“It has been taught: Rabbi Abba said in the name of Rabbi Yoḥanan, ‘Before the blessed Holy One created the world, He and His Name were one. It arose in His mind to create the world, and He created first a thousand worlds, as is said: the thousand are yours, Solomon (Song of Songs 8:12). Afterward He created other worlds—to show that all is naught before Him” (Zohar Ḥadash 2d, cf. Pirqei de-Rabbi Eli’ezer 3).
“Rabbi Amora sat and expounded: What is fullness—the blessing of YHWH. To the west and the south His possession (Deuteronomy 33:23)? It means that everyplace ב (bet) is said is blessed, and this is: fullness—בִּרְכַּת(birkat), the blessing, of YHWH. From there those in need drink. And from the fullness She offered counsel at the beginning (Proverbs 9:10).
A parable: A king wanted to build a palace for himself among mighty cliffs [cf. Shem Tov ibn Shem Tov, MS British Museum 711]. He cut rocks and hewed boulders, uncovering a great spring of living water. The king then said, ‘Since I have flowing water, I will plant a garden. Then I will delight in it, and so will the entire world.’ As is written, And I was by Him an intimate, I was His delight day after day (Proverbs 8:30). Torah says, ‘For two thousand years I was in the blessed Holy One’s lap, as His delight,’ therefore the verse reads: day after day; a day of the blessed Holy One is a thousand years, as is written, For a thousand years in Your eyes are like a day gone (Psalms 90:4). From here on: at times, as is said, each time (Proverbs 8:30). But the remainder is לְעוֹלָם (le-olam), for remote eons, as is said: [I exhale,] and for My praise, hold it for you,[so as not to cut you off] (Isaiah 48:9) [cf. Naḥmanides, Perush le-Sefer Yetsirah, 1:1, §1].What is My praise? As is written, Praise for David. Let Me exalt you (Psalms 145:1–2). Why is this praise? Because: Let Me exalt you. And what is this exaltation? Let Me bless your name לְעוֹלָם (le-olam), forevermore (ibid.).
What is בְּרָכָה (berakhah), blessing? A parable: A king planted trees in his garden. Although rains fell constantly, and it was absorbed, and the soil was wet, he must water it from a spring, as is written, The beginning—wisdom, the fear of YHWH, good knowledge to all who perform it (Psalms 111:10). And if you say it lacks something [i.e., an end], look: His praise stands for all time (ibid.)” (Bahir§§5–6).
“It has been taught: The Book of Concealment, a book balanced 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 [on ‘a balance,’ see Bereshit Rabbah 12:15; on ‘they did not gaze face-to-face,’ see BT Bava Batra 99a; on ‘the primordial kings,’ see Genesis 36:31–39].
This balance hangs in a place that is not; weighed upon it were those who did not exist. The balance stands on its own, ungrasped and unseen. Upon it rose and upon it rise those who were not, and who were, and who will be.
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 prayer of those below [on the forehead as expressing the Will, see Zohar 3:129 (IR) on Exodus 28:38]. 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, cf. Zohar 3:137b–138a (IR); on טַלָּא דִּבְדוֹלְחָא (talla di-vdulḥa), crystalline dew, cf. Rashi on Numbers 11:7; Ibn Ezra on Genesis 2:12].
בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ (Be-reshit bara Elohim et ha-shamayim ve-et ha-arets), In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). שִׁיתָא (Shita), six [words]—בְּרֵאשִׁית (be-reshit), in the beginning, above them. All of them are below, suspended from the seven [features] of the skull until Glory of Glories [cf. BT Shabbat 152a: ‘The glory of a face is the beard’].
The second earth is not included in the calculation, as has been said, and it emerged from that which was cursed, as is written: from the soil that YHWH cursed (Genesis 5:29). הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם (Hayetah tohu va-vohu ve-ḥoshekh al penei tehom ve-ruaḥ Elohim meraḥefet al penei ha-mayim), Was waste and empty, with darkness over the face of the abyss and the wind of God hovering over the face of the waters (ibid. 1:2)—thirteen [words] suspended from thirteen [‘strands of clean fleece’] of Glory of Glories [i.e., the divine beard; on the thirteen attributes of Compassion, see Exodus 34:6–7].
Six thousand years are suspended from the first six; seventh above them, fortified alone. All will be destroyed in twelve hours [cf. the twelve hour rise and fall of Adam, described in Avot de-Rabbi Natan A, 1; B, 1; Vayiqra Rabbah 29:1; BT Sanhedrin 38b], as is written: was waste and empty…. Thirteen, He will raise them in Compassion—renewing themselves as before—and all those six will rise, since it is written created, and afterward is written was, for it surely was! [cf. Bahir §2]. And in the end, תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ (tohu va-vohu), welter and waste, with darkness—YHWH alone will be exalted on that day (Isaiah 2:11)“ (Zohar 2:176b, Sifra di Tsni’uta).
“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 He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in kindness and relenting over evil (Joel 2:13)…. Rabbi Aḥa and Rabbi Tanḥum in the name of Rabbi Ḥiyya in the name of Yoḥanan [said]: It is not written here אֶרֶךְ אַף (erekh af) [in the singular], but rather אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם (erekh appayim), slow to anger—מַאֲרִיךְ רוּחוֹ (ma’arikh ruḥo), He lengthens His breath, with the righteous and He lengthens His breath with the wicked [cf. BT Bava Qamma 50b on Exodus 34:6]. He lengthens His breath with the righteous—collecting from them for their few wicked deeds which they did in this world in order to give them their full wage in the time yet to come. And He bestows calm on the wicked in this world, and pays them for their few good deeds in this world in order to exact debt from them fully in the time yet to come [cf. M Avot 4:15]….
Rabbi Levi said: What is אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם (erekh appayim), slow to anger? רַחִיק רָגִיז (Raḥiq ragiz), [He is] far from irascible. [A parable: To what can the matter be compared?] A king who had two legions, harsh [as could be]. The king said, ‘Now, if they reside with me in the province, [and] inhabitants of the province provoke me they will rise up and finish them. Only, look, I will send them faraway. If the inhabitants of the province provoke me until I send them near to them they [have time to] come and appease me and I accept appeasement. Thus it is written: They come from a faraway land, from the end of the heavens [—YHWH with His anger’s weapons, to destroy all the earth] (Isaiah 13:5). Rabbi Yitsḥaq said, ‘And not only that, Who locks before them: YHWH opened His armory וַיּוֹצֵא (va-yotse), and brought out, the weapons of His wrath, [for YHWH of Armies has a task in the land of the Chaldeans](Jeremiah 50:25)—while He opens, [or] while He locks His mercies draw near.
It was taught in the name of Rabbi Me’ir: For YHWH is about יֹצֵא (yotse), to come out, from His place [to punish the crime of the dwellers on earth, and the earth shall lay bare its bloodguilt and no longer cover its slain] (Isaiah 26:21)—yotse,He comes out, from [quality to quality. He comes out, from (JT Ta’anit 65b)] the quality of Judgment to the quality of Mercy over Israel. Now, will I not accept your repentance?” (Pesiqta de-Rav Kahana 24:11).
“He mangles, He tears, and He shuffles heavens and earth, this on the back of that, beneath His two arms [everlasting] (Deuteronomy 33:27), and destroys the whole world in an instant, as is said, But a moment בְּאַפּוֹ (be-appo), in His wrath [lit., with His nose], life in His pleasure (Psalms 30:6). Nothing would be left of them except the Throne of Glory alone, and the blessed Holy One shall be seated on it alone in His glory, as is said, And YHWH alone shall be raised high on that day (Isaiah 2: 11). What is alone? That even the living beings of the Chariot, the ofannim, cherubs, wheels, seraphs, tafsarim, and er’elim shall come to an end with them, as is said, [I smash and I also heal] and none rescues from My hand (Deuteronomy 32:39). And why did the blessed Holy One not leave off from the holy living beings of the Chariot, and the ofannim, seraphs, cherubs, wheels, tafsarim, and er’elim that they remain to serve Him and to serve His glory? In order that not even one of them that remained serving before Him find an opening to say, ‘We created a new world with the blessed Holy One!’ As is said, I have made it and I will carry (Isaiah 46:4). I have made it—the world; I will carry—generations of the world; I will bear it (ibid.)—He destroyed the world [in eons that were before us]; I will rescue (ibid.)—all of the world” (Midrash Alfa Betot [Battei Midrashot, 2:429]).
For the sake of My name I will hold back My wrath, and for My praise I will be restrained toward you so as not to cut you off [lit., For the sake of My name אַאֲרִיךְ אַפִּי (a’arikh appi), I lengthen My nose, and for My praise אֶחֱטָם (eḥetam), I will hold in, for you, so as not to cut you off (Isaiah 48:9, cf. Bahir §5 ad loc.; חֹטֶם [ḥotem], nose, nostril).
“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).
