Rabbi Azriel of Gerona's Text

QUESTION: If the questioner persists and asks: Agreed, you have demonstrated the necessity of Sefirot; but by what argument do you establish that they are ten and yet one power?

ANSWER: I have already informed you that the Sefirot are the beginning and commencement of all that is subject to limitation. Everything subject to limitation is bounded by substance and place, for there is no substance without place and there is no place except by means of substance. There is at least a third force in substance, and this third force is manifest in length, width, and depth: Thus, there are nine.

Since substance cannot exist without place and since there is no space except by means of substance, the number is not complete regarding substance and place with anything less than ten. Thus it states: "ten and not nine." And since we cannot complete the number without taking into account substance -- itself bounded by substance and place -- it states: "ten and not eleven." Just as the three produce nine; the fourth -- which is place -- when added to the three, produces sixteen. But it is sufficient for us to use ten in order to hint to the fact that place is derived from substance and substance is but one power.

Reb Yakov Leib's Commentary

Two things stand out in this lesson: first, that R. Azriel's 13th century explanation of the ten Sefirot is clearly based on the more-ancient Sefer Yetzirah; and, secondly, that R. Azriel may have influenced the 17th century Jewish philosopher, Baruch Spinoza (who had studied Kabbalah), and through him such post-Kantian Gentile philosophers as Goethe, Herder, Haeckel, Fechner, Wundt, von Hartman and others. Even more astounding, however, is the possibility, put forward by Scholem, that there was some cross fertilization between Spinoza and the Sabbatian movement, with which he was contemporaneous and, through friends, in touch. I'll discuss each of these three points under separate headings, below.

        Influence of the Sefer Yetzirah on R. Azriel's Explanation of the Ten Sefirot. The clue to the fact that R. Azriel's explanation of the Ten Sefirot is most probably an extended exegesis of the Sefer Yetzirah is found in his statement, "Thus it states: "ten and not nine . . ." which is a direct quote from Sefer Yetzirah: "There are ten intangible Sefirot . . . ten and not nine" (Sefer Yetzirah 1:4). Thus, the "it" to which R. Azriel refers is clearly the Sefer Yetzirah.

        Influence of R. Azriel (i.e., the Kabbalah) on Baruch Spinoza. The philosopher Baruch Spinoza was born in 1632 (died 1677) of a Marrano family which had traveled from Spain to Portugal and, finally, to the Netherlands where they remained situated. In the Jewish School of Holland, where he grew up, Spinoza studied Bible, Talmud and (most importantly) Kabbalah. He also studied mathematics, medieval scholasticism, and the philosophy of Rene Descartes ("Cogito ergo sum" = "I think, therefore I am") which taught him the application of mathematical methods to theological speculation, both Jewish and Christian.

Although in many ways a mystic, and still remaining a Jew, Spinoza was excommunicated by the Bait Din (Rabbinic Superior Court) of Amsterdam, Holland in 1656 for his rationalist approach to theology, condemned by both Jewish and Christian leaders as heretical. Nevertheless, he (and, indirectly through him, possibly Jewish Kabbalah) had a profound influence on such Western philosophers as Leibnitz and Goethe. Thus, the line of transmission of Kabbalistic thought (or at least what I have called "Kabbalistic Geometry," or mathematical hermeneutics) may have gone from the Sefer Yetzirah to R. Azriel of Gerona, from him to Baruch Spinoza, and from Spinoza to Western Philosophy through Leibnitz, Goethe, et. al.

What we see in Reb Azriel's Kabbalistic Geometry of Lesson 4 (and, indeed, in the Sefer Yetzirah as well) is nothing less than a forerunner to Spinoza's own revolutionary use of geometric theorems to prove the existence and nature of God 400 years later. It is this unique use of mathematics in theological speculation that connects Spinoza with the Kabbalah of Sefer Yetzirah and, therefore, Reb Azriel of Gerona.

