Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Was Korach a Gilgul of Kayin or of Yisro? Also, the earliest Torah code, perhaps known to Rishonim!

Summary: One kabbalistic source says Kayin, and one says Yisro? Can they be harmonized?

Post: Gilgul is likely a foreign superstitious import, as Rav Saadia Gaon asserts. Yet is is deeply embedded in kabbalah.

Thus, in this week's parsha, Rabbi Menachem Tziyuni (a mid-14th century kabbalist -- see Daat's Encyclopedia Yehudit), we read:

Thus, he will hint to us as he has himself received. The pasuk stated {Bereshit 9}:

ו  שֹׁפֵךְ דַּם הָאָדָם, בָּאָדָם דָּמוֹ יִשָּׁפֵךְ:  כִּי בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים, עָשָׂה אֶת-הָאָדָם.6 Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made He man.

and this means within that man himself. And since you drowned someone, you were drowned, etc. And so too Hevel killed Kayin {and?} in the days of Moshe and the death of Korach was via swallowing {up in the earth} as midah keneged middah, as is known. And just as Korach investigated and darshened in the warf {shesi}, place the woof {erev} and you will find a wondrous secret.

I don't know what the secret is. However, I have my unfounded suspicions. And I am not a kabbalist and not privy to their secrets and their methods, but I can try to make an semi-educated guess.

Where was Korach choker vedoresh? In "Vayikach Korach". That is where Chazal explain that he had various arguments based on a techeles string on a beged entirely of techeles, or based on a mezuzah on a room entirely full of sefarim.

And if we form a matrix, counting certain letters across (=the warp, the shesi), we will find one secret. And if we then move down the matrix, counting certain letters down (=the woof, the erev) we will find another aspect. Shesi veErev means horizontally and vertically. I don't know that this is a Torah code, but the language can support it. And the Gra, a kabbalist, had various insights based on skipping letters.

Reuven Wolfeld writes the following insight in Truth in Numbers: Insights Into the Book of Bereshis:
There is thus a 'Torah Code' that brings in Kayin and Hevel, just here in the beginning of Korach. That is, highlighting Kayin in red and Hevel in blue:

א  וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח, בֶּן-יִצְהָר בֶּן-קְהָת בֶּן-לֵוִי; וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב, וְאוֹן בֶּן-פֶּלֶת--בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן.1 Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men;

This is an ELS skip of five followed by an ELS skip of two. Here is a graph I put together to demonstrate it:

My guess is that he is not speaking of Hevel at all; rather, just start your count from Vayikach Korach and arrange it as a matrix of five across. And then count words going vertically down. Thus, you have the horizontal plain text and the vertical secret text. And we are only supposed to go three rows down. Hevel is not part of it, since it does not form a vertical. Maybe you can form the words החי and קבר working vertically in those three rows.

I don't know how Hevel specifically killed Kayin in the days of Moshe, except if Moshe Rabbenu is the gilgul of Hevel. And that is how I have seen it reported.

I'll just make explicit what was otherwise implicit. Surely this pasuk is a part of it. In Bereishit 4:

יא  וְעַתָּה, אָרוּר אָתָּה, מִן-הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר פָּצְתָה אֶת-פִּיהָ, לָקַחַת אֶת-דְּמֵי אָחִיךָ מִיָּדֶךָ.11 And now cursed art thou from the ground, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand.

In both places the ground swallowed them up, in Bereishit Hevel and in Korach, Kayin. And this is the midah keneged midah that Tziyuni was speaking about.

On the other hand, according to the Arizal, Moshe was Hevel's gilgul and Yisro was Kayin's gilgul. Thus:
The Arizal reveals for us a fascinating a piece of information which can provide us with a deeper understanding of several points in the beginning of Parshas Yisro. The Arizal writes that Moshe was a gilgul (reincarnation) of Hevel and Yisro was a gilgul of Kayin. His student Rav Chaim Vital notes that this is hinted to by the first letters of the words “Ani chosencha Yisro” – I am your father-in-law Yisro – which spell the word “achi” – my brother.
I would note a more straightforward derivation that this roshei teivos hint. According to the Mechilta, Yisro had seven names. Two of them were Chever and Keini, presumably based on חבר הקיני, husband of Yael. If Yisro is קיני, that he is Kayin.

