The Nut Garden

לקוטים מזוהר (Gleanings of Zohar)

Tag: תוֹרָה

Sometimes in those Empty Ones You May Discover Bells of Gold!

vishniac-beggars.pngA teaching did Moses charge us, a heritage for Jacob’s assembly! (Deuteronomy 33:4).

“Rabbi Parnak said in Rabbi Yoḥanan’s name: He who is himself a scholar, and his son is a scholar, and his son’s son too, Torah will nevermore cease from his seed, as is written, As for me, this is My covenant with them, says YHWH; My spirit that is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, nor out of the mouth of your descendants, nor out of the mouth of your descendant’s descendants, says YHWH, from this time forth and forever (Isaiah 59:21). What is meant by says YHWH?—the blessed Holy One, said, ‘I am surety for you in this matter.’ What is the meaning of from this time forth and forever?—Rabbi Yirmeyahu said: ‘From now on Torah seeks its home [i.e., it becomes hereditary in that family]” (BT Bava Metsi’a 85a).

“Rabbi Yose said: Let the property of your fellow be as precious to you as your own. Prepare yourself to study Torah, for it does not come to you as an inheritance. And let all your deeds be for the sake of heaven” (M Avot 2:17).

“If one wants to become a priest or a Levite he cannot because his father was not a priest or a Levite. However, if one wants to become righteous even if he is a gentile he can do so because it is not a family trait, as it says: bless YHWH, those who fear YHWH, bless YHWH (Psalms 135:20)—it does not say the house of those who fear YHWH but those who fear YHWH. It is not a family trait, rather, on their own they chose to fear and love the blessed Holy One. Therefore, the blessed Holy One loves them” (Bemidbar Rabbah 8:2).

“Be heedful of the children of the poor, for from them Torah goes forth, as is written, Water drips מִדָּלְיָו (midalyav), from his branch, [and his root in abundant waters] (Numbers 24:7)—[מִדַּלִּים (mi-dallim), from the poor,] goes forth Torah [likened to water]. And why is it not usual for scholars to give birth to sons who are scholars?—Rabbi Yosef said, ‘That they not say, The Torah is their legacy’ [i.e., others should not complain that it is useless for them to study, or that they themselves should not think study unnecessary]. Rav Sheshet, the son of Rav Idi, said: ‘That they should not be arrogant towards the public.’ Mar Zutra said: ‘Because they act high-handedly against the public.’ Rav Ashi said: ‘Because they call people donkeys.’ Ravina said: Because they do not first utter a blessing over the Torah [as required]. For Rav Yehudah said in Rav’s name: ‘What is meant by, Who is the wise man, that may understand this? [… for why is the land perished and is burned up like a wilderness, that none passes through?] (Jeremiah 9:11). Now, this question was put to the sages and prophets but they could not answer it until the blessed Holy One Himself did so, as is written, And YHWH says, Because they have forsaken My law which I set before them, and have not obeyed My voice, neither walked in it (ibid. 12): but is not have not obeyed My voice identical with, neither walked in it?—Rav Yehudah said in Rav’s name: ‘[It means] that they did not first recite a blessing over Torah'” (BT Nedarim 81a).

Like a slice of pomegranate רַקָּתֵךְ (raqatekh), your forehead (Song of Songs 4:3)… Even רֵיקַנִין (reiqanin), the empty ones, among you are as full of mitsvot as a pomegranate [is full of seeds]” (BT Berakhot 57a).

“That donkey-driver, is he here? For sometimes in those empty ones, you may discover bells of gold! [In rabbinic literature the bell appears as a symbol of revelation and inspiration, see BT Sotah 9b, in the name of Rabbi Neḥemiah: ‘Shekhinah was ringing before him like a bell’]” (Zohar 2:95a).

“Sometimes in a poor man’s undergarment you’ll find a pearl” (Zohar 3:157b, cf. M Avot 4:1).

“Rabbi Yose son of Yehudah of Kefar Bavli said: When you learn from the young, what is it like? Like eating unripe grapes or drinking wine straight from the vat. When you learn from the old, what is it like? Like eating ripe grapes and drinking old wine.

Rabbi Meir said: Do not look at the flask but at what it contains, for a new flask may contain old wine, and an old flask may not contain anything, even new wine” (M Avot 5:26–27).

