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The Zohar (Hebrew: זֹהַר, Zōhar, lit. "Splendor" or "Radiance") is a foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. It is a group of books including commentary on the mystical aspects of the Torah (the five books of Moses) and scriptural interpretations as well as material on mysticism, mythical cosmogony, and mystical psychology. The Zohar contains discussions of the nature of God, the origin and structure of the universe, the nature of souls, redemption, the relationship of Ego to Darkness and "true self" to "The Light of God". Its scriptural exegesis can be considered an esoteric form of the rabbinic literature known as Midrash, which elaborates on the Torah.
The Zohar is mostly written in what has been described as a cryptic, obscure style of Aramaic. Aramaic, the day-to-day language of Israel in the Second Temple period (539 BCE – 70 CE), was the original language of large sections of the biblical books of Daniel and Ezra, and is the main language of the Talmud. However, in the Late Middle Ages, the language was used among Jews exclusively in the study of such earlier texts. Some academic scholars assert that the Aramaic of the Zohar appears to be written by someone who did not know Aramaic as a native language and that words from Mozarabic and Galician-Portuguese can be found in the text.[better source needed]
The Zohar first appeared in Spain, then the Kingdom of León, in the 13th century. It was published by a Jewish writer named Moses de León (c. 1240–1305). De León ascribed the work to Shimon bar Yochai ("the Rashbi"), a tanna active after the Siege of Jerusalem (70 CE) and the destruction of the Second Temple during the protracted period known as the Jewish–Roman wars. According to Jewish legend, Shimon hid in a cave for thirteen years studying the Torah and was inspired by the Prophet Elijah to write the Zohar. This accords with the traditional claim by adherents that Kabbalah is the concealed part of the Oral Torah.
While the traditional majority view in Judaism has been that the teachings of Kabbalah were revealed by God to Biblical figures such as Abraham and Moses and were then transmitted orally from the Biblical era until their redaction by Shimon bar Yochai, modern academic analysis of the Zohar, including that by the 20th century religious historian Gershom Scholem, has theorized that Moses de León was the actual author. Aryeh Kaplan posited a theory that there was an ancient core text of the Zohar which antedated de Léon, but that several strata of text were added over time.
The view of some non-Chasidic Orthodox Jews and Orthodox groups, as well as non-Orthodox Jewish denominations, generally conforms to Scholem's view, and as such, most such groups have long viewed the Zohar as pseudepigrapha and apocrypha, while sometimes accepting that its contents may have meaning for modern Judaism. The Dor Daim reject the Zohar outright, while the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community removed all Zohar-related content from their siddurs and liturgy in the aftermath of Sabbatai Zevi's apostasy to Islam. Selected Zohar-related elements have been restored in several more recent Spanish and Portuguese siddurs, even for communities which have not restored those elements to their liturgy.
Siddurs edited by non-Orthodox Jews may therefore contain excerpts from the Zohar and other kabbalistic works, even if the editors do not literally believe that they are oral traditions from the time of Moses.
There are people of religions besides Judaism, or even those without religious affiliation, who delve in the Zohar out of curiosity, or as a means of seeking meaningful and practical answers about the meaning of their lives, the purpose of creation and existence and their relationships with the laws of nature, and so forth. However, from the perspective of traditional rabbinic Judaism, and by the Zohar's own statements, the purpose of the Zohar is to help the Jewish people through and out of the Exile and to infuse the Torah and mitzvot (Judaic commandments) with the wisdom of Moses de León's Kabbalah for its Jewish readers.
In the Bible, the word Zohar appears in the vision of Ezekiel 8:2 and is usually translated as meaning radiance or light. It appears again in Daniel 12:3, "Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens".
Suspicions aroused by the facts that the Zohar was discovered by one person and that it refers to historical events of the post-Talmudic period while purporting to be from an earlier time, which caused the authorship to be questioned from the outset. Joseph Jacobs and Isaac Broyde, in their article on the Zohar for The Jewish Encyclopedia of 1906, cite a story involving the Kabbalist Isaac ben Samuel of Acre, who is supposed to have heard directly from the widow of de León that her husband proclaimed authorship by Shimon bar Yochai for profit:
A story tells that after the death of Moses de Leon, a rich man of Avila named Joseph offered Moses' widow (who had been left without any means of supporting herself) a large sum of money for the original from which her husband had made the copy. She confessed that her husband himself was the author of the work. She had asked him several times, she said, why he had chosen to credit his own teachings to another, and he had always answered that doctrines put into the mouth of the miracle-working Shimon bar Yochai would be a rich source of profit. The story indicates that shortly after its appearance the work was believed by some to have been written by Moses de Leon.
Isaac's testimony, which appeared in the first edition (1566) of Abraham Zacuto's Sefer Yohasin, was censored from the second edition (1580) and remained absent from all editions thereafter until its restoration nearly 300 years later in the 1857 edition.
Aryeh Kaplan states that Isaac ben Samuel evidently did not believe Moses' widow since Isaac wrote that the Zohar was authored by Shimon bar Yochai in a manuscript in Kaplan's possession.[clarification needed] This leads him to hypothesize that Moses de León's wife sold the original manuscript, as parchment was very valuable, and was embarrassed by the realization of its high ancient worth, leading her to claim it was written by her husband. Kaplan concludes saying this was the probable series of events.
The Zohar spread among the Jews with remarkable swiftness. Scarcely fifty years had passed since its appearance in Spain before it was quoted by many Kabbalists, including the Italian mystical writer Menahem Recanati and by Todros ben Joseph Abulafia. Certain Jewish communities, however, such as the Dor Daim, Andalusian (Western Sefardic or Spanish and Portuguese Jews), and some Italian communities, never accepted it as authentic. The manuscripts of the Zohar are from around the 14th and 16th centuries.
