As the authors who contributed to the formation of the Zohar give us their ideas in the humblest and the least logical shape, in the form of a simple commentary on the Five Books of Moses, we may, without failing in respect or fidelity to them, pursue the plan that seems most suitable to us. And, first of all, it is important to know how they understand the interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures, how they succeeded in using them as a support at the moment when they deviate most from them. For, as we have said before, such is their method of interpretation; and, generally speaking, there is no other basis to symbolic mysticism.
Let us give here their own judgment on this point: Woe to the man who sees nothing but simple stories and ordinary words in the law! For were this so, we could even nowadays frame a law which would deserve higher praise. Were it our desire to find nothing but simple words, we should have nothing to do but to turn to the legislators of the earth, among whom more grandeur is frequently found. 1 It would be sufficient to imitate them, and to make a law according to their words and to their example. But it is not so; every word of the law holds an exalted meaning and a sublime mystery.
"The recitals of the law are the vestment of the law. Woe
to him who takes that vestment for the law itself! David had this in mind when he said: Open Thou my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law (Psalms 119, 18), i.e., what is hidden under the cloak of this law."
"There are foolish people who, when they see a man covered with fine clothes, look no further than the garment, and yet it is the body that lends value to the clothes; 2 and still more precious is the soul. The law also has its body. There are commandments that may be called the body of the law, and the ordinary recitals which are mingled with them are the clothes which cover the body. The simple-minded take heed of nothing but the vestments or the recitals of the law; they know nothing else, and do not see what is hidden under this garment. The well-informed think not of the vestment, but of the body that the vestment covers. Finally, the wise, servants of the Supreme King, they who dwell upon the heights of Sinai, think of the soul only, which is the foundation of all the rest, and which is the law itself, and in time to come they will be prepared to contemplate the spirit of that spirit which breathes in the law." 3
Thus, by the sincere or insincere supposition of a mysterious meaning, unknown to the profane, the Kabbalists first placed themselves above the historic facts and the positive precepts which compose the Scriptures. This was their only means of assuring
themselves of full liberty without openly breaking with religious authority; and, possibly, they felt the need of doing something to assuage their consciences. We find the same spirit in a form still more remarkable in the following lines: "If the law consisted of nothing but ordinary words and recitals, like the words of Esau, of Hagar, of Laban, of Balaam's ass, and of Balaam himself, why should it have been called the law of truth, the perfect law, the faithful testimony of God? Why should the wise man 4 deem it more precious than gold and pearls? But it is not so. Every word hides a very high meaning; every recital contains more than events it seems to contain. And that higher and more holy law is the true law." 5
It is of some interest to find similar views and similar expressions in the works of a father of the church. "Were we obliged," says Origen, "to hold to the letter of the law, and to understand what is written in the law as the Jews and the people understand it, I should blush to tell aloud that it is God who gave us such laws; I should find, then, more grandeur, and more reason in the laws of man, as for instance, in the laws of Athens, of Rome, or of Lacedemonia. . . ." 6
"What sensible man, pray," says the same author, "could be made to believe that the first, the second and the third days of the creation, where morning and evening is still mentioned, could exist without sun, moon and stars, when on the first day, there was not even a sky? Where will we find a mind so limited as to believe that God, like a ploughman, engaged in planting trees in
the garden of Eden, situated toward the East; that one of the trees was the tree of life, and that another tree could give the knowledge of good and evil? I think that no one could hesitate to regard these things as parables under which are hidden mysteries." 7
Finally, he also admits the differentiation between an historical, a legislative or moral meaning, and a mystical meaning; but instead of using the clothes that cover us as a simile, he compares the first to the body, the second to the soul, and the last to the spirit. 8 In order to establish, at least, certain apparent relations between the sacred word and these arbitrary interpretations, the ancient Kabbalists sometimes resorted to artificial means very rarely met with in the Zohar, but which have taken up considerable space and authority with the modern Kabbalists. 9 As these means are, by their very nature, unworthy of all interest, as they never serve as basis to any important idea, and as they have been discussed by a great many, we pass them in silence that we may more quickly come to the essential subject of our researches, to the doctrine which is the fruit of that feigned independence, and which forms the unity and basis of these pretended commentaries.
