Reb Yakov Leib HaKohain, Founder & Spiritual Director

[Passages from the copyrighted translation of "Explanation of the Ten Sefirot" quoted with the kind permission of its translator, Professor Ronald C. Kiener, as published in The Early Kabbalah, New York: Paulist Press, 1986]

        "For God shall bring every act into judgment -- every hidden thing whether good or bad." (Ecclesiastes 12:14)

Some time ago, in a message to Donmeh West, Professor Avraham Elqayam, the noted Sabbatian scholar, quoted the late 12th century Jewish mystic, Rabbi Azriel of Gerona as saying, "Both faith and heresy are united in the Equal One," which he further identified as a "precursor to one of the greatest Sabbatean principles." This Rabbi Azriel to whom Prof. Elqayam referred was a member of the Gerona Circle of Kabbalists in pre-Zoharic Spain. One of his greatest works, Explanation of the Ten Sefirot, which I will discuss in this present lecture, was written before the later "rediscovery" of the Zohar by R. Moshe de Leon in the early 13th century.

Modern scholars question whether de Leon actually "rediscovered" the ancient Zohar or merely wrote it himself. This question is of more than academic interest, since its answer determines whether writings on the Ten Sefirot, such as those of R. Azriel, were shaped by a pre-existent "Ur" Zohar, or whether de Leon's Zohar was shaped by earlier writings such as those of Rabbi Azriel.

My own belief is that Moshe de Leon neither "rediscovered" nor "authored" the Zohar. Instead, he collated and anthologized a large body of pre-existing oral wisdom -- just as the Tannaim had done with the Talmud a thousand years earlier -- a pre-existent Masorah, which subsequently became the foundation of all Kabbalistic thinking both before and after the Zohar.

Thus, I submit, the question of which came first, the Zohar or the writings of earlier Kabbalists such as R. Azriel is answered by -- neither. Instead, both were simply different redactions of the same material that had been transmitted, according to tradition, orally by God to Moses and from him to subsequent generations, also in oral form:

"Moses received the [Oral] Torah at Sinai and handed it down to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets; and the prophets to the men of the Great Assembly." (Pirke Avoth 1:1)

It was to this Oral Torah, this "Ur-Kabbalah," that Shaykh Abdul Hadi Palazzi, leader of the Italian Islamic Community, was alluding when he wrote in his message to Donmeh West:

"I have being spending the last years of my life in promoting Jewish-Muslim understanding, and in declaring that this understanding can never be effective or stable, unless it is based on the deepest level of knowledge, on rediscovering the link between Kabbalah and Tasawwuf as the common heritage of Adam Qadmon which was transmitted by Avraham/Ibrahim to his Itzakian and Ismailite offspring into two different forms. Once one deals with 'common Abrahamitic roots,' it should be evident that those same roots belong to the Tree of Prophethood, which is not different from the Tree of the Sephirot." (Donmeh West Kabbalah Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 36)

Thus, a study of pre-Zoharic works such as R. Azriel of Gerona's Explanation of the Ten Sefirot not only brings us closer to an understanding of Sabbatian Kabbalah, as Prof. Elqayam has pointed out, but also closer to an understanding of Islam, as pointed out by Shaykh Abdul Hadi Palazzi. It is to accomplishing both of these goals that this commentary is devoted.


Rabbi Azriel of Gerona's Text

QUESTION: If a questioner asks: Who can compel me to believe that the world has a ruler?

ANSWER: Just as it is inconceivable that a ship be without a captain, so too is it impossible that the world be without a ruler. This Ruler is infinite (eyn sof) in both His Glory and Word, as in the matter that is written: "I have seen an end to every purpose, but Your commandment is exceedingly immense" (Psalms 119:96), and it is written: "For God shall bring every act into judgment -- every hidden thing whether good or bad" (Ecclesiastes 12:14). That which is hidden is without end and limit; it is unfathomable and nothing exists outside it.

The philosophers admit to this fact that the Cause of all causes and the Origin of origins is infinite, unfathomable, and without limit. According to the way of the Ruler we see that the end of every act is hidden from the probing of an investigator, as in the matter that is written: "So that no man can find out the work which God has made from the beginning to the end" (ibid. 3:11). And it is further recorded: "Should the wise man can say that he knows, even he will not be able to find it" (ibid. 8:17).

Reb Yakov Leib's Commentary

Here, R. Azriel begins his explanation of the Ten Sefirot by first establishing their origins from the absolute Eyn Sof ("No-Thing"), the Deius Absconditus of Kabbalah. To do so he uses both the rational arguments of philosophy -- resembling those of St. Thomas Aquinas's "Watchmaker" (i.e., when you see a watch, you know there is a Watchmaker) and Plato before him (i.e., God as the "Unmoved Mover") -- as well as the rabbinic method of "proving" Scripture by Scripture.

We see by R. Azriel's definition of it that the Eyn Sof of Kabbalah is virtually identical to the Tao of Taoism and the Brahman of Hinduism -- both of which define the Absolute Creator as limitless, indefinable and without attributes. And although merely a speculation, it is possible that the latter may, indeed, have come from the former through the Sons of Keturah who, the Bible tells us, were missionaries to the "East countries" for the esoteric portions of their father Abraham's new religion. (Genesis 25:1-6) In this regard, a Chinese inscription on a pillar of the ancient synagogue of Kei Feng reads,

"Through Abram the Religion [of China] was established, and its Laws had no visible image [i.e., they came from Eyn Sof]." (Chinese Jews, William Charles White, editor, page 146.)

Similarly, another pillar-inscription in the Kei Feng Synagogue reads:

"From the time of Abram, when [his] religion [was taught to us by talented men of Western India] men of China have diffused instruction, and obtained complete knowledge of Confucianism, of Buddhism, and of Taoism." (ibid. page 138.)

This last Chinese text, in particular, supports the theory that Hinduism, Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism -- all of which are based on an Eyn-Sof conception of the Absolute Godhead -- may have originally emerged from Abrahamic teachings brought to India and China by his sons through Keturah.

On another level, R. Azriel's reference to "every hidden thing" whether good or bad echoes the later antinomianism of Sabbatian Kabbalah and, later still, that of the Baal Shem Tov, who stated:

"The indwelling Glory embraces all worlds, all creatures, good and evil. And it is the true unity. How can it then bear in itself the opposites of good and evil? But in truth there is no opposite between them, for the Evil is the throne of the Good." ("Instructions in Intercourse with God," trans. by Martin Buber in Hasidism and Modern Man, Horizon Press, 1958, page 208)

And finally, the Kabbalistic notion of Eyn Sof discussed by R. Azriel bears a striking resemblance to the "One" described by Jung in his concluding paragraph of Answer to Job:

"Even the enlightened person remains what he is, and is never more than his own limited ego before the One who dwells within him, whose form has no knowable boundaries, who encompasses him on all sides, fathomless as the abysms of the earth and vast as the sky." (Answer to Job, par. 758)

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 |
| 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 |
| 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 |
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