Friday, May 02, 2008

The Authenticity of Kabbalah pt xiii

Shadal continues his Vikuach al Chochmat haKabbalah. (See previous segment.) The guest attributes the position that the Sefirot are simply numbers to the Rabbi Yehuda haLevi, author of sefer haKuzari. The author responds that Rabbi Yehuda haLevi did not know the true meaning of Sefirot, since it was not popularized in his generation. The guest points out that the kabbalistic conception of Sefirot does not accord with certain language used in sefer Yetzirah; and further that kabbalists never created anything big or small via sefer Yetzirah. The author now attempts to prove that the chachmei haSefirot existed in the time of Rav Saadia Gaon, a claim the guest will debunk in the next segment. The text of the Vikuach follows:

The guest: Let us put aside the philosophers, and now come and I will establish you on the substance of the intent of sefer Yetzirah based on the opinion of the lofty sage Rabbi Yehuda haLevi, who revealed to us the correct explanation and which sits well on the intellect, more than all that is written in this matter.

It is an important foundation to the author of sefer Yetzirah that all that Hashem wants He does, and all that He imagines in His thoughts He causes to come into existence for its time, without and other labor: Therefore, when he {=the author of sefer Yetzirah} comes to inform us in his book the matter of creation {yetzira}, he only mentioned 32 paths of wondrous knowledge, by which the world was created, and these are the ten numbers and the twenty two letters. And the reason is that when the Master of all contemplated decided in His Heart what He wished to create, He would set bounds for each and every matter its quality and quantity, and the author of the sefer Yetzirah hinted to the qualities with letters, for the letters, when you join them together to form words, inform about the name and the substance of things; and he hints to quantity with numbers, and the matter is plain that the numbers inform about the quantities of things.

{J: An interjection here, for a definition of terms. Sefer Yitzirah 2:4 reads:
"He set the fundamental twenty-two letters in a wheel, as a wall, in two-hundred-and-thirty-one gates. The wheel moves forward and backward. And the sign of the matter is: "There is nothing in goodness above pleasure and nothing in misfortune below a [leprous] lesion."

231 gates is arrived at as follows.
22 * 21, since there are 22 choices for the first letter and 21 choices for the second letter. This equals 462. Divide by 2 because we treat AB as identical to BA, and we have 231 combinations, which are called "gates."

And behold, according to what the Master of all joins in His Heart the letters via the 231 gates and their descendants, so too immediately and instantly the substance combines and bonds as is fitting in the Eyes of the Creator to do. And according to how He combines the numbers in His Heart, so do the created stand in that measure which arose in thought before Him.

And if we were able, when speaking the word "man," {?? or perhaps, "when speaking human speech"} to bring out its form, we would be capable of the Divine speech, and we would be creators.

And a simple example of this matter is already apparent in terms of the movement of our limbs. For it is enough that a person imagines in his heart to move one of his limbs in some movement, and immediately, the nerves move the arteries and the arteries move the cords {?muscles?} and the cords move the hand or the foot, or whatever the person wishes to move. {Note: I am sure I did not translate the biological terms correctly here, since such specific medical terms might not be the same in modern Hebrew. To be fixed -- and any help is appreciated. Here is a history of nerves and another one -- by Shadal's day, they knew all about nerves transmitting electrical signals from the brain and causing muscle contraction.}

And those {Talmudic} Sages who were in truth creators did not create with their wisdom {chochma} nor did they perform actions by which creator of something would be compelled, as the simple think, and those who grant the honor of the Creator to his creations, and His praise to sons of man; rather, because of their righteousness and their piety, Hakadosh Baruch Hu fulfilled their desires, and He was the one who made it so that all that arose in their thoughts came out immediately into reality; such that when they were engaged in sefer Yetzirah, and they contemplated in their hearts the qualities of the thing they wished to create and its quantity, their thoughts went out to actuality, not because of their {using this} wisdom, but rather from Hashem's love for them.

This is the primary idea of sefer Yetzirah, and therefore you do not find that he says in any place, "when you come to create, do such-and-such," for he knew that this matter was not in the hands of man, but rather to Hashem alone.

The author: These words were fitting for the one who said them. And behold this is a very beautiful proffering of Rabbi Yehuda haLevi, in order to bring the matters close to the intellect, since he never saw in his days the lights of the kabbalah. But we, upon whom the light of the true received wisdom has shined from our ancient ones, there is no doubt that we should not set aside the certain in order to take the doubtful.

The guest: There are two answers to the matter. Firstly, that the words of sefer Yetzirah are not explained at all according to the opinions of the kabbalists. For behold, if you say that the Sefirot are themselves Divinity, how does he say "and before His throne they prostrate themselves?" And if the Sefirot are all bounded creations, how did he say that they have no end? And is it not so that everything created is perforce something something that is finite. And the second answer is that we have never heard about of of the congregation of kabbalists that he created something, neither a small thing nor a large thing.

{J: There are stories of questionable accuracy about the Maharal of Prague and the Vilna Gaon creating golems.}

The author: I see that you are a wise man in your own eyes, in the same fashion as the fools who never saw lights {meorot of kabbalah} in their days. If this is not so, how does it enter your heart that you will descend to the depths of sefer Yetzirah more that the geniuses of the land who were before me and before you? And further, how do you not see that the faith of the kabbalists in the matter of the Sefirot was received in their hands from the first {=earlier} generations? Do you not to to Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra in the introduction to his commentary on the Torah, that he said that Rabbenu Saadiah Gaon (such that this was the year 900) in the commentary of {Bereishit 1:14}

יד וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי מְאֹרֹת בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמַיִם, לְהַבְדִּיל, בֵּין הַיּוֹם וּבֵין הַלָּיְלָה; וְהָיוּ לְאֹתֹת וּלְמוֹעֲדִים, וּלְיָמִים וְשָׁנִים. 14 And God said: 'Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years;
extends to talk based on the wisdom of the Sefirot.

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