On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead
Gershom Scholem 1962,
1991 Schoken Books New York.
These extracts are included for research purposes as they are deemed essential to the transformation. Please purchase the book.
From: Shekhinah: THE FEMININE E L E M E N T IN DIVINITY
The Shekhinah-which we shall for the present define in the most general way as the personification and hypostasis of God's "indwelling" or "presence" in the world-is a concept that has intimately accompanied the Jewish people for some two thousand years, through all phases of its turbulent and tragic existence. The nation expressed the impact of its history in its spiritual and intellectual life in the most diverse formsin halakhah and aggadah, in philosophy and Kabbalah, in messianic movements and Hasidism. The concept of the Shekhinah accompanied them throughout this history, itself undergoing manifold developments and transformations.
Do Kabbalistic images of the Shekhinah have a prehistory in the biblical text or the Apocrypha? Two questions must be asked here, concerning which at least a few brief remarks would be appropriate. First, does this literature contain any hypostases of divine forces and qualities that are not merely literary personifications or poetic metaphors? Second, does one already find there personifications that are of an essentially feminine character? These two questions have been intensely discussed, and just as vigorously debated, in a voluminous body of writing, which has grown considerably in recent years.' Undoubtedly, there are some personifications that are not merely conceptual abstractions, but which are presented in concrete imagery, as if they were independent, self-contained entities. Yet it is extremely difficult to determine where the borderline of metaphor is crossed: where we are dealing with mere survivals or remnants of older, perhaps ancient Near Eastern mythologies, and where these same ancient images are cloaked in a new guise, in a more moderate fon-n, rendered harmless because of Judaism's hostility to myth. I would not care to join battle with those already struggling in this arena, but I must confess-to cite only the most renowned and outstanding example-that many of the statements made about biblical "Wisdom" and its alleged mythical background strike me as highly hypothetical and tenuous. However, the first of my two questions may already be answered in the affirmative-so long as we are speaking of hypostases of forces, without necessarily seeing them as divine forces, that is, without seeing them (as many people do) as aspects of the Godhead itself One needs to undergo considerable convolutions in order to interpret, for example, the descriptions of Wisdom, or Sophia, in chapters 1 through 10 of Proverbs and chapter 28 of job, as a hypostasis bearing a divine character. In these effusive descriptions, with their far-reaching impact on the history of religion, Wisdom always quite clearly remains the first of the created beings; it may be older than all visible Creation, but, however ancient, it is always thought of as younger than God and never as coetemal with Him:
The Lord made me as the beginning of His way. The first of His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning. Or ever the earth was. (Prov. 8:22-23)
Here Wisdom was God's "confidant" or "craftsman" at the time of Creation, but was not identified with God Himself; it is a denizen of the invisible world, but hardly an aspect of the one God, much less His spouse. . If the corresponding figures of Wisdom in other religious systems appear as goddesses (some truly ancient if not entirely convincing material has been adduced in this connection), it is here deliberately and resolutely demoted from that rank and stripped of its divine character. From a psychological point of view, it seems unlikely that we would find here the rebirth or reemergence of that mythical character whose rejection was such a central even in the world of biblical religion. There is a certain impatience in these efforts to discover that which had just been overcome and defeated in these new shapes, as if nothing had ever happened. We now turn to the second question, conceming the appearance of female hypostases: to the best of my knowledge, pre-Philonic literature contains only a single passage in which Wisdom is spoken of as a bride or spouse, without our needing to resort to forced or distorted interpretations. In the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon, we read:
Her I loved and sought out from my youth, And I sought to take her for my bride. And I became enamoured of her beauty. She proclaimeth her noble birth In that it is given her to live with God, And the Sovereign Lord of all loved her. (Wisd. of Sol. 8:2-3)
The meaning of these words, however, can only be understood within the context of the entire chapter and in terms of its linguistic usage. Reference is made to Wisdom's "symbiosis" with God throughout this chapter, not only in the generalized sense of intimacy, but in the clear sense of shared conjugal life. The feminine names for Wisdom, which can be quite simply explained as resulting from the feminine gender of the corresponding nouns in Hebrew and Greek, cannot ultimately be cited as proof of the female character of the figure itself. In Jewish thought the figure of Wisdom first appears in an unequivocally female form in the writings of Philo of Alexandria. In his work on drunkenness, he states:
And thus the Creator [Demiurge] who created our entire universe is rightly called the Father of all Created Things, while we call Knowledge [Episteme, identical in Philo with Sophia] Mother, whom God knew and procreated [i.e., through her] Creation, albeit not in human fashion. However, she received the divine seed and bore with labor the one and beloved son ... the ripe fruit that is this world.'
We find here a genuine "sacred marriage" (hieros gamos), a metaphor that seems singularly out of place in the ancient Jewish tradition-so much so that some scholars (beginning with Richard Reitzenstein) sought here echoes of Hellenistic myths taken from Egypt.' lt is difficult for me to accept this premise, if for no other reason than that Philo's image of the Father and Mother creating the universe is in large measure shaped by the biblical verse he is interpreting - i.e., that of the rebellious son, whose father and mother should be trying to save him (Deut. 21:20), but instead bring charges against him. This imagery is virtually dictated by the hermeneutics.'
In other passages, too, Philo speaks of God as "the Father of all things ... and the Husband of Wisdom, who sows the seed of eudaemonia in the good and virginal earth."' These lines speak of a marriage to a Mother Wisdom, who constantly renews the mystery of her virginity. Hence, she is at once both a virgin bride and a mother-an image that will again appear in highly significant contexts in Kabbalistic symbolism. Wisdom likewise appears as God's daughter, in an image fusing allegory and archetype in an interpretation of the biblical name Bethuel: "because she is the true daughter [i.e., of God] (bath el) and eternally virginal (bethulah)."' But in the same passage we immediately find a statement that negates any archetypal understanding of this image:
Now Bethuel is the father of Rebecca [see Gen. 22:23]. But how can Wisdom, God's daughter, be called a father? Precisely because, although her name is feminine, her nature is masculine.... There fore, we do not concem ourselves with names, but simply declare God's daughter, Wisdom, to be masculine; for she is the father who sows and breeds wisdom, insight, and virtuous deeds in the souls.
This problem-namely, the male aspects within the female character of Wisdom-will recur in the Shekhinah in different but not altogether dissimilar contexts. I have gone into some detail here about Hokhmah, or Sophia, because its connection with the Kabbalistic idea of Shekhinah has long drawn scholarly attention. However, we should also mention some other personifications that were subsequently combined with the image of Shekhi nah or, like Sophia/Wisdom, linked to it. First and foremost is the maternal image of Rachel, which has appeared repeatedly since the famous image in Jeremiah (chap. 31 ) of Rachel weeping for her children as they go off into exile; or the personification of Zion as a maternal figure, in contrast with the phrase "daughter of Zion" that alone appears in Scripture. "Mother Zion" is first mentioned in the Septuagint's reading of Psalms 87:5, whose original text speaks only of Zion:7 "But of Zion it shall be said: 'This man and that was born in her."' The image was most probably inspired by the verse in Isaiah 66:8: "For as soon as Zion tra vailed, she brought forth her children." This image reappears in the later apocalypses, such as IV Ezra, unquestionably the most important Jewish apocalypse, which speaks of Zion as "the mother of us all" (10: 7; Kahana, 8:7). Likewise, long before the emergence of the Kabbalah's symbolic language, talmudic literature occasionally employed the image of Jerusalem or Zion as the Mother of Israel.' But nowhere is Zion used as an expression for any power or quality of God Himself. It may appear as a figure whose home is in the supernal worlds, in a similar way to the ancient Near Eastern notions of a correspondence between the lower and higher worlds. However, in the ancient Jewish writings, Zion has nothing to do with the mystery of the Godhead itself; nor does the "heavenly Jerusalem," which is already linked by the New Testament to the above mentioned image of "Mother Zion," have any presence in the Godhead.
The same holds true for the widespread personification of Kenesseth Yisra'el, the "Community of Israel," employed almost exclusively by rabbinical literature instead of the rare image of "Mother Zion' " This term personifies the collectivity of the nation as a religious figure; it appears in any number of rabbinic statements in the Talmud and the midrash as an active, speaking figure, a spiritual entity having a real existence in the sacral and historical sphere. No wonder this hypostatized image of the "Synagogue" was transformed by the fathers of the ancient Christian community into the image of the "Church" (Ekklesia). The Talmud itself already applies biblical phrases that speak about father and mother to the concepts of God as the Father and the Community of Israel as the Mother. Thus, in Berakhot 35b:
He who enjoys anything of this world without a blessing is as if he has robbed God and the Community of Israel, as it is written: "Whoso robbeth his father or his mother" [Prov. 28:24]. His father is none other than the Holy One, blessed be He, of Whom it is written: "Is not He thy father that hath gotten thee?" [Deut. 32:6], and his Mother is none other than the Community of Israel, of whom it is written: "Hear, my son, the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the teaching of thy mother" [Prov. 1:8].
In the allegorical reading of the Song of Songs, Kenesseth Yisra'el is thought of as being married to God, and it assumes the undeniable characteristics of a female figure. Neither does the aggadah make any attempt to obscure its image as a bride, matron, noble princess, and the like; on the contrary, whenever it discusses the relationship between God and His people in covenantal terms, it invariably uses metaphors and parables (and parable is, after all, the central means of expression in the aggadah) that depict Israel as the female partner in the Covenant. In this respect no text is more informative, or more valuable and impressive, than Song of Songs Rabbah. In this midrash Kenesseth Yisra'el is adomed with all the attributes of gracious femininity, while the biblical images are read as allegories of historical situations-that is, without their mythic "charge" (assuming they have one, a possibility not to be rejected out of hand in light of contemporary scholarship).
Again, it is even plainer here than in the above-mentioned cases (if only because of the great wealth of material available to us) that the authors did not have in mind any image of a divine power. The realm of God never mingles with the realm of Kenesseth Yisra'el in which He acts and which is subject to Him. The abyss between the bride and the bridegroom is never bridged, and any sexual imagery that might suggest otherwise is meticulously avoided. But one thing can be said with certainty (and this is no small thing, to be sure!): that all these passages about Wisdom, Zion, and the Community of Israel created a rich treasury of images. Over the course of time, as the power of these images proved to be stronger than the conscious intention of their authors, this treasury was able to nourish an old-new level in the perception of the Divine.
This is apparent in Gnosticism, in the Sophia theology of Christian sects, and in the Russian Orthodox Church no less than in the Kabbalah. But our knowledge of this historical process, which I would like to refer to as the "Rebellion of Images," should not induce us to rashly date it to an earlier period, in which it could not have really taken place. However, there is no doubt that such images did appeal to the mystics, who sought to hypostatize such images, so that all they now had to do was to pull them out and use them for their own purposes.
Unlike the above-mentioned images, the term Shekhinah refers to something that clearly belongs to the divine realm. The term is extremely common in talmudic literature from about the first century B.C.E. or the first century C.E., but does not appear in either the Bible or in nonrabbinic writings, despite some abortive efforts to discover it, disguised, in translations, especially in the New Testament (as in the first chapter of John). Neither is this term found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, insofar as they have been published. In the sources this term refers exclusively to God's "dwelling" or "presence" in a particular place, but not to any specific dwelling place. This latter notion is expressed in the Hebrew word mishkan, used frequently in the Old Testament for God's dwelling in the Tabemacle or the Temple. In the literal sense, God's dwelling or Shekhinah means His visible or hidden presence in a given place, his immediacy. This presence may be manifested in a supematural glow of light, known as the "radiance (ziv) of the Shekhinah." lt is also depicted in various images, such as the "wings of the Shekhinah" under which the pious or proselytes take shelter; the "countenance of the Shekhinah" beheld by the righteous (perhaps parallel to the "countenance of the Lord" found in the Bible?); and the "feet of the Shekhinah," which are pushed out of the world by those who sin in secret. But the Shekhinah can also exist without any particular manifestation of this sort, simply as the presence of God and the awareness of His presence.
The Shekhinah, as portrayed in the Talmud, the midrash, and the Aramaic translations of the Bible, is not perceived as a distinct hypostasis of God Himself It differs in this respect from such qualities of God as His wisdom, His goodness, or His severity, which are unhesitatingly personified in the aggadah, to the extent that they are able to appear before Him and argue with Him, as if they were personifications of moral aspects of Him which had become independent of His own all-transcendent being. It is by no means self-evident that God's presence in the world was to be identified with His qualities. Thus, the Shekhinah is always God Himself, insofar as He is present in a specific place or at a specific event. In other words: we are dealing with an expression-qualified in hyperbolic images-for God Himself, one verging on hypostatization. I would therefore not subscribe to the opinion of such an outstanding scholar as George Foot Moore, who describes the Shekhinah as "a kind of verbal smokescreen to conceal the difficulty presented by the anthropomorphic language." " There are no doubt many passages in which the word Shekhinah could be substituted by "the Holy One blessed be He" without any change in meaning. "Two people who sit together and engage in words of Torah, the Shekhinah is with them"; "The evil-doers remove the Shekhinah from the world," and similar epigrams are discussed in detail by Joshua Abelson in his comprehensive study." Indeed, for many utterances about the Shekhinah, one in fact does find parallel passages that use the name "the Holy One, blessed be He"; the two terms may even occur in the very same passage with no discernible difference in meaning. This is excellently illustrated by one of the strangest statements in the tannaitic midrashim, an utterance that originated during the period of sharp conflict between rabbinic Judaism and second-century Gnosticism:
ct... Thy people, whom Thou didst redeem to Thee out of Egypt, the nations and their gods" [11 Sam. 7:23].... Rabbi Akiva said: Were this not a verse written in Scripture, it would be forbidden to say it. Israel says to the Holy One blessed be He, so to speak: "You have redeemed Yourself." Hence we find that, wherever Israel was exiled, it is as if the Shekhinah was exiled with them."
This image of God's self-redemption from His own exile was inferred by, of all people, Rabbi Akiva, the outstanding representative of an esotericism strictly rooted in Jewish Law, while expounding an obscure biblical verse whose very obscurity invited bold speculation. Yet for all the extravagance of his interpretation, Rabbi Akiva does not yet draw any distinction between God and the Shekhinah, as this mishnaic utterance clearly shows. Other statements and exegeses, which were subsequently given an entirely new meaning in light of Kabbalistic linguistic usage, did not have this specific tone in their original context. "There is no place that is empty of the Shekhinah, not even the thornbush," stated in connection with the divine revelation from the buming bush, simply means that God can manifest Himself everywhere-even in the lowliest thing, such as a briar. Here too, the Shekhinah is nothing other than God's presence, without any further qualification. But it is quite understandable that this omnipresence of God would be interpreted in a nonliteral fashion as one of His qualities, similar to His mercifulness or His strictness. It is difficult to unambiguously state when and where this significant change came about in ancient Jewish literature. Some scholars, such as Abelson, and to some extent Goldberg, have felt that certain talmudic passages in which God Himself speaks of "My Shekhinah" (as in "I remove my Shekhinah from among them") force the reader to construe the Shekhinah as a distinct quality of Gods." But this seems to me by no means certain; this phrase may also simply mean "My presence." One can definitely say that in all the passages analyzed by Abelson the Shekhinah never appears opposite God, and nowhere in the ancient exoteric aggadah does it speak of "God and His Shekhinah, " as two distinct entities. God frequently speaks about the Shekhinah, but never to it; never does the expression "I and My Shekhinah" appear. The notion of the Shekhinah as appearing next to God and at His side is simply inconceivable to the ancient aggadists. We should also add at this point that, to the best of our knowledge, the aggadic figure of the Shekhinah is never identified with or associated with Divine Wisdom (Sophia). Thus, when 0. S. Rankin states that the Shekhinah is "a kindred figure to wisdom," " this holds true only for the much later Kabbalistic symbol of the Shekhinah, which we shall study below, never for the ancient rabbinic sources.
We can nevertheless state that, already in the world of aggadic thought, the personification of the Shekhinah advanced quite far in several directions. Among those passages whose texts can be fairly and incontestably established, that which goes furthest is the description in Lamentations Rabbah:
When the Shekhinah left the Holy Temple [after its destruction], she turned around and embraced and kissed the walls and columns of the Temple, wept and said: "Greetings to you, house of my holiness; Greetings to you, house of my kingship; greetings to you, house of my glory; greetings to you, from now on, peace be with you.
But even here, there is no personification of a female figure, but only an admittedly bold personification of God's presence. This is clearly shown by the preceding allegory, in which the Shekhinah in this dismal state is compared, not to a princess or to a queen, but to a king, as these sources always do whenever they allegorize about God. Not once does this older literature ever really liken the Shekhinah to a woman. The personification would be even sharper in another passage-one frequently quoted in later Jewish literature-could we be certain that the text is correct (itself a highly controversial point). This mishnaic passage" concerns those sentenced to execution and God's commiseration with the torments of the criminal about to be hanged: "When a human being suffers torment, what does the Shekhinah say? 'My head is heavy, my arm is heavy."' Unfortunately for this theory, several important early manuscripts and numerous quotations lack here the decisive word Shekhinah, and what eventually became a widely known epigram as the utterance of the Shekhinah may have originally been merely a proverbial expression of the human feeling of suffering, which God makes his own." But as early as the talmudic period, Jewish linguistic usage concerning the Shekhinah left room for transition to a Gnostic hypostasis-one never documented in any Jewish sources of that period. In this Gnostic usage the Shekhinah appears as a separate hypostasis, albeit an ethereal one that dissolves in vagueness. This appears more clearly in Mandaean literature, in which the Shekhinah is spoken of in the plural. Only once does the Talmud mention a plurality of Shekhinahs, and that in an ironic sense and a polemical context: "A heretic [the emperor?] asked Rabban Gamaliel: '[You Jews claim that] the Shekhinah is present in every gathering of ten. How many Shekhinahs [Aramaic, shekhinata] are present? How many Shekhinahs exist?!""' The Mandaeans, however, unhesitatingly went along with this pluralistic rendering of the Shekhinah, which necessarily distinguishes it from the supreme God, just as they used many other terms from religious language. Their literature repeatedly speaks about myriads upon myriads of worlds, treasure-houses of riches (Uthras, more or less equivalent to thesauroi), and Shekhinahs, without ever pinpointing the meaning of this latter concept. These Shekhinahs are evidently palaces or dwellings of light, themselves brilliant, but without any obvious function in the Mandaean pantheon. On the other hand, in the writings of those Gnostics and mystics who remained within the framework of rabbinic Judaism, and in the literature of the Hekhaloth and the Merkavah school, the term Shekhinah is used no differently than in the contemporary aggadah.
