Thursday, May 29, 2008

Kabbalah and Philosophy pt ii

Shadal continues his Vikuach al Chochmat haKabbalah. (See previous segment.) The author plugs one of his sefarim -- Kuntres Havdalos haNirdafim. The author and guest are in accord in their dislike of philosophical derash, into which pashtanim sometimes stray. In order to make philosophy accord with Judaism, they reinterpret Tanach, Mishna and gemara in a forced manner, and one which is not in line with the original intent of Chazal. Thus they abandon peshat and also corrupt the beliefs of Chazal. One case in point is the nature of the soul. And not only that, but kabbalists follow the philosophers in this as well. {The text in block print is not in the online scan at SeforimOnline, but is from my own copy of the book.} The text of the Vikuach follows:

But rather the opposite, together let us rejoice with love in words of Torah and wisdom, and let us laugh at wealthy men who increase their anguish, and in all their striving and effort, they do not find not recognize the rest of the spirit and the joy of the soul. And behold, with me are several things which I wrote about the wisdom of language and about the wisdom of Torah. I will bring them out to you, and you will examine them in the spirit of investigation which I see in you, and you will inform me of your opinion and your criticisms, and I will accept them in happiness.

And I brought him to my house and placed before him my kuntres havdalos hanirdafim {I would guess a pamphlet about the slight differences between synonyms} and he read in it, and also within the meal and after it, until close to midnight. And I found him to be ten times what I had estimated him to be before, and in no small amount did he offer to me his insights to fix afterwards that which I wrote. After this, the man went to his house of lodging. And I lay down and slept. And it was in the morning, and I was on my bed, and the sound of the man knocked and called my name, and I arose and opened {the door} to him, and I said to him: What is this that you have hurried, and I thought that you loved sleep, after all that you have complained about our custom to learn on the night of Hoshana Rabba.

And the man answered me and said: My master should not say words such as this, for if slumber is sweet to me, behold it is sweeter to me to learn Torah and to hear pleasant novelties as you caused me to hear yesterday. And now, don your clothing and show me your honor and your writings which are left for me to read, and afterwards we will go to shul.

And I did in accordance with his words, and he read my pamphlets until he finished them, another three hours, and afterwards we went together to the synagogue, and then together we left and returned to the house, and our heats feasted.

And I said to him: While is is indeed true, that I derive great enjoyment from the examinations I continuously make in the depths of our language and in the poetic phrases of our prophets, and that my soul also rejoices that my fathers left me a place to fence in, behold when I see the difficulty of the word, and its length and breadth, it is impossible that I not be aggrieved, how come our the sages and commentators and early composers, whose little finger was thicker than our waists, did not precede us to apply their hearts to dear examinations as these, to lighten from us a bit of this awesome burden. And what it especially wondrous in my eyes is the small number of those who seek peshat, among the many great sages who arise in the congregation of our nation after the closing of the Talmud. And even more that this I am astonished when I see that even the sages who cleaved to peshat did not cleave to it completely {גמורה}, such that they did not divert from it many times.

Behold Rashi, the head of the pashtanim, in many places distances himself from the peshat to got in the way of derash

and aggadah. And even if his intent was desirable, behold the Rashbam and the Ramban wage battle with him to establish the peshat in its proper place. And they themselves, though their words are sweeter than honey, behold their words only come on Chumash but not on the rest of the Biblical books (with the exception of Iyyov which the Ramban commentated upon).

And if we turn to the other great commentators -- Ibn Ezra, Radak, and Don Yitzchak Abarbanel, we find that in many places they lean from the path of peshat to another side -- is it not the philosophical derash.

And the man {=the guest} replied to me and said: You have spoken correctly. A great and grievous damage has the mixed up philosophy damaged us -- which spread in the world via the Arabs, who took Aristotle as head and chief, and in his name they swear, and they wish to make his words agree with their beliefs which they received from their fathers, and they innovated a confused wisdom which confuses the hearts - which when the kingdom of Ishmael spread in the lands, this {ideology}also spread, and confused the thoughts and ruined the beliefs.

