The Nut Garden

לקוטים מזוהר (Gleanings of Zohar)

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Look to the Rock from which You were Hewn: There is no Artist like our God!

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“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 [cf. Isaiah 22:22], 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, For to Me every knee shall bend, every tongue shall vow (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 academy 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 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).

“Rav Shimi son of ‘Uqva (others say, Mar ‘Uqva) was often in the company of Rabbi Shim’on son of Pazzi, who used to arrange the aggadahs [and recite them] before Rabbi Yehoshu’a son of Levi. He said to him: What is, ‘בָּרְכִי נַפְשִׁי (Barekhi nafshi), bless, O my being, YHWH, and all that is within me bless His holy name? He replied: Come and see how human nature differs from divine nature: A human being draws a figure on the wall but cannot cast into it breath and soul, bowels and intestines. But the blessed Holy One is not so. צָר צוּרָה בְּתוֹך צוּרָה (Tsar tsurah be-tokh tsurah), He designs a form within a form [the fetus within the womb], casting into it breath and soul, bowels and intestines. This is what Hannah said: There is no one holy like YHWH, for there is no one beside You, and there is no rock like our God (1 Samuel 2:2). What does this mean: there is no צוּר (tsur), rock, like our God? There is no צַיָּיר (tsayyar), artist, like our God!

What is For there is no one beside You? Rabbi Yehudah son of Menasya said: Read not, there is no one בִּלְתֶּךָ (biltekha), beside You, but, there is no one לְבַלּוֹתֶךָ (le-vallotekha), to outlive You. For the nature of flesh and blood is not like that of the blessed Holy One. It is human nature to be outlived by its works, but the blessed Holy One outlives His works. He said to him: What I meant to tell you is this: To whom did David refer in these five verses beginning with ‘בָּרְכִי נַפְשִׁי (Barekhi nafshi), bless, O my being, YHWH’? [see Psalms 103:1, 2, 22; 104:1, 35]. He was alluding only to the blessed Holy One and to the soul. Just as the blessed Holy One fills the whole world, so the soul fills the body. Just as the blessed Holy One, sees, but is not seen, so the soul sees but is not itself seen. Just as the blessed Holy One feeds the whole world, so the soul feeds the whole body. Just as the blessed Holy One is pure, so the soul is pure. Just as the blessed Holy One abides in the innermost chambers, so the soul abides in the innermost chambers. Let that which has these five things come and praise Him who has these five things [cf. Bereshit Rabbah 14:9]” (BT Berakhot 10a).

“The way of the blessed Holy One is not like the way of a human being. A human being cannot fashion a creature from water. However, it is not so with He who spoke, and the world came into being. Rather, He fashioned a creature from water, as is written, Let the waters swarm with the swarm of living creatures (Genesis 1:20).

Worker of wonders (Exodus 15:11)—for the way of the blessed Holy One is not like the way of a human being. A human being cannot fashion a creature in darkness. However, it is not so with the blessed Holy One. Rather, He fashioned a creature in darkness, as is written, When I was made in a secret place, knitted in the utmost depths (Psalms 139:15).

Another interpretation: Worker of wonders—for the way of the blessed Holy One is not like the way of a human being. When a human being fashions a form, he begins from its head, or its feet, or from one of its limbs. However, it is not so with the blessed Holy One. Rather, when He fashions a form, He fashions it [all] at once, as is written, He is יוֹצֵר (yotser), Fashioner, of all things (Jeremiah 10:16). And it says, There is no צוּר (tsur), rock, like our God (1 Samuel 2:2)—there is no צַיָּיר (tsayyar), artist, like our God!

Another interpretation: Worker of wonders—for the way of the blessed Holy One is not like the way of a human being. A human being goes to a sculptor [and] says to him, ‘Make me a bust of [my] father!’ He says to him, ‘Bring me your father and stand him in front of me, or bring me his likeness, and I’ll make it for you according to its likeness!’ However, it is not so with He who spoke, and the world came into being. Rather, from [only one] drop, He gives someone a son who looks like the image of his father!” (Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishma’el, Pisḥa, 8–11).

“Quarry of the Torah, treasury of Wisdom, quarry of רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים (ruaḥ Elohim), God’s breath, to teach that the blessed Holy One hewed out all the letters of Torah, engraving them with breath, and actualizing צוּרוֹתָיו (tsurotaiv), His forms, within, as is written: There is no צוּר (tsur), rock, like our God (1 Samuel 2:2)—‘there is no צַיָּיר (tsayyar), artist, like our God!’ (BT Berakhot 10a)” (Bahir §143, cf. Zohar 3:135b [IR]).

When a woman yields seed (Leviticus 12:1).

Rabbi Yehudah opened, ‘There is no one holy like YHWHfor there is no one beside Youand there is no rock like our God (1 Samuel 2:2). This verse is difficult: There is no one holy like YHWH implies that there is someone else holy, since it is written like YHWHAnd there is no צוּר (tsur), rock, like our God implies that there is another rock.

Well, surely, There is no one holy like YHWH, for there are various holy ones. Holy ones above, as is written: [This verdictby order of the holy ones (Daniel 4:14). Israel is holy, as is written: You shall be holy (Leviticus 19:2). All of them are holy, yet not holy like YHWH. Why? Because it is written for there is no one בִּלְתֶּךָ (biltekha), beside You. What does this mean? That the holiness of the blessed Holy One exists בִּלְתִּי (bilti), without, their holiness, since He does not need theirs; but they are not holy biltekhawithout You. This is for there is no one biltekha—their holiness does not exist without You.

And there is no צוּר (tsur), rocklike our God—as has been established, that the blessed Holy One צָר צוּרָה גוֹ צוּרָה (tsar tsurah go tsurah), designs a form within a form, perfecting it, blowing into it the spirit of life, bringing it forth into the world. 

Alternatively, And there is no rock like our God—there is that which is called rockLook to the rock from which you were hewn (Isaiah 51:1); You shall strike the rockLookI am about to stand before you there on the rock (Exodus 17:6). All of them are called rock, yet there is no rock like our God, who possesses power and dominion over all’” (Zohar 3:44a).

All the Time, Constantly, Chastening Them Little by Little

Hen

“Rava said: What is written, אִם בְּפִידוֹ לָהֶן שִׁוֵּ֑עַ (Im befido lahen shivea’), but one would not reach out against a heap of ruins if in his disaster he screamed (Job 30:24)?—the blessed Holy One said to Israel, ‘When I judge Israel, I do not judge them as I do the nations, as is written, I will overturn, overturn, overturn it (Ezekiel 21:32) but I only exact payment from them as the hen does her כְּפִיד (kefid), picking’ [playing on בְּפִידוֹ (befido), in his disaster].

Another interpretation: Even if Israel does before Me but few mitsvot, like hens picking in a rubbish heap, I will make it accumulate לְחֶשְׁבּוֹן (le-ḥeshbon), to a (large) sum, as is said, If כְּפִידוּ (kefidu), they pick, לָהֶן שׁוּעַ (lahen shu’a), they are rescued (Job 30:24)….

Rabbi Abbahu would praise Rav Safra to the sectarian heretics as a great man, and he was exempted by them from paying taxes for thirteen years. One day they found him and they said to him; ‘It is written: [Hear this word that YHWH has spoken concerning you, O Israelites, concerning the entire clan that I brought up from Egypt, saying:Only with you was I intimate of all the clans of the earth. Therefore will I make a reckoning with you for all your crimes (Amos 3:1–2). If one is in anger does one vent it on one’s friend?’ But he was silent and could give them no answer; so they wound a scarf round his neck and tormented him. When Rabbi Abbahu came and found him he said to them, Why do you torment him? They said, ‘Have you not told us that he is a great man? But he did not [even] know [how] to tell us the explanation of this verse!’ He said, ‘I told you [that he was learned] in the Tanna’im; did I tell you [he was learned] in Scripture?’ They said: ‘How is it then that you know it?’ He said: ‘We who are frequently with you, set ourselves the task of studying it thoroughly, but others do not study it as carefully.’ They said, ‘Will you then tell us the meaning?’ He said: ‘I will administer a parable: To what can the matter be compared? To a man who is lends money to two people, one of them a friend, the other an enemy; of his friend he will accept payment little by little, whereas of his enemy he will exact payment in one sum!’” (BT Avodah Zarah 4a).

“Rabbi Eli’ezer said: It is like a king who became angry at his son, and who had in his hand a sword. The king swore he would pass the sword on his son because he angered him. But later the king said, If I do so, my son will no longer live. But also, he could not nullify the royal decree. What did the king do? He placed the sword into its sheath and passed the sword on his son’s head.

Rabbi Ḥanina said: It is like a king who became angry with his son. He had in front of him a boulder and swore that he would heave it at him. But later the king said: If I heave it at him he will no longer live. What did he do? He crushed the boulder into pebbles and tossed them at his son one at a time. It turned out that he neither hurt his son nor nullified his royal decree” (Midrash Tehillim 6:3).

“Rav Hamnuna the First, ‘Distress and affliction of Israel bring them many benefits and advantages. The ease of other nations brings them many evils. דְּחִיקוּ (Deḥiqu), distress, and affliction of Israel brings them benefit and advantage. What is that? כָּלָּה (Kallah), Bride—כֹּלָּא דָּחִיק (kolla daḥiq), all pointed [i.e., vocalized with vowels]. רִפְיוֹן (Rifyon), ease, of the other nations brings them rifyon, weakness, and evil. What is that? כָלָה (Khalah), complete destruction (Jeremiah 46:28). This is just what they deserve, for all the rifyon, ease—without deḥiqu, distress—that they had in this world causes them rifyon, weakness, afterward, without deḥiqu, pointing: כָלָה (khalah), complete destruction; For כָלָה וְנֶחֱרָצָה (khalah ve-neḥeratsah), a decreed destruction, I have heard (Isaiah 28:22); For I will make כָלָה (khalah), a complete destruction, all in rifyon, weakness. But for Israel, who had deḥiqu, distress, and affliction—כַּלָּה (Kallah), A bride, will adorn herself with her ornaments (ibid. 61:10). Who are her ornaments? Israel, who are the ornaments of this Bride.