Can two people simultaneously be someone's gilgul. Someone asked that question, Rabbi Yaakov Shlomo Weinberg:
Although he rarely spoke on these matters, the Mashgiach, Mori V’Rebbi Horav Dovid Kronglas zt”l, once mentioned that Korach was a gilgul (reincarnation)  of Kayin. (Indeed, they both fell because of the trait of jealousy. ) It’s also brought in seforim (books) that Moshe was a gilgul of Hevel. (Moshe is an acronym – in Hebrew – of Moshe, Shes  and Hevel .) Regarding Kayin, the pasuk (verse) states, “…min ho’adomoh asher potzetzoh es pihoh…”   (You are cursed from the ground which opened its mouth to take the blood of your brother from your hand.) Regarding Korach it says, “…upotzetzoh ho’adomoh es pihoh…”   That which Kayin did to Hevel, Moshe/Hevel did midoh k’neged midoh (measure for measure) to Korach/Kayin.
An Aside
As an aside, the Mashgiach once mentioned that Yisro (Moshe’s father-in-law) was a gilgul of Kayin. I asked him afterwards how could Korach and Yisro both be gilgulim of Kayin since they were contemporaries. He answered me that gilgul doesn’t necessarily mean the whole person is a gilgul. Rather, various aspects or traits can be a gilgul by one person and other aspects by another. 
I would answer in a different manner. While Chazal were content with inter-Biblical allusions and would call it maaseh avot siman levanim; or would draw midrashic comparisons and contrast between various stories or character traits, kabbalists have this new tool at their disposal, to claim that this instance of parallel is actually an instance of gilgul.

Maybe two people cannot simultaneously be someone's gilgul. And maybe it really was a machlokes. This certainly is not the first dispute in kabbalah. Of course, we cannot have a dispute in kabbalah, if it really is kabbalah. In other words, we would like to believe that these are mystical traditions and secrets, going all the way back to Moshe Rabbenu, that the holy Arizal is revealing to us, or that the holy Tziyuni is revealing to us. But in reality they are simply derashot created by human beings, applying kabbalistic hermeneutical methods, and operating in a kabbalistic framework and worldview.

If these are all derivations by human beings trying to discover the truth, then there is room for machlokes. But I am not sure that there is room for such an explanation in the mystical worldview, when it comes to contradiction in kabbalah.

{Update: See the comment section, where Arizal explicitly has different aspects of Korah in different contemporaries. So it certainly is possible, and would handily answer the question, just as Rav Kronglas did above. And this is the standard current understanding of gilgul, as different sparks of a root soul.}


Anonymous said...

Al Tihiyu KSus Kfered.
Fered is the one who takes the Sod out of the Pardes.

Oi LRasha

joshwaxman said...

word play an anonymous insults do not do anything to prove your thesis.

kol tuv,

Devorah said...

You ask: Can two people simultaneously be someone's gilgul?

I thought it was more like 2,000 people could be someone's gilgul.
Or maybe even 200,000 could have a spark of the original neshama.

When you meet someone who is very like you, and you notice similar character traits etc... it's possible that person is from the same soul root as you, you both have a spark of the same neshama.

Usually that person will aggravate the life out of you because your own undeveloped parts of your soul will recognise itself.

And what does "Gilgul is likely a foreign superstitious import" actually mean? That you don't believe in reincarnation at all? Do you really believe this is your first time on earth?

Chanokh said...

