Reb Yakov Leib HaKohain, Founder & Spiritual Director
"Yahweh spoke to Moses and Aaron. He said: 'This is the statute of the Law which Yahweh has prescribed. Say this to the sons of Israel: They are to bring you a red heifer without fault or blemish, one that has never borne a yoke. You will give it to Eleazar the priest. It must be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. Then Eleazar the priest is to take some of the victim's [i.e., the slaughtered red heifer's] blood on his finger and sprinkle this blood seven times toward the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. The heifer must then be burned in his presence; hide, flesh, blood, and the dung too must be burned . . . . Then [the priest] must wash his clothing and bathe his body in water; after which he may go back to the camp, though he will remain unclean until morning. The man who has burned the heifer must wash his clothes and bathe his body in water and will remain unclean until evening. The man who gathers up the ashes of the heifer must be ritually clean [i.e. clean of semen]; he will deposit them outside the camp, in a clean place. They must be kept for the ritual use of the community of the sons of Israel for making lustral water; it is a sacrifice for sin [i.e., will be sprinkled on sinners to cleanse them]. The man who has gathered up the ashes of the heifer must wash his clothing and will remain unclean until evening." (Numbers 19:1-10)
The great mystery here is that the ashes of this Red Heifer defile what is pure, and purify what is defiled. But why? And why a heifer? Why red? Why is it burned whole? Why are its ashes mixed with water for "lustral sprinkling?" Why is the injunction, "The man who has gathered up the ashes of the heifer must wash his clothing and will remain unclean until evening" repeated at the end of the commandment? What (or who) does the Red Heifer symbolize? And how, if at all, is it related to Sabbatai Zevi, the redemption of the Holy Sparks, and our Neo-Sabbatian Tikkun of Repairing the Face of God? I'll offer answers to these and other questions about the Mystery of the Red Heifer -- one so great that the ancient Rabbis forbade discussing it -- in this lecture to follow. In the meantime, though, consider this additional piece of information: After Moses finds the Children of Israel in the Sin of the Golden Calf, we read in Exodus:
"Moses seized the calf they had made and burned it, grinding it into powder which he scattered on the water, and he made the Sons of Israel drink it." (Ex.32:20)
We see here another expression of the "Red Heifer" whose ashes are also "scattered on water", to be "drunk" by (or actually sprinkled on) sinners for their redemption. Thus, the very thing that has defiled Israel is used to redeem Her. The Golden Calf that has led Israel into apostasy saves her from it by being "internalized". So too the Red Heifer.
In redemption through sin, as exemplified by Sabbatai Zevi, that which wounds us also heals; that which defiles us, also cleanses.
"Yahweh spoke to Moses and Aaron. He said: 'This is the statute of the Law which Yahweh has prescribed. Say this to the sons of Israel: They are to bring you a red heifer without fault or blemish, one that has never borne a yoke. You will give it to Eleazar the priest. It must be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. . . . Then [the slaughterer] must wash his clothing and bathe his body in water; after which he may go back to the camp, though he will remain unclean until morning. The man who has burned the heifer must wash his clothes and bathe his body in water and will remain unclean until evening . . . . The man who has gathered up the ashes of the heifer must wash his clothing and will remain unclean until evening." (Numbers 19:1-10)
As I said, the great mystery of the Red Heifer is that its ashes defile what is pure, and purify what is defiled. This peculiar state of affairs takes on new meaning when considered in light of the Talmudic doctrine of mitzvah ha-ba'ah ba-averah -- fulfilling a commandment by profaning it, or what becomes in Sabbatian Kabbalah, "redemption through sin." That is, wherever great holiness exists, there is also great evil and visa-versa because, in the words of the Ba'al Shem Tov:
"The indwelling Glory of God 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, for evil is the Throne of good." ("Instructions in Intercourse with God," trans. by Martin Buber in Hasidism and Modern Man, p. 208)
Nowhere is this enantiodromia -- this conflation between good and evil -- more clearly seen than in the constant interplay of the two opposing Sephiroth, Chesed (i.e., "Good") and Gevurah (i.e., "Evil") -- which individually constitute the Right and Left sides -- the Light and Darkness, the Yin and Yang -- of the Tree of the Ten Sephiroth -- which is, in a larger sense, the Body of God. Most significantly, however, it is out of this balancing act between Chesed and Gevurah -- the union, as it were, of "Good" and "Evil" -- that the Sefirah Tiferet (the "Smaller Face" or "Messiah") is born.
