How the Elohim Were Begotten


« Gershom Scholem »

Let’s begin with this verse from the Psalmist: « The foundation of your word is truth »i. In the original Hebrew: רֹאשׁ-דְּבָרְךָ אֱמֶת, roch devar-ka emét.

Another translation gives: « Truth, the principle of your word! » ii

In yet another translation, the word רֹאשׁ, roch, is translated as « essence »: « Truth is the essence of your word. »iii

The words used here, « foundation », « principle », « essence » are quite abstract. They belong to the philosophical language, and they seem somewhat removed from the spirit of ancient Hebrew, an eminently concrete, realistic language.

Originally, the word רֹאשׁ, roch means: 1) head, person, man. Then, by derivation, metonymy or metaphor: 2) head, top, point, main thing; 3) sum, number, troop; 4) beginning, the first; 5) a poisonous plant (the hemlock, or poppy), poison, venom, gall.

It is from the 4th meaning of roch that the word reshit, « beginning », derives, this word which one finds precisely at the very beginning of the Torah: Be-rechit, « in the beginning ».

If one wanted to render exactly all the connotations of the word רֹאשׁ, rosh in the verse of Psalm 119, one would have to resolve to translate it into a sum of formulations, – a swarm of meanings:

-At the head of your word, the truth.

-The tip of your word is truth.

-The sum of your word is truth.

-Truth is the beginning of your word.

-The truth is the venom of your word.

Each of these formulas is clearly unsatisfactory, but as a whole they open up new questions and new perspectives.

For example, if truth is « at the head » of the word, or in its « tip », or in its « beginning », does this mean that in all the « rest » of the word there is something other than truth?

If it is the « sum » of the word that is the « truth », does this imply that each of the parts of the « word » does not really contain it?

How can we understand that the word (of God) can contain a « venom »?

The more modern translations that have been cited (« foundation, principle, essence ») seem to escape these difficulties of interpretation. They immediately give the verse a veneer of depth and a kind of philosophical allure.

But this « abstract » veneer and this « philosophical » appearance are undoubtedly the indications of a real deviation from the original meaning, intended by the Psalmist, which was to be much more « concrete ».

If one wants to remain faithful to the genius of ancient Hebrew, the essence of the word roch must rather be sought in one of its main derivative, the word rechit (« beginning »).

This word is indeed part of the description of a key moment of Creation, the « Beginning », and it derives a special prestige from it.

This eminent moment is described by Zohar 1:15a in a surprisingly vivid way, in a passage full of dark light, particularly delicate to « translate », even for the best specialists and the most learned rabbis who have worked on it.

One may judge the difficulty from four very different translations of this strange text which will now be presented.

Gershom Scholem offers :

« In the beginning, when the King’s will began to act, he drew signs in the divine aura. A dark flame gushes forth from the most intimate depths of the mystery of the Infinite, the En-Sof; like a mist that gives form to what has no form, it is enclosed in the ring of this aura, it appears neither white, nor black, nor red, nor green, without any color. But when it began to grow in height and spread, it produced radiant colors. For in the innermost center of this flame, a spring gushes forth, whose flames spill over everything below, hidden in the mysterious secrets of the En-Sof. The source gushes forth, and yet it does not gush forth completely, through the ethereal aura that surrounds it. It was absolutely unrecognizable until, under the shock of this spurt, a higher point then hidden would have shone. Beyond this point, nothing can be known or understood and that is why it is called Rechit, meaning « beginning », the first word of creation. » iv

What is this « point » called Rechit? Gershom Scholem indicates that for the Zohar (whose paternity he attributes to Moses de León) and for the majority of Kabbalist writers, this primordial « point », this « beginning » is identified with the divine « Wisdom », Hokhmah.

Before proposing his own translation-interpretation of this difficult passage of the Zohar, Charles Mopsikv cites two other translation-interpretations, that of R. Siméon Labi of Tripoli and that of R. Moses Cordovero, both dating from the 16th century:

R. Simeon Labi :

« In the head, the King’s word carved signs in the highest transparency. A spark of darkness came out of the middle of the enclosure, from the head of the Ein-Sof; attached to the Golem (or initial formless matter), planted in the ring (…) This source is enclosed in the middle of the enclosure until, thanks to the jostling force of its breakthrough, a point, the supreme enclosure, is illuminated. After this point one knows nothing more, that is why it is called Rechit (beginning), first word. » vi

R. Moses Cordovero :

« At the moment before the King said, in his supreme zenith, he engraved a sign. An obscure (or eminent) flame gushes out inside the most enclosed, which started from the confines of the Infinite, forms in the Golem planted in the center of the ring (…) In the center of the Flame a spring gushes out from which the colors took their hue when it reached the bottom. The enclosure of the Enigma of the Infinite tried to pierce, but did not pierce its surrounding air and remained unknown until, by the power of its breakthrough, a point was illuminated, the supreme enclosure. Above this point nothing is knowable, so it is called Rechit, beginning, first of all words. » vii

Having thus prepared the ground with three different versions, and benefiting from their respective contributions, Charles Mopsik proposes his own translation, which is also jargonous and amphigorous, but which is not without opening up new reflexive possibilities:

« From the outset, the King’s resolution left the trace of his withdrawal in supreme transparency. An obscure flame springs from the quivering of the Infinite in its confinement. Like a form in the formless, inscribed on the seal. Neither white, nor black, nor red, nor green, nor of any color. When he then set the commensurable, he brought out colors that illuminated the confinement. And from the flame a spring gushed forth, downstream from which the hues of these colors appeared. Enclosure in the Confinement, quivering of the Infinite, the source pierces and does not pierce the air that surrounds it and it remains unknowable. Until by the insistence of its piercing, it brings to light a tenuous point, supreme confinement. From there this point is the unknown, so it is called the ‘beginning’, the first of all. » viii

It should be noted at the outset that Mopsik clearly distinguishes himself from other translators, from the very first sentence, by proposing that the King « leave the trace of his withdrawal in supreme transparency », rather than « engrave or carve signs ».

He justifies this bold choice in this way:

« What led us to prefer the expression ‘to leave the trace of its withdrawal’ to ‘to inscribe signs’ comes from the fact that the verb galaf or galif is rarely found in the Midrach, and when it appears, it is associated with the idea of inscribing in hollow, of opening the matrix. Thus it is this term that is used when God visited Sarah and then Rikvah who were barren (see Gen 47.2 , Gen 53.5 and Gen 63.5).

