Kabbalah

 

I thank God for not having created me in the period before the Zohar was known to the world, because the Zohar kept me a Jew.
Rabbi Pinhas of Korzec (18 century)

 
The review of kabbalah websites.


  • To realize the impossible is the passion of the adventure.
    -Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise
  • The giving of Torah happened at one specific time, but the receiving of Torah happens all the time, in every generation.
    - Meir Alter, the Gerer Rebbe
    From  History of the Jews, vol.III; from the later Middle Ages to the Renaissance.
    Dubnov, S. M., (1860-1941) 
    
    p. 124 -128 The Kabbala of the 13th century leaned primarily on Philo's prin- ciple of emanation. According to the teaching of the Kabbala, God is an En Soph, an infinite entity that cannot be fathomed, having no concrete attributes; it is revealed only through its creations. Such an abstract force, devoid of any materialism, could not create the material world without an intermediary; therefore the En Soph and the material world are separated by ten intermediary creative forces or sephirot. (Sephira denotes number, in the sense of number-forces of the ancient theory of the Sepher Yetzirah [Book of Creation]; its sound is reminiscent of Aristotle's heavenly "spheres"-in part, it has the same connotation.) The first sephira issued first from God, through emanation, or irradiation; the second issued from the first, and so on, until the tenth. These ten sephirot, which resemble God in substance-but are not equal to Him-are closer to the material- istic world. It was they who had created the world, and they who rule over it; and each has its symbol. The symbolic names of the sephirot, arranged according to their categories, are: keter ("crown"), hokhmah ("wisdom"), binah ("intelligence"), hesed ("loving kind- ness"), gevurah ("power"), tipheret ("beauty"), netzah ("eternity"), hod ("majesty"), yesod ("foundation"), malkhut ("kingdom"). The first three sephirot constitute the highest spiritual order of the world: the mind, the prophetism or the Divine Providence; the fourth, fifth, and sixth are the moral order; the last four are the world of matter. Against these three groups there are three categories of the creation: that which is recognized, that which is sensed, and the materialistic. Through the sephirot, our sensory perception reaches to God. When it is written in the Torah, "God said; God descended to the earth," it pertains not to the En Soph-which cannot be fathomed at all-but to the sephirot. The secret of the prayer rests in the fact that man influences one or another sephira, and each word of the prayer exerts a definite impression in the higher worlds. The Torah teaching about the soul and about the world-to-come is, in the Kab- bala, associated with the theory of the gilgul or transmigration of the souls. When man's life ends, the soul that remained pure on earth ascends unhindered to the kingdom of the eternal spirits. But a soul that was stained through transgressions is transformed into the body of another human being that is newly born, and remains in that earthly shell until it is cleansed of its sins. This vague theosophy reconciled the abstract dogmatism of Judaism with the needs of those believing in the materialism of the deity. Those who aspired to the "other side of cognition," found a foothold in this system of intermediary forces, which fit into their fantasy. The Kabbala revealed for them the secrets of the world through hints, which it discovered in the passages of the Torah. The theories of the Kabbala disseminated in the 13th century among the Spanish and ProvenC$al Jews, ran parallel to the ideas of Maimonides. At the time when some enlightened their spirits through the sober philosophy of the Guide of the Perplexed, others delved into the murky theosophy of the Sepher Yetzirah, as well as other mystical books. A certain Rabbi Azriel (or Ezra), about whose life there are no details, taught the Torah Basod here, in the beginning of the 13th century. From the surviving fragments of his book about the ten sephirot (Ezrat Adonaz), it is evident that he communed with "philosophers," who approved only of truths that can be proven, and who denied