These are the five scrolls and five chapters and five orders that Son of Sira revealed to Uziel his son and Yosef his grandson: Sefer Yetsirah, Sefer Tagi[n], Sefer Dikdukin, Sefer Pesiqta Batrei Apei Mishkan, Sefer Zerubbavel. Five chapters: Pereq Rabbi Shim’on bar Yoḥai, Pereq Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Pereq Otiyyot de-Rabbi Akiva, Pereq Ma’aseh Mishkan, Pereq Derekh Erets. Five orders: Seder Olam, Seder Tequfot, Seder Shaot, Seder Ibbur, Seder Halakhot [alt., SederHeikhalot]. And when he had revealed all the mysteries the entire army on high shuddered. Now, the Holy Spirit issued, saying: Who revealed My secrets to the sons of man? Son of עצש״ט (‘ATsShT) stood up and said: I, Buzi son of Buzi [cf. Ezekiel 1:3]. The blessed Holy One said to him: [If you find honey, eat] just what you need, [lest you have your fill of it and throw it up] (Proverbs 25:16). Immediately Yosef sat down and wrote from ‘ATsShT those fifteen matters. He wrote five scrolls with a stylus—Sefer Yetsirah with which the blessed Holy One fashioned His world.
Who will utter YHWH’s mighty acts, will make heard all His praise? (Psalms 106:2)—none can utter His mighty acts or make heard all His praise. Even the ministering angels cannot recount מִקְצָת (miqtsat), some of [or: the best of those], mighty acts or expound on what צִפָּה (tsipah), He envisioned, created and actualized. For at the beginning when the blessed Holy One created the world, He was alone [cf. Bereshit Rabbah 1:4 on Isaiah 44:24]. It arose in His thought to create the world and He etched its foundations on the earth [cf. Isaiah 44:13; Proverbs 8:27], but they did not endure until He created with Torah Sefer Yetsirah—He gazed into it and understood in His wisdom. Thus He fashioned the world: His eyes gazing into Sefer Yetsirah, and His hands roaming and building the world [cf. 2 Chronicles 16:9].
To divide [between the holy and the profane]: Like a man who builds buildings and possesses a scroll and he looks at it, thus the blessed Holy One did. As soon as He fashioned His world and finished it, He placed it in Torah—treasured away at the start, preceding974 generations before the creation of the world [cf. Proverbs 8:23; BT Ḥagigah 13b]. Now, when Abraham our father was born the ministering angels said before the blessed Holy One: Master of the World: There is one friend to You in this world yet from him something is concealed? Immediately the blessed Holy One said: Shall I conceal from Abraham [what I am about to do?] (Genesis 18:17). He sought the permission of Torah, saying: Come וּנַשִּׂיאךְ (u-nassik), and we shall marry you off, to Abraham My friend (Isaiah 41:8). She said before Him: Not until a humble man [Moses] will come and יִשָּׂא (yissa), lift up, [this] humble one. Immediately the blessed Holy One sought the permission of Sefer Yetsirah, and she said: Yes. He handed her on to Abraham.
Now, he sat alone and studied Sefer Yetsirah but he was unable to understand a thing until a heavenly echo issued saying to him: You seek to make yourself equal to Me? I am One and I created Sefer Yetsirah. I delved into it and I performed all that is written in it and you will not be able to understand a single [thing]. Draw a companion near to yourself and you will look into it and understand [cf. M Ḥagigah 2:1]. Immediately Abraham went to Shem, his master, and sat with him three years and they looked into it and they knew how to fashion the world. And to this day, there is none who will understand it alone—only two sages [can], even they will not understand it in less than three years. Yet when they [do] understand it, they are able to perform anything their hearts desire. And when Abraham understood it, he added more wisdom to it and learned the entire Torah.
Rava, too, wanted to understand it alone. Rabbi Zera said: But it is written: A sword against הַבַּדִּים (ha-baddim), the soothsayers, exposed as fools (Jeremiah 50:36)—a sword against Israel’s enemies who sit בַּד בְּבַד (bad be-vad), apart, occupied with Torah [see BT Berakhot 63b ad loc.: ‘The Torah is only acquired in company’; cf. Ta’anit 7a; Makkot 10a]. If so, let us go and occupy ourselves with Sefer Yetsirah. And so they sat together and occupied themselves with it for three years and understood it. Once a calf was created for them and they slaughtered it and enjoyed it for the completion of the tractate [see BT Sanhedrin 65b]. But when they slaughtered it, they forgot it. They sat another three years and produced it again.
Son of Sira, too, wanted to understand it alone. A heavenly echo issued saying: Two are better than one, [for they get good reward for their toil] (Ecclesiastes 4:9). He went [and sat] next to Jeremiah and they occupied themselves with it for three years and understood it and an individual was created before them [בֶּן סִירַא (Ben Sira), Son of Sira, is numerically equivalent to יִרְמְיָהוּ (Yirmeyahu), Jeremiah, and אַבּוּ אַהֲרוֹן (Abu Aharon), i.e., Aharon ben Shemu’el ha-Nasi]. Written on his forehead was: וַיהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֱמֵת (va-Adonai Elohim Emet), butYHWH is the Godof truth (Jeremiah 10:10). Now, in his hand was a knife and he was erasing א (alef) from אֱמֵת (emet), truth [leaving, מֵת (met), dead]. [Jeremiah rent his clothes (JTS MS 1887, fol. 129b)] he said: Why are you doing that? For it can’t possibly be true! He said to them: I will fashion a parable for you: What is this like? A man who is a builder and a sage. And when the sons of man saw him they made him king over them. Days later, others came and they learned the craft. They abandoned the first [king] and went after the others. Likewise, the blessed Holy One, exalted will be His name, gazes into Sefer Yetsirah and fashions the world, reigning over all His creations. And when you have come and done like Him, what will be the end of the matter? All will leave Him and go after you. What will become of He who fashioned you? They said to him: If so what will we do [now]? He said to them: Turn him back. And they made that man dust and ashes.
[§2] Ten סְפִירוֹת בְּלִימָה (sefiroth belimah), ciphers of emptiness [cf. Job 26:7: He hangs earth over בְּלִי מָה (beli-mah), emptiness; M Avot 5:1], and twenty-two elemental letters—three mothers, seven doubles, and twelve simple ones.
[§3] Ten sefiroth belimah—like the number of the ten fingers, five opposite five and בְּרִית (berith), thecovenant, of the singular One precisely in the middle in מִלַּת (millath), the word, of the tongue and millath, the circumcision, of the skin.
[§4] Ten sefiroth belimah—ten and not nine, ten and not eleven. Understand in wisdom, be wise in understanding. Probe them, from them explore. Establish a matter on its sound basis, and restore [יוֹצֵר [בְּרֵאשִׁית (yotser [bereshith]), the Fashioner [of the Beginning], to מְכוֹנוֹ (mekhon), His abode [cf. 1 Kings 8:43: You will hearken in the heavens, מְכוֹן שִׁבְתֶּךָ (mekhon shivtekha), the firm place of Your dwelling; Psalms 89:15: Justice and law aremekhon, the base, of Your throne].
[§5] Ten sefiroth בְּלִימָה (belimah)—בְּלֹם (belom), bridle, your mouth from speaking, bridle your heart from לְהַרְהֵר (le-harher), conceiving [cf. Psalms 32:9: Be not like a horse, like a mule, without sense, the bit and the reins his adornment—לִבְלוֹם (livlom),to keep, him from drawing near you; Daniel 4:2: I saw a dream and it frightened me, and הַרְהֹרִין (harhorin),thoughts, upon my couch and visions in my head panicked me]. And if your heart races return to the Place, as is written, Racing back and forth (Ezekiel 1:14)—concerning this a pact was sealed [cf. Rabbi Moshe de León, Sheqel ha-Qodesh 113].
[§6] Ten sefiroth belimah—their end is embedded in their beginning like a flame bound to a burning coal [cf. Isaiah 46:10; Ezekiel 1:13]. For the Lord is singular, He has none second to Him [cf. Ecclesiastes 4:8: There is one without a second, neither son nor brother he has]. Before one, what do you count?
[§7] Ten sefiroth belimah—their measure is ten, yet they have no end: depth of first and depth of last; depth of good and depth of evil; depth of over and depth of under; depth of east and depth of west; depth of north and depth of south. And a singular Lord—”אֵל מֶלֶךְ נֶאֱמָן (el melek ne’eman), God, steadfast King” (BT Shabbat 119b)—reigning over them all from His holy dwelling for ever and ever.
[§8] Ten sefiroth belimah—a vision of them is like the sight of lightening [or: sparks] (Ezekiel 1:14). וְתַכְלִיתָם אֵין לָהֶן קֵץ (We-thakhlitham ein la-hen qets), and their limit? They have no end [cf. Psalms 119:96: For each תִּכְלָה (tikhlah), finite thing, I saw קֵץ (qets), an end—but מִצְוָתְךָ (mitswathekha),Your command, is exceedingly broad]. And דְּבָרוֹ (devaro), His word, is in them racing back and forth (ibid.), and they pursue מַאֲמָרוֹ(ma’amaro), His command, like the storm [cf. BT Ḥagigah 12b], and before His Throne they bow down [cf. BT Bava Batra 25a; Avot de-Rabbi Natan A, 37].
