed down to the chosen’s chosen.
A Small Work: The Material World
"The ultimate absurdity is that anything exists." This is the introductory first sentence to a lucid commentary on the Sefer Yetzirah by Leonard R. Glotzer. It is similar to a statement made by Rabbi New in our first weeks of class: "How real is the world?" The study of Kabbalah is an attempt to cipher the covenant of reality.
Rabbi Akiba’s first version of the Sefer Yetzirah was a virginal effort written in "veiled" language, to protect it — least it fall into the wrong hands. By design, it withheld as much as it released.
Two early manuscripts, which differ in length, are referred to by scholars as simply the short version and the long version. They deem two other versions "important." The story of the beginning of time is the same in all versions. For the benefit of novice readers, I will fast forward through the basics before attempting any depth. Are you ready? Count to ten. Say the alphabet. Repeat four times. Stop. We have been created. Sounds incantational, doesn’t it? Now let us add a few frames. Again, Leonard Glotzer: “there are only two logical possibilities for the origin of the world. Either Being arose out of nothingness, or something has always existed."20 The Kabbalah says: First there was created being: "Yesh" from non being, "Ayin," and then came: being from being "Yesh MiYesh"
"The Material Girl and the Spiritual Guy"
"A Ray of Light," Madonna’s new song refers to the first actor on creation’s stage, for the Kabbalistic theory of creation says that from the infinite "Ein Sof," Hebrew for no thing, "A Ray of Light" shone forth, a "hidden, supernal point."23.Gershom G. Scholem, commentary and trans., Zohar The Book of Splendor (New York: Schocken Books, 1949), 27. This point, the second emanation, was the result (effect), of the first emanation (cause), "Sefirah," of God’s light, His will that we exist — creation. This second Sefirah combined with the first to emanate the third that emanated the fourth that emanated the fifth that emanated the six that emanated the seventh that emanated the eighth that emanated the ninth that emanated the tenth. Each Sefirah is cross-connected vertically and diagonally to the other Sefirot by twenty-two ". . . flows of light." Such was the Divine Light of the world of Emanation, Atzilut, ten numbers and twenty-two letters, the first imprint of creation. This elation would replicate itself three times.
Before continuing, pause a minute and construct an image. Four descriptions in the main define Emanation: supra (ladder); onion-like; the shape of man; and, the best ". . . the interior symmetry of a hologram whose impression is the cosmos." The last description incorporates the first three and shows the last part of my thesis statement; the renewed interest in Kabbalah will be encouraged by scientific revelation. The hologram analogy appeared in a more recent book on the subject (1983), with an introduction by a modern scholar acquainted with laser technology. It is the only information I found where a recent perspective was more enlightening than the old — the applied sciences and the ancient Sefer Yetzirah coming together to help us visualize the mysteries of creation.
"Ten Sefirot of Nothingness," this is the world of Atzilut — Emanation. Kabbalists believe that it took three repetitions of the first emanation of ten to create the material world. They believe not in four separate emanations, but rather: "a change in intensity and quality . . . the result of light from the upper worlds being transformed rather than being created anew." This is the order of creation that produced the material world: Emanation — Atzilut, nothingness; Creation — Beriyah, something from nothing, Formation — Yetzirah, something from something; Making — Asiyah, completion (the physical world). Kenneth Hanson, a modern Christian scholar, points out that there is strong analogy between the four worlds of the Sefirot and the four known forces of the universe, and he ponders that perhaps, like the Kabbalah, they are really one:
The Strong Force: Themselves invisible, gluons weave webs of energy into forms we call matter. . . . Electromagnetism: . . . the second strongest of the four forces, infinite in range and carried by photons, which in turn carry light from the sun and stars. . . . The Weak Force: . . . the power which mediates . . . radioactive decay. . . . Gravitation: . . . the universal attraction of all massive particles toward one another. . . .
The Sefer Yetzirah
Ten Sefirot of Nothingness
ten and not nine
ten and not eleven
Understand with wisdom
Be wise with understanding.
Examine with them
and probe from them
Make a thing stand on its essence
And make the creator stand on His base."
The Sefer Yetzirah plots its own expansion in this verse. It implores the reader to probe its surface for further meaning, but it makes clear there is no room for deviation in certain matters. The original Sefer Yetzirah was shorter than what I have written to this point. Commentaries average three hundred pages. The most famous commentary, Sefer ha Zohar, The Book of Splendor, is almost 100 times as voluminous, It ties the Torah’s Five Books of Moses, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, to the Sefer Yetzirah.
The Chicken or the Egg
Ten Sefirot of Nothingness
Their end is imbedded in their beginning
And their beginning in their end
One is the Breath of the Living God
Two: Breath from Breath
With it He Engraved and carved
22 Foundation Letters
And Twelve Elemental
And one Breath is from them
Kabbalah says: It was the chicken that came first. The original Sefer Yetzirah does not name the Sefirot. The first emanation, "Breath of the Living God," is equated to "Direct Light" — in man the breath from our lungs to our throat.Two is "Reflected Light" — the breath from our mouth that forms sound. This second Sefirah extends in a direct line downward to form the last position in the Sefirot Tree of Life — the physical world. Kaplan says: "It is also through Malkhut [Zoharic name], that all the images of the higher Sefirot are reflected so that they should be visualized. The Sefer Yetzirah therefore says that the twenty-two letters were created through this second Sefirah," NOTE: This was written in 199. Since that time DNA scientists have proved that this is true.
Only when the ten emanations were complete, could this second Sefirah, receive from the Sefirah above it, called Yesod (foundation), in the Zohar, and equated to the male sex organ of procreation. It pre-existed the seed. The Kabbalah supports the ignition theory of creation — first the chicken (Yesh), — then the egg (Yesh MiYesh).
Something Gets Lost in the Translation
Creation according to Kabbalah can be simply related to the ten Sefirot and the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. These letters live and breathe. The alphabet I used here is not a facsimile; it is convention; our words do not convey the essence of the thing we speak of. They only name it.
“The twenty-two graphs which are used as letters in the Hebrew alphabet are twenty-two proper names originally used to designate different states or structures of the one cosmic energy, which is essence and semblance, of all that is . . . they factually are what they designate. . . . We are approaching here a language which is not a by-product of sensorial references, but a would be transmission from the unknown.”
This quote from The Quibble Trilogy by Carlos Suares suffices as a base line explanation of the Hebrew alphabet’s participation in creation. It is this base line one can follow. This story of creation is a riddle with many clues, a puzzle with only its edges and center in place. Kabbalists believe that God is not physical. God is no thing. In His Image Kabbalistically speaking:
These are the Ten Sefirot of Nothingness:
The Breath of the Living God
Breath from Breath
Water from Breath
Fire from Water
Up down east west north south
The Cube: First Six Seals: Three from Twelve
The first four Sefirot emanated produce a heavenly triangle made up of Sefirah one, three and four with the first extended as "Reflected Light," in a straight line below to the second. (See Figure 1.) Then the emanation of the last six takes place to form the six dimensions of space — and then — from the resulting twelve diagonal flows of light between these six emerge the Elemental of the Hebrew alphabet — and then:
He chose three letters
From among the Elemental
. . .
And he set them in His Great Name
And with them, He sealed six extremities.
