Eliana Fishkin, Gabrielle Pieck, Benjamin Blumenthal, Creating Zoharic Texts

CREATING ZOHARIC TEXTS * 

 

David R. Blumenthal

Eliana Fishkin

Gabrielle Pieck

Benjamin Blumenthal

The First Text

Commentary to the First Text

The Second Text

The Third Text

Commentary to the Third Text

 

The Zohar is one of the most theologically powerful books ever written. It deals directly with God; or, to put it more accurately, with the inner workings of God. How can the one God be loving, angry, righteous in judgement, the source of all being, wisdom, understanding, and vital energy? What is blessing and how does it flow to us? What is prayer and what effect does it have on God?

The Zohar teaches that the very inner being of God is not abstract but expressed in ten dimensions of being or, perhaps better, ten aspects of God’s personality. Each of these is called a sefira; together, they are called the ten sefirot. They are most easily understood when we think of them as the structure of our own inner being, as indeed later commentators understood the Zohar to be teaching.

The first sefira is Keter; it is the ultimate inexpressibility of God, God’s ineffability. It is the part of any being that simply cannot be known no matter how much we know; it is the infinite. Keter cannot be represented; it is outside, above, beyond.

The second sefira is Hokhma; it is God’s wisdom or knowledge. God’s knowledge is the first aspect of God after ineffability. It is the starting point for God’s inner reality. Hokhma is masculine; it is represented by the letter yod and resides in the head.

The third sefira is Bina; it is God’s understanding. Knowledge and understanding are not the same; the latter involves intuition and empathy. Bina is womanly; it is represented by the letter hey and resides in the heart.

The fourth sefira is Hesed; it is God’s grace, that is, the love which God has for us which we do not deserve. We are the objects of God’s hesed simply because we are God’s creatures. It flows out to us without our doing anything. Hesed is represented by the color white, by the figure of Abraham, and resides in the right arm.

The fifth sefira is Gevura; it is God’s judgement, that it, it is God’s ability to set limits, to set standards and to demand that we live up to those standards. These standards, if enforced, would subject us to terrible punishment and fear because they are perfect; so, fear and judgement go forth from this sefira. Gevura is represented by the color red, by the figure of Isaac, and resides in the left arm.

The sixth sefira is Tiferet; it is God’s compassion. It is the point where God’s grace and judgement flow together; it is mercy — the mixing of unconditional love and unconditional demand into a compassionate, merciful attitude. Tiferet is the inner voice of God, the inner Torah of reality. It is masculine; it is represented by the letter vav, the color green (yellow), the figure of Jacob, and it resides in the solar plexis.

The seventh sefira is Netsah; it is God’s timelessness, God’s eternity. Timelessness is the perdurance of being. Netsah resides in the right leg.

The eighth sefira is Hod; it is God’s beauty. God’s beauty is powerful, transcendent, sublime. Hod resides in the left leg.

The ninth sefira is Yesod; it is fundamentality, the fountain and point of flowing forth of God’s energy. Yesod is masculine; it is represented by the figure of Josef and resides in the male reproductive organ.

The last sefira is Malkhut; it is God’s Face to the world; it is God’s ruling power and providence. Malkhut is the point where God ends; after it, comes creation. Malkhut is also known as Shekhina. It is womanly, and is represented by changing colors, the figures of David, Rachel, and Esther, and resides in the Face (or the mouth).

These sefirot are “vessels,” conduits for the divine spiritual energy that flows forth from Keter to each of the sefirot and then into creation. They can be visualized as a “tree” with Keter at the top, Hokhma underneath, and Bina underneath that. Then, the tree splits with Hesed on the right and Gevura on the left. (There are two ways to visualize right and left: as a person who stands opposite us whose right is on our left and vica versa, or as a map where the right is on our right and the left on our left; try both, the feeling is completely different.) The tree comes together in Tiferet and then splits again into Netsah and Hod. It joins again into Yesod and Malkhut is below it.

