The Nut Garden

לקוטים מזוהר (Gleanings of Zohar)

The Essence of the Wisdom of Kabbalah by Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag (Ba’al ha-Sullam)

Ba'al ha-Sullam PortraitBefore I start to elucidate the history of the wisdom of Kabbalah, discussed by many, I find it necessary to begin with a thorough clarification of the essence of this wisdom, which I believe so few know. And of course, it is impossible to speak of the history of something before we know the thing itself. Although this knowledge is wider and deeper than the ocean, I will make the greatest effort, with all the strength and knowledge I have acquired, to clarify and illuminate it from all perspectives, enough for any soul to draw the right conclusions, as they truly are, without leaving room for the fools to mislead themselves, as is often the case in such matters.

What does the Wisdom revolve around?

This question arises for any intelligent person. To answer it properly I will give a reliable and lasting definition: This wisdom is no more and no less than a sequence of roots, hanging down by way of cause and effect, according to absolute laws, interweaving for a single sublime purpose, called “The revelation of His divinity to His creatures in this world.” And here there is general and particular:

General—the whole of humanity, obligated to come to this great undertaking in the end, as is written, [They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain:] for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of YHWH, as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9); And they shall teach no more every man his fellow, and every man his brother, saying, Know YHWH: for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, [says YHWH: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their offence no more] (Jeremiah 31:33); Yet shall your Teacher not be moved into a corner any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher (Isaiah 30:20).

Particular—even before the perfection of the whole of humanity, this matter is fulfilled in a chosen few individuals in each and every generation. These are the ones who are endowed, in each generation, with certain degrees of revelation of His divinity, blessed be He. And these are the prophets and men of the Name.

And as our sages said, “There is no generation which does not contain men like Abraham… and Jacob, [Moses, and Samuel]” (Bereshit Rabbah 56:7). Thus you see that the revelation of His divinity is brought about in each generation, as our sages, whom we find trustworthy, say.

The multiplicity of פַּרצוּפִים (partsufim), configurations, סְפִירוֹת (sefirot), and עוֹלָמוֹת (olamot)worlds

However, according to the above, a question arises. Since this wisdom has but one, unique, clear purpose, why is there a multiplicity of partsufim, sefirot, and interchangeable connections, which are so abundant in books of Kabbalah? Indeed, if you take the body of a small animal, whose only task is to nourish itself so that it exist in this world long enough to father and propagate its species, you will find in it a complex structure of millions of fibers and tendons, as physiologists and anatomists have discovered. And there is much there that humans have yet to discover. From here you may draw the analogy of a vast array of networks [lit., chariots and channels] that must connect in order to actualize that sublime purpose.

Two conducts—from above downwards and from below upwards

This wisdom is generally divided into two parallel, identical sequences, like two drops in a pond. The only difference between them is that the first sequence emanates from above downwards, to this world, and the second sequence travels from below upwards, precisely by the same ways and chariots fixed at the root when they appear from above downwards. The first is called “the descending sequence of the olamot, partsufim, and sefirot,” in all their manifestations, whether enduring or transient. The second is called “attainments, or degrees, of prophecy and רוּחַ הַקוֹדֶשׁ (ruaḥ ha-qodesh), the Holy Spirit.” One rewarded with this must follow the same paths and ways, attaining each degree one by one, precisely by the same laws fixed in them upon their emanation from above downwards. A revelation of divinity does not appear immediately, but gradually, over a period of time, depending on the cleansing of the attainment, until one discovers all the degrees from above downwards. And because they come one after the other, and one above the other like rungs of a ladder, they are called מַדרֵגוֹת (madregot), “rungs.”

Abstract names

Many believe that all the words and the names in the wisdom of Kabbalah are abstractions. This is so because it engages with what is divine and spiritual, which is above time and space, where even our imagination has no power. For this reason they conclude that surely, these matters speak only of abstractions, even more sublime and exalted than abstractions, as from the outset they are totally devoid of imaginings. But this is not the case. On the contrary, Kabbalah uses only names and appellations that are concrete and real. It is an unbending rule for all the kabbalists that, “All that we do not attain, we do not define by name or word” [cf. Rabbi Azriel of Gerona, Commentary on the Ten Sefirot, in Rabbi Me’ir ibn Gabbai, Derekh Emunah, 2b–c: “Ein Sof cannot be conceived, certainly not expressed, though it is intimated in every thing, for there is nothing outside of it. No letter, no name, no writing, no thing can confine it”]. Here you must know that הַשָׂגָה (hasagah), “attainment,” implies grasping the final rung. Derived from the expression, “within תַּשִּׂיג (tasig), reach.” That is before something becomes absolutely apparent to the eyes, as though held in the hands, the kabbalists do not consider it attained, but only “understood,” and so forth.

The concreteness of the wisdom of Kabbalah

There are things, even in the material reality set before our eyes, whose essence we have no perception of. Such as electricity or magnetism, [formerly] called “fluidum.” Nevertheless, who can say that these terms are not true, when we know their function vividly? We could not be more indifferent to the fact that we have no appreciation of the essence of the thing itself, as with electricity.

This name, “electricity,” is as tangible for us as though it were entirely perceived by our senses. Even little children are familiar with the word, as well as they are familiar with words like “bread,” “sugar,” and so on. Moreover, if you wish to exercise your tools of perception a little, I will tell you that in general, as there is no perception of the Creator whatsoever, so too it impossible to apprehend the essence of any of His creations, even things we can touch with our hands.

Thus, all we know of our companions and those close to us in the world of actualization before us is nothing more than acquaintance with their activity, stirring our senses, which render us complete satisfaction although we have no perception whatsoever of the essence of the thing. Furthermore, you have no perception or attainment whatsoever even of yourself. All you know of yourself is nothing more than the activity emanating from your essence.

Now we can easily see that all the names and appellations that appear in books of Kabbalah are indeed concrete, even though we have no attainment in the matter at all. This is because those who engage in it are satisfied with their sense of its ultimate perfection, meaning only an awareness engendered by the encounter of the supernal light and those who attain it. Yet, this is quite sufficient, for this is the rule: “All that is reckoned and emerges from His providence, blessed be He, so as to be actualized in Creation, is completely satisfactory.” Similarly, one cannot hope for a sixth finger on one hand, because five fingers are quite sufficient.

The value of concrete language in the books of Kabbalah

Any reasonable person will understand that when dealing with spiritual matters, much less with the divine, we have no words or letters with which to contemplate. This is because our entire vocabulary is but combinations of letters of our senses and imagination. Yet, how can they be of assistance where there is neither imagination nor senses? Even if we take the subtlest thing we can in such matters, namely “supernal light,” or even “simple light,” it is still imaginary and borrowed from the “light of the sun,” “candlelight,” or the “light of satisfaction” one feels upon resolving some great doubt. Yet, how can we use these in spiritual matters or divine ways? They [seem to] offer nothing more than falsehood and deceit. Especially where one needs to find some rationale in these words to help him negotiate the research of this wisdom. Here the sage must employ rigorously accurate concrete definitions for those who seek.

