Shomer Emunim (Original), Introduction

3 Jan

Translator’s Note: The Sefer “Shomer Emunim”, first published in Amsterdam, in the year 1736, was written by Rabbi Joseph Ergas (1685-1730), of Livorno, Italy, one of the foremost Talmudists and Kabbalists of his day. His work, because of it’s clear, succinct, and logical style, has been highly influential amongst students of Kabbalah, most notably among the Chassidic masters. I have decided to translate only the first of the dialogues that make up the book, as I believe it holds a greater appeal as an introduction to Kabbalah. If enough people are interested in a further translation, I will reconsider.

Advice: As the first dialogue compares the viewpoint of traditional Talmudic theology with the theological perspective of Kabbalah by analyzing Maimonides, it would be helpful to learn some of Maimonides’ writings first. These include his Sefer Madah in Mishneh Torah, and Moreh Nevuchim, both available in English online.

A note on the designation “Original”: The designation “Hakadmon”, “The Original”, is found on modern editions of the book to distinguish it from a later book that uses the same name.

Of note: Some of the most famous disseminators of Kabbalah, such as the Ariza”l, Ramcha”l, and lately Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan and Rabbi Shimshon Pincus, died in middle-age. Our author did as well, aged 45. (Of course, there are many famous others that lived long lives.) Some people have attributed this to a Mishnaic ban put on teaching it in public. However, the early chassidic movement was famous for disseminating Kabbalah, and still holds by its traditions today. The Sephardic community has a more open outlook on it as well. The traditional European, or misnagdish, Ashkenazic community is still generally against its public teaching, and doesn’t put a strong emphasis on teaching it in private either. However, as noted in Rabbi Sedley’s torahlab introduction (linked to on this site), the famous Ashkenazic ban on learning Kabbalah before 40 etc. never applied to this Sefer. And although the Sefer was written before the ban and slightly before the chassidic movement started, the general disagreement is one of the major topics discussed inside. In particular, the arguments against the importance of learning Kabbalah and it’s supposed inauthenticity are presented as having a long history, and are ultimately dismissed in a very convincing case. 

In addition, I personally would add that the famous Aggaditah in Chagigah, while discussing the dangers of Kabbalah, also stresses it’s importance. For example, the knowledgeable Amoraim (R’ Yochanan, etc.) approached worthy scholars one on one to teach them the Kabbalah. They clearly did not think it was an unnecessary or trivial part of our mesorah.

In addition to this, there is the story of ‘Hahu Gavra’, a heretofore unknown man named there in Chagigah who is remembered with praise for having saved Kabbalah from being lost by taking the initiative and teaching it directly to the public. As well, many poskim often mention the practices of the mekubalim and will even change their thought-out psakim simply based on what the Arizal’s practice was.

Aside from all this, it is clear to me that the dangerous Kabbalah talked about in the Gemarah is an entirely separate thing to the Kabbalah in this Sefer. [Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan z”l has interesting books on the ‘dangerous’ Kabbalah that he describes as a set of meditative practices associated with Kabbalah. These sorts of magical practices, however, are very foreign to the subject matter of this Sefer.] By way of a very general comparison, this Sefer can be looked at as similar to the Ramcha”l’s sefer, Derech HaShem, but with the Kabbalistic details filled in. 

I would advise the more traditional scholar to read chapters 28-33 which deal with these issues, and perhaps discuss with knowledgeable colleagues about their thoughts on learning the rest of the Sefer.

Who this translation is written for: Just like the author, R’ Ergas, says in his introduction, this translation of his Sefer wasn’t written for those with a passing interest. It was written for those seeking the meaning behind the Mitzvos, the Universe, our purpose here, and to strengthen our emunah against those who dismiss it by ascribing inauthentic reasons to the mitzvos based on psychology and the like. As the author says about philosophy in his days, the popular psychological theories about the Torah are a rabbit hole based on nothing concrete, that confuse a person the deeper he goes and strip the meaning from his life. Equally as bad, or even worse, it replaces it with nothing that a person can build his life around, because the ideas contradict each other and are not based on evidence or reality at all. In the end, a person searching for truth is left with no answers, perhaps shaken confidence, and thorough confusion. All while the original clear answers are purposely being kept hidden from him.

