The descent into immanence

The verb ירד, yarada, is one of those paradoxical, surprising, mysterious words in the literature of the Hekhalot (« the Palaces »), which deals with celestial ascents and descents. Its first meaning is « to descend », but there are several derived meanings: « to fall, to forfeit, to perish, to be ruined », or to « to slaughter, to humiliate, to precipitate ». It is mainly used to describe the different « descents », « falls », « lapses » or « humiliations » related to the human condition.

The paradox appears when the same verb is also used to describe theophanies, which are therefore somehow assimilated, by contiguity, to their exact opposite: the fall.

A brief collection of uses of this word (yarada) will make the spectrum shine through.

« Abram went down to Egypt ».i

« She went down to the fountain » (Gen. 24:16).

« Moses came down from the mountain » (Ex. 19:14 or Ex. 34:29).

« My beloved has gone down into his garden » (Cant. 6,2).

« He will descend like rain on the cut grass » (Ps. 72:6).

This verb is also used metaphorically:

« Everyone weeps » (Is 15:5). « 

The day was falling » (Jug. 19:11).

« Those who sail by sea » (Ps. 107:23).

It applies to death:

« Like those who go down to the grave » (Prov. 1:12).

« Let them go down alive into the hell » (Ps. 55:16).

The word can take the meaning of « forfeiture »:

« You will always forfeit lower and lower » (Deut. 28:43).

Finally, there is the application of this verb to theophanies, to forms of divine apparitions.

« The Lord will descend in the sight of the whole people on Mount Sinai » (Ex. 19:11).

« Sinai Mountain was all smoking because the Lord had descended into it in the heart of the flame » (Ex. 18:18).

« The column of cloud descended, stopped at the entrance of the Tent, and God spoke with Moses.  » (Ex. 33,9).

« The Lord came down to the earth to see the city and the tower » (Gen. 11:5).

« I will come down and speak to you, and I will remove part of the spirit that is on you and rest it on them » (Nb. 1:17).

« He tilts the heavens and descends; under his feet, a thick mist » (2 S. 22:10). « 

Ah! May you tear the heavens apart and come down!  » (Is 63:19).

« Thou wentest down and the mountains staggered » (Is 64:2)

« The Lord Zebaoth will come down to war on Mount Zion and its heights.  » (Is. 31:4)

In all cases where God descends into the world, He keeps, let us note, a certain height, or a certain distance. He goes down just low enough to be « in sight of the people », but no lower. He goes down to the mountain, but « within a flame ». He descends to the Tent, but remains « in a cloud ». He descends from the heavens, but « a thick fog » remains under His feet. He descends to Moses, but only at the distance necessary to talk to him. He descends to Mount Zion, but remains on the « heights ».

What does that show?

First, a verb including the ideas of descent, fall, decay, ruin, humiliation, can, as we see, be applied (metaphorically) to God. Each of the theophanies can be interpreted, from the point of view not of man, but of God, as a kind of « descent » and perhaps of « fall ». It’s a strong idea.

Then, as noted, the descents described in the texts cited always keep a certain distance, a reserve. God descends, but only to a certain extent.

Finally, the idea of God’s descent is never associated with the idea of his ascent. There is of course the case of Jacob’s dream. But then it was « the divine messengers » who « went up and down the ladder » (Gen. 28:12). As for Him, « the Lord appeared at the top » (Gen. 28:13), very far away then.

What can we conclude from this?

God can « come down », the texts say. The same texts never say that He « goes up », after having gone down.

This is a strong argument, it seems to me, to associate divine transcendence with a persistent, paradoxical immanence.

i Gen 12,10

The other ‘Other’

In his Observations on Rabbi Moses Maimonides’ book entitled The Guide for the Perplexedi Leibniz refers to two other « Tetragrams », one of twelve letters and the other of forty-two. But he remains elliptical on how a four-letter Tetragram, to put it pleonastically, can expand like this into many more letters.

