The Zohar, or “Splendour”, is considered the most important treatise of the Kabbalah. It is a mystical commentary on the Torah (the five books of Moses or Pentateuch), written in medieval Aramaic and Hebrew. It deals with God’s nature, the origin and structure of the universe, souls’ nature, and other related topics. The Zohar is not a book but a group of texts integrating scriptural interpretations, theology and mysticism.
The origins of the Zohar
According to Gershom Scholem , most of the Zohar was written in a pseudo-epigraphic style of Aramaic, the language spoken in Israel during the first centuries AD of the Roman Period. It first appeared in Spain in the 13th century and was published by the Jewish writer Moses De Leon. However, some scholars believe that some parts of the Zohar date back to the Talmudic period. De Leon himself ascribes his work to a second-century rabbi, Shimon bar Yoḥai. Legend has it that Rabbi Shimon hid in a cave for thirteen years during Roman persecution, studying the Torah with his son Elazar. Throughout this time, he said he was inspired to write the Zohar by the prophet Elijah.
Authorship of the Zohar
Over time, the Jewish community accepted Moses de Leon’s claims; they believed the Zohar to be an authentic text of mysticism from the second century, although some small groups and specific Italian communities did not consider it valid. One objection brought to the attention of those who believed in the Zohar’s authenticity was the lack of references to the work in Jewish literature, to which they replied that Shimon b. Yoḥai did not hand over his teachings to written texts but passed them orally to his disciples, who in turn passed them on to their disciples and these to their successors until finally the doctrines were collected in the Zohar.
The Zohar in modern Jewish thought
Today many, if not most of the Orthodox Jews and the so-called ultra-Orthodox (Haredim), think that the teachings of the Kabbalah have been transmitted from master to disciple in a long and unbroken chain from the biblical era to the writing of Shimon b. Yoḥai. And they fully accept the claim that such teachings are, in essence, God’s revelation to the patriarch Abraham, to Moses and other ancient figures, never printed and made public until the time of the medieval editing of the Zohar. Some uphold the tradition that Rabbi Shimon wrote that the cover-up of the Zohar would end precisely 1200 years after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. It was destroyed in AD 70, and so before revealing the Zohar in 1270, Moses de Leon discovered the manuscripts in a cave in Israel.
In modern Orthodox Judaism, however, this latter statement is considered to be naïve. Some Orthodox Jews accept that the Zohar was written in the Middle Ages by Moses de Leon. However, since it is based on earlier materials, it can still be considered authentic but not authoritative or error-free as other Orthodox might believe.
Non-Orthodox Jews agree with the conclusions of historical and academic studies on the Zohar and other Kabbalistic texts. Still, most of them see the Zohar as a pseudo-epigraphic and apocryphal work. However, many consider that some of its contents have significance in the context of modern Judaism. Indeed, there has been a growing interest in non-Orthodox positions in the Orthodox in recent years.
Arguments for a later dating
The fact that the Zohar was discovered by a person, Moses de Leon, and that it referred to historical events of the post-Talmudic period raised doubts about the work’s authorship. A story tells that after Moses de Leon’s death, a wealthy character from Ávila named Joseph offered Moses’ widow – who had been left without financial means of support – a large sum of money for the manuscript originals. She confessed that her husband was the author and that she had asked him several times why he had chosen to credit his work to another, receiving as an answer that to ascribe similar doctrines to a man of miracles – Shimon b. Yoḥai – would have been a rich source of profit.
Some objections to the attribution of the Zohar to Simeon ben Yochai are summarised here:
- If Shimon b. Yoḥai had written the Zohar, it would have been mentioned in the Talmud, as was the case with other works of the Talmudic period.
- The Zohar mentions the names of rabbis who lived after Shimon.
- If Shimon b. Yoḥai were the father of the Kabbalah, knowing by divine revelation the meanings of the precepts, his decisions on Jewish law would be adopted by the Talmud, but this did not happen.
- If the Kabbalah were a revealed doctrine, there would have been no differences of opinion among Kabbalists on the mystical interpretation of the precepts.