With all due respect, as much as I enjoy your posts, I must say that when you write about Sod you come off as a complete am ha-aretz in these matters. I am not saying that as an insult, but as an advice: if you are not familiar with the yesodos of kabbalah (I mean real kabbalah as brought down in Shaarei Orah, Pardes Rimmonim, Kisvei ha-Ari and the like, not mumbo-jumbo charlatanism), you are bound to write stupid things, in exactly the same way someone who has never opened a Kitzur Shulchan Arukh should not think he can write pilpulim on a Pri Megadim. By unsucessfully trying your hand at "straightforward" readings of such an allusive text as the Tziyuni, you come off as a litteralist who is no better than the wonder-makers tall-talers you rightfully denounce in other posts. Which is really a pity, because clearly you are worth more than that.
To answer your question: gilgulei work at an "atomic" level of ruchnius (nitzutzos) that is not to be equated with "personnality". Each "soul" is a multi-layered compound of spiritual sparks that can find their way into different persons over time, so of course many people can be a partial gilgul of the same figure. Anyone who has but opened Shaar ha-Gilgulim knows that.
I hope you take no offense at what I said, because none is meant.

joshwaxman said...

no offense taken.

how would you understand the shesi ve'erev of the Tziyuni? do you have a different interpretation of it?

in terms of atomic level, and that "Each 'soul' is a multi-layered compound of spiritual sparks that can find their way into different persons over time" wouldn't that make each person the gilgul of MANY different persons, rather than a single individual?

i ask as a lead-in to another question...

joshwaxman said...

for those interested, here is a nice article about the development of the concept of gilgul through the ages:


joshwaxman said...

to answer your question, no, not as gilgul. (techiyat hameitim is different.) and yes, first time.

chazal described people in tune as ben gilo, i think, which is a different concept.

kol tuv,

yaak said...

R' Yaakov Abuhatzeira says that Korah had the bad of Hevel in a gilgul and took the bad of Kayin in the gilgul and he knew it, whereas Moshe Rabbeinu took the good of Hevel only. ע"ש שמאריך.

Chanokh said...

The Arizal also says that the Egyptian Moshe killed was a gilgul of the ra' she-be-Kayin, while Yisro was a gilgul of the tov she-be-Kayin.

Indeed, someone can be the gilgul of many different persons. The mekubalim of Tzfas testify that the Arizal would tell a person what partial gilgulim his "spiritual identity" was made of, and what specific tikkunim it entailed. Kind of a spiritual diagnosis.

As for what is meant in the Tzioni by "shesi va-erev", I have no idea right at the top of my mind. I could do some research, but the Tzioni belongs to an era or school of kabbalah for which we really lack tools. It draws on Sefer ha-Bahir, Chasidei Ashkenaz, Provenço-Catalan traditions, early Zoharic texts, and is full of remazim and of obscure concepts. Really, while it's occasionally a good source for surprising chiddushim, it's not really useful if you're looking to learn something clear that you can build upon.

joshwaxman said...


i am admittedly not expert in kabbalah. i did not have the background as a kid, and don't have the inclination to study it in great depth.

and as you probably know, i am no proponent of Torah codes. that was the real cause for the post, with the question about gilgul as somewhat secondary? but is shesi veErev = matrix with skips such an obvious overt interpretation rather than a remez? the only reason it is somewhat 'obvious' to us, rather than a remez, is the popularization of this idea and the usual depiction as a matrix, rather than just counting letters.

as to my follow-up question, in this article, how would you explain the three gilgulim of Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum of Ujhel -- first as a sheep, then a person in Moshe's time, and then as Yirmeyahu. Drawing elements from three? As described, it seems more as one consistent figure who keeps coming back.

kol tuv,

Chanokh said...

Frankly, I don't know many kids who get a background in kabbalah ;). But you can't ignore either that real kabbalah is part of Torah and that at some point you have a chiyuv to get acquainted with it too: not through "hardcore" stuff like the kisvei ha-Ari or the Zohar but "primers" like Shaarei Orah and Pardes Rimmonim. Both have enough of a "philosophical" bent to appeal to your rationalistic taste, to boot. You can also go through the first chapters of Pischei Shearim or the Leshem (who explicitely wrote for shas-poskim-niks who had to be yotze of limmud ha-sod nevertheless).