These esoterics, the direct heirs of the ancient apocalyptical literature, likewise adopted their overall linguistic usage, in which the Shekhinah was to a large extent identified with the glory of God. The Merkavah world is the place of "His Shekhinah, which is hidden from human beings in the supernal heights."'O Instead of the standard talmudic term "throne of glory," these writings speak of the "throne of the Shekhinah"-that is, the hidden Shekhinah is revealed here to the Merkavah initiate at the height of his vision." From this Shekhinah, seated on the throne, there emanates a voice that speaks to the lower beings." All this strikes me as comprehensible within the context of the above-mentioned conception, which identifies the Shekhinah with God Himself, such that there is no need to assume any further developments here. The subject of the anthropomorphic descriptions of the Godhead found in the extant Shi'ur Komah fragments is the Creator God (Yotser Bereshith), the Demiurge. In other versions, however, the subject of the Merkavah visionaries is designated as the "Body of the Shekhinah. " " Here, too, there is still no clear difference between God and the Shekhinah; the latter is not an independent personification of one of His qualities. But perhaps there is already some Gnostic distinction between the hidden essence of God and His revealed image, which appears to the prophets and the Merkavah mystics (albeit that image in itself is likewise hidden from human eyes). The voice emanating from the Shekhinah does not speak upward to God but, as in all other such passages, to His creatures alone.
A crucial new development begins in the latest stratum of the midrash as we know it. In a passage overlooked, oddly enough, by Abelson and other scholars, the midrash on Proverbs 22:29 speaks of the Shekhinah for the first time as facing not only human beings but God Himself! When the Sanhedrin wished to designate him [King Solomon] along with three kings and four private individuals [as ones who have no share in the World to Come], the Shekhinah stood before the Holy One, blessed be He, and spoke to Him: "Lord of the Worlds! 'Seest thou a man diligent in his business?' [ Prov. 2 2:29] they wish to count him [Solomon] among the darklings [i.e., those to be damned]." At that moment a heavenly voice went out and said, "'He shall stand before kings' [ibid.]-and he shall not stand before darklings." "
This is the first time that a clear division is drawn between God and the Shekhinah, in which the two of them face one another in dialogue. Indeed, during the twelfth century, Judah he-Hasid of Regensburg had given an even bolder reading of this text: "The Shekhinah threw herself down before the Holy One blessed be He." It is surely not surprising that R. Moses Taku was shocked by these passages when he cited them in the early thirteenth century," noting correctly that this passage, so crucial for us, does not appear in the Talmud or in the older aggadic works. indeed, we can see how the talmudic statement was transposed from its originally innocent context to that of the Shekhinah. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 104b), without mentioning Solomoifs name, tells us:
They wished to include one more [i.e., Solomon]. The image of his father [David] came and threw itself down before them, but they ignored it.... Fire descended from heaven and lapped around their benches, and they paid no heed of it. A heavenly voice came forth and said to them, "Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings" [Prov. 22:29].
The variant found in the later midrash, which is alien to the parallel ancient passages, could only have emerged after the Shekhinah had already been hypostatized as a quality of God, by groups of unknown later aggadists. In light of the strong tendency of the midrash on Proverbs to lean heavily on anthropomorphic Merkavah mysticism, we cannot assume that this variant was due solely to the speculations of medieval Jewish philosophers. We find similar points of transition in other passages, although the exact reading in those cases is uncertain and needs further study. In Midrash Konen, a work composed of various fragments from the "Acts of Creation" literature, and whose first section contains unknown speculations from another source concerning Wisdom, we find an interpretation of the verse, "and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters" (Gen. 1:2). The author begins by mentioning various activities of God, and continues:
What did He do? He took a name from the Torah and opened it, and took from it another Name, which has not been conveyed to any person ... and poured and sprinkled three drops into the sea, and it was completely filled with water, and the Holy Spirit and the Holy Shekhinah (Shekhinath ha-Kodesh) hovered and blew over it.
On the same page we read: "The Holy One, blessed be He, began to stand in the light, and His Shekhinah was in the upper realms." It is not at all clear whether a distinction is drawn here between these two concepts. As far as I know, the term "His Holy Shekhinah" does not appear in any other early texts; it would be worthwhile examining the extant manuscripts of Midrash Konen. " In Pesikta Rabbati, 21 fallowing the well-known statement "When Israel went into Exile, the Shekhinah was also exiled with them," we hear the following complaint of the angels: "The angels said to Him: 'Your Glory is in its place; do not abase Your Shekhinah! ' " But again, the continuation of this statement does not suggest any distinction between God and His Shekhinah. In Targumjonathan to the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy 31:3-8, a nearly identical expression is repeated three times, in a rather surprising manner. In verse 3, "The Lord thy God, He will go over before thee," the Targum reads: "The Lord your God and His Shekhinah go before you'" while in verse 6, "For the Lord thy God, He it is that doth go with thee" the Targum reads, "because the Lord your God, His Shekhinah speaks before thee." Likewise, in verse 8, "the Lord, He it is that doth go before thee," is translated, "And the word of the Lord, His Shekhinah, speaks before you." In fact, in medieval Jewish philosophy, the Shekhinah clearly appears as a manifestation of God, quite distinct from God Himself. In keeping with the rationalistic tendency to assure a pristine monotheism, which dominated medieval Jewish philosophy, this hypostasis, although sharply distinguishable from God, assumes a character that is still a far cry from the Kabbalistic understanding of it. All philosophers, from Saadiah Gaon through Judah Halevi to Maimonides, unanimously agree that the Shekhinah, which is for them identical with the biblical concept of God's glory, is a freely willed creation of God's. Even if it is His first creation, and far more sublime than any grossly material creation, as a created being it has no part in the divine essence or unity. The divine glory is a Ctcreated form" made by the Creator in order
that this light would give his prophet the assurance of the authen ticity of what has been revealed to him ... it is a more sublime form than that of the angels, more enormous in its creation, bearing splendor and light, and is called "the Kavod of God" [in the Bible] ... and Shekhinah in the rabbinic tradition."
Henceforth, as has been correctly stated,'o this theory constituted a basic tenet of the philosophical exegesis of the Bible. This primordial light is explicitly defined as the first of all created things by judah ben Barzillai al-Bargeloni, writing shortly before the emergence of the early Kabbalah in Provence. He states: When the thought arose in God of creating a world, He first created the Holy Spirit, to be a sign of His divinity, which was seen by the prophets and the angels. And He created the image of the Throne of His Glory, to be a throne for the Holy Spirit, called the Glory of our God, which is a radiant brilliance and a great light that shines upon all His other creatures. And that great light is called the Glory of our God, blessed be His Name.... And the Sages call this great light Shekhinah.... And no creature can behold this great light in its primal existence, whether an angel or a seraph or a prophet, because of its great power at the beginning. And were a prophet to behold it, his soul would immediately separate itself from his body and he would die.... For any "seeing" that is spoken of regarding an angel or a prophet, concerning this created light that the Holy One blessed be He created, that he showed to the angels or prophets, refers to the Holy One blessed be He showing them the end [or "back"] of that light to whom He wishes, but no man can see the beginning of the primordial light and the content of his glory and the image of his brilliance." judah Halevi likewise believes that the Shekhinah (i.e., the divine glory) is a "fine substance that follows the will of God, assuming any form God wishes to show to the prophet," and therefore ipso facto creaturely."
Maimonides likewise speaks of the Shekhinah as the "created light, that God caused to descend in a particular place in order to confer honor upon it in a miraculous way." " These respected authors could hardly have ignored the fact that this conception of the Shekhinah as a being completely separate from God was entirely alien to the talmudic texts, and could only be made compatible with them by means of extremely forced interpretation of these texts. Nevertheless, these philosophers preferred "cutting the Gordian knot" in this way rather than endanger the purity of monotheistic belief by recognizing an uncreated hypostasis. Nevertheless-with the exception of judah ben Barzillai - these philosophers avoided applying their new principle to concrete exegesis of talmudic passages about the Shekhinah. As for the female character of the Shekhinah, nowhere do they say anything about it. The Kabbalists never tired subsequently of protesting against this philosophical doctrine of the Shekhinah.
Even Abraham Miguel Cardozo, the great representative of the heretical Sabbatian Kabbalah, rebukes the Jewish philosophers soundly; he says that when the Messiah comes, they will be made to answer for this theory, which obscured or even ruined true knowledge of God during the time of Exile by separating the Shekhinah from the realm of the Godhead! Another passage from a very late midrash indicates that such a division between God and the Shekhinah was envisaged in southem France during the eleventh century, long before the emergence of the Kabbalah. This midrash, which has been overlooked in earlier discussions of the subject, appears in Bereshith Rabbati by R. Moses ha-Darshan of Narbonne: "Rabbi Akiva said: When the Holy One blessed be He contemplated the deeds of the generation [of Enoch] and saw that they were corrupt and evil, He withdrew Himself and His Shekhinah from their midst." " This is a nearly verbatim paraphrase of a passage from the pseudepigraphic Othioth deRabbi 'Akiva, which says only, "I removed my Shekhinah from among them." " Clearly, for the later vvfiter it is possible to distinguish between God's Self and His Shekhinah. This is consistent with the above-mentioned midrash on Proverbs. However, the source of Moses ha-Darshaes statement may be Oriental, as indicated by the late addendum to Othioth deRabbi cakiva. In this addendum, which most likely also derives from the Orient, we find the same distinction drawn: "At that hour, the Holy One blessed be He looked and beheld His Throne and His Kavod and His Shekhinah. "16 On the other hand, the Rabbi of Narbonne already shows the influence of the philosophical exegesis. In another passage he states that the angels were created from the "brilliance of the Shekhinah. " In the older literature this term appears only in connection with theophanies or eschatological visions; here it is understood as the primal matter of Creation-a reading more consistent with the philosophical speculation that emerged during the ninth and tenth centuries than with the prephilosophical aggadah.
There may be a hint of criticism aimed at the frequency of hypostatizations in the aggadah itself in a passage from the thirteenth-century Yemenite compilation known as Midrash ha-Gadol. The passage, itself relatively late (eighth to tenth century?), reads as follows:
"And they saw the God of Israel . . ." [Exod. 24:10] Rabbi Eleazar said: Whoever translates a verse literally is a liar, and whoever adds to it commits blasphemy. Thus, one who translates the verse, "and they saw the God of Israel" literally is a liar, for the Holy One, blessed be He, sees but is never seen. But one who translates, 'and they saw the glory of the Shekhinah of the God of Israel" blas phemes, for he is constructing here a trinity: the Glory, the She khinah, and God."
The translation of Exodus 24:10 criticized here appears in one of the ancient Palestinian paraphrases, extant in manuscript, the so-called Fragment Targum. 18 The objection to the possible trinitarian exploitation of this paraphrase is admittedly rather farfetched; nevertheless, it is evident from this that such groupings of hypostatized appellatives for God could be regarded as dogmatically questionable, even before the emergence of the Kabbalah. It is also clear that the author of this critique knew nothin 9 of the philosophical downgrading of the Shekhinah to a created being.
The Shekhinah appears in an altogether different light in the earliest sources of the Kabbalah, in which, albeit in a halting and clumsy manner, a new concept of the Godhead begins to be developed. To be sure, this new concept often takes up old themes of the rabbinic tradition, combining them rather peculiarly into a new understanding, reinterpreting them, and placing them in unexpected contexts. The Shekhinah thereby acquires a new meaning, of paramount importance for the vision of the early Kabbalah; here we shall explore at least the essential elements of this new meaning.
It is not merely chance that the clearest contribution to the new understanding of the Shekhinah appears in those texts that contain the most decisive breakthrough of mythical consciousness into the sphere of rabbinic Judaism (albeit in very different ways): namely, Sefer ha-Bahir and Sefer ha-Zohar. The Bahir is a collection of short fragments, remnants, and reworkings of ancient fragments originating in Oriental gnosis, as well as fragments of theosophic aggadah. On the basis of philological analysis, the Bahir can hardly be ascribed to a single author. In the Zohar, on the other hand, we confront a document of an astonishingly personal character. In this book we see the breakthrough of the mythic unconscious in the soul of an author of considerable literary talent; this individual took the esoteric tradition of more than a century of intense Kabbalistic development, recast it in an unusually personal manner, and succeeded in transmitting these very personal images to posterity. Of course, this was possible only because later generations were intrigued by something that so obstinately and resolutely demanded its right to exist within the precincts of Judaism, without relinquishing its own essentially mythical character. The essence of the Kabbalistic idea of God, as we have already stated, lies in its resolutely dynamic conception of the Godhead: God's creative power and vitality develop in an unending movement of His nature, which flows not only outward into Creation but also back into itself. Obviously, a fundamental contradiction was bound to arise between, on the one hand, this dynamic conception, which sought and found God's unity precisely in the secret life of His nature and, on the other hand, the Jewish tradition. After all, God's immutability and "unmovedness" was one of the bases upon which the prophetic perception of God seemed to coincide with the Aristotelian doctrine of the "unmoved Mover." In any event, the concept of an unchanging God had long since enjoyed a position in the foreground of Jewish monotheistic belief, and was particularly accentuated in the rationalistic formulations of Jewish theology by the Jewish-Arabic philosophers. The popular utterances of scholars and pious men, however, did not always meet the rigorous demands of precise formulation, in which there is no room for misunderstanding; on occasion, they even expressed opposition to the severity of this formulation, although this opposition did not take place as part of an explicit and conscious effort to crystallize their views. It was precisely this that made the utterances of the Kabbalists so provocative: they gave shape to all that was nonconformist when speaking about God.
Moreover, during the period of hegemony of Aristotelian philosophy, they did not have at their disposal a conceptual apparatus capable of formulating their intuitions and visions of God. The only language available in this sphere was one that opposed everything the Kabbalists wanted to say. Thus, they often enough found themselves helplessly entangled in a net of contradictions between the rigid and undialectical concepts that they, as men of their time, had to use, and the images and symbols that lived within them, that they had brought to life but could not adequately express in the terminology imposed upon them by their adversaries. Hence, the Kabbalists resorted to the expedient of differentiating between two strata of the Godhead: one, its hidden being-in-itself, its immanence in the depths of its own being; and another, that of its creative and active nature, thrusting outward toward expression. The former is indeed lacking in all motion or change and may be described or, better, circumscribed in negative terms, following the concepts of traditional philosophical theologians.
The other stratum is the dynamic aspect of infinite life, of potencies in which the process of God's creative and world-maintaining activities are realized. The former stratum is designated in the language of the Kabbalists as 'Ein-Sof, the undifferentiated unity, the self-contained Root of Roots in which all contradictions merge and dissolve. The latter stratum is the structure of the ten Sefiroth, which are the sacred names-i.e., the various aspects of God-or the ten words of Creation (logoi) by which everything was created. One can indeed say about this world, in contradiction to the dogmatic dictum of the theologians: "But it does tum!"
"Ein-Sof is only seldom conceived of as energy or power;" It (in the spirit of the Kabbalists, one should use the neuter gender) is purely and simply concealed and transcendent; no statement can be made about It. However, the Sefiroth, while part of the divine essence (albeit as stages of His revelation, aspects of His nature through which He manifests Himself to us), are primarily bearers of His active and creative force. The word "forces" (koah), found so often in Kabbalistic writings, is not to be construed in the sense of the medieval distinction between actus and potentia; the Sefiroth are not merely potentialities, but are real, existence beings. They are hypostases that have become independent; charged with and emanating energy, they empower and advance the process by which God reveals Himself and makes His great name known. In line with this, Sefer ha-Bahir refers to the Sefiroth as "kings," in whom the one and only hidden King manifests Himself; they are also called "voices," through which the one ineffable word, the holy name, spoken not only in the Torah but in all of Creation, is given expression. In this world of Sefiroth, each of which can be viewed as a hypostasis of a particular facet of God, the Shekhinah receives its new meaning as the tenth and final Sefirah.
The crucial factor in its new status is unquestionably its feminine character, which, as mentioned above, is not found in any pre-Kabbalistic source, but which now absorbs everything capable of such an interpretation in biblical and rabbinic literature. This presentation of the Shekhinah as female element-simultaneously mother, bride, and daughter-within the structure of the Godhead constitutes a very meaningful step, with far-reaching consequences, one which the Kabbalists attempted to justify by Gnostic interpretation. It is not surprising that the opponents of Kabbalah reacted to this idea with great suspicion. The enormous popularity enjoyed by this new mythic understanding of the concept is illustrated precisely by the fact that it filtered down in the form of confused, apologetic distortions in which the Shekhinah was identified and compared with the Divine Providence itself This fact is undisputable proof that the Kabbalists here touched upon a fundamental and primal need, uncovering one of the perennial religious images latent in Judaism as well. There are two ways of explaining the emergence of the female Shekhinah. One possibility is that, when these ideas were originally conceived, the final Sefirah was already conceived as a vessel receiving all the other Se roth; it was consequently understood by the Kabbalistic mind as a !fi feminine element, and hence naturally drew to itself the female symbols present in religious language. The other possibility leads us in a different direction. When the medieval Jewish Gnostics took the decisive step of identifying the Shekhinah and Kenesseth Yisra'el-two hypostases that had thus far been distinct in the rabbinic tradition-this necessarily triggered an eruption of the feminine into the sphere of the Godhead; the rest followed automatically. The state of our earliest extant texts does not allow us to choose between these alternatives-if, indeed, these are mutually exclusive. The former view is based upon a psychological assumption that precedes the exegeses in which it is confirmed: namely, that when the image of the Great Mother resurged, it found itself appropriate Jewish symbols. The second alternative, by contrast, takes as its point of departure a certain historical statement: because a powerful national symbol, the Congregation of Israel (Kenesseth Yisra'el), was incorporated within a new, dynamic conception of the Godhead (perhaps as a result of the profound shock caused by the persecutions associated with the Crusades, or perhaps far earlier, under Gnostic influence); and because Kenesseth Yisra'el itself was understood as constituting the body of the Shekhinah, in which and through which the Shekhinah acts and suffers together with the people of Israel (perhaps somewhat parallel to Christianity's notion of the Church as Corpus Christi, the body of Christ) because of these factors, the archetypal, primordial image of the female took shape, its resurgence being rooted in these specific historical experiences. But this explanation presupposes that no vestiges of premedieval Gnostic thinking remain in the pertinent fragments of Bahir-even though such a possibility, as far as I can judge, is imposed upon us by a philological analysis of the work. In any event, Sefer ha-Bahir (and we have no older extant Kabbalistic texts) already contains a crystallized symbolic system. Furthermore, it may well be that there is a basis in historical reality for both explanations, and that they need not exclude one another. Touching upon this topic elsewhere, I have already expressed my doubts as to whether we can say anything meaningful concerning the question as to which of the two factors in the birth of a new conception of the Shekhinah was primary, the historical or the psychological: i.e., the exegetical identification of Kenesseth Yisra'el with the Shekhinah, or the resurgence of the idea of the feminine within the Godhead in the hearts of the earliest Kabbalists. But I must admit that, if we knew more about the historical circumstances of the origins of the Kabbalah, we might have less need of the psychologists, even though their contribution in this area is not to be denigrated. In any event, one may state that the decisive step in the emergence of the Kabbalistic theosophy was the unique intertwining of these two processes.