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A Jealous Fire: One Who Writes Down Halakhot is as One Who Burns the Torah

burnttorah“Rabbi El’azar said,… ‘You, cleaving to YHWH your God, are alive everyone of you today (Deuteronomy 4:4). Now is it possible to cleave to Shekhinah, of whom it is written: YHWH your God is a devouring fire (ibid. 24)? Rather the meaning is: whoever marries his daughter to a disciple of the sages, conducts business on their behalf, or benefits them from his assets is regarded by scripture as if he cleaves to Shekhinah [cf. BT Sotah 14a, where Rabbi Ḥama son of Ḥanina explains that one can approach and withstand the consuming fire of Shekhinah by imitating the divine, e.g., by clothing the naked, visiting the sick, comforting mourners, and burying the dead]” (BT Ketubbot 111b).

“Rabbi Huna son of Rabbi Yehoshua would not walk four cubits bareheaded, saying: the Shekhinah is above my head” (BT Qiddushin 31b).

“The General Agrippa asked Rabban Gamaliel, ‘It is written in your Torah, For YHWH your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God (Deuteronomy 4:24). Is a wise man jealous of any but a wise man, a warrior of any but a warrior, a rich man of any but a rich man?’ He replied, ‘I will give you a parable: To what is the matter like? To a man who marries an additional wife. If the second wife is her superior, the first will not be jealous of her, but if she is her inferior, the first wife will be jealous of her’” (BT Avodah Zarah 55a).

“Rabbi Shim’on said, ‘A word lingers here with us.’ He opened, saying, ‘Two verses are written: YHWH your God is a devouring fire (Deuteronomy 4:24), and You, cleaving to YHWH your God, are alive every one of you today (ibid., 4). We have established these verses in various places, and the Companions have been aroused by them.

Come and see: For YHWH your God is a devouring fire. The word has been discussed among the Companions: There is a fire devouring fire, devouring and consuming it, for there is fire fiercer than fire, as they have established [see BT Yoma 21b]. But come and see: Whoever desires to penetrate the wisdom of holy unification should contemplate the flame ascending from a glowing ember or a burning candle. For flame ascends only when grasped by course substance” (Zohar 1:50b–51a).

“The blue [light of a flame] is the Shekhinah, the Judgment that devours sacrifices and burnt offerings. If She finds men to be as dry wood, like dry wicks without oil, which is Torah and Compassion, [She] is a fire to them and burns them” (Zohar 3:33a, Ra’aya Meheimna Tsav, cf. Zohar 2:166a).

“Rabbi Abba son of Rabbi Ḥiyya son of Abba said in the name of Rabbi Yoḥanan [son of Nappaha]: One who writes down halakhot (rules of conduct) is as one who burns the Torah, and he who learns from them does not receive reward… Rabbi Yehudah the son of Naḥum, the declaimer of Resh Lakish expounded: One may not recite oral teachings from a written document and one may not recite written teachings from memory. The school of Rabbi Yishma’el taught: ‘Write for yourself these words’ (Exodus 34:27). These words [i.e. the Written Torah] you may write, but you may not write halakhot” (BT Temurah 14b, cf. Gittin 60a–b; Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed 1:71).

“The Companions saw the face of Shekhinah and were encompassed by fire. Rabbi Abba’s face blazed in fire from rapture of Torah. It has been taught: All that day, none of them left the house, and the house was swathed in smoke. Words among them were fresh and ecstatic as if they were receiving Torah that very day from Mount Sinai! When they departed they did not know if it was day or night” (Zohar 1:94b, cf. Vayiqra Rabbah 16:4; Avot de-Rabbi Natan B, 13).

“As to what the rabbis have said: ‘Now is it possible for one to cleave to Shekhinah?—it certainly is!… Know and believe that there is a special quality to the essence of the purity of limbs that allows for man to hold fast to the Shekhinah even if She is a consuming fire” (Rabbi Yosef Gikatilla, Sha’arei Orah 166).

Little by Little

1377685452The 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).

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

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

“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.’ They said to him, ‘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 aleph bet for him and he learned it; aleph tav, and he learned it; the book of Leviticus, and he learned it. He went on studying until he learned the whole Torah. Then he went and appeared before Rabbi Eli’ezer and Rabbi Yehoshua. ‘My masters,’ he said to them, ‘reveal the justification of Mishnah to me.’ When they told him one halakhah he went off to be by himself. ‘This aleph,’ he wondered, ‘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…

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).

