The Nut Garden

לקוטים מזוהר (Gleanings of Zohar)

Tag: Rabbi Akiva

Better a Thing’s End than Its Beginning

IMG_0957Each act of YHWH has its own end; even the wicked for an evil day (Proverbs 16:4).

“There is no evil that does not contain some good… there is nothing evil in its proper place” (Rabbi Yosef Gikatilla, Sod Sha’atnez, 278 [Gottlieb]).

“[Son of Azzai] used to say: Do not scorn any person and do not disdain anything; for there is no person who does not have his hour, and there is no thing that does not have its place” (M Avot 4:3).

And the gain of the land is in everything (Ecclesiastes 5:8). Rabbi Yehudah said: [Even] obscure things which you see are a benefit in the world, [indeed] they are needed for the world’s existence” (Qohelet Rabbah on 5:8).

“Once Rabbi El’azar was walking on the way, accompanied by Rabbi Ḥizkiyah. They saw a snake, and Rabbi Ḥizkiyah was about to kill it. Rabbi El’azar said to him, ‘Leave it alone, don’t kill it!’ He replied, but it’s an evil thing that kills people.’ He said to him, ‘Ḥizkiyah, look at what is written: Does the snake bite without a whisper? (Ecclesiastes 10:11). A snake does not bite a person until it is whispered to from above and told, Go and kill so-and-so!

And sometimes, just as it does this, so it saves a person from other things, and thereby the blessed Holy One generates a miracle for people. All is in the hands of the blessed Holy One, and all is the work of His hands, needed by the world. If the world did not need them, the blessed Holy One would not have created them. Therefore, one must not disdain anything in the world or the acts of the blessed Holy One’” (Zohar 2:68b, cf. Mekhilta Beshallaḥ 1; BT Shabbat 121b; Berakhot 33a).

“Rabbi Shim’on was walking on the way, accompanied by Rabbi El’azar, Rabbi Abba, Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Ḥiyya, and Rabbi Yose. They came to a certain obstructive watercourse [of the sort which people make in their fields (Sullam), see BT Bava Batra 54a], and Rabbi Yose slipped into the water fully clothed. He said, ‘This construction of measured water—I wish that it didn’t exist!’ Rabbi Shim’on said to him, ‘You are forbidden! This serves the world, and one must not treat contemptuously those who are of service to the blessed Holy One, especially since they are fashioned genuinely [i.e., this has a corresponding root above (Sullam)].

He opened, saying, ‘God saw all He had made, and look, it was very good (Genesis 1:31)—existing according to the laws of supernal authority. God saw all that He had made—without qualification: even snakes, scorpions, and mosquitoes, and even that which seems to harm the world. Concerning all of them, it is written and look, it was very good. All of them serve the world, conduct the world, though people do not know [cf. Shemot Rabbah 10:1].’

As they were walking along, they saw a snake leading the way. Rabbi Shim’on said, ‘Surely, this one is about to perform a miracle for us!’ That snake slithered quickly in front of them and tangled with a viper diametrically across the road. They fought one another and died. When they reached them, they saw them both lying on the road. Rabbi Shim’on said, ‘Blessed is the Compassionate One who has performed a miracle for us! For if anyone looks at this [viper] while it is alive, or is looked upon by it, he is doomed, all the more so if he approaches it.’ He proclaimed over himself, ‘No evil will befall you, nor affliction draw near your tent. For His angels He will command for you, to guard you on all your ways (Psalms 91:10–11). By all things the blessed Holy One fulfills His commission, and we must not treat contemptuously anything He has made. Thus it is written YHWH is good to all, and His compassion is over all His creatures, and similarly: All your creatures, YHWH, acclaim You (ibid. 145:9–10)’ [cf. BT Shabbat 121b: ‘Our Rabbis taught: If one chances upon snakes and scorpions, and he kills them, it is manifest that he had chanced upon them in order to kill them; if he does not kill them, it is manifest that he had chanced upon them that they should kill him, but that a miracle was performed by Heaven on his behalf. ‘Ulla said:—others state, Rabbah son of Son of Hanah said in Rabbi Yoḥanan’s name—That is when they hiss at him’]” (Zohar 3:107a).

