Kinds of Prophets


« Isaiah » – Michelangelo

Prophets can be grouped into three categories, admittedly. There are those who see with their eyes, such as Abraham who saw three men under the oak tree of Mamre. There are those who see by the spirit, like Isaiah. And there are those who see neither with the eyes nor with images or figures, but with pure intuition of the spirit (intuitio). Thus Daniel intuitively contemplated, by the sole force of his intellect, what Baltassar had seen in his dream, and was able to interpret it. ii

Maimonides reduces these three groups to one, and draws a general lesson from it. « Know that the three verbs raâ, hibbît and ‘hazà apply to the sight of the eye; but all three are used metaphorically for the perception of intelligence. (…) It is in this metaphorical sense that the verb raa must be taken whenever it is applied to God, as for example in the following passages: ‘I saw the LORD’ (1 Kings 22:19); ‘and the LORD showed himself to him’ (Gen. (Gen. 18:1); ‘And God saw that it was good’ (Gen. 1, passim); ‘Let me see your glory’ (Ex. 33:18); ‘And they saw the God of Israel’ (Ex. 24:10). This is everywhere an intellectual perception, not the sight of the eye.» iii

According to Maimonides, all « visions » must be understood as operations of intelligence.

But this rationalist approach does not account for all cases of observed « prophecies ».

Other commentators offer a more detailed analysis, such as Isidore of Sevilleiv, who distinguish seven kinds of prophecies.

The first is ecstasy (ekstasis). It is a temporary passage of the mind into an afterlife. Thus the ecstasy of Peter. « He saw the sky open, and an object like a great tablecloth tied at the four corners, descending and lowering itself to the earth, where all the quadrupeds and the reptiles of the earth and the birds of the sky were.» v

This ecstasy consists of three moments: an exit out of the body, the sight of an (extraordinary) phenomenon in the heights, followed by a descent, a lowering and a return to earth.

The second is vision (visio). Isaiah tells: « In the year of the death of King Uzziah I saw the Lord sitting on a great and high throne. His train filled the sanctuary. Seraphim stood above him, each with six wings, two to cover his feet, two to cover his face, and two to fly. They shouted to one another, « Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, his glory fills the whole earth.» vi

Unlike ecstasy, which is an elevation followed by a descent, the vision stands entirely in the heights. Another difference: ecstasy is precise, detailed. Peter perceives all the animals of the earth and the sky (but not those of the sea). In contrast, Isaiah’s vision is partial, more veiled. He sees the « sanctuary », filled by God’s « train ». The Hebrew text uses the word Hekal, הֵיכָל. The Hekal is the part of the temple that stands before the « Holy of Holies », the Debir, דְּבִיר, – which is the most sacred, most inaccessible place. So Isaiah sees the sanctuary, but not the Holy of Holies, which remains veiled by the « train » (שׁוּלׇ), the bottom of God’s garment. He also sees seraphim, but only partially, since two pairs of their wings cover their faces and feet. Isaiah’s vision is partly incomplete.

Vision is superior to ecstasy in that it « sees » in the heights certain aspects of the divinity, but it also encounters various obstacles, veils that cover other layers of mystery.

The third kind of prophecy mobilizes the dream (somnium). Jacob saw in the dream: « Behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven, and angels of God ascended and descended on it! Behold, Yahweh stood before him and said, ‘I am Yahweh, the God of Abraham, your ancestor and the God of Isaac.» vii

Jacob’s dream combines the ascent and descent, as in ecstasy, and adds a divine vision, in which the Lord calls himself and speaks. He makes a solemn promise and a covenant: « I am with you, I will keep you wherever you go. » viii

All this could impress anyone. But Jacob is a cautious man. He saw Yahweh in a dream, and the LORD spoke to him, and made him mirthful promises. But it was only a dream after all. The next day, when Jacob woke up, he made a vow: « If God is with me and keeps me on the road where I am going, if he gives me bread to eat and clothes to wear, if I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God. » ix

The dream after all is only a dream. Nothing can replace true reality. Jacob waits to see, in order to believe in his dream, the fulfillment of promises: bread, clothes, a safe journey. The vision of the dream is veiled too, from the veil of doubt, the doubt of the dreamer.

The fourth kind of prophecy is not direct either, it is perceived through still other veils: fire, a cloud or a storm.

One reads: « And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. Moses looked, and the bush was ablaze but not consumed. » x

One also reads: « I will come to you in the thickness of the cloud, so that the people will hear when I speak with you and believe in you forever. » xi

Or: « And the LORD answered Job out of the midst of the storm, and said… » xii

Here again, the vision is somehow mixed, confused. The vision is made against the background of a phenomenon of nature with which it hybridizes.

The fifth kind of prophecy is not a vision but a voice, – coming from heaven. « The angel of Yahweh called it from heaven and said, ‘Abraham! He answered, ‘Here I am. xiii

Abraham hears the voice of God distinctly, at a particularly dramatic moment: « Do not stretch out your hand against the child! Do no harm to him! I know now that you fear God: you did not deny me your son, your only one. » xiv

If the ear undoubtedly hears, the vision remains earthly. At the sound of God’s voice, Abraham raises his eyes and sees a ram whose horns have been caught in a bush.

A similar phenomenon took place on the road to Damascus, with different effects. « Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? xv

There is the voice but not the image. « His companions on the road had stopped, mute in amazement: they heard the voice, but saw no one. » xvi

Deeper, this voice that we do not see, – this (non-)vision, blind. « Saul rose from the ground, but although his eyes were open, he saw nothing. He was led by the hand back to Damascus. For three days he was blind, eating and drinking nothing. » xvii

The sixth kind of prophecy is purely intellectual. It is the one that happened to Solomon composing his Proverbs.

The seventh kind of prophecy sums them all up. It consists in being fulfilled by the Holy Spirit (repletio). It is common to all prophets, for it is the very condition of their prophecy.

These various kinds of prophecies all have another thing in common, which is that they are always in some way, for one reason or another, veiled.

