Haqdamat Sefer ha Zohar introduction to the

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Haqdamat Sefer ha^Zohar



abbi Hizkiyah opened, "Like a rose1 among thorns, so is my beloved among the maidens (Song of Songs 2:2). Who is a rose7. Assembly of Israel.2 For there is a rose, and then there is a rose! Just as a rose among thorns is colored red and white,3 so Assembly of Israel includes judgment and compassion. Just as a rose has thirteen petals, so Assembly of Israel has thirteen qualities of compassion surrounding Her on every side.4 Similarly, from the moment QTiVk (Elohim),

1. rose
mtnii' (Shoshanah) probably
means "lily" or "lotus" in Song of Songs, but
here Rabbi Hizkiyah has in mind a rose.

See Vayiqra Kabbah 23:3; Shir ha-Shirim Kabbah on 2:2; Zohar 1:137a, 221a; 2:20a (MhN), 189b; 3:107a, 180b, 233b, 286b; Ezra of Gerona, Peirush Shir ha-Shirim, 489 (lily); Joseph ibn Akhnin, Peirush Shir ha-Shirim, 63-65 (rose); Moses de Leon, Sefer ha-Rimmon, 183-84; Zohorei Ya'bets.

A Ladino translation of the verse (The Ladino Five Scrolls, ed. Lazar, 4-5) reads: Comma la roza entre los espinos, ansi mi conpanera entre las duenas.

2. Assembly of Israel bxnw nraa (Kene-

set Yisra'el). In rabbinic Hebrew, this phrase
denotes the people of Israel. The midrash on
the Song of Songs describes an allegorical
love affair between the maiden (the earthly
community of Israel) and her lover (the
Holy One, blessed be He). See Shir ha-Shir­
im Kabbah on 2:1. In the Zohar, Keneset Yis­
ra'el can refer to the earthly community but
also (often primarily) to Shekhinah, the di­
vine feminine counterpart of the people, the
aspect of God most intimately connected

with them. The lovers in the Song of Songs are pictured as the divine couple: Tif'eret and Shekhinah.

  1. colored red and white As is Rosa
    gallica versicolor (also known as Rosa mun-

    di), one of the oldest of the striped roses,

    whose flowers are crimson splashed on a
    white background. The striping varies and
    occasionally flowers revert to the solid pink
    of their parent, Rosa gallica. The parent was
    introduced to Europe in the twelfth or thir­
    teenth century by Crusaders returning from
    Palestine. Both parent and sport were fa­
    mous for their aromatic and medicinal qua­
    lities. Elsewhere (2:2oa-b) the Zohar alludes
    to the process of distilling oil from the pe­
    tals of the flower to produce rose water, a
    popular remedy. During this process the
    color gradually changes from red to white.

  2. thirteen petals... thirteen qualities of
    compassion... A rose blossom can have
    thirteen petals in its second tier. In rabbinic
    tradition, God's thirteen attributes of com­
    passion are derived from Exodus 34:6-7. See
    BT Rosh ha-Shanah 17b. According to Kab­
    balah, these qualities originate in Keter, the



God, is mentioned, it generates thirteen words to surround Assembly of Israel and protect Her; then it is mentioned again.5 Why again? To produce five sturdy leaves surrounding the rose.6 These five are called Salvation;7 they are five gates.8 Concerning this mystery it is written: I raise the cup of salvation (Psalms 116:13). This is the cup of blessing, which should rest on five fingers— and no more9—like the rose, sitting on five sturdy leaves, paradigm of five fingers. This rose is the cup of blessing.

"From the second QTiVk (Elohim) till the third, five words appear. From here on: light—created, concealed, contained in the covenant,10 entering the rose, emitting seed into Her. This is the tree bearing fruit with its seed in it (Genesis 1:12).n That seed endures in the actual sign of covenant. Just as the image of the covenant is sown in forty-two couplings of that seed, so the engraved, explicit name12 is sown in forty-two letters of the act of Creation."13

highest sefirah, the realm of total compassion untainted by judgment.

  1. Din^N (Elohim), God, is mentioned...
    The divine name nTl^K (Elohim), God, refers
    here to Binah, the Divine Mother. Between
    its first and second occurrences in the open­
    ing verses of Genesis there are thirteen
    words, which allude to the thirteen qualities
    of compassion originating in Keter, emanat­
    ing from Binah and surrounding the rose of

  2. five sturdy leaves... The leaves of
    rose plants grow in clusters of five, nine, or
    thirteen leaves. And between the second
    and third occurrences of wnbf. (Elohim) in
    Genesis are five words, alluding to five di­
    vine leaves: the five sefirot emanating from
    Binah and transmitting the flow to Shekhi­
    nah. These sefirot are Hesed, Cevurah, Tif'eret
    (including Yesod), Netsah, and Hod.