“It is related of Naḥum of Gamzu that he was blind in both his eyes, his two hands and legs were amputated—and his whole body was covered with boils and he was lying in a dilapidated house on a bed the feet of which were standing in bowls of water in order to prevent the ants from crawling on to him.

On one occasion his disciples desired to remove the bed and then clear the things out of the house, but he said to them, My children, first clear out the things [from the house] and then remove my bed for I am confident that so long as I am in the house it will not collapse. They first cleared out the things and then they removed his bed and the house [immediately] collapsed. Thereupon his disciples said to him, Rabbi, since you are wholly righteous, why has all this befallen you? And he replied, I have brought it all upon myself. Once I was journeying on the road and was making for the house of my father-in-law and I had with me three donkeys, one laden with food, one with drink and one with all kinds of delicacies, when a poor man met me and stopped me on the road and said to me, Rabbi, give me something to eat. I replied to him, Wait until I have unloaded something from the donkey; I had hardly managed to unload something from the donkey when the man died [from hunger]. I then went and laid myself on him and exclaimed, May my eyes which had no pity upon your eyes become blind, may my hands which had no pity upon your hands be cut off, may my legs which had no pity upon your legs be amputated, and my mind was not at rest until I added, may my whole body be covered with boils.

Thereupon his disciples exclaimed, ‘Alas! that we see you in such a sore plight.’ To this he replied, ‘Woe would it be to me did you not see me in such a sore plight’ [cf. BT Shabbat 33b: (Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai said:) If you did not see me in such a state you would not find me thus (learned)]. Why was he called Naḥum of Gamzu? Because whatever befell him he would declare, גַם זוֹ לְטוֹבַה (gam zo le-tovah), ‘This also is for the best.’

Once the Jews desired to send to the Emperor a gift and after discussing who should go they decided that Naḥum of Gamzu should go because he had experienced many miracles. They sent with him a bagful of precious stones and pearls. He went and spent the night in a certain inn and during the night the people in the inn arose and emptied the bag and filled it up with earth. When he discovered this next morning he exclaimed, This also is for the best. When he arrived at his destination and they undid his bag they found that it was full of earth. The king thereupon desired to put them to death saying, The Jews are mocking me. Naḥum then exclaimed, This also is for the best.

Whereupon Elijah appeared in the guise of one of them and remarked, Perhaps this is some of the earth of their father Abraham, and when [he threw] stubble it changed into arrows, for it is written, [Who raised up the righteous man from the east, called him to his feet, gave the nations before him, and made him rule over kings? He gave them as the dust to] his sword, and as driven stubble to his bow (Isaiah 41:2). Now there was one province which [the emperor had hitherto] not been able to conquer but when they tried some of this earth [against it] they were able to conquer it. Then they took him [Naḥum] to the royal treasury and filled his bag with precious stones and pearls and sent him back with great honour. When on his return journey he again spent the night in the same inn he was asked, What did you take [to the king] that they showed you such great honour? He replied, I brought there what I had taken from here. [The innkeepers] thereupon razed the inn to the ground and took of the earth to the king and they said to him, The earth that was brought to you belonged to us. They tested it and it was not found to be [effective] and the innkeepers were thereupon put to death” (BT Ta’anit 21a, cf. Rabbi Menaḥem Azariyah de Fano, Gilgulie Neshamot, 95).

Better a things end than its beginning (Ecclesiastes 7:8).

“Rabbi Akiva walked down the road of a village. He asked for a place to stay, but none was offered. He said, ‘All that the Merciful does is for the best.’ He went and slept in a field in which there was a rooster, wine, and a lamp. A wind came and blew out the lamp, a cat came and ate the rooster and a lion came and drank the wine. He said, ‘All that the Merciful does is for the best.’ That night an army came and took the town captive. Rabbi Akiva said, ‘Didn’t I tell you that all that the blessed Holy One does is for the best!’” (BT Berakhot 60b).

“This is the sin of the primordial serpent: he joined below and it separated above. So he caused what he caused to the world. For one should separate below and join above… one should realize that יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים (YHWH Elohim) is entirely one, indivisible. יְהוָה (YHWH) is הָאֱלֹהִים (Ha-Elohim). Once one realizes all is one and does not impose division, even that Other Side will disappear from the world, not be drawn below” (Zohar 1:12b, cf. Guide of the Perplexed 3:10: “The true reality of the act of God in its entirety is good”).