By the 15th century, its authority in the Iberian Jewish community was such that Joseph ibn Shem-Tov drew from it arguments in his attacks against Maimonides, and even representatives of non-mystical Jewish thought began to assert its sacredness and invoke its authority in the decision of some ritual questions. In Jacobs' and Broyde's view, they were attracted by its glorification of man, its doctrine of immortality, and its ethical principles, which they saw as more in keeping with the spirit of Talmudic Judaism than are those taught by the philosophers, and which was held in contrast to the view of Maimonides and his followers, who regarded man as a fragment of the universe whose immortality is dependent upon the degree of development of his active intellect. The Zohar instead declared Man to be the lord of creation, whose immortality is solely dependent upon his morality.
Conversely, Elia del Medigo (c.1458 – c.1493), in his Beḥinat ha-Dat endeavored to show that the Zohar could not be attributed to Shimon bar Yochai, by a number of arguments. He claims that if it were his work, the Zohar would have been mentioned by the Talmud, as has been the case with other works of the Talmudic period; he claims that had bar Yochai known by divine revelation the hidden meaning of the precepts, his decisions on Jewish law from the Talmudic period would have been adopted by the Talmud, that it would not contain the names of rabbis who lived at a later period than that of bar Yochai; he claims that if the Kabbalah were a revealed doctrine, there would have been no divergence of opinion among the Kabbalists concerning the mystic interpretation of the precepts.
Believers in the authenticity of the Zohar countered that the lack of references to the work in Jewish literature was because bar Yohai did not commit his teachings to writing but transmitted them orally to his disciples over generations until finally the doctrines were embodied in the Zohar. They found it unsurprising that bar Yochai should have foretold future happenings or made references to historical events of the post-Talmudic period.
The authenticity of the Zohar was accepted by such 16th century Jewish luminaries as Joseph Karo (d.1575), Moses Isserles (d. 1572), and Solomon Luria (d.1574), who wrote that Jewish law (Halacha) follows the Zohar, except where the Zohar is contradicted by the Babylonian Talmud. However, Luria admits that the Zohar cannot override a minhag.
Debate continued over the generations; Delmedigo's arguments were echoed by Leon of Modena (d.1648) in his Ari Nohem, and a work devoted to the criticism of the Zohar, Mitpachas Sefarim, was written by Jacob Emden (d.1776), who, waging war against the remaining adherents of the Sabbatai Zevi movement (in which Zevi, a false messiah and Jewish apostate, cited Messianic prophecies from the Zohar as proof of his legitimacy), endeavored to show that the book on which Zevi based his doctrines was a forgery. Emden argued that the Zohar misquotes passages of Scripture; misunderstands the Talmud; contains some ritual observances that were ordained by later rabbinical authorities; mentions The Crusades against Muslims (who did not exist in the 2nd century); uses the expression "esnoga", a Portuguese term for "synagogue"; and gives a mystical explanation of the Hebrew vowel points, which were not introduced until long after the Talmudic period.
In the Ashkenazi community of Eastern Europe, religious authorities including the Vilna Gaon (d.1797) and Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (d.1812) (The Baal HaTanya) believed in the authenticity of the Zohar. Acceptance was not uniform, however. The Noda Bihudah (d.1793), in his sefer Derushei HaTzlach, argued that the Zohar is to be considered unreliable as it came into our hands many hundreds of years after Rashbi's death and it lacks an unbroken mesorah as to its authenticity, among other reasons.
The influence of the Zohar and the Kabbalah in Yemen, where it was introduced in the 17th century, contributed to the formation of the Dor Deah movement, led by Rabbi Yiḥyeh Qafeḥ in the later part of the 19th century, whose adherents believed that the core beliefs of Judaism were rapidly diminishing in favor of the mysticism of the Kabbalah. Among its objects was the opposition of the influence of the Zohar and subsequent developments in modern Kabbalah, which were then pervasive in Yemenite Jewish life, restoration of what they believed to be a rationalistic approach to Judaism rooted in authentic sources, and the safeguarding of the older ("Baladi") tradition of Yemenite Jewish observance that preceded the Kabbalah. Especially controversial were the views of the Dor Daim on the Zohar, as presented in Milhamoth Hashem (Wars of the Lord), written by Rabbi Qafeḥ. A group of Jerusalem rabbis published an attack on Rabbi Qafeḥ under the title of Emunat Hashem (Faith of the Lord), taking measures to ostracize members of the movement; notwithstanding, not even the Yemenite rabbis who opposed the dardaim heeded this ostracization. Instead, they intermarried, sat together in batei midrash, and continued to sit with Rabbi Qafeḥ in beth din.
Most of Orthodox Judaism holds that the teachings of Kabbalah were transmitted from teacher to teacher, in a long and continuous chain, from the biblical era until its redaction by Shimon bar Yochai. Some fully accept the claims that the Kabbalah's teachings are in essence a revelation from God to the Biblical patriarch Abraham, Moses and other ancient figures, but were never printed and made publicly available until the time of the Zohar's medieval publication. The greatest acceptance of this sequence of events is held within Haredi Judaism, especially Chasidic groups. R' Yechiel Michel Epstein (d.1908), and R' Yisrael Meir Kagan (d.1933) both believed in the authenticity of the Zohar. Rabbis Eliyahu Dessler (d.1953) and Gedaliah Nadel (d.2004) maintained that it is acceptable to believe that the Zohar was not written by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and that it had a late authorship.
Within Orthodox Judaism the traditional view that Shimon bar Yochai was the author is prevalent. R' Menachem Mendel Kasher in a 1958 article in the periodical Sinai argues against the claims of Gershom Scholem that the Zohar was written in the 13th Century by R' Moses de León. He writes:
Concerning the Zohar's lack of knowledge of the land of Israel, Scholem bases this on the many references to a city Kaputkia (Cappadocia) which he states was situated in Turkey, not in Israel.
