Reb Yakov Leib HaKohain, Founder & Spiritual Director
[Passages from the copyrighted translation of "Treatise on the Left Emanation" quoted with the kind permission of its translator, Professor Ronald C. Kiener, as published in The Early Kabbalah, New York: Paulist Press, 1986]
I have noted your tremendous desire to ascend to the ladder of wisdom and perceive enigmas and grasp the cunning ways of the ancient Sages, the masters of inscriptions, those who expounded upon the secrets of the souls. And having noted that the Lord God, may He be blessed, bestowed upon you an attentive and understanding heart, I have decided with much fondness to answer your question and fulfill your request.
Commentary by Reb Yakov Leib:
We see in this lesson a very early prefiguration of the antinomian, Sabbatian Kabbalah created three centuries later by R. Nathan of Gaza around the Messianic personality and advent of Sabbatai Zevi.
To begin with, the angel Samael, mentioned by R. Isaac is, according to the later Zohar, Satan: "Samael . . . appeared on a serpent, for the ideal form of the serpent is the Satan." (Zohar 1:35b) Now, an even more remarkable prefiguration of the Sabbatian events is found in Reb Isaac's statement, "the ancient elders . . . who delved in the palace of Samael." Nathan uses virtually the same language to explain the Holy Apostasy of Sabbatai to Islam in the mid-17th century, calling it a "descent into the maw of Samael" (rather than his "Palace") in order to retrieve the Nitzotzot ("Holy Sparks") trapped in that realm and return them to their Source -- thereby "repairing" (or "reuniting") the Face of God.
This early antinomianism is also found in R. Isaac's quotation from the Sefer Yetzirah, where it speaks of the "depth of good" and the "depth of evil" -- in a sense equating the two, just as Sabbatai did and also the Baal Shem Tov a century after him:
"The indwelling Glory [of God] embraces all worlds, all creatures, good and evil. And that is the true unity. How can [God's Glory] then bear in itself the opposites of Good and Evil? But in truth there is no opposite, for the Evil is the Throne of the Good. ("Instructions in Intercourse with God", translated in Martin Buber's Hasidism and Modern Man, p. 208)
You have already dealt with the roots of the emanation of the degrees, from the top of Supreme Crown (keter 'elyon) to the secret of the Blessing (sod ha-berakhah) of everlasting life. Now it is time to be awakened to the secret of the emanation radiating forth from them, an emanation of degrees like the image of bodies to souls, specified with names received from the ancient Sages and from the book of Rabbi Hamai. I have not seen this book in all Provence, save for copies belonging to three pietists. One was in Narbonne, belonging to a wondrous skilled scholar. It was transmitted orally from an elder rabbi. This holy and venerable rabbi testified that Elijah, may his memory be blessed, would appear to him on the Day of Atonement. The other two copies were in Arles, the large city.
By "the secret of the emanation radiating forth from them," that he proposes to now discuss, R. HaKohain is referring to the Partsufim (or "Hidden Personalities") which stand behind, as it were, the major Sefiroth and give deeper meaning to their divine identities. But more on that as he himself breaks them open. Here I would like to consider three things: first, the preeminence of the oral transmission to which R. HaKohain alludes; second, the actual meaning of The Left Emanation itself; and third, the relationship of The Left Emanation to the antinomian Kabbalah of Sabbatai Zevi and Nathan of Gaza in the mid-sixteenth century.
"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. The latter said three things: Be patient in the administration of Justice [i.e., the left-hand Sefirah, Gevurah]; develop many students [i.e., spread the teaching]; and make a fence around the Torah." (Pirke Avoth 1:1)
Notice how even in the early Mishnah the "Oral Torah," of which Kabbalah is a part, is equated with the "Left Emanation" or "Left-Hand Path" of the transmission by equating it with Sefirah Gevurah from that side of the Sefirotic Tree. The Zohar also describes this Oral Torah, or its Kabbalah, as follows:
"God did indeed send down a book to Adam, from which he became acquainted with the supernal wisdom. It later came into the hands of the 'sons of god' [i.e., the 'Fallen Angels,' of whom Samael was the leader, described in Genesis 6:1-4], the wise of their generation, and whoever was privileged to pursue it could learn from it supernal wisdom."(Zohar 1:37b)
Notice how this passage relates the "supernal wisdom" of Kabbalah with the Fallen Angels, of whom Samael was the leader, and in whose "Palace" R. HaKohain tells us in his first lesson, the early Sages "delved", and into which Sabbatai Zevi, according to R. Nathan of Gaza, later "descended." I want to now briefly consider the meaning of that "left-handedness" in Kabbalistic teachings.
