Let there be Light: Selected Excerpts from The Book of Zohar

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Amazon Drive Cloud storage from Amazon. Alexa Actionable Analytics for the Web. But first let us ask a more general question: What is a great translation? Such translation is part, in fact a necessary part, of the cultural unfolding and flowering of the original work:. The history of the great works of art tells us about their antecedents, their realization in the age of the artist, their potentially eternal afterlife in succeeding generations. Where this last manifests itself, it is called fame. Translations that are more than transmissions of subject matter come into being when in the course of its survival a work has reached the age of its fame.

The life of the originals attains in them to its ever-renewed latest and most abundant flowering. The lifeblood of the original work—that which motivates the act of translation in the first place—spreads through the arteries of a living cultural organism, wherein the past is made present again and again.

The Zohar is not only the central classic of the Kabbalah, it is one of the most extraordinary productions of human creativity in the history of the world. A spark of impenetrable darkness flashed within the concealed of the concealed, from the head of Infinity. While nearly all other kabbalistic works of the period were written in Hebrew and generally claimed by their authors, the Zohar was pseudepigraphic and written in Aramaic: It represented itself as the product of the 2 nd -century Galilean sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

The text of this work was new-old—at once infused with the language and texture of ancient tradition and a radically original mode of imagination and expression. Indeed, the Zohar is itself a fascinating attempt to translate and express the poetry and mystery bequeathed to it by a distant world. In the Zohar , Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his disciples read the Bible as a coded, symbolic document in which every element of earthly reality alludes to a hidden mystery within the divine world.

These interpretations are interwoven with an episodic tale in which the disciples wander about the ancient Galilee in quest of mystical wisdom. Given that it was written by Castilian kabbalists of the 13 th and 14 th centuries, what we have in the Zohar is thus a deeply imaginative fictional creation—an invented world of holy men and spiritual adventures wrought in the fires of stunningly innovative medieval minds. Let us now return to the opening passage of the Zohar. That is, it is a relationship between certain sefirot , which are the 10 divine emanations or potencies, through which the mystery of the infinite is projected into the world.

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The rose, he is telling us, represents the tenth sefirah , the Shekhina , referred to here as the Assembly of Israel Keneset Yisrael , which is identified with the Jewish people and understood to be female. Of special note is his running commentary in the footnotes, which cites rabbinic antecedents and kabbalistic parallels while lucidly explaining the text and often illuminating its broader historical and literary context.

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 thirteenth century by Crusaders returning from Palestine. Both parent and sport were famous for their aromatic and medicinal qualities. Elsewhere a—b the Zohar alludes to the process of distilling oil from the petals of the flower to produce rose water, a popular remedy.

During this process the color gradually changes from red to white. According to Kabbalah, these qualities originate in Keter , the highest sefirah , the realm of total compassion untainted by judgment. Ashlag, who translated the text into a lucid Hebrew with an embedded commentary, was influenced by the 16 th -century Kabbalah of Rabbi Isaac Luria, and his edition was an attempt to disseminate esoteric knowledge to a world that he believed could no longer survive without it. Tishby translated a wide array of passages, accompanied by informative introductions and extensive annotations.

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Despite the importance of Mishnat ha-Zohar for generations of scholars and students, however, the anthologized texts were ultimately only excerpts from a dramatically larger textual stream. Thus, Matt both continues a long tradition of translation and charts new territory. The 19 th -century Jewish historian Heinrich Graetz, who was opposed to mysticism of all kinds, described the Zohar as a forgery.

Scholem set out to disprove Graetz but concluded that he was correct in spite of his rationalist prejudices, though Scholem understood well that pseudepigraphy was not forgery but a phenomenon of premodern religious creativity, the spiritual identification of a later author with a revered figure from times of old. This consensus has been shattered in recent decades. More recently scholars have argued that there were likely several groups of authors in successive decades and even generations, each of whom edited and added to what we now know as the Zohar among them, that early translator Rabbi David ben Yehudah he-Hasid.

This evolution in the theory of authorship has gone hand in hand with a greater appreciation for the relationship and tension between the existing manuscripts of the Zohar and the text as it was first printed in 16 th -century Italy.

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As the research of Daniel Abrams, Boaz Huss, and Ronit Meroz has shown, prior to the 16 th century, there were a range of disparate, overlapping, and incomplete zoharic manuscripts that were weaved together into a new whole by the editors of the Mantua and Cremona printings in the late s. There was no single manuscript still in existence if there ever was one that preserved everything we now regard as being a part of the Zohar. Out of those broken vessels God created the present universe.

According to this alternate creation myth, God is said to have brought the world into being in a series of ten emanations, making it possible for God, a purely spiritual being, to manifest the world we inhabit.

Thus the world is but an emanation of His light. In this way the Ari manages to integrate elements of the myth in Genesis about the creation of light with the sefirotic myth of emanation, while creating a new creation myth of his own. It finds its source in a beautiful midrash about the light created on the first day.

If God did not create the sun until the fourth day, they asked, what was the light of the first day? The rabbis identified it as a primordial light, and there is much rabbinic speculation about where it came from. Some describe it as the light of paradise, while others say it was created when God wrapped Himself in a garment of light, as found in Psalms What happened to this light? God withdrew it from the world, and it became known as the or ha-ganuz , the hidden light. Some say it was taken back into paradise when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.

The Zohar , the central text of Jewish mysticism, dating from the thirteenth century, says that this light was hidden in the Torah, and that whenever anyone studies the Torah with great concentration, a ray of that primordial light will come forth and enlighten them. In another beautiful myth, God is said to have put a bit of that primordial light into a glowing stone, and given it as a gift to Adam and Eve when they were expelled from Eden, as a reminder of all they had lost.

This initiates a series of rabbinic legends about how this glowing jewel was passed down, reaching Noah and later Abraham, among others. But how are these mysterious, elusive sparks gathered? The Ari explained that whenever the Torah was studied or one of the commandments of the law fulfilled, some of the holy sparks were raised up.

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Studying the Torah, observing the law, healing the ills of the world, or performing good deeds all made it possible to gather the sparks, and thus fulfill the great mitzvah of tikkun olam. It implies that a cosmic error, the shattering of the vessels, took place long before the creation of humans. Thus it shifts responsibility for the fallen state of existence from Adam and Eve to God.

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However, while most traditional commentaries on Lurianic kabbalah regard the shattering of the vessels as a cosmic catastrophe, some modern commentators, especially women, note that the sefirotic process of contraction resembles birth pangs, and that, from another perspective, the breaking of the vessels can be viewed as a birth process of the universe, not unlike the Big Bang. A close examination of this new myth reveals that it is bookmarked by two major mythic traditions in Judaism — creation and the messianic era.

Just as the shattering of the vessels is a new creation myth, describing how God made space for creation and then brought this world into being, so too does it recast the requirements for bringing about the messianic era that was expected to initiate a transformation of existence, a kind of return to the Garden of Eden. Traditionally, the arrival of the messianic era will not take place until God decides that the time is right. Thus each generation has the challenge and opportunity to repair the world sufficiently to restore it to its original glory.

And this repair includes the worlds both above and below, which, the Zohar says, are equally in need of repair. The startling notion that there is a rent in heaven finds its source in a myth found in the Zohar. Until then, the Shekhinah chose to go into exile with her children, the children of Israel.

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