The Original Language

« Gershom Scholem, circa 1970 »

According to Gershom Scholem: « Hebrew is the original language »i. For the sake of a sound debate, one could perhaps argue that Sanskrit, the « perfect » language (according to the Veda), was formed several millennia before Hebrew began to incarnate the word of God. However, such historical and linguistic arguments may have no bearing on the zealots of the « sacred language », the language that God Himself is supposed to have spoken, with His own words, even before the creation of the world.

Where does this supposedly unique status of the Hebrew language come from?

A first explanation can be found in the relationship between the Torah and the name of God. The Torah is, literally, the name of God. Scholem explains: « The Torah is not only made up of the names of God, but forms in its entirety the one great name of God. » In support of this thesis, the opinion of the Kabbalistic cenacle of Gerona is quoted: « The five books of the Torah are the name of the Holy One, blessed be He.» ii

How can this be? Here and there in the Torah, we find various names of God, such as the name Yahveh (YHVH) or the name Ehyeh (« I shall be »). But there are also many other (non divine) names, and many other words, that are perfectly profane in the Torah. The four letters aleph, he, waw and yod (אהוי), which are present in Yahveh (יהוה) and Ehyeh ( אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה) are also the letters that serve in Hebrew as matres lectionis (the « mothers of reading »), and as such, they are spread throughout the text, they structure it, and make it intelligible.

From that consideration, some Kabbalists, such as Abraham Aboulafia, draw the conclusion that the true name of God is neither Yahveh nor Ehyeh. Aboulafia goes so far as to say that the true original name of God is EHWY (אהוי), that is, a name composed of the four fundamental letters, without repetition. « The tetragrammaton of the Torah is thus only an expedient, behind which the true original name is hidden. In each of two four-letter names there are only three of the consonants that make up the original name, the fourth being only a repetition of one of them, namely, he (ה). » iii

It was, without a doubt, a thesis of « unheard-of radicality » to affirm that the name of God does not even appear in the Torah, but only some of his pseudonyms… Moses Cordovero of Safed rose with indignation against this maximalist thesis. Yet a similar idea resurfaces elsewhere, in the Kabbalistic work entitled Temunah. It evokes « the conception of a divine name containing, in a different order these four letters, yod, he, waw, aleph, and which would constitute the true name of God before the creation of the world, for which the usual tetragram was substituted only for the creation of this world.» iv

Not surprisingly, there are many more other ideas on the matter. There is, for example, the idea of the existence of seventy-two divine names formed from the seventy-two consonants contained in each of the three verses of Exodus 14:19-21. « Know that the seventy-two sacred names serve the Merkavah and are united with the essence of the Merkavah. They are like columns of shining light, called in the Bible bne elohim, and all the heavenly host pays homage to them. (…) The divine names are the essence itself, they are the powers of the divinity, and their substance is the substance of the light of life.» v

There are also technical methods « to expand the tetragram, writing the name of each of the consonants that make up the tetragram in full letters so as to obtain four names with numerical values of 45, 52, 63 and 72, respectively ».vi Far from being a simple set of letters and numbers, this is a mechanism that is at the foundation of the worlds. « The Torah is formed in the supreme world, as in this original garment, only from a series of combinations, each of which unites two consonants of the Hebrew alphabet. It is only in the second world that the Torah manifests itself as a series of mystical divine names formed from new combinations of the first elements. It has the same letters, but in a different order than the Torah we know. In the third world the letters appear as angelic beings whose names, or at least their initials, are suggested. It is only in the ultimate world that the Torah becomes visible in the form in which it is transmitted to us.» vii

From all of this, one may be tempted to draw the fundamental idea that Hebrew is indeed the original language, the divine language. « Hence the conventional character of secular languages as opposed to the sacred character of Hebrew. »viii

However, there was the catastrophic episode of the Tower of Babel and the confusion of languages, which spared none of them – including Hebrew! « But to the sacred language itself have since then mingled profane elements, just as profane languages still contain here and there elements or remnants of the sacred language.» ix

One is always happy to learn, when one has a somewhat universalist sensibility, that « remnants » of the sacred still exist, « here and there », in other languages. To lovers of languages and dictionaries then comes the thankless but promising task of discovering these sacred snags, which are perhaps still hidden in Greek or Arabic, Avestic or Sanskrit, or even Fulani, Wolof and Chinese, who knows?

From a perhaps more polemical point of view, one may wonder whether this is not a kind of idolatry of the letter, — an « idolettry » , then, or a « grapho-latry »…

We may need to go up to a higher level of understanding, to see things from a higher perspective. « Wisdom is contained and gathered in letters, in sefirot and in names, all of which are mutually composed from each other.» x

We need to broaden the vision. These tiny sacred traces present in the languages of the world are like living germs. « All languages derive their origin by corruption from the original sacred language, in which the world of names immediately unfolds, and they all relate to it in a mediated way. As every language has its home in the divine name, it can be brought back to this center.» xi

All languages then have a vocation to return to the divine « center ». Every word and every letter contain, perhaps, by extension, a tiny bit of sacredness…

« Each singular letter of the Kabbalah constitutes a world in itself » xii, Gershom Scholem adds in a note that in the Zohar (1:4b) it is said that every new and authentic word that man utters in the Torah stands before God, who embraces it and sets it with seventy mystical crowns. And this word then expands in its own motion to form a new world, a new heaven and a new earth.

Let’s be a little more generous, and give the goyim a chance. When the poet says, for example, « O million golden birds, O future vigor!  » , is there any chance that these inspired words, though not present in the Torah, will one day appear trembling before God, and that God will deign to grant them one or two mystical crowns? I do not know. But maybe so. In the eyes of Aboulafia himself, « the knowledge that can be attained by following the path of the mysticism of language prevails over that which follows the path of the ten sefirot. xiii

So let’s make a wager that all languages have their own « mystical » way, certainly well hidden.

Scholem concludes: « What will be the dignity of a language from which God has withdrawn? This is the question that must be asked by those who still believe that they perceive, in the immanence of the world, the echo of the creative word that has now disappeared. It is a question that, in our time, can only be answered by poets, who do not share the despair of most mystics with regard to language. One thing connects them to the masters of Kabbalah, even though they reject its theological formulation, which is still too explicit: the belief in language thought as an absolute, however dialectically torn, – the belief in the secret that has become audible in language. » xiv

For my part, I believe that no human language is totally deserted of all creative speech, of all sacred flavor. I believe that poets all over the world may hear the disturbing echoes, may perceive infinitesimal vibrations, guess the celestial chords present in their languages.

