“Rabbi Simlai expounded: What does an embryo resemble when it is in the belly of its mother? Folded writing tablets. Its hands rest on its two temples, its two elbows on its two legs and its two heels against its buttocks. Its head lies between its knees, its mouth is closed and its navel is open, and it eats what its mother eats and drinks what its mother drinks, but produces no excrement because otherwise it might kill its mother. However, as soon as it emerges into the atmosphere the closed organ opens and the open one closes, for if that had not happened the embryo could not live even one single hour.
A lamp burns above its head and it looks and sees from one end of the world to the other, as is said, when He shined His lamp over my head, by its light I walked in darkness (Job 29:3). And do not be astonished at this, for a person sleeping here [in Babylon] might see a dream in Spain. And you have no days in which a human dwells in more happiness than in these days, for it is said, Would that I were as in moons of yore, as the days when God watched over me (ibid. 29:2); now which are the days that have moons but do not have years? These are the moons of bearing [i.e., months of pregnancy].
It is also taught the entire Torah, for it is said, And he taught me and said to me:‘Let your heart hold on to my words. Keep my commandments and live (Proverbs 4:4), and it is also said, [as I was in the days of my prime]—God an intimate of my tent (Job 29:4). Why the addition of ‘and it is also said?’—in case you might say that it was only the prophet who said that [so that it does not apply to other men], come and hear: God an intimate of my tent.
As soon as it emerges into the atmosphere an angel approaches, slaps it on its mouth and causes it to forget the entire Torah, as is said, at the tent flap sin crouches (Genesis 4:7) [cf. BT Sanhderin 91b; Zohar Ḥadash 46d–47b; Plato, Meno 80a–86c]. It does not emerge from there before it is made to take an oath, as is said, That unto Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear (Isaiah 45:23). That unto Me every knee shall bow—the day of dying of which it is said Before Him will kneel all who go down to the dust whose life is undone (Psalms 22:30); Every tongue shall swear—the day of birth of which it is said, the clean of hands and the pure of heart, who has given no oath in a lie and has sworn not in deceit (Psalms 24:4).
What is the nature of the oath that it is made to take? Be righteous, and never be wicked; and even if all the world tells you, ‘You are righteous,’ be in your eyes like a wicked person. Know that the blessed Holy One is pure, that His attendants are pure and that the נְשָׁמָה (neshamah), soul, He gave you is pure; if you preserve it in purity, well and good, but if not, I will take it away from you [cf. BT Berakhot 60b].
The 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 גוֹזִי (gozi) implies swearing?—because it is written, גָּזִּי נִזְרֵךְ (Gazi Nizrekh), swear your naziriteship, and cast it away [lit., cut off your hair and cast it away] (Jeremiah 7:29)” (BT Niddah 30b–31a).
“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 norock 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), Former, 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 likeYHWH, for there is no one beside You, and 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 YHWH. And 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 verdict] by 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 biltekha, without You. This is for there is no one biltekha—their holiness does not exist without You.
And there is no צוּר (tsur), rock, like 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 rock: Look to the rock from which you were hewn (Isaiah 51:1); You shall strike the rock. Look, I 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).
“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” (BT Berakhot 10a).
“נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים (Nishmat ḥayyim), the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). She has five names: nefesh, ruaḥ, neshamah, yeḥidah, ḥayyah. Nefesh—blood, as is written, the blood is הַנָּפֶשׁ (ha-nafesh), the life (Deuteronomy 12:23). Ruaḥ—she ascends and descends [like the רוּחַ (ruaḥ), wind], as is written, Who knows whether man’s רוּחַ (ruaḥ), spirit, goes upward and the beast’s spirit goes down to earth (Ecclesiastes 3:21). Neshamah—הָאוֹפִיָּא (ha-ofiyya), the breath [or: temperament. Cf. אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם (erekh appayim), Long-suffering (lit., Long-nosed)]; as people say, ‘His temperament is good.’ Ḥayyah—all the limbs are lifeless, yet she is חַיָּה (ḥayyah), vitality, in the body. Yeḥidah—all the limbs [or: organs] are two by two (Genesis 7:9), yet she is יְחִידָה (yeḥidah), unique, in the body’ [cf. Psalms 22:21: Save from the sword נַפְשִׁי (nafshi), my life, from the cur’s power יְחִידָתִי (yeḥidati), my person].
