“We should first introduce something said by the ancients in regard to those nighttime visions. For we have learned: ‘One who cohabits with his mother in a dream will attain בִּינָה (binah), understanding’ (BT Berakhot 57a), as is written: For you will call בִּינָה (binah), understanding, ‘Mother’ (Proverbs 2:3).’ Here one should examine. If this is because She is mother, fine; then it should have been written as follows: ‘One who sees his mother in a dream will attain understanding.’ But why ‘one who cohabits with’ her? Well, a supernal mystery! For he was transformed from below to above, ascending. At first, he was a son; once he rises above, the tree is overturned and he becomes part of the upper world, ruling over Her, attaining Binah” (Zohar 2:101a, Sava de-Mishpatim).
“Rabbi Yose said, ‘There has never been a father as compassionate to His children as the blessed Holy One. This is indicated by a verse: Not a single word has failed of all His good words… (1 Kings 8:56). Come and see His compassion! If it be said Not a single word has failed of all His words, and nothing more, it would have been better for the world not to have ever been created. But since it says of all His good words, it leaves the bad behind, for He does not want to enact a bad word. And even though He threatens and raises the lash, Mother comes and grasps His right arm, so the lash remains suspended, does not descend, and is not implemented, because both of them share one plan: He by threatening, and She by holding back His right arm [cf. BT Makkot 22a–b]’” (Zohar 2:190b).
“And God saw the children of Israel, and God knew (Exodus 2:25). What is and God knew? A parable: A king had a lovely wife, and had several children from her, and he loved them and raised them, but they went out to bad ways [lit., תַרְבּוּת רָעָה (tarbut ra’ah), wicked culture, i.e., foreign culture, cf. Zohar 3:281b–82a (RM)]. He hated them and their mother, and she turned to them and said: ‘My children, why do you do so that your father hates me and you?’ Until they repented and they returned to perform the will of their father. Their father saw this and loved them as before and remembered their mother. This is the meaning of And God saw… and God knew. This is also the meaning of In the midst of years make it known. [In wrath remember compassion] (Habakkuk 3:2)” (Bahir §76).
“A king had a lovely daughter, and others were lusting for her. The king knew about it, but could not fight with those who exposed his daughter to bad ways. He came to his house and warned her, saying, ‘My daughter, give no regard to the words of these enemies and they will not be able to overcome you. Do not leave the house, but do all your work at home. Do not sit idle, even for a single moment. Then they will not be able to see you and harm you.’ There is a single quality in them which departs from a good way and chooses every bad way. When they see man directing himself along a good way, they hate him. Who is he? הַשָׂטָן (Ha-satan), the adversary. Teaching that the blessed Holy One has a quality whose name is רָעָה (ra’ah), Evil [feminine noun]. It is to the north of the blessed Holy One, as is written: Out of the north הָרָעָה (ha-ra’ah), the evil, shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land (Jeremiah 1:14)—any evil that comes to all inhabitants of earth comes from the north” (Bahir §162, cf. ibid., §12).
“Come and see: As long as the people are distant from the King’s palace, Matronita, as it were, is distanced with them. Why? Because Matronita did not immediately apply a pint [of discipline] to this son, striking him so that he would follow the straight path. For the King never strikes a person, but rather leaves everything in the hand of the Matronita: to manage the palace and punish the son, guiding him on the straight way toward the King” (Zohar 3:74a).
“O fairest of women (Song of Songs 1:8)—fine in kindness, for She bestows kindness upon Her children [Israel] secretly, covertly, and the blessed Holy One is very pleased by all that She does for Her children, even though they don’t deserve it. From here we learn that a father should love and appreciate everything that a mother does for her children secretly, covertly, even though their conduct is improper” (Zohar 3:197b).
“All the holy Writings render the hands unclean [i.e., are canonical]…. Rabbi Shim’on son of Azzai said, ‘I have a received a tradition from the mouths of seventy-two elders, on the day they inducted Rabbi El’azar son of Azariyah into his seat [as head] at the Academy, that the Song of Songs and Qohelet render the hands unclean.’
Rabbi Akiva said, ‘Perish the thought! No one from Israel has ever disputed concerning the Song of Songs that it does not render the hands unclean, since the whole world is not worthy of the day that the Song of Songs was given to Israel. For all the Writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is Holy of Holies, and if they have disputed they have not disputed concerning it but concerning Qohelet’” (M Yadayim 3:5).