Whether they are whispered, spoken, dreamed, revealed, words from all origins only approach the mystery. It is already a lot, but it is still very little.

There is much more to be said about silence than about words.

« It is indeed quite striking in view of the sacramental meaning that speech had in a decisive manner in contemporary paganism, that it does not play any role in the Israelite religion, nor especially in its rite. This silence is so complete that it can only be interpreted as intentional silence. The Israelite priest fulfills all his offices entirely without any words, with the exception of the blessing which he must pronounce aloud [Numbers 6:24]. In none of his ceremonial acts is he prescribed a word that he must pronounce. He makes all sacrifices and performs his duties without uttering a single word »xv.

The opposition thus made by Benno Jacob between « Israelite worship » and « paganism » may be be easily contradicted, for that matter. During the Vedic sacrifice of the soma, the high priest also remains absolutely silent throughout the ceremony, while his acolytes chant, sing, or recite the hymns.

It is true, however, that the Veda is certainly not a « pagan » religion, since more than a millennium before Abraham left Ur in Chaldea, Veda was already celebrating the unspeakable unity of the Divine.


iGershom Scholem. The name of God and the Kabbalistic theory of language. Ed. Alia. 2018, p. 100.

iiIbid. p.48

iiiAbraham Aboulafia. Gold ha-Sekel. Ms. Munich Heb. 92 Fol.54 a-b. Quoted in Gershom Scholem. The name of God and the Kabbalistic theory of language. Ed. Alia. 2018, p. 71

ivGershom Scholem. Op. cit. p. 72

vJacob ben Jacob Cohen of Soria (~1260-1270) quoted in op.cit. p.77

viGershom Scholem. Op. cit. p. 88

viiIbid. p.88

viiiIbid. p. 91

ixIbid. p. 91

xNer Elohim. Ms. Munich 10, fol. 164B quoted in op.cit. p. 91

xiIbid. p. 106

xiiSefer ha-Melits. Ms. Munich 285, fol. 10a

xiiiGershom Scholem. Op. cit. p.109

xivIbid. p.115

xvBenno Jacob. In the Name of God. Eine sprachliche und religiongeschichtliche Untersuchung zum Alten und Neuen Testament. Berlin, 1903, p. 64. Quoted in G. Scholem, op.cit. p. 19-20.

Angelus novus

Angelus Novus. Paul Klee

Paul Klee’s Angelus novus has an undeniably catchy title. « The new angel », – two simple words that sum up an entire programme. But does the painting live up to the expectation created by its title? A certain ‘angel’, with a figure like no other, seems to float graphically in the air of mystery, but what is he? What does he say? It is said that there are billions of angels on the head of a single pin. Each boson, each prion, has its angel, one might think, and each man too, say the scholastics. How, under these conditions, can we distinguish between new and old angels? Aren’t they all in service, in mission, mobilised for the duration of time? And if there are « old angels », are they not nevertheless, and above all, eternal, timeless, always new in some way?

Walter Benjamin has commented on this painting by Klee, which undoubtedly ensured its paper celebrity more than anything else.

« There is a painting by Klee entitled Angelus novus. It depicts an angel who seems to have the intention of moving away from what his gaze seems to be riveted to. His eyes are wide open, his mouth open, his wings spread. Such is the aspect that the angel must necessarily have of history. His face is turned towards the past. Where a sequence of events appears before us, he sees only one and only one catastrophe, which keeps piling up ruins upon ruins and throwing them at his feet. He would like to linger, awaken the dead and gather the defeated. But a storm is blowing from paradise, so strong that the angel can no longer close its wings. This storm is constantly pushing him towards the future, to which he turns his back, while ruins are piling up all the way to heaven before him. This storm is what we call progress.”i

Striking is the distance between Benjamin’s dithyrambic commentary and Klee’s flatter, drier work. Klee’s angel actually appears static, even motionless. No sensation of movement emanates from him, either backwards or forwards. No wind seems to be blowing. His ‘wings’ are raised as if for an invocation, not for a flight. And if he were to take off, it would be upwards rather than forwards. Its « fingers », or « feathers », are pointed upwards, like isosceles triangles. His eyes look sideways, fleeing the gaze of the painter and the spectator. His hair looks like pages of manuscripts, rolled by time. No wind disturbs them. The angel has a vaguely leonine face, a strong, sensual, U-shaped jaw, accompanied by a double chin, also U-shaped. His nose seems like another face, whose eyes would be his nostrils. His teeth are wide apart, sharp, almost sickly. It even seems that several of them are missing. Do angels’ teeth decay?

Klee’s angel is sickly, stunted, and has only three fingers on his feet. He points them down, like a chicken hanging in a butcher’s shop.

Reading Benjamin, one might think he’s talking about another figure, probably dreamt of. Benjamin has completely re-invented Klee’s painting. No accumulated progress, no past catastrophe, seems to accompany this angelus novus, this young angel.

But let us move on to the question of substance. Why should history have only one ‘angel’? And why should this angel be ‘new’?

Angelology is a notoriously imperfect science. Doctors rarely seem to agree.

In Isaiah (33:7) we read: « The angels of peace will weep bitterly. » Do their renewed tears testify to their powerlessness?

In Daniel (10:13) it is said that an archangel appeared and said to Daniel: « The Prince of the Persians resisted me twenty-one days ». This archangel was Gabriel, it is said of him, and the Prince of Persia was the name of the angel in charge of the Persian kingdom.

So the two angels were fighting against each other?

It was not a fight like Jacob’s fight with the angel, but a metaphysical fight. S. Jerome explains that this angel, the Prince of the Persian kingdom, opposed the liberation of the Israelite people, for whom Daniel prayed, while the archangel Gabriel presented his prayers to God.

S. Thomas Aquinas also commented on this passage: « This resistance was possible because a prince of the demons wanted to drag the Jews who had been brought to Persia into sin, which was an obstacle to Daniel’s prayer interceding for this people.”ii

From all this we can learn that there are many angels and even demons in history, and that they are brought to fight each other, for the good of their respective causes.

According to several sources (Maimonides, the Kabbalah, the Zohar, the Soda Raza, the Maseketh Atziluth) angels are divided into various orders and classes, such as Principalities (hence the name « Prince » which we have just met for some of them), Powers, Virtues, Dominations. Perhaps the best known are also the highest in the hierarchy: the Cherubim and the Seraphim. Isaiah says in chapter 6 that he saw several Seraphim with six wings « shouting to one another ». Ezekiel (10:15) speaks of Cherubim.