Leibniz also indicates that Moses received « thirteen prophecies » from Godii. Here is the detail of this revelation, reported in the Exodus, and quoted in full.

« The Lord passed before him and shouted: ‘The Lord, the Lord, God of tenderness and mercy, slow to anger, rich in grace and faithfulness, who keeps his grace to thousands, tolerates fault, transgression and sin, but leaves nothing unpunished, and punishes the sins of fathers on children and grandchildren until the third and fourth generation!’ »iii

So Leibniz’ idea is that there are thirteen prophecies densely concentrated in these two verses. One may conjecture that each ‘prophecy’ seems to be associated with one specific word.

Here they are, as far as I can reconstruct them:

The first ‘prophecy’ is: « YHVH (יהוה) ».

The second one: « YHVH (יהוה) ».

The third: « God » (אל).

The fourth: « Clement » (רחום).

The fifth: « Merciful » (חנון).

The sixth: « Slow to anger (אפים) ».

The seventh: « Full (or rich, רב) » – more precisely, « rich in goodness (חסד) and truth (אמת) ».

The eighth: « He keeps his kindness (or favor, חסד) to thousands ».

The ninth: « He tolerates fault (or crime, עון) ».

The tenth: « And the transgression (or rebellion, פשע) ».

The eleventh: « And sin (חטאה) ».

The twelfth « But he leaves nothing unpunished (לא ינקה) ».

The thirteenth: « And he punishes the sins (עון) of the fathers on the children and on the little children ».

Observations are required, from a critical and heuristic point of view.

First of all, we count as two separate and distinct prophecies, the two statements that Yahweh makes of the name YHVH, and as a third the name EL.

Then each attribute (clement, merciful, slow, full) is counted as a prophecy.

There is the special case of « full of goodness and truth », which is counted as a prophecy. Why not count two? Because the adjective « full » is mentioned only once, and because God wants to make it clear that « goodness » and « truth » are inseparable, and must be counted as « one ».

For the verb « he keeps », let us count a prophecy, since God only keeps his goodness.

For the verb « he tolerates », let us count three prophecies, since God tolerates fault, rebellion and sin.

Finally, let us count two prophecies that refer to punishment.

Then, let us note that God cries out twice his name YHVH, but once his name EL.

He shouts four of his attributes, then he shouts four verbs. The first, to keep, applies to only one thing, kindness, but for the benefit of thousands. The second, to tolerate, applies to three negative things. The third, to leave, is used in a negative, therefore absolute, total way. The fourth, to punish, applies over four generations.

It is surely worth noting that three words are quoted twice: « YHVH », « goodness », and « fault », and that one word is quoted three times in the last verse: « the sons ».

There are also questions about some apparent inconsistencies:

God « tolerates fault » but « he leaves nothing unpunished », which seems contradictory.

Moreover, « he punishes the sins of the fathers on the sons and the sons of the sons », which seems unfair.

Let’s take a closer look at this last point, referring to the dictionary. The verb « to punish«  is in the original Hebrew: פקד. This word has a very rich palette of meanings. Here are some of them: « to seek, to visit, to examine, to remember, to punish, to avenge, to lack something, to deprive, to entrust something to the care of another ».

This verb can be translated to mean that God wants to « punish » and « chastise » children and grandchildren for their fathers’ faults, as it is written:

« And he punishes the sins (עון) of the fathers on the children and on the little children ».

But one could also opt for a broader, more generous translation or interpretation of פקד :

« And he seeks, or he examines, or he remembers, or he entrusts the care the sins of a generation to the care of another. »

Another what? Another generation?

Or might it be another ‘Other’?

Who, then, might be this other « Other » to whom God entrusts the care of future generations?

i Observations de Leibniz sur le livre du Rabbin Moïse Maïmonide intitulé le Guide des Égarés § C62

ii Ibid. § C54

iiiEx. 34,6-7

The power of whisper

« But among the humble is wisdom. » i.