Should the sage fail with a single word, he is certain to confuse and lead astray. One will not understand what he is saying at all, neither before or after, nor anything connected to that word, as is known to anyone who examines books of wisdom. Thus, one should wonder how is it possible for the kabbalists to use false words to explain the interconnections in this wisdom? Also, it is known that there is no definition by means of a false name, for “a lie has no legs” (BT Shabbat 104a), and no stance. Indeed, here one must have prior knowledge of the law of root and branch by which the worlds link to one another.

The law of root and branch by which the worlds are linked

The kabbalists have discovered that the form of the four worlds, namely אֲצִילוּת (atsilut), Emanation, בְּרִיאָה (beri’ah), Creation, יְצִירָה (yetsirah), Formation, and עֲשִׂיָה (assiyah), Actualization, beginning with the first and highest world, Atsilut, and ending in this material, tangible world, Assiyah, is exactly the same in any particular instance. This means that all that occurs in the first world is found unchanged in the next world below it as well. So too in all the worlds that follow, down to this tangible world. There is no difference between them, only a difference of rung, perceived in the substance of each world. The substance of the elements of reality in the first supernal world, is more refined than in all the ones below it. And the substance in the second world is more coarse than in that of the first world, yet more pure than all of a lower rung.

Similarly, this continues down to this world before us, whose substance of the elements in reality is coarser and darker than in all the worlds preceding it. However, the forms and elements of reality and all their phenomenon come unchanged and equal in every world, both in quantity and quality. They compared it to the impress of a seal: all of the seal’s contours and intricate details are perfectly transferred to the impression. So too with the worlds, in which each lower world is a replica of the world above it. Hence, all the contours of the higher world are meticulously copied, in both quantity and quality, in the lower world [see BT Sanhedrin 37a; Tiqqunei ha-Zohar 3b].

Hence, there is no element of reality, nor a single phenomenon in a lower world, for which you will not find the likeness of in the world above it, as identical as two drops in a pond. And they are called שׁוֹרֶשׁ (shoresh), root, and עָנָף (anaf), branch. Which is to say, any detail in the lower world is deemed the branch of its model, the root, in the higher world.

That was the intention of our sages when they said, “You cannot find a single blade of grass below that does not have a מַזָּל (mazal), constellation [or: flux], in the sky, striking it and telling it: ‘Grow!’” (Bereshit Rabbah 10:6) [cf. ZḤ 57a]. It follows that the root, called mazal compels it to grow and assume its quality and quantity, as with the impress of a seal. This is the law of root and branch, which pertains to every detail and phenomenon in reality—in each and every world, and in relation to the world above it.

The language of the kabbalists is a language of branches

This means that the branches point to their roots, being their דוּגמָאוֹת (doogma’ot), models, that necessarily exist in the upper world. This is because there is nothing in the reality of the lower world that is not drawn down from its upper world. As with the impress of a seal, the root in the upper world compels its branch in the lower world to reveal its entire form and content, as our sages said, that the mazal in the world above, corresponding to the “grass” in the world below, strikes it, forcing it to acheive its full growth. Because of this, each and every branch in this world defines its model fixed in the higher world very well.

Thus, the kabbalists have found a lexicon sufficient for an excellent spoken language. It allows them to converse with one another on the phenomena of the spiritual roots in the supernal worlds by merely mentioning the lower, material branch in this world that is well defined for our senses. Those who hear understand the supernal root to which this material branch points because it correlates to it, being its impression. Thus, all that exists in this material creation and all its phenomena have for them become familiar words and names, indicating their supernal roots. Although there cannot be a verbal expression in their spiritual place, as they are above any imagination, they have earned the right to be expressed by their branches, arrayed before our senses here in the material world.

This is the nature of the spoken language among the kabbalists, by which they convey their spiritual attainments from person to person and from generation to generation, both by word of mouth and in writing. They fully understand one another, with all the requisite accuracy for negotiating the research of this wisdom, by precise definitions with which he cannot fail. This is so because each branch has its own natural, unique definition, and this absolute definition points to its root in the supernal world.

Bear in mind that this language of branches in the wisdom of Kabbalah is better suited to explain the terms of the wisdom than any of our conventional languages. It is known from the theory of Nominalism that the tongues have been corrupted in the mouths of the masses. Due to excessive use, words have been emptied of their content and there are great difficulties conveying precise inferences by word of mouth or in writing. This is not case with Kabbalah’s Language of the Branches: it is derived from the names of the creatures and their phenomena, set before our eyes, and, as I said by the unalterable laws of Nature. Those who read or listen will never be led astray into misunderstanding the words presented to them, since these natural definitions are utterly unwavering and cannot be breached.

Conveyance from a wise kabbalist to an understanding disciple

Thus wrote Naḥmanides in the introduction to his Torah commentary: “And I bring with true covenant to all who scrutinize this book, that of all the clues that I write in the secrets of Torah, I resolutely assert that my words will not be grasped by any mind or intelligence, except from the mouth of a wise Kabbalist to the ear of an understanding recipient.” Likewise, Rav Ḥayyim Vital wrote in his introduction to Ets Ḥayyim, and also, in the words of our sages: “The Account of the Chariot is not expounded to one, unless he is a sage and understands of his own knowledge” (BT Ḥagigah 11b).

Their words are thoroughly understood when they say that one must receive from a wise kabbalist. However, why the necessity for a disciple to first be wise and understanding with his own mind? Moreover, if he isn’t so, then he must not be taught, even if he is the most righteous person in the world. Additionally, if one is already wise and understands with his own mind, what need has he to learn from others?

From the aforementioned, their words are understood with utter simplicity: We have seen that all the words and utterances of our lips cannot help us convey even a single word of spiritual, divine matters, above imaginary time and space. Instead, there is a special language for these matters, being the Language of the Branches, indicating their relation to their supernal roots.

However, this language, though very well suited for its task of delving into this wisdom, more than other languages, is only so if the listener is wise in his own right, meaning that he knows and understands the way the branches correspond to their roots. It is because these relations are not at all clear when looking from below upwards. In other words, it is impossible to find any deduction or semblance in the supernal roots by observing the lower branches.

Quite the contrary, the lower is studied from the upper. Thus, one must first attain the supernal roots, the way they are in spirituality, above any imagination, with pure attainment. And once he has thoroughly attained the supernal roots with his own mind, he may examine the tangible branches in this world and know how each branch corresponds to its root in the supernal world, with all its sequences, in quantity and quality.

When one knows and thoroughly understands all this, there is a common language between him and his master, namely the Language of the Branches. Using it, the kabbalist may convey studies in the wisdom, conducted in the upper, spiritual worlds, both the ones he has received from his masters, as well as his expansion of the wisdom, which he discovered on his own. This is because now they have a common language and they understand each other.

However, when a disciple is not wise and comprehends the language on his own, meaning how the branches point to their roots, naturally, the master cannot convey even a single word of this spiritual wisdom, much less negotiate with him in the scrutiny of the wisdom. This is so because they have no common language they can use, and they become like a mute. Thus, it is necessary that the wisdom of Kabbalah will not be taught unless he is wise and understands with his own mind.