The Kabbalists propose ten classes of angels in the Zohar: the Erelim, the Ishim, the Beni Elohim, the Malakim, the Hashmalim, the Tarshishim, the Shinanim, the Cherubim, the Ophanim and the Seraphim.

Maimonides also proposes ten classes of angels, arranged in a different order, but which he groups into two large groups, the « permanent » and the « perishable ».

Judah ha-Levi (1085-1140), a 12th century Jewish theologian, distinguishes between « eternal » angels and angels created at a given time, for a certain duration.

Among the myriads of possible angels, where should we place Klee’s Angelus novus, the new angel whom Benjamin called the « angel of history » with authority? Subsidiary question: is a « new angel » fundamentally permanent or eminently perishable?

In other words: is History of an eternal essence or is it made up of a series of moments with no sequel?

Benjamin thinks, as we have seen, that History is represented, at every moment, at every turning point, by a « new Angel ». History exists only as a succession of phases, it is a wireless and random necklace of moments, without a sequel.

Anything is always possible, at any moment, anything can happen, such seems to be the lesson learned, in an age of absolute anguish, or in a serene sky.

But one can also, and without any real contradiction, think that History is one, that it builds its own meaning, that it is a human fabrication, and that the divine Himself must take into account this fundamental freedom, always new, always renewed, and yet so ancient, established since the origin of its foundation.


iWalter Benjamin, Thèses sur la philosophie de l’histoire. Œuvres III, Paris, Gallimard, 2000, p. 434

ii Summa Theol. I, Q. 113 a.8

A Jewish Trinity

How is it to be understood that a God who is essentially One may also be endowed, as his various Names testify, with multiple attributes?

If God is unique, where does the multiplicity of His attributes come from? How can His essential Unity be so ‘diverse’, from a phenomenological point of view?

Christians think that the Unity of God can also be understood as a « Trinity » (uniting the Creator, the Verb, the Spirit). The Jews absolutely refute that any « trinity » may be “seen” in an essentially One God. Muslims, too, are particularly sensitive to this question of the essential unity of God. They call Christians « associationists », and some verses of the Qu’ran affirm that they deserve death for this reason.

The “unity” of God raises difficult questions, when confronted to the multiplicity of God’s appearances.

A biblical image may help to understand the issue.

Abraham received three guests under the tree of Mamre. He then distinguished three representations of one single phenomenon, which he knew was of divine essence.

According to some, these three guests were “angels”. According to others, they were “Elohim” (“Gods” or « Lords »). According to yet other interpretations, Abraham’s vision was the vision of the One as a unique being, but accompanied by two of his “shadows”, which represented two degrees of divine “knowledge”, which some called, in Greek, the doxa (opinion) and the aletheia (truth).

For Philo, it was indeed the One God, but escorted by two divine Powers, the power of Creation and the power of Royalty.

The « power of Creation » is the power of God as the Creator. This power may also be called « goodness », because God « creates » through His goodness, and it is “good” that the Creator created the world. The power of Creation emanates from God, it derives from Him. One can also say that He « generates » it, like a Father a Son.

The « power of Royalty » is the power of the Lord as a ruler. It is the power of the Law, because the Lord is the one who punishes.

The « power of Royalty » is embodied in the Law. The power of the Law, the power of the Torah, is also the power of the Spirit, and it prevails in the intelligible world. “Listen, listen, and you will understand!”

The power of the Spirit is distinct from God, but it emanates from Him. Likewise, the scrolls of the Torah are not God, yet they emanate from Him, having been revealed to Moses.

God, His Goodness, His Spirit. One and Three.

Much later, the Jewish Kabbalah came out with yet another metaphor, the first three sefirot: Keter, Ḥokhmah, Binah.

Crown, Wisdom, Intelligence.

From a structural point of view, no real difference between the Christian Trinity and the Kabbalist one…

Circumcised Ears

Rationalist, materialist minds generally consider the sacred texts of Egypt, China, India, Mesopotamia, Persia, Israel, Chaldea, as esoteric reveries, compiled by counterfeiters to mislead the common public.

For them, treasures such as the Book of the Dead, the texts of the Pyramids, the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Zend Avesta, the Tao Te King, the Torah, the Gospels, the Apocalypse, are only vast mystifications, settling down over the centuries, across the continents.

They are the expression of tribal or clan practices, or a desire for temporal and spiritual power. The social illusion they encourage would be fostered by the staging of artificially composed « secrets » that leave a lasting impression on the minds of peoples, generation after generation.

But broader, more open minds, may see all these ancient testimonies, so diverse, but tainted by the same central intuition, as a whole, – coming from the human soul, and not as a collection of heterogeneous attempts, all of them unsuccessful.

History has recorded the failure of some of them, after a few millennia of local supremacy, and the apparent success of some others, for a time more sustainable, seemingly better placed in the universal march.

With a little hindsight and detachment, the total sum of these testimonies seems to be nestled in a common drive, a dark energy, a specific genius.

This drive, this energy, this genius, are not very easy to distinguish today, in a sceptical environment, where miracles are rare, crowds cold, passions exacerbated.

Not easy but not impossible.

One can always walk between the flowers of human thought, smelling their unique scent, sensitive to the continuous rise of sap in their flexible stems.

The word « esotericism » has become malignant. Whoever is interested is considered a marginal in rational society.

But this word also has several divergent, and even contradictory, meanings that may enlighten us, for that matter.

For example, the Jewish Kabbalah is intended to be a revelation or explanation of the « esoteric » meaning of Moses’ Books. It is even doubly esoteric.

It is esoteric in a first sense in so far as it opposes exotericism. In this sense, esotericism is a search for protection. There are ideas, secrets, that must not be disclosed to the crowd.

It would deeply distort its meaning, or project mud, contempt, lazzis, spit, hatred against them.

It is also esoteric in that it deepens the secret. The text is said to contain profound meanings, which only initiation, prepared under strict conditions, can reveal to hand-picked entrants after long trials. Esotericism is not there prudence or protection, but a conscious, characterized method, elite aspiration.

There is yet another form of esotericism.

R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz defines it as follows: « Esoteric teaching is therefore only an « Evocation » and can only be that. Initiation does not reside in the text, whatever it may be, but in the culture of the Intelligence of the Heart. Then nothing is more « occult » or « secret », because the intention of the « Enlightened », the « Prophets » and the « Envoys from Heaven » is never to hide, on the contrary. »i


In this sense, esotericism has nothing in common with a desire for secrecy. On the contrary, it is a question of revealing and publishing what several minds can, through a common, sincere effort, discover about the nature of the Spirit.