The letters chosen, Yud Heh Vav, can be permutated six ways; the six permutations seal our universe’s six dimensions of space.
The Cube: Part Two:
Seven Doubles: BGD KPRT
Seven and not six
Seven and not eight
These letters are: ". . . the set of double letters, each having two possible sounds." The seven Doubles connect the lower seven Sefirot in the vertical direction as opposed to the diagonal direction of the twelve Elemental. They connect each of the six dimensional Sefirot of space — in an array — around the lowest called "The Holy Palace," (the "Reflected Light" of the first emanation). Then — the six dimensional Sefirot — now co-joined to the seventh, are further co-joined to each other by the twelve diagonal Elemental — to form a cube — with six flat faces. The Sefirot set the parameters of the universe. The Doubles form the dimension of space. The Elemental ". . . correspond to the pillars on which the universe rests." God chooses the essences of three Elemental for his name in the world; they are then mixed — six different ways — to make the glue that seals us in our universe. The Doubles and the Sefirot are finite. The Elemental are not. They are God’s highways to the infinite; they are the parallels on which Markava mysticism rides. The Elements carry Ezekiel’s Chariot Throne: "They extend continually until eternity of eternities. And it is they that are the boundaries of the Universe." (See Figure 2.)
Hum versus Hiss: An Alef for a referee
Twenty-two Foundation Letters
And Twelve Elemental
The Three Mothers are Alef Mem Shin
Their foundation is
a pan of merit
a pan of liability
And the tongue of decree deciding between them.
[Mem hums, Shin hisses
and Alef is the Breath of Air deciding between them.]
The first letters of the Hebrew alphabet connect the highest three spheres of the Sefirot. According to Aryeh Kaplan they represent the three elements air, water and fire — and furthermore: ". . .define the thesis-antithesis-synthesis structure that is central to the teachings of Sefer Yetzirah" Kaplan explains how they mitigate the Tree of Light — and Life by dividing it into three columns: Alef the center, air; Bet the right, water; Shin the left, fire. He equates their hum and hiss to meditative states of consciousness.
Three Mothers: Alef Mem Shem
A great, mystical secret . . .
And from them are born Fathers, and from the Fathers, descendants.
The mystery spoken of here, Kaplan reminds us, relates to the mystery of the divine name, the Tetragrammaton, YVHV, which contains the three letters used to seal the universe. Somehow, the Three Mothers are tied to these three particular Elemental that God chose for his name:
He chose three letters . . . in the mystery of the three Mothers. The letters A M Sh exist in the Universe of Chaos (Tohu):
"The Kabbalists teach that the letters of the Tetragrammamaton only pertain to the Universe of Rectification [the physical world]. In the Universe of Chaos (Tohu), the Divine Name consists of the letters A M Sh. . . ." "The three Mothers, A M Sh, represent cause, effect, and their synthesis. . . . The letters A M Sh differentiate space from time and soul"
Kaplan ends his interpretation by warning us: The Three Mothers have the capacity to undo this differentiation. These first, most mysterious of the letters represent the semblance of God’s sustaining force in the Universe.
How now, brown cow?
He permuted them, weighed them, and transformed them,
Alef with all of them
and all of them with Alef,
Bet with all of them
and all of them with Bet.
They repeat in a cycle
And exist in 231 Gates
It comes out that all that is formed
And all that is spoken
Emanates from one Name.
Kabbalah teaches that for every thing in the heavens there is a counterpart in the physical world. The concept of the Seven Doubles is expanded once the letters come into existence, interacting with one another to build the material world, each with one another (22 X 21=231).
Point and Counter Point: Part and Counter Part
Twenty-two Foundation letters
He placed them in a circle
like a wall with 231 Gates.
The circle oscillates back and forth.
A sign for this is:
There is nothing in good higher than Delight (Oneg)
There is nothing evil lower than Plague (Nega)
The mathematical interpretation of the last two lines of this verse from the Sefer Yetzirah is: 231 X 2 == 462. For every combination of two letters you can reverse the order: Alef Bet, Bet Alef. Kabbalah provides for all direct opposites including good and evil. Kaplan points out the numerical value of the Hebrew word for path, Nativ, 462. The author is speaking here of the Hebrew science of Gematria. The Sefirot represent the integers one to ten, the numbers that all others consist of. Kabbalah commentary gave the Letters of the Creator numerical values. "The comparison of words which have the same numerical value is Gematria — counting."
The Material House:
Two stones build two houses
Three stones build six houses
Four stones build twenty four houses
Five stones build 120 houses
Six stones build 620 houses
Seven Stones build 5040 houses
From here go out and calculate
That which the mouth can not speak
And the ear can not hear
The story of creation simply stated as ten emanations of light and twenty-two letters, once in existence, provides for the great diversity and complexity of life, the soul of a human — the soul of a stone. The Sefer Yetzirah herespeaks of permutations — all possible combinations of the twenty-two letters — in all possible orders. Human capacity cannot consecutively recite the possible permutations in a row after the combination of all the Seven Doubles. Seven letters permutated together in all combinations takes three hours to recite, eight letters ten times as long. The possible permutation of all the letters approaches sextillion. Kabbalists believe that the lower seven Sefirot are the forces of nature in the material world — the alphabet the way they manifest the diversity in life.
Ten Sefirot of Nothingness
Their vision is like the "appearance of lightening"
Their limit have no end
And His word in them is "running and returning"
They rush to His saying like a whirlwind
And before His Throne they prostrate themselves
"And the Chayot running and returning, like the appearance of lightening." (Ezekiel 1:14). The commentators relate this to the flows between the two Sefirot directly under the first emanation. The Sefirah to the right is our non verbal consciousness. To the left is our consciousness that is verbal. It produces thought and speech. The "running and returning" is the flow that goes back and forth between these two. In our verbal state of consciousness we: ". . . can only visualize the Sefirot "running and returning" for a split second — like lightning.
Ten Sefirot of Nothingness
Their end is embedded in their beginning
And their beginning in their end.
While "their limit has no end," the end of the Sefirot is their beginning, and their beginning is their end. Aryeh Kaplan draws a mental picture to reconcile these verses with the mathematician’s principle of the "point at infinity." Imagine the earth and its poles as you read Mr. Kaplan’s description:
“Although this is a highly abstract concept, it is not that difficult to understand. Imagine a circle with two antipodal points, O and N. Obviously, two lines extending outward from O will once again come together at point N. But then what happens if we make the circle infinitely large? The larger the circle the closer the curve approaches a straight line. In the limit where the circle becomes infinitely large, the lines extending outward from point O actually become straight. But still, they come together at point N. This point at infinity is where all end points meet. . . . All opposites in their extreme case become joined as one.”
Your Heart Thinks
Ten Sefirot of Nothingness
Bridle your mouth from speaking
and your heart from thinking
And if your heart runs
return to the place.
It is therefore written,
"The Chayot running and returning" (Ezekiel 1:24)
Regarding this a covenant was made.
Kabbalah enforces what the human capacity for emotion has always told us: Your mind may process thought, but its source is the heart. The blood from our heart runs and returns to the place from which it came. In this verse the Sefer Yetzirah draws an analogy to "In the Image of God." Kabbalists, Kaplan tells us, equate the fourth Sefirah — Fire, to the heart spoken of here. They see it as a warning not to stay in a state of non verbal consciousness too long when attempting to reach Wisdom (the Sefirot to the left of the first emanation), through meditation.