We must ask further: How then, has the disciple grown so wise as to know the relations of branch and root by tracing the supernal roots? The answer is that here one’s efforts are in vain. It is divine assistance that we need. He fills those who capture His fondness with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge to acquire sublime attainment. Here it is impossible to be assisted by any flesh and blood. Indeed, once He grows fond of a man and has endowed him with sublime attainment, he is then ready to come and receive the vastness of the wisdom of Kabbalah from a wise kabbalist, for only now do they have a common language.

Appellations foreign to the human spirit

With all that is said above, you will understand why we sometimes find appellations and terms quite foreign to the human spirit in books of Kabbalah. They abound in the principal books of Kabbalah, which are the Zohar and the Tiqqunim, and the books of the Ari. It is indeed baffling why these sages used such lowly appellations to express lofty, holy notions [for example: Zohar 3:97a–b, 152b, 255a–b (both RM)].

Yet, once you have acquired these notions you will understand fully. This is because it is now clear that no language in the world can be used to expound the wisdom, except one intended for just that purpose, namely the Language of the Branches, corresponding to their supernal roots. Thus, obviously, no branch or the appearance of a branch should be neglected because of its inferior rung, or not be used to express the desired idea in the network of the wisdom, since there is no other branch in our world to take its place.

As “two hairs do not suck from the same follicle” (BT Bava Batra 16a) so we do not have two branches that pertain to the same root. Hence, by neglecting any phenomenon, we forfeit the spiritual idea corresponding to it in the supernal world, since we do not have a single word to utter in its place, with which to indicate that particular root. In addition, such incidents impair the entire wisdom in all its vastness, since there is a missing link in the chain connected to that idea. This damages the entire wisdom, for there is no other wisdom in the world in which matters are so thoroughly interconnected by way of cause and effect as with the wisdom of Kabbalah—connected head to toe just like a long chain.

Therefore, even with a brief lapse in understanding, the entire wisdom darkens before our eyes, for all its parts are powerfully linked to each other, coalescing into one, literally. And from now on there is no wonder at the occasional use of strange appellations. They have no freedom of choice with appellations, to substitute the bad with the good, or the good with the bad. They must always use the branch or the phenomenon which points precisely to its supernal root with all the requisite measure. Moreover, they must broaden matters until they can be brought into focus for their fellow observers.


A Thousand Years in Your eyes are like Yesterday Gone

083.011.003 (1)“It has been taught: Rabbi Abba said in the name of Rabbi Yoḥanan, ‘Before the blessed Holy One created the world, He and His Name were one. It arose in His mind to create the world, and He created first a thousand worlds, as is said: the thousand are yours, Solomon (Song of Songs 8:12). Afterward He created other worlds—to show that all is naught before Him” (Zohar Ḥadash 2d, cf. Pirqei de-Rabbi Eli’ezer 3).

“[Rabbi Yehudah said:] 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).

“Rav Qattina said: The world is six thousand years, and one is desolate, as is written, And YHWH alone shall be exalted in that day (Isaiah 2:11). Abbaye said: It is desolate two, as is said, After two days will He revive us: on the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight (Hosea 6:2) [see Rabbi David ben Yehudah he-Ḥasid, Sefer Mar’ot Ha-Zove’ot, 106:13].

It has been taught in accordance with Rav Qattina: Just as the seventh year is one year of release in seven, so is the world: one thousand years out of seven shall be fallow, as is written, And YHWH alone shall be exalted in that day, and it is further said, A psalm, a song for the Sabbath day (Psalms 92:1)—the day that is altogether Sabbath. It is also said, For a thousand years in Your eyes are like yesterday gone (Psalms 90:4).

The Tanna debe Eliyyahu teaches: The world is six thousand years. Two thousand תֹּהוּ (tohu), chaos; two thousand תּוֹרָה (torah), Law; two thousand years the days of Messiah” (BT Sanhedrin 97a).

And there was evening (Genesis 1:5). Rabbi Yehudah son of Rabbi Shim’on said: It is not written let there be evening, but rather and there was evening: hence we know that an order of time existed before this. Rabbi Abbahu said: The blessed Holy One kept creating worlds and destroying them until He created these [i.e., heavens and earth]. Then He declared, ‘These please Me, those do not.’ Rabbi Pinḥas said: This is Rabbi Abbahu’s reason: And God saw all that He had done, and, look, it was very good (Genesis 1:31): ‘These please Me, those do not’” (Bereshit Rabbah 3:7).

“Rabbi Tanḥuma opened: Everything He has עָשָׂה (asah), done, aptly in its time (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  Rabbi Tanḥuma said: The world was created in its time, and the world was not fit to be created earlier. Rabbi Abbahu said: Hence we learn that the blessed Holy One was creating worlds and destroying them, creating worlds and destroying them, until He created these [i.e., the heavens and earth], and then He said: ‘These please Me, those do not.’ Rabbi Pinḥas said: This is Rabbi Abbahu’s reason: And God saw all that He had עָשָׂה (asah), done, and, look, it was very good (Genesis 1:31): ‘These please Me, those do not’” (Bereshit Rabbah 9:2).

“Rabbi Berakhiyah said: It is written, And the earth was welter and waste (Genesis 1:2). Was—what does it mean? Welter, already was” (Bahir §2).

“It has been taught: The Book of Concealment, a book balanced on scales. For until there was a balance, they did not gaze face-to-face, and the primordial kings died and their weapons vanished and the earth was nullified. Until the head of Desire of all Desires arranged and bestowed garments of glory [on ‘a balance,’ see Bereshit Rabbah 12:15; on ‘they did not gaze face-to-face,’ see BT Bava Batra 99a; on ‘the primordial kings,’ see Genesis 36:31–39].

This balance hangs in a place that is not; weighed upon it were those who did not exist. The balance stands on its own, ungrasped and unseen. Upon it rose and upon it rise those who were not, and who were, and who will be.

Secrecy within secrecy was prepared and arranged in a single skull filled with crystalline dew. Membrane of air, purified and sealed; those strands of clean fleece hanging evenly. Will of Wills is revealed through prayer of those below [on the forehead as expressing the Will, see Zohar 3:129 (IR) on Exodus 28:38]. Open-eyed watching, never sleeping, ever vigilant; supervision below by supervision of radiance above. Two nostrils of an official arousing breath for all [as a nose supervising commandingly, cf. Zohar 3:137b–138a (IR); on טַלָּא דִּבְדוֹלְחָא (talla di-vdulḥa), crystalline dew, cf. Rashi on Numbers 11:7; Ibn Ezra on Genesis 2:12].

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ (Be-reshit bara Elohim et ha-shamayim ve-et ha-arets), In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). שִׁיתָא (Shita), six [words]—בְּרֵאשִׁית (be-reshit), in the beginning, above them. All of them are below, suspended from the seven [features] of the skull until Glory of Glories [cf. BT Shabbat 152a: ‘The glory of a face is the beard’].

