The Nut Garden

לקוטים מזוהר (Gleanings of Zohar)

Tag: בַּעַל תְּשׁוּבָה

There was a Famine in the Land: Descent—a Need of Ascent

It came to pass after these things that God נִסָּה (nissah), tested, Abraham (Genesis 22:1). It is written: You have given נֵּס (nes), a banner, to those in awe of You לְהִתְנוֹסֵס (le-hitnoses), to be unfurled (Psalms 60:6)—trial upon trial, elevation above elevation, to test them in the world, to elevate them in the world like a ship’s banner” (Bereshit Rabbah 55:1).

“Once Abraham was crowned with his rungs in the Holy Land and entered the holy rung, what is written? There was a famine in the land (Genesis 12:10), for no one knew how to draw near the blessed Holy One [cf. Amos 8:10]. There was a famine in the land, for until now the power [of Shekhinah] over the land had not vitalized or nourished the land, for it was still unsanctified, unstable. As soon as Abraham saw that the power appointed over the land had not vitalized it fittingly with holy energy, Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there (ibid.). How did Abraham know? As is written: To your seed I give this land (ibid., 7). Then Abraham knew that the land would be arrayed in holy arrayal only through certain rungs issuing from him. He discovered a mystery of wisdom: only so would the land be arrayed in holiness [i.e., it is impossible to reach the height of perfection unless one has first descended into the realm of evil and risen from there, see Rabbi Avraham Galanté, Zahorei Ḥammah on Zohar 1:81b].

Abram went down to Egypt. Why Egypt? Because it is equivalent to the Garden of YHWH, as is written: Like the garden of YHWH, like the land of Egypt (ibid. 13:10) [cf. Deuteronomy 11:10]. For there one river on the right plunges, as is written: The name of the first is Pishon, the one winding through the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold (ibid. 2:11). Once Abraham knew and entered perfect faith, he sought to know all those rungs linked below, and since Egypt drew from the right, he went down to Egypt. 

Come and see: Famine prevails only when compassion withdraws from justice. 

When he drew near to Egypt (ibid. 12:11).

Rabbi El’azar said, כַּאֲשֶׁר הִקְרִיב (Ka’asher hiqriv), When he drew [someone] near. The verse should read: כַּאֲשֶׁר קָרַב (Ka’asher qarav), When he came near. Why Ka’asher hiqriv, when he drew [someone] near? As is written, Pharaoh hiqriv, drew [someone] near (Exodus 14:10), for he drew Israel back to God [see Shemot Rabbah 21:5]. Here too, hiqriv, for he drew himself near to the blessed Holy One fittingly. 

To enter Egypt (Genesis, ibid.)—to scrutinize those rungs, and shun them, to shun the ways of the Egyptians. 

Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘Come and see: Because Abraham went down to Egypt without permission, his descendants were enslaved there for four hundred years. For look at what is written: Abram went down to Egypt, and not: Go down to Egypt! ” (Zohar 1:81a–b).

“Come and see the mystery of the matter: If Abram had not gone down to Egypt and been refined there first, he would not have become the share of the blessed Holy One. Similarly with his children, when the blessed Holy One wanted to make them a unique and perfect people, to draw them close to Him: If they had not first gone down to Egypt and been refined there, they would not have become His unique nation. Similarly, if the Holy Land had not been given first to Canaan to rule, it would not have become the portion and share of the blessed Holy One [see Zohar 1:73b]. It is all one mystery….

Come and see: When Abraham entered the land the blessed Holy One appeared to him, as has been said, for it is written: to YHWH who had appeared to him (Genesis 12:7). There he received nefesh and built an altar for that rung. Afterward, continually journeying (ibid., 9), receiving ruaḥ. Finally he ascended to cleave to neshamah, and then he built an altar there to YHWH (ibid., 8)—uncharacterized, referring to neshamah, concealed of all concealed. 