It is written, Should He set His mind on man, if He would gather to Him רוּחוֹ וְנִשְׁמָתוֹ (ruḥo ve-nismato), his spirit and his breath, all flesh would expire together, man to the dust would return (Job 34:14–15). Rabbi Yehoshu’a son of Rabbi Neḥemiah and the Rabbis discussed this. Rabbi Yehoshu’a son of Rabbi Neḥemiah interpreted it: ‘Should God set His mind on this man—רוּחוֹ (ruḥo), his spirit, was already in His hand’; ‘If He would gather to him his breath, into his body, all humanity would expire together‘ [i.e., if He concentrated man’s soul in one part of his body instead of permitting her to pervade all his limbs]; but when man is sleeping the neshamah warms the body so that it should not shiver and die. Rabbi Bisni, Rabbi Aḥa, and Rabbi Yoḥanan in Rabbi Me’ir’s name said: The neshamah fills the body, and when man sleeps she ascends and draws life for him from above. Rabbi Levi said in Rabbi Ḥanina’s name: She repeatedly ascends. For every breath which a man takes he must give praise to the blessed Holy One. What is the reason? Let every הַנְּשָׁמָה (ha-neshamah), soul, praise Yah (Psalms 150:6)—let every הַנְּשִׁימָה (ha-neshimah), breath, praise Yah….
Rabbi Shemu’el, the son-in-law of Rabbi Ḥanina, the companion of the Rabbis, said: Here [Genesis 2:7] neshamah is identified with nesfesh, whereas in another text the neshamah is equated with ruaḥ [ibid. 7:22: all that had the נִשְׁמַת רוּחַ חַיִּים (nishmat ruaḥ ḥayyim), quickening breath of life, in its nostrils]. How do we know that the statement of the one text is applicable to that of the other and vice versa? Because ḥayyim, life, is written in both texts, proving that they are analogous [hence the neshamah is both nefesh and ruaḥ]” (Bereshit Rabbah 14:9).
“Why is it called זָהָב (zahav), gold? Because in it three qualities are included. זָכָר (Zakhar), male—ז (zayin). הַנְּשָׁמָה (Ha-neshamah), the soul—ה (he), for ה״ (five) names of the soul [which are feminine nouns]: ruaḥ, ḥayyah, yeḥidah, neshamah, nefesh. What is the function of he? She is a throne for zayin, as is written, For he who is high has a higher one watching him (Ecclesiastes 5:7). And ב (bet)? She is their sustained existence, as is said, בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא (Bereshit bara),In the beginning created… (Genesis 1:1).
What is her function here? A parable: A king had a daughter who was good, sweet, lovely, and perfect. He married her to a royal prince—and clothed, crowned, and bejewelled her, giving her abundant wealth. Is it possible for the king to ever leave his daughter? You would say not. Is it possible for him to remain with her constantly, the entire day? You would say not. What then must he do? He places a חַלּוֹן (ḥallon), window [or: screen], between the two, and whenever the father needs his daughter, or the daughter needs her father, they can unite through the window [cf. Bereshit Rabbah 74:7]. As is written, All the glory of the king’s daughteris inward, filigree of זָהָב (zahav), gold, her raiment (Psalms 45:14) [on the association of this verse with the sanctuary, see Tanḥuma, Bemidbar 3; Tanḥuma (Buber), Bemidbar 3; Bemidbar Rabbah 1:3; Zohar 3:171a]” (Bahir §§53–54).
“What prompted David to praise the blessed Holy One with his soul? Well, he said, ‘The soul fills the body, and the blessed Holy One fills His world, as is said: Do not I מָלֵא (male), fill, the heavens and earth? (Jeremiah 23:24); let the soul, which fills the body, come and praise the blessed Holy One, who fills all the world. The soul carries the body, and the blessed Holy One carries His world, as is said, I have made it and I will carry, I will bear it [and I will rescue] (Isaiah 46:4); let the soul, which carries the body, come and praise the blessed Holy One, who carries His world” (Vayiqrah Rabbah 4:8).
For the sake of My name אַאֲרִיךְ אַפִּי (a’arikh appi), I lengthen My nose, and for My praise אֶחֱטָם (eḥetom), restrain it, for you, so as not to cut you off (Isaiah 48:9, cf. Bahir §5 ad loc.).
“Secrecy within secrecy was prepared and arranged in a single skull filled with crystalline dew. Membrane of air, purified and sealed; those strands of clean fleece hanging evenly. Will of Wills is revealed through צְלוֹתָא (tselota), prayer [lit., roast sacrifice], of those below. Open-eyed watching, never sleeping, ever vigilant; supervision below by supervision of radiance above. Two nostrils of an official arousing breath for all [as a nose supervising commandingly]” (Zohar 2:176b, Sifra di-Tsni’uta).