The second earth is not included in the calculation, as has been said, and it emerged from that which was cursed, as is written: from the soil that YHWH cursed (Genesis 5:29). הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם (Hayetah tohu va-vohu ve-ḥoshekh al penei tehom ve-ruaḥ Elohim meraḥefet al penei ha-mayim), Was waste and empty, with darkness over the face of the abyss and the wind of God hovering over the face of the waters (ibid. 1:2)—thirteen [words] suspended from thirteen [‘strands of clean fleece’] of Glory of Glories [i.e., the divine beard; on the thirteen attributes of Compassion, see Exodus 34:6–7].

Six thousand years are suspended from the first six; seventh above them, fortified alone. All will be destroyed in twelve hours [cf. the twelve hour rise and fall of Adam, described in Avot de-Rabbi Natan A, 1; B, 1; Vayiqra Rabbah 29:1; BT Sanhedrin 38b], as is written: was waste and empty…. Thirteen, He will raise them in Compassion—renewing themselves as before—and all those six will rise, since it is written created, and afterward is written was, for surely was! [cf. Bahir §2]. And in the end, תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ (tohu va-vohu), waste and empty, with darkness—YHWH alone will be exalted on that day (Isaiah 2:11) (Zohar 2:176b, Sifra di Tsni’uta).


Welter and Waste

“He formed מַמָשׁ (mamash), something, from תֹהוּ (tohu), nothing, and He made them its existence, and He hewed out great columns from אֲוִיר (avir), intangible air” (Sefer Yetsirah §20).

“Rabbi Berakhiyah said: It is written, And the earth was welter and waste (Genesis 1:2). Was—what does it mean? Welter, already was. What is תֹהוּ (tohu), welter? Something that תָּהָא (taha), confounds, the sons of men. What is בֹהוּ (vohu), waste? Something which has substance, as is written: בֹהוּ (vohu)—בּוֹ הוּא (bo hu), in it is something” (Bahir §2).

“What is, One against the other God has set (Ecclesiastes 7:14). He created bohu and placed it in peace, and He created tohu, and placed it in evil. Bohu is in peace, as is written, who makes peace in His heights (Job 25:2). To teach you that Michael, the officer to the right of blessed Holy One, is water and hail. Gabriel, the officer to the left of the blessed Holy One, is fire. And the officer of peace decides between them. This is who makes peace in His heights.

But how do we know that tohu is in evil? I make peace, and create evil (Isaiah 45:7)—evil, is from tohu, and peace, is from bohu. He created tohu, and its place is in evil, as is written, I make peace, and create evil. He created bohu and its place is in peace, as is written, who makes peace in His heights” (Bahir §11–§12, cf. ibid., §163).

And He shall stretch out upon it קַו תֹהוּ (qav-tohu), the line of welter, and the stones of בֹהוּ (bohu), waste (Isaiah 34:11).

“תֹהוּ (Tohu)—a colorless, formless realm, not embraced by the mystery of form. Now within form—as one contemplates it, no form at all. Everything has a garment in which to be clothed, except for this: though appearing upon it, it does not exist at all, never did.

בֹהוּ (Bohu)—this has shape and form: stones sunk within the shell of tohu, emerging from the shell in which they are sunk, conveying benefit to the world. Through the form of a garment they convey benefit from above to below, ascending from below to above. So they are hollow and moist, suspended in the air—sometimes suspended in the air, sometimes concealed on a cloudy day [cf. BT Ta’anit 8b], generating water from the abyss to nourish tohu, for then frivolity and folly prevail as tohu spreads through the world” (Zohar 1:16a).

Your wonder known in the darkness, Your bounty in the land of נְשִׁיָּה (neshiyyah), oblivion (Psalms 88:13).

“תֹהוּ (Tohu), Chaos—this is נְשִׁיָּה (Neshiyyah), because no image at all can be seen within it, so that אִתְנְשֵׁי (itneshei), it is forgotten, entirely; so it is called Neshiyyah, Oblivion. בֹהוּ (Vohu), Void—this is אַרְקָא (Arqa), a site not forgotten” (Zohar 1:40a, Heikhalot Be-Reshit).

“בֶּן-מְנַשֶּׁה (Ben menasheh), son of Manasseh (Numbers 27:1)—the Cause of Causes who is called מְנַשֶּׁה (menasheh), Forgetting. Why is the Cause of Causes called Forgetting? Because He is a place to which forgetting and נִשָׁיוֹן (nishayon), oblivion, pertain, as in the expression כִּי-נַשַּׁנִי אֱלֹהִים (ki nashani Elohim), For God has made me forget (Genesis 41:51).

Why? Because concerning all the rungs and causes one should search for their reality from the depth of supernal Ḥokhmah. From there it is possible to understand one thing from another. However, concerning the Cause of Causes there are no sides anywhere to search, to probe; nothing can be known of Him; for He is hidden and concealed in the mystery of הַאַיִן וְהַאֶפֶס (ha-ayin ve-ha-efes), Nothingness and Naught.

Therefore forgetting pertains to Him, as regards comprehension of this place. So open your eyes and see this great and awesome mystery. Happy is he whose eyes shine from this mystery, in this world and the world that is coming” (Rabbi David ben Yehudah ha-Ḥasid, The Book of Mirrors, 227:15–23, translated in Matt, Sefer Mar’ot Ha-Zove’ot, p. 21–22).

Like a Mustard Seed in a Ring

Emeq ha-Melekh

“[Rabbi Berakhiyah’s] disciples said to him: From above to below we know. But from below to above we do not know. He replied: Is it not all one—below to above and above to below? They said: Our Rabbi, ascending is not like descending. One can run while descending, but it is not so while ascending. He replied: Go out and see.

He sat and expounded for them: ‘Shekhinah is below just as Shekhinah is above’ (Seder Rabba de-Bereshit) [cf. Shemot Rabbah 2:5; Tiqqunei ha-Zohar 57, 91b]. And what is Shekhinah? Say that this is the light emanated from the first light, which is Ḥokhmah. It also turns everything, as is written: The whole earth is filled with His glory (Isaiah 6:3). What is its function here? A parable: A king had seven sons, and he assigned each one his place. He said to them, ‘Sit, this one on the back of that one.’ The lowest one said, ‘I will not dwell below! I will not be so far from you!’ He said to them, ‘I will hereby turn and see you all day long [cf. BT Ta’anit 31a].’ This is The whole earth is filled with His glory. Why is he in their midst? To sustain them and make them endure” (Bahir §171).

“There are ten גַלגַלִים (galgalim), spheres, and ten commands. Each sphere has its command. Not that it is surrounded by it, but rather it surrounds it.

This world is like a mustard seed in a ring. Why? Because of the breath that blows upon it, by which it is sustained. If this breath were to be interrupted, the world would wither in an instant [cf. Psalms 104:29–30; BT Menaḥot 29b; ZḤ 2d; Zohar 3:135b (IR)]” (Bahir §179).

“All the lights expanding, large and small, appear as the hub of a wheel [lit., כְּעֵין גַלגַל (ke-ein galgal), as the eye of a wheel]. All the spheres and worlds and their armies appear in the center like a mustard seed. And they all go to and fro, whirling, never still.