Jewish mysticism also had and retains a distinctly "dark" and sometimes "sexual" nature which it relates to the "left-hand emanation" being discussed by R. HaKohain. For example the Zohar states:
"Cain, coming from the [left-hand] side of the angel of death should kill his brother. He also adhered to his own [left] side, and from him originate all the evil habitations and demons and goblins and evil spirits in the world . . .[Cain] being from the side of the Left."(Zohar 1:54a-54b)
It is to these same "fallen angels" from the "left emanation" that Jung also alludes when he writes:
"God . . . wants to become man and for that purpose he has chosen, through the Holy Ghost, the creaturely man filled with darkness -- the natural man who is tainted with original sin and who learnt the divine arts and sciences from the fallen angels. The guilty man is eminently suitable and is therefore chosen to become the vessel for the continuing incarnation, not the guiltless one who holds aloof from the world and refuses to pay his tribute to life, for in him the dark God would find no room."(C. G. Jung, Answer to Job, par. 746)
Thus, we see a strong antinomianism associated with the "left-hand path" of the continuing incarnation Jung discusses -- a preference for the "creaturely man filled with darkness" who "learnt the divine arts and sciences from the fallen angels" of the "Left Emanation," with which Sabbatai Zevi was to become highly associated.
Sabbatai Zevi: The "Creaturely Man: Within the context of this mystical antinomianism, the Talmud teaches a highly secret and complex doctrine of "redemption through sin" -- or fulfilling a Torah Commandment by breaking it -- of which Sabbatai Zevi was considered the fulfillment par-excellence. (See Gershom Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism, 1971, pp. 78-141). Significantly, Sabbatai "descended" into the "Palace" of the fallen angel Samael to retrieve and lift up the Holy Sparks contained therein not only through his conversion to Islam, but also by instituting certain highly antinomian, sexual rituals associated with the left-hand "Emanation" we have been discussing. Scholem describes these in some detail, and I will not go into them here. (See Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, Princeton University Press, 1973)
Thus, Sabbatai Zevi can be seen as an example of the "creaturely man" Jung describes as the ideal vessel for the continuing incarnation of God -- a man who clearly practiced "the divine arts and sciences from the fallen angels", led by Samael who R. HaKohain has so clearly associated with the "Left Emanation" he is discussing.
Moreover, we see that by the "Left Emanation," Rabbi Isaac HaKohain is referring to the three Sefiroth comprising the Left-Hand Column of the Sephirotic Tree -- associated, as I have pointed out, with the Sitra Achra or "Other (Dark) Side" of the Fallen Angel, Samael through his offspring Cain. (For the mixed paternity of Cain -- half from Adam and half from Samael, the HaSatan -- see my series of lectures on "A Kabbalistic Midrash on Genesis" in the Donmeh West archives. Also see the Zohar, "For Cain was born from Samael" [Zohar 1:37a-b] as well as the complete Zohar passage, 1:36a-37a.) This is to say that the Ten Sefiroth are divided into three "Columns" -- right, left and center, as follows:
The center column, on the other hand, represents Yahweh (YHVH), along which the individual ego-personality, through the practice of Kabbalah, ascends to merge with God. The Kabbalistic proof of this is not only in the Partsufim ("Hidden Personalities") of the four Sefiroth of the Center Column, but the Gematria of their combined rank-order positions, as follows:
Total = 26
YAHWEH = Yod  + Heh  + Vauv  + Heh  = 26
Thus, the Center Column of the Tree of the Ten Sefirot not only has a denotative but also a connotative association with the Godhead -- while the Left column represents "Eve" (the archetypal Feminine) and the Right represents "Adam" (the archetypal Masculine). In passing, the hidden identities of the two sides is further clarified by the fact that the top Sefirah of the Left "feminine" column (Binah) is also called Imma (Hebrew for "Mother"), while the top Sefirah of the Right "masculine" column (Chokmah) is also called Abba (Hebrew for "Father").
"The first emanation [Keter] -- like the image of a spiritual entity -- corresponds to the primal emanation. Its name is Sabi'el, and we call him the prince of the Exalted Heights.
Here, R. Isaac ben Jacob begins his discussion of the Sefiroth themselves by describing the first triad -- Keter, Chokmah, and Binah -- each of which is associated with a particular angel (i.e., the suffix i'el in their names) and which, collectively, form the Hoary Head -- sometimes called Atikah Kadisha ("Ancient Holy One") and Arikh Anpin ("Larger Countenance"). Later in these lectures, we shall see that this first cause is directly connected, via the Center Column of the Sefirotic Tree, to its smaller counterpart, Sefirah Tiferet, variously called Ze'ir Anpin ("Lesser Countenance") and Malkah Kadisha ("Holy King"), all of which are epithets for the Messiah. But more about that at the proper time in our discussion.