Maimonides made a comment on this subject, which may help to become aware of the inevitability of the veil. « It is frequently found in the Midrashoth and Haggadoth of the Talmud [this assertion] that among the prophets there are some who saw God behind many veils, others through a few, depending on how close they were to the divinity and on the rank of the prophets, so that [the Doctors of the Law] have said that Moses, our Master, saw God behind a single veil that was shining, that is, transparent, according to this word (Yebamot 49b): « He (Moses) contemplated God [as] through a mirror illuminating the eyes », ispaklaria (=speculare) being [in Latin] the name of the mirror, made of a transparent body, like glass and crystal. » xviii

Maimonides adds that the prophet Isaiahxix said that the sins and vices of man are « veils » that come between man and God. This is why, according to the doctors of the law, « prophetic inspiration is given only to a wise, strong and rich man » (Shabbat 92a).

But, Maimonides also tempers, « the prophet need not necessarily possess all the moral qualities, so that no vice can befall him, since Solomon was a prophet in the witness of Scripture. ‘At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon’ (Kings 3:5), but we know of a moral defect, a passion for a certain thing: the great number of women. » xx

He also points to the negative examples of David, « who shed much blood » (Chron. 28:3), and Elijah, who was prone to anger and fanaticism.

What can be said is that the more the prophet is afflicted with nonconforming moral dispositions, the more the number of veils between him and God increases. But there are also structural limits, inherent in man’s intelligence.

Even to Moses, there remained « a single transparent veil that prevented him from attaining the real knowledge of the divine essence: human intelligence ». xxi

Even Moses still had a veil…

But could any man still live, if stripped of all veils, in the cruellest nudity?

A document was read at the Nuremberg trial, the deposition of the German engineer Graede, an eyewitness to the massacre of several thousand Jews near Dubno in October 1942. « Men, women and children of all ages were undressed before the eyes of the SS, who walked among them with a whip or whip in their hands. They would then place their clothes in the place that was indicated to them, pieces of clothing on one side, shoes on the other. Without shouting or crying, all these naked people grouped themselves into families. After kissing each other and saying goodbye, they waited for the sign of the S.S. who was standing at the edge of the pit, also with a whip in his hand. I stayed about fifteen minutes with one of them, and I did not hear anyone complaining or asking for mercy… I saw a whole family: a man and a woman of about fifty years old, with their children of eight and nine years old, and two tall girls in their twenties. A white-haired woman was holding a one-year-old child in her arms, singing a song to him and tickling him…: the child laughed, the father and mother looked at their child with tears in their eyes. The father of a ten year old child held his hand and spoke softly to him; the child tried not to cry; the father pointed to the sky, stroked his hair; he seemed to be explaining something to him. » xxii

The father pointed to the sky, stroking his child’s hair. He really was explaining something to him.

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iMc 9.4

iiDan. 2, 26-28

iiiMoses Maimonides. The Guide of the Lost. Ed. Verdier, 1979, p.35.

ivEtymologies, VII, viii, 33-37

vActs 10,11-12

viIs. 6,1-3

viiGen. 28, 12-13

viiiGen. 28.15

ixGen. 28, 20-21

xEx. 3, 2

xie.g. 19.9

xiiJob 38.1

xiiiGen. 22, 11

xivGen. 22.12

xvActs 9, 4

xviActs 9, 7

xviiActs 9, 8-9

xviiiMoses Maimonides. Treatise on the eight chapters. Verdier, 1979, p. 667.

xixIs. 59.2

xxMoses Maimonides. Treatise on the eight chapters. Verdier, 1979, p.668.

xxiIbid. p.670

xxiiLe Monde, issue of January 3, 1946. Cited in Jules Isaac, Jésus et Israël, Ed. Fasquelle, 1959, reprinted 1987, p.527.

Drops of Truth


« Maimonides »

Rav Shmuel ben Ali, Gaon of Baghdad, rightly pointed out that in Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed , there is not a single word on the question of the immortality of souls or that of the resurrection of the dead.

It is not that Maimonides was not interested in these delicate problems. In his great work, the Mishneh Torah, he asserted that the rational soul is immortal, and that she is conscious of her personal individuality, even in the world to comei.

Maimonides also said that the individual soul, which he also called the « intellect in act », joins after death the « agent intellect » that governs the sublunar sphere. At birth, the soul emanates from this sphere, and she comes to melt into it again at death.

The immortality of the soul does not take a personal form. Immersed in the bosom of the “agent intellect”, the soul possesses a kind of identity, without however having a separate existence.ii

Clearly, we are entering here into a highly speculative territory where the reference points are incomplete, even absent, and the indications of the rare daring ones who think they have some revelation to make on these subjects are scattered and contradictory.

The opportunities for getting lost are multiplying. No ‘guide’ seems to be able to lead us to a good port.

Perhaps that is why Maimonides did not see fit to include these ideas in his own Guide, despite the few insights he had into these matters.

Speculation about the afterlife, however fraught with pitfalls, offers an opportunity to dream of strange states of consciousness, to dream of unimaginable possibilities of being. There are more futile activities.

From the few elements provided by Maimonides, it is worth trying to freely imagine what the soul experiences after death, at the moment when she discovers herself, in a kind of subliminal awakening, plunged into another « world ». Arguably, she is fully conscious of herself, while feeling a kind of fusion with other sister souls, also immersed in the infinity of the « agent intellect ».

In this new « world », several levels of consciousness are superimposed and cross-fertilized, of which she hardly perceives the ultimate extensions or future implications.

The soul accessing the « sublunar sphere » is conscious of being (again) newly « born », but she is not completely devoid of reference points.

She has already experienced two previous « births », one at conception, the other at childbirth. She now knows confusedly that she has just experienced a kind of 3rd birth after death, opening a new phase of a life decidedly full of surprises, leaps, jumps.

Not long ago, on earth, she was a principle of life and consciousness, and now she swims in an ocean of life and intelligence, which absorbs her completely, without drowning her, nor blinding her, quite the contrary.

She was, a while ago, a “principle” (of life and consciousness, as I said) , and now she has become pure spiritual substance !

In this new state, she is probably waiting for an opportunity to manifest herself as a singular being, perhaps having taken a liking for it in her previous lives. Or, nourished by the thousand wounds of experience, she volunteers for yet other states of consciousness, or for yet other worlds, of a hopefully less cruel nature, and of which there is perhaps a profusion, beyond the sublunar sphere.

This kind of idea, I am well aware, seems perfectly inadmissible to an overwhelming majority of « modern » thinkers. Nihilists and other materialists give full meaning to « matter » and give nothing to the strength of the spirit, to its autonomy, to its capacity for survival, in an unsuspected way, after the vicissitudes of a life dominated by « matter ».