When I began to read and study my reference material on the Kabbalah, I found a revolving door. So that my reader has an easier time, I have selected the verses from the Sefer Yetzirah that I kept coming back to. They reinforced my understanding of its premises. The order I have presented the verses is not their natural order, and I have chosen the beginning verse of this poetic mystery to end Kabbalah’s story of creation. "The Heart is seen as king of the soul (6:3). Of all the parts in the body, it is the dominant one."
With 32 mystical paths of Wisdom
the Lord of Hosts
the God of Israel
the living God
King of the universe.
. . .
And He created His universe
with three books
and with communication.
Twenty-two letters and ten numbers combine to tell a story of thirty-two mystical paths of Wisdom. All commentators point out: The numerical value of the Hebrew word for heart, Lev, is thirty-two. The paths, like the Sefirot, were not named in the original version; however, when later Kabbalists named them, the paths of the heart were given names of consciousness and intellect. Part of the analogy for the Bible’s ". . . in the Image of God," Kabbalists believe, is in this first verse of the Sefer Yetzirah. Leonard Glotzer, in his book The Fundamental of Jewish Mysticism, has best compiled the references from the different commentators: Human beings have thirty-two teeth and thirty-two spinal nerves — one from the spine to the head (branches to twelve), and thirty-one to the rest of the body. The Tree of Life is divided into a top triangle of three and seven lower spheres of light. Geometry supports the theory of thirty-two: A circle with a diameter of ten has a circumference of thirty-two, a diameter of three — a circumference of ten, and a diameter of seven — twenty-two. Looking at the mystical side of the equation, in Genesis, God’s name appears thirty-two times in the story of creation, day one through six. The first ten times are the ten emanations of God’s light. The first, Sefirah, "Divine Light" is: "In the beginning God created. . . ." After this opening line, Genesis contains the statement: "God Said, let there be . . ." nine times. These are the second to ninth emanation. There are an additional twenty-two mentions of God’s name, one for each letter of the Hebrew Alphabet: "The three times in which the expression "God made" appears parallels the Three Mothers. The seven repetitions of "God Saw" parallel the Seven Doubles. The remaining twelve names parallel the twelve Elemental."
Even the best commentators combine the verses of the original Book of Creation and Zoharic commentary. This combination blocked my progress. The difference in names made it difficult to decipher. The original’s second emanation is not in the second position of the Zohar’s Chakhmah (water from breath), but rather the last position — Malkhut. So as not to confuse my readers, I decided not to synthesize the two. I have minimized my reference to the Zohar in discussions of the Sefer Yetzirah.
What impressed me most about the Sefer Yetzirah was: the references to the seals; the description of the squared flat boundaries of the cube; the vertical and diagonal directions of the letter flows that created the formation of the twelve flat faces in the cube; and Kaplan’s description of the "point at infinity": — a giant circle enlarged to the point the lines of the circle become — straight (flat), lines. Combined this image with: "running and returning; They rush to his saying like a whirlwind; Their end is imbedded in their beginning." I recalled a passage from Kenneth Hanson’s Kabbalah: ". . . the galaxies comprising the universe are hurling away from each other at incredible rates of speed. There is no question about it: the universe is expanding." Then, to a mental image forming in my mind, I added Rabbi New’s story of God’s answer to Moses’ request to see God. God replies that he may only see his back; no one can see God’s face and live. Perhaps we are expanding from God’s back — and contracting toward his face: "All opposites, in their extreme case become joined as one." God’s seals — the flat sides of the cube — the extremities — the dimensions of space — seal our fate. God has given his universe dimension. God has no dimension. He watches his creation on flat TV.
In his book, The Fundamentals of Jewish Mysticism, Leonard Glotzer compares George Hegel’s idea of history to the synthesis of the right and left side of the Kabbalah tree. "The resulting synthesis . . . is of higher nature than the original opposing ideas. Thus, history advances." The Zohar advanced The Sefer Yetzirah to the point that is was no longer the purview of only the spiritual elite. It introduced the Sefer Yetzirah to all Jewry and the secular world. The essence of the Chassidic movement is its further dissemination throughout the world.
First a poem and then a Novel:
The edge of heaven is called "who." There is another lower place called "what." What is the difference between these two? Only that the first one, the one called "who," we can ask about. However, once a person asks and investigates and looks to understand from level to level till the ultimate level, once one reaches there — then "what?" — what do you now know, for what did you look, what did you investigate, for all is sealed and known as before.
These lines are from the introductory portion of The Book of Splendor, Sefer ha Zohar. The author fails to heed his own advice. There would follow this introductory lamentation — volumes and volumes of material dedicated to seeking the "what" of the universe. There has been as much written about the author of the Zohar as the Zohar wrote about the "what" of the universe. This great work of intellect reinforces, throughout its epic midrash (biblical commentary),the impossibility of ever knowing what God is. However, the merit in seeking the "what" — always to be concealed from us — is that it awards us our true soul.
The Zohar was published in thirteenth century Spain, by Moses de Leon, a Jewish mystic, who claimed to be also its scribe. Moses de Leon authored his own midrash, before and after the publishing of the Sefer ha Zohar. He claimed to have copied the book from an ancient manuscript that had fallen into his hands, composed, he claimed, by the illustrious Rabbi Shim’ on ben Yohai and his disciples. Legend had it that Rabbi Yohai, a mystic of the second century and a disciple of the Rabbi Akiba’s school, had spent twelve years in a cave studying Kabbalah. Rabbi Shim’ on ben Yohai became the Zohar’s, undisputed "Holy Light."
After the death of Moses de Leon, his authorship claims were refuted. The Zohar was written, chief antagonists said, by Moses de Leon himself. The controversy over the book’s authorship in no way interfered with its acclaim as a brilliant literary work, and with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, its fame spread until Zohar became the mantra of the Kabbalists. Today the debate of who wrote the Zohar continues. Most scholars believe that it most probably was a combination of the two premises: Moses de Leon was in possession of some small manuscripts, but he was responsible for most of the epic work himself.
Between the appearance of the first known copies of the Sefer Yetzirah, and the Zohar, mystics continued to write midrash in secretive groups that keep their works for the eyes of a few. It was the Zohar that began in earnest the revealing of the concealed — the examining and probing demanded by the Sefer Yetzirah. The Zohar’s innovations were as follows: to give names to the Sefirot; to establish the confluence of Daat; to give names to the first three levels of soul and allude to two more; to strongly put forth that God was androgynous — equally male and female; to establish four layers of interpretation for the Torah; and — to write reams of esoteric midrash on the Torah’s five books of Moses, integrating the Sefer Yetzirah. Gershom Scholem, a revered scholar on Jewish mysticism, concedes the concept of a four level Torah interpretation was influenced by Christian theory of "the fourfold meaning of Scripture."
The names of the Sefirot were derived from the Bible: Keter, crown, the "spirit of God," or — God’s Will — the first emanation; the Sefirot in the second andthird position are named Chakhmah — Wisdom, and Binah — Understanding. "I have filled him with the spirit of God, with Wisdom, with Understanding, and with Knowledge," (Exodus 31:3). The author of the Zohar heeds the words of the Sefer Yetzirah, he does not expand the Tree of Life to eleven; he decrees that Knowledge (Daat) is the synthesis (confluence), of Wisdom and Understanding.
