The Nut Garden

Gleanings of Zohar

Wherever the Preparation of the Incense is Uttered with Intention and Heartfelt Devotion No One can be Harmed

Jerusalem-Incense“Rabbi Zutra son of Tobiah said in the name of Rav: From where do we learn that a blessing should be said over sweet aromas? Because it says, Let all that has breath praise Yah (Psalms 150:6). What is that which gives enjoyment to the soul and not to the body?—You must say that this is fragrance” (BT Berakhot 43b).

“Three things restore a man’s good spirits: [beautiful] sounds, sights, and smells” (BT Berakhot 57b).

“Whoever smelled the smoke, as a column rose from the smoke-raiser [in the Temple], became cleansed of heart, refined in radiant joy to serve his Lord. The filth of the evil impulse disappeared from him, leaving him with only one heart toward his Father in heaven [cf. M Berakhot 9:5]; for incense actually disintegrates the evil impulse in all aspects… nothing in the world breaks the Other Side except incense.

Come and see what is written: Take the fire-pan and place fire upon it from the altar and put in incense. Why? For the fury has gone forth from before YHWH, the plague has begun! (Numbers 17:11). For look, nothing breaks that side except incense, since nothing is as beloved to the blessed Holy One as incense! Consequently, it can eliminate sorcery and evil elements from the home. If the fragrance and smoke of incense prepared by people for that purpose has the power to eliminate, All the more so [holy] incense.

This matter is an established decree before the blessed Holy One: Whoever contemplates and reads every day פִּטּוּם הַקְּטֹרֶת (Pitum ha-Qetoret), Preparation of the Incense, will be saved from all elements of sorcery in the world, from all mishaps, evil fantasies, and pestilence. He will not be harmed that entire day, for the Other Side has no power over him—but he must focus his intention on it.

Rabbi Shim’on said, ‘If human beings knew how exalted the Preparation of the Incense was in the eyes of the blessed Holy One, they would take every single word and raise it as a crown upon their heads, like a crown of gold. Whoever engages in the Preparation of the Incense and concentrates upon it every day has a share in this world and in the world that is coming. Pestilence will disappear from him and from the world, and he will be delivered from all judgments and all evil aspects of this world, from the judgment of the alien kingdom, and even from the judgment of Hell…

The Preparation of the Incense is more beloved than all rituals and devotions in the world. Even though prayer is most exalted of all [the commandments], the Preparation of the Incense is precious and beloved to the blessed Holy One.

Come and see: What is the difference between prayer and the Preparation of the Incense? Prayer was instituted to replace the sacrifices that Israel used to offer [in the time when the Temple stood], and none of those sacrifices that they offered was as important as the incense. Furthermore, what is the difference between this and that? Well, prayer is restoration, restoring as needed. Incense does more: restoring, forging links, and producing radiance greater than all. What is that? Removing filth and purifying the Dwelling—all is illumined, restored, and linked as one. Therefore we must remove filth from the world, thereby restoring all, every single day—like that beloved offering, in which the blessed Holy One delighted” (Zohar 2:218b-19a).

And YHWH said to Moses, “Take you the סַמִּים (samim), fragrances, balsam and onycha and galbanum, fragrances, and clear frankincense, equal part for part shall it be. And you shall make of it incense, a perfume compound, perfumer’s work, tinctured with salt, pure, sacred. And you shall pound it to fine powder and place some of it before the Ark of the Covenant in the Tent of Meeting where I shall meet you. Holy of holies it shall be to you  (Exodus 30:34-38).

And Aaron shall burn upon it the aromatic incense morning after morning, when he tends the lamps he shall burn it. And when Aaron lights the lamps at twilight he shall burn it, a perpetual incense before YHWH for your generations. You shall not offer up on it strange incense (Exodus 30:7-8).

“The rabbis taught: How was the incense prepared? It weighed 368 manehs, 365 corresponding to the number of days in a solar year, a maneh for each day, half to be offered in the morning and half in the afternoon, and three additional manehs from which the High Priest took handfuls on Yom Kippur. These were put back into the mortar on the day before Yom Kippur and ground again very thoroughly so as to be extremely fine. The incense contained eleven kinds of spices [אֲדֹנָי (Adonai), Lord, times eleven equals הַקְטֹרֶת (ha-qetoret), the incense]: balsam, onycha, galbanum and frankincense, each weighing seventy manehs; myrrh, cassia, spikenard and saffron, each weighing sixteen manehs; twelve manehs of costus, three of aromatic bark; nine of cinnamon; nine kabs of Carsina lye; three seahs and three kabs of Cyprus wine. If Cyprus wine was not available, old white wine might be used. A quarter of a kab of Sodom salt, and a minute amount of smoke-raising herb. Rabbi Nathan the Babylonian says: also a minute amount of Jordan amber. If one added honey to the mixture, he rendered it unfit for sacred use. If he omitted any one of its ingredients, he is guilty of a capital offence.