such esoteric concepts as En Soph and the sephirot. It is assumed that Ramban, in whose commentary to the Torah there are hints to the "Secrets of the Torah," adopted his ideas from this little-known rabbi. The Kabbala was at first disseminated orally, as is always cus- tomary with a doctrine that is being taught only to the select; but in the second half of the 13th century, the Kabbalists presented their ideas in written form. The Nasi, Rabbi Todros ben Joseph Abulefia, the rabbi of Castile (died circa 1283 in Toledo), was one of the first Kabbalist authors. Like his aforementioned uncle, Rabbi Meir Abulefia, he was also strongly opposed to the rationalist philosophy. He could not forgive the rationalists for their desire to comprehend the divine with the human mind, and to ask whether the commandments of the Torah were utilitarian. For one thing, he was dissatisfied with the philosophers, because they did not believe in the existence of devils. The true wis- dom he found only in the Kabbala, whose roots are inherent in the Talmudical Aggada. Todros Abulefia presented his mystical Torah in an elaborate form in the book Oitzor H akoved, which carried certain quotations that later appeared in the "Zohar;" and this shows that the author participated in the compilation of this basic work of the Kabbala.(see 1 below) Isaac Ibn Latif (died circa 1290), the author of several works that are rated highly by the Kabbalists (Zurat, Haolem, Skaar, Hashamaim), a contemporary of Rabbi Todros, stood between metaphysics and mysticism. Ibn Latif unfolded the idea of a mystical pantheism: "The absolute spirituality of God and His complete knowledge com- pel us to understand that He is inherent in everything, and that everything is within Him." Ibn Latif demonstrated, through geo- metrical figures, how divinity reveals itself in the world of the spirits and of the lower sephirot: God stands confronting the world like a dot toward a line, or as a line toward a flat surface. Joseph Gitakilla, another Kabbalist (died about 1305), resorted more to the mathe- matical method. In his work Ginnat Egoz, he engaged in combinations of letters and accounts, and endeavored to link it with the theory of the sephirot. He was also known as a miracle-worker. The Kabbala was not restricted to theoretical inquiries. It also brought forth enthusiastic dreamers, who aspired to prophecy or Messianism. Such a one was Abraham Abalufio of Saragossa (approx- imately 1240-1291), who experienced a brief but stormy life. In his youth, he undertook a strange journey, to locate the legendary River Sambbatyon and the Ten Lost Tribes. He visited Italy, Greece, and Palestine. In Italy he became engrossed in the study of philosophy, and concentrated on the Guide of the Perplexed. Upon returning to Spain, he delved into Kabbala. "At the age of thirty-one, while in Barcelona," Abalufio related, "I was roused from sleep, with the Lord's help, and began to study the Book of Creation with the commentaries. My spirit revived, God's spirit touched my lips, and I beheld won- drous sights. I envisioned fantastic and strange things, and my (see 1 above) Until recently this Todros Abulefia was confused with another Todros Abulefia (ben Jehudah), who was a financial official at the court of the Castilian kings Alfonso X and Sancho IV, and was involved in Sancho's uprising against his father (above, # 9). But according to the new discoveries, they are two distinct, separate individuals. It is naturally clear, that the collection of poems, Can Hamashalim Vehachidot, which was recently found in manuscript, belongs to the pen, not of the Kabbalist, but rather of the politician, 'lodros ben Jehudah. See: Bibliography. thoughts became confused, for there was no one to steer me to the righteous path, and in the course of fifteen years, I was compared to a blind man groping his way in broad daylight. I was chased by an evil spirit, and I lost my bearings on everything I saw." In such an exultant frame of mind, Abraham Abalufio created his own theory of Kabbala, which differs from the theory of the sephirot. He revived the idea in the Book of Creation about the twenty-two letters of the alphabet, with the help of which God created the world. The