Mother of Pearl and Black Marble: He Took a Thousandth of Her Radiance and from Her Built a Lovely Precious Stone

by tillerofthesoil

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“Was light created on the first day? For, behold, it is written: And God placed [the two great lights] in the vault of the heavens (Genesis 1:17), and it is written: And it was evening and it was morning, fourth day (ibid., 19)—this is according to Rabbi El’azar. For Rabbi El’azar said: With the light the blessed Holy One created on the first day one could gaze from one end of the universe to the other; but as soon as the blessed Holy One foresaw the generation of the Flood and the generation of the Dispersion [i.e., the generation which built the Tower of Babel], and saw that their actions were corrupt, He arose and hid it away from them, as is said: The light of the wicked is withheld (Job 38:15). And for whom did He hide it? For the righteous in the time to come, for it is said: And God saw the light, that it was good (Genesis 1:4); and good means only the righteous, for it is said: Say you to the righteous, that it shall be good: [for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds] (Isaiah 3:10). As soon as the light saw that it had been treasured away for the righteous, it rejoiced, as is said: The light of the righteous rejoices (Proverbs 13:9)” (BT Ḥagigah 12a).

“It was taught: The light which was created in the six days of Creation cannot shine during the day because it dims the orb of the sun, nor by night, because it was created only to shine by day. Then where is it? It is treasured away for the righteous in the time still to come, as it says, Moreover the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of the seven days, [in the day that YHWH binds up the hurt of His people, and heals the stroke of their wound] (Isaiah 30:26). Seven! surely there were only three, seeing that the luminaries were created on the fourth day! It is like a man who says, ‘I am providing so much for the seven days of my [wedding] feast. Rabbi Neḥemyah said: It refers to the seven days of mourning for Methuselah, when the blessed Holy One lavished light upon them [see BT Sanhedrin 108b]” (Bereshit Rabbah 3:6).

“Rabbi Yehudah son of Simon said, ‘With the light created by the blessed Holy One on the first day, one could gaze and see from one end of the universe to the other. When the Holy One foresaw the corruption of the generation of Enosh and the generation of the Flood, He hid it away from them, as is written: The light of the wicked is withheld (Job 38:15). Where did He hide it? In the Garden of Eden. אוֹר זָרֻעַ לַצַּדִּיק וּלְיִשְׁרֵי לֵב שִׂמְחָה (Or zaru’a la-tsaddiq u-le-yishrei simḥa), Light is sown for the righteous, joy for the upright in heart (Psalms 97:11) [ר עֲקִיבַה (R. Akiva)]” (Vayiqra Rabbah 11:7).

“God said, ‘Let there be light!’ And there was light (Genesis 1:3)—primordial, transcendent light, already existent. From here issued all powers and forces, so Earth turned firm and fragrant, generating Her potencies. As the light shone, its radiance blazed from one end of the universe to the other. When it gazed upon the wicked of the world, it hid itself away, emerging only by its paths, concealed, unrevealed….

God said, ‘Let there be light!’ This is the light that the blessed Holy One created at first. It is the light of the eye. This is the light that the blessed Holy One showed Adam, who gazed with it from one end of the universe to the other” (Zohar 1:30b, 31b).

“Look at what we have learned in our Mishnah: With the light that the blessed Holy One created at first, one could gaze and see from the beginning of the world to its end. Come and see: The light of the sun is a sixty-thousand-and-seventy-fifth of the light of the speculum of the concealed light. If even at this light of the sun a person cannot gaze, how much more so at that light!

Yet we have said that a person could see with it from the beginning of the world to the end of the world! Well, so have we decreed in our Mishnah: With that light, a person could know and see—with the radiance of wisdom—all that was and all that will be, from the beginning of the world to the end of the world, and it has been concealed for the righteous in the world to come. What is meant by ‘in the world to come’? When the holy soul leaves this world and enters the world to come [cf. Tanḥuma, Vayiqra, 8: ‘The wise call it הַעוֹלָם הַבּא (ha-olam ha-ba), the world to come, not because it does not exist now, but for us today in this world it is still to come’; Zohar 3:290b (IZ): ‘The world that is coming, constantly coming, never ceasing’]” (Zohar Ḥadash 15b, Midrash ha-Ne’lam).