It is therefore likely that Zohar uses these connotations of generation and fertilization. Moreover, the passage in question was later interpreted by the school of Louria as an evocation of the Tsimtsum, or withdrawal of the divine.»ix

In Mopsik’s interpretation, therefore, in the beginning, God « opens the matrix », then withdraws from it, but nevertheless « leaves a trace of his withdrawal ».

Which « matrix » is it?

According to the Zohar, this ‘matrix’ is Wisdom (Hokhmah).

Indeed, a little further on, the Zohar gives these relatively cryptic, yet enlightening explanations:

« Until now, this has been the secret of ‘YHVH Elohim YHVH’. These three names correspond to the divine secret contained in the verse ‘In the beginning created Elohim’ (Berechit bara Elohim). Thus, the expression ‘In the beginning’ is an ancient secret, namely: Wisdom (Hokhmah) is called ‘Beginning’. The word ‘created’ also alludes to a hidden secret, from which everything develops. » x

Let’s summarize what we just learned:

Wisdom (Hokmah) is also called ‘Beginning’ (Rechit).

The « matrix » that God « opens » at the « Beginning », before « withdrawing » from it, is that of Wisdom. According to Charles Mopsik, the metaphors that the Zohar uses to describe this moment evoke « generation » and « fecundation ».

The Zohar, decidedly well-informed, still delivers these precisions:

« With this Beginning, the Hidden and Unknown One created the Temple (or Palace), and this Temple is called by the name ‘Elohim’. This is the secret of the words: ‘In the beginning created Elohim. xi

The great secret, unspeakable, spreads out clearly in the Zohar:

The One unites himself with Wisdom (whose other name is ‘Beginning’), then withdraws from it, while leaving his trace. From this union of the One and the Beginning is born the Temple (also called ‘Elohim’).

According to the Zohar, the first verse of the Torah ‘Be-rechit bara Elohim’ should be understood as follows: « With the Beginning, [the One, the Hidden One] created the Elohim (Lords).

Jewish ‘monotheism’ is definitely full of surprises…

From the Beginning, the Trinity of the One, Wisdom and Elohim is revealed.

The Elohim are generated by Wisdom, impregnated by the One…

_________________

iPs. 119:160

iiThe Jerusalem Bible. Ed. du Cerf, Paris, 1996

iiiGershom G. Scholem, in The Name of God and Kabbalistic Theory of Language. Alia. 2018, p.11

ivZohar 1.15a. Quoted by Gershom G. Scholem, Les grands courants de la mystique juive. Translation from English by Marie-Madeleine Davy. Ed. Payot, Paris, 2014, p.320

vCharles Mopsik. The Zohar. Ed. Verdier. 1981, p.482

viR. Simeon Labi de Tripoli in Ketem Paz Biour ha Milot (Enlightenment of Words), 1570, quoted by Charles Mopsik in op.cit. p.482

viiR. Moïse Cordovero, Or Yakar, Quoted by Charles Mopsik in op.cit. p.483

viiiTranslation by Charles Mopsik. The Zohar. Ed. Verdier. 1981, p.484

ixCharles Mopsik. The Zohar. Ed. Verdier. 1981, p.484

xZohar 1.15b

xiZohar 1.15a

The Thinker


The Thinker. Auguste Rodin

The Greek word logos means « reason » or « discourse, speech ».

In Plato’s philosophy, the Logos is the Principle and the Word. It is also the Whole of all the Intelligible, as well as the link between the divine powers, and what founds their unity. Finally, it is the « intermediary » between man and God.

For Philo of Alexandria, a Neo-Platonist Jew, the Logos takes two forms. In God, the Logos is the divine Intelligence, the Eternal Thought, the Thoughtful Thought. In its second form, the Logos resides in the world, it is the Thought in action, the Thought realized outside God.

Written shortly after Philo’s active years, the Gospel of John says that « in the beginning » there was the Logos who was God, and the Logos who was with God i. There was also the Logos who was made fleshii.

Does this mean that there are three instances of the Logos? The Logos who is God, the Logos who is with Him and the Logos who became flesh?

In Christian theology, there is only one Logos. Yet the three divine ‘instances’ of the Logos quoted by John have also been personified as Father, Son, Spirit.

For the structuralist philosopher, it is possible to sum up these difficult theses in a pragmatic way. The Logos comes in three forms or aspects: Being, Thinking, Speaking. That what is, that what thinks and that what speaks. These three forms are, moreover, fundamental states, from which everything derives, and with which anybody can find an analogy pointing to the fundamental human condition (existence, intelligence, expression).

Philo, who is both a Jew and a Neoplatonist, goes quite far with the theory of the Logos, despite the inherent difficulty of reconciling the unity of God and the multiplication of His ‘instances’ (that the Kabbalah, much later on, called ‘sefirot‘). For Philo, the Logos is the totality of God’s Ideas. These Ideas act “like seals, which when approached to the wax produce countless imprints without being affected in any way, always remaining the same.”iii

All things that exist in the universe derive from an Idea, a « seal ». The Logos is the general seal whose imprint is the entire universe.iv

Philo’s Logos is not « personified ». The Logos is the Organ of God (both His Reason and His Word) playing a role in the Creation. Philo multiplies metaphors, analogies, drawing from divine, human and natural images. The Logos is creation, engendering, speech, conception, or flow, radiation, dilatation. Using a political image, God « reigns », the Logos « governs ».

Philo’s thinking about the Logos is complex and confusing. A 19th century commentator judged that « a tremendous confusion is at the basis of Philo’s system »v. Allegedly, Philo seems to mix up Logos (Word), Pneuma (Spirit), Sophia (Wisdom) and Epistemus (Knowledge).

Wisdom seems to play the same role in relation to the Logos as the thinking Thought (Spirit) of God plays in relation to the world of the Intelligible. Wisdom is the deep source of this world of the Intelligible, and at the same time it is identical with it.

There is no logical quirk in this paradox. Everything comes from the nature of the divine Spirit, in which no distinction can be made between « container » and « content ».

The Logos is thus both the Author of the Law and the Law itself, the spirit and the letter of its content. The Logos is the Law, and the Logos is also its enunciator, its revelator.vi

The Logos is, in the universe, the Divine brought back to unity. He is also the intermediary between this unity and God. Everything which constitutes the Logos is divine, and everything which is divine, apart from the essence of God, is the Logos.