mystics believed that the combinations of the letters in the various formulas of God's name enabled one to perform miracles; and Abalufio persuaded himself that he could, indeed, perform them. He returned to Italy, where he began to dis- seminate his theory orally and in writing. At that time, it suddenly occurred to him that Judaism could be combined with Christianity through the Kabbala. The Christian dogma of the Holy Trinity appeared to be near to the theory of the ten sephirot: there, God is inherent in three person&-and here, in ten persons. True, this similarity was at first baffling to Abalufio; he even attacked the adherents of the sephirot, "who multiply the deity tenfold, just as the Christians make it threefold." But later, he himself utilized the same theory to propagandize among the Christians. In 1280, an absurd thought occurred to the exalted dreamer: to appear before Pope Nicholas III in order to point out the similarity between the "sperology" and the "Christology," and thus to win him over to the Jewish faith. Abalufio paid dearly for that attempt. He was arrested in Suriano, near the pope's palace, where he wished to intrude without the knowledge of the guard. He was taken in custody to Rome, where he was imprisoned for twenty-eight days, and released. Later he went to Sicily, where he proclaimed himself a Messiah, claiming that God had revealed to him "the end of the Diaspora and the beginning of the redemption of Israel" (1284). According to his prophecy, the redemption was to begin in 1290. In Sicily, there were credulous people, who became imbued with the fantasies of Abalufio. Whereupon the more sober-minded representatives of the Jewish com- munity in Palermo turned to Rashba in Barcelona for information about the Jew who professed to be the Messiah. Rashba replied that he had known Abalufio to be a visionary and a mystic for a long time. Abalufio was thus forced to leave Sicily, and settled somewhere near Malta. There he composed apocalyptic visions with Messianic prophecies that were based on combinations of letters (Sepher Haot, written in 1288). He compl~ed about the "sages of Israel who say, 'Of what use is the computing of God's name to us? We would rather compute the number of our gold and silver treasures.' " He attacked the rabbis, who were preoccupied only with the doctrine that is manifest, not with the esoteric doctrine. This dreamer's end is unknown. Abraham Abalufio composed several books dealing with "Kabbala," the published parts of which contain many profound thoughts, along with fantastic images.(see 2 below) Under the influence of the mystical propaganda, at about the same time, two individuals professing to be prophets who had come to herald the redemption appeared in Castile. One was in the district of Segovia, the other in the city of Avilla (1295). It was said that the prophet of Avilla had been illiterate, but that an angel had taught him the necessary skills; and so with the help of the Holy Spirit, he composed a book, Pliot H okhmah. Many believed in the prophecy of this exalted man; the more sober-minded members of the community consulted Rashba as to whether that prophecy was trustworthy. Rashba exhorted them not to trust such alleged miracle-workers who delude the people. But in Avilla the rabble ignored the warning. Credulous individuals fasted, distributed alms, and waited for miracles. One day, they all dressed in white garb, and assembled in a synagogue, to hear the sound of the "Shofar [ram's horn] of the Messiah." They waited a long time-in vain, of course-but as they emerged from the synagogue, they noticed tiny crosses on their garments. That "miracle" (the opponents of the false Messiah could have contrived that secretly), threw everyone into dismay. In despair, some con- verted to Christianity; others went berserk. The alleged prophet dis- appeared. (see 2 above)The name and, in part, the contents of one of his books are reminiscent of the famous book of Bonaventura, the Christian mystic, De septem gradibus con- templationis, of which Abalufio was perhaps personally aware. Of the other works of Abalufio the following were published in complete fond, or fragments: "Sepher Haot," "Chai Haolem Habo," "Amri Shefer."