“Our Rabbis taught: He who recites a verse of the Song of Songs and treats it as a [profane] song, and one who recites a verse at the banqueting house—not in its [fitting] time—brings evil upon the world” (BT Sanhedrin 101a).
“The Rabbis taught: Four entered the פַּרדֵס (pardes), Orchard: Son of Azzai, and Son of Zoma, Aḥer and Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva said to them, ‘When you come to the place of pure marble stones, do not say, ‘Water! Water!’ For it is said, A speaker of lies shall not stand firm before my eyes (Psalms 101:7).’ Son of Azzai glimpsed and died. Of him it says, Grievous in the eyes of YHWH is the death of His faithful ones (ibid. 116:15).
Son of Zoma glimpsed and was harmed. Of him it says, If you find honey, eat just what you need, lest you have your fill of it and throw it up (Proverbs 25:16). Aḥer קִיצֵּץ בַּנְּטִיעוֹת (qitstsets ba-neti’ot), severed the saplings. Rabbi Akiva emerged in peace….
Our Rabbis taught: Once Rabbi Yehoshu’a son of Ḥananyah was standing on a step on the Temple Mount, and Son of Zoma saw him and did not stand up before him. He said to him: From where to where, Son of Zoma [i.e., what is on your mind]? He replied: I was gazing between the upper and the lower waters, and there is only a bare three fingers’ [breadth] between them, for it is said: And the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2)—like a dove which hovers over her young without touching [cf. JT Ḥagigah 2:1: Like an eagle who rouses his nest, over his fledglings he hovers… (Deuteronomy 32:11)]. Afterwards Rabbi Yehoshu’a said to his disciples: Son of Zoma is still outside [cf. Heikhalot Rabbati §93: ‘Rabbi Yishma’el said: Thus was the teaching as to the vision of the Chariot: He who beholds the Chariot has no right to stand up (out of courtesy to a superior), except before three authorities only: before a king and before a high priest and before a Sanhedrin. And should he stand up he would be guilty of death because he had stood up before it, and he would lessen his days and cut short his years’; Ben Sira: ‘Do not seek out what is too wondrous for you; do not inquire into that which is concealed from you’; BT Megillah 25a–b; Ḥagigah 11b: ‘From one end of heaven to the other you may inquire, but you may not inquire what is above, what is below, what is before, what is after’]….
Aḥer severed the saplings. Of him it says, Do not let your mouth make your body offend, [nor say before God that it was a mistake] (Ecclesiastes 5:5). What does it refer to? He saw that permission was granted to Mitatron to sit and write the merits of Israel [on the significance of the alternate spellings מְטַּטְרוֹן (Metatron) and מִיטַּטְרוֹן (Mitatron), see Zohar 2:277a; TZ, intro, 15a; TZ 21, 44a, 61a; ZḤ 39d]. He said: It is taught as a tradition that on high there is no standing and no sitting, no jealousy and no rivalry, no nape and no fatigue [cf. BT Berakhot 17a]. Perhaps—perish the thought—there are two authorities! [Immediately] they led Mitatron forth, and punished him with sixty fiery lashes [see 3 Enoch 16], saying to him: Why did you not rise before him when you saw him? Permission was [then] given to him to erase the merits of Aḥer. A bat qol issued, saying: Turn back, rebellious children (Jeremiah 3:22)—except Aḥer.
[Afterwards] he said: Since this man has been banished from that world, let me go forth and enjoy this world. So Aḥer went into bad ways [lit., תַרְבּוּת רָעָה (tarbut ra’ah), wicked culture, i.e., foreign culture]. He went forth, found a whore and demanded her. She said to him: Are you not Elisha son of Avuyah? [But] when he uprooted a radish out of its bed on the Sabbath and gave it to her, she said: It is an אַחֵר (aḥer), Other.
After he went into bad ways, Aḥer asked Rabbi Me’ir, saying to him: What is the meaning of the verse: One against the other God has set (Ecclesiastes 7:14)? He replied: It means that for everything that God created He created its counterpart. He created mountains, and created hills; He created seas, and created rivers. [Aḥer] said to him: Rabbi Akiva, your master, did not explain it so, but [as follows]: He created righteous, and created wicked; He created the Garden of Eden, and created Hell. Everyone has two portions, one in the Garden of Eden and one in Hell. The righteous man, having been declared innocent, takes his own portion and his fellow’s portion in the Garden of Eden. The wicked man, having been declared guilty, takes his own portion and his fellow’s portion in Hell.
