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THEY went out of the house and found the sun had already risen above the horizon. Then said one of them: "Today fire will descend from on high." Said another: "It will descend upon this house and envelope someone in flames." A third said: "It will be one who is in our midst and well on in years."

"God forbid that this should happen," exclaimed Rabbi Abba, who was exceedingly troubled, so that he was unable to speak. After a few moments, he became composed and said: "I perceive heaven is communicating to the earth and predicting through these children, events that will occur during the day."

The predictions proved true, respecting Rabbi Abba, for the joy he felt in the study of the secret doctrine was so great that his countenance and head became irradiated with a nimbus of light. All that day, the guest remained in the house and none went out of it. It was surrounded with something similar to a thin cloud of mist, and the friends assembled

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there experienced a sense of inward joy and delight so intense as that which was felt by the children of Israel when they received the law at Mount Sinai. So intent and absorbed were the guests in their meditations that when their meeting ended, they knew not whether it was day or night.

Then Rabbi Abba spake and said: "Whilst we are all present, let each one direct and concentrate his thoughts and speak on the subject of 'Wisdom,' that our host may be blessed and profited now that he is about to celebrate the feast of the circumcision."

Then stood up one of the guests and said: "It is written, 'Blessed is the man whom thou choosest and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, thy holy tabernacle' (Ps. LXV. 5). Observe in this verse the sequence of the words, court, house, tabernacle, in an ascending grade from the lower to the higher. To dwell in thy courts, is to dwell in Jerusalem and be accounted holy, as it is written, 'He that remaineth in Jerusalem shall be called holy' (Is. IV. 3), and also, 'We shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house.: 'Through wisdom a house is builded and by understanding it is established' (Prov. XXIV. 3). By the word wisdom, allusion is made to the occult words, 'And a river went forth out of Eden to water the garden.' 'Thy holy tabernacle,' then, is the higher and supreme degree of divine life, for the term "hecal" (tabernacle) is the same as he-cal (there is everything), the tabernacle being the perfection and union of all things. The beginning of the verse confirms this interpretation. 'Happy is the man whom thou choosest that he may dwell in thy courts.' He who offers as a sacrifice to the Holy One his own son by causing him to undergo the rite of circumcision, becomes a friend and servant of the Holy One and enables him to dwell also in the house and tabernacle or the secret place of the Most High. The word "hatzerekha" (thy courts) is here found in the plural and includes house and tabernacle. It is for this reason that true men and faithful servants of the covenant, when the rite was performed, were accustomed to recite this verse in the following way, one of the assistants repeated the words, 'blessed is he whom thou choosest to approach unto thee.' Another said, 'we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house.'

Then followed the benediction pronounced by the child's

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father: "Blessed be thou, Lord and Master of the universe who hast sanctified us and commanded us to bring this child unto the covenant of Abraham our father." The witnesses then say, 'God grant that as you have caused thy child to enter into the covenant, so may thou also initiate him into the secret doctrine respecting marriage and good works.' We know from tradition that a man ought first of all to pray for mercies to be extended to himself and then to others, as it is written, 'Make atonement for himself and for his household and for all the congregation of Israel' (Lev. XVI. 17). We think this a precept that should be always followed."

Said Rabbi Abba: "Truly and rightly so, and he who neglects and ignores it excludes himself and enters not into the ten canopies or pavilions which the Holy One has prepared for the righteous in the world to come and for all who obey this injunction. For this reason the words of this verse are ten in number, corresponding each of them to one of these pavilions. Blessed is your lot in this world and the world to come, for the secret doctrine is written in your hearts as though you had been in bodily form at Mount Sinai when the law was given forth to the children of Israel.