[§10] Ten sefiroth, that is to say: One—רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים חַיִּים (rhuaḥ Elohim ḥayyim), Breath of the Living God [cf. Genesis 1:2: … God’s breath hovering over the waters]. בָּרוּךְ וּמְבֹרָךְ (Barukh u-mevorakh),blessed and blessed, is the name of חֵי הַעוֹלָמִים (ḥei ha-olamim), the Vitality of Worlds. Voice, breath, word—רוּחַ הַקֹּדֶשׁ (rhuaḥ ha-qodesh), the Holy Breath [or: Spirit; cf. Zohar 1:246a].
[§12] Two—רוּחַ מֵרוּחַ (rhuaḥ me-rhuaḥ), wind from Breath: He engraved and hewed with it twenty-two elemental letters—three mothers, and seven doubles, and twelve simple ones, and breath is one of them [cf. Rabbi Shabbetai Donnolo, Sefer Hakhmoni].
[§13] Three—water from wind: He engraved and hewed with them תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ (thohu wa-vohu), welter and waste (Genesis 1:1), mud and clay (Isaiah 57:20). He engraved them like a sort of garden-bed. He stood them up like a sort of wall, and He thatched them like a sort of roof.
[§14] Four—fire from water: He engraved them and hewed with [fire] the Throne of Glory, וְאוֹפַנִּים וּשְׂרָפִים (ve-ofannim u-serafim), and whirlers and burners, holy living beings and ministering angels. And from the three of them He founded His dwelling, as is said: He makes His messengers the winds, His ministers, glowing fire (Psalms 104:4) [see Shemot Rabbah 15:22 ad loc.].
[§15] Five—He sealed above. He chose three simple [letters] and embedded them in His great Name. And He sealed with them six קְצָווֹת (qetsawoth), ends, and He turned upwards and sealed it [cf. Bereshit Rabbah 10:3 in the name of Rabbi Ḥama]. Six—He sealed below, and He turned downwards [in front] and sealed it. Seven—He sealed the east, and He turned downwards [in front] and sealed it. Eight—He sealed the west, and He turned behind and sealed it. Nine—He sealed the south, and He turned to His right and sealed it. Ten—He sealed the north, and He turned to His left and sealed it.
[§16] Ten sefiroth belimah—רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים חַיִּים (rhuaḥ Elohim ḥayyim), Breath of the Living God; and rhuaḥ, wind, water, fire; up, down, east, west, north and south.
[§17a] Twenty-two letters—they are engraved by voice, hewn by breath, embedded in the mouth in five places: אח הע בו מף גי כקדט לנת זס שרץ (alefḥeth he ‘ayin, beth waw mem peh, gimel yod khaf qof, daleth teth lamed nun taw, zayin samekh shin resh tsadhi) [קְדוּשָׁה (qedhushah), Holiness].
[§18] Twenty-two letters—their foundation is embedded <in the תְּלִי (Teli)> in the wheel with 231 gates [cf. Zohar 1:33b]. He rotates the wheel, turning it forward and backward [cf. BT Shabbat 151b; Zohar 1:110a on Job 37:12]. And this is the sign: if for good, upward—from עֹנֶג (‘oneg), pleasure; if for evil, downward—from נֶגַע (nega’), plague.
[§19a] Twenty-two letters—He engraved them, hewed them, weighed them, permuted them, and transposed them, fashioning with them the נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh), life-breath, of all that is fashioned, and the nefesh of all that is destined to be fashioned [cf. M Sanhedrin 4:5; Tanḥuma–Yelammedenu].
[§19b] How did He weigh and permute them? א (Alef) with them all, and all of them with alef; ב (beth) with them all, and all of them with beth. And they rotate in turn. Found through 231 gates, from which all was created—all speech and everything fashioned is found emerging from one name.
[§20 (MS S)] Out of תֹהוּ (thohu), nothing, He fashioned מַמָּשׁ (mammash), something, making what is not [into] what is. He hewed great big pillars out of אֲוִיר (awir), air, that cannot be grasped [cf. BT Ḥagigah 12b; Bereshit Rabbah 1:5]. And this is their mnemonic: קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ(qadosh, qadosh, qadosh), holy, holy, holy (Isaiah 6:3) [—numerically equivalent to 1230 and in its reduced value to six, which in turn is the reduced numerical value of the 231 gates].
[§21 (according to Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Pardes Rimonim, 30:5)]
אל בת גש דר הק וץ זף חע טס ין כם
אב גת דש הר וק זץ חף חע יס כן לם
אג דת הש ור זק חץ טף יע כס לן בם
אד בג הת וש זר חק טץ יף כע לס מן
אה בר ות זש חר טק ין כף לע מס גן
או בה גד זת חש טג יק כץ לף מע נס
אז בו גה חת טש יד כק לץ חף נע דס
אח בז גו דה טת יש כר לק מץ נף סע
אט בח גז דו ית כש לר מק נץ סף הע
אי בט גח דז הו כת לש מר נק סץ עף
אב בי גט דח הז לת מש נר סק עץ יף
אל בך גי דט הח וז מת נש סר עק פץ
אמ בל גס די הט זה צת סש ער פק זן
אג בם גך דק הי וט זח סת עש פר צק
אס בג גמ דל הס וי זט עת פש צר חק
אע בס גנ דמ הל וכ זי חט פת צש קר
אף בע גס דנ המ ול זכ חי צת קש טר
אץ בף גע דס הג ומ זל חס טי קת רש
אק בץ גף דע הס וג זם חל טב רת יש
אר בק גץ דף הע וס זג חמ טל יב שת
אש בר גק דן הף וע זס חג טמ יל כת
את בש גר דק הץ וף זע חס טן ימ כל
[§22] He gazes and exchanges—making all that is fashioned and all speech one name. And a mnemonic for the matter: twenty-two חֲפָצִים (ḥafatsim), precious things, and one body [cf. Proverbs 8:11: For wisdom is better than rubies, allḥafatsim, precious things, can’t match her worth].
[§23] Three mothers: א מ ש (alef, mem, shin)—their foundation is כַּף זְכוּת (kaf zekhuth), a scale [lit., palm]of merit, and כַּף חוֹבָה (kaf ḥovah), a scale of debt, and לְשׁוֹן חֹק (leshon ḥoq), a language [lit., tongue] of fixed law, holds the balance between them [cf. BT Qiddushin 40b; Midrash Tehillim 30:4].
[§24] Three mothers: alef, mem, shin—a great mystery, hidden and wondrous, sealed with six signets. And from it issues fire, water, and wind, and they divide into male and female [cf. Shemot Rabbah 15:22].
[§25] Three [fathers]—fire, water, and wind; fire above, water below, and wind between them. And this is a sign for the matter: fire lifts water [causing it to evaporate, cf. Isaiah 64:1: as fire makes water seethe].
[§26] Three mothers: alef, mem, shin—מֵם דּוֹמֶמֶת (mem domemeth), mem is mute; שִׁיןשׁוֹרֶקֶת (shin shoreqeth), shinhisses [or: whistles; hushes, with שִׁנַּיִם (shinnaim), teeth]; and אָלֶף (alef), a fixed law, holds the balance between them.
[§27] Three mothers: alef, mem, shin—from them were born three fathers. From them all was created [cf. Zohar 2:23b–24a].
[§28] Three mothers: alef, mem, shin—in the world; [three fathers]—wind, water, fire. Heavens were created first from fire, and earth was created from water [cf. Tanḥuma (Buber), Bereshit 19], and אֲוִיר (awir), air [alt.,אוֹר (or), light,] was created from wind, holding the balance between them.
[§29] Three mothers: alef, mem, shin—in the year: fire, water, wind. Heat was created from fire, and cold was created from water, and humidity from wind holding the balance between them.
[§30] Three mothers: alef, mem, shin—in a nefesh, person. The head was created from fire, the belly from water, and the chest from rhuaḥ, breath [or: wind], holding the balance between them.
[§31] Three mothers: alef, mem, shin—He engraved them, hewed them, transposed them, fashioning with them the three mothers in the world, and the three mothers in the year, and the three mothers in a person—male and female.
[§32] He made alef king over wind, and bound to it a crown [cf. BT Menaḥot 29b], and transposed them, this with that, sealing with them אֲוִיר (awir), atmosphere, in the world, humidity in the year, and the chest in a person—male with alef, mem, shin, and female with shin, mem, alef.
[§33] He made מ (mem) king over מַיִם (mayim), water, and bound to it a crown, and sealed with it earth in the world, cold in the year, and the fruit of the belly in a person; male with mem, shin, alef, and female with mem, alef, shin.
[§34] He made ש (shin) king over אֵשׁ (esh), fire, and bound to it a crown, and transposed them, this with that, sealing with it heavens in the world, heat in the year, and the head in a person, male with shin, mem, alef, and female with shin, alef, mem.
