The Nut Garden

לקוטים מזוהר (Gleanings of Zohar)

Tag: Ninth of Av

God will Pervert Justice?

“Rabbi Yudai was in the presence of of Rabbi Azariah son of Simlai. He asked him, ‘Righteous ones who stumble upon a sin from the Torah that invokes excision, ponder repentance, and die—does their death atone for them?’ He replied, ‘Yes, and sometimes they are punished in this world, procuring atonement.’ He saw Rabbi Yudai’s face turn sallow. He said to him, ‘Say what you would say! The Torah does not receive impurity, as is written: Is not My word like fire, says YHWH? (Jeremiah 23:29) [cf. BT Berakhot 22b]. Thoughts in your heart?’

The secret of YHWH is for those who revere Him, [and to them He reveals His covenant(Psalms 25:14). Ten elders martyred by the empire on account of the sale of Joseph! 

He said to him, ‘Phinehas is Elijah’ [cf. BT Bava Batra 109b; Sotah 43a: ‘(Phinehas was a descendant) of Joseph who mastered his passion.’ On Phinehas as identified with Elijah, see Targum Yerushalmi, Exodus 6:18; Numbers 25:12; BT Metsi’a 114b, and Rashi, ad loc.; Tanḥuma, Pinḥas 1; Pirqe de-Rabbi Eli’ezer 47; Zohar 1:209b; 2:190a; 3:214a, 215a, 282a (both RM)].

He replied, ‘But Rabbi Akiva did not have ancestral merit!’ [see JT Berakhot 4, 7d; BT Berakhot 27b]. He said, ‘Of the descendants of Issachar, men who knew how to interpret the signs of the times (1 Chronicles 12:33) [cf. BT Yoma 26a in the name of Rava: ‘You will not find any rabbinical scholar offering rulings unless he is a descendant from the tribe of Levi or Issachar… ‘Issachar,’ as is written: Of the descendants of Issachar, men who knew how to interpret the signs of the times, to know what Israel ought to do (1 Chronicles 12:33)’].’

He opened, saying, ‘When Jacob came in from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, ‘You are to come to me, for שָׂכֹר שְׂכַרְתִּיךָ (sakhor sekhartikha), I have surely hired you (Genesis 30:16). שָׂכֹר (S’khar), Reward—afterward. יֵשׁ שְׂכַ (Yesh s’khar), There is reward. Yesh, There is now; afterward, lambs for the kingdom in heaven. Their bodies will remain in their places in this world, everything ultimately restored to primal form. It is written: Each according to his blessing, he blessed them (Genesis 49:28).’

Rabbi Yudai fell prostrate, and slept. In his dream, they showed him Do not let your mouth incriminate your flesh (Ecclesiastes 5:5). ‘You have entered—seal it.’ From that day on, he did not mention it. He said, ‘How precious is your love, O God, and the children of humankind shelter in the shadow of Your wings (Psalms 36:8), and their children should not speak of them—kindness of God in everything.’

Rabbi Azariah said, ‘This is certainly so, as is written: Do not touch my anointed ones (1 Chronicles 16:22); and it is written: In whose hand is the soul of every living thing and the spirit of all human flesh (Job 12:10). Concerning His concealed, hidden matters one may not speak at all, for of One who has the spirits and souls of the righteous in His hands—of hidden matters He has fashioned—one should not encroach [cf. Zohar 2:95a, 100b (both SdM)]” (Zohar Ḥadash 89c–d).

“Rabbi Yudai opened, ‘On the day שֶׁיָּזֻעוּ שֹׁמְרֵי הַבַּיִת (she-yazu’u shomerei ha-bayit), that the keepers of the house will quake (Ecclesiastes 12:3)—these are the tanna’im and amora’im who used to protect the world while in the land of Israel, וְאִזְדַּעְזְעוּן (ve-izdaze’un), now convulsed, from their posts.

