The Nut Garden

לקוטים מזוהר (Gleanings of Zohar)

נסתרות של רבי שמעון בר יוחאי (Nistarot shel Rabbi Shim’on bar Yoḥai), Secrets of Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai

rashbi2These are the secrets that were revealed to Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai when he was hiding in a cave on account of [the persecutions of] Caesar king of Edom [see BT Shabbat 33b]. He stood in prayer forty days and forty nights, and opened: YHWH Elohim, how long will you spurn the prayer of your servant? [cf. Psalms 80:5]. Immediately the secrets of the End and hidden things were revealed to him.

He sat and expounded: and saw the Kenite [i.e., ‘Midian’ or ‘Ishmael’ (Rav Ḥai Gaon)] (Numbers 24:21). When he saw that the kingdom of Ishmael would come [and exercise dominion over Israel], he said: Is it not enough what the wicked kingdom of Edom has done to us that we should also [suffer the dominion of] the kingdom of Ishmael?! Immediately Metatron Prince of the Presence answered him, saying: Do not be afraid my son, for the blessed Holy One is bringing about the kingdom of Ishmael only for the purpose of delivering you from that wicked one [Edom]. He shall raise up over them a prophet in accordance with His will, and He will subdue the Land for them; and they shall come and restore it with grandeur. Great enmity will exist between them and the sons of Esau.

Rabbi Shim’on answered, saying: How are they our redemption? He said to him: Did not Isaiah the prophet say so? And he saw a chariot with a couple of horsemen, one riding a donkey, and one riding a camel (Isaiah 21:7)? [cf. Ibn Ezra ad loc.]. Why did he put one riding a donkey before one riding a camel? Should he not instead have said …riding a camel… riding a donkey? [Rather,] when the one riding a camel emerges, the kingdom ruled by the one riding upon a donkey (Zechariah 9:9) has sprouted by his agency. 

Another interpretation: One riding a donkey—at the [same] time when he rides upon a donkey. Consequently they are a redemption for Israel like the redemption of the one riding upon a donkey.

Moreover Rabbi Shim’on reported that he learned from Rabbi Yishma’el at the time when the latter learned that the kingdom of Ishmael was coming that [they] will measure the Land with ropes [cf. Pirqei de-Rabbi Eli’ezer 30], as is said: And the Land will be apportioned for wages [cf. Daniel 11:39; Joel 4:2]. They will make cemeteries pasture-land and for flocks, and when one of them dies, they will bury him any place they please. They will then turn around and plow the grave and sow seed on it, as it says, Even thus shall the Children of Israel eat their defiled bread (Ezekiel 4:13). Why? Because [the location of] impure fields will be unknown.

Again, and saw the Kenite (Numbers 24:21). What was the parable that wicked one [Balaam] pronounced? When he foresaw that his [i.e., the Kenite’s] descendants were destined to arise and enslave Israel, he began rejoicing and said: אֵיתָן (ethan), staunch, is your settlement (ibid.)—I see human beings who are occupied only with the commandments of Ethan the Ezrahite (1 Kings 5:11; Psalms 89:1).

The second king who will arise from Ishmael will be a friend of Israel. He will repair their breaches and the breaches of the Temple and shape Mount Moriah [cf. 2 Chronicles 3:1; JT Berakhot 4:5, 8c; Sifre, Deuteronomy 62] and make the whole of it a level plain. He will build for himself there a place for prayer upon the site of the אֶבֶן שְׁתִיָּה (even shetiyyah), Foundation Stone [cf. M Yoma 5:2; Tosefta, Yoma 2:14; BT Yoma 54b; JT Yoma 5:2, 42c; Vayiqrah Rabbah 20:4; Pesiqta de-Rav Kahana 26:4; Pirqei de-Rabbi Eli’ezer 35; Zohar 1:71b–72a, 231a; Rabbi Moshe de León, Sefer ha-Rimmon, 333], as it says, and saw the Kenite (Numbers 24:21). He will wage war with the sons of Esau and slaughter their troops and capture a large number of them, and he will die in peace and with great honor.

And there shall arise a great king from Hasarmawet [cf. Genesis 10:26], but he will exercise rule only for a few years. Warriors of the sons of Kedar shall rise up against him and kill him [perhaps ʿAlī (656–661 CE)], and bring to power another king whose name is Mry’w [perhaps Marwān I (684–85 CE)]. They shall take him from following flocks and mule-herds and elevate him to the kingship. There shall arise from him ‘four arms’ who will make repairs on the Temple [perhaps the four sons of ʿAbd al-Malik (685–705 CE) who became caliphs].

At the end of the reign of the ‘four arms’ there shall come to power another king [perhaps Sulaymān (715–717 CE)]. He will diminish measures for quantity, length, and weight, and enjoy three years of tranquility. A dispute will erupt in the world during his reign, and he will send out mighty forces against the sons of Edom. There [Byzantium?] they will die of hunger, even though they will have abundant provisions—he will refuse [sustenance] from them, [and] none will be given him. The sons of Edom will prevail over the sons of Ishmael and slaughter them. Then the sons of Ishmael will arise and burn the provisions, and those who are left will flee and depart [perhaps Sulaymān’s expedition against and siege of Constantinople].

After this a great king will come to power and rule for nineteen years [Hishām (724–743 CE)]. These are his signs: reddish and squinty-eyed [alt., crosseyed], and he will have three moles: one on his forehead, one on his right hand, and one on his left arm. He will plant saplings and rebuild ruined cities and tap subterranean waters to bring up water to irrigate his plantings so that his future descendants will have plenty to eat. All who arise to oppose him will submit to his power, and the Land will remain undisturbed during his reign, and he will die peacefully.

Then another king will arise who will seek to cut off the waters of the Jordan [perhaps Al-Walīd ibn Yazīd]. He will bring far-away peoples from alien lands to excavate and build a canal to bring up the waters of the Jordan to irrigate the Land. The excavated portion of the Land will collapse upon them and kill them. Their leaders will hear [about this], and then rebel against the king and kill him.