Regarding shesi va-erev, I don't think it's obvious at all. You guess seems good, but would have to be tested by looking for similar uses of the expression in ohter kabbalistic texts of the period. Bli neder I'll plow through Otzar ha-Chochma when I have the time.

Regarding the gilgulim of R. M. Teitelbaum, it means nothing more that he is conscious that some part (make that a good part) of his spiritual makeup had been part of the spiritual makeup of these figures of the past. But, to be medayek, this does not necessarily mean that it was the same nitzutz each time. Maybe RMT's nefesh was a gilgul of the sheep, his ruach a gilgul of the man from dor ha-midbar, and his neshama a partial gilgul of Yirmiya. It's hard to know this kind of things from sippurei maasios.

Another strange point is that animals don't have "souls" that undergo gilgul since their "nefesh" is nothing more than an attribute of their body.
(By the way, the human mind is also described by the Arizal as nothing more than a bodily function that dies with the body except inasmuch as it becomes a vessel for Torah. Cf. the final shaar of Etz Chaim and also the Malbim of Shir ha-Shirim for a beautiful synthesis of Kantian and Lurianic thought on the nature of the mind.)
It thus seems strange that he would be the gilgul of an animal: usually it is human "souls" that "transmigrate" through an animal body to atone for sins before going back to a human "host". So maybe it was just the first "gilgul" that he remembered.
On a sidenote, if you want an excellent historical documentation of how these kind of things were an integral part of Jewish life in centuries past, not in the milieu of ameratzim and charlatans, but of bonafide talmidei chakhomim and baalei ha-sod, you ought to read R. Ch. Vital's Sefer ha-Chezyonos and R. I. of Komarno's Megilas Sesarim (both translated and commented in English in "Jewish Mystical Autobiographies" by Morris Faierstein). A must read.

joshwaxman said...

Frankly, I don't know many kids who get a background in kabbalah ;)
when do children begin learning chassidus?

But you can't ignore either that real kabbalah is part of Torah and that at some point you have a chiyuv to get acquainted with it too
not ignore, just somewhat disagree. if it was not Chazal's theology, but a foreign import, then it is as much talmud Torah as medieval Jewish philosophy was. which is to say somewhat, so as to understand the words of the Rishonim, but not necessarily in and of itself. And both are somewhat inaccessible to me without a lot of groundwork, and I don't really have the inclination to learn either one. It might instead be preferable for me to spend that time making a seder in Aruch HaShulchan on Hilchos Shabbos, for example.

By the way, for Rav Saadia Gaon's opposition of an early Jewish form of belief in gilgul, without all these complexities, see here in Emunos veDeos:

kol tuv,

joshwaxman said...

by the way, in terms of
"but of bonafide talmidei chakhomim and baalei ha-sod"

saying that gilgul, or much of kabbalah, is a foreign import is not to call these tzadikim and talmidei chachamim charlatans and amaratzim.

menachem said...

I heard a shiur that said the connection between Hevel's death and Korach's death is that in Bereshit 4:10 it says, "And He said, "What have you done? Hark! Your brother's blood cries out to Me from the earth." and Korach was killed by getting swallowed by the earth.

Korach getting swallowed by the earth was Kayin's tikkun for killing Hevel, whose blood cried out from the earth.

Chanokh said...

When do children begin learning chassidus?
Chasidus is, to the chasidim who study it, generally emphatically NOT kabbala. For them, kabbala is reserved for rebbeim. True, chasidus is usually very much based on kabbala and uses kabbalistic notions and keywords (though it is far from true for many chasidic schools), but the people who read it have a very faint grasp of what is really meant, in the very same way that people who aren't into kabbala will strongly denie that the Maharal used any kabbala (and believe me, he did).

kabbala and philosophy: You know full well that one of the reasons Rambam brought Aristotelian metaphysics into Jewish thought was because he held that this was what is called Maaseh Bereshis and Maaseh Merkava. Whether you be a philosopher or a kabbalist you have to acknowledge that those "metaphysical" studies are part of the curriculum. That said, of course it cannot take precedence over the "meat and bread" of nigleh; but saying "this is not for me" is like saying "choshen mishpat is not for me": of course you have to hold by the ideal of learning kol ha-Torah kula.