Other arguments are that: the Zohar incorrectly quotes specific passages from the Scriptures; misunderstands the Talmud; contains ritual ordinances that the rabbinic authorities issued at a later time; mentions the crusades against the Muslims (which did not exist in the second century); uses the expression esnoga, Portuguese term for “synagogue”; gives a mystical explanation of the vowel points of the Hebrew language, introduced long after the Talmudic period. Scholem argues that de Leon is probably the author of the Zohar. Among other things, he points out the frequent errors in Aramaic grammar, suspicious traces of Spanish words and stylistic models and the author’s lack of knowledge of the land of Israel. Other scholars have also suggested that a group of people wrote the Zohar, including de Leon. This theory presents de Leon as the head of a mystical school, from whose collective efforts the Zohar is born. Another approach for the Zohar’s authorship says that it was passed on as the Talmud before it was transcribed as an oral tradition reapplied to the changed historical conditions and then filed on a document. According to this understanding, Shimon bar Yoḥai did not write the Zohar but was inspired by his principles.
Arguments for an earlier dating
Some authors reject Scholem’s theses putting forward such arguments:
- Many statements in the texts of the Rishonim  refer to unknown Midrashim  Some, therefore, think that these are references to the Zohar.
- It is impossible to accept that Moses de Leon could create a work of the vastness of the Zohar (1700 pages) in six years, as Scholem claims.
- A comparison between Zohar and de Leon’s other works shows significant stylistic differences. Although he made use of his manuscript of the Zohar, many ideas in his works contradict those mentioned therein.
- Many Midrash texts reach their final redaction in the Gaonim period. Specific anachronistic terminologies of the Zohar can date back to that period.
- Out of the thousands of words used in the Zohar, Scholem finds two anachronistic terms and nine cases of ungrammatical use of words. That proves that most of the Zohar were written in the appropriate time frame, and only a small part was added later (in the Gaonim period, as mentioned).
- We can attribute some terms that are difficult to understand to acronyms or codes. We find analogies to this practice in other ancient manuscripts.
- We can explain the “borrowings” of medieval commentaries very simply. It is not uncommon that a note written in the margin of the text could be in a subsequent copy added to the central part of the text. The Talmud itself has additions from the Gaonim period adduced by this circumstance.
- An ancient manuscript refers to the book Sod Gadol (The Great Secret), which appears to be the Zohar itself.
Regarding Zohar’s failure to mention the land of Israel, Scholem bases the circumstance on the many references to the city of Kaputkia (Cappadocia), located in Turkey and not in Israel. A Jewish scholar, Reuvein Margolies , instead, states in a book of his that a village named Kaputkia is mentioned at an ancient Israeli burial site. In addition, the Zohar says that this village is a day’s walk from Lod’s town, which is also true. That implies that the author of the Zohar had precise knowledge of the geography of Israel. In the same book, Margolies cites many statements of Maimonides that can only come from a text very similar to the Zohar. In his notes on the Zohar, he highlights similarities between the views in the text and the literature of the Tannaim  (Midrashim, the two Talmud, etc.).
Paradise and biblical exegesis
The Zohar assumes four types of biblical exegesis: Peshat (literal sense), Remez (figurative), Derash (explanatory/anagogical) and Sod (esoteric). The initial letters of the words (P, R, D, S) form the word Pardes (paradise), which became the designation for the fourfold meaning of which the esoteric is the highest.
The mystical allegory of the Zohar is based on the principle that all visible things, including natural phenomena, have both exoteric and esoteric reality. This principle is the necessary result in the doctrine of the Zohar: the human mind can recognise in every event the highest sign and thus ascend to the cause of all causes. The apparent gap between the mystical-interpretative freedom with which the kabbalah movement approaches the texts considered prophetic – emanating from God himself – and the stability of the written tradition – which in the expression of Jewish orthodoxy refers to the divine dictation – is a widely debated topic, of such magnitude that we cannot confine to a few lines. It is enough for us to know, for our purposes, that the following consideration cancels the gap that separates the two representations: the prophet is not the simple bearer of the message but rather the interpreter. He is the one who translates an unintelligible language pre-existing to the human achievement in a generally understandable form. That leaves the listener the task of deriving multiple layers of meaning based on personal receptive capacities, which is precisely the aim that the speculative mysticism of the Kabbalah proposes.