“It has been taught: This nose is small, and when smoke begins to emerge, it comes out hurriedly and Judgment is executed. Who prevents this nose from spewing smoke? The nose of the Holy Ancient One, Who is called אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם (Erekh Appayim), Long-nosed, Long-suffering, of all…. When the Holy Ancient One is revealed to Ze’eir Anpin, all appear in Compassion; the nose is assuaged, and no smoke emerges, as we have learned, for it is written: For My praise אֶחֱטָם (eḥetom), I restrain the nose, for you… (Isaiah 48:9)…. Thus it is written YHWH smelled the pleasing aroma (Genesis 8:21), for all depends on the nose—that this nose may smell the smoke and red fire, whereby the offering is accepted with favor. This corresponds to what is written: The nose of YHWH will flare against you (Deuteronomy 11:17); My nose will flare (Exodus 22:23); lest the nose of YHWH flare (Deuteronomy 6:15)—all referring to Ze’eir Anpin” (Zohar 3:137b–138a, Idra Rabba).
“וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים (Va-yippaḥ be-appaiv nishmat ḥayyim), And He blew into his nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7)—חוֹתָם (ḥotam), stamp, signet ring, seal [חוֹתָם (ḥotam) puns on חוֹטֶם (ḥotem), nose]” (Ba’al ha-Turim).
“And they went up through the Negeb and he came to Hebron (Number 13:22)—it should read and they came!—Rabba said: It teaches that Caleb held aloof from the plan of the spies and went and prostrated himself upon the graves of the patriarchs, saying to them, ‘My fathers, pray on my behalf that I may be delivered from the plan of the spies.’ As for Joshua, Moses had already prayed on his behalf; as it is said: And Moses called Hosea the son of Nun יְהוֹשֻׁעַ (Yehoshu’a), Joshua (ibid., 16),[meaning], יָהּ יוֹשִׁיעַךָ (Yah yoshi’akha), May Yah save you, from the spies’ plan. That is the intention of what is written: But My servant Caleb, inasmuch as there was another spirit with him (ibid. 14:24)” (BT Sotah 34b).
“Why do they go to the cemetery?—with regard to this there is a difference of opinion between Rabbi Levi son of Ḥama [alt., Rabbi Levi son of Laḥma] and Rabbi Ḥanina. One says: [To signify thereby], We are as the dead before You; and the other says: In order that the dead should intercede for mercy on our behalf. What is the difference between them?—the difference is with regard to going to the cemetery of the nations” (BT Ta’anit 16a).
“The sons of Rabbi Ḥiyya went to the villages to cultivate their property, and they began to forget their learning. They tried very hard to recall it. One said to the other: Does our father know of our trouble? How should he know, replied the other, seeing that it is written, If sons grow great, he will not notice them (Job 14:21). The other said to him: But does he not know? Is it not written: But the flesh upon him will ache, נַפְשׁוֹ (nafsho), his own being, will mourn for him (ibid., 22). And Rabbi Yitsḥaq said [commenting on this]: The worm is as painful to the dead as a needle in the flesh of the living? [He replied]: It is explained that they know their own pain, they do not know the pain of others.
Is that so? Has it not been taught: It is related that a certain devout man gave a denar to a poor man on the eve of Rosh HaShanah in a year of drought, and his wife scolded him, and he went and passed the night in the cemetery, and he heard two רוּחוֹת (ruḥot), spirits, conversing with one another. One said to her companion: My dear, come and let us wander about the world and let us hear from behind הַפַּרְגּוֹד (ha-parggod), the curtain, what suffering is coming on the world [in the divine judgment pronounced on Rosh Hashanah]. Her companion said to her: I am not able, because I am buried in a matting of reeds [and not in a linen shroud]. But do go, and whatever you hear tell me.
So the other went and wandered about and returned. Her companion said to her: My dear, what have you heard from behind the curtain? She replied: I heard that whoever sows after the first rainfall [about the seventeenth of Heshvan (Rashi)] will have his crop destroyed by hail. So the man went and did not sow till after the second rainfall [which would be about six days after the first], with the result that everyone else’s crop was destroyed but his was not destroyed [not being sufficiently grown yet].