Another theory as to the authorship of the Zohar is that it was transmitted like the Talmud before it was transcribed: as an oral tradition reapplied to changing conditions and eventually recorded. This view believes that the Zohar was not written by Shimon bar Yochai, but is a holy work because it consisted of his principles.
Jews in non-Orthodox Jewish denominations accept the conclusions of historical academic studies on the Zohar and other kabbalistic texts. As such, most non-Orthodox Jews have long viewed the Zohar as pseudepigraphy and apocrypha. Nonetheless, many accepted that some of its contents had meaning for modern Judaism. Siddurim edited by non-Orthodox Jews often have excerpts from the Zohar and other kabbalistic works, e.g. Siddur Sim Shalom edited by Jules Harlow, even though the editors are not kabbalists.
In recent years there has been a growing willingness of non-Orthodox Jews to study the Zohar, and a growing minority have a position that is similar to the Modern Orthodox position described above. This seems pronounced among Jews who follow the path of Jewish Renewal.
The first systematic and critical academic proof for the authorship of Moses de León was given by Adolf Jellinek in his 1851 monograph "Moses ben Shem-tob de León und sein Verhältnis zum Sohar" and later adopted by the historian Heinrich Graetz in his "History of the Jews", vol. 7. The young kabbalah scholar Gershom Scholem began his career at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem with a famous lecture in which he promised to refute Graetz and Jellinek, but after years of strained research Gershom Scholem contended in 1941 that de León himself was the most likely author of the Zohar. Among other things, Scholem noticed the Zohar's frequent errors in Aramaic grammar, its suspicious traces of Spanish words and sentence patterns, and its lack of knowledge of the land of Israel.
Other Jewish scholars have also suggested the possibility that the Zohar was written by a group of people, including de León. This theory generally presents de León as having been the leader of a mystical school, whose collective effort resulted in the Zohar.
Even if de León wrote the text, the entire contents of the book may not be fraudulent. Parts of it may be based on older works, and it was a common practice to ascribe the authorship of a document to an ancient rabbi in order to give the document more weight. It is possible that Moses de León considered himself to be channeling the words of Rabbi Shimon.
In the Encyclopaedia Judaica article written by Professor Gershom Scholem of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem there is an extensive discussion of the sources cited in the Zohar. Scholem views the author of the Zohar as having based the Zohar on a wide variety of pre-existing Jewish sources, while at the same time inventing a number of fictitious works that the Zohar supposedly quotes, e.g., the Sifra de-Adam, the Sifra de-Hanokh, the Sifra di-Shelomo Malka, the Sifra de-Rav Hamnuna Sava, the Sifra de-Rav Yeiva Sava, the Sifra de-Aggadeta, the Raza de-Razin and many others.
Scholem's views are widely held as accurate among historians of the Kabbalah, but like all textual historical investigations, are not uncritically accepted; most of the following conclusions are still accepted as accurate, although academic analysis of the original texts has progressed dramatically since Scholem's ground-breaking research. Scholars who continue to research the background of the Zohar include Yehuda Liebes (who wrote his doctorate thesis for Scholem on the subject, Dictionary of the Vocabulary of the Zohar in 1976), and Daniel C. Matt, also a student of Scholem's who has reconstructed a critical edition of the Zohar based on original, unpublished manuscripts.
While many original ideas in the Zohar are presented as being from (fictitious) Jewish mystical works, many ancient and clearly rabbinic mystical teachings are presented without their real, identifiable sources' being named. Academic studies of the Zohar show that many of its ideas are based in the Talmud, various works of midrash, and earlier Jewish mystical works. Scholem writes:
The author of the Zohar drew upon the Bible commentaries written by medieval rabbis, including Rashi, Abraham ibn Ezra, David Kimhi and even authorities as late as Nahmanides and Maimonides. Scholem gives a variety of examples of such borrowings.
The Zohar draws upon early mystical texts such as the Sefer Yetzirah and the Bahir, and the early medieval writings of the Hasidei Ashkenaz.
Another influence on the Zohar that Scholem, and scholars like Yehudah Liebes and Ronit Meroz have identified was a circle of Spanish Kabbalists in Castile who dealt with the appearance of an evil side emanating from within the world of the sephirot. Scholem saw this dualism of good and evil within the Godhead as a kind of "gnostic" inclination within Kabbalah, and as a predecessor of the Sitra Ahra (the other, evil side) in the Zohar. The main text of the Castile circle, the Treatise on the Left Emanation, was written by Jacob ha-Cohen in around 1265.
The Tikunei haZohar was first printed in Mantua in 1557. The main body of the Zohar was printed in Cremona in 1558 (a one-volume edition), in Mantua in 1558-1560 (a three-volume edition), and in Salonika in 1597 (a two-volume edition). Each of these editions included somewhat different texts. When they were printed there were many partial manuscripts in circulation that were not available to the first printers. These were later printed as "Zohar Chadash" (lit. "New Zohar"), but Zohar Chadash actually contains parts that pertain to the Zohar, as well as Tikunim (plural of Tikun, "Repair") that are akin to Tikunei haZohar, as described below. The term "Zohar", in usage, may refer to just the first Zohar collection, with or without the applicable sections of Zohar Chadash, or to the entire Zohar and Tikunim. Citations referring to the Zohar conventionally follow the volume and page numbers of the Mantua edition; while citations referring to Tikkunei haZohar follow the edition of Ortakoy (Constantinople) 1719 whose text and pagination became the basis for most subsequent editions. Volumes II and III begin their numbering anew, so citation can be made by parashah and page number (e.g. Zohar: Nasso 127a), or by volume and page number (e.g. Zohar III:127a).
