What we know of the opinion of the Kabbalists concerning the divine nature, exempts us from dwelling upon their method of conception concerning the creation and the origin of the world; for, at bottom, these two things are huddled in their minds. If God unites in Him in their infinite totality, thought as well as existence, it is quite certain that nothing can exist and nothing can be conceived outside (extra) of Him. All, then, that we know, whether through reason or through experience, is a development or a particular aspect of the Absolute; a substance, eternal, inert and distinct from God is a chimera, and the creation, as ordinarily conceived, is an impossibility.
The last deduction is clearly admitted in the following words: "The indivisible point (the absolute) that had no limits and that could not be conceived because of its intensity and purity, spread outward and formed a tent which served as a cover to this indivisible point. This tent, although of a light less pure than the indivisible point, was still too brilliant to be looked at; it spread, in its turn, outward, and this expansion was its garment. Thus, everything comes into existence by an ever-descending motion; thus, finally, it was that the universe took shape וכלא איהו תקונא דעלמא.." 1 We remember also that the Absolute
[paragraph continues] Being and the visible nature have but one name, the meaning of which is "God." Another passage teaches us that the voice which departs from the spirit, and which is identical with it in the supreme thought, is really water, air and fire; the north, the south, the east, the west and all the forces of nature. 2 But all these elements and all these forces are united into one single thing--the voice which comes from the spirit. Matter, finally, considered from the most general point of view, is the lowest part of the mysterious lamp just described.
With such a viewpoint, the Kabbalists claim to remain true to the popular belief that by the power of the divine word alone the world came forth from nothing. But we know already that the last word "nothing" had quite another meaning for them. This point in their doctrine is very clearly shown by one of the commentators of the Sefer Yetzirah. "When it is maintained that all things were called forth from nothingness, it is not meant nothingness in its proper sense, for something can never come from nothing. But what is meant here is the no-thing that can not be conceived either through its cause or through its essence; in short, it is the Cause of Causes. It is what we call the primitive no-thing, אין קדמון--Ayn Kadmon, because it antecedes the universe; and by this we mean not alone material objects, but also the wisdom on which the world was founded. If we now inquire for the essence of wisdom and how it stays in the no-thing or in the Supreme Crown, no one will be able to answer this question, for in the no-thing there is no distinction and no manner of existence. Nor do we understand any better how wisdom is united with life." 3 All Kabbalists, ancient and modern, thus explain the dogma of the creation. But, consistent with themselves,
they also admit the second part of the adage: ex nihilo nihil. 4 They believe just as little in absolute annihilation, as in a creation commonly understood. "Nothing," says the Zohar, "is lost in the world, not even the vapor that comes from our mouths; like everything else it has its place and its destination, and the Holy One, blessed be He, makes it co-operative with His. works, Nothing falls into a void, not even the words and voice of man, for all things have their place and their destination." 5
These words were spoken by an unknown old man, in the presence of several disciples of Yohai, and the latter must have recognized in them one of the most important articles of their faith, for they hastened to interrupt by the following words: "Oh, what have you done, old man? Would it not have been better to keep silent? For now, there you are, carried away on an immense sea without sail or mast! Do you want to rise? You can not do it. And if you would descend, there is a bottomless abyss to meet you." 6 They cited to him the example of their master who, being at all times reserved in his expressions, never ventured upon the sea without providing for a safe return; in other words, he hid his thoughts under the veil of allegory.
However, later on the same principle is stated quite frankly: "All things of which this world consists, the spirit as well as the body, will return to the principle and to the root from which they came. 7 He is the beginning and the end of all the degrees of the creation; all these degrees are marked with His seal, and He can be designated by unity only. He is one despite the innumerable forms that clothe Him." 8
If God is at once the cause and the substance, or, as Spinoza would express himself, the "immanent cause of the universe," it necessarily follows that the latter is the masterpiece of supreme perfection, wisdom and goodness. To convey this idea the Kabbalists made use of a very original expression which several of the modern mystics, Boehm and Saint Martin among them, frequently used in their works. They called Nature a "blessing," and they considered as a very significant fact that the letter by which Moses began the story of the creation בראשית (Breshith), 9 is also the first letter in the word blessing, ברכה (Brakah). 10 Nothing is absolutely bad, nothing is accursed forever, not even the archangel of evil or the "venomous beast" הוייא בישא (Havya Besha), as he is sometimes called, is accursed definitely. There will come a time when he will recover his name and his angelic nature. 11
Besides, here on earth, wisdom is no less visible than goodness, since the universe was created by the divine word, and because the universe in itself is nothing else but this word. Now, in the mystical language of the Zohar it means, as we have already been taught, that the articular expression of the divine thought is the
ensemble of all the individual beings that exist in the bud in the eternal forms of supreme wisdom.