Rav Mesharshiyya said: What is the verse? In the case of the righteous, it is written: Therefore in their land they shall possess double: [everlasting joy shall be unto them] (Isaiah 61:7). In the case of the wicked it is written: And destroy them with double destruction (Jeremiah 17:18).
After he went into bad ways, Aḥer asked Rabbi Me’ir: What is written: Gold and glass cannot equal it, nor its worth in golden vessels (Job 28:17)? He answered: These are the words of Torah, which are difficult to acquire like vessels of fine gold, but are easily destroyed like vessels of glass. [Aḥer] said to him: Rabbi Akiva, your master, did not explain it so, but [as follows]: Just as vessels of gold and vessels of glass, though they be broken, have a remedy, even so a discple of the wise, though he has sinned, has a remedy. [Rabbi Me’ir] said to him: Then, you, too, return! He replied: I have already heard from behind the Curtain: Turn back, rebellious children (Jeremiah 3:22)—except Aḥer.
Our Rabbis taught: Once Aḥer was riding on a horse on the Sabbath, and Rabbi Me’ir was walking behind him to learn Torah at his mouth. He said to him: Me’ir, turn back, for I have already measured by the paces of my horse that thus far extends the Sabbath limit [i.e., two thousand cubits (in all directions) from the place where a person makes his abode for the Sabbath, beyond which it is forbidden to go on the day of rest, see M Shabbat 24:5; Eruvin 4:3, 5:7]. He replied: You, too, go back! [Aḥer] answered: Have I not already told you that I have already heard from behind the Curtain: Turn back, rebellious children (Jeremiah 3:22)—except Aḥer.
[Rabbi Me’ir] prevailed upon him and took him to an academy. [Aḥer] said to a child: Recite for me your verse! [The child] answered: There is no peace, says YHWH, for the wicked (Isaiah 48:22). He then took him to a synagogue. [Aḥer] said to a child: Recite for me your verse! He answered: For though you wash yourself with lye, and use much soap, yet your crime is marked before Me, says YHWH God (Jeremiah 2:22). He took him to yet another synagogue, and he said to a child: Recite for me your verse! He answered: And when you are plundered, what will you do? Though you clothe yourself with crimson, though you deck yourself with ornaments of gold, though you enlarge your eyes with paint, in vain shall you make yourself fair; [your lovers will despise you, they will seek your life] (ibid. 4:30).
He took him to yet another synagogue until he took him to thirteen synagogues: all of them recited similarly. When he said to the last one, Recite for my your verse, he answered: וְלָרָשָׁע (ve-la-rasha), And to the wicked, God said: ‘Why do you recount My statutes [and bear My pact in your mouth, when you have despised chastisement and flung My words behind you?] (Psalms 50:16). That child was a stutterer, so it sounded as though he answered: ‘וְלַאֱלִישָׁע (ve-la-elisha), But to Elisha, God said.’ Some say that [Aḥer] had a knife with him, and he cut him up and sent him to the thirteen synagogues: and some say that he said: Had I a knife in my hand I would have cut him up.
When Aḥer was laid to rest they said: Let him not be judged, nor let him enter the world to come. Let him not be judged, because he engaged in Torah; nor let him enter the world to come because he sinned. Rabbi Me’ir said: It were better that he should be judged and that he should enter the world to come. When I die I shall cause smoke to rise from his grave. When Rabbi Me’ir died, smoke rose up from Aḥer’s grave. Rabbi Yoḥanan said: A mighty deed to burn his master?! There was one amongst us, and we cannot save him; if I were to take him by the hand, who would snatch him from me! [But] he said: When I die, I shall extinguish the smoke from his grave. When Rabbi Yoḥanan died, the smoke ceased from Aḥer’s grave. A certain eulogizer [began]: Even the guard [of Hell] could not stand before you, O master!
Aḥer’s daughter [once] came before Rabbi and said to him: O master, support me! He asked her: ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She replied: I am Aḥer’s daughter. He said: Are any of his children left in the world? Look it is written: No son nor grandson in his kinfolk, and no remnant where he sojourned (Job 18:19). She answered: Remember his Torah and not his deeds. Immediately, a fire came down and licked Rabbi’s bench. Rabbi wept and said: If it be so on account of those who dishonour Her, how much more so on account of those who honour Her [i.e., Torah].
