These are the journeyings of the Israelites who came out of the land of Egypt by their battalions, in the hand of Moses and Aaron. And Moses wrote down their departure points for their journeyings by the mouth of YHWH, and these are their journeyings by their departure points (Numbers 33:1–2).
“Why is this place called תַּבְעֵרָה (taverah), Burning (Numbers 11:3)? Because each and every light that reaches there is burned immediately by virtue of its great purity. However, they said in The Mystery of Souls, ‘One light is drawn out from the blessed Holy One, and when coupling is performed, and the souls sparkle and mate with this light, and this light extends until תַּבְעֵרָה (taverah), Burning, its name is צְבָאוֹת (tseva’ot), Armies.’ Therefore I say that the souls in Burning remain. But as long as we have this wondrous wisdom we can understand what is written: And at Taberah and at Massah and at Kibroth-Hatta’avah [you infuriated YHWH] (Deuteronomy 9:22)—Ḥokhmah (Wisdom) is found there along the entire way. The blessed Holy One said in His Torah, And at Taberah and at Massah and at Kibroth-Hatta’avah—the place from which human beings desire and תַאֲוָה (ta’avah), crave, to attain good and to attain evil. Israel, seeing the greatness of these three places, were intent to know the Shepherd who sates them. They began to say ‘From the Omnipresent descends [both] the good and the evil. For this is the site of a great rung, yet without a ruler in it, since the majesty of the blessed Holy One does not oversee all His creatures. Rather He left three to act in His place as they please.’ Hence, [Israel] tried the blessed Holy One in every matter [cf. Zohar 2:64b].
The sages say three seraphs [alt., princes] whose rungs are without end receive from those three places. From Burning descends the brilliance of Ḥokhmah to the place, נַחַל אַרְנוֹן (naḥal arnon), River Arnon [lit., Ringing River. On Arnon, see Numbers 21:14, cf. Zohar 2:56a]. Its name is deep: אַדִירִירוֹן (Adiriron) the place of רִנָּה (rinnah), glad song, portent, and wisdom. It is the organ which sustains the entire body [אַדִירִירוֹן (adiriron): from a root meaning, ‘mighty,’ see Margaliot, Mal’akhe Elyon (Jerusalem, 1964)].
When the host on high see Ḥokhmah shining they begin to sing, as it says, When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy (Job 38:7) [cf. ZḤ 5b–6a (MhN)]. Ḥokhmah reaches them and they rise, certainly receiving from there Ḥokhmah and Gevurah and Gedullah. Ḥokhmah reaches from River Arnon to נַחַל עֲבָרִים (naḥal avarim), River Abarim, and from there returns to its place again [on Mount Abarim, see Numbers 27:12, 33:47–48; Deuteronomy 32:48–52].
The thirty-two paths grow stronger, rising and covering all the spheres and all the rungs and the worlds and all the abysses but near the brilliance of Ḥokhmah appear as naught. And above, the distance of a bow-shot of 600,000 [spans], they appear as a bowl [cf. Bemidbar Rabbah 13:14: ‘One silver bowl (Numbers 7:13)—the world He made is like a (mere) ball thrown from hand to hand’]. The thirty-two paths grow stronger rising and covering all the spheres and all their places.
They say Ḥokhmah is supernal man, known as Ezion Geber [see Numbers 33:35–36; Deuteronomy 2:8], as I said before. The River Abarim, which we already mentioned, is called מִשְׁבְּצוֹת (mishbetsot), Brocade [of gold and silver, i.e., Judgment and Kindness] (known by the permutation of the four letter Name, as I will explain with the vocalization of this matter) [on Brocade (or: Filigree), see Exodus 28:13; Psalms 45:14; Bahir §54, §63]. We said of this expansive matter—the River Abarim—that in it certain sages erred grievously, such as Elisha the Other [see BT Ḥagigah 14b; Zohar 1:26b (TZ); 3:222b (RM); Berit Menuḥa: Eight Vowel. עֲבָרִים (Avarim), Abarim, alludes to עָבְרִים (averim), crossings, and עֲבֵרָה (averah), transgression]. However, the relic of the great and mighty sages of Israel, heads of the generations, standing in venerable places, took to restore what was lost and to save the sons of man.