But none of the passages already cited, or those we may cite in support of the principle in question, is of greater interest than the following: "The Holy One, blessed be He, had already created and destroyed several worlds before He decided upon the creation of the world we live in; and when that last work was about to be accomplished, all the creatures of the universe and everything that was to be in the world--in whatever period they were to exist--were present before God in their real form before they became a part of the universe. In this sense the following words of Ecclesiastes are to be taken: 'Whatever was in times past shall be in the future also, and all that is to be has been already.' 12, 13 The entire lower world was made in the likeness of the higher world. All that exists in the higher world appears like an image in this lower world; yet all this is but One." 14
From this exalted and grand belief which we meet more or less diffused through all the great systems of metaphysics, the Kabbalists have drawn an inference which brings them over entirely to mysticism. They imagined that everything which strikes our senses has a symbolic meaning; that the phenomena and the most material form can teach us what passes either in the divine thought or in the human intelligence. According to
them all that emanates from the mind must manifest itself and become visible outside of it. 15 From this conception comes also the belief in a celestial alphabet and in physiognomics. They speak of the celestial alphabet in the following manner: "Throughout the entire extent of the heavens whose circumference surrounds the world, there are figures and signs by means of which we may discover the most profound secrets and mysteries. These figures are formed by the constellations and the stars which are observed and investigated by the wise. 16 He who is obliged to travel in the morning shall rise at daybreak and look attentively toward the East. He will see something like letters graven on the heavens, and placed one above the other. Those brilliant forms are the letters with which God created the heaven and the earth; they form His mysterious and holy name." 17
Such ideas, if not taken in a very lofty sense, may seem unworthy of a place in a serious work, but we would miss the only aim we have placed before us, and we would be false to historic truth, were we to show the most brilliant and best-founded thoughts of the system contained in the Zohar, and were we to eliminate carefully all that may offend our intellectual habits. We have seen more than once that similar reveries were caused by the same principle and that such reveries were not always the work of the weakest minds. Plato and Pythagoras came close to them; and on the other hand, all the great representatives of mysticism, all those who saw in external nature a living allegory only, adopted the theory of numbers and ideas, each one according to his intellectual capacity.
That the Kabbalists admitted also physiognomy, the name of which was already known in the time of Socrates, is also a consequence of their general system of metaphysics, or, if we may
make use of modern philosophical language, it was by virtue of an a priori judgment. "According to the teachings of the Masters of esoteric science, מארי דהכמתא פנימאה, physiognomy does not consist in outwardly manifested features, but in features mysteriously traced in the depth of our inner self. The external features vary according to the form imprinted on the inner face of the spirit. The spirit alone produces all the physiognomies known to the sages, and it is through the spirit that the physiognomies have a meaning. When souls and spirits come out of Eden (as Supreme Wisdom is often called) they all have definite forms which are later on reflected in the face." (Zohar, part II, fol. 73b.)
A large number of detailed observations, some of which are still credited generally at the present time, follow these general considerations. For instance: a broad, convex forehead is the sign of a profound and active mind and of a choice intelligence; a broad but flat forehead denotes insanity and stupidity; a flat forehead terminating in a point and compressed at the sides, is an unfailing indication of a very limited mind, often combined with unbounded vanity. (Ib. supr., fol. 73-75a.) 18 All human faces may be traced, finally, to four primary types, to which they either draw near or from which they recede according to the rank held by the souls in their intellectual and moral order. Those types are the four figures which occupy the mysterious chariot of Ezekiel, that is to say the figures of man, of the lion, of the ox and of the eagle. 19
It seems to us that the demonology adopted by the Kabbalists is but a reflected personification of the different degrees of life and intelligence which they perceived throughout nature. 20 The belief in demons and in angels had long since taken root in the
mind of the people, like a jesting mythology, as it were, alongside the severe dogma of the divine unity. Why then should they not just as well have made use of it to veil their ideas on the relations of God to the world, as they made use of the dogma of the creation to teach the contrary, or as they made use of the words of the text of the Scriptures to place themselves above the divine word and religious authority?