The character of the Shekhinah as a female principle, as one of the middoth or qualities of God, is entirely consistent in Sefer ha-Bahir, although we cannot expect systematic uniformity among all of the highly disparate fragments scattered throughout the book. In all of the portrayals of the Shekhinah, both direct and in parables, one thing stands out: several of these parables (appearing precisely at the most fundamental points), which seem to be of strikingly Gnostic character, are in fact no more than conscious reworkings of parables found in rabbinic sources, where they appear in utterly innocuous contexts, remote from any Gnosticism. Thus, in an early midrash," we read:
A parable is told about a king who entered a certain land and issued an edict, saying: "Whatever lodgers are staying here may not see my face until they have first seen the face of the Matrona [i.e., the queen]." Likewise, the Holy One blessed be He speaks thus: "Do not bring before Me a sacrifice until one Sabbath has passed."
This parable about the Sabbath," which is also compared to a princess in other texts, appears in a highly interesting passage of the Bahir (S:43; M :63), in which the bride mentioned in the Song of Songs is compared to a "field" and a "chest"-that is, vessels into which the upper Sefiroth flow. She is also the "heart" of the Godhead; the author expounds the numerical value of the Hebrew lev (heart), thirty-two, as corresponding to the thirty-two paths of wisdom with which the world was created, according to Sefer Yetsirah, which tells the following parable in this connection:
This is like a king who was in the innermost chamber of his apart ments, and the number of rooms was thirty-two, and there was a path to every room. Did it behoove the king to allow everyone to enter his rooms by these paths? No! But did it behoove him not to show his pearls and jeweled settings and hidden treasures and beautiful things at all? No! What did the king do? He took his daughter and concentrated all paths in her and in her garments [i.e., her manifestation], and he who wishes to enter the interior must look at her. And she was married to a king, and she was given to him as a gift. At times, in his great love for her, he calls her "my sister," for they come from one place; sometimes he calls her "my daughter," for she is his daughter; and sometimes he calls her "my mother."
The concluding sentence of this interesting passage, which expresses a clear concept of the function of the last Sefirah, is taken from an older midrash, in which the "Community of Israel" is identified with the bride in the Song of Songs:
This is compared to a king who had an only daughter, whom he loved very greatly and would call "my daughter." And he did not leave his love for her until he called her "my sister." And did not leave his love for her until he called her "my mother.""
We find here the most significant imagery of the symbolism of the feminine gathered in one piece. Only one thing is lacking: except for a single passage, (S:90; M:131), Sefer ha-Bahir avoids referring to the daughter as wife. The explicitly sexual sphere of female symbolism is here quite clearly and visibly rejected, certainly not by chance; otherwise, all of the essential motifs are expressed here. The daughter actually has little of her own: she is merely the totality of the paths that lead to her, the vessel that gathers them, the robe on which the jewels appear. But as such, she is the medium through which it is possible to reach the king himself. This "daughter" is clearly identical with the "lower Hokhmah," known in Bahir as "the wisdom of Solomon"; it stands at the end of the divine pleroma, being at once both above and below. All this is clearly stated in another passage (S:44; M:6S):
What wisdom did the Holy One blessed be He give to Solomon? Solomon bore the name of the Holy One, as is said [in the talmudic tradition]: "Every 'Solomon' mentioned in the Song of Songs is holy [i.e., refers to God], save one. The Holy One blessed be He says: "Because your name is like the name of My Glory, I wish to wed my daughter to thee." And is she married? Rather, he gave her to him as a gift, as is written: "And the Lord gave Solomon wisdom" [1 Kings 5:26].
The final Sefirah descends to the earthly realm in the guise of the Shekhinah mentioned in the Talmud and the "Wisdom" of the Bible. She is no longer merely God's presence, but is now a specific factor in His selfmanifestation. A similar line of thought appears in the exegesis of the first letter of the Torah, beth, as a symbol of the lower wisdom:
What is its function? It is comparable to a king who had a daughter who was good and comely, graceful and perfect. And he married her to a prince, and gave her garments and a crown and jewelry and great wealth. Can the king live without his daughter? No! But can he be with her all day long? No! What did he do? He built a window between himself and her, and whenever the daughter needs the father and the father the daughter, they join one another through the window. Of this is it written: "All glorious is the kings daughter within the palace-, her raiment is interwoven with gold" [Ps. 45:14]."
The kings daughter here dwells below, in the corporeal world, but remains connected with her father by means of a "window." What she has is "within," deriving from the upper world and fundamentally within it. In brief, what characterizes the Shekhinah is her transitional position between transcendence and immanence. Here, as in the previously mentioned passages, she has purely feminine characteristics, and must be adomed and presented with gifts in order to have something of her own. Our author is fond of this image of gifts of jewelry and wealth, to which he retums repeatedly rather than employ images of conjugality and impregnation. Nevertheless, the Shekhinah is not always thought of as purely receptive and passive. This comes out very clearly in the one passage in the Bahir where she appears as a "king":
He was asked by his disciples: What does the letter dalet mean? He replied with a parable: There were once ten kings in a certain place, all of whom were rich; but one of them was not so rich as the others. Hence, even though his wealth was great, he was called poor (dal) in relation to the others. [S:19; M:27]
The Shekhinah is not utterly poor and destitute; she has some wealth, a positive strength of her own. The problem raised here concerns the relationship between active and passive elements in the Shekhinah-a problem that was henceforth to occupy the Kabbalists for quite some timeas we shall see, for a long time. Sefer ha-Bahir never defines the nature of this positive property of the Shekhinah. In some fragments, which may come from a different source-stratum of the Kabbalah, the passive, receptive quality is so strongly emphasized that the question does not even arise. The significant point for our discussion is that the kings daughter, in those Bahir fragments that seem to be the oldest, occupies a position analogous to that of the "soul" in Gnostic thought. What the Gnostics say about psyche is stated in the Bahir about the Shekhinah. In one very strange passage (S:36; M:53), we can even find some traces of this Gnostic connection, which does not really fit later Kabbalistic doctrine:
Why is it called zahav [gold]? Because it includes three principles the male, which is [the letter] zayin; the soul, which is [the letter] heh ... and [the letter] beth is their existence, as is said, "In the beginning God created . . ." [Gen. 1: I ].
The unified existence of both letters within the letter beth-which is the first letter of the Torah-is clearly understood here as the union of male and female, which is evidently regarded here as the primal act of Creation. While in the very next passage (already discussed above) the female principle is clearly designated as the princess, in the present text the "soul" appears instead of the princess! We find other Gnostic themes parallel to this passage, in which images of the psyche are applied to the Shekhinah. In this context the most interesting, and oddest, fragment is probably Bahir, S:90 (M::130-133, with corrections based upon MS. Miinchen 209), containing three parables I would like to quote in extenso:
What is meant by "The whole earth is full of His glory" [Isa. 6:3]? That the entire land lerets; also "earth"] that was created on the first day, which corresponds above to the Land of Israel, is full of the glory of God. And what is it [this earth or this glory]? Wisdom, of which it is written, "The wise shall inherit honor" [or "glory"; Prov. 3:35]; and it is also said: "Blessed be the glory of the Lord from His place" [Ezek. 3:12]. And what is "the glory of the Lord"? A parable: This matter is comparable to a king in whose room the queen was, and all his hosts delighted in her, and she had sons, who came every day to see the king and who blessed him. They said to him: "Where is our mother?" He said to them: "You cannot see her now." They said: "Blessings to her, wherever she is!" And what is meant by "from His place"? Because there is no one who knows His place. A parable: There was a kings daughter who came from a faraway place and no one knew whence she had come, until they saw that she was capable, beautiful, and excellent in everything she did. They then said: "She is certainly taken from the form of light [or "the side of light"], as her deeds brighten the world. They asked her: "From whence have you come?" She said: "From my place." They said: "If so, the people of her place must be great. Blessed be she and blessed be her place!" But is not this glory of the Lord one of His hosts? Did He not take it away from them? Why then do we praise it [as if it were something separate or distinct]?4' A parable: This is comparable to a man who had a beautiful garden and, outside of the garden, close to it, a stretch of good field. He made a beautiful garden therein, watering the garden first, so that the water spread over the entire garden, but not over that stretch of field, which was not adjacent, even though it was all one. Therefore, he opened a place for it and watered it separately.
This passage, with its almost palpably Gnostic language, is surely one of the most suggestive and revealing fragments for understanding the change wrought by Kabbalah in the concept of the Shekhinah. If we connect this passage with those quoted above, we find that the Bahir quite directly identifies the divine glory, the Kavod, with the "lower wisdom," which is identical to the "supernal earth"-that is, the Shekhinah, which is at the border of the supernal world. It is at once hidden and visible, according to the phases and stages of its appearance. Only once in the Bahir (S:139; M:198) is the Shekhinah represented by lunar symbolism; in the present passage this situation is illustrated by other images, as in the first parable above, in which she is manifest as a queen, matroni.tha, who is hidden in her apartments and whom everyone nevertheless seeks. Yet she is also the daughter of the king, come to our world as a strange guest from a faraway place. She comes from the place of light or even, as the strange variant puts it, from the "form of light she was taken." She shines her light into the lower world and even dwells within it. Sefer ha Bahir does not call this an exile of the Shekhinah-such a notion is not really developed in this book-but rather seems to imply that it is her destiny to dwell in the lower realms. Another passage (S:97-98; M:147) states that the Shekhinah is the principle or essence of this world, and that it is "the brilliance taken from the primal light," which is "the good light stored away for the righteous." God has taken this brilliance and "incorporated within it the thirty-two paths of wisdom, and given them to this world." Thus, the secret law of the Shekhinah, which is equated with the Oral Law-that is, the mystical substance of tradition-rules in this world. The third parable defines the Shekhinah's status through the paradox of the piece of field that is not contingent to the garden-i.e., the other Sefiroth or plantings of God-"even though everything is one." The last Sefirah performs a different function from all the other Sefiroth: it is one with all the others and yet separate, because it performs a mission on their behalf to the world, like a princess coming from afar.
One cannot help but recall the Gnostic hymns about the bride who is "the daughter of light, upon whom rises the radiance of kings, whose appearance is sublime and filled with charm and grace, and who is adomed with the beauty of purity," 16 or of the other hymn that became famous as the "Song of the Soul." Is it not astonishing that the "daughter of light," in the Gnostic bridal hymn about Wisdom, is likewise praised with thirtytwo potencies"-even if she did not originally contain the thirty-two within herself? And does it not give us food for thought to find that in Syrian Gnosticism the "daughter of light" is the second, lower wisdom, at the edge of the pleroma (the realm of "fullness" of the aeons), just as in Sefer ha-Bahir the daughter is the lower wisdom, the "wisdom of Solomon," which has emanated from the supemal Sophia, the "Wisdom of God"?"
Moreover, just as in Syrian and Armenian reworkings of these Gnostic hymns this Wisdom is associated with the Church, in early Kabbalah we find a similar process, whereby the "wisdom of Solomon" or lower wisdom is identified with Kenesseth Yisrael and the Shekhinah. The "daughter" is likewise the blessing that God has sent into the world. Particularly interesting is the passage in which this idea is proposed, through means of the conscious and deliberate transfer into the symbolic realm of an aggadah that is in no way Gnostic. In a rather bizarre talmudic passage it states that "Abraham had a daughter, whose name was Ba-kol (literally, "in everything" or "with everything')." In the wake of this dictum the Bahir states:
[God] said: What shall I give him [Abraham] or what shall I do for him? I have made a lovely vessel, which contains precious jewels that are unparalleled, and are the gem of Kings.'o I will give it to him, so that he may own it rather than I. Of this it is written, "And God blessed Abraham with everything" [Gen. 24:1]. [Bahir, S 52; M 78, with corrections based upon MS. Miinchen]
The Bahir has no doubts as to the essentially female nature of the Shekhinah; only rarely does it use neuter symbols for the Shekhinah. Its femininity is emphatically illustrated in a parable contrasting it with the masculine character of the other Sefiroth:
This is compared to a king who wished to plant nine male trees in his garden, all of which were palm trees. He said: "If they are all of the same gender, they cannot survive." What did he do? He planted an ethrog among them, among the nine that he had planned to be male. And what is an ethrog? An ethrog is female. (S:l17; M:172)
We must emphasize one other element, which goes beyond what we have thus far seen conceming the symbolism of the tenth Sefirah: namely, the inner dynamics of the Sefiroth within themselves. The Bahir speaks, not only of the downward movement of the Shekhinah in its mission to earthly beings as Wisdom and daughter, but also of its upward movement. In an extremely bizarre parable in S:1O1 (M:152), we read:
This is compared to a king, who had a beautiful and fragrant vessel, which he loved very much. Sometimes he placed it on his head, that is, as the tefillin of one's head; sometimes he placed it on his arm, as the knot of the tefillin of one's arm; sometimes he loaned it to his son, that he might sit with it; and sometimes it was called his throne.
Even stranger-albeit instructive for the Gnostic character of these fragments-is the interpretation of one of the signs used for scriptural cantillation, the zarka, as a symbol for the Shekhinah:
What is the meaning of the zarka? It is like [the literal meaning] of its name, that it is "thrown" or "hurled" (nizrak). Like a thing that is hurled, and thereafter there comes the wealth of the kings and nations. [Bahir, S:61; M:89]
But this precious stone is not only thrown to the earth among the people" who have cast it aside and rejected it (in the sense of "the stone which the builders rejected" [Ps. 118:22] );12 it also keeps "rising up to the very heights" (presumably during Israel's prayer, although this is not stated clearly). Indeed, "it rises to that place from whence it was hewn"-that is, to the primal light of the supernal wisdom, from whence the Shekhinah emanated, if not to the place of the first Sefirah itself. Thus, we already find here the theme of the internal dynamics within the world of the Sefiroth, where the lowest Sefirah can rise up to the highest. Within the Godhead, there takes place a secret movement upward no less than downward, and it is the Shekhinah in particular that is the instrument of that motion. But this ascent-in which that entity that exists on the border of the Godhead, on the verge of being hurled or rejected, is accepted and absorbed into the upmost reaches-is never viewed in Sefer ha-Bahir as a sacred marriage. At this stage Kabbalistic symbolism had not yet advanced that far-or should I say: retumed full circle! To be sure, male and female are united in both the earthly and the celestial form of the human being (S:116; M:172), but no conclusions are drawn here from this. The interdependence of male and female is alluded to in at most indirect hints (as in S:57-58; M:84-85). However, the Bahir's restraint regarding this subject contrasts sharply with the extravagant sexual symbolism of the Zohar, to which we shall address ourselves below. I have attempted to summarize and analyze here in some detail the premise notions about the tenth Sefirah found in Sefer ha-Bahir, due to the fundamental importance of this text as the earliest presentation of the ideas of this new school. Its true innovation lies in the fact that the Shekhinah no longer appears only in relation to the world and to the Jewish people-i.e., to created things-which was the only way in which it could be discussed in the earlier stages of development of this concept. In the Bahir, on the other hand, we find the first statements that portray the Shekhinah in the opposite direction-i.e., in the relation to God. The images used for this relationship in the Bahir appear in all their original freshness, whether they were taken from the legacy of Gnostic speculation in late antiquity or whether they took shape in the course of the creative reflection of anonymous Jewish God-seekers of the twelfth century upon the meaning of the images of their own tradition. But whatever its historical origins, the breakthrough of a new attitude in terms of contents is heralded here and virtually takes place before our very eyes. What is most astounding about this attitude is the unabashed self-assurance with which this symbolism appears in the spiritual milieu of the twelfth century, within which this text must have been redacted in its extant form.
But we have thus far not yet discussed a subject that is essential for our understanding of the Kabbalistic notion of the Shekhinah from the early thirteenth century onward, one that, regarding a crucial point, goes beyond what has already been said-namely, the role of the Shekhinah as a mythical hypostasis of the divine immanence in the world. It was not for naught that the Kabbalists termed this phenomenon ba-kol ("in everything"). Its feminine character is marked from the outset by strongly passive and receptive traits, and it was not difficult to make the step from the intellectual world of the Bahir to a much more decisive theoretical fon-nulation of this concept. Indeed, Spanish Kabbalah took such a step from an early date, certainly no later than 1200. Nowhere in the Bahir itself is it stated explicitly that the nine upper Sefiroth only operate in Creation through the intermediacy of the last Sefirah, that these potencies manifest themselves exclusively in this medium, and that they thereby permeate the purely receptive nature of the Shekhinah with their active drives. While these ideas are implied in some of the Bahir fragments discussed here, they were not clearly fon-nulated. By contrast, they were clearly and explicitly stated in the subsequent literature, even prior to the Zohar, which received these views from that tradition. This is illustrated, for example, in a very widely known text on the ten Sefiroth from the school of R. Moses Nahmanides of Gerona (1194 - 1270)-one which indicates to what extent the colorful tone introduced by the Zohar into the image of the Shekhinah is still lacking here. For instance, the last Sefirah is described as follows:" The tenth Sefirah, called Shekhinah, is the crown. It receives from Yesod [the ninth Sefirahl, and is alluded to in the language of nun [i.e., the feminine]." And it is [i.e., symbolized by] this world, for the guidance of this world is affected by [the pleroma] that comes to it from the zayin [i.e., the seven upper Sefiroth].... And it is called "angel" and "the angel of God"" . . . for kingship [should read "angelic being"] flows from it. And it is called Beth-El [House of God], because it is the house of prayer; and it is the bride of the Song of Songs, who is called "daughter" and "sister"; and it is Ke nesseth Yisrael [literally, "Gathering of Israel"], in which everything is ingathered." It is the supernal Jerusalem, and in prayers it is known as Zion [i.e., depiction, representation, emergence], for it is that in which all potencies are represented. ... All prohibitions of the Torah are rooted in it ... therefore women are obligated to observe the negative commandments, for they derive from the same source.
The point of departure for the Zoharic images of the common origin of the "etemal feminine" is already formulated here. In a recurrent pun on the Hebrew root kalail the Shekhinah is called kalah ha-kelulah min hakol, "the bride incorporated from everything," who has no specific, positive potency of her own, beyond that from which she is constituted and with which she is crowned. (Kalal is likewise related to "crown," as well as to "nuptials/bride" and "all.") She is herself a pure "receptacle" (keli, often linked to the root kalal in a mystical etymology). But this is not all that the Kabbalists have to say about the Shekhinah within the world of the ten Sefiroth. In their consciousness the Shekhinah was split into two potencies; this division has a very precise meaning in the dynamic understanding of the structure of the Sefirotic world, as elaborated more and more clearly and fully in thirteenth-century Kabbalah. In the following discussion we will attempt to determine the meaning of this split.
Although the Kabbalists claimed that this split is already clearly stated in the Bahir, this is by no means certain. The crucial sentence regarding this matter is subject to quite a different interpretation.