[§35 (MS A)] How did He transpose them? אמש אשם מאש משא שמא שאם (Alef mem shin, alef shin mem, mem alef shin, mem shin alef, shin mem alef, shin alef mem)—heavens, fire; air, breath [or: wind]; earth, water. Man’s head: fire; his belly: water; his heart: breath.
[§36 (MS A)] Three mothers: alef, mem, shin. There was fashioned with alef: breath, air, humidity, chest, a fixed law, and a tongue. There was fashioned with mem: earth, cold, belly, and the scale of merit. There was fashioned with shin: heavens, heat, head, and the scale of debt. This is alef, mem, shin. The end.
[§37] Seven doubles: בגד כפרת (beth, gimel, daleth, kaf, peh, resh, taw)—they are pronounced with the tongue in two places. Their foundation is life and peace, wisdom and wealth, seed, favor, and mastery. They are pronounced with the tongue in two places: ב (beth, veth), ג(gimel, ghimel), ד (daleth, dhaleth), כ (kaf, khaf), פ (peh, feh), ר (resh, rhesh), ת (taw, thaw)—דָּגֵּשׁ (dagesh) and רְפֵי (rhefei), soft and hard, a paradigm of strong and weak. They are doubles because they are opposites. The opposite of life is death; the opposite of peace is war [lit., evil]; the opposite of wisdom is folly; the opposite of wealth is poverty; the opposite of seed is ruin; the opposite of favor is spurn; and the opposite of mastery is slavery.
[§38] Seven doubles: beth, gimel, daleth, kaf, peh, resh, taw—corresponding to seven קְצָווֹת (qetsawoth), ends [or: reaches, extremities, see Bahir §82]: a place of ends and a holy place; one—a place set within a place; two—the upper reaches; three—the lower reaches; four—the eastern reaches; five—the western reaches; six—the northern reaches; seven—the everlasting reaches, and the holy הֵיכָל (heikhal), Palace [or: Chamber, Hall, Temple], stands firm in the middle and it bears them all [cf. Bahir§154].
[§39] Seven doubles: beth, gimel, daleth, kaf, peh, resh, taw—He engraved and hewed them. He transposed them, fashioning with them the planets in the world, the days in the year, and the gates in a person by sevens.
[§40] How did He transpose them? Two stones build two houses; three build six houses; four build twenty-four houses; five build one hundred and twenty houses; six build seven hundred and twenty houses; seven build five thousand and forty [i.e., factorials]. From here on go out and tally what the mouth is unable to speak, and what the ear is unable to hear [cf. Isaiah 64:3: They never had seen, they never gave ear, no eye has seen God besides You; Sa’adia Gaon, Perush Sefer Yetsirah].
[§42] And with them were engraved seven firmaments, seven earths, seven hours and seven times. Therefore He loved the seventh under the heavens [cf. Ecclesiastes 3:1–8; Vayiqra Rabbah 29:11].
[§43a] These are the seven planets in the world: חַמָה (ḥamah), Sun, נוֹגַה (noghah), Venus, כּוֹכָב (kokhav), Mercury, לְבָנָה (levanah), Moon, שַׁבְּתַי (shabbethai), Saturn, צֶדֶק (tsedheq), Jupiter, מַאְדִים (ma’adhim), Mars. And days in the year: the seven days of Creation. And seven gates in a person: two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, and the mouth.
[§47] Their measure is twelve גְבוּלֵי אֲלַכְסוֹן (gevulei alakhson), diagonal borders: a north-eastern border, a south-eastern border—an upper eastern border, a lower eastern border; a north-western border, a south-western border—an upper western border, a lower western border; an upper northern border, a lower northern border; an upper southern border, a lower southern border; deepening and expanding until evermore, זְרֹעֹת עוֹלָם (zero’oth olam), arms of the world (Deuteronomy 33:27) [cf. BT Ḥagigah 12b ad loc.; Bahir §95. On the various compound directions, see M Yoma 5:5; Zevaḥim 5:3; Zohar 1:120b; 3:118b, 120a].
[§48a] He made them a sort of מְרִיבָה (merivah), rivalry, arranging them in battle [array], One opposite the other God made them (Ecclesiastes 7:14).
[§48b] Three—each one stands alone; seven are at loggerheads—three against three, and one which holds the balance between them. Twelve stand in battle [array]: three love but three hate; three give life but three kill. God, a steadfast King, reigning over them all—one atop three, and three atop seven, and seven atop twelve. And they all hold fast to each other [cf. Bahir §118].
[§49a] Twelve simple letters: הו זח טי לנ סע צק (hewawzayinḥethtethyod, lamednunsamekh’ayintsadhiqof)—He engraved them and hewed them, He weighed them and permuted them, fashioning with them the twelve constellations in the world, twelve months in the year, and the twelve מַנְהִיגִים (manhigim), conductors, in a person [see Bahir§94].
These [§49b] are the twelve constellations in the world: טָלֶה (taleh), Aries, שׁוֹר (shor), Taurus, תְּאוֹמִים (te’omim), Gemini, סַרְטָן (sartan), Cancer, אַרְיֵה (arhyeh), Leo, בְּתוּלָה (bethulah), Virgo, מֹאזְנַיִם (moznayim), Libra, עַקְרָב (‘aqrhav), Scorpio, קַשָּׁת (qashath), Sagittarius, גְּדִי (gedhi), Capricorn, דְּלִי (deli), Aquarius, דָּגִים (daghim), Pisces. And these are the twelve months: נִיסָן (Nisan), אִייָר (Iyyar), סִיוָן (Siwan), תַמוּז (Thammuz), אָב (Av), אֱלוּל (Elul), תִּשְׁרֵי (Tishrhei), מַרְחֶשְׁוָן (Marḥeshwan), כִּסְלֵיו (Kislew), טֵבֵת (Teveth), שְׁבָט (Shevat), אֲדָר (Adhar). And these are the twelve manhigim, conductors, in a person: the right hand, the left hand, the right foot, the left foot, two kidneys, the liver, the gallbladder, the spleen, the gullet, the stomach, and the intestines.
[§50] Three mothers, and seven doubles, and twelve simple ones.
[§56] These are twenty-two letters [engraved and hewed by] Yah—YHWH of Armies, God of Israel, Living God, lofty and high One, who dwells forever and holy His Name (Isaiah 57:15).
[§58] Three fathers and their generations, and seven כּוֹבְשִׁים (kovshim), conquerers, and their armies [cf. Numbers 32:22: The land נִכְבְּשָׁה (nikhbeshah), is conquered, before YHWH], and the twelve diagonal borders. And a proof for the matter, trusty witnesses (Isaiah 8:2): the world, the year, and a person.
[§59a] There is a fixed law of ten, three, seven, and twelve. They are overseers in Teli, Wheel, and Heart [cf. Bahir§95].
[§59b] The Teliin the world is like a king on his throne; the Wheel in the year is like a king in a province; the Heart in aperson is like a king at war.
[§60b] One opposite the other God made them (Ecclesiastes 7:14)—good opposite evil; good from good and evil from evil. Good discerning evil and evil discerning good. Good is treasured away for the good and evil is kept for the evil.
[§61] When Abraham our father gazed—looking, seeing, probing, understanding, engraving, hewing, transposing, and fashioning—he succeeded. Immediately the Lord of All was revealed to him, making him sit in His lap, kissing him upon the head, and calling him His friend [see Isaiah 41:8], naming him His son, and sealing a pact with him and his seed forever. And he trusted in YHWH, and He reckoned it to his merit (Genesis 15:6). [And He invoked upon him the glory of YHWH, as is written, Before I fashioned you in the belly I knew you (Jeremiah 1:5) (MS A)]. Sealing a pact with him: between the ten toes of his feet—circumcision of the skin. Sealing a pact with him: between the ten fingers of his hands—covenant of the tongue. Binding twenty [-two] letters with his tongue [or: in his tongue], the Omnipresent revealing to him His secret. He drew them out with fire like water—burning them with fire, rattling them with wind [or: shaking them into wind]. He branded them in seven, leading them with twelve constellations.
[§62] (1) אֲוִיר וּרְוָיָה וּגְוִיָּה (Awir, u-rewayah u-gewiyyah), air, satiety, and chest [cf. Psalms 66:12: We came into fire and water—and You brought us out לָרְוָיָה (le-rewayah), to satiety; Ezekiel 1:11: two covered גְּוִיֹּתֵיהֶנָה (gewiyyotheihenah), their chests]; earth, cold and belly; heavens and heat and the head. This is א מ ש (alef, mem, shin).
(2) Saturn, Sabbath and the mouth; Jupiter, the first day of the week and the right eye; Mars, the second day of the week and the left eye; the Sun, the third day of the week and the right nostril; Venus, the fourth day of the week and the left nostril; Mercury, the fifth day of the week and the right ear; the Moon, the sixth day of the week and the left ear. This is בגד כפרת (beth, gimel, daleth, kaf, peh, resh, taw).