Rabban Shim’on son of Gamliel says: ‘Balsam’ refers to the sap that drips from the balsam tree. The Carsina lye was used for bleaching the onycha to improve it. The Cyprus wine was used to soak the onycha in it to make it pungent. Though urine is suitable for this purpose, it is not brought into the Temple out of respect.

It was taught, Rabbi Nathan says: While it was being ground, another would say הָדֵק הֵיטֵב הֵיטֵב הָדֵק (hadeq heitev, heitev hadeq), ‘Grind well, well grind,’ because the [rhythmic] sound is good for [those who grind] spices. If it was mixed in half-quantities, it is fit for use, but we have not heard whether this applies to a third or a quarter. Rabbi Yehudah said: The general rule is that if it was made in the correct proportions, it is fit for use even if made in half-quantity, but if he omitted any one of its ingredients, he is guilty of a capital offence (BT Kareitot 6a).

“It was taught, Bar Kappara says: Once every sixty or seventy years, the accumulated surpluses amounted to half the early quantity. Bar Kappara also taught: If a minute quantity of honey had been mixed into the incense, no one could have resisted the scent. Why did they not put honey into it? Because Torah says, For you shall not turn to smoke any leaven nor any honey from it as a fire offering to YHWH (Leviticus 2:11)” (JT Yoma 4:5).

And Moses said to Aaron, “Take the fire-pan and place fire upon it from the altar and put in incense and carry it quickly to the community and atone for them, for the furry has gone out from before YHWH, the scourge has begun.” And Aaron took as Moses had spoken, and he ran into the midst of the assembly, and, look, the scourge had begun against the people, and he put in incense and atoned for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living, and the scourge was held back (Numbers 17:11-13).

“The Angel of Death confided his secret to him [Moses], for it is said, and he put in incense and atoned for the people (Numbers 17:11); and it is said, And he stood between the dead and the living, [and the scourge was held back] (ibid. 13). Had he not told it to him, where had he known it ? [Since this act of intervention to save the people is not dictated by God but is a device Moses on his own initiative orders Aaron to implement]” (BT Shabbat 89a, cf. Ibn Ezra: Take the fire-pan… and put in incense. [Because of the definite article] the reference is to a specific fire-pan. [However,] it does not say and put in the incense. The intelligent will understand—Ibn Ezra seems to be hinting that the burning of incense was a sanitary technique done to drive off the plague).

“Rabbi Aḥa went to כְפַר טַרְשָׁא (Kefar Tarsha), Clod Village, where he stayed at an inn. The people of that village whispered about him, saying, ‘A great man has arrived here; let us go to him.’ They said to him, ‘Do you not have compassion on us because of the plague?’ He said to them, ‘What plague?’ They replied, ‘A plague struck the village seven days ago. And every day that passes, it becomes worse.’

He responded, ‘Let us go to the house of assembly and plead for compassion before the blessed Holy One.’ As they were on their way, people came up to them and told them the names of people who had died or were about to die. Rabbi Aḥa said to them, ‘This is not the time to stand around talking, time presses. Choose forty men from the worthiest among you and divide them into four groups. I shall be among you. Let ten men go to each of the four corners of the city. There, you shall recite, with the might of your souls, the phrases of the incense offering, which the blessed Holy One handed over to Moses [cf. BT Shabbat 89a]. And you should also recite the phrases of the sacrificial offerings.’

And so they recited those phrases three times in each of the four corners of the city [cf. Zohar 2:219a: It is forbidden to burn incense anywhere else except in the fire-pan (of the Temple)]. He then told them, ‘Let us visit those who are about to die. Choose from among you and to their houses [go] and recite. When they finish, say these verses, And Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take the fire-pan…’ And Aaron took… And he stood between the dead [and the living, and the scourge was held back] (Numbers 17:11-13). They followed these instructions, and it ceased.

They heard a voice that said, ‘Secrets of Secrets have been sweetened above; for the Judgment of heaven does not apply here, because people know how to nullify!’ Rabbi Aḥa’s heart became faint, and he fell asleep. He heard them say to him, ‘As you have done this, go and tell them to repent, because they have sinned before Me! He woke up and made them repent and atone completely for their deeds. And they took it upon themselves never to cease studying Torah. And they changed the name of the village to מָאתָא מַחְסֵיָא (Mata Maḥseya), Village of Mercy.

Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘It is not enough for the righteous to nullify the decree, they must bless them as well.’ And you should know that it is indeed so! Because the soul says to the body, Hurry! Knead three seahs of choice semolina flour (Genesis 18:6) and other phrases. And so it nullifies the Judgment. And what is then written? And he said, I will surely return to you at this very season (ibid. 10). Behold, this is the blessing.

Now what do the angels do after seeing that this person has taken good advice upon himself? They go to the wicked and examine their cases, in order to judge them, as is written, And the men arose from there and looked out over Sodom (Genesis 18:16) to the place of the wicked, in order to sentence them.

Rabbi Yehudah continued, ‘This is the way of the righteous. As soon as he realizes that the angels are examining his case, he immediately repents, prays, and offers his fat and blood [i.e. fasts] as a sacrifice before his Maker until judgments have vanished!” (Zohar 1:100b-101a Midrash ha-Ne’elam).

May my prayer stand as incense before You (Psalms 141:2).

“Come and see: Incense binds bonds, spreading joy from above and below. This eliminates death, accusation, and wrath, which cannot prevail in the world” (Zohar 1:230a, cf. Bahir §109).

“And when the highest point and the world that is coming ascend, they know only the aroma, as one inhaling an aroma is sweetened” (Zohar 3:26b).

Knowledge will be Increased

image“In the six hundredth year of the sixth, springs of wisdom will open above, springs of wisdom below, and the whole world will prepare to enter the seventh, just like a person preparing on the sixth day, as the sun is about to set, to enter Sabbath. Your mnemonic: In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life… all the springs of the great abyss burst and the sluices of heaven were opened [Genesis 7:11].’ Rabbi Yose said to him, ‘All this is longer than the Companions have established, namely, one day of exile for Assembly of Israel, no more, as is written: He has made me desolate, faint all the day [Lamentations 1:13].’ He replied, ‘So I learned from father in the mysteries of letters of the Holy Name, the duration of the world and the days of Creation—all a single mystery” (Zohar 1:117a).

Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased (Daniel 12:4).

We Eat anything We Want and We are Strong and Healthy and Our Limbs are Fit

image“Rabbi Pinḥas son of Ya’ir said: Zeal leads to cleanliness, cleanliness leads to purify, purity leads to restraint, restraint leads to holiness, holiness leads to humility, humility leads to fear of sin, fear of sin leads to ḥasidut (‘love, devotion’), ḥasidut leads to Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit leads to revival of the dead, revival of the dead comes through Elijah, remembered for good” (M Sotah 9:15, cf. BT Avodah Zara 20b).

“Resh Lakish said: ‘… If one comes to defile himself, the door is opened to him; if one comes to purify himself, he is assisted.’ … It was taught in the school of Rabbi Yishma’el: ‘Sin dulls [or: obstructs] a person’s לֵב [lev], heart, as is said: Do not become impure with them, וְנִטְמֵתֶם (ve-nitmetem), becoming impure, through them (Leviticus 11:43). Do not read וְנִטְמֵתֶם (ve-nitmetem), becoming impure, but rather וְנִטַּמְתֶּם (ve-nitamtem), becoming dulled [or: obstructed]'” (BT Yoma 38b).

“It is written: You shall sanctify yourselves and be holy… (Leviticus 11:44). If one comes to defile himself, he is surely defiled. And it is written: וְנִטְמֵתֶם (ve-nitmetem), becoming impure, through them (ibid., 43)—[spelled unconventionally] without an א: totally obstructed impurity, which cannot be purified as can other types of impurity. Furthermore, he is terrified of dangerous beasts, for in their eyes he appears as a kid and he is vulnerable, being divested of the human image [cf. BT Shabbat 151b; Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah on 3:7]. Rabbi Yeisa permitted the eating of chicken with dairy cheese [cf. BT Shabbat 130a]. Rabbi Shim’on said, ‘This is surely forbidden to you! One should not provide an opening for evil species. ‘Go, O Nazarite,’ one says, ‘around; do not approach the vineyard!’ This is surely forbidden to you, since it entails the same stricture as cattle. What is written of one who permits this? You gave the Nazarites wine to drink (Amos 2:12)—permitting this is like permitting that. And it is written: You shall not eat any abhorrent thing (Deuteronomy 14:3)—any includes everything” (Zohar 2:125b).