Significantly, R. Isaac ben Jacob presents an ancient (and probably original) tradition that links the emanations of the Sefiroth directly to Biblical texts. In other words, he identifies them as not merely metaphysical speculations, but divine realities as described (admittedly in a hidden way) in Holy Scripture. The same scriptural authority for the Ten Sefiroth is to be found in the 1st century Midrash, Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer:
"By ten Sayings was the word created and in three [Sefiroth] are these ten Sayings comprised, as it is said, 'The Lord by Chokmah ["Wisdom"] founded the earth; by Binah ["Understanding"] he established the heavens; by his Da'at [the so-called 'hidden' Sefirah of 'Knowledge'] the depths were broken up.' (Prov. 3:19, 20) By these three Sefiroth was the Tabernacle made, as it is said, 'And I have filled him [i.e., the builder Bezalel] with the spirit of God, with Chokmah, Binah and Da'at" (Ex. 31:3). Likewise with these three Sefiroth was the Temple made, as it is said, 'He [Bezalel] was the son of a widow woman . . . and he was filled with Chokmah and Binah and Da'at' (1 Kings 7:14). By these three Sefiroth it will be rebuilt in the future, as it is said, 'Through Chokmah is a house builded; and by Binah it is established; and by Da'at are the chambers filled" (Prov. 24:3-4)
Three important things emerge from this Midrash: First, the Sefiroth are "Divine Realities" described and, therefore, verified in Holy Scripture; second, the first triad collectively represents God-the-Creator (Atikah Kadisha) in His three attributes of Chokmah, Binah and Da'at; and third, it is out of this Atikah Kadisha that the Messiah will "drop down", through the center column, as Ze'ir Anpin, much like an infant being delivered out of its mother's womb.
In his writings, Nathan of Gaza drew parallels between Sabbatai Zevi and the "father-son" relationship of Arikh Anpin (i.e., God) to Ze'ir Anpin (i.e., the Messiah), casting Sabbatai in the role of the latter, which is to say a vessel for the Divine incarnation of God. Thus, we see the link between these ancient, pre-Zoharic conceptions of the Ten Sefiroth and the Kabbalah Nathan of Gaza constructed out of the personality and advent of Sabbatai Zevi.
"The first emanation [of the next seven Sefirot] -- like the image of a spiritual entity -- corresponds to the primal emanation. Its name is Sabi'el, and we call him the prince of the Exalted Heights.
It's important to keep in mind that this treatise was written before the Zohar emerged at the end of the 13th century, and represents a somewhat different (yet complementary) description and understanding of the Ten Sefirot, emphasizing their relationship to Angelic "Princes," most likely for the purpose of "practical" Kabbalah (i.e., magic) -- thus explaining the use of the word left in the title, with its archetypal connotations of the "dark arts of the fallen angels."
For example, R. Isaac here begins to describe the "seven emanations" of the Sefirot (following the first triad of Keter, Chokmah and Binah) and the relationship of each to a particular angel. In the same way, the book Sepher Ha-Razim -- a work of Kabbalistic magic dating from the Hellenistic period of Judaism -- describes seven "firmaments" and the angels attendant on each.
By tradition, Sepher Ha-Razim is described as "a book from the Books of the Mysteries, which was given to Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam by Raziel the angel in the year when he came into the ark." (Sepher Ha-Razim; Michael A. Morgan, trans.; Scholars Press, 1983, p. 17) It reads:
"And from the wisdom and secrets of this book, Noah learned and understood how to make gopher wood into an ark and to hide from the torrent of the flood waters, to bring the animals with him two by two and seven by seven, to take in some of every kind of food and every kind of provender. And he placed the book in a golden cabinet and brought it into the ark, to learn from it the times of the day and to investigate from it the times of the night, and in which period he should arise to pour out entreaties. And when he came forth from the ark, he used the book all the days of his life, and at the time of his death he handed it down to Abraham, and Abraham to Isaac, and Isaac to Jacob, and Jacob to Levi, and Levi to Kohath, and Kohath to Amram, and Amram to Moses, and Moses to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets, and the prophets to the sages, and thus generation by generation until Solomon the King arose." (ibid, pp. 18-19)
Each of the seven "firmaments" in Sepher Ha-Raziel corresponds to one of the seven "emanations" in R. Isaac ben Jacob's Treatise on the Left Emanation, and has, as does the latter text, its corresponding angels. For example:
"The name of the first firmament is called Shamayim. Within it are encampments filled with wrath. And seven thrones are prepared there and upon them are seated overseers, and around them on all sides encampments of angels are stationed and are obedient to men at the time when they practice magic." (ibid, p. 21)
These seven "emanations" or "firmaments" also correspond to the seven Hechalot, or "Palaces," which one ascends in Jewish Merkabah mysticism to stand in the Divine Presence of God -- each of which also has its entities and tests which one must overcome before proceeding to the next level -- as well as the "seven heavens" through which the angel Gabriel brought the Prophet Muhammad during the latter's "night journey" described in the Qur'an. (Qur'an 17:10) Thus, the "magic" which is being described by these texts may be the inner work of "alchemy" described by Jung in the process of coming to know the Self.