But how did Rabbi Me’ir learn Torah at the mouth of Aḥer? Behold Rabbah son of Son of Ḥana said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: What is the meaning of the verse, For the priest’s lips should preserve knowledge, and they should seek the law from his mouth: for he is the messenger of YHWH of Armies (Malachi 2:7)? If the rabbi is like an messenger of YHWH of armies, they should seek Torah from his mouth, but if not, they should not seek Torah from his mouth!—Resh Laqish answered: Rabbi Me’ir found a verse and expounded it [as follows]: Bend your ear and hear the words of the wise, and set your heart on My knowledge (Proverbs 22:17). It does not say, to their knowledge, but to My knowledge.
Rabbi Ḥanina said, [he decided it] from here: Listen, daughter, and look, incline your ear, and forget your people, and your father’s house (Psalms 45:11). The verses contradict one another! There is no contradiction: in the one case the verse refers to an adult [who, unlike a child, can use discrimination and avoid the teacher’s wrongdoing; hence the last two verses permit him to learn even from a heretic], in the other to a child.
When Rav Dimi came [to Babylon] he said: In the West [i.e., the Land of Israel] they say: Rabbi Me’ir ate a half-ripe date and threw the peel away. Rabba expounded: What is written? To the walnut garden I went down to see the buds of the brook (Song of Songs 6:11). Why are the disciples of the wise likened to a nut? To tell you that just as the nut, though it be spoiled with mud and filth, yet its contents are not made repulsive, so a disciple of the wise, although he may have offended, yet his Torah is not made repulsive.
Rabbah son of Shila [once] met Elijah. He said to him: What is the blessed Holy One doing? He answered: He utters traditions in the name of all the rabbis, but in the name of Rabbi Me’ir he does not utter. Rabbah asked him, Why?—because he learnt traditions at the mouth of Aḥer. [Rabbah] said to him: But why? Rabbi Me’ir found a pomegranate; he ate [the fruit] within it, and the shell he threw away! He answered: Now He says: Me’ir My son says: When a man suffers [by receiving lashes or the death penalty at the hands of the court, see BT Sanhedrin 46a], to what expression does the Shekhinah give utterance? ‘Oy, My head is lighter, my arm is lighter [see M Sanhedrin 6:5].’ If the blessed Holy One is so grieved over the blood of the wicked, how much more so over the blood of the righteous that is shed.
Shemu’el found Rav Yehudah leaning on the door-bolt weeping. So he said to him: O, long-toothed one, why do you weep? He replied: Is it a small thing that is written concerning the rabbis? Where is the scribe? where is the one who weighs? where is he that counts the towers? (Isaiah 33:18). Where is the scribe?—for they counted all the letters in the Torah. Where is the one who weighs?—for they weighed the light and the heavy in the Torah [i.e., by arguing from minor to major and vice versa]. Where is he that counts the towers?— for they taught three hundred halakhot concerning a ‘tower which flies in the air.’ And Rabbi Ami said: Doeg and Ahitophel raised three hundred questions concerning a ‘tower which flies in the air.’ Yet we have learnt: ‘Three kings and four commoners have no share in the world to come’ (BT Sanhedrin 90a). What then shall become of us? [Shemu’el] said to him, O, long-toothed one, there was mud in their hearts—but what of Aḥer [why did his study of Torah not save him?]—Greek song did not cease from his mouth. It is told of Aḥer that when he used to rise from the academy, many heretical books [lit., books of the sectarians] used to fall from his lap.
Nimos the weaver asked Rabbi Me’ir: Does all wool that goes down into the [dyeing] kettle come up [properly dyed, i.e., does the study of Torah serve to protect all students from transgression (Rashi)]? He replied: All that was clean on its mother comes up [properly dyed], all that was not clean on its mother does not come up [properly dyed].
Rabbi Akiva ascended in peace and descended in peace; and of him Scripture says: Draw me after you, let us run. [The king has brought me into his chamber] (Song of Songs 1:4) [cf. Sefer Yetsirah §5]. And Rabbi Akiva too the ministering angels sought to thrust away [from the Orchard]; [but] the blessed Holy One said to them: Let this elder be, for he is worthy to avail himself of My glory—what did he expound? Rabbah son of Son of Ḥana said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: וְאָתָה (ve-atah), And He appeared, from the myriads of holy ones (Deuteronomy 33:2)—אוֹת הוּא (ot hu), He is the Sign, among His myriads.
And Rabbi Abbahu said: דָּגוּל מֵרְבָבָה (dagul mervavah), standing out among ten thousand (Song of Songs 5:10)—He is דוֹגמָא (dogma), the Example, among His ten thousand. And Resh Laqish said: YHWH of Armies is His name (Isaiah 48:2)—He is Lord among His Army—and Rabbi Ḥiyya son of Abba said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Not in the wind is YHWH. And after the earthquake—fire. Not in the fire is YHWH. And after the fire, a sound of minute stillness (1 Kings 19:11–12). [And He said, ‘Go and stand on the mountain before YHWH,] and, look, YHWH passed over (ibid., 11)” (BT Ḥagigah 14b–16a).