By contrast, Maimonides, in twelfth-century Spain, then a crossroads of thought, has attempted to unravel the mystery of what happens after death.

Maimonides was neither reactionary, nor an “illuminati”, nor a bigot, nor complacent. He flew high above innumerable dogmatic quarrels. There was in him an aspiration to pure reason, a nostalgia for the beyond of religious forms.

There was no question of renouncing the Law, however, or of abandoning memory of ancient cults. In his strange, aloof, ironic style, he says: « To ask for such a thing would have been as if a prophet in those times, exhorting the worship of God, came to us and said: ‘God forbids you to pray to Him, to fast, and to call on His help in times of trouble, but your worship will be a simple meditation, without any practice.”iii

This phrase that Maimonides put into the mouth of an imaginary prophet as if by play, can be taken today, a thousand years later, at face value. What seemed at the time a frank denial can now be interpreted as a rhetorical ruse, a posthumous warning from the man Maimonides, a master of double meaning.

The irony of the time fades away. The meaning is reversed, the intention is revealed.

His idea was radical. It is necessary to put an end to all cults, to idolatry, to hypocrisy, based on « prayers », « sacrifices », « fasts » and « invocations ».

Here comes the time for « simple » meditation!

I think that Maimonides was, very early on, one of the necessary prophets of new times, of those times which are always announced with delay, just as today these future times are late in coming, when ancient cults will no longer be respected for what they claim to embody, in their motionless repetitions.

In our times in parturition, naked meditation will surpass the practices of surface and appearance.

Is this idea subversive, scandalous?

Or is it a real vision, for the ultimate benefit of humankind?

Men have practiced, millennia after millennia, multiple sorts of religion. They have followed ordinances and laws, detailed or symbolic, or even freed themselves from them.

History is far from having said its last word.

There is no end to prophecy. There is no seal of the prophets.

Always, the search for a truer truth will animate the minds of men.

And in our wildest imagination, we are still very far from having tasted a small drop from this oceanic truth.

______________

iCf. Gérard Bensussan. Qu’est-ce que la philosophie juive ? 2003

iiIbid.

iiiMaïmonide. Guide des égarés. Traduction de l’arabe par Salomon Munk, Ed. Verdier, 1979, p.522

Bread and Wine


« Bread and Wine »

The « realist » philosophers analyze the world as it is, or at least how it looks, or what they believe it to be. But they have nothing to say about how being came to be, or about the genesis of reality. They are also very short about the ultimate ends, whether there are any or none.

They are in no way capable of conceptualizing the world in its full potency. They have no idea how the universe emerged from nothingness in indistinct times, when nothing and no one had yet attained being, when nothing was yet « in act ».

Nor do they have any representation of this world (the planet Earth) a few hundred million years from now, which is not a large space of time, from a cosmological point of view.

My point is: if one takes the full measure of the impotence and pusillanimity of the “realist” philosophy, then our mind is suddenly freed, – freed from all the past web of philosophical tatters studded with limited thoughts, turning short, local truths, fleeting views, closed syllogisms.

Our mind is freed from all inherited constraints. Everything is yet to be thought, and discovered.

We should then exercise the highest faculty, that of imagination, that of dreaming and vision.

It is an incentive to get out of reason itself, not to abandon it, but to observe it from an external, detached, non-rational point of view. “Pure reason” is ill-equipped to judge itself, no matter what Kant thinks.

What can we see, then?

Firstly, reason is truly unable to admit that it is closed on itself, let alone willing to admit that it necessarily has an outside, that there is something out there that is inconceivable to reason.

The purest, most penetrating reason is still quite blind to anything that is not reasonable.

Reason sees nothing of the oceanic immensity of non-reason which surrounds it, exceeds it infinitely, and in which however reason bathes, as an ignorant, fragile, ephemeral bubble.

Reason has always been in a strong relationship with language. But we know quite well that the language is a rudimentary tool, a kind of badly cut, flimsy flint, producing from time to time some rare sparks…

Let’s try to show this flimsiness with an example, based on a simple but foundational sentence, like « God is one ».

Grammatically, this sentence is a flimsy oxymoron. It oozes inconsistency. It links a subject (« God ») and a predicate (« one ») with the help of the copula (« is »). But in the same time it separates (grammatically) the subject and the predicate. In the same time, it separates them (semantically) and then reunites them (grammatically) by the sole virtue of a copulative verb (« is »), which, by the way, exists only in some human languages, but remains unknown to the majority of them…

If truly, I mean grammatically, ‘God is one’, then it should be impossible to really separate the words ‘God’, ‘is’, or ‘one’. They would be just the same reality.

If grammatically ‘God is one’, there would only be a need for the word ‘God’, or if one prefers only for the word ‘one’, or only for the word ‘is’. Those words or ‘names’ imply just the same, unique reality. Moreover, after having stated this ‘unique reality’, one would remain (logically) short. What else could be added, without immediately contravening the ‘unitary’ dogma? If anything else could be added, it should be immediately engulfed into the “oneness” of the “being”. Or, if not, that would imply that something could “be” outside the “One and Unique Being”. Which is (grammatically) illogical.

If grammatically ‘God is one’, then one must already count three verbal instances of His nature: the ‘name’ (God), the ‘essence’ (Being), the ‘nature’ (Oneness).

Three instances are already a crowd, in the context of the Unique One…

And no reason to stop there. This is why there are at least ten names of God in the Torah, and 99 names of Allah in Islam….

If grammatically ‘God is one’, then how can language itself could dare to stand as overhanging, outside of the ‘oneness’ of God, outside of His essential ‘unity’?

If grammatically ‘God is one’, then shouldn’t the language itself necessarily be one with Him, and made of His pure substance?

Some theologians have seen this difficulty perfectly well. So they have proposed a slightly modified formula: « God is one, but not according to unity.”

This clever attempt doesn’t actually solve anything.

They are just words added to words. This proliferation, this multiplicity (of words) is not really a good omen of their supposed ability to capture the essence of the One… Language, definitely, has untimely bursts, uncontrolled (but revealing) inner contradictions… Language is a mystery that only really take flight, like the bird of Minerva (the Hegelian owl), at dusk, when all the weak, flashy and illusory lights of reason are put under the bushel.