For Israel, who endured distress and affliction, I will raise the fallen booth of David (Amos 9:11)—the booth of peace. For the other nations, who had rifyon, ease—torment, trouble and torment (Isaiah 30:6); כָלָה (khalah)complete destruction, in rifyon, weakness, as they had before. So, For I will make כָלָה (khalah)an end, of all the nations… but of you I will not make khalah, an end—since you were already deḥiqu, distressed, and כַּלָּה (Kallah), the Bride, will be deḥiqu, pointed [cf. BT Berakhot 6b, in the name of Abbaye; Zohar 3:239a (RM); TZ 12, 27a; ZḤ 118c (Tiq)].

I will chasten you לַמִּשְׁפָּט (la-mishpat), for justice (Jeremiah 46:28). This verse should be read I will chasten you בַמִּשְׁפָּט (va-mishpat), in justice—for when are chastenings? At the time of judgment. Yet here, not so; rather I will chasten you la-mishpat, for justice. However, it is written: YHWH will enter בְּמִשְׁפָּט (be-mishpat), into judgment, against the elders of His people (Isaiah 3:14). On that day, the blessed Holy One will provide a remedy for Israel in advance, before they appear for judgment, so that they will be able to endure. What is that? All the time, constantly, He chastens them little by little, so that when they appear for judgment, it will not prevail over them.

And I will surely not leave you unpunished (Jeremiah 46:28). What is meant by that? Well, when the people of Israel are by themselves—not appearing for judgment with the other nations—the blessed Holy One deals with them beyond the line of strict justice, atoning for them. When they appear for judgment among the other nations, what does He do? The blessed Holy One knows that Samael, the guardian [of the other nations], will come to call attention to Israel’s sins, all of which he has accumulated for himself for the Day of Judgment. So He provides a remedy for them in advance, and for every single sin He strikes them with chastening little by little. When they appear for judgment, Samael comes with many lists against them. The blessed Holy One takes out lists of the chastenings that Israel has endured for every single sin, and all the sins are expunged—without His showing them any leniency at all. Then [Samael’s] power and strength fade, and he cannot prevail against them” (Zohar 3:199a–b).

He Will Open for You His Goodly Treasure: The Twentieth Day of the Omer—an Opening to Hope

Ilan Sefirot - Kabbalistic Divinity map. Amsterdam, 18th century, NLI

“Rafram son of Papa also said in the name of Rav Ḥisda: Since the day when the Temple was destroyed, rain no longer comes down from the ‘good treasury,’ as it says, YHWH will open for you His goodly treasure (Deuteronomy 28:12): When Israel act according to the will of the Omnipresent and are settled in their own land, then rain comes down from a ‘good treasury,’ but when Israel are not settled on their own land, then the rain does not come down from a ‘good treasury’” (BT Bava Batra 25b).

“Happy is one who succeeds in cleaving to the blessed Holy One fittingly! Happy is he in this world and in the world that is coming. [Seven days and seven days (1 Kings 8:65)—whoever joins these with these] the blessed Holy One opens for him holy treasure when his prayer needs to be received, as is written: YHWH will open for you His goodly treasurethe heavens (Deuteronomy 28:12). אֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם (Et ha-shamayim), The heavens—treasures above and below; seven days and seven days, all of them one, as is written: His goodly treasureHis treasure, singular, of et ha-shamayimthe heavensseven and seven channels (Zechariah 4:2), and they are one” (Zohar 1:204b).

Seven and seven (Zechariah 4:2)—all transcendent: one contained within its fellow. They are seven, each one contained within its companion. Now, you might say, ‘Six would have been better, so that each one can be combined within the other, because in this case one remains! With which shall it be combined?’ The answer is that when they all ascend, totaling twelve, the one positioned above them all, completing the number thirteen, is encompassed by the one standing above it. This last one is the lofty point from which all emerge….

When Solomon built the Temple and the lower world was in perfect accord with the upper world, Israel was entirely righteous, ascending numerous, lofty rungs. Then, Throne of Glory rose in rapture with abundant delight, with profuse exaltation. Then, Song of Songs of Solomon (Song of Songs 1:1), ascending in bliss, descending in bliss, joining in bliss—all worlds in bliss.

Song—for the blessed Holy One. Of Songs—for upper and lower realms. Which is Solomon’s—joining of all worlds in rapture, to the King who possesses peace completely.

Uttered by Elijah: ‘Song of Songs. It is written: YHWH will open for you His goodly treasure, the heavens (Deuteronomy 28:12). When the blessed Holy One created the world, He created sublime שִׁיתּין (shittin), channels—founts conducting rain of blessing and transcendent sanctifications from above. These drew first from the Fount of Life, from the supernal place from which they emerged [cf. BT Sukkah 49a]. 

In the beginning, before the world was created, a single desire called Hidden Thought arose and was revealed. Everything was set within that Hidden Thought, everything that existed, and that would come to exist. From that Thought arose the desire to create the world, and a subtle flow comprising hiddenness of Thought issued forth, inaudible, unrevealed. It can be perceived with wisdom that has been conferred—and not conferred—to the wise of heart, because it has not been revealed beyond.

From this flow five founts emerged, plus one that was sealed, and one absorbing all. These springs existed when the world was created, as is written: בְּרֵאשִׁית (Be-reshit), With beginning, ____ created אֱלֹהִים (Elohim), God (Genesis 1:1). בְּרֵאשִׁית (Be-reshit)—בָּרָא שִׁיתּ (bara shit), created a hollow. This hollow is a fount collecting all founts, nourishing worlds. The heavens (ibid.)—those six lofty springs, above all, conveying into this hollow. 

From the day the world was created until the Temple was built, they were sealed, entirely closed. If you say, ‘But Abraham [Ḥesed] was in the world’—behold it is written: And there was famine in the land (ibid. 12:10). Of Isaac [Gevurah]: And there was a famine in the land besides the former famine (ibid. 26:1). Similarly with Jacob [Tif’eret], it is written: And there was famine in all the lands (ibid. 41:54). Of Moses [Netsaḥ], it is written in several places: Who will feed us? (Numbers 11:4, 18); the people thirsted for water there (Exodus 17:3); there was no water for the community (ibid. 20:2). Of Joshua [Hod], despite their having entered the land, it is written: the manna ceased… and they ate of the produce of the land (Joshua 5:12). In the days of the Judges, it is written: In the days when the judges judgedthere was a famine in the land (Ruth 1:1) [cf. BT Bava Batra 14b: ‘Samuel wrote Judges and Ruth’]. Of David [Malkhut], it is written: There was a famine during the reign of David (2 Samuel 21:1) [on the Patriarchs etc., and their corresponding sefirot, see Bahir §135–§136Zohar 1:21b; 3:255b (RM)].

How can this all be explained? The explanation is that those channels had not opened, and the world was nourished only from a squeezed-out ooze, with no opening at all—aside from the resin exuded from a tree, dripping below, or from a rock. When Solomon [Yesod] came and the Temple was built, all the worlds were in a single balance, above and below. Then the hollow that receives and gathers from all lofty channels opened up. When did it open up? When those lofty channels opened up. Once that hollow opened up, blessings flowed to the world.

When did it open? When a crooked one that sat at its feet was removed. When that one was banished, שִׁיתּ (shit), hollow, became שִׁיר (shir), Song, and goodly treasure (Deuteronomy 28:12) opened up.

By whose strength? The heavens (ibid.). These are the rest of the שִׁיתּין (shittin), channels—that is, הַשִּׁירִים (ha-shirim), Songs—for they all opened up and were perfected to bestow nourishment for all the worlds. Then it is written: Judah and Israel dwelt in safetyeveryone under his own vine and under his own fig tree (1 Kings 5:5); and it is written: They ate and drank and rejoiced (ibid. 4:20)—for this שִׁיתּ (shit), hollow, and the שִׁיתּין (shittin), channels, had opened [cf. BT Sukkah 53a].

All sublime delicacies descended into all worlds. Then ardor was aroused from among them toward supernal King, all becoming one, with no division. In this way, praise transcending all praises ascends toward the King who possesses peace, fashioning total delight above and below.

It is written: שִׁיר (shir), A songto You is silent praise, [God in Zion; and to You a vow will be paid] (Psalms 65:1–2). King David knew by the holy spirit that this song was destined to be revealed in the world, and he said: Song—destined to be revealed. To You it is silent—hidden, for permission to reveal this homage is lacking. But this adulation and praise pertains to God in Zion—when the Temple is built, for it mirrors the supernal Temple. Then, a vow will be paid [on David’s vow, see Psalms 132:1–5. David longed to build the Temple, see 2 Samuel 7:2: Seepray, I dwell in a cedarwood house while the Ark of God dwells within curtains]” (Zohar Ḥadash, 62b, 62d–63a).

No Image did You See Except the Sound

“[Rabbi Akiva said:] All the people were seeing the thunderings (Exodus 20:15)…. They were seeing the fiery word issuing from the mouth of Power and being engraved on the tablets” (Mekhilta, Baḥodesh 9).

“[Rabbi Amorai] said: What is written: And all the people were seeing the thunderings, and the flashes (Exodus 20:15)—is thunder, visible? But and all the people were seeing אֶת הַקּוֹלֹת (et ha-qolot), the thunderings, are those קוֹלוֹת (qolot), voicesof which King David spoke:

YHWH’s voice is over the waters. The God of glory thunders (Psalms 29:3). 