And the chachmei yisrael also, in order to make the words of this philosophy agree with our Complete Torah, forced and pressed the words of the Torah, Neviim, and the Sages of the Mishnah and the Talmud in order that they say what they did not say and never entered their hearts in {all} their days. And in order to do this they {the chachmei yisrael} brought out the {tools of} derash, remez and mashal {allegory}. And they abandoned the peshat and did not serve it.

And if this philosophy served another purpose, it is this: To distance the souls from the Creator, Yisbarach. Behold in many other matters it damages, caused loss, ruined and corrupted our holy faith.

And the beginning of everything, in the matter of the soul {nefesh} of man, how much has philosophy damaged! And how much has it distanced the Jews from the belief of their forebears! There is no doubt that the belief of Razal was that the nefesh was a substance that stood by itself before the formation of the body, for they said (Chagiga 12b)
{ערבות שבו צדק משפט וצדקה גנזי חיים וגנזי שלום וגנזי ברכה ונשמתן של צדיקים ורוחות ונשמות שעתיד להיבראות } "Arvos, for there are ... spirits and souls which will eventually be created." And they said (Sanhedrin 91): "That she {=the nefesh} is given into man at the time of visitation." That is to say: at the time a man "visits" his wife. And they explicitly said that the infant in the womb of his mother has an intelligent neshama, for behold they say (Niddah 30) that in the 9 months of pregnancy they teach it the entirety of Torah. And even though they only said this thing by way of derash, still

they would not say this if they did not believe that the nefesh is something which stands on its own. And this nefesh, or neshama was not something separate from the substance by which the person lived and moved an felt, but rather they believed that life, movement and intellect were all in man via a single substance called nefesh or neshama, which is given in all people at the time of conception, whether he been good or bad. For behold they said (Sanhedrin 91), "the body says "the soul sinned, for from the time it separated from me behold I am left lying as a silent stone." Behold it is made clear that anyone who is not left lying as a silent stone has in him an intelligent neshama which exists in man, which is to be found before the body and is found after his death, just as they said "and the soul says 'the body sinned, for from the day that I separated from him behold I hover in the air like a bird.'"

And yet the philosophers do not say so, and explicitly we find that to Rambam in Moreh {Nevuchim} (chelek 1, chapter 69), that the neshama which remains after death is not the neshama which exists in man when he exists, for this existence at the time he exists is only potential {koach} and preparation. End quote.

The author: But they said that the neshama fixes the remnants via delving into wisdoms, then the intellect that was in it potentially returns to be active.

The guest: The matter is so, and what is derived from this it that one who does delve does not have remnants, and there is no punishment to the nefesh after death except that it is cut off and does not live. And also this we have found explicit to the Rambam in the laws of teshuva (perek 8): "The revenge, upon which there is no greater revenge, is that the nefesh is cut off and does not merit to that life {olam haba}."

And what extends from this is that there is no distinction between a completely wicked person and a person who sins at far-apart times and with minor sins.

The guest: Already many of the great Sages were aroused about this to save the Rambam za"l from this criticism.

The guest: I will not give a proper answer about the Rambam za"l, but I do say that this was the position of the philosophers and the opinion of anyone who was seduced after them.

And there is no doubt that this was the position of the author of the Akeida, and is made clear in his sefer, gate 6, that the nefesh at the beginning is only potential and preparation, and via study {iyun} and good traits it is raised up to a substance which stands on its own; and he says that this is not an opinion which is new from him, but rather it is an explanation of what the sages who say it are saying, quietly and in secret.

{This paragraph is from the next segment, but I repeat it here.}
And he {=the author of the Akeida} further said that this was the position of the sages of kabbalah, and he brings down a lengthy citation from the sefer ha-Zohar which establishes his opinion.

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