‘וְהִתְעַוְּתוּ אַנְשֵׁי הֶחָיִל (Ve-hit’avvetu anshei he-ḥayil), And the men of caliber are bent (ibid.), as is said: If you know there are men of caliber among them (Genesis 46:7). [This refers to] the sin of the sons of Jacob—men of caliber—who suffered a perversion of judgment, as is said: הַאֵל יְעַוֵּת (ha-el ye’avvet), God will pervert justice (Job 8:3). They received a perversion of judgment, these men of caliber. For this is the way of the serpent—after slaying a person, it returns and bites him again, mercilessly. This is perversion of judgment!’ [cf. Midrash Mishlei 1:13: ‘still that sin lingers’; Midrash Tehillim 9:13; Elleh Ezkerah (Beit ha-Midrash, 2:64–72); ‘Ma’aseh Asarah Harugei Malkhut’ (Beit ha-Midrash, 6:19–35); Seder Eliyyahu Rabbah 28; Zohar 1:106a, 202a; 2:33a. 254b (Heikh); ZḤ 46a, 76d, 89c (last two MhN, Rut); Rabbenu Baḥya ben Asher on Genesis 38:1, 44:17; Yom Kippur Musaf liturgy].

The residents of the land of Israel sent [the exiles in Babylon] a missive: ‘It befits you to weep, like one who weeps from afar. But mourning and sobbing, and eulogizing with wailing and bitterness—that does not suit you. For you bathed your feet and did not want them sullied as before. This is as is written: I have bathed my feet, shall I sully them? (Song of Songs 5:3) [cf. Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah ad loc.: ‘I have bathed my feet—from the filth of idolatry’].

‘But we who dwell amid the serpent’s decrees—his lying ambush for us, slaying and biting daily—we see with our own eyes the perversion of judgment at work in our midst. Of those men of caliber—in their days he was silent, not pressing for judgment, for he was terrified of them and could not prevail over them. But once they passed on to that world in repentance, he arose before the blessed Holy One, clamoring for justice.

‘He scrutinized the verse One who kidnaps a man and sells him and he is found in his hands, will surely be put to death (Exodus 21:16) [see Heikhalot Rabbati (in Battei Midrashot 1:74): ‘The Quality of Judgment stood before the blessed Holy One and said, ‘Master of the World! You wrote in Your Torah: One who steals a man and sells him… (will surely be put to death) (Exodus 21:16). Now, the sons of Israel who stole their brother Joseph and sold him—what has happened to them?’ Immediately permission was granted to Samael to annihilate ten heroes in their place’].

The blessed Holy One responded to the serpent, ‘But Joseph was not a man [see Genesis 37:2].’ And he is found in his hands’ [the serpent raises another claim]. ‘Look, he was not found in their hands!’ [the blessed Holy One replies that the brothers no longer had Joseph in their control]. ‘The serpent replied, ‘Should a person be found stealing a living person of his brothers, of Israel, and garner profit from him and sell him, that thief shall die [and you shall root out the evil from your midst] (Deuteronomy 24:7).’

‘For eight hundred years he stood there, demanding judgment. And we have learned that one who is convicted on two counts is sentenced to the more severe penalty. Woe to one who receives punishment for his sins, for death atones for sins! And [woe to one who] returns to receive another punishment! Woe for the perversion of the men of caliber, while Samael and the serpent were steadfast!’ [cf. Pirqei de-Rabbi Eli’ezer 38 in the name of Rabbi Yannai: ‘The tribes did not receive atonement for the sale of Joseph until they died, as is said: Then YHWH Tseva’ot revealed Himself to my ears: This iniquity shall not be purged from you until you die [‘a second death’ (Targum Yonatan)] (Isaiah 22:14)].

‘Consequently, for us it is fitting to weep and wail, for the holy city remains bereft of all its previous bounty. At that moment, Samael alighted and confounded the world. He infused this spirit into the innards of that wicked one, the Roman emperor, and called for retribution against the valiant ones of the world. Woe unto that generation! Woe unto the world! Such a miscarriage of justice has not occurred since the day the world was created.