YHWH’s voice in power (ibid., 4), and it says, By the power, of My hand I have done it (Isaiah 10:13); Indeed My hand also has laid the foundation of the earth, [and My right hand has spread out the heavens: when I call to them, they stand up together] (ibid. 48:13).

YHWH’s voice in majesty (Psalms 29:4); Glory and grandeur His acts and His bounty stands for all time (ibid. 111:3).

YHWH’s voice breaking cedars (ibid. 29:5)—the bow that breaks cypress trees and cedar trees.

YHWH’s voice hews flames of fire (ibid., 7)—making peace between water and fire, hewing the power of fire and preventing it from evaporating water. Preventing water from extinguishing fire.

YHWH’s voice makes the wilderness shake (ibid., 8), as is said, And doing kindness with His anointed, for David and his seed forever (ibid. 18:51)—more than in the wilderness [when the Israelites were miraculously fed manna].

YHWH’s voice brings on the birth-pangs of does and lays bare the forests. And in His Temple all says glory (Psalms 29:9), as is written, I make you swear, O daughters of Jerusalem by the deer or the gazelles of the field, [that you shall not rouse not stir love until it pleases] (Song of Songs 2:7). To teach you that with seven קוֹלוֹת (qolot), voices, Torah was given. With each of them the Master of the Universe revealed Himself over them, and they saw Him. Thus it is written, And all the people were seeing אֶת הַקּוֹלֹת (et ha-qolot), the sounds.

One verse says: He tilted the heavens, came down, dense mist beneath His feet (2 Samuel 22:10). Another verse says: And YHWH came down on Mount Sinai, to the mountaintop (Exodus 19:20). However, still another verse says, From the heavens I spoke with you (Exodus 20:22). How is this so? And on the earth His great fire (Deuteronomy 4:36)—one voice. The other voices were in the heavens, as is written, From the heavens He made you hear His voice to reprove you, and on the earth He showed you His great fire, and His words you heard, from the midst of the fire (ibid.). But what was it? Great fire. From where did דִבּוּר (dibbur), Speech, emanate? From fire, as is written, and His words you heard, from the midst of the fire

What is but no image did you see except the voice (Deuteronomy 4:12)? As Moses said to Israel: for you saw no whole image [on the day YHWH spoke to you from the midst of the fire, lest you act ruinously and make you a sculpted image of any likeness…] (Deuteronomy 4:15)—an image, but not כָּל תְּמוּנָה (kal temunah), a whole image [cf. Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, 1:3].

A parable: A king stood over his slaves wrapped in a white covering—is this not enough to hold הַמַּלְכוּת (ha-malkhut), the kingship, in awe?—that they gaze upon his garment. Though the king was at a distance they heard his voice [see Exodus 20:19–20; Pirqei de-Rabbi Eli’ezer 41]. Were they able to see his throat? You must say not. This teaches that they saw an image, but not a whole image. Thus it is written, but no image did you see except the קוֹל (qol), sound [or: voice]. It is also written, קוֹל דְּבָרִים (Qol devarim), the sound of words, you did hear.

One verse says: And all the people were seeing אֶת הַקּוֹלֹת (et ha-qolot), the sounds (Exodus 20:15). However, another verse says: קוֹל דְּבָרִים (Qol devarim), the sound of words, you did hear (Deuteronomy 4:12). How? At first they saw the voices. What did they see? The seven voices spoken of by David. But in the end they heard דִבּוּר (dibbur), Speech, emanating from the midst of them all. But we have learned that there were ten. Our Rabbis taught that they were all uttered with a single word [see Tanḥuma, Yitro 11]. But we have said that there were seven. There were seven voices. Of three of them is written: The sound of words you did hear but no image did you see except the sound (Deuteronomy 4:12). To teach you that they were all uttered with a single word. This is so that Israel should not err and say, ‘Others helped Him. Perhaps one of the angels, since His voice alone could not be so powerful.’ Thus on their account He returned and included them [in a single word].

Another interpretation: It was so that the world should not say that since there were עֲשָׂרָה מַאֲמָרוֹת (asarah ma’amarot), ten sayings, for ten kings it might be that He could not speak for them all through one. He therefore said אָנֹכִי (Anokhi), I (Exodus 20:2), which included all ten. What are the ten kings? They are the שֶׁבַע קּוֹלֹת (sheva qolot), seven voices, and שְׁלֹשָׁה אֹמְרִים (sheloshah omrim), three sayings. But what sayings? And YHWH has proclaimed you today [to be to Him a treasured people, as He has spoken to you…] (Deuteronomy 26:18). But what are three? The beginning of wisdom is—get חָכְמָה (ḥokhmah), wisdom, and in all that you get, get בִינָה (binah), discernment (Proverbs 4:7) [cf. Pirqei de-Rabbi Eli’ezer 17–18]. Therefore it is written [Yet it is a spirit in man,] and Shaddai’s breath that grants insight (Job 32:8)—Shaddai’s breath is תְּבִינֵם (tevinem), insight. What is third? As the old man said to the child, ‘Seek not things that are too hard for you, and search not things that are hidden from you. Reflect on the things that have been permitted you; you have no business with mysteries’ (BT Ḥagigah 13a) [see Ben Sira 3:21–22]” (Bahir §§45–49).

“This is the mystery of All the people saw the sounds and the flashes, and the sound of the shofar (Exodus 20:15). The sounds—these are the other letters that emerged from those sounds (as we have said), appearing in the air before the eyes of all, as is written: the sounds. It is not written all the people saw הַקּוֹלֹת (ha-qolot), sounds, but rather אֶת הַקּוֹלֹת (et ha-qolot), the sounds, alluding to the [entire sequence of] letters [from א (alef) to ת (tav)] that issued from them” (Zohar Ḥadash 41c).

“[Rabbi Yoḥanan said:] The voice went forth and split into seven voices, and from seven voices into seventy languages, so that all the nations would hear. Each and every nation heard His voice in its own language [see Rabbi Avraham Abulafia, Or ha-Sekhel 7: ‘שִׁבעִים לָשׁוֹנוֹת (Shevi’im lashonot), seventy languages, is numerically equivalent to צֵירוּף הָאוֹתִיּוֹת (tseruf ha-otiyyot), permutation of the letters’]” (TanḥumaShemot 25).

There were thunderings and lighting (Exodus 19:16). Rabbi Abba said, ‘It is spelled קֹלֹת (qolot), thunderings, deficiently [i.e., spelled without a ו (vav)]—two קָלִין (qalin), voices, turning back into one, issuing from one another: air from water, and water from air. It has been taught: Two that are one; one, an entirety encompassing two.

Rabbi Yose said, ‘קֹלֹת (Qolot)—one that is great and mighty, never ceasing. For it has been taught: In four cycles in the year the voice ceases, and then judgments arouse in the world; but this voice, comprising other voices, never ceases and is never deprived of its full existence and potency. This voice is voice of voices, a voice containing other voices.’

Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘Voice issues only from the aspect of air and water, and voice generates voice, intermingling, and it is spelled קֹלֹת (qolot).’

And lighting (Exodus 19:16). Rabbi Yose said, ‘This corresponds to what is written: He makes lightning for the rain (Psalms 135:7)—a flame in diadems, cluster of compassion, in unsubsiding love. It has been taught: Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘Torah was given from the side of Gevurah. Rabbi Yose said, ‘If so, it is on the left side!’ He replied, ‘It returned to the right, as is written: From His right hand, a fiery law for them (Deuteronomy 33:2), and it is written Your right hand, O YHWH, glorious in power (Exodus 15:6). We find left turning into right, and right into left; thus Gevurah is on the left.’

And a heavy cloud on the mountain (Exodus 19:16)—a mighty cloud settling in its place, not moving. וְקֹל (Ve-qol), And the voice of, a shofar, very strong (ibid.)—out of this mighty cloud issues that voice, as is said: when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness (Deuteronomy 5:20).

Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘There were three types of darkness, as is written: darkness, cloud, and dense fog (ibid. 4:11), and that voice issued as inmost of all.’ Rabbi Yose said, ‘Inmost of all, of which is written a mighty voice, unceasing (ibid. 5:19).

Rabbi Abba said, ‘It is written: All the people were seeing הַקּוֹלֹת (ha-qolot), the voices (Exodus 20:15). Were seeing—the verse should read were hearing. However, we have learned as follows: Those קָלִין (qalin), voices, were engraved in that darkness, cloud, and dense fog, and were visible in them as a body is visible, and they saw what they saw and heard what they heard from within that darkness, dense fog, and cloud. From within the vision they saw, they were illumined by the supernal radiance and knew what later generations coming after them would not know. They all saw face-to-face, as is written: Face-to-face YHWH spoke [with you]… (Deuteronomy 5:4).’

What did they see? Rabbi Yose taught, ‘Radiance of those voices—for there was not a single voice that did not shine radiantly, enabling them to gaze upon all hidden, concealed treasures and all generations that will appear until King Messiah. Therefore, All the people were seeing הַקּוֹלֹת (ha-qolot), the voices—actually seeing!” (Zohar 2:81a–b).

“When the blessed Holy One revealed Himself on Mount Sinai, when Torah was given to Israel in ten utterances, each and every utterance generated a voice, and that voice branched into seventy voices, all shining and sparkling before the eyes of all Israel, who saw eye-to-eye the splendor of His Glory, as is written: All the people were seeing הַקּוֹלֹת (ha-qolot), the voices (Exodus 20:15)—actually seeing!

That voice warned every single Israelite, saying to him, ‘Will you accept me upon yourselves with such-and-such commands of Torah?’ They replied, ‘Yes.’ It returned, circling round his head, and warned him, saying, ‘Will you accept me upon yourselves with such-and-such penalties of Torah?’ Each one said, ‘Yes.’ Afterward, that voice returned and kissed him on the mouth, as is written: O that he would kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! (Song of Songs 1:2)” (Zohar 2:146a).

