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

Teresa’s Ecstasy

Grothendieck has revolutionized the notion of mathematical space, as Einstein did in physics. He invented a new geometry, in which « the arithmetic world and the world of continuous quantities are now one ».

To combine the discontinuous and the continuous, the numbers and the quantities, to make them unite intimately, Grothendieck conceived the metaphor of their « marriages ». This marriage of paper had to be followed by proper consumption, in order to ensure the generation of new mathematical beings.

« For the expected ‘brides’,’of numbers and greatness’, it was like a decidedly narrow bed, where only one of the future spouses (i.e., the bride) could at least find a place to nestle as best as they could, but never both at the same time! The « new principle » that remained to be found, to consume the marriage promised by favourable fairies, was also that this spacious « bed » that the future spouses were missing, without anyone having only noticed it until then. This « double bed » appeared (as if by a magic wand…) with the idea of topos. » i

Grothendieck, the greatest mathematical thinker of the 20th century, explained a revolutionary breakthrough using a matrimonial metaphor, and all that follows.

Indeed, the metaphor of « marriage » has always been used to translate difficult ideas into philosophical contexts.

Two thousand years ago, the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria used this same metaphor to present the « mystery of the divine generation ». To translate the idea of « divine generation » into Greek, Philo uses the word τελετή (‘telete’).

This mystery is composed of three elements. There are the two initial « causes » of the generation and their final product.

The two causes are God and Wisdom (who is « the bride of God », – remaining « virgin »)ii.

Wisdom is Virginity itself. Philo relies on the authority of the prophet Isaiah, who affirms that God unites himself with Virginity in itself.iii

Philo specifies elsewhere: « God and Wisdom are the father and mother of the world ».iv

In the Christian tradition, there are similar metaphors, derived from Jewish ideas, but transposed into the « union » of Christ and the Church.

A 16th century Christian cabalist, Guillaume Postel, uses the metaphor of the love of the male and female to describe this union:

« For as there is love of the male to the female, by which she is bound, so there is love and bond of the female to the male by which she is bound. This is the mystery of the most wonderful secret of the Church’s authority over God and Heaven, as well as over God and Heaven on Church by which Jesus meant it: Whatever you bind on earth will be bound to Heaven. »v

Teresa of Avila, a contemporary of Guillaume Postel, speaks through experience of « perfect union with God, called spiritual marriage »:

« God and the soul are one, like crystal and the ray of sunlight that penetrates it, like coal and fire, like the light of the stars and the light of the sun (…) To give an idea of what it receives from God in this divine cellar of union, the soul is content to say these words (and I do not see that it could better say to express something of them):

From my Beloved I drank.

For as the wine that we drink spreads and penetrates into all the limbs and veins of the body, so this communication of God spreads to the whole soul (…) The Bride speaks of it in these terms in the book of Songs: ‘My soul has become liquefied as soon as the Bridegroom has spoken’. »vi

Therese of Avila speaks of the Bride « burning with the desire to finally reach the kiss of union with the Bridegroom », quoting the Song of Songs: « There you shall teach me ».

The Song of Songs has incestuous resonances:

« Oh, what a brother to me, breastfed in my mother’s womb! Meeting you outside, I could kiss you, without people despising me. I’ll drive you, I’ll introduce you to my mother’s house, you’ll teach me! I’ll make you drink a fragrant wine, my pomegranate liqueur. »vii

This spicy passage was strangely interpreted by S. François de Sales:

« And these are the tastes that will come, these are the ecstasies, these are the summits of the powers; so that the sacred wife asks for pillows to sleep. »viii

Metaphors! Metaphors! Where do you lead us to?

iRécoltes et Semailles, §2.13 Les topos — ou le lit à deux places

iiPhilo of Alexandria. De Cherubim

iii Is. 66, 6-9

iv De Ebrietate, 30

v Guillaume Postel (1510-1581). Interprétation du Candélabre de Moïse (Venise 1548).« Car comme il y a amour du masle à la femelle, par laquelle elle est liée, aussi y a-t-il amour et lien de la femelle au masle par lequel il est lyé. Cecy est le mistère du très merveilleux secret de l’authorité de l’Eglise sur Dieu et sur le Ciel, comme de Dieu et du Ciel sur icelle par lequel Jésus l’a voulu dire : Ce que vous lierez sur la terre sera lyé au Ciel. »

viTeresa of Avila (1515-1582). The Interior Castle

viiCt 8,1-2

viiiFrançois de Sales. Œuvres complètes. p. 706

“I nothing saw” (Dante)

One of the best French Kabbalah specialists is named “Secret”, Mr. François Secret. Proper names sometimes carry in them collective fates. François Secret wrote Le Zohar chez les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (1958), a book in which such romantic names as Bartholomeus Valverdius, Knorr de Rosenroth, Blaise de Vigenère, Alfonso de Zamora, Guy Le Fèvre de la Boderie, or Gilles de Viterbe, the famous Guillaume Postel, and of course Johannis Reuchlin and Pic de la Mirandole appear. These names appear like shooting stars in the night. We would like to follow their trajectories, engraved in the ink of long nights.

But Mr. Secret, so learned, reveals no secrets, one can regret it.

It encourages us to continue searching, at the sources, or among the apparently initiated.

