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]

Rabbis Jacob and Isaac ha-Kohain were both members of the Pre-Zoharic, early school of Kabbalah in the second half of the 13th century. Here I comment on the first two lessons from R. Isaac's most important work, Treatise on the Left Emanation, with particular reference to their implications for own "Yalhakian" Neo-Sabbatian Kabbalah.

Treatise on the Left Emanation: Part 1

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.

I will do this for you even though you are quite aware that this path was not trod upon except for "two or three berries in the top of the uppermost bough" (Isaiah 17:6) -- these are the ancient elders, the scholars of Spain who delved in the palace of Samael. It is a long and deep path and it eludes all masters of wisdom of the hidden emanation, the "depth of good and the depth of evil." (Sefer Yetzirah 1:4) It is known only to those few solitary individuals, "the remnant who the Lord shall call" (Joel 3:5). Moreover, to the best of my ability I will not stray my steps from the path in order to grant your wish and quench a bit of your thirst. May His most beloved assist me in His mercy and Loving kindness.

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)

Treatise on the Left Emanation: Part 2.a

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.

Commentary by Reb Yakov Leib:

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.

      The Preeminence of the Oral Transmission. Notice that R. HaKohain speaks of "the book of Rabbi Hamai," which is obviously an important Kabbalistic text, considering the degree of emphasis he gives to it -- and of which, he tells us, there are only three copies in all of Provence, France where he lived. On further reading, however, we find that these "copies" were actually "transmitted orally from an elder rabbi" and not originally in written form. Here we see what many students of the Kabbalah (both Jewish and non-Jewish alike) fail to understand: that is, it is based primarily on the Masorah or oral, rather than written transmission prior to its redaction as the Zohar by R. Moshe de Leon in approximately the 13th century. The point here is that without access to these orally transmitted "texts" -- or at least an appreciation of them -- one cannot hope to fully understand the Jewish Kabbalah. It is this to which the Mishnah of the Talmud refers when it states:

"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.

      The Left-Hand Path. It should come as no surprise to any student of mysticism that there is a "left-hand path" -- a path of darkness and even sexuality -- in most mystical traditions. Hinduism and Buddhism both have their Tantric teachings, and even early Christianity practiced dark, sexual rituals among the Libertines ("Liberated Ones") who claimed to have learned them directly from Jesus. Professor Morton Smith of Columbia University even goes so far as to suggest that Jesus may have introduced certain homosexual rituals (perhaps even "baptism" by semen) into the pre-Pauline Church. (See for example, Morton Smith's Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark, Harvard University Press, 1973.)

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:

(3) Binah/Understanding
(5) Gevurah/Harsh Judgement
(8) Hod/Splendor
   (1) Keter/Crown
 (6) Tiferet/Beauty
 (9) Yesod/Foundation
(10) Malkuth/Kingdom
  (2) Chokmah/Wisdom
(4) Chesed/Mercy
(7) Netzach/Victory

Moreover, as in so many other spiritual systems (such as Taoism, for example) the Left side is associated with the dark, intuitive qualities of the archetypal feminine of the collective unconscious, while the right side is associated with the less-dark, rational qualities of the archetypal masculine. (This may have something to do with the bicameral division between the right and left hemispheres of the brain in which the right hemisphere (which directs our intuitive, "mystical" functions) is in control of the left side of the body; and the left hemisphere (which directs our linear "rational" functions) is in control of the right side of the body.)

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:

Keter   =  1
Tiferet =  6
Yesod  =  9
Malkut = 10

Total  = 26

Significantly, the Gematria for the great Name of God, Yahweh (or, more precisely) its four letters, YOD-HEH-VAUV-HEH, is also 26, as follows (see my previous lectures for an explanation of the Kabbalistic method of Gematria):

YAHWEH = Yod [10] + Heh [5] + Vauv [6] + Heh [5] = 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").

Treatise on the Left Emanation: Lesson 2.b

"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.

"The second of the emanations [Chokmah] is the emanation of Wisdom. It's name is Peli'i'el. He is the prince of the wonders (pela'ot) of Wisdom. We have received a tradition about him that the name by which his emanation is revealed is Zequni'el. His name is also Sagasagel, equal to the numerical value [Gematria] of "you shall honor the face of an old man" (Lev. 19:32). He is the planting of Wisdom, "the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified" (Isaiah 61:3). His sign is "In the day of your planting make it grow (tesagsegi)" (Isaiah 61:3) The samekh and the sin are interchangeable, deriving from the same sound.

"The third [Binah] is the prince radiated forth from the emanation of Repentance, the hidden treasure trove to all those who know Understanding [Binah] and have great fear (yir'ah). His name is Yerui'el.

"Scripture alludes to all three of them in one verse: "You shall rise up before the hoary head and honor the face of the old man and fear your God" (Isaiah 19:32). These three are considered like bodies to souls, each one interlinked with the other like a flame to an ember, inwardness to inwardness."

Commentary by Reb Yakov Leib:

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)

"With these three Sefiroth will the Holy One, blessed be He, give three good gifts to Israel in the future, as it is said, 'For the Lord will give Chokmah, out of His mouth cometh Da'at and Binah' (ibid 2:6). It is not said, 'The Lord has [already] given Chokmah.' [No, but instead] these three Sefiroth will be given to the King Messiah, as it is said, 'And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him [the Messiah], the spirit of Chokmah and Binah, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of Da'at and the fear of the Lord' (Isa. 11:2)." (Pirke de Rabbi Eliezar, 2B.ii)

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.

Treatise on the Left Emanation: Lesson 2.c

"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.

"The second of the emanations is the emanation of Wisdom. Its name is Peli'i'el. He is the prince of the wonders (pela'ot) of Wisdom. We have received a tradition about him that the name by which his emanation is revealed is Zequni'el. His name is also Sagsagel, equal to the Gematria [numerical value of the Hebrew letters in the scripture] 'You shall honor the face of an old man' (Lev. 19:32) He is the planting of Wisdom, 'the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified' (Isa. 61:3). His sign is 'In the day of your planting make it grow (tesagsegi)' (Isa. 61:3). The [Hebrew] letters [in the word] are interchangeable, deriving from the same sound."

Commentary by Reb Yakov Leib

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.

| 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 |
| 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.