The next year he again went and passed the night in the cemetery, and heard the two spirits conversing with one another. One said to her companion: Come and let us wander about the world and hear from behind the curtain what punishment is coming upon the world. The other said to her: My dear, did I not tell you that I am not able because I am buried in a matting of reeds? But you go, and whatever you hear, come and tell me. So the other one went and wandered about the world and returned. She said to her: My dear, what have you heard from behind the curtain? She replied: I heard that whoever sows after the later rain will have his crop struck with blight. So the man went and sowed after the first rain with the result that everyone else’s crop was blighted but his was not blighted [being by now strong enough to resist]. His wife said to him: How is it that last year everyone else’s crop was destroyed but yours was not destroyed, and this year everyone else’s crop is blighted and yours is not blighted? So he related to her all his experiences.
The story goes that shortly afterwards a quarrel broke out between the wife of that devout man and the mother of the child [whose ruaḥ, spirit, the devout man had heard conversing], and the former said to the latter, Come and I will show you your daughter buried in a matting of reeds. The next year the man again went and spent the night in the cemetery and heard those conversing together. One said: My dear, come and let us wander about the world and hear from behind the curtain what suffering is coming upon the world. Said the other: My dear, leave me alone; our conversation has already been heard among the living. This would prove that they know?—perhaps some other man after his death went and told them.
Come and hear: for Ze’iri deposited some money with his landlady, and while he was away visiting Rav she died. So he went after her to the court of death and said to her, Where is my money? She replied to him: Go and take it from under the ground, in the hole of the doorpost, in such and such a place, and tell my mother to send me my comb and my tube of eye-paint by the hand of so-and-so who is coming here tomorrow. Does not this show that they know?—perhaps דוּמָה (Dumah) [lit., Silence, the angel presiding over the dead] announces to them beforehand [that so-and-so will die, but they know nothing else].
Come and hear: The father of Shemu’el had some money belonging to orphans deposited with him. When he died, Shemu’el was not with him, and they called him, ‘The son who consumes the money of orphans.’ So he went after his father to the cemetery, and said to them [the dead]. I am looking for Abba. They said to him: There are many of that name here. I want Abba son of Abba, he said. They replied: There are also several Abbas son of Abba here. He then said to them: I want Abba son of Abba the father of Shemu’el; where is he? They replied: He has gone up to the מְתִיבְתָּא רָקִיעַא (metivta raqia), celestial academy.
Meanwhile he saw Levi sitting outside. He said to him: Why are you sitting outside? Why have you not gone up? He replied: Because they said to me: For as many years as you did not go up to the academy of Rav Efes and hurt his feelings [see BT Ketubbot 13b], we will not let you go up to the celestial academy. Meanwhile his father came. Shemu’el observed that he was both weeping and laughing. He said to him: Why are you weeping? He replied: Because you are coming here soon. And why are you laughing? Because you are highly esteemed in this world. He thereupon said to him: If I am esteemed, let them take up Levi; and they did take up Levi. He then said to him: Where is the money of the orphans? He replied: Go and you will find it in the case of the millstones. The money at the top and the bottom is mine, that in the middle is the orphans’ He said to him: Why did you do like that? He replied: So that if thieves came, they should take mine, and if the earth destroyed any, it should destroy mine. Does not this show that they know?—perhaps Shemu’el was exceptional: as he was esteemed, they proclaimed beforehand, Make way [for him]!
Rabbi Yonatan also retracted his opinion. For Rabbi Shemu’el son of Naḥmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonatan: Whence do we know that the dead converse with one another? Because it says: And YHWH said to him, ‘This is the land that I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, [To your seed I will give it’] (Deuteronomy 34:4). What is the meaning of לֵאמֹר (lemor), saying? The blessed Holy One said to Moses: Say to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: The oath which I swore to you I have already carried out for your descendants.
Now if you maintain that the dead do not know, what would be the use of his telling them?—you infer then that they do know. In that case, why should he need to tell them?—so that they might be grateful to Moses. Rabbi Yitsḥaq said: If one makes remarks about the dead, it is like making remarks about a stone. Some say [the reason is that] they do not know, others that they know but do not care. Can that be so? Has not Rav Papa said: A certain man made derogatory remarks about Mar Shemu’el and a log fell from the roof and broke his skull?—a disciple of wisdom is different, because the blessed Holy One avenges his honor” (BT Berakhot 18b–19a).
“Rabbi Ḥiyya prostrated himself on the ground, kissing the dust and weeping. He cried out, ‘Dust, dust, how stubborn you are, how impudent! All delights of the eye decay in you. All pillars of light in the world you consume and pulverize. How insolent you are! The Holy Lamp who has illumined the world, majestic ruler, prince, whose merit sustains the world, decays in you. O Rabbi Shim’on, radiance of the lamp, radiance of the worlds, you decompose in the dust, yet you subsist and guide the world!’