In Hebrew, the word « humble » derives from the verb צָנַע, to hide, to humiliate oneself. A more literal translation might then be possible: « But among those who hide is wisdom. »

The humble are hiding. So is wisdom, hiding.

The idea of hidden wisdom is old. It is found in many religious, exoteric or esoteric traditions.

« I speak to you, O Nacitekas, heavenly Agni, who knows how to obtain the endless worlds and the sojourn. O thou, know it, [this wisdom] is deposited in a secret place. » ii

The secret is first and foremost a “place”. And wisdom also is a “place”.

Going to this secret “place” is akin to a “revelation”. To penetrate the divine secret is to penetrate this divine place, and to plunge into the abyss. When you enter it, you lose all balance, all connection, you leave everything to go beyond the human.

« When he meditated, applying himself, on the union with the supreme soul, on the God who is difficult to perceive, who has penetrated into the secret, who has settled in the hiding place, who resides in the abyss, – the wise leaves aside joy and sorrow. » iii

Not everyone can imitate the wise man. The Holy of Holies is a very empty, solitary, place.

If the revelation reveals anything, it is that nothing sheds light on the mystery. It only deepens it without measure, always more so.

Abrahamic, Mosaic or Christian “revelations” are in a way an “unveiling”. But this unveiling brings in reality many new veils, many questions, throwing inconceivable, unexpected perspectives.

Among them: any divine revelation threatens the state of things and life itself. How many prophets stoned or crucified for sharing their vision? Death is the companion of their truth.

R. Isaac of Acra comments: « When Moses our master said: « Show me your glory » (Ex. 33:18), it is death that he asked for, so that his soul may break the light of his palace, which separates him from the wonderful divine light, which she was eager to contemplate ».

The union with the Divine presents an extraordinary challenge: death.

Elsewhere, in other traditions, it is called dissolution. It is compared to a drop of water in the sea. « As pure water poured into pure water becomes like it, the soul of the discerning wise man becomes like Brahman.»iv

The same image can be found in the Jewish Kabbalah: « The soul will cling to the divine Intellect and the intellect will cling to the soul (…) And the soul and the Intellect become the same thing, as when a jug of water is poured into a gushing spring. This is therefore the secret of the verse: ‘A fire that devours fire’. » (R. Isaac of Acra).

A drop of water in the spring. A fire that devours the fire. Wisdom is well hidden. Why is she concealing herself, shying away from glory, from revelation?

A passage from Paul can put us on the track. « Should we boast? It’s not worth anything, though. (…) For me, I will only boast of my weaknesses.» v

An « angel of Satan » is in charge of blowing Paul so that he does not take pride. If Paul asks God to remove this satanic angel from him, God answers: « My grace is enough for you; for power unfolds in weakness.» So the blows continue.

And Paul concludes: « That is why I take pleasure in weaknesses, in outrages, in distress, in persecutions and anguish endured for Christ: for when I am weak, it is then that I am strong ».vi

It is strange (and maybe inaudible) in our modern times, to hear that weakness, distress, persecution,, may be a « strength ».

Strength and power in effect veil and muffle everything. In the noisy storm, in the midst of the devastating hurricane, only the humble, the wise, have a little chance of hearing the zephyr, which will follow, in a whisper.


iiKatha Upanisad 1,14

iiiKatha Upanisad 2,12.

ivKatha Upanisad 4,15

v2 Cor. 12,1-10

vi2 Cor. 12,1-10

The Metaphors of Monotheism in India, Israel and the West

The philosopher must travel among the nations, following the example of Pythagoras.

« Pythagoras went to Babylon, Egypt, all over Persia, learning from the Magi and priests; it is reported that he also got along with the Brahmins. »i

No people, no culture, no religion has a monopoly on knowledge. Under the appearance of their multiplicities, we must seek a deeper, original unity.

