Primordial Kings were Destroyed: Would you ever Imagine that they were Nullified?
“‘The world was created through ten sayings’ (M Avot 5:1)…. And in three are these [sayings] included: YHWH through Wisdom founded earth, set heavens firm through Discernment. Through His Knowledge the deeps burst open (Proverbs 3:19–20)” (Pirqei de-Rabbi Eli’ezer 17–18).
“[Mar Raḥmai son of Bibi’s] disciples asked: What is דָּלֶת (dalet)? He said to them: A parable: [To what can the matter be compared?] There were once עֲשָׂרָה (asarah), ten, kings in one place, and all of them rich, but one of them, though עָשִׁיר (ashir), rich, was not [as rich] as any of them. Even though his wealth was great, he was called דָּל (dal), ‘poor,’ compared to the others….
What are the ten kings? They are seven voices, and three sayings. But what sayings? And YHWH has proclaimed you today [to be to Him a treasured people, as He has spoken to you, and to keep all His commands, and to set you high above all the nations that He made, for praise and for reclaim and for glory, and for you to be a holy people to YHWH your God, as He has spoken] (Deuteronomy 26:18). But what three? The beginning of wisdom is—get חָכְמָה (ḥokhmah), wisdom, and in all that you get, get בִינָה (vinah), discernment (Proverbs 4:7), as is written, [Yet it is a spirit in man,] and Shaddai’s breath that grants discernment (Job 32:8)—Shaddai’s breath is תְּבִינֵם (tevinem), Discernment. What is third? As the old man said to the child, ‘What is too wondrous for you, do not expound; what is concealed from you, do not inquire. You have no business with hidden matters!’ (BT Ḥagigah 13a)” (Bahir §§27, 49).
“It has been taught: The Book of Concealment, a book 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” (Zohar 2:176b, Sifra di-Tsni’uta).
“When Rabbi Shim’on opened, the earth quaked and the Companions trembled. He revealed in mystery, and opened, saying, ‘These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before a king reigned over the Children of Israel (Genesis 36:31). Happy are you, O righteous ones, to whom are revealed mysteries of mysteries of Torah, which have not been revealed to holy ones of the Highest. Who will examine this? Who will be worthy of this? It is testimony to faith of total faith. May the prayer be accepted, that it may not be considered a sin to reveal this.
‘And what will the Companions say? For this verse is difficult, since it should not have been written so, because we see that there were numerous kings before the Children of Israel appeared and before they had a king; so what is intended here? Well, it is mystery of mysteries, which humans cannot know or perceive or arouse in their minds.
‘It has been taught: Before the Ancient of Ancients, Concealed of the Concealed, had prepared adornments of the King and crowns of crowns, there was neither beginning nor end. He engraved and gauged within Himself, and spread before Himself one curtain, in which He engraved and gauged kings, but His adornments did not endure. As is written: These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before a king reigned—Primordial King—over the Children of Israel, the Primordial One (Genesis 36:31). All those who had been engraved were called by name, but they did not endure, so He eventually put them aside and concealed them. Afterward, He ascended in that curtain and was arrayed perfectly’” (Zohar 3:128a, Idra Rabba).
“Until He Himself was arrayed in His enhancements, all those that He intended to arrange did not endure, and all those worlds were destroyed…. Would you ever imagine that they were nullified? Look, they are all included in [Primordial] Adam! Rather, they were nullified and removed from that arrangement, until the image of Adam appeared. When this image appeared they were all engraved and transformed into another existence. Some of them became fragrantly firm, some of them not entirely so, and some of them not at all.
Now, you might say, ‘But it is written He died… he died (Genesis 36:33–39)—implying that they were nullified completely.’ Not so! Rather, anyone who descends from his original rung of existence is said to have died, as is written: The King of Egypt died (Exodus 2:23)—meaning that he descended from the rung that he occupied. Once Adam was arrayed, they were called by different names and became fragrantly firm existing in Him, enduring in their places… transformed into another existence, settling securely” (Zohar 3:135b, Idra Rabba).
“Before the world was created, they did not gaze face-to-face, and therefore primordial worlds were destroyed, and primordial worlds were fashioned in disarray. That which is disarrayed is called ‘flashing sparks’—like a blacksmith pounding an iron tool, scattering sparks in every direction; and those flying forth flash and scintillate and are immediately extinguished. These are called Primordial Worlds. Thus they were destroyed and did not endure, until the Holy Ancient One was arrayed and the Artisan proceeded to His artistry” (Zohar 3:292b, Idra Zuta).
“Nothing in the world, be it ever so small, lacks a place in which to be hidden and absorbed; it is never lost” (Zohar 2:99b).
“Israel is the kernel of the world; Israel arose in thought. Other nations, who are the shell preceded, as is written: אֵלֶּה (elleh), these, are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the Children of Israel (Genesis 36:31). Yet the blessed Holy One intends to initiate the kernel without the shell, as is written: Holy is Israel to YHWH, the first fruits of His harvest (Jeremiah 2:3)—the kernel preceding the shell. Although the kernel will arise without a shell, who would dare to extend his hand to eat of it? All who eat of it will be held guilty; evil will befall them—declares YHWH (ibid.)” (Zohar 2:108b, Sava de-Mishpatim).