  3. Salvation The flow of emanation
    saves the rose of Shekhinah from the demo­
    nic thorns surrounding Her.

  4. five gates By which one enters the
    divine realm.

  5. cup of blessing...on five fingers...
    According to the Talmud, the cup of wine
    is held in the right hand during the blessing
    after food. See BT Bemkhot 51a: "One takes
    it with both hands and places it on the right
    hand." Cf. Zohar 1:156a (ST), 250a; 2:138b,

b, 157b.

10. light—created, concealed... See BT

Hagigah 12a: "Rabbi EPazar said, 'With the

light created by the blessed Holy One on the

first day, one could gaze and see from one
end of the universe to the other. When the
blessed Holy One foresaw the corrupt deeds
of the generation of the Flood and the gen­
eration of the Dispersion [the generation of
the Tower of Babel], He immediately hid it
from them, as is written: The light of the
wicked is withheld (Job 38:15). For whom
did He hide it? For the righteous in the time
to come.'"

Elsewhere, the Midrash links the hidden light with Psalms 97:11: Light is sown for the righteous. See Tanhuma, Shemini 9; Shemot Kabbah 35:1; Midrash Tehillim 27:1.

Rabbi Hizkiyah now specifies where the primordial light was concealed: in the cove­nant, which is a name for the sefirah of Yesod—the divine phallus, site of the cove­nant of circumcision. Yesod is also known as Righteous. See Zohar 1:21a, 3ib-32a, 45b; 2:35a, H8b-i49a; i66b-i67a, 230a.

  1. tree bearing fruit... The tree sym­
    bolizes male divinity.

  2. explicit name The Ineffable Name,
    YHVH. See Devarim Rabbah 3:8; Midrash Te­
    hillim 114:9; Zohar 2:48a.

  3. forty-two couplings... forty-two let­
    ters of the act of Creation The forty-two-
    letter name is mentioned in the name of

Haqdamat Sefer ha-Zohar

Rabbi Shim'on opened, "The blos-rptt/K-Q (Be-reshit), In the beginning. soms have appeared on the earth, the

time of pruning has arrived; the voice

of the turtledove is heard in our land (Song of Songs 2:12). The blossoms are the act of Creation, which appeared on the earth. When? On the third day, as is written: The earth brought forth vegetation (Genesis 1:12). Then they appeared on the earth. The time of pruning has arrived—the fourth day, on which the pruning of tyrants (Isaiah 25:5) took place.14 rnKn (Me'orot), lights, spelled deficiently.15 The voice of the turtledove is the fifth day, as is written: Let the waters swarm [with a swarm of living creatures, and Jet birds fly above the earth, across the expanse of the sky] (Genesis 1:20), generating offspring. 7s heard is the sixth day, as is written: Let us make a human being (Genesis 1:26), who was destined to declare acting before hearing, for here is written: [lb] nuwi (Na'aseh), Let us make, a human being, and there is written: rtuwi (Na'aseh), We will do, and we will listen (Exodus 24:7).16 In our land is the Sabbath day, paradigm of the land of eternal life.17

Rav, though not recorded, in BT Qiddushin 71a. According to one later view, it consists of the first forty-two letters of the Torah, from the a (bet) of rrupjaa (Be-reshit) through the a (bet) of ina (bohu), void (Genesis 1:2).

See Tosafot, Hagigah lib, s.v. ein doreshin; KP i:46c-d; Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition, 94-95; cf. Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, 1:62. Cordovero (OY) describes how the name YHVH ("the engraved, explicit name") can be permuted into a forty-two-letter name; cf. Zohar 2:260a. In Zohar 1:9a, Moses' staff is described as "radiating the engraved name in every direction with the radiance of the wise who engraved the explicit name in forty-two colors." Cf. Zohar 1:15b, 30a; 2:130b, and 175b: "... the forty-two holy letters of the holy name, by which heaven and earth were created."

14. pruning of tyrants... "pm (Zemir) is usually translated "singing oP in this verse, but Rabbi Shim'on understands it as "prun­ing of," i.e., the pruning of the demonic powers, the tyrants (KP; cf. Zohar 3:4b), or

the pruning of humans by the demonic tyr­ants (OY).

15. rnxn (Me'orot), lights, spelled defi­

ciently In Genesis 1:14, the word rnKn
(me'orot) is written without vavs, the vowel
letters. (Such variant spelling is common in
the Torah and affects neither pronunciation
nor the plain meaning of the words.) This
deficient spelling implies that something
was missing on the fourth day of Creation,
a lack representing the potential for evil or
"curse": rnKn (me'erah).

See Proverbs 3:33; JT Ta'anit 4:4, 68b; Pesiqta de-Rav Kahana 5:1; Soferim 17:4; Rashi and Minhat Shai on Genesis 1:14; Zohar 1:12a, 19b, 33b.