In the Beginning . . .
When the King conceived ordaining
He engraved engravings in the luster on high.
A blinding spark flashed
within the Concealed of the Concealed
from the mystery of the Infinite,
a cluster of vapor in formlessness,
set in a ring,
not white, not black not red, not green,
no color at all.
When a band spanned, it yielded radiant colors.
Deep within a spark gushed a flow
imbuing colors below,
concealed within the concealed of the mystery of the Infinite.
The flow broke through and did not break through its aura.
It was not known at all
until, under the impact of breaking through,
one high and hidden point shone.
Beyond that point, nothing is known.
So it is called Beginning,
the first commandment of all.
These often quoted first lines of the Zohar’s Book of Genesis interpretation describe the emergence of the first emanation, Crown (Keter), God’s Will that we exist, the Creator’s first step out of the Infinite (Ein Sof). The high and hidden point that shone is the second emanation. It is the analogy modern scholars point to for "The Big Bang." Going back now to Kenneth Hanson’s description of the four forces of the universe. Here is how he astutely equates them to Zoharic verse: The Strong force: "Come and see; There are four lights. Three are concealed and one is revealed. A shining light . . . “Electromagnetism: "a glowing light; it shines like the clear brilliance of Heaven.” The Weak Force: " A purple light that absorbs all lights."; and — Gravitation: " A light that does not shine but gazes toward the others and draws them in. Those lights are seen in her as in a crystal facing the sun. The first three are concealed, overseeing this one which is revealed."
This last of the four forces sounds like the non-Sefirah, Daat, God’s laser, able to absorb all and reflect the totality of all in all directions — confluence. Kabbalists believe that it was Binah that gave birth to color; the first five Sefirot below her each have a separate color and also a name assigned to them. The names come from the Bible: " Yours O God are the Greatness [Later synthesis would change this name to Love, Chesed], the Strength [Gevurah], the Beauty [Tiferet], the Victory [Netzach], and the Splendor [Hod], for All [Yesod (called Foundation)]; Yours O God is the Kingdom [Malkhut] . . ."
From this point on in Kabbalah commentary (post Zohar) Chesed is labeled with the number four. The Zohar, however, is speaking of the Sefirah’s position in the image of man — not the order of emanation. Zoharic Kabbalah does not conflict with the Sefer Yetzirah as you can see in this verse from the Zohar:
Three emerge from one; one stands in three [Keter (one) begat three ( Malkhut, Chakmah, and Binah)]
enters between two [Chesed and Gervurah]; two suckle one [ Chesed and Gervurah suckle Tiferet]
one suckles many sides [Tiferetto the others].
Thus all is one [Malkhut as a complete reflection of Keter]
The Mitigating Tree.
The Zohar settles into its shape-of-man analogy (See Figure 3.), and even enhances the Sefirotic concept of male and female with a covenant between. Tiferet, the son of Binah and Chakmah mitigates between Gevurah, Power (or Judgement), and Chesed Love (or Greatness). If the balance pulls to the left, Power — the inclination for evil — the "Other Side," surfaces. The next two Sefirot are the ones first intersected by diagonals passing from the upper levels through Tiferet. They are associated with prophecy and inspiration — Nezah and Hod. Going back to the Sefer Yetzirah and the description of the diagonals with infinite boundaries, the implication of Kabbalah is clear — the infinite — Ein Sof — is the source of our ideas whether scientific, artistic, literary or religious. Nezah and Hod beget Yesod — called Foundation and equated to the male sex organ — the channel of the light above to Malkhut, the Kingdom and material world. Five of the lower Sefirot reflect a color; Chesed — white; Gevurah— red; Tiferet— green (Some commentators say yellow.); Yesod — black; Malkhut — blue.
‘Male and female he created them.’
From here we learn:
Any Image that does not embrace Male and Female
Is not a high and true image.
We have established this in the mystery of our Mishnah
Come and see:
. . .
A human being is only called Adam
When male and female are as one
The Zoharic tree, equated to the body of man, consists of five male and five female Sefirot. Failure for the individual to balance their male and female qualities results in an inclination to evil if pulled too far to the left — or to bad judgment — pulled too far to the right. "Here [in the Zohar], God thinks, feels, responds, and is affected by the human realm. He and She comprise the divine androgyny; their romance and sexual relationship is one of the most striking features of the Zohar,"
A Zoharic Soul
The Zohar first deciphers and names three souls that lie within us all at the same time: Nefesh, basic soul, Ruah, our spirit that resides within our soul and Neshamah an inherent (concealed), level of soul that is attainable only for the righteous. However, there is a passage later in the text that alludes to two more:
We know that three souls pertain to the divine grades. Nay, four, for there is one supernal soul which is unperceivable, certainly to the keeper of the lower treasury, and even to that of the upper. This is the soul of all souls, incognizable and inscrutable. All is contingent on it, which is veiled in a dazzling bright veil. From it are formed pearls which are tissued together like the joints of the body, and these it enters into, and through them manifests its energy. Yet another, a female soul, is concealed amidst her hosts. . . .
There is also a passage in the Zohar which states that Gematria, the Hebrew science of counting, is a fifth level of Torah interpretation. This method applies numerical values to each Hebrew letter and interprets with a complex set of numerical comparison stipulations. This fifth level was not considered a separate level by itself in Moses de Leon’s time and was an innovation of the Zohar. The Chassidic movement would expand it. The scholar Gershom Scholem gives what he says is a "startling" example of its application — the proof that God’s name was the first Adam Kadom — Primordial Man: "Yod he vav he (the four letters of the name of God), have in Hebrew the numerical value 45, as does the word Adam."
The Luz Bone
It would be left to Lurian Kabbalists and the Chassidic movement to flesh out the ideas of the additional two levels of soul and the fifth level of Torah interpretation. But the Zohar did speak of a special bone in the human body. It would be responsible for reconstructing the soul — and the body — of the dead. Different from any other bone in our body, it was located somewhere in the back of the neck. Somehow it figures in our survival — not in the next world — but in the world to come. The Luz bone of every human whomever lived will be transported (catapulted) to this world. Rebbe Menachem Mendel Shcheerson, the last Chassidic master, explains the role of this bone in our resurrection to the world to come:
Prior to the resurrection, the Luz bone will be the only remnant left of the entire body, and from this fact it follows that the soul also . . . will undergo a fundamental change. At the time of the Resurrection [of the dead], a complete body will be constructed from this bone, and in a similar fashion, the soul will also pass through several stages until it, too, will be built and enter the body.