    P. 129 - 133 19. The Zohar (SPIRITUAL MOVEMENT IN SPAIN) At the end of the 13th and the beginning of the 14th centuries, copies of a secretive commentary to the Pentateuch, which later be- came known as the Zohar ("Brightn~), were circulated in the circles of the Spanish Kabbalists. The book was in the form of a Midrash, and contained sermons and discourses of Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai and other tannaim of the 2nd century. It differed from the usual midrashim in its profound mystical contents: its discourses were presented in the form of heavenly visions or revelations, which Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai allegedly received. In addition, the book was not written in Hebrew, but in Aramaic. It was alleged that these manuscripts were found in Palestine by Maimonides--where he had moved after the disputation of 1263- who had dispatched them to Spain. Among the people at large it was rumored that the secretive manuscript was written by Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai in those years when he was hiding from the perse- cution of the Romans in the cave of Galilee. In the course of centuries the manuscripts supposedly were concealed there, until they were discovered and transmitted to Castile. What is actually known is that in the second half of the 13th century, Todros Abulefia, the Kabba- list of Castile, and other Kabbalists expressed in their writings ideas that resemble closely those contained in the Zohar-at times presented even in the same expressions, but in Hebrew without referring to the source. Rabbi Moses ben Shemtov de Leon (circa 1250--1305), the Kabba- list of Castile, who was destined to make the Zohar the holy script of the Kabbala, more than anyone else made use of these manuscripts. Born in the province of Castile, a kinsman of the family of Todros Abulefia, Moses de Leon earned his livelihood by circulating copies of books of the Kabbala. He lived in various cities (Guadalachara, Valladolid, Avilla) and was apparently dependent upon philanthro- pists, to whom he dedicated his writings. He composed and copied a great deal. Between 1287 and 1293 he wrote a series of books, two of which he dedicated to Joseph, the son of Todros Abulefia. In these books (Sepher Harmon, Sepher Hamashkal, Mishkan Haedot, and so on) Moses de Leon often quoted unknown midrashim of Kabbala in the following secretive form: "I found in one mid- rash," "in a Jerusalem midrash," "I saw in the secrets of the Torah," "I will reveal a great secret to you." Those quotations are primarily from the Zohar, translated into Hebrew. Among other things, the basic idea of the Zohar is developed: that the truths of the Torah can be disclosed, not by way of reason, but through intuition, or the "concealed wisdom" of Kabbala. Why did God have to present the Torah on Mount Sinai through thunder and lightning, the author asked, if the revealed Torah teaches the same as is taught by Aristotle, without storms and outcries? No, the Torah is only the outward shell of the Lord's thought. The gist is hidden from the eyes of the rabble, and only the select can reach it. It is not known whether Moses de Leon actually believed in what he said, or merely tried to persuade others that he attained this con- cealed substance of the Torah through secret writings that he had obtained; at any rate, he utilized them as far as possible. He not only included many "ancient" manuscripts in his own compositions- which he not only copied, but also edited-he also incorporated his own ideas within them. Such was the way in which the Zohar was fashioned. Like other books of this sort, it was a product of the collective work of unknown mystics of former times, as well as of Kabbalists of the 13th century, and at the end of that century, Moses de Leon assembled their ideas in a book. In the Zohar itself, it is impossible to ascertain that later authors had participated in it. They left no trace in the text. The tanna Simeon ben Yohai appears as the chief spokesman, and is presented in the bright light of a second Moses, to whom the angel Matutrun revealed all the secrets of the Torah. "I declare in the name of the high heavens and of the holy earth," the seer announces solemnly, "that I see now such things which no mortal was deemed worthy to see, since Moses ascended Mount Sinai for the second time. .." The Zohar consists of several books, evidently written at various times, and coordinated mechanically only in a later editing. The fundamental trait of this vast collection consists of sermons on passages of the Torah, arranged in the order of the fifty-two "portions" of the year, as they were customarily read in the synagogues. This basic text contains fragments of other books, which bear the secretive titles: Idra Rabba ("Larger Assembly"), Idra Zuta ("Smaller Assembly"), Sifra di-Tzeniuta ("Book of Mysteries"), Midrash ha Ne'elam ("The Hidden Midrash"), Raaya Mehemana ("The Faithful Shepherd"), and so on. The leading concept of the Zohar coincides with those arguments that were uttered against rationalism in the course of the entire 18th century-namely that the greatest world secrets are con- cealed in the narratives and the commandments of the Torah. "Woe to the man," Simeon ben Yohai allegedly exclaimed, "who assumes that the Torah contains simple stories and discussions of ordinary people! Can it be possible that God could not find any holy words for His Torah, and had to resort to all those commonplace stories about Hagar and Esau, Laban and Jacob, Balaam and his ass, in order to fashion out of them the Torah, that is known as the Torah of truth? ...People who understand, do not look at the garment, but at the body behind it; those who are wiser, look into the soul, into the secret sense of the