These ideas, as has been said, have been sometimes described as a « philosophical hodgepodge »; they seem to demonstrate a « lack of rigor »vii on the part of Philo, according to certain harsh judgments.

However, what strikes me is that Philo and John, at about the same historical period, the one immediately preceding the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, and independently of each other, specified the contours of a theophany of the Logos, with clear differences but also deep common structures.

What is even more striking is that, over the centuries, the Logos of the Stoics, the Platonic Noos, the Biblical Angel of the Eternal, the Word of YHVH, the Judeo-Alexandrine Logos, or the ‘Word made flesh‘, the Messiah of the first Christian Church, have succeeded one another. All these figures offer their analogies and differences.

As already said, the main difficulty, however, for a thinker like Philo, was to reconcile the fundamental unity of God, the founding dogma of Judaism, and His multiple, divine emanations, such as the Law (the Torah), or His Wisdom (Hokhma).

On a more philosophical level, the difficulty was to think a Thought that exists as a Being, that also unfolds as a living, free, creative entity, and that finally ´reveals´ herself as the Word — in the world.

There would certainly be an easy (negative) solution to this problem, a solution that « modern » and « nominalist » thinkers, cut off from these philosophical roots, would willingly employ: it would be to simply send the Logos and the Noos, the Angel and the  incarnate Wisdom, the Torah and the Gospel back into the dustbin of empty abstractions, of idealistic chimera.

I do not opt for such an easy solution. It seems to me contrary to all the clues accumulated by History.

I believe that the Spirit, as it manifests itself at a very modest level in each one of us, does not come from biochemical mechanisms, from synaptic connections. I believe it is precisely the opposite.

Our brain multiplies cellular and neuronal networks, in order to try to grasp, to capture at our own level, what the Spirit can let us see of its true, inner nature, its fundamental essence.

The brain, the human body, the peoples of different nations and, as such, the whole of humanity are, in their own unique way, immense collective ´antennae´, whose primary mission is to capture the diffuse signs of a creative Intelligence, and build a consciousness out of it.

The greatest human geniuses do not find their founding ideas at the unexpected crossroads of a few synapses, or thanks to haphazard ionic exchanges. Rather, they are « inspired » by a web of thoughtful Thoughts, in which all living things have been immersed since the beginning.

As a clue, I propose this image :  When I think, I think that I am; then I think that this thought is part of a Thought that lives, and endless becomes; and I think of this Thought, which never stops thinking, never ceases to think, eternally, the Thought that continues « to be », and that never stops being without thinking, and that never stops thinking without being.

iJn 1,1

iiJn 1,14

iiiPhilo. De Monarchia. II, 218

ivPhilo. De Mundi I, 5. De Prof. I, 547

vJean Riéville. La doctrine du Logos dans le 4ème évangile et dans les œuvres de Philon. 1881

viPhilo, De Migr. Abrah. I, 440-456

viiJean Riéville, op.cit.

The Secret Teaching of Hermes


In a short dialogue, Hermes addresses his son Tati to summarize some ancient, and quite essential ideas. We learn that man is made up of separate envelopes, body, mind, soul, reason, intelligence. As he gradually emerges from these envelopes, man is called upon to « know » better and better. His final vocation is « apotheosis », a word that must be taken literally i.e. to go « above the gods ».

Hermes:

– The energy of God is in His will. And God wants the universe to be. As Father, as Good, He wants the existence of that which is not yet. This existence of beings, there is God, there is the Father, there is the Good, it is no other thing. The world, the sun, the stars participate in the existence of beings. But they are not, however, for the living the cause of their life, or the origin of the Good. Their action is the necessary effect of the will of the Good, without which nothing could exist or become.

[My comment: Hermes does not believe in the immanence of the divine in the world. The divine is absolutely transcendent, and only His Will, whose effect can be observed through the existence of His creation, bears witness to this transcendent remoteness.]

Hermes:

It must be recognized that the vision of the Good is above our strength. The eyes of our intelligence cannot yet contemplate its incorruptible and incomprehensible beauty. You will see it a little, perhaps, when you at least know that you can say nothing about it. For true knowledge is found in the silence and rest of every sensation. Whoever achieves it can no longer think of anything else, nor look at anything, nor hear anything, nor even move his body. There is no more sensation or movement for him.

[My comment: There are two kinds of spirits. Those who have « seen » the Good, but cannot say anything about it, and those who have not « seen » it, but who will perhaps one day see it, under certain conditions. Hermes belongs to the first group. He can only express himself by allusion. He cannot say anything about it, which is already a lot …].

Hermes:

– The splendor that inundates all his thought and his soul tears man from the bonds of the body and transforms him entirely into divine essence. The human soul reaches the apotheosis when he has contemplated this beauty of Good.

Tat :

– What do you mean by « apotheosis », Father?

[My comment: Tat’s question is not a lexicographical one. He is waiting for a full description of the phenomenon. The word « apotheosis » is not a neologism, a word invented by Hermes. The word was used, for example, previously by Strabo to describe the death of Diomedes, which he also describes as « apotheosis », but in a sense that seems to transcend the reality of his « death ». « Some authors add to the subject of Diomedes that here he had begun to dig a canal leading to the sea, but having been called back to his homeland he was surprised by death and left this and many other useful undertakings unfinished. This is a first version about his death; another makes him stay until the end and die in Daunie; a third, purely fabulous, and which I have already had occasion to recall, speaks of his mysterious disappearance in one of the islands that bear his name; finally, one can look at this claim of the Henetians to place in their country, if not death, at least the apotheosis of the hero, as a fourth version…. « (Strabo, Geogr. VI, 3,9)].

Hermes:

– Every unfulfilled soul, my son, is subject to successive changes. The blinded soul, knowing nothing of beings, neither their nature nor the Good, is enveloped in bodily passions. The unfortunate soul, unaware of herself, is enslaved to foreign and abject bodies. She carries the burden of the body. Instead of commanding, she obeys. This is the evil of the soul. On the contrary, the good of the soul is knowledge. He who knows is good, and already divine.

[My comment: The body is a veil whose envelope prevents access to knowledge. In the body, the soul is enslaved. Not only can she not ‘see’, but she cannot ‘know’. She can only know her slavery, her enslavement. Which is already a lot, because it is the beginning of her liberation].

