Samizdat

"Samizdat: Publishing the Forbidden."

Self-Immolation in Jewish Practice

Rabbi Joseph Karo authored the Shulhan Arukh (The Laid Table). He claimed that it was “dictated by a divine messenger, a magid, whom he regarded as a manifestation of the shekhinah.”

Incredibly, Dan comments that “…Safed scholars went as far as inflicting themselves with pain and wounds, including self-immolation, which is very rare in Jewish practice.”

“Isaac Luria, who revolutionized the kabbalah in this period, arrived in Safed in 1570 when these practices were at their peak.” Luria was born in Safed in 1534, but migrated to Egypt and then later returned. Luria died because of the plague two years later, in 1572, at the age of 38. The most important of Luria’s teachings were published by Gershom Scholem and Isaiah Tishby in 1941.

–Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, pg.73.

Tracing the Kabbalistic Idea

Next came Guillaume Postel of Paris (1510-1581), who published the Sefer Yazira with a Latin translation and a commentary. He also translated several sections of the Zohar. Christian Knorr von Rosenroth compiled an extensive anthology of kabbalistic works in Kabbala Denudata (1677-1684), followed by the German mystic Jacob Boehme. Dan characterizes all of these as “Lurianic kabbalah.” He cites no specific texts by Boehme, but states that “In England, some thinkers in the Cambridge school of neo-platonists–Henry More and Robert Fludd, among many others–used kabbalah.”

He then refers to theologian Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont from Holland, and he claims that Mercurius “collaborated in this field with Gottfried Wilhem Leibnitz (1646-1716).” He introduces alchemy into the mix, saying that Gershom Scholem “described the work of the german philosopher Franz Josef Molitor (1779-1861) on the philosophy of tradition as “the crowning and final achievement of the Christian kabbalah.”

Dan then notes that after the seventeenth century, kabbalah, employing various spellings, became a “common term” that indicated in an “imprecise manner anything that was ancient, mysterious, magical, and to some extent dangerous.” The term “cabal” then emerged, describing secret groups engaged in conspiracies. He observes that interest in esoterica diminished during the Enlightenment, but then resurged in the nineteenth century.

Amazingly, he observes that “Carl Gustav Jung could…combine admiration of the kabbalah with enmity toward Jewish culture.”

–Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, pg. 66-70.

Marsilio Ficino and Christian Kabbalah

“Christian kabbalah can be traced to the “school of Marsilio Ficino in Florence, in the second half of the fifteenth century.”

“Ficino is best known for his translations of Plato’s writings from Greek to Latin, but of much importance was his translation to Latin of the corpus of esoteric, mysterious old treatises known as the Hermetica. These works, probably originating from Egypt in late antiquity, are attributed to a mysterious ancient philosopher, Hermes Trismegistus (The Thrice-Great Hermes), and they deal with magic, astrology, and esoteric theology.”

Ficino and his followers considered magic as “an ancient scientific doctrine, the source of all religious and natural truth.”

Dan mentions Count Giovani Pico dela Mirandola, a “great thinker, young scholar and theologian, who died at age thirty-three in 1496.”

He also observes that Pico’s interest in Hebrew was facilitated by the Latin translations of the Jewish Christian convert, Flavius Methredates.”

Pico’s most famous work, the Nine Hundred Theses, proclaims that Christianity’s truth is best demonstrated by the disciplines of magic and kabbalah.” In Pico’s work, magic and kabbalah are often indistinguishable. He interpreted kabbalistic texts as “ancient esoteric lore, conserved by Jews, at the heart of which was the Christian message.”

–Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, pg. 62-3.

Poetry from John Perreault

“The lights stay on
but the room fades out.
This is not noticed until later,
when the room returns,
harder,
more real than even the reality
of novels and films.
I drive my submission
like a beautiful icepick
into the bedspread of your life.”

—John Perreault, from “The Lights.”

The Paris Review, #Poetry in issue 39, Fall 1966: http://tpr.ly/I9lExy.

Van Gogh on Dreams

“I dream my paintings, then I paint my dreams.”

–Attributed to Vincent Van Gogh.

On The Mysteries

The secret of the Mysteries of Eleusis endures to this day. We do not remember, precisely, what they were. The secrecy that covered them remains inviolate, to this day, though it is likely that we know them but we know them under another name, a different complex of concepts. We do not realize that these memories that are indistinguishable from our patterns of thinking were once codified and celebrated in liturgies. We have forgotten their names, and this in a sense means that we have lost the ability to create them, because what is a name but an act of creation?

I say to you that the memories endure. They may be attenuated, confused, diluted, mixed with other sacred secrets, but we carry them with us always as part of our human heritage. What man has not at times looked up to the night sky in wonder and resignation at the demonstrable, visible infinitude of existence arrayed as a panoply of stars? How is that man different from an ape, who sees the same stars, and feels the same wonder and resignation? Perhaps what makes us human is that we reject the resignation, we reject the immensity of the universe, and we stand as sovereign, aware entities that have self-knowledge.