The sefirot can also be visualized as a human person. Keter is above the head. Hokhma is the head, Bina the heart, Hesed the right arm, Gevura the left arm, Tiferet the solar plexis, Netsah the right leg, Hod the left leg, Yesod the sexual organ, and Malkhut the face (or mouth).

According to the Zohar, human beings have the ability, through proper meditation, to influence this flow of spiritual energy. It flows toward us and we, through meditation, return it to God. When our actions or meditations are sinful, energy is drawn from Gevura and judgement prevails and, when our actions and meditations are proper, energy is drawn from Hesed and grace and compassion prevail. In an ultimate sense, when we interact with the energy of God, we not only affect ourselves and the universe, we also affect God, for God, the Zohar teaches is interrelated with us; we and God act in direct proportion to one another. The purpose of zoharic prayer is to help right the inequities in the realm of the sefirot, to help God regain God’s balance so to speak, and by doing that to touch God’s spiritual energy and to draw it down into the world. To do this type of meditation with the liturgy requires holding much in one’s mind: the words, their meanings, the zoharic meanings, and an awareness of the ebb and flow of spiritual energy in God and in the world.[1]

In studying the Zohar with students over the years, I have encouraged them to write their own “zoharic” pieces, changing one or two of the assumptions of the system as they felt the need. The three essays included here represent some of the best work done by students.

  • David R. Blumenthal

MALE AND FEMALE, SYBLING AND MATE
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Bruria began by quoting: “male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27). Why “male and female?” When the most hidden will roused itself and extended itself and created the realm of faith, it was neither he nor she, but he and she. We have learned that male must dwell with female so that blessing may exist in all realms. Why is this so? It is because all of them are both at once, for all appeared in perfect wholeness from the secret of secrets, and just as the source is male and female, so are they all.

But when sin increases in the world and the influence of darkness holds sway, then they separate and become incomplete. When this happens and either male or female is absent from one vessel, then it must cling to another vessel so that male and female are returned to unity and a flame may ignite from their union and cause blessing to reign above and below.

This is the secret: when the Assembly of Israel and the Holy One, blessed be He, unite, first she is female and he is male, and finally all is one. But when the vessels are separated, they may be either male or female. When sovereignty goes and procures sustenance from the realm above and suckles her children, then she is mother and queen; but when sovereignty reigns over them and gives them bountiful gifts, then he is father and king. And when sin increases and she is a storm of rage upon them, hers is the blood-red rage of Rachel, as it is said, “with great wrestlings have I wrestled” (Gen 30:8), “for the way of women is upon me” (Gen 31:35). This is the rage of the female. Yet the blue light may also glow red with the rage of David, as it is said “I have consumed them, and crushed them, that they could not arise” (Sam II 22:38-39). Understand: each one is king and queen, mother and father, brother and sister.

Just as righteousness extends from the king in a thread of blessing to unite him with his beloved, so that same righteousness is a pool of longing which the consort prepares for her beloved; it reaches for him and draws him to her. Is righteousness not her extension as well? Woe to him who would limit the Name; woe to him who would order the realm of faith according to his own way. The influence is on all sides; they are male and female in their unity. Just as the tree must have nourishment from the rains above, so it languishes without the influence of the nutrients through the roots from below. Woe to him who presumes to say that the direction he sees is the only one, as it is written, “Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? Canst thou establish its dominion in the earth?” (Job 38:33). Woe to him who separates faith with his misunderstanding. Bruria lifted her hands and wept.

She continued: “My sister, my bride” (Song 4:9). How “my sister” and “my bride?” When the two heads brought forth their children, they were male and female, female and male, both crowned with blessing from their parents. Then the blue light chose to minister to the lower realms and to become mother to the holy congregation. She separated herself from the upper realms, and so she became “she.” The yellow-green light shines on her from above, but he grows jealous when she leaves to feed them, and he grows angry when Israel sin and she continues to be separated from him. Then he abandons her; his light is extinguished and she is desolate, and then true darkness comes. In his grief, he returns to the source, to the mother and father. And this is the secret: in her desolation, she too returns to the source, to the mother and father, so that she is not overcome by darkness. But they are not united there, for there she is “my sister” once again. She cannot extend to him and join with him in holy union until the prayers of the companions prepare their huppah for them. When there is blessing, there is no separation, and when there is separation, blessing does not dwell.