“Now, you might say, ‘What about the goat, upon which settles an impure spirit? Not so! For if an impure spirit settled upon it, we would be forbidden to eat it. Rather, they pass through them and manifest in front of them, yet do not settle within them; for as they settle, another spirit passes over them and they disengage from their bodies. So they appear in front of them and harass within them, yet do not possess their bodies—which we are therefore permitted to eat. Whether cattle, beasts, birds, or fish of the sea—among all of them appear right and left, Compassion and Judgment. Whatever comes from the side of the right, the side of Compassion, we are permitted to eat; and all those coming from the side of the left, the side of Judgment, we are forbidden to eat [forbidden animals are predators, scavengers, and bottom feeders not worthy of emulation]—for all their bodies are impure and they all defile; an impure spirit settles within them, dwelling in them. Therefore, the holy spirit of Israel must not mingle with them nor be defiled by them, so that they may remain holy and be recognized above and below. Happy is their share, for the Holy King delights in them and seeks to purify and sanctify them above all, for they are linked to Him!

… Whoever eats of those forbidden foods clings to the Other Side and makes his soul and his body loathsome. An impure spirit settles upon him, and he demonstrates that he has no share in the supernal King and does not come from His side nor cleave to Him. If he departs like this from the world, he is seized by all those linked to the side of impurity, who defile him—punishing him as a person loathed by his Lord, loathed in this world and loathed in the world that is coming. Of this is written וְנִטְמֵתֶם (ve-nitmetem), becoming impure, through them (Leviticus 11:43)—without an א, for there is no remedy for his loathsomeness, and he never emerges from impurity. Woe to them, woe to their souls, for they will never cling to the Bundle of Life because they have been defiled! Woe to their bodies, of which is written For their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be a horror to all flesh (Isaiah 66:24). What is a horror? A stench. Who causes this? That side to which they clung” (Zohar 3:41b).

“Rabbi Abba said: I have remembered a certain matter I heard from the Holy Lamp [Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai] who heard it in the name of Rabbi Eli’ezer. One day a clever gentile came and said to him: Old man, old man… you say that you are closer to the divine King than all other peoples. Whoever is close to the King is forever rejoicing, without pain, without fear, without troubles. But you are perpetually in pain, trouble and agony, more than anyone else. Look at us—no pain, trouble nor agony approaches us at all, from whence it follows that we are close to the divine King and you are far from Him, and this is why you have pain and trouble and sorrow and agony, which we do not have. Further: You do not eat of an animal found dead nor one not ritually slaughtered so that you will be healthy and your body healthy. We eat anything we want and we are physically strong and healthy and all our limbs are fit. You do not eat and all are sick with bad illnesses and broken more than all other peoples. You are a people whom YHWH hates above all. Old man, old man, do not say anything to me because I shall not listen to you, nor accept it from you. Rabbi Eli’ezer lifted up his eyes, looked at him, and turned him into a heap of bones [cf. Proverbs 18:2: A fool does not care for discerning but for exposing his inner thoughts; ibid., 26:4-5: Do not answer a dolt by his folly, lest you, too, be like him. Answer the dolt by his folly, lest he seem wise in his own eyes]. When his anger had subsided, he looked back, cried, and said: YHWH, our Master, how majestic Your name in all the earth! (Psalms 8:2). How strong is the power of the holy and mighty name in all the earth, and how beloved are words of Torah, for nothing is so minor that it will not be found in Torah, and even the smallest thing in Torah issued from the mouth of the blessed Holy One.

Those matters that that wicked one asked, I too, once asked of Elijah, and he replied that in the academy of the firmament [these very matters] were laid out before the blessed Holy One, as follows… Israel do not partake of animals found dead or those not ritually slaughtered, nor of filth and dirt of reptiles and insects as do other peoples, [but are nevertheless weaker than they are]. This is so. For the לֵב [lev], heart, which is soft and weak and is the king and the sustenance of the other limbs, does not take for its nourishment other than from the clearest and purest of all the blood, and its food is clean and clear and is softer and weaker than all the rest. And it leaves the remaining waste matter for the other limbs, and the other limbs are not concerned, but take all that waste, even the worst, and they are strong as befits them. This is why all the other limbs have skin eruptions and scabs, bright spots and leprous boils, and the heart has none of them, for it is clean and clear, and has no blemish whatsoever. Thus the blessed Holy One, took Israel, who is clean, clear, and without blemish, for Himself, as it says: You are entirely beautiful, my love, and there is no flaw in you [Song of Songs 4:7]. Rabbi Yose came, kissed his hands, and said: If I had come into the world just to hear this, it would have been sufficient” (Zohar Pinḥas).