The influence on Christian mysticism
Many Christian scholars shared the enthusiasm for the Zohar, such as Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola , Johann Reuchlin , Egidio da Viterbo , etc., which all considered the book as proof of the truth of Christianity. They were led to believe it based on the analogies existing between some teachings of the Zohar and Christian dogmas, particularly the fall and redemption of man and the doctrine of the Trinity, expressed in the Zohar in the following terms: “The Ancient of Days has three heads. He reveals himself through three archetypes, the Three which are One. He is therefore symbolised by the number three. They manifest themselves from each other: first, Wisdom, secret and hidden; above the Ancient; and above him the Unknowable. Nobody knows what He contains. It is beyond concepts. Man calls it “Non-Being ( Ain )” . These and other similar doctrines found in the Zohar far precede Christianity, but Christian scholars who were prone to see similarities in it used all their energy to propagate the Zohar. Following the publication, in 1558 of the Mantovano code and, in 1590, of the Cremonese code, further appendices on soul’s nature were translated. Also significant remains, as already mentioned, the effort of Knorr von Rosenroth  with his translation into Latin of the most important fragments of the Zohar.
The text of the Zohar
The text of the Zohar is a collection of books on various subjects, the main parts of which are commentaries on the Torah and writings exploring the descent of the Absolute into manifestation. Most of the texts contain the thoughts of Shimon bar Yoḥai and his disciples, along with some anonymous sections. It is not a book in the ordinary sense of the term but a collection that bears a single title. Initially printed in five volumes, it contains the following sections:
Zohar (central part)
It divides into chapters that follow the weekly order of the Torah. It is basically a kabbalistic interpretation of the Torah in the form of a Midrash.
Sifra di-Ẓeni’uta (The Book of Concealment)
It contains a somewhat cryptic exposition of Negative Existence (Ain), the transition between infinite and finite, unity and multiplicity, etc.
Idra Rabba (Greater Assembly)
It contains the revelation of divinity in the form of Adam Kadmon (the Primordial Man).
Idra Zuta (Lesser Assembly)
It describes the death of Shimon b. Yoḥai and his last words to the disciples.
Heikhalot (The Palaces)
A description of the seven palaces of the garden of Eden to which pure souls ascend after the passing. The extended version contains a treatise on angelology and an exposition on the abodes of hell.
Raza de-Razin (The Secret of Secrets)
It is an anonymous treatise on physiognomy and palmistry.
Sava de-Mishpatim (Discourse of the Old man)
An elderly and wise kabbalist disguises himself as a poor donkey handler by dispensing competent dissertations on the theory of the soul.
Yanuka (The Child)
A wonder child teaches his companions profound interpretations of the importance of meals, hand washing, and other subjects while in his mother’s house.
Rav Metivta (The head of the Academy)
Report of a visionary journey by Shimon b. Yoḥai and his disciples at the Garden of Eden, where they learn the world’s to come mysteries from the head of the celestial academy.
Kav ha-Middah (The Standard of measure)
A Shimon bar Yoḥai’s detailed explanation to his son on divine emanation.
Sitrei Otiyyot (The Secrets of the Letters)
A speech by Shimon b. Yoḥai on the letters of the divine Name and the mysteries of the emanations.
Matnitin – Tosefta (Teachings – Additions)
Short, often obscure writings, many of which contain a summary of the idea of the emanation of the primordial light and other teachings of the Zohar.
Sitrei Torah (The Secrets of the Torah)
It is an allegorical explanation of the verses of the Torah about the mysteries of the soul and the theory of emanation.
Midrash ha-Ne’lam (The Hidden Midrash)
It is a late addition to the body of the Zohar, which contains discussions of creation, soul, world to come, and emanations.
Ta Ḥazei (Come and See)
It is an interpretation of Genesis in short comments.
Ra’aya Meheimna (The Faithful Shepherd)
Shimon bar Yoḥai and his disciples meet Moses, the “faithful shepherd”, on a visionary journey and are instructed on the mysteries of the Ten Commandments.
Tikkunei Zohar (Observations on the Zohar)
It is an independent text containing 70 or more interpretations of the opening word of Genesis (Bereshit, in the beginning) and sections on the mysteries of the vowel points and more.
 Gershom Scholem (1897-1982) was a German-born Jewish philosopher and historian. He was the modern founder of Kabbalah academic studies, becoming the first professor of Jewish Mysticism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
 The Rishonim (literally “the first”) were the leaders of the rabbis, followers of the Gaonim, in the period from approximately the 11th to the 15th century.