When God began to create heaven and earth, and the earth then was welter and waste and darkness over the deep and God’s breath hovering over the waters, God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good, and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And it was evening and it was morning, first day. And God said, “Let there be a vault in the midst of the waters, and let it divide water from water.” And God made the vault and it divided the water beneath the vault from the water above the vault, and so it was. And God called the vault Heavens, and it was evening and it was morning, second day (Genesis 1:1–8).
“תֹּהוּ (Tohu), welter—a pale line encompassing the whole world, from which darkness issued…; בֹּהוּ (bohu), waste—these are the slimy stones sunk in the abyss, from which water issues” (BT Ḥagigah 12a).
“The universe diffracts into forty-five hues of colored light. Seven disperse into seven abysses, each one striking its own abyss, stones gyrating. The light penetrates those stones, piercing them, and water issues from them, each one sinking within an abyss, covering both sides. Water flows through those holes, light penetrates, striking all four sides of the abyss. Each light whirls around its partner, converging as one, splitting the water” (Zohar 1:51a–52a).
“From the right side, Malkhut is called Stone. And a number of slimy stones come from Her. From them issue the waters of Torah, of which we have learned: Rabbi Akiva said to his disciples, When you reach the pure marble stones, do not say: ‘Water! Water! lest you endanger yourselves—do not say that these waters are waters, literally, because A speaker of lies shall not stand firm before my eyes (Psalms 101:7). For these waters are Torah, and it is said of Her: Torah is light (Proverbs 6:23). And since this light issues from a spring whose waters fail not (Isaiah 58:11), She is called Water.
And from the left side, this Stone, י (yod), is called Burning Coal, whence the ten sefirot ‘[are] as a flame bound to a burning coal’ (Sefer Yetsirah §6). And it has four hues [יהוה (YHWH)], and they are ten: יוֹד הֵא וָאו הֵא (Yod He Vav He) [amounting to י״ד (fourteen) letters]. And it is the יָד (yad), hand, of גְדוּלָה (gedullah), Greatness, on the right, the hand of גְבוּרָה (gevurah), Might, on the left, and from the middle pillar, an upraised hand. Therefore, it is comprised of forty-two hues [יָד (yad), hand, is numerically equivalent to י״ד (fourteen), and fourteen times three equals forty-two]” (Zohar 3:246a–b, Ra’aya Meheimna Pineḥas).
“Son of Azzai glimpsed into the sixth chamber and saw the brilliance of the atmosphere [lit., air] of the marble stones that adorned the chamber. His body could not endure and he opened his mouth and asked them: ‘These waters, what are they?’ And he died.
Son of Zoma glimpsed at the marble stones and thought that they were water. His body endured to ask, but his mind could not. And he was harmed….
Rabbi Akiva said: Son of Azzai was found worthy and stood at the gate of the sixth chamber. However, he saw the brilliance of the pure marble stones opened his mouth twice and said: ‘Water! Water!’ Immediately they cut his head off and threw upon him eleven thousand iron bars. This should be a lesson for future generations, that a man not err in this way at the gate of the sixth chamber” (Heikhalot Zutarti §345; §410, cf. Heikhalot Rabbati §259).
“Four entered an orchard—and all of them were selected to this realm, to these four elements. Each one was bound to his domain: one to the aspect of fire, one to the aspect of water, one to the aspect of air, one to the aspect of dust. All of them succumbed to their element, just as they entered—aside from the perfectly pious one, who proceeded to the right side and cleaved to the right, ascending on high.
When he reached the site called Chamber of Love, he cleaved to it passionately. He said, ‘This chamber must be conjoined with the chamber above, with great love!’ Then he was perfected in the mystery of faith—and ascended and consummated lesser love with great love, as is fitting. So, he died with love, and his soul departed with this verse: You shall love (Deuteronomy 6:5) [see BT Berakhot 61b]. Happy is his share!
As for all the others, each of them descended below and was punished in that element that cascades below.
Elisha descended below, into the left side—which is fire—descending within, not ascending, and encountered that Other Side, called אֵל אַחֵר (el aḥer), another god (Exodus 34:14). Teshuva was denied him; and he was banished because he cleaved to it. So he is called אַחֵר (Aḥer), Another, as we have established.
