"In the beginning,"7b-8a Rabbi Hiya spake and said: "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of Jehovah, a good understanding I have all they that do his commandments, his praise endureth forever" (Ps. cxi. 10). The beginning of wisdom has reference to the great object of wisdom, viz., to raise and elevate us into the higher and diviner life, as it is said: "Open to me the gates of righteousness" (Ps. cxviii. 19). This is the gate or way of the Lord through which everyone must pass in order to attain lento this life and live in the presence of the heavenly king. Ere this, however, there are several other gates on the upward course which must be passed through, each with their bolts and bars that have to be unloosed, and the last of which is that called "the fear of the Lord." It is the one only gate of access. There are in scripture two beginnings (bereshith) mentioned, and are united into one, viz., "the fear of the Lord" and "the beginning of Wisdom," both one and the same, and never found disjoined from each other. As it is written: "That men may know that thy name is Jehovah only." (Ps. lxxxiii. 18). Why is the first gate called the fear of the Lord? Because it is a tree of good or evil. When a man lives uprightly, it is a tree of good to him; if unjustly, a tree of evil. It is the gate or portal through which all blessing, spiritual or temporal, comes. The words: "A good understanding," refer to those gates which, as aforesaid, are one and the same.
Said Rabbi Jose: "A good understanding"; it is the tree of life without admixture or alloy of evil. "That do his commandments" are they who are true and faithful students of esoteric science. "His praise endureth forever" signifies that the throne of God or, in other words, the action of the good law, pervades the universe and endures throughout all ages.
Rabbi Simeon was sitting engaged in meditation and study of the secret doctrine during the night when the celestial bride becomes united to her bridegroom, for then, it is enjoined upon all the members of her retinue they should especially be present to accompany her to the nuptial dais and rejoice with her. On the eve of the heavenly union they must devote themselves to the study of the Pentateuch, the prophetical hooks, and the other parts of scripture, to the explanation of verses, and their occult meaning in which the heavenly spouse takes great delight. These students, with their acquired knowledge resulting from their studies, are "the marriage guests." When she ascendeth
and seateth herself on the nuptial dais, the Holy One salutes her and blesses her attendants and presents them with crowns and garlands. Happy and blessed is their lot! Rabbi Simeon, together with his students, spent the night in study and acquiring deeper knowledge of esoteric science. Then said Rabbi Simeon: Blessed are ye! inasmuch as having spent this eve in meditation and study, your names will be enrolled and written in the celestial book, and the Holy One will endow you with faculties and powers more enlarged and receptive for the comprehension and understanding of divine mysteries.
Rabbi Simeon again spake and said: "The heavens declare the glory of God." (Ps. xix. 2). These words have already been explained, but they possess a deeper mystical meaning. At the time that the heavenly spouse is adorned in order to ascend the nuptial dais surrounded with the masters or teachers who have rejoiced with her throughout the night, beholding her husband, then is it "the heavens declare the glory of God," the heavens meaning the bridegroom who enters the nuptial chamber. The word "declare" (mesapherim) signifies sending forth glittering rays from one end of the wood to the other like a brilliant sapphire. "The glory of God" is the glory of the bridegroom who is called El (God) as it is written: "El judgeth the righteous, El is angry with the wicked every day." (Ps. vii. 12). During the whole of the year up to the eve of the celestial union, He is called El, but when the marriage day is consummated, he takes the name of Kobad (glory). These two names are a source of reciprocal light, power and joy to each other.
"And the firmament showeth his handiwork."Ps. 19:1 His handiwork are the true and faithful followers of the holy law of whom it is said: "Let the beauty of the Lord, our God, lie upon us and establish thou the work of our hands upon us, yea, the work of [our hands establish thou it" (Ps. xc. 17), signifying or referring to the work of circumcision, which is a sign marked on the human body. Rabbi Hammenuna, the aged, has said: "Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin" (Eccles. v. 5). Never allow thy lips to give expression to evil words and thus sin against thy flesh which has been sanctified with the seal of the holy covenant, for by so doing thou incurrest the danger of being cast into the hell of evil and wrong-doing (Gehenna), the ruler of which is called Duma and is always attended with destroying angels, observing those who keep the covenant over whom they have then no power to injure or afflict. It is further written: "Neither say
thou before the angel, that it was an error; that is, speak nothing that will cause the angel Duma to prevail against and overcome thee. "The firmament showeth his handiwork." These are the companions of the heavenly spouse, whose names are marked and inscribed in the firmament. What firmament?8b-9a The visible heaven in which are the sun and moon, stars and constellations, and is the true Book of God. In it are found and written the names of all who have kept themselves pure and undefiled.