For a moment he was shocked, and then exclaimed, ‘Dust, dust, do not boast! The pillars of the world will not be surrendered to you. Rabbi Shim’on has not decayed in you! [since the bodies of the righteous do not decay, see BT Bava Metsi’a 84b]” (Zohar 1:4b).
“Rabbi Yehudah son of Shalom was walking on the way, and Rabbi Abba was with him. They entered a certain אַתְרָא (atra), place and lodged there [alt., אִדְּרָא (iddera), threshing floor, from the Greek ἕδρᾱ (hedra), seat, implying a sacred site (see Meroz, ‘The Story in the Zohar about the Grieving Dead’)]. They ate. When they wished to lie down, they lay their heads on a mound of earth—where there was a grave. Before they fell asleep, a voice called out from the grave, saying, ‘A seed is earthbound. For twelve years I have not awakened, except now; I have just seen the countenance of my son!’
Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘Who are you?’ He replied, ‘I am a Jew and I sit reproached; I do not want to enter on account of my son’s sorrow, for a gentile kidnapped him when he was young, and he beats him every day. His sorrow prevents me from entering my site, and I have not awakened in this place until now.’ He said to him, ‘Are you aware of the sorrows of the living? He replied, ‘[By the life of] the denizens of the graves! Were it not for our supplications on behalf of the living, they would not survive for even half a day! Now I have awakened here, for today I was told that presently my son would be coming here, though I know not whether dead or alive [cf. BT Sanhedrin 104a].’
Rabbi Yehudah said to him, ‘What is your business in that world?’ The grave rumbled and said, ‘Arise, be gone! For now they are beating my son.’ They were stunned and fled from there about half a mile. They sat until the morning shone. They rose to walk on. They saw a person running and fleeing, his shoulders dripping blood. They grabbed him and he told them what had happened. They said to him, ‘What is your name?’
He replied, ‘Laḥma son of Levai.’ They said, ‘Was not that dead man Levai son of Laḥma?! We are afraid to speak with him anymore [cf. BT Ta’anit 16a]! They did not return. Rabbi Abba said, ‘Concerning what they said: that the prayers of the dead protect the living—how do we know? As is written: They went up through the Negeb, and he came as far as Hebron (Numbers 13:22) [cf. BT Sotah 34b]'” (Zohar 2:16a–b, Midrash ha-Ne’lam).
“Inhabitants of the world will one day cry out, and no one will care about them. They will turn their heads in every direction and turn back without a remedy. But one remedy I have found in the world and no more. In a place where there exist those who toil in Torah, if there exists among them a Torah scroll free of falsification—when they take this out, for its sake upper and lower beings arouse, especially if the Holy Name is written therein properly. We have already learned this matter.
Woe to the generation among whom the Torah scroll is exiled, yet beings above and below fail to arouse! Who will arouse for it when the world is in greater trouble and the Torah scroll must be exiled further because of the world’s distress? For when the world suffers and people pray for mercy at the graves, all the dead arouse for them. נֶפֶשׁ (Nefesh) hastens to inform רוּחַ (ruaḥ)that the Torah scroll is in exile—exiled because of the world’s distress—and the living are coming and pleading for mercy. Then ruaḥinforms נְשָׁמָה (neshamah), and neshamah informs the blessed Holy One. Then the blessed Holy One arouses and has compassion upon the upper world—all because the Torah scroll was exiled from its place and the living come to pray for mercy at the graves of the dead. Woe to the generation if the Torah scroll must be exiled from place to place—even from synagogue to synagogue—for they lack anything to stimulate caring for them! …
We have learned: For twelve months nefesh is bound to the body in the grave and they are judged as one, except for nefesh of the righteous, as we have established. She is present in the grave, aware of its suffering and of the suffering of the living, but she does not exert herself for them. After twelve months, she clothes herself in a certain garment and goes roaming through the world. She discovers from ruaḥwhat she discovers and exerts herselffor the suffering of the living.
Who arouses all this? A virtuous person—when there is one—who informs them fittingly; that virtuous one is recognized by them. Come and see: When a virtuous person endures, he is known among the living and among the dead, for every day he is proclaimed among them. When suffering intensifies in the world and he cannot protect the generation, he informs them of the world’s suffering. When there is no virtuous person to be proclaimed among them, when no one can be found to arouse them for the suffering of the world except for the Torah scroll, then upper and lower beings arouse over it. At that time, all must engage in teshuvah; if they do not, masters of judgment arouse against them—even ruḥot, spirits, in the Garden of Eden arouse against them.
