Shomer Emunim, #10-11

20 Jan

10. Shealtiel: Well, perhaps the Sisrei Torah, Maaseh Bereishis, and Maaseh Merkavah aren’t what either side claims them to be. Not like the Rambam, who holds that the ideas of our prophets and Sages are the ideas of Aristotle, and not like the Mekubalim either. Rather, they were forgotten and lost during the length of our exile.

11. Yehoyada: This is an empty claim as well. The Sefer Yetzirah, Sefer Bahir, Pirkei Heichalos, and Sefer Zohar, which are all books written by Tannaim on the Sisrei Torah, are found in our hands through a tradition of transmission, according to the Mekubalim. And even the camp of Jewish philosophers agree that are the work of the Tannaim.

For example, the Kuzari, in Teaching 4, Paragraph 55, quotes a few passages from Sefer Yetzirah, which he ascribes to our forefather Abraham (Avrohom), peace be on him. And in Teaching 3, Paragraph 65, he mentions Rabbi Yishmael son of Elisha, the high priest, and says, “He wrote Sefer Heichalos, and knew Hakaras Panim (Physiognomy, or ‘face-reading’) and Maaseh Merkavah because he knew their secrets so well until he was on a level close to prophecy”.

Rabbi Chasdai Crescas also mentions the Sefer Yetzirah in his book “Ohr Hashem”, and ascribes it to our forefather Avrohom, peace be on him. And Rabbi Avrohom Ibn Ezra [1] mentions Sefer Heichalos in his commentary on Parsha “Ki Sisa”, and various other places. Rabbi Moshe Narboni [2], quoted by Rabbi Shem Tov in his commentary on Part 1, Chapter 62 of the ‘Moreh’, mentions the “Sefer Bahir of our Sages”. The author of Sefer “Derech Emunah” in Teaching 20, Gate 3 [3], after giving a lengthy argument to prove that Chaza”l were proficient in all branches of wisdom, writes, “And in the true Godly wisdom, they compiled great works and books, for example Sefer Heichalos, the books of Shiur Komah, and the Sefer Bahir, which contain Godly wisdom that can’t be measured against gold, and can’t be understood by any intellect alone, no matter what method is used.” Also Rabbi Yosef Albo [4], in his “Sefer Haikarim” mentions the Sefer Zohar in Teaching 2, end of Chapter 9, and warns, “Not to read it or any other of the books of the Mekubalim, unless it is from the mouth of a sage who is a Mekubal. Because this wisdom is called ‘kabbalah’ (reception), and is learned in the manner it’s name indicates.

Furthermore, we find that in the times of the Gaonim [5], the Sisrei Torah were not forgotten or lost. For the Ramban writes on Parsha “Bereishis” on the verse, “This is the book of the generations of Adam…” (Genesis 5:1), “Rabbi Sherira Gaon [6] writes that the Sages gave over, one man to his friend, the secrets of Hakaras Panim, and Sidrei Sirtutin (Palm reading), some of which are said in this verse, and some in the next one, ie ‘Male and female He created them…’. One cannot give over Sisrei Torah and mysteries, except to one who shows signs of being worthy for them.” We see that in the days of Rabbi Sherira Gaon, Sisrei Torah and mysteries were known. Also Rabbi Hai Gaon [7] wrote letters of Sisrei Torah to Rav Palti Gaon, and Rav Chamai Gaon authored the “Sefer Haiyun” and “Sefer Hayichud”; all of which are borrowed from in Rabbi Shem Tov’s “Sefer HaEmunos”. You can also find passages in many Gaonim’s writings that regard the secrets of Kabbalah.

In addition, after the times of the Gaonim, many books were found that written by famous Rabbis who testified that they knew the Sisrei Torah through kabbalah (the chain of transmission) [8]. For example, the Ravad, in the introduction to his commentary on Sefer Yetzirah, writes, “But all of these words, and their secrets, I’ve already hinted to you, one on one. So I decided to help and enlighten you by giving you a little snippet of what I’ve received from the hidden words of this holy book.” Also, the Ramban in his books, testified on himself to receiving the Sisrei Torah from his teachers. See also his introduction to his commentary on the Torah.

The Rashba also knew Sisrei Torah through kabbalah, as he writes in his responsa, letter #423, when speaking about the explanation of the verse, ‘Because in 7 days, God made…’ (Exodus 20:10), “According the tiny imprint my ears received from the masters of wisdom, this verse contains a very deep secret, with no comparison to what you might think about it. These ‘days’ are written about in a few places, scattered throughout the Torah and by some of the Mitzvos, the 7th day being one of them. The secret is hinted to by ‘Remember the Sabbath day…’ (Ibid 20:7). And the words of the Torah are like a hammer that shatters stone, and is divided into many different topics, revealed and hidden, said outright and hinted to. Praised is the one whom God has granted the merit of standing amidst their sanctified secrets, which incorporate the mountain of God and the Temple… And about what you said regarding the instituting in the prayers to say, ‘The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’, and not, ‘The God of heaven, and the God of earth’. And about why they put the words, ‘The great, the strong, and the awesome’, near each other. In truth, there is a great fundamental principle in this regarding the topic of prayer, and the meditations to keep in mind (Kavanos), known to those whom God graced with the ability to understand the true intention of it… And the secret of ‘The great, the strong , and the awesome’, is in itself very awesome. How many people know it? And whoever does know it, will he speak of it? Will he then write it down?” [9] Also see letter 94.

Also in the Kabbalistic books of Rabbi Elazar of Garmiza, and Rabbi Yehuda the pious, and the Rokeiach, and in the book ‘Bris Menuchah’, and in Sefer ‘Hakaneh’, and Sefer ‘Hapliah’, and Sefer ‘Temunah’, and in many other works from many wise and holy men, too exhausting to list. All of them agree and testify that they received the Sisrei Torah from their teachers. It’s clear from all this that the words of the prophets and the Sisrei Torah still remain in our hands.


[1] Spain, 1089-1164.

[2] Narbonne, France, 1300-1362.

[3] Gates, Teachings, etc. are just different titles for organizational structures in each book.

[4] Spain, 1380-1444.

[5] End of 6th century till 1038.

[6] Babylonia, 906-1006.

[7] Babylonia, 939-1038.

[8] The word “kabbalah” literally means reception, or chain of transmission and reception. To avoid confusion, when the text refers to Kabbalah, the body of knowledge, I will write the word capitalized, and when it refers to the process of transmission, I will leave it in lower case.

[9] These questions are rhetorical. The Rashba is saying that these are meant to be kept secrets.


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