Hermes:

– Beings have sensations because they cannot exist without them; but knowledge is very different from sensation. Sensation is an influence that one undergoes. Knowledge is the end of a search, and the desire to search is a divine gift. For all knowledge is incorporeal.

[My comment: The sensation is imposed from the outside. Knowledge is first and foremost a desire for knowledge. To know is first of all a desire to know. But where does this desire come from, if one has no knowledge of what one can desire? « The desire to seek is a divine gift ». But isn’t it unfair to those who are deprived of the grace of this desire? No, this desire is in everyone, in latent form. The desire to know only asks to be born. It only needs to be set in motion, and it grows stronger with every step].

Hermes:

– All knowledge is a form, which grasps the intelligence, just as the intelligence uses the body. Thus both use a body, either intellectual or material. Everything comes down to this combination of opposites, form and matter, and it cannot be otherwise.

[My comment: Form and matter can be considered, as Hermes does, as a « combination of opposites ». One could also say « alliance of opposites », to mean that their whole is more than the sum of their parts. There is also the idea that intellectual representations can be described as having a « body », which itself is endowed with a spirit and perhaps a soul. This leads us to imagine a whole ascending hierarchy, of souls and spirits, up to a supreme root, of all souls and spirits. Two thousand years after these ideas began to be formulated, the Jewish Kabbalah of the European Middle Ages took up exactly the same ideas ].

Tat:

– What is this material God?

Hermes:

– The world is beautiful but it is not good, because it is material and passive. It is the first of the ‘passive’, but the second of the beings, and is not self-sufficient. It is born, though it is always, but it is in birth, and it becomes perpetual. Becoming is a change in quality and quantity – like any material movement.

[My comment: Here the influence of Gnosis is revealed. The world is beautiful, but it is not good. The assertions of Genesis are therefore contradicted head-on: ‘And God saw that it was good.’ (Cf. Gen. 1:4, Gen. 1:10, Gen. 1:12, Gen. 1:25). The first chapter of Genesis even concludes as follows: ‘And God saw everything that He had made, and it was very good.’ (Gen. 1:31). But this Gnosis can be interpreted. The world is not « good », admittedly, but it does not necessarily mean that it is « bad » either. If it is not « good » it is because it is always « becoming », it is always being « born ». Besides, one can argue that ‘Only God is good’, as Jesus said. This Gnosticism is therefore not incompatible with an interpretation of Creation as a living process, as an eschatological aim].

Hermes:

– The world is the first of the living. Man is second only to the world, and first among mortals. Not only is man not good, but he is evil, being mortal. Nor is the world not good, since it is mobile; but being immortal, it is not evil. Man, being both mobile and mortal, is evil. »

[My comment: Here, the vision of Gnosis becomes even more precise. The world is not evil, but Man is. The difference between the world and Man is that the world is always born, it is always alive and reborn, whereas Man is mortal. The only possibility, however, of escaping this fundamental evil is resurrection. If it is possible, then Man is also reborn, again, he escapes death, – and evil].

Hermes:

– It is necessary to understand how man’s soul is constituted: intelligence is in reason, reason in the soul, the soul in the mind, the mind in the body. The spirit, penetrating through veins, arteries and blood, moves the animal and carries it, so to speak. The soul infuses the spirit. Reason is at the bottom of the soul. And it is Intelligence that makes reason live.

[My comment: Man is a kind of metaphysical onion, containing deep down within him, in his inner core, a divine principle, – Intelligence, which is another name for Divine Wisdom.]

Hermes:

– God does not ignore man; on the contrary, He knows him and wants to be known by him. The only salvation of man is in the knowledge of God; this is the way of ascent to Olympus; only by this alone does the soul become good, not sometimes good, sometimes bad, but necessarily good.

[My comment: The ascent to Olympus is another metaphor for apotheosis].

Hermes:

“Contemplate, my son, the soul of the child; the separation is not yet complete; the body is small and has not yet received full development. It is beautiful to see the child, not yet sullied by the passions of the body, still almost attached to the soul of the world. But when the body has developed and holds her [the soul] in its mass, separation is accomplished, oblivion occurs in her, she ceases to participate in the beautiful and the good.”

[My comment: the loss of innocence of the soul begins from the first days of her apprenticeship in the body she has inherited. This loss of innocence can also be interpreted as the first steps in the long « ascent » that still awaits her].

Hermes:

« The same thing happens to those who come out of their body. The soul enters into herself, the spirit withdraws into the blood, the soul into the spirit. But the Intelligence, purified and freed from its envelopes, divine by nature, takes a body of fire and travels through space, abandoning the soul to its tribulations. »

[My comment: These words are a striking summary of the highest wisdom attained over tens of thousands of years by shamans, visionaries, prophets, poets, all over the world. They must be taken for what they are: a naked revelation, destined only to those souls predisposed, by their abysmal and primordial desire, to understand what it is all about].

Tat:

– What do you mean, O Father? Does intelligence separate from the soul and the soul from the spirit, since you said that the soul is the envelope of intelligence and the spirit is the envelope of the soul?

[My comment: Tat listens to his father very well, and he remains faithful to logic itself. His question is a request for clarification. The difference between the spirit and the soul and the difference between the soul and the intelligence may need to be explained more clearly. But how to explain “intelligence” to those who cannot imagine the power of its infinite possibilities? Hermes knows this difficulty well. He will try another way of explanation].

Hermes:

– It is necessary, my son, that the listener follow the thought of the speaker and associate himself with it; the ear must be finer than the voice. This system of envelopes exists in the earthly body. The naked intelligence could not be established in a material body, and that body could not contain such immortality or carry such virtue. The intelligence takes the soul as its envelope; the soul, which is divine itself, is enveloped in spirit, and the spirit is poured into the animal. »

[My comment: The key expression here is « naked intelligence ». What is revealed in these words is that even intelligence, in its highest, most divine form, can still remain « veiled ». Nothing can be said about this here, for the moment. We are only alluding to the fact that the process of ascension, of apotheosis, is certainly not finished, but that it is itself susceptible to other, even more radical forms of spiritual nakedness, unclothing].