Come and see. “My bride,” when they return to one another in their places,
outside the source, when their huppah is prepared through righteousness
above and righteousness below.Then the Holy One, blessed be He, is
male and longs for his bride. Then the glorious Assembly of Israel
is female and knows her husband. And then they are united,
male and female, as it is written, “and they become one
flesh” (Gen 2:24). And it is written: “I become my
beloved and my beloved becomes me” (Song 6:3).
Then blessings abound above and below.

Text with Commentary
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Bruria began by quoting: “male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27). Why “male and female?” When the most hidden will roused itself and extended itself and created the realm of faith, it was neither he nor she, but he and she. We have learned that male must dwell with female so that blessing may exist in all realms. Why is this so? It is because all of them are both at once, for all appeared in perfect wholeness from the secret of secrets, and just as the source is male and female, so are they all.

The fundamental nature of the sefirot is that they are each both male and female at the core. This is because they retain the androgynous nature of Keter, from whom they emerged in the process of emanation. This dual-gendered, integrated condition is the original and ideal state in the sefirotic realm. Humans must model themselves after this ideal supernal condition, both to bring it about above, and to emulate it below; this is the true reason for the necessity of human male/female partnership.

But when sin increases in the world and the influence of darkness holds sway, then they separate and become incomplete. When this happens and either male or female is absent from one vessel, then it must cling to another vessel so that male and female are returned to unity and a flame may ignite from their union and cause blessing to reign above and below.

Humans have the power to damage the sefirotic realm by causing the male and female dimensions of the sefirot to separate one from the other. This occurs through human sin. When any given sefirah loses its male or female dimension, the G-dhead experiences an obstruction of divine energy, and the human world is thereby adversely affected as well. Perfection and unity will not be restored in the sefirotic realm until the now single-gendered sefirah is able to unite with another sefirah which is similarly separated, and in which the opposite gender is now assuming the dominant role.

This is the secret: when the Assembly of Israel and the Holy One, blessed be He, unite, first she is female and he is male, and finally all is one. But when the vessels are separated, they may be either male or female. When sovereignty goes and procures sustenance from the realm above and suckles her children, then she is mother and queen; but when sovereignty reigns over them and gives them bountiful gifts, then he is father and king. And when sin increases and she is a storm of rage upon them, hers is the blood-red rage of Rachel, as it is said, “with great wrestlings have I wrestled” (Gen 30:8), “for the way of women is upon me” (Gen 31:35). This is the rage of the female. Yet also the blue light may glow red with the rage of David, as it is said “I have consumed them, and crushed them, that they could not arise” (Sam II 22:38-39). Understand: each one is king and queen, mother and father, brother and sister.

When the sefirot are in the imperfect state of gender separation, any sefirah may be either male or female at a given time. The case of Malkhut is presented as an example of the dynamic nature of sefirotic gender. When Malkhut is in a state of separation from Tiferet, it may be fundamentally male or female, and the gender that becomes dominant is not dependent on the nature of the actions in which the sefirah engages. Thus, Malkhut may manifest as either male or female in its loving mode or in its judgmental mode. This implies that there is no need to associate judgment and rage (Gevurah) particularly with the female, nor manifestations of beneficence and kindness (Hesed) particularly with the male (as is often the case in traditional Zoharic passages). Both the male and the female dimensions of the G-dhead are equally likely to manifest love or judgment. To further illuminate this notion, the image of menstrual blood is used: blood-red is the color of untempered Gevurah; it is the essence of violence. Yet blood is also the life force. Rachel’s womanhood (intimately connected to her menstruation) is the source of her nurturing dimension (as mother of a people), and also of her Gevurah-like combative tendency.