Behold the chapter headings of this wondrous wisdom: Three times a day the wisdom increases higher and higher: at the first hour, at the sixth hour, and at the last hour [cf. Zohar 2:21b; ZḤ 5b–6a (MhN)]. In these hours everyone of the thirty-two paths is rooted in the first letter of יהוה (YHWH)—in the lower tip [of י (yod)] looking downwards. Since it looks down so too does Ḥokhmah (Wisdom), great in Gevurah (Strength) and Raḥamim (Compassion). But if it looks upwards even the angels and sons of man cannot attain Ḥokhmah and are as beasts of the field. Therefore it looks downwards and Ḥokhmah is received by creatures and as it saw, for it is vastly higher above all the rungs and none are higher than it, it directs its face to three places. First towards the north, the place of Gevurah, lowering its pride it remains bowed down in great trembling [cf. Zohar 3:229a (RM): ‘(Shekhinah) stands before Him always, and bows before Him and falls on Her face at His feet to ask compassion from Him for Her children. She is humble before Him and She is modest before Him’]. This place is a place of awe, it is Burning, [the angel] אגלא (AGLA) [i.e., אַתָה גִבּוֹר לְעוֹלָם אֲדֹנָי (atah gibbor le-olam Adonai), You are eternally mighty Lord], included in Torah. It performs actions for the enlightened without purification with the line of awe. The second place is a place of humility, and its name is called מְנוּחָה (menuḥa), Rest, it is יְחִדרִיאֵל (Yeḥidri’el), אֱלֹהִי יִשְׂרָאֵל (Elohi Yisra’el), God of Israel. The third place is a place of שִׂמְחָה (simḥah), joy, and its name is called מפרישמיה (MPRISMYH) [see Rabbi Ḥayyim Vital, Sha’arei Qedushah, 4:1].
Whoever desires to learn wisdom should cleave to these three rungs: יִראָה (yirah), awe, עֲנָוָה (anavah), humility, and שִׂמְחָה (simḥah), joy—he יִראָה (yirah), fears, sin is עָנָו (anav), humble, and שַׂמֵחַ (sameaḥ), happy, with his lot [cf. Deuteronomy 28:47]. When he attains the discernment of these three rungs he attains Ḥokhmah [cf. M Avot 3:11; 4:1; 5:19]. These three places are bound to each other, and one is no different than the other; they are all one [cf. M Sotah 9:15; BT Avodah Zarah 20b; Zohar 3:145a; Tiqqunei ha-Zohar 5b]. And the angels who receive from these three places are הוֹרִיאֵל (Hori’el), גַּבִּיאֵל (Gabbi’el), and גַּבְרִיאֵל (Gavri’el), Gabriel [see Margaliot, Mal’akhe Elyon (Jerusalem, 1964), p. 42]. Names which bless and curse without need of purification and without need of permission from הָאֱלֹהִים (Ha-Elohim), the Judge, but act however they please. Yet they are names of goodness, for they are without inquiry and without limit. The first of these three places is daunting, it’s name is תַּבְעֵרָה שֶׂכֶל (taverah sekhel), Burning Intellect. The lights are fearful when they ascend lest it burn them with its great holiness. However, he who cleaves to the rung of awe escapes burning [cf. Numbers 11:3: And (Moses) he called the name of that place Taberah, for YHWH’s fire had burned against them].
The second [rung] is humility [called:] מַסָּה (massah), Trial (Deuteronomy 9:22). Without limit to its holiness and strength this place is very great. For when all the lights and all the lofty host pass through this place it is known who conducts himself faithfully or not, thus it is called Trial.
The third [rung] is joy, the site of קִבְרוֹת הַתַּאֲוָה (kivrot hatta’avah), the Graves of Lust (Numbers 11:34). Whoever does not reach this resting place, the Graves of Lust, does not see light and does not attain Ḥokhmah.
There is one place dwelling in the heavens [beyond the heavens…] (1 Kings 8:27), and there is אֵין סוֹף (ein sof), no end, to its discernment but its place is hidden because of the קַטנוּת (qatnut), puniness, of [our] intellect [see Bahir §10, cf. BT Eruvin 53a]. And when the great luminaries grow, ascending, and see the banner standing in the middle of the palace-chamber they declare this place מְנוּחָה (menuḥah), Rest. They stand hoping to glimpse its glorious brilliance. When this hidden light increases abundantly, expanding, and emanates its brilliance outside the palace-chamber then they incline to see more and they ascend and reach the place of חֶשְׁבּוֹן (ḥeshbon), Reckoning [see Numbers 21:27; Ecclesiastes 7:27; Song of Songs 7:5]. But when they reach its border they are burned immediately by the purity of this great light—they are all burned standing in it and none of them ever emerge, for this place is called, in the language of parable, the Graves of Lust. Most of them that desired to know the essence were consumed in holiness and were not seen again [like moths to a flame].
Numerous lights and princes, brave and powerful, were consumed in this place called the Graves of Lust, an expression of the essence of יהוה (YHWH). But let me tell you the angels and the lights which were consumed in this place since the time of the Formation [of the world] were numerous, great, strong, and perfect in their degrees. Big and mighty angels were consumed by this great luminary, those from the camp of שָׂרָפִים (serafim) and from the camp of תַּרְשִׁישִׁים (tarshishim) [two classes of angels] since it arose in their minds to strengthen themselves and ascend until this place but there they were consumed, as is written of them, For there the people buried the ones who had been craving (Numbers 11:34). Do not let evil arise in your mind, however, and think that words of Torah only accord with their plain meaning, you are forbidden from believing this. Happy is the man who delves to know, to attain Ḥokhmah in this place called the Graves of Lust” (Berit Menuḥa, First Way: The Way of Wisdom).