(3) Aries, Nisan, the liver; Taurus, Iyyar, the gallbladder; Gemini, Siwan, the spleen; Cancer, Thammuz, the gullet; Leo, Av, the right kidney; Virgo, Elul, the left kidney; Libra, Tishrhei, the intestines; Scorpio, Marḥeshwan, the stomach; Sagittarius, Kislew, the right hand; Capricorn, Teveth, the left hand; Aquarius, Shevat, the right foot; Pisces, Adhar, the left foot. This is הו זח טי לנ סע צק (he, waw, zayin, ḥeth, teth, yod, lamed, nun, samekh, ‘ayin, tsadhi, qof).
[§63] 1 Three hate and these are they: the tongue, the liver, and the gallbladder.
2 Three love: the heart, the ears, and the eyes.
3 Three give life: the two nostrils and the liver of the left side.
4 Three kill: the two lower orifices and the mouth.
5 Three are in man’s control: the feet, the hands, and the mouth.
6 Three are not in man’s control: his two eyes, his ears, and his nostrils [on the voluntary and involuntary organs, see Bereshit Rabbah 67:3].
7 Three are bad tidings for the ear: cursing, blasphemy, and an evil rumor [or: bad news, see Jeremiah 49:23; Psalms 112:7].
8 Three are good tidings for the ear: blessing, a good report [or: good news, see Proverbs 25:25], and praise.
9 Three sights are bad for the eye: adultery, an evil eye, and a deceptive look.
10 Three sights are good for the eye: modesty, a good eye, and a trustworthy look.
11 Three are bad for the tongue: He who speaks in the presence of the slanderer, he who speaks one thing with the mouth but another with the heart, and he who speaks more than enough.
12 Three are good for the tongue: silence, holding the tongue, and speaking truth [cf. Sefer Yetsirah §5; M Avot 1:17].
[§64] Whoever understands this scroll and keeps it has the assurance that he is a son of the world to come. This is the scroll of Abraham our father, peace be upon him, which is called The Scroll of Formation [or: The Scroll of Fashioning; Hilkhot Yetsirah (The Laws of Formation), see BT Sanhedrin 65b].
There is no measure to the wisdom of anyone who looks into it. And the mysteries of the upper and lower world will be revealed to anyone who occupies himself with it and studies it and knows its mysteries—he has the assurance that he is a son of the world to come. This scroll, which is called סוֹד הָעִבּוּר (sod ha-ibbur), The Secret of Intercalation [lit., ‘The Secret of Impregnation,’ a system of insertion of leap days, weeks, or years to keep the Jewish calendar synchronized with the moon’s phases, cf. BT Rosh ha-Shanah 20b. On the laws of intercalation, see for example M Sanhedrin 1:2; Arakhin 2:2. Cf. Pirqe de-Rabbi Eli’ezer, 8], on which the whole world depends, should not be handed on to anyone except he who turns away from evil and is in awe of אֱלֹהִים (Elohim), God, and waits and hopes for his Maker, as is said, Steadfast love surrounds him who trusts in YHWH (Psalms 32:10), and it says, Israel is victorious through YHWH, an everlasting victory. You shall not be shamed and shall not be disgraced forever more (Isaiah 45:17).
“Rabbi Zutra son of Tovi’ah said in the name of Rav: From where do we learn that a blessing should be said over sweet aromas? Because it says, Let all that has breath praise Yah (Psalms 150:6). What is that which gives enjoyment to the soul and not to the body? You must say that this is fragrance” (BT Berakhot 43b).
“Three things restore one’s mind: sounds, sights, and smells” (BT Berakhot 57b).
“Whoever smelled the smoke, as a column rose from the smoke-raiser [in the Temple], became cleansed of heart, refined in radiant joy to serve his Lord. The filth of the evil impulse disappeared from him, leaving him with only one heart toward his Father in heaven [cf. M Berakhot 9:5]; for incense actually disintegrates the evil impulse in all aspects… nothing in the world breaks the Other Side except incense.
Come and see what is written: Take the fire-pan and place fire upon it from the altar and put in incense. Why? For the fury has gone forth from before YHWH, the plague has begun! (Numbers 17:11). For look, nothing breaks that side except incense, since nothing is as beloved to the blessed Holy One as incense! Consequently, it can eliminate sorcery and evil elements from the home. If the fragrance and smoke of incense prepared by people for that purpose has the power to eliminate, all the more so [holy] incense.
This matter is an established decree before the blessed Holy One: Whoever contemplates and reads every day פִּטּוּם הַקְּטֹרֶת (Pittum ha-Qetoret), Preparation of the Incense, will be saved from all elements of sorcery in the world, from all mishaps, evil fantasies, and pestilence. He will not be harmed that entire day, for the Other Side has no power over him—but he must focus his intention on it.
Rabbi Shim’on said, ‘If human beings knew how exalted the Preparation of the Incense was in the eyes of the blessed Holy One, they would take every single word and raise it as a crown upon their heads, like a crown of gold. Whoever engages in the Preparation of the Incense and concentrates upon it every day has a share in this world and in the world that is coming. Pestilence will disappear from him and from the world, and he will be delivered from all judgments and all evil aspects of this world, from the judgment of the alien kingdom, and even from the judgment of Hell….
The Preparation of the Incense is more beloved than all rituals and devotions in the world. Even though prayer is most exalted of all [the commandments], the Preparation of the Incense is precious and beloved to the blessed Holy One.
Come and see: What is the difference between prayer and the Preparation of the Incense? Prayer was instituted to replace the sacrifices that Israel used to offer [in the time when the Temple stood], and none of those sacrifices that they offered was as important as the incense. Furthermore, what is the difference between this and that? Well, prayer is restoration, restoring as needed. Incense does more: restoring, forging links, and producing radiance greater than all. What is that? Removing filth and purifying the Dwelling—all is illumined, restored, and linked as one. Therefore we must remove filth from the world, thereby restoring all, every single day—like that beloved offering, in which the blessed Holy One delighted” (Zohar 2:218b–19a).
And YHWH said to Moses, “Take you the סַמִּים (samim), fragrances, balsam and onycha and galbanum, fragrances, and clear frankincense, equal part for part shall it be. And you shall make of it incense, a perfume compound, perfumer’s work, tinctured with salt, pure, sacred. And you shall pound it to fine powder and place some of it before the Ark of the Covenant in the Tent of Meeting where I shall meet you. Holy of holies it shall be to you (Exodus 30:34–38).
And Aaron shall burn upon it the aromatic incense morning after morning, when he tends the lamps he shall burn it. And when Aaron lights the lamps at twilight he shall burn it, a perpetual incense before YHWH for your generations. You shall not offer up on it strange incense (Exodus 30:7–8).
“The Rabbis taught: How was the incense prepared? It weighed 368 manehs, 365 corresponding to the number of days in a solar year, a maneh for each day, half to be offered in the morning and half in the afternoon, and three additional manehs from which the High Priest took handfuls on Yom Kippur. These were put back into the mortar on the day before Yom Kippur and ground again very thoroughly so as to be extremely fine. The incense contained eleven kinds of spices [אֲדֹנָי (Adonai), Lord, times eleven equals הַקְטֹרֶת (ha-qetoret), the incense]: balsam, onycha, galbanum and frankincense, each weighing seventy manehs; myrrh, cassia, spikenard and saffron, each weighing sixteen manehs; twelve manehs of costus, three of aromatic bark; nine of cinnamon; nine kabs of Carsina lye; three seahs and three kabs of Cyprus wine. If Cyprus wine was not available, old white wine might be used. A quarter of a kab of Sodom salt, and a minute amount of smoke-raising herb. Rabbi Natan the Babylonian says: also a minute amount of Jordan amber. If one added honey to the mixture, he rendered it unfit for sacred use. If he omitted any one of its ingredients, he is guilty of a capital offence.
Rabban Shim’on son of Gamliel says: ‘Balsam’ refers to the sap that drips from the balsam tree. The Carsina lye was used for bleaching the onycha to improve it. The Cyprus wine was used to soak the onycha in it to make it pungent. Though urine is suitable for this purpose, it is not brought into the Temple out of respect.
It was taught, Rabbi Natan says: While it was being ground, another would say הָדֵק הֵיטֵב הֵיטֵב הָדֵק (hadeq heitev, heitev hadeq), ‘Grind carefully, carefully grind,’ because the [rhythmic] sound is good for [those who grind] spices. If it was mixed in half-quantities, it is fit for use, but we have not heard whether this applies to a third or a quarter. Rabbi Yehudah said: The general rule is that if it was made in the correct proportions, it is fit for use even if made in half-quantity, but if he omitted any one of its ingredients, he is guilty of a capital offence” (BT Karetot 6a).
“It was taught, Son of Qappara says: Once every sixty or seventy years, the accumulated surpluses amounted to half the yearly quantity. Son of Qappara also taught: If a minute quantity of honey had been mixed into the incense, no one could have resisted the scent. Why did they not put honey into it? Because Torah says, For you shall not turn to smoke any leaven nor any honey from it as a fire offering to YHWH (Leviticus 2:11)” (JT Yoma 4:5).