Then he knew he had to be refined and crowned with rungs, so immediately Abram went down to Egypt (ibid., 10). He was delivered from there, not seduced by those dazzling demons. Refined, he returned to his domain. Having descended and been refined, immediately Abram went up from Egypt (ibid. 13:1)—went up, literally, returning to his domain, cleaving to supernal faith, as is written: to the Negev. From now one Abraham knew supernal wisdom, cleaving to the blessed Holy One, becoming the right hand of the world. Then Abram was very heavily laden with cattle, with silver, and with gold (ibid., 2). Very heavily laden—on the side of the East; with cattle—on the side of the West; with silver—on the side of the South; and with gold—on the side of the North” (Zohar 1:82b–83b).

“Come and see: When the blessed Holy One created Adam, He commanded him for his own good and endowed him with wisdom, whose rungs he climbed. Descending below, he rediscovered the craving of the evil impulse and clung to it, forgetting all he had attained of the supernal glory of his Lord.

Then came Noah. At first is written: Noah was a completely righteous man (Genesis 6:9). Later he descended below and saw strong wine, unclassified, one day old. He drank some of it, became drunk, and exposed himself.

Then came Abraham. He ascended in wisdom, contemplating the glory of his Lord. Afterwards, there was a famine in the land and Abram went down to Egypt… (ibid. 12:10). Subsequently what is written? Abram went up from Egypt… (ibid. 13:1), ascending to the rung he had attained at first. He entered in peace and emerged in peace.

Then came Isaac. What is written? There was a famine in the land… and Isaac went (ibid. 26:1). Isaac went and later ascended from there in peace.

Every single one of the righteous is tested by the blessed Holy One, to elevate them in this world and in the world that is coming” (Zohar 1:140b).

Israel’s Light Increases Little by Little

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“Rabbi Yehoshu’a son of Levi asked: ‘What is: And this is the Torah which Moses שָׂם (sam), set, before the children of Israel (Deuteronomy 4:44)?’ If he is worthy it becomes סַם (sam), medicine, of life, for him, if not, a סַם (sam), poison, of death” (BT Yoma 72b, cf. BT Ta’anit 7a).

“What was the beginning of Rabbi Akiva? They say that he was forty years old and had not learned a thing. Once, he was standing at the mouth of a well. He said, ‘Who carved this stone?’ They said to him, ‘The water that drips on it every day. Akiva, did you not read Water wears away stones (Job 14:19)?’ Immediately Akiva reasoned, ‘Just as the soft sculpts the hard, all the more so words of Torah, which are as hard as iron, can penetrate my heart, which is but flesh and blood! Immediately he returned to learn Torah.

He then went together with his son and they appeared before an elementary teacher. Akiva said to him: ‘Master, teach me Torah.’ Akiva took one end of the tablet, and his son the other end of the tablet. The teacher wrote down the alef-bet for him and he learned it; alef tav, and he learned it; the book of Leviticus, and he learned it. He went on studying until he learned the entire Torah. Then he went and appeared before Rabbi Eli’ezer and Rabbi Yehoshu’a. He said to them, ‘My masters, reveal the justification of Mishnah to me.’ When they told him one halakhah he went off to be by himself. He said, ‘This alef, why was it written? This bet, why was it written? This thing, why was it said?’ He came back and asked them, and reduced them to silence [cf. M Avot 3:17]….

Rabbi Tarfon said to him: ‘Akiva, of you it says The wellsprings of rivers he blocked. What was hidden he brought out to light (Job 28:11).’ What was hidden—from men, you Rabbi Akiva brought out to light” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, A6).

“Rabbah expounded in the name of Rabbi Sehora who had it from Rav Huna: What is: Wealth can be less than הֶבֶל (hevel), mere breath, but who gathers bit by bit makes it grow (Proverbs 13:11)? [cf. Ecclesiastes 1:2: הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים (havel havalim), merest breath]. If a man makes his Torah חֲבִילוֹת חֲבִילוֹת (ḥavilot ḥavilot), bundles of bundles, his learning decreases, and if he does not do so but gathers bit by bit he makes it grow. Rabbah remarked: The Rabbis are well aware of this matter and yet disregard it. Rabbi Naḥman son of Yistḥaq said: I acted on this advice and my study remained with me” (BT Eruvin 54b, cf. BT Avodah Zarah 19a).