Through a search on the Internet, I found a professor at the University of Indiana, Dr. George S. Dougherty. He told me there is one bone in the body that is different from all the rest. It is called the Hyoid bone, found behind the jaw bone in the neck; it is the only bone in the body that is not "articulated," (joined), to any other. It has four muscles attached on one side — and four on the other; they perform opposite functions in opening and closing the jaw. The bone however is in the front of the neck. Dr. Dougherty’s associate, Dr. Valerie O’Loughlin, offered the "cervical rib" as a possibility for the Luz bone, which he related as follows:
“It may be found coming off of the last cervical vertebrae . . . however; in some individuals they may have an anomalous ‘cervical rib’. This would be located at the back of the neck and at the base. It would be classified as a flat bone. . . The reason I mention it is because . . . it was said that woman (Eve) was created from Adam’s rib. . . Could it have been a "cervical rib? . . . .perhaps Eve was created from an anomalous rib. Just a thought”
The Lion and the Mouse
The time elapsing between the publishing of the Zohar and the rising prominence of Rabbi Isaac Lucia, was a time of great influence for Jewish mystics. The mystics’ writings from this era were prolific, but their dissemination during this period reverted to secret cabals. The next tectonic construction in Kabbalistic thought did not occur until the life and times of Isaac Luria, called The Ari (The Lion), and considered one of the greatest Kabbalists of all time. His contributions would give birth to the messianic movement of the Jewish religion. Rabbi Luria as a young man became smitten with the Zohar and began taking long meditative sabbaticals in Egypt’s Nile River valley. There he experienced visions of the prophet Elijah — sent to him, he said, to reveal Zoharic secrets. His longing for more knowledge of the Zohar brought about his move to the Palestinian city of Safed. Moses Cordovero was his first teacher. Cordovero was the Saint Thomas Aquinas of the Jewish religion. His Guide for the Perplexed, like Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, had as its purpose the reconciliation of Aristotelian reason with religious principles.
The Ari was just another student until he met a mystic named Chaim Vital Calabrese. He was The Ari’s missing piece — a salesman. It was Chaim Vital (Jewish scholars do not use the Calabrese name), who played mouse to The Ari’s lion and set him free from the confines of his hermitic personality. It was this charismatic relationship that built the following that would become the Lurian school of thought — the Ari as the visionary — and Chaim Vital — as the literary genius who would put it all in writing. The Ari focused on the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection of souls, but he also put forth the notion that he might be — the Messiah. Upon his death, Chaim Vital then claimed he might be the real Messiah. The messianic hopes of the Lurian Kabbalists continued into the seventeenth century where they had an embarrassing end in what is called "the heretical theologoumena of the Sabbatians," followers of Sabbatai Zevi. A Kabbalist, Sabbatai claimed to be the Messiah, but quickly abandoned his faith and converted to the Moslem religion when threatened with death by the Turks. Messianic hope, however, is not the legacy of Lurian Kabbalah.
Tsimtsum: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
The Ari developed the concept of God’s contraction as the antecedent to creation. Gershom Scholem is the scholar who elucidates this concept best. He tells us it was not a new concept; it existed in old manuscripts that predated the Zohar. It is not, however, developed in the Zohar. There is a constant theme in Kabbalah of revealing the concealed in the way of the "times" of Ecclesiastes (3:2-8). It was time for us to know the antecedent of creation — tsimtsum— contraction. Gershom Scholem on the contraction:
“It is an amazing conception. The tsimtsum ushers in the cosmic drama. But this drama is no longer, as in older systems, an emanation or projection, in which God steps out of Himself, communicates or reveals Himself. On the contrary, it is a withdrawal into Himself. Instead of turning outward, He contracts His essence, which becomes more and more hidden. Without the tsimtsum there would no cosmic process, for it is God’s withdrawal into Himself that first creates a pneumatic, primordial space — which the Kabbalists called tehiru — and makes possible the existence of something other than God and His pure essence. . . . In the tsimtsum the powers of judgment . . . are gathered and concentrated in a single point, namely, the primordial space . . . from which God withdraws.” But the powers of stern judgment ultimately include evil. . . . In the primordial space . . . the ‘roots of judgment’ discharged in the tsimtsum are mixed with the residue [waste], of God’s infinite light, which has withdraw from it. The nature of the forms that come into being . . . is determined by the cooperation and conflict between these two elements and by the workings of a third element, a ray from God’s essence, which subsequently breaks through and falls back into the primordial space.
The Breaking of the Vessels
"Creation originates in the lights which shine in strange refraction from the eyes of Adam Kadmon." Scholem refers here to the second emanation Malkhut, the Kingdom of Adam Kadmon, the Primordial Man. Somehow, in the lower world, the vessels that contain the "flows of light" between the Sefirah are not strong enough to handle the confluence that bounces back to them. The "vessels" that contain them break — "shatter under its impact." The shattering of these vessels produces two hundred and eighty-eight "sparks," and the remnants of the vessels combine with the sparks to produce imperfection in the world. Kabbalists believe that this also has something to do with the existence of evils in the world. But it sounds more like the cause of randomness to me. Randomness, a lack of order, is something mathematicians have tried to prove exists and can not. God did not intend the "shattering of the vessels"; it was an accident. Therefore, it proceeds that you can not use math, the order of the Sefirot, and the unbroken vessels of the worlds above — the laws of nature — to prove disorder — randomness — except, perhaps, with the use of the number two hundred and eighty-eight.
Making It All Better With God’s Help — Partsufim+ Man = Restoration — Tikkun
The last two ideas that The Ari introduced into Kabbalistic principles go hand and hand. The five male and five female Sefirot form pairs — the five faces — partsufim— of God.Each Partzuf (Profile of God) is: "a full-bodied articulation of a single sefirah into a complete arrangement of sub-seferotic relationship, allowing it to interact with other sefirot and their respective partzufim." God has done his part; the balance of the work of restoration Tikkun is up to man. The method, The Ari tells his followers, is to seek redemption.
The Continuum of Five: The Chassidic Contribution
The number five plays an important role in Kabbalah. The Sefer Yetzirah mentions the five places God puts the letters in the mouth of man — in the throat, in the palate, in the tongue, in the lips. It speaks of how the human mouth is used to form the letters; example: say the letters A, G, S and B. These five phonetic families parallel the five Hebrew vowels and five other letters that take different forms depending on their position in a word. Kabbalists say — though these letters and vowels are not directly mentioned in the Sefer Yetzirah, they represent "the five dimensional continuums defined by the Sefer Yetzirah."
The Sefer Yetzirah portrays a God that is equally female and male. In verse 1: 3 of the Sefer Yetzirah, the ten Sefirot’s three columns give a different perspective, much as a hologram can do. Five of the Sefirot are female — five male. Here the creator reveals them as two arrays of five — five male — the three on the right of the Sefirot tree plus the third and first spheres — five female — the three to the left plus the lower two spheres. God’s male and female attributes are simplified by the concept of the giving and receiving positions of the Sefirot. A covenant lies between them; it is the place of spiritual tension. Aryeh Kaplan points out the biblical references to the use of God’s hands and fingers in creation — and to the hands of the created in prayer. He concludes: "Before such a creative act could take place, all the Sefirot had to be polarized to male and female sides, generating tension and force. Just as human procreation involves male and female, so does Divine creation . . . Once such tension exists, through meditation and concentration, the powers of the Sefirot can be focused and channeled." The soul of the Kabbalah, like the five figures of the united hands in prayer, has five levels, equally male and female. The essence of Chassidus, the prescription of the Jewish religion’s Chassidic movement, is a mission statement: to help everybody reach the fifth level of soul. This is not an easy task for mortal man.
