“Rabbi Yehoshu’a son of Levi met Elijah at the opening of the cave of Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai [cf. 1 Kings 19:8–9]. He asked him: ‘Do I have a portion in the world to come?’ He said, ‘If this lord desires.’ Rabbi Yehoshu’a son of Levi said, ‘I saw two, but heard the voice of a third [i.e., the Shekhinah (Rashi)].’ He then asked him, ‘When will the Messiah come?’ ‘Go and ask him himself,’ he replied. ‘Where is he sitting?’ He said, ‘At the portal of the city [of Rome (GRA)].’ ‘And by what sign may I recognize him?’ He said, ‘He is sitting among the ill, poor, and suffering: everyone of them untie all at once and rebandage them together, whereas he unties and rebandages each separately [before treating the next], thinking, should I be wanted, I must not be delayed [by having to bandage a number of sores].’ So he went to him and greeted him, saying, ‘Peace be upon you, Rabbi and Teacher.’ ‘Peace be upon you son of Levi,’ he replied. ‘When will you come Master?’ he asked, ‘Today,’ he replied. On his returning to Elijah, he asked, ‘What did he say to you?’ ‘Peace be upon you Son of Levi,’ he replied. [Elijah] said, ‘He thereby assured you and your father of [a portion in] the world to come.’ ‘He spoke a lie to me, saying that he would come today, but has not.’ [Elijah] answered him, ‘This is what he said to you, Today, if you would only heed His voice!’ (Psalms 95:7)” (BT Sanhedrin 98a).
“The Rabbis said: [The Messiah,] his name is חִיוְורָא (ḥivvra), White, of the House of Rabbi [Yehudah ha-Nasi], as is written, Yet it was our sickness that he was bearing, our pains that he endured—though we considered him plagued, stricken by God and afflicted (Isaiah 53:4) [i.e., the Messiah is as הַמְּצֹרָע (ha-metsora), the one afflicted with skin blanch—he is called unclean and dwells outside the camp (Rashi)]” (BT Sanhedrin 98b).
And the person afflicted with skin blanch, in whom the affliction is, his clothes shall be torn and his hair disheveled, and his moustache he shall cover, and he shall call out, “Unclean! Unclean!” All the days that the affliction is on him he shall remain unclean. He is unclean. He shall dwell apart. Outside the camp shall his dwelling be (Leviticus 13:45–46).
Yet it was our sickness that he was bearing, our pains that he endured—though we considered him plagued, stricken by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our sins, crushed for our iniquities, he bore the chastisement that made us whole, and by his wound we were healed (Isaiah 53:4–5).
“This shall be the teaching concerning הַמְּצֹרָע (ha-metsora), the one afflicted with skin blanch—הַמוֹצִיא רָע (ha-motsi ra), the one who utters evil. Rabbi Ḥiyya said, ‘If anyone produces evil speech, all his limbs are defiled and he deserves to be confined, for that evil word rises and arouses an impure spirit upon him, defiling him” (Zohar 3:53a).
“Yet he who [continually] declares [others] unclean is [himself] unclean and never speaks in praise [of people]. And Shemu’el said: With his own blemish he stigmatizes [others] as unclean” (BT Qiddushin 70a).
“When [the souls in the Garden of Eden below roam on every new moon and Sabbath] they tell the Messiah about the suffering of Israel in exile and about the wicked among them who do not seek to know their Lord, he weeps aloud over the wicked, as is written: But he was wounded for our sins, crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5). Those souls return and stand in their places.
In the Garden of Eden there is one chamber called the Chamber of the Ill. The Messiah then enters that chamber and calls for all the illnesses, all the pains, and all the sufferings of Israel to come upon him, and they all do so. And if he did not ease them off of Israel, taking them upon himself, no one could endure the sufferings of Israel from the punishments of Torah, as is written: Yet it was our sickness that he was bearing (Isaiah 53:4). Similarly, Rabbi El’azar on earth [see BT Bava Metsi’a 83b–84b].