 The Midrash (textual interpretation) is a system developed by the Pharisee scribes, used to thoroughly scrutinise the biblical text to obtain all its potential, given an application in ritual practice (midrash-balakha) or sublimation of an ethical or theological order (midrash-haggada). Midrashim is the plural form.
 Reuvein Margolies (1889-1971) is the author of more than 55 books on Judaism topics. Gifted with an almost photographic memory, he was exceptionally versed in the teachings of the written (Bible) and oral (Talmud and commentaries) Torah. He wrote exclusively in Hebrew.
 The Tannaim (teachers) were the rabbinic sages whose thoughts were fixed in the Mishnah, approximately between 70 and 200 AD. The Mishnah is the written account of the complex body of the so-called oral Torah.
 Pico Della Mirandola was a humanist and man of letters of the Renaissance (Modena 1463 – Florence 1494). Precocious in his studies and gifted with a prodigious memory, he is remembered for his work Conclusiones philosophicae, cabalisticae et theologicae (Disputations of Philosophy, Kabbalah and Theology) (1486), where he promotes nine hundred theses of vast doctrine. In the Oratio (Prayer) that precedes the Conclusiones, the theme of the “centrality” of man is addressed, free to choose between vicious degradation and elevation to the divine plan. He died poisoned under mysterious circumstances.
 Johann Reuchlin was a German humanist (Pforzheim 1455 – Stuttgart 1522), a scholar of classical languages and Hebrew, the author of a Latin lexicon (Vocabularius breviloquus, Concise dictionary); his most crucial work was De Rudimentis Hebraicis, the lexicon and grammar of the Hebrew language. He met Pico Della Mirandola in Italy, of which he became a fervent admirer and follower. He found in the Kabbalah a profound theosophical system in defence of Christianity and the reconciliation between faith and science; he exposed his dissertations in De Verbo Mirifico (On the Glorious Word) and De Arte Cabbalistica (On the Art of Kabbalah).
 Egidio da Viterbo was a cardinal and theologian (Viterbo 1470 – Rome 1532), fine orator, humanist and poet. He was appointed Patriarch of Constantinople by Pope Leo X. His main study interests centred on the Kabbalah, where he saw indisputable evidence of the truth of the Christian religion. He translated many texts from Hebrew, including the Zohar.
 Op. cit., III, 288b.
 Christian Knorr von Rosenroth (Alt-Randen 1631 – 1689), a Christian Jew, after his university studies became a scholar of the Kabbalah, in which he believed there was proof of Christianity. In his opinion, the Adam Kadmon of the Kabbalists is comparable to Jesus, and the three first Sephiroth represent the Trinity. In 1677 he published the first volume of his Kabbalah Denudata (Kabbalah Unveiled), containing a kabbalistic nomenclature and the leading treatises of the Zohar, followed in 1684 by two other books.
Quote\Unquote: “”The Zohar assumes four types of biblical exegesis: Peshat (literal sense), Remez (figurative), Derash (explanatory/anagogical) and Sod (esoteric). The initial letters of the words (P, R, D, S) form the word Pardes (paradise), which became the designation for the fourfold meaning of which the esoteric is the highest.””
The Zohar did not have the least bit of a clue how to learn פרדס. To weave a garment requires warp and opposing weft threads. דרוש ופשט a pair linked to Aggadic research. רמז וסוד a pair linked to halachic research in the Talmud. The author of the Zohar did not understand who these two contrasting “threads” wove the “fabric” of the Talmud. Therefore its impossible that Shemone Bar Yochai wrote the Zohar. All the rabbis across the Mishna and Gemara obeyed the kabbala of Rabbi Akiva’s פרדס interpretation of the Oral Torah revealed at Horev, forty days have Israel declared to Aaron, “Moshe has died. Who will teach us the rest of the Torah?”
Thanks for the contribution, but I sincerely don’t understand the connection between my words you quoted and your reply. And besides, what does פרדס mean in this context?
The kabbala of פרדס defines, according to Rabbi Akiva, the k’vanna of the Oral Torah logic system which Moshe the prophet Orally heard at Horev – 40 days after the golden calf, wherein Israel declared to Aaron: Moshe has died, who will teach us the rest of the Torah?! The Zohar with its theory of emanations, an idea that traces back to Plato. Had Shimon Bar Yochai written the Zohar, it would not have followed ancient Greek philosophy, but instead focused upon the פרדס kabbala which every rabbi in the pages of both the Yerushalmi and Bavli followed.
