Different Earth shall be Taken and the House Plastered
“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 school 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).
“Rabbi Shim’on said, ‘If a person obtains a recycled soul and fails to have it rectified within him, it is as though he falsifies the truth of the King; and I apply to him the verse: or if he finds something lost and denies it and swears falsely (Leviticus 5:22). And denies it—better for him if he had never been created! [cf. BT Niddah 30b; Zohar 3:13a].
We have learned: ‘A completely righteous person is not thrust aside; an incompletely righteous person is.’ Who is completely righteous, and who is incompletely righteous? Could it be that one whose deeds are flawed is called righteous? [cf. BT Berakhot 7a–b, Megillah 6b, Bava Metsi’a 71a, Avodah Zarah 4a].’
‘Well, a completely righteous person is clearly recognized, for he has not taken tortuous convolutions; and with his inheritance he builds a structure, erects walls, hews out wells, and plants trees.
An incompletely righteous person is one who builds a structure with another’s inheritance—digging into it, restoring the foundation stones as before, toiling over it; yet he does not know if it will remain his. Furthermore, regarding himself, he is considered good and righteous; but regarding that inheritance, not so.
This may be compared to a person who builds a beautiful and attractive building. But when he examines the foundation, he sees that it is sinking and distorted in all directions. The building is incomplete until he demolishes it and rebuilds it anew. Regarding his building itself, it was fine and beautiful; but regarding the foundation, it was bad and distorted. So it is not called a complete project; it is not called a complete building. Consequently, ‘an incompletely righteous person is thrust aside [at the revival of the dead].’ Thus, while the wicked swallows up the one more righteous than he (Habakkuk 1:13) [cf. BT Berakhot 7b, Megillah 6b, Bava Metsi’a 71a]” (Zohar 3:213a–b).
“The Faithful Shepherd [Moses] said… in order that the bailiff [of Sheol] not recognize a person it is necessary to perform for him a change of place, a change of name, and a change of deed [see BT Rosh ha-Shanah 16b]. As it was with Abraham, it was said: Go forth from your land and your birthplace and your father’s house (Genesis 12:1)—a change of place. And no longer shall your name be called Abram but your name shall be Abraham (ibid. 17:5)—a change of name. And there is also the change of deed, for he changed from doing bad deeds, as he had at first, to performing good deeds. A similar thing happens with the spirit of a man who dies childless, for likewise the blessed Holy One does to the man in banishing him from that world and bringing him to this world. And this has already been discussed [see Zohar 3:97a–111a (RM), cf. BT Pesaḥim 113b].
You change his face and send him away (Job 14:20). It is said the spirit עָבְרָה (avrah), passes by, him (Psalms 103:16)—one of the evil messengers [called] עֶבְרָה (evrah), Anger (Psalms 78:49). And when he encounters him and sees that he is changed the Prince of Destruction investigates, asking the bailiff ‘Is this your offender?’ and he answers, ‘He is not.’
When he is banished from his place and planted elsewhere, it is said about him: And his place will no longer know him (Psalms 103:16), for different earth shall be taken and the house plastered (Leviticus 14:42). And this is the secret of he shall raze the house, its stones, and its timbers (Leviticus 14:45)—those bones, sinews, and flesh that he had returned to the dust. What is written about it? And עָפָר (afar), dust, shall be the serpent’s food (Isaiah 65:25)—since he was afflicted. Later: And different עָפָר (afar), earth, shall be taken and the house plastered—to build for himself bones and sinews, as an old house is renovated, he is certainly renewed.
What about And his place will no longer know him? This is [his] spirit, for his little spirit is engulfed in supernal spirit. This is similar to a tree that is not producing fruit. They take his branches and graft onto a superior tree which produces fruit, combining both with each other. Of this time it is said, And his place will no longer know him.
And so it is with a man who lives in a city where bad people dwell, and he is unable to keep the decrees of Torah and is not successful in Torah. He should change his place of residence and move from there, and settle somewhere with good people, Masters of Torah, who keep the decrees [cf. M Avot 6:9]. This is because Torah is called a Tree, as is written: A tree of life is she to those who grasp her (Proverbs 3:18). Man, too, is a tree, as is written: Like the tree of the field is a human (Deuteronomy 20:19), and the decrees of Torah are like fruits. And what is written about it? Only a tree that you know is not a tree for eating, it you may destroy and cut down (Deuteronomy 20:20), that is to say, you shall destroy it from this world and cut it down from the next world. This is why he must uproot from the place and plant elsewhere, among righteous people.
As the childless man is called עָקָר (aqar), ‘barren,’ and his wife ‘barren,’ so too Torah without decrees is barren. On this we have learned: ‘Not learning but doing is the עִקַּר (iqqar), main thing’ (M Avot 1:17). The Companions came and prostrated themselves in front of him and said: We have certainly learned something new here—how one רוּחַ (ruaḥ), spirit, can be incorporated in another. We are as one who perceives with his own eyes and it is revealed to him. Originally we had only a tradition but now it has been elucidated” (Zohar 3:217b, Ra’aya Meheimna Pineḥas).