For innumerable are the sufferings looming over a person every day, all of which descended into the world at the time when Torah was given. When the people of Israel were in the Holy Land, they eliminated all those illnesses and sufferings from the world through rituals and sacrifices. Now, the Messiah removes them from inhabitants of the world, until a person departs from this world and receives punishment, as has been said. Except for the extremely wicked, who are sent deep within Hell, into those other compartments, where they are punished severely for the extreme filth of the soul; then intense fire is kindled to consume that filth. Woe to the soul who suffers that punishment! Furthermore, angels of destruction harass them with rods of fire to shake out that filth. Woe to the soul who suffers that punishment! Happy are those who keep the commandments of Torah!” (Zohar 2:212a, cf. Zohar Ḥadash 56c).
For this command which I charge you today is not too wondrous for you nor is it distant. It is not in the heavens, to say, “Who will go up for us to the heavens and take it for us and let us hear it, that we may do it?” And it is not beyond the sea, to say, “Who will cross over for us beyond the sea and take it for us and let us hear it, that we may do it?” But the word is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it (Deuteronomy 30:11–14).
You are good and do good. Teach me Your statutes. The arrogant plaster me with lies—I with whole heart keep Your decrees. Their heart grows dull like fat—as for me, in Your teaching I delight. It was good for me that I was afflicted, so that I might learn Your statutes. Better for me Your mouth’s teaching than thousands of pieces of silver and gold (Psalms 119:68–72).
“Rabbi Abba said, ‘Yose, my son, I will tell you what happened to me with the Holy Lamp [Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai]. One day we were walking in the valley of Ono, delving into Torah that whole day. Due to the intensity of the sun, we sat ourselves down in the cleft of a certain rock [this recalls the cleft of the rock where God revealed His back to Moses (Exodus 33:22–23). Similarly, here, a profound mystery is revealed: the suffering of the righteous]. I said to him, ‘How is it that whenever the wicked proliferate in the world, the righteous among them are smitten on their account? For we have learned as follows: ‘For a generation’s חוֹבָא (ḥova), sin [lit., liability, debt], the righteous are seized.’ Why? If because they do not reprimand the world for their deeds, well, there are many who do reprimand but are not heeded, and the righteous are overwhelmed by them. And if it is so that there will be no one to protect the world, then let them not die and not be seized for the sins [of the world], since the righteous find joy in the destruction [of the wicked].’
He replied, ‘For a generation’s sin, the righteous are surely seized, and we have established these matters. But when the righteous are seized with illness or afflictions, it is in order to atone for the world; then all sins of the generation are purged. How do we know this? From all members of the body. When all the members are in distress—grave illness prevailing over them—one member must suffer so that all of them may be healed. Which one is it? The arm. The arm is struck and blood is drawn from it, and then all members of the body are healed.
Similarly, inhabitants of the world are bodily members, interlinked. When the blessed Holy One wishes to grant healing to the world, He strikes one righteous person among them, and through him provides healing to all. How do we know this? As is written: But he was wounded for our sins, crushed for our iniquities, and by his wound we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). And by his wound—bloodletting, like someone letting blood from his arm. By that wound we are healed—healing comes to us, to all members of the body.
Never is a righteous person smitten except to provide healing to the generation and to atone for them. This is the mystery of ‘a righteous one who suffers,’ for the Other Side prefers most of all that Judgment should overwhelm a righteous one—for then he does not care about the whole world and ignores them because of the joy of dominating him [cf. Tiqqunei ha-Zohar 1a–b]. Yet that righteous person attains supreme dominion in this world and in the world that is coming. As for ‘a righteous one who prospers,’ this is because the blessed Holy One does not care to atone for the world’” (Zohar 3:217b–18b).
And now, if you will truly heed My voice and keep My covenant, you will become for Me a treasure among all the peoples, for Mine is all the earth. And as for you, you will become for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5).
And it shall be, if you do not heed the voice of YHWH your God to keep and to do all His commands and His statutes that I charge you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you… The sojourner who is in your midst will rise up high above you and you will go down far below. He will put you in debt and you will not put him in debt. He will become the head and you will become the tail. And all these curses will come upon you and pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed. For you will not have heeded the voice of YHWH your God to keep His command and His statutes which He charged you (Deuteronomy 28:43–45, cf. Zohar Ḥadash, 59b–60a).