"Day unto day uttereth speech."Ps. 19:2 This refers to the great holy day of the King who applauds his companions and commends the words of learning and wisdom uttered by each of them. "Night unto night showeth knowledge." That is, each night communicates to the following one the mystery of the esoteric knowledge which enlightens all intelligences. "There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard," meaning they discourse not of worldly matters and vanities in presence of the King, who taketh no delight in such. "Their line is gone out through all the earth" refers to the dimensional archetypes according to which the heavens and the earth were measured and formed. If the question be asked who resides in them? Scripture declares: "In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun," that is, the Holy One has fixed his mansion or tabernacle in the heavens wherein he is adorned and is then as a bridegroomPs. 19:5 coming out of his chamber rejoicing to run on his course, which when finished, he mounteth on high and runneth another course elsewhere. "His going forth is from the end of the heaven and his circuit unto the ends of it."Ps. 19:6 that is, he descendeth from the higher to the lower world, which is expressed by the word outhqonphatha in which is included the idea of rotundity. For this reason the duration of a year is termed, thqouphatha-shana, for during that period the earth has travelled round the sun, and been the recipient of the whole of its rays of light and heat. "And there is nothing hid from the heat thereof." Every created thing, whether visible or not, is affected by the warming rays of the sun, which occultly represents the universality of the secret doctrine operating everywhere and is described as "the law of the Lord is perfect."
From the beginning of this Psalm (19th) the tetragrammaton or holy name I. H. V. H. is found six times, showing the mystery contained in the word Brashith (in the beginning), which has six letters. Bra-shith. (He created six) and these six letters correspond to the six first words of scripture which express
the work of creation. Bra, Alhim, eth, hassamayim, veath, aaretzs (Alhim created the substance of the heaven and the earth)9a or thus: Alhim created the substance of fire, water and earth.
At this moment Rabbi Eleazar and Rabbi Abba entered the assembly. On beholding them, Rabin Simeon exclaimed: Truly is the presence of the Schekinah with you and therefore I have called you Peniel, for ye have seen the Schekinah face to face, and now that I have explained the esoteric meaning of Benaiah, Son of Jehoida, I will explain to you the mystical meaning of yet another biblical verse: "And he slew an Egyptian, a man of great stature five cubits high" (I. Chron. xii. 23). The word Egyptian refers to Moses, of whom we said that he was very "great in the land of Egypt, in the eyes of Pharaoh's servants and the people of the land" (Ex. xi. 3), the mystical meaning of which is that he was distinguished more by his intellectual endowments and gifts than by his stature, similar to Adam, the first man, of whom it is metaphorically said that his stature was of the number of cubits separating the east from the west of the world. So when it is said of Moses that he was five cubits in height, it means that he was an adept practised in the five virtues leading to spiritual perfection, viz., love to God, chastity, charity, humility and perseverance in meditation and study of the secret doctrine. "And in the hand of the Egyptian was a spear like a weaver's beam," meaning the rod of God on which was engraved the holy name of forty-two letters, as was the shuttle of Bezaleel since we read: "He hath filled him with the spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge and in all manner of workmanship, and to devise curious works, in gold, silver and brass--all manner of work of the engraver, of the cunning workman, and of the embroiderer" (Ex. xxxv. 31-35). "Happy was the lot of Moses!" Come, therefore, dear friends; come and let us meditate and evolve new thoughts and ideas from out of the secret doctrine, for whoever on this night doeth thus shall be preserved from evil, and live in peace hereafter, "for the angel of the Lord campeth round about them that fear him and delivereth them. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man that trusteth in him" (Ps. xxxiv. 8-9).
Again, on another occasion, Rabbi Simeon spake and said: "Bereshith bara Alhim" (In the beginning created God). These words require great thought and consideration, for everyone that says there is another God is cut off from the world, as it is written:
[paragraph continues] "Thus shall he say unto them, the gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth and from under these heavens" (Jer. x. 11), for there is other God beside the Holy One.