“Rabba expounded in the name of Rabbi Sehora who had it from Rabbi Huna: What is: Wealth can be less than הֶבֶל (hevel), mere breath, but who gathers bit by bit makes it grow (Proverbs 13:11)? 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. Rabba 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).

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: מְעַט מְעַט (m’at m’at), 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 זְעֵיר זְעֵיר (ze’eir ze’eir), little by little, until he is fortified.

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).

“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 זְעֵיר זְעֵיר (ze’eir ze’eir), 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 Blessed Holy One Invited the other Nations to Receive the Torah

O YHWH, when You came forth from Seir… (Judges 5:4)—what did He seek in Seir, and what did He seek in Mount Paran? [cf. Deuteronomy 33:2: YHWH from Sinai came and from Seir He dawned upon them, He shone from Mount Paran…]—Rabbi Yoḥanan says: This teaches us that the blessed Holy One, offered the Torah to every nation and every tongue, but none accepted it, until He came to Israel who received it. [The nations] will say: ‘Did we accept it and fail to observe it? But surely: ‘Then why did you not accept it?’—the nations will then say, ‘Master of the Universe, did You suspend the mountain over us like a cask as You have done to Israel and did we still decline to accept it?’ For Rabbi Dimi son of Ḥama said: And they stood under the mountain (Exodus 19:17)—this teaches us that the blessed Holy One suspended the mountain over Israel like a cask, saying to them: ‘If you accept the Torah, it will be well with you, but if not, there will you find your grave.’ Thereupon the blessed Holy One will say to them: ‘Let us then consider the happenings of old,’ as is said, Who among them can declare this, and show us former things (Isaiah 43:9), ‘There are seven commandments which you did accept, did you observe them?’ [How do we know that they did not observe them?]—for Rabbi Yosef learned: He stood, and shook the earth: He beheld, וַיַּתֵּר (va-yater), and caused to tremble, the nations (Habakkuk 3:6) [cf. BT Bava Qamma 38a]: what did He see? He saw that the nations did not keep even the seven commandments which the sons of Noah had taken upon themselves, and seeing that they did not keep them, He stood up and released them [וַיַּתֵּר (va-yater) also means, ‘he releases,’ cf. מוּתָר (mutar), permitted]. Then they benefited by it; according to this it pays to be a sinner!

The release from those commandments only means that even if they kept them they would not be rewarded. But why should they not? Is it not taught: Rabbi Meir would say: How do we know that even a heathen who engages in Torah study is like the high priest? From the verse And you shall keep My statutes and My laws which a person shall do and live through them (Leviticus 18:5). It does not say If a Priest, Levite, or Israelite do, and live through them, but a person; here, then, you can learn that even a heathen who studies Torah is equal to a High Priest!—what is meant, then, is that they are rewarded not as greatly as one who does a thing which he is commanded to do, but as one who does a thing uncommanded. For, Rabbi Ḥanina said: He who is commanded and does, stands higher then he who is not commanded and does.

The nations will then say, ‘Master of the Universe, has Israel, who accepted the Torah, kept it? The blessed Holy One will reply, ‘I can give evidence that they kept the Torah.’ They said ‘O Master of the Universe can a father give evidence in favor of his son? For it is written, My son, My firstborn, is Israel (Exodus 4:22). Then will the blessed Holy One say: ‘Heaven and earth can bear witness that Israel has fulfilled the entire Torah.’ But they will [object], saying: ‘Master of the Universe, heaven and earth are partial witnesses, for it is said, If not for My covenant with day and with night, I should not have appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth’ (Jeremiah 33:25). [And Rabbi Shim’on son of Laqish further said:] What is conveyed by the phrase, And it was evening and it was morning, the sixth day? (Genesis 1:31). It teaches us that God made a condition with the works of creation, saying: ‘If Israel accept My Torah it will be well, but if not, I shall reduce you to welter;’ which accords with the comment of Rabbi Ḥizqiyah on the verse, From the heavens You made judgment heard, the earth was afraid and fell silent (Psalms 76:9). If the earth trembled, how could it be still, and if it was still, how could it tremble? But at first it trembled, and then it became still.