That’s interesting. May I presume then that the authentic Kabbalah only refers to Ma’ase Bereshith and Ma’ase Merkaba, or haggada and halakhah, as you stated? If so, how does Talmudic tradition face the interpretations that emerged in Middle-Age, Lurianic kabbalah, etc.? I’d be glad if you could suggest a few texts (in English) about this topic.
Yom HaDin upon the brit: viewed in the context of history. טוב
The 13th Century exposed the chaos and moral debauchery of Western European society. Still, a general rule applies to this very day, when a people or nation falls into Civil War, foreign nations jump to intervene. Rabbeinu Yonah, the cousin of the Ramban, led the condemnation which denounced the Rambam code. In 1202 Rabbi Isaac ha-Baḥur spoke direct with the Rambam, 2 years before he died, and denounced that code. The Rambam “redefinition” of the meaning of halacha, caused an outcry which did not limit their denunciation to the Guide for the Perplexed and the Sefer ha-Madda, as many modern revisionist historians suggest.
Samuel David Luzzatto, (1800 -1865), denounced assimilated Rambam, Ibn Ezra, and Spinoza based upon his opposition to Greek philosophy. He likewise challenged the authenticity of the Zohar because he held that in the era of the Mishna, pilpul scholarship, which studies the grammar of vowels and accents, had yet developed. The Zohar speaks on grammar\pilpul. Nonetheless, Luzzatto did not link Aristotelian philosophy to the Yad HaChazakah. Yet Heinrich Graetz perceived that Luzzatto regarded nearly every word of Maimonides as un-Jewish and heretical, as does this author.
In 1233 under the direction of Solomon ben Abraham of Montpellier, a ban – issued against the works of the Rambam. Rabbeinu Yonah favored the public burnings of his works in that same year. Jewish refugees could only enforce this action with Church and Government support. In 1242 the Pope and the king of France ordered the destruction of 24 cartloads of Talmudic manuscripts! The Rambam Civil War adversely impacted all Jewish exile communities across Western Europe. The ensuing population transfer of Jewish refugee populations from Western to Eastern Europe came as a direct consequence of Jewish chaos and anarchy.
In 1282, John Peckham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, closed all synagogues in his diocese. English King Edward I in 1290, issued the Edict of Expulsion. The expulsion edict remained in force for the rest of the Middle Ages. In 1298 came the Rintfleisch massacres, 8 years before the expulsion of all Jews in France. This, the first mass pogrom in Germany following the first Crusade catastrophe.
During these dark times, Goyim propagated and promoted Blood libels, comparable to flies attracted to fresh manure. The mysterious death of Werner of Oberwesel gave Goyim the excuse to accuse Jews of ritual murder. These barbarians believed that Jews used Xtian blood to make our Pesach matza. The butcher, “Lord Rindtfleisch”, led a bloody series of pogroms which resulted in the destruction of 146 communities, and the violent murder of some 20,000 Yidden. The cities where these pogroms occurred, King Albert I imposed fines upon the refugee survivors, and compelled them to pay for the resultant damages.
The Rambam’s redefinition of halacha, followed by the victory of his supporters in that tragic Civil War, resulted in spiritual disaster. Jews no longer learned how to da’aven, using the Talmud as their spiritual guide. This set the stage for the mystic kabbala era that immediately ensued following the destruction of the Rashi\Tosafot schools in France and Germany. The Zohar and Ari kabbala produced the false messiah movements, Chassidut, and likewise set the stage for Reform Judaism. All g’lut Jewry ceased to da’aven with k’vanna; prayer replaced tefilla. Yidden lost all knowledge of how to dedicate tohor middot דאורייתא ודרבנן to HaShem. The chosen Cohen nation altogether ceased doing avodat HaShem. Then came the Shoah.
Tiqqun Ha’O’lam. Building the 3rd Temple. The mitzva dedication which defines the k’vanna of the anointing of the bnai brit Cohen nation — as Moshiach.