… From the abundant efflux of the great and awesome firmament spread the mighty seraphim, capable masters standing watch, conducting all the worlds—conducting mysterious things arranged by the blessed Holy One when He created the 18,000 worlds [see BT Avodah Zarah 3b; Zohar 1:23b–24a (TZ); Rabbenu Baḥya ben Asher on Numbers 10:35].

Within this firmament the spheres and their armies are fixed [cf. BT Pesaḥim 94a–b]. Because of its overwhelming strength the spheres appear as a mustard seed. And from this exquisite firmament emanates one fine and lovely spark comprising every kind of תִפאֶרֶת (tif’eret), beauty. It is the light that stands above, reward of the world, covering it [cf. Bahir §25, §147, §160, §190]” (Berit Menuḥa, Second Way: The Way of Love, First Vowel, Sixth Vowel).

“This Spark ascends and descends, and is called בּוּצִינָא דְּקַרְדִינוּתָא (botsina de-qardinuta), Lamp of Adamantine Darkness. Enhancing and striking all the luminous shoots, it decrees, ‘Grow!’ [cf. Bereshit Rabbah 10:6]. Then springs gush forth from that supernal, primordial extension, irrigating and illuminating them all, and they flourish.

Within the בּוּצִיצָא דְּקַרְדִינוּתָא (botsitsa de-qardinuta), Spark of Adamantine Darkness, the One who Shines, shines—ascending and descending, spreading out in all directions. Then it is called קָו מִדָּה (qav middah), Line of Measure, its measurement enduring above and below.

Line of Measure—Spark of Adamantine Darkness, Concealed of all Concealed, lustrous measure, configuring beauty for all. The beauty itself, emerging from the first extension, configures them. They stand within it, poised for calibration above and below.

One who attains this mystery and knows it, merits to know the wisdom of his Master. Happy is his portion in this world and in the world that is coming!” (Zohar Ḥadash 57a).

God will Pervert Justice?

“Rabbi Yudai was in the presence of of Rabbi Azariah son of Simlai. He asked him, ‘Righteous ones who stumble upon a sin from the Torah that invokes excision, ponder repentance, and die—does their death atone for them?’ He replied, ‘Yes, and sometimes they are punished in this world, procuring atonement.’ He saw Rabbi Yudai’s face turn sallow. He said to him, ‘Say what you would say! The Torah does not receive impurity, as is written: Is not My word like fire, says YHWH? (Jeremiah 23:29) [cf. BT Berakhot 22b]. Thoughts in your heart?’

The secret of YHWH is for those who revere Him, [and to them He reveals His covenant(Psalms 25:14). Ten elders martyred by the empire on account of the sale of Joseph! 

He said to him, ‘Phinehas is Elijah’ [cf. BT Bava Batra 109b; Sotah 43a: ‘(Phinehas was a descendant) of Joseph who mastered his passion.’ On Phinehas as identified with Elijah, see Targum Yerushalmi, Exodus 6:18; Numbers 25:12; BT Metsi’a 114b, and Rashi, ad loc.; Tanḥuma, Pinḥas 1; Pirqe de-Rabbi Eli’ezer 47; Zohar 1:209b; 2:190a; 3:214a, 215a, 282a (both RM)].

He replied, ‘But Rabbi Akiva did not have ancestral merit!’ [see JT Berakhot 4, 7d; BT Berakhot 27b]. He said, ‘Of the descendants of Issachar, men who knew how to interpret the signs of the times (1 Chronicles 12:33) [cf. BT Yoma 26a in the name of Rava: ‘You will not find any rabbinical scholar offering rulings unless he is a descendant from the tribe of Levi or Issachar… ‘Issachar,’ as is written: Of the descendants of Issachar, men who knew how to interpret the signs of the times, to know what Israel ought to do (1 Chronicles 12:33)’].’

He opened, saying, ‘When Jacob came in from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, ‘You are to come to me, for שָׂכֹר שְׂכַרְתִּיךָ (sakhor sekhartikha), I have surely hired you (Genesis 30:16). שָׂכֹר (S’khar), Reward—afterward. יֵשׁ שְׂכַ (Yesh s’khar), There is reward. Yesh, There is now; afterward, lambs for the kingdom in heaven. Their bodies will remain in their places in this world, everything ultimately restored to primal form. It is written: Each according to his blessing, he blessed them (Genesis 49:28).’

Rabbi Yudai fell prostrate, and slept. In his dream, they showed him Do not let your mouth incriminate your flesh (Ecclesiastes 5:5). ‘You have entered—seal it.’ From that day on, he did not mention it. He said, ‘How precious is your love, O God, and the children of humankind shelter in the shadow of Your wings (Psalms 36:8), and their children should not speak of them—kindness of God in everything.’

Rabbi Azariah said, ‘This is certainly so, as is written: Do not touch my anointed ones (1 Chronicles 16:22); and it is written: In whose hand is the soul of every living thing and the spirit of all human flesh (Job 12:10). Concerning His concealed, hidden matters one may not speak at all, for of One who has the spirits and souls of the righteous in His hands—of hidden matters He has fashioned—one should not encroach [cf. Zohar 2:95a, 100b (both SdM)]” (Zohar Ḥadash 89c–d).

“Rabbi Yudai opened, ‘On the day שֶׁיָּזֻעוּ שֹׁמְרֵי הַבַּיִת (she-yazu’u shomerei ha-bayit), that the keepers of the house will quake (Ecclesiastes 12:3)—these are the tanna’im and amora’im who used to protect the world while in the land of Israel, וְאִזְדַּעְזְעוּן (ve-izdaze’un), now convulsed, from their posts.

‘וְהִתְעַוְּתוּ אַנְשֵׁי הֶחָיִל (Ve-hit’avvetu anshei he-ḥayil), And the men of caliber are bent (ibid.), as is said: If you know there are men of caliber among them (Genesis 46:7). [This refers to] the sin of the sons of Jacob—men of caliber—who suffered a perversion of judgment, as is said: הַאֵל יְעַוֵּת (ha-el ye’avvet), God will pervert justice (Job 8:3). They received a perversion of judgment, these men of caliber. For this is the way of the serpent—after slaying a person, it returns and bites him again, mercilessly. This is perversion of judgment!’ [cf. Midrash Mishlei 1:13: ‘still that sin lingers’; Midrash Tehillim 9:13; Elleh Ezkerah (Beit ha-Midrash, 2:64–72); ‘Ma’aseh Asarah Harugei Malkhut’ (Beit ha-Midrash, 6:19–35); Seder Eliyyahu Rabbah 28; Zohar 1:106a, 202a; 2:33a. 254b (Heikh); ZḤ 46a, 76d, 89c (last two MhN, Rut); Rabbenu Baḥya ben Asher on Genesis 38:1, 44:17; Yom Kippur Musaf liturgy].

The residents of the land of Israel sent [the exiles in Babylon] a missive: ‘It befits you to weep, like one who weeps from afar. But mourning and sobbing, and eulogizing with wailing and bitterness—that does not suit you. For you bathed your feet and did not want them sullied as before. This is as is written: I have bathed my feet, shall I sully them? (Song of Songs 5:3) [cf. Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah ad loc.: ‘I have bathed my feet—from the filth of idolatry’].