Just as righteousness extends from the king in a thread of blessing to unite him with his beloved, so that same righteousness is a pool of longing which the consort prepares for her beloved; it reaches for him and draws him to her. Is righteousness not her extension as well? Woe to him who would limit the Name; woe to him who would order the realm of faith according to his own way. The influence is on all sides; they are male and female in their unity. Just as the tree must have nourishment from the rains above, so it languishes without the influence of the nutrients through the roots from below. Woe to him who presumes to say that the direction he sees is the only one, as it is written, “Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? Canst thou establish its dominion in the earth?” (Job 38:33). Woe to him who separates faith with his misunderstanding. Bruria lifted her hands and wept.

The case of Yesod is now brought to illustrate that the gender of each sefirah, as well as the sexual relationships that exist between the sefirot, are complex and dynamic. Furthermore, the text explains that the flow of divine energy moves in all directions in the sefirotic realm. The reader is admonished against taking a simplistic view of the nature of G-d and the flow of divine energy. We are warned that the complexity of the G-dhead renders It beyond our understanding, and one must not be swayed by one’s human limitations (particularly as manifest in such phenomena as sexism, racism, ageism, etc.) to believe that one’s personal, limited understanding of G-d is either complete or correct. The text makes the powerful claim that such small-minded and presumptuous thinking actually functions to damage the G-dhead, and may have disastrous consequences.

She continued: “My sister, my bride” (Song 4:9). How “my sister” and “my bride?” When the two heads brought forth their children, they were male and female, female and male, both crowned with blessing from their parents. Then the blue light chose to minister to the lower realms and to become mother to the holy congregation. And so she separated herself from the upper realms, and so she became “she.”

Before Malkhut and Tiferet emerged and became fully independent from Binah and Hokhmah, they were still in their ideal, integrated state, and thus did not possess differentiated gender. Earlier, the text claimed that human sin may negatively influence the sefirotic realm and cause divine degeneration into the separated gender forms of the sefirot; now we learn that separation may also come about from an internal cause. Malkhut chooses to separate itself in some fundamental way from the upper realm in order to be in relationship with the human world. In so doing, she brings about a disunity in the G-dhead, and she becomes mono-gendered and therefore incomplete.

The yellow-green light shines on her from above, but he grows jealous when she leaves to feed them, and he grows angry when Israel sin and she continues to be separated from him. Then he abandons her; his light is extinguished and she is desolate, and then true darkness comes.

The trend started by Malkhut now leads to a downward spiral of divine disunity. Tiferet has grown weak and negative without the unity it previously enjoyed with Malkhut. As a result, an obstruction occurs in the divine flow of energy. Malkhut stops receiving the necessary energy from the upper realm, so it can no longer transmit positive energy to the human world. In this state of diminished flow of positive divine energy, Malkhut becomes vulnerable to the forces of Sitra Ahra.

In his grief, he returns to the source, to the mother and father. And this is the secret: in her desolation, she too returns to the source, to the mother and father, so that she is not overcome by darkness. But they are not united there, for there she is “my sister” once again. She cannot extend to him and join with him in holy union until the prayers of the companions prepare their huppah for them. When there is blessing, there is no separation, and when there is separation, blessing does not dwell.

Both Tiferet and Malkhut retreat further up into the sefirotic realm, back to Binah and Hokhmah. Once they are back in their state of semi-dependence on Binah and Hokhmah, Tiferet and Malkhut revert to their earlier relationship–that of siblings and children, rather than mates and independent entities. Because of their weakened, mono-gendered condition, they cannot affect a complete healing and unification until those who are learned in the secrets of the sefirotic realm help them to unite as male and female (sexually) through the performance of mitzvot and Zoharic meditation.

Come and see. “My bride,” when they return to one another in their places, outside the source, when their huppah is prepared through righteousness above and righteousness below. Then the Holy One, blessed be He, is male and longs for his bride. Then the glorious Assembly of Israel is female and knows her husband. And then they are united, male and female, as it is written, “and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). And it is written: “I become my beloved and my beloved becomes me” (Song 6:3). Then blessings abound above and below.