This verse is in the Chaldee tongue excepting the last word, Aleh (these) which is in Hebrew. Why? It might be said, in order that the holy angels should not comprehend its signification of the divine unity. The true reason is that they might not become envious of man and thus cause him to suffer, for in the words, "the gods that have not made the heavens and the earth" have reference to certain angels who fell from heaven and set themselves up as gods.
Now the word earth which in Hebrew is arqa, in the Chaldee is arca; why so? Because it is one of the seven lower worlds where reside the descendants of Cain. After his expulsion from the earth, he went thither and begat children. This arqa was partly lighted and partly enshrouded in darkness and governed by two chiefs who were constantly warring against each other. On the arrival of Cain, however, they entered into an alliance of friendship for they perceived that it was to him they owed their existence. They became one body with two heads, the name of the one was Aphira, and Qastimon, the name of the other; this ruled over the dark, that over the light parts of Arqa. Before becoming joined together, they were like angels with six wings, Aphira having the form of an ox, Qastimon that of an eagle. On their union, they took on them the human form and begat offspring like unto themselves. When they found themselves in darkness, they became changed into the form of a serpent with two heads, and crawling as a serpent they plunged into the great sea, the abode of demons, where they found the decadent angels Azar and Azael and expelled them from their lurking places. These then fled and hid themselves in dark mountains thinking that the Holy One was about to execute vengeance open them for their evil doings and conduct. After this, the two chiefs Aphira and Qastimon swam through the great sea and went to visit Naamah, the mother of the demons, and the first deceiver and seducer of holy angels, who after their fall took different human forms and in their turn became corruptors of mankind. After roaming through the world they returned to Arqa, and now their great object is to corrupt the descendants of Cain and lead them into sin. Respecting this Arqa, the heaven with its various constellations and stars is altogether different
from our visible heavens at night. The seasons for sowing and9b-10a reaping are not the same as ours in their sequence and regularity, being separated by a considerable number of years; these two chiefs of Arqa are they to whom the Scripture refers, who posing as gods shall become exterminated from our Thebel or earth on which they shall not exercise any dominion, nor afflict the children of man during the night, but as saith the Scripture: "They shall be destroyed by Aleh, by whom the heavens and the earth have been created". This is why Aleh in this verse is written in Hebrew, designating the holy name untranslatable into the Chaldee language.
Then said Rabbi Eleazar to his father: What meaneth the words: "Who would not fear thee, Oh King of nations?" (Jer. x,, 7). Who is this King of Nations or Gentiles?
Said Rabbi Simeon: "This verse, my son, has been interpreted in various ways, but all alike erroneous, as is proved by the remaining portion of tine verse, "among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is none like unto thee," which closes the mouth of the ungodly who imagine that the Holy One knoweth not and is not acquainted with the thoughts of their hearts. We will now refute their error.
A Gentile philosopher came to me one day, saying: You say that your God rules in the heavens on high and that all the angelic hosts cannot approach him or form a conception of his being. The words of this verse add no dignity to his glory. What glory and eminence can be ascribed to a deity who cannot be found and located amongst mankind. Furthermore, you declare: "And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses" (Deuter. xxxiv. 10), from which it may be inferred that though no such prophet as he rose in Israel, yet it does not apply to the Gentiles, amongst whom I venture to maintain there have appeared many as great and equal to him. From these words of Jeremiah I conclude therefore that only amongst the wise men of the Gentiles there is none like unto God, but that in Israel there have been many like unto him; consequently, he could not be from this similarity their superior or master. Think well over my words and you will confess that I have reasoned logically and correctly.