  1. We will do and we will listen Spo­
    ken by the people of Israel at Mount Sinai.
    With these words, Israel demonstrated true
    faith by committing themselves to fulfill and
    enact God's word even before hearing the
    details. See BT Shabbat 88a.

  2. paradigm of the land... According
    to BT Berakhot 57b, the Sabbath is "a reflec­
    tion of the world to come."


"The bbssoms are the Patriarchs, who entered the divine mind before Crea­tion18 and entered the world that is coming,19 where they were treasured away. From there, they emerged secretly and were concealed within prophets of truth.20 When Joseph was born, they were concealed within him.21 When Joseph entered the Holy Land, he planted them there. Then they appeared on earth, were revealed there. When are they visible? When the rainbow is re­vealed in the world.22 When the rainbow appears, they are revealed. Then, the time of pruning has arrived, time to excise the wicked from the world. Why are they spared? Because the blossoms have appeared on the earth. Had they not appeared, they would not remain in the world,23 nor would the world endure. Who sustains the world, enabling the Patriarchs to be revealed? The voice of children engaging in Torah.24 For the sake of those children, the world is saved. Corresponding to them, We will make you wreaths of gold (Song of Songs 1:11).

18. Patriarchs, who entered... See Be-
reshit Kabbah 1:4: "Six things preceded

Creation The Patriarchs arose in thought

[i.e., were intended] to be created." In the Kabbalah, the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) represent the triad of sefirot: Hesed, Gevurah, and Tif'eret. Cf. Zohar 1:39b, 97a-b; 3:4b.

19. the world that is coming ifiKT KH^V

(Alma de-atei), the Aramaic equivalent of the
rabbinic Hebrew Kan n^nvn (ha-olam ha-ba),
"the world that is coming." This concept is
often understood as referring to the here­
after and is usually translated as "the world
to come." From another point of view, how­
ever, "the world that is coming" already ex­
ists, occupying another dimension. See Tan-
huma, Vayiqra 8: "The wise call it ha-olam
ha-ba not because it does not exist now, but
for us today in this world it is still to come."
Cf. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Te-
shuvah 8:8; and Guttmann, Philosophies of
Judaism, 37: "'The world to come' does not
succeed 'this world' in time, but exists from
eternity as a reality outside and above time,

to which the soul ascends."

In Kabbalah "the world that is coming" often refers to Binah, the continuous source of emanation, who gives birth to the lower sefirot. See Zohar 3:290b (IZ): "the world that is coming, constantly coming, never ceasing."

Cf. Bahir 106 (160); Asher ben David, Peirush Shehsh Esreh Middot, in Kabbalah 2 (1997): 293> Moses de Leon, Sheqel ha-Qodesh, 26 (30); idem, Sod Eser Sefirot, 375; Zohar 1:83a, 92a.

20. prophets of truth The sefirot of

Netsah and Hod, the source of prophecy.

21. Joseph... Joseph symbolizes the se-

firah of Yesod, the divine phallus, since he
withstood the test of sexual temptation in
Egypt (Genesis 39). The upper triad of sefirot
(Hesed, Cevurah,
and Tif'eret) flow into him,
and when Yesod enters Shekhinah ("the Holy
Land," "earth"), the sefirotic triad is planted
there and revealed. Though Joseph never
returned to the land of Israel, his bones
did. See Joshua 24:32.

  1. When the rainbow is revealed...
    The rainbow symbolizes both Yesod and She­
    khinah, in whose union Hesed, Cevurah, and
    Tif'eret are revealed in their respective colors:
    white, red, and green.

  2. they would not remain... The
    wicked would not remain.

  3. voice of children... See BT Shab-
    bat 119b: "Resh Lakish said in the name of
    Rabbi Yehudah the Prince, 'The world en­
    dures only for the sake of the breath of
    children in the house of study.'" Cf. Zohar
    1:146b; 3:17b.

[v.ib] Haqdamat Sefer ha-Zohar

These are little children, youngsters, as is written: Make two cherubim of gold (Exodus 25:i8)."25

Rabbi El'azar opened, "Lift your eyes rptt/K-Q (Be-reshit), In the beginning. on high and see: Who created these?

(Isaiah 40:26). Lift your eyes on high.

To which site? The site toward which all eyes gaze. Which is that? Opening of the eyes.26 There you will discover that this concealed ancient one, susceptible to questioning, created these. Who is that? Who.27 The one called End of Heaven above,28 whose domain extends over everything. Since it can be ques­tioned, yet remains concealed and unrevealed, it is called Who. Beyond, there is no question.29

  1. Make two cherubim... In BT Suk-
    kah 5b, Rabbi Abbahu interprets the word
    ana (keruv), "cherub," as K«a"ia (fce-ravya),
    "like a child." The plump childlike angels
    of Christian art derive either from this tra­
    dition or from the Greco-Roman Erotes,
    "loves." Here Rabbi Shim'on relates the
    golden cherubim to the golden wreaths of
    the Song of Songs, concluding that both
    images allude to children.