Another king will then arise—strong and a warrior [perhaps Marwān II]. A dispute will erupt in the world during his reign. This will be the sign for you: When you see that the western gyrwn has fallen [the eastern wall or gate]—at the western side of [the place of] prayer of the sons of Ishmael in Damascus—his dominion will have fallen. They will be assembled and marched out to do forced labor, and indeed the kingdom of Ishmael will collapse. Of them it says, YHWH has broken the rod of the wicked, [and שֵׁבֶט מֹשְׁלִים (shevet moshlim), the staff of rulers; or: the tribe of rulers—alluding to מוּסלְמִים (muslemim), Muslims] (Isaiah 14:5). Rod—Ishmael. And who is this? It is Marwān [Marwān II was termed al-Ḥimār, the ‘wild ass of Mesopotamia’ in Muslim sources]. Warriors from the sons of Kedar will still remain with him, but the northeastern corner [of his kingdom] will rebel and come up against him [i.e., Khorāsān, the province where the ʿAbbāsid dynasty originated]. There shall fall from among his forces three great armies at the Tigris and at the Euphrates, and he himself will flee from them, but he will be captured and put to death. His sons will be impaled on wood.

And after this a king עַז פָּנִים (‘az panim), brazen faced [see Deuteronomy 28:50; Daniel 8:23; Targum to the Hagiographa, Ecclesiastes 8:1], will arise for three months [perhaps Abū al-ʿAbbās as-Saffāḥ], and then the wicked kingdom will rule over Israel for nine months, as it says, Therefore will he give them up, until the time that she who travails has brought forth: [then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the Children of Israel] (Micah 5:2). And there shall sprout up for them Messiah Son of Joseph, and he will bring them up to Jerusalem. He will rebuild the Temple and offer sacrifices; fire shall descend from the heavens and consume their sacrifices, as it says, The lawless sons of your people shall be raised up to fulfill the vision, but they shall stumble (Daniel 11:14). If they are not worthy, Messiah Son of Ephraim comes [i.e., Messiah Son of Joseph]; but if they are worthy, Messiah Son of David will come [cf. BT Sanhedrin 98a; Zohar 1:116a–118b].

A wicked king will arise whose name is Armilus: bald, with small eyes and a skin-blanched forehead; his right ear closed up and his left ear open. If a good person should speak to him, he will turn his closed ear toward him, and if a wicked person should speak to him, he will turn his open ear to him. He is the offspring of the שָׂטָן (satan), Adversary, and a stone [statue], and he will come up to Jerusalem and incite war with Messiah Son of Ephraim [i.e., Messiah Son of Joseph] at the eastern gate, as is it says, And they shall look to me whom they have thrust through (Zechariah 12:10) [cf. BT Sukkah 52a]. Israel will go into exile into the uncleared wilderness to forage among the salt-plants and broom-sage roots for forty-five days, and then they will be tested and refined, as it says, And I will bring the third part through the fire, [and will refine them as silver is refined, and will test them as gold is tested: they shall call on My name, and I will hear them: I will say, They are My people: and they shall say, YHWH is my God] (ibid. 13:9). Messiah Son of Ephraim shall die there, and Israel shall mourn for him. After this the blessed Holy One will reveal to them the Messiah Son of David, but Israel will want to stone him, and they will say to him: You speak a lie, for the Messiah has already been slain, and there is no other Messiah destined to arise [cf. BT Sanhedrin 99a: “Rabbi Hillel (a brother of Yehudah II) said: There shall be no Messiah for Israel, because they already consumed him in the days of Hezekiah”]. They will scorn him, as it says, [He is] despised and rejected of men; [a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not] (Isaiah 53:3). He shall withdraw and be hidden from them, as it says, and we hid as it were our faces from him (ibid.). But in Israel’s great distress, they will turn and cry out from hunger and thirst, and the blessed Holy One will be revealed to them in His glory, as it says, [And the glory of YHWH shall be revealed,] and all flesh shall see it together: [for the mouth of YHWH has spoken it] (ibid. 40:5). And King Messiah will sprout up there, as it says, And, look, with the clouds of the heavens [one like a human being was coming] (Daniel 7:13), and it is written after it: and authority was given to him (ibid., 14). He shall blow [his breath] at that wicked Armilus and kill him, as it says, [But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,] and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked (Isaiah 11:4).

The blessed Holy One will signal for and gather together all Israel and bring them up to Jerusalem, as it says, I will signal for them, and gather them; [for I have redeemed them: and they shall increase as they once increased] (Zechariah 10:8). Fire will descend from the heavens and consume Jerusalem up to three cubits, and uncircumcised foreigners and the impure will be removed from her midst. Then a rebuilt and decorated Jerusalem will descend from the heavens; in it seventy-two precious stones will shine from one end of the world to the other. And all the nations will come to [bask in] her splendor, as it says, And the nations shall come to your light, [and kings to the brightness of your rising] (Isaiah 60:3). A rebuilt Temple will descend from the heavens—the one which was folded within Zebul [BT Ḥagigah 12b], for thus Moses saw, as it says, You’ll bring them, you’ll plant them, [on the mount of Your estate, a firm place for Your dwelling You wrought, O YHWH, the sanctum, O Sovereign, Your hands firmly founded] (Exodus 15:17).