Like a Woman who Mixes Her Dough with Water and Separates a Portion from the very Centre

Sesame Challah_1“Rabbi Yoḥanan son of Ḥanina said: The day consisted of twelve hours. In the first hour, his dust was gathered; in the second, it was kneaded into a shapeless mass. In the third, his limbs were shaped; in the fourth, a soul was infused into him; in the fifth, he arose and stood on his feet; in the sixth, he gave [the animals] their names; in the seventh, Eve became his mate; in the eighth, they ascended to bed as two and descended as four; in the ninth, he was commanded not to eat of the tree, in the tenth, he sinned; in the eleventh, he was tried, and in the twelfth he was expelled and departed, for it is written, A man will not rest in splendor (Psalms 49:13)” (BT Sanhedrin 38a, cf. M Avot 1:1). 

[A king makes a land stand firm through justice.] But a deceitful man [lit., a man of תְּרוּמוֹת (terumot), donationsdestroys it (Proverbs 29:4)—Adam, who was the completion of the world, and ḥallah is designated a תְּרוּמָה (terumah), donation… Rabbi Yose son of Keṣarta said: Like a woman who mixes her dough with water and separates ḥallah from the very centre [cf. Rabbi Ḥayyim Vital, Liqqutim Ḥadashim, 17-23 ], even so, at first, and wetness would well from the earth to water all the surface of the soil, then YHWH God fashioned the human, humus from the soil (Genesis 2:6)” (Bereshit Rabbah 14:1, cf. JT Shabbat 2:6 [5a]).

בְּרֵאשִׁית (Bereshit), In the beginning, this is ḥallah as it is written, רֵאשִׁית (reshit), the first, yield of your kneading troughs, חַלָּה (ḥallah), a round loaf, you shall present in donation (Numbers 15:20), as we have said, ‘Adam was חַלָּה (ḥallah) of the world…’ What is ḥallah? It is these seven species: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olive oil of the land, and honey, which is honey of dates. חִטָה (Ḥitah), Wheat, is the tree from which the first man ate, and since he did not separate ḥallah, [holiness] did not descend upon ה, but dwelled upon ח and ט [which together with ה spell, חִטָה (ḥitah), wheat, and also allude to חֵטְא (ḥet), sin], causing death [cf. BT Berakhot 40a].

And the ḥallah is the Shekhinah, it includes these seven species [which hint at the lower seven sefirot]. In this was the sin of the first man; the drop, which is the י. Dough must have ḥallah taken from it. Immediately they fell upon that drop, and he gave seed that was included with both which is the ו and the mystery of the matter, הֵא, here, is seed for you, [and sow the land] (Genesis 47:23).

Because of this ḥallah is certainly a commandment given to the wife, because of her Adam who was the ḥallah of the world died. She needs to separate ḥallah, and to take it from her dough, which is her drop, to return it to man” (Tiqqunei ha-Zohar 31a).

A Jealous Fire: One Who Writes Down Halakhot is as One Who Burns the Torah

burnttorah“Rabbi El’azar said,… ‘You, cleaving to YHWH your God, are alive everyone of you today [Deuteronomy 4:4]. Now is it possible to cleave to Shekhinah, of whom it is written: YHWH your God is a devouring fire [ibid. 24]? Rather the meaning is: whoever marries his daughter to a disciple of the wise, conducts business on their behalf, or benefits them from his assets is regarded by scripture as if he cleaves to Shekhinah” (BT Ketubbot 111b, cf. BT Sotah 14a, where Rabbi Ḥama son of Ḥanina explains that one can approach and withstand the consuming fire of Shekhinah by imitating the divine, e.g., by clothing the naked, visiting the sick, comforting mourners, and burying the dead).

“Rabbi Huna son of Rabbi Joshua would not walk four cubits bareheaded, saying: The שְׁכִינָה [Shekhinah] Divine Presence, is above my head” (BT Qiddushin 31b).

“The General Agrippa asked Rabban Gamaliel, ‘It is written in your Torah, For YHWH your God is a devouring אֵשׁ [esh] fire, a קַנָּא [qana] jealous, God [Deuteronomy 4:24]. Is a wise man jealous of any but a wise man, a warrior of any but a warrior, a rich man of any but a rich man?’ He replied, ‘I will give you a parable: To what is the matter like? To a man who marries an additional wife. If the second wife is her superior, the first will not be jealous of her, but if she is her inferior, the first wife will be jealous of her’” (BT Avodah Zarah 55a).

