Friday, May 16, 2008

Kedoshim, Behar: Rabbenu Bachya, Sefirot, and Elilim

Yesterday, in Shadal's Vikuach, Shadal mentioned a position Rabbenu Bachya took about Sefirot which caused Shadal's rebbi to say "chalila" -- that the Sefirot are Divinity. To cite:
Know that I was 16 years old, and I was attending before my primary teacher {rabbi muvhak} the pious sage Rabbi Mordechai Yitzchak Kolonia, zlh"h (*), who was at the end of his days a blind man, and I would read before him, and write from his dictation his derashot.

And it was that day that I read before him the verse {in Kohelet 12:1} וּזְכֹר, אֶת-בּוֹרְאֶיךָ, בִּימֵי, בְּחוּרֹתֶיךָ and I said to him: Rabbi! The word בוראך is written with a yud.

And he said: Silence! What are you putting forth out of your mouth? Is this not a scribal error?

And I answered and said: But my master, it appears to me that in have already seen in Rabbenu Bachya that he darshens this yud, and behold it appears that there is no scribal error here.

And he said to me: Take the sefer Minchas Shai.

And I took it, and I found written therein: בּוֹרְאֶיךָ written plene with a yud, and see in Bachya at the beginning of parashat Bereishit.

And my rebbi said to me: Take sefer Bachya.

And I took it, and I sought in it, and I found that he darshens the word אלהים as two words, אל and הם, and that this is the explanation of the yud of וּזְכֹר אֶת-בּוֹרְאֶיךָ written plene.

{The implication is El Hem, they are God. And the yud implies 10, such that there are ten of them. Thus, the Sefirot.}

And my rebbi was astonished and he said: Forfend! The Sefirot are not Divinity!
The alternate position is that they are keilim nivraim, and there are perhaps other positions in between. (Shadal goes on about this topic for a while, so keep checking back, if interested.)

I would like to explore Rabbenu Bachya's position a bit more. Of course, I think that to fully understand it, I would have to read all he writes about the topic in scattered places. But I saw something in parshas Behar which I think makes his position clearer.

The topic is idolatry, and he distinguishes between "kosher" idolatry -- worshiping the Sefirot and "treif" idolatry. He does not cast it as such, of course, since he considers Sefirot to be the elahus but see what he writes. The pasuk is in Vayikra 26:1:

א לֹא-תַעֲשׂוּ לָכֶם אֱלִילִם, וּפֶסֶל וּמַצֵּבָה לֹא-תָקִימוּ לָכֶם, וְאֶבֶן מַשְׂכִּית לֹא תִתְּנוּ בְּאַרְצְכֶם, לְהִשְׁתַּחֲו‍ֹת עָלֶיהָ: כִּי אֲנִי ה, אֱלֹהֵיכֶם. 1 Ye shall make you no idols, neither shall ye rear you up a graven image, or a pillar, neither shall ye place any figured stone in your land, to bow down unto it; for I am the LORD your God.

Rabbenu Bachya writes what is pictured to the right. Namely, that which are worshiped by the gentiles are actual forces, but they are called "elilim" rather than eilim {with a yud, connoting power}, to testify on the smallness of their power. For though they have power, it is not from them, but rather from outside them. (He identifies this as the Shem haMeyuchad in parshas Kedoshim. This seems to mean that they actually are existing forces, but just to do what God directs them to do.) And once it mentioned Elilim, which are the upper forces, it mentions also pesel and maseicha, which are idols, made by man to receive those forces. (I am not sure if Rabbenu Bachya believes here that this reception of the forces actually works.) He also gives an explanation why this instruction about idolatry is placed by the commands about eved, and suggests that it is so that a slave should not say he will worship Elilim because his master does so, and so on. It is a good instruction even for those who are non-servants.

But which forces does Rabbenu Bachya consider Elilim? Namely, would he consider the Sefirot to be Elilim? After all, shouldn't we say that their power is not from themselves, for they are just doing the will of Ein Sof? But he considers all of them to be El, as he says "El Hem" about the ten sefirot, and casts them as the Boreih, the Creator! May one worship them? (Indeed, does he consider Ein Sof to be a separate thing from the Sefirot? I don't know, but see in later posts from the Vikuach about a dispute about this matter.)

He writes in parshas Kedoshim, on Vayikra 19:4

ד אַל-תִּפְנוּ, אֶל-הָאֱלִילִם, וֵאלֹהֵי מַסֵּכָה, לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ לָכֶם: אֲנִי, ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם. 4 Turn ye not unto the idols, nor make to yourselves molten gods: I am the LORD your God.
what is pictured above. In this case, he elaborates a bit more. He clarifies that by Elilim, he means the sechalim hanifradim which are below ten, and they are called Elilim from Eil, meaning power, but the duplication is to show they have only a little power, because their power is not from themselves but mizulatam, namely, the Shem haMeyuchad. And this is the meaning of "Ki kol elohei haAmim elilim, va-Hashem, Shamayim Asah." Through creation of heaven, Hashem's completeness and power in and of Himself is publicized.

Rabbenu Bachya explains וֵאלֹהֵי מַסֵּכָה as referring to still other (existing) forces, which are below that of the sechalim hanifradim, that of the stars and constellations (mazalot), and the idols receive the force from them, and this is what the Torah is prohibiting.

Assuming I am reading this correctly, I think we can say that michlal lav ata shomea hen. It would then seem that the ten, the Sefirot, do have power, and not a little power, because their power does come from themselves. Thus, he must hold that they themselves are Divinity.

This might also undermine certain explanations of Sefirot as just carrying out the will of Ein Sof, because after all, it is everything else below which does not work on its own power.

But we have perhaps not covered enough of Rabbenu Bachya to draw such conclusions. At the moment, however, what I see is somewhat troubling. Perhaps more at a later date.


Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

i seem to remember Ramban saying something similar about what i refered to while learning it as ביורוקראטיה של מעלה, which is made up of heavenly forces that actually exist and act on God's behalf but are worshipped by עכו"ם.

Anonymous said...

There is always R' Lichtenstein's comment that in the Ramban's view, angels are like "office managers"...

joshwaxman said...

how one regards the lesser forces actually does not bother me so much as the implications it has about the Sefirot...


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