The blessed Holy One will then say, ‘Some of yourselves shall testify that Israel kept the entire Torah. Let Nimrod come and testify that Abraham did not [consent to] worship idols; let Laban come and testify that Jacob could not be suspected of theft [cf. Genesis 31:37]; let Potiphar’s wife testify that Joseph was above suspicion of immorality; let Nebuchadnezzar come and testify that Ḥanania, Mishael and Azariyah did not bow down to an image; let Darius come and testify that Daniel never neglected the prayers [his windows were open in his upper chamber towards Jerusalem, and he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before God, see Daniel 6:11, the earliest record of the practice]; let Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Na’amathite, and Eliphaz the Temanite [and Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite (see Job 32:2; cf. BT Bava Batra 15b)] testify that Israel has kept the whole Torah; as  is said, Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled: who among them can declare this, and show us former things? let them bring forth their witnesses, that they may be justified: or let them hear, and say, It is truth (Isaiah 43:9).

The nations will then plead. ‘Offer us the Torah anew and we shall obey it.’ But the blessed Holy One will say to them, ‘You foolish ones among peoples, he who took trouble [to prepare] on the eve of the Sabbath can eat on the Sabbath, but he who has not troubled on the eve of the Sabbath, what shall he eat on the Sabbath? Nevertheless, I have an easy command which is called סֻּכֹּת (sukkot), Huts (Leviticus 23:42); go and carry it out.’ [But how can you say so:] does not Rabbi Yehoshua son of Levi say: What is, And you shall keep what is commanded and the statutes and the laws that I charge you today to do (Deuteronomy 7:11)? It is that only this day is the time to do them,’ they cannot be done tomorrow [cf. Bahir §81: ‘Each day has its own power’]; this day is the time in which to do them, but not in which to be rewarded for them. [Why then should they be offered this observance in the days of the Messiah?]—because the blessed Holy One does not deal imperiously with His creatures. And why does He call it an easy command?—because it does not affect one’s purse. Immediately every one of them will take himself and go and make a hut on the top of his roof; but the blessed Holy One will cause the sun to blaze forth over them as at the cycle of Tammuz [i.e., summer solstice] and every one of them will trample down his hut and go away, as is said, Let us tear off their fetters, let us fling away their bonds! (Psalms 2:3). [But you have just said] ‘The blessed Holy One does not deal imperiously with His creatures?—true! but with the Israelites, too, it occasionally happens that the cycle of Tammuz extends till the Festival [Sukkoth] and they are vexed [by the heat, the test is therefore not exceptional or harsh]. But does not Rava say: He who is vexed thereby is freed from dwelling in the סוּכָּה (sukkah), hut? (BT Sukkah 26a)—granted, they would [in such circumstances] be freed, but would Israelites contemptuously trample it down? Thereupon the blessed Holy One will laugh at them, as is said, He who dwells in the heavens will laugh [the Master derides them] (Psalms 2:4). Rabbi said Yitsḥaq: ‘Only on that day is there laughter for the blessed Holy One!’

Some connected that comment of Rabbi Yitsḥaq with the following teaching: Rabbi Yose says, ‘In time to come the nations will come and offer themselves as converts.’ But will such be accepted? Has it not been taught that in the days of the Messiah converts will not be accepted [see BT Yevamot 24a]; likewise none were accepted in the days of David or of Solomon?—well, they will be self-made converts [lit., ‘dragged-in converts’ a class of converts who judaize en masse under the impulsion of fear], and will place tefillin on their foreheads and on their arms, fringes in their garments, and a mezuzah on their doorposts, but when the battle of Gog and Magog will come about [see Ezekiel 39:12] they will be asked, ‘For what purpose have you come?’ and they will answer: ‘Against God and His Messiah,’ as is said, Why are the nations aroused, and the people’s murmur vain things? (Psalms 2:1). Then each of the converts will throw aside his religious token and get away, as is said, Let us break their bands asunder (ibid.), and the blessed Holy One will sit and laugh, as is said: He who dwells in the heavens will laugh (Psalms 2:4).

[It was on this that] Rabbi Yitsḥaq remarked that there is no laughter for the blessed Holy One except on that day. But is there not, indeed? Yet Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: ‘The day consists of twelve hours; during the first three hours the blessed Holy One is occupying Himself with the Torah, during the second three He sits in judgment on the whole world, and when He sees that the world is so guilty as to deserve destruction, He transfers Himself from the seat of Justice to the seat of Mercy; during the third quarter, He is feeding the whole world, from the horned buffalo to the brood of vermin [cf. BT Shabbat 107b]; during the fourth quarter He is sporting with the Leviathan, as is said, There the ships go, this Leviathan You fashioned to play with’? (Psalms 104:26). Rabbi Naḥman son of Yitsḥaq said: Yes, He sports with His creatures, but does not laugh at His creatures except on that day” (BT Avodah Zarah 2b–3b, cf. Zohar 3:20a, 192a–193a).