The Spirit is discovered through the Spirit. It seems to be a flat tautology. But no. Matter is incapable of understanding the mind. The mind is probably better equipped, however, to understand matter. And if matter can merge with itself, only the spirit can take the measure of the infinite depth and understand the height of the Spirit without merging with it, undoubtedly relying on analogies with what it knows about itself.

Mind is, at the very least, a metaphor of Spirit, while matter is never a metaphor of Matter. The material, at most, is only an image, invisible to itself, drowned in the shadows, in its own immanence.

Jewish Kabbalah developed in the European Middle Ages, assuming obvious filiation links with the former Egyptian « Kabbalah », which also has links with the Brahmanic « Kabbalah ». I hasten to concede that the nature of the Jewish mission reflects its specificity in the Jewish Kabbalah. Nevertheless, the links of filiation with older “Kabbalahs” appear to be valuable subjects of reflection for the comparativist.


The various « Kabbalahs » of the world, developed in different climates, at times unrelated to each other, are esoteric according to the three meanings proposed above. The most interesting of these meanings is the last. It expresses in action the sincere Intelligence, the Intelligence of the heart, the intuition of the causes, the over-consciousness, the metamorphosis, the ex-stasis, the radial vision of the mythical nucleus, the intelligence of the beginnings and the perception of the ends.

Other metaphors are needed to express what needs to be expressed here.


Pharaonic Egypt is no more. But the Book of the Dead still speaks to a few living people. The end of ancient Egypt was only the end of a cycle, not the end of a world.

Osiris and Isis were taken out of their graves and put into museum display cases.

But Osiris, Isis, their son Horus, still produce strange scents, subtle emanations, for the poet, the traveller and the metaphysician.

There are always dreamers in the world to think of the birth of a Child God, a Child of the Spirit. The Spirit never ceases to be born. The fall of the Word into matter is a transparent metaphor.


Where does the thought that assails and fertilizes us come from? From a neural imbroglio? From a synaptic chaos?

The deep rotation of the worlds is not finished, other Egypts will still give birth, new Jerusalems too. In the future other countries and cities will appear, made not of land and streets, but of spirit.

The Spirit has not said his last word, for the Word is endless.

In the meantime, it is better to open one’s ears, and to have them circumcised, as once was said.


iR. Schwaller de Lubicz. Propos sur ésotérisme et symbole. Ed. Poche. 1990

Is the (real) Tradition the Talmud, the Kabbalah or the Zohar?

Alphonse-Louis Constant was a French clergyman and a controversial figure of occultism in the 19th century. As the author of an abundant work, he took the pen name Eliphas Levi, or Eliphas-Levi Zahed, which is a translation of his name into Hebrew. In 1862, he published Fables and Symbols, a work in which he analyzed the symbols of Pythagoras, the Apocryphal Gospels, and the Talmud. Here is one of these fables, « The Fakir and the Bramin », and its commentary, which are not unrelated to a certain topicality:


Carrying an axe in his hand,

A fakir meets a bramin:

– Cursed son of Brama, I can still find you!

I love Eswara!

Confess before me that the master of heaven

Is the best of the gods,

And that I am his prophet,

Or I’ll split your head open!

– Strike, » replied the bramin,

I don’t love a god who makes you inhuman.

The gods do not murder anyone.

Believe or not that mine

Is more forgiving than yours:

But in his name, I forgive you.


« When the opposing forces do not balance each other, they destroy each other.

Unfair enthusiasm, religious or otherwise, causes the opposite enthusiasm through its excess.

That is why a famous diplomat was right when he said: ‘Never be zealous’.

That is why the great Master said: ‘Do good to your enemies and you will build fire on their heads’. It was not revenge by occult means that Christ wanted to teach, but the means to resist evil by learned and self-defense. Here is indicated and even revealed one of the greatest secrets of occult philosophy. »

Eliphas Lévi also made an interesting statement on the veil, a difficult subject admittedly, not unrelated to current events.

« Absconde faciem tuam et ora. Veil your face to pray.

This is the use of the Jews, who, in order to pray with more contemplation, wrap their heads in a veil which they call thalith. This veil originates from Egypt and resembles that of Isis. It means

that holy things must be hidden from the profane, and that everyone must only count on God for the secret thoughts of his heart. »

Finally, here is an extract from a small dialogue, quite lively, between an Israelite and Eliphas Levi.

Israelite: I am pleased to see that you are making cheap of the mistakes of Christianity.

Eliphas Levi: Yes, I suppose so, but it’s to defend the truths with more energy.

Israelite: What are the truths of Christianity?

Eliphas Levi: The same as those of the religion of Moses, plus the effective sacraments with faith, hope and charity.

Israelite: Plus idolatry, that is, worship that is due to God alone, given to a man and even to a piece of bread. The priest put in the place of God himself, and condemning the Israelites to hell, that is, the only worshippers of the true God and the heirs of his promise.

Eliphas Levi: No, children of your fathers ! we do not put anything in the place of God himself. Like you, we believe that his divinity is unique, immutable, spiritual and we do not confuse God with his creatures. We worship God in the humanity of Jesus Christ and not this humanity in the place of God.

There is a misunderstanding between you and us that has lasted for centuries and has caused much blood and tears to flow. The so-called Christians who persecuted you were fanatics and unholy people unworthy of the spirit of this Jesus who forgave by dying to those who crucified him and said: Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do (…)

Israelite: I arrest you here and tell you that for us the Kabbalah is not authoritative. We no longer recognize her because she was desecrated and disfigured by the Samaritans and the Eastern Gnostics. Maimonides, one of the greatest lights of the synagogue, sees the Kabbalah as useless and dangerous; he does not want us to deal with it and wants us to stick to the symbol of which he himself formulated the thirteen articles, from the Sepher Torah, the prophets and the Talmud.

Eliphas Levi: Yes, but the Sepher Torah, the prophets and the Talmud are unintelligible without the Kabbalah. I will say more: these sacred books are the Kabbalah itself, written in hieroglyphics, that is, in allegorical images. The Scripture is a closed book without the tradition that explains it and the tradition is the Kabbalah.

Israelite: That’s what I deny, the tradition is the Talmud.