Here is another example of reason overcome by the proper power of language.

The great and famous Maimonides, a specialist in halakha, and very little suspect of effrontery in regard to the Law, surprised more than one commentator by admitting that the reason for the use of wine in the liturgy, or the function of the breads on display in the Temple, were completely beyond his comprehension.

He underlined that he had tried for a long time to search for some « virtual reasons »i to use wine and bread for religious purpose, to no avail. This strange expression (« virtual reasons ») seems to vindicate that, for Maimonides, there are in the commandments of the Law « provisions of detail whose reason cannot be indicated », and « that he who thinks that these details can be motivated is as far from the truth as he who believes that the general precept is of no real use »ii.

Which leaves us with yet another bunch of mysteries to tackle with.

Maimonides, a renowned expert of halakha in the 11th century A.D., candidly admitted that he did not understand the reason for the presence of bread and wine in Jewish liturgy, and particularly their presence in the premises of the Temple of Jerusalem.

It is then perhaps up to the poet, or the dreamer, or the anthropologist, to try to guess by analogy, or by anagogy, some possible « virtual reasons » for this religious use of bread and wine?

Maybe the bread and wine do belong to the depths of the collective inconscious, and for that reason are loaded with numinous potency?

Or, maybe Maimonides just would not want to see the obvious link with what had happened, more that a millennium before his time, in Jerusalem, during the Last Supper?

Whatever the answer, the question remains: why bread and wine, if “God is One”?

______________

iMaimonides. Le Guide des égarés. Ed. Verdier. 1979. The translation from Arabic into French by Salomon Munk, p.609, gives here : « raisons virtuelles ».

iiMaimonides. Le Guide des égarés. Ed. Verdier. 1979. Translation from Arabic into French by Salomon Munk, p.609 sq.

Neuroscience and Metaphysics


« Ezekiel’s Vision »

« There are not many Jewish philosophers, » says Leo Straussi.

This statement, however provocative, should be put into perspective.

The first Jewish philosopher, historically speaking, Philo of Alexandria, attempted a synthesis between his Jewish faith and Greek philosophy. He had little influence on the Judaism of his time, but much more on the Fathers of the Church, who were inspired by him, and instrumental in conserving his works.

A millennium later, Moses Maimonides drew inspiration from Aristotelian philosophy in an attempt to reconcile faith and reason. He was the famous author of the Guide of the Perplexed, and of the Mishne Torah, a code of Jewish law, which caused long controversies among Jews in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Another celebrity, Baruch Spinoza was « excommunicated » (the Hebrew term is חרם herem) and definitively « banished » from the Jewish community in 1656, but he was admired by Hegel, Nietzsche, and many Moderns…

In the 18th century, Moses Mendelssohn tried to apply the spirit of the Aufklärung to Judaism and became one of the main instigators of the « Jewish Enlightenment », the Haskalah (from the word השכלה , « wisdom », « erudition »).

We can also mention Hermann Cohen, a neo-Kantian of the 19th century, and « a very great German philosopher », in the words of Gérard Bensussanii.

Closer in time, Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig and Emmanuel Lévinas .

That’s about it. These names don’t make a crowd, but we are far from the shortage that Leo Strauss wanted to point out. It seems that Leo Strauss really wished to emphasize, for reasons of his own, « the old Jewish premise that being a Jew and being a philosopher are two incompatible things, » as he himself explicitly put it.iii

It is interesting to recall that Leo Strauss also clarified his point of view by analyzing the emblematic case of Maimonides: « Philosophers are men who try to account for the Whole on the basis of what is always accessible to man as man; Maimonides starts from the acceptance of the Torah. A Jew may use philosophy and Maimonides uses it in the widest possible way; but, as a Jew, he gives his assent where, as a philosopher, he would suspend his assent.”iv

Leo Strauss added, rather categorically, that Maimonides’ book, The Guide of the Perplexed, « is not a philosophical book – a book written by a philosopher for philosophers – but a Jewish book: a book written by a Jew for Jews.”v

The Guide of the Perplexed is in fact entirely devoted to the Torah and to the explanation of the « hidden meaning » of several passages. The most important of the « hidden secrets » that it tries to elucidate are the ‘Narrative of the Beginning’ (the Genesis) and the ‘Narrative of the Chariot’ (Ezekiel ch. 1 to 10). Of these « secrets », Maimonides says that « the Narrative of the Beginning” is the same as the science of nature and the “Narrative of the Chariot” is the same as the divine science (i.e. the science of incorporeal beings, or of God and angels).vi

The chapters of Ezekiel mentioned by Maimonides undoubtedly deserve the attention and study of the most subtle minds, the finest souls. But they are not to be put into all hands. Ezekiel recounts his « divine visions » in great detail. It is easy to imagine that skeptics, materialists, rationalists or sneers (whether Jewish or not) are not part of the intended readership.

Let us take a closer look at a revealing excerpt of Ezekiel’ vision.

« I looked, and behold, there came from the north a rushing wind, a great cloud, and a sheaf of fire, which spread a bright light on all sides, in the center of which shone like polished brass from the midst of the fire. Also in the center were four animals that looked like humans. Each of them had four faces, and each had four wings. Their feet were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of calves’ feet. They sparkled like polished bronze. They had human hands under the wings on their four sides; and all four of them had their faces and wings. Their wings were joined together; they did not turn as they walked, but each walked straight ahead. As for the figures of their faces, all four had the face of a man, all four had the face of a lion on the right, all four had the face of an ox on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle.”vii

The vision of Ezekiel then takes a stunning turn, with a description of an appearance of the « glory of the Lord ».

« I saw again as it were polished brass, fire, within which was this man, and which shone round about, from the form of his loins upward, and from the form of his loins downward, I saw as fire, and as bright light, about which he was surrounded. As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of that bright light: it was an image of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.”viii

The « man » in the midst of the fire speaks to Ezekiel as if he were an « image » of God.

But was this « man » really an « image » of God? What « philosopher » would dare to judge this statement ?

Perhaps this « man » surrounded by fire was some sort of « reality »? Or was he just an illusion?

Either way, it is clear that this text and its possible interpretations do not fit into the usual philosophical canons.

Should we therefore follow Leo Strauss, and consequently admit that Maimonides himself is not a « philosopher », but that he really wrote a « Jewish book » for the Jews, in order to respond to the need for clarification of the mysteries contained in the Texts?