Torah, and in the world to come they will behold the soul of the soul, that is the Etika Kadisha [the holy ancient God] Himself." Here the mystics coincide with the rationalists in the same principle of allegorism. But they approach the subject from different motives: the rationalists find in the holy legends moral symbols for carrying on the earthly life; the Kabbalists, on the other hand, find in them theosophical symbols, and infer from among the lines of the Torah an entire heavenly metaphysics. The theosophy of the Zohar is based on the aforementioned theory of emanation or sephirot. The eventually developed theory concerning the gradation of the worlds is first mentioned: The DIem Hatzilot ("World of Emanation"), Dlem Habriah ("World of Creation"), Olem Hayetzira ("World of Formation"). Secret threads stretch between one world and other worlds; and the actions of people on the lower level reflect on the higher level of the Olem Habriah. Man's soul is under the influence not only of the creative forces, of the serene divine "sephirot"; under the kingdom of these luminous spirits, there is the dark kingdom of the evil spirits and devils, who lurk on man's soul in order to trap it in their nets. The first kingdom confronts the second, the sitra achra, as the kernel to the shell. The kingdom of the evil- doers also has its ten levels or negative sephirot; and the sinfulness in man's soul issues from them. Each transgression turns the man over to the jurisdiction of the evil spirits; and each good deed links him to the serene, creative forces. And that is the basic intention of the Torah. The authors of the Zohar, which is a concealed Torah, had inter- preted the revelation of this book as a forecast of the "Messianic times." The book was revealed in the middle of the: 1st century of the sixth millenium of the creation of the world, during which, according to the ancient Talmudical legend, the Messiah is due to appear (Vol. III, # 50). There are hints scattered in the Zohar to the effect that during the forthcoming centuries (from the 14th to the 17th) the miracles of the advent of the Messiah will be manifest. kingdoms and peoples will perish; the Jewish nation will regain its former glory; the Ingathering of Exiles will take place in Palestine-also the miracle of resurrection. Thus, at the end of the 13th century, this quaint mixture of meta- physics and mystical commentary, which later became the holy book of the Kabbalists, issued forth from some secretive source. Many believed that Moses de Leon circulated copies of a genuine manuscript of Simeon ben Yohai, which was allegedly found in his time; and others maintained that he wrote in the name of the old lanna, because the soul of that sage was inherent in it; a third group suspected a downright forgery. Soon after the demise of Moses de Leon, an attempt was made to determine if the Zohar was authentic. A certain nabob, of Avilla, offered de Leon's widow, who lived in penury, a substantial sum of money for the original copy of the Zohar, from which her late husband made his copies; but the widow replied solemnly that her husband did not copy any old manuscripts--that he wrote everything from memory. On the other hand, Joseph ben T odros Abulefia, a friend of the deceased, testified that he had com- pared various copies of the Zohar made by de Leon and found all of them identical. The controversy over the origin of this enigmatic book continued during the centuries that followed, especially after it aroused a strong Messianic-mystical movement in Judaism. It was uncertain whether the Zohar actually emerged in the 2nd century, in the mind of the dreamer of Galilee, or whether it was the work of a Kabbalist, who lived some eleven centuries later. Historiography propounds the question differently, and answers it in a way that is customary in solving all the issues of collective apocrypha. God wishes different generations to participate in com- piling the Zohar as a collection of an entire cycle of works: mystics of Palestine and Babylon from the epoch of the Book of Creation; Spanish and German Kabbalists of the 13th century; and also those of the later centuries, until the middle of the 16th. At that time, Zohar was first printed in Italy. Each participant contributed his share to this compilation, conforming to the original tone. However, the editing of Moses de Leon determined its character.(10) Since that time, the religious literature has been enriched by a book, destined to serve as a banner for religious and Messianic movements, that aroused the Jewish world from the 16th to the 18th centuries. (10) In the question of whether Moses de Leon was the author or only the compiler and editor of the Zohar, we are inclined to a�cept the latter view. The original and, partly, beautiful apocalyptic style of the Zohar-if one also bears in mind its Aramaic language along with the system of the old midrashim-testifies to the fact that the chief contents of the book belong to the East, not to the West. It seems plausible that upon his arrival in Palestine in 1267, Ramban, who was somewhat of a Kabbalist, took to assembling copies of old midrashim, and trans- mitting them to Spain. The same could have been done by Abraham Abalufio in the course of his wanderings through the world. Copies of those fragments circulated for a while in the circles of the "hallowed." And later, Moses de Leon assembled and edited them in the language of the originals-in Aramaic-at the same time interposing ideas of the new Kabbala into the texts. All materials that Graetz gathered in the Supplement XII, in the Vllth volume of his History, are not sufficient to accuse Moses de Leon of forgery; they only prove that he applied in this instance the usual procedures of the pseudo-epigraphic. See Bibliography.