Israel will dwell in peace for two thousand years [see BT Avodah Zarah 9a; Sanhedrin 97a in the name of Tanna debe EliyyahuBerit Menuḥa, Haqdamah]. They will feast upon Behemoth, Leviathan, and Ziz [on the Ziz, see BT Bava Batra 73b]. They will slaughter Behemoth; Ziz shall rend Leviathan with its ankles; and Moses will come and slaughter the ‘wild Ziz’ [cf. Psalms 50:11; 80:14]. At the end of two thousand years, the blessed Holy One will sit upon the Throne of Judgment in the valley of Jehoshaphat [cf. Joel 4:2, 12]. Immediately the heavens and the earth will wear out and fade away: the sun will be ashamed and the moon embarrassed [cf. Isaiah 24:23]; the mountains will shake and the hills will quake [cf. ibid. 54:10], so that Israel will no longer have her sins recounted to her. The gates of Hell will be opened in the Wadi Yehoshu’a, and on the third day the gates of Eden [will be opened] in the east, as it says, After two days will He revive us (Hosea 6:2)—the days of the Messiah, which are two thousand years. [On the] third day [He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight] (ibid.)—the Day of Judgment, and alas for the one who is among all those who perish during it! The blessed Holy One shall cause to pass before Him every nation, and He shall say to them: ‘You who worshipped gods of silver and gold—see now if they are able to deliver you!’ Immediately they shall pass by and be immolated, as it says, The wicked will turn back to Sheol, [all the nations forgetful of God] (Psalms 9:18). Israel shall come after them, and the blessed Holy One will say to them: Whom have you worshipped? They will answer: Doubtless you are our Father, [though Abraham is ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledges us not: you, O YHWH, are our Father, our Redeemer; Your name is from everlasting] (Isaiah 63:16). And the nations of the world will complain from the midst of Hell: Let us see whether He will judge His people Israel like He judged us! Immediately the blessed Holy One will pass with Israel through the midst of Hell, and it will be made like cool water before them, as it says, [He who breaks open has come up before them: they have broken out, and have passed through the gate, and have gone out by it:] and their King shall pass before them, [YHWH at their head] (Micah 2:13), and it says, When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned (Isaiah 43:2). At that time the transgressors among Israel will be dumped into Hell for twelve months [see for example M Eduyot 2:10; BT Rosh ha-Shanah 17a], but after that the blessed Holy One will bring them up and settle them in Eden, and they will enjoy its fruits, as it says, Your people also shall be all righteous: [they shall inherit the land forever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified] (ibid. 60:21).

Rabbi Shim’on said: The blessed Holy One will signal to the bee who is at the end of the rivers of Egypt, and they shall come and wage war in the midst of Egypt. The first king who leads them and brings them forth is a slave who has rebelled against his master, as it says, Thus says YHWH… to him whom man despises, to him whom the nation abhors (Isaiah 49:7)—that is the one held abominable among the nations; namely, the sons of Canaan—to a slave of rulers, [kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of YHWH who is faithful, and the Holy One of Israel, and he has chosen you] (ibid.). He shall rebel against his overlord, and others who have rebelled against their masters will be gathered to him, and they shall gradually go out and seize the kingdom by force. They will make war with the sons of Ishmael, kill their warriors, and take possession of their wealth and property. They are repulsive men, dressed in black and coming from the East, and they are quick and impetuous, as it says, [For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans,] that bitter and hasty nation, [which shall march through the breadth of the earth, to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs] (Habakkuk 1:6). They will ascend the mountain of the height of Israel intending to tear down the Temple and to uproot the doors, but will [instead] weep bitterly [?].

Four kings shall arise over them: two of them will be princes and two of them chieftains. The first… [?] and the king who rules after them [sic] will conduct himself humbly: his eyes will be attractive and his hair lovely, and he will die in peace, with no one in the world collecting tribute from him. After him there shall arise a king accompanied by strife. He will station armies by the Euphrates River, but all of them will fall in a single day. He will flee, but will be captured, and all the time he is held captive there will be peace in the world. His brothers will rule over all lands.

The fourth king who shall arise over them will be a lover of silver and gold. He will be a dark man and tall, old and גַּרְגַּר (gargar), shrivelled [or: גַרגְרָן (gargeran), gluttonous]. He will kill those whom they bring to him, and they will install him as king. He will build boats of bronze and fill them [with] silver and gold, and store them beneath the waters of the Euphrates in order to reserve them for his sons. But they are destined for Israel, as it says, And I will give you the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, [that you may know that I, YHWH, who call you by your name, am the God of Israel] (Isaiah 45:3). During his reign the western quadrant will rebel, and he will dispatch there many troops, but [the leader of the rebellion] will kill the easterners. Again [the fourth king] will send out many troops, and they will come and slay the westerners, and take up residence in their land.

And this will be the sign for you—when you see that at the beginning of one week there is rain, and in the second [week] the loosing of the ‘arrows of hunger,’ and in the third a severe famine, and in the fourth no hunger but [also] no satisfaction, and in the fifth there is great satiety. A star shall appear from the east with a rod on top of it—this is the star of Israel, as it says, A star steps forth from Jacob… (Numbers 24:17). If it shines, it is for the benefit of Israel. Then Messiah Son of David shall emerge.

And this will be the sign for you—when you see that the eastern gyrwn in Damascus has fallen, the kingdom of those in the East has fallen. Then redemption will sprout for Israel. Messiah Son of David will come, and they [sic] will go up to Jerusalem and rejoice over her, as it says, And the poor shall inherit the earth and take pleasure from great well-being (Psalms 37:11). May the blessed Holy One in His compassion send to us the redeemer quickly in our era, amen!

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All the Glory of the King’s Daughter is Inward

“Rabbi Neḥunia son of ha-Qannah said: One verse says, They have not seen the light, bright though it be in the skies (Job 37:21). And another verse says, He set darkness His hiding-place (Psalms 18:12); it is also written, Cloud and dense fog around Him (ibid. 97:2). This is difficult! However, a third verse comes to hold the balance between them: Darkness itself does not darken for You, and the night lights up like the day, the dark and light are one (ibid. 139:12)” (Bahir §1).

He set darkness His hiding-place round Him, His abode darkness of water, the clouds of the skies (Psalms 18:12). But is there any darkness before Heaven? For behold it is written: He lays bare the deep and the hidden things, knows what is in darkness, and light dwells with Him (Daniel 2:22)—this is not difficult: the one refers to inner houses [in which there is only light], the other to outer houses [hidden in darkness of water, cloud and dense fog]” (BT Ḥagigah 12b–13a).

When you light up [the lamps, opposite the front of the lamp stand shall the seven lamps give light] (Numbers 8:2).

Darkness itself does not darken for You, and the night lights up like the day, the dark and light are one (Psalms 139:12). Yet to us He says When you light up!