Perhaps… But the modern reader of Ezekiel, whether Jewish or not, whether a philosopher or not, cannot fail to be interested in the parables one finds there, and in their symbolic implications.

The « man » in the midst of the fire asks Ezekiel to « swallow » a book, then to go « to the house of Israel », to this people which is not for him « a people with an obscure language, an unintelligible language », to bring back the words he is going to say to them.

The usual resources of philosophy seem little adapted to deal with this kind of request.

But the Guide for the Perplexed tackles it head on, in a both refined and robust style, mobilizing all the resources of reason and criticism, in order to shed some light on people of faith, who are already advanced in reflection, but who are seized with « perplexity » in the face of the mysteries of such « prophetic visions ».

The Guide for the Perplexed implies a great trust in the capacities of human reason.

It suggests that these human capacities are far greater, far more unbounded than anything that the most eminent philosophers or the most enlightened poets have glimpsed through the centuries.

And it is not all. Ages will come, no doubt, when the power of human penetration into divine secrets will be, dare we say it, without comparison with what Moses or Ezekiel themselves were able to bequeath to posterity.

In other words, and contrary to usual wisdom, I am saying that the age of the prophets, far from being over, has only just begun; and as well, the age of philosophers is barely emerging, considering the vast scale of the times yet to come.

Human history still is in its infancy, really.

Our entire epoch is still part of the dawn, and the great suns of the Spirit have not revealed anything but a tiny flash of their potential illuminating power.

From an anatomical and functional point of view, the human brain conceals much deeper mysteries, much more obscure, and powerful, than the rich and colorful metaphors of Ezekiel.

Ezekiel’s own brain was once, a few centuries ago, prey to a « vision ». So there was at that time a form of compatibility, of correspondence between the inherent structure of Ezekiel’s brain and the vision which he was able to give an account of.

The implication is that one day in the future, presumably, other brains of new prophets or visionaries may be able to transport themselves even further than Ezekiel.

It all winds down to this: either the prophetic « vision » is an illusion, or it has a reality of its own.

In the first case, Moses, Ezekiel and the long list of the « visionaries » of mankind are just misguided people who have led their followers down paths of error, with no return.

In the second case, one must admit that a “prophetic vision” implies the existence of another “world” subliminally enveloping the « seer ».

To every « seer » it is given to perceive to a certain extent the presence of the mystery, which surrounds the whole of humanity on all sides.

To take up William James’ intuition, human brains are analogous to « antennae », permanently connected to an immense, invisible worldix.

From age to age, many shamans, a few prophets and some poets have perceived the emanations, the pulsations of this other world.

We have to build the neuroscience and the metaphysics of otherworldly emanations.

_________

iLeo Strauss. Maïmonides. 1988, p.300

iiGérard Bensussan. Qu’est-ce que la philosophie juive ? 2003, p.166.

iiiLeo Strauss. Maïmonides. 1988, p.300

ivIbid., p.300

vIbid., p.300

viIbid., p. 304

viiEzekiel, 1, 4-10

viiiEzekiel, 1, 4-10

ixWilliam James. Human Immortality: Two Supposed Objections to the Doctrine.1898. Ed. Houghton, Mifflin and Company, The Riverside Press, Cambridge.

Seeing the « Hidden » God


Moses wearing a veil

The Hebrew word temounah has three meanings, says Maimonides.

Firstly, it refers to the shape or figure of an object perceived by the senses. For example: « If you make a carved image of the figure (temounah) of anything, etc., you are making an image of the shape or figure of an object perceived by the senses. « (Deut. 4:25)

Secondly, this word may be used to refer to figures, thoughts or visions that may occur in the imagination: « In thoughts born of nocturnal visions (temounah), etc.”, (Jb. 4:13). This passage from Job ends by using a second time this word: « A figure (temounah), whose features were unknown to me, stood there before my eyes. « (Jb. 4:16). This means, according to Maimonides, that there was a ghost before Job’s eyes while he was sleeping.

Finally, this word may mean the idea perceived by the intelligence. It is in this sense that one can use temounah when speaking of God: « And he beholds the figure (temounah) of the Lord. « (Num. 12:8). Maimonides comments: « That is to say, he contemplates God in his reality.” It is Moses, here, who ‘contemplates’ the reality of God. In another passage, again about Moses, God Himself says: « I speak to him face to face, in a clear appearance and without riddles. It is the image (temounah) of God himself that he contemplates. » (Numbers 12:8).

Maimonides explains: « The doctors say that this was a reward for having first ‘hidden his face so as not to look at God’ (Berakhot 7a) ». Indeed, one text says: « Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look towards God.” (Ex. 3:6)

It is difficult to bring anything new after Maimonides and the doctors. But this word, whose image, vision and idea can be understood through its very amphibology, deserves a special effort.

The word temounah is written תְּמוּנָה (root מוּן ).

The letter taw, the initial of temounah, can be swapped with the other ‘t’ in the Hebrew alphabet, the teth ט, as is allowed in the Hebrew language, which is very lax in this respect. This gives a new word, which can be transcribed as follows: themounah. Curiously enough, the word thamana טָמַן, which is very close to it, means « to hide, to bury ».

One may argue that it’s just a play on words. But the salt of the matter, if one lends any virtue to the implicit evocations of the meaning of the words, is that Moses « hides » (thamana) his face so as not to see the temounah of God.

By hiding (thamana) his own face (temounah), Moses contemplates the figure (temounah) of God, which remains hidden from him (thamana).

What does this teach us?

It teaches us that the divine figure does not show itself, even to a prophet of the calibre of Moses. Rather, it shows that the divine figure stays hidden. But by hiding, it also shows that one can contemplate its absence, which is in fact the beginning of the vision (temounah) of its very essence (temounah).

By renouncing to see a temounah (an image), one gains access to the temounah of the temounah (the understanding of the essence).

Through this riddle, hopefully, one may start to get access to God’s temounah.

It is also a further indication that God is indeed a hidden God. No wonder it is difficult to talk about His existence (and even more so about His essence) to ‘modern’ people who only want to « see » what is visible.

YHVH’s Temounah


The Hebrew word תְּמוּנָה (temounah) has three meanings, according to Maimonides.