The Chassidic movement credits its roots to Lurian Kabbalah. Its actual birth as a separate movement however, is credited to Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, a sixteenth century religious luminary, who changed the current focus of the Jewish religion from the Talmud (Jewish law), to the congregation (the Jewish people). His emphasis was on ones communication with God. He saw the teachings of Kabbalah’s God’s: "Yedidi — ‘My Dear Friend, making possible a personal relationship between God and humans." The Baal Shem Tov represented ". . . new democratic leadership less focused on law . . . and brought new ideas into the practice of the Jewish religion." Each individual Jew had his own direct connection to God; One did not have to reach him through the Torah’s intermediary, the spiritual elite of the Jewish leaders: "Until Chassidus, the esoteric elements of Torah, like Kabbalah, were reserved for the spiritual elite, those innately "lofty" souls, or those who had purified and refined themselves."
The Bal Shem Tov was a working class individual, who began studying Kabbalah, while working as a watchman in a religious school. Later, when he became an inn keeper, he began to teach the surrounding populace a religion of joy, emotion and song. By the time of his death, he was renowned, but, like Luria, he had not written down his teachings. His successor, Rabbi Dov-Ber, Maggid of Metzeritch, drew a flock of followers to the fledgling movement and helped it to survive strong opposition from Jewry that fought the de emphasis of authority. It would be left to the Maggid’s successor, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, who would write Lessons in Tanya, the interpretation of the Bal Shem Tov’s teachings. He founded Chabad Chassidism. Chabad is an acronym for the Zohar’snames for the Sefirot, Chakhmah and Binah, together with their confluence, Daat — Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge. Rabbi Zalman took the Bal Shem Tov’s teachings and "distilled them into a system" of thought that would evolve into the essence of Chassidus. After his death, he would be followed by five successors that were related by blood or marriage. The sixth, Rabbi Yoseph Yitzchak, established the movement’s base in New York after leaving Russia, where he had been imprisoned for his teachings. The last and seventh leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, passed away in 1994. The Chassidic movement has not replaced him. Rabbi Zalman’s Lessons in Tanya and Rabbi Schneerson’s On the Essence of Chassidus were the focus of Rabbi New’s teachings.
A soul is a soul, is a soul, is a soul . . . plus a soul
Chassidus is: A G-dly study and understanding of the inner meaning of the Torah" . . . [T]he essential idea of Chassidus is to change the nature of ones attributes — meaning not just to change one’s nature from good to bad, but even if one has a good nature, to change it, for nothing should be done simply because it is one’s nature . . . The teachings of Chassidus created the possibility for every person, including even one who does not possess a lofty soul and who has not purified himself, to be able to grasp and comprehend G-dhood . . . Chassidus made the most abstruse concepts accessible to all by articulating them in intellectual terms. . . . The fundamental nature of Chassidus is a quintessential point, which is completely abstracted and removed from any particular ideas; however, it is by virtue of this quintessential point that all the above-mentioned special qualities exist and are derived. This quintessential point of Chassidus . . . is the effusion of a new light from the innermost level of Kesser — and from even higher: it is an effusion from the innermost level of Atik itself, which is the level of the En Sof [the infinite] . . . [W]ill is the first state of movement from the pure soul to the faculties which express it; and thus it is an intermediary between the essence of the soul and its faculties . . . . . . For since Chassidus is the extension of the State of En Sof, it is self-understood that En Sof is the essence [of Chassidus], and all other particular aspects are only ramifications of it. . . . Now even though the quintessential point of all parts of Torah is that they are united with the Light of the En Sof, in truth nevertheless, the primary expression of this point is in Chassidus. . . . Chassidus recognizes the bounds of intellect as innate. Intellect is a manifestation, a "power" of the soul or a Sefira of G-d, and is not essence. Essence in turn transcends intellect. En Sof is beyond knowledge because knowledge itself originates on a lower plane than G-ds Essence. . . .
These emanations from the last Chassidic leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, define the current state of affairs in the on going synthesis of Kabbalistic principles. Rabbi New made it clear to us in class that Kabbalah defined Chassidism and not the opposite. The Chassidic acronym Chabad stands for the contraction of the Zohar’s Chakhmah, Wisdom, Binah, Intellect, and the elusive Daat, Knowledge. Commentators put Daat in the Sefirot tree with broken lines, they dare not call it a Sefirot — remember — ten and not eleven. The best description of it is a confluence of God’s "Direct Light" and the "Reflected Light" below. But also remember, it was the convulsive activity producing the confluence between Keter and Malkhut that begat Chakhmah, which begat Binah — and Chakhmah and Binah were then linked back to Keter, by the "Hiss" and "Hum" of the Universe, Alef and Shin. Therefore, it has the right geography to become our "Essof, "a link to the fifth level of soul the essence of the infinite — Ein Sof. We no longer have to ask: What’s Daat? Daat is the front door of the house of Chassidus.
The arrays of five Sefirot are the five levels of soul in the universe:"Nefesh ("Vitality") . . . the natural soul and simple life of man. Ruach ("Spirit") . . . man’s emotional attributes. Neshama ("Soul") is the Divine Force vivifying the intellect. Chaya ("Living") is an even more refined G-dly level. Yechida is the Divine spark itself . . . the innermost part of the soul. . . ." Traditionally, there are four approaches — interpretations — of Torah: Peshat or plain meaning; Remez or allusion; Drush or homily; and Sod or "mystery" — the esoteric interpretation as found, for example, in Kabbalah.
The Chassidic movement believes because there is a fifth level of soul, this means there is a fifth interpretation of Torah. The path to our fifth level of soul lies in the discovery of this fifth level of the Torah’s meaning. The proof of this new Chassidic revelation of a fifth concealed level in the Torah lies in the part of the Torah that is revealed: the expansion from four prayers to five on Yom Kippur, and Yom Kippur only, the holiest of Jewish holidays. The vehicle to this fifth interpretation of the Torah can be found through Chassidus because: "Chassidus is the infusion of a "new light" from the innermost level of Kesser, [Keter], the "Crown" or highest of the Sefirot."
Lessons in Tanya: The nature of God and other things.
Rabbi New spent an entire class lecturing on the "splitting of the sea," the miracle God performed for Moses in the book of Exodus. He wanted to make sure that we understood: "Genesis does not say that God continues to sustain the world he created, but the miracle of the splitting of the seas shows it." Everything has two attributes to its existence, a primary nature, its essence — the fact that it takes up space — and a secondary nature, the way it behaves and manifests itself in creation. Water flows, seeks its own level, but this manifestation of water is not its primary nature; it is its secondary nature. When God split the sea by sending a wind that stopped the flow of water and then turned it into a wall, only the secondary nature was change. By the end of the evening we had learned the Torah’s real lesson of the miracle of the "splitting of the sea" was: God sustains the universe. God took wind and pushed it against water to produce a wall; however, the wind and the wall already existed in the universe. It was his sustaining force behind the wind that was the important ingredient in this event. The "splitting of the sea" is YeshmiYesh, a favor from God but not the miracle of creation. "Creation far exceeds the "splitting of the sea" because it is creation out of nothing, YeshmiAyin. If Godwere to withdraw his force from the universe, not only would we cease to exist, it would be as if we never existed at all."