The earlier part of the Zohar, also known as Zohar 'Al haTorah ("Zohar on the Torah", זוהר על התורה) or Midrash Rashbi, contains several smaller "books", as described below.
This book was published in three volumes: Volume 1 on Bereishit (Genesis), Volume 2 on Shemot (Exodus) and Volume 3 on Vayikra, Bamidbar and Devarim (Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). At the start of the first volume is printed a "Preface to the Book of the Zohar" (pages 1a to 14b). After this introduction is the Zohar's commentary on most of the parashahs of the Torah. There is Zohar on all of the parashahs of Bereishit through the book of Vayikra; in Bamidbar there is no Zohar on the last two parashas: Matot (although on this parashah there is a small paragraph on page 259b) and Mas'ei. In Devarim there is no Zohar on Devarim, Re'eh, Ki-Tavo, Nitzavim, and veZot haBerakhah. Printed within these three volumes are these smaller books:
Sifra diTzni'uta/Book of the Hidden (ספרא דצניעותא)
This small "book", three pages long (Volume 2, parashat Teruma, pages 176b-179a), the name of which, "Book of the Hidden", attests to its veiled and cryptic character, is considered by some an important and concentrated part of the Zohar. Its enumerations and anatomical references are reminiscent of the Sefer Yetzirah, the latter being remazim (hints) of divine characteristics.
Externally it is a commentary on seminal verses in Bereishit (and therefore in the version published in Cremona it is printed in parashat Bereishit). It has five chapters. Intrinsically it includes, according to Rashbi, the foundation of Kabbalah, which is explained at length in the Zohar and in the books of Kabbalah after it. Rabbi Shalom Buzaglo said, "Rashbi – may his merit protect us – said (Zohar Vol. 2, page 176a), Sifra diTzni'uta is five chapters that are included in a Great Palace and fill the entire earth,' meaning, these five paragraphs include all the wisdom of Kabbalah... for, Sifra diTzni'uta is the 'little that holds the much'; brevity with wonderful and glorious wisdom."
There are those who attribute Sifra diTzni'uta to the patriarch Yaakov; however, Rabbi Eliezer Tzvi of Kamarno in his book Zohar Chai wrote, "Sifra diTzni'uta was composed by Rashbi... and he arranged [it] from baraitas that were transmitted to Tannaim from mount Sinai from the days of Moshe, similar to the way Rabeinu HaKadosh arranged the six orders of Mishnah from that which was repeated from before."
Idra Rabba/The Great Assembly (אדרא רבא)
The Idra Rabba is found in the Zohar Vol. 3, parashat Nasso (pp. 127b-145a), and its name means, "The Great Assembly". "Idra" is a sitting-place of sages, usually circular, and the word "Rabba/Great" differentiates this section from the section Idra Zuta, which was an assembly of fewer sages that occurred later, as mentioned below.
Idra Rabba contains the discussion of nine of Rashbi's friends, who gathered together to discuss great and deep secrets of Kabbalah. The nine are: Rabbi Elazar his son, Rabbi Abba, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yossi bar Yaakov, Rabbi Yitzchak, Rabbi Chezkiyah bar Rav, Rabbi Chiyya, Rabbi Yossi and Rabbi Yisa. After the opening of the discussion by Rashbi, the sages rise, one after the other, and lecture on the secret of Divinity, while Rashbi adds to and responds to their words. The lectures in this section mainly explain the words of the Sifra diTzni'uta, in a similar manner as the Gemara explains the Mishnah.
As described in the Idra Rabba, before the Idra disjourned, three of the students died: Rabbi Yossi bar Yaakov, Rabbi Chezkiyah bar Rav, and Rabbi Yisa. As it is told, these students filled up with Godly light and therefore journeyed to the eternal world after their deaths. The remaining students saw their friends being carried away by angels. Rabbi Shimon said some words and they were calmed. He shouted out, "Perhaps, God forbid, a decree has been passed upon us to be punished, for through us has been revealed that which has not been revealed since the time Moshe stood on Mount Sinai!" At that instant a heavenly voice emerged and said, "Fortunate are you Rabbi Shimon! and fortunate is your portion and the portion of the friends who remain alive with you! For it has been revealed to you that which has not been revealed to all the upper hosts."
Idra Zuta/The Smaller Assembly (אדרא זוטא)
The Idra Zuta is found in the Zohar Vol. 3, parashat Haazinu (p. 287b to 296b), and is called "Idra Zuta", which means, "The Smaller Assembly", distinguishing it from the aforementioned Greater Assembly, the Idra Rabba. In the Idra Zuta, Rashbi's colleagues convene again, this time seven in number, after the three mentioned above died. In the Idra Zuta the Chevraya Kadisha are privileged to hear teachings from Rashbi that conclude the words that were explained in the Idra Rabba.
Ra'aya Meheimna/The Faithful Shepherd (רעיא מהימנא)
The book Ra'aya Meheimna, the title of which means "The Faithful Shepherd", and which is by far the largest "book" included in the book of the Zohar, is what Moshe, the "Faithful Shepherd", teaches and reveals to Rashbi and his friends, who include Tannaim and Amoraim. In this assembly of Holy Friends, which took place in the Beit Midrash of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, secrets of and revelations on mitzvot of the Torah are explained and clarified — roots and deep meanings of mitzvot. Since it deals with mitzvot, from Ra'aya Meheimna it is possible to learn very much about the ways of the halakhic rulings of the Rabbis.