Firstly, it refers to the shape or figure of an object perceived by the senses. For example: « If you make a carved image of the figure (temounah) of anything, etc., it is a form or figure of an object perceived by the senses. « (Deut. 4:25)

Then, it may describe imaginary figures and thoughts that may occur in the imagination: « In thoughts born of night visions, etc. »(Jb. 4:13). This passage from Job ends by using the word temounah: « A figure (temounah), whose features were unknown to me, stood there before my eyes. « (Jb. 4:16). This means, says Maimonides, that there was a ghost before Job’s eyes, appearing while he was sleeping.

In its third sense, this word means the idea perceived by the intelligence. It is in this sense, says Maimonides, that one can use temounah when speaking of God, as in this passage: « And he beholds the figure (temounah) of the Lord (YHVH). « (Num. 12:8).

Maimonides comments as follows: “That is to say, he [Moses] contemplates God in his reality.”

In this famous passage, God speaks in the first person singular: “I speak to him [Moses] face to face, in evidence, not in riddles.”

Then, immediately afterwards, God speaks of Himself in the third person: « and he [Moses] sees the form (temounah) of YHVH. »

Maimonides comments: « The doctors say that this was a reward for having first ‘hidden his face so as not to look at God’ (Berakhot 7a) ».

Indeed, during the burning bush episode: “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look towards God” (Ex. 3:6)

But Maimonides is silent on the fact that the Berakhot treatise reports opposing opinions on this subject.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korḥa interprets negatively that Moses first hid his face and then asked God to show him His « glory » (Ex. 33:18). Consequently, God denies him this privilege.

On the contrary, Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani and Rabbi Yonatan believe that Moses’ discretion when God appeared in the burning bush was rewarded in three ways. Firstly, his face « shone » when he came down from the mountain (Ex. 34:29). Secondly, the Israelites « were afraid to approach him » (Ex. 34:30). Thirdly, Moses could « see the form (temounah) of YHVH » (Num. 12:8).

It is difficult to say anything new after the doctors of the Talmud and Maimonides. I will try anyway.

The word תְּמוּנָה (temounah) has as its verbal root מוּן, moun, “to furrow, split; to invent, fabricate, lie”i. The letter taw, initial of temounah, gives the word its substantive form. But if one swaps this taw with the teth of the Hebrew alphabet, one gets the word themounah. And curiously enough, the word thamana, טָמַן, means precisely « to hide, to bury ».

I find it very surprising that Moses “hides” (thamana) his face in order not to see the temounah of God. And that by “hiding” (thamana) his face, he was precisely granted the privilege of seeing YHVH’s temounah…

One may still want to ask: was YHVH’s temounah a figure, a vision or an idea?

Admittedly, the etymological root of the word temounah is not very reassuring, as it evokes invention, fabrication or lies…

We may want to re-read Num 12:6-8 with extra attention:

“If there is a prophet among you, it is in a vision ( בַּמַּרְאָה , ba-mar’ah) that I reveal myself to him, it is in a dream (בַּחֲלוֹם , ba-ḥalom) that I speak to him. It is not so with my servant Moses, all my house is entrusted to him. I speak to him face to face, (פֶּה אֶל-פֶּה , pê êl-pê), in evidence, (מַרְאֶה , mar’êh), not in riddles, and he sees the temounah of YHVH.” (Numbers 12:6-8).

It is said explicitly, here, that Moses is not just like other prophets, and that consequently, God did not reveal Himself to Moses “in a vision” (ba-mar’ah) or “in a dream” (ba-ḥalom).

However God revealed Himself as “mar’êh” and as “temounah”. What do these words really mean?

The word מַרְאֶה , mar’êh, means in fact « vision », but also « mirror ». The first meaning is found in Dan 10:7, « They did not see the vision » and in Ez 8:3, « In visions of God » (בְּמַרְאוֹת אֱלֹהִים , be-mar’ot Elohim). The second meaning is found in Ex 38:8, « with the mirrors of the women ».

Given the context, it seems probable that the meaning found in Daniel and Ezechiel (‘vision’) must prevail here, though this meaning still seem to contradict Num 12:6.

The translation of mar’êh by « evidence » is also a possible option, but there still may be an ambiguity, if the « vision » is seen like in a « mirror ».

The King James translation of Num 12:8 gives :

« With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold. »

That translation does not really help to eradicate a doubt about the real nature of the mar’êh and of the temounah.

So, did Moses “see” YHVH “apparently”, or in a “vision”, or like “in a mirror”, or “in evidence” ?

What we just know is that Moses did not “see” the temounah of YHVH ( תְמֻנַת יְהוָה ), “by a vision” or “in a vision” (ba-mar’ah).

We also know that Moses did not “see” but did “contemplate” (יַבִּיט , yabit) “a vision” (mar’êh), – directly, without the preposition בַּ, i.e. without any intermediary.

Moses contemplated a pure and intelligible idea, perceived by his intelligence, his soul.

iCf. Ernest Klein. A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English. Carta Jerusalem & The University of Haifa. 1987

Seeing God and Dying


Maimonides often uses words in a double sense, – positive and negative, real and metaphorical, tool and weapon. In a passage dedicated to the different ways of ‘seeing’ God, he thus questioned the meaning of the verse: ‘And they saw God, and ate and drank’ (Ex. 24:11):

« It has been said: ‘And Moses hid his face, because he feared to look to God’ (Ex. 3:6), – where we must also consider what the literal meaning indicates; namely, that he was afraid to look at the shining light (of the burning bush), – not that the eyes could perceive the divinity [that it be exalted and exalted above all imperfection!]. Moses deserved praise for this, and the Most High poured out his goodness and favor upon him so much that in the following it could be said of him: ‘And he beholds the figure of God’ (Num. 12:8); for the doctors say that this was a reward for having first ‘hidden his face so as not to look toward God’ (Berakhot 7a). But as for « the chosen ones among the children of Israel » (Ex. 24:11), they acted hastily, giving free rein to their thoughts; they perceived (the divinity) but in an imperfect way. Therefore it is said of them: ‘And they saw the God of Israel, and under his feet, etc.’ (ibid. v. 10), and it was not enough to simply say, ‘And they saw the God of Israel’, for the whole sentence is intended only to criticize their vision, not to describe how they saw. Thus, all that was done was to criticize the form in which they had perceived (God) and which was tainted with corporeality, which was the necessary result of the haste they had put into it before they had perfected themselves. (…) When the ‘chosen among the children of Israel’ made false steps in their perception, their actions were also disturbed thereby, and they inclined towards bodily things by the vice of their perception; therefore the Scripture says: ‘And they saw God, and ate and drank’ (Ex. 24:11) ».i

Maimonides does not deny that the ‘chosen among the children of Israel’ saw God. But he asserts that this vision was tainted by ‘corporeality’, by the discreet metonymy that occurs in counterpoint. Would men who had just ‘seen God’ begin, without transition, to ‘eat and drink’?