The disciples asked him [their teacher]: "We know [the order of the Sefiroth] from above to below, but we do not know from below to above." . . . He sat and expounded to them: The Shekhinah is below as it is above. And what is this Shekhinah? Let us say that it is the light that has emanated from the Primal Light, which is Hokh mah. And this [i.e., the emanated light] likewise surrounds every thing, as is written, "the whole earth is filled with His glory" [Isa. 6:3]. And what does it do here? It is comparable to a king who had seven sons, and assigned to each one of them his place. He said to them: "Dwell one above the other." The lowest one said: "I do not wish to live below and do not wish to be remote from you." He said to them: "Behold, I go about and see you every day." This is, "The whole earth is filled with His glory." And why does He dwell among them? To maintain them and to sustain them. [Bahir S:116; M:171]
Scholars have always overlooked the fact that the first sentence in this fragment is none other than a quotation from an ancient cosmogonic midrash of the taimudic esoterics: "Just as His Shekhinah is above, so too is it below." " That is, the same Shekhinah that appears in the transcendent world of the throne and the Merkavah is likewise that which fills the lower world. The sequel to the above-cited passage indicates that the Bahir also understood this sentence in that way, for only one Shekhinah is discussed. Unquestionably, however, the sentence could also be explained contrary to its original meaning: there is a Shekhinah above just as there is a Shekhinah below-that is, there are two manifestations of the Shekhinah. Such a reading of course presupposes that the image of a double Shekhinah, split into an upper and lower potency, was already present in the reader's mind. The assumption that this misunderstanding originally stemmed from an erroneous reading of the sentence strikes me as too simplistic and superficial, particularly in light of the parallel material in the history of religions on the doubling of female potencies.
When did this change of interpretation take place? It appears, at the very latest, in a different stratum of the Bahir itself In a certain passage (S:74; M:104-105), the third Sefirah, known among the Kabbalists as Binah-and not the tenth-is unmistakably construed as "Mother of the Universe" and "[the divine] glory." The seven Sefiroth are her children; characteristically, the book does not state that she gave birth to them, but that they were "the sons which she raised." The third Sefirah, like the tenth, is known by the appellation of "glory," a title born by no other Sefirah in the Bahir. Compare with this the loose usage of many Spanish Kabbalists, who refer to all of the Sefiroth as God's Kavod, His glory, and do not use it specifically of the Shekhinah. From the early thirteenth century, we find the two terms "upper Shekhinah" and "lower Shekhinah" used in a fixed, regular way.6' This Kabbalistic distinction is not to be identified with the twofold Sophia or Wisdom; supernal wisdom is the second Sefirah, Hokhmah, whose being in tum derives from the divine nothing or Ennoia, the uppermost Sefirah, whereas the upper Shekhinah is identified with Binah, in which the undifferentiated divine wisdom is made distinct and is separated out. In this respect, Gnostic and Kabbalistic symbolism widely diverge. What is the meaning of this double Shekhinah within the framework of the dynamic unity of divine manifestations and emanations? Two conceptions of the principle of femininity are realized and expressed in these images.
As the upper Shekhinah of the Sefirah of Binah, femininity is the full expression of ceaseless creative power-it is receptive, to be sure, but is spontaneously and incessantly transformed into an element that gives birth, as the stream of etemally flowing divine life enters into it. One might almost say, to use the terms of Indian religion, that the upper Shekhinah is the Shakti of the latent God; it is entirely active energy, in which what is concealed within God is externalized. In the division of the Sefirotic world into the three upper and seven lower Sefiroth-a division generally accepted since Sefer ha-Bahir-the upper Shekhinah stands at the edge of the seven Sefiroth or seven primal days, emitting them from herself and realizing her strength in them (this is the inner, theogonic side of Creation!). In the same way, the lower Shekhinah stands at the edge of the external Creation, formed during the temporal seven days of Creation.
Insofar as each of the two Shekhinahs is, so to speak, the "mother" of one of the two aspects of the process of God's self-manifestation or extemalization (the esoteric and exoteric aspects, respectively), the two necessarily share many features in terms of this structure. But the difference between them is equally plain. The process of emanation, through which the Kabbalists represented their conception of God as an expanding life (one doubts whether the Neoplatonic image of emanation adequately expresses their actual intention), achieves its richest expression in Binah, the "upper mother," while it ends in the "lower mother," the final Sefirah. That which flows out of Binah still belongs to the realm of Godhead, and is identical with God in His unfolding oneness. But this is not true of the lower Shekhinah: the divine potency in all its purity flows from it only back into itself; what emerges from the lower Shekhinah is no longer God, but Creation. This Sefirah can only receive the Divine, not transmit it. Thus, the active side of the female energy in God, the strength by which He eternally gives birth to Himself and emerges in His attributes as a personal God, is realized in the upper Shekhinah, while the passive side is realized as the lower Shekhinah.
This lower Shekhinah is designated as Malkhuth, "the Kingdom"-i.e., God's dominion or power in the world. This term, based upon judah Halevi's Kuzari (II, 7, and IV, 3), became generally accepted from the time of its earliest appearance, shortly after the redaction of the Bahir, apparently in the writings of R. Isaac the Blind and his circle. This dominion is symbolically represented by the body of Kenesseth Yisrael-"Israel forms the limbs of the Shekhinah, " says a later popular Kabbalistic epigram .63 But although the lower Shekhinah is Malkhuth, it is no longer the king of this realm. The upper Shekhinah, in contrast, is often viewed as "king," even in Sefer ha-Zohar.' The divine potency transmitted by the upper Shekhinah to the other Sefiroth is of the same nature as that which it receives, but that which Malkhuth transmits to the lower world is of an entirely different, lower rank than that which it receives. The lower Shekhinah is "a mirror that is not transparent," in which the abundant flow of divine light is broken and reflected; it is precisely this refraction that here becomes the Creation. Hence, the Spanish Kabbalah frequently refers to the Shekhinah, in one of its two aspects, by the name Yotser Bereshith, Creator or Demiurge.
This male symbol represents that aspect of the feminine that is in principle denied to the lower Shekhinah. Hence, the upper Shekhinah is also known as "the Source of Life" and the "World to Come" (which is the true dimension of bliss in the Kabbalah), as well as "Return" (Teshuvah), because everything that began in it retums to it at the end-either because its energy has been fully consumed, or because the Creator, who radiated this energy, takes it back to Himself.66 In addition to these symbols, which allude to the eschaton, the Shekhinah is also explicitly described as the sphere of redemption.
As the lower mother, the Shekhinah is present in the cosmos in the work of Creation; as the upper mother, it constitutes the opportunity for the redemption of the world. In Kabbalistic terms, that place where Creation began as a process within God Himself is identical with the site of redemption and atonement. These ideas developed with particular vitality out of a Jewish consciousness and Jewish material, especially in R. Joseph Gikatilla's Sha'arei Orah ;61 it would be incorrect to seek specifically Christian elements here. But the idea of the lower Shekhinah is presented in the Kabbalah in an altogether different way. Symbols of abundance, fullness, and richness give way to symbols of deficiency and poverty. Already in the writings of the Kabbalistic school of Gerona, and more emphatically in the Zohar itself, the notion of the passive nature of the tenth Sefirah predominates. Night, moon, earth, dryness, the sabbatical year (i.e., of fallowness), gate, door-these are just a few of the most popular designations for the lower Shekhinah. It is described as a garden in which all plantings grow, as a pool fed by springs, as a sea into which the rivers flow, as a shrine and treasure-house in which the treasures of life and all the secrets of the Torah are kept-in these and a hundred other images, the lower Shekhinah is portrayed as the receptacle for all those potencies that combine within it to produce its positive form.
"And all the candies [i.e., the Sefirothl shine, and the lights are drawn and illuminate and join with one another, until the countenance of the Community of Israel is illuminated" (Zohar, 11, 232b). In contrast to the third Sefirah, one can imagine a state in which these lights will not light up at all in the Shekhinah, or only to a limited extent. The Shekhinah, one might say, is not itself the force, but rather the means of transmitting the force or the field in which the force spreads. I would like to quote in extenso a passage from R. Joseph Gikatilla's Shacarei Orah, in which he describes the Shekhinah as the principle of perfection and unity in Creation before these were damaged by human sin but also as the object of the efforts of the patriarchs and of Israel to restore the lost harmony :61
At times, this middah (attribute or quality) is called Shekhinah, for it has dwelt constantly with Israel since the making of the mishkan [Tent of Meeting], as it is written, "and let them make Me a sanc tuary, that I may dwell among them" [Exod. 25:81. Now take note of a great principle: know that in the beginning of the Creation of the world, the Shekhinah was primarily with the lower ones, for the order of all creatures was arranged according to the hierarchy of the grades [ma'aloth; synonym for Sefiroth ]-the higher ones with the higher, and the lower ones with the lower.
Hence, the Shekhinah dwelt with the lower ones [i.e., in the earthly world]; and so long as the Shekhinah was below, heaven and earth were one. And this is what is meant by the verse: "And the heaven and the earth were finished, and all the host of them" [Gen. 2:1]-that they were completed and fulfilled from one another, and the channels and sources [through which the cosmic effects of the Sefiroth flow down] operated harmoniously and emanated from above to below, so that God, may He be blessed, filled everything from above to below. And this is alluded to in the verse, "the Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool" [Isa. 66:1]-that God dwells in a state of even mediation between the upper ones and the lower ones. But when Adam came and sinned, the ranks were disrupted, the chan nels were shattered and the pools [of blessing] were cut off. There upon the Shekhinah withdrew and the bond [connecting all things] became undone. Then Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of blessed mem ory, came and began to draw the Shekhinah back down again, and they prepared for it three thrones and drew it down somewhat, and they made their bodies into thrones for the Shekhinah. But the Shekhinah did not come down to a fixed dwelling on earth, but only to a temporary one, and it dwelled upon them [the Patriarchs]. And the allusion to this is: "and God went up from Abraham" [Gen. 17:22]-that is, from upon Abraham, literally. And conceming Ja cob it says, "and God went up from him" [Gen. 35:13]. And con ceming this is it written, "the Patriarchs are the Merkavah [the chariot of God]. 1170 Thus, in their days the Shekhinah was in suspenso [literally, "hanging in air"], and found no resting place for its feet on earth, as in the beginning of Creation. But then came Moses, of blessed memory, and all of Israel together with him built the Tab emacle and the vessels, and repaired the broken channels, and put the ranks in order, and repaired the ponds, and drew live water into them from the House of Water Drawing, and then brought the Shekhinah back to its dwelling among the lower ones-into the Tent, but not upon the ground as in the beginning of Creation. And the hint of this is: "Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them" [Exod. 25:81. We find that the Shekhinah was like a guest, moving from place to place, and of this it said "and I shall dwell among them" and not "I shall dwell below" but "among them"-i.e., like a lodger. Until David and Solomon came, and placed the Shekhinah on solid ground in the Temple of Jerusalem.
Another element, which emerged only after the Bahir, is asserted emphatically and clearly in the Spanish Kabbalah and the Zohar: namely, the thesis that the form of each and every individual thing is preformed in the Shekhinah. This idea has two facets, which by no means always occur together. On the one hand, the Sefiroth first receive their various potencies and shapes in the Shekhinah; prior to their appearance within the upper or lower Shekhinah, they have no shape of their own. On the other hand, this implies, not only that all things in the creaturely world obtain their form from the Shekhinah, insofar as it exerts a formative power upon every created thing, but that they already have this form while they are in the Shekhinah, insofar as they are constituted and prefigured in it. Thus, in an early text (ca. 1250) containing a peculiar blend of Gnostic and Neoplatonic elements, we read:
This is the potency of the Shekhinah, which receives all things, in that they enter it shapeless, but emerge from it with [differentiated] matter and image and shape. And that is the [meaning of] the term ,,image" (demuth)-it is like a coin or a seal or a vessel which cor rects [other version: "receives"] form, for it is inconceivable that there be divine matter without Shekhinah."
However, further on in this small book there is no fixed order given for the Sefiroth, and it speaks of an order of a different kind-one in which the power of the Shekhinah is located on the "throne," in which "the Glory of the Omnipresent dwells in its midst and dwells within it." lt is quite understandable that this act of individuation would take place in the upper Shekhinah. Here the transition occurs from the shapelessness of Hokhmah, which is called (in a play of words) Koah Mah -that is, the potency of everything that can come into existence-to the individuation and differentiation of all being in Binah, the upper Shekhinah. Indeed, this view is already described in a number of writings of the Kabbalists of Gerona, but the process of individuation is shifted, in the Zohar and later Kabbalah, to the lower Shekhinah. It is designated there as "the form that embraces all forms," in which each specific form is already prefigured in its specific individuality, just as it takes in and manifests all possible forms of those Sefiroth that are above it. Later Kabbalists, such as 71
R. Meir ibn Gabbai, tried to define more precisely how the individual nature of each thing can be understood within the Shekhinah as the "will of the motion," as the driving element that seeks expression in the process of Creation. This idea was expressed differently in the motif of the garments of the Shekhinah. All of God's creatures are prefigured in the garments of the Shekhinah; hence, when He directs the world, He looks upon the creatures, not in Himself, but rather their prefigurations in the garments of the Shekhinah:
The Shekhinah is the form of the upper and lower beings; all of the shapes of the Sefiroth and all their names are formed within it, and all the souls and angels and holy beings are engraved in it.... How does one engrave upon it the lower forms, which do not belong to its reality? This is compared to a king, who dwells in his palace, and various people come to see him. There are those who look upon his garment, those who look at his body, and those who look at his deeds. It is certainly clear from his deeds that he is king, for he makes several changes in his garments: the garments he wears in the morning he does not wear in the evening, and the garments that he wears one day he does not wear another day... Likewise the Shekhinah: how many garments she has, from which the Holy One blessed be He has created thrones, angels, hayyoth and serafim, and heaven and earth and all that He created within them. And all of the creatures that he made from these garments of hers, he has listed them all and engraved them upon his garment.... And it is the image of all, and within it the Holy One blessed be He, who is YHVH, gives light, like the soul to the body. Within all is found He that grasps all and connects all and who is not alluded to in any way [i.e., the 'Ein-Sojl. For everything is hinted at in the Shekhinah, who is dressed in the garments on which are drawn all created things, and it is called by all their names."
In this all-embracing symbolism, the Shekhinah fully represents the animation of the concealed divine life. In the course of this development the image of the Shekhinah is also associated with the mystical theory of language, so crucial to the Kabbalah in general. God's creative energy manifests itself in His word, by means of which, according to the Psalmist, "the heavens were made" (Ps. 33:6). The divine "word,' in its development and individuation from innermost thought to verbal articulation is, for the Kabbalist, the medium by which the divine energy operates. Indeed, the world of divine potencies is symbolically expressed, above all, in the world of language. According to an oft-quoted mishnah (Tractate Avot), the world was created by means of ten "words" (ma'amarot) or logoi; subsequently, the doctrine of the Sefiroth made these ten words into semi-independent, creative primal words in which all active energy was concentrated. But this divine word is not only a one-time manifestation of creative power, which thereafter withdrew from the created world into itself On the contrary, it is present in all that is real, and resides within all things as a perpetual or renewing force. While the Zohar interprets every act of divine "speech" as an act of the Sefiroth, although not necessarily of the Shekhinah, there were contemporary works that qualified this position: every act of Divine speech indicates an act of the Shekhinah." The Zohar refers this to the upper Shekhinah (i.e., its active aspect); in a passage using the symbolism of the mother, it offers the following interpretation of Genesis 1:3, the first verse in the Torah in which God's speech is mentioned: Hitherto, everything hung in the air, in the secret of 'Ein-Sof. But as soon as the energy permeated the Upper Palace [the womb of the upper mother, Binah], which has the secret name 'Elohim, speech is mentioned: "and 'Elohim spoke"-for the tenn "speak ing" is not previously employed. Even though the first word of the Torah, Bereshith ("in the beginning") is a logos, it does not say there, "and He spoke." "He spoke" indicates the level where He asked and wished to know. "He spoke"-a separate potency; this sepa ration was done covertly, through the mystery of 'Ein-Sof within the mystery of divine thought [of the beginning of Creation]. "And God spoke"-now that "Palace" [i.e., the upper Shekhinahl gave birth, impregnated by the holy seed, and it gave birth in secret, that it not be heard at all. Once it was bom, a voice is heard that is audible on the outside. (Zohar, 1, 16b) Hence, Binah, the upper mother, spoke in Creation, in the process of emanation whereby the inner world of the Godhead is brought forth and expressed as an active force. This force, however, is gathered and concentrated in the lower Shekhinah, which carries it down in the form of the living divine "word" that pen-neates and vivifies all of the worlds that are outside of the Godhead. In this sense the Kabbalists of the thirteenth century, and first and foremost Nahmanides, were correct in identifying this notion of the Shekhinah with the memra-the paraphrase used in the Targumim, the Aramaic Bible translations, to refer to God's word." The memra is not merely a linguistic device for overcoming the problem of biblical anthropomorphisms; it has theological significance in its own right. The memra, like the Shekhinah, is, as Abelson correctly puts it, "a world-permeating force, a reality in the world of matter or mind, the immanent aspect of God, holding all things under its omnipresent sway."
What is the precise contribution of the Zohar to the conception of the Shekhinah? What new things does it have to say, beyond what we already know from other early Kabbalistic books? In general, one might say that post-Rahir Kabbalistic literature still vacillated between an impersonal image of the Shekhinah as a divine attribute-albeit one that was portrayed as an independent image-and a strongly personal conception, as was characteristic of the older hypostases such as the divine word, wisdom, compassion, etc. Many thirteenth-century authors were reluctant to go so far in personalizing the conception of the Shekhinah, and they greatly toned down, obscured, or even totally omitted such a conception.
The opposite is the case in the Zohar, where the personal elements in the image of the Shekhinah come decisively to the fore. If we compare those passages that speak more vaguely about the attributes of the Shekhinah with those that develop its description as a persona, at times almost ad absurdum, we find that the latter group displays a far more powerful imagery. The number of passages in which the Zohar deals with the Shekhinah and its symbols is enormous and, if examined in detail, would yield a great deal for our study. Two points ought to be emphasized here, where we are concerned with elucidating the basic lines of development of this conception: namely, the sexual symbolism of the Shekhinah, and the emphasis on its dark and destructive aspects. These features are important precisely because they derive from the depths of R. Moses de [email protected] personality, and may shed light upon the world of imagery in which this author lived. Nothing prefiguring these notions in older Kabbalistic literature even remotely approaches the power and vitality with which these notions repeatedly occur at the center of the Zoharic discussions. A further element ought to be mentioned: the return of active and, in Kabbalistic tenns, masculine aspects even in the lower Shekhinah, which had previously been seen as quintessentially feminine. When the Zohar speaks of the Shekhinah as feminine-it quite frequently uses the term 'alma de-nukva, "the world of the female," in this connection-this is more than a mere circumlocution for the passive and receptive element among the divine attributes. Of course, the very statement that God, who is pure activity and positivity, could have a negative and passive side is itself extremely unorthodox. But the author of the Zohar goes even further. Of course, for him, as for the other Kabbalists, the Shekhinah is regarded as the "celestial Donna" (haishah hacedonah; cf II, 54b) or the "Woman of Light" (iteta de-nehora)," "in whose mystery are rooted all the females in the earthly world. In brief, she is the etemal feminine. Joseph Gikatilla puts it in similar terms: "The Shekhinah in Abraham's time was called Sarah, in Isaac's time Rebecca, and in Jacob's time Rachel." All of the hierarchies (tikkunim) of the Shekhinah are female, and most of necessity lack the male element, represented in the Zohar by Joseph (as explained at length in Zohar, 1, 246b).