In the Vedas, Agni is « God of Fire ». Fire is an image. It’s only one of his names. Agni is the Divine in many other aspects, which its names designate: « Agni, you are Indra, the dispenser of good; you are the adorable Viṣṇu, praised by many; you are Brahmānaspati… you are all wisdom. Agni you are the royal Varuṇa, observer of the sacred vows, you are the adorable Mitra, the destroyer. »

Agni embodies the infinite multiplicity and profound unity of the Divine. Agni is in the same time innumerable, and the only God.

The religion of the Vedas has the appearance of a polytheism, through the myriadic accumulation of God’s names. But it is also a monotheism in its essential intuition.

The Vedas sing, chant, invoke and cry out the Divine, – in all its forms. This Divine is always Word, – in all its forms. « By the Song and beside it, he produces the Cry; by the Cry, the Hymn; by means of the triple invocation, the Word. »ii

Agni is the divine Fire, which illuminates, it is also the libation of the Soma, which crackles. He is one, and the other, and their union. Through Sacrifice, Fire and Soma unite. Fire and Soma contribute to their union, this union of which Agni is the divine name.

The same questions are still running through humanity.

« Where is the breath, the blood, the breath of the earth? Who went to ask who knows? « asks Ṛg Veda.iii

Later, and further west, the Lord asked Job: « Where were you when I founded the earth? Speak if your knowledge is enlightened. Who set the measures, would you know, or who stretched the line on her? (…) Tell us, if you know all this. On which side does the light dwell, and where does the darkness dwell? » iv

There is an instinctive familiarity, a brotherhood of tone, an intuitive resemblance, between a thousand years apart.

The ancient Hebrews, dedicated to the intuition of the One, also sought and celebrated His various names. Is this not analogy with the multiple names and Vedic attributes of the Divinity, whose essence is unique?

When God « shouts » three times his name to Moses’ address « YHVH, YHVH, EL » (יְהוָה יְהוָה, אֵל), there is one God who pronounces a triple Name. Three screams for three names. What does the first YHVH say? What does the second YHVH mean? What does the third name, EL, express?

Christianity will respond a thousand years after Moses to these questions with other metaphors (the Father, the Son, the Spirit).

A thousand years before Moses, verses from Ṛg Veda already evoked the three divine names of a single God: « Three Hairy shines in turn: one sows itself in the Saṃvatsara; one considers the Whole by means of the Powers; and another one sees the crossing, but not the color. »v

The three « Hairy » are in fact the only God, Agni, whose hair is of

The first « Hairy » is sown in the Soma, as a primordial, unborn germ. The second « Hairy » considers the Whole thanks to the Soma, which contains the powers and forces. The third « Hairy » is the dark being of Agni (the Agni « aja », – « unborn »), a darkness that God « passes through » when he passes from the dark to the bright, from night to light.

For the poet’s eye and ear, this ‘triplicity’ is not a coincidence. Millennia pass, ideas remain. Agni spreads the fire of his bushy and shiny « hair » three times, to signify his creative power, wisdom and revelation. From the burning bush, Yahweh shouts his three names to Moses to make sure he is heard.

The figure of a God « one » who shows Himself as a « three », seems to be an anthropological constant. The same strange, contradictory and fundamental metaphor links Aryan and Vedic India, Semitic and Jewish Israel, and Greek-Latin and Christian West.

iEusèbe de Césarée. Préparation évangélique, 4,15

iiṚg Veda I, 164,24.

iiiṚg Veda I, 164,4.

ivJob, 38, 4-19

vṚg Veda I, 164,44.

viOne of the attributes of Apollo, Xantokomès (Ξανθόκομης), also makes him a God« with « fire-red hair »

The testicles of Kabbalah

The word « testicle », כליות (khiliot), appears in the Kabbalah Denudata, by Joannis Davidis Zunnerii. Its Latin equivalents are renes and testiculis. The word renes, « kidneys », also has the meaning of « testicles » in some contexts. As an example, Zunneri cites Job’s book: « Quis posuis in renibus (testiculis) sapientiam? ». « Who put wisdom in the kidneys (testicles)? »ii

Curiously, the word כליות (khiliot) does not actually appear in this verse. In its place is the word טּחוֺת (tuhôt) which has a rather similar, though different meaning: « The bottom of being, what is covered, what is hidden, what is hidden, lumps, kidneys ».