“Rabbi Shim’on said, ‘A word lingers here with us.’ He opened, saying, ‘Two verses are written: YHWH your God is a devouring fire [Deuteronomy 4:24], and You, cleaving to YHWH your God, are alive every one of you today [ibid., 4]. We have established these verses in various places, and the Companions have been aroused by them.

Come and see: For YHWH your God is a devouring fire. The word has been discussed among the Companions: There is a fire devouring fire, devouring and consuming it, for there is fire fiercer than fire, as they have established [see BT Yoma 21b]. But come and see: Whoever desires to penetrate the wisdom of holy unification should contemplate the flame ascending from a glowing ember or a burning candle. For flame ascends only when grasped by course substance” (Zohar 1:50b-51a).

“The blue [light of a flame] is the Shekhinah, the Judgment that devours sacrifices and burnt offerings. If She finds men to be as dry wood, like dry wicks without oil, which is Torah and Compassion, [She] is a fire to them and burns them” (Ra’aya Meheimna Tzav, cf. Zohar 2:166a).

“Rabbi Abba son of Rabbi Ḥiyya son of Abba said in the name of Rabbi Yoḥanan [son of Nappaha]: One who writes down halakhot is as one who burns the Torah, and he who learns from them does not receive reward… Rabbi Yehudah the son of Nahum, the declaimer of Resh Lakish expounded: One may not recite oral teachings from a written document and one may not recite written teachings from memory. The school of Rabbi Ishmael taught: ‘Write for yourself these words’ [Exodus 34:27]. These words [i.e. the Written Torah] you may write, but you may not write halakhot” (BT Temurah 14b, cf. Gittin 60a-b; Guide of the Perplexed, 1:71).

“The Companions saw the face of Shekhinah and were encompassed by fire. Rabbi Abba’s face blazed in fire from rapture of Torah. It has been taught: All that day, none of them left the house, and the house was swathed in smoke. Words among them were fresh and ecstatic as if they were receiving Torah that very day from Mount Sinai! When they departed they did not know if it was day or night” (Zohar 1:94b, cf. Vayiqra Rabbah 16:4; Avot de-Rabbi Natan B, 13).

“As to what the rabbis have said: ‘Now is it possible for one to cleave to Shekhinah?—it certainly is!… Know and believe that there is a special quality to the essence of the purity of limbs that allows for man to hold fast to the Shekhinah even if She is a consuming fire” (Rabbi Joseph Gikatilla, Sha’arei Orah, 166).

Better a Thing’s End than Its Beginning

IMG_0545.JPGEach act of YHWH has its own end; even the wicked for an evil day (Proverbs 16:4).

“There is no evil that does not contain some good… there is nothing evil in its proper place” (Rabbi Yosef Gikatilla, Secret of the Serpent).

“[Ben Azzai] used to say: Do not scorn any person and do not disdain anything; for there is no person who does not have his hour, and there is no thing that does not have its place” (M Avot 4:3).

“Rabbi Shim’on was walking on the way, accompanied by Rabbi El’azar, Rabbi Abba, Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Ḥiyya, and Rabbi Yose. They came to a certain obstructive watercourse [of the sort which people make in their fields (Sullam)], and Rabbi Yose slipped into the water fully clothed. He said, ‘This construction of measured water—I wish that it didn’t exist!’ Rabbi Shim’on said to him, ‘You are forbidden! This serves the world, and one must not treat contemptuously those who are of service to the blessed Holy One, especially since they are fashioned genuinely [this action has a root above (Sullam)].

He opened, saying, ‘God saw all He had made, and look, it was very good [Genesis 1:31]—existing according to the laws of supernal authority. God saw all that He had made—without qualification: even snakes, scorpions, and mosquitoes, and even that which seems to harm the world. Concerning all of them, it is written and look, it was very good. All of them serve the world, conduct the world, though people do not know [cf. Shemot Rabbah 10:1].’

As they were walking along, they saw a snake leading the way. Rabbi Shim’on said, ‘Surely, this one is about to perform a miracle for us!’ That snake slithered quickly in front of them and tangled with a viper diametrically across the road. They fought one another and died. When they reached them, they saw them both lying on the road. Rabbi Shim’on said, ‘Blessed is the Compassionate One who has performed a miracle for us! For if anyone looks at this [viper] while it is alive, or is looked upon by it, he is doomed, all the more so if he approaches it.’ He proclaimed over himself, ‘No evil will befall you, nor affliction draw near your tent. For His angels He will command for you, to guard you on all your ways [Psalms 91:10-11]. By all things the blessed Holy One fulfills His commission, and we must not treat contemptuously anything He has made. Thus it is written YHWH is good to all, and His compassion is over all His creatures, and similarly: All your creatures, YHWH, acclaim You [ibid.145:9-10]'” (Zohar 3:107a).