Rabbi Neḥunia son of ha-Qannah said: One verse says, They have not seen the light, bright though it be in the skies (Job 37:21). And another verse says, He set darkness His hiding-place (Psalms 18:12); it is also written, Cloud and dense fog around Him (ibid. 97:2). This is difficult. However, a third verse comes to hold the balance: Darkness itself will not darken for You, and the night will light up like the day, the dark and light will be one (ibid. 139:12) [cf. Bemidbar Rabbah 15:8]” (Bahir §1).

Torah is light (Proverbs 6:23).

“Rabbi Boi said: What is In remote eons I was shaped, מֵרֹאשׁ (me-rosh), from the head (Proverbs 8:23)? [As you say, בַּת רֹאשִׁי (bat roshi), ‘Daughter of My head’]. What is מֵעוֹלָם (me-olam), in remote eons? A matter necessary לְהֵעָלֵם (le-he’alem), to conceal, from all the world, as is written, The world, too, He has put in their heart, [without man’s grasping at all what it is ha-Elohim has done from beginning to end] (Ecclesiastes 3:11)—do not read הָעֹלָם (ha-olam), the world, but rather הֶעְלֵם (he’elem), concealment. Torah says, ‘I preceded [all] to be רֹאשׁ לָעוֹלָם (rosh la-olam), head of the world,’ as is said, me-olam, in remote eons, I was shaped, me-rosh, from the head. And if you say: perhaps the earth preceded her, it says, before the earth (ibid.). As is the case elsewhere: In the beginning created Elohim (Genesis 1:1)—what created [Elohim]? The needs of all, then Elohim. And what is written next? The heavens and the earth (ibid.)” (Bahir §10, cf. Tiqqunei ha-Zohar 42, 82a).

“Rabbi Berekhiah said, ‘Why is it written, God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light (Genesis 1:3), and not [simply] ‘And there was?’ This can be compared to a king who had a beautiful object and set it aside until he had prepared a place for it; then he placed it there, as is written: ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light—for it already was” (Bahir §25).

Unveil my eyes that I may look upon the wonders of Your Torah (Psalms 119:18).

“And Rabbi Yoḥanan said: There were two [iterations of] ‘light,’ as is written, [And God said, ‘Let there be light.’] And there was light (Genesis 1:3). Regarding both of them it is written, it was good (ibid., 4). The blessed Holy One took one and hid it for the righteous in the World that is Coming. Of this is written, How great Your goodness that You hid for those in awe of You. You have wrought for those who shelter in You [before the eyes of humankind] (Psalms 31:20). To teach that the primordial light cannot be seen by any creature, as is written, it was good [cf. Shemot Rabbah 35:1]. Furthermore it is written, And God saw that it was good (Genesis 1:21). The blessed Holy One saw all that He had made, and saw good—radiant בָּהִיר (bahir), brightness. He took of that good, and included in it the thirty-two paths of Wisdom, giving it to this world. This is the meaning of, For good learning I have given you, do not forsake My teaching (Proverbs 4:2). Alas, say this is treasury of Oral Torah.

The blessed Holy One said, ‘This quality is included in this world, and it is Oral Torah. If you guard this quality in this world, then you will be worthy of the World that is Coming, which is the good treasured away for the righteous.’ What is it? It is His strength, as is written, And His brilliance will be as the light (Habakkuk 3:4). The brilliance that was taken from the primordial light will be [manifest] light if His children keep the teaching and the commandments that I have written to instruct them (Exodus 24:12) [cf. Zohar 2:166b].’ Therefore it is written, Hear, My son, your father’s reproof, and do not forsake your mother’s teaching (Proverbs 1:8).