There are many occurrences of khiliot and tuhôt in the Bible, and in almost all cases these two words have a similar meaning.

For example: « Yea, my khiliot will rejoice « iii, « You are near in their mouths and far from their khiliot« iv. « Probing the khiliot and hearts »v.

As for tuhôt, we find it, for example, in: « Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward parts (tuhôt); make me, therefore, to know wisdom in mine inmost heart. » vi

Zunneri explains the word khiliot as follows: « Sunt Nezah and Hod », (the khiliots are Nezah and Hod).

Nezah means « to gush, to splash », and Hod means: « what is obscure ».vii

The khiliot may aggregate therefore the meaning of « something obscure », and which « gushes and splashes ».

Zennuri continues: « Ubi indicatur quod הי i.e Binah and Chochmah influxum derivet in renes. »

« Where it is stated that הי, i. e. Intelligence (Binah) and Wisdom (Hokhmah), cause their influx to drift into the kidneys (testicles). »

We have already seen that the Yod י was a symbol of the masculine and that the Hé ה was a symbol of the feminine.

There is an allusion here to the fact that the intimate union of Intelligence and Wisdom is realized in the khiliot. The meaning of « testicles » then takes on all its flavour, its sap.

It is now possible to understand Teresa of Avila, when she says, « From my Beloved I have drunk, » to give an idea of what she receives from God in this divine cellar of union.

What she drinks from her Beloved is His intelligence and wisdom, and their very union.

iJoannis Davidis Zunneri. Kabbala Denudata. Liber Sohar restitutus, Francfort,1684

iiJob 38,36

iiiPr. 23,16

ivJer 12,2

vJer 11,20

viPs. 51,8

viiDictionary English-Hebrew Gensenius-Robinson, New York 1877

Who is the Elder ?

Educated by cabalists such as Elijah del Medigo, an averroist Jew, Pic de la Mirandola, who had studied Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic among other languages, reports that Moses received, in addition to the Law, a secret teaching, which is its true explanation.

But this teaching is accompanied by an obligation of silence about it. Kabbalah reveals this ancient secret, but this secret must be kept hidden.

« Sile, occulta, tege, tace, mussa. » « Keep silent, keep secret, hide, veil, shut up, whisper, » says Johannis Reuchlin, a non-Jewish German humanist and first Hebraist, author of De Verbo Mirifico (1494) and De Arte cabalistica (1517).

However, the appeal of the issue was so compelling, it was so overwhelming, that publications abounded. Rabbi Abraham Levita published a Historica Cabbale in 1584. Gedaliah ben Jedaïa followed with the « Kabbalah chain », Catena Kabbala, in 1587. Christian Knorr von Rosenroth’s Kabbala Denudata was published a century later in 1677. The aim was to « strip naked » Kabbalah in front of the European Renaissance public and to offer a Christian interpretation of it.

Jacques Gaffarel, the main representative of the « Christian » Kabbalah in the 17th century, published a Catalogus manuscriptorum cabalisticorum. He had also published several scholarly works, including Nihil, ferè nihil, minus nihilo: seu de ente, non ente, et medio inter ens et non ens, positiones XXVI (« Nothing, Almost Nothing, Less than Nothing : of Being, Non-Being and What is between Being and Non-Being in 26 Theses ») published in Venice in 1634, and Curiositez inouyes sur la sculpture talismanique des Persans, Horoscope des Patriarches et Lecture des Estoilles, (Incredible Curiosities on the Talismanic Sculpture of Persians, Horoscope of the Patriarchs and Reading of the Stars), 1650, in which he makes fun with spirit of the low level of knowledge of his contemporaries in these high materials, and particularly in the field of biblical exegesis. « What could be more grotesque, after having understood that the word קרן keren was equivocal in horn and glow, or splendour, than to depict Moses with horns, which serves as a surprise to most Christians, & a laughing stock to Jews and Arabs! »