‘Alas! Your sons—pillars of the world [cf. Proverbs 10:25; BT Yoma 38b], enduring columns upon which the world stands; You were their crown every day. How they were abused in the hands of the serpent! How were holy spirits corrupted to don foreign, alien garments to be ripped apart in abject humiliation! Woe for this event! Woe for this depravity!

‘Who was watching in the Garden of Eden when judgment was rendered above? When ten resplendent jewels, light of the entire garden, in the midst of all the trees, discarded their garments and departed! All the trees of the garden screamed, saying, ‘Woe, men of caliber have been abused!’ and the sentries at the gates of Eden trembled. Those cherubim ascended and descended, blocking any passage through which those lights might leave when they shed the luminosity of their garments. Celestial beings and lower angels screamed before them; guardians of the walls above quaked among all the legions of the heavens, weeping and wailing.

‘Who beheld Mother screeching and ululating? She descended to the cherubim, guardians of the garden’s gates, and they trembled. Mother flew off, accompanied by one cherub. ‘Then Flame of the Whirling Sword—razor sharp—pierced through the gates, and the ten luminaries fled. Celestial beings and terrestrial beings screamed, ‘Woe unto the world! Woe unto the generation!’

‘It befits us to lament, like jackals! When Mother descended and did not find them in the garden, and all the other luminaries and lamps were screaming and wailing, She began to weep and ululate. If those cherubim, guardians of the gates were weeping and wailing, breaking out in lament, is it not all the more fitting for us to weep over all this—and for the miscarriage of justice?’

They opened, saying, ‘They sent a message to Joseph, saying… ‘We beseech you, forgive, pray, the crime and the offense of your brothers for evil they have caused you. And so now, forgive, pray, the crime of the servants of your father’s God.’ And Joseph wept when they spoke to him (Genesis 50:16–17). They transgressed against him but he pardoned all, expiating their sin. Once he forgave, who can incite regarding their offense? This is the meaning of the men of caliber were degraded (Ecclesiastes 12:3). Gross miscarriage of justice—foisted upon those men of caliber. Woe unto us! Who will have compassion upon us? Who will speak to our hearts? Who will comfort us?

‘What a huge distortion of justice! On account of Mother’s banishment, Her flight, drifting away—this made perversion of justice possible. Left alone was the one who prosecuted us, with no one to fend him off nor to offer a defense on our behalf. On account of this, all Mother’s adornments were handed over to this one. For if Mother had been there, She would have gone beyond the letter of the law on their behalf [cf. BT Berakhot 7a]. For this She weeps.

‘For this She wails over Her children, for they were slaughtered in vain, and She was absent from their trials. The serpent executed his wishes against them, as is written: For your crimes, your mother was sent away (Isaiah 50:1). Sent away—so that She would not be available for your trials. Alas! She sits alone (Lamentations 1:1). At that time, She should have been taking up the case of Her children, and on Her account the decree would have been nullified.

‘When those ten jewels left the Garden of Eden to don foreign garments, all the garments, save one, were handed over to the serpent. This is as is written: Reuben returned to the pit (Genesis 37:29). Since he had counseled to put [Joseph] in the pit, he was associated with the pit, and was saved. [This is related to] the capture of Rabbi Eli’ezer” (Zohar Ḥadash 93b–d).

Who Hardens his Heart will Fall into Harm

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“We have found that the Temple was destroyed the first time only because they worshiped idols, engaged in forbidden sexual relations, and shed blood. And the same with the Second [Temple].

Rabbi Yoḥanan son of Torta said: ‘We have found that Shiloh was destroyed only because they disgraced the holy days and profaned the sacrificial offerings. We have found that the First Temple was destroyed only because they worshiped idols, and they engaged in forbidden sexual relations, and they were shedders of blood. But with the Second [Temple], we know them as [people who] toiled in Torah and were careful with mitsvot and with  tithes, and every kind of good conduct was among them, only that they loved money and hated one another [with] שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם (sinat ḥinnam), baseless hatred. And baseless hatred is so severe that it is equal in weight to idolatry, forbidden sexual relations and shedding blood.