Hermes:

– When the intelligence leaves the earthly body, it immediately takes its tunic of fire, which it could not keep when it inhabited this earthly body; for the earth cannot withstand fire, of which a single spark would be enough to burn it. This is why water surrounds the earth and forms a rampart that protects it from the flame of fire. But intelligence, the most subtle of divine thoughts, has the most subtle of elements, fire, as its body. It takes it as an instrument of its creative action.

[My comment: One of the garments of intelligence, described here under the metaphor of the « tunic of fire », is a way of describing one of its essential attributes: creative ability. But there are certainly many others. Other metaphors, other « garments » would be needed to try to account for them].

Hermes:

– The universal intelligence uses all the elements, that of man only the earthly elements. Deprived of fire, it cannot build divine works, subject as it is to the conditions of humanity. Human souls, not all of them, but pious souls, are « demonic » and « divine ».

[My comment: The idea that the soul is « demonic » is an idea that Plato communicated to us through the speech of Diotima in the Symposium. There can be found also another fundamental idea, to which I have been attached all my life – the idea of metaxu].

Hermes:

– Once separated from the body, and after having sustained the struggle of piety, which consists in knowing God and harming no one, such a soul becomes all intelligence. But the unholy soul remains in its own essence and punishes herself by seeking to enter into an earthly body, a human body, for another body cannot receive a human soul, it cannot fall into the body of an animal without reason; a divine law preserves the human soul from such a fall.

[My comment: Here we find the idea of metempsychosis. Since ages, these ideas circulated from the Far East to Greece].

Hermes:

– The punishment of the soul is quite different. When the intelligence has become a « daimon », and by God’s command has taken on a body of fire, she [the intelligence] enters the ungodly soul and is scourged with the whip of its sins. The unholy soul then rushes into murder, insults, blasphemy, violence of all kinds and all human wickedness. But by entering the pious soul, the intelligence leads her to the light of knowledge. Such a soul is never satiated with hymns and blessings for all men.

[My comment: A distinction must therefore be made between light, knowledge and the « light of knowledge ». The latter form of consciousness is the possible source of a meta-apotheosis, – for the moment, this word is a neologism, which I propose, because here it is very necessary].

Hermes:

– This is the universal order, the consequence of unity. Intelligence penetrates all the elements. For nothing is more divine and more powerful than intelligence. She unites Gods with men and men with Gods. It is the intelligence that is the good « daimon« ; the blessed soul is full of her, the unhappy soul is empty of her.

[My comment: intelligence is the « metaxu » par excellence. The Hebrews gave it the name neshamah. But what a name is, it is its essence that we must try to understand].

Hermes:

– The soul without intelligence could neither speak nor act. Often intelligence leaves the soul, and in this state the soul sees nothing, hears nothing, and looks like an animal without reason. Such is the power of intelligence. But it does not support the vicious soul and leaves it attached to the body, which drags it down. Such a soul, my son, has no intelligence, and in this condition a man can no longer be called a man. For man is a divine animal which must be compared, not to other terrestrial animals, but to those in heaven, who are called Gods.

[My comment: Aristotle said that « man is an animal who has reason (logos) ». We can see that Hermes rises several notches above Aristotle in his intuition of what man is, in essence. Aristotle is the first of the moderns. Plato is the last of the Ancients. But in these difficult matters, the Ancients have infinitely more to teach us, with their million years of experience, than the Moderns, really out of their depths in these matters].

Hermes:

– Or rather, let’s not be afraid to tell the truth, the real man is above them, or at least equal to them. For none of the heavenly Gods leaves his sphere to come to earth, while man ascends into heaven and measures it. He knows what is above and what is below; he knows everything accurately, and what is better is that he does not need to leave the earth in order to ascend. Such is the greatness of his condition. Thus, dare we say that man is a mortal God and that a heavenly God is an immortal man. All things will be governed by the world and by man, and above all is the One.

My comment : There is a strikingly equivalent intuition in the Veda. In the Veda, Puruṣa, devanāgarī : पुरुष, means « man, person, hero, vital principle, spirit » but also and foremost : « the Soul of the Universe »…

There is yet another, essential aspect.

The sacrifice of Puruṣa, the death and dismemberment of Osiris, the crucifixion of Christ do share a deep, structural analogy.

iCorpus hermeticum, X.

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…

Knowing Women


Adam « knew » Eve, and she conceived Cain, then Abel and Seth. But the Bible never says that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or Moses « knew » their wives, notes Philo of Alexandria. Why not? Was it out of prudishness?

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses were wise men. But, according to Philo, the « woman » can be understood as an image that represents the senses, the sensations. For a wise man, « knowing the woman » may be interpreted, counter-intuitively, as the capacity to put sensations at a distance. Lovers of wisdom and those who seek true knowledge must “repudiate” their senses, not to succumb to their seductions. To truly « know », one must « know » the senses, not to be satisfied with them, but to question them, to put them at a distance.

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses have their « virtues » for « wife ». Sarah, Abraham’s wife, is « princess and guide », Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, embodies « perseverance », according to Philo. Jacob’s wife, Leah, represents « the virtue of endurance » and Sipporah, Moses’ wife, is the image of « the virtue that ascends from earth to heaven ».

Let’s take the reasoning a little further. Can we then say that these wise men « knew » their « virtue »?

Can the metaphor of intimate, conjugal union be spun in this context? Philo considers this point and warns that he can only address himself to true initiates on this subject, because the mysteries in question are the « most sacred ».i

The union of a man and a woman obeys the laws of nature, and tends to the generation of children. But it is not in accordance with the order of things that the “virtue”, which can give rise to so many perfections, can be united to a human husband, a mere mortal. Then who can unite with Virtue, in order to impregnate her? – Only the Father of the universe, the uncreated God, says Philo, can give her His seed. Only God conceives and begets with Virtue. Virtue receives the divine seed of the Cause of all things, and begets a child that she presents to the one of her lovers who deserves it most.

Another analogy can be used, says Philo. Thus the most wise Isaac addressed his prayers to God, and Rebekah, who is « perseverance », was made pregnant by the one who received this prayer. On the other hand, Moses who had received Sipporah, « winged and sublime virtue », found that she had conceived from no mortal, without the need of any prior prayer.

Here we reach difficult terrain. These « mysteries », Philo insists again, can only be received by purified, initiated souls. They cannot be shared with the uninitiated. Philo himself was initiated into these higher mysteries by the teachings of Moses and Jeremiah, he reveals.