Fools See Someone in a Good-Looking Garment and They Look No Further

image “Rabbi Akiva says: Torah speaks in the language of men” (Sifre, Numbers 112).

“These verses may be read literally, but words of Torah are sealed. How many words of wisdom are concealed in every single word of Torah! The pathways are known; for Torah does not consist of dreamy words, transmitted to whoever interprets them and conducted by the mouth—nevertheless, requiring appropriate treatment. Now, if this is so with dreams, how much more do words of Torah—delights of the Holy King—need to be followed according to the way of truth!” (Zohar 2:95a, Sava de-Mishpatim).

“Come and see: For a king of flesh and blood, it is undignified to engage in common talk, much less to write it down. Now, would you ever imagine that the supernal King, the blessed Holy One, had no holy words to write, with which to compose the Torah, so that he had to collect all of these words about commoners—such as words about Esau, about Hagar, about Laban with Jacob, about the donkey, Balaam, and Balak, about Zimri, and all the other stories that are written—and make a Torah out of them? If so, why is it called a Torah of truth (Malachi 2:6)—Torah of YHWH is perfect; the decree of YHWH is trustworthy; The precepts of YHWH are just; the command of YHWH is lucid; the awe of YHWH is pure? And it is written: more desirable than gold… (Psalms 19:8-11). These are words of Torah! But surely it is called Torah of YHWH, Perfect Torah, and every single word comes to demonstrate other, supernal matters. The wording of the story does not come to signify itself, but rather to signify something about the totality, as has been said…

Rabbi Shim’on said, ‘Woe to the person who says that Torah intended to present a mere story and ordinary words! For if so, we could compose a Torah right now with ordinary words, and more laudable than all of them. If to display matters of the world, even worldly potentates possess words more sublime. If so, let us follow them and make a Torah out of them! But all the words of Torah correspond to the following pattern.

Come and see: The world above and the world below are evenly balanced: Israel below, supernal angels above. Of the angels is written He makes His angels spirits… (Psalms 104:4). This pertains to the celestial realm. But when they descend below, although they descend, they don garments of this world. If they are not clothed in a garment befitting this world, they cannot not endure in this world, nor can the world endure them.

If this is so with angels, then concerning Torah—who created them and all the worlds, which exist for her sake—when she descends to this world, if she does not clothe herself in garments of this world, the world cannot endure. So this story of Torah is a garment of Torah. Whoever thinks that the garment is the real Torah and not something else, may his spirit expire! He will have no share in the world that is coming! Therefore David said: Uncover my eyes, so I can see wonders out of your Torah (Psalms 119:18)—what is beneath the garment of Torah.

Come and see: There is a garment visible to all. Those fools, when they see someone in a good-looking garment, look no further. Yet the significance of that garment is the body; the significance of the body is the soul. Corresponding to this pattern, Torah has a body—and words of Torah called ‘bodies of Torah.’ This body is clothed in a garment, namely stories of this world. Fools of the world look only at that garment, the story of Torah. Those who know more do not look at the garment, but rather at the body beneath that garment. The wise—servants of the supernal King, those who stood at Mount Sinai—look only at the soul, root of all, real Torah. And in the world that is coming, they are destined to gaze upon the soul of the soul of Torah… Happy are the righteous who look at Torah properly! As wine must sit in a bottle, so Torah must sit in this garment. Therefore, concerning Torah, one should look only at what is beneath the garment. So all these words and all these stories are garments” (Zohar 3:149b-152a).

“Happy is the share of one who engages in Torah constantly! What is written of him? But the Torah of YHWH is his delight, and on His Torah he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree (Psalms 1:2-3). Why is this adjoined to that? Well, whoever engages in Torah day and night should not be a parched tree, but rather like what? Like a tree planted by streams of water. Just as a tree has roots, bark, pith, branches, leaves, flowers, and fruit—these seven types amounting to ten, and ten to seventy—so words of Torah have a simple sense, midrashic meaning, a hint alluding to wisdom, gimatriyya’ot, hidden mysteries, sealed mysteries, one above the other; unfit and fit, impure and pure, forbidden and permitted. From here on, branches spread out in every direction. He shall be like a tree, surely! And if not, he is not a master of wisdom” (Zohar 3:202a, cf. Rabbi Avraham Abulafia, Sheva Netivot ha-Torah translated in Idel, Language, Torah, and Hermeneutics in Abraham Abulafia, p. 82-109).

