Shomer Emunim #16-17

7 Feb

Shealtiel: My point isn’t that the unintelligibility of the details of the Kabbalah makes the whole branch unintelligible. I also understand that anyone who begins to learn any new branch of wisdom, will come away with many problems and confusions, which will be enough to make him think that the entire subject is false. I’m saying that the general principles of Kabbalah are strange and contradictory to logic. I’ll explain what I’m saying so that you’ll understand what I’m referring to.

But before that, I want to ask you about the many arguments that are found between the Mekubalim about basic principles. If the whole subject was passed down to them, how can there be any arguments?

Yehoyada: I have actually not found that the Mekubalim argue with the Sefer Yetzirah, Sefer Bahir, Pirkei Heichalos, Sefer Zohar, on fundamentals or any other matter. There are arguments in the Zohar between the students of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai regarding the interpretation of specific Biblical verses. One student interprets it following one principle, and another interprets it following another. They are both valid interpretations [1] because there are 70 faces to the Torah [2]. This in no way damages the principles of the Subject.

If you are referring to the arguments found in the later books of the Mekubalim- these arguments don’t invalidate the claim that they Kabbalah was handed down to them. There are many arguments regarding the Talmudic laws, both in the Talmud and amongst the later scholars deciding the laws. Yet we don’t question whether there was an real tradition of Oral Law passed down, or say that the Talmudic Sages came up with these laws on their own, God forbid. Whoever says that becomes separated from the congregation of Israel.

I will tell you the reason for the arguments found amongst the later Mekubalim, and how they were dissolved when we merited the holy writings of the Arizal. The arguments among the Mekubalim started after the Ramban za”l. The reason this happened is that from the times of the Gaonim until the Ramban, the did not write down the ideas of this Wisdom fully. They only wrote down hints to the ideas. They did this so that the only people who would understand them were those who had received the keys from someone else, face to face. The Ramban writes about this at the end of his introduction to Genesis, and on the words “In the beginning”. He explains that the word hints to the emanation of God called “Wisdom”, and finishes off with the following: “And it is impossible to continue to explain this concept in writing. And hinting will cause greater damage than benefit, because people will think up ideas that are devoid of truth, etc.” See there. And the Rashba says in letter #423, “And the secret of ‘The great, the strong, and the awesome’, is awesome indeed. Who knows it? And that man definitely won’t say it, and even more so, will not write it in a book.” We see that they didn’t want to explain it in writing. You can find similar things in the other books of the earlier Mekubalim. They didn’t write out their words explicitly; rather, they wrote in hints and with much concealment. It’s written in such way as to make it impossible for the reader not to become confused, unless he has received the tradition of the Wisdom from mouth to mouth.

Therefore, after the time of the Ramban, when the mouth to mouth teaching declined, people ideas about the words of the early Mekubalim became confused. Each person wrote what he decided to be the explanation. It came out then, that their ideas didn’t match up with each other. These are the arguments that are found amongst the later Mekubalim. This is the reason for the teaching we received from the our master the Arizal that all the books of Kabbalah after the Ramban aren’t entirely accurate. They are built upon human thoughts, not received from the early generations, and not received from on high.

However, after all of them came the holy Rabbi Moshe Cordovero za”l [3] who read through, searched, and fixed their writings to minimize the arguments. He was a great, intelligent scholar, full of the wisdom of the Torah, very humble and pious, who had access to hidden archives containing books of the early Mekubalim za”l. At first he planted his ‘Orchard’ [4], which put the Kabbalistic ideas in order, according to their intended reasoning. He brought the words of the Gaonim, and explained them in an open and full way. He considered and debated the words of the later Mekubalim, picking out the good from the bad. After that, he wrote the book, ‘Ohr Yakar’, which is a large commentary on the Zohar, Tikunnim, Ra’ayeh Mehemnah, and Sefer Yetzirah. And his last, and best, book is the ‘Sefer Alimah’. It is said in the name of the Arizal, “Moshe is true and his Torah is true in the world of Belimah [5]’. See what Rabbi Menachem Azariah writes in his introduction to his book, ‘Pelach Harimon’.

After this, a great light shone, a stronghold and a tower, holy as the ministering angels, Cmoh”r Yitzchok Luria, za”l, who is called the ‘Ari’ [6]. Through his great knowledge and holiness, he merited to have a revelation of the prophet Elijah (Eliyahu) za”l whenever he wanted; just like the Tannaim and Amoraim, of which there are many cases in the Gemara. He revealed to him Sisrei Torah and deep secrets which hadn’t been revealed in the world since the times of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai za”l. The Ari dissolved all of the arguments and problems of the later Mekubalim. At times he showed a way to meld two views, showing that they are both correct. At other times, he picked one over the other. From his time until now, you will not find anyone who argues with him at all. Everybody knows that the spirit of God spoke through him. All testify that the holy spirit of God was in him, and that from the days of the Tannaim there existed no-one who knew the Wisdom as true as he did. The writings of praise for the awesome deeds he did in the city of Safed, tova”v [7] have already been published in the books, ‘Emek Hamelech’, and ‘Taalumas Chochmah’, in Rabbi Moshe Alshich’s [8] introduction to his commentary on the Torah, and in other books.

It comes out that now, after we merited to have the holy works of the Arizal, there’s no room to argue that we aren’t obligated to learn the Kabbalah. You can’t say anymore that because there are arguments between the later Mekubalim on certain things and we have no way to decide which way is correct that therefore there is a great danger that we might start believing in false ideas. This argument has been totally dissolved through the Ari’s writings. We have merited, through these writings, the light of the Sisrei Torah, the ancient words which are sweeter than honey, sweet to the listener and life-giving to the finder. He revealed secrets that he merited to receive from heaven. As the commentaries prove, and anyone who reads them can see: words like these are impossible for any creature to reach through any form of intellect or knowledge. They are reached only through the shining of the holy spirit upon him.

 

 

 

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[1] The text says, “Both these and these are the words of the living God”, which is a principle found in Tractate Eruvin 13b.

[2] This phrase has become the most common way of referring to a principle found in the Gemara. Rabbi Yishmael in Tractate Sanhedrin 34a explains that it is learned out of the words in Jeremiah 23:29, “And like a hammer shatters rock.” He explains, “Just as a hammer explodes into many sparks when striking a rock, so too one verse can be explained in many ways”.

[3] Safed, Israel; 1522-1570.

[4] His book titled, ‘Pardes Rimonim’, or ‘Pomegranate Orchard’.

[5] A Kabbalistic play on the word ‘Alimah’.

[6] Although this is an abbreviation of the words ‘Eloki Rav Yitzchok’, the word ‘Ari’ also means lion in Hebrew.

[7] “It shall be rebuilt quickly in our days”.

[8] Safed, 1508-1593.

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