“It is related of Naḥum of Gamzu that he was blind in both his eyes, his two hands and legs were amputated—and his whole body was covered with boils and he was lying in a dilapidated house on a bed the feet of which were standing in bowls of water in order to prevent the ants from crawling on to him. On one occasion his disciples desired to remove the bed and then clear the things out of the house, but he said to them, My children, first clear out the things [from the house] and then remove my bed for I am confident that so long as I am in the house it will not collapse. They first cleared out the things and then they removed his bed and the house [immediately] collapsed. Thereupon his disciples said to him, Master, since you are wholly righteous, why has all this befallen you? and he replied, I have brought it all upon myself. Once I was journeying on the road and was making for the house of my father-in-law and I had with me three donkeys, one laden with food, one with drink and one with all kinds of dainties, when a poor man met me and stopped me on the road and said to me, Master, give me something to eat. I replied to him, Wait until I have unloaded something from the donkey; I had hardly managed to unload something from the donkey when the man died [from hunger]. I then went and laid myself on him and exclaimed, May my eyes which had no pity upon your eyes become blind, may my hands which had no pity upon your hands be cut off, may my legs which had no pity upon your legs be amputated, and my mind was not at rest until I added, may my whole body be covered with boils. Thereupon his pupils exclaimed, ‘Alas! that we see you in such a sore plight’. To this he replied, ‘Woe would it be to me did you not see me in such a sore plight’ [cf. BT Shabbat 33b: (Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai said:) If you did not see me in such a state you would not find me thus (learned)]. Why was he called Naḥum of Gamzu?—Because whatever befell him he would declare, גַם זוֹ לְטוֹבַה [gam zo le-tovah] This also is for good.

Once the Jews desired to send to the Emperor a gift and after discussing who should go they decided that Naḥum of Gamzu should go because he had experienced many miracles. They sent with him a bagfull of precious stones and pearls. He went and spent the night in a certain inn and during the night the people in the inn arose and emptied the bag and filled it up with earth. When he discovered this next morning he exclaimed, This also is for the good. When he arrived at his destination and they undid his bag they found that it was full of earth. The king thereupon desired to put them to death saying, The Jews are mocking me. Naḥum then exclaimed, This also is for good.

Whereupon Elijah appeared in the guise of one of them and remarked, Perhaps this is some of the earth of their father Abraham, and when [he threw] stubble it changed into arrows, for it is written, [Who raised up the righteous man from the east, called him to his feet, gave the nations before him, and made him rule over kings? He gave them as the dust to] his sword, and as driven stubble to his bow [Isaiah 41:2]. Now there was one province which [the emperor had hitherto] not been able to conquer but when they tried some of this earth [against it] they were able to conquer it. Then they took him [Naḥum] to the royal treasury and filled his bag with precious stones and pearls and sent him back with great honour. When on his return journey he again spent the night in the same inn he was asked, What did you take [to the king] that they showed you such great honour? He replied, I brought there what I had taken from here. [The innkeepers] thereupon razed the inn to the ground and took of the earth to the king and they said to him, The earth that was brought to you belonged to us. They tested it and it was not found to be [effective] and the innkeepers were thereupon put to death (BT Ta’anit 21a).

Better a things end than its beginning (Ecclesiastes 7:8).

“Rabbi Akiva walked down the road of a village. He asked for a place to stay, but none was offered. He said, ‘All that the blessed Holy One does is for good.’ He went and slept in a field in which there was a rooster, wine and a lamp. A wind came and blew out the lamp, a cat came and ate the rooster and a lion came and drank the wine. He said, ‘All that the blessed Holy One does is for good.’ That night an army came and took the town captive. Rabbi Akiva said, ‘Didn’t I tell you that all that the blessed Holy One does is for good!’” (BT Berakhot 60b).

“This is the sin of the primordial serpent: he joined below and it separated above. So he caused what he caused to the world. For one should separate below and join above… one should realize that יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים is entirely one, indivisible. יְהוָה is הָאֱלֹהִים. Once one realizes all is one and does not impose division, even that Other Side will disappear from the world, not be drawn below” (Zohar 1:12b, cf. Guide of the Perplexed 3:10: The true reality of the act of God in its entirety is the good).