To what may this be compared? To a king who had a beloved friend. The king said to him, ‘Know that I will eat with you [even though I am royalty]. Go and prepare for me!’ His beloved friend went and prepared a common couch, a common lamp, and a common table. When the king arrived there came with him ministers who encompassed him on this side and that, and a lamp of gold before him. When his beloved friend saw all the glory of the king, he felt ashamed and put away everything that he had prepared for him, since it was all common. The king said to him, ‘Did I not tell you that I would eat with you? Why have you not prepared anything for me?’ His beloved friend said to him, ‘I saw all the glory that accompanied you, and I felt ashamed and put away all that I had prepared for you, since they were common vessels.’ The king said to him, ‘By your life! I will discard all the vessels that I have brought, and for the sake of your love I will use none but yours!’

And so, the blessed Holy One is entirely light, as is said, He lays bare the deep and the hidden things, knows what is in darkness, and light dwells with Him (Daniel 2:22). Yet He says to Israel ‘Prepare for Me a lamp and lights.’ And why is it written, They shall make Me a Tabernacle, that I may abide in their midst (Exodus 25:8); And you shall make a lamp stand of pure gold (ibid., 31)? When they had completed everything שְׁכִינָה (Shekhinah), [divine] Presence, came.

Why is it written, [And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the glory of YHWH filled the Tabernacle.And Moses could not come into the Tent of Meeting (ibid. 40:35)? Immediately He called to Moses: And when Moses came into the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, he would hear the voice (Numbers 7:89). What did He say to him? When you light up [the lamps]” (Bemidbar Rabbah 15:8).

“Why is it called זָהָב (zahav), gold? Because three qualities are included in it. זָכָר (Zakhar), male—ז (zayin). הַנְּשָׁמָה (Ha-neshamah), the soul—ה (he), for ה״ (five) names of the soul [which are feminine nouns]: ruaḥḥayahyeḥidahneshamahnefesh. What is the function of he? She is a throne for zayin, as is written, For he who is high has a higher one watching him (Ecclesiastes 5:7). And ב (bet)? She is their existence, as is said, בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא (Bereshit bara), In the beginning created… (Genesis 1:1).

A parable: A king had a daughter who was good, sweet, lovely, and perfect. He married her to a royal prince—and clothed, crowned, and bejewelled her, giving her abundant wealth. Is it possible for the king to ever leave his daughter? Certainly not! Is it possible for him to remain with her constantly, the entire day? Certainly not! What then must he do? He places a חַלּוֹן (ḥallon), window, between the two, and whenever the father needs his daughter, or the daughter needs her father, they can unite through the window [cf. Bereshit Rabbah 74:7]. As is written, All the glory of the king’s daughter is inward, filigree of gold her raiment (Psalms 45:14) [on the association of this verse with the Sanctuary, see TanḥumaBemidbar 3; Tanḥuma (Buber), Bemidbar 3; Bemidbar Rabbah 1:3; Zohar 3:171a]” (Bahir §53–§54).

And YHWH spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai [in the Tent of Meeting] (Numbers 1:1).

Before the Tent of Meeting was set up, He spoke with him from the bush, as is said, And Elohim called out to him from the midst of the bush (Exodus 3:4). And afterward, He spoke to Moses in the land of Egypt, as is said, And YHWH said to Moses and to Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying… (ibid. 12:1).

He also spoke to him in Midian, as is said, And YHWH said to Moses in Midian (ibid. 4:19). He also spoke to him on Sinai, as is said, And YHWH spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying… (Leviticus 25:1). However, as soon as the Tent of Meeting was set up, [the blessed Holy One] said, ‘הַצְּנִיעוּת (Ha-tsninut), modesty, is beautiful,’ as is said, [He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does YHWH require of you, but to do justly, and to love kindness,and to walk הַצְנֵעַ (ha-tsne’a), humbly, with your God (Micah 6:8), [and so from now on] I will speak to him in the Tent of Meeting. Thus, David said, All the glory of the king’s daughter is פְּנִימָה (penimah), inward, filigree of gold her raiment (Psalms 45:14). 

The daughter of the king—[Torah of] Moses, as is said, And the Egyptians will I give over into the hand of harsh masters (Isaiah 19:4)—the plagues that came upon Egypt [called harsh אֲדֹנִים (adonim), masters]; and a fierce king shall rule over them, [says הָאָדוֹן (ha-Adon), the Lord, YHWH of armies] (ibid.)—Moses who was king of Torah which is called Strength, as is said, May YHWH give strength to His people (Psalms 29:11). Therefore: All the glory of the king’s daughter is inwardFiligree of gold her raiment—Aaron, as is said [of the priestly garments worn by the High Priest:] And you shall make a filigree of gold (Exodus 28:13).

From here they said: A woman who conducts herself with מַצְנַעַת (matsena’at), becoming modesty, even if she is an Israelite [i.e., her father is not a Cohen or a Levi], deserves to be married to a priest and to raise High Priests, as is said, filigree of gold her raiment. The blessed Holy One said, ‘So too it befits My honor that I should speak מִלִּפְנִים (millifenim), within,’ as is said, And when Moses came into the Tent of Meeting [to speak with Him…] (Numbers 7:89) [on the association of Psalms 45:14 with the Sanctuary, see TanḥumaBemidbar 3; Tanḥuma (Buber), Bemidbar 3; Zohar 3:171a]” (Bemidbar Rabbah 1:3, cf. Pesiqta de-Rav Kahana 1; Zohar 2:22b).

My lover is like a deer or like a stag. Oh, he stands behind our wall peering through the windows, peeping through the crannies (Song of Songs 2:9).

“Come and see: When a man builds a house and makes windows within he wants the light to enter. He makes windows narrow on the outside and broad on the inside. Why? So that the light will enter from the outside and shine on the inside. But when Solomon built the Temple, he did not make the windows in such a way. Rather, they were narrow on the inside and broad on the outside so that the light would emanate from the Temple and shine outside, as is written, And he made broad and narrow windows for the house (1 Kings 6:4)” (Tanḥuma [Buber], Beha’alotkha 2:1).