But the feminine quality of the Shekhinah is understood, first and foremost, and emphatically, in her role as female partner in the sacred union, zivuga kaddisha, whereby the unity of the divine potencies is realized through the union of male and female.
Without going into detail (this matter is discussed in the previous chapter), the male is conceived of here either as the sixth and central Sefirah, Tij'ereth (symbolized by Jacob, Rachel's husband), or as the ninth one, Yesod (symbolized by Joseph the Righteous), into which all the higher Sefiroth flow, and which constitutes, as it were, the phallus of the supernal man. In more general terms the union of Tifereth and Malkhuth is portrayed as the marriage of the holy king and the queen, while that of Yesod and Malkhuth is described in very precise terms as the supernal archetype of earthly sexual union, and is uninhibitedly depicted in such terms. When performed within the limits of mitsvah and halakhah, the holiness of the act of procreation as a true mystery is consistently explained by the Zohar in terms of this sacred union in the realm of the Sefiroth. Only when man abandons the realm of sanctity does the area of sexuality fall into the world of impurity, and it is then seen, not only as the profane per se, but as demonic and depraved. The number of Zohar passages in this area is legion.'o The sexual imagery of the Song of Songs is treated here altogether differently than it is in the old allegories of God's relationship with Israel. Even a comparison of the Zohar with the earliest Kabbalistic commentary on the Song of Songs, that written by R. Ezra of Gerona a mere fifty or sixty years earlier and with which the author of the Zohar was acquainted reveals the great difference in the use of erotic imagery. It was the author of the Zohar who read the entire text of the Song of Songs as a nuptial hymn of the Godhead itself. In the Zohar, 111, 214b, the stages of union (yihuda) are portrayed as stages of sexual coupling (zivuga), in a highly naturalistic interpretation of the Song of Songs 2:6.
Many other biblical verses are likewise interpreted as hymns to the holy marriage (tushbahta de zivuga)." The rhetorical antithesis found in the following passage provides an excellent illustration of how natural this view is to the author: It is the way of the world that if one man wishes to take another's wife, [the other] becomes anV7 and does not allow it. But the Holy One, blessed be He, does not act in this way! "This is the offering" [Exod. 25:3]-this is the Congregation of Israel. Even though all of her [i.e., the Shekhinah's] love is for Him, and all of His love is for her, [the children of Israel] take her away from Him, that she may dwell among them.... And even though they take her, they are only able to do so with the permission of her husband and his will, so that they may perform the service of love before Him. (Zo har, 11, 135a)"
It is hardly by chance that the very first lines of the Zohar begin with the explicit sexual symbolism of the pollination of the rose-a symbol for the Shekhinah frequently used by the Zohar. This symbolism continues throughout the entire book: when R. Simeon ben Yohai, the legendary hero and chief speaker of the book, gives his deathbed speech-a passage evidently intended as the conclusion of the book-he ends with an unusually solemn but no less daring homily about Zion, the Holy of Holies, the place in which the oneness of all things in God is bom; he calls Zion the womb of the Shekhinah, in which God procreates the blessing that spreads to the world."
The entire dynamics of the Zoharic notion of God is based upon this doctrine, in which the oneness and unity of the divine life are realized in the sacred marriage; under no circumstances can these dynamics be separated from this doctrine. Although there was no lack of attempts in later years at elaborate allegorical reinterpretation of this sexual symbolism, whose images had carried the author of the Zohar to such heights of enthusiasm, it nevertheless caused difficulties for major Kabbalistic theologians." I have discussed elsewhere the significance of sexual imagery for Kabbalistic ritual. As already explained, the upper Shekhinah is viewed as indissolubly and uninterruptedly connected with the supemal Wisdom or Sophia, the "Father" (Abba). This union of the supemal mother and father is completely unaffected by human action, although in the present state of the world-that is, since the expulsion from Paradise-the coupling of the king and the (lueen is no longer God's business alone, but is a human concern as well. As a result, this mystical union becomes the object of certain rituals. At the time of the expulsion from Eden, the lower mother, that is, the Shekhinah, was expelled along with man. Indeed, in a passage renowned for its bold exegesis (Zohar, I, 53b), it is not quite clear whether God expelled man from Paradise, or whether it was perhaps man who expelled God, in the guise of the Shekhinah! Since that time the state of things represented in the Zohar by t of the Shekhinah" has existed in the world-that is, the separation and cutting off of the Shekhinah from its constant union with the upper forces that she was supposed to carry and transmit to Creation. It is now up to man to fill this lack. In this context, a further development of the theme is important for our study: while the Shekhinah is predominantly described in feminine symbols, it is not entirely without active, masculine aspects. Both of these sides are defined most clearly in a passage describing the Sefirah as the Ctredeeming angel" of Genesis 48:16, the angel who protects the world:
This is the angel who is sometimes male and sometimes female. For when he channels blessings to the world, he is male and is called male; just as the male bestows [fecundating] blessings upon the female, so does he bestow blessings upon the world. But when his relationship to the world is that of judgment [i.e., when he mani fests himself in his restrictive power as a judge], then he is called female. just as a female is pregnant with the embryo, so is he preg nant with judgment, and is then called female. (Zohar, 1, 232a)
Hence, the female character of the Shekhinah is linked here with its restrictive and dangerous features. The restraint of the flow of life, a quality intrinsic to the activity of judgment (Din), frequently entails destructive consequences for the world. But when the Shekhinah functions as a medium for the downward flow of life-giving energies, it is understood in male symbols, the most prominent of which is the divine name Adonai (Lord). The problem of the active and passive elements in the Shekhinah is seen from a different angle in another passage (1, 3 la):
At the time that the pair unite together, the female is called by a male name, in order to show that the female is included in him in one entity, for then there is found the blessing of the Matrona, and there is no separation whatsoever. And concerning this it is said, "He hath desired it [i.e., Zion] for His habitation" [Ps. 132:131, and it is written, "For the Lord hath chosen Zion" [ibid.]-Zion, spe cifically, that He is found in her and resides in her... And of this it is written, "But of Zion it shall be said: 'This man and that was born in her"' [Ps. 87:5]-this one for Din Uudgment] and that for Rahamim [Mercy]." When they unite together in one zivuga [union] then it is called Zion ...
When the Shekhinah is separated from the active flow, it is called "Jerusalem"; however, in the root of the union of the two poles, the distinction between male and female within the Godhead ceases. In other passages the Shekhinah is called "mother" even during the state of union, while in the state of separation she is called "wife." In yet another version: So long as the matronitha is with the king and nourished you, she is called "your mother." But now that she is exiled and is far from the king, she is only called "thy father's wife." (Zohar, Ill, 75a) The theme of the active powers within the feminine element turned in an altogether different direction in later Kabbalah in the doctrine of the mayin nukvin-the "female waters" or unique powers of the feminine. The conception of the Shekhinah as a mere repository of the forces pouring into it, of the feminine as purely receptive and passive-at least insofar as the issue was the Shekhinah's relationship to God and not its activity in Creation-could not long survive in the Kabbalah after the Zohar. In the long run, the dialectics of femininity, including the element of giving, could not remain suppressed indefinitely. To be sure, there was something intellectually fascinating in the idea of the Shekhinah as a pure medium, as a mirror reflecting the forces above; but where there was a clearer sense of the maternal, birth-giving, and creative element that comes about as a result of the very act of receiving, the notion of the Shekhinah itself needed to be altered and corrected. This alteration was primarily one accomplished by Lurianic Kabbalah, through the formulation of the concept of mayin nukvin. This doctrine presents the Shekhinah as likewise incorporating active forces. These forces are not awakened by the sacred marriage but, on the contrary, it is their awakening that makes this union at all possible. The Zohar scarcely uses the term mayin nukvin, and certainly not in the above sense, although it does repeatedly invoke the general principle that every "arousal from above" requires a complementary "arousal from below"-that is, human activity. However, the Zohar sees this principle in terms of the Godhead being able to act below only when its powers are aroused and activated by the stimulus of human actions, and not as alluding to the powers of the feminine as the basis for this arousal. R. Moses Cordovero" already explains that there are two distinct aspects in the male Sefirah of Yesod: In one, which occurs prior to the union with the Shekhinah, the "lower waters" of the Shekhinah gush up through Yesod-that is, the forces that are cast back by the Shekhinah rise up as Ctreflected light."" In other words, even prior to the second aspect, the actual union in which the forces of maleness penetrate into the Shekhinah, forces coming from the Shekhinah itself rise toward the male element and stimulate it. The term "lower waters," mentioned in this passage, appears in a talmudic reading of the story of Creation, in which the waters under the firmament are characterized as feminine; this usage became fixed by Isaac Luria. Thus, Cordovero continues, while the process of emanation "begins as direct, [unrefracted] light, from which emanates the reflected light," this situation is reversed in the mystery of union among human beings. The outpouring of energy, of active light (although essentially only reflected) comes from the female, arousing and activating the male. Hence, the Shekhinah is charged with active powers, even in relation to the upper realms, and it is only as a result of them that it is also active in relation to the lower realm. However, the dialectics of femininity is primarily concemed-and this is worth emphasizing-not with its activity within creation, but rather within the context of the divine life itself. One can also speak of spontaneity hidden within receptivity. There were those Kabbalists who saw a symbol for this in "Miriam's well," of which it is written, "Spring up, 0 well-sing ye unto it" (Num. 21:17), which they read as referring to the element within the supernal female that arouses the female waters.'
It is true that Lurianic Kabbalah strongly emphasized that mayin nukvin are generated by the good deeds of human beings (a point made even more strongly in the ethical writings of later Kabbalah), but this is not their only source. Luria speaks even more frequently of processes in the upper Sefiroth themselves that elicit such forces within every individual Sefirah. Of course, the transformation of these forces that originate in Din, the aspect of rigor and judgment, into forces of Rahamim, of grace, is dependent upon human good deeds.9' Moreover, since every Sefirah duplicates within itself the overall structure of the entire system, each Sefirah contains its own aspect of the Shekhinah (Malkhuth), in which it produces its own mayin nukvin. I have already briefly observed that the Zohar's image of the Shekhinah contains dark and destructive traits as well, even though, compared with other female figures in the history of religions, these are relatively pallid and tend to be ascribed to an aspect of the Godhead that allows them to be presented in a relatively han-niess manner. Within the Godhead, there are Sefiroth of both love and judgment, both of which emanate their energy into the Shekhinah; depending upon which potency dominates, the lower Shekhinah appears either as a loving or as a punishing and chastizing mother. But even beyond this, in many passages the Zohar presents the Shekhinah as bizarrely linked with the Other Side (Sitra Ahra), the demonic and destructive power. True, this power ultimately originates in one of the divine Sefiroth-namely, that of severe and punishing judgment (Din Kasheh); however, it is now independent, has left the realm of holiness for that of evil and Satan, and become a "shell," kehppah." The Zohar's remarks about the Left Side are not always clear; they may refer to the Sefiroth of Din, of God's judgmental power, which are located on the left side of the Tree of Divine Emanation, or they may be used to designate the Other Side, which is outside, or even opposed to the Divine, in the realm of evil and contamination. When these forces of the Left Side become stronger, primarily due to human erring and sinning, the Shekhinah becomes the executrix of the powers of judgment which have entered her. But at times the Zohar goes even further: the Shekhinah actually comes under the sway of the Other Side, which penetrates and becomes entrenched within her, with disastrous consequences for Israel and for the entire world. This may be caused by the weakness or helplessness of the Shekhinah, because it is lacking the impetus created by man's good deeds; or it may be caused by the preponderence within her of those forces that, because of their stem and punitive nature (Din Kasheh), have an affinity with the Other Side. Overwhelmed by these dark forces, the Shekhinah herself becomes dark and destructive:
When the righteous multiply in the world, Kenesseth Yisrael [i.e., the Shekhinahl emits sweet fragrances [like a rose], and is blessed by the holy king, and her face is radiant. But when the wicked people increase in the world, Kenesseth Yisra'el as it were does not emit sweet fragrances, but tastes of the Other, bitter Side. Of this state it is written, "He has cast down from heaven the 'earth"' [Lam. 2:1], and her face is darkened."
Then she becomes like the rose who is surrounded by thorns and thistles, namely, the forces of the demonic that hold it captive. This ambivalence in the Shekhinah's nature is illustrated in a number of symbols. As a counterpart to the Tree of Life, which symbolizes the Sefiroth of Yesod or Tifereth, the Shekhinah is represented as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil-but this is also called the "Tree of Death," because the death-bringing "Other Side" attaches itself to this tree.9' In the Zohar this term is used both for the Shekhinah itself and for the Other Side from which we may infer the author's perception that these two aspects are identified with one another. Insofar as the Shekhinah is identified with the Tree of Death, one may speak of it as having a trace of the chthonian element (i.e., pertaining to the underworld) so often displayed by the Great Mother in mythology, and also appropriate to the Shekhinah, seen as a symbol of the esoteric interior of the "earth." Many other symbols, such as the above-mentioned lunar symbolism so emphasized in the Zohar, suggest a similar association. But most revealing of all for our purposes is a statement that at first glance seems highly surprising: the author describes the Shekhinah in terms of the image from the Book of Proverbs, "Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on the netherworld" (Prov. 5:5). In the original context this phrase does not refer to Divine Wisdom at all, but to its antagonist, the whorish, "strange woman." The transfer of this image to the Shekhinah is highly instructive for the history of the Jewish religion. Those historians of this century who have dealt so intensively with the Jewish doctrine of "Wisdom" have far too frequently relied upon mere conjecture (as I noted with some melancholy at the start of this discussion), particularly in their attempts to draw a connection between Wisdom in Judaism and the antagonist of Wisdom in other Oriental myths.
Hence, we find the following opinion: in the contrast between Wisdom and the "riotous woman Folly" (Prov. 9:13ff.) who seduces men to ritual prostitution and fornication, Divine Wisdom itself acquired certain traits of its mythical opponent; when opposing the widespread sexual cults of Ishtar, Astarte, and Anath, it was embellished with the traits of bride and mother." Such a transfer cannot be convincingly demonstrated in the Bible. However, we clearly see the occurrence of a very similar transformation in the Kabbalah, particularly in the Zohar: when a way of thinking that sees itself as strictly Jewish draws upon symbols from deep strata, it does not even recoil from such obviously paradoxical changes as attributing characteristics of Lilith to the Shekhinah.
The Zohar repeatedly contrasts Lilith, as the whorish woman, with the Shekhinah, the noble or capable woman of chapter 31 of Proverbs." Yet a comparison of two Zohar passages-I, 223a-b and III, 60b-shows how far the author's mythical imagination can go in uniting these two figures. The first passage describes the Shekhinah in its appearance as a power of harsh judgment, manifesting destructive traits-but at the same time as the mother of Metatron, the highest potency in the angelic world, who "emerged from between her legs." The second passage is closely related to the first, developing variations of the same theme in new directions in a manner typical of the Zohar. Here the Shekhinah is described as the mother of two females from the demonic region: Lilith and Naamah. Hence, the demonic figures are bom from her-truly an extremely daring notion. In the first passage, in images reminiscent of Indian mythology, the Shekhinah is called the "wisdom of Solomon," the moon, and, above all, "the cattle upon a thousand hills" (Ps. 50: 1 0):
A thousand mountains loom before her, and all are like a puff of wind to her. A thousand mighty streams rush past her, and she swallows them in one swallow. Her nails reach out to a thousand and seventy sides; her hands grasp on to twenty-five thousand sides; nothing eludes her rule on this side or the other [i.e., the Sitra Ahra]. How many thousands of potencies of judgment are grasped in her hair... (Zohar, I, 223b)
Further on, the "hair of the moon" is contrasted with that of her demonic antagonist, Lilith (the length of whose hair is mentioned in the Talmud); it is described as a source of destructive power, as are her nails and their clippings. Thus, in the place usually occupied by "Mother Zion," we find a ghastly figure of dread, painted in images strongly reminiscent of Indian mythology. No wonder we are told in three separate places that "her feet go down to death." 99 In the symbolic thinking of the Lurianic Kabbalah, this image was completely accepted and frequently used. In the sixteenth-century Kabbalah of Safed, the personal notion of the Shekhinah as the feminine within God can be described by two examples. The first is in the ritual formula-introduced in the time of R. Moses Cordovero-that preceded the performance of every religious commandment: "For the sake of the unification of the Holy One, blessed be He, and His Shekhinah, I am prepared to do . . ."", as well as in the development of the rites of the sacred marriage, which I have treated elsewhere.'o' The other matter pertains to the visions of the Kabbalists. By way of illustration, let me cite an account preserved for us by the pious letter writer Shlomo Shlimel Dresnitz, who in the early seventeenth century gathered and recorded the legendary traditions of the Kabbalists of Safed.'o' Once, following a serious illness, Rabbi Abraham Halevi of Safed went to Jerusalem,
... and he immediately secluded himself for three days and three nights, fasting and weeping. At the end of the three days, he went to the Western Wall, where he wept copiously. Upon raising his eyes, he saw above the wall the figure of a woman with her back toward him; out of respect for our Creator, I shall not record the garb in which he saw her.'Ol But as soon as he saw her in this state, he fell upon his face and cried out in tears: "Mother Zion! Woe is me that I have seen you thus!" And he wept and tore his beard and the hairs of his head until he swooned and collapsed and fell upon his face and slept. Then he saw in a dream that she came and put her hand on his face and wiped away his tears and said to him: "Be comforted, Abraham my son, 'There is hope for thy future, and thy children shall return to their own border' Uer. 31:17]."