Eliphas Levi: Say that the Talmud is the veil of tradition, the tradition is the Zohar.

Israelite: Could you prove it?

Eliphas Levi: Yes, if you want to have the patience to hear me, because it would take a long time to reason.

Brief Comments on Ten God’s Names

Paulus Ricius, also known as Paulus Israelita, was a humanist and Kabbalist of Jewish origin, converted to Christianity in 1505. He is known for his contributions to « Christian Hebraism » and for his refutation of Jewish arguments against Christianity through Kabbalah. He was one of the architects of the ‘Christian Kabbalah’ . His work Sha’arei Orah – in Latin Portae lucis, the « Gates of Light », was a source of inspiration for comparable projects initiated by scholars such as Conrad Pellicanus or Guillaume Postel.

By consulting Ricius’ Artis Cabalisticae – Hoc est reconditae theologiae et philosophiae scriptorum (1587), as well as De Arcana Dei Providentia and Portae lucis, I found a list of ten names of God that is worth studying.

1. אדנּי Adonai – The Lord

2. אל חי El Hay – The One who Lives

3. Elohim Zabaoth – The God of the Armies

4. Adonai Zabaoth – The Lord of the Armies

5. יהוה YHVH – Yahweh

6. אלהים Elohim – God (literally: The Gods)

7. אל El – God

8. יהֹוִה The YHVH Tetragram, with Elohim’s vocalization:YeHoViH

9. יה Ioh – First and last letter from YHVH

10. אהיה Ehieh – « I am »

The order of these ten names of God is relatively (but not entirely) arbitrary. No hierarchy is possible or relevant in such a matter, one may assume. Let us note that Guillaume Postel, Thomas Aquinas and Paulus Ricius (and many other specialists) offered very different views on the Names to be retained and listed.

As a matter of principle, God’s Names should be considered to have equal value or status.

However, that does not mean that these Names convey the same meaning, the same weight or have the same value.

Almost two centuries after Ricius, Leibniz proposed thirteen names of God, based on God’s own statement to Moses in Ex. 34:6-7 (as already discussed in my blog The other Other) .

It is interesting, I think, to compare Ricius’ list and Leibniz’ one, with their differences, additions, and yawning gaps.

While comparing and weighing both approaches, one has to remember that the count made by Leibniz is indeed arbitrary, and the base for his reasoning quite fragile, though intellectually stimulating.

There is no certainty either that Paulus Ricius’ version of the ten Names may be more accurate.

We should not be too shy entering this field of questioning, either. What is here at stake is to look for some kind of heuristics, akin to serendipity, to help us, poor humans, in mapping our way around a very difficult subject.

For that matter, it may seem relevant to analyze the relationship between the ten names of God and the ten Sefirot, which are divine emanations.

Here is the list of Sefirot as declined in Latin by Paulus Ricius:

Corona. Prudentia. Sapientia. Pulchritudo. Fortitudo. Magnificentia. Fundamentum. Confessio. Victoria. Regnum.

The Hebrew names of Sefirot quoted in the Kabbalah are the following:

Keter (crown), Hokhma (wisdom), Bina (understanding), Hessed (mercy), Gevurah (discipline), Tiferet (beauty), Netzah (victory), Hod (splendour), Yesod (foundation), Malkuth (kingship).

The Sefirot names are organized in a figure, which evokes a kind of human body, very schematic, with corona for head, sapientia and prudentia as two eyes or two ears, fortitudo and magnificentia for both arms, pulchritudo for heart, confessio and victoria for both legs, fundamentum for ‘foundation’ (euphemism for anus) and regnum for sex.

It is certainly worth trying to meditate on possible equivalences or connections between the Sefirot and the ten Names of God, looking for analogies or anagogies :

CoronaKeter may be linked to ‘Adonai’. The Lord wears the only crownthat be. However, who anointed Him? And what this crown is made of? Gold or thorns?

PrudentiaBina may be linked to ‘YHVH’. God is prudent, and understanding. This is why He did not reveal the meaning of His Name, nor its vocalization.

SapientiaHokhma may be linked to ‘El Hay’. Wisdom is always alive in God.

PulchritudoTiferet may be linked to ‘Elohim’. The Scriptures mentions the beauty of the three Men ‘who were God’, meeting Abraham under the oak of Mamre.

FortitudoGevurah may be linked to ‘Adonai Zabaoth’. The ‘Lord of the Armies’ incarnates the essence of forceand discipline.

MagnificentiaHod may be linked to ‘Elohim Zabaoth’. How could the ‘God of the Hosts’ not embody magnificence in all its glory?

FundamentumYesod may be linked to ‘Ioh’. The Name Ioh incarnates the foundation of divinity, with its two fundamental letters.

ConfessioHessed may be linked to ‘Yehovih’. How can you get mercy without at least requesting it, by confessing your sins? The Tetragram YHVH intertwined with the vowels of Elohim is analogous to mercy penetrating the heart.

VictoriaNetzah may be linked to ‘El’. Only El, at the end of times, — or at the ‘extreme’ summit of His eternity –, will be victorious.

RegnumMalkuth may be linked to ‘Ehieh’. By saying « I am whom I will be », God establishes His reign once for all, for the present and the future.

Of course Kabbalah literature is rich in temptatives to link the sefirot to different Names of God.

For instance, just to give a glimpse of possible, acceptable, variations on the same theme, one may quote the following series of associations, that I found in the online literature on the subject.

I would like to note in passing that, after having forged the associations listed above, I discovered that two associations (out of ten) were similar in the list quoted below. I mention this only to show the power (and the limitations) of heuristic serendipity in this obscure arcane.

RegnumMalkuth linked to Adonaï ha Aretz, The Lord of the Earth.

FundamentumYesod linked to ‘Shaddaï El Haï (The Omnipotent Living God).

Magnificentia – Hod linked to Elohim Zabaoth (The God of Armies), — like we did (see above).

VictoriaNetzah linked to ‘YHVH Zabaoth (YHVH of the Hosts).

PulchritudoTiferet linked to ‘Aloah‘ (The Divinity).

FortitudoGevurah linked to ‘Elohim Gibor’ (The Strong God).

ConfessioHessed linked to ‘El‘ (God).

PrudentiaBina linked to ‘YHVH‘, — just like we did (see above).

SapientiaHokhma linked to ‘Iah‘ (another vocalization of the short Name ‘YH’)

CoronaKeter linked to ‘Eyeh‘ (‘I am’).

What can we learn from this sort of exercise?