Maimonides is not interested in what the ‘chosen among the children of Israel’ could ‘see’ or ‘not see’. He does not seek to criticize their claim to have ‘seen’. He is only interested in the fact that they ‘saw, ate and drank’ in the same movement, which implies a form of homogeneity, integration, analogy, between three very different actions. ‘Eating’ and ‘drinking’ cast a retrospective shadow over ‘seeing’ in this context. Maimonides does not deny the ‘seeing’, he merely devalues it, materializing it, trivializing it, laminating it.

There are other possible criticisms, much more radical.

In his commentary on the same verses, Rashi says: « They have looked and they have contemplated, and for this they have deserved mortal punishment. » He adds that the Holy One, Blessed be He, waited for the day of the dedication of the Tabernacle, and then a fire from the Lord burned them and devoured them at the end of the camp.

In an additional commentary to this commentary by Rashi (in the 1987 edition edited by E. Munk), we read: « They sought to be able to glimpse at least a quick glance at the Godhead, in a sort of hidden glimpse of the Godhead. »

Was it a deep contemplation or a quick glimpse? It doesn’t matter. The same punishment awaits those who have even cast a glance at this transcendental phenomenon: death by lightning strikes, – not on the spot [so as not to spoil the reception of the Torah, says Maimonides], but a little later, after the feast of the Tabernacle, and out of sight of the people, at the end of the camp. A true execution, coldly prepared, in the Mossad style, if I dare say so.

But, if it was a question for God to give a good lesson to his people, why not strike those guilty of ‘vision’ in front of everyone, to better strike the minds?

We need to go deeper into this question.

What was the greatest fault of the « chosen among the children of Israel »? To have « seen » the Divinity? Or to have « seen » it by stealth? Or to have « seen » it, – and then to have « eaten and drunk » it?

The answer varies according to the comments, as can be judged from Maimonides and Rashi.

We know that Moses himself, and several ‘chosen ones among the sons of Israel’ were able to ‘see’ God and not die on the spot. This is an important point. It is said in the Torah that one cannot see God without dying. So it is still possible, it seems, to see the Divinity and to survive, at least for a while.

If we put aside the case of Moses, we learn that the other « seers » were punished a little later. One can always imagine that those who had glimpsed the Divinity (supposing that they had indeed been able to look at it in secret, – which Maimonides denies, but which Rashi acknowledges), the ‘seers’ could have been saved, if they had prayed, or if they had meditated on their vision, wondering why they had only seen the « feet » of the Divinity.

Or should they have just avoided ‘eating and drinking’ right after they ‘saw’?

Or should they have repented instead, having given in to the understandable desire to take a look at such an extraordinary phenomenon as a « shining light »?

What can we learn from this? We learn that ‘seeing God’ does not necessarily imply ‘dying’, despite the warnings of the Torah.

It is ‘seeing God’, then ‘eating and drinking’, that implies dying.

iMaïmonides. Guide of the Perplexed. III. §5, pp.37-38. Ed. Verdier. 1979

The Elsewhere God


 

There are some things it is better to keep quiet about. Whatever we may say, we risk approximation, error, provocation, offense, – or even, more bitingly, the silent smile of the wise men, if there are any.

The psalmist says, addressing Elohim:

לְךָ דֻמִיָּה תְהִלָּה lekha doumiâ tehilâ. » For you, silence is praise »i.

In order to think, it is better to remain silent: « Think in your heart, on your bed make silence.»ii

Silence must be kept, but one can still write. About the highest mysteries, writing is in the same time compass and bearing, mast and mainsail. A wind of inspiration will then come, maybe.

Maimonides himself did not hesitate to face, in writing, the ocean of mysteries. In writing, he even tried to define the essence of true wisdom, and thus that of God.

« The word ‘Hokhma in the Hebrew language has four meanings »iii, he wrote. ‘Hokhma refers to the understanding of philosophical truths that have as their goal the perception of God. It can also be said of the possession of any art or industry. It applies to the acquisition of moral virtues. Finally, it is applied in the sense of finesse and cunning.

Vast spectrum of possible meanings, then. Or structural ambiguity?

« It may be that the word ‘Hokhma in the Hebrew language has (originally) the meaning of ‘finesse’ and ‘application of thought’, so that this finesse or sagacity will have as its object sometimes the acquisition of intellectual qualities, sometimes that of moral qualities, sometimes that of a practical art, sometimes malice and wickedness.”iv

Who can be said to be « wise » then?

« He who is instructed in the whole Law, and who knows its true meaning, is called ‘hakham in two respects, because it embraces both intellectual and moral qualities.”

Maimonides then quotes on Aristotlev and the ancient philosophers to define « four species of perfections ».

The first kind of ‘perfection’ is particularly prized by most men but is really of little value. It is material possession. Mountains of gold and silver are to be possessed, they offer only a passing enjoyment, and at the bottom of the imagination.

The second is the perfection of the body, the physical constitution, beauty, health. This is certainly not nothing, but has little impact on the health of the soul itself.

The third kind of perfection consists in moral qualities. This is a definite advantage from the point of view of the essence of the soul. But moral qualities are not an end in themselves. They serve only as a preparation for some other, higher purpose.

The fourth sort of perfection is true human perfection. It consists in being able to conceive ideas about the great metaphysical questions. This is the true end of man. « It is through it that he obtains immortality, »vi Maimonides said.

Jeremiah had also expressed himself on this subject, in his own style: « Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, nor the strong man glory in his strength, nor the rich man glory in his riches; but whoever wishes to glory, let him find glory in this: to have understanding and to know me, for I am YHVH.”vii

Wisdom is knowledge, – the knowledge of the Lord.

But how to get to know that specific knowledge?