Bread of Shame

imageThe hater of gifts shall live (Proverbs 15:27).

“One who eats from his friend’s food is ashamed to look at him” (JT Orlah 1:5, 61b).

“Ben Azzai said: By your name you will be called, to your place you will be restored and from what belongs to you will you be given. No man can touch what is prepared for his fellow and ‘One kingdom does not interfere with the other even to the extent of one hair’s breadth’ (BT Berakhot 48b)” (BT Yoma 38a-b).

“Before souls come to the world, they resemble one who eats the bread of the King without serving Him…. Souls feel ashamed to eat the bread of the King without serving Him, and therefore they yearn to come to the world…. so as to leave that shame; they seek to come to this world, to engage in Torah and mitsvot…. so that they may eat bread without shame” (Rabbi Joseph Karo, Maggid Meisharim, Bereshit, cf. Zohar 2:87a Sava de-Mishpatim: The blessed Holy One says, ‘From the day you were created, for this were you created: to be in that world.’ Once the soul sees this she descends unwillingly and enters there).

“Rabbi Yehudah opened, ‘Is it not to share your bread with the hungry? [Isaiah 58:7]. Come and see: Happy is one’s portion when he encounters a poor person! For a poor person is a gift that the blessed Holy One has sent to him. Happy is the share of one who receives that gift cheerfully!…’ Is it not to share your bread with the hungry? What is פָרֹס [paros] to share? לְמִפְרַס [Le-miphras] to spread, a tablecloth with bread and food to eat. Alternatively, Is it not פָרֹס [parosto share?—as is said: פְּרֵס פְּרִיסַת [Pereis perisat], פְּרֵס [pereis]—has been divided [Daniel 5:28], for one should לְמִפְרַס פְּרִיסִין [le-miphras perisin] break pieces, of bread before him so that he will not feel ashamed, and one should break it before him generously” (Zohar 2:198a).

“I have the following tradition from my grandfather’s family: At all times shall one [rather] hire himself out to עֲבוֹדָה זַרָה [avodah zarah] idol-worship, than be in need [of the help] of [his fellow] creatures. He thought that עֲבוֹדָה זַרָה [avodah zarah] (meant) actual [idol worship], but it is not so, [the meaning being,] ‘work which is strange to him;’ as Rav said to Rabbi Kahana: Flay a carcass in the street and earn a wage, and say not, ‘I am a great man and the work is degrading to me’” (BT Baba Batra 110a).

“Our Rabbis taught: It once happened that a man’s wife died and left behind a nursing child, and the man could not afford to pay a wet-nurse. A miracle happened to him and his breasts opened like a woman’s breasts and he nursed his son. Rabbi Yosef said, ‘Come and see how great was this man, that such a miracle was performed on his account!’ Abayye said to him, ‘Just the opposite: how terrible was this man, that his body was changed!’ Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘Come and see how difficult it is to attain food for a person—so much so that his body was changed!’ Rabbi Naḥman said: Know that miracles do occur, but food is not simply created” (BT Shabbat 53b).

“A person should not embolden himself to say: ‘The blessed Holy One will save me,’ or ‘He will do this for me.’ Rather, he should place his strength in the blessed Holy One, to help him fulfill the commandments of Torah and walk in the way of truth, for as soon as one comes to purify himself, he is certainly assisted [cf. BT Shabbat 104a]. So should one fortify himself in the blessed Holy One – in order that He may help him – holding fast to Him, not placing his strength in another. So, whose strength is in You [Psalms 84:5]” (Zohar 1:142a).

“Happy all who fear YHWH, who walk in His ways. When you eat of the toil of your hands, happy are you, and it is good for you” (Psalms 128:2).

“One who supports himself from his own labor is greater than one who fears Heaven” (BT Berakhot 8a).

If a man deposits produce with his neighbor, even if it is suffering loss, he must not touch it. Rabbi Shimon son of Gamaliel said: He must sell it by order of the court, because it is like returning lost property to its owner [Mishnah]—what is the reason? Said Rabbi Kahana: A man prefers a measure of his own to nine of his neighbor’s” (BT Baba Metsi’a 38a).

“Rabbi Nathan son of Abba further said in the name of Rav: He who is dependent on another’s table, the world is dark to him, for it is said: He wanders for bread—where is it? He knows that the dark day awaits him [Job 15:23]. Rabbi Ḥisda says: Also his life is no life” (BT Beitṣah 32b).

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