What the Rasag said about gilgul is well known; however I doubt it speaks about what is today known as gilgul. Regarding your last remark, what I meant was that it could interest you to read about how these notions of gilgul etc. were understood and experienced in a rabbinical milieu vs. the commoner milieu whose folklore you usually draw your exemples from.

One last word about Korach and Kayin: the Arizal in Shaar haPsukim explains that while Moshe was a gilgul of the good parts of Hevel, Korach was a gilgul of the bad aspects of Hevel, and that at some point he took upon himself the bad side of Kayin too. See Shem mi-Shmuel for a "chasidish-psychological" explanation.

Chanokh said...

Additionnal sources for "shesi vaerev": the expression as a form of tzerufei osios occurs frequently in R. A. Abulafia's peirushim on Sefer Yetzira, especially Otzar Eden Ganuz (pp. 9, 10, 26, 142, 223, 232, 286, 299, 340, 341, 357). I still have no idea what it means, though - just that it doesn't seem to be related to the ill-famed "Torah codes".

joshwaxman said...

by tzerufei osiyos, do you mean combining letters? because this is combining letters from various words...

bli neder, i'll try to check some of these out.

and btw, i was using Torah Codes here is an idiom. torah codes are much less convincing, and uses a different methodology than this. this is one message using a skip of x letters, similar to roshei teivos, related to the plain text + a derasha. the sort of thing Baal HaTurim does for entertainment in his 'short' commentary. Torah codes form a matrix of some random, often large, size, finds random words in that large matrix and makes a story or proof entirely from them.

joshwaxman said...

or do you mean kabbalistic magic by channeling the power of the various Hebrew letters, in combination?

joshwaxman said...

True, chasidus is usually very much based on kabbala and uses kabbalistic notions and keywords
yes, and that is a pretty good basis, i think. knowing what the terms are, and the associated terms, goes a long way. even if the definitions or perspectives must shift.

Whether you be a philosopher or a kabbalist you have to acknowledge that those "metaphysical" studies are part of the curriculum.
except that the Rambam was wrong, i think. Plato and Aristotle were not maaseh merkava and maaseh bereishit. so, too, the kabbalists are wrong. Plato and Plotinus are NOT maaseh merkava and maaseh bereishit, even as kabbalah borrows heavily from these ideas. (to the extent that Rama has to explain how Plato stole these kabbalistic ideas from us.)

Chazal certainly had a mystical theology, but who says that we are currently in possession of it. Indeed, Shadal brings some nice proofs that kabbalah is at odds with the theology of Chazal.

If so, it is not sufficient to say Whether you be a philosopher or a kabbalist you have to acknowledge that those "metaphysical" studies are part of the curriculum. It is possible that it cannot be part of the curriculum; and it would not be used to justify, for example, Buddhist or Christian metaphysical studies.

What the Rasag said about gilgul is well known; however I doubt it speaks about what is today known as gilgul.
My guess is that it was proto-gilgul. The kabbalistic theology had not yet developed to the extent it had in later days. That is, it started as the believe Rasag describes and then a complex system accrued. I think many of Rav Saadia Gaon's points counter more modern gilgul; and he would not be saying such a thing, using such language and tone ('people who call themselves Jews'), if there were a true and known kabbalistic gilgul belief in his days.

kol tuv,

Anonymous said...

the kuf from "korach" is also the kuf from the word "Kehas" which has the hey, the same for yud of "Yitzhar" and "levi" which has the lamed, and the "Nun" of "ben" with the nun of the other ben which has the beis. Thus, hevel and kayin are intertwined like a shesi and erev. Vihameyvin yavin.


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