‘But we who dwell amid the serpent’s decrees—his lying ambush for us, slaying and biting daily—we see with our own eyes the perversion of judgment at work in our midst. Of those men of caliber—in their days he was silent, not pressing for judgment, for he was terrified of them and could not prevail over them. But once they passed on to that world in repentance, he arose before the blessed Holy One, clamoring for justice.

‘He scrutinized the verse One who kidnaps a man and sells him and he is found in his hands, will surely be put to death (Exodus 21:16) [see Heikhalot Rabbati (in Battei Midrashot 1:74): ‘The Quality of Judgment stood before the blessed Holy One and said, ‘Master of the World! You wrote in Your Torah: One who steals a man and sells him… (will surely be put to death) (Exodus 21:16). Now, the sons of Israel who stole their brother Joseph and sold him—what has happened to them?’ Immediately permission was granted to Samael to annihilate ten heroes in their place’].

The blessed Holy One responded to the serpent, ‘But Joseph was not a man [see Genesis 37:2].’ And he is found in his hands’ [the serpent raises another claim]. ‘Look, he was not found in their hands!’ [the blessed Holy One replies that the brothers no longer had Joseph in their control]. ‘The serpent replied, ‘Should a person be found stealing a living person of his brothers, of Israel, and garner profit from him and sell him, that thief shall die [and you shall root out the evil from your midst] (Deuteronomy 24:7).’

‘For eight hundred years he stood there, demanding judgment. And we have learned that one who is convicted on two counts is sentenced to the more severe penalty. Woe to one who receives punishment for his sins, for death atones for sins! And [woe to one who] returns to receive another punishment! Woe for the perversion of the men of caliber, while Samael and the serpent were steadfast!’ [cf. Pirqei de-Rabbi Eli’ezer 38 in the name of Rabbi Yannai: ‘The tribes did not receive atonement for the sale of Joseph until they died, as is said: Then YHWH Tseva’ot revealed Himself to my ears: This iniquity shall not be purged from you until you die [‘a second death’ (Targum Yonatan)] (Isaiah 22:14)].

‘Consequently, for us it is fitting to weep and wail, for the holy city remains bereft of all its previous bounty. At that moment, Samael alighted and confounded the world. He infused this spirit into the innards of that wicked one, the Roman emperor, and called for retribution against the valiant ones of the world. Woe unto that generation! Woe unto the world! Such a miscarriage of justice has not occurred since the day the world was created.

‘Alas! Your sons—pillars of the world [cf. Proverbs 10:25; BT Yoma 38b], enduring columns upon which the world stands; You were their crown every day. How they were abused in the hands of the serpent! How were holy spirits corrupted to don foreign, alien garments to be ripped apart in abject humiliation! Woe for this event! Woe for this depravity!

‘Who was watching in the Garden of Eden when judgment was rendered above? When ten resplendent jewels, light of the entire garden, in the midst of all the trees, discarded their garments and departed! All the trees of the garden screamed, saying, ‘Woe, men of caliber have been abused!’ and the sentries at the gates of Eden trembled. Those cherubim ascended and descended, blocking any passage through which those lights might leave when they shed the luminosity of their garments. Celestial beings and lower angels screamed before them; guardians of the walls above quaked among all the legions of the heavens, weeping and wailing.

‘Who beheld Mother screeching and ululating? She descended to the cherubim, guardians of the garden’s gates, and they trembled. Mother flew off, accompanied by one cherub. ‘Then Flame of the Whirling Sword—razor sharp—pierced through the gates, and the ten luminaries fled. Celestial beings and terrestrial beings screamed, ‘Woe unto the world! Woe unto the generation!’

‘It befits us to lament, like jackals! When Mother descended and did not find them in the garden, and all the other luminaries and lamps were screaming and wailing, She began to weep and ululate. If those cherubim, guardians of the gates were weeping and wailing, breaking out in lament, is it not all the more fitting for us to weep over all this—and for the miscarriage of justice?’

They opened, saying, ‘They sent a message to Joseph, saying… ‘We beseech you, forgive, pray, the crime and the offense of your brothers for evil they have caused you. And so now, forgive, pray, the crime of the servants of your father’s God.’ And Joseph wept when they spoke to him (Genesis 50:16–17). They transgressed against him but he pardoned all, expiating their sin. Once he forgave, who can incite regarding their offense? This is the meaning of the men of caliber were degraded (Ecclesiastes 12:3). Gross miscarriage of justice—foisted upon those men of caliber. Woe unto us! Who will have compassion upon us? Who will speak to our hearts? Who will comfort us?

‘What a huge distortion of justice! On account of Mother’s banishment, Her flight, drifting away—this made perversion of justice possible. Left alone was the one who prosecuted us, with no one to fend him off nor to offer a defense on our behalf. On account of this, all Mother’s adornments were handed over to this one. For if Mother had been there, She would have gone beyond the letter of the law on their behalf [cf. BT Berakhot 7a]. For this She weeps.

‘For this She wails over Her children, for they were slaughtered in vain, and She was absent from their trials. The serpent executed his wishes against them, as is written: For your crimes, your mother was sent away (Isaiah 50:1). Sent away—so that She would not be available for your trials. Alas! She sits alone (Lamentations 1:1). At that time, She should have been taking up the case of Her children, and on Her account the decree would have been nullified.

‘When those ten jewels left the Garden of Eden to don foreign garments, all the garments, save one, were handed over to the serpent. This is as is written: Reuben returned to the pit (Genesis 37:29). Since he had counseled to put [Joseph] in the pit, he was associated with the pit, and was saved. [This is related to] the capture of Rabbi Eli’ezer” (Zohar Ḥadash 93b–d).

Bitter Almonds can Surely be Sweetened by the Fire!

roastingalmonds“Our rabbis taught: Small bitter almonds are subject to tithing, but the large are exempt; large sweet almonds are subject to tithing, but the small are exempt. Rabbi Yishma’el son of Rabbi Yose says in the name of his father: Both are exempt. Others have the reading: Both are subject to tithing. Rabbi Il’ai said that Rabbi Ḥanin ruled in Sepphoris in accordance with the view of him who maintains that both are exempt. But according to him who maintains that both are subject to tithing [it will be asked]: What use can be made of large bitter almonds?—Rabbi Yoḥanan answered: They can surely be sweetened by [roasting in] the fire!” (BT Ḥullin 25b).

“And it shall be, if you do not heed the voice of YHWH your God to keep to do all His commands and His statutes that I charge you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you… 

Inasmuch as you will not have served YHWH your God in joy and with a good heart out of an abundance of all things, you will serve your enemies whom YHWH will send against you in hunger and in thirst and in nakedness and in the lack of all things, and he will put an iron yoke on your neck until you are destroyed…

And YHWH will bring you back to Egypt in ships, on the way that I said to you, ‘You shall not see it again,’ and you will put yourselves up for sale there to your enemies as male slaves and slavegirls, and there will be no buyer” (Deuteronomy 28:15, 47–48, 68).

Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai fled to the wilderness of Lydda and hid in a cave—he and his son, Rabbi El’azar. A miracle occurred for them—a carob tree sprouted and a spring of water gushed forth. They ate from the carob tree and drank from the waters. Elijah, of blessed memory, visited them twice daily and taught them, without anyone knowing about it.

One day, the sages were in the beit midrash, questioning and debating: ‘The curses of Leviticus allude to the First Temple, while the curses of Deuteronomy allude to the Second Temple. The curses of Leviticus contain promises and the blessed Holy One’s affection for Israel, as is written: I will remember My covenant with Jacob (Leviticus 26:42), and Yet even this, too—when they are in the land of their enemies, [I will not reject them] (ibid., 44). The curses of Deuteronomy contain no promises nor any consolation at all such as are found in the first curses.’ And none of them could explain it.

Rabbi Yehudah son of Il’ai rose, saying, ‘Woe for the absence of Son of Yoḥai! No on knows his whereabouts; and even if they did, they could not divulge.’

Rabbi Yose son of Rabbi Yehudah arose one morning and saw birds flying—a turtledove trailing them. He stood up, saying, ‘Turtledove! Faithful Turtledove! Since the days of the flood, the form of the holy people has suited you and graced you [because the dove is distinctive among birds in that it does not mate with another bird, should its mate disappear during the season, cf. BT Berakhot 53b]. Go, serve as my messenger to Son of Yoḥai, wherever he is.’ The dove circled around and came before him. He wrote a note, recording what he had said. The dove arose and took it in its mouth, traveling to Rabbi Shim’on, carrying it under her wing.

Rabbi Shim’on looked at the note and cried—he along with his son Rabbi El’azar. He said, ‘I weep because of our separation from the Companions; and I weep regarding these matters that have not been revealed to them! What will later generations do when they consider this!

Just then, Elijah, of blessed memory, arrived. He saw him weeping, and said, ‘I was ready for a different mission, but the blessed Holy One dispatched me to dry your tears. Oh, Rabbi, Rabbi! Now was not the time to reveal these matters to the righteous, but here is what the blessed Holy One explained. The first curses contain thirty-two verses, all corresponding to the paths of Torah. The latter curses contain fifty-three verses, corresponding to the parashot and routes of the Torah. In the first exile, from the First Temple, Israel passed along those concealed, secret paths. Their sins were revealed and their end was revealed, along with consolation and promises for them. In the latter exile—after the Second Temple—the people of Israel transgressed against fifty-three portions, revealed paths. Their sins were concealed and their ends were concealed—neither promises nor consolation were written [cf. BT Yoma  9b].’

Just then, a wind gusted by, separating them, sweeping Elijah up in a wheel of fire. Rabbi Shim’on remained, weeping. He fell asleep at the opening of the cave. Suddenly Elijah, of blessed memory, came saying, ‘Arise, Rabbi Shim’on! Wake up from your slumber. Happy is your portion, for the blessed Holy One is concerned for your honor! All the promises and consolations of Israel are written in these curses.

Go, see how a king loves his son, and even though he curses and lashes him, his deep love endures. When he displays severe wrath, his compassion for him prevails. Similarly, with the blessed Holy One—even though He curses, His words come from love. In their revealed form they appear to be curses, but they are great boons, because the curses came from love. This contrasts with the first ones, which all derived from harsh judgment. In these there is judgment and love—like a father who loves his son while gripping in his hand a switch for flogging. The child shrieks mightily, creating a din; but the lashes are lessened with love [cf. BT Berakhot 5a].

Most severe of all these curses—What’s more, every illness and every plague that is not mentioned in this Scroll of Torah YHWH will hide from you, that would have caused you to be wiped out (Deuteronomy 28:61). Here are promises of great love from father to son! It is not written יַעֲלֶה (ya’aleh), will bring [upon you], but rather יַעְלֵם (ya’lem), will hide [from you]. He will subdue them and nullify them in a pit—their place—so that they cannot venture forth; rather, they will be subdued and covered in their pit.

Until you are wiped out (ibid.)—which will never, ever happen, for the blessed Holy One took an oath that He would never destroy Israel, and that their memory will endure forever. This is as is written: so shall your seed and your name stand (Isaiah 66:22), and As I live, if the heavens above could be measured… (Jeremiah 31:37). Since it has been sworn by oath that Israel will never, ever be wiped out, it is fitting that plagues and illnesses should be concealed and covered, never emerging to harm them to the extent of annihilation—that will never, ever happen.

The end and conclusion of them all is YHWH will bring you back to Egypt in ships, by a route that I told you, ‘You shall not see it again.’ There you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male slaves and slavegirls, but there will be no buyer (Deuteronomy 28:68)—promises and consolations that the blessed Holy One provides to Israel at the end of days! YHWH will bring you back to Egypt in ships—a promise to return them, and to perform miracles and signs that the blessed Holy One had enacted in Egypt in days of yore. This is as is said: As in the days of your coming out of the land of Egypt, I will show him wonders (Micah 7:15).

בָּאֳנִיּוֹת (Bo-oniyyot), In ships—but here its meaning is as you have said, expounding it as בַּעֲנִיּוּת (ba-aniyyut), in poverty, without a coin in one’s purse [cf. BT Sanhedrin 97a: ‘The (Messiah,) son of David, will not come until… the (last) coin has gone from the purse’]. Everyone in the world is poised to pounce upon Israel, aboard seafaring vessels, intending to annihilate them, but they will all drown in the sea just as was done in olden days, and joy abounded. Here it is written בָּאֳנִיּוֹת רִנָּתָם (bo-oniyyot rinnatam), raising their voice in ships (Isaiah 43:14)—just as joy is there, so is there joy here [cf. Ester Rabbah, Petiḥta 3].

By a route which I told you—since the day that the world was created the might of the blessed Holy One has not been seen in the world, nor the time of favor, other than on that route. For as you see the Egyptians today (Exodus 14:13)—on that same route, in that very manner, so shall He do for you.

Further, they will gather afterward from all sides against Israel, and the people of Israel will think then that they will be eliminated—sold to their foes—as is written: There you shall offer yourselves for sale. It is not written you shall be sold, but rather you shall offer yourselves for sale—in your hearts you will imagine that you have been sold. But this will not occur—it is written: none will buy. And there will be none who shall rule over them.

All this will occur at the end of days; and it is all dependent upon teshuvah. But it is all concealed, as is written: in order that you may prosper in all that you do (Deuteronomy 29:8)—one who has a heart should contemplate and will know to return to his Lord [on teshuvah as a prerequisite for redemption, see JT Ta’anit 1:1, 63d; BT Sanhedrin 97b; Pirqei de-Rabbi Eli’ezer 43; Tanḥuma, Beḥuqqotai 3; Tanḥuma (Buber), Beḥuqqotai 5; Zohar 1:117b; 2:188b–189a; ZḤ 8a, 23c (both MhN)].

Rabbi Shim’on asked, ‘Where is Israel’s redemption revealed among these curses?’

Elijah replied, ‘Examine carefully and see the most horrific instance of them all—that is where it appears.’ He examined carefully, and found the verse Your life will dangle before you, and you will be terrified night and day and will have no faith in your life (Deuteronomy 28:66). Even though there are those who know that time, life dangles before them, and they are uncertain—even though this is the essence, and the words endure.