        Spinoza and the Sabbatian Movement. Spinoza, a Marrano Jew, was a contemporary of Sabbatai Zevi's, and a resident of Amsterdam which was a hotbed of Sabbatian Messianism. Indeed, Scholem writes:

"As regards its role in Sabbatian history, the Jewish community of Amsterdam may well compete with Italy for first place . . . Circumstances in Amsterdam were indeed uniquely propitious for the success of the Sabbatian message . . . [principally because of] the Sephardi (Portuguese) community [there], founded by Marranos [such as Spinoza's family] from Spain and Portugal." (Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah," Princeton Univ. Press, p. 518)

Even more telling is the fact that Spinoza, through friends, had contact with the Sabbatian Believers. For example, Scholem again writes:

"Echoes of the [Sabbatian] movement penetrated even the cloistered seclusion of Baruch Spinoza's study. Since his excommunication in 1656, Spinoza had no contacts whatever with the Jewish community, but one of his correspondents, Henry Oldenburg, a native of Bremen in Germany, who lived in London where he had become secretary of the Royal Society, showed great interest in the Sabbatian movement. . . Early in December, 1665, immediately after arrival of the first sensational reports [of Sabbatai's messianic advent], he wrote to Spinoza [about it]." (ibid, page 543-544).

Nonetheless, the influence of Sabbatian Kabbalah on Spinoza, if any, is yet to be established. However, these speculations raise the fascinating possibility of such cross-fertilization, via their common interest in Kabbalah and Spinoza's background as a Marrano Jew.

EXPLANATION: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

| Sabbatai Zevi | Jacob Frank | Reb Yakov Leib HaKohain |
| A Critical Re-Assessment of Sabbatai Zevi |
| Reb Yakov Leib HaKohain's Professions of a Holy Sinner |
| The Zohar | Vedanta & Kabbalah | The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas |
| The Sponataneous Jesus Lectures | The Holy Qur'an |
| Special Topics |
| Knowing the Unknowable |
| A Brief Note on Enlightenment |
| A Neo-Sabbatian Discourse on the Son of God |
| A Primer of "Yalhakian" Neo-Sabbatian Kabbalah |
| Participating in the Continuing Incarnation of God |
| Sabbatai Zevi's 'God of the Faith' | Evolution of the Ego |
| Two Torahs of Kabbalah: Torah D'Atziluth & Torah D'Beriah |
| On the Limits of Antinomianism | The Transformation of God |
| Commentary on the 13th Century "Treatise on the Left Emanation" |
| A Selection of Neo-Sabbatian Quotations Culled from Various Sources |
| Commentaries on Rabbi Azriel of Gerona's 12th Century Text, "Explanation of the Ten Sefirot" |
| Kabbalistic Genetics of the Holy Seed & Reclaiming the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel |
| A Commentary on the Book of Job | Kabbalah and the Interpretation of Dreams |
| To Die for the People: A Kabbalistic Reinterpretation of the Crucifixion of Jesus |
| The Shemot Shel Katzar Tikkunim: Revealing the Concealed Names of God |
| The Christian Myth of Melchizedek vs. Hereditary Jewish Priesthood |
| The Apocrypha of Jacob Frank | The Tikkun of Raising Animals |
| Appointment in Smyrna: A Neo-Sabbatian Odyssey |
| Sabbatai Zevi and the Mystery of the Red Heifer |
| The Kabbalah of the Hindu Mantra "OM" |
| The Mystery of the Middle Column |
| The Hidden Structures of Water |
| Exegesis on the Rod of Aaron |
| Book of Silence |
|YaLHaK's Garden of Neo-Sabbatian Verses|
| Ten Sefirot of Jewish Kabbalah | Sufi Lion of Bektashi Islam |
| Mandala of Tibetian Buddhism | Seven Chakras of Tantric Hinduism |
| Ox-Herding Pictures of Zen Buddhism | Rosarium Pictures of Christian Alchemy |
| Donmeh West Home Page |
| Schedule of Live Online Classes | Links |
| Join Donmeh West |

All original material on this website is ©2004 Donmeh West and may not be reproduced in any manner without written permission.