How can this be different from anything preserved in forgotten Mysteries? There are no Mysteries. Everything is a Mystery.

http://www.athensguide.com/eleusis/

Tikkun

“Every person, every deed, every moment is integrated in the vast mythical project of the tikkun, whether they know and wish it or not. One cannot resign from this cosmic struggle; such a resignation constitutes a sin, which empowers the satanic forces.”

–Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, 2006, pp. 58.

The Shefa

“This put in the center of the kabbalistic worldview a powerful concept of interdependence between man and God, in which the commandments were the instruments used by man in order to influence the processes of the divine world, and ultimately shape his own fate.”

“The mythical processes that dominate this interaction are described in the Zohar and later works as being based on one dynamic aspect of the divine world … usually called the shefa, the flow of divine spirituality from the extreme, highest stages in the divine world down to the lower divine powers, and then to even lower realms, those of the archangels and angels, and finally the material world and to human beings. This divine flow is the necessary sustenance of all existence, even of the divine emanations themselves. Nothing can exist without deriving spiritual power from this divine flow.”

–Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, 2006, pp. 54-5.

The Other

“…the first kabbalistic dualistic system was presented by … Rabbi Isaac ben Jacob ha-Cohen, entitled Treatise on the Emanations on the Left … written in Castile about 1265…(describing) “a parallel system of seven divine evil powers, the first of which is called Samael and the seventh, feminine one is called Lilith … “he was the first to bring them together and present them as a divine couple, parallel to God and the shekhinah, who rule over a diverse structure of evil demons, who struggle for dominion in the universe against the powers of goodness, the emanations on the right … Rabbi Isaac was the first to present a hierarchy of evil powers and evil phenomena, including illnesses and pestilence, connecting all of them in one system.”

“Rabbi Isaac presented a mythological description of the relationship between the satanic powers; he described the “older Lilith” and “younger Lilith,” the latter being the spouse of Asmodeus, whom Samael covets. The realm of evil includes images of dragons and snakes and other threatening monsters.”

“Unlike Rabbi Ezra of Girona, (Rabbi Isaac) …. did not find the root of evil’s existence in the Garden of Eden and human sin. Evil evolved from the third sefirah, binah, as a distorted side effect of the process of emanation. It continues throughout the history of the world, and will come to an end in the final apocalyptic struggle between Samael and the messiah.”

“De Leon even preserved a hint to the title of Rabbi Isaac’s treatise. In the Zohar the realm of evil is called sitra ahra, an Aramaic phrase meaning “the other side.” “Other” is the unmentionable left side, which is also the name of God’s archenemy, Samael.”

–Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, 2006, pp. 50-3.

Evil in the Rabbinic Tradition

“Rabbinic tradition … is remarkably ignorant of the existence of independent powers of evil … Satan in his various manifestations … is a power within the divine court and God’s system of justice … The first indication of a satanic rebellion against God in rabbinic literature is found in the eighth-century midrash Pirkey de-Rabbi Eliezer, but this seemed to have little impact until the twelfth century. The section of this midrash in which the rebellion is described was included in the Book Bahir, serving as its concluding chapter.”

–Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, 2006, pp. 49.

On the Femininity of the Shekhinah

“The Book Bahir, the first work of the kabbalah, is the earliest source we have that might imagine the shekhinah as a feminine power … She is described as wife, bride, and daughter of the masculine power … The Zohar, and other kabbalistic works from the end of the thirteenth century and the beginning of the fourteenth, made the myth of the feminine shekhinah a central element in their descriptions of the divine world, made her the purpose of rituals and religious experiences, and established this as one of the most prominent components of the kabbalistic worldview.”

“Gershom Scholem regarded the concept of the feminine shekhinah in the Book Bahir as the appearance of a gnostic concept within the early kabbalah. It could be regarded as an ancient Jewish gnostic concept that surfaced in the kabbalah in the Middle Ages after being transmitted in secret for many centuries, or the result of the influence of Christian Gnosticism, which emphasized the role of feminine powers in the divine world.

“… The femininity of the shekhinah is the result of the influence of the intense Christian worship of the Madonna, the Mother of Christ, that peaked in the twelfth century.”

–Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, 2006, pp. 48.

More on the Shekhinah

“Some late midrashic compilations use the term “shekhinah” to designate an entity that is separate from God himself. Rav Saadia Gaon, the great leader of the Jews in Babylonia, made a clear theological statement to this effect in the first half of the tenth century. In his philosophical work, “Beliefs and Ideas,” written in Arabic around 930 CE … Saadia could not accept physical references to the infinite, perfect God, so he postulated that all such references relate not to God himself but to a created angel, supreme and brilliant but still a creature, which is called kavod (glory, honor) in the Bible and shekhinah by the rabbis. Since Saadia, therefore, the shekhinah is conceived in Jewish writings as a lower power, separate from God, which has its main function in the process of revelation to the prophets. It can assume physical characteristics, and it can be envisioned by human eyes … By the late twelfth century the shekhinah was conceived as a separate, emanated divine power that is revealed to the prophets and assumes other worldly functions. In all these sources there is no hint of this entity being feminine.”

–Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, 2006, pp. 47.

The Shekhinah

“The feminine power in the divine world, best known by the name shekhinah (divine residence) … is the tenth and lowest power in the divine realm, and therefore closest to the material, created world and to human beings. She is the divine power that is envisioned by the prophets, and after their death the righteous reside in her realm. As the lowest sefirah she is closest to the sufferings of the people of Israel, and is most exposed to the machinations of the evil powers, who constantly try to establish dominion over her. Being feminine, she is the weakest among the divine powers, and the satanic forces can achieve a hold and draw her away from her husband (the male divine figure, often the totality of the other nine sefirot, or, sometimes specifically the sixth sefirah, tiferet), thus disrupting the harmony of the divine world. She is dependent on divine light, which flows from above; she is like the moon, which does not have light of its own, only the reflection of the sun’s light.”

–Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, 2006, pp. 45-6.

The Five Rivers of Hades

The River Lethe was one of the five rivers of Hades. The River Lethe was also known as the Ameles Potamos (river of unmindfulness). All who drank from it experienced complete forgetfulness. Lethe was also the name of the Greek spirit of forgetfulness and oblivion, with whom the river was identified.

In Classical Greek, the word “Lethe” means oblivion, forgetfulness, or concealment. It is related to the Greek term for truth, “aletheia,” meaning “unforgetfulness.”

The five rivers of Hades were:

Styx: river of hate.

Akheron: river of sorrow.

Kokytos: the river of lamentation.

Plegethon: river of fire.

Lethe: river of forgetfulness and oblivion.

According to Statius, the River Lethe bordered Elysium, the final resting place of the virtuous. Ovid wrote that the River Lethe flowed through the cave of Hypnos, the god of sleep, where its murmuring would induce drowsiness.

The shades of the dead were required to drink from the River Lethe in order to forget their earthly life. In the Aenid, Virgil wrote that only after the dead had their memories erased by the Lethe could they be reincarnated.

The goddess Lethe was the personification of forgetfulness and oblivion. Hesiod’s Theogony identifies her as the daughter of Eris (strife), and the sister of Ponos (toil), Limos (starvation), Algea (pains), the Hysminai (fightings), the Makhai (battles), the Phonoi (murders), the Androktasiai (manslaughters), the Neikea (quarrels), the Pseudologoi (lies), the Amphilogiai (disputes), Dysnomia (lawless), Atë (ruin), and Horkos (oath).

The Myth of Er at the end of Plato’s Republic describes the dead arriving at the Plain of Lethe, through which the River Ameles (careless) runs. Mystery religions taught the existence of the River Mnemosyne: those who drank from this river would attain omniscience and remember everything. Initiates were taught that they would have a choice of rivers from which to drink after death, and they were taught that they should elect to drink from the River Mnemosyne instead of Lethe.

References to the two rivers derive from verse inscriptions on gold plates from Thuri in Southern Italy. There were rivers of Lethe and Msemosyne at the oracular shrine of Trophonius in Boeotia, from which worshippers would drink before seeking oracular consultations with the god.

(Wiki).

The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments are in Deuteronomy and Exodus.

After the mountain was covered by a cloud for six days, Moses went up “in the mount forty days and forty nights.”

–Exodus 24:16-18.

Moses said, “the Lord delivered unto me two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the Lord spake with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly.”

–Deuteronomy 9:10

Moses was gone for so long, that the children of Israel decided that something had happened to him. Aaron accordingly fashioned a golden calf, and he built an altar before it. The children of Israel worshipped it. When Moses and Joshua came down from the mountain with the tablets of stone, “he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands and brake them beneath the mount.”

–Exodus: 32:19.

Then the Lord told Moses, “Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest.”

–Exodus: 34:1.

According to Jewish tradition, Exodus 20:1-17 constitutes God’s first recitation and inscription of the Ten Commandments on the two tables. These were broken by Moses, and replaced by two different tablets, which were then placed inside the Ark of the Covenant:

1. “You shall have no other gods before me.”

2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in the heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

3. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”

4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

5. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”

6. “You shall not murder.”

7. “You shall not commit adultery.”

8. “You shall not steal.”

9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet his wife. or his male servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Of all Biblical laws and commandments, the Ten Commandments alone were “written with the finger of God,” (Exodus: 31:18), and alone were placed in the Ark of the Covenant.

–(Exodus: 25:21).

There are 603 other commandments in the Torah, which form the basis of Jewish law. Elsewhere, there are references to “613 Mitzvot,” which are also commandments. Not sure about the discrepancy.

Allegedly there were ten commandments on each stone tablet, one set for the children of Israel, and one for the Lord. A covenant is comparable to a contract or to a treaty. Each party would receive and keep a copy.

The Talmud claims that the tablets were written on both sides, with the text penetrating to the reverse side. What is more, the writing was legible on both sides. It was not the reverse side of the writing on the surface. This is considered miraculous.

The Second Commandment

The Second Commandment:

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.”

–Exodus, 20:4, 5.

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