“How fortunate are you, O Israel. When you act according to the will of YHWH no nation or tongue can dominate you. But when you do not act in accordance with the will of YHWH you are delivered into the hands of a lowly people, and not only a lowly people but into the power of the beasts of a lowly people” (BT Ketubbot 66b).
“Rabbi El’azar wept. He opened, saying, ‘Her sound will move like a snake… (Jeremiah 46:22). Now that Israel is in exile, She surely moves like a snake. When a snake bends its head to the dust and raises its tail, the tail dominates and strikes anyone in front of it. Who causes the tail to rise above, dominate, and strike? The head, which is bent low. Nevertheless, who controls the tail, and who propels its movements? The head—although it is bent to the dust, it conducts [the tail’s] movements. Therefore, now the other nations—who are attached to the tail—rise above, dominate, and strike, while the head is bent to the dust, as is said: Fallen, not to rise again, [is Virgin Israel] (Amos 5:2) [cf. BT Berakhot 4b]. Nevertheless, this head controls the tail and preserves it, as is said: They made me keeper of the vineyards (Song of Songs 1:6)—the other nations, who are the tail.
Rabbi Yehudah came and kissed his hands, and said, ‘If I had asked nothing in the world except for this, and gained it, it would be enough for me! For now I know how the other nations and their dominion are controlled. Happy is the share of Israel, of whom is written For Yah has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel as His treasure (Psalms 135:4)’” (Zohar 3:119b).
“Rabbi Yitsḥaq said, ‘All the princes of the nations ascend or descend because of this one [Metatron]. When he ascends, the princes of the nations descend. When he descends, they ascend. All depends on the children of Jacob!’
Rabbi Yehudah son of Shalom said, ‘Good or evil comes to the world solely on account of the children of Jacob!’
A certain [Roman] hegmon came to Rabbi Abbahu and said, ‘The entire world should assemble against you as against this locust—to obliterate you from the world in a single instant! For if this nation does not worship its Lord, it is written: He will shut the heavens so that there will be no rain, and the earth will not yield her fruit (Deuteronomy 11:17). If she strays, the entire world is destroyed on her account!’
He replied, ‘But it is you who cause her to stray and not to follow the proper path!’ He said to him, ‘It is your sins that rouse us!’ Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘The hegmon spoke well'” (Zohar Ḥadash 28c, cf. BT Berakhot 17a).
“Six things preceded the creation of the world; some of them were actually created, while the creation of others was already contemplated. Torah and the Throne of Glory were created. Torah, as is written, [In remote eons I was shaped, at the start of the first things of earth.] I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before the earth was (Proverbs 8:22–3). The Throne of Glory, as is written, Your throne stands firm from old (Psalms 93:2)….
Israel arose in thought, as is written, Remember Your cohort You took up of old (Psalms 74:2)….
Rav Huna, reporting Rabbi Yirmeyahu in the name of Rabbi Shemu’el son of Rabbi Yitsḥaq, said: The thought to create Israel preceded everything else. This is like: A king who was married to a certain lady, and had no son by her. On one occasion the king was found going through the marketplace and giving orders: ‘Take this ink, inkwell, and pen for my son,’ at which people remarked: ‘He has no son: what does he want with ink and pen? Strange indeed!’ Subsequently they concluded: ‘The king is an astrologer, and has actually foreseen that he is destined to beget a son!’ Thus, had not the blessed Holy One foreseen that after twenty-six generations Israel would receive the Torah, He would not have written therein, Charge the Israelites (Numbers 28:2)” (Bereshit Rabbah 1:4).
“Israel is the kernel of the world; Israel arose in thought. Other nations, who are the shell, preceded, as is written: 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, Sifra di-Tsni’uta).
וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁי וַיְכֻלּוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ וְכָל צְבָאָם וַיְכַל אֱלֹהִים בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וַיִּשְׁבֹּת בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִכָּל מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹהִים אֶת יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתוֹ כִּי בוֹ שָׁבַת מִכָּל מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת
And it was evening and it was morning the sixth day. Then the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their array. And God completed on the seventh day the task He had done, and He ceased on the seventh day from all the task He had done. And God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, for on it He had ceased from all His task that He had created to do (Genesis 1:31–2:3)—יִשְׂרָאֵל (yisra’el), Israel.
“Resh Laqish said, ‘Why is it written: There was evening and there was morning, יוֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁי (yom ha-shishi), the sixth day (Genesis 1:31)? Why the extra letter ה (he)? [the definite article ה (he) appears only in connection with the sixth day]. This teaches that the blessed Holy One stipulated a condition with the works of Creation, saying to them: ‘If Israel accepts Torah [given at Mount Sinai on the sixth day of Sivan], you will endure. If not, I will return you to welter and waste (Genesis 1:2)’” (BT Shabbat 88a, cf. BT Avodah Zarah 2b–3b; Zohar 1:47a; 2:63b).
“Rabbi Shim‘on said, ‘Whatever the blessed Holy One does is intended to revolve revolutions to fulfill the covenant of existence’” (Zohar 1:196a).
And he shall call, “Unclean! Unclean!” (Leviticus 13:45).
“All the afflictions man sees, outside his own affliction” (M Nega’im 2:5).
“He who declares ‘unfit’ is unfit and never speaks in praise. And Shemu’el said: With his own blemish he [stigmatizes others as] unfit” (BT Qiddushin 70a).
“It has been taught: The people of Israel are called holiness, and since they are holiness, one is forbidden to call his fellow a shameful name or to invent a nickname for him [see BT Bava Metsi’a 58b–59a]. The punishment for this is severe, all the more for other words. It has been taught: It is written, Keep your tongue from evil… [and your lips from speaking deceit] (Psalms 34:14). What does מֵרָע (me-ra), from evil, mean? That because of evil speech, מַרְעִין (mar’in), disease, descends to the world. Rabbi Yose said, ‘Whoever calls his fellow something he is not, or insults him, will be punished for something he did not do. For Rabbi Ḥiyya said in the name of Rabbi Ḥizqiyah, ‘Whoever calls his fellow wicked is cast down into Hell and struck on his jaws—except for those who are impudent toward Torah, whom one is permitted to call wicked.’
A certain man cursed his fellow. Rabbi Yeisa passed by and said to him, ‘You have acted like the wicked!’ [The man] brought him before Rabbi Yehudah. [Rabbi Yeisa] said to him, ‘I didn’t say ‘wicked,’ but ‘like the wicked,’ exhibiting behavior like the wicked; but I didn’t say that he was wicked! Rabbi Yehudah came and put the case before Rabbi El’azar, who said, ‘Surely, he is not guilty! How do we know? As is written: YHWH was like an enemy (Lamentations 2:5)—like an enemy, and not an enemy. For otherwise, not a stump of Israel would have remained in the world. Similarly, She has become like a widow (ibid. 1:1)—and not a widow; like a widow, [like a woman] whose husband has journeyed across the ocean and she waits for him. Rabbi Ḥiyya said, ‘From here it is proven—the essence of all—as is written: upon the image of the throne, an image like the appearance of a human (Ezekiel 1:26)—like the appearance of a human, and not the appearance of a human.’ Rabbi Yitsḥaq said, ‘It is written: Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men (Song of Songs 2:3)—like an apple, and not an apple; like an apple, variegated in its colors, and in colors unified.’ Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘If I have come here just to hear these words, it is enough for me!” (Zohar 2:122a, cf. ibid. 3:84b–85b).
“Rav Raḥmai said: What is You shall surely send off the mother, and the children you may take for yourself? (Deuteronomy 22:7). Why does it not say, You shall surely send off the father? But it says, You shall surely send off the mother in honor of the one who is called Mother of the World, as is written, For you will call בִּינָה (binah), understanding, ‘Mother’ (Proverbs 2:3)” (Bahir §104–§105).