Son of Azzai descended into the element of dust; and before he reached the burnt dust, which extends to the Other Side, he succumbed to that dust and died. Of this is written Precious in the eyes of YHWH is the death of His faithful ones (Psalms 116:15).
Son of Zoma descended into the element of רוּחָא (ruḥa), air, and encountered another רוּחָא (ruḥa), spirit, extending to the side of impurity. And because another spirit passed by him, נִפגַע (nifga), he went mad. What is nifga? The impure spirit called פֶּגַע רָע (Pega Ra), Evil Disaster (1 Kings 5:18), and so, nifga, he went mad. פָּגַע (Paga), He came upon, him; and he did not stabilize.
None of them escaped punishment. Concerning this, Solomon said: There is futility befalling earth: there are righteous people treated according to the conduct of the wicked (Ecclesiastes 8:14)—for these descended among those rungs and were punished!
Come and see: Because Rabbi Akiva ascended on high, as is fitting, he entered in peace and emerged in peace.
[Rabbi Akiva survived his mystical quest intact. Even so, his fate was to be counted among the martyrs of Israel during the Hadrianic persecutions of the second century. Rabbi Shim’on wonders: How could he and the other martyrs—righteous innocents—be deserving of death at the hands of the Romans? Surely they deserved to die by divine kiss and be gathered to Shekhinah. The complex verse in Psalms provides the key:] He posed a question, not clarified explicitly, as is written: מִמְתִים (mi-metim), from men, by Your hand, O YHWH; מִמְתִים (mi-metim), from men, from those fleeting of portion in life (Psalms 17:14). [David] was bewildered how these were slain among the slain of the world—righteous innocents, who never sinned such that they should be punished. Come and see: מִמְתִים (mi-metim), of them that die, by Your hand, O YHWH; מִמְתִים (mi-metim), of them that die, מֵחֶלֶד (me-ḥeled), from those fleeting, of portion in life. By Your hand, O YHWH. Here are two modes: by Your hand, O YHWH, and חֶלֶד (ḥeled), fleeting. By Your hand O YHWH—the blessed Holy One, for the soul is gathered to Him; of them that die מֵחֶלֶד (me-ḥeled)—the Other Side, ruling over the body, as is written: I will never see a human again among the inhabitants of חָדֶל (ḥadel), the world (Isaiah 38:11)“ (Zohar 2:254b, Heikhalot Pequdei).
“[Now a river runs out of Eden to water the garden and] from there splits off into four רָאשִׁים (rashim), streams [lit., heads] (Genesis 2:10)—these are the four who entered the פַּרדֵס (pardes), Orchard. One went up פִישׁוֹן (pishon), Pishon, which is פִּי שׁוֹנֶה הֲלָכוֹת (pi shoneh halakhot), ‘My mouth repeats laws of conduct’ [corresponding to the פְּשָׁט (peshat), plain, meaning of Torah]. The second went up גִּיחוֹן (giḥon), Gihon, where is buried the one of whom it is written: Whoever goes on his גָּחוֹן (gaḥon), belly (Leviticus 11:42)—גַּבְרִיאֵל (gavriel), Gabriel, גָּבַר אֵל (gavar El), Man of God [namely, Moses, cf. Psalms 90:1]. Of him is written: To גֶבֶר (gever), a man, whose way is hidden, and God has hedged him about (Job 3:23)—no man knew the place of his grave nor will until the very day when he will be revealed there. And it is רֶמֶז (remez), hints, and to wise men hints [are sufficient].
The third went up חִדֶּקֶל (ḥideqel), Tigris—חַד (ḥad), sharp, and קַל (qal), light, and it is a חֲדִידָא (ḥadida), flawless, tongue, קַלָּא (qalla), quick, to דְרָשָׁא (derasha), homilies [cf. M Sotah 6:15: ‘With Son of Zoma died the last of the homilists’]. The fourth went up פְּרָת (perat), Euphrates, the brain [or: marrow, corresponding to the סוֹד (sod), secret, meaning of Torah] which is פְּרִיָּה (periyyah), flourishing, and רְבִיָּה (reviyyah), proliferation [cf. Genesis 1:28: פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ (peru u-revu), be fruitful and multiply]. Son of Zoma and Son of Azzai ascended with shells of Torah and were harmed by them, but Rabbi Akiva, who went up in the brain, of him it is said that he ascended in peace and descended in peace [cf. Rabbi Yosef Gikatilla, Perush ha-Niqqud: ‘In truth, to some of them it was a פַּרדֵס (pardes), paradise, and to others it was שְׁמָד (shemad), annihilation. And the mystery depends upon the secret (i.e., numerical value) of the שֵׁם ד״ (shem dalet), Four Letter Name’].