Put another way, Sefirah Tiferet is the "Son" of a supernal "Mother" (Imma) and "Father" (Abba) who represent respectively the Divine qualities of "Chesed/Good" and "Gevurah/Evil." This "Son," this Sefirah Tiferet, we are told in Kabbalah, has among other partsufim (i.e. "hidden personalities") that of Moshiach, or Messiah, the Deliverer of Israel. Thus, we see that the Red Heifer and its ashes are a prefiguration of the coming Redeemer, Messiah Sabbatai Zevi, who will, like them, purify what is defiled and defile what is pure in order to break the Kelippah ("husks') surrounding the Nitzotzot ("holy sparks") to begin Repairing the Face of God.
In the preceding section, I began addressing the issue of "redemption through sin" in Sabbatian theology and Kabbalah. Here I want to clarify that subject. To begin with, the ancient Talmudic dictum of mitzvah ha'bah ba'ahverah -- "fulfilling a Torah commandment by violating it" -- which, along with other hidden teachings in the Jewish Oral Scriptures, underlay the antinomian notion of "redemption through sin" is not to be taken as a license for promiscuous or illegal behavior -- or as a kind of sanctimonious "permission" for perpetuating one's pre-existing, self-indulgent, personal whims.
There is "sinning for the sake of sin" and "sinning for the sake of redeeming sin;" the former defines the actions of "sinners," the latter those of "Neo-Sabbatian Kabbalists." The two are mutually exclusive. In the words of the Ba'al Shem Tov:
"The indwelling Glory of God prevails from above to below unto the rim of all rungs. That is the mystery of the word, 'And you animate them all.' Even when a man does a sin, then too the Glory is clothed in it, for without it he would not have the strength to move a limb. And this is the exile of God's Glory".... In the exhortation of Moses it says, 'See, I have placed before you this day life and good, death and evil.' From where has evil come? Evil too is good, it is the lowest rung of perfect goodness. If one does good, then evil too becomes good; but if one sins, then it becomes really evil. ("Instructions in Intercourse with God," trans. in Martin Buber's Hasidism and Modern Man, Horizon Press, 1958, p. 207)
Now, notice several things here:
"In all that is in the world dwell Holy Sparks, no thing is empty of them. In the actions of men also, indeed, even in the sins that they do, dwell Holy Sparks of the Glory of God. And what is it that the Sparks await that dwell in the sins? It is the t'shuvah [literally "turning," or "repentance"] "In the hour when you turn [i.e., "repent"] on account of sin, you raise to the higher world the sparks that were in it." (ibid, p. 189)
Such teachings are also to be found among the early "Libertine" Christians who believed it was necessary to sin in order to be forgiven, and furthermore claimed they had learned this teaching directly from "Jesus" himself. (See Morton Smith's Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark, Harvard University Press, 1973, e.g. p. 258) Much later, the "mad monk" of Imperial Russia, Rasputin (who was and is highly misunderstood), taught a similar doctrine (possibly influenced by Frankist Sabbatianism) that "a great sin was necessary to be granted a great redemption."
Sabbatian Kabbalah -- prior to its more extreme interpreters such as Osman Baba and Yakov Leib Frank -- was actually quite conservative (one might almost say "prudish") about these issues, as demonstrated in the "Eighteen Commandments" Sabbatai Zevi laid down for his followers shortly before his death. It appears that at no time did either he or his prophet, Nathan of Gaza, suggest that others emulate his ma'asim zarim (mystical "strange acts") -- such as converting to Islam, eating forbidden foods or engaging in antinomian sexual practices -- which were seen, instead, as having been performed by Sabbatai Zevi for his followers and not as examples for them to emulate. It was only later that such extreme antinomian behaviors (and particularly those which dealt with sexual practices forbidden in the Old Testament) were adopted by the more radical interpreters of Sabbatai Zevi's and Nathan of Gaza's Kabbalistic theosophy.
I submit that our own "Yalhakian" Neo-Sabbatian Kabbalah is a course correction in the development of antinomian Sabbatian thought and practice. That is, we are replacing the extreme literal antinomianism of Osman Baba and Yakov Leib Frank with the virtual (or "spiritual") antinomianism of Sabbatai Zevi, from which it originated and, we believe, was intended to be transmitted. With that in mind, I want to repeat the several points I made in my lecture on antinomianism in the Zohar: