The World He Made is like a Ball Thrown from Hand to Hand
He stretches Zaphon over the void, hangs earth over emptiness (Job 26:7).
“It is taught: Rabbi Yose says: Woe to creatures who see but know not what they see, who stand but know not on what they stand. What does the earth stand on? On the pillars, for it is said: He makes the earth shake in its setting, and its pillars shutter (Job 9:6). The pillars upon the waters, for it is said: Who stamps firm the earth on the waters (Psalms 136:6). The waters upon the mountains, for it is said: over mountains the waters stood (ibid. 104:6). The mountains on the wind, for it is said: He that forms the mountains, and creates the wind (Amos 4:13). The wind upon the storm, for it is said: Stormwind that performs His command (Psalms 148:8). Storm is תְּלוּיָה (teluyah), suspended, on the arm of the blessed Holy One for it is said: [A refuge, the God of old,] from beneath the arms of the world (Deuteronomy 33:27). But the Sages say: [The world] stands on twelve pillars, for it is said: He set out the boundaries of peoples, by the number of the sons of Israel (ibid. 32:8). And some say seven pillars, for it is said: Wisdom has built her house, she has her pillars, seven (Proverbs 9:1). Rabbi El’azar son of Shammua’ says: [It stands] on one pillar, and its name is ‘Righteous,’ for it is said: The Righteous One is the foundation of the world (Proverbs 10:25)” (BT Ḥagigah 12b).
“Rabbi Yehudah opened, God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters…’ (Genesis 1:6). Come and see: When the blessed Holy One created the world, He created seven רְקִיעִים (reqi’im), heavens, above; He created seven earths; He created seven seas; He created seven rivers; He created seven days; He created seven weeks; He created seven years seven times, seven thousand years that the world exists. The blessed Holy One is in the seventh of all [cf. Sefer Yetsirah §39, §42].
Seven שְׁחָקִים (sheḥaqim), heavens, above, and in each and every one: ministers, stars, and constellations, serving in each and every firmament—all dwelling one above the other, to receive the yoke of their Master’s kingdom. In all of those firmaments are various chariots and ministers, one upon another—some with six wings, some with four wings; some with four faces; some with two faces, some with one; some flaming fire, some water, some wind, as is written: He makes His angels winds, His ministers flaming fire (Psalms 104:4).
All those רְקִיעִין (reqi’in), firmaments, one upon the other, are like skins of an onion, some below and some above. Every firmament moves and trembles from fear of their Master; at His command they move, and at His command they stand still. And above them all, the blessed Holy One, conveying all by His power and might.
Correspondingly, seven earths below, all in the inhabited realm, although some are higher and some are lower, and the land of Israel is highest of all, and Jerusalem is highest of habitation [cf. Ibn Ezra on Genesis 1:2: ‘As to the Midrash that there are seven earths it means that the realm inhabited by human beings is divided into seven zones (or climates);’ Zohar 1:177a; 2:30b].
[Yet] our Companions who dwell in the south have seen in the books of the ancients and in the Book of Adam that those earths are divided as follows: they exist below corresponding to those firmaments above, one upon another, one upon another, and between each earth and the next is a firmament separating one from another. So all those earths are distinguished by names, and in each of them is a Garden of Eden and a Hell. In them are creatures, differing from one another, corresponding to the pattern above: some with two faces, some with four, some with one, and the appearance of these is unlike those.
Now you might say, ‘But all inhabitants of the world issued from Adam! How did Adam descend to all those earths and engender children? And how many wives did he have? Well, Adam existed only in the highest world of all called תֵּבֵל (Tevel), Firm Land, as is said: He commanded לְתֵבֵל אַרְצוֹ (le-Tevel Artso), His earth Firm Land [cf. Proverbs 8:31: Playing בְּתֵבֵל אַרְצוֹ (be-Tevel Artso), with His inhabited world]. This תֵּבֵל (Tevel), Firm Land, is linked with the firmament above and joined with the supernal Name, as is written: He judges תֵּבֵל (Tevel), the Firm Land, with righteousness (Psalms 9:9)—with righteousness [i.e., Shekhinah], surely! So the children of Adam exist in this highest one called תֵּבֵל (Tevel), Firm Land, and they are superior to all, corresponding to the pattern above.
How so? Just as above there are firmaments, with one firmament highest of all, above which is the throne of the blessed Holy One, as is said: like the appearance of sapphire, image of a throne. And upon the image of a throne, an image like the appearance of a human being upon it above (Ezekiel 1:26)—so here too in this תֵּבֵל (Tevel), Firm Land, is a king of all. And who is that? The human being, who is not to be found among all those lower ones.
And those lower ones, where did they come from? Well, from residual vapors of the earth, assisted by the firmament above, issue creatures differing from one another, some clothed in shells, like those worms found in the earth—some of them red, black, or white shells, some any color. All the creatures are like that, and they endure for only ten years or so.
[Yet] in the book of Hamnuna Sava it is explained further that all the inhabited world מִתְגַּלְגְּלָא בְּעִגּוּלָא כַּכַּדּוּר (mitgalgela be-iggula ka-kadur), revolves in a circle like a ball, some below and some above. All those creatures differ in their appearance, due to the difference of the atmosphere in every place, and they remain in existence like human beings. Consequently, there is a place in the inhabited world where day shines for some, while for others it is dark—for these it is day, while for those it is night. And there is a place where it is entirely day, and night exists for only a brief time [cf. Plato, Timaeus 62d–63a].
And that which is said in the books of the ancients and in the Book of Adam is correct, for it is written: I praise You, for awesomely and wondrously am I made, wondrous are Your works, and my soul deeply knows it (Psalms 139:14), and it is written: How many are Your works, O YHWH! All of them You made in wisdom; the earth is filled with Your creatures (ibid. 104:24). So all is fine [since these and those are the words of the Living God]. This mystery has been transmitted to the masters of wisdom and not to markers of boundaries, for it is a deep mystery of Torah.
Similarly, in the sea, which has numerous creatures differing from one another, as is written: This sea, vast and broad of reach, [gliding creatures there beyond number, living beings small and great]. There ships go, [Leviathan whom You fashioned to play with] (Psalms 104:25–26). All interdependent, all interlinked, and all corresponding to the pattern above. And in all those worlds, none rules but the human being, with the blessed Holy One over him.
Rabbi Nehorai Sava sailed on the Great Sea, and the sea grew stormy and all those aboard the ship perished. A miracle happened to him and he descended through certain pathways in the heart of the sea and emerged beneath the sea into an inhabited land. He saw some of those creatures—all of them small—and they were praying, but he did not know what they were saying. A miracle happened to him and he ascended. He said, ‘Happy are the righteous, who engage in Torah and know concealed mysteries above and below! Woe to those who dispute their words and do not believe!
From that day on, when he came to the house of study and they were uttering a word of Torah, he would weep. They asked him, ‘Why are you weeping?’ He replied, ‘Because I transgressed believing in the Rabbis, and I fear the judgment of that world” (Zohar 3:10a, cf. ZḤ 15a [MhN]; Scholem, “Parashah Ḥadashah,” 441–42).
“One silver bowl (Numbers 7:13)—the world He made is כַּכַּדּוּר (ka-kadur), like a ball, thrown from hand to hand” (Bemidbar Rabbah 13:14).
“It has been taught: There are ten גַלגַלִים (galgalim), [nested] spheres, and ten מַאֲמָרוֹת (ma’amarot), commands. Each and every sphere has its command—not that it is surrounded by it, but rather it turns it. This world is [like] a mustard seed in a ring. Why? Because of the breath that blows upon it and sustains it. If this breath were to be interrupted, the world would wither in an instant” (Bahir §179, cf. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah 1:5).
“Sound of a גַּלְגַּלָּא מִתְגַּלְגְּלָא (galgalla mitgalgela), sphere revolving, from below to above; her braided chariots whirling, a sweet sound ascending and descending, drifting through the world. Sound of a shofar drawn out in depths of rungs, turning the sphere. Around her lie two מַגְרוֹפִין (magrofyan), spades [or: shovels, ladles, hydraulica, see BT Arakhin 10b–11a], on the right and on the left, in two colors intermingling—this one white, that one red—both turning the sphere above. When turning to the right, white ascends; when turning to the left, red descends. The sphere turns constantly, never subsiding. Two birds ascend chirping, one to the south, one to the north, soaring through the air. The chirping and the sweet sound of the sphere join as one, the A psalm, a song for the Sabbath day (Psalms 92:1), and all blessings flow whisperingly in this sweetness through the passionate sound of the shofar” (Zohar 1:233b, cf. BT Yoma 20b; Guide of the Perplexed 2:8; Tiqqunei ha-Zohar 75–76, 27b).