Many people have no desire to know why they learn Torah and do Mitzvos past what they are told in yeshiva. The answers in the Ramchal, for example, sanitized of their Kabbalistic origins, suffice for them. However, many serious baalei emunah and talmidei chachamim are left questioning and find nothing that satisfies them. In the end, they turn to the Rambam’s philosophy and modern secular philosophy or read psychological theories online for the reasons of the Mitzvos. These people will end up lost, searching deeper and deeper down a hole with no end, and lose hope of ever finding an answer and even their meaning to the actions they do on a daily basis, such as tefillah, Limud haTorah, kashrus, all the way up to their enjoyment of shabbos and even yomim tovim like pesach and sukkos. 

If you object to this Sefer being translated, please contact me. However, the question to me is one of ‘risk management’. Are we willing to risk some of our smartest Bnei Torah and Baal habatim in order to keep Kabbalah hidden from those unfit to learn it, or who might abuse it? I don’t claim to be able to give a final answer on this, but it seems to me that a false mashiach or the like is not a practical concern anymore in our day, while the other problem is all around us. What sense is there to having answers if we don’t give them to people who need them? [This is all aside from the specific exclusion of this Sefer in the text of the cherem below age 40, allowing it to be learned from age 30 and up from a printed text.]

 

Sefer Shomer Emunim


First Introduction [1]

So says the young (used as a sign of deference to his father’s greatness) Yosef, son to my master and father, Cmohr”r (our teacher and master), Rabbi Emanuel Ergas – Zt”l (the remembrance of a righteous man should be a blessing):

From the day that my mind matured, I decided to seek out and explore wisdom. To search in the darkness. From authors and from books. And I saw many compositions that shine and light up (‘Zohar’) like the light of the heavens (‘Rakiah’) [2]. Works of our forebears, sages of the truth and the hidden things, through the tradition of their masters, the ones who in turn received (‘Mekubalim’) this tradition. Our chieftains, carriers of the Torah, the Mitzvos, and all praiseworthy things.

And I found in them, many good, precious pearls, eye-opening in matters of wisdom. Without them, it is impossible to understand and teach the foundations of the Torah and it’s cornerstones [3]. But I saw the enlighteners of the masses disgraced, the scholars walking destitute- with no desire to learn the hidden parts of the Torah (‘Sisrei Torah’) and it’s passed down secrets. In order to understand and explain the ideology [4] of the Torah, they follow foreign paths and the children of foreigners [5]. But the truth is locked up and devastated, like the barbarians’ desolation [6]. Even the scholars who follow straight paths – who drink up the waters of our Sages and their insights in order to understand God’s Torah and the words of the prophets – even they still fail to completely understand the main principles of the Torah according to the true ideology, since they are barred from knowing the Sisrei Torah and the secrets of the words of our Sages z”l (may their rememberance be for a blessings), whose forms shine like sapphire [7].

And even amongst the minority of scholars who do learn the wisdom of the Kabbalah, I see a perversion. When they begin learning (Kabbalah), they immediately jump to learn the wisdom of the Ar”i z”l (Rabbi Yitzchok Luria) from the choicest of it’s fruits, before they are complete in understanding the introductions to this Wisdom (i.e. Kabbalah [8]) and the principles of the faith, both of which the Mekubalim explain in their seforim to show the path light (‘Ohr’) rests on and the place understanding (‘Binah’) does (i.e. which statements can’t be understood by themselves and which ones can) [9].

But these scholars come with a reason for doing so. They quote the Ariza”l’s statement to his student Rabbi Chaim Vital z”l that, “All books on Kabbalah written after the Ramban (Nachmanides) are not in the tradition of this Wisdom. They are built on the understanding of men instead of being received from the mouths of the previous generations or from heavenly sources.” But they don’t know nor comprehend [10] that these words of the Ari were said only on certain introductions to the Wisdom and the Blessed heavenly waters (i.e. secrets learned from heavenly sources [11]), not on the roots (central teachings) of the Wisdom or the main principles of the faith. In these, you won’t find change or argument between the early and later Mekubalim. There are those Mekubalim that write in hints to make us smarter, and there are those that write very long and wide teachings and explanations so that the Kabbalah won’t be forgotten from the mouths of our children. And from these writings it is a proof that the teachings of the Ari are complete [12] -to someone who has already learned and knows the introductions to the Wisdom, as the Ari’s students did. The students that went to learn from him were scholars, knowledgeable in the works of the early generations. Because of this, their master the Ari didn’t need to explain the entire path. Rather, he planted sweet plants, and gave directions, and said explanations more precious than rubies. But with all that, many new things come out of the Ari’s holy writings to one who understands the subject. Because the Ariza”l didn’t turn from the ways of the early Mekubalim in the basics of the faith or among more esoteric subjects [13]. However, one who doesn’t follow their (the Mekubalim’s) highways only does so because he didn’t previously learn the essentials of the Wisdom and it’s branches. With this, their eyes are smeared [10], preventing them from seeing, the faith is lost and cut from their mouths.