“Rabbi Ḥanina said: There were windows in the Temple, and from these light used to emanate for the world, as it says, And he made broad and narrow windows for the house (1 Kings 6:4). They were transparent and opaque; narrowing towards the inside and broadening towards the outside so as to let the light out to the world” (Vayiqra Rabbah 31:7).

And he made broad and narrow windows for the house (1 Kings 6:4). It was taught: Broad—without; narrow—within, for I am not in need of light” (BT Menaḥot 86b)

The Active Intellect by Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag (Ba’al ha-Sullam)

Ba'al ha-Sullam PortraitIt is written, “Every man is obligated to grasp the root of his soul.” Meaning the ultimate desire and hope of those created is דְבֵקוּת (devequt), cleaving, to His qualities, may His great Name be exalted: “[Abba Shaul said:] Just as He is [gracious and] compassionate, so you [be gracious and compassionate]” (BT Shabbat 133b). And His qualities are the holy sefirot as is known, and this is the mystery of שֶׂכֶל הַפּוֹעֵל (sekhel ha-poel), the Active Intellect, that guides His world and gauges His effluence and goodness for them, blessed be He.

But we must understand why this is called, “cleaving to the Creator,” for behold: seemingly this is merely לִמּוּד (limmud), study. I shall explain by way of parable: Within any action in the world, the actor’s intellect inheres in that action. Just as in a table one can grasp a facet of the intellect of the carpenter, his dexterity and the deftness in his craft, whether great or small, since in the course of his work he assessed it in terms of the qualities of his intellect. And he who looks at the result, apprehending the intellect that is “buried” there, cleaves to that very intellect which acted upon it—they literally unite—because there is no distance or separation between הַרוּחָנִיּם (ha-ruḥanim), what is immaterial, even with separate bodies; the intellect inhering there cannot be separated, for what knife can cut the immaterial off? Rather, the essential difference between immaterial things [or: spiritual matters] lies in their qualities, praiseworthy or blameworthy, but also in diversity. For the intellect reckoning astrology will not cleave to the natural sciences. And even in science itself great diversity is discovered. Since one [branch] rises over another even in a single [field of] science, and only through this does the immaterial separate. But when two sages contemplate a single science and bear the same stature of intellect, then they are united, literally, for what separates them?

So when one is found contemplating another’s action, grasping the intellect of the sage who performed it, both are gauged by one power and intellect. Now they are actually united, like a man who bumps into his beloved friend in the market: he embraces him and kisses him, and it is impossible to severe the bond between them. Hence, the general principal is that on the human [rung of existence], the power of the intellect is best suited to mediate between the Creator and His creatures. That is, He emanated a single spark from this [mediating] power. Through that spark, all returns to Him.

[How many are Your works, O YHWH!] All of them You made in wisdom; [the earth is filled with Your creatures] (Psalms 104:24)He created the whole world in His wisdom. Hence, he who is rewarded with attaining the אוֹפַנִּים (ofannim), circuits, by which He created the world and its order, behold: he cleaves to the Intellect that acts upon them, he cleaves to the Creator. And this is the mystery of “The Torah is all names of the blessed Holy One,” which belong to the creatures. And through their merit, the creatures grasp the Intellect that acts upon all, since the Creator gazed upon the Torah when He created the world, as is known [see Zohar 2:161b]. He who attains enlightenment by way of Creation forever cleaves to that Intellect. Thus, he cleaves to the Creator, blessed be He.

In this sense the blessed Holy One has shown us His artisan’s tool—[however] must we create worlds? Yet from what has been said here, [we understand] the Creator has shown us His order that we may know how to cleave to Him, which is cleaving to His qualities.

Look to the Rock from which You were Hewn: There is no Artist like our God!

IMG_1210“Rabbi Simlai expounded: What does an embryo resemble when it is in the belly of its mother? Folded writing tablets. Its hands rest on its two temples, its two elbows on its two legs and its two heels against its buttocks. Its head lies between its knees, its mouth is closed and its navel is open, and it eats what its mother eats and drinks what its mother drinks, but produces no excrement because otherwise it might kill its mother. However, as soon as it emerges into the atmosphere the closed organ opens and the open one closes, for if that had not happened the embryo could not live even one single hour.

A lamp burns above its head and it looks and sees from one end of the world to the other, as is said, when He shined His lamp over my head, by its light I walked in darkness (Job 29:3). And do not be astonished at this, for a person sleeping here [in Babylon] might see a dream in Spain. And you have no days in which a human dwells in more happiness than in these days, for it is said, Would that I were as in moons of yore, as the days when God watched over me (ibid. 29:2); now which are the days that have moons but do not have years? These are the moons of bearing [i.e., months of pregnancy].

It is also taught the entire Torah, for it is said, And he taught me and said to me: ‘Let your heart hold on to my words. Keep my commandments and live (Proverbs 4:4), and it is also said, [as I was in the days of my prime]—God an intimate of my tent (Job 29:4). Why the addition of ‘and it is also said?’—in case you might say that it was only the prophet who said that [so that it does not apply to other men], come and hear: God an intimate of my tent.

As soon as it emerges into the atmosphere an angel approaches, slaps it on its mouth and causes it to forget the entire Torah, as is said, at the tent flap sin crouches (Genesis 4:7) [cf. BT Sanhderin 91b; Zohar Ḥadash 46d–47b; Plato, Meno 80a–86c]. It does not emerge from there before it is made to take an oath, as is said, That unto Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear (Isaiah 45:23). That unto Me every knee shall bow—the day of dying of which it is said Before Him will kneel all who go down to the dust whose life is undone (Psalms 22:30); Every tongue shall swear—the day of birth of which it is said, the clean of hands and the pure of heart, who has given no oath in a lie and has sworn not in deceit (Psalms 24:4).

What is the nature of the oath that it is made to take? Be righteous, and never be wicked; and even if all the world tells you, ‘You are righteous,’ be in your eyes like a wicked person. Know that the blessed Holy One is pure, that His attendants are pure and that the נְשָׁמָה (neshamah), soul, He gave you is pure; if you preserve it in purity, well and good, but if not, I will take it away from you [cf. BT Berakhot 60b].