Israel’s Light Increases Little by Little

IMG_1037

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

“What was the beginning of Rabbi Akiva? They say that he was forty years old and had not learned a thing. Once, he was standing at the mouth of a well. He said, ‘Who carved this stone?’ They said to him, ‘The water that drips on it every day. Akiva, did you not read Water wears away stones (Job 14:19)?’ Immediately Akiva reasoned, ‘Just as the soft sculpts the hard, all the more so words of Torah, which are as hard as iron, can penetrate my heart, which is but flesh and blood! Immediately he returned to learn Torah.

He then went together with his son and they appeared before an elementary teacher. Akiva said to him: ‘Master, teach me Torah.’ Akiva took one end of the tablet, and his son the other end of the tablet. The teacher wrote down the alef-bet for him and he learned it; alef tav, and he learned it; the book of Leviticus, and he learned it. He went on studying until he learned the entire Torah. Then he went and appeared before Rabbi Eli’ezer and Rabbi Yehoshu’a. He said to them, ‘My masters, reveal the justification of Mishnah to me.’ When they told him one halakhah he went off to be by himself. He said, ‘This alef, why was it written? This bet, why was it written? This thing, why was it said?’ He came back and asked them, and reduced them to silence [cf. M Avot 3:17]….

Rabbi Tarfon said to him: ‘Akiva, of you it says The wellsprings of rivers he blocked. What was hidden he brought out to light (Job 28:11).’ What was hidden—from men, you Rabbi Akiva brought out to light” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan A, 6).

“Rabbah expounded in the name of Rabbi Sehora who had it from Rav Huna: What is: Wealth can be less than הֶבֶל (hevel), mere breath, but who gathers bit by bit makes it grow (Proverbs 13:11)? [cf. Ecclesiastes 1:2: הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים (havel havalim), merest breath]. If a man makes his Torah חֲבִילוֹת חֲבִילוֹת (ḥavilot ḥavilot), bundles of bundles, his learning decreases, and if he does not do so but gathers bit by bit he makes it grow. Rabbah remarked: The Rabbis are well aware of this matter and yet disregard it. Rabbi Naḥman son of Yistḥaq said: I acted on this advice and my study remained with me” (BT Eruvin 54b, cf. BT Avodah Zarah 19a).

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

“[Torah]—the light in her reforms” (JT Ḥagigah 5:7, 80a).

He said, ‘Let me go, for dawn has risen! (Genesis 32:27). Rabbi Yehudah opened, Who is this looking forth like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun…? (Song of Songs 6:10). This verse has been established and explained, but Who is this looking forth?—Israel, when the blessed Holy One will raise them, bringing them out of exile. He will then open for them a tiny crack of light, then another opening, wider, until the blessed Holy One opens for them supernal gates facing four directions of the world. So with all the blessed Holy One does for Israel and for the righteous among them—always so, never all at once. This can be compared to a person thrown into darkness, dwelling in darkness constantly. When they want to illumine him, they must open the light to him like the eye of a needle, then wider, always gradually, until he is illumined with all the light fittingly. Similarly with Israel, as is said: little by little I will drive them out before you (Exodus 23:30). And so with one who is being cured: not all at once, but little by little until he is fortified [cf. JT Berakhot 1:1, 2c].

But with Esau, not so! Rather, he is illumined all at once and deprived little by little, until Israel are fortified and eliminate him entirely from this world and from the world that is coming. Since he blazed all at once, he is annihilated completely, whereas Israel’s light increases little by little until they are invigorated and the blessed Holy One illumines them forever. Everyone asks, Who is this looking forth like the dawn?—at first a subtle glow; then fair as the moon, then bright as the sun, then awesome as bannered hosts (Song of Songs, ibid.)—Beaming powerfully, intensely, fittingly” (Zohar 1:170a).

“Rabbi Levi said in the name of Rabbi Yose son of Ila’i, ‘It is natural that the great should calculate by the great, and the small by the small. Esau calculates by the sun, which is large, and Jacob by the moon, which is small.’ Rabbi Naḥman said, ‘That is a happy presage. Esau calculates by the sun, which is large: just as the sun rules by day but not by night, so does Esau have a share in this world, but has no share in the world to come. Jacob calculates by the moon, which is small: just as the moon rules by day and by night, so Jacob has a share in this world and in the world to come!’” (Bereshit Rabbah 6:3).