Therefore I have awakened my thoughts, and aroused my planning to compose a short, but full work, in order to awaken the heart of each man belonging to the categories spoken about above, the man who walks on the unbeaten path, to awaken his heart to the belief in the cornerstones of the religion given to the treasured nation.

In it, I shall include the introductions and keys that are necessary to know before coming to enter into the wisdom of the Ariza”l. I have called this work “Shomer Emunim”, because in it, the main principles of the faith (‘Emunah’) are guarded (‘Shemurim’) and hidden.

Most of the questions and dialectic that I have written in this book are either ones that I’ve heard from simple people who oppose the Wisdom, or from the small group of intelligent people who desire to know it. Therefore, I decided to style this work in the manner of two scholars having a discussion, and then separated it into two dialogues:

The First Dialogue’s purpose is to bring a few proofs to the veracity of the chain of reception of the hidden Wisdom in order to provoke the eyes [14] of the simple people who oppose it with a raised hand [15]. This will show them their mistake and, more generally, that their knowledge is not complete. I also mention in this dialogue the ideas of our fellow Jewish philosophers, and how they are mistaken in many cornerstones of our holy Torah- even though they agree with the Mekubalim in the belief of the simple oneness of God, which is the first stone (i.e. the first cornerstone of the faith). I also mention in this part a few rational proofs for the belief in Sefiros for those who can understand -because for lying sons [16], even a hundred witnesses won’t help. You can also find in it very nice insights regarding the authenticity of the path of the Mekubalim; important words to help in understanding the beginning of the formation of created existence; along with a few crumbs of wisdom that my creator, of wondrous praise, granted me.

The Second Dialogue’s purpose is to explain many ideas that are part of the cornerstones of the religion. And an explanation of belief in God, his descriptions, and his names as understood through the tradition of the Mekubalim. And the idea of service for the sake of heaven. And the details of divine providence. And many precious keys to help understand the basic principles of the faith.

“(He) gives wisdom to those that know understanding” [17], and I assure you that everything that I wrote in this book is based on the books of Kabbalah, which I mention by name when quoting each idea. The ideas I write without source texts are clean flour that I’ve ground from their words. Because even though these ideas are not written explicitly in their books, they are the necessary consequences of their ideas- to one carefully reading different parts of their works and figuring out the basis of their ideas.

My intention in this book is not to give lengthy analyzations. I want to keep it short, so the reader won’t get weary with his reading, and with the length of the text. I’ve also written it in a clear, understandable style so that the words will be sweet to the reader’s palate, and enter his ears easily. And they will always be in his memory, to remove the veil of blindness from before the eyes of the students and beginners. And I will be the cause (for God) to bequeath to them life in the next world.

May God in His mercy grant me to be among those who cause the masses to be righteous, as is my desire. Because all my salvation and all my desire [18] is to enlighten and benefit with my pen and lips [19] anyone who desires the wisdom of the Ari and Rashb”i [20]. That’s why I thought about the request of those who pushed me to write this, and desired to so. To publish this book -even though it’s small, and might be lost because of it’s smallness [21] – because I am sure that the gates of understanding will open for anyone who reads it with an objective eye and subtle, intense study. And it will be for him a supply and a support [22] to understand the writings of the Ariza”l according to their true intent, because truth will sprout and flower from them like a lily.

May the Rock who dwells in His heavenly residence grant me the merit to understand from His Torah wonders (nifla’os), and save me from mistakes , and bring close the end of the calamities (ha’fla’os), like the days we left the land of Egypt shall he show us wonders (nifla’os). Our eyes shall see, and our hearts will rejoice, swiftly and in a close time, Amen [23].

————————————————

[1] There is a separate introduction to the second part of the sefer, the so-called “Second Dialogue”. This introduction is written in style unique to Rabbinic authors in which poetic phrases are taken from Scripture and Talmudic literature and used as part of the prose. The author is particularly skilled in this technique, with many of the phrases used in such a way as to hint at other, tangentially related concepts. I have tried to retain the phraseology in places where the poetry doesn’t prove confusing when translated, along with pointing out the origins of a few of the poetic phrases.

In general, I have changed the sentence structure to mimic normative English grammar, except where I felt this would detract from the original meaning. In the same vein, I have also added extra words to aid the fluidity of sentences, even in passages the author quotes.