In this book we find a strange « heavenly Hebrew alphabet » that assigns alphabetic signs to the stars, and glosses over the « talismans » of the Chaldeans, Egyptians and Persians. Gaffarel explains: « The Chaldean word Tselmenaiya comes from the Hebrew צלם Tselem which means image; And the Arabic Talisman could be similarly descended in this way, that Talisman was corrupted from צלמם Tsalimam. »

All this was picturesque and instructive, but the big deal was to really access the mystery itself, not to collect its images or symbols. To encourage each other, one remembered that this had already been done, in history, by a few ‘chosen ones’.

There was the testimony of Daniel to whom « the secret was discovered » (Dan. 2,19). The Jewish Ritual also spoke of the « secrets of the world » (רָזַי עוֺלָם). Kabbalah claimed a prestigious heritage of research on this subject, with the Sefer Ha Zohar (Book of Splendour), and the Sefer Yetsirah (Book of Formation). In the Siphra di-Tzeniutha, the « Book of Secrecy », is used an expression, mysterious squared: the « mystery in mystery » (Sithra go sithra).

The « mystery in mystery » is like the Holy of Holies of Kabbalah, – a secret (רָז raz) that resides in the very name of the God of Israel.

In the YHVH Tetragrammaton, יהוה, the first two letters, י and ה, approach each other « like a husband and a wife kissing each other », says the Siphra di-Tzeniutha without blushing. To sacred letters, it is given the power to evoke by their very forms the higher concepts, and the deepest mysteries.

In chapter 4 of the Siphra di-Tzeniutha, we learn that in addition to the twenty-two « visible » letters of the Hebrew alphabet, there are twenty-two other letters, additional and invisible.

For example, there is a visible, revealed י (Yod), but there is also an invisible, mysterious י (Yod). In fact, it is the invisible letters that carry the true meaning. The revealed letters, visible, are only the symbols of the invisible letters.

Considered alone, the י (Yod) symbolizes the masculine, the Father, Wisdom (the 2nd sefira Hokhmah). Likewise, ה (Hé) symbolizes the feminine, the Mother, the Intelligence (the 3rd sefira, Binah).

We can try to dig more. Where does the letter ה (Hey) itself come from? Watch her carefully. It is made up of a י (Yod) that « fertilizes » a ד (Daleth), to form the ה (Hey). That is why it is said that the masculine principle and the feminine principle emanate from the Yod. Because the letter « Yod » writes itself יוד, that is: Yod, Vav, Daleth. The Yod therefore results from the union of the Yod and the Daleth, through the Vav. And we see graphically that this union produces the ה (Hey).

From these kinds of considerations, what could we really conclude?

The Siphra di-Tzeniutha assures us: « The Elder is hidden and mysterious. The small Face is visible and not visible. If it is revealed, it is written in letters. If it does not manifest itself, it is hidden under letters that are not arranged in their place. »

There is what is seen, what is heard, what is written and what is read. But there is also everything that cannot be seen, everything that cannot be heard, everything that cannot be written, and everything that cannot be read, – because all this remains hidden, absent or invisible, and well beyond books.

Hence the ambiguity. The « little face » is seen and not seen, heard and not heard, written and not written, read and not read. It manifests itself, or it does not.

But the « Elder », as for him, remains absolutely hidden. Of him, we won’t know anything. It is a completely different story, which Kabbalah itself has given up on telling.

So it’s up to us to continue the quest : Who is the « little face »? Who is the Elder?

Three-quarters of the speech

In India, Brāhman is the ultimate enigma, – of which the Upaniṣads sparingly reveal some secret teachings.