I will lie down with my fathers (Genesis 47:30)—in body, nefesh, ruaḥ, neshamah, in a single chariot, on a supernal rung.
Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘How utterly stopped up are inhabitants of the world, neither knowing nor hearing nor contemplating matters of the world, and how the blessed Holy One hovers over them compassionately, constantly. No one is aware!
Three times a day, one spirit enters the cave of Machpelah and wafts upon the graves of the patriarchs; bones heal and stand vitally erect. That spirit draws down dew from above—from the head of the King, site of supernal patriarchs—and when that dew arrives from them, the patriarchs below awaken.
Come and see: That dew descends by certain levels, level after level, reaching the lower Garden of Eden, where it is infused by the spices of the Garden. One spirit arouses—composed of two others—rising, drifting among the spices, entering the opening of the cave. Then the patriarchs awaken, they and their spouses, and plead for mercy for their children.
When the world is in distress because they are asleep on account of the sins of the world, that dew does not flow or appear until a Torah scroll arouses fittingly in the world. Then nefesh informs ruaḥ, and ruaḥ neshamah, and neshamah the blessed Holy One. The King then sits on the throne of mercy, and there issues from the supernal Ancient One a flow of טַלָּא דִּבְדוֹלְחָא (talla di-vdulḥa), crystal dew, reaching the head of the King, and the patriarchs are blessed, and that dew flows to those sleepers, who then all conjoin, and the blessed Holy One has compassion upon the world.
Come and see: The blessed Holy One does not have compassion upon the world until He has informed the patriarchs, and for their sake the world is blessed” (Zohar 1:225a–b).
“Those [Egyptian] sorcerers would go to cemeteries and perform their sorcery and make an image of a human and slaughter before it one goat. Afterward they put that goat in a certain grave, break that image into four quarters, and place them in the four corners of the grave. Then they perform their sorcery, and an assemblage of those evil species gathers and brings that soul, which enters the grave and speaks to them.
Rabbi Yitsḥaq said, ‘Happy are the righteous in this world and in the world that is coming, for they are holy! Their body is holy, their nefesh is holy, their ruaḥ is holy, their neshamah is holy of holies—three rungs, corresponding to the pattern above. For it has been taught: Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘It is written Let the earth bring forth נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה (nefesh ḥayyah), a living soul (Genesis 1:24)—supernal soul of supernal Adam.
Come and see: There are three rungs, joining as one—nefesh, ruaḥ, neshamah—and highest of them is neshamah. For Rabbi Yose has said, ‘All people have nefesh, though one nefesh is superior to another. If a person proves worthy of this nefesh, a certain crown is infused in him, called ruaḥ, as is written: until רוּחַ (ruaḥ), is poured upon us from on high (Isaiah 32:15). Then the person is aroused by another sublime arousal to contemplate the ways of the Holy King. If the person proves worthy of that ruaḥ, he is adorned with a supernal holy crown encompassing all, called neshamah—called נִּשְׁמַת אֱלוֹהַּ (nishmat Eloah), soul of God (Job 4:9)….
One should not go there without teshuvah and without fasting, to plead before them. Rabbi Ḥiyya said, ‘Without three fasts.’ Rabbi Yose said, ‘Even one, on that day—but only if the world is plunged in great suffering. Then [the souls of the righteous] all join to plead for mercy over the world.’ …
Rabbi Yeisa said, ‘When the world is in need, why do we go to the dead? Is it not written or inquires of the dead (Deuteronomy 18:11)? So it is forbidden! He [Rabbi Ḥizkiyah] replied, ‘You have not seen the wings of the Bird of Eden [i.e., Shekhinah]. Or inquires of the dead—precisely, who are the wicked of the world, of the other nations, who are always dead. But as for Israel, who are truly righteous, Solomon declared over them, the dead, who have already died (Ecclesiastes 4:2)—another time, not now. Who have already died—and now they are alive.
Furthermore, when other nations visit their dead, they come with sorcery to arouse evil species [cf. Leqaḥ Tov on Deuteronomy 34:6]. But when the people of Israel does so, they come in great teshuvah before the blessed Holy One, with a broken heart, with fasting—and all so that those holy souls will plead before the blessed Holy One for mercy upon them.