Philo quotes a verse from Jeremiah, to whom God spoke in these terms: « Did you not call me ‘father’ and ‘husband of your virginity’? ». In fact, nowhere in Jeremiah is this expression found literally. But in Jeremiah 3:4 there is something similar, though much less direct and much less metaphorical: « You cry out to me, ‘O my father, you are the guide of my youth’. « 

Philo seems to have transformed the original expression of Jeremiah (« the guide of my youth ») into a more elevated formula (« the husband of my virginity »). For Philo, Jeremiah thus shows that « God is the incorporeal abode of Ideas, the Father of all things, inasmuch as He created them, and the Bridegroom of Wisdom, inseminating the seed of happiness in good and virgin land for the benefit of the human race ».ii

God can converse only with a good and virgin nature. Hence this reversal: « Men, with the intention of procreating, make a virgin a woman. But God, when He associates with a soul, because she was a woman, He makes her a virgin again. »iii

iCherubim, 42

iiIbid.

iiiIbid.

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

The True Meaning of Exile


« Light, intelligence and wisdom ». These three words are used together several times in the Book of Daniel. The queen, wife of King Balthazar, son of Nebuchadnezzar, praises Daniel’s « extraordinary spirit » as follows: « There is a man in your kingdom in whom dwells the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father there was in him light and understanding and wisdom like that of the gods. « (Dan. 5:11).

Then Balthazar called him and said: « Are you Daniel, of the people of the deportation of Judah, brought from Judah by my father the king? I have heard that the spirit of the gods resides in you and that in you is light, intelligence and extraordinary wisdom. « (Dan. 5:13-14)

Daniel had already experienced a glorious hour in Babylon when he had explained the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar, and revealed their « secret », their « mystery ».

The Hebrew word for « secret » and « mystery » is רָז (raz). This word is of Persian origin, and it is only found in the Bible in the Book of Daniel alone. It is also found later in the Qumran texts. It may be used in various contextsi.

Nebuchadnezzar had defeated the kingdom of Judah and destroyed the temple of Jerusalem in ~587. However Daniel brought him to resignation by revealing “the mystery”.

The mystery takes on its full value, its true meaning, only when it is brought to light, when it is « revealed », as in the verse: « It is he who reveals the deep and hidden things. »(Dan. 2:22).

The Hebrew verb used for « reveal » is גָלָה (galah) which means: « To discover, to appear, to reveal, to make known ». But in a derived sense, it means: « To emigrate, to be taken into captivity, to be exiled, to be banished. » In the niphal form, “To be uncovered, to be naked; to reveal oneself, to be announced.”

For example, « Have the gates of death been opened to you? « (Job 38:17), « There God revealed himself to him. « (Gen. 35:7), « The glory of God will be manifested. « (Is. 40:5).

It is the « revelation » that constitutes the deep substance of the secret, its inner fabric, much more than the secret itself, which is only the external appearance. A secret forever buried in the depths of time would be like a seed that would never germinate.

And, in Hebrew, “to reveal” evokes another series of meanings, revolving around emigration, exile, banishment. A penetration of the secret, an entry into the mystery, evokes a departure to a foreign land, or even a deportation, like an exile to Babylon…

A child of exile, a deportee from Judah, « reveals » his own « secret » to the king who « exiled » his people, – and by doing so, who « discovered » Judah, who made it « appear ».

Irony and depth of words, which say more than they are meant to say.

The word גָלָה (galah), which means « to reveal » and « to emigrate », also reaches a sublime form of mystery. By linking « revelation » and « emigration », it deepens a mystery whose meaning it does not reveal.

i« Then the mystery (רָז ) was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. « (Dan. 2:19)

« He who reveals depths and secrets (רָז ) knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.  » (Dan. 2:22)

« The mystery (רָז ) that the king pursues, wise men, soothsayers, magicians and exorcists have not been able to discover it to the king. « (Dan. 2:27)

« But there is a God in heaven who reveals the mysteries (רָז ) and who has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what is to happen at the end of days. Your dream and the visions of your head on your bed, here they are. « (Dan. 2:28)

« This mystery (רָז ) has been revealed to me, and I have no more wisdom than anyone else, for the sole purpose of letting the king know its meaning. « (Dan. 2:30)

« And the king said to Daniel: « Truly your god is the God of gods, and the master of kings, the revelator of mysteries (רָז ), since you were able to reveal the mystery (רָז ).  » (Dan. 2:47)

Just Hit the Road לֶך 


 

There are many ideas running around, nowadays.

There is the idea that there are no more ideas, no more « great narratives« .

There is the idea that everything is rigged, that a conspiracy has been hatched by a few people against all.

There is the idea that progress is doomed.

There is the idea that the coming catastrophe is just ‘fake news’, or just part of an ideology.

There is the idea that anything can happen, and there is the idea that there is no hope, that the void is opening up, just ahead.

Every age harbours the new prophets that it deserves. Günther Anders has famously proclaimed the « obsolescence of man », – and that the absence of a future has already begun.

We must go way beyond that sort of ideas and that sort of prophecies.

Where to find the spirit, the courage, the vision, the inspiration?

Immense the total treasure of values, ideas, beliefs, faiths, symbols, paradigms, this ocean bequeathed by humanity to the generations of the day.

The oldest religions, the philosophies of the past, are not museums, fragmented dreams, now lost. Within them lies the memory of a common world, a dream of the future.

The Divine is in that which was born; the Divine is in that which is born; the Divine is in that which will be born.

A few chosen words from beyond the ages, and the spirit may be set ablaze. The soul may be filled with fulgurations, with assailing prescience.

Power is in the air, in the mother, the father, the son, the daughter.

It is in the Gods, and in all men. In all that is born, in all that will be born.

One thousand years before Moses’ times, the poets of the Rig Veda claimed:

The God who does not grow old stands in the bush. Driven by the wind, He clings to the bushes with tongues of fire, with a thunder.”i

Sounds familiar?

Was then Moses in his own way a Vedic seer? Probably.

The greatest minds always meet at the very top. And when they do, the greatest of the greatest do come down from up there, they do go back down, among us, to continue to go further on.