Together with this intensely personal portrait of the Shekhinah, the Lurianic Kabbalah introduces a retrogressive process, upon which I should like to touch here briefly, and one that brings us back to the earlier stages of development of this concept. The personal image of the Shekhinah dissolves here and again becomes to a great extent an impersonal symbol for God's immanence in the world and the pure inwardness of the Divine within man (itself a far from unproblematic concept). The older great symbol, a product of Kabbalistic daring, retums here alongside a different, more interior symbol, first found in Lurianic Kabbalah. I refer to the doctrine of the "sparks of the Shekhinah," which are dispersed throughout the world and imbedded in the "external" reality-an image in which two elements, the concretely tangible and the demonically corrupt, strangely overlap and balance one another. Whether one stresses the Manichean quality of this idea (in terms of the objective relationship of the ideas, not in terms of historical influence), or whether one sees this as an expression of pantheistic feeling groping its way into the foreground in the sixteenth century, it is clear that the original meaning of this concept is dissolving here. Hillel Zeitlin, an expert on Hasidism, observed" that the eighteenth-century Hasidim, in their struggle to purify Kabbalistic notions following the messianic tempest of heretical Sabbatianism, most often arrived at an abstract notion of the Shekhinah. They saw it almost exclusively in terms of the divine life force, hayyuth, intrinsic to the universe, i.e., a divine quality. They rarely spoke of her as a mother, with all the overtones and undertones inherent in this archetype. This may have been an understandable reaction to the excesses of the Sabbatians, who drew orgiastic conclusions from their extremely sexual conception of the Shekhinah. In the Lurianic doctrine of the "sparks of the Shekhinah, " which was highly popular among the Hasidim, the ancient symbol is, so to speak, taken back into itself, so that often, as at the very beginning of its history, it signifies no more than the unspecified presence of the Divine in the world.
In conclusion, I would like to respond to a question that has no doubt occurred to a number of readers during the discussion of these notions of the feminine within the divine. Can the Shekhinah be described as a cosmic force in the same sense as we find the feminine in the image of Shakti in Indian Tantric religion? To my mind, I believe that we can discem quite clear differences between the two conceptions-differences no less profound than their affinities. The schematic representations of the Sefirotic world in geometric symbols can be legitimately compared, without distorting the subject, to the forms of the yantra-diagrams intended to guide meditation, which were first interpreted by Heinrich Zimmer in his masterpiece, Kuns! form und Yoga (Berlin, 1926). Utilizing geometric configurations, these yantras illustrate the development of the various gods and their mates (Shaktis). Both the Sefirotic tree and the Shriyantra-which make similar use of primal, ancient symbols of the triadic form-can be take above all as depictions of the self-unfolding of the transcendent and unknowable. The student of Zimmer's second, posthumous opus'o' will be amazed to discover the Kabbalistic symbols of the point and the triangle in these remarkable discussions of Indian material. The absolute is the energy point that cannot be represented but only focused upon, the hidden center from which everything spreads out. The creative energy that spreads from within the absolute, touching the center and eternally uniting with it, is the primal Shakti, represented by the innermost interpenetrating triangle of the Shri Yantra. This symbolism is not identical with that of the Zohar, but there is a deep relation between them. The author of the Zohar understands the primal point not as the unknowable ultimate depths of 'Ein-Sof but as the unconstructable and hence totally indissoluble Hokhmah (Wisdom), in which opposites nullify and merge. This primal point is indissolubly united with the upper Shekhinah, represented by the symbol of the house or the womb, in which the primal point of Hokhmah (wisdom) is sown as the world seed. Thus, the Sefirotic pair of Hokhmah and Binah have something of the nature of the Shakti and her supernal consort.
This resemblance is even more striking when we recall that in at least a few, albeit late, Kabbalistic schools, Hokhmah stands for the unconscious and unknown, while Binah represents the conscious. Just as in Kabbalah Hokhmah emanates nine Sefiroth from within itself, so in the Indian doctrine the transcendent and unknowable in the invisible primal point are represented in the Shriyantra diagram by nine interpenetrating triangles, representing the male and female potencies of the god and of his Shakti. The Shakti is the dynamic aspect of the world substance; it is itself the world of manifestation, at the same time as it is within it and works within it. But this last statement, repeated in various ways in Woodroffe's and Zimmer's discussions of Shakti,'O' cannot be applied to the Shekhinah, even where it can be thought of as an active potency. It is true that the lower Shekhinah operates in everything and animates everything: "His Kingdom rules in everything" (Ps. 103:19), as the biblical verse reads; it is the spark that dwells in everything, or is trapped or captive in everything-but the Shekhinah is in exile there (a notion that, so far as I can see, is totally absent in the Indian conceptions).
The lower Shekhinah is not itself the thing or manifestation in which it is present; to put it in Indian terms, it is not the world of Maya. The manifesting and the manifestation, Shakti and Maya, which are one for the Indian esoteric, are not identical for the Kabbalist. The spark of the Shekhinah, which resides within concrete things, is always distinct from the phenomenality of these same things, as clearly demonstrated by the discussions on this point in many Hasidic texts. The spark can be elevated from the things in which it is mixed, without thereby affecting the things qua phenomena. A different, perhaps even more intense, life enters into them; but there seems to be no necessary inner bond between this specific manifestation and the specific spark of the Shekhinah that dwells within it. There are only occasional hints of an esoteric stratum of this doctrine, which may have gone further than the written formulations would suggest.
One further point:
The God and Goddess are the first self-revelation of the Absolute, the male being the personification of the passive aspects which we know as Eternity, the female of the activating energy (gakti), the dynamism of Time. Though apparently opposites, they are in essence one.
It is impossible to apply this to the Kabbalist schema without misconstruing the sense of the symbols. None of the Sefiroth appearing as male in these pairs could be identified with the masculine in Indian symbolism, albeit the idea of femininity as producing the motion of time may indeed correspond to an astonishing passage in Sefer ha-Bahir (S:49; M:7273). This passage describes the Shekhinah as the precious gem that "brings forth the years," i.e., time, which flows from the primal time gathered therein, but I am by no means certain that this primal time can be identified with eternity. On the other hand, when dealing with these comparisons, we must not forget that the Shekhinah is split in the Kabbalah, so that the active element within the feminine has been primarily absorbed in the symbolism of the upper Shekhinah. The latter is the womb of the Sefiroth, of the aeons and cycles of the worlds (shemitoth), while other aspects of Shakti, such as the eternal feminine and the destructive element, are expressed in the final Sefirah or Malkhuth. On the other hand, the notion of the masculine as purely inactive and passive, an idea that seems intrinsic to the doctrine of Shakti, is totally alien to the Kabbalah, in which the male is perceived as active and flowing.
from: SITRA AHRA: GOOD AND EVIL IN THE KABBALAH
[The] passage, known as Sod 'Ets ha-Daath (The Secret of the Tree of Knowledge), deserves [close] attention. Extant in several manuscripts, some anonymous and some attributed to R. Ezra ben Solomon of Gerona, it reads as follows:' Regarding the matter of the Tree of Knowledge, of which Adam was commanded not to eat: Fix your mind on this matter and as to why God kept him away from this tree more than from the others. Notice that, according to the wording in Scripture, He did not enjoin him against gathering [the fruit], but only against eating it. For Adam did not pluck and take the fruit, but the woman gave it to him, as is written, "And she gave also unto her husband" (Gen. 3:6). The Scriptural verse also only has Him saying: "Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?" (v. I 1). Likewise, Scripture says about the Tree of Life: ". . . lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever" (v. 22). From here we may infer that it is the act of eating that causes sin, and indeed, this is so. Know that the eating of the fruits of the Garden [of Eden] provided nourishment for the soul; therefore, he was punished for eating, which involves both body and soul. But the soul has no share or benefit in gath ering the fruit: even though [he thereby brought about] a separation in the lower realms, it does not cause separation in the upper realms, but the soul only partakes in the act of eating the fruit, and is nourished by its fruits. But damage is caused [to the soul] if the fruit contains damaging things, and [things that] stimulate the Evil Urge and diminish it [the soul] in its rank and its health, and re duces its strength in the upper realm-and this was [Adam's] sin. You already know that the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowl edge are one [tree] below but two [trees] above: the Tree of Knowl edge is from the northem side, but the Tree of Life is from the eastem side, from whence light emanates into the entire world, and the potency of Satan is there. And it is written in the "Jerusalem Talmud" [i.e., in Rahir, S:109; M:162]: "What is Satan? This teaches that the Holy One blessed be He has a quality whose name is Evil, and it lies to the north of God, as is written, 'Out of the north the evil shall break forth' (jer. 1: 14), and from the north it comes. And what is it? It is the form of the [left] hand, and it has many emissaries, and every single one of them is called Evil, Evil; however, there are among them lesser and greater ones, and they make the world culpable . . . " as it is written there. And it is also written in the above-quoted "Jerusalem Talmud" [Bahir, S:107; M:161]: "What is meant by, 'And the Lord showed him a tree, and he cast it into the waters' (Exod. 15:25)? This refers to that Tree of Life that Satan threw down, etc..' as it is written there.
Now this is the meaning: So long as the Tree of Life, which comes from the side of the east and is the Good Urge and the quality of peace [harmony], is connected with the Tree of Knowledge, which comes from the side of the north, from the side of Satan and evil, then Satan can do nothing, for the Tree of Life, which is the quality of peace [i.e., harmony], shall overwhelm him. But the moment it [the Tree of Knowledge] is separated [from the Tree of Life], its strength is freed and Satan is able to act. Therefore, when Satan wished to lead Israel astray [at Marahl, he cast [the Tree of Life] away and separated it from them and tested Israel, and was therefore able to seduce Israel into sinning. And this is the matter known as "chopping down of the plantings" (kitsuts baneti'oth), for had he been connected [with the Tree of Life], he would have been unable to do this thing. Moreover, had Adam not first separated the fruit, Satan would have been unable to separate him from the Tree of Life. And let the matter that he [Adam?] was not involved in the eat ing [that is, that he did not participate in the eating with Eve] not seem difficult to you; for he performed separation in his thought, which is more a part of the soul. For you already know that a human being is composed of all things, 7 and his soul is connected to the supernal soul, for which reason the Torah states, "Ye shall be holy, for I am Holy" (Lev. 19:2), as well as, "Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy" (Lev. 20:7). Therefore, the righteous man, who raises his pure and immaculate soul to the supernal holy soul, unites with it and knows the future; and that is the meaning of the prophet and his path, for the Evil Urge has no power over him to separate him from the upper soul. That is why the prophet's soul unites completely with the upper soul, and with his intellect fulfills the Torah, for they [the commandments] are incorporated within him [in his intellect]. That is why our sages said that the Patriarchs fulfilled the Torah in their intellect,' and they said that the Patriarchs are themselves the Merkavah, 9and the same is also true of their children after them, and of every righteous man. About this, Scripture says, "And I will dwell among the children of Israel" (Exod. 29:45), for the Holy Spirit rests upon them and joins itself to them. But if a man walks in the path of evil, which is Satan, then he chops and separates his soul from the supernal soul; and concerning this it is written in the Torah, "and My soul shall abhor you" (Lev. 26:30)-that is, the soul is separated and distanced from the supernal soul, and this is like a chopping away. And that is why in the words "that ye should be defiled thereby" (Lev. 11:43), the Hebrew word [for "defiled"] ve-nitmeitem" is written without an 'alef-signifying that they are not worthy to have the crown of God's reign that animates everything [symbolized in the 'alef] be on their heads, but they are culpable of death [because of their separation from the supernal soul and because they destroyed the divine unity]. It is written in the Prophets, "But your iniquities have separated between you and your God" (Isa. 59:2), and similar verses. And the Talmud says: "It is not the Serpent that kills, but sin that kills." " Hence, when Adam ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, which is of the side of evil, and separated it [through his awareness or his contemplation] from the Tree of Life, the Evil Urge dominated him in his eating and in his soul, for his soul took part in the eating of the fruits of the Garden, as we said above. Thus, impurity and death and removal of the soul from the [supernal] soul took place [within Adam]. This explains that by his eating he caused destruction above and below in the plantings and separated the forces of the Tree of Knowledge by themselves, and separated them from the forces of the Tree of Life-and this is the great offense against both body of the prophet and his path, for the Evil Urge has no power over him to separate him from the upper soul. That is why the prophet's soul unites completely with the upper soul, and with his intellect fulfills the Torah, for they [the commandments] are incorporated within him [in his intellect]. That is why our sages said that the Patriarchs fulfilled the Torah in their intellect,l and they said that the Patriarchs are themselves the Merkavah, 9and the same is also true of their children after them, and of every righteous man. About this, Scripture says, "And I will dwell among the children of Israel" (Exod. 29:45), for the Holy Spirit rests upon them and joins itself to them. But if a man walks in the path of evil, which is Satan, then he chops and separates his soul from the supernal soul; and concerning this it is written in the Torah, "and My soul shall abhor you" (Lev. 26:30)-that is, the soul is separated and distanced from the supernal soul, and this is like a chopping away. And that is why in the words "that ye should be defiled thereby" (Lev. 11:43), the Hebrew word [for "defiled"] ve-nitmeitem" is written without an calef-signifying that they are not worthy to have the crown of God's reign that animates everything [symbolized in the 'alef] be on their heads, but they are culpable of death [because of their separation from the supernal soul and because they destroyed the divine unity]. It is written in the Prophets, "But your iniquities have separated between you and your God" (Isa. 59:2), and similar verses. And the Talmud says: "It is not the Serpent that kills, but sin that kills." " Hence, when Adam ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, which is of the side of evil, and separated it [through his awareness or his contemplation] from the Tree of Life, the Evil Urge dominated him in his eating and in his soul, for his soul took part in the eating of the fruits of the Garden, as we said above. Thus, impurity and death and removal of the soul from the [supernal] soul took place [within Adam]. This explains that by his eating he caused destruction above and below in the plantings and separated the forces of the Tree of Knowledge by themselves, and separated them from the forces of the Tree of Life-and this is the great offense against both body and soul, above and below, and that is why it is said of Adam that he chopped away at the plantings. " For after he separated the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, which is of the side of evil, from the Tree of Life, and increased the strength of the Evil Urge and sated his soul with it, he separated the [lower] from the [upper] soul, and gave the emissaries of the Tree of Knowledge the strength to do evil, and he thereby separated the Tree of Knowledge from the Tree of Life, and also separated his soul from all the good qualities of the supernal soul, and united himself with the Evil Urge.... And the Sages expressly said: "He is Satan, he is the Evil Urge, he is the Angel of Death."" For prior to his eating, Adam was completely spiritual and had the nature of the angels, like Enoch and Elijah; hence, he was worthy to eat of the fruits of Paradise, which are the fruits of the soul. And let not the expression "eating of the fruit" be difficult to you, for "eating" signifies enjoyment or benefit, as in [their saying], " 'Its flesh shall not be eate@ (Exod. 21:28): this implies both the prohibition of eating and the prohibition of deriving benefit therefrom" "-and this refers to the benefit or enjoyment obtained by the soul. After that, it states"Behold, the man is become as one of us" (Gen. 3:22). And the Sages said, "like the One of the world," " that is, he was composed of all [intellectual-spiritual] things and potencies. And the words "Behold, the man . . . " etc. refer to the time before he sinned; but now, in his sin, he has become mortal. Before sinning, he was worthy of eating of the fruits of the Garden, which were the fruits of the soul; therefore it was necessary to send him away from there. There was also another reason to drive him away from there: "lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the Tree of Life"-the Tree of Life which causes life, for it stems from the force of the "Bundle of Life"-"and eat, and live for ever"-for that is whence the strength of life comes from. And he was deprived of two things: the eating of the fruit of the Garden, which are life for the soul, just as the eating of [ordinary] fruit is life for the body; and the eating of the Tree of Life, which refers to eternal life. And it is to this that the two expressions refer: "He sent him forth" (v. 23), and "He drove out the man" (v. 24).
We learn from this passage something about Adam-that is, about human nature-and his connection to the Godhead and to the potencies of divine action, which are represented in the symbol of the trees of Paradise. The Sefiroth are often referred to among the Kabbalists as ttplantings," which grow, so to speak, out of the primal ground of the Godhead and of divine will. To "cause destruction" or to "chop down the plantings" is an allegorical expression used to refer to an act of contemplation whose practitioner does not embrace the totality of the Sefiroth in their unity, but instead isolates individual Sefiroth, particularly the last Sefirah, from that totality. As Adam prior to his fall was 'ta purely spiritual being," his actions likewise took place on a purely spiritual plane, described allegorically in the Garden of Eden story. It is Adam's task to cultivate the garden of these plantings-that is, to maintain and strengthen his contact (or devekuth) with spiritual reality, with which he had been imbued by his nature. Man is conceived as a microcosm (olam katan) into which all the elements and potencies of Creation have been placed, receiving everything and acting upon everything; his decision to preserve this connection and to contemplate the Divine without limit would fulfill the purpose of Creation. The Creator would thereby not only be glorified through His creature, but also reveal to him the true unity of all being in God-that is, the pure spirituality of being. Thus, the world of reflection or contemplation is the true world of action demanded of Adam in Paradise. Man's two urges or drives, for good and for evil, are implanted within him as possibilities of action, just as the qualities of love and severity are present in God Himself. Had Adam subordinated his will to that of God, in which all contradictions function in sacred harmony, then the restrictive factor within himself, the Evil Urge, would have been nullified within the totality of his being, and evil would never have emerged as a reality, but only remained as a potential, to be defeated repeatedly within the totality of his being. We leam here that evil is nothing other than that which isolates and removes things from their unity, a process profoundly [email protected] by Adam's relationship to the two trees in the Garden. The author does not tell us directly what those two trees are, but places them in some kind of relation to divine love and severity, without their being synonymous with these qualities. On the contrary, it appears-especially from the use of this symbolism among the earlier Kabbalists-that the Tree of Life, coming from the mystical East, is a symbol for the Sefirah of Yesod (the Righteous One or the foundation of the world, whose symbolism will be discussed in the next chapter), 16 identified in Sefer ha-Bahir as the "East side of the world." The Tree of Knowledge, by contrast, is a symbol of the final Sefirah, in which "good and evil," Ifesed and Din, are united, operating through it in all the lower Sefiroth. Herein lies the importance of the symbolism used in our fragment, which lends profound meaning to the imagery in Genesis. The two trees are fundamentally one: they grow from a common root, in which masculine and feminine, the giving and the receiving, the creative and the reflective, are one. Life and knowledge are not to be tom asunder from one another: they must be seen and realized in their unity. So long as the two trees are connected, the Tree of Life retains control over the power of severity, the harsh, critical power within the Godhead, which for this author, following Sefer ha-Bahir, is conceived in the image of Satan. Severity, as a restrictive quality, tends to seek independent existence; however, this tendency is constantly overwhelmed by the flow of divine life and divine love, so that it remains a mere possibility-the "great fire of the Holy One blessed be He" (to employ the language of the Bahir), that only consumes when it is no longer confined within the framework of its original harmony. Satan's independent being is thus a consequence of the decision made by Adam who, by his improper contemplation of the Divine, caused a separation within the Godhead that had a baleful effect on all of Creation. When he plucked and ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, he allowed the power acting in the Tree of Knowledge from the north (i.e., the principle of Severity) to operate upon it in isolation.