And Moses said to Aaron, “Take the fire-pan and place fire upon it from the altar and put in incense and carry it quickly to the community and atone for them, for the furry has gone out from before YHWH, the scourge has begun.” And Aaron took as Moses had spoken, and he ran into the midst of the assembly, and, look, the scourge had begun against the people, and he put in incense and atoned for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living, and the scourge was held back (Numbers 17:11–13).
“The Angel of Death confided his secret to him [Moses], for it is said, and he put in incense and atoned for the people (Numbers 17:11); and it is said, And he stood between the dead and the living, [and the scourge was held back] (ibid. 13). Had he not told it to him, where had he known it? [Since this act of intervention to save the people is not dictated by God but is a device Moses on his own initiative orders Aaron to implement]” (BT Shabbat 89a).
“Take the fire-pan… and put in incense (Numbers 17:11)—a specific fire-pan [since the noun has the definite article]. [However,] it does not say and put in the incense. The intelligent will understand [i.e., the burning of incense was a sanitary technique used to drive off the plague]” (Ibn Ezra, Perush al ha-Torah).
“What atonement is there which obtains evenly for oneself, his household, his brethren, the priests, and the whole assembly of the house of Israel? It is the burning of the incense. But does the incense obtain atonement?—indeed, for Rabbi Ḥananiah cited: We learn that the incense obtains atonement for what was said: And he put in incense and atoned for the people (Numbers 17:12). And the school of Rabbi Yishma’el taught: Why does incense obtain atonement for evil speech? Let that which is in secret [i.e., since none but the high priest may enter the Holy of Holies] come and obtain atonement for what is committed in secret!” (BT Yoma 44a).
“Rabbi Aḥa traveled to כְפַר טַרְשָׁא (Kefar Tarsha), Clod Village; he arrived at his inn. All the town’s residences spoke in hushed tones about him, saying, ‘A great man has arrived here. Let us go to him. They went to him. They said to him, ‘Is the master’s heart anguished by the destruction?’ He said to them, ‘What do you mean?’ They said to him, ‘For seven days, a plague has been hovering over the town. Each day it grows stronger and does not desist.’ He said to them, ‘Let us go to the synagogue and implore mercy from the blessed Holy One.’
While they were walking, [some people] arrived and said, ‘So-and-so and so-and-so have died, and so-and-so and so-and-so are about to die.’ Rabbi Aḥa said to them, ‘Now is not the time to stand by—the hour is pressing! Rather, set aside forty of the most righteous people, in four groups of ten, and I with you; ten for one corner of the town, ten for another corner of the town, so on for the four corners of the town; and recite with soulful devotion the passages of the aromatic incense that the blessed Holy One gave Moses, accompanied by the passages of the sacrifices [cf. BT Shabbat 89a].’
They did so three times—and passed through all four directions of the town, reciting accordingly [cf. M Makkot 3:2: ‘These are liable to be flogged: … one who mixes the ingredients for the [anointing] oil, or the ingredients for the incense’; Zohar 2:219a: It is forbidden to burn incense anywhere else except in the fire-pan (of the Temple)]. Afterward, he said to them, ‘Let us go to those verging on death. Set aside [other righteous people] for their houses and let them recite in a similar fashion. When you finish, recite these verses loudly three times: Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take the fire-pan and place fire upon it…’ (Numbers 17:11); Aaron took… (ibid., 12); He stood between the dead… (ibid., 13).’
They did so and the plagued ceased. They heard a voice saying, ‘Secret striker, primal striker, wait on high; the judgment of heaven does not hover here, for they know how to nullify it.’
Rabbi Aḥa’s heart was faint. He fell asleep. He heard that they were telling him, ‘Just as you accomplished that, accomplish this! Go and tell them to return in teshuvah, for they are wicked before Me.’
He arose and returned them in complete teshuvah, and they accepted upon themselves never to desist from Torah; and they changed the name of the city to מָאתָא מַחְסֵיָא (Mata Meḥseya), Town of Compassion [cf. BT Ketubbot 4a; Horayot 12a; Zohar 1:72a, 94b]” (Zohar 1:100b–101b, Midrash ha-Ne’lam).
May my prayer stand as incense before You (Psalms 141:2).
“Come and see: Incense binds bonds, spreading joy from above and below. This eliminates death, accusation, and wrath, which cannot prevail in the world” (Zohar 1:230a, cf. Bahir §109).
“And when the highest point and the world that is coming ascend, they know only the aroma, as one inhaling an aroma is sweetened” (Zohar 2:239a).
“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, נְשָׁמָה יְתֵירָה (neshamah yeteirah), luxuriant life-breath, 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 abundance of soul and at the close of the Sabbath He withdraws it from him, for it says: He ceased וַיִּנָּפַשׁ (va-yinnafash), and caught His breath (Exodus 31:17)—once [the Sabbath] has ceased, וַוי אֲבֵדָה נֶפֶשׁ (wawi avedah nefesh), woe for that loss of life-breath! [וַיִּנָּפַשׁ (va-yinnafash), 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 חֹלֶם (ḥolem)? He said: נְשָׁמָה (Neshama), soul—if תִּשְׁמַע (tishema), you heed, her, your body will be תַּחְלִים (taḥlim), revived, in the time to come. And should you rebel against her? [Your requital] shall come back—חוֹלִים (ḥolim), diseases—on your head (Obadiah 1:15), and חֶלְיָה (ḥelyah), jewelry [or: illness], on her 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).
“It was taught: They related concerning Shammai, the Elder [that] all his life he ate in honor of the Sabbath. [Thus] if he found a well-favored animal he said, ‘Let this be for the Sabbath.’ [If afterwards] he found one better favoured he put aside the second [for the Sabbath] and ate the first. But Hillel the Elder had a different trait, for all his works were for the sake of heaven, for it is said: Blessed be the Master day after day (Psalms 68:20). It was likewise taught: House of Shammai says: מחד שביך לשבתיך (meḥad shabakh le’shabatikh), From the first day of the week [prepare] for your Sabbath [in Aramaic the saying sort of rhymes and is a cue to prompt people to think of the coming Sabbath]; but House of Hillel says: Blessed be the Master day after day (Psalms 68:20)” (BT Beitsah 16a).
“And on the seventh day, He ceasedand breathed (Exodus 31:17). What is יִּנָּפַשׁ (yinafash),breathed? To teach you that the Sabbath sustains all הַנֶפֶשׁוֹת (ha-nefeshot), the souls [of Israel]. It is therefore written וַיִּנָּפַשׁ (vayinafash), and breathed [cf. Exodus 23:12; Psalms 19:8]” (Bahir §57).
“What is this שְׁבִיתָה (shevitah), rest? It is the absence of work. It is a cessation which is called שַׁבָּת (shabbat), Sabbath. What is this like? A king had seven gardens, and the middle one contained a fountain, welling up from a living source. Three are at its right, and three are at its left. When it performed its function and overflowed, they all rejoiced, saying, ‘It overflowed for our sake.’ It waters them and makes them grow, while they wait and rest.
Do we then say that it waters the seven? But it is written, From the eastI bring your seed (Isaiah 43:5). This indicates that one of them waters it. We must therefore say that it waters the Heart, and the Heart then waters them all” (Bahir §159).
You are a fountain in the garden, a well of living waters that stream from Lebanon (Song of Songs 4:15).
“Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘Every single day the world is blessed by that supernal day, for all six days are blessed by the seventh day. And every single day conveys the blessing it has received through the day inherent in it. Therefore Moses said, Let no one leave any of it over until morning (Exodus 16:19). Why? Because one day does not give or add to its fellow. Rather, every single one reigns alone in its own time, no day ruling on its fellow’s day’” (Zohar 2:63b).
“Rabbi Ammi said, ‘Rabbi Yoḥanan disputed [this practice of saying the Sabbath Eve Prayer while it is yet day].’ But he had no cause to dispute this. Why? For we are permitted to take [time] from the profane [weekdays] and add it to the holy [Sabbath]” (JT Berakhot 4:1, 13d).
“Yosef who cherishes Sabbaths had in his neighbourhood a certain gentile who owned much property. Chaldeans [i.e., astrologers] told him, ‘Yosef who cherishes Sabbaths will consume all your property—he went, sold all his property, and bought a precious stone, which he set in his turban. As he was crossing a bridge the wind blew it off and cast it into the water, [and] a fish swallowed it. It was hauled up and brought [to market] on the Sabbath eve towards sunset. They said: ‘Who will buy now?’ ‘Go and take them to Yosef who cherishes Sabbaths, as he is accustomed to buy,’ they said. So they took it to him. He bought it, opened it, found the jewel inside, and sold it for thirteen vessels of gold denarii. A certain old man met him [and] said, ‘He who lends to the Sabbath, the Sabbath repays him’” (BT Shabbat 119a).
“All blessings above and below depend upon the seventh day. And it has been taught: Why did manna not appear on the seventh day? Because from that day all six supernal days are blessed, and every single one conveys nourishment, each on its day, from the blessing bestowed upon it on the seventh day.