To Recover the Remnant of His People

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“The blessed Holy One scattered Israel among the peoples only so that they may accumulate converts, for it is said: And I will sow her for Me in the land and show mercy to Lo-Ruhamah, [and I will say to Lo-Ami, ‘You are My people,’ and he shall say, ‘You are my God!’] (Hosea 2:25)—surely, a man sows a se’ah in order to harvest many korin….

Rabbi Yoḥanan said: The ingathering of the exiles is as important as the day when the heavens and the earth were created, for it is said, And the people of Judah and the people of Israel shall gather together and set over them רֹאשׁ אֶחָד (rosh eḥad), a single chief, and they shall go up from the lands, for great is the day of Jezreel (Hosea 2:2); and it is written, And it was evening and it was morning, יוֹם אֶחָד (yom eḥad), first day (Genesis 1:5)” (BT Pesaḥim 87b–88a, cf. Zohar 1:244a).

“‘The ten tribes will not return, as is written, And flung them into another land as on this day (Deuteronomy 29:27)—just as the day goes and does not return, so they too went and will not return: the words of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Eli’ezer said: As on this day—just as the day darkens and then becomes light again, so the Ten Tribes. Even as it went dark for them, so will it become light for them’ (M Sanhedrin 10:3).

Our Rabbis taught: The ten tribes have no portion in the world to come, as it says, And YHWH tore them from upon their soil in wrath and in anger and in great fury [and flung them into another land as on this day] (ibid.). And YHWH tore them from upon their soil—this world; and flung them into another land—the world to come: the words of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Shim’on son of Yehudah, of the village of Akko, said in the name of Rabbi Shim’on: If their deeds are as this day’s, they will not return; otherwise they shall. Rabbi said: They will enter the world to come, as is said, [And it shall be] on that day a great ram’s horn shall sound, [and those lost in the land of Assyria shall come, and the dispersed in the land of Egypt and bow down to YHWH on the holy mountain, in Jerusalem] (Isaiah 27:13).

Rabbah son of Son of Ḥanah said in Rabbi Yoḥanan’s name: [Here] Rabbi Akiva abandoned His חֲסִידוּת (ḥasidut), kindness, as is written, Go and call out these words to the north and say, Turn back, Rebel Israel, said YHWH, and I will not set My face against you, for I am חָסִיד (ḥasid), faithful, said YHWH. I will not bear a grudge forever (Jeremiah 3:12).

Now, to what does ‘his kindness’ refer? As has been taught: The children of the wicked of Israel, [who died] in their minority, will not enter the world to come, as is written, For, look, the day is coming, burning like a kiln, when all the arrogant and all the evil doers shall be straw. And the day that is coming shall set them ablaze, said YHWH of Armies, shall not leave them root or branch (Malachi 3:19). Root—this world; branch—the world to come: the words of Rabban Gamaliel.

Rabbi Akiva said: They will enter the world to come, as is written, YHWH protects פְּתָאיִם (peta’im), the simple (Psalms 116:6), and in the island cities, a child is called פָּתִּיאָ (pattia); and it is said also, Cut down the tree and destroy it but leave one of its roots in the ground (Daniel 4:20). How then do I fulfill that shall not leave them root or branch? That He shall not leave them [unpunished the violation of] a single mitsvah nor the remnant of a mitsvah [i.e., even the most insignificant mitsvah]. Another interpretation: root—the נְשָׁמָה (neshamah), soul; branch—the body [but of the wicked themselves, not their children. Thus we see Rabbi Akiva, in his love for Israel, interpreting the verse as leniently as possible]. But as for young children of the wicked gentiles, all agree that they will not enter the world to come. And he  derives it from [The dead shall not live, nor shall the shades rise up. Therefore have] You singled them out and destroyed them and expunged all remembrance of them (Isaiah 26:14)” (BT Sanhedrin 110b, cf. Sifra, Be-Ḥukkotai, 8:1).

And it shall happen on that day, the Master shall pull in His hand once more to take back His people’s remnant that will remain from Assyria and Egypt and from Patros and from Cush and from Elam and from Shinar and from Hamath and from coastlands. And He shall raise a banner to the nations, and gather the banished of Israel and the dispersed of Judah He shall assemble from the four corners of the earth (Isaiah 11:11–12).

And Israel saw Joseph’s sons and he said, ‘Who are these?’ (Genesis 48:8).

Rabbi Abba opened, ‘It is said: And you shall say in your heart: ‘Who gave birth for me to these, [when I was bereaved and barren, exiled and cast aside, and these, why, who has raised?] (Isaiah 49:21). What does this mean? Israel below saw that the children of Israel will come before Him, when they will come from Elam and from Shinar and from Hamath and from coastlands (ibid. 11:11), and a vast flock will be established. The Shekhinah will say, Who are these? Are there not any who are unfit, of foreign children? They will say to Him, We are all Your children, there is no foreigner among us! For they will be severed the one from the other [i.e., the motley throng will be severed from the Assembly of Israel]. And they will be circumcised together and converted. The convert then will return together with Israel and they will be as one.

It was taught: ‘[Rabbi Ḥelbo said:] Converts are as tough for Israel as a סַּפַּחַת (sapaḥat), scab’ (BT Qiddushin 70b; Yevamot 47b; Niddah 13b; Zohar 3:206b), as is written, For YHWH shall have pity on Jacob and again shall choose Israel and set them down on their land, and the sojourner shall join them וְנִסְפְּחוּ (ve-nispeḥu), and they shall cling, to the house of Jacob (Isaiah 14:1). When the children will return to their land and there will be compassion among them, then YHWH shall be one and His name one (Zechariah 14:9). Then the convert will tag along with the people of Israel like a scab on their skin.’

Why? Come and hear: Rabbi Shim’on said it refers to the borders of the land, for every one will want to live in the land of Israel, and the inhabitants will be afraid. It is written, [Spread wide the place of your tent,] and let the curtains of your dwelling stretch out [—do not stint. Lengthen you cords and strengthen your tent pegs] (Isaiah 54:2). The curtains you once had, should be stretched and strengthened, as it were, more than those of the other peoples whom you saw strengthening them in your exile. [Indeed, a vast flock of converts] will be established” (Zohar 1:215a).

“Yehudah, an Ammonite convert, came before [the Rabbis] in the academy. He said to them: How can I enter the assembly [i.e., marry a Jewish woman]? Rabbi Yehoshu’a said to him: You are permitted to enter the assembly. Rabban Gamaliel said to him: Has it not already been said, No Ammonite nor Moabite shall come into YHWH’s assembly. [Even his tenth generation shall not come into YHWH’s assembly ever. Because they did not greet  you with bread and water on the way when you came out of Egypt, and for their hiring against you Balaam son of Beor from Aram Naharaim to curse you] (Deuteronomy 23:4–5)? Rabbi Yehoshu’a replied to him: Do Ammon and Moab still reside in their [original] place? Sennacherib king of Assyria long ago went up and בַּלבֵּל (balbel), baffled, all the nations, as it says, [For he has said: ‘Through the power of my hand I have done it, and through my wisdom, for I was discerning.] I have wiped out the borders of peoples and their riches plundered and brought down to the dust those who dwelled there (Isaiah 10:13); and whatever separates, separates from the greater part [and the assumption is that he is from the majority of nations whose members are permitted to enter the assembly, cf. BT Ketubbot 15a in the name of Rabbi Zeira]. Rabban Gamaliel said to him: But has it not been said: And afterward I will restore the fortunes of the Ammonites, said YHWH (Jeremiah 49:6) so that they have already returned? Rabbi Yehoshu’a replied: And has it not been said, And I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel, [and they shall rebuild desolate towns and dwell there and plant vineyards and drink their wine. And they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. And I will plant them on their soil, and they shall no more be uprooted from their soil that I have given them, said YHWH your God] (Amos 9:14), and they have not yet returned? Immediately they permitted him to enter the assembly” (BT Berakhot 28a).

On that day Israel shall be a third partner with Egypt and with Assyria, as a blessing in the midst of the earth. [Which YHWH of Armies conferred, saying, ‘Blessed are My people Egypt and My handiwork Assyria and Israel My estate] (Isaiah 19:24).

The seventy princes who govern the army on high are divided in their midst. One division is governed by the prince of Ishmael, called Egypt, and the other division is governed by the prince of Edom, called Assyria [cf. 2 Kings 16; Isaiah 7–9; 2 Chronicles 28]. Both divisions receive from Gevurah, at the left side of the Chariot, but as we said, Gevurah is divided in two: one aspect is harsh judgment and the other weak [cf. Zohar 2:178a, 187a]; the harsh is exceedingly hard and the weak is soft. However, one stately light expands from the way of Tif’eret engulfing these two qualities, covering and influencing them. And in the future yet to come, when these two princes behold this light, they will call it the Light of Blessing, as is written, On that day Israel shall be a third partner with Egypt and with Assyria, as a blessing in the midst of the earth. And look, truly some of the nations will be restored to the dominion of Israel” (Berit Menuḥa, Third Way: The Way of Peace, cf. Zohar 1:13a, 164a; 2:57b; 3:218a–b [RM], 227b).

And foreigners shall stand and tend your flocks and strangers be your farmers and keepers of your vineyards. As for you, YHWH’s priests you shall be called, our God’s ministrants it shall be said of you. The wealth of nations you shall enjoy and in their glory revel. Instead of the shame twice over and disgrace they shall exult in their lot. Therefore they shall possess their land twice over, everlasting joy shall be theirs (Isaiah 61:5–7, cf. Mekhilta, Shabbeta, Ki Tissa 1; BT Berakhot 35b; Zohar 1:143b).