The word Upaniṣad means several things: the mystery underlying all things; a secret, mysterious, mystical doctrine; the writings relating to Brāhmaṇas, (whose purpose is to expose the secret meaning of the Vedas); the source of the philosophy of Vedānta and Sāṃkhya.

Ṡaṅkara provides a more relaxed explanation of this complicated name: « By adding upa (approach), and ni (deposit) to the SAD root, the meaning is « dissolution » (viṡaraṇa); we have a movement (approach or reach/gati) and a untying (avasādana)… Upaniṣad is the knowledge that has as its object the knowable (vedyavastu). Knowledge is called Upaniṣad by association with its purpose. »

The root SAD, which is the heart of the word, alone has a wide spectrum of meaning: « to sit down (during a sacrifice); to observe carefully; to faint, to collapse from despair, distress, despair, perish; to afflict, ruin, destroy. « 

SAD : Resonances of the attitude of the officiant who makes the sacrifice, and the most extreme feelings of the one who despairs, or the one who destroys.

The search for knowledge is not a long, quiet river. Dissolution, untying, distress, despair, destruction, accompany it.

Apart from Upaniṣad, there are many other secrets, for example in Brahmanic singing, where the issue is « what is secret » (guhā). There are also some in speech: « Speech is measured between four quarters as known to Brāhmanes who have intelligence; three hidden are motionless; humans speak a quarter of the speech.  » (Ṛg Veda I.164.45)

For each word, three out of four parts remain hidden, motionless. Who hears them?

A God hidden in the mud

« You really are a hidden God.  » (Is 45:15)

אָכֵן, אַתָּה אֵל מִסְתַּתֵּר

Vere tu es Deus absconditus.

Isaiah calls out to God by a simple « you », in Hebrew « attah ».

This « you » mocks the cynic, the incredulous. It testifies to the immediate proximity of what is revealed, the certainty of the idea.

But this « you » hides more than it reveals itself.

The adjective « hidden » is said mistatar in Hebrew. Esther of the Book of Esther, bears this name, she is « the hidden one » (מִסְתַּתמִסֵר mistatèr). These words come from the verb סַתָר « to hide, protect, shelter ». This word is often found in the Bible, with a wide range of possible meanings: to cover, conceal, eclipse, bury, wrap, bury, blotch, mask, shut in, shut up, hold, drag, veil.

In the substantive form, three main meanings emerge: 1) What is hidden, secret 2) Envelope, cover, veil 3) Protection, retirement, asylum.

It is revealing, I think, that the meaning of a word that means « veil » can have hidden depths, and refer to other words, just as deep, just as veiled.

The verb tsamtsem, related to the concept of tsimtsum, also means « to veil ».

The God who hides and veils himself is also the God who contracts Himself, and makes Himself silent. It is also the God of kenosis, the God who humbles Himself ( the word humble comes from Latin humus, earth, which also gave homo, man).

What is God hiding in His humiliation? What is He hiding in the humus, in the mud-made man?

A Jewish « Kenosis »

How could an Almighty God, creator of the worlds, let himself be put to death by his own creatures? Mystery. To designate this lowering, this humiliation, this annihilation of the divine, Christianity uses the word kenosis, from the Greek verb kenoô, « to empty oneself, to strip oneself, to annihilate oneself ». This word was first used by the Epistle of Paul to the Philippiansi.

But the idea of God’s death is much older. It can be found in the centuries preceding Christianity in quite different forms, it is true, for example among the Greeks with the death of Dionysus killed by the Titans, but also among the Egyptians with the murder of Osiris and his dismemberment by Seth, his own brother.