This power was thereby removed from its position within the union of the Sefiroth and now gained control over Adam as the satanic principle of evil. The nature of evil is therefore the separation and isolation of those things that should be united. So long as man absorbs this separation into his being-this is the meaning here of the eating of the fruit, which belongs to the "fruits of the soul"-he creates inauthentic, false systems of reality, productive of evil-i.e., that which is separated from God. Both [email protected] experience of reality and his moral nature are damaged by this misguided contemplation. Only through the acts of the righteous and the prophets, who annul this illegitimate separation of the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge, can man become reconnected to the original world of unity, in which evil will no longer be evil because it will have been restored to its proper place in the union of holiness. Even the Evil Urge within man, once marshaled in the totality of his struggle to restore his pristine unity, thereby loses its satanic element and itself serves the good. According to the early Kabbalists, this act of separation made the world of human experience become coarse and material. It is obvious that this conception transfers the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil entirely to the side of evil, which probably explains why such a profound and influential interpretation was often held by other Kabbalists to be too radical. The latter tried to posit this same primordial harmony in the Tree of Knowledge itself. a harmony that was only destroyed by the rash and untimely separation of the fruit from the tree, whose detachment from its source brought about its destruction. The symbolism perceived in the tale of Paradise varies from one account to another; what is common to all these Kabbalists is the perception of evil as an entity existing in isolation, and evil action as the separation of being from its proper place. This tendency to separate that which by its true nature ought to be connected is paralleled by a corresponding tendency to combine that which ought to be separate by nature-that is, the creation of illegitimate unity. This, according to the Zohar, is the deceitful demiurgic presumption of magic, a virtually inevitable consequence of the irruption of evil into the world.
from: TSADDIK: THE RIGHTEOUS ONE
Likewise, in Shacarei Tsedek, he writes:
Know that for this reason the righteous are called righteous (Tsad dikim): because they set all the inner things in their place within, and all outer things in their place without, and nothing leaves the boundary set for it. And that is why they are known as the righteous. "
We find here the first major definition of the new understanding of the ideal figure of the Tsaddik, as it was later formulated in Kabbalistic ethical literature: the righteous man is he who sets everything in the world in its proper place. But the simplicity of this definition should not deceive us as to its messianic significance and utopian explosiveness. A world in which everything is in its proper place would be, in Jewish tenens, a redeemed world. The dialectics of the Tsaddik thus flow into and merge with the dialectics of the messianic; if there is peace and harmony in the divine world, "so that God is truly one at that moment," this oneness would also be manifested undisguised in our world. 18 As in Bahir, Gikatilla also develops the symbolism of the Sabbath as the principle of resting harmony within the dynamics of the Sefirotic system. One is tempted to say that the famous Hegelian definition of the nervous system as "the repose of the organic within its movement"' is no less appropriate to the Kabbalistic symbol of the Sabbath.
The Tsaddik is also the Law, by which all things receive the influx due to them, by which they exist. The statements in Sefer ha-Bahir about the commandments found in the Sefirah of Tsaddik are transferred by Gikatilla to the realm of the hukkim: statutes, i.e., those laws of the Torah for which there is no rational explanation-such as the proscription against mixing species when sowing and in garments, the use of the ashes of a red heifer to purify persons contaminated by contact with the dead, etc.-which, according to the Kabbalists, can only be grasped in tenens of the hidden meaning of the entire cosmos. The effusion of life-vitality of the Tsaddik is thus confined by the limits of the Law to activity within the sacred boundaries." Again, as in Sefer ha-Bahir, this Sefirah is known as "the All," albeit in Gikatilla this term refers to the totality of things maintaining themselves within their own laws and limits. The abundance of life, which seeks to flow as freely moving creative power, is limited and structured by the Law. We now come to the problem of the sexual symbolism which, throughout the Kabbalah, is inseparable from the image of the Tsaddik.
In terms of the mirroring of the structure of the 'Adam Kadmon in the human body, the ninth Sefirah not only corresponds to the phallus; it is also, by reason of this allocation, the site of the circumcision, the sign of the Covenant. The vital force concentrated here is extemally expressed in the world of creatures as sexual energy; however, the unrestrained power of the procreative drive, as the creative element in the cosmos, is harnessed and restricted within sacred boundaries. The Tsaddik is the one who guards and keeps it within these boundaries; he chains this drive, which flows from the river of life, within the limits of the Law, thus maintaining its sacred nature. Hence, this Sefirah in particular was linked to 44 Joseph the Righteous" who in Gikatilla, and especially in the Zohar, represents the ninth Sefirah of Yesod. Bold sexual symbolism plays a dominant role in many passages of the latter that speak of the divine attribute of Tsaddik." The Zohar sees the Tree of Life itself as the phallus, while the "Life of the World" (,Uai 'Olamim) is the procreative power of the righteous man, in which the vital power of the divine organism is concentrated and intensified." While the sixth Sefirah, Tij'ereth, represents maleness as an active principle in a general way, in the ninth Sefirah this maleness is emphatically transposed into procreative power. Under the impact of this notion, a whole series of concepts that had previously been linked to Binah or to Tifereth were now transposed to the ninth Sefirah' The stream of emanation flows from all the higher Sefiroth into this sphere, where it becomes the procreative force. Hence, the river of life, flowing from this Sefirah into the female element, the Shekhinah, thereby bringing blessing and harmony to the lower worlds, is frequently described in images of sexual union, which were particularly favored by the author of the Zohar. Images in which this Sefirah is seen as concentrating the stream of emanation, such as "the Source of Life," "the Source of the River," frequently occur in this context; in Sefer ha-Zohar, as in the Bahir, this Sefirah is the "Life of the Worlds." But it is also called Musaf ("excess" or "added" element): that is, the constantly strengthening flow of light, the "one place" to which all "the water which is under the heavens" (the heavens being a symbol for the male power in general, i.e., Tifereth) flows-that is, in which all the potencies acting within the World of Emanation are gathered. But even when such erotic mysticism takes on a more spiritualized form, it nevertheless exhibits traits of its original form. This is shown, for example, in the Zohar's interpretation of Genesis 1:5, which begins with a reading of the verse that is at once literal and mystical:
"And God called...... What does "and He called" mean? He called and summoned the perfect light, which stands in the center, to produce a light, which is the foundation (Yesod) of the world, and upon which worlds rest. And from that perfect light, the central pillar, there was drawn forth, from the right side, Yesod, the life of the worlds, which is "day." "And the darkness He called 'night"'-He called and sum moned that from the side of darkness there should be produced a female, the moon, which rules by night and is called "night," the mystery of Adonai, "Lord (Adon) of all the earth" (Joshua 3:1 1). The right entered the perfect pillar that is in the center, which comprises the mystery of the left, and ascended aloft to the primal point, and it took and seized hold of the power of the three vowel points: holem, shurek, hirek, which are the holy seed-for there is no seed sown except through this mystery-and all was joined together through the central pillar, and it produced the foundation (Yesod) of the world, and it is, therefore, called "all" (Kol), for it holds all through the light of desire. The left flamed strongly and exuded odor. Throughout all levels it exuded odor, and from the fiery flame it produced the female, the moon; and this flame was darkened, because it came from darkness. And these two sides pro duced these two levels, one male and one female. Yesod took hold of the central pillar through the additional light that it contains, for when this central pillar was perfected, and it made perfect peace throughout the extremities, an additional amount of light was immediately accorded it from above, and from all the extremities in an all-inclusive joy, and from this addition of joy the foundation of the worlds emerged, and it was called Musaf (addition). All the hosts emerged from here into the realms below, and holy spirits, and souls, through the mystery of YHVH Tsevacoth, Elohei ha-ruhoth ("God, the God of the spirits"-Num. 16:22).'
It is no coincidence that this potency of Yesod is referred to in the Zohar by the term or ha-teshukah ("the light of desire")-the same term as is used for the desire of the male for the female.4' Thus, the sacred marriage of male and female potencies, consummated by means of the Tsaddik, the Sefirah of Yesod, lies at the very center of this symboliSM.46 The ancient problem of the tension between the Creator God and the Procreator God, reemerges here quite naturally at the center of Kabbalistic theosophy, namely, in the symbolism of the Tsaddik. In contrast with the gods of myth, the biblical God is often described as being creative, yet not engaging in any sexual activity-precisely what the Tsaddik of the Kabbalah exhibits in His union with the Shekhinah. This brings us to a further crucial point. The Kabbalistic texts constantly use the term shefa' (literally, "overflow") whenever discussing this Sefirah or attempting to describe it in images and symbols. The term is used in two different senses: in that of an overflowing stream, and in that of active inflow or influx. This influx flows from the Tsaddik into the Shekhinah, and from thence into all the worlds. The Kabbalists are fond of such usages as shefa' ha-berakhah (abundance of blessing) and similar phrases that suggest the giving nature of the divine fullness. Such phrases are associated with the sexual nuance of "inflow." Nevertheless, the tenn requires closer definition. R. Asher ben David, nephew of R. Isaac the Blind (ca. 1235) already conceived of this wealth of blessing as a creative act independent of the act of Creation itself-
Because there is nothing new under the sun, only the abundance of blessing which come from the Source of Life and from the Spring which blesses all things, every day and every hour and at every time, in order to establish and sustain them in the proper way... And this is what is said in the liturgy: "In His goodness he renews every day the Works of Creation." "His goodness" refers to the drawing down of blessing, which is the attribute of His goodness which ceaselessly comes from 'Ein-Sof to sustain the works of Creation, for were it to cease for an hour or even a moment, it could not exist."
The shefa' entering the world through the Source of Life sustains the world, but did not in itself bring about the Creation. This view is clearly expressed by Gikatilla who, in his lengthy discussions of the functioning of the ninth Sefirah, never speaks of any creative function, but emphasizes its sustaining function. Creation itself is rooted in a deeper level of the Godhead, in the transition from the first to the second Sefirah through which divine nonbeing is transformed into divine being. All created things came into being and continue to exist by means of the externalizing of the innermost realms. However, there is a certain unmistakable dichotomy here among the Kabbalists. On the one hand, the transition from nonbeing to being that takes place in the highest Se rah is the decisive step; on the other hand, Creation as such is only fi revealed upon the completion of the entire structure of all ten Sefiroth. This latter event may be simultaneous with the completion of this structure, as its external expression, or it may come about thereafter, as a further structure completing the inner structure of the Sefiroth and reflecting it. In any event, the preservation of Creation is rooted in a different process than its genesis. This process of continuous awakening arouses the passive creature to a state of active, vital life; it is this very process that is connoted by the shefa, which flows into all created beings from the ninth and tenth Sefiroth, and especially from their union. Gikatilla always takes pains to distinguish between the two above-mentioned aspects, and nowhere as clearly as in his chapter on the symbolism of the ninth Sefirah. Franz Josef Molitor perceived this in his brilliant 1834 essay "On a Speculative Development of the Basic Universal Concepts of Theosophy according to the Principles of the Kabbalah. 114' He writes:
As none of the creatures, neither the individual ones nor the ob jective natural elements, have the ability to arouse themselves or to exert an animating effect on one another, they would have remained purely ineffective potencies if the Godhead had not, after creating them, awoken them to physical and mental life by dint of a special inflow. This influx is distinct from the act of Creation, but it con tinues as steadily as creation itself. Hence, the Godhead is not only He who constantly produces and renews, but also the etemal An imator, Mover, and Guide of the world. For were this enlivening inflow to be interrupted for even a moment, the beings, although not ceasing to exist, would sink back into the state of their original potentiality and passivity and thus lose the power to spontaneously act upon and mutually arouse one another... But since the crea tures are not dead machines, but living creatures made in the image of the living Godhead, they are able, by means of their own actions only, by conducting themselves in in ' ternal regularity and han-no nious agreement with the Godhead, to arouse the divine love to be known in their own lives, and in such a manner to partake of the life of the infinite primal image in whose likeness they are made.
We find here an explanation of the Kabbalistic symbolism of Tsaddik as that which brings about true harmony within all of existence. This definition derives directly from the meaning of the Jewish symbol. The way of the Righteous One, according to this symbolism of giving and sustaining life, consists in the establishment of harmony or peace-concepts that overlap in the Hebrew word shalom. Strictly speaking, shalom represents a state of completeness or integrity, and it is only in these terms that it also refers to peace.
Molitor's remarks likewise incorporate the Kabbalistic principle that awakening and influx from above presuppose awakening down below, a thesis repeatedly emphasized in the Zohar. The higher attempts to sustain the lower, in which it recognizes itself; it is drawn to the lower, wishing to unite with it and channel their influx into it, because the life and harmony of the creation are based upon the life and harmony of the Creator. But this influx presupposes the receptivity of the created being, and can only perform the "arousal from above" where the creaturely ctarouses itself from below." In this way the lower world can transform the influx from above into a living, active structure, and thereafter to return it as the reflection of its own existence. Such is the dialectical relationship of mutuality and magical rapport existing, in the Kabbalistic view, between the active Godhead and all created things. But the quintessential symbol of this rapport is the union of Tsaddik and Shekhinah, based upon the arousal of procreativity in sexual union between male and female. Portrayals of this symbolism of the sacred marriage and its inherent dynamics have always aroused vehement and understandable protest from the opponents of the Kabbalists. Eliezer Zvi Zweifel, who compiled an enormous quantity of such passages from later Kabbalistic and Hasidic literature in his magnum opus on Hasidism,'o complains about the sexual metaphors and descriptions of God and the Sefiroth with the words "They make the reader's hair stand on end." " Indeed, these quotations are prefaced with a sigh: "Woe to me if I copy it; woe to me if I do not copy it." Yet it is precisely this attempt to deal with the profundities of the sexual sphere inherent in this symbolism that renders the Kabbalistic treatment of it so serious." indeed, such symbolism harkens all the way back to rabbinic literature itself-namely, to an important talmudic passage (Yoma 54a-b) which was quite appropriately chosen by Jeri Langer as the epigraph of his book, Die Erotik der Kabbala:
Rab Katina said: When the Israelites entered the Temple in Jeru salem [during the three pilgrimage festivals], the curtain [to the Holy of Holies] was opened and they were shown the cherubim in intimate embraces, and they were told: Behold, the love between yourselves and God is like the love between man and woman.... Resh Lakish said: When the Gentiles conquered the Temple, they saw the cherubim in intimate embraces. They hauled them out into the marketplace and said: "Behold! Israel, whose blessing is a bless ing and whose curse is a curse, concerns itself with such things?! Then they reviled them, as is said, "All that honored her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness" [Lam. 1:81.
lt is quite clear that there was a willingness to accept the mythical image of the hieros gamos, the sacred marriage; without this it is obvious that this sphere could never have been brought within the purview of the Kabbalah. The fact that this was brought within the rubric of the specifically moral category of the Tsaddik, the Righteous One, indicates how serious this effort was. Other, less emotion-laden images presented themselves to the Kabbalists, and were indeed employed by them. Instead, however, in the very heart of Kabbalistic concems and its problematics, we encounter the sexual symbolism of the Tsaddik as the principle of procreation within sacred limits, which preserves and spreads harmony in the world."
What happens when this activity is disturbed and degenerates? Gikatilla discusses this question at some length:
Know that the attribute of the Living God (El Hai) called Tsaddik is ready to look and to see and to gaze upon human beings. And when it sees that human beings are engaged in the Torah and the com mandments, and that they wish to purify themselves and to behave with purity and innocence, the attribute of Tsaddik extends itself, and expands and fills with all kinds of influx and emanation from above, to pour out upon the attribute of Adonai, in order to give a goodly reward to those who hold fast to Torah and mitzvoth and who purify themselves. Thus, we find that the entire world is blessed by those righteous people, and the attribute of Adonai is also blessed by them; and this is the secret of "the memory of the righ teous shall be for a blessing" [Prov. 10:71. But if, Heaven forbid, human beings contaminate themselves and remove themselves from Torah and the divine commandments, and perform evil and in'jus tice and violence, then the attribute of Tsaddik is prepared to look and to see and gaze upon their deeds. When it sees that human beings are contaminating themselves, rejecting the Torah and com mandments and performing evil and injustice and violence, the at tribute of Tsaddik is gathered into itself and withdraws high above, then all the channels and streams drawing down cease, and the attribute of Adonai remains as a dry and empty earth and lacking in everything. And this is the secret of "the righteous is taken away from the evil to come" [Isa. 57:1].... He who understands this secret will understand how great is [email protected] power to build and to destroy. Now come and see how great is the power of the righteous who adhere to Torah and the commandments, who have the power to unite all the Sefiroth and to let peace reign in the upper and lower realms; for the pure and upright man unites the qualities of righteousness and justice (Tsaddik and Tsedek). God is then called One, and he brings harmony to the supernal family and to the earthly family. Heaven and earth are thus united by this man; happy is his portion and happy is she who gave birth to him.
The function of the lower Tsaddik is described in a similar manner in Meir ibn Gabbai's 'Avodath ha-Kodesh (I 5 31), 11, 2. His commentary proceeds from a midrash on the Psalms:
They stated in Midrash Shoher Tov, " in a passage on the psalms, "When Israel went out of Egypt": "Said R. Pinhas ha-Kohen bar Hamma; The Holy One blessed be He sows the deeds of the righ teous in that heaven whose name is 'Aravoth [the uppen-nost of the seven heavens], and it bears fruits." This Heavenly 'Aravoth is equated with the "Righteous One of the World and of its Foun dation, for all the good oil flowing from the "white head" (i.e., Kether; cf. Ps. 133:2] to all sides mingle therein, and the deeds of the righteous are emanated from there, and the seeds of peace are sown there. For [in tenens of its substance] the seed is drawn from the brain and reaches the tip of the phallus, and is emptied into its mate; and this is the secret of its bearing fruits, by way of the mystery of true union and unification. And the cause of all this lies in the deeds of the righteous, who ascend upwards with the perfection of their mediation, and are reflected and absorbed in that firma ment; and this is the sowing of which we have spoken [in that midrash].
The Zohar likewise discusses the "sowing of light" by the righteous in its explication of Psalm 97:1 1, "Light is sown for the Righteous One."
The Holy One, blessed be He, sowed this light in the Garden of Eden, and He arranged it in rows with the help of the Righteous One, who is the gardener in the Garden. And he took this light, and sowed it as a seed of truth, and arranged it in rows in the Garden, and it sprouted and grew and produced fruit, by which the world is nourished. This is the meaning of the verse "Light is sown for the righteous . . ." (Psalm 97:11). And it is written "The garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth" (Isaiah 6 1:1 1). What are "the things that are sown in it"? These are the sewings of the primal light, which is always sown. Now it brings forth and produces fruit, and now it is sown as at the beginning. Before the world eats this fruit, the seed produces and gives fruit, and does not rest. Consequently, all the worlds are nourished through the supply of the gardener, who is called the Righteous One, and who never rests or ceases, except when Israel is in exile. You might object that it is written, conceming the time of the exile, "The waters fail from the sea, and the river is drained dry" (job 14:1 1). How then can it produce offspring? But it is written 44 sown"-it is continually sown. From the time that the river ceases, the gardener does not enter the Garden. But the light, which is continually sown, produces fruit, and it is sown of itself, as at the beginning, and it does not rest at all, like a garden that goes on producing, and some of the seed falls in its place, and it continues to produce by itself, as at the first. You might say that the offspring and the fruit are the same as when the gardener is there. But it is not so. On the other hand, the seed is never absent."
