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December 11, 1981 - Image 7

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1981-12-11

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Friday, December 11, 1981 7

Rabbi Bokser's Jewish Mysticism Anthology Printed

By ALLEN A. WARSEN

I see the flames rise upward
Piercing the heavens,
But who feels, who can ex-
press their might?
I am hound to the world
All creatures, all people are

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my friends,
Many parts of my soul
Are intertwined with them,
But how can I share with
them my light?
The above passage from
Rabbi Abraham Kook's
exalted ode "Expanses, Ex-
panses" appears in the an-
thology "The Jewish Mysti-
cal Tradition," authored by
Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser (Pil-
grim Press).
The book, composed of
selections from the vast
Jewish mystical literature,
consists of a general intro-
duction and six sections.
Brief comments precede
each selection.
In the general introduc-
tion, the author states that
"mysticism is the ultimate
quest for the ultimate
meaning of life" and mystics
of all faiths endeavor to link
life with God in spiritual
unity.
Jewish mystics, he
notes, in addition to gen-
eral mystical goals, "also
reflect the uniqueness of
the cultural ethos of their
Jewish experience"; seek
an answer to the prob-
lems of evil; and try to
reconcile God's choosing
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cumstances of Israel's
tribulations in the dark
night of exile."
Rabbi Bokser writes that
the roots of Jewish mysti-
cism are ingrained in
the Bible as exemplified by
these verses:
The heavens declare the
Glory of God,
the sky proclaims His hand-
iwork.
Day after day reveals His
splendor,
night after night shows forth
His wisdom. (Psalm 19)
Like the psalmists, tal-
mudic sages "cultivated the
mystical life." This is re-
flected in this classic "aga-
da":
"Four entered into the or-
chard of mystical know-
ledge. Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma,
Akher, and Rabbi Akiba .. .
Ben Azzai looked and died
. . . Ben Zoma looked and
was mentally affected .. .
Akher cut down the plants
. . . Rabbi Akiba departed in
peace."
Mystical and allegorical
is the rabbinical explana-
tion of literature's greatest
love poem, "Shir Hashirim"
("The Song of Songs").
The love it portrays be-
tween a young man and a
Jerasalemite maiden, the
rabbis interpret as the
love between God and Is-
rael. It is not surprising,
therefore, that Rabbi
Akiba expressed his feel-
ings of admiration for
"Shir Hashirim," as fol-
lows: "No one in Israel
ever challenged 'The
Song of Songs' ... for all
of 'Ketuvim' (The Holy
Scripture) is holy, but
The Song of Songs' is
holiest of the holy."
Engrossing are the mys-
tical Midrashim. Constitut-
ing an integral part of the
vast Midrashic literature,
their aim was to explore and
uncover the inner meaning
of every biblical verse,
phrase, word and letter.
Thus, the authors of the
Midrashim, for instance,
tried to find the reason why
the "Torah begins with the
letter 'bet' ("Bereshi") and
ends with the letter 'lamed'
(Israel)."
They explained it this
way: "When you join the
first and last letters they
form the word `bal' (no-
thing). And when you read
them in the reverse order,
they form the word 'ley'
(heart). Said the Holy One
to Israel: My children, if you
pursue these two attributes,
humility (bal) and heart
(lev), I will consider it as
though you have kept the
entire Torah from 'bet' to
`lamed.'
The classic Kabala text,
the "Zohar," authored by
the 13th Century talmudic
scholar, Moses de Leon, is
"the most influential book

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in the history of Jewish
mysticism."
The title "Zohar,"
meaning "The Lumin-
ous," refers to the mysti-
cal belief "that a divine
light shines in all things
in the material world as
in the teaching of the To-
rah."
Central to the "Zohar's"
teaching is the doctrine of
the "sefirot." Through them
God directs "hidden worlds
which have not been re-
vealed and worlds which
have been revealed." But no
one directs God, "none
above, none below, none on
any side."
The "Zohar" likens the
"sefirot" to the human body.
Thus, the "sefira" "Hesed"
(lovingkindness) is likened
to the right arm; "Gevura"
(strength) is the left arm;
"Tiferet" (beauty) the torso;
"Hod" (majesty) the two
thighs; "Yesod" (founda-
tion) the extremity of the
body; "Malkut"
(sovereignty) the mouth;
"Khokhma" (wisdom) basic
thought; "Binah" (under-
standing) the heart; "Keter"
(crown) where the "tefilin"
are placed.
But the "Zohar" em-
phasizes that there is no
likeness to God, "no
comparison to anything

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within or without." God
is "beyond characteriza-
tion except to accommo-
date people" and to con-
vey to them "His power
and to show them how
the world is governed by
judgment and compas-
sion."
"The Jewish Mystical
Tradition" is an important
contribution to a better un-
derstanding of Jewish mys-
ticism.

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