“Ten fingers of the hands, corresponding to ten sefirot by which the heavens and earth were sealed. And these ten correspond to the Ten Utterances [or: Commandments], and within these ten all 613 mitsvot are included: If you count the number of letters of the Ten Utterances you will find that there are 613 letters, comprising all twenty-two letters, except for ט (tet) which is absent. What is the reason? To teach that ט (tet) is the בֶּטֶן (beten), belly [Binah or Malkhut], and is not [reckoned with] the sefirot” (Bahir §124, cf. ibid. §84).
“Mother crouches over them, suckling them, and of this is written Do not take the mother above the children (Deuteronomy 22:6). And we have learned: One should not increase his sins below, causing Mother to withdraw from the children. It is also written: She is your mother—do not expose her nakedness (Leviticus 18:7). Woe to one who exposes Her nakedness!” (Zohar 1:219a).
“The blessed Holy One conveys a flow of seven rungs below into that rung united with those seven. Now, you might say, ‘But there are six, and no more!’ Well, Mother is then sitting upon the fledglings, crouching over them, and we get Her to fly away, and we take those six children along with this rung below—fulling the verse that is written: Surely send off the mother, and the children you may take for yourself (Deuteronomy 22:7).
Rav Hamnuna Sava said, ‘On this day [Shavu’ot], Israel takes only five children, who are the five books of Torah.’
Now, you might say, ‘There are six!’ Well, really, there are seven, counting one bird found between the wings of Mother.
The people of Israel know how to hunt for great and precious game. What do they do? They draw out that bird [Shekhinah] from beneath the wings of Mother by murmuring of the mouth, whispering toward Her again and again. And that bird loves those murmurings and those sounds that they whisper to Her. Although She is beneath the wings of Her Mother, She raises Her head, gazes toward that whispering sound, and flies to them, emerging from beneath Her Mother’s wings.
As soon as the people of Israel receive Her, they hold Her tight, whispering to Her, binding Her in a bind so that She will not fly away. They immediately grasp that bond, and She tries to fly off but cannot get away. While that bond is in their hands, they whisper with their voices and She chirps along with them, flying up and descending.
When all those Sons beneath the wings of their Mother hear the chirping of their Sister—that bird—and that whispering sound, they immediately emerge from beneath their Mother’s wings and fly toward that bird, and the people of Israel take them and grasp them. Were it not for that bird whom they grasp at first, [the Sons] would never fly to them and they could not grasp them.
How do they capture this holy bird? They prepare precious food for Her joyously with all sorts of delights, entering the synagogue and house of study—chirping to Her, whispering to Her softly, fittingly. And She, concealed beneath Her Mother’s wings, raises Her head and sees prepared tables, with chirping toward Her fittingly; She emerges and flies to them, as has been said, with all those Sons grasping Her.
They send off the Mother who is crouching over them, and She goes away. Because from the seventh heaven and above—’What is concealed from you, do not explore or search.’ Send it off, for you will not be able to comprehend. Of this is written Surely send off the mother, and the children you may take for yourself, so that it may go well with you and you will prolong your days (Deuteronomy 22:7)” (Zohar 3:254b).
“Do not fear, O worm Jacob, O men of Israel! I myself will help you,” declares YHWH. “Your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 41:14).
“Do not fear, O worm Jacob! Why is Israel compared to a worm? Just as a worm strikes the cedars only with its mouth—though soft, it strikes the hard—so Israel possesses only prayer, for the idolatrous nations are compared to cedars” (Tanḥuma, Beshallaḥ 9).
“Come and see: All nations of the world have been rendered to certain ruling archons, as has been said, and they follow their false gods, as is written: [For all the nations] will walk each in the name of its god (Micah 4:5)—all shedding blood, waging war, stealing, robbing, fornicating, mingling with numerous evildoings. They intensify their power to harass, while Israel has no power to overcome them except through its mouth—like a worm whose only power and strength lies in its mouth, by its mouth penetrating all. So Israel is called worm” (Zohar 1:178a).