The sexual unification of Tiferet (in his male manifestation) and Malkhut (in her female manifestation) is finally achieved through Yesod, and through the positive interventions of the companions in the human realm. Once the sefirotic unity has been restored, the flow of divine energy is revived and carries positive influence to all the sefirot, and ultimately to the human realm as well.

  • Eliana Fishkin

MALE AND FEMALE DESIRE
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“The royal princess, her dress embroidered with golden mountings is led inside to the King, maidens in her train, her companions, are presented to you.” (Psalm 45:14-15) This is the Shekinah accompanied by her ministers who bring her to the canopy to unite with the King, the Holy One, blessed be He. “Her dress embroidered with golden mountings.” This is the breastplate with twelve stones. Ten of these stones belong to the world above and two to the male and female in the world below.

Come and see. When the female below in her modesty desires the male below, the blue-green beryl stone from the Holy breastplate illumines. Her companions show the light and beauty of the stone to the male. The desire of the male below is then ignited for her and the yellow chrysolite stone illumines on the Holy breastplate. The light from the beryl and chrysolite unite and it spreads forth, entering the stone of the covenant of the Holy One, the green emerald. The emerald beams light upward and downward, upward to the yellow topaz of the Holy One, blessed be He, and downward to the blue sapphire of the Assembly of Israel. Then all the stones of the upper world become illumined, and direct themselves to the topaz, forming a crown of nine stones around it, six stones around its center and three stones above the others. This crown casts a ring of light around the beryl and chrysolite of the lower world and causes the lower male and female to unite in true delight, the male illumined and surrounded by the light of the female.

Rabbi Hisdai began by quoting: “Make a breastplate of decision, worked into a design; make it in the style of the ephod; make it of gold, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen.” (Exodus 28:15) We have learned that the breastplate and the dress of the royal princess are as one. The Shekinah above is wrapped in gold, blue, purple and crimson as is the female below. The male below desires to pull the golden mountings of the dress of the female towards him. In so doing, he unravels the dress of the female and exposes her. He enters into union with her, but the Shekinah is not present. From the crevice of the great deep, Lilith emerges enticed by the gold and the brilliant colors. She takes the gold from the male below and adorns herself, her hair and her body because the male is in union with the female, but his thoughts are of Lilith. He has not wrapped himself in the sanctity of the King, but rather in the velvet of Lilith. Concerning their children it is said: “They are children of harlotry.” (Hosea 2:6)

Rabbi Simeon said to him: You have not yet reached the heart of the matter. You have spoken well, but you have omitted the desire of the female above and below. When the male below pulls the golden mountings of the dress of the female toward him, great desires are awakened within the male but within the female also. Likewise, above, the Shekinah, and the Holy One, blessed be He, are ignited with desire one for the other. But when the thoughts of holy sexual union of the lower male and female are weakened, these thoughts are replaced by desire each only for itself. Lilith appears, attracted by their vain desire and the gold mountings. She picks up the gold and wraps it around the hands of the male and the head of the female. Lilith directs the desire each towards the other and they again enter into holy sexual union. Only then can the Shekinah and the Holy One, blessed be He, unite. From this union above and below, children emerge and Lilith awaits by a flame of fire. The children find favor in her eyes, and she burns away any impurities with her flame. Concerning their children it is said: “You are the children of the Lord, your G-d.” (Deuteronomy 14:1)

  • Gabrielle Pieck

THE DUTY OF THE BRIDE
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Come and see. When the Holy One, blessed be He, has acted through kindness and compassion, He graciously beckons the Assembly of Israel and asks if He may join with His eternal bride of purity and supreme beauty. But when the Holy One, blessed be He, is filled from the left side, He needs His bride to support Him.

Rabbi Benjamin began: “And the days of Israel drew near to die; and he called his son Joseph and said to him: If now I have found favor in thy eyes put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh and deal with me kindly and truly; bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt” (Gn. 47:29).