In the evening, Rabbi Shim’on wrote a note and placed it in the mouth of the turtledove, which journeyed back to Rabbi Yose—who had stayed put, his eyes expectant. Upon spotting [the dove], he said, ‘Turtledove, Turtledove, you are the most faithful bird in the skies!’ He proclaimed of it: the dove came back to him at eventide; and look, a plucked off olive leaf was in its bill (Genesis 8:11). He took the note and went to the Companions. He showed it to them, and they were astonished.

Rabbi Yehudah wept, saying, ‘Alas! Even though we do not know his whereabouts, the place where the tree falls, there it will be (Ecclesiastes 11:3) [cf. BT Bekhorot 57b; Eikhah Rabbah 1:37]. Where Son of Yoḥai is found, his companions are there with him, awakened by him, learning from him. Happy is the soul of Son of Yoḥai, for the blessed Holy One has performed miracles with him; he has decreed, and the blessed Holy One has fulfilled! [cf. BT Mo’ed Qatan 16b; Zohar 3:15a]. In the future, he will be the head of the righteous ones who sit in the Garden of Eden; he will receive the face of the Shekhinah and will see the blessed Holy One. Delighting with the righteous ones, he will call to them: Come, let us bow down kneel; let us bend the knee before YHWH our Maker (Psalms 95:6)'” (Zohar Ḥadash 59c–60a).

A Mighty Tree: its Top Reaches the Heavens and its Branches to the End of all the Earth


SCATAGLINI (1)There is a tree in the earth and its height is great. The tree grew and became mighty, and its top reaches the heavens and its branches to the end of all the earth. Its foliage is lovely and its fruit great, and there is food for all in it. Beneath it the beasts of the field are shaded, and in its branches the birds of the heavens dwell, and all flesh is nourished from it (Daniel 4:7–9).

“I am the one who planted this tree for all the world to delight in. With it I spanned the All, calling it All, for all depends on it, all emanates from it, all need it, all gaze upon it and await it. From here souls fly forth in joy. Alone I was when I made it. When I spread out My earth, in which I planted and rooted this tree—giving them joy in one another, rejoicing along with them—who was with Me (Isaiah 44:24)? To whom could I reveal this secret of Mine?” (Bahir §22).

“They asked [Rabbi Berakhiyah], ‘What is the letter צ (tsadi)?’ He said: ‘This is נ (nun) and י (yod)—צ (tsadi). Its partner [ץ (final tsadi)] is also נ (nun) and י (yod) [alluding to יִנּוֹן (yinnon), bear seed (Psalms 72:17)]. Therefore it is written, צַדִּיק (Tsaddiq), the Righteous One, is a יְסוֹד עוֹלָם (yesod olam), lasting foundation (Proverbs 10:25)” (Bahir §61, cf. ibid. §86).

One pillar extends from earth to the firmament. Its name is צַדִּיק (Tsaddiq)Righteous One, named for the righteous. When there are righteous people in the world, the pillar is strengthened; if not, it is weakened. It upholds the entire world, as is written, The righteous one is the יְסוֹד עוֹלָם (yesod olam), foundation of the world (Proverbs 10:25). If it weakens, the world cannot endure. So if the world contains just one righteous person, that person sustains the world [cf. BT Yoma 38b]” (Bahir §102).

“The blessed Holy One has a single tree containing twelve גְבוּלֵי אֲלַכְסוֹן (gevulei alakhson), diagonal borders: The northeast border, the southeast border; the upper east border, the lower east border; the southwest border, the northwest border; the upper west border, the lower west border; the upper south border, the lower south border; the upper north border, the lower north border. ‘Deepening and expanding until evermore—זְרֹעֹת עוֹלָם (zero’ot olam), arms everlasting [alt., arms of the world] (Deuteronomy 33:27)’ (Sefer Yetsirah §47). On the inside of them is the Tree. Corresponding to these diagonals are twelve officials. Inside the Wheel there are also twelve officials. Including the diagonals themselves reckons thirty-six officials. Each of these has another, as is written for he who is high has a higher one watching him (Ecclesiastes 5:7) [reckoning seventy-two]. It therefore comes out that the east has nine, the west has nine, the north has nine, and the south has nine. These are twelve, twelve, twelve, and they are the officials in the תָּלִי (Tali) in every other one. Even though there are twelve in each of the three, they are all attached to each other. Therefore, all thirty-six powers are in the first one, which is the Tali. And if you seek them in the Wheel, you will find the very same ones. And if you seek them in the Heart, you will again find the very same ones. Each one therefore has thirty-six; All of them are no more than thirty-six צוּרוֹת (tsurot), forms, and all of them are perfected in thirty-two [forms]; thirty-two given to thirty-two, and there remained [out of thirty-six] four; and they are sixty-four forms. How do we know that thirty-two are delivered to thirty-two? As is written, for he who is high has a higher one watching him—thus, there are sixty-four. But eight is [yet] lacking from the seventy-two names, and this is [alluded] in and still higher ones over them (ibid.)—these are the seven days of the week [i.e., the seven lower sefirot]. But one is lacking, and that is [alluded] in And the gain of the land is in everything—a king, is subject to the field (ibid. 5:8) [מֶלֶךְ (melekh), a king—מַלְכוּת (malkhut), Kingdom]. What is this gain? The place from which the earth was hewn. It is a gain over what existed previously. And what is this gain? When that which people see in the world is taken from its radiance—then it is a gain” (Bahir §95).

“Rabbi Berakhiyah sat and expounded: What is the תָּלִי (Tali)? This is the likeness that is before the blessed Holy One, as is written, His locks are תַּלְתַּלִּים (taltallim), curled (Song of Songs 5:11) [the תָּלִי (Tali) is like a serpentine spine which twists the heavens, i.e., Draco, Axis Mundi, see Baraita de-Shemu’el, 1: ‘The elusive Serpent (Job 26:13) is the Tali‘; Sefer Yetsirah §59a: ‘The Tali in the world is like a king on his throne.’ On the resmblence of the spine and a serpent, see BT Bava Qamma 16a]. What is the גַלגַל (galgal), Wheel? It is the בֶּטֶן (beten), Belly [‘Mother of the World,’ Binah, see Bahir §104. On the ‘wheel,’ cf. BT Shabbat 151a]. What is the לֵב (lev), Heart? Heart of the heavens (Deuteronomy 4:11). In it are the ל״ב (thirty-two) paths of Wisdom” (Bahir §106).

“These are the explicit, precious, and magnificent names [cf. BT Qiddushin 72b]. There are twelve names, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel:

אהציצהרון אכליתהרון שמקתרון דמושהרון וצפצפסיתרון הורמירון ברחיהרון ערש גדראון בסאוה מנאהון חזהויה הוהירי האה אהיה והראיתהון

All of them are encompassed by the Heart of the heavens. They comprise male and female, and the officials. The Tali, the Wheel, and the Heart—they are the wellsprings of Wisdom” (Bahir §112).