    From p.583 volume 3 (Volume VI) S. Dubnov The dissemination of the Zohar quickly brought about a rapproche- ment between Italy and the nest of Kabbalists in Palestine (Blaw, Venezianische Rabbiner, 1550-1650 Budapest, 1906). Constant relations were established between both countries. Italy pro- provided Palestine with printed books on Kabbala, and Palestine sent to Italy the manuscripts of Moses Cordovero and Ari. Western wanderers heading for Safed, the center of the Kabbala, addressed enthusiastic ers home. One of those pilgrims (Samson Bak) wrote from there in 1582 : 'It is eight years since the Kabbalist, the pious and divine man Rabbi Isaac Luria Ashkenazi, died. He understood the rustle of trees ~nd the chirping of birds, the language of cattle and the pure murmur of the stream. When he observed closely the shadow of a man on the atmos- phere surrounding his body, he distinguished between the good and evil spirit that always accompanies man, and he would guess what sins he had committed secretly. He knew what soul had transmigrated into each individual. He conversed with the souls of the saints on earth. Wondrous objects revealed themselves to him in the secrets of the Kabbala. Here he left two disciples. From one of them-Joseph Mugrabin (Maarabi ?]- I receive the study of the Kabbala; and the other, rabbi Hayyim [Vital] is in Jerusalem. In the study of the Kabbala, they differ from all the other Kabbalists; and they tower above them like light over darkness. All disciples of Ari are in accord with the Zohar, but not with the books of the Kabbala'.

    Exile and redemption from Zohar, Aharei Mot, m 77b 
    In time to come the Holy One, blessed be he, will restore the Shekhinah to her
    place, so that all things shall be joined together in a single union, as it is written:
    'In that day shall the Lord be one and his Name one' (Zech. 14:9). It may be
    said: Is he not One now? No, for now the sinners of the world have brought it
    about that he is not one. For the Matrona [= the Shekhinah or the Sefirah
    Malkhut] is removed from the King and they are no longer united, and the
    Supernal Mother [Binah] is removed from the King and does not give him suck.
    Because the King is without the Matrona, he is not invested with the crowns of
    the Mother [Imma], as he was before when he was joined to the Matrona, for the
    Mother crowned him with many resplendent crowns and supernal, holy
    diadems, as it is written: 'Go out, daughters of Zion, and look on King
    Solomon, at the crown with which his mother crowned him' (Song of Songs
    3:11). When he was united with the Matrona, then the Supernal Mother
    crowned him in a fitting manner; but now that the King is not with the
    Matrona, the Supernal Mother takes her crowns and withholds from him the
    waters of the streams, and he is not united in a single bond. And so he is not, so
    to speak, one. But when the Matrona shall return to the place of the Temple
    and the King shall be wedded to her in a single union, then all things shall be
    joined together in one, without separation, and that is why it is written: 'In that
    day shall the Lord be one, and his Name one'.
    



         
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