Thus, the garden in which the gardener sowed his seed is in a state of exile; it is no longer in its original state of harmony, and wild plants grow from those seeds that had been planted there earlier-and from these seeds the world is nourished. But the author of the Zohar does not always go so far in detracting from the gardener's function. In many other passages, the activity of the divine Tsaddik remains connected to that of the earthly righteous man even during the period of Exile, and the hidden light sown in him continues to bear fruit and to sustain the world. The general function of the Sefirah of Tsaddik-namely, to maintain the existence of Creation-is joined by a second function. One might ask: what comes into being from the sacred marriage of Tsaddik and the Shekhinah? The Zohar's answer is the souls of the righteous. Thu a unique element i emanated from the substance of life the Tsaddik procreates the righteous.
While the souls of the righteous , as the bearers of the harmony and the "seed of peace" may not literally be created in this proces of sacred marriage ( in terms of their innermost being, they were already hidden away within divine wisdom and they reach the sefirah of Tsaddik in the form of seed, with the stream of emanation); at this point, however, they begin their road to individual existence. Yet they strive to return to the place from whence they have come. Every individual holy oul is like a spark of the all-encompassing "Life of the Worlds" whose law each one carries within himself.
from: Gilgul: T H E T R A N S M I G R A T I 0 N OF SOULS
The Kabbalists believed in a doctrine of transmigration of souls through various bodies and forms of existence. Was this teaching developed independently, by means of spiritual experiences and states similar to those that produced it in other religions? Or should we assume that the initial impulse toward this teaching originated in an older tradition and among other groups-although, of course, subsequently developed by Kabbalah in its own way? This question arises in light of the circumstances under which the doctrine of metempsychosis (transmigration) first appears in Kabbalah. In the earliest knovrn Kabbalistic text, Sefer ha-Bahir, redacted in the south of France around 1180, this teaching is taken for granted, and is elucidated without any apologetic tone. This is all the more remarkable, since during the period in which this book appeared, official Jewish theology, as represented by medieval Jewish philosophy, was emphatically opposed to this doctrine.'
This situation is analogous to that in Christianity and Islam. Both the Church and the most authoritative groups in Sunni Islam flatly rejected these notions, which, as we know, only survived in certain religious sects or currents. Their common roots were to be found in Orphic, Platonic, and Oriental concepts of metempsychosis and metemsomatosis, as these were accepted in various forms by early Gnostic Christian sects.' When the Church, in the sixth century, definitively condemned the teachings of Origen, which bore a certain resemblance to these notions, it was no longer possible to advocate these ideas in official Catholic circles; they were, however, preserved in various sects that maintained a Gnostic, and specifically Manichean, legacy.'
A similar process occurred in Islam: the Shiite belief in the reincarnation of the imams, as well as the more general concepts of transmigration adopted by various disparate groups, were regarded as more or less heretical by orthodox Moslems. The same situation pertained in groups such as Mutazilites and the Ismailite Gnostics, as well as certain Sufi groups within Islamic mysticism.' Here, too, according to the best scholarly authorities, the common source of these notions must be sought among the Eastern Christian Gnostics.
It is interesting to note, however, the existence of an apocryphal tradition linking the origin of the doctrine of reincarnation to a southern Arabian Jew, who associated it with a messianic perspective. There is respectable documentation that testifies that, during the period of great ferment in the East in the ninth and tenth centuries, when such ideas were promulgated within Islam, adherents of these ideas could also be found among Oriental Jews. In the early tenth century R. Saadiah Gaon, the first major systematic theologian of Judaism in Arabic civilization, polemicized against those Jews who had accepted these ideas, which he rejected as "madness and confusion."' According to a work on religious schisms and sects of the Moslem author Ibn Mansour al-Baghdadi (d. 1037), some Jews believed in the transmigration of souls, citing in proof the third chapter of Daniel. They interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar's vision as indicating that God had transformed the king into seven different kinds of beasts and birds of prey in order to punish him, until He finally restored him and returned him to the world as a believer in monotheism.
This interpretation is of particular interest, because it is connected with an entirely different circle than that of the oldest Kabbalists, whose biblical justifications of the doctrine of transmigration do not include this passage. The most important document concerning this teaching among Oriental Jews likewise contains a different justification than that used by the Kabbalists. Kirkisani, a tenth-century Karaite author, writes in his Sefer ha-Oroth that Anan ben David, to whom the eighth-century schism between Rabbinite and Karaite Jews is traced, accepted the doctrine of metempsychosis and wrote a special treatise about it. According to Kirkisani, many of Anan's supporters, who eventually broke with the Karaites, continued to follow this doctrine. Kirkisani, who was well versed in Karaite writings (written in Arabic, and no longer extant), or at least with their verbal claims, devotes two chapters of his book to refuting their arguments on this point.' He too uses biblical proof texts, albeit altogether different ones from those used by the early Kabbalists, so that it is difficult to assume a direct link between these Oriental Jewish groups of the eighth to tenth centuries and the earliest Kabbalistic circles in twelfth-century southern France. It is possible, however, that the Kabbalistic traditions stem back to other Oriental groups, whose existence can be indirectly gleaned from an analysis of the Bahir. On the other hand, we find the striking fact that the notion of transmigration of souls first occurs in the Kabbalah at exactly the same time and in the same environment in which the Catharist movement in southern France had its greatest success. The Catharists, whose beliefs contained many Gnostic elements and who advocated strictly anticlerical doctrines, emphatically believed in transmigration, including reincarnation in the bodies of animals.' Of course, given their radically dualistic conception of the distinction between the physical world and the spiritual world, this doctrine did not pose the same problems it did for monotheistic theology and its philosophical doctrine of the soul. Anyone who, following Aristotle, regarded the soul as an entelechy of the living body was bound to reject the idea of the passage of an individual soul into another body. By contrast, the dualistic psychology of the Platonists and the Gnostics could more readily allow for such a doctrine, or was at least compatible with it. If souls were seen as spirits that had fallen from the world of light to be imprisoned in the world of matter (ideas that were very widespread during the Middle Ages), it was not difficult to posit the wanderings of such souls from one body to another.
According to the Catharists, for example, a soul could find redemption from its wanderings only if it entered into the body of a "perfect person" or "good Christian" from among their own number. Despite its proximity in place and time, the Kabbalistic version of the doctrine, as presented in several passages of the Bahir,' does not reveal any immediately visible link with the Catharistic teaching. While such a historic influence seems possible in principle, and even seems probable to me, the question of the historical origin of these ideas still remains open. This is particularly true in light of several fragments of an older, undoubtedly Oriental, Jewish Gnostic source that was demonstrably used and reworked by the redactors of the Bahir; these pieces, which are extant, come from a book entitled Raza Rabbah (The Great Mystery), which I have discussed elsewhere.'o Raza Rabbah contains the original version of a Bahir passage (S:86; M:121-122) dealing with transmigration-yet in the older passage this doctrine does not appear at all! Was this teaching added during the redaction of the Bahir? Or did it reach the redactors from another literary source, which we do not yet know? This problem is further complicated by the patently ancient character of these fragments, which are more characteristic of the Orient than of southern France. Likewise, the fact that the doctrine is taken for granted in the Bahir passage and supported there with parables can be explained in two very different ways.
One might conjecture that these fragments entirely predate the unanimous opposition to this doctrine on the part of Jewish philosophers from the eighth to the twelfth centuries. On the other hand, one might also assume that the groups in which these ideas developed were completely unimpressed by medieval philosophy, and hence felt no obligation to justify their belief in transmigration before such a forum, which had rejected it as heretical. I admit that I tend more toward the former view: namely, that we are dealing here with the vestiges of an early Jewish Gnostic tradition, remnants of which ultimately reached the circle of the Bahir from the Orient through wavs that are not yet clear to us.
From all that has been said above, it is evident that the classical Jewish tradition, as set down in the Talmud and the midrash, knew nothing of transmigration. In Sefer ha-Bahir we find a number of Kabbalistic fragments, in which the new (and possibly very old) ideas of these esoterics are presented in the talmudic style of biblical exegesis, making use of parables. Five passages here speak of transmigration, without yet using a special word for this phenomenon; the tenn gilgul (literally, "turning over" or "rolling over"-i.e., of souls) was used by the Kabbalists, together with a number of other terms, at a later date. A study of these passages is highly revealing. One passage (S:39; M:58) speaks of the mystical attribute of the Sabbath: "He ceased from work and rested" [Ex. 31:17].... This teaches that from thence all the souls fly out, as is said, "He ceased from work [shavat; can be read as "Sabbath"] and rested." To a thousand generations, as is said: "The word which He commanded to a thousand generations" [Ps. 105:81. The same Biblical verse is explicitly cited elsewhere to substantiate the claim that reincarnation may take place as many as a thousand times: Why are there evildoers who are well off and righteous who suffer evil? Because the righteous man was previously an evildoer in the past and is now being punished. But is a man to be punished for [the sins] of his youth? Has not Rabbi Simon said that one is only punished [by the heavenly court] from one's twentieth year on! Say to them: I am not speaking of the [same] life, but of that which was in the past. His colleagues said to him: How much longer will you speak unintelligibly? He said to them: Go and see. This is like a person who has planted a vineyard in his garden, and he hoped that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes [after Isa. 5:2]. He saw that he was not succeeding-so he re planted it, placed a fence around it, repaired the breaches, pruned [the vines of ] the wild grapes, and planted it a second time. He saw that he was not succeeding-he again fenced it off, and again replanted it after pruning it. How often? He said to them: Until a thousand generations, as is written: "He commanded a word to a thousand generations" [Ps. 105:81. This is what is meant by the [talmudic] saying [ifagigah 13b]: "Nine hundred seventy-four gen erations were lacking [for the figure of one thousand], when the Holy One blessed be He stood and planted them in every genera tion." (Bahir, S:135; M:195, corrected according to MS. Munchen)
This Bahir passage is extremely interesting. The objections raised to the speaker, an apocryphal Rabbi Rehumai, indicate that the inquirers, who argue from an exoteric point of view, are totally unfamiliar with the esoteric doctrine of metempsychosis or transmigration. The rabbi's statements seem incomprehensible to them, while the idea itself is explained, not in a theoretical manner, but by means of a parable, as in the other Bahir passages dealing with this doctrine. The parable mentions explicitly only three abortive attempts at planting the "vineyard." The thousand generations are, of course, not really a thousand; this is simply a quite original application of a talmudic conception to the idea of transmigration. According to talmudic chronology, the Torah-the "word of God" mentioned in the verse-was given twenty-six generations after the Creation of the World. How is this statement consistent with the biblical verse interpreted as saying that God gave His Word (that is, the Torah) after one thousand generations? What happened to the other 974 generations mentioned in the verse? The Talmud replies:
These are the nine hundred seventy-four generations [of evildoers] that were foreseen by God before the world was created, but were not created. The Holy One, blessed be He, stood and sowed them in every generation, and these are the arrogant ones of every generation. "
The use made of this idea in the Bahir is clear: the vineyard is replanted in every generation, and the wild grapes are the wicked, who must undergo rebirth and thereby receive the opportunity to emerge from their new test as righteous. The same notion underlies another passage in the Bohir, in which the biblical verse "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh" (Eccies. 1:4) is interpreted as meaning that the very same generation passes on and retums: in other words, that the souls are the same souls, and not different ones. Here, too, the discussion is conducted by means of a parable, which is itself a reworking of a talmudic text." As applied to transmigration, the Bahir version is quite peculiar:
To what may this be compared? To a king who had servants, and clad them in garments of silk and embroidery, in accordance with his wealth. They went astray, so he cast them out and pushed them away, and removed his garments, and they went forth. He took the garments and washed them well, until no stain was left on them, and he kept them ready He then acquired other servants and clad them in those garments, and did not know whether these servants were good or not. So they partook of garments that had already come into the world, and that others had worn before them.... And that is the meaning of "And the dust returneth to the earth as it was, and the spirit retumeth unto God who gave it" [Eccles. 12:7]. [Bahir, S:86; M:122]
The striking comparison of the soul to a garment that is soiled and changed after cleaning is utterly incomprehensible in the context of Neoplatonic thought," but is understood clearly in ten-ns of the underlying talmudic parable. The Talmud speaks of the soul, which is to be returned to God in a state of purity, in terms of a royal garment loaned out to man; in the Bahir, the same image is used in relation to transmigration, rather than to reward and punishment in the future world-a significant turning. Elsewhere in the Bahir (S:104; M :154-156), transmigration is depicted in a parable filled with enigmatic, esoteric symbolism. This passage speaks of the seventh divine aeon or logos, called "the East of the world, from whence comes the seed of Israel." The author cites Isaiah 43:5, "I will bring they seed from the East," and continues:
When Israel is good [before God], I will bring your seed from this place and bring new seed into being for you; but when Israel is bad, I will take of the seed that is already in the world, as it is written: "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh" [Eccles. 1:4]-this teaches that it has already come. But what is meant by "and gather thee from the West" [Isa. 43:5]? From that attribute that always leans toward the West. Why is [the West] called ma'arav [also "mixture"]? Because all the seeds are mixed there. To what is this comparable? To a prince, who had a comely and modest bride in his chambers, and took riches from his father's house and always brought them to her; and she took everything, putting it aside and mixing it all up. After many days, he wished to see what she had gathered and collected. Of this it is written: 461 gather thee from the West [i.e., mixturel." And what is her father's house? As is written, "I will bring thy seed from the East"-this teaches that He brings [the seed] from the East, which he sows in the West, and afterward he gathers what he has sown.
This remarkable passage, with its strikingly Gnostic symbolism, introduces several new ideas. There are new souls, which have never previously existed in the world, and which only descend to the world when Israel proves itself worthy. Generally speaking, however, the same number of old souls keeps circulating in the world from generation to generation. The East and the West are symbols for what were originally the seventh and eighth Sefiroth and, in post-Bahir Kabbalah, became the last two of the ten Sefiroth: the West is usually the final Sefirah, while there are differences of opinion regarding the symbolism of the East. The treasure-house of souls is in the East, and the souls are sown within the realm of the Shekhinah, which is the mystical West in which they are mixed. The Shekhinah is both the bride of the prince and Kenesseth Yisrael, the Congregation of Israel. The souls of Israel that enter into the realm of the Shekhinah will be gathered together again from their mixture "after the passage of days"-that is, at the end of time." The same idea with a messianic thrust appears in another Bahir passage (S:126, M:184), which speaks about the Sefirah of Tsaddik, which is the "foundation of the world":
In His hand is the treasure-house of all the souls. When Israel is good, the souls are fit to leave there in order to enter this world [apparently identified here with the "West," in which the souls are mixed, which is the realm of the Shekhinah], but if they are not good, they do not leave. And this is what is meant by the [talmudic] statement "The son of David will not come until all the souls in the body are exhausted" [Yevamoth 63b]-that is, all the souls in the body of man. Then the new souls will be permitted to leave, and the son of David will be allowed to be born. How so? Because his soul will go out as a new one among the others."
The "body" spoken of in the passage quoted here was always understood in the Jewish exegetical tradition as the celestial treasure-house of souls from which the preexistent souls emerge and descend into the earthly world. In open contrast to this attitude, the Bahir identifies the "body" here as the human body itself (indeed, perhaps this might have been the original intention of the talmudic saying, although it does not refer to reincarnation). Before the Messiah can be born, the souls must complete their transmigrations within human bodies. The Messiah's soul is one of those that have never before existed in the world-a far cry from the theory of messianic reincarnation advocated by the Shiite sects in Islam and their Jewish-Christian sources. It is difficult to determine whether the thesis in the Bahir evolved in the Orient, in deliberate and conscious contradiction to such ideas, or whether it arose quite independently of them among the early Kabbalists. In any event, the Bahir's doctrine of old and new souls, here taken for granted, contrasts strongly with the Catharist view, propagated in Languedoc in southem France at the time of publication of the Bahir. The emergence of new souls is, after all, viewed here as a special merit occurring when the community of Israel proves itself worthy, an altogether different notion from the pessimistic doctrine of the Catharists according to which all souls in this world are actually fallen spirits. These early Bahir passages concerning transmigration have a very special and independent flavor of their own, in contrast with what we know of Catharist doctrine concerning this point.
The Bahir passage about new and old souls is then elucidated in a lengthy and rather strange parable (S:127; M:184): To what is this comparable? To a king who had an army, and sends them a great deal of bread to eat. But they were lazy and did not eat it, nor did they take care for it, and it tumed moldy and was wasted. He came to inquire and to observe whether they had food to eat, and whether they had eaten what he had sent them. When he found that they had moldy bread, they were embarrassed to ask for other bread, saying: This we have not cared for, shall we ask for other? The king was also angered, and took the moldy bread, or dering that it be dried and restored as far as possible, and swore to these people: I will not give you other bread until you eat all of this moldy bread.... What did they do? They decided to divide the bread, and each one took his portion; he who was alert stored his portion up above [literally, in the air] and ate well; another took it and ate what he ate with appetite, leaving the rest down below and not storing it, because he had given up on it. And it got worse and become moldy, and he was unable to eat it at all, and remained hungry until he died. His own sin is visited upon him. [He is asked:] Why did you kill yourself? Not only did you spoil the bread initially, and I retumed it to you restored and you divided it; but you spoiled your portion and were negligent in guarding it; not only that, but you have killed yourself! And he answered: Sir, what should I have done? And he commanded him: You ought to have stored it prop erly; and if you say that you could not, you should have paid heed to your friend and your neighbor who divided the bread with you, observing their actions and their way of storing it, and attempted to store it like them. Here, too, in a rather bizarre image, we find the idea that in every generation the same souls descend, and only after they have been purged of all their sins and "staleness" can new souls be brought down. (Incidentally, the wordy and awkward style of some of these parables is rather surprising, contrasting markedly with the laconic language of the parables of the talmudic aggadah.)
In the passages discussed above, the Bahir sees transmigration as a law of the widest validity, at least insofar as Israel is concemed. Only on rare occasions do new souls descend into the world; on the whole, we are dealing exclusively, with "old" souls. In the circle of Provenqal Kabbalists, it was said that Isaac the Blind (ca. 1200), the most important mystic in this group, "could tell by a person's face whether he was from the new or the old [souls]." As he was blind, we may assume that this "looking" alludes to the ability to perceive the "aura" surrounding an individual."' Any restriction of metempsychosis to categories of deeds (such as punishment for particular sins) is completely unknown in the Bahir; likewise, it does not detail the circumstances or conditions of the wandering of the soul.