If you find honey, eat just what you need, lest you have your fill of it and throw it up (Proverbs 25:16).

“[Torah]—the light in her reforms” (JT Ḥagigah 5:7, 80a).

He said, ‘Let me go, for dawn has risen! (Genesis 32:27). Rabbi Yehudah opened, Who is this looking forth like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun…? (Song of Songs 6:10). This verse has been established and explained, but Who is this looking forth?—Israel, when the blessed Holy One will raise them, bringing them out of exile. He will then open for them a tiny crack of light, then another opening, wider, until the blessed Holy One opens for them supernal gates facing four directions of the world. So with all the blessed Holy One does for Israel and for the righteous among them—always so, never all at once. This can be compared to a person thrown into darkness, dwelling in darkness constantly. When they want to illumine him, they must open the light to him like the eye of a needle, then wider, always gradually, until he is illumined with all the light fittingly. Similarly with Israel, as is said: little by little I will drive them out before you (Exodus 23:30). And so with one who is being cured: not all at once, but little by little until he is fortified [cf. JT Berakhot 1:1, 2c].

But with Esau, not so! Rather, he is illumined all at once and deprived little by little, until Israel are fortified and eliminate him entirely from this world and from the world that is coming. Since he blazed all at once, he is annihilated completely, whereas Israel’s light increases little by little until they are invigorated and the blessed Holy One illumines them forever. Everyone asks, Who is this looking forth like the dawn?—at first a subtle glow; then fair as the moon, then bright as the sun, then awesome as bannered hosts (Song of Songs, ibid.)—Beaming powerfully, intensely, fittingly” (Zohar 1:170a).

“Rabbi Levi said in the name of Rabbi Yose son of Ila’i, ‘It is natural that the great should calculate by the great, and the small by the small. Esau calculates by the sun, which is large, and Jacob by the moon, which is small.’ Rabbi Naḥman said, ‘That is a happy presage. Esau calculates by the sun, which is large: just as the sun rules by day but not by night, so does Esau have a share in this world, but has no share in the world to come. Jacob calculates by the moon, which is small: just as the moon rules by day and by night, so Jacob has a share in this world and in the world to come!’” (Bereshit Rabbah 6:3).

“Come and see! This is the way of Torah: At first, when she begins to reveal herself to a person, she beckons him momentarily with a hint. If he perceives, good; if not, she sends for him, calling him ‘simple’: ‘Tell that simple one to come closer, so I can talk with him.’ As is written: Whoever is simple, let him turn here, he who lacks understanding (Proverbs 9:4). As he approaches, she begins to speak with him from behind a curtain she has drawn, words suitable for him, until he reflects little by little. This is derasha [homiletical interpretation]. Then, she converses with him from behind a delicate sheet, words of riddle, and this is haggadah [allegorical tales].

Once he has grown accustomed to her, she reveals herself to him face-to-face, and tells him all her hidden secrets and all the hidden ways, concealed in her heart since primordial days. Then he is a complete man, husband of Torah, master of the house, for all her secrets she has revealed to him, concealing nothing” (Zohar 2:99a–b).

The path of the righteous is like light’s radiance, ever brighter till day has come. The way of the wicked is like darkness. They know not on what they stumble (Proverbs 4:18).

Master of Repentance: There is No Gate that Tears Cannot Enter

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“Seven things were created before the world was created: The Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Hell, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah…. תְשׁוּבָה (Teshuvah), repentance, as is written, Before mountains were spawned (Psalms 90:2), and it is written, You bring man back to the dust and say, שׁוּבוּ (shuvu), ‘Turn back, humankind’ (ibid., 3)” (BT Pesaḥim 54a).

“Rabbi Ḥama son of Ḥanina said: Great is repentance, for it brings healing to the world, as is said: I will heal their rebellion, I will love them freely (Hosea 14:5). Rabbi Ḥama son of Ḥanina raised [a difficulty]: It is written, Turn back, rebellious children (Jeremiah 3:22)—at first you were rebellious; and it is written, I will heal your rebellion (ibid.). This is not difficult: here out of love; there, out of fear.