We have not found any text entirely free from doubt in support of this opinion, but here are some reasons which make this opinion very probable, at least. First of all in the three principal fragments of the Zohar, in the two Idras and in the Book of Mystery, there is never any mention made, in any form, of this celestial or infernal hierarchy which seems to have been only a memento of the Babylonian captivity. Then, when angels are spoken of in the other parts of the Zohar, they are represented as much inferior beings than man, as forces of unchanging blind impulses. We shall offer an example of it in the following words: "God vivified every part of the firmament with a particular spirit; immediately all the celestial hosts were formed and found themselves before Him. This is the meaning of what is said (Psalms, XXXIII, 6): 'With the breath of His mouth He created all their hosts . . .' The holy spirits who are the messengers of the Lord, descend from one degree only; but in the souls of the just there are two degrees united in one. For that reason the souls of the just rise higher, and for that same reason their rank is higher." 21
Even the talmudists, despite their adherence to the letter, subscribe to the same principle: 22 "The just," they say, "are greater than the angels." 23 We shall understand even better what was meant by the spirits which animate all the celestial bodies and all the elements of the earth, if we pay attention to the names and the functions attributed to them. First of all we must remove the purely poetical personifications, the character of which is closely set forth; and of such are all the angels that bear the name representing a moral quality or a metaphysical abstraction; as, for instance, the good and the bad desire (וצר טוב--Yotzar Tov, יצר הרע--Yotzar ha-Rah) which are always represented to us as real personages, the angel of purity (Tahariel), the angel of mercy (Rahmiel), the angel of justice (Tzadkiel), the angel of deliverance (Pada-el) and the famous Raziel, the angel of secrets who watches with a jealous eye over the mysteries of the Kabbalistic wisdom. 24 Moreover, it is a principle recognized by all the Kabbalists, and connected with the general system of beings, that the angelic hierarchy begins only in the third world, the World of Formation, עולם יצירה (Olam Yetzirah), the place occupied by the planets and celestial bodies.
Now, as previously said, the chief of the invisible militia is the angel Metatron, so called because his place is immediately below the throne of God (כורסייא--Kursa-yah), and who alone constitutes the World of Creation, or the world of pure spirits, עולם בריאה (Olam B’ree-oh). His task is to maintain unity, harmony, and the movement of the spheres; this is exactly the task of that blind and infinite force which, at times, has been
substituted for God under the name of "Nature." The myriads of subordinates under Metatron's command have been divided into ten categories, undoubtedly in honor of the ten Sefiroth. These subaltern angels are to the different divisions of nature, to every sphere and to every element in particular, what their chief is to the entire universe. Thus, one presides over the movements of the earth, another over the movements of the moon, and so on over all other celestial bodies. 25 One is called the angel of fire (Nuriel), another is called the angel of light (Uriel), a third presides over the distribution of the seasons, a fourth over vegetation. In short, all the productions, all the forces and all the phenomena of nature are represented in the same manner.
The purpose of this allegory becomes quite evident when the infernal spirits are under consideration. We have already called attention to the general name given to all the forces of this order. The demons, according to the Kabbalists, are the grossest and most imperfect forms, the "shells" of existence; in short, everything that denotes absence of life, of intelligence and of order. Like the angels, they form ten Sefiroth, ten degrees where darkness and impurity thicken more and more, as in the circles of the Florentine poet. 26, 27
The first, or rather the first two degrees, are nothing else but the state in which Genesis represents to us the earth before the work of the six days; that is to say, absence of all visible form and of all organization. 28 The third is the seat of darkness, the same darkness which in the beginning covered the face
of the abyss. 29 Then follow what are called the seven tabernacles, (שבע היכלות--Shebah Hekoles), or so-called hell, which shows us in a systematic outline all the disorders of the moral world and all the torments consequent to them. There we see every passion of the human heart, every vice and every weakness personified in a demon who becomes the tormentor of those who have been led astray by these faults. Here--lust and seduction (פתות) there--anger and violence (אף וחמה), further on gross impurity, the demon of solitary debauches, elsewhere--crime (חיבה), envy (איבה) idolatry and pride.