Therefore, whoever attains the rung of faith should arrange his table on the eve of Sabbath, so that his table may be blessed through out those six days [which is why House of Hillel say: Blessed be the Master day after day]. For at that time blessing is prepared for all six days of the week, and no blessing appears on an empty table. Consequently, one should arrange his table on Sabbath eve with bread and food.
Rabbi Yitsḥaq said, ‘Even on the Sabbath day too!’” (Zohar 2:88a–b).
“בְּרֵאשִׁית (Bereshit), In the beginning (Genesis 1:1)—יְרֵא שַׁבָּת (yere shabbat), fear of Sabbath, which is the Shekhinah, of this it says, Those who profane it are doomed to die [for whosoever does a task on it, that person shall be cut off from the midst of his people] (Exodus 31:14)” (Tiqqunei ha-Zohar 24b).
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).
And the human knew Eve his woman and she conceived and bore קַיִן (qayin),Cain, and she said, “I have got me, a man with YHWH.” And she bore as well his brother הֶבֶל (hevel), Abel, and Abel became a herder of sheep while Cain was a tiller of the soil. And it happened in the course of time that Cain brought from the fruit of the soil an offering to YHWH. And Able too had brought from the choice firstlings of his flock, and YHWH regarded Abel and his offering but He did not regard Cain and his offering, and Cain was very incensed, and his face fell…. And Cain said to Abel his brother, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field Cain rose against Abel his brother and killed him. And YHWH said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said,“I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” And He said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cry out to me from the soil. And so, cursed shall you be by the soil that gaped with its mouth to take your brother’s blood from your hand.” And Cain said to YHWH, “My punishment is too great to bear” (Genesis 4:1–11).
“And Cain said to Abel his brother, ‘Let us go out to the field’ (Genesis 4:8). And it was when the two of them had gone out to the field, Cain said to Abel, ‘There is no judgment, and there is no judge, and there is no other world, and there is no reward for the righteous, and there is no punishment for the wicked. And the world was not created in compassion and it is not governed with compassion. For what reason was your offering accepted from you with favor, but from me it was not accepted with favor?!’ Abel said to him, ‘There is judgment and there is a Judge and there is another world, and there is a reward for the righteous, and punishment for the wicked. The world was created in compassion and it is governed with compassion. Because the fruits of [my] good deeds were better than yours, my offering was accepted from me with favor but from you it was not accepted with favor.’ And the two of them were arguing in the field and Cainrose againstAbel his brother and killed him (ibid.)” (Fragment Targum).
“From the filth [injected into Eve by the primordial serpent] Cain came forth and killed Abel the shepherd, of whom it is written: For he is but flesh (Genesis 6:3). בְּשַׁגַּם (Beshagam), for (ibid.), is Abel, and he killed him, as is known. However, בְּשַׁגַּם (beshagam), for, [he is but flesh. Let his days be a hundred and twenty years] is certainly [a hint to] Moses and he was firstborn of the [primordial] human [בְּשַׁגַּם (beshagam), for, is numerically equivalent to מֹשֶׁה (moshe), Moses, see BT Ḥullin 139b].
And with all this, for the sake of covering the nakedness of his father, Moses took the daughter of Jethro to be his wife. Of Jethro, it is written: And the sons of the Kenite, the father-in-law of Moses (Judges 1:16)—this has already been explained [see Sifrei Bemidbar, Be-Ha’alotekha, 78; Shemot Rabbah 27:7; Mekhilta Yitro, Amaleq, 1; Tanḥuma, Shemot, 11; cf. BT Bava Batra 109b; Zohar 3:215b (RM)]. Why was Jethro called Kenite? Because he detached himself from Cain, as is written: And Heber הַקֵּינִי (ha-qeni), the Kenite, had separated from קַיִן (qayin), Cain (Judges 4:11) [on Jethro’s seven names, see Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishma’el, Amaleq, 3]” (Zohar 1:28b, Tiqqunei ha-Zohar).
“And they taught about Jethro: Why is his name called ‘Kenite?’ Because הַקֵּינִי (ha-qeni), the Kenite, had separated from קַיִן (qayin), Cain (Judges 4:11). The Holy Lamp [Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai] rose and said: Therefore it is said: קָנִיתִי (Qaniti), I have got me, a man with YHWH (Genesis 4:1), for [Eve] saw through the Holy Spirit that in the future [Jethro’s] sons would sit in the Chamber of Hewn Stone [meeting place of the Sanhedrin, see BT Sotah 11a]” (Zohar 3:215b, Ra’aya Meheimna Pineḥas).
“He who sheds human blood by humans [his blood will be shed] (Genesis 9:6)—that very man himself. The one slain will kill the one who killed him, according to ‘Because you drowned [them], they drowned you…’ (M Avot 2:7). Thus Abel killed Cain in the days of Moses, and the death of Korah by swallowing, measure for measure, is known. Like Korah, test and demand with warp and woof and you will find a wondrous secret [i.e., comb the fabric of the text (Numbers 16:1) lengthwise and breadthwise. Cf. M Kil’ayim 9:8; BT Sanhedrin 110a]” (Rabbi Menaḥem Tsiyyoni, Sefer Tsiyyoni, Qoraḥ, 82):
וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח בֶּן יִצְהָר בֶּן קְהָת בֶּן לֵוִי (Va-yiqaḥ qoraḥ ben yitshar ben qehat ben levi), and Korah son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, and Datham and Abiram sons of Eliab and On son of Peleth sons of Reuben, took up, and they rose before Moses, and two hundred fifty men of the Israelites, community chieftains, persons called up to meeting, men of renown. And they assembled against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have too much! For all the community, they are all holy, and in their midst is YHWH, and why should you raise yourselves up over YHWH’s assembly?” And Moses heard andfell on his face…. The ground that was under them split apart, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households and every human being that was Korah’s, and all his possessions (Numbers 16:1–4, 32)—קַיִן (qayin), Cain; הֶבֶל (hevel), Abel.
“‘Rabbi Akiva said: The company of Korah has no share in the world that is coming. Rabbi Eli’ezer said: YHWH kills and gives life, brings down to Sheol and raises up (1 Samuel 2:6)’ (M Sanhedrin 10:3). Our Rabbis taught: for it is said, And the earth covered over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly (Numbers 16:33)—this is Rabbi Akiva’s view. Rabbi Yehudah son of Batira said: They are as a lost article, which is sought, for it is said, I have wandered like a lost sheep. Seek Your servant, for Your commands I did not forget (Psalms 119:176).
Korah took (Numbers 16:1). Resh Laqish said: He took a bad bargain [or: purchase] for himself, being plucked out of Israel [קֵרֵחַ (qereaḥ), baldness, puns on קֹרַח (qoraḥ), Korah]. Son of יִצְהָר (yitshar), Izhar (ibid.)—a son who incensed the whole world with himself as the [heat of] צֹהַרִים (tsoharim), noon. Son of קְהָת (qehat), Kohath (ibid.)—a son who קֵהֶה (qeheh), set on edge, the teeth of his progenitors [i.e., who disgraced his parents]. Son of לֵוִי (levi), Levi (ibid.)—a son who joined the לְוָיָה (levayah), retinue, of Hell. Then why not say too ‘son of יַעֲקֹב (ya’aqov), Jacob,’ [implying] a son who עַקָב (eqev), marched, himself into Hell?—Rabbi Shemu’el son of Rabbi Yitsḥaq answered: Jacob supplicated for himself [not to be counted amongst Korah’s ancestors], as is written, In their council let me never set foot, their assembly my presence shun (Genesis 49:6): In their council let me never set foot—the spies [in no case is the genealogy of the spies traced to Jacob (Rashi)]; their assembly my presence shun—to the company of Korah. דָתָן (Datan), Datham [Korah’s ally], (ibid.)—stepped over the דָת (dat), law, of God; אֲבִירָם (Aviram), Abiram (ibid.)—stoutly refused to repent; אוֹן (on), On(ibid.)—he sat in אֹנינוֹת (oninot), lamentations; פֶּלֶת (pelet), Peleth (ibid.)—פֶּלֶאוֹת (pele’ot), wonders, were done for him [since he abandoned the conspiracy, and was miraculously saved from its fate]; son of רְאוּבֵן (reuven), Reuben—a son who רֵאָה (re’ah), saw, and הַבִין (havin), understood.
Rav said: On son of Peleth was saved by his wife. She said to him, ‘What does it matter to you? Whether the one [Moses] remains master or the other [Korah] becomes master, you are but a disciple.’ He replied, ‘But what can I do? I have taken part in their counsel, and they have sworn me [to be] with them.’ She said, ‘I know that they are all a holy community, as is written, For all the community, they are all holy (Numbers 16:3). Sit here, and I will save you.’ She gave him wine to drink, intoxicated him and laid him down within [the tent]. Then she sat down there at the entrance and loosened her hair. Whoever came [to summon him] saw her and retreated.