In addition, I have attempted to familiarize readers with words that appear frequently in the works of Kabbalah by transliterating these words when they first appear, and then using this transliteration, untranslated, throughout the rest of the book.

[2] Phrase originally in Daniel 12:3; also the basis of the title of the most famous book of Kabbalah, “The Zohar”.

[3] These words’ initials spell out the Tetragrammaton in the Hebrew, a custom the author uses throughout the book

[4] I’ve translated forms of ‘Kavanah’, when used in relation to ideas, as ‘ideology’; although a more true definition would be the unwieldy ‘intention of the idea’.

[5] This word is also used to refer to gentiles. The author is using this connotation to hint at a problem he has with the Rambam [Maimonides] which he will discuss in the first dialogue.

[6] This imagery is used here to create a parallel to the tragedy of the Temple’s destruction through foreign hands.

[7] Phrase taken from Lamentations 4:7. This phrase is a notable choice for it’s use of the Hebrew word for sapphire, “Sapir”. Sapir, etymologically similar to “Sefirah”, [heavenly spheres, or attributes], is frequently used as an illustrative symbol in Kabbalah. Incidentally, this same, rather obscure, phrase from Lamentations is also found on the title page of R’ Avraham Azulai’s famous kabbalistic work “Chessed Le’avraham”, which was first published in 1685, the year of the author’s birth.

[8] The word, “Wisdom” here means, “this specific branch of wisdom”, I.e. Kabbalah.

[9] These words are Kabbalistic terms and will be explained in the book.

[10] This phrase is taken from Isaiah 44:18. It concludes with, “Their eyes are smeared”, worked into the text below.

[11] Unlike the revealed Torah, secrets of Kabbalah can be learned through this method, as will be explained in the book.

[12] Phrase taken from Psalms 19:8.

[13] The words here are actually “Lifnai ve’lifnim”, or “In front of and inside”, a phrase used in Talmudic literature to describe the ‘Holy of Holies’ space in the Temple.

[14] Phrase taken from Isaiah 3:8.

[15] Phrase from Exodus 14:8.

[16] Phrase from Isaiah 30:9.

[17] Phrase taken from Daniel 2:21.

[18] Phrase from 2 Samuel 23:5.

[19] Phrase is in the style of Psalms 45:2-3.

[20] Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, author of ‘The Zohar’.

[21] This phrase is used by the Talmud, Bava Basra, Folio 14b, to explain why the Twelve Prophets were put into a single tract.

[22] Phrase from Isaiah 3:1.

[23] Phrase taken from the Kaddish prayer.

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22 Responses to “Shomer Emunim (Original), Introduction”

  1. Mike January 30, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    i never heard of this book before but this is way cool! thanks!

    • David Austin June 3, 2015 at 12:03 am #

      In an essay called mystical concepts in chasidism, which can be found at the back of every eglish language Tanya as ‘introduction to part 4 ‘, Rabbi J I Schochet OBM recommends this sefer for further study into the topics he discusses.

      I am grateful to Hashem that this important work is available for study in English

      Mazal Tov to you and your holy rebbe, Mr Bookman, and thank you

      • Mr. Bookman June 3, 2015 at 12:21 am #

        Np. Please read through and comment on any entry. the sefer is being continued by R’ Shaul taub and R’ Twerski.

        • David Austin June 4, 2015 at 3:06 am #

          Aha! Thank you R. Shaul. I thought “Mr Bookman” was a pseudonym but on looking closer it seems you took up after Mr Bookman left off. This is a really valuable resource. As a baal tshuvah who came to learning in mid life I don’t have good Hebrew and the opportunity to go a little deeper is always a great privilege

          • Shaul Yedidyah Elazar Taub June 15, 2015 at 1:42 pm #

            I’m glad you’re benefiting and enjoying the fruits of our labor. I decided to continue Mr. Bookman’s holy work because I learned Shomer Emunim 3 times with my Rebbi, Rabbi Mordechai Twerski, Shlita, and found it to be a most interesting & informative Sefer that discusses all the unanswered questions that I’d always had. I decided to share that information with other deep thinkers. I will admit that It is a much more difficult project than I had originally anticipated. Translating a Hebrew book to English is difficult enough. Translating a Hebrew Kabballah Sefer while trying to keep it accurate and at the same time give over the original authors’ feeling is absolutely mind-boggling.

            I am very happy that you found religion at this point in your life. I’ve always been and still am very much into philosophy. If you feel that you have some questions, feel free to email me privately.