Our class’ longest lesson on the Chassidic "party of five" concept of soul and Torah interpretation was the story of Modeh Ani, a morning prayer of the faithful, recited upon awaking. The Jewish religion believes the soul leaves the body in sleep and is restored upon awaking by the sustaining force of God in the universe. The Jew gives thanks for this upon awaking with the Modeh Ani, a prayer which does not contain God’s name. After washing ones hands, to purify the body, the Mode Ani is followed by another prayer, the Elokai Neshama, which does contain God’s name. We are led to believe that the second prayer is more holy; we are taken through the four levels of Torah interpretation from a simple thank you to God to the fourth level: ". . . the restoration of the soul comes from the level of Malcus [Malkhut], as it unites with the level of Yesod."Rabbi New then gives us the Chassidic, fifth level interpretation of this small prayer: ". . . the quintessential point of Modeh Ani . . . comes from the level of the Yechida within a person." This source needs no purification; therefore, the "inner," fifth level meaning of the missing name of God in the prayer is: It can not have one. The Modeh Ani issues forth from Yechida; a soul’s essence has a direct link to God’s Essence, which can have no name in the material world. The names of God in the Torah are only God’s representatives. The primary nature of this prayer is concealed. It presents itself in a way that makes it appear less than it is. That is way Chassidus seeks to change "the nature of ones attributes "by the infusion of its new light." True nature must be found to reach Yechida.
At one time or another in our lives we have all glanced at the horoscope in the paper. We all know our "sign," the attributes we present to the world and our "rising sign," what we really are inside. Astrologically speaking, the Chassidic premise is to present our "rising sign" to God. Not a difficult concept to grasp, the difficult part is in the "making," Asiyah.
It’s all in the making:
The analogy of the Chassidic fifth level of soul and the astrological concept of a rising sign brings me to the last part of my thesis. In my reading I was amazed to find that an awesome amount of non-Jewish culture, significant historical events — even the games we play, can be attributed to Kabbalah. Its contribution has been too long forgotten by historians.
One Thing Leads to Another
Frances Yates, an able English scholar, wrote a book in 1979 called The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age. She states in her introduction that the purpose of her efforts is to build a framework for later scholars to expand and that she will put forth daring arguments showing Jewish mysticism was a major contributer to the thought processes that swept Medieval Europe into the Renaissance, through the Reformation, and into the philosophy of The Elizabethan Age. She credits her inspiration to the "great book" of Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, published in England in 1941, and she chides historians for their failure to "integrate" Kabbalah’s contribution into general history.
The thrust of her argument is as follows: There existed in Christian Spain a confluence of religious thought. It had the largest center of Jews in Europe. The Islamic Moors still controlled a good portion of the countryside. A Spanish artist by the name of Ramon Lull was consumed by the premise that the three religions could be united through their common belief in the names — attributes — of God. His art affected the ten Sefirot, and he believed — "it was an Art that could prove the truth of the Christian Trinity to Moslems and Jews." By the end of the fifteenth century, Spain expelled both its Jews and its Moslems. A large population of Jewish Spanish mystics settled in Italy. The year 1492, the time of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, Yates argues, is a date equal to and "perhaps more" important to the origin of the Renaissance than the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453. The Greeks escaping the new Turkish empire brought their manuscripts of Platonic/Hermetic thought; the Jews brought the Kabbalah.
The Divorce of the Millennium
Pico Della Mirandola, an Italian philosopher, had been exposed to the Kabbalah by Jews that had already settled in Florence, even before the general expulsion from Spain of the Jews. He became enthralled with it. Like Lull, he saw in it proof of Christianity, but he saw more than just the Trinity. Add the letter Shin, the confluence between Keter and Binah, to God’s name — YHVH — and, he said, it forms the name of the Jesus.
The natural allure of the mystical Kabbalah combined with its new Christianities, and its influence fanned out over Europe. Its primary courier to northern Europe was a German philosopher, Johannes Reuchlin, who elevated Kabbalah to a "divine science." He published his first work on the subject in 1494 and the second, De arte cabalistica, in 1517, the same year Martin Luther published his thesis and began The German Reformation.
By the end of the first quarter of the sixteenth century, the Jews were a vibrant force in Italy. Their center was Venus, also the center of an influential group of Franciscan monks. Friar Francesco Giorgi, a member of this order, was also a member of a politically powerful family. At the time of the reign of Henry VIII, he had become entrenched in the study of Kabbalah and Pico’s theories on its applications to Christianity. His expertise and his connections to the Jewish religious elite were renowned. The soon to be first Archbishop of Canterbury chose him as an emissary to the Jewish leaders, sent to figure out the legality of a divorce from Ann of Aragon, based on two different biblical interpretations of the marriage of a man to his brother’s wife. The pro divorce Friar and his Jewish mystics came up with the legal argument that would effectuate Henry VIII’s divorce from his first wife and precipitate the break of the English Church with Rome. Friar Giorgi, and later his writing on the Kabbalah, would continue to be a great influence in England through the reign of Elizabeth I. His works would also influence French Renaissance.
The balance of Frances Yates’ book tells about the degradation of Christian Cabala into the occult. This was primarily due to the works of one man Henry Cornelius Agrippa, who with Friar Giorgi, exerted a strong influence on John Dee, an Elizabethan philosopher that in the early part of his life was close to the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Agrippa became known as a "black" magician. Christian Europe eventually attacked him for straying too far from religious tradition. Agrippa’s fall from grace culminated in the witch hunts of the sixteenth century and forced John Dee out of favor at court. But the genie was out of the bag. Yates Claims, although there were no Jews in England from the reign of Henry VIII through the reign of Elizabeth I, nevertheless, the art and culture of England and all of Europe were profoundly affected by Kabbalah. Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton —all, according to Yates, were influenced by the transmutation of Jewish mysticism — the occult.
Frances Yates is not alone in her naming Christian Cabala as the source of modern day superstitions and the practice of magic. Arthur Edward Waite, an earlier devotee of the Kabbalah wrote his own books on the influence of Kabbalah. In a turn of the century book he notes that Astrology grew out of the Sefer Yetzirah. He allows Astrology some leeway but lambastes "debased Kabalism" as not even being a reflection of the " old tradition of Israel" "[R]egarding its folly and iniquity there is no question." Mr. Waite, in his introduction to the 1923 Knut Stenring translation of The Book of Formation, Sefer Yetzirah, agrees with the author that the twenty-two cards of the Tarot Trump Major and the ten "Fours" of the Minor Arcana were developed from the Sefer Yetzirah. It is interesting that the name of this early twentieth century scholar appears on the most of the Tarot decks we buy. The source of the Tarot is unknown, but it is first mentioned in a fifteenth century manuscript of a Franciscan friar. Arthur Edward Waite, obviously, was both a scholar and an entrepreneur.
The Christians were not alone in their attempts to channel the mysteries of the Kabbalah to their practical use. A Jewish scholar, Mordecai Margalioth, published a book in 1966 called: Sepher Ha Razim. It was a translation of an old Jewish manuscript that had been found, dating to the " Judaism’s of the Hellenistic age." It is a book of magical potions and praxis to bring life along your way. Another reference to the use of magic is in an often quoted passage from an old manuscript of a first century Rabbi, Yehoshua Ben Chananya who stated: " I can take squashes and pumpkins, and with the Sefer Yetzirah, make them into beautiful trees." And — there is the most famous Kabbalistic legend of magic — the Golem. Legend had it that you could use the arrays of the thirty-two gates to build a creature that would be manlike and serve your will, yet not be completely human. A very similar concept to humans being Godlike, but only in his Image. A redeemable Frankenstein is our modern lore equivalent. But Practical Kabbalah, for the Jew, was a tiny stream of thought in the life of the Kabbalah. For the Jewish religion it is the divining rod of their spiritual word.