Ra'aya Meheimna is distributed over several parashiyot throughout the Zohar. Part of it is known and even printed on separate pages, and part of it is weaved into the body of the Zohar. Ra'aya Meiheimna is found in Vols. 2 and 3 of the Zohar, but is not found explicitly in Vol. 1. Several great rabbis and sages have tried to find the Ra'aya Meheimna, which originally is a vast book on all the 613 mitzvot, and arrange it according to the order of positive commandments and negative commandments, and even print it as a book on its own.
In the lessons at the end of the Zohar, Ra'aya Meheimna is sometimes referred to as "Chibra Kadma'ah" — "the preceding book".
Regarding the importance of Ra'aya Meheimna, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero said, "Know that this book, which is called Ra'aya Meheimna, which Rashbi made with the tzadikim who are in Gan Eden, was a repair of the Shekhinah, and an aid and support for it in the exile, for there is no aid or support for the Shekhinah besides the secrets of the Torah... And everything that he says here of the secrets and the concepts—it is all with the intention of unifying the Shekhinah and aiding it during the exile.
Midrash haNe'elam/The Hidden Midrash (מדרש הנעלם)
Midrash haNe'elam is located within the body of the Zohar (parashat Vayera, Chayei Sarah, Toldot) and the Zohar Chadash (pp. 2b-30b; 46b-47b (in the Zohar Chadash edition by Rav Reuven Margoliot), and in parashat Balak, Ki Teitze, and the entire Zohar Chadash on Shir haShirim, Ruth, and Eikah.)
According to Ramaz, it is fit to be called Midrash haNe'elam because "its topic is mostly the neshamah (an upper level of soul), the source of which is in Beri'ah, which is the place of the upper Gan Eden; and it is written in the Pardes that drash is in Beri'ah... and the revealed midrash is the secret of externality, and Midrash haNe'elam is the secret of internality, which is the neshamah. And this derush is founded on the neshamah; its name befits it – Midrash haNe'elam.
The language of Midrash haNe'elam is sometimes Hebrew, sometimes Aramaic, and sometimes both mixed. Unlike the body of the Zohar, its drashas are short and not long. Also, the topics it discusses — the work of Creation, the nature the soul, the days of Mashiach, and Olam Haba — are not of the type found in the Zohar, which are the nature of God, the emanation of worlds, the "forces" of evil, and more.
Idra deVei Mashkana, Heikhalot, Raza deRazin, Saba deMishpatim, Tosefta, and Sitrei Torah
In the Zohar there are more sections that are of different nature with regard to their contents and importance, as follows: Idra deVei Mashkana ("Assembly of the House of the Tabernacle") deals mainly with the secrets of prayer, and is found in the Zohar Vol. 2, parashat Mishpatim (pp. 122b-123b). Heikhalot ("Palaces") deals in describing the palaces of Gan Eden, and Gehinom, and contains many matters related to prayer. It is found in the Zohar Vol. 1, parashat Bereishit (pp 38a-45b); Vol. 2 parashat Pekudei (pp. 244b-262b, heikhalot of holiness; pp. 262b-268b, heikhalot of impurity). Raza deRazin ("Secret of Secrets") deals with revealing the essence of a man via the features of his face and hands. It is found in the Zohar Vol. 2,parashat Yitro (pp. 70a-75a). Saba deMishpatim ("The Elder on Statutes") is the commentary of Rav Yiba Saba regarding transmigration of souls, and punishments of the body in the grave. It is found in the Zohar Vol. 2,parashat Mishpatim (pp. 94a-114a). Tosefta are paragraphs containing the beginnings of chapters on the wisdom of the Kabbalah of the Zohar, and it is dispersed in all three volumes of the Zohar. Sitrei Torah are drashas of verses from the Torah regarding matters of the soul and the secret of Divinity, and they are dispersed in the Zohar Vol. 1.
For more books and sources mentioned in the Zohar, see also below.
After the book of the Zohar had been printed (in Mantua and in Cremona, in the Jewish years 5318-5320 or 1558-1560? CE), many more manuscripts were found that included paragraphs pertaining to the Zohar in their content and had not been included in printed editions. The manuscripts pertained also to all parts of the Zohar; some were similar to Zohar on the Torah, some were similar to the inner parts of the Zohar (Midrash haNe'elam, Sitrei Otiyot and more), and some pertained to Tikunei haZohar. Some thirty years after the first edition of the Zohar was printed, the manuscripts were gathered and arranged according to the parashas of the Torah and the megillot (apparently the arrangement was done by the Kabbalist, Rabbi Avraham haLevi of Tsfat), and were printed first in Salonika in Jewish year 5357 (1587? CE), and then in Kraków (5363), and afterwards many times in various editions.
There is Zohar Chadash on the Torah for many parashas across the chumash, namely, on chumash Bereishit: Bereishit, Noach, Lekh Lekha, Vayeira, Vayeishev; on chumash Shemot: Beshalach, Yitro, Terumah, Ki Tissa; on chumash Vayikra: Tzav, Acharei, Behar; on chumash Bamidbar: Chukat, Balak, Matot; on chumash Devarim: Va'etchanan, Ki Tetze, Ki Tavo.
Within the paragraphs of Zohar Chadash are inserted Sitrei Otiyot ("Secrets of the Letters") and Midrash haNe'elam, on separate pages. Afterwards follows the midrashim – Midrash haNe'elam on the megillot: Shir haShirim, Ruth, and Eikhah. And at the end are printed Tikunim (Tikunei Zohar Chadash, תיקוני זוהר חדש), like the Tikunei haZohar.
Main article: Tikunei haZohar
Tikunei haZohar, which was printed as a separate book, includes seventy commentaries called "Tikunim" (lit. Repairs) and an additional eleven Tikkunim. In some editions, Tikunim are printed that were already printed in the Zohar Chadash, which in their content and style also pertain to Tikunei haZohar.
