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?