  2. Opening of the eyes nmy nns (Petah
    einayim). The phrase originates in Genesis
    38:14, where it means "the entrance to Ei­
    nayim," a village where Tamar seduced her
    father-in-law, Judah. The midrash on Gen­
    esis (Bereshit Rabbah 85:7) discovers a dee­
    per meaning: "Rabbi [Yehudah the Prince]
    said, 'We have searched through the entire
    Bible and have not found a place called Pe-
    tah Einayim. What is Petah Einayim'? This in­
    dicates that she [Tamar] gazed at the open­
    ing toward which all eyes gaze and said,
    'May it be the divine will that I not leave
    this house empty.'" In the Zohar, this open­
    ing is identified with Shekhinah, gateway to
    the divine. See 3:7ib-72a.

27. Who in (Mi). Binah, the Divine
Mother, is called Who. A spiritual seeker
may inquire about Her, but such questions
do not yield ordinary answers. The identity
of the divine is discovered only in a realm
beyond words. The mystical name Who be­

comes a focus of meditation, as question

turns into quest. See Shim'on Lavi, KP, 1:91a: "Concerning everything that cannot be grasped, its question constitutes its answer."

See Zohar i:29b-3oa, 45b, 85b-86a, 237b; 2:i26b-i27a, 138a, 139b, 226a, 231b.

28. End of Heaven above See Deuter­

onomy 4:32: For ask now of primal days,
which were before you: from the day that
God created humankind on earth, and from
one end of heaven to the other. In BT Hagi-
lib, this verse is interpreted as imposing
a limit on cosmological speculation: "You
may inquire concerning from one end of hea­
ven to the other, but you may not inquire
concerning what is above, what is below,
what came before, what will come after."
See M Hagigah 2:1; Bereshit Rabbah 1:10.

These restrictions on cosmological spec­ulation recall the Gnostic striving after "the knowledge of who we were, what we have become, where we were, where we have been thrown, where we hasten, from what we are redeemed, what birth is and what rebirth" (Clement of Alexandria, Excerpts from Theodotus 78:2). See Zohar 1:30a; Moses de Leon, Sheqel ha-Qodesh, 31; idem, Sefer ha-Rimmon, 20, 375; idem, Sod Eser Sefirot Belimah, 371.

29. Beyond... The realms beyond Bi­
nah, namely, Hokhmah, Keter, and Ein Sof,
are so unknowable that no question con­
cerning them can even be formulated.


"This end of heaven is called Who. There is another below, called What.30 What distinguishes the two? The first, concealed one—called Who—can be questioned. Once a human being questions and searches,31 contemplating and knowing rung after rung to the very last rung—once one reaches there: Whaft. What do you know? What have you contemplated? For what have you searched? All is concealed, as before.

"Concerning this mystery it is written: What can I take as a witness to you? What can I compare to you? (Lamentations 2:13). When the holy Temple was destroyed, a voice cried out: cWhat can I take as a witness to you? What can I compare to you?" I take What as a witness to you. Every single day I have called witnesses against you, since days of old, as is written: I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day (Deuteronomy 3o:i9).32 I compare you to What, precisely!33 I crowned you with holy crowns, gave you dominion over the world, as is written: 7s this the city that was called perfect crown of beauty, joy of all the earth? (Lamentations 2:15). I called you Jerusalem built up, a city bound together (Psalms 122:3). Now, What can I liken to you, to console you? (Lamenta­tions, ibid., 13).34 Just as you sit desolate, so it is above, as it were. Just as now, the holy people do not enter you in holy array, so I swear to you that I Myself will not enter above until your inhabitants enter you below.35 This is your consolation: I compare this rung to you completely.36 But now that you are here, your ruin is vast as the ocean (ibid.).37 Yet if you say you cannot endure or be healed, then Who will heal you (ibid.), really! That concealed, high rung in which all exists will heal you and raise you up.

30. What nn (Mah), a name for She-
khinah, last of the ten sefirot, daughter of
Binah. See Zohar 2:127a. Binah and She­
khinah comprise the two ends of heaven,
above and below Tif'eret, who is called

31. and searches U'QU'Qm, Umphashpesh.

Cr reads here: Utt'Qnm, u-mitpashshet, "and
expands." See Bahir 134 (194); and Azriel of
Gerona, Peirush ha-Aggadot, 39: "Thought
expands (nuumnn, mitpashshetet) and asce­
nds to its source. When it reaches there, it is
stopped and can ascend no further."

  1. I call heaven and earth... Earth
    symbolizes Shekhinah.

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