Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Authenticity of Kabbalah pt xiv

Shadal continues his Vikuach al Chochmat haKabbalah. (See previous segment.) The author just claimed that Ibn Ezra cited Rav Saadia Gaon about the chachmei haSefirot, so it must be that this kabbalistic notion is as old as that. The guest now shows that that phrase chachmei haSefirot in context refers to astronomers. Then, he turns to the topic of gilgul, and how Rav Saadia Gaon condemned this belief as foolish. The author suggests that this is because kabbalah was not as revealed, so Rav Saadia Gaon did not know of this kabbalistic belief. The guest shows that he did know of this belief in all its particulars, but nonetheless condemns it. Then, he notes that Rambam condemns the kabbalistic practice of combining letters and claiming it is a Divine Name. The text of the Vikuach follows:

The guest: Forged evidence such as this I despair to bear and I am almost worried about about the sin of not bearing a false report.

Do you still not know what is intended by Rabbi Ibn Ezra with the phrase chachmei haSefirot? Go and seek out the verse {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;
and see if the Sefirot he mentions are the same ones as the Sefirot that the kabbalists mention.

{The author now relates:} And I took the commentary of Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra on the Torah and I searched out the verse יְהִי מְאֹרֹת, and I found his writing: "And if someone asks, do not the chachmei haSefirot say that the planet Tzedek {=Jupiter} and all the planets except for Kochav {=Mercury} and Nogah {=Venus} are larger than the moon, and so how can you say הַגְּדֹלִים, the large ones?"

And the man {=the guest} said to me: And how can you not see that the Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra called chachmei haSefirot {perhaps spheres} to the sages of astronomy? And so too you find to him in other places if you seek out in his commentaries. And when it comes down to it, is it not so that that which he says in his introduction is something to be learned from its matter, that Rabbenu Saadia upon the verse יְהִי מְאֹרֹת speaks in matters of astronomy.

And I, even though you speak to me so haughtily, I do not suspect you either of foolishness or dishonesty, when you bring lying proofs such as this. But rather I think that you previously saw them brought down in one of the books of the kabbalists, which you is the straightness of your heart did not know how much they are established liars and dissemblers.

Not like these, however, are the proofs which stand by my right side to support me when I deny the earliness of the kabbalah.

Do you not know that one thing of the faith of the kabbalists, and that one which is most popularized by the hamon {common folk}, in their simple understanding, is the belief in gilgul {transmigration of souls}. And now come and see what Rabbenu Saadia Gaon wrote in his honored sefer, sefer haEmunot veHaDeot, at the end of the sixth maamar.

And I took sefer haEmunot, and the man read in it before me these words. "But I say that there are men of those who are called Jews who say something which is a change and they call it a copy {i.e. something not new}, and the substance of it by them is that the spirit of Reuven returns to Shimon and afterwards to Levi and afterwards to be in Yehuda. And there are many of them who says that there are times that the spirit of a man is in an animal, and the spirit of an animal in a man, and many things of this type of craziness and confusion. And I have looked at what they say in this maamar, and I have found four mistakes, etc., etc. And the simpletons do not understand, etc. And I would lift my words from their lightness of their thoughts, and would be loftier than their lack {presumably and not address them}, if not for my fear of the persuasion.

I {=the author} answered him: In those first days, the wisdom of the kabbalah was in truth a kabbalah {received wisdom}, that is to say it was received from one mouth to another {orally}, and not written. Therefore, it is possible, and indeed possible, that Rabbenu Saadiah, with the breadth of his wisdom in the wisdom of the Written Law and also the Oral Law which was already written in his days in a book, did not merit to receive the secrets of the kabbalah from a kabbalist Sage.

The guest: Rabbenu Saadia was not without knowledge of the belief in gilgul, since he mentions it in all its specifics and particulars, and with all the proofs which are brought to establish it and to supports it. But rather he says that this is not a traditional belief in the nation, but rather than it is the opinion of a few men who are "called" Jews, that is to say that they are not Jews in truth.

To what is this matter comparable? To that which the kabbalists say that the secrets of the kabbalah were not revealed to the Rambam, for he did not merit to receive them from a true kabbalist, and therefore his thoughts are not like their thought. And this, however, is lies and dissembling, for the Rambam in his sefer Moreh {=Nevuchim} already mentions one of the cornerstones of the wisdom of kabbalah, but he talks at length to mock it.

And I {= the author} took the sefer Moreh {Nevuchim}, and the man read before me in the first volume {chelek}, chapter 61, like these words: "And it should not enter your thoughts the craziness of the writers of amulets and what you hear from them or that you find in their various books; and of the Names which they compose they do not refer to anything in any fashion, and they call them Names, and they think that they {=these purported Divine Names} require holiness and purity, and that they do wondrous things. All these matters are not proper for a complete individual to hear, all the more so to believe in them."

He read further before me in the chapter which followed it, and this is its language: "And when these evil, simple men found these words, they expanded for themselves the falsehood and the saying, which they could collect whatever letters they wished and say that this was a "Name," which one could do and perform when one writes or utters this appellation. And afterwards they wrote these lies which the original simpletons invented of their own hearts, and these books were copied to the good people, soft of heart, the fools, who did not have by them balances by which to know the truth from the falsehood, and they hid them and they were found where they were abandoned, and it was thought about them that they were truth. And in the end, a simple person will believe anything.

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