A story: Rabbi Ze’ora and Ya’aqov son of Aḥa and Rabbi Abonah were sitting and saying: ‘[Baseless hatred is] even more [severe] since in the [case of the] First [Temple, it] was rebuilt but in [the case of] the Second [Temple, it] was not rebuilt.’ Rabbi Ze’ora said: ‘The [people of the] First [Temple] repented, but the [people of the] Second did not repent.’

Rabbi El’azar said: ‘The first ones—their iniquity and their designated time were revealed; the second ones—their iniquity was revealed but their designated time was not revealed.

They asked Rabbi Eli’ezer: ‘Are the last generations more worthy than the first ones?’ He answered them: ‘Your witnesses, the Chosen House shall prove [this]. Our forefathers removed the ceiling: And the cover of Judah He exposed (Isaiah 22:8) but we have smashed the walls: Saying, Raze it, raze it, to its foundation! (Psalm 137:7).’

They said: ‘Each generation for whom [the Temple] is not built during its days is considered as if it [were the generation that] had destroyed it” (JT Yoma 1:1, 38c).

“Rabbi Yoḥanan said: What is, Happy the man who fears at all times, but who hardens his heart will fall into harm? (Proverbs 28:14). The destruction of Jerusalem came through קַמְצָא וּבָּר קַמְצָא (qamtsa u-bar qamtsa), Locust and Son of Locust; the destruction of Tur Malka came through a rooster and a hen [cf. Judges 4:6]; the destruction of Bethar came through the shaft of a leather.

The destruction of Jerusalem came through a Qamtsa and a Son of Qamtsa in this way. A certain man had a friend Qamtsa and an enemy, Son of Qamtsa. He once made a party and said to his servant, Go and bring Qamtsa. The servant went and brought Son of Qamtsa. [The host] found him sitting [at the banquet]. He said, ‘Since that one [i.e., you] are the enemy of that man [i.e., me], what are you doing here? Get up and leave!’ He said to him, ‘Since I am here, let me be, and I will pay you for what I eat and drink.’

He said to him, ‘No.’ He said to him, ‘I will pay for half the banquet.’ He said to him, ‘No.’ He said to him, ‘I will pay for the whole banquet.’ He said to him, ‘No.’ He grabbed him by the hand and put him out. He [Son of Qamtsa] said, ‘Since the Rabbis were sitting and did not intervene, I will go and inform against them at the king’s palace.’ He went and said to the emperor, ‘The Jews are rebelling against you.’ He said, ‘How can I tell?’ He said to him, ‘Send them a sacrifice and see if they offer it [on the altar].’ He sent with him a fine calf. While on the way he made a blemish on its upper lip, or as some say on the white of its eye, in a place where we [Jews] count it a blemish but they do not. The Rabbis were inclined to offer it for the sake of peace with the kingdom. Rabbi Zekhariyah son of Avqulos said to them, ‘Should they say that blemished animals are offered on the altar?!’ They then proposed to kill [Son of Qamtsa] so that he should not go and tell him [the emperor]. Rabbi Zekhariyah son of Avqulos said to them, ‘Should they say that one who causes a blemish [on consecrated animals] be put to death?’ Rabbi Yoḥanan said, ‘The humility [or: scrupulousness; meekness (Rashi)] of Rabbi Zekhariyah son of Avqolas destroyed our Temple and burnt our Sanctuary and exiled us from our Land [cf. Eikhah Rabbah 4:3; Josephus, Jewish Wars 2:17, 2]….