“אֵלֶּה (Elleh), these are, the generations of the heavens and the earth (Genesis 2:4). It has been established: ‘Wherever these are is written it invalidates the preceding’ (Bereshit Rabbah 30:3) [on the principle ‘These are invalidates the preceding,’ see Bereshit Rabbah 12:3, 30:3; Shemot Rabbah 1:2; 30:3; Bemidbar Rabbah 3:10; Rut Rabbah 8:1; Tanḥuma, Shemot 2, Mishpatim 3; Tanḥuma (Buber), Shemot 3, Mishpatim 2; Zohar 1:59b; 2:16a (MhN), 223a. Cf. Mekhilta, Neziqin 1]. And these are the generations of תֹּהוּ (tohu) hinted at in the second verse: The earth then was tohu, welter (Genesis 1:2). Regarding those it is said the blessed Holy One created worlds and destroyed them [see Bereshit Rabbah 3:7; 9:2]. Thus, it is written: The earth then was welter and waste (Genesis 1:2). Why did the blessed Holy One create worlds to destroy them? It would have been better had He not created them at all! But this is certainly a great mystery. What is ‘and destroying them’? It cannot be that the blessed Holy One destroyed the makings of His own hands. Furthermore, these are the heavens of which is said, For the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, [but the earth shall grow old like a garment, and they that dwell in it shall die in like manner: but My redemption shall be forever, and My righteousness shall not be abolished] (Isaiah 51:6) [cf. Psalms 102:26–27]. If so, does the blessed Holy One [create] and shatter?
The mystery is that the blessed Holy One created the world by Torah, as is written: בְּרֵאשִׁית (Bereshit), with beginning (Genesis 1:1), about which is written: YHWH created me at the רֵאשִׁית (reshit), outset, of His way, [before His works of old] (Proverbs 8:22). And by this reshit, beginning, He created the [supernal] heavens and the earth [i.e., the six sefirot whose creation are hinted at by the permutation of בְּרֵאשִׁית (bereshit): בָּרָא שִׁית (bara shit), He created six]. He sustained them with the covenant which is in בְּרֵאשִׁית (bereshit) [i.e., בְּרִית אֵשׁ (berit esh), covenant of fire], as is written: Were it not for בְרִיתִי (veriti), My covenant, day and night, I would not have established the laws of the heavens and earth (Jeremiah 33:25). These are: The heavens are the heavens of YHWH (Psalms 115:16). And the land of the living comprises seven zones [lit., lands, see Zohar 3:10a], about which King David wrote, I will walk before YHWH in the lands of the living (Psalms 116:9).
Afterwards He created the heavens and the earth upon תֹּהוּ (tohu), welter, without any foundation—the covenant—to support them [cf. Job 26:7]. Because of this the blessed Holy One, wanted to give Torah—the covenant of circumcision—to the nations of the world but because they did not want to receive it the land remained parched and dry [see BT Avodah Zarah 2b–3b; Sifre Deuteronomy 33:2]. Thus: Let the waters under heaven be gathered together to one place, and let the dry land appear (Genesis 1:9). Waters—Torah. To one place—Israel, because the souls of Israel come from that Place, of which is written: Blessed be the glory of YHWH from His place (Ezekiel 3:12). The glory of YHWH—lower Shekhinah; from His place—upper Shekhinah. And since their souls come from there then certainly יהוה (YHWH) rests on them. Of them is written: Yes, YHWH’s portion is His people (Deuteronomy 32:9).
Torah is [for creating] יִשּׁוּבָא דְּעָלְמָא (yishuva de-alma), the civilized world. The nations of the world who did not accept her have remained wasted and dry. This is ‘The blessed Holy One created worlds and destroyed them’—those who did not keep the decrees of Torah. It does not mean He destroyed His own makings as people might think [see for example BT Sanhedrin 103a in the name of Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai: ‘The blessed Holy One wished to hurl the world back into welter and waste on account of Jehoiakim, but that He gazed at (the rest of) his generation, and His mind was appeased’]. Why should He destroy His own children?! Of whom is written: ‘בְּהִבָּרְאָם, (Be-hibbare’am), when they were created (Genesis 2:4). Do not read בְּהִבָּרְאָם (be-hibbare’am), when they were created, but rather בְּה״ בְּרָאָם (be-he bera’am), with ה (he) He created them’ (BT Menaḥot 29b) [cf. ZḤ 2d]. Because of those converts from among the nations of the world the small ה (he) of אַבְרָהָם (Avraham), Abraham, fell during the Fifth Millennium [on the especially small ה (he) of Genesis 2:4, see Bereshit Rabbah 12:9; Zohar 1:91b, 93a, 105b, 128b, 154b, 230b; 3:117a]. [And the river was wasted and dried up (Isaiah 19:5):] Wasted—the First Temple; dried up—the Second Temple.
Moses wanted to bring them [i.e., the motley throng, the mixed multitude] under the wings of the Shekhinah and thought that they too were drawn down from ה (he). Thus he caused the fall of ה (he) of אַבְרָהָם (Avraham), Abraham. This brought upon him descent, as is written: Go, get you down, for your people… have become corrupt (Exodus 32:7). They did not receive the small ה (he) with awe of י (yod) and with the love of [the first] ה (he). So he fell from his rung, which is ו (vav)” (Zohar 1:24b–25a, Tiqqunei ha-Zohar).