Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Authenticity of Kabbalah pt xi

Shadal continues his Vikuach al Chochmat haKabbalah. (See previous segment.) They now begin a discussion of how the "sefirot" of sefer Yetzirah has been misinterpreted. The text of the Vikuach follows:

The author: And how do you not admit to the early origin of our kabbalah? Is it not founded upon the Sefer Yetzirah, which is mentioned in the Talmud.

The guest: I admit to the early origin of sefer Yetzirah, and this is for two reasons. The first one is that it, alone, of all the books of kabbalah finds mention is in the Talmud. And the second one it that it alone of all the books of the kabbalists is written in a pure and clean language, which was the language of the Tannaim, which is not true regarding the rest of the books of kabbalah attributed to our Rabbis, all of which are written in a confused and mixed-up language combining Biblical language, Mishnaic language, the language of Talmud Bavli, the language of Talmud Yerushalmi, the language of Targum Onkelos, and the language of the later composers.

The author: How do you fill your heart to deny the wisdom of the kabbalah, after you admit that sefer Yetzirah is not forged?

The guest: And what is the connection of sefer Yetzirah to the wisdom of the kabbalah?

The author: All the wisdom of the kabbalah is founded upon it, and at the least, the 10 sefirot are mentioned in it.

The guest: The matter is so, that 10 sefirot are mentioned in it, but not like the thoughts of the kabbalists are the thoughts of the author of sefer Yetzirah. For he does not say in any place that the Sefirot are either Divinity or angels. Rather he says "10 sefirot" and does not explain more what is the intent of this name. And since he does not explain it, there is not for us except to explain it like its plain intent -- "Sefirot" as a language of number, and 10 Sefirot are the ten numbers from 1 to 10, which are the basis of all the numbers.

Do you not see in the beginning of his words "10 Sefirot of Belima {restraint?} like the number of the ten fingers." And how does he attach the number of those found above to the number of fingers, and what connection is there between one matter and the other.

Unless his intent was upon the numbers, which in truth are only ten because our fingers are ten, for the beginning of numbers {counting} is on fingers (as explains the sage
Coadillac {=Étienne Bonnot de Condillac} in the beginning of his book la langue des calculs).

And also that which he said that "there are ten Sefirot blima" demonstrates with a finger {=points out} that they are not things found actually manifest, but rather abstract conceptual things, which are not found outside the soul {nefesh}, for this is the implication of the language "beli ma." {=without substance}

And only according to this {understanding} is it true that which he said that "with them the Holy One, Blessed Be He, created his world." For if they are things found in manifested reality, how could he say that with them He created the world? Is it not the case that there was nothing before the creation except for He, Yitbarach, alone? Also, it is not possible to say that the Sefirot are themselves His Identity, Yitbarach, for he {=the author of sefer Yetzirah} says "and before His throne they prostrate themselves." If so, the only thing left to say is that they are in truth beli mah {without substance}, that is to say the numbers themselves, which are abstract concepts which have no existence except in the intellect. {J: It would be especially fitting to read up here on the competing doctrines of nominalism and realism.}

See further that he says "ten which have no end." And once he has already explained that they are not part of the Divinity, from that which he said "and before His throne they prostrate themselves," how is it possible that the were created and do not have an end? And is it not that everything which was Created, that nullifies {?} the possibility that it is without end {=infinite ?}.

And if you say that they are neither Divinity nor Created, but rather an Emanation, such that it is possible that they do not have an end -- this is also falsehood, for after they are more than one, they necessarily have an end and a boundary, for it is not possible to something to be infinite except one. {J: Presumably because if there is more than one, then one would intrude upon the other.}

If so, they can only be abstract concepts, such as Time and Place, which are things which have no end, for they do not exist in reality.

And further, if the Sefirot are in truth manifest honored upper entities {?}, like the opinion of kabbalists, what connection do they have with the 22 letters, which are only signs for the sounds of of articulation, and what is the relationship between this and that, to the extent that the author of Sefer Yetzirah says that via these and these Hakadosh Baruch Hu created His world?

Is not all of this what would prove to anyone who has an olive's measure in his skull that the author of the sefer Yetzirah did not intend with the "ten Sefirot" he mentioned anything other that the ten number. And thus, like the distance of East from West are his thoughts from the thoughts of the kabbalists.

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