[Knowing that Rabban Yoḥanan son of Zakkai was prepared to ask Vespasian not to destroy the Temple, he said to him]: If there is a barrel of honey and a snake is wrapped round it, wouldn’t they break the barrel in order to [kill] the snake? [So you should have broken down the walls to get rid of the zealots. Rabban Yoḥanan son of Zakkai] was silent. Rav Yosef said of him, and some say Rabbi Akiva: [I am YHWH, Maker of all…] setting sages back on their heels and thwarting their devisings (Isaiah 44:25). [Rabban Yoḥanan son of Zakkai] should have said, ‘We take tongs, remove the snake, and kill it, and we leave the barrel'” (BT Gittin 55b–56a, 56b).

“Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because of three things which prevailed there: idolatry, forbidden sexual relations, and bloodshed…. But why was the Second Temple destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, mitsvot, and the practice of tsedaqah, social justice? Because therein prevailed hatred without cause. That teaches you that baseless hatred is considered as of equal weight with the three sins of idolatry, forbidden sexual relations, and bloodshed together. And [during the time of] the First Temple did no baseless hatred prevail? Surely it is written: Scream and howl, O man, for it was against My people, [it was against all Israel’s princes. Felled by the sword were My people, so clap upon the thigh] (Ezekiel 21:17). El’azar said: This refers to people who eat and drink together and then thrust each other through with the daggers of their tongue!—that [passage] speaks of the princes in Israel, for it is written, Cry and wail, son of man: for it is upon My people. One might have assumed [it is upon] all [Israel], therefore it goes on, Upon all the princes of Israel: [terrors by reason of the sword shall be upon My people: strike therefore upon your thigh] (ibid.)” (BT Yoma 9b).

“Long ago, as Rabban Gamaliel, Rabbi El’azar son of Azariyah, Rabbi Yehoshu’a and Rabbi Akiva were walking on the road, they heard the noise of the crowds at Rome [travelling] from Puteoli, twenty miles away. They all fell weeping, but Rabbi Akiva was laughing. They said to him: Why are you laughing? He said to them: Why are you weeping? They said: These heathens who bow down to images and burn incense to idols live in safety and ease, whereas our Temple, the ‘Footstool’ of our God is burnt down by fire, and should we then not weep? [on the Footstool of God, see 1 Chronicles 28:2; Lamentations 2:1; Psalms 99:5; 132:7; cf. Ezekiel 43:7]. He replied: That is why I am laughing. If it is so for they that offend Him, how much more so for they that do obey Him! Once again they were coming up to Jerusalem together, and just as they came to Mount Scopus they saw a fox emerging from the Holy of Holies. They fell weeping and Rabbi Akiva was laughing. They said to him, why are you laughing? He said: Why are you weeping? They said to him: A place of which it was once said, but the stranger that comes near shall be put to death (Numbers 1:51), has now become the haunt of foxes, and should we not weep? He said to them: That is why I am laughing, for it is written, And I enlisted for myself two trusty witnesses, Uriah the priest and Zachariah son of Jeberechiah (Isaiah 8:2).

Now what connection has this Uriah the priest with Zechariah? Uriah lived during the times of the First Temple, while [the other,] Zechariah lived [and prophesied] during the Second Temple; but Scripture linked the [later] prophecy of Zechariah with the [earlier] prophecy of Uriah, In the [earlier] prophecy [in the days] of Uriah it is written, Therefore, because of you, Zion shall be plowed like a field, [and Jerusalem become heaps of ruins and the Temple mount a high forest] (Micah 3:12; Jeremiah 26:18–20). In Zechariah it is written, Thus said YHWH of Armies: Again shall old men and old women sit in the squares of Jerusalem (Zechariah 8:4), so long as Uriah’s [threatening] prophecy had not had its fulfilment, I had misgivings lest Zechariah’s prophecy might not be fulfilled; now that Uriah’s prophecy has been [literally] fulfilled, it is quite certain that Zechariah’s prophecy also is to find its literal fulfilment. They said to him: Akiva, you have comforted us! Akiva, you have comforted us!” (BT Makkot 24a–b, cf. JT Berakhot 2:4, 5a).