All the Commandments of the Blessed Holy One: You Shall Love Your Fellow as Yourself

“Our rabbis taught: A man should always be lenient like Hillel, not strict like Shammai. It once happened that two men made a bet with each other, saying, He who goes and provokes Hillel will receive four hundred zuz. One said, ‘I will go and provoke him.’ That day was the Sabbath eve, and Hillel was washing his head. He went, passed by the door of his house, and called out, ‘Who here is Hillel, who here is Hillel?’ He robed and went out to him, saying, ‘My son, what do you need?’ ‘I have a question to ask.’ He said. ‘Ask, my son.’ ‘Why are the skulls of the Babylonians oval? ‘My son, you have asked a great question [Hillel was himself a Babylonian], because they have no skillful midwives.’ He departed, waited an hour, returned, and called out, ‘Who here is Hillel, who here is Hillel?’ He robed and went out to him, saying, ‘My son, what do you need?’ ‘I have a question to ask,’ he said. ‘Ask, my son.’ He asked: ‘Why are the eyes of the residents of Tadmor bleary?’ ‘My son, you have asked a great question: because they live among the sands.’ He departed,waited an hour, returned, and called out, ‘Who here is Hillel, who here is Hillel?’ He robed and went out to him, saying, ‘My son, what do you need?’ ‘I have a question to ask,’ he said. ‘Ask, my son.’ ‘Why are the feet of the Africans wide?’ ‘My son, you have asked a great question: because they live in watery marshes.’ ‘I have many questions to ask but fear that you may become angry.’ He then robed, sat before him and said, ‘Ask all the questions you have to ask.’ ‘Are you the Hillel who is called Prince of Israel?’ ‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘If that is you may there not be many like you in Israel.’ ‘Why, my son?’ he asked. ‘Since I have lost four hundred zuz because of you.’ ‘Be careful of your spirit, Hillel is worth it that you should lose four hundred zuz and yet another four hundred zuz on his account, yet Hillel shall not be strict.’

Our rabbis taught: A certain stranger once came before Shammai and asked him, ‘How many teachings do you have?’ He said, ‘Two, the Written Torah and the Oral Torah.’ ‘I trust you with respect to the Written Torah, but with respect to the Oral Torah I do not trust you; make me a convert on condition that you teach me the Written Torah [only]. He scolded and drove him out in rebuke. When he went before Hillel, [who accepted him as] a convert. On the first day, he taught him, Alef, bet, gimmel, dalet; the following day he reversed [them] for him. ‘But yesterday you did not tell me that.’ ‘Did you not rely on me? Then trust me with respect to the Oral [Torah] too [since there must be a certain reliance on authority before anything can be learnt at all].’

On another occasion it happened that a certain stranger came before Shammai and said to him, ‘Make me a convert, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.’ He shoved him with the builder’s cubit in his hand [בֶּאֱמֶת (be’emet), builder’s cubit, plays on אֶמֶת (emet), truth, i.e., Shammai’s appraoch was built on the basis of absolute truth]. When he went before Hillel, he said to him, ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: that is the whole Torah and the rest is its commentary. Go and learn” (BT Shabbat 30b-31a).

“Son of Azzai said: This is the book of the descendants of Adam: [On the day God created the human, in the image of God] (Genesis 5:1) is a great principle of Torah. Rabbi Akiva said: and love your fellow as yourself (Leviticus 19:18) is a great principle, so that you must not say, ‘Since I have been put to shame, let my fellow be put to shame, since I have been cursed, let my fellow be cursed.’ Rabbi Tanḥuma said: If you do so, know whom you put to shame, for God created the human in His image (Genesis 1:27)” (Bereshit Rabbah 24:7, cf. Sifra Qedoshim 4:12).

“All Companions who do not love each other divert themselves from the straight path” (Zohar 2:190b).

They helped everyone his fellow; and everyone said to his brother, ‘Be strong’ (Isaiah 41:6).