Each of the seventy Tikunim of Tikunei haZohar begins by explaining the word "Bereishit" (בראשית), and continues by explaining other verses, mainly in parashat Bereishit, and also from the rest of Tanakh. And all this is in the way of Sod, in commentaries that reveal the hidden and mystical aspects of the Torah.
Tikunei haZohar and Ra'aya Meheimna are similar in style, language, and concepts, and are different from the rest of the Zohar. For example, the idea of the Four Worlds is found in Tikunei haZohar and Ra'aya Meheimna but not elsewhere, as is true of the very use of the term "Kabbalah". In terminology, what is called Kabbalah in Tikunei haZohar and Ra'aya Meheimna is simply called razin (clues or hints) in the rest of the Zohar. In Tikunei haZohar there are many references to "chibura kadma'ah" (meaning "the earlier book"). This refers to the main body of the Zohar.
The traditional rabbinic view is that most of the Zohar and the parts included in it (i.e. those parts mentioned above) were written and compiled by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, but some parts preceded Rashbi and he used them (such as Sifra deTzni'uta; see above), and some parts were written or arranged in generations after Rashbi's passing (for example, Tannaim after Rashbi's time are occasionally mentioned). However, aside from the parts of the Zohar mentioned above, in the Zohar are mentioned tens of earlier sources that Rashbi and his Chevraya Kadisha had, and they were apparently the foundation of the Kabbalistic tradition of the Zohar. These include Sefer Raziel, Sifra de'Agad'ta, Sifra de'Adam haRishon, Sifra de'Ashmedai, Sifra Chakhmeta 'Ila'ah diVnei Kedem, Sifra deChinukh, Sifra diShlomoh Malka, Sifra Kadma'i, Tzerufei de'Atvun de'Itmasru le'Adam beGan 'Eden, and more. In the Jewish view this indicates more, that the teaching of the Sod in the book of the Zohar was not invented in the Tannaic period, but rather it is a tradition from ancient times that Rashbi and his Chevraya Kadisha used and upon which they built and founded their Kabbalah, and also that its roots are in the Torah that was given by Hashem to Moshe on Sinai.
According to the Zohar, the moral perfection of man influences the ideal world of the Sefirot; for although the Sefirot accept everything from the Ein Sof (Heb. אין סוף, infinity), the Tree of Life itself is dependent upon man: he alone can bring about the divine effusion. This concept is somewhat akin to the concept of Tikkun olam. The dew that vivifies the universe flows from the just. By the practice of virtue and by moral perfection, man may increase the outpouring of heavenly grace. Even physical life is subservient to virtue. This, says the Zohar, is indicated in the words "for the Lord God had not caused it to rain" (Gen. 2:5), which means that there had not yet been beneficent action in heaven, because man had not yet been created to pray for it.
The Zohar assumes four kinds of biblical text exegesis, from the literal to the more mystical:
The initial letters of these words (P, R, D, S) form together the word PaRDeS ("paradise/orchard"), which became the designation for the Zohar's view of a fourfold meaning of the text, of which the mystical sense is considered the highest part.
In Eros and Kabbalah, Moshe Idel (Professor of Jewish Mysticism, Hebrew University in Jerusalem) argues that the fundamental distinction between the rational-philosophic strain of Judaism and mystical Judaism, as exemplified by the Zohar, is the mystical belief that the Godhead is complex, rather than simple, and that divinity is dynamic and incorporates sex, having both male and female dimensions. These polarities must be conjoined (have yihud, "union") to maintain the harmony of the cosmos. Idel characterizes this metaphysical point of view as "ditheism", holding that there are two aspects to God, and the process of union as "theoeroticism". This ditheism, the dynamics it entails, and its reverberations within creation is arguably the central interest of the Zohar, making up a huge proportion of its discourse (pp. 5–56).
Mention should also be made of the work of Elliot Wolfson (Professor of Jewish Mysticism, New York University), who has almost single-handedly challenged the conventional view, which is affirmed by Idel as well. Wolfson likewise recognizes the importance of heteroerotic symbolism in the kabbalistic understanding of the divine nature. The oneness of God is perceived in androgynous terms as the pairing of male and female, the former characterized as the capacity to overflow and the latter as the potential to receive. Where Wolfson breaks with Idel and other scholars of the kabbalah is in his insistence that the consequence of that heteroerotic union is the restoration of the female to the male. Just as, in the case of the original Adam, the woman was constructed from man, and their carnal cleaving together was portrayed as becoming one flesh, so the ideal for kabbalists is the reconstitution of what Wolfson calls the male androgyne. Much closer in spirit to some ancient Gnostic dicta, Wolfson understands the eschatological ideal in traditional Kabbalah to have been the female becoming male (see his Circle in the Square and Language, Eros, Being).
On the one hand, the Zohar was lauded by many rabbis because it opposed religious formalism, stimulated one's imagination and emotions, and for many people helped reinvigorate the experience of prayer. In many places prayer had become a mere external religious exercise, while prayer was supposed to be a means of transcending earthly affairs and placing oneself in union with God.
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, "On the other hand, the Zohar was censured by many rabbis because it propagated many superstitious beliefs, and produced a host of mystical dreamers, whose overexcited imaginations peopled the world with spirits, demons, and all kinds of good and bad influences." Many classical rabbis, especially Maimonides, viewed all such beliefs as a violation of Judaic principles of faith. Its mystic mode of explaining some commandments was applied by its commentators to all religious observances, and produced a strong tendency to substitute mystic Judaism in the place of traditional rabbinic Judaism. For example, Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, began to be looked upon as the embodiment of God in temporal life, and every ceremony performed on that day was considered to have an influence upon the superior world.