Alchemy – a philosophical attempt to rationally understand natural properties found within nature. Also referred to as “natural science”, this study dominated the best minds in countries from China to Europe. According to René Descartes’, a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist, the inventor of analytical geometry. His philosophy classified “reality” into a metaphysical mind–body dualism. He theorized two types of substances, which he called – matter and mind. According to his philosophy, Physical “matter” qualifies as deterministic and natural—and so belongs to natural philosophy. Whereas everything that occurs within the “mind” exists as conscious, personal choices; and therefore non-natural. Consequently Descartes excluded human thought, dreams, and visions – as processes outside the domain of “natural science”.
Plato, the Stoics, and even later Gnostic speculations favored ‘a Demiurge’; an artisan-like figure responsible for fashioning and maintaining the physical universe. This concept attempts to degrade the monotheistic Biblical Creator of the Universe. The Gnostic idea of ‘the demiurge’, qualifies as an interpretation which postulates the lower status of the Biblical God within the Genesis creation story. This ‘demiurge’, an inferior lesser God, fashioned the universe in obedience to the command of some ‘other’ all powerful God.
Gnostic ideology reflects an idea, something akin to a bi-polar dualism. It views the material universe as evil, while the non-material world as good. The Gnostic notions about the evil nature of the demiurge, and the Pauline concept of “Original Sin”, both theologies piggyback the need for a some messiac figure to save man-kind from sin. The demiurge creator of the physical world, closely compares to the Xtian mythology of the fallen Angel Satan. The Church leadership during the Dark Ages rejected the Gnostic Gospels, they condemned Gnosticism as a heretical theology of messiah Jesus.
But both the Pauline ‘fall of Man’ and the Gnostic ‘Demiurge’, qualify as teleological theologies; physico-theological, or argument from design, or intelligent design etc arguments. These postulations, their conjecture rhetoric attempts to interpret the Biblical Creation of the Universe story, and the pressing need of ‘fallen Man’ for some divine savior\redeemer. All the Gospel stories depict the sin-less nature of messiah Jesus. This divine messiah, He saves the human race from the sin of Adam who ate from the Tree of Good and Evil, and consequently brought the curse of death upon all humanity. The sacrifice of sin-less Jesus serves to atone for the inherited sin: the racial humanity of Man. Race, comparable to the multitude of spoken languages, forever divides Man against himself.
The alchemy expressed in Aristotle’s philosophy, the latter offers 4 explanations which attempt to contain the question “Why” concerning the Creation of the Universe – divided into a so-called Magnum opus: Material, Formal, Efficient, and Final ((Causes)). These 4 “causes” compare, so to speak, to the theory of Gravity, and its influence and impact upon physical matter. The ancient attempts to classify motion compares to debates over evolution in modern day parlance. About as useful as tits on a boar hog; on par with the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial – a lot of highfalutin hogwash which accomplished absolutely nothing.
Classic alchemy practiced during the dark and middle ages sought to transmute an inferior substance into a valuable substance. This “science” became known as chrysopoeia, the search for the philosopher’s stone – meaning the artificial production of gold. This search for the holy grail\philosopher’s stone also included attempts to discover elixirs of immortality – panacea cures for all diseases.
Jewish alchemy views mitzvot as something which surpasses the value of gold. Hence the secret פרדס kabbala taught by Rabbi Akiva wherein he explained the revelation of the Oral Torah revelation to Moshe at Horev; the chrysopoeia of rabbinic Judaism seeks to transmute rabbinic mitzvot unto Torah mitzvot. The kabbala taught by virtually all the prophets of Israel centered itself upon defining the k’vanna of tefillah, as expressed through the Shemone Esrei.
This alchemy, also known as Tiqqun Ha’O’lam seeks to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem – a mitzva which the anoited Moshiach achieves. The alchemy of this esoteric concept of faith, transmutes wood and stone used to build the Temple of Solomon —– unto righteous\tohor halachic rulings which establish the diplomacy of justice among and between the Jewish people within the borders of our homeland. Expressed through lateral common law courtrooms based upon the model of the Great Sanhedrin; how these halachic precedents define the k’vanna of each and every Mishna. To likewise affix, through wisdom, that defined Mishna to a specific blessing within the language of the prophetic Shemone Esrei. This secret wisdom requires knowledge of how to learn the k’vanna of esoteric Aggadita and Midrashic stories – wherein students of the Talmud affix prophetic mussar as the defining k’vanna of halachic mitzvot.