“Come and see! This is the way of Torah: At first, when she begins to reveal herself to a person, she beckons him momentarily with a hint. If he perceives, good; if not, she sends for him, calling him ‘simple’: ‘Tell that simple one to come closer, so I can talk with him.’ As is written: Whoever is simple, let him turn here, he who lacks understanding (Proverbs 9:4). As he approaches, she begins to speak with him from behind a curtain she has drawn, words suitable for him, until he reflects little by little. This is derasha [homiletical interpretation]. Then, she converses with him from behind a delicate sheet, words of riddle, and this is haggadah [allegorical tales].

Once he has grown accustomed to her, she reveals herself to him face-to-face, and tells him all her hidden secrets and all the hidden ways, concealed in her heart since primordial days. Then he is a complete man, husband of Torah, master of the house, for all her secrets she has revealed to him, concealing nothing” (Zohar 2:99a–b).

The path of the righteous is like light’s radiance, ever brighter till day has come. The way of the wicked is like darkness. They know not on what they stumble (Proverbs 4:18).

Hear O Israel!

And you shall love YHWH your God (Deuteronomy 6:5). It has been taught: Rabbi Eli’ezer says: If it says with all your being, why should it also say, with all your might? And if it says with all your might, why should it also say with all your being? Should there be a man who values his life more than his money, for him it says; with all your being; and should there be a man who values his money more than his life, for him it says, with all your might. Rabbi Akiva says: With all your being—even if He plucks your being.

Our Rabbis taught: Once the wicked Government issued a decree forbidding the Jews to study and practice Torah. Pappus ben Judah came and found Rabbi Akiva publicly bringing gatherings together and occupying himself with Torah. He said to him: Akiva, are you not afraid of the Government? He replied: I will explain to you with a parable. A fox was once walking alongside of a river, and he saw fishes going in swarms from one place to another. He said to them: From what are you fleeing? They replied: From the nets cast for us by men. He said to them: Would you like to come up on to the dry land so that you and I can live together in the way that my ancestors lived with your ancestors? They replied: Are you the one that they call the cleverest of animals? You are not clever but foolish. If we are afraid in the element in which we live, how much more in the element in which we would die! So it is with us. If such is our condition when we sit and study Torah, of which it is written, your life and your length of days (Deuteronomy 30:20), if we go and neglect it how much worse off we shall be!

It is related that soon afterwards Rabbi Akiva was arrested and thrown into prison, and Pappus son of Yehudah was also arrested and imprisoned next to him. He said to him: Pappus, who brought you here? He replied: Happy are you, Rabbi Akiva, that you have been seized for busying yourself Torah! Alas for Pappus who has been seized for busying himself with idle things! When Rabbi Akiva was taken out for execution, it was the hour for the recital of שֵׁמַע (Shema), and while they combed his flesh with iron combs, he was accepting upon himself the kingship of heaven. His disciples said to him: Our teacher, even to this point? He said to them: All my days I have been troubled by this verse, with all your being, [which I interpret,] ‘even if He plucks your being.’ I said: When shall it come to my hands? Now that I have the opportunity shall I not fulfill it?

He prolonged the word אֶחָד (eḥad), one, until he expired while saying it. An echo went forth and proclaimed: Happy are you, Akiva, that your being has departed with the word eḥad, one! The ministering angels said before the blessed Holy One: Such Torah, and such a reward? [He should have been] by Your hand, from men, from those fleeting of portion in life (Psalms 17:14). He replied to them: Their portion is in life. An echo went forth and proclaimed, Happy are you, Akiva, that you are destined for the life of the World that is Coming!” (BT Berakhot 61b).

“Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav, When Moses ascended on high he found the blessed Holy One engaged in binding כֶּתֶרִים (keterim), crownlets, to the letters. Moses said, ‘Master of the Universe, Who stays Your hand’ [i.e., is there anything wanting in the Torah that these additions are necessary]? He answered, ‘There will arise a man, at the end of many generations, Akiva son of Yosef by name, who will expound upon each tittle mounds and mounds of halakhot.’ He said, ‘Master of the Universe, permit me to see him.’ He replied, ‘Turn around.’ Moses went and sat down behind eight rows [of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples and listened to the discourses upon the halakhah] yet he did not know what they were saying, and his power began to dwindle. But when they came to a certain subject and his disciples said, ‘Rabbi where do you derive [this from]?’ And he replied, ‘This is halakhah [given] to Moses at Sinai,’ and this put his mind at ease. [Moses] returned to the blessed Holy One and said, ‘Master of the Universe, You have such a man yet You give Torah by me!’ He replied, ‘Silence! Thus it arose in thought.’ Then Moses said, ‘Master of the Universe, You have shown me his Torah, show me his reward.’ ‘Turn around,’ He said; and Moses turned round and saw them weighing out his flesh at the market-stalls. ‘Master of the Universe, such Torah, and such a reward!’ He replied, ‘Silence! Thus it arose in thought’” (BT Menaḥot 29b).

“The third commandment: to realize that God exists—vast and controlling the world—and to unify Him fittingly each day in those six supernal directions, unifying them through the six words of שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל (Shema Yisra’el), Hear, O Israel! (Deuteronomy 6:4), directing one’s desire above along with them.

So one should prolong אֶחָד (eḥad), one, to the length of six words, as is written: Let the waters under heaven be gathered to one place (Genesis 1:9)—let the rungs beneath heaven be gathered together to unite with it, to be fittingly complete in six directions. Yet, with that unity one should bind awe, prolonging the ד (dalet) of אֶחָד (eḥad), one, since the dalet of eḥad, one, is large, as is written: Let the dry land appear (ibid.)—let dalet, who is dry land, appear and be bound in that union. After She is bound there above, one should bind Her below with Her forces, in six other directions below: בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד (Barukh shem kevod Malkhuto le-olam va-ed), Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom forever and ever, comprising six other words of unification. Then, what was dry land is transformed into earth, generating fruit, verdure, planting trees. This corresponds to what is written: God called the dry land Earth (ibid. 10)—through that unification below, אַרְעָא (ar’a), Earth, fittingly consummates רַעֲוָא (ra’ava) desire. So, it was good, it was good (ibid. 1:10, 12), twice: one for the unification above, one for the unification below. Once it was unified in both aspects, from then on: Let the earth sprout vegetation (ibid., 11)—arrayed to generate fruit and verdure fittingly” (Zohar 1:12a).

“Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai opened, saying, ‘שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד (Shema Yisra’el Adonai Eloheinu Adonai eḥad), Hear, O Israel! YHWH our God, YHWH is one (Deuteronomy 6:4). A large ע (ayin) and similarly ד (dalet); the mnemonic is עֵד (ed), witness, corresponding to what is written: YHWH is edwitness, against you (1 Samuel 12:5). The letters ש מ (shinmem) remain, with an open מ (mem). Why? Closed ם (mem) is upper King; open mem is lower King. Other letters remain: א ח (alefḥet); God’s honor is to conceal a matter (Proverbs 25:2).

Rav Hamnuna Sava said: Whoever performs this unification every day encounters joy from above, through the mystery of these letters: shinmem from this side, alefḥet from that side. He permutes the letters, beginning in reverse and ending forward; your mnemonic is אֶשְׂמַח (esmaḥ), as is written, As for me, esmaḥ, I will rejoice, in YHWH (Psalms 104:34)—in YHWH, precisely! This is the holy unification, and it is fine. So, too, in the Book of Enoch, which says similarly that whoever performs the unification every day encounters joy from above.

Furthermore, it includes: Shinmem, comprising a large ayin—ע״ (seventy) names of mystery of the holy Patriarchs. יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה (Yisra’el Adonai Eloheinu Adonai), O Israel! YHWH our God, YHWH—four compartments of tefillin, held by א ח (alefḥet), the one who said, Open to me, אֲחֹתִי (aḥoti), my sister, my love (Song of Songs 5:2). Dalet is the knot of tefillin, who is connected to them. A mystery for the wise, not to be revealed.

Rabbi Shim’on fell silent. He wept—and laughed. He said, ‘I shall speak, for favor is found—and there will be no generation such as this until King Messiah comes, when they will be permitted to reveal” (Zohar 3:236b).