Elements of the Zohar crept into the liturgy of the 16th and 17th centuries, and the religious poets not only used the allegorism and symbolism of the Zohar in their compositions, but even adopted its style, e.g. the use of erotic terminology to illustrate the relations between man and God. Thus, in the language of some Jewish poets, the beloved one's curls indicate the mysteries of the Deity; sensuous pleasures, and especially intoxication, typify the highest degree of divine love as ecstatic contemplation; while the wine-room represents merely the state through which the human qualities merge or are exalted into those of God.
In the 17th century, it was proposed that only Jewish men who were at least 40 years old could study Kabbalah, and by extension read the Zohar, because it was believed to be too powerful for those less emotionally mature and experienced.
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, "The enthusiasm felt for the Zohar was shared by many Christian scholars, such as Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Johann Reuchlin, Aegidius of Viterbo, etc., all of whom believed that the book contained proofs of the truth of Christianity. They were led to this belief by the analogies existing between some of the teachings of the Zohar and certain Christian dogmas, such as the fall and redemption of man, and the dogma of the Trinity, which seems to be expressed in the Zohar in the following terms:
The Ancient of Days has three heads. He reveals himself in three archetypes, all three forming but one. He is thus symbolized by the number Three. They are revealed in one another. [These are:] first, secret, hidden 'Wisdom'; above that the Holy Ancient One; and above Him the Unknowable One. None knows what He contains; He is above all conception. He is therefore called for man 'Non-Existing' [Ayin] (Zohar, iii. 288b).
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, "This and other similar doctrines found in the Zohar are now known to be much older than Christianity, but the Christian scholars who were led by the similarity of these teachings to certain Christian dogmas deemed it their duty to propagate the Zohar."
However, fundamental to the Zohar are descriptions of the absolute Unity and uniqueness of God, in the Jewish understanding of it, rather than a trinity or other plurality. One of the most common phrases in the Zohar is raza d'yichuda "the secret of his Unity", which describes the Oneness of God as completely indivisible, even in spiritual terms. A central passage, Patach Eliyahu (introduction to Tikunei Zohar 17a), for example, says:
Elijah opened and said: "Master of the worlds! You are One, but not in number. You are He Who is Highest of the High, Most Hidden of the Hidden; no thought can grasp You at all...And there is no image or likeness of You, inside or out...And aside from You, there is no unity on High or Below. And You are acknowledged as the Cause of everything and the Master of everything...And You are the completion of them all. And as soon as You remove Yourself from them, all the Names remain like a body without a soul...All is to show how You conduct the world, but not that You have a known righteousness that is just, nor a known judgement that is merciful, nor any of these attributes at all...Blessed is God forever, amen and amen!
The meaning of the three heads of Keter, according to the kabbalists, has extremely different connotations from ascribing validity to any compound or plurality in God, even if the compound is viewed as unified. In Kabbalah, while God is an absolutely simple (non-compound), infinite Unity beyond grasp, as described in Jewish philosophy by Maimonides, through His Kabbalistic manifestations such as the Sephirot and the Shekhinah (Divine Presence), we relate to the living dynamic Divinity that emanates, enclothes, is revealed in, and incorporates, the multifarious spiritual and physical plurality of Creation within the Infinite Unity. Creation is plural, while God is Unity. Kabbalistic theology unites the two in the paradox of human versus Divine perspectives. The spiritual role of Judaism is to reach the level of perceiving the truth of the paradox, that all is One, spiritual and physical Creation being nullified into absolute Divine Monotheism. Ascribing any independent validity to the plural perspective is idolatry. Nonetheless, through the personalised aspects of God, revealing the concealed mystery from within the Divine Unity, man can perceive and relate to God, who otherwise would be unbridgably far, as the supernal Divine emanations are mirrored in the mystical Divine nature of man's soul.
The relationship between God's absolute Unity and Divine manifestations may be compared to a man in a room - there is the man himself, and his presence and relationship to others in the room. In Hebrew, this is known as the Shekhinah. It is also the concept of God's Name - it is His relationship and presence in the world towards us. The Wisdom (literally written as Field of Apples) in kabbalistic terms refers to the Shekhinah, the Divine Presence. The Unknowable One (literally written as the Miniature Presence) refers to events on earth when events can be understood as natural happenings instead of God's act, although it is actually the act of God. This is known as perceiving the Shekhinah through a blurry, cloudy lens. This means to say, although we see God's Presence (not God Himself) through natural occurrences, it is only through a blurry lens; as opposed to miracles, in which we clearly see and recognize God's presence in the world. The Holy Ancient One refers to God Himself, Who is imperceivable. (see Minchas Yaakov and anonymous commentary in the Siddur Beis Yaakov on the Sabbath hymn of Askinu Seudasa, composed by the Arizal based on this lofty concept of the Zohar).
Within the descending Four Worlds of Creation, each successive realm perceives divinity less and apparent independence more. The highest realm Atziluth-Emanation, termed the "Realm of Unity", is distinguished from the lower three realms, termed the "Realm of Separation", by still having no self-awareness; absolute Divine Unity is revealed and Creation is nullified in its source. The lower three Worlds feel progressive degrees of independence from God. Where lower Creation can mistake the different Divine emanations as plural, Atziluth feels their non-existent unity in God. Within the constricted appearance of Creation, God is revealed through various and any plural numbers. God uses each number to represent a different supernal aspect of reality that He creates, to reflect their comprehensive inclusion in His absolute Oneness: 10 Sephirot, 12 Partzufim, 2 forms of Light, 2 Partzufim and 3 Heads in Keter, 4 letters of the Tetragrammaton, 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, 13 Attributes of Mercy, etc. All such forms when traced back to their source in God's infinite light, return to their state of absolute Oneness. This is the consciousness of Atziluth. In Kabbalah, this perception is considered subconsciously innate to the souls of Israel, rooted in Atzilut. The souls of the Nations are elevated to this perception through adherence to the 7 Laws of Noah, that bring them to absolute Divine Unity and away from any false plural perspectives.