Jeremiah has an answer:

« I am YHVH, who exercises goodness, justice and righteousness in the earth. Yes, this is what I delight in, says YHVH!” viii 

This means that the essence of God is known by His actions, which should be taken as a model. There are three fundamental ones: חֶסֶד , hesed (goodness), מִשְׁפָּט , michpat (law), and ָּצְדָקָה , tsedaka (justice).

Maimonides comments: « He [Jeremiah] then adds another essential idea, saying – ‘on earth’ –, and this idea is the pillar of religion”ix.

Since this idea comes at the very end of the Guide for the Perplexed, it can probably be thought to be its final conclusion.

That simple, conclusive, remark leaves open an immense field of new research. What would be the essence of God, not just on earth, but elsewhere?

And would the answer to that question, if we knew it, be possibly the pillar of another kind of religion?

i Ps. 65,2

ii Ps. 4,5

iiiMaïmonides. Guide of the Perplexed. III. §54, pp.629. Ed. Verdier. 1979.

ivIbid. p.630

vL’Éthique à Nicomaque. 1,8 et sq.

viMaïmonides. Guide of the Perplexed. III. §54, pp.633. Ed. Verdier. 1979.

vii Jer. 9, 22-23

viiiJér. 9,23

ixMaïmonide.Le Guide des égarés. 3ème partie. §54, pp.635. Ed. Verdier. 1979

Biblical Love


« Ben Bag Bag said: Turn her over and over, for all is in her; search her, grow old and weary into her, and from her do not move, for there is nothing better for you than heri

In this short piece of advice, one can be struck by the deliberate ambiguity, the soft insinuation with which Ben Bag Bag introduces and cultivates the allusion – a metaphor for high-flying teaching.

The original meaning is clear. The figure « in which » to « wear out » is the Torah.

Already, the Song of Songs had accustomed us to the idea that erotic metaphors, even the most daring ones, could be applied to translate the highest and deepest spiritual realities.

Rambam (Maimonides) commented on Ben Bag Bag: « He says about the Torah: examine it in every sense and meditate on it, for everything is in it. And he adds, ‘Examine her’ (תחזי), for if you look at her with the eye of understanding, you will see the truth in her, as the Aramaic formula ‘and she lives’ is translated into Aramaic by וחזא. Then he says: ‘Grow old and use yourself into her’, that is to say, work into her until the end of old age and do not leave her for anything else. »

The Torah is like a woman, – a woman whom one loves for life, until old age, and « into whom » one must turn, return, wear out, and never leave.

Is such a metaphor permissible? To the wise, everything is possible. It is up to the commentator not to attempt the deeper intention. The metaphor of faithful, conjugal, lifelong, consecrated love is not a bad one. The associated images are transformed, then magnified, by their very slippage.

The same Pirqe Abot, michnah 4 of chapter 2, teaches: « He said: Fulfill His desire as if it were yours, so that He may fulfill your desire as if it were His own. Suspend your desire in front of His, then He will suspend the desire of others in front of yours. »

Rachi comments:  » ‘Fulfill His desire as if it were your own,’ even when you fulfill your desire, do it in the name of Heaven. ‘That he may fulfill your desire as though it were His own’, so that from Heaven you may be given well and abundantly. ‘Suspend your desire in the face of his’: compare the harm of the commandment with his wages; ‘then he will suspend the desire of others’, who stand against you to harm you. »

Biblical Hebrew is a crude language, where things are said directly, without detours. For example, the verb ‘to love’ רׇחַם is used like this: « I will love thee, O Lord, my strength. » The same word, in its substantive form, means: « womb, sex, breast, entrails », and also, « vulture, filthy bird » (- this name was given because of the vulture’s love for its young).

The word ‘desire’, רָצוֹן ratson, also means « complacency, contentment, pleasure, favour, joy, pleasure, grace ». The arc of the senses here runs from the most material to the most spiritual.

These words are like Jacob’s ladder, which one can use to climb to the highest Heavens or descend to the bottom of the abyss.

iPirqe Avot. Michna 5,22.

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:

THE FAKIR AND THE BRAMIN.

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.

SYMBOL – THE FAKIR AND THE BRAMIN.

« 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.

Careful! Logic is misleading


« The most characteristic feature of the mystery is the fact that it is announced everywhere »i.

It is announced, but not revealed.

It is presented, but not disclosed. It is reported, but not visible.

« What is hidden is what is revealed »ii

I assume that « what is hidden » points not to the invisible but to the ineffable.

What is revealed is ineffable.

Between myth and mysticism, there are as many differences as there are between the invisible and the unspeakable.

Buried caches, deep caves, dark cellars, distant Hades, these are the founding places of the myth. Esoteric thinkers promise the vision of these secret places to the initiate, when the time comes.

Mysticism goes beyond myth in this: it claims to reveal nothing of the « mystery », which remains unspeakable, inexpressible, incommunicable. What mysticism teaches is not what cannot be said, but what testifies to it, what by signs takes the place of it.

« The god whose oracle is in Delphi does not reveal, does not hide, but gives a sign. « iii (Heraclitus)

You have to get used to thinking like crabs, to drifting towards the sea, running sideways, going sideways. Think by allusions, by paradoxes. « God exists, but not by existence. He lives, but not by life. He knows, but not by science » iv (Leibniz).

Words, syntax, grammars, are teeming with false leads. The researcher must look for other stars, to cross the unknown seas of the world.

Logic itself and its laws are misleading. It is better to follow Leibniz: « The more we succeed in abstracting ourselves from demonstrating God, the more we progress in His knowledge. »v

iS. John Chrysostom

ii Ignatius of Antioch, Ad. Eph. 19,1

iii Heraclitus, Frag. 93.

ivCf. Observations de Leibniz sur le livre du Rabbin Moïse Maïmonide intitulé le Guide des Égarés. §C57

v Ibid. §C59

The other ‘Other’


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

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

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

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

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

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

The second one: « YHVH (יהוה) ».

The third: « God » (אל).

The fourth: « Clement » (רחום).

The fifth: « Merciful » (חנון).

The sixth: « Slow to anger (אפים) ».

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

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

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

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

The eleventh: « And sin (חטאה) ».

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are also questions about some apparent inconsistencies:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another what? Another generation?

Or might it be another ‘Other’?

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

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

ii Ibid. § C54

iiiEx. 34,6-7