Said another guest: "It is written, 'An altar of earth shalt thou make unto me and sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings and thy peace offerings' (Ex. XX. 24). We are taught that everyone who brings his child as a sacrifice, or in other words, causes him to be circumcised, makes an offering the greatest and most acceptable that can be rendered to the Holy One, and also the altar he makes is the most perfect that can be possibly made. Therefore, at the performance of this rite it is necessary that there be an altar consisting of a vase filled with earth, into which is cast the prepuce, this being accounted by the Holy One as an offering equally as agreeable and acceptable to him as the sacrifice of sheep and oxen, and therefore it is further written, 'Where I record my name, I will come unto thee and will bless thee.' What do the words, 'where I record my name' signify? They allude to the sign of the covenant, as it is written, 'The secret or mystery of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show them his covenant' (Ps. XXV. 14). Further it is added, 'If thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt build it of unhewn stones, for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it' (Ex. XX. 25). These words refer to heathen converts to

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[paragraph continues] Judaism who are generally stiff-necked and hard of heart,95a and therefore termed an altar of stone. 'Thou shalt built it of unhewn stones' signify those who have the desire to serve and worship the Holy One, who enjoins that no gentile convert should undergo the rite of the covenant until he has renounced his former religion and parted with his hardness of heart, as his conversion would prove vain and of no good effect. He would be like unto a stone, carved and polished outside but interiorly is still rough and hard. The real meaning then of these words is, unless the heart is softened by entering into the covenant, it is of no benefit whatever, either to them who take part in the ceremony or bear the sign on them. Happy is he who in this pleases the Holy One by this offering of his son unto him, for he will rejoice daily, as it is written, 'But let them rejoice, all they who put their trust in thee, let hem shout for joy because thou dwellest with them, let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee'" (Ps. V. 11).

Said another guest: "It is written, 'And Abraham was ninety and nine years old and the Lord appeared unto him, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God, walk thou before me and be thou perfect' (Gen. XVII. 1). This verse needs critical examination, as it abounds with several difficulties that require explanation. It may be asked, had not the Holy One appeared unto Abraham before attaining unto this age, which might be inferred from the words of this verse. In previous accounts of the divine manifestations no mention whatever is made of Abraham's age. It is simply said, 'the Lord said unto Abraham * * *.' Another difficult question is, how was it that before Abraham had reached this age, scripture nowhere states that the Lord appeared unto him? It was because that up to that time he was uncircumcised, and it was only after he had performed the rite the Holy One revealed himself in a way and manner he had never done before, and therefore scripture states, 'And the Lord appeared unto him.' But why did the Lord appear and manifest himself to Abraham on this particular occasion? Because he wished to make known unto him the relation existing between the sign of the covenant and that most sublime degree of elevation in the divine life, termed the "Holy Crown." Moreover, the Holy One intended that from Abraham should proceed a people and nation wholly sanctified unto himself; it was essential that he himself should first become

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such, which did not occur until he had attained to the age of ninety-nine years. Another reason why scripture states this age of Abraham is, that until he had attained thereunto, his years were not reckoned or taken any account of and only began to be so when he became circumcised at this advanced age. When the Lord appeared unto him and said, 'I am the Almighty God' (El Shaddai). Why up to this time had he not appeared unto him and announced himself by this name? Respecting this question tradition informs us that at the creation of the world, he. made higher and lower spheres, some of the latter of which were void of holiness and spiritual life, such as the world of elementals who are able to influence those in this earth who are uncircumcised and who become impressed with their mark, the letters S and D denoting they are soiled and subject to the influence of the evil one. But as soon as men are circumcised, they become freed from the influence of the elementals and live under the wings or protection of the Schekina. It is then that the Yod (I), symbol of the sign of the Covenant, becomes impressed upon them95a-95b and they bear on them the full-divine name Shaddai (S D I). When this occurred in the case of Abraham, then, as stated, the Lord appeared unto him and said unto him, 'I am the Almighty God,' (El Shaddai) 'walk thou before me and be thou perfect' (thanaim), which word signifies full and complete. In other words, he said, until now the mark thou hast borne is incomplete, being composed only of the letters S and D. Circumcise now thyself, then wilt thou bear my full and complete name of Shaddai, for whoever bears it is blessed, as it is written, 'And God Almighty (Al Shaddai) bless thee' (Gen. XXVIII. 3). It is from him that all blessings come. He it is who rules the inferior worlds that tremble and fear before him, so that they are unable to exercise any influence over those who bear on them the full sign of the covenant. who will never descend or fall into Gehenna, as it is written, 'Thy people also shall be all righteous'" (Is. LX. 21).

Next: Chapter XCIX. A Feast of Circumcision (Continued)