“Rabbi Ḥiyya was traveling to visit Rabbi El’azar. He found him sitting next to Rabbi Shim’on son of Rabbi Yose, son of Lekonya, his father-in-law. As he raised his head, he saw Rabbi Ḥiyya. He said, In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, a blessing on earth, whom YHVH of Hosts will bless, saying, ‘Blessed be My people Egypt, [My handiwork Assyria, and My heritage Israel]’ (Isaiah 19:24–25). How foolish are the inhabitants of the world, who do not know or consider the words of Torah!

Are then Ashur and Egypt close to the blessed Holy One? Rather, all those members of the exiles who will go up from Egypt and Ashur. But if we say that it is Egypt and Ashur [themselves] it refers to the pious among them who repent, and remain to serve Israel and King Messiah, as is written, and may all kings bow to him, and all nations serve him (Psalms 72:11), and, And kings shall be your attendants [and princesses your wet nurses. Face to the ground they shall bow to you and lick the dust of your feet. And you shall know that I am YHWH, all who hope for Me shall not be shamed] (Isaiah 49:23) [cf. BT Shevu’ot 47b: ‘In the academy of Rabbi Yishma’el it was taught: The servant of a king is like a king’]” (Zohar 2:57b).

“All things will be fittingly restored, and the impure aspect will be eliminated from the world. This has been affirmed, as is written: I will eliminate the spirit of impurity from earth (Isaiah 25:8). The blessed Holy One will then remain alone, as is written: Idols will utterly vanish (ibid. 2:18), and similarly: YHWH alone will be exalted on that day (ibid., 17)—He alone, as is written: No alien god with Him (Deuteronomy 32:12), for it will be eradicated from the world. Nothing will remain above or below except the blessed Holy One alone and Israel serving Him, a holy people—called ‘holy,’ as is written: Whoever is left in Zion, who remains in Jerusalem, will be called holy (Isaiah 4:3). Then there will be a single world above and below—a single above; a single world below, a single people serving Him, as is written: Who is like Your people Israel, a single nation on earth? (1 Chronicles 17:21) [Rabbi Moshe Cordovero maintains that other nations will be purified and integrated into Israel, see Or Yaqar]” (Zohar 1:164a).

Do Not Make the Fence Excessive Lest it Collapse and Severe the Saplings

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“The Men of the Great Assembly said three things: Be careful in judgment; raise up many disciples; and make a fence for the Torah” (M Avot 1:1).

“Rabbi Akiva said: Mocking and frivolity lead to immorality. The oral tradition is a fence for Torah; tithes are a fence for wealth; vows are a fence for abstinence. The fence for wisdom is silence” (M Avot 3:17).

“‘Make a fence for the Torah.’ And make a fence for your words, in the way that the blessed Holy One made a fence for His words, and the first human made a fence for his words. Torah made a fence for her words. Moses made a fence for his words. So too, Job as well as the Prophets, the Writings, and the sages—all of them made a fence for their words [on Job’s ‘fence,’ see Job 31:1]” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan A, 1).

He who breaches a fence, a snake will bite him (Ecclesiastes 10:8).

Now the serpent was most cunning (Genesis 3:1).

For in much wisdom is much worry, and he who adds wisdom adds pain (Ecclesiastes 1:18): Because man increases his wisdom he increases worry against himself, and because he increases his knowledge he adds to his pain. Solomon said: Because I increased my wisdom I increased my worry, and because I increased my knowledge I increased my pain. Did you ever hear anybody say: ‘This donkey went out and caught the sun, or caught a fever? And where is suffering prevalent? With human beings. Rabbi said: A תַּלְמִיד חָכָם (talmid ḥakham), disciple of the wise, does not require a warning [cf. BT Sanhedrin 8b]. Rabbi Yoḥanan said: It is like the fine linen garments which come from Bet Shean: if they are even slightly blackened they are ruined; but as for the [coarse] linen garments which come from Arbel, what is their value altogether?

Rabbi Yishma’el taught: According to the camel so is its load. It often happens that two people enter a tavern; one orders, ‘Bring me roast meat, white bread, and good wine,’ while the other orders, ‘Bring me bread and beets’: the former eats and suffers afterwards, while the latter eats and does not suffer. Thus human ills weigh heavily upon the one but not upon the other.

It was taught in Rabbi Me’ir’s name: According to the greatness of the serpent so was his downfall: because he was most cunning, he was [most] cursed of all (Genesis 3:14). Now the serpent was most cunning of all the beasts of the field. Rabbi Hoshaya the Elder said: He stood out distinguished like a reed, and he had feet. Rabbi Yirmeyah son of El’azar said: He was an אֶפִּיקוֹרֶס (epiqores), unbeliever. Rabbi Shim’on son of El’azar said: He was like a camel. He deprived the world of much good, for had this not happened, one could have sent goods through him, and he would have gone and returned [cf. BT Sanhedrin 59b]….

But from the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden God has said, “You shall not eat from it and you shall not touch it, lest you die” (Genesis 3:3). Thus it is written, Add nothing to His words, lest He rebuke you and you be given the lie (Proverbs 30:6) [cf. Deuteronomy 4:2: You shall not add… neither shall you take away from it]. Rabbi Ḥiyya taught: Do not make the fence excessive [lit., more than the main thing], lest it collapse and יִקְצֹץ הַנְּטִיעוֹת (yiqtsots ha-neti’ot), severe the saplings. Thus, the blessed Holy One had said, For on the day you eat from it, you are doomed to die (Genesis 2:17); whereas she did not say so, but rather, God has said, “You shall not eat from it and you shall not touch it, lest you die”; when he [the serpent] saw her lying so, he took and thrust her against it. ‘Have you then died?’ he said to her; ‘just as you were not stricken through touching it, so will you not die when you eat it, For God knows that on the day you eat of it [your eyes will be opened and you will become as gods knowing good and evil] (ibid., 5).

Rabbi Tanḥuma said: I was asked this question in Antioch. I answered: It is not written, יוֹדְעִים אֱלֹהִים (yod’im elohim), knowing gods, but rather, יֹדֵעַ אֱלֹהִים (yode’a Elohim), God knows. Rabbi Yehoshu’a of Sikhnin said in Rabbi Levi’s name: He [the serpent] began speaking לָשׁוֹן הָרַע (lashon ha-ra), slander, of his Creator, saying, ‘Of this tree did He eat and then create the world; hence He orders you, You shall not eat from it, so that you may not create other worlds, for every person hates his fellow craftsmen.’ Rabbi Yehudah son of Rabbi Simon said: He argued: ‘Whatever was created after its companion dominates it. Thus: the heavens were created on the first day and the firmament on the second: does it not bear its weight? The firmament was created on the second and herbs on the third: do they not interrupt its waters? Herbs were created on the third day and the luminaries on the fourth [and through the heat of the sun plant life matures and ripens]; the luminaries on the fourth and the birds on the fifth. Rabbi Yehudah son of Rabbi Simon said: The זִיז (ziz) is a clean bird, and when it flies it obscures the orb of the sun [thus it dominates the sun, as it were]. Now you were created after everything in order to rule over everything; make haste and eat before He creates other worlds which will rule over you. Hence it is written, And the woman saw that the tree was good [for eating and that it was lust to the eyes and the tree was lovely to look at, and she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave to her man, and he ate…] (Genesis 3:6): she saw [how plausible were] the words of the serpent” (Bereshit Rabbah 19:1, 3–4).

“Rabbi Shemu’el son of Naḥman said, ‘The serpent was asked, Why are you generally to be found among fences?’ He replied, ‘Because I made a breach in the fence of the world.’ Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai taught: The serpent was the first to make a breach in the world’s fence, and so he has become the executioner of all who make breaches in fences” (Vayiqra Rabbah 26:2).

“Rabbi Levitas the visionary opened, ‘Enmity I will set between you and the woman, between your seed and hers (Genesis 3:15)—abundant hatred from the day the world was created, on account of the incitement of the serpent. From the moment it was cursed, driven out from the gate of the King, it lies in ambush constantly amid fences in the world, amid those fences of the Torah, biting all who trample those fences underfoot [see BT Avodah Zarah 18a (in the name of Rabbi Shim’on son of Laqish); Tanḥuma, Eqev 1; Zohar 1:198a–b]. Woe to one who is caught! Woe to one who is bitten! Woe for the persistence of the vile enmity, for the snake’s wicked hatred for Her, the one called woman of valor (Proverbs 31:10). Malevolent animus it nursed for Her from the day the world was created until it ravaged Her, pulverizing Her until She lay in the dust (Zohar Ḥadash 91c [MhN]).

“Four died through the incitement of the serpent, namely: Benjamin the son of Jacob, Amram the father of Moses, Jesse the father of David, and Chileab the son of David” (BT Shabbat 55b).

“On the eve of the Passover Jesus the Nazarene was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and incited [or: enticed] Israel. Any one who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!—Ulla said: ‘Do you suppose that he was one for whom a defense could be made? Was he not an enticer concerning whom Scripture says, you shall not pity him and shall not shield him (Deuteronomy 13:9)? With Jesus however it was different, for he was connected with the government‘” (BT Sanhedrin 43a).

“What is different about an inciter [that the court does not seek to deem him innocent]? Rabbi Ḥama son of Ḥaninah says: I heard at the lecture of Rabbi Ḥiyya son of Abba: An inciter is different, as the Compassionate One says, [Should your brother, your mother’s son… incite you in secret, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods’ that you did not know, neither you nor your fathers…] you shall not spare him and you shall not pity him and shall not shield him. [But you shall surely kill him] (Deuteronomy 13:7–10).

Rabbi Shemu’el son of Naḥman said in Rabbi Yonatan’s name: Whence do we know that we do not plead on behalf of a inciter? From the primordial serpent. For Rabbi Simlai said: The serpent had many pleas to put forward but did not do so. Then why did the blessed Holy One not plead on its behalf? Because it offered none itself. What could it have said? ‘The words of the master or those of the disciple, whose words should be listened to? Surely the master’s!’