The academy of Rabbi Yishma’el taught: This may be compared to the case of a priest who handed over some תְּרוּמָה (terumah), donation, to an ignorant peasant and told him, ‘If you preserve it under conditions of cleanness, well and good, but if not, I will burn it in your presence.’

Rabbi El’azar observed: What is the Scriptural proof [that an oath is taken on the day of one’s birth]? From my mother’s womb גוֹזִי (gozi) (Psalms 71:6). What is the proof that גוֹזִי (gozi) implies swearing?—because it is written, גָּזִּי נִזְרֵךְ (Gazi Nizrekh), swear your naziriteship, and cast it away [lit., cut off your hair and cast it away] (Jeremiah 7:29)” (BT Niddah 30b–31a).

“Rav Shimi son of ‘Uqva (others say, Mar ‘Uqva) was often in the company of Rabbi Shim’on son of Pazzi, who used to arrange the aggadahs [and recite them] before Rabbi Yehoshu’a son of Levi. He said to him: What is, ‘בָּרְכִי נַפְשִׁי (Barekhi nafshi), bless, O my being, YHWH, and all that is within me bless His holy name? He replied: Come and see how human nature differs from divine nature: A human being draws a figure on the wall but cannot cast into it breath and soul, bowels and intestines. But the blessed Holy One is not so. צָר צוּרָה בְּתוֹך צוּרָה (Tsar tsurah be-tokh tsurah), He designs a form within a form [the fetus within the womb], casting into it breath and soul, bowels and intestines. This is what Hannah said: There is no one holy like YHWH, for there is no one beside You, and there is no rock like our God (1 Samuel 2:2). What does this mean: there is no צוּר (tsur), rock, like our God? There is no צַיָּיר (tsayyar), artist, like our God!

What is For there is no one beside You? Rabbi Yehudah son of Menasya said: Read not, there is no one בִּלְתֶּךָ (biltekha), beside You, but, there is no one לְבַלּוֹתֶךָ (le-vallotekha), to outlive You. For the nature of flesh and blood is not like that of the blessed Holy One. It is human nature to be outlived by its works, but the blessed Holy One outlives His works. He said to him: What I meant to tell you is this: To whom did David refer in these five verses beginning with ‘בָּרְכִי נַפְשִׁי (Barekhi nafshi), bless, O my being, YHWH’? [see Psalms 103:1, 2, 22; 104:1, 35]. He was alluding only to the blessed Holy One and to the soul. Just as the blessed Holy One fills the whole world, so the soul fills the body. Just as the blessed Holy One, sees, but is not seen, so the soul sees but is not itself seen. Just as the blessed Holy One feeds the whole world, so the soul feeds the whole body. Just as the blessed Holy One is pure, so the soul is pure. Just as the blessed Holy One abides in the innermost chambers, so the soul abides in the innermost chambers. Let that which has these five things come and praise Him who has these five things [cf. Bereshit Rabbah 14:9]” (BT Berakhot 10a).

“The way of the blessed Holy One is not like the way of a human being. A human being cannot fashion a creature from water. However, it is not so with He who spoke, and the world came into being. Rather, He fashioned a creature from water, as is written, Let the waters swarm with the swarm of living creatures (Genesis 1:20).

Worker of wonders (Exodus 15:11)—for the way of the blessed Holy One is not like the way of a human being. A human being cannot fashion a creature in darkness. However, it is not so with the blessed Holy One. Rather, He fashioned a creature in darkness, as is written, When I was made in a secret place, knitted in the utmost depths (Psalms 139:15).

Another interpretation: Worker of wonders—for the way of the blessed Holy One is not like the way of a human being. When a human being fashions a form, he begins from its head, or its feet, or from one of its limbs. However, it is not so with the blessed Holy One. Rather, when He fashions a form, He fashions it [all] at once, as is written, He is יוֹצֵר (yotser), Former, of all things (Jeremiah 10:16). And it says, There is no צוּר (tsur), rock, like our God (1 Samuel 2:2)—there is no צַיָּיר (tsayyar), artist, like our God!

Another interpretation: Worker of wonders—for the way of the blessed Holy One is not like the way of a human being. A human being goes to a sculptor [and] says to him, ‘Make me a bust of [my] father!’ He says to him, ‘Bring me your father and stand him in front of me, or bring me his likeness, and I’ll make it for you according to its likeness!’ However, it is not so with He who spoke, and the world came into being. Rather, from [only one] drop, He gives someone a son who looks like the image of his father!” (Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishma’el, Pisḥa, 8–11).

“Quarry of the Torah, treasury of Wisdom, quarry of רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים (ruaḥ Elohim), God’s breath, to teach that the blessed Holy One hewed out all the letters of Torah, engraving them with breath, and actualizing צוּרוֹתָיו (tsurotaiv), His forms, within, as is written: There is no צוּר (tsur), rock, like our God (1 Samuel 2:2)—‘there is no צַיָּיר (tsayyar), artist, like our God!’ (BT Berakhot 10a)” (Bahir §143, cf. Zohar 3:135b [IR]).

When a woman yields seed (Leviticus 12:1).

Rabbi Yehudah opened, ‘There is no one holy like YHWHfor there is no one beside Youand there is no rock like our God (1 Samuel 2:2). This verse is difficult: There is no one holy like YHWH implies that there is someone else holy, since it is written like YHWHAnd there is no צוּר (tsur), rock, like our God implies that there is another rock.

Well, surely, There is no one holy like YHWH, for there are various holy ones. Holy ones above, as is written: [This verdictby order of the holy ones (Daniel 4:14). Israel is holy, as is written: You shall be holy (Leviticus 19:2). All of them are holy, yet not holy like YHWH. Why? Because it is written for there is no one בִּלְתֶּךָ (biltekha), beside You. What does this mean? That the holiness of the blessed Holy One exists בִּלְתִּי (bilti), without, their holiness, since He does not need theirs; but they are not holy biltekhawithout You. This is for there is no one biltekha—their holiness does not exist without You.