Go for yourself (לֶךְלְךָ lekh lekha), out of your country, out of your birthplace and your father’s house, to the land I will show you. I will make you a great nation. I will bless you, I will make your name glorious, and you will be blessed. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who reproach you, and through you will be blessed all the families of the earth.”ii

Rashi commented this famous text. When you’re always on the road, from one camp to another, you run three risks: you have fewer children, you have less money, you have less fame. That’s why Abram received three blessings: the promise of children, confidence in prosperity, and the assurance of fame.

The figure of Abram leaving Haran is a metaphor for what lies ahead. It is also a prophecy. We too must leave Haran.

The word haran originally means « the hollow ».

We too are in « the hollow », that is, a void of ideas, a lack of hope.

It is time, like Abram once did, to get out of this hollow, to hit the road, to seek new paths for new generations, yet to come.

The word haran can be interpreted in different ways. Philo wrote that haran means « the cavities of the soul and the sensations of the body ». It is these « cavities » that one must leave. “Adopt an alien mentality with regard to these realities, let none of them imprison you, stand above all. Look after yourself.”iii

Philo adds: « But also leave the expired word, what we have called the dwelling of the father, so as not to be seduced by the beauties of words and terms, and find yourself finally separated from the authentic beauty that lies in the things that the words meant. (…) He who tends toward being rather than appearing will have to cling to these realities, and leave the dwelling of words.”iv

Abram-Abraham has left Haran. On the way, he separated from his traveling companion, Lot: « Separate yourself from me!  » he said to himv.

Philo comments: « You must emigrate, in search of your father’s land, that of the sacred Logos, who is also in a sense the father of the ascetics; this land is Wisdom.”vi

Philo, an Alexandrian Jew, wrote in Greek. He used the word Logos as an equivalent for “Wisdom”, – and he notes: « The Logos stands the highest, close besides God, and is called Samuel (‘who hears God’). »

Migration’ is indeed a very old human metaphor, with deep philosophical and mystical undertones.

One may still have to dig up one or two things about it.

Go, for yourself (לֶךְלְךָ lekh lekha)”. Leave the ‘hollow’. Stand above all, that is. Look after the Logos.

The Logos. Or the ‘Word’, as they say.

A ‘migrant’ is always in quest of good metaphors for a world yet to come. Always in quest of true metaphors yet to be spoken.

Metaphor’. A Greek word, meaning: “displacement”.

Hence the stinging and deep irony of Philo’s metaphor:

Leave the dwelling of words.”

Leave the words. Leave the metaphors. Just leave.

Just hit the road, Man.

Lekh לֶךְ

i R.V. I.58.2-4

iiGen. 12, 1-3

iiiPhilo. De Migratione Abrahami. 14,7

iv Ibid. 14,12

v Gen. 13,9

vi Ibid. 14,12

The Absurd Reason


The prophet Daniel speaks as a seer: “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. » (Dan. 12,2-3)

This saying refers to the « wise » and to the “righteous”. It is not just a question of knowledge, but of justice, of a wisdom that is less human than divine. How to reach it? How to access these high places?

Many are those who doubt their own divinity, those who have never turned their eyes to the splendour of intelligence, of wisdom. There are even more who prefer the mist of the senses, the thickness of the bodies, to the thin acuity of the soul.

How would they achieve the wisdom and justice that Daniel is talking about?

Plato, who was not a prophet, but no less a seer, advises us to meditate unceasingly on death.

“Either in no way can we ever acquire knowledge, or it is for us only once we have passed away.”i

The way to be as close to divine knowledge as possible is to have as little trade as possible with the body. Going to the limit, we deduce that death only is the kingdom of true knowledge. This is the « immense hope » that Socrates joyfully shares with his afflicted friends, shortly before drinking the hemlock.

What is this hope based on? It is based on an idea as anti-modern as possible: « We are divine beings ». How can such a statement be made? “Because, momentarily deprived of our heavenly abode and homeland, that is, as long as we are on earth God’s substitutes, we are constantly tormented by the desire of this heavenly homeland and no earthly pleasure can console in the present exile the human intelligence desiring a better condition.”ii

This immense hope, without reason, is based – it is a paradox – on the sole activity of reason.

Marsilio Ficino gives this explanation:

“The hope of immortality results from a surge of reason, since the soul hopes not only without the help of the senses, but despite their opposition. That is why I find nothing more admirable than this hope, because, while we live incessantly among ephemeral beings, we do not cease to hope.”iii

These unreasonable ideas have been shared by thinkers as diverse as Zoroaster, Hermes Trismegistus, Orpheus, Aglaopheme, Pythagoras, Plato… They have created schools of thought, their disciples have proliferated: Xenocrat, Arcesilas, Carneade, Ammonius, Plotinus, Proclus…

On a philosophical level, Socrates’ argument seems to have a certain scope. Reason says that there are only two hypotheses: either knowledge is not possible at all, or it is only possible after death.

If we decide to ignore the Socratic, resolutely optimistic point of view, absolute horror would therefore resemble this: to see clearly with the eyes of pure reason the absurdity and inanity of a human condition, capable of reason, and capable of drawing from it the most crazy, most absurd hypotheses.

iPhaedo, 66 e

ii Marsilio Ficino, Platonic Theology Book XVI

iiiIbid.

An « automatic » prophet


As its name suggests, surrealism wanted to transcend a little bit the reality, but not too much. That is, surrealism wanted to establish itself, modestly, just a little « above » the common reality.

André Breton, who coined the word, had considered for a moment the word « supernaturalism« , but it was too close to the adjective « supernatural », and its metaphysical connotations: then it was not okay at all. The Surrealists weren’t going to let us think that they were interested to deal with the back worlds and supernatural entities…

In this temporary elevation above reality, the surrealist poet only seeks to occupy unexpected points of view, to produce symbols, to collect images — not falling from above, but spontaneously rising from below: surrealism really is a materialism.

Arcane 17 by André Breton gives some indications on the surrealist way to penetrate the « great secret »:

« This was for me the very key to this revelation I spoke of and that I could only owe to you alone, on the threshold of this last winter. In the icy street, I see you moulded on a shiver, your eyes alone exposed. With the collar high up, the scarf tightened with your hand over your mouth, you were the very image of the secret, one of nature’s great secrets when it was revealed, and in your eyes at the end of a storm you could see a very pale rainbow rising. »

We cannot believe for a moment that this so-called ‘revelation’ belongs to the anecdote, the banal memory, the autobiographical emotion. This would not be worthy of a ‘pope’ like Breton (even if he were to be a surreal one).