Ḥizqiyyah said: How do we know that whoever increases, decreases? From, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it and you shall not touch it [lest you die’] (Genesis 3:3).

Rav Mesharshiyya said: From: אַמָּתַיִם (ammatayim), two, and a half cubits its length (Exodus 25:10) [if אַמָּתַיִם (ammatayim), two, were spelled without א (alef) it would read מָתַיִם (matayim), two hundred. Thus by adding א (alef) the number is reduced]. Rav Ashi said: From: עַשְׁתֵּי עֶשְׂרֵה (ashtei esreh), eleven, curtains (ibid. 26:7) [if עַשְׁתֵּי עֶשְׂרֵה (ashtei esreh), eleven, were spelled without ע (ayin) it would read שְׁתֵּי עֶשְׂרֵה (shetei esreh)twelve. Thus by adding ע (ayin) the number is reduced]” (BT Sanhedrin 29a, cf. Zohar 2:233b).

“נִשְׁמַת נְקֵבָה (Nishmat neqevah), female inspiration, is from the Female, and נִשְׁמַת זָכָר (nishmat zakhar), male inspiration, is from the Male. This is the reason the serpent followed Eve [cf. Bereshit Rabbah 20:11]. He said, ‘Her inspiration is drawn from the north, and so I will soon seduce her.’ And how did he seduce her? By mounting her.

The wicked Samael conspired with the entire army on high against his Master. This was because the blessed Holy One said, To hold sway over the fish of the sea and the winged creature of the heavens (Genesis 1:26) [cf. Deuteronomy 14:20]. He said, ‘How can we cause him to offend and be driven from before His presence?’ He descended with all his army, and sought a suitable mate on earth. At last he found the serpent, which looked like a camel, and he rode on it [cf. Bereshit Rabbah 19:1; Pirqei de-Rabbi Eli’ezer 13; Zohar 1:228a]. He then went to the woman and said to her, ‘Though God said, you shall not eat from any tree of the garden…(Genesis 3:1)—I, however, will seek more, I will add in order that she detract [see BT Sanhedrin 29a: ‘Whoever increases, decreases’].’ She replied, ‘From the fruit of the garden’s trees we may eat. He did not prevent us, other than: the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden God has said, You shall not eat from it and you shall not touch it, lest you die‘ (Genesis 3:2).

She added two things: the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden—He only said, From the tree (Genesis 2:17); and you shall not touch it, lest you die [while He only spoke of eating]. What did Samael do? He went and touched the tree. The tree cried out and said, ‘Wicked one, do not touch me!’ Therefore it is written: Let no haughty foot overtake me, nor the hand of the wicked repel me. There did the doers of mischief fall. They were toppled and could not rise (Psalms 36:12–13).’

He then said to the woman, ‘See, I touched the tree and did not die. You too can touch and not die.’ The woman went and touched the tree. She saw the Angel of Death approaching her and said, ‘Woe! Now I will die and the blessed Holy One will make another woman and give her to Adam. I will therefore cause him to eat with me. If we die, we will both die, and if we live, we will both live.’ She took the fruit of the tree and ate it, and she also gave to her husband. Their eyes opened and their teeth were set on edge. He said, ‘What is this that you have given me to eat? Just as my teeth were set on edge, so will the teeth of all generations be set on edge’ [cf. Jeremiah 31:29: The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge].

He sat in true judgement, as is written, For You upheld my justice, my right, You sat on the throne of the righteous judge (Psalm 9:5). He called to Adam, and said ‘Why do you hide from Me?’ He replied, ‘I heard Your sound in the garden (Genesis 3:10). I heard Your sound in the garden—and my bones trembled. And I was afraid, for I was naked, and I hid—I was naked of works, I was naked of mitsvot, and I was naked of actions.’ Therefore it is written: and I was afraid, for I was naked, and I hid.

What was Adam’s clothing? A skin of nail [cf. Pirqei de-Rabbi Eli’ezer 14]. However, when he ate of the fruits of the tree, his skin of nail was stripped from him, and he saw himself naked, as is written, Who told you that you were naked? (Genesis 3:11). Adam said before the blessed Holy One, ‘Master of the World: When I was alone did I offend You? But the woman that You gave me, she drove me from your words,’ as is written, The woman whom you gave me, [she gave me from the tree, and I ate] (Genesis 3:12). The blessed Holy One said to her, ‘Was it not enough for you to offend, but you also caused Adam to offend?’ She said before Him, ‘Master of the World: The serpent [beguiled me so] that I offend You.’ He summoned all three and sentenced upon them nine curses and death and cast down the wicked Samael and his band from their holy place in the heavens. He cut off the feet of the serpent and cursed it more than any living creature and more than any beast, decreeing that it be stripped of its skin every seven years in great pain [see BT Bekhorot 8a].

Let me hear gladness and joy, [let the bones that You crushed exult] (Psalms 51:10″ (Bahir §199–§200).

Under the Wings of Shekhinah: The Convert is Loved more than all who Stood at Mount Sinai

“If a convert comes to convert, one should extend a hand to him to bring him under the wings of Shekhinah” (Vayiqra Rabbah 2:9).

“Our Rabbis taught: If at the present time a man comes to be converted, he is to be told: ‘What have you seen that you came to become a convert; do you not know that Israel at the present time are persecuted and oppressed, despised, harassed and overcome by afflictions?’ If he replies, ‘I know and yet I am unworthy,’ he is accepted immediately, and is given instruction in some of the minor and some of the major mitsvot. He is informed of the crime [of the neglect of the mitsvot of] Gleanings, the Forgotten Sheaf, the Corner and the Poor Man’s Tithe. He is also told of the punishment for the transgression of the mitsvot.

Furthermore, he is told: ‘You must know that before you came to this condition, if you had eaten forbidden fat you would not have been punishable with being cut off, if you had profaned the Sabbath you would not have been punishable with stoning; but now were you to eat forbidden fat you would be punished with being cut off; were you to profane the Sabbath you would be punished with stoning.’ And as he is informed of the punishment for the transgression of the mitsvot, so is he informed of the reward granted for their fulfilment. He is told, ‘You must know that the world to come was made only for the righteous, and that Israel at the present time are unable to bear either too much prosperity, or too much suffering.’ He is not, however, to be persuaded or dissuaded too much [lit., and they do not overwhelm him nor are they too exacting].

If he accepts, he is circumcised immediately. Should any shreds [round the corona] which render the circumcision invalid remain, he is to be circumcised a second time. As soon as he is healed arrangements are made for his immediate immersion [in a ritual bath], when two learned men must stand by his side and acquaint him with some of the minor mitsvot and with some of the major ones. When he comes up after his immersion he is deemed to be an Israelite in all respects.

In the case of a woman convert, women make her sit in the water up to her neck, while two learned men stand outside and give her instruction in some of the minor mitsvot and some of the major ones” (BT Yevamot 47a).

“Why should [Abraham] not have circumcised himself at the age of forty-eight, when he recognised his Creator? So as not to shut the door in the face of converts. Then why not be circumcised at the age of eighty-five, when He spoke with him between the parts? [see Genesis 15:9–10]. In order that Isaac might issue from a holy source. Then let him be circumcised at the age of eighty-six, when Ishmael was born? Rabbi Shim’on son of Laqish said: ‘I will set up a cinnamon tree in the world: just as the cinnamon tree yields fruit as long as you manure and tend around it, so [shall Abraham be] even when his blood runs sluggishly and his passions and desires have ceased’ [i.e., the blessed Holy One promised to renew Abraham’s virility, precisely, by means of circumcision]” (Bereshit Rabbah 46:2).

“‘O gentle Hillel, blessings rest on your head for bringing me under the wings of Shekhinah!” (BT Shabbat 31a).

“Teach us Rabbi: If a convert converts on the eve of Passover, when is he allowed to eat his paschal lamb? So did our Rabbis teach: House of Shammai says: Let him immerse [in a ritual bath] and eat his paschal lamb in the evening. But House of Hillel says: He who separates from his foreskin is considered as if he departed from the grave [i.e., he has only to wash his hands like one who returns from the cemetery, and then he may partake straight away, cf. BT Pesaḥim 92a; Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shim’on bar Yoḥai, 12:48].

Rabbi Shim’on son of Laqish said to them: The convert is loved more than all who stood at Mount Sinai. Why? For had they not seen the thunder, the flames, the lightning, the mountain quaking, and the sound of the ram horns, they would not have accepted the Kingdom of Heaven upon themselves. Yet, this one who has not seen any of these, makes himself perfect [with circumcision], comes before the blessed Holy One and accepts upon himself the Kingdom of Heaven. Is there greater love than this?

It happened that Onqelos the Convert asked an elder, ‘How is a convert loved before the blessed Holy One? For all that is written of His love is and loving the sojourner to give him bread and cloak (Deuteronomy 10:18).’ He answered, ‘Our father Jacob sought only this from the blessed Holy One: and give me bread to eat and clothing to wear (Genesis 28:20). And our Rabbis said: The convert is loved because the blessed Holy One recorded his honor through the prophet, as is written, [O hope of Israel, its rescue in time of trouble,] why should you be as a sojourner in the land, [and as a wayfaring man that turns aside to tarry for a night?] (Jeremiah 14:8). The blessed Holy One said ‘I love the convert, but wicked ones have come to challenge Abraham, the father of all converts. אוֹי (oy), Woe, unto them, for they are doomed to fall before him, as is written, וַּי יָהּ (vai Yah)woe is Yah, in the days of Amraphel (Genesis 14:1) [reading וַּי יָהּ (vai Yah)woe is Yah, instead of וַיְהִי (va-yehi), and it happened, see Rabbi Enoch Zundel ben Yosef, Ets Yosef]. Who was this [wicked one]? Nimrod. Why was he called אַמְרָפֶל (amrafel), Amraphel? For he אָמַר (amar), said, to Abraham ‘פֹּל (pol), descend, into the fiery furnace!’” (TanḥumaLekh Lekha 6).