The seven infernal tabernacles are divided and subdivided ad infinitum; for every kind of perversity there is something like a special kingdom and thus the abyss unfolds itself gradually in all its depth and immensity. 30 The supreme chief of that world of darkness who bears the Scriptural name of "Satan," is called in the Kabbalah "Samael" (סמאל), that is to say the angel of poison or of death; and the Zohar states positively that the angel of death, evil desire, satan and the serpent which seduced our first mother, are one and the same thing. 31 Samael is also given a wife who is the personification of vice and sensuality, for she calls herself the chief prostitute or the mistress of debauches אשת זנונים. 32 But ordinarily they are united into one single symbol called simply the beast (חיוא).
If we wish to reduce this demonology and angelology to the simplest and most general form, we find that the Kabbalists recognized in each object of nature, and consequently in all nature, two very distinct elements; one, an inner incorruptible which reveals itself to the intelligence exclusively, and which is the
spirit, the life or the form. The other, a purely external and material element that has been made the symbol of forfeiture, of curse and of death. They may have said, as a modern philosopher, and a descendant of their race said: Omnia, quamvis diversis gradibus, animata tamen sunt. (All, no matter how different a grade, is still animated.--Spinoza, Ethics.)
177:1 מנקותה קדמאה ולהלאה אתפשט דא ברא ואתלבש דא ברא עד דאשתכח דא לבושא לדא . . . דא לתקונא רעלמא.--Zohar, part I, fol. 20a. 177
178:2 האי רוחא אתפשט ואפיק קלא כליל מאשא ומיא ורוחא דאינון צפון וררום ומזרח והאי קלא כללא דכל שאר הילין.--Zohar, part I, fol. 2466, sect. ויחי (Va-Y’chi).
178:3 Commentary of Abraham Dior, ראב״ד, on the Sefer Yetzirah. Rittangel ed., p. 65.
179:4 Ex nihilo nihil fit--from nothing nothing is made.--Transl.
179:5 Zohar, part II, fol. 100b, sect. משפטים (Mishpatim).
179:6 Zohar, ibid.
179:7 כל מלין דעלמא אהדרו כלהו לעקרא ויסודא ושרשא דנפקו מנית נופא לסמריה ונפשא לסמרא.--Part II, fol. 218b.
179:8 רישא וסופא לכל דרנין רשימו דאתרשים ביה דרגין כלהו ולא אקרי אלא אחד לאחואה דאע״ג דאית ביה דיוקנין סניאין לאו איהו אלא אחד.--Part I, fol. 21a.
180:9 The letter ב (Beth) of the Hebrew alphabet.--Transl.
180:10 בנין דבית איהו סימן ברסה אשתכלל בבית עלמא וביה אתבדי. Part I, fol. 205b, sect. ויגש (Va-yigash). See also Otiot de-Rabbi Akiba. a
180:a Otiot de Rabbi Akiba, also called Midrash Otiot de Rabbi Akiba, or Haggadah de Rabbi Akiba, is the title of a Midrash on the names of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, claimed to have come down from the great master (Tanna) Akiba ben Joseph, of the second century.--Transl.
180:11 The mystic name is סמאל (Sama-ayl). In the days to come the first half סם (Sam), which signifies poison, will be omitted; the second portion איל (Ayl) is the name common to all the angels. The same idea is expressed also in another form. Having demonstrated by a Kabbalistic process (גימטריא--Gematreeya) that the name of God comprises all the sides of the universe, with the exception of the North which is reserved as a place of expiation for the wicked, they add that at the end of the days, the north will, like all the other sides, enter the ineffable name. Hell will disappear; there will be neither chastisement nor trials, nor culprits. Life will be an eternal feast, a Sabbath without end. Cordovero, Pardes Ribonim, fol. 10b, and in Targum Jonathan ben Uziel to Genesis III, 15, it is said to the contrary that the serpent alone will remain unrecovered.
181:12 עד לא ברא הקב׳ה האי עלמא הוי בארי עלמין וחריב לון . . . . וכל מה דאשתכח בהאי עלמא הא הוי קמיה ואתתקן קמיה כל אינון דאי עלמא דאשתכחו בכל דרא ודרא עד לא ייתון לעלמא הא הון קיימי קמיה בריוקניהון. part III, fol. 61, a, b.