A song of ascents for David. Look, how good and pleasant is the dwelling of brothers together (Psalms 133:1, cf. Zohar 3:59b).

“Rabbi Ḥiyya opened, ‘When your enemy falls, do not be glad; when he stumbles, let not your heart rejoice‘ (Proverbs 24:17)… Come and see: Why did Joseph—who was granted dominion by the blessed Holy One—spin schemes around his brothers when they fell into his hands? After all, he knew the Torah that his father taught him! But perish the thought that Joseph spun those schemes to take revenge upon them! Rather, he did all this only to bring his brother Benjamin for whom he yearned. He did not let his brothers fall, for look what is written: Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain… (Genesis 42:25)—all this so they would not fall” (Zohar 1:199a).

Hatred foments strife, but אַהֲבָה (ahava), love, covers up all misdeeds (Proverbs 10:12).

“It is written, You shall not take vengeance, and you shall not harbor a grudge against any of the children of your people (Leviticus 19:18). How does this apply? If someone is chopping meat, and the clever cuts his hand, will he in return cut the [other] hand? But love your fellow as yourself (ibid.)” (JT Nedarim 9:4, 41c).

“It has been taught in the Concealment of the Book: In every manner חֶסֶד (ḥesed), love [or: kindness], must be increased and fashioned, not cut or eliminated from the world” (Zohar 3:133b, Idra Rabba).

“Don’t the inhabitants of the world realise that I based the world solely on love? As is written, כִּי-אָמַרְתִּי עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה (ki-amarti olam ḥesed yibaneh), I said, ‘The world shall be built on love’ (Psalms 89:3). By this the world endures” (Zohar 1:10b).

“Come and see: All is called Love, and for the sake of love all exists, as is written: Many waters cannot quench love (Song of Songs 8:7). All endures by love, for the Holy Name is found to be so, as has been established. י (Yod)—the upper tip is never separated from י (yod), since it settles upon it, never parting” (Zohar 3:267b).

The Primordial Kings Died: Why Should He Destroy His own Children?

These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the Children of Israel (Genesis 36:31).

“It has been taught: The Book on Concealment, a book on scales. For until there was a balance, they did not gaze face-to-face, and the primordial kings died and their weapons vanished and the earth was nullified. Until the head of Desire of all Desires arranged and bestowed garments of glory” (Zohar 2:156b, Sifra di-Tsni’uta).

“Until He Himself was arrayed in His enhancements, all those that He intended to arrange did not endure, and all those worlds were destroyed… Would you ever imagine that they were nullified? Look, they are all included in [Primordial] Adam! Rather, they were nullified and removed from that arrangement, until the image of Adam appeared. When this image appeared they were all engraved and transformed into another existence. Some of them became fragrantly firm, some of them not entirely so, and some of them not at all.

Now, you might say, ‘But it is written He died… he died (Genesis 36:33–39)—implying that they were nullified completely.’ Not so! Rather, anyone who descends from his original rung of existence is said to have died, as is written: The King of Egypt died (Exodus 2:23)—meaning that he descended from the rung that he occupied. Once Adam was arrayed, they were called by different names and became fragrantly firm existing in Him, enduring in their places… transformed into another existence, settling securely” (Zohar 3:135b, Idra Rabba, cf. Zohar 3:61a-b).

“Israel is the kernel of the world; Israel arose in thought. Other nations, who are the shell preceded, as is written: אֵלֶּה (elleh), these, are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the Children of Israel (Genesis 36:31)” (Zohar 2:108b, Sava de-Mishpatim).

“אֵלֶּה (Elleh), these, are the generations of the heaven and the earth (Genesis 2:4). It has been established: אֵלֶּה (elleh), these, cancels that which was mentioned before [cf. Bereshit Rabbah 30:3]. So אֵלֶּה (elleh), these, generations of formlessness hinted at in: The earth then was welter and waste (Genesis 1:2). Regarding those it is said the blessed Holy One created worlds and destroyed them [see Bereshit Rabbah 3:7, cf. Tiqqunei ha-Zohar 42, 23a]. Thus, it is written: The earth then was welter and waste (Genesis 1:2). Why did the blessed Holy One create worlds if He intended to destroy them? It would have been better had He not created them at all! But this is certainly a mystery. What is the meaning of ‘He destroyed them?’ It cannot be that the blessed Holy One destroyed the makings of His own hands. Furthermore, these are the heavens of which it is said, for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke (Isaiah 51:6). If it were so, then the blessed Holy One first created and then destroyed.