My reply to him was thus: 'It is true what thou sayest, that in Israel there have been some sages like unto God. Who raiseth the dead to life again? Is it not God only? Yet both Elijah and Elisha brought the dead to life again. Who maketh the rain
descend, but God only? Yet by his prayer Elijah caused it to cease and descend. Who is it but the Holy One that made the heavens and the earth? Yet Abraham came, and by him they were established. Who rules the course of the sun? Is it not the Holy One? Yet Joshua commanded it to stand still as it is written: "And the sun stood still" (Josh. x., 13). The Holy One gave decrees, so also did Moses, and they were established and conformed. Again the Holy One decreed punishments, but the just men of Israel caused them to cease or be turned aside, as it is said: "The righteous man ruleth in the fear of God" (II. Sam. xxiii., 3). Moreover, he commanded the just to walk in his way and to become like him. On hearing these words the philosopher turned away and went to the village of Shehalim, where he became known as the Little Joshua. There he applied himself to the study of the secret doctrine and eventually became one of the sages and chief men in that place. 10a
Let us now return to the exposition of the words: "All the nations before him are as nothing."Isa. 40:17 What do they mean? As also: "Who would not fear thee, Oh King of the Gentiles." What is their signification? Is God then the King of the Gentiles and not of Israel? Yea, the Holy One everywhere wishes to be glorified and worshipped by Israel and his name to be attached to Israel only, as it is written: "The God of Israel, the God of the Hebrews" (Ex. v., 3). "The King of Israel" (Is. xliv., 6). But the other nations of the world say: "We have other protectors in heaven. Your king ruleth over you and our king ruleth over us. The Scriptures say: "Who would not fear thee, Oh King of the Gentiles?" Now in heaven there are four great cosmokratores or rulers who derive their power and authority over the nations from the divine ruler and are unable to do anything except by his will and command. By the words: "Wise men of the nations," is meant the celestial rulers of the Gentiles, from whom these receive all their wisdom. Also the words: "Amongst all their kingdoms," have reference to the dominions of these rulers with their attendant hosts, who control the affairs of the world as executors of the divine will. "There is none like unto thee, Oh Lord, the holy and hidden one, who hath made the heavens and the earth." Of this Holy One we learn: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," but to the nations and their dominions may be applied: "And the earth was without form and void."
Children! exclaimed Rabbi Simeon, let each of you prepare
or procure a jewel for the heavenly bride; and thou, Eleazar, my son, be ready when the bridegroom cometh, to offer thy present to-morrow, when he ascendeth the dais with hymns and praises of his retinue.
Then Rabbi Eleazar read aloud: "Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness?" (Cant. III., 6). The two words "who" and "this" refer to two holy beings intimately associated and joined together by a tie which is termed olah (sacrifice). Though the literal meaning of this word is to ascend or come up, yet it occultly refers to the "Holy of Holies." Again "who" (Mi) is united to "this" (Zoth) in order that it, the Holy of Holies, may come from the wilderness. "Out of the wilderness" means mystically from or out of the word, and we are taught: "Thy word is comely" (Cant. IV., 3). Also by way of tradition has been imparted to us the signification of the words: "Who shall deliver us out of the hand of this mighty God?" This is the God that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness" (I. Sam., iv., 8). Why in the wilderness, when we read it was in their own land of Egypt? Now the term bemidhar (in the wilderness) in its real meaning is "by the Word," and everything that was done unto them was done by the Word of the Lord. And this is true generally.
When man rises in the morning he should utter or pronounce a blessing as soon as he opens his eyes, as did the holy men of olden time. They used to place near themselves a vessel of water. When waking they washed their hands and then commenced the study of the secret doctrine. At the time of cock crow, whether it be at midnight or break of day, the Holy One is found in the Garden of Eden, during which the defiled and impure are forbidden to pray or bless. When a man sleeps and his soul quits his body, an impure spirit comes and attaches itself to it and pollutes it. This is why it is forbidden to bless God before first washing the hands and engaging in the study of occult science. This applies also during the day when a man is awake; for then the impure spirit is unable to defile him except he is in some improper place. Even then it is unlawful when leaving it to bless God or recite a single verse of scripture without first washing his hands, though be may not have touched any impure thing. Woe to those who neglect and regard not this rite! They know nothing of the glory of their Lord; nothing of the law or principle upon which the world is founded. In every impure place there is an impure spirit whose delight is to dwell there and attach itself to man.