And there is no צוּר (tsur), rocklike our God—as has been established, that the blessed Holy One צָר צוּרָה גוֹ צוּרָה (tsar tsurah go tsurah), designs a form within a form, perfecting it, blowing into it the spirit of life, bringing it forth into the world. 

Alternatively, And there is no rock like our God—there is that which is called rockLook to the rock from which you were hewn (Isaiah 51:1); You shall strike the rockLookI am about to stand before you there on the rock (Exodus 17:6). All of them are called rock, yet there is no rock like our God, who possesses power and dominion over all’” (Zohar 3:44a).

All the Time, Constantly, Chastening Them Little by Little

Hen“Rava said: What is written, אִם בְּפִידוֹ לָהֶן שִׁוֵּ֑עַ (Im befido lahen shivea’), but one would not reach out against a heap of ruins if in his disaster he screamed (Job 30:24)?—the blessed Holy One said to Israel, ‘When I judge Israel, I do not judge them as I do the nations, as is written, I will overturn, overturn, overturn it (Ezekiel 21:32) but I only exact payment from them as the hen does her כְּפִיד (kefid), picking’ [playing on בְּפִידוֹ (befido), in his disaster].

Another interpretation: Even if Israel does before Me but few mitsvot, like hens picking in a rubbish heap, I will make it accumulate לְחֶשְׁבּוֹן (le-ḥeshbon), to a (large) sum, as is said, If כְּפִידוּ (kefidu), they pick, לָהֶן שׁוּעַ (lahen shu’a), they are rescued (Job 30:24)” (BT Avodah Zarah 4a).

“Rabbi Eli’ezer said: It is like a king who became angry at his son, and who had in his hand a sword. The king swore he would pass the sword on his son because he angered him. But later the king said, If I do so, my son will no longer live. But also, he could not nullify the royal decree. What did the king do? He placed the sword into its sheath and passed the sword on his son’s head.

Rabbi Ḥanina said: It is like a king who became angry with his son. He had in front of him a boulder and swore that he would heave it at him. But later the king said: If I heave it at him he will no longer live. What did he do? He crushed the boulder into pebbles and tossed them at his son one at a time. It turned out that he neither hurt his son nor nullified his royal decree” (Midrash Tehillim 6:3).

“Rav Hamnuna the First, ‘Distress and affliction of Israel bring them many benefits and advantages. The ease of other nations brings them many evils. דְּחִיקוּ (Deḥiqu), distress, and affliction of Israel brings them benefit and advantage. What is that? כָּלָּה (Kallah), Bride—כֹּלָּא דָּחִיק (kolla daḥiq), all pointed [i.e., vocalized]. רִפְיוֹן (Rifyon), ease, of the other nations brings them rifyon, weakness, and evil. What is that? כָלָה (Khalah), complete destruction (Jeremiah 46:28). This is just what they deserve, for all the rifyon, ease—without deḥiqu, distress—that they had in this world causes them rifyon, weakness, afterward, without deḥiqu, pointing: כָלָה (khalah), complete destruction; For כָלָה וְנֶחֱרָצָה (khalah ve-neḥeratsah), a decreed destruction, I have heard (Isaiah 28:22); For I will make כָלָה (khalah), a complete destruction, all in rifyon, weakness. But for Israel, who had deḥiqu, distress, and affliction—כַּלָּה (Kallah), A bride, will adorn herself with her ornaments (ibid. 61:10). Who are her ornaments? Israel, who are the ornaments of this Bride.

For Israel, who endured distress and affliction, I will raise the fallen booth of David (Amos 9:11)—the booth of peace. For the other nations, who had rifyon, ease—torment, trouble and torment (Isaiah 30:6); כָלָה (khalah)complete destruction, in rifyon, weakness, as they had before. So, For I will make כָלָה (khalah)an end, of all the nations… but of you I will not make khalah, an end—since you were already deḥiqu, distressed, and כַּלָּה (Kallah), the Bride, will be deḥiqu, pointed [cf. BT Berakhot 6b, in the name of Abbaye; Zohar 3:239a (RM); TZ 12, 27a; ZḤ 118c (Tiq)].

I will chasten you לַמִּשְׁפָּט (la-mishpat), for justice (Jeremiah 46:28). This verse should be read I will chasten you בַמִּשְׁפָּט (va-mishpat), in justice—for when are chastenings? At the time of judgment. Yet here, not so; rather I will chasten you la-mishpat, for justice. However, it is written: YHWH will enter בְּמִשְׁפָּט (be-mishpat), into judgment, against the elders of His people (Isaiah 3:14). On that day, the blessed Holy One will provide a remedy for Israel in advance, before they appear for judgment, so that they will be able to endure. What is that? All the time, constantly, He chastens them little by little, so that when they appear for judgment, it will not prevail over them.

And I will surely not leave you unpunished (Jeremiah 46:28). What is meant by that? Well, when the people of Israel are by themselves—not appearing for judgment with the other nations—the blessed Holy One deals with them beyond the line of strict justice, atoning for them. When they appear for judgment among the other nations, what does He do? The blessed Holy One knows that Samael, the guardian [of the other nations], will come to call attention to Israel’s sins, all of which he has accumulated for himself for the Day of Judgment. So He provides a remedy for them in advance, and for every single sin He strikes them with chastening little by little. When they appear for judgment, Samael comes with many lists against them. The blessed Holy One takes out lists of the chastenings that Israel has endured for every single sin, and all the sins are expunged—without His showing them any leniency at all. Then [Samael’s] power and strength fade, and he cannot prevail against them” (Zohar 3:199a–b).

He Will Open for You His Goodly Treasure: The Twentieth Day of the Omer—an Opening of Hope

 

Ilan Sefirot - Kabbalistic Divinity map. Amsterdam, 18th century, NLI“Rafram son of Papa also said in the name of Rav Ḥisda: Since the day when the Temple was destroyed, rain no longer comes down from the ‘good treasury,’ as it says, YHWH will open for you His goodly treasure (Deuteronomy 28:12): When Israel act according to the will of the Omnipresent and are settled in their own land, then rain comes down from a ‘good treasury,’ but when Israel are not settled on their own land, then the rain does not come down from a ‘good treasury’” (BT Bava Batra 25b).