One of the most famous books of Kabbalah is called, without excess of modesty, Siphra di Tsenniutha (The Book of Mystery). It begins as follows:

« The Mystery Book is the Book that describes the balance of the balance. For before there was balance, the Face did not look at the Face. »

Compact style. From the outset, we get into the subject. ‘Balance’. ‘Face’. ‘Look’.

What could be higher than the Face? What could be deeper than his gaze?

Verse 9 of the Siphra di Tsenniutha suggests the existence of a depth scale (the unknown, the occult, the occult in the occult): « The head that is not known (…) is the occult in the occult ».

Verse 12 specifies important, scattered details: « Her hair is like pure wool floating in the balanced balance ». Chapter 2 of the Mystery Book refers to a « beard of truth ». The « head that is not known » wears, we learn, « hair » and « beard ».

According to one commentary, the « truth beard » is « the ornament of everything ». From the ears, where it begins, « it forms a garment around the face ».

Truth clothes the Face.

There is this passage from Revelation: « His head, with its white hair, is like white wool, like snow, his eyes like a burning flame. »i

These materialistic images, beard, hair, wool, flame, are common to the Christian Apocalypse and the Jewish Kabbalah. They have been deemed relevant by our elders for the representation of the « Face » of God. Why?

The millennia have passed. A concrete image, even if unreal or misleading, is better than an empty abstraction. As a trope, it suggests openings, avenues, encourages criticism, stimulates research.

Kabbalah projects the surreptitious idea that all the symbolism with which it is steeped is not only symbolic. The symbol, in this context, is the very thing. Each word, each letter of the Text, is a kind of incarnation, literally literal. Metaphors and images also carry the burden of incarnation.

This is one of the most constant paradoxes of the fickle science of interpretation. The more concrete is the best symbol of the abstract.

The verbal alchemy of Kabbalah transmutes words, transforms them into an acute surface, with a bushy, burning aura, pulverizes them and disperses them in all directions, sparkling with opalescence.

Let us add this. The Law is supposed to be transparent, since it is intended to be understood and fulfilled. But the Law is also full of shadows, darkness. How can this paradox be explained?

Kabbalah explains the Law in its enlightened parts. But what remains obscure is the totality of its meaning, drowned in shadows, and its ultimate purpose is incomprehensible, inscrutable. The darkness of the Law is systemic. Kabbalah, verbose, confused, provides fewer answers than it forges infinite questions. It shows that the Law is irreducible, insubordinate to reason, to sight, to understanding.

The whole of the Law, its meaning, its end, cannot be grasped by biased, narrow minds. Through the centuries, the shadow, the hidden, the occult always appear again.

“O ye who have undistempered intellects,

Observe the doctrine that conceals itself

Beneath the veil of the mysterious verses!”ii

Song IX of Hell describes the 6th circle, where the heresiarchs and followers of sects are confined, who have not known how to understand or see the deployment of the Whole.

The researcher walks in the night. Surprised by a flash, the gaze discovers the magnitude of the landscape, an infinite number of obscure details. Immediately, this grandiose and precise spectacle disappears into the shadows. The lightning that reveals deprives the blind eye of its strength.

“Even as a sudden lightning that disperses

The visual spirits, so that it deprives

The eye of impress from the strongest objects,

Thus round about me flashed a living light,

And left me swathed around with such a veil

Of its effulgence, that I nothing saw”iii.

i Rev. 1,14

iiDante, Hell, IX, 61-63

iiiDante, Paradise, XXX

Sunk by the Sweetness


The Book of the Dead is a must for anyone interested in the « mysteries » of death.

Its chapter 125 is entitled: « To enter the truth room and separate man from his sins so that he may see the face of the gods.  » There is an invocation addressed to the forty-two « assessors » of Osiris, who represent so many names of God.

It is important to memorize them, and to assimilate their meaning. The soul of the deceased, of any deceased, whether pharaoh, scribe or slave, rich or poor, virtuous or sinner, young or old, is presented after death to the assembly of the gods. To be saved, she must declare before them that she wants to « take possession » of her names, including this one: « I am the Osiris N., growing under the flowers of the fig tree.»

There are many other names that the « Osiris N. » must know in order to be admitted to the divine dwelling.

The late N. adopts the divine name, Osiris, and proudly claims it before all the gods of the Egyptian Pantheon.

Osiris N. is not an alias, acquired once and for all, affixing a face closed by death. It is the new name of a soul, now placed before the Gods, under the flowers of the fig tree, to continue to grow forever.

This religion does not believe in the end, but in the restarting of growth.

Osiris N. has many names, and the God Osiris himself has many more, myriads of them. In chapter 17 of the Soutimès funeral papyrus we find several of the names given to him such as: « Amen-ran-f », « Mysterious is his person », or even « Nef-u-f-m-set », « His breath is of fire ».

Great is the ancient Egyptian civilization. It would take a long anabasis to go back to its original sources, to relive the vision that made it possible and kept it alive for over 5000 years.

But a katabasis can be just as successful. Close to us, Pierre Reverdy, in his book Le chant des morts (The Song of the Dead), has written a few verses, which are neither Vedic, nor Egyptian, nor avestic, nor Chaldean, nor Jewish, nor Christian. But which could bring these traditions into a sort of harmony, it seems to me.

I only remember one, – I wish it could be a sign of a possible common source of inspiration:

« Of those naked faces sunk by the sweetness. »