Consequently we have learned: Even though a righteous person has departed from this world, he has not disappeared or vanished from all the worlds, since he exists in all those worlds more than in his lifetime [cf. BT Qetubbot 103a; Freud, Totem and Taboo]. During his life he exists only in this world; afterward he exists in three worlds and is welcome there, as is written: Therefore, maidens, love you (Song of Songs 1:3)—do not read עֲלָמוֹת (alamot), maidens, but rather עוֹלָמוֹת (olamot), worlds. Happy is their share!” (Zohar 3:70a–71b, cf. BT Bava Metsi’a 85b; Qohelet Rabbah on 10:10; Sefer Ḥasidim [ed. Margaliot] 450, 452).
“Rabbi Shim’on said, ‘If a person obtains a recycled soul and fails to have it rectified within him, it is as though he falsifies the truth of the King; and I apply to him the verse: or if he finds something lost and denies it and swears falsely (Leviticus 5:22). And denies it—better for him if he had never been created! [cf. BT Niddah 30b; Zohar 3:13a].
We have learned: ‘A completely righteous person is not thrust aside; an incompletely righteous person is.’ Who is completely righteous, and who is incompletely righteous? Could it be that one whose deeds are flawed is called righteous? [cf. BT Berakhot 7a–b, Megillah 6b, Bava Metsi’a 71a, Avodah Zarah 4a].’
‘Well, a completely righteous person is clearly recognized, for he has not taken tortuous convolutions; and with his inheritance he builds a structure, erects walls, hews out wells, and plants trees.
An incompletely righteous person is one who builds a structure with another’s inheritance—digging into it, restoring the foundation stones as before, toiling over it; yet he does not know if it will remain his. Furthermore, regarding himself, he is considered good and righteous; but regarding that inheritance, not so.
This may be compared to a person who builds a beautiful and attractive building. But when he examines the foundation, he sees that it is sinking and distorted in all directions. The building is incomplete until he demolishes it and rebuilds it anew. Regarding his building itself, it was fine and beautiful; but regarding the foundation, it was bad and distorted. So it is not called a complete project; it is not called a complete building. Consequently, ‘an incompletely righteous person is thrust aside [at the revival of the dead].’ Thus, while the wicked swallows up the one more righteous than he (Habakkuk 1:13) [cf. BT Berakhot 7b, Megillah 6b, Bava Metsi’a 71a]” (Zohar 3:213a–b).
“The Faithful Shepherd [Moses] said… in order that the bailiff [of Sheol] not recognize a person it is necessary to perform for him a change of place, a change of name, and a change of deed [see BT Rosh ha-Shanah 16b]. As it was with Abraham, it was said: Go forth from your land and your birthplace and your father’s house (Genesis 12:1)—a change of place. And no longer shall your name be called Abram but your name shall be Abraham (ibid. 17:5)—a change of name. And there is also the change of deed, for he changed from doing bad deeds, as he had at first, to performing good deeds. A similar thing happens with the spirit of a man who dies childless, for likewise the blessed Holy One does to the man in banishing him from that world and bringing him to this world. And this has already been discussed [see Zohar 3:97a–111a (RM), cf. BT Pesaḥim 113b].
You change his face and send him away (Job 14:20). It is said the spirit עָבְרָה (avrah), passes by, him (Psalms 103:16)—one of the evil messengers [called] עֶבְרָה (evrah), Anger (Psalms 78:49). And when he encounters him and sees that he is changed the Prince of Destruction investigates, asking the bailiff ‘Is this your offender?’ and he answers, ‘He is not.’
When he is banished from his place and planted elsewhere, it is said about him: And his place will no longer know him (Psalms 103:16), for different earth shall be taken and the house plastered (Leviticus 14:42). And this is the secret of he shall raze the house, its stones, and its timbers (Leviticus 14:45)—those bones, sinews, and flesh that he had returned to the dust. What is written about it? And עָפָר (afar), dust, shall be the serpent’s food (Isaiah 65:25)—since he was afflicted. Later: And different עָפָר (afar), earth, shall be taken and the house plastered—to build for himself bones and sinews, as an old house is renovated, he is certainly renewed.
What about And his place will no longer know him? This is [his] spirit, for his little spirit is engulfed in supernal spirit. This is similar to a tree that is not producing fruit. They take his branches and graft onto a superior tree which produces fruit, combining both with each other. Of this time it is said, And his place will no longer know him.