“Happy is one who succeeds in cleaving to the blessed Holy One fittingly! Happy is he in this world and in the world that is coming. [Seven days and seven days (1 Kings 8:65)—whoever joins these with these] the blessed Holy One opens for him holy treasure when his prayer needs to be received, as is written: YHWH will open for you His goodly treasurethe heavens (Deuteronomy 28:12). אֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם (Et ha-shamayim), The heavens—treasures above and below; seven days and seven days, all of them one, as is written: His goodly treasureHis treasure, singular, of et ha-shamayimthe heavensseven and seven channels (Zechariah 4:2), and they are one” (Zohar 1:204b).

Seven and seven (Zechariah 4:2)—all transcendent: one contained within its fellow. They are seven, each one contained within its companion. Now, you might say, ‘Six would have been better, so that each one can be combined within the other, because in this case one remains! With which shall it be combined?’ The answer is that when they all ascend, totaling twelve, the one positioned above them all, completing the number thirteen, is encompassed by the one standing above it. This last one is the lofty point from which all emerge….

When Solomon built the Temple and the lower world was in perfect accord with the upper world, Israel was entirely righteous, ascending numerous, lofty rungs. Then, Throne of Glory rose in rapture with abundant delight, with profuse exaltation. Then, Song of Songs of Solomon (Song of Songs 1:1), ascending in bliss, descending in bliss, joining in bliss—all worlds in bliss.

Song—for the blessed Holy One. Of Songs—for upper and lower realms. Which is Solomon’s—joining of all worlds in rapture, to the King who possesses peace completely.

Uttered by Elijah: ‘Song of Songs. It is written: YHWH will open for you His goodly treasure, the heavens (Deuteronomy 28:12). When the blessed Holy One created the world, He created sublime שִׁיתּין (shittin), channels—founts conducting rain of blessing and transcendent sanctifications from above. These drew first from the Fount of Life, from the supernal place from which they emerged [cf. BT Sukkah 49a]. 

In the beginning, before the world was created, a single desire called Hidden Thought arose and was revealed. Everything was set within that Hidden Thought, everything that existed, and that would come to exist. From that Thought arose the desire to create the world, and a subtle flow comprising hiddenness of Thought issued forth, inaudible, unrevealed. It can be perceived with wisdom that has been conferred—and not conferred—to the wise of heart, because it has not been revealed beyond.

From this flow five founts emerged, plus one that was sealed, and one absorbing all. These springs existed when the world was created, as is written: בְּרֵאשִׁית (Be-reshit), With beginning, ____ created אֱלֹהִים (Elohim), God (Genesis 1:1). בְּרֵאשִׁית (Be-reshit)—בָּרָא שִׁיתּ (bara shit), created a hollow. This hollow is a fount collecting all founts, nourishing worlds. The heavens (ibid.)—those six lofty springs, above all, conveying into this hollow. 

From the day the world was created until the Temple was built, they were sealed, entirely closed. If you say, ‘But Abraham [Ḥesed] was in the world’—behold it is written: And there was famine in the land (ibid. 12:10). Of Isaac [Gevurah]: And there was a famine in the land besides the former famine (ibid. 26:1). Similarly with Jacob [Tif’eret], it is written: And there was famine in all the lands (ibid. 41:54). Of Moses [Netsaḥ], it is written in several places: Who will feed us? (Numbers 11:4, 18); the people thirsted for water there (Exodus 17:3); there was no water for the community (ibid. 20:2). Of Joshua [Hod], despite their having entered the land, it is written: the manna ceased… and they ate of the produce of the land (Joshua 5:12). In the days of the Judges, it is written: In the days when the judges judgedthere was a famine in the land (Ruth 1:1) [cf. BT Bava Batra 14b: ‘Samuel wrote Judges and Ruth’]. Of David [Malkhut], it is written: There was a famine during the reign of David (2 Samuel 21:1) [on the Patriarchs etc., and their corresponding sefirot, see Bahir §135–§136Zohar 1:21b; 3:255b (RM)].

How can this all be explained? The explanation is that those channels had not opened, and the world was nourished only from a squeezed-out ooze, with no opening at all—aside from the resin exuded from a tree, dripping below, or from a rock. When Solomon [Yesod] came and the Temple was built, all the worlds were in a single balance, above and below. Then the hollow that receives and gathers from all lofty channels opened up. When did it open up? When those lofty channels opened up. Once that hollow opened up, blessings flowed to the world.

When did it open? When a crooked one that sat at its feet was removed. When that one was banished, שִׁיתּ (shit), hollow, became שִׁיר (shir), Song, and goodly treasure (Deuteronomy 28:12) opened up.

By whose strength? The heavens (ibid.). These are the rest of the שִׁיתּין (shittin), channels—that is, הַשִּׁירִים (ha-shirim), Songs—for they all opened up and were perfected to bestow nourishment for all the worlds. Then it is written: Judah and Israel dwelt in safetyeveryone under his own vine and under his own fig tree (1 Kings 5:5); and it is written: They ate and drank and rejoiced (ibid. 4:20)—for this שִׁיתּ (shit), hollow, and the שִׁיתּין (shittin), channels, had opened [cf. BT Sukkah 53a].

All sublime delicacies descended into all worlds. Then ardor was aroused from among them toward supernal King, all becoming one, with no division. In this way, praise transcending all praises ascends toward the King who possesses peace, fashioning total delight above and below.

It is written: שִׁיר (shir), A songto You is silent praise, [God in Zion; and to You a vow will be paid] (Psalms 65:1–2). King David knew by the holy spirit that this song was destined to be revealed in the world, and he said: Song—destined to be revealed. To You it is silent—hidden, for permission to reveal this homage is lacking. But this adulation and praise pertains to God in Zion—when the Temple is built, for it mirrors the supernal Temple. Then, a vow will be paid [on David’s vow, see Psalms 132:1–5. David longed to build the Temple, see 2 Samuel 7:2: Seepray, I dwell in a cedarwood house while the Ark of God dwells within curtains]” (Zohar Ḥadash, 62b, 62d–63a).