“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

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?

La vérité est barbue, et la lumière aveugle.

L’un des meilleurs spécialistes français de la Kabbale s’appelle Secret. Les noms propres portent parfois en eux des destins ramassés. François Secret a écrit Le Zohar chez les Kabbalistes chrétiens de la Renaissance (1958), livre dans lequel apparaissent des noms aussi romantiques que Bartholomeus Valverdius, Knorr de Rosenroth, Blaise de Vigenère, Alfonso de Zamora, Guy Le Fèvre de la Boderie, ou encore Gilles de Viterbe, l’incontournable Guillaume Postel, et bien sûr Johannis Reuchlin et Pic de la Mirandole. Ces noms paraissent comme des étoiles filantes dans la nuit. On aimerait suivre leurs trajectoires, gravées dans l’encre des longs soirs.

Mais Secret, si savant, ne révèle aucun secret, on peut le regretter.

Il incite à continuer de chercher, aux sources, ou chez les apparemment initiés.

L’un des livres les plus connus de la Kabbale s’intitule, sans fausse modestie, Siphra di Tsenniutha (le Livre du Mystère). Il commence ainsi :

« Le Livre du Mystère est le Livre qui décrit l’équilibre de la balance. Car avant qu’il y ait équilibre, la Face ne regardait pas la Face. »

Style compact. D’emblée, on entre dans le sujet. Balance. Face. Regard.

Quoi de plus élevé que la Face? Quoi de plus profond que son Regard?

Le verset 9 du Siphra di Tsenniutha suggère l’existence d’une échelle des profondeurs (l’inconnu, l’occulte, l’occulte dans l’occulte): « La tête qui n’est pas connue (…) est l’occulte dans l’occulte ».

Le verset 12 précise des détails épars, importants: « Ses cheveux sont comme de la laine pure flottant dans l’équilibre balancé ». Le chapitre 2 du Livre du Mystère évoque une « barbe de vérité ». La « tête qui n’est pas connue » arbore, nous l’apprenons ainsi, « cheveux » et « barbe ».

Selon un commentaire, la « barbe de vérité » est « l’ornement de tout ». À partir des oreilles, où elle commence, « elle forme autour du visage un vêtement ».

La vérité vêt le visage.

Il y a ce passage de l’Apocalypse : « Sa tête, avec ses cheveux blancs, est comme de la laine blanche, comme de la neige, ses yeux comme une flamme ardente. »i

Ces images matérialistes, barbe, cheveux, laine, flamme, sont communes à l’Apocalypse chrétienne et à la Kabbale juive. Elles ont été jugées pertinentes par nos Anciens pour la représentation de la « Face » de Dieu. Pourquoi ?

Les millénaires ont tranché. Une image concrète, même irréelle ou trompeuse, vaut mieux qu’une abstraction vide. Comme trope, elle suggère des pistes, encourage la critique, stimule la recherche.

La Kabbale projette l’idée subreptice que toute la symbolique dont elle est truffée n’est pas seulement symbolique. Le symbole, dans ce contexte, est la chose même. Chaque mot, chaque lettre du Texte, est une sorte d’incarnation, littéralement littérale. Les métaphores et les images portent aussi la charge de l’incarnation.

C’est l’un des paradoxes les plus constants de la science inconstante de l’interprétation. Le plus concret est le meilleur symbole de l’abstrait.

L’alchimie verbale de la Kabbale transmute les mots, les métamorphose en une surface aiguë, à l’aura buissonneuse, brûlante, les pulvérise et les disperse dans toutes les directions, scintillant d’opalescences.

Ajoutons ceci. La Loi est censée être transparente, puisqu’elle est faite pour être comprise et accomplie. Mais elle est pleine d’ombres, d’obscurités. Comment expliquer ce paradoxe ?

La Kabbale explique la Loi dans ses parties éclairées. Mais ce qui reste obscur, c’est la totalité de son sens, noyé d’ombre, sa finalité ultime, incompréhensible, inscrutable. L’obscurité de la Loi est systémique. La Kabbale, verbeuse, confuse, apporte moins de réponses qu’elle ne forge d’infinies questions. Elle montre que la Loi est irréductible, insoumise à la raison, au regard, à l’entendement.

La totalité de la Loi, son sens, sa fin, ne peuvent pas être saisis par des esprits partiaux, étroits. A travers les siècles, paraissent toujours à nouveau l’ombre, le caché, l’occulte.

« Ô vous qui avez l’entendement sain,

voyez la doctrine qui se cache,

sous le voile des vers étranges. »ii

Le chant IX de l’Enfer décrit le 6ème cercle, où sont confinés les hérésiarques et les disciples des sectes, qui n’ont pas su comprendre ni voir le déploiement du Tout.

Le chercheur marche dans la nuit. Surpris par un éclair, le regard découvre l’ampleur du paysage, une infinité de détails obscurs. Tout aussitôt, ce spectacle grandiose et précis disparaît dans l’ombre. L’éclair qui révèle prive l’œil aveuglé de sa force.

« Ainsi la lumière vive m’enveloppa,

me laissant entouré d’un tel voile de son éclat,

que plus rien ne m’apparaissait. »iii

i Ap. 1,14

ii Dante, Enfer, IX, 61-63

iii Dante, Paradis, XXX