And so it is with a man who lives in a city where bad people dwell, and he is unable to keep the decrees of Torah and is not successful in Torah. He should change his place of residence and move from there, and settle somewhere with good people, Masters of Torah, who keep the decrees [cf. M Avot 6:9]. This is because Torah is called a Tree, as is written: A tree of life is she to those who grasp her (Proverbs 3:18). Man, too, is a tree, as is written: Like the tree of the field is a human (Deuteronomy 20:19) [cf. Pirqei de-Rabbi Eli’ezer 21; Zohar 2:60b; 3:202a–b], and the decrees of Torah are like fruits. And what is written about it? Only a tree that you know is not a tree for eating, it you may destroy and cut down (Deuteronomy 20:20), that is to say, you shall destroy it from this world and cut it down from the next world. This is why he must uproot from the place and plant elsewhere, among righteous people.
As the childless man is called עָקָר (aqar), ‘barren,’ and his wife ‘barren,’ so too Torah without decrees is barren. On this we have learned: ‘Not learning but doing is the עִקַּר (iqqar), main thing’ (M Avot 1:17). The Companions came and prostrated themselves in front of him and said: We have certainly learned something new here—how one רוּחַ (ruaḥ), spirit, can be incorporated in another. We are as one who perceives with his own eyes and it is revealed to him. Originally we had only a tradition but now it has been elucidated” (Zohar 3:217b, Ra’aya Meheimna Pineḥas).
“Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai: Every mitsvah which the blessed Holy One gave to Israel, He gave to them publicly, except the Sabbath which He bestowed upon them in secret, for it is said: ‘Between Me and the Israelites it is a sign for all time’ [the word לְעֹלָם (le-olam), for all time, is written defectively as if derived from, לְעֱלָם (le-elam), to conceal] (Exodus 31:17). If so, idolaters should not be punished on its account [cf. BT Avodah Zarah 2b]!—the Sabbath He indeed made known to them but its reward He did not make known to them. Or you can say: Its reward too He made known to them, the additional soul He did not make known to them; for Rabbi Shim’on son of Laqish said: On the eve of the Sabbath the blessed Holy One gives to man an additional soul and at the close of the Sabbath He withdraws it from him, for it says: He ceased וַיִּנָּפַשׁ (vayinafash), and caught His breath (Exodus 31:17)—once it [the Sabbath] has ceased, woe that the soul is lost! [since וַיִּנָּפַשׁ (yenafash), and caught His breath, is numerically equivalent to מָוֶת (mavet), death (Rabbi Levi Isaac Krakovsky)]” (BT Beitsah 16a, cf. BT Ta’anit 27a).
“His disciples asked: What is [the vowel] חוֹלֶם (ḥolem)? He replied: It is the נְשָׁמָה (neshamah), soul—her name is חוֹלֶם (ḥolem). If you תִּשְׁמַע (tishema), listen, your body will be תַּחְלִים (taḥlim), reinvigorated, in the future of its builder [cf. BT Berakhot 60b]. But if you rebel against her, there will be חוֹלֶה (ḥoleh), illness, on your head, and חוֹלִים (ḥolim), illnesses, on its head” (Bahir §40).
“When the human was created, what is written? You clothed me in skin and flesh (Job 10:11). What then is the human if not skin and flesh, and bones and sinews? But surely the human being is nothing but soul! And these that we have mentioned—skin, flesh, bones, and sinews are all merely a garment; they are a person’s clothing not the human. And when a person departs, he is stripped of those garments that he is wearing” (Zohar 2:76a).
הֶבֶל (Hevel), mere breath, all humankind (Psalms 39:12).
“Come and see: When actions prove worthy below, and a person contemplates the service of the Holy King, the act he performs turns into a breath above. And there is no breath without a voice—rising, crowned above, becoming an advocate before the blessed Holy One. Every action in which a person engages that is not in the service of the blessed Holy One turns into breath that goes drifting through the world. And when the person’s soul departs, that breath whirls through the world like a stone in a sling, as is written: The soul of your enemies He will sling from the hollow of a sling (1 Samuel 25:29). Who will sling? That breath conducting it around the world. So, everything done under the sun that is not in the service of the blessed Holy One turns into a breath—but it is breaking of spirit, for it breaks the spirit, rising and falling in the world, as is written: breath and shattering of spirit (Ecclesiastes 1:14)” (Zohar 2:59a).
“A spirit leaving this world who has not grown or spread in this world undergoes rolling and finds no rest, comes revolving into the world like a stone in a sling until it finds a redeemer to redeem it…. The spirit that he left, adhering to that vessel, is not lost—for nothing in the world, be it ever so small, lacks a place in which to be hidden and absorbed; it is never lost” (Zohar 2:99b).