We shall first try to present the nature and attributes of God according to the most ancient fragments of the Zohar. We shall then set forth the idea which they have given us--I do not say of the creation, but of the formation of beings in general, or of the relations of God with the universe. Finally, we shall consider man; we shall tell how he is conceived under his chief aspects, and how his origin, his nature and his destinies are described. We consider this way of proceeding not only the simplest and the easiest, but we believe that the dominant character of the system imposes it upon us.
140:1 אי לאהזאה מלי דעלמא אפילו איגון קפסירי דעלמא אית בינייהו מילין עלאין יתיר אי הכי ניזיל אבתרייהן ונעביד מנייהו אורייתא. (As the text was too long to be quoted in its entirety, a selection has been made.)
141:2 In this edition the author deviates slightly from the original text and follows the interpretation of Dr. Jellinek. In the first edition the translation reads: "There are foolish people, who, when they see a man covered with fine clothes look no further than the garment, and take the garment for the body." Dr. Jellinek makes the following interesting remark to this passage: "The author translated here faithfully the text, just as I rendered literally the French text. Yet, I believe that the text of the Zohar is corrupted here; for the example given is inconsistent in itself, as every thoughtful reader will easily see. I would therefore change the השיבו דההוא לבושא of the text, where השיבו is used as a verb, into the noun השיבות, and have the sentence refer not to the foolish people, but make it exclamatory of the Zohar itself. This conjecture is supported by the following השיבות דנופא נשמתא."--Transl.
141:3 Zohar, part III, fol. 152a, sec. בהעלותךּ (B’haleth-ho).
142:4 Refers to David and to Psalms, XIX, 11. "They are those which are to be desired more than gold, and much fine gold . . ." The author mistook the word is פז (Poz);--fine gold, for פינים (P’ninim)--pearls.--Transl.
142:5 אלא ודאי אוריתא קרישא עלאה איהי אוריתא דקשוט תורת ה׳ תמימה.--Part III, Fol. 149b.
142:6 Si absideamus litterae et secundum hoc vel quod Judaeis, vel quad vulgo videtur, accipiamus quae in lege scripta sunt, erubesco dicere et confiteri quia tales leges dederit Deus; videbunter enim magis elegantes et rationabiles hominum leges, verbi gratia, vel Romanorum, vel Atheniensium, vel Lacedaemoniorum."--Homil. 7, in Levit.
143:7 Cuinam quaeso sensum habenti convenienter videbitur dictum quod dies prima, et secunda et tertia, in quibus et vespera nominatur et mane, fuerint sine sole, et sine luna, et sine stellis: prima autem dies sine coelo? Quis vero ita idiotes invenitur ut putet, velut hominem quemdam agricolam, Deum plantasse arbores in Paradiso, in Eden, contra orientem, et arborem vitae plantasse in eo, ita ut manducans quis ex ea arbore vitam percipiat? et rursus ex alia manducans arbore, boni et mali scientiam capiat? etc., περὶ ἀρχῶν, liv. IV, ch. II, Huet, Origeniana, p. 167.
143:8 "Triplicem in Scripturis divinis intelligentiae modum, historicum, moralem, et mysticum: unde et corpus finesse et animam ac spiritum intelleximus."--Hamil. 5, in Levit.
143:9 Those names are three in number: one, גימטריא (Gematria), consists in setting one word in place of another word which has the same numerical value; the other, נוטריקין (Notarikon), makes each letter of a word the initial of another word. Finally, by virtue of the last, תמורה (Temurah), the value of the letters is changed: for instance, the last letter takes the place of the first, and reciprocally. See Reuchlin's De Arte cabalistica, Wolf's second vol. of the Bibliotheca Hebr.; Basnage, Hist. des Juifs, etc., etc.