Rav Yehudah raised [a difficulty]: It is written: Turn back, rebellious children—I will heal your rebellion, and it is written: For I have claimed possession of you and have taken you, one from a town and two from a clan, [and brought you to Zion] (ibid., 14). This is not difficult: Here out of love or fear; there, through suffering.

Rabbi Levi said: Great is repentance, for it reaches up to the Throne of Glory, as is said: Turn back, O Israel, to YHWH your God (Hosea 14:2). Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Great is repentance, for it overrides a prohibition of Torah, as is said: [And the word of YHWH came to me,] saying: Look, should a man send away his wife, and she go from him and become another man’s, can he go back to her again? Would not that land be wholly polluted? And you, you have whored with many lovers, and would you come back to Me? said YHWH (Jeremiah 3:1) [cf. Deuteronomy 24:4].

Rabbi Yonatan said: Great is repentance, because it brings about redemption, as is said, And a redeemer shall come to Zion, and to those who turn back from crime in Jacob (Isaiah 59:20). A redeemer shall come to Zion—why? Because of those who turn back from crime in Jacob. Resh Laqish said: Great is repentance, because through it rebellious deeds are counted as errors, as is said, Turn back, O Israel, to YHWH your God, for you have stumbled in your crime (Hosea 14:2). Crime—[surely] rebellious deeds, yet the prophet calls it ‘stumbling!’ Resh Laqish also said: Great is repentance, because through it rebellious deeds are counted as though they were merits, as is said, And when the wicked turns back from his wickedness and does justice and righteousness, for it he shall live (Ezekiel 33:19). This is not difficult: Here out of love; there, out of fear.

Rabbi Shemu’el son of Naḥmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonatan: Great is repentance, because it prolongs the [days and] years of man, as is said: And when the wicked man turns back from his wickedness that he has done and does justice and righteousness, he shall preserve himself in life (ibid. 18:27). Rabbi Yitsḥaq said: In the West [i.e., the land of Israel] they said in the name of Rabbah son of Mari: Come and see how different from the character of one of flesh and blood is the action of the blessed Holy One. As to the character of one of flesh and blood, if one angers his fellow, it is doubtful whether he will be appeased by him or not. And even if you would say, he can be appeased, it is doubtful whether he will be appeased by mere words. But with the blessed Holy One if a man commits a transgression in secret, He is appeased by mere words, as is said: Take words with you and turn back to YHWH (Hosea 14:3). And not only that: It is held by Him good, as is said: And take what is good (ibid.). And not only that: The verse ascribes to him as if he had offered up bulls, as is said: And we shall offer our speech instead of bulls (ibid.). Lest you say ‘obligatory bulls,’ it says: I will heal their rebellion, I will love them freely (ibid., 5).

It was taught: Rabbi Me’ir used to say, Great is repentance, for the entire world is forgiven on account of a single individual who repents, as is said: I will heal their rebellion, I will love them freely, for My wrath has turned back from him (Hosea 14:5). It does not say from them, but from him. What is בַּעַל תְּשׁוּבָה (ba’al teshuvah), a master of repentance, like? Rav Yehudah said: If the forbidden thing came to his hand a first time and a second time, and he escapes to the right in protest. Rav Yehudah [added]: With the same woman, at the same time, in the same place.

Rav Yehudah said: Rav raised [the following difficulties]: It is written: Happy, of sin forgiven, absolved of offense (Psalms 32:1); and it is also written: Who covers his crimes will not prosper, [but who admits and leaves off will be granted mercy] (Proverbs 28:13)? This is not difficult. Here, offenses that have become known; there, offenses that have not become known. Rav Zutra son of Toviah in the name of Rav Naḥman said: Here we speak of offenses committed by a man against his fellow, there of offenses committed by man against the Omnipresent.

It was taught: Rabbi Yose son of Yehudah said: If a man commits a transgression, the first, second and third time he is forgiven, the fourth time he is not forgiven, as is said: Thus said YHWH: For three trespasses of Israel, and for four, I will not turn it back (Amos 2:6); and it says: Look, all this God performs twice or thrice with a man, [to bring back his being from the Pit, to glow in the light of life] (Job 33:29). What is ‘and it says’ [i.e., why the additional proof text]? Lest you say this applies only to a community, but not to an individual. Come and hear: Look, all this God performs twice or thrice with a man.

