Reb Yakov Leib HaKohain, Founder & Spiritual Director
"Then Cain said to Yahweh: 'My punishment is greater than I can bear. See! Today you drive me from this ground. I must hide from you, and be a fugitive and a wanderer over all the earth. Whoever comes across me will kill me.' Yahweh replied: 'Very well then, If anyone kills Cain, sevenfold vengeance shall be taken for him [by me].' So Yahweh put a mark on Cain, to prevent whoever might come across him from striking him down. And Cain left the presence of Yahweh and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden." (Genesis 4:13-16)
The "Holy Sinner" -- he who sins, who lives beyond conventional morality, yet carries in himself the grace of God for others to receive -- is he on whom there rests the "Mark of Cain" -- the Holy Spirit -- bestowed on him by God for reasons only He alone can know. This "Mark of Cain," this indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is neither punishment nor rebuke, as commonly (and mistakenly) believed, but a protection of the Holy Sinner placed there by God "to prevent whoever might come across him from striking him down." Even Paul declared it:
"If I should decide to boast, I should not be made to look foolish, because I should only be speaking the truth; but I am not going to in case anyone should begin to think I am better than he can actually see and hear me to be.
So even Paul bore in himself the Mark of Cain -- the "thorn in the flesh" -- that both tormented and exalted him. And why? Because the sinner is, or can be, far closer and more precious to God than the Saint. Consider the words of the Talmud and Tomer Devorah:
"The Righteous cannot stand in the place of a penitent sinner." (Tomer Devorah, Sepher-Hermon edition, 1974, p. 58)
Without sin, there is no repentance, and without repentance there is no closeness to God. Indeed, repentance brings us into the Glory of God, but sin is that which makes repentance possible. Therefore without sin, we cannot know God, and without the Knowledge of God we are dead. In the words of the Prophet Isaiah:
"And yet ours were the sufferings he bore, ours the sorrows he carried. But we, we thought of him as someone punished, struck by God, and brought low. Yet he was pierced through for our faults, crushed for our sins. On him lies a punishment that brings us peace, and through his wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:4-5)
Thus, the Holy Sinner sins on behalf of others, is punished for his sins on behalf of others, is crushed for his sins on behalf of others -- and by his sinning, they are healed. But the Mark of Cain protects him from their condemnation, from their ignorance by which they see him only as "someone struck by God, and brought low" for his having done in public what they covet in secret. His public humiliation, therefore, is a substitute for theirs; it is no longer necessary for them to sin in order to repent -- he has done it for them.
"Jacob Frank (1726-91) will always be remembered as one of the most frightening phenomena in the whole of Jewish history: a religious leader who, whether for purely self-interested motives or otherwise, was in all his actions a truly corrupt and degenerate individual." -- Prof. Gershom Scholem (The Messianic Idea in Judaism, Schocken Books, 1971, p. 126)
Nevertheless, this Jacob Frank -- whom Scholem here rightly describes as "one of the most frightening phenomena in....Jewish history" and a serious religious leader who was, at the same time, "truly corrupt and degenerate" -- could make such profoundly spiritual statements as:
"An aspect of the Godhead, a true aspect, grew in me like a pearl that grows of itself, and I have no man to whom I might reveal the true matter." (Trans. by Harris Lenowitz, Sayings of Yakov Frank, Tree Books, 1978, p. 16)
"There is no longer a need for Commandments and Prayers, but only to listen and do and go on until we come to a certain hidden place."(Ibid, p. 20)
as well as:
"When you are fit to come to Esau then the curse will be lifted from the earth and it will turn to gold and then there will be neither chill nor heat, but temperate clime. And every day, roses will bloom for one hundred and ten years and the sun will shine indescribably and it will always be day and never night, for night is the world's punishment." (Ibid, p. 29)
It was this striking contrast between his profound spirituality on the one hand, and his "corrupt and degenerate" behavior on the other, that marks Jacob Frank, as it does others in the Sabbatian tradition (including myself), as a "Holy Sinner." Nevertheless, he, like they, was holy -- or the reverse face of holiness -- just as the Hebrew letter Sin is the same as, but the obverse of the Shin:
Notice that this letter -- which, according to Kabbalah, represents both Divine Power and, at the same time, Corruption -- is essentially the same in both representations -- except when called "Sin," the corresponding daglesh (or "dot") is above its left-hand branch, but when called "Shin" it is above the right-hand branch, thus corresponding to the Right- and Left-Hand columns of the Ten Sefirot:
"Faced with this difficulty, [Job] does not doubt the unity of God. He clearly sees that God is at odds with himself -- so totally at odds that he, Job, is quite certain of finding in God a helper and an 'advocate' against God. As certain as he is of the evil in Yahweh, he is equally certain of the good.....Yahweh is not a human being: he is both a persecutor and a helper in one and the one aspect is as real as the other. Yahweh is not split, but is an antimony -- a totality of inner opposites and this is the indispensable condition for his tremendous dynamism."(C. G. Jung, Answer to Job, par. 567)
Thus, the Holy Sinner (such as Sabbatai Zevi, Jacob Frank and, God help us, even you and I) complements the Righteous Saint (such as Rebbe Nachman of Breslov) and is, therefore, an "indispensable condition" for completing and actualizing the inner "dynamism" of God.
But the Holy Sinner is not a criminal: "corrupt," yes; "degenerate," perhaps, but a "criminal," no. His actions may offend us, even repel us, but they do not damage us --except insofar as we find them socially and morally unacceptable. But the Holy Sinner sins -- whatever his sinful (but never criminal) actions may be -- always for the sake of God and never for himself. Therefore God, not man, judges the Holy Sinner in all his actions. We may look upon him as "a thing despised and rejected by men.....struck down by God" (Isaiah 53:3-4) -- or, in the vernacular, as a "dead-beat" and "low-life" -- but in the eyes of God, and on our behalf, he is His "Other Side" -- the that compliments the and, therefore, whether we like it or not, completes the Face of God. In the words of Jacob Frank, with whom we began this lecture:
"[Sabbatai Zevi] turned to me and asked, 'Are you this Jacob the Wise? I have heard of you -- that you're a hero and have soul. I, too, went to the place you are going, but I don't have the strength to go on. If you want to, be strong! and The Name will help you. Many Fathers have taken on this burden and failed.' And there he showed me through the window a depth like the Black Sea covered in a fearsome dark. And to the side of the depth I saw a great mountain reaching up to the heart of the sky. And I called out: Come what may! I am going! God help me!"(trans. by Harris Lenowitz, Sayings of Yakov Frank, Tree Books, 1978, p. 12)