« The very image of the secret », it is obvious, cannot just be the figure of a beloved woman, – such as a Jacqueline Lamba, so revealed, so nude in her nautical dance, or an Elisa Claro, so naked in her mystery.

« The very image of the secret » is really a figure of ‘revelation’, of the « great secrets of nature at the moment when it is revealed ».

What is this « great secret »? What is this image « molded on a shiver »?

In a letter dated March 8, 1944, Breton confided: « I am thinking of writing a book around Arcanum 17 (the Star, Eternal Youth, Isis, the myth of the Resurrection, etc.) taking as a model a lady I love and who, unfortunately, is currently in Santiago. »

The « great secret » is therefore that of Arcanum 17, the metaphor of the Star, the (surreal) vision of the resurrection, the intuition of Isis, a dream of dawn and rainbow.

No woman of remembrance, no spectre of the future, no « godmother of God », no « ambassador of saltpetre » or « of the white curve on a black background that we call thought » …

Then who is this Star?

Who is this Isis?

Isis is here, as already in ancient Egypt, a metaphor (‘surreal’ or ‘supernatural’?) of Wisdom, even if Breton, an automatic poet, a Marxist and a Freudian, was probably voluntarily overtaken by his writing process.

Let’s see.

Only the eyes of the « revelation » are exposed. Everything else is wrapped, hidden – like Wisdom, all of it « vision ».

The scarf is tightened from hand to mouth, – like Wisdom, with a rare speech.

His gaze is between the storm and the dawn. Wisdom remains between the past and the future.

The « icy » street is a world without warmth, slippery, without foundation; only Wisdom announces the end of the storm, a saving sign (the very pale rainbow).

Three quarters of a century earlier, Verlaine had already used the adjective « icy ».

« In the old lonely and icy park

Two forms have just passed.

Their eyes are dead and their lips are soft,

And you can barely hear their words. »

Two past shapes, dead-eyed. Two indistinct spectra – unreal.

The « icy street », the revelation « molded on a shiver » – as for them, surreal.

When will the « last winter » end?

When will appear the miracle of heat and light that « pale eyes » provide?

The poet recognized the sign of mystery, he goes back to the source.

« This mysterious sign, which I knew only to you, presides over a kind of exciting questioning that gives at the same time its answer and brings me to the very source of the spiritual life. (…) This key radiates such a light that one begins to worship the very fire in which it was forged. »

Breton, surrealist and materialistic, thus brought to « the very source of the spiritual life »!

Breton, immersed in the light of the mind!

Breton, fire worshipper!

Breton, a Zoroaster from the left bank!

Breton, declaiming the Zend, in a bistro in the Vieux Portof Marseilles!

Why not?

The church of Saint Germain des Prés was built on the site of an old temple of Isis, just like in Marseilles, the Cathedral of the Major.

Always the poet must conclude – with precise words.

« The virtue among all singular that emerges from your being and that, without hesitation, I found myself referred to by these words: « Eternal youth », before having recognized their scope. »

Breton spoke too quickly. He concedes it a posteriori. « Eternal youth », the « virtue among all singular » is still a metaphor, imperfect and surreal.

Carried away by the automatic momentum, Breton finally recognized its scope, and its essence.

The « Eternal youth », this Isis, shouts loudly: Breton is only an automatic prophet of Wisdom.

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.

iProv.11,2

iiKatha Upanisad 1,14

iiiKatha Upanisad 2,12.

ivKatha Upanisad 4,15

v2 Cor. 12,1-10

vi2 Cor. 12,1-10

The testicles of Kabbalah


The word « testicle », כליות (khiliot), appears in the Kabbalah Denudata, by Joannis Davidis Zunnerii. Its Latin equivalents are renes and testiculis. The word renes, « kidneys », also has the meaning of « testicles » in some contexts. As an example, Zunneri cites Job’s book: « Quis posuis in renibus (testiculis) sapientiam? ». « Who put wisdom in the kidneys (testicles)? »ii

Curiously, the word כליות (khiliot) does not actually appear in this verse. In its place is the word טּחוֺת (tuhôt) which has a rather similar, though different meaning: « The bottom of being, what is covered, what is hidden, what is hidden, lumps, kidneys ».

There are many occurrences of khiliot and tuhôt in the Bible, and in almost all cases these two words have a similar meaning.

For example: « Yea, my khiliot will rejoice « iii, « You are near in their mouths and far from their khiliot« iv. « Probing the khiliot and hearts »v.

As for tuhôt, we find it, for example, in: « Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward parts (tuhôt); make me, therefore, to know wisdom in mine inmost heart. » vi

Zunneri explains the word khiliot as follows: « Sunt Nezah and Hod », (the khiliots are Nezah and Hod).

Nezah means « to gush, to splash », and Hod means: « what is obscure ».vii

The khiliot may aggregate therefore the meaning of « something obscure », and which « gushes and splashes ».

Zennuri continues: « Ubi indicatur quod הי i.e Binah and Chochmah influxum derivet in renes. »

« Where it is stated that הי, i. e. Intelligence (Binah) and Wisdom (Hokhmah), cause their influx to drift into the kidneys (testicles). »

We have already seen that the Yod י was a symbol of the masculine and that the Hé ה was a symbol of the feminine.

There is an allusion here to the fact that the intimate union of Intelligence and Wisdom is realized in the khiliot. The meaning of « testicles » then takes on all its flavour, its sap.

It is now possible to understand Teresa of Avila, when she says, « From my Beloved I have drunk, » to give an idea of what she receives from God in this divine cellar of union.

What she drinks from her Beloved is His intelligence and wisdom, and their very union.

iJoannis Davidis Zunneri. Kabbala Denudata. Liber Sohar restitutus, Francfort,1684

iiJob 38,36

iiiPr. 23,16

ivJer 12,2

vJer 11,20

viPs. 51,8

viiDictionary English-Hebrew Gensenius-Robinson, New York 1877

Teresa’s Ecstasy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From my Beloved I drank.

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

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

The Song of Songs has incestuous resonances:

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

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

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

Metaphors! Metaphors! Where do you lead us to?

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

iiPhilo of Alexandria. De Cherubim

iii Is. 66, 6-9

iv De Ebrietate, 30

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

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

viiCt 8,1-2

viiiFrançois de Sales. Œuvres complètes. p. 706

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. »