Then spake Rabbi Simeon and said: Whoever gives not to10b-11a God a part of his works or substance is guilty of avarice. Satan hates him, becomes his accuser and takes him out of the world. Great and terrible are the afflictions he has to endure! We give to God when we give to the poor as far as we are able, in the time of their need and necessity. If in times of our rejoicing and feasting the Holy One observes them ignored and forgotten and uncared for he grieves over and sympathizes with them and ascends on high, thinking to destroy the world. Then the souls of just men made righteous gather before him, saying: "Lord of the universe! thy name is called gracious and merciful. Have pity upon thy erring, forgetful children." And the Holy One replies: "Is it not upon mercy that I have founded the world as it is written: "The world is builded up on mercy" (Ps. lxxxix., 2). Then spake the angels: "Ruler of the universe! behold such a man eats and drinks and is able to succor the poor, yet refrains his hand." Then goeth forth the accuser, after obtaining permission, and hurries him out of existence. Who in the world was so great as Abraham, who did good and was kind to all creatures? Yet we learn from tradition that when Isaac, his son, was weaned,Gen. 21:8 he made a great feast and invited thereto all the great men of the place to be present. At the festive gathering it is said that an accusing angel was there in the form of a poor unknown beggar, but no one recognized or took any notice of him. Abraham busied himself in attending to and waiting upon his royal and noble guests, whilst Sarah suckled the infants of all those who did not believe that she had given birth to a child and said that Isaac was some foundling who had been picked up on the roadside and brought to Sarah. When, therefore, they brought their own infants Sarah suckled all of them in their presence as the scripture states: "Who would have said unto Abraham that Sarah should have given children suck."Gen 21:7 The accusing angel happened to be entering the house when Sarah was uttering the words: "God has made me a subject of laughter." Forthwith he presented himself before the Holy One and said: "Lord of the universe, Thou callest Abraham thy friend. He has made a great feast, but has not remembered the poor and has not even offered a sacrifice of a single turtle dove. Sarah also says Thou hast caused her to become a subject of derisive laughter and jeers."Gen. 21:6 Then replied the Holy One: "Who is there amongst men, kinder and more charitable than Abraham?" The accuser, however, was dissatisfied until
he learned that the feast would be followed by sorrow and trouble to Abraham, which came to pass when God commanded Abraham to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice, and Sarah died through anguish of heart when she learned what God had commanded with respect to her son. All these misfortunes arose through neglect of the poor."
On another occasion Rabbi Simeon spake and said: it is written: "And Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall and prayed unto the Lord" (Is. xxxviii., 2). Observe how great the power and influence of a student of the secret doctrine. He is superior to all others, for he fears nothing, being in close touch with the tree of life, from which he receives counsel and instruction all his days. It teaches is in the way of truth and how to avoid evil that may assail us, and also how to direct our ways and walk before the Lord. Therefore, it is necessary we should study the secret doctrine day and night and observe its teachings and doctrines. By night, when reclining on our beds we ought to submit ourselves to the kingdom of heaven and make it our chief object to commend ourselves to the care and guardianship of the Almighty. Then become we freed from all evil influences and demoniacal powers have no sway over us. In the morning the student of esoteric science rises and gives thanks to his Lord and wends his way to the temple and there pours forth his soul in prayer and adoration. Afterwards he should take counsel from the holy patriarchs, as it is written: "I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercies, and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple" (Ps. v. 7). We are taught from tradition never to enter the house of prayer before being instructed by the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who will inspire us with suitable prayers to be addressed to the Holy One, for the words: "In the multitude of thy mercy"11a designate Abraham; "I will worship in or toward thy holy temple," refer to Isaac; and "in thy fear," to Jacob. Then we render acceptable worship and of us it will he said: "Israel, thou art my servant in whom I will be glorified" (Is. xlix., 3).
Rabbi Pinchus used frequently to go and visit Rabbi Rechumi, whose dwelling was on the borders of the Sea of Genessareth. Rabbi Rechumi was very aged and had become blind. He spake and said to Rabbi Pinchus: I have heard that the son of Jochai, my fellow student in esoteric science, possesses a most precious stone, a pearl I have greatly desired to behold. It radiates rays of light like those of the sun and lightens up
the world and will continue to do so until the Ancient of Days sits upon his throne. Thou art his grandson, therefore happy is thy lot. Go thou my son and search for this glittering and lustrous pearl, for now is the most propitious time for finding it.
Rabbi Pinchus with two others, went forth and embarked on a vessel. Observing two birds flying overhead, he cried aloud: Birds! birds! flying over the waters, have you seen the dwelling place of the son of Jochai?11a-1b After a few moments again he cried: Birds! Birds! come and tell me. Then flew they away, but after a time returned and in the beak of one of them was a slip of paper on which was written: "The son of Jochai has quitted and left the cave in which he dwells with Rabbi Eleazar his son." Then he went and found Rabbi Simeon suffering from bodily sores. To his expressions of sorrow, finding him so ill and afflicted, Rabbi Simeon replied: I am glad, Rabbi Pinchus, thou hast found me thus. If it had been otherwise I should not be what I am. Suffering makes us wiser and better.