Positive Time Oriented Commandments: The Rif halachic commentary to ראש השנה
As the blowing of the shofar on Yom HaDin upon the Brit employs 3 basic notes: takeah, truah, and sha’varim, in like as similar manner the תרי”ג commandments have 3 fundamental branches: positive, negative, and positive time oriented commandments. My chief criticism of Talmudic scholarship made by the era of Reshonim, which includes the Zohar, their abysmal failure to address how the Talmud transmutes rabbinic halachot unto positive time oriented Torah Commandments, carried out through the mitzva of tefilla.
Remember my first year in Yeshiva, when I requested a shiur on the Siddur and the inability of those rabbis and Torah educated members of the Shul to explain the 42 letter Divine Name and other basic fundamentals with any rational comprehension of “Why”? The mystic chassidic works on the Siddur speak in the language of gobbledygook, which compares to me speaking the language of dog – it evokes laughter, but not respect from my family.
Then came Rabbi Aaron Nemuraskii, he integrated Talmudic scholarship as the basis by which to interpret the k’vanna of the positive time oriented Siddur. Repeatedly he emphasized to me, just as the Gemara stives to interpret the k’vanna of the Mishna, post sealing of the Sha’s Bavli scholarship should study the Talmud to interpret the k’vanna of the Shemone Esrei, the kre’a shma, the relationship between Hallel to the Pesukei dezimra, the inverse order of the Shabbat Musaf tefilla compared to the distinction in k’vanna between saying the kre’a shma in the morning to the evening – learned in turn, from acceptance of the blessings and curses of the Torah. Rabbi Nemuraskii repeated over and again: mitzvot learn from other mitzvot, like metal sharpens metal.
The Reshon p’shat schools, other than Rashi’s Chumash commentary, tends to isolate subjects rather than integrate their p’shat specific subjects to a comprehensive Big Picture idea. Rav Aaron by sharp contrast he stood Yiddishkeit upon two legs: Bavli & Siddur. Scholarship which failed to unify Talmudic wisdom together with Siddur k’vanna, Rav Aaron questioned the validity of any such “scholarship/research”. Avodat HaShem: first and foremost, accomplished through the mitzva דאורייתא of tefilla. As the commandment of the Red Heifer limits korbanot avodat HaShem, in like and similar vein, tefilla demands the dedication of tohor middot. Rav Aaron did not cry over spilled milk. We don’t have the ashes of the Red Heifer, therefore we all live our lives condemned to tuma. Bunk, complete and utter narishkeit; a losers’ excuse as to why he lost the game!
Postive time oriented commandments require the dedication unto HaShem of Torah and Talmudic defined tohor middot. Tefilla as a Torah commandment does not depend upon sacred wood and stone in order to worship God. By the terms of the brit faith, the Spirit of HaShem (think blowing the Shofar) lives within our hearts. Transmuting Talmudic halachot as the definition of a given Mishna; affixing that given Mishna to a designated blessing within the Shemone Esrei kabbala, defines the substance and heart of all Talmudic scholarship from Rabbi Akiva to the present day!
Halachic debates over p’sok halacha, it compares to the frumkeit: up turned nose of holier than thou. Unlike the opinion of Descartes philosophy, the heart and soul of all Yiddishkeit hinges upon the k’vanna of the dedication of tohor middot through the mitzva of tefilla. HaShem. We call to judge the k’vanna of our heartfelt dedications: like as happened in the story of Cain and Abel. If thereafter we happen by chance to accomplish and keep physical halachot – Yofee. But halachic observance of mitzvot, far from the main event in Torah faith. If a Jew presented an external picture of being totally secular, barring murder or making public desecration of the Torah … but in tefilla that “secular Jew” dedicated tohor positive time oriented halachic determinations of the k’vanna of a specific Mishna, joined with Aggadic or Midrashic p’shat of prophetic mussar, then that Jew qualifies as a very righteous Torah observant Yid – no body the wiser other than HaShem alone.
Not the ritual observance of halachot which makes a Jew faithful and righteous. Rather the dedication of tohor – Torah NaCH Talmud and Midrash defined middot – unto HaShem as a Duty of the Heart wherein HaShem judges the faith of all Yidden on Yom HaDin upon the Brit. Contrast this judgment of all Yiddishkeit with this informative piece of modern scholarship:
ZOHAR (called also in the earlier literature Midrash ha-Zohar and Midrash de-Rabbi Shim’on ben Yoḥai):
By: Joseph Jacobs, Isaac Broydé
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