            If you think it’s been interesting so far,…. The best is yet to
            come…

            Shaul Yedidyah Elazar Taub

  2. Mike January 30, 2011 at 9:54 pm #

    is this completed? if it is i’d love to get a printed copy of the entire thing

  3. Mr. Bookman January 30, 2011 at 11:10 pm #

    That’s great! Glad you’re enjoying it.
    I don’t believe any translation of the Sefer exists. I’m translating it piece by piece. As I finish each translation, I post it.

    • Mike January 31, 2011 at 12:14 am #

      How long is it? when do u anticipate completion?

      • Mr. Bookman January 31, 2011 at 12:48 am #

        I generally do one piece a week. 2 if the pieces are short enough or if I have more time. There are about 35 more pieces in the book.

  4. Mike February 6, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    i am eagerly awaiting the next installment!

  5. Daas Torah March 15, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    waiting for the next installment!

  6. Daas Torah March 25, 2011 at 8:50 am #

    are u not going to do this any longer?

  7. Mr. Bookman March 25, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

    I decided to stop translating it. But since you’re interested, why don’t you set up a chavrusah, a study partner, and learn the rest of the book in the Hebrew?

    You can go to your local yeshiva or shul and ask a Rabbi if he can set you up with a study partner. Or you can find a chvrusa online. If you want me to, I can point you to a few sites that set up chavrusas over the phone.

    I’m glad you enjoyed it so far.

  8. Daas Torah March 26, 2011 at 9:04 pm #

    😦
    i was really hoping to have it as a completed translated sefer! heck i’d even be willing to pay you for the effort.

  9. Mr. Bookman March 28, 2011 at 5:45 pm #

    I appreciate the offer but I only did this because I thought more people were going to be interested. Its a big investment of time and there’s only a very small audience. I think you’re my only consistent reader actually. No offense, really, I’m happy that you like it, but I was hoping for more of a response than one person for all the effort I put in.

  10. Shaul Taub November 16, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    I have been learning Chavrusa, with my Rebbe, for 10 years. We started Shomer Emunim about 6 months ago. I just found your translation now. I found it extremely helpfull & desperately wish that you reconsider finishing translating the Sefer, for the benefit of all Klal Yisroel.
    Shauly

    • Mr. Bookman November 16, 2011 at 2:00 pm #

      Great to hear that you’re learning the sefer. I think it’s a genuine classic on the subject.

      Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to put into it anymore. I think if there was more interest, I would do it, but as it stands, it’s a lot of work with not enough pay-off. It’s sad, but barely anyone seems to be interested in a translated shomer emunim.

      If you have any questions, though, you can email me and I’ll answer them as best I can, bli neder.

      • Shaul Taub October 30, 2014 at 8:52 pm #

        Hello Rabbi Bookman,
        I am now learning Shomer Emunim again, with my Rebbe. I printed out & showed him your translation, He loved your translation as well as I did. He asked me to plead with you to continue with your holy work of translating. He would love to speak to you about it. Would you possibly reconsider?

    • Mr. Bookman November 16, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

      You can use the “submit translations” tab, or post it as a comment.

  11. Raphael Ergas July 1, 2012 at 7:55 am #

    Shalom Dear Mr. Bookman
    Where can I find the first translation 1 to 9?
    You were doing a great job. Why not continue?
    I think people did not know about your work and that is why the audience was reduced. With the right internet advertising I can assure you that thousands would be interested.
    Let me know what you think can be done.
    Shavua Tov!

    • Mr. Bookman July 1, 2012 at 8:46 am #

      Thanks Raphael. you can find 1-9 plus introductions by clicking on ‘january 2011’ under ‘archives’ on the side panel. This blog was the most enjoyable of all the ones I’ve done. Maybe there would be a large audience if I had the time and money to give this sefer the attantion it deserves. Unfortunately, I dont have much of either at the moment, so Im not going to continue this for the forseeable future (i havent touched it for a year and a half).

      I would love to crowdsource it though. If you know anyone with the skills and interest to pick this up where I left off, I would be more than happy to give them an authorship to the blog and to allow them to use my translation as part of any publication of the sefer.

      Btw, I noticed your last name is Ergas. Are you related to the author of the sefer by any chance?

      If you are interested in learning more, Im sure you can find a chavrusa in a chabad or other kabbalistically bent yeshiva. Also there are fantastic resources available online, some of which I mentioned to another commenter above.

      Aleh vhatzlach

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