The secret is that the blessed Holy One created the world by the Torah, as is written: בְּרֵאשִׁית (Bereshit), with beginning (Genesis 1:1), about which is written: YHWH created me at the רֵאשִׁית (reshit), outset, of His way, [before His works of old] (Proverbs 8:22). And by this רֵאשִׁית (reshit), beginning, He created the [supernal] heavens and the earth [i.e., the six sefirot whose creation are hinted at by the permutation of בְּרֵאשִׁית (bereshit): בָּרָא שִׁית (bara shit), created six]. He sustained them with the covenant which is in בְּרֵאשִׁית (bereshit) [i.e., בְּרִית אֵשׁ (berit esh), covenant of fire] as is written: Were it not for בְרִיתִי (Beriti), My covenant, day and night, I would not have established the laws of the heavens and earth (Jeremiah 33:25). These are: The heavens are the heavens of YHWH (Psalms 115:16). And the land of the living comprises seven zones [lit., lands, see Zohar 3:10a], about which King David wrote, I will walk before YHWH in the lands of the living (Psalms 116:9).

After He created the heavens and the earth upon formlessness, without any foundation—which is the covenant—to support them [cf. Job 26:7]. Because of this the blessed Holy One, wanted to give Torah, which is the covenant of circumcision, to the nations of the world but because they did not want to receive it the land remained parched and dry [see BT Avodah Zarah 2b–3b; Sifre Deuteronomy 33:2]. Thus: Let the waters under heaven be gathered together to one place, and let the dry land appear (Genesis 1:9). Waters—Torah. To one place—Israel because the souls of Israel come from that Place, about which it is written: Blessed be the glory of YHWH from His place (Ezekiel 3:12)…

Torah designates the civilized world. The nations of the world who did not accept it have remained wasted and dry. This is [the meaning of] ‘The blessed Holy One created worlds and destroyed them,’ those who did not maintain the decrees of Torah. It does not mean He shattered His own makings as people may presume [cf. BT Sanhedrin 103a in the name of Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai]. Why should He destroy His own children about whom it is written: בְּהִבָּרְאָם, (be-hibbare’am), when they were created (Genesis 2:4). בְּהִבָּרְאָם (Be-hibbare’am)—[read instead:] בְּה‘ בְּרָאָם (be-he bira’am), He created them with ה (he) [which is written especially small in Genesis 2:4, cf. Bereshit Rabbah 12:9; Zohar 1:86b]. Because of those converts from among the nations of the world the small ה (he) of אַבְרָהָם (Avraham), Abraham, fell during the Fifth Millennium. [And the river was wasted and dried up (Isaiah 19:5):] Wasted—the First Temple; dried up—the Second Temple.

Moses wanted to bring the proselytes [the motley throng] under the wings of the Shekhinah and presumed that they too were drawn down from ה (he). Thus he caused the fall of ה (he) of אַבְרָהָם (Avraham), Abraham. This brought upon him descent, as is written: Go, get you down, for your people… have become corrupt (Exodus 32:7). They did not receive the small ה (he) with awe of י (yod) and with the love of [first] ה (he). So he fell from his rung, which is ו (vav)” (Zohar 1:24b–25a, Tiqqunei ha-Zohar).

“Rabbi Qattina said: Six thousand years the world will exist, and one, it shall be desolate, as is written, And YHWH alone shall be exalted in that day (Isaiah 2:11). Abbaye said: it will be desolate two, as is said, After two days will He revive us: on the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight (Hosea 6:2).

It has been taught in accordance with Rabbi Qattina: Just as the seventh year is one year of release in seven, so is the world: one thousand years out of seven shall be fallow, as it is written, And YHWH alone shall be exalted in that day, and it is further said, A psalm, a song for the Sabbath day (Psalms 92:1)—the day that is altogether Sabbath. It is also said, For a thousand years in Your eyes are like yesterday gone (Psalms 90:4).

The Tanna debe Eliyyahu teaches: The world will exist six thousand years. In the first two thousand there was תֹהוּ (tohu), chaos; two thousand years תוֹרָה (Torah), Law, flourished; two thousand years the days of Messiah” (BT Sanhedrin 97a).