We learn that all divine Names are ‘ living’ metaphors, which means that they ‘live’ and the may ‘die’.

But all these metaphors, in a way, are also (metaphorically) ‘gravid’, ‘pregnant’ with other, unheard of, new Names, yet to be born out of the most profound depths of language and of our souls.

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 Kundalini Serpent and the Kabbalah Candlestick

The Gods have received many names in history, in all the languages of the earth. The unique God of monotheisms, himself, is far from having only one name to represent his uniqueness. There are ten, one hundred or even many more, depending on the variations of different monotheisms, on this subject.

In Guillaume Postel’s Interpretation of the Candlestick of Moses (Venice, 1548), based on the famous sephiroth, we find listed the ten names of the One God, as they are transmitted by the Jewish Kabbalah.

The first name is EHIEH: « I am ». He is associated with Cheter, the crown, superiority, multitude and power.

The second is IAH, which is found in compound expressions, for example HALLELU-IAH. His property is Hokhmah, wisdom, sapience, distinction, judgment.

The third is JEHOVIH, associated with Binah, intelligence, science, understanding.

The fourth is EL, associated with Hesed, that is mercy or sovereign kindness, and Gedolah, greatness.

The fifth is ELOHIM, which refers to Pashad as fear, terror and judgment. We associate Geburah with it, strength, punishment, judgment.

The sixth name is JEHOVAH, whose property is Tiphaeret, which means the honour and perfection of the beauty of the world.

The seventh name is JEHOVAH TSABAOTH, associated with Netzah, the perfect and final victory, which means the final achievement of the works.

The eighth name is ELOHIM TSABAOTH, whose property is Hod, praise and direction.

The ninth name is EL SHADDAI, to whom the property of Iesod answers, which means the foundation and base of all the perfections of the world.

The tenth name is ADONAÏ, which is accompanied by Hatarah and Malcut, which means « lower crown ».

This seemingly heteroclite list of ten main names calls for comments, the most salient of which I would like to report.

The order in which these names are placed is important. They are arranged in a figure (the « candelabra ») that has a vague body shape.

The first and tenth names (the beginning and the end) are under the sign of the crown, which is well suited to a reign.

The first three names refer to God in the higher world. The next three to God in the intermediate world. The next three to God in the lower world. Finally, the last name is a generic name, which refers to God in all his states.

EHIEH, אֶהְיֶה « I am » (Ex. 3,14). This is the very essence of God, the essence of Him who was, is and will be. It is the sovereign power.

IAH, יה. This name is composed of a Yod and a Hey, the two letters that symbolize respectively the masculine and the feminine. They are also the two letters placed at the beginning and end of the « very high and inexplicable name »: יהוה, the Tetragrammaton. It is associated with Wisdom.

JEHOVIH is the name of God, as it relates to Intelligence. It represents one of the ways to distribute vowels on the Tetragrammaton (supposed to be unpronounceable).

EL is the name of power, goodness and mercy. It is in the singular, and refers in a way to its plural form: ELOHIM.

ELOHIM, plural of EL, is the name of terror, fear and also of strength and resistance.

JEHOVAH, which presents another reading of the Tetragrammaton (another vocalization), is the virtue of the whole world.

JEHOVAH TSABAOTH is the Lord of armies, multitudes and final victory.

ELOHIM TSABAOTH is a similar name, meaning Gods of the armies.

EL SHADDAI which means « Almighty » is interpreted by Kabbalah as « feeding » and « udders of the world ». But it is also logically enough the « foundation », or « base ». Some add that this name of power, is « at the right of the seminal place in the great divine man ».

ADONAÏ is the common name of God. It summarizes and embodies all its properties.

These ten names are arranged to draw the mosaic  »candelabra ». Upon careful observation, it is not unworthy, I think, to propose the idea of a possible comparison with the « snake » of the Vedic kundalini.

In other words, the comparison of »names » with Vedic and Tantric shakras seems stimulating.

Let’s start with the three lower shakras. They can be associated with the three divine names that Kabbalah associates with what she calls the lower world.

EL SHADDAI, which is the « foundation » of the world according to Kabbalah, can be associated with the first shakra, Muladhara (which literally means « foundation support » in Sanskrit). In Veda culture, this shakra is associated with the anus, the earth, the sense of smell and the inciting awakening. As it is at the place of the « seminal place », the name EL SHADDAI can also be associated with the second shakra, the Svadhisthana (« seat of the self »), which refers in the Vedas to the genitals, water, taste and enjoyment.

The names ELOHIM TSABAOTH and JEHOVAH TSABAOTH can be quite easily associated with the third shakra, the Manipura (« Abundant in jewels »), which refers to the solar plexus, sight, fire and life force, which seems to apply to the qualifier of Lord or God of the « hosts ».

The name JEHOVAH, as it refers to the virtue of the world, can be associated with the fourth shakra, called Anahata (« Ineffable »), which is related to the heart, air, touch and subtle sound.

The names ELOHIM and EL, in so far as they relate to power, kindness and mercy, can be associated with the fifth shakra, Visuddha (« Very Pure »), which is related to the larynx, hearing, ether and sacred Word.

The name JEHOVIH, as it refers to Intelligence, can be associated with the sixth shakra, the ajna (« order »), which refers to the forehead, mind, spirit and truth.

The name IAH, which refers to Wisdom, can be associated with the seventh shakra, Sahasrara (« Circle of a thousand rays »), which is associated with the occiput, « vision » and yoga, with the ultimate union.

The name EHIEH will be left aside, not affected by these metaphorical analogies, since it is used as a tautology.

As for the name ADONAÏ, it is the most general name, we said. Therefore, it is not appropriate to involve it in these kinds of comparisons.

I would like to retain from this correspondence between the « kundalinic serpent » and the « mosaic candelabra » the idea that archetypal, permanent forms are sculpted, in the depth of our bodies as well as in the depths of our minds.

These archetypes, the « snake » or the « candelabra », represent a « tree » or « ladder » of hierarchies, and symbolize an ascent towards divine union, from a « base », the most material of all, the « foundation ».

These metaphors in Kabbalah and the Vedas refer to the same intuition: the ascent of man to the divine.

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

“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

« You, Israel, are joyful, but my servants are grieving. »

Everything contributes to deceive, delude, mislead, the seeker who ventures into the slippery terrain of mystery, – without guidance, compass or bearings. The shoehorns are multiplying underfoot, in words. There are a thousand opportunities to get lost. The material is too rich, too vast, too flexible, too subtle. It is covered with too many veils, protected by thick walls, buried in the depths of forgotten cenotaphs, vanished into a clear azure, lost in the inaudible murmur of the zephyr.