Our Rabbis taught: As for the transgressions which one has confessed on one Yom Kippur, he should not confess them on another Yom Kippur; but if he repeated them, then he should confess them, on another Yom Kippur. And if he had not committed them again, yet confessed them again, of him is written: Like a dog going back to his vomit a dolt repeats his folly (Proverbs 26:11). Rabbi Eli’ezer son of Ya’aqov said: He is more praiseworthy, as is said: For my crimes I know, and my offense is before me always (Psalms 51:5). How then do I [explain], Like a dog going back to his vomit? In accord with Rav Huna, for Rav Huna said: Once a man has committed a transgression once and twice, it is permitted to him. ‘Permitted’—can it enter your mind that it is permitted to him?! Rather, it appears to him as if it were permitted.

One must confess the offense in detail, as is said, This people has committed a great offense, they have made themselves gods of gold (Exodus 32:31). These are the words of Rav Yehudah son of Bava. Rabbi Akiva said: [This is not necessary], as is said: Happy, of sin forgiven, absolved of offense. [Happy, the man to whom YHWH reckons no crime, in whose spirit is no deceit] (Psalms 32:1). Then why did Moses say: they have made themselves gods of gold? That accords with Rabbi Yannai, for Rabbi Yannai said [see BT Berakhot 32a]: Moses said before the blessed Holy One: Master of the Universe! [It is] the silver and gold that you gave to Israel in abundance, until they said: דַי (Dai), enough, [which] caused them to make gods of gold [a play on the name of a place called דִי זָהָב (di zahav), Di-Zahab (Deuteronomy 1:1)]” (BT Yoma 86a–b).

“Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘Everything in the world depends upon repentance and upon the prayer that one offers to the blessed Holy One—especially one who sheds tears in his prayer, for there is no gate that those tears cannot enter. What is written? She opened it and saw the child (Exodus 2:6). She openedShekhinah, who stands over Israel like a mother over her children, and She always opens in their defense. As soon as She opened she saw the child—a child of delight (Jeremiah 31:20), Israel, who sin before their King in everything and immediately turn back in repentance, crying before Him like a son before his father. What is written? And look, a boy crying! (Exodus 2:6)—once he cries, all evil decrees of the world are annulled. What is written? She had compassion on him—aroused in mercy for him, taking pity on him. She said, ‘This is one of the children of the Hebrews’ (ibid.)—not one of the children of the other nations, who are stiff-necked and hard-hearted. One of the children of the Hebrews—tender-hearted from their fathers and mothers, to return to their Lord. She called the child’s mother (Exodus 2:8)—who was weeping, as is written: A voice is heard on a height—wailing, bitter weeping—Rachel weeping for her children… (Jeremiah 31:14). He is crying, and the child’s mother is crying. Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘Of the time to come, what is written? With weeping they will come, and with consolations I will guide them (ibid., 9). What does this mean: With weeping they will come? By virtue of the weeping of the child’s mother, who is Rachel, they will come and be gathered in from exile” (Zohar 2:12b).

Thus says YHWH: A voice is heard in Ramah—wailing, bitter weeping—Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children, because they are no more (Jeremiah 31:15).

“Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘Until the day that Shekhinah returns to that site together with the exiles of Israel, as is said: There is no hope for your future, declares YHWH: children will return to their land (Jeremiah 31:17). The blessed Holy One swore this oath to her, and as they return from exile, Israel are destined to stand by Rachel’s grave and weep there, just as she wept over Israel’s exile. So it is written: With weeping they will come (ibid., 9), and: There is reward for your labor (ibid., 16). At that moment, Rachel—who is by the road—is destined to rejoice along with Israel and Shekhinah, as the Companions have established” (Zohar 1:175a–b, cf. Bereshit Rabbah 82:10; Mekhilta, Pisḥa 14; BT Megillah 29a; Zohar 1:203a).