181:13 Incorrectly quoted and passed unnoticed by Dr. Jellinek. The Hebrew text (Eccl. III, 15) reads: מה שהיה כבר הוא, ואשר להיות ברד היה. . . .
Leeser's translation according to Rashi's and Ramban's interpretation is as follows: "That which hath been hath long since appeared, and what is to be has already been. . ." The Zohar also interprets in this sense; for after quoting this passage it continues: מה שהיה כבר היינו--What was already has already been. Of interest is the free translation of Moses Mendelson; it reads: "As destined as the past has been, so destined is the future, as though it had already been." A clear statement of the theory of pre-destination.--Transl.
181:14 ועשה העולם הזה בננד העולם של מעלה ובל מה שיש למעלה בדונמתו למטה והכל אהד.--Zohar, part II, fol. 20a.
182:15 סל מה דאיהו מסטרא דרוחא בלט בלר ואתחוי--Zohar, part II, fol. 74a; part II, fol. 20a.
182:16 Part II, 74a, sect. ויתרו--Vayithro.
182:17 מהאי רקיע דלעילא דמסכךּ על כלא אתרשימו ביה דשימין דאקכיען ביה סלין ורזין סתימין דככביא נמזלי. . . . לעיינא בהו הבימי לבא ולאמתכלא בהו.--Part II, fol. 76a.
183:18 The interpretation of the forehead is found really before the general considerations, on page 71b.--Jellinek
183:19 עיורא דאימא פני אדש פני אריה פני שוד פני נשר--Part II, fol. 73b, ff.
183:20 Compare L. Dukes. History of the Neo-Hebrew religious poetry, pgs. 107-110.--Jellinek
184:21 כל רוהין קדישין דעבדין שלהיתא כלהו אתיין מאתר הד נשמתהון דעדקייא מתרי כלולין בחד ובנין כך סלקין יתיד ודרגיהון יתיר--Zohar, part III, fol. 68a, b. a
184:a As the author quotes only the last part of the original text, I shall give the first part, and also venture some correction in the translation which may give a better understanding of the text. The first part reads: בשעתא דנשב קורשא בריך היא היילין תעבידו וקיימי חדא היא דכתיב (תהלים ל״ג) ובריח פין כל עבאם . . . .
My correction refers to the last half of the quotation. The author omits the word דלעילא afterכל דיחין קרישין, and the word דרנין after מתרי, also the letter ד in the word דנשמתהון. He translates the word p. 185 מאתר wrongly with "degree," while the meaning of אתר is "place." So corrected, the translation of this part would read: "All the higher, holy spirits, who perform the errands, issue from one place, the souls of the just (issue) from two degrees which unite into one, and therefore rise higher and their degrees are higher."--Transl.
185:22 Compare Ibn Ezra to Genesis I, 1. Yalkut to Joel, par. 524.--Jellinek
185:23 גדולים צדיקים יותר ממלאכי השרות--Babyl. Talmud, Sanhedrin, ch. XI, and Hulin, ch. VI.
185:24 Zohar, part I, fol. 40, 41. Ib., fol. 55a. Ib., fol. 146a.
186:25 They even go so far as to give them the names of the heavenly bodies themselves. One is called Venus (נגה--Nogah), another, Mars (מאדים--Mo-ahdim), another is called the substance of the heavens (עצם השמים--Etzem ha-shomayim). Zohar, part I, fol. 42 ff.
186:26 Tikunim, Tikun 15, fol. 36.
186:27 Referring to the great Italian poet Dante and his immortal "Inferno."--Transl.
186:28 תהו ובהו (Tohu Ubohu) which the Septuagint translates by the two words ἀόρατος καὶ ἀκατασκεύαστος.
187:29 תלת קליפין כנדלי בצלים דא על דא. והארץ היתה תהו--דא קליפא קדמאה. ובהו דא קליפא תנינא. וחושד קליפה תליתאה.--Ib. supr.
187:30 For all the details see Zohar, part II, fol. 255-259, sect. פקודי and the commentary or rather the Hebrew translation of that passage in Pardes Rimonim. שער ההיכלות
187:31 והנחש דא יצר הרע דא מלאך המית דא שמן וכלא חד.--Part I, fol. 35 b.
187:32 It is supposed that the wife of Samael is Lilith (a power of the night), which is often spoken of in the Talmud.