Meanwhile, Korah’s wife joined [the rebels] and said to him [Korah], ‘See what Moses has done. He himself has become king; his brother he appointed High Priest; his brother’s sons he has made the vice High Priests. If terumah is brought, he decrees, Let it be for the priest; if the tithe is brought, which belongs to you [being a Levite], he orders, Give a tenth part thereof to the priest. Moreover, he has had your hair cut off [in accordance with the purification rites of the Levites (see Numbers 8:7)], and makes sport of you as though you were dirt; for he cast his eyes on your hair [i.e., he is envious].’
He said to her, ‘But he has done likewise!’ She replied, ‘Since all the greatness was his, he said also, Let me die with the Philistines! (Judges 16:30) [this was used proverbially to denote readiness to suffer, so that others might suffer too—Moses, retaining all the greatness himself, did not mind shaving his own hair off, seeing that he had caused all the rest to do so, thus depriving them of their beauty]. Moreover, he has commanded you, Set [fringes] of indigo wool [in the corners of your garments (see Numbers 15:38)]; but if there is virtue in indigo wool, then bring forth indigo wool, and clothe your entire academy with it.’
Thus is written, Every wise woman has built her house (Proverbs 14:1)—wife of On son of Peleth; and Folly with her own hands destroys it (ibid.)—Korah’s wife” (BT Sanhedrin 109b–110a).
“Come and see: The Levites, who come from the side of Judgment, are not purified until their hair is removed, as is written: Thus you shall do to them to purify them: sprinkle on them expiation water and have them pass a razor over all their flesh (Numbers 8:7). And in order for them to be further assuaged, the priest, who comes from the side of Ḥesed, must elevate them, as is written: Aaron shall make of the Levites an elevation offering before YHWH (ibid., 11)….
Rabbi Yitsḥaq said, ‘The greatest of all Levites was Korah, whom the blessed holy One made below corresponding to the pattern above, calling him קֹרַח (qoraḥ), Korah…. He is קֵרֵחַ (qereaḥ), bald (Leviticus 13:40). When Korah saw his head hairless and saw Aaron bedecked with royal adornments, he felt belittled and was jealous of Aaron [cf. Tanḥuma, Qoraḥ 3; Tanḥuma (Buber), Qoraḥ 6; Bemibar Rabbah 18:4]. The blessed Holy One said to him, ‘I made you corresponding to the pattern above. You do not wish to ascend among those above? Go down and be among those below!—as is written: and they go down alive to Sheol (Numbers 16:30). What is Sheol? Hell, where the wicked cry out and no one has compassion on them. Yet they are destined to ascend and be revived when the blessed Holy One awakens His people and revives them, as is written: YHWH kills and gives life, brings down to Sheol and raises up (1 Samuel 2:6)” (Zohar 3:49a).
“Every conflict that is for the sake of heaven is destined to endure, while any conflict not for the sake of heaven is not destined to endure. Which conflict is for the sake of heaven? The conflict between Hillel and Shammai. Which conflict is not for the sake of heaven? The conflict of Korah and his entire band” (M Avot 5:17, cf. Liqqutei Moharan 64:4).
“Rabbi Abba said in the name of Shemu’el: For three years there was a conflict between the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel. These said, ‘The Halakhah accords with us.’ And the those said, ‘The Halakhah accords with us.’ Then an echo went forth announcing, ‘Both are the words of אֱלֹהִים חַיִּים (Elohim ḥayyim), the living God, but the Halakhah is in accord with the rulings of the House of Hillel.’ Since, however, both are the words of the living God, what was it that entitled the House of Hillel to have the Halakhah fixed in accord with their rulings? Because they were kindly and modest, they studied their own rulings and those of the House of Shammai [see for example BT Berakhot 10b], and were even so [humble] as to mention the words of the House of Shammai before theirs” (BT Eruvin 13b).
“[Rabbi Shim’on ha-Amsoni said:] Just as I received reward for the exposition, so I will receive reward for the retraction [to be defeated by the truth is a defeat which is also a victory]” (BT Pesaḥim 22b).
“Doubts make sages of men” (Midrash Shemu’el on M Avot 5:27).
“In the act of Creation a conflict arose between left and right, and in that conflict aroused by the left, Hell emerged, clinging there. The central pillar, who is the third day, entered between them, mediating the conflict, reconciling the two sides. Hell descended, left merged in right, and peace prevailed over all [cf. Zohar 1:87a].
Similarly the conflict between Korah and Aaron was left against right. Moses, contemplating the act of Creation, said, ‘It is fitting that I mediate the conflict between left and right.’ He endeavored to reconcile them, but the left was unwilling, and Korah stiffened his resistance. He [Moses] said, ‘Hell must certainly join in the heat of the conflict of the left. Since he does not want to join above, merging in the right, he will certainly descend below by the intensity of his rage.’ Korah did not want this conflict to be harmonized by Moses because it was not for the sake of heaven; he cared nothing about the supernal glory and denied the act of Creation. As soon as Moses saw that he had denied the act of Creation and been thrust outside, Moses became very angry (Numbers 16:5). Moses became very angry because they had denied the act of Creation. Korah denied everything above and below, as is written: who strove against Moses and Aaron as part of Korah’s band when they strove against YHWH (ibid. 26:9), below and above. So he joined what befitted him [i.e., Hell, Sheol].
A conflict arrayed as above, ascending, not descending, established rightly, is the conflict of Hillel and Shammai. The blessed holy One mediated between them, harmonizing them. This was a conflict for the sake of heaven, so Heaven [Tif’eret] mediated the conflict, and upon this conflict the world was established. This resembled the act of Creation, whereas Korah totally denied the act of Creation, disputing heaven, seeking to deny the words of Torah. He certainly adhered to Hell, so there he clung. This secret appears in The Book of Adam. When darkness aroused, it aroused intensely, thereby creating Hell, clinging to it in that conflict. As seething fury subsided, conflict of a different type arose: a conflict of love. There were two conflicts: one, beginning; one, ending. This is the way of the righteous: beginning harshly, ending gently [cf. BT Qiddushin 30b]. Korah was the beginning of the conflict: seething in wrath, he was compelled to cling to Hell. Shammai was the end of the conflict, when wrath subsides and one must arouse the conflict of love and be reconciled by heaven” (Zohar 1:17a–b).
“Rabbi Berekhiyah said: What is The words of the wise are כַּדָּרְבֹנוֹת (ka-darvonot), like goads… [given from one shepherd] (Ecclesiastes 12:11)? כַּדוּר שֶׁל בָּנוֹת (Kadur shel banot), a girls’ ball—one tosses it here, and the other tosses it there. So too the Sages, who delve into Talmud and engage in Torah: one gives his reasoning and the other his, one puts forward one account and the other another, but the words of all are from Moses, the shepherd, who received from the Singular One of the world. Since one gives one account and the other another, perhaps their words merely fly about. Therefore it is written, like nails driven in (ibid.)” (Pesiqta Rabbati 3:1).
“Composers of collections (Ecclesiastes 12:11)—those who enter and sit assembled in assemblies, declaring what is impure [to be] impure, and what is pure [to be] pure; what is impure in its place, and what is pure in its place.
Should a man think to himself, ‘Since the House of Shammai declare impure and the House of Hillel declare pure, so-and-so forbids, and so-and-so permits, how then shall I learn Torah? Therefore it says [And God spoke] all these words (Exodus 20:1).
Given from one shepherd (Ecclesiastes 12:11)—one God created them. One Leader gave them. The blessed Master of Deeds spoke them. Therefore make of your heart chambers and chambers and bring into it the words of the House of Shammai and the words of the House of Hillel, the words of those who declare impure and the words of those who declare pure” (ToseftaSotah 7:12, cf. Job 22:22; BT Ḥagigah 3b; Bemidbar Rabbah 14:4).
“One who sees a crowd says, ‘Blessed is He who knows secrets. Just as their faces are different one from the other, so are their opinions different one from the other” (JT Berakhot 9:1, 13b).
“Within Torah is power of the right, as is said: from His right hand, a fiery law for them (Deuteronomy 33:2), and left is included in right. Whoever makes right left, and left right, is as if he destroys the world.
Come and see: Aaron is right; Levites are left. Korah sought to change right into left, so he was punished. Furthermore, he possessed the לָשׁוֹן הָרַע (lashon ha-ra), evil tongue, and he was punished entirely.
Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘Left is always included in right. Korah sought to change the arrangement of above and below, so he was eliminated from above and below.
Korah took (Numbers 16:1). What is meant by took? He took evil counsel for himself. If anyone chases after something that is not his, it escapes him; and what is more, he loses what he has. Korah pursued that which was not his; he lost his own without attaining the other [cf. Tosefta Sotah 4:19; BT Sotah 9b; Bereshit Rabbah 20:5; Mishnat Rabbi Eli’ezer 18, p. 334].
Come and see: The world exists only by peace. When the blessed Holy One created the world, it could not endure until peace came and settled upon all. What is it? Sabbath, which is peace of those above and below. Then the world endured. And whoever quarrels with it will be eliminated from the world [cf. M Avot 1:18]” (Zohar 3:176a).