And it is written, He has rays at His side: and there is His strength hidden (Habakkuk 3:4). What is His strength hidden? The light that was concealed: that You hid for those in awe of You (Psalms 31:20). As is said: You have wrought for those who shelter in You (ibid.)—those who take refuge in Your shadow in this world, who keep Your teaching, and fulfill Your commandments. Who sanctify Your great Name, unifying it in private and in public, as it says: before the eyes of humankind (ibid.)” (Bahir §§147–148).

Rabbi Berekhiah sat and expounded: Each day we speak of הַעוֹלָם הַבָּא (ha-Olam ha-Ba) but do we know what we are saying? The Targum renders this as עָלְמָא דְאָתֵי (alma de-atei), the World that Came. But what is it? This teaches that before the world was created, it arose in thought to create a great light to illuminate and a great light was created which no creature was able to wield [see Tanḥuma, Shemini, 9]. The blessed Holy One foresaw that none could bear it, He took one-seventh and gave it to them in its place and the rest He treasured away for the righteous in the time yet to come, saying: If they prove worthy of this seventh and guard it, I will give them the rest in the other world. It is therefore called ha-Olam ha-Ba, the World that is Coming, since it is already [always] coming from the six days of creation. Of this is written: How great Your goodness that You hid for those in awe of You (Psalms 31:20)” (Bahir §160).

“And what is Awe of YHWH (Isaiah 33:6)? It is the primordial light. Thus Rabbi [Berekhiah] said: Why is it written, God said, ‘Let there be light.’ [And there was light]? (Genesis 1:3). Why does it not say, and it was? But this teaches that the light was so great that no creature could gaze upon it. The blessed Holy One therefore treasured it away for the righteous in the time still to come. This is the quality of all that is סְחֹרָה (seḥorah), valuable, in the world. It is also the power of the precious stones called סֹחָרֶת (soḥaret), Darkness [or: Black Marble], and דַּר (dar), Dweller [or: Mother-of-Pearl; see Esther 1:6; BT Megillah 12a ad loc. Perhaps the black marble called Darkness is the supernal sun, too blindingly bright, as it were, to gaze upon, cf. Job 10:22: You shine like darkness; Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, 1:59; Zohar 2:188a]. And what is the quality of Soḥaret, Darkness? To teach you that the blessed Holy One took a thousandth of [Soḥaret’s, i.e., the World that is Coming’s] radiance and from Her בֹּנֶה (boneh), built [alluding to בִּינָה (Binah)] a lovely precious stone [cf. Tanuma, Pequdei 3]. In Her [namely, Dar, i.e., this world] He included all the mitsvot” (Bahir §190).

I am שְׁחוֹרָה (sheḥorah), dark, but desirable (Song of Songs 1:5), the speculum that does not shine but Father and Mother adorned Her so that Her husband be pleased with Her” (Zohar 1:49b).

And what is מִשָּׁם רֹעֶה (Misham ro’eh), from there the Shepherd, Israel’s Stone (Genesis 49:24)? That from There Israel’s Stone is sustained. What is מִשֶּׁם (mishem), it by name? Ah, say: צֶדֶק עֶלְיוֹן (tsedeq elyon), supernal Justice [upper ShekhinahBinah]. And what is it? The great צָפוּן (tsafun), hidden, light, called סֹחָרֶת (Soḥaret), Darkness [which סְחוֹר סְחוֹר (seḥor seḥor), surrounds, everything, cf. Zohar 3:120a], and the stone residing below is דַּר (dar), Dweller [i.e., lower שְׁכִינָה (Shekhinah), Presence, from לְשַׁכֵּן (le-shaken), ‘to dwell.’ Cf. Seder Rabba de-Vereshit, see Schäfer, Synopse zur Hekhalot-Literatur, §440: ‘Shekhinah is below just as Shekhinah is above’]. And what are the beams mentioned in the verse [The radiance is like light.] Beams from His hand He has, [and there His might is hidden] (Habakkuk 3:4)? These are the five fingers of the right hand” (Bahir §193). 

“A precious stone set in a crown, as is written, the stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone (Psalms 118:22). It ascends to the place from which it was hewn, as is written, from There feeds Israel’s Stone (Genesis 49:24)” (Bahir §91, cf. Zohar 1:231b).