Rabbi El’azar said: Father, one day when we were in the academy, the Companions asked why Rabbi Akiva said to his disciples, When you reach the pure marble stones, do not say ‘Water! Water!’ or you may endanger yourselves, as is written, A speaker of lies shall not stand firm before my eyes (Psalms 101:7). Meanwhile, the סָבָא דְסָבִין (sava de-savin), Elder of Elders, descended, saying: ‘Rabbis, what are you engaging in?’ They said to him: ‘That which Rabbi Akiva said to his disciples concerning the pure marble stones.’ He said to them: ‘Indeed here is a supernal mystery, for it has been explained in the Academy on High. And in order that you not be neglected I have descended, since the mystery—a supernal mystery concealed from people of the generation—has been revealed among you [cf. Vayiqra Rabbah 29:4: ‘He confines His Shekhinah among those below. Why? So that if they err in a matter of Halakhah, the blessed Holy One enlightens their countenance’].’
These are surely the pure marble stones from which pure water flows. They are alluded to at the top and bottom of א (alef). The ו (vav), placed on a diagonal in between, is the Tree of Life. Whoever eats from that tree shall live forever. These two יוּדִין (yods) belonging to the א (alef) are hinted at in וַיִּיצֶר (va-yiytser), and formed (Genesis 2:7) [cf. BT Eruvin 18a]; one of the upper beings and the other of the lower beings stand for Wisdom at the beginning and Wisdom at the end [of יהוה (YHWH) spelled out in its full ten letter expanded form: יוד הי ואו הי (Yod He Vav He); alt., יְאֲהדֹוָנָהי (YAHDWNHY)]. Mysteries of Wisdom, they are concealed supernal Wisdom, below supernal Keter. These are comparable to the two eyes from which two tears fell into the Great Sea. Why did the tears fall [see BT Berakhot 59a; Zohar 2:195b; 3:132a]? Because from these two tablets, Moses gave Torah to Israel. However, Israel was not worthy of receiving them, [so] they broke and fell (Exodus 32:19) causing the destruction of the First and Second Temples. Why did they fall? Because the letter ו (vav) flew out from them, which is the ו (vav) of וַיִּיצֶר (va-yiytser), and formed (Genesis 2:7). He gave them two others from the aspect of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. From here Torah was given in a manner of permitting and forbidding. From the right: Life; from the left: Death.
This is why Rabbi Akiva said to his disciples, When you reach the pure marble stones, do not say ‘Water! Water!’ Do not compare the pure marble stones to the other stones which are Life and Death: A wise man’s heart inclines him to his right hand but a fool’s heart is to the left (Ecclesiastes 10:2). Not only that, but you may endanger yourselves, because these are in separation, while the pure marble stones are in unity without separation of the whole. You may say, that when the Tree of Life departed from them [at the Sin of the Golden Calf] they fell and therefore they were separated from each other. However, A speaker of lies shall not stand firm before my eyes (Psalms 101:7), because there is no separation between them above. For those [tablets] that broke were of those [from the pure marble stones]. They approached to kiss him, but he vanished and was gone from them” (Zohar 1:26b, Tiqqunei ha-Zohar).
“And there is a chariot beneath זְּעֵיר אַנְפִּין (ze’eir anpin), Small Countenance, and he is מְטַּטְרוֹן אָדָם הַקָּטָן (metatron adam ha-qatan), Metatron the Lesser Man [cf. 3 Enoch 12]. And in his chariot, which is an orchard, they are hurrying from the sea of Torah, flowing out of his orchard to three of the four, about whom it was said that four entered the פַּרדֵס (pardes), Orchard. And we have already learnt this.
For he [Metatron] is the bird who was spotted by Rabbah son of Son of Ḥannah on the shore of the sea of Torah when the sea [Malkhut] reached its ankles [Netsaḥ and Hod], and its head reached to the top of the heavens [Tif’eret. On Rabbah son of Son of Ḥannah’s tall tales of his sea adventures and the various immense marine animals he encountered, see BT Bava Batra 73b–74a]. These three [namely, Son of Azzai, Son of Zoma, and Aḥer] did not fail in it because it contains numerous waters [of Ḥokhmah], but only, because of the forceful flow of the waters, and so have we learnt.