And the inhabitants of Gibeon had heard what Joshua did to Jericho and to Ai. And they on their part acted with cunning and provisioned themselves…. And they went to Joshua at the Gilgal camp and said to him and to the men of Israel, ‘We have come from a far-away land, and now seal a pact with us.’ … And the men took from their provisions, and they did not inquire of YHWH (Joshua 9:3–4, 6, 14).

“Do not think that the blessed Holy One only draws near גֵרֵי הַצֶּדֶק (gerei ha-tsedeq), converts of righteousness, who converted for the sake of Heaven. For even in the case of those who were converted with no intention of honoring the Name of Heaven we find that the blessed Holy One exacted punishment for an offence against them, as is written, And there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year. [And David sought out the presence of YHWH. And YHWH said, ‘On account of Saul and on account of the house of blood guilt, because he put the Gibeonites to death.’ … and the Gibeonites were not of Israelite stock but from the remnant of the Amorites, and the Israelites had vowed to them, but Saul sought to strike them down in his zeal for the Israelites and for Judah] (2 Samuel 21:1) [cf. Joshua 9]. What is year after year? It teaches that they were three consecutive years. When David saw that famine began to make its appearance in his days, he said to himself: ‘Rain does not descend on account of the transgression of five things: For the transgression of those who serve idols, of those who practise immorality, of those who shed blood, of those who publicly subscribe to charity and do not pay, and for the transgression of those who do not give their tithes in accordance with the regulations.’ …

David thought: ‘Has then the blessed Holy One dealt [harshly] with His people because of these converts?’ The blessed Holy One said to him: ‘If you estrange those that are distant, you will ultimately estrange also those that are near. Go, learn a lesson from Joshua, your master.’ For when the Gibeonites said Come up quickly to us and rescue us and help us (Joshua 10:6), Joshua thought at first: ‘Shall we put the Assembly [of Israel] to trouble for the sake of these converts?’ And the blessed Holy One said to him, ‘Joshua, if you estrange those that are distant you will ultimately estrange also those who are near. Go, mark the plant from which you yourself have sprung! Is it not from converts? As is written, And to Joseph were born in the land of Egypt, whom Asenath daughter of Potiphera priest of On bore to him, Manasseh and Ephraim (Genesis 46:20), and as is written, of the tribe of Ephraim, Hosea, son of Nun (Numbers 13:8)? Immediately, The king [David] called to the Gibeonites and said to them—now the Gibeonites… (2 Samuel 21:2). Regarding the next words, now the Gibeonites were not of Israelite stock (ibid.): what connection has one thing with the other? Because David called the Gibeonites and said to them what he did [‘What shall I do for you and how shall I atone, that you may bless YHWH’s heritage?’ (ibid., 3)], and they refused to accept his words [saying, let seven men of (Saul’s) sons be given to us, that we may impale them before YHWH], therefore, the Gibeonites were not of Israelite stock, and David rose and removed them so that they might not enter the Assembly. Of this we have learned that Nethinim are forbidden to enter the Assembly [cf. Ezra 8:20: Also of the Nethinim, whom David and the princes had appointed for the service of the Levites, two hundred and twenty Nethinim: all of them were registered by name]. On that occasion David said: The blessed Holy One presented Israel with three gifts, making them compassionate, bashful, and generous [see BT Yevamot 79a; cf. BT Pesaḥim 113b]” (Bemidbar Rabbah 8:4).

“Whoever maintains this holy mark [of circumcision] is linked with those two sublime rungs [Yesod and Shekhinah], protecting him completely, crowing him with supernal glory…. Rabbi El’azar said, ‘But we have learned: A convert who has been circumcised and enters beneath the wings of Shekhinah is called גֵּר צֶדֶק (ger tsedeq), convert of righteousness, and nothing more. A convert of righteousness, surely—worthy of entering that crown of Righteousness [Malkhut, but no higher]. Yet you say that he attains both of them!’

Rabbi Shim’on replied, ‘El’azar, my son, there is no comparison between one who comes from a holy root, from a stock of truth, and one who comes from evil filth, from a root of foul, fierce loathsomeness. Of Israel is written I planted you as a noble vine, of entirely faithful seed (Jeremiah 2:21). Of the nations of the world is written whose flesh is the flesh of donkeys and whose emission is the emission of stallions (Ezekiel 23:20). Thus, holy Israel—faithful seed, stock that became fragrantly firm at Mount Sinai, where filth ceased—all turn fragrant, all enter the holy covenant of day and night, becoming totally complete. But as for nations of the world, it is difficult to remove filth from them, even up to three generations. Therefore we have learned: ‘The best among the Gentiles…’ (Mekhilta, Beshallaḥ 1). So a convert of righteousness, surely!” (Zohar 3:14a–b).

“It was taught: Rabbi Ḥananya son of Rabbi Shim’on son of Gamaliel said: Why are converts at the present time oppressed and visited with afflictions? Because they did not keep the seven commandments of the sons of Noah [see BT Sanhedrin 56a].

Rabbi Yose said: One who has become a convert is like a child newly born. Why then are converts oppressed? Because they are not so well acquainted with the details of the mitsvot as the Israelites.

Abba Ḥanan said in the name of Rabbi El’azar: Because they do not do it out of love but out of fear. Others said: Because they delayed before entering under the wings of  Shekhinah. Rabbi Abbahu said, or some say Rabbi Ḥanina: What is the proof-text? May YHWH requite your actions and may your reward be complete from YHWH God of Israel under whose wings you have come to shelter (Ruth 2:12)” (BT Yevamot 48a–b).

“Our Rabbis taught: He who mistreats a convert transgresses three prohibitions, and he who oppresses him transgresses two. How does mistreating differ? Because three prohibitions are written: You shall not cheat a sojourner (Exodus 22:20); and should a sojourner sojourn with you in your land, you shall not wrong him (Leviticus 19:33); and you shall not defraud each other (ibid. 25:17), a convert is included in each other. Three are written for one who oppresses as well: And you shall not oppress him (Exodus 22:20); no sojourner shall you oppress [for you know the sojourner’s heart, since you were sojourners in the land of Egypt] (ibid. 23:9); [If you should lend money to My people, to the pauper among you,you shall not be to him like a creditor, [you shall not impose interest on him] (ibid. 22:24), which includes a convert!—but [say] both [are forbidden] by three [prohibitions].

It has been taught: Rabbi Eli’ezer the Great said: Why did Torah warn against [the wronging of] a convert in thirty-six, or as others say, in forty-six, places? Because the convert turns to evil [cf. Rashi on BT Horayot 13a]. What is that which is written, You shall not cheat a sojourner and you shall not oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt (Exodus 22:20). It has been taught: Rabbi Natan said: A blemish which is in you, do not say to your fellow. And thus people say: He who has a hanging in his family does not say to another, ‘Hang this fish up for me’” (BT Bava Metsi’a 59b).

 

If You Lose Your Way Follow in the Tracks of the Sheep

flock-on-narrow-road“The blessed Holy One scattered Israel among the peoples only so that they may accumulate converts, for it is said: And I will sow her for Myself in the earth; [and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them who were not My people, you are My people; and they shall say, You are my God] (Hosea 2:25)—surely, a man sows a se’ah in order to harvest many korin” (BT Pesaḥim 87b, cf. Zohar 1:244a).

Should man or woman commit any of the human offences, [to betray the trust of YHWH, that person shall bear guilt] (Numbers 5:6).

Rabbi Abbahu expounded: They that dwell under His shadow shall return (Hosea 14:8)—converts who come and take refuge in the shadow of the blessed Holy One; they shall sustain themselves with grain (ibid.)—with Talmud; and grow as the vine (ibid)—in Haggadah. Their remembrance shall be as the wine of Lebanon (ibid.): The blessed Holy one says: ‘The names of converts are as dear to Me as the wine of libation which is poured out upon the altar.’ Why is [the altar] called Lebanon? Because it מַּלְבִּין (malbin), turns white, as snow the crimes of Israel, as it says, Though your offences be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; [though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool] (Isaiah 1:18). Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai says: Because all לְּבָבוֹת (levavot), hearts, rejoice in it, as is written, Lovely in heights, all the earth’s joy (Psalms 48:3). The rabbis say: on account of And My eyes and My heart shall be there for all time (1 Kings 9:3) [this is arrived at by a play on לְבָנוֹן (Levanon), Lebanon, and לֵב וְעַיִן (lev ve-ayin), ‘heart and eye’].

Another interpretation: They shall revive as the grain—they will become of equal importance with Israel, as is written, grain shall make the young men cheerful, [and new wine the young women] (Zechariah 9:17); and grow as the vine—like Israel, as is written, You carried a vine out of Egypt, [You drove away nations and planted it] (Psalms 80:9). So you will also find that just as the Torah contains a section regarding one Israelite and another and laying down that if one transgresses against another he incurs a sacrifice, as is written, Should a person offend… and dissemble with his fellow (Leviticus 5:21), so the blessed Holy One inserted a section in the Torah regarding Israel and converts, teaching that if an Israelite takes anything by violence from a convert it is as if he had taken something by violence from an Israelite. You will find that He used the expression offence of the latter—should a person offend—and in the case of one who robs a convert it is written: any of the human offences. In the case of the former it is written And it shall be, when he offends and is guilty, [he shall return the theft that he stole or the fraud that he committed…] (Leviticus 5:23), and in the case of the convert it is written, that person shall bear guilt (Numbers 5:6). In the case of the former it is written, and he shall pay back the principal (Leviticus 5:24) and in the case of the convert it is written, and he shall render back for his guilt the sum of its principal (Numbers 5:7). In the case of the former it is written, and add a fifth (Leviticus 5:23). In the case of the former it is written, and his guilt offering he shall bring to YHWH, an unblemished ram (ibid., 25), and in the case of one who robs a convert it is written, besides the ram of atonement (Numbers 5:8). Thus we learn that converts are as important as Israel, and so we have explained the text: They shall sustain themselves with grain, and grow as the vine.