There is an alternative notion of three in the Zohar that is One, "Israel, the Torah and the Holy One Blessed Be He are One." From the perspective of God, before constriction in Creation, these three are revealed in their source as a simple (non-compound) absolute Unity, as is all potential Creation from God's perspective. In Kabbalah, especially in Hasidism, the communal divinity of Israel is revealed Below in the righteous Tzadik Jewish leader of each generation who is a collective soul of the people. In the view of Kabbalah, however, no Jew would worship the supernal community souls of the Jewish people, or the Rabbinic leader of the generation, nor the totality of Creation's unity in God itself, as Judaism innately perceives the absolute Monotheism of God. In a Kabbalistic phrase, one prays "to Him, not to His attributes". As Kabbalah sees the Torah as the Divine blueprint of Creation, so any entity or idea in Creation receives its existence through an ultimate lifeforce in Torah interpretation. However, in the descent of Creation, the Tzimtzum constrictions and impure Qliphoth side of false independence from God result in distortion of the original vitality source and idea. Accordingly, in the Kabbalistic view, the non-Jewish belief in the Trinity, as well as the beliefs of all religions, have parallel, supernal notions within Kabbalah from which they ultimately exist in the process of Creation. However, the impure distortion results from human ascription of false validity and worship to Divine manifestations, rather than realising their nullification to God's Unity alone.
In normative Christian theology, as well as the declaration of the First Council of Nicaea, God is declared to be "one". Declarations such as "God is three" or "God is two" are condemned in later counsels as entirely heretical and idolatrous. The beginning of the essential declaration of belief for Christians, the Nicene Creed (somewhat equivalent to Maimonides' 13 principles of Faith), starts with the Shema influenced declaration that "We Believe in One God..." Like Judaism, Christianity asserts the absolute monotheism of God.
Unlike the Zohar, Christianity interprets the coming of the Messiah as the arrival of the true immanence of God. Like the Zohar the Messiah is believed to be the bringer of Divine Light: "The Light (the Messiah) shineth in the Darkness and the Darkness has never put it out", yet the Light, although being God, is separable within God since no one has seen God in flesh: "for no man has seen God..." (John 1). It is through the belief that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, since God had vindicated him by raising him from the dead, that Christians believe that Jesus is paradoxically and substantially God, despite God's simple undivided unity. The belief that Jesus Christ is "God from God, Light from Light" is assigned as a mystery and weakness of the human mind-affecting and effecting in our comprehension of him. The mystery of the Trinity and our mystical union with the Ancient of Days will only be made, like in the Zohar, in the new Garden of Eden, which is made holy by the Light of God where people's love for God is unending.
Despite the preeminence of Tikunei haZohar and despite the topmost priority of Torah study in Judaism, much of the Zohar has been relatively obscure and unread in the Jewish world in recent times, particularly outside of Israel and outside of Chasidic groups. Although some rabbis since the Shabbetai Tzvi debacle still maintain that one should be married and forty years old in order to study Kabbalah, since the time of Baal Shem Tov there has been relaxation of such stringency, and many maintain that it is sufficient to be married and knowledgeable in halakhah and hence permitted to study Kabbalah and by inclusion, Tikunei haZohar; and some rabbis will advise learning Kabbalah without restrictions of marriage or age. In any case the aim of such caution is to not become caught up in Kabbalah to the extent of departing from reality or halakhah.
Many eminent rabbis and sages have echoed the Zohar's own urgings for Jews to study it, and have and urged people in the strongest of terms to be involved with it. To quote from the Zohar and from some of those rabbis:
"Vehamaskilim yavinu/But they that are wise will understand" (Dan. 12:10) – from the side of Binah (understanding), which is the Tree of Life. Therefore it is said, "Vehamaskilim yaz'hiru kezohar haraki'a"/And they that are wise will shine like the radiance of the sky" (Dan. 12:3) – by means of this book of yours, which is the book of the Zohar, from the radiance (Zohar) of Ima Ila'ah (the "Higher Mother", the higher of the two primary partzufim that develop from Binah) [which is] teshuvah; with those [who study this work], trial is not needed. And because Yisrael will in the future taste from the Tree of Life, which is this book of the Zohar, they will go out, with it, from Exile, in a merciful manner, and with them will be fulfilled, "Hashem badad yanchenu, ve'ein 'imo El nechar/Hashem alone will lead them, and there is no strange god with Him" (Deut. 32:12).— Zohar, parashat Nasso, 124b, Ra'aya Meheimna
Woe to the [people of the] world who hide the heart and cover the eyes, not gazing into the secrets of the Torah!— Zohar Vol 1, p. 28a
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said the following praise of the Zohar's effect in motivating mitzvah performance, which is the main focus in Judaism:
It is [already] known that learning the Zohar is very, very mesugal [capable of bringing good effects]. Now know, that by learning the Zohar, desire is generated for all types of study of the holy Torah; and the holy wording of the Zohar greatly arouses [a person] towards service of Hashem Yitbarakh. Namely, the praise with which it praises and glorifies a person who serves Hashem, that is, the common expression of the Zohar in saying, "Zaka'ah/Fortunate!" etc. regarding any mitzvah; and vice-versa, the cry that it shouts out, "Vai!" etc., "Vai leh, Vai lenishmateh/Woe to him! Woe to his soul!" regarding one who turns away from the service of Hashem — these expressions greatly arouse the man for the service of the Blessed One.— Sichot Haran #108
[...] but upon examining many of the original manuscripts of the Zohar dating from the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries [...]
nicene creed shema.