אבג (Alef, bet, gimel) include them and reckon six, the number of letters in מְטַּטְרוֹן (Metatron). ד (Dalet) is fourth: a sound of minute stillness (1 Kings 19:12). There came the King, for He is a man to sit on the throne.
א (Alef): יי (yod, yod)—upper waters, and lower waters, and there is nothing between them save a hair’s breadth, which is ו (vav), a slant line in between. It is the firmament [mystery of the וִילוֹן (vilon), Curtain, see BT Ḥagigah 12b] to divide water from water (Genesis 1:6). Thus there should be a separation between female and male, and that is why: and let it divide (Genesis 1:6). And the inner meaning of the matter: יְאֲהדֹוָנָהִי (YAHDWNHY)—the upper י (yod) is upper male waters and the lower י (yod) is lower, feminine waters. The six letters which come between are like the sum of ו (vav)—Metatron—which is between the א (alef).
Furthermore: י (yod)—a point; ו (vav)—a wheel. And there is no movement in the wheel at the six spokes [lit., extremities], as the numerical value of ו (vav), but only at the point. And this point is the unity of everything, and is witness to that Unity who has no second, and about whom the rabbis taught that one has to proclaim His unity in order to establish His kingship over the heavens and the earth and the four directions of the world.
ב (Bet)—heavens and earth [Tif’eret and Malkhut]; ג (gimel)—the pillar that bears them [Yesod]; ד (dalet)—the four living beings [of the Chariot]; ה (he)—the throne; ו (vav)—six steps [sefirot] up to the throne.
Moreover, א ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט (alef, bet, gimel, dalet, he, vav, zayin, ḥet, tet): אָדָם (adam), Man [which has a reduced numerical value of nine, alluding to the first nine sefirot of Ze’eir Anpin]; י (yod)—יִיחוּד (yiḥud), He is Singular; Malkhut, tenth of אָדָם (adam), Man. The nine [sefirot] correspond to the nine letters. Happy are those of Israel who know the secret of their Master!” (Zohar 3:223b, Ra’aya Meheimna Pineḥas).
“Tefillin of the Master of the Universe—Keter [cf. BT Berakhot 6a, 7a]. And what is Keter of the Master of the Universe? It is יְהֹוָה (YHWH): י (yod)—Ḥokhmah; ה (he)—Binah; ו (vav)—Tif’eret, which includes the six sefirot. ה (He) is Malkhut. And this is the reason: And who is כְּ (ke), like, Your people Israel, a unique nation upon earth (2 Samuel 2:23); כִּי (Ki), for, what great nation is there that has gods close to it כַּיהוָה (ka-Adonai), like YHWH, our God whenever we call to Him? (Deuteronomy 4:7); [also there is an aforementioned verse: There is no one holy כַּיהוָה (ka-Adonai), like YHWH, for there is no one beside You, and ther is no bastion like our God (1 Samuel 2:2)]. All four verses are inscribed with כ (kaf), and the mystery of the letter כ (kaf) is י י (yod, yod): יְאֲהדֹוָנָהי (YAHDWNHY). [And this is the inner meaning of:] עֲשָׂרָה עֲשָׂרָה הַכַּף (asarah asarah ha-kaf), ten ten (shekels) the ladle, by the sanctuary shekel (Numbers 7:86)—כ (kaf), from כֶּתֶר (keter), Crown, comprised of ten sefirot and they comprise [ten sefirot of direct light] from above downwards, and ten sefirot [of reflected light], are upwards from below.
And these are [Praise Him, the heavens of the heavens,] and the waters above the heavens (Psalms 148:4), which are masculine upper waters [ten sefirot of direct light], and feminine lower waters [the waters beneath the firmament (Genesis 1:7)—ten sefirot of reflected light]. And of them Rabbi Akiva said to his disciples: When you reach the pure marble stones, do not say: Water! Water! lest you endanger yourselves. For these are not waters as is normally understood, but rather אוֹר נוֹבֵעַ (or nove’a), ‘flowing light.’ This is why its name is מַיִם נוֹבְעִים (mayim nove’im), Flowing Water. And this light is never interrupted, nor is it cut off, nor separated. And because it is from Keter, it is called שֶׁאֵין לָהֶם סוֹף (she-ein lahem sof), Endless, for Keter is called אֵין סוֹף (ein sof), Without End [אוֹר (or), light, and אֵין סוֹף (Ein Sof) are numerically equivalent]” (Zohar 3:258a, Ra’aya Meheimna Pineḥas).