Among Jews, with the concept of tsimtsum (from the Hebrew צמצום, contraction), there is also this idea of a « God who empties himself ». It is a concept of late appearance since it is due to Isaac Louria in Ari Zal (Safed, 16th century), who uses it to explain a point of Kabbalah :

Before the creation of the worlds, God was everything, everywhere, and nothing was without Him. But when God decided to create the worlds, he had to give them a place so that they could be. God withdrew his original light, or qadoum. In the void thus created, called reshimou (« imprint », from the verb rashama, « write ») a light emanated from God, or néetsal. This emanated light constitutes the olam ha-Atziluth, the world of Emanation. Then are generated the olam haBeryah or world of Creation, the olam haYetzirah or world of Formation and the olam haAssiya or world of Action, – which contains our world. The light emanating from it therefore undergoes several contractions, compressions, or « dissimulations », which are all tsimtsum.

This word comes from the verb צָמַם tsamam, which has a wide spectrum of meaning: « to put an end to, exterminate, silence, annihilate, compress, contract, squeeze, veil, hide, observe closely, define exactly, certify », which is described in Marcus Jastrow’s Dictionary of Targumim Talmud and Midrashic Literature (1926). From this rich range, the word tsimtsum probably brings out the harmonics.

Here are some of them, taken from a Kabbalah lesson by Baruch Shalom Alevi Ashlag. The reason why the emanated Light cascades through the four created worlds, Atziluth, Beryah, Yatzirah and Assiya, is that the « desire to receive » must at each step be increased accordingly. For there can be no divine creation without an equally divine desire to « receive » this creation.

In the beginning, there is an abundance of Light created, emanating from the divine essence. Correlatively there must be an abundance of desire to receive this light. But this desire to receive cannot appear in the world ex nihilo. Desire is itself created. It is called Kli ְכְּלִי , a word whose primary meaning is: « thing done, thing made ». It is also called, less metaphorically, Guf (« the body »). The Kli must « receive », « lock », « hold » the light in him (as the root verb כָּלַא indicates).

Here, a little aside. The Kli can be said to be a piece of furniture, a vase, a garment, a suit, a ship, an instrument or a weapon. Here again, all the harmonics of these various senses can undoubtedly be applied to make the Kli resonate in its role as a receptacle of light, – in its role as a soul, therefore. Sander and Trenel’s dictionary says that Kli comes from the root verb כֶּלֶה (kalah), a close word to ֶכָּלַא (kala’), already mentioned. The verb kalah offers an interesting spectrum of meaning: to be made, completed, ready; to be resolved; to disappear, to miss, to be consumed, to perish, to languish; to finish; to consume, to exterminate.

Believing that words serve as a memorial to millenary experiences, I would think that all these meanings apply in one way or another to kli in its possible relationship with light.

Divine light, falling into the different worlds, spreads and at the same time contracts, folds, or veils itself, to let the desire to be received by the Kli grow, by this receptacle, this desire, this soul or this « body », this Kli which is at the root of the created creature. The Kli, who was previously part of the Light, must now distinguish himself from it in order to receive it better; he must separate himself from it in order to desire it better. He desires it as Or Hokhma (the Light of Wisdom) or Or Haya (the Light of Life), or Or Hassadim (the Light of Mercy). The Kli is therefore determined according to the degree of expansion of the Light and also according to its degree of exit from it.

Wise men commented on these questions as follows: « There is crying in inner dwellings ».

This means that when the Light arrives in the lower worlds, and it does not find a Kli wishing to receive it, it remains « interior », unrevealed, and then « there is crying ». But when she finds a Kli who desires her, she can reveal herself on the outside, and then « vigour and joy are in His place », and everything becomes visible.

i Ph. 2, 6-9 « Lui, de condition divine, ne retint pas jalousement le rang qui l’égalait à Dieu. Mais il s’anéantit (εκένωσεν) lui-même, prenant condition d’esclave, et devenant semblable aux hommes. S’étant comporté comme un homme, il s’humilia plus encore, obéissant jusqu’à la mort, et à la mort sur une croix !  Aussi Dieu l’a-t-il exalté et lui a-t-il donné le Nom qui est au-dessus de tout nom. »