Rabbi Benjamin said, “And the days of Israel drew near to die” — Jacob’s work was done and His time had come to rest.

“And he called his son Joseph and said to him” — The Holy One, blessed be He, spoke to Joseph, instructing Him to relay a message to the Assembly of Israel.

“If I have now found favor in thy eyes put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh and deal with me kindly and truly” — Ask the Assembly of Israel, “If my dealings have found favor in thy eyes, then come and share kindness and compassion. Let us rejoice and unite as one so that goodness and blessing shall flow in both worlds.”

“Bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt” — Leave me not in despair and solitude, for you are my magnificent bride and without you I am in exile.”

Commentary
In this passage, Tiferet calls Yesod and tells Yesod to give a message to Shekhina. The message states that if Shekhina is pleased with Tiferet, she should please come to Him. The message also includes a confession that Tiferet needs Shekhina and without Her He, the King, is in solitude, despair, and exile.

Come and see. When the King acts from the left side, the Assembly of Israel must come and draw down the right, as it is written: “Then I will go in to the king though it is unlawful” (Esther 4:17).

Rabbi Benjamin said: “The bride must approach the King alone, even though it is forbidden, in order to help calm the left and strengthen the right in the upper world. For when the king acts from the left and His bride does not approach, the worlds suffer darkness and the Holy One, blessed be He, condemns His consort to exile which spreads anguish in the upper and evil in the lower.”

In the Purim story Esther entered into the king’s chamber to speak with him. She knew it was forbidden. We have learned of Shekhina coming to Tiferet when summoned and leaving when exiled; however, we do not hear Her entering at Her own will. In this passage we see that Shekhina must go to Tiferet, even if He is hostile, in order to calm Him and show Him the light and the kindness with which He should rule.

If She fails to calm Him, or She does not approach Him at all, the continuous flow of energy will be interrupted. The light of Hesed will be darkened and the red of Gevurah will prevail. Shekhina will go into exile, becoming a black/red color and will be raped by Samael and all the evil forces of the Other Side. Then evil will reign in the lower world and anguish in the upper world.

“And his sister stood afar off to know what would be done to him” (Ex. 2:4). It is the obligation of the consort to watch and to know so that She might also gain understanding, so that they all might help the Holy One, blessed be He.

It is Shekhina’s duty to watch over Tiferet as Miriam watched over her little brother, Moses. She must make sure that He does not become consumed with Gevurah to a point where He acts foolishly (i.e., expelling the one He loves, refusing to listen to the perspective of Hesed, and excessively punishing His children (the children of Israel).

Shekhina’s responsibility here is enormous; however, she does not face it alone. By observing Tiferet She gains understanding (Bina). When Shekhina is seen attempting to comprehend Tiferet and trying to help Him see the ways of Hesed, Bina, the mother of Tiferet, gives Her support. Then Shekhina and Bina standing together are able to influence the other sefirot to help in drawing down Hesed into Tiferet. Nesah, Hod, and Hesed, of course, all support Shekhina; however, Yesod supports Tiferet. The reason for this is that Yesod is most directly influenced by Tiferet and not easily influenced by any other sefirah. Yesod is really an extention of Tiferet. The unification of the remaining lower sefirot with Shekhina in order to influence Tiferet to receive the flow from Hesed is what is meant by “so that all might help the Holy One blessed be He.” Tiferet will be influenced by the upper and lower realms and see the reason of kindness and compassion; and blessing and goodness will flow in both the upper world and the lower world.

  • Benjamin Blumenthal

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[*] Appeared in Conservative Judaism, 49:4 (Summer 1997) 59-68.

[1] See David R. Blumenthal, Understanding Jewish Mysticism, vol. 1 (New York, KTAV Publishing: 1978) part two and, more fully, I. Tishby, The Wisdom of the Zohar, transl. D. Goldstein, 3 vols. (London, Littman Library and Oxford University Press: 1989; available through Bnai Brith Book Service, Washington, DC).

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