You need a singularly piercing eye, a fine ear, a gentle touch, to only feel the fleeting shadow of a clue.

The mystery seeker reminds us of this character from Ṛg Veda: « Sullen, without knowledge, I question with my mind what are the hidden traces of the gods. »i

The seeker contemplates with his thoughts Isaiah’s seraphim, with their three pairs of wings, two of which are to cover their face and feet, and the third to fly, and he cannot be satisfied with what he sees, since they hide from him what he cannot see.

He tries to understand the meaning of Greek words that are only outer envelopes, without content: mystery (μυστήριον), symbol (σύμϐολον), enigma (αἲνιγμα), sign (σημεῖον), shadow (σκία), shape (τύπος) or similarity (εἰκών).

Origen has shown as clearly as possible, without being discouraged, how the mystery is constantly being hidden, and how, without interruption, it is being overlooked. He stated with a sense of evidence: « We feel that everything is full of mysteries”ii and also: « Everything that happens, happens in mysteries.»iii

In terms of mysteries, a higher irony haunts some Kabbalah texts, such as this one: « You, Israel, are joyful, but my servants are grieving. For it is a mystery from the mysteries that leaves my treasure. All your schools prosper like fattened calves (Jeremiah 46:21), not by sorrow, not by labor, but by the name of this seal and by the mention of the terrifying crown. »iv

How would one interpret that sentence, nowadays?

Without waiting too long for an answer that will not easily be spit out, the researcher picks up other grains of knowledge that were collected thousands of years ago: « What is manifested and secret, what moves here in the secret heart of our being is the powerful foundation in which is established all that moves and breathes and sees. »v

He meditated on the details of Ezekiel’s experience, wondering about the differences between brightness, fire, and amber: « And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.» vi

The researcher measures the inanity of his efforts, the derisory nature of his strengths. He is aware that the idea of mystery could be nothing more than an illusion, a chimera, a pretext to collect in sheer waste scattered symbols, a propensity to tear diaphanous veils, to plunge into a verbal abyss, to overestimate the signs, to desire to see, instead of live.

Origen had warned: true knowledge is love. Plunged in sweet madness, the seeker seeks love in the true mystery.

iŖg Veda I,164,1

iiOrigen, Lev. Hom. 3,8

iiiOrigen, Gen. Hom. 9,1

iv Cf. Section Sar Ha-Torah (« Prince of Torah ») from Hekhalot Rabbati (« Great Palaces »)

vMundaka 2,2,1

viEz 1, 4

The Koran is a Torah of « Kindness » said Sabbatai Tsevi

By proclaiming himself « Messiah » in 1648, Sabbatai Tsevi created a movement that was both revolutionary and apocalyptic. He achieved great success, and his messianic vocation was recognized as such by the Jews of Aleppo and Smyrna, his hometown, as well as by many Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, Western Europe and the Middle East.

But, after a beginning as shattering as it was promising, why did Tsevi then apostasize Judaism and convert to Islam in 1666?

Gershom Scholem reports in his study of him that Tsevi was actually seeking, in apostasy, the « mystery of the Divinity ».

In any case, one cannot fail to admire his courage and his spirit of transgression. Tsevi converted spectacularly to Islam, when he was seen as Messiah by a large part of the Jewish communities in the Diaspora. Why? This is due to a profound, difficult, but not unimportant idea – even today.

Tsevi believed that his apostasy, as Messiah, would advance tiqoun (« reparation » or « reconstruction »), thereby working for the restoration of the world.

A foolish bet, full of good intentions.

The tiqoun required broad, radical, revolutionary gestures.

Moses had brought a Law of Truth (Torah Emet) and the Koran a Law of Kindness (Torah Hessed), he said. These two laws had to be reconciled in order to save the world, as the Psalmist says: « Goodness and truth meet » (Ps. 85:11).

It was not necessary to oppose laws and traditions, but to unite them, to conjoin them. As proof, Kabbalists argued that the « divine mystery » is symbolically embodied in the sixth Sefira, Tiferet, which corresponds to the third letter (ו Vav) of the Tetragrammaton, which marks the conjunction, in Hebrew grammar (ו means « and »).

Tsevi, well versed in Kabbalah, was not satisfied with it, however. He thought that the divine mystery was located far above the Sefirot, even beyond the first principle, beyond the idea of the First Cause, beyond the inaccessible Ein-sof, and finally far beyond the very idea of mystery.

The ultimate remains in the holiest simplicity.

That is why, after having been influenced by it for a long time, Sabbatai Tsevi finally rejected the Kabbalah of Luria. He said that « Isaac Louria had built an admirable tank but had not specified who was driving it ».

The admirable chariot was the metaphor then accepted to designate the Sefirot of Louria. This expression also referred to Ezekiel’s famous vision.

The Tsevi question remains relevant today. Who drives the Sefirot’s chariot?

An even more important question, maybe :

Where is this chariot really going?

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?

Why are souls locked in earthly bodies?

« If the soul were not immortal, man would be the most unhappy of all creatures, » writes Marsile Ficin in his Platonic Theology of the Immortality of the Soul. In this treaty, which dates back to 1482, this argument is only mentioned in passing, as a matter of course. No need to insist, indeed: if one had absolute, irrefutable conviction, apodictic proof of the mortality of the soul, then the feeling of unhappiness of being nothing, the despair of a pitiful WTF, the assured evidence of the absurd, would invade the soul and suffocate it.

Questions about the origin and the end follow one another over the centuries, with strange resonances. There is no need for fine hearing or sharp eyesight. It is enough to visit the remains of sacred traditions, to connect them, and to place them side by side, to consider them together, with sympathy, in what they indicate in common, in what they reveal to be universal.

Marsile Ficin, a humanist and encyclopedic conscience, was interested in the beliefs of the Magi of Persia and Egyptian priests, the certainties of the Hebrew prophets, the visions of the Orphic, the truths of the Pythagorean and Platonician philosophers, the dogmas of the ancient Christian theologians and the revelations of the Brahmins of India.

Let’s look at the big picture, let’s breathe wide. The feeling of mystery is a stronger, more established, more significant anthropological constant than any of the truths hardly conquered by Gnostic and schizophrenic modernity. Among all peoples, the men most remarkable for their love of wisdom have devoted themselves to prayer, notes Porphyry.