Man or woman (Numbers 5:6), as is written, YHWH loves the righteous. YHWH guards sojourners (Psalms 146:8–9). Thus, the blessed Holy One said: I, all my lovers I love (Proverbs 8:17); For those who honor Me will I honor [and My spurners shall be dishonored] (1 Samuel 2:30). They love Me and so I also love them. Why does the blessed Holy One love the righteous? Because their worth is due neither to heritage nor to family. You find that the priests constitute a father’s house and the Levites constitute a father’s house; for it says, House of Aaron, bless YHWH. House of Levi, bless YHWH (Psalms 136:19). If a man desires to be a priest, he cannot be one; a Levite, he cannot be one. Why? Because his father was neither a priest nor a Levite. But if a man, even a Gentile, desires to be righteous, he can be so, because the righteous do not constitute a father’s house. Thus it says, Those who fear YHWH, bless YHWH (ibid.). It does not say: House of those that fear YHWH, but Those who fear YHWH, for these do not constitute a father’s house, but have voluntarily come forward and loved the blessed Holy One. Therefore, He loves them, and for this reason it says, YHWH loves the righteous. The blessed Holy One greatly loves converts. To what may this be compared? To a king who had a flock which used to go out to the field and come in at evening. So it was each day. Once a single deer came in with the flock. He associated with the goats and grazed with them. When the flock came in to the fold he came in with them; when they went out to graze he went out with them. The king was told: ‘A certain deer has joined the flock and is grazing with them every day. He goes out with them and comes in with them.’

The king loved him. When he went out into the field the king gave orders: ‘Let him have a lovely pasture, such as he likes; no man shall beat him; be careful with him!’ When he came in with the flock also the king would tell them, ‘Give him to drink;’ and he loved him very much. The servants said to him: ‘Master! How many he-goats do you have? How many sheep do you have? How many kids do you have? Yet you never caution us about them; yet you give us instructions every day about this deer!’ The king said to them: ‘The flock have no choice; whether they want or not, it is their nature to graze in the field all day and to come in at evening to sleep in the fold. The deer, however, sleep in the wilderness. It is not in their nature to come into places inhabited by man. Shall we then not account it as a merit to this one which has left behind the whole of the broad, vast wilderness, the abode of all the beasts, and has come to stay in the courtyard?’

In like manner, ought we not to be grateful to the convert who has left behind him his clan and his father’s house, has left behind his people, and all the other peoples of the world, and has chosen to come to us? Accordingly, He has provided him with special protection, for He warned Israel that they be very careful in relation to converts so as not to do them harm; and so indeed it says and you shall love the sojourner, [for sojourners you were in the land of Egypt] (Deuteronomy 10:19); and You shall not cheat a sojourner [and you shall not oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt] (Exodus 22:20). In the same manner also as the Torah has imposed upon one who robs another the obligation of a money payment and of a sacrifice of a ram of atonement, so the Torah has imposed upon one who robs a convert the obligation of paying him his money and of bringing a sacrifice of a ram of atonement, as is written, Man or woman. This section refers to one who robs a convert, as is written, YHWH guards sojourners. Thus He made ample provision for safeguarding them in order that they might not return to their former perversion.

Beloved are converts, for Scripture in every instance compares them to Israel, as is written, But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham [My lover] (Isaiah 41:8). ‘Love’ is used of Israel, as is written, I have loved you, says YHWH (Malachi 1:2); and ‘love’ is used of converts, as is written, and loving the sojourner to give him bread and cloak (Deuteronomy 10:18). Israel are called slaves, as is written, For Mine are the Israelites as slaves (Leviticus 25:55); and converts are called slaves, as is written, To be His slaves (Isaiah 56:6). ‘Acceptableness’ is used of Israel, as is written, And it shall be on his forehead perpetually for their acceptance [before YHWH] (Exodus 28:38); and it is used of converts, as is written, Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon My altar; [for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people] (Isaiah 56:7). ‘Ministering’ is used of Israel, as is written, But you shall be named the Priests of YHWH: men shall call you the ministers of our God (ibid. 61:6); and it is used of converts, as is written, Also the sons of the foreigner, that join themselves to YHWH, to serve Him (ibid. 56:6). ‘Preservation’ is used of Israel, for it says, For You are my hope, Master (Psalms 71:5); and it is used of converts, as is written: YHWH guards sojourners (Psalms 146:9). You will find that it is the same in the case of the four classes of devotees who stand before the Omnipresent; as it says, One shall say, I am YHWH’s (Isaiah 44:5). If One shall say, I am YHWH’s, he must belong wholly to the Omnipresent, having no admixture of offence. And another shall call himself by the name of Jacob (ibid.) refers to righteous converts. And another shall write on his hand, YHWH’s (ibid.) refers to the penitent. And surname himself by the name of Israel (ibid.) refers to the God-fearing. Thus we learn that converts are like Israel. This is the reason for the insertion of the section, Man or woman” (Bemidbar Rabbah 8:1–2).

“About Israel, it is written, And they mingled with the nations and learned their deeds (Psalms 106:35)—until they are trampled under their feet in the exile, they can not be sorted out from them. About them, David of blessed memory said, Why should I fear in evil days, when crime comes round me at עֲקֵבַי (aqevai), my heels? (Psalms 49:6). About them Solomon said, Loveliest of women, if you lose your way, follow in the עִקְבֵי (iqvei), tracks, of the sheep (Song of Songs 1:8)—of יַעֲקֹב (Ya’aqov), Jacob. About him is written concerning the primordial serpent who seduced Eve, He will boot your head and you will bite his עָקֵב (aqev)heel (Genesis 3:15). [But] after leaving exile, they are compared to apples and all matters of fragrance, as when they departed Egypt, as it says, Under the apple tree I awakened you (Song of Songs 8:5)” (Zohar 2:120b, Ra’aya Meheimna Mishpatim).

Serpentine Sorcery: Whoever is Drawn Near Becomes Defiled

“Resh Laqish said, ‘… If one comes to defile himself, he is provided an opening; if one comes to purify himself, he is assisted” (BT Shabbat 104a).

“Come and see: In the middle of the sky, a lustrous path is woven—Celestial Serpent—all gossamer stars clustered with mounds upon mounds, encharged with requiting the deeds of inhabitants of the world. Similarly, numerous bands of dazzling demons issue from this supernal, primordial serpent—by whom Adam was seduced—and they are all encharged with requiting deeds of the world.

So if a person comes to purify himself, he is assisted from above; his Lord’s assistance encircles him, and he is protected, called ‘holy.’ If a person comes to defile himself, numerous bands of dazzling demons lie in wait for him; they all hover over him, surrounding him, defiling him, and he is called ‘impure.’ They all go in front of him, proclaiming, ‘Impure! Impure!—as is said: He shall call out, ‘Impure! Impure!’ (Leviticus 13:45). All of them are linked with that primordial serpent, requiting countless deeds of the world.

Rabbi Yitsḥaq and Rabbi Yose were walking from Tiberias to Lydda. Rabbi Yitsḥaq said, ‘I am amazed at that wicked Balaam, all of whose actions stemmed from the side of impurity! Here we learn a mystery: All species of נְחָשַׁיָּא (neḥshayya), sorcery, throughout the world are linked with, and issue from, that primordial נָחָשׁ (naḥash), serpent—slimy spirit of impurity. So all witchcraft of the world is named accordingly: נְחָשִׁים (neḥashim), serpentine sorcery, all issuing from this side. Whoever is drawn here becomes defiled. Furthermore, he must defile himself in order to draw upon himself that side of impure spirit. For we have learned: As one arouses, so he draws upon himself supernal holiness from above—and is sanctified. If one arouses the side of impurity, he draws upon himself a spirit of impurity—and is defiled. As already mentioned, we have learned that if a person comes to defile himself, he is defiled.

So in order to draw upon himself impure spirit from that supernal serpent, that wicked Balaam defiled himself every night with his donkey, engaging with her conjugally [see BT Sanhedrin 105a–b; Zohar 3:207a], in order to become defiled and draw upon himself impure spirit; then he enacted his sorcery.

To begin with, he would take one of those snakes and offer up incense before it. Then he split its head, extracted its tongue, took certain herbs, and burned everything—concocting incense. Next he took the snake’s head, split it in four, and concocted another incense. He traced a circle, recited a formula, and performed further rites—until he had drawn upon himself impure spirits, who revealed to him what he needed. Through them he accomplished his acts, by their knowledge derived from that celestial serpent. He continued his acts of sorcery until he had drawn upon himself a spirit from that primordial serpent. This is how he discovered and grasped knowledge of sorcery and divination; so it is written: He did not go, as time after time, to encounter נְחָשִׁים (neḥashim), serpentine sorceries (Numbers 24:1)—neḥashim, serpents, literally! The essential root lies in impurity, as has been said; subsequently all begins solely in this….

‘All these practices, all of Balaam’s knowledge—where did he learn it? He replied, ‘From his father. But in those mountains of the East, land of the East, he mastered all kinds of sorcery and divination—for in those mountains reside Uzza and Azael, whom the blessed Holy One had cast down from heaven. Bound in iron chains, they divulge sorcery to human beings; so from there Balaam knew, as is said: From Aram, Balak led me; Moab’s king, from mountains of the East (ibid. 23:7)” (Zohar 1:125a–126a, cf. Tiqqunei ha-Zohar 69, 97a).