An Ainsoferable Hodache
So I only get so far before I can't tell my Keter from my Binah, my head from my Hod. But this book is different. Zohar, zo good, anyway. It's very crisp and concise, and leaves enough space for me to insert my own misunderstanding.
After all, the author, Daniel Matt, is in the process of translating the entire Zohar, which is an esoteric commentary on the Torah. At this point he's up to five volumes and some 3,000 pages, with more to come. I mean, the first two volumes only take you halfway through Genesis, so it's a herculean task.
Why is the Zohar important? We'll get to that later. In Matt's introduction, he points out that the Sefer ha-Zohar (its full name) -- which is the masterpiece of Jewish mysticism -- "emerged mysteriously in Spain toward the end of the thirteenth century." There is a deep connection between Kabbalah and Hermeticism, and in fact, some people (mistakenly) thought that they were the actual source of the Jewish and Christian scriptures. The idea is that Moses, who was raised an Egyptian, would have been deeply familiar with the Egyptian esotericsm of Hermes, which he incorporated into the Torah. In turn, the Zohar is a kind of mystical decoding of original hermetic message.
But in reality, the hermetica can only be traced back to the first few centuries AD, and the Zohar again appears in the 13th -- which is not to say that there couldn't have been an oral tradition prior to that. But in any event, I am not so much interested in the provenance or timing, only the truth it contains and discloses. I mean, our Constitution could have been given to us by aliens for all I care. All I know is that it's the finest political document ever produced by the divine-human partnership.
And don't forget, in the pre-scientific world, people had a very different conception of time. For one thing, it was much more qualitative, not quantitative. When someone wanted to convey the depth and seriousness of an idea, they did so by affirming its antiquity.
Thus, for example, although it turned out that Denys the Areopagite was not a contemporary of the apostle John, that hardly detracts from the brilliance of his writings. Back then, things like novelty and progress were not considered selling points. Indeed, they were pejorative. If you had said to Denys, "that's so old-fashioned," he'd say "why, thank you." And if you said, "well, that's a new way of looking at things," he'd probably have slapped your camel.
Anyway, this book I'm working on is quite concise and unsaturated. One interesting way that it forms a bridge between Judaism and Christianity is that, instead of the radical monotheism of the former, it maps out the interior of God, so to speak, which has some commonalty with the Christian Trinity, which in turn serves as a sort of bridge between us and the otherwise radical unknowability of God.
In other words, just as the Trinity tells us something about the intimate interior life of the godhead, Kabbalah purportedly reveals some other hidden dimensions that serve as the timelessly-temporal blueprint of creation. Just as there is a platonic mathematical physics that serves as the deep structure of the physical world, you might say that the Zohar reveals the deep structure -- the metaphysics -- of the immaterial world.
A key point is that this blueprint is only intended to be a clueprint for the higher imagination. Indeed, if you think of the abstract symbols I used in my book to map the spiritual adventure, it's somewhat like that. It is very much a case of "the secret protecting itself," so that it won't mean much to the uninitiated. Even if you memorized every word of it, it wouldn't mean that you had understood any of it.
Now, none of this is intended to subvert the plain meaning of the Bible. It's just that Scripture is a holographic text with multiple layers of meaning, from the literal, to the allegorical, to the symbolic, to the moral, metaphysical and mystical. None of these cancel out or deny the others. Indeed, you must forget about your aristotelian logic, in which A is always A. Rather, you must adopt the dream-logic of the symmetrical unconscious, in which A can simultaneously be A and not-A. Think of how everything in your dreams appears multiple, and yet, it is all you -- not just starring you, but produced, written, and directed by you.
So if Scripture is ultimately a holographic vertical memo from the Self to the self, so to speak, it must have at least as many dimensions as we do. We are not linear machines, so there is simply no way that Scripture can be a sort of linear instruction manual and do us any kind of justice. If you take that approach, you end up being as simple-minded as the ideological Darwinians, whose theory purchases radical consistency at the cost of a preposterous incompleteness.
Thus, as Matt reminds us, "On a deeper level, the text of the Bible is simply the starting point, a springboard for the imagination." To cite one very basic example, when God advises Abraham to "go to the land that I will show you," this also refers to the interior landscape inside us all: "Go to yourself, search deep within and thereby discover the divine."
Another example, this one more esoteric: as we all know, the first words of the Bible are In the beginning God created... But if one trancelights the words in their precise order, the Zohar suggests that they have a very different connotation: With beginning It created God.
Now, what is "It"? It is simply the top or center of it all, the Ain Sof, which you might think of as the hidden godhead or the unpronouncable name. (Ain Sof comes from Ayin, or Nothingness.)
Some Christian mystics call it "nothing," but this is not to be confused with the shunyata of Buddhism, for it is not literally nothing (or emptiness), just beyond our ability to contain it. It is the apophatic God we can't think about, in contrast to the cataphatic God we can. You might think of it as the ultimate O, from which everything intelligible flows -- even the intelligible God to whom we can "relate."
For those who get the jokes, there is quite a bit of Kabbalah in the Cosmogenesis section of my book. As a matter of fact, the Zohar itself is full of puns, wordplay, and neologisms. As always, the best cosmedians are Jewish -- for example, Albert Einstein.