For his part, Ficin, probably one of the remarkable men of his time, asked himself questions such as: « Why are souls locked in earthly bodies? »

Ficin proposes six answers to that question:

To be able to know the singular beings.

To unite the particular shapes with the universal shapes.

For the divine ray to be reflected in God.

To make the soul happier (the descent of the soul into the body contributes to the happiness of the soul itself).

For the powers of the soul to act.

So that the world may be embellished and God may be honored.

These answers can be summarized as follows: the soul unites what is a priori separate. The top and bottom. The world and the divine. The same and the other. It needs mediation, and it is itself mediation. It is in the process of becoming, it must increase, grow, mature, rise, to act, even if to do so it must first descend, to the point of becoming tiny like a germ again, remain for a very short time, decrease as much as possible, in order to observe better.

Why does such an infinite God bother with all these little supernumerary souls? Mystery, tsimtsum.

There are some leads, however, some indications, in the vast history of the world, that can be gleaned from the dismemberment of the body of Osiris, the Orphic hymns, the Book of the Dead, some verses from Homer, Virgil and Ovid, the fragments of Nag Hammadi, the cries and songs of the Vedas, the brevity of Heraclitus, the folds of Plato, the lengths of Kabbalah, the words of Christ, the figures of the shamans, – and in many other places…

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. »

La présence absente שְׁכִינָה

Judah Halevi interprète la shekhinah, la « présence divine », comme étant un « intermédiaire » entre Dieu et l’homme.

Pour Maïmonide, la shekhinah est l’intellect actif, et elle est placée à la dixième et dernière place de la liste des dix « intellects » ou « esprits » divins.

Ceci est aussi attesté par la kabbalah, qui appelle la shekhinah : « malkhut », c’est-à-dire la princesse, la fille du roi, ou encore le principe féminin, et la place également à la dernière et dixième place dans la hiérarchie des Sephirot.

Pour Hermann Cohen, la shekhinah est « le repos absolu qui est le terrain éternel pour le mouvement »i. On l’appelle aussi Ruah ha-kodesh (Saint Esprit) ou Kevod ha-shem (la Gloire de Dieu).

Résumons. La shekhinah est à la fois l’intermédiaire entre le divin et l’humain, et une sorte de « principe féminin », certes placé fort bas dans les hiérarchies célestes, mais ayant la particularité toute spéciale d’être exactement au point de rencontre entre les puissances divines et les mondes créés. Son immobilité tranquille sert de base à tous les mondes et rend possible leur mouvement.

La shekhinah peut être comparée, me semble-t-il, à une autre forme de principe divin, la kénose, que l’on trouve dans le contexte chrétien. La kénose est une disposition de Dieu à l’anéantissement, qui consiste à « se vider à l’intérieur de sa puissance » ( Hilaire de Poitiers).

Si le féminin est à la dernière place des Séphirot, dans la tradition juive de la kabbalah, est-ce à dire que le masculin serait quelque part dans les hauteurs ? Il est dangereux de prendre au pied de la lettre la notion kabbalistique de hiérarchie. Les premiers seront les derniers, disait un fameux rabbin du 1er siècle de notre ère. Il faut prendre en compte le système des esprits, leur fine interconnexion, qui brouille considérablement la pertinence des classements et des ordres de préséance.

Hans U. V. Balthasar formule ainsi un aspect de cette interaction, de cette interpénétration des plans spirituels: « Chaque Personne divine aperçoit, dans l’Autre, Dieu, le Dieu plus grand que toute compréhension et éternellement digne d’adoration. Ainsi, « l’entretien trinitaire » revêt la forme de la « prière originelle ». »

Autrement dit, plus on monte haut, plus on doit descendre – en matière de contemplation. La réciproque est également vraie.

Si « entretien trinitaire » il y a, on peut imaginer la complexité des murmures et chuchotements séphirotiques, les infinis accords des chœurs des anges.

Il s’agit là, bien entendu, de métaphores. Il n’est pas donné à tous de percevoir ces échos lointains, ces paroles évanescentes, ces symphonies systémiques. Mais les métaphores peuvent en donner quelque idée.

Elles sont une invitation au voyage, au cheminement. Il faut se déplacer sans fin, partir, toujours à nouveau. Nous devons aller au-delà (habar), du fleuve, du pays, ou du monde. « La destinée de l’homme est tout entière dans le problème d’une vie future. »ii

Migrants. Les hommes ont un destin de migration éternelle.

Les indices abondent, venant d’horizons improbables. Ainsi Catherine Malabou résume la philosophie de Heidegger comme étant « la grande pensée de la migration et de la métamorphose, la grande pensée de l’imagination ontologique ». Elle propose cette interprétation du voyage de l’homme : « Nous ignorons où le Dasein s’en va quand il quitte l’homme. Mais entre être-là (da-sein) et être parti (weg-sein), nous pouvons aimer ce chemin pour lui-même, veiller sur lui. »iii.

Toutes ces questions, difficiles d’accès, relèvent en quelque sorte d’une philosophie du « fantastique ». Je donne ici au mot « fantastique » le sens que Platon donnait au mot « phantasmos » dans le Sophiste.

L’inénarrable mise au rebut de toute métaphysique dans l’époque dite « moderne » oblige à de telles contorsions de vocabulaire…

Il faut accepter de regarder en face « la balafre non blessante de la destruction de la métaphysique que nous portons en plein visage. »iv Sous la balafre, s’ouvre une faille. Elle fait deviner un autre visage.

Martin Buber parlait du Dieu transcendant et immanent en employant ces mots : étincelle et coquille. On peut se servir de toutes les métaphores. Elles ont toutes leur propre puissance. Elles ouvrent à leur manière des voies nouvelles. Qu’est-ce qui parle le mieux ? Éclairs et tonnerres, ou zéphyrs et murmures ? Les meilleures métaphores parlent tout bas. Ce sont celles qui nous incitent à changer notre langue.

Il faut aimer changer de langue, naviguer entre les grammaires et les racines. La mutation se prépare aussi dans ces migrations langagières. « L’homme se métamorphose » dit Heidegger. L’auto-transformation de l’espèce humaine est en cours, ajoute Habermas.

Une partie de ce travail a lieu sous nos yeux dans le surgissement celé de la langue mondiale, symphonique, et concertante, du futur.

iReligion der Vernumft, 1929

iiFrédéric Ozanam, Philosophie de la mort (1834)

iii Catherine Malabou. Le change Heidegger

ivC. Malabou, Ibid.