It’s all in the Making
A check of the LEXUS-NEXUS Academic Universe data base for press coverage on the subject of Kabbalah reveals its return to the public eye. It was almost non existent in the 1980's, In the early nineties it received some coverage, but in the last two years, 1997 and 1998, coverage in the print media has increased ten fold. Most articles talk only about its trendiness, and usually in the context of other mystical religions popular today. The Toronto Star last spring did a comprehensive story on the basics of the Kabbalah and on the controversy surrounding the popular Kabbalah centers run by Philp Berg. He is being called cult-like and fraudulent by mainstream Judaism. The Los Angeles Times did a story in September on the phenomenal growth in the sale of books on religion and the spiritual. Their headline wraps it up.
SPIRITUALITY IS ONE FOR THE BOOKS
A HUNGER TO ADD MEANING TO LIFE COMBINED WITH SAVVY MARKETING AND GROWING MEDIA INTEREST MAKE RELIGION AND METAPHYSICS THE FASTEST GROWING SALES CATEGORY IN PUBLISHING
The Turn of the Century
In the 1932 book, The Kabbalah and Spinoza’s Philosophy: As A Basis For An Idea Of Universal History: Book Two, scholar Harry Waton sums up the influence of Kabbalah on the great seventeenth century philosopher and his times:
[W]e are concerned with the transition from metaphysics to philosophy, nevertheless, a succinct statement of the underlying thread of the Philosophy of the Kabbalah is indispensable, for all that philosophy can hope to do is but to formulate the implications of metaphysics in a more explicit and rigorous manner. The idea crystallized by metaphysics is this: The nature and destiny of the universe is merged with divinity itself. Existence is self creative, developing from an inherent explicitness of forms, in which the order and connection of phenomena is only an aspect of universal necessity.
As we rush to the turn the century, mind-boggling revelations of our-truth-is-stranger-than-fiction universe greet us constantly. We debate the ethics of making a less than human fetus to replace the body parts of the living; — creating a Golem is a scientific possibility today. Medicine and the science of our anatomy advances at the speed of lightening. The computer can calculate: "That which the mouth can not speak and the ear can not hear." Mankind will never be able to create Ex Nihilo (from nothing), but we will be able to create all the future that lies within the seals of our universe. : "And with them, He depicted all that was formed and all that would be formed." Rabbi New was very fond of quoting the Bible. "There is nothing new under the sun," was his favorite.
Book sales show busy people are pausing to ask about the "What" of the universe. Kabbalah is believable. Kabbalah asserts a God who is pro-choice, equally male and female. The antiquity Sefer Yetzirah is modern. I recommend it. You do not have to be Jewish; "The infinite transcends every particular content of faith." Consult a Chassidic master. They equate themselves to oil — a substance which mixes with no liquid yet permeates all matter — and oil can fuel a light. I leave you with a Chassidic thought about light.
Of all physical phenomena, light is that which most closely approximates what is spiritual and freed from the limitations of matter. For example, it is not corporeal; it delights the soul; it enables one to see. It is also analogous to the nature of Divine emanations insofar as light is never separated from its source, spreads itself instantaneously, irradiates all physical objects, does not mix and mingle with any other substance, never per se changes, is essential to life in general, and is received and absorbed relative to the capacity of the recipient, etc.
1. Aryeh Kaplan, Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation (York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser Inc., revised ed., 1997).
2. Gershom G Scholem, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, 7th ed. ( New York: Schocken Books, 1965).
3. Leonard R. Glotzer,The Fundamentals of Jewish Mysticism: The Book of Creation and Its Commentaries ( Scranton, Pennsylvania: Haddon Craftsmen, 1992).
4. Daniel Chanan Matt,Commentary and trans., Zohar: The Book of Enlightenment (New York, Toronto: Paulist Press, 1983).
5. Rabbi Menachem M. Scheerson, On the Essence of Chassidus (Brooklyn, New York: Kehot Publication Society, 1978).
6. Gershom G. Scholem, commentary and trans., Zohar The Book of Splendor (New York: Schocken Books, 1949).
7. Yehuda Shamir, The Spider and the Raven, (Texas: I.D.A. Press, 1971).
8. Rabbi Schneur Zalman, S.B. Wineberg, trans., Lessons in Tanya Vol III, 3rd ed. (Brooklyn New York: Kehot Publication Society, 1989).
9. Gershom G. Scholem, commentary and trans., Zohar: The Book Of Splendor, 3rd ed.( New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1969.
10. Herbert Weiner, 9 ½ Mystics: The Kabbalah Today, 2nd ed. ( New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969).
11 Moses De Leon, Elliot R. Wolfson, Commentary and Trans., Sefer Ha Rimmon: The Book Of The Pomegranate (Atlanta, Georgia: Scolars Press, Brown University, 1988).
12. Elton Hall, Commentator, Rachavan Iyer, Trans.,In The Beginning: Bereshith: The Mystical Meaning of Genesis (London, New York: Concord Grove Press, 1983).
13. Kenneth Hanson, Kabbalah: Three Thousand Years of Mystic Tradition (Tulsa, Oklahoma: Council Oak Books, 1998).
14. Rabbi Ruvi New, REL 3392, Class notes and tapes (Miami Beach: F.I.U., Fall 1998).
15. Alan Unterman, trans., The Wisdom of the Jewish Mystics (New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1976).
16. Daniel C. Matt, The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart Of Jewish Mysticism ( New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1995).
17. Carlos Suares, Micheline and Vincent Stuart, trans, The Quabala Trilogy (Boston, London: Shambhala Publications Inc.,1976).
18. Gutman Locks, The Spice of Torah: Gemantria (New York: Judaica Press, 1985).
19. Frances Yates, The Occult Philosophy In the Elizabethan Age (London, Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1979).
20. Mordecai Margalioth, Sepher Ha-Razim (California: Scolars Press, 1983).
21. Rabbi Akiba Ben Joseph, Knut Stenring, Trans, Arthur Edward Waite, Intro., The Book Of Formation (New York: KTAV Publishing House Inc., 1970).
22. Arthur Edward Waite, The Secret Doctrine In Israel (Montana: Kessinger Publishing Company, 1993)
23. Teresa Watanabe, "Spirituality Is One For The Books," Los Angeles Times, 4 September 1998, Home Edition, 1 (A).
24. Ron Csillag, "Kabbalah In The Midst Of Revival: Star-Studded Cast Heads New Interest In Jewish Mysticism," The Toronto Star, 21 March 1998, Final Edition, 16 (L).
25.Gal Einai Institute of Israel, Great Rabbis and Mystics, http://www.inner,org/glossary/rabbis/rabbis.htm (viewed December 11, 1998).
26. Michele Jackson, Book Review and Excerpt: Tarot: Mystery and Lore, p 7, copyright 1996/97, http;//michele.readers.com/giles.htm (viewed December 12, 1998).
27. B. Murray, Must It Be The Mathematicians who Prove Chaos?, Revised August 11, 1998, http://exmormon.org/boards/honestboard/messsages/1631.html (viewed December 11, 1998).