Christianity, Nature, and the Mystical Zohar

by ScholarlySeeker

The Natural Earthly Wisdom Found in the Zohar Weirdness

The first thing one meets on beginning reading the Zohar, that greatest and most important of Jewish mystical texts, is a detailed look at a rose. A lovely red and white striped flower. Its details of the thorns and 13 petals, its five leaves of the observation of Rabbi Hizkiyah truly impresses me. The way he interweaves three items, a natural flower, a sacred text, and a religious, spiritual commentary, all on the very first page is amazing. There is a lesson here worth looking into for a little bit.

The school for mankind’s higher spirituality is grounded in nature. The Zohar is full of this. Its wisdom is correlated and interweaved with rivers, clouds, mountains, dust, stars, flowers, trees, rocks, the sun, oceans, as they wander through nature together in small groups gabbing, looking, learning, arguing, and teaching on many occasions.

This concern as it were, this inclusion of so many natural features is actually a useful idea, as the Zohar is anything but easy to understand, deliberately written, to put it mildly, to help us think outside the box, concerning nature, the scriptures, and what spirituality might actually be. That so many ideas are down to earth comments with many aspects of nature is a big help. As Arthur Green has reminded us however, “The purpose of the book is precisely to mystify rather than to make anything ‘clear’ in the ordinary sense. Here the way to clarity is to discover the mysterious.”

On one particular occasion, Rabbi El’azar said “the moon was concealed and descended from a perfect rung to another rung, conjoined by a serpent.” The moon and a serpent are the subject, having something to do with rungs, of which we won’t concern ourselves for right now as to what it means. The interesting thing is the connection of the moon with a serpent, since both are ancient mother-goddess symbols, as well as symbols for the resurrection, the snake sloughs its skin becoming young again, while the moon sloughs its shadow, and returns full after 3 days of being gone on its monthly journey around the earth, being the “celestial sign. This is the lord and measure of the life-creating rhythm of the womb, and therewith of time, through which beings come and go: lord of the mystery of birth and death – which two, in sum, are aspects of one state of being.”

A lot of the imagery, and weird congruences of things and animals and places are mythological in the Zohar, one of the reasons it is sometimes difficult for us to understand, forcing us to enlarge our capacity to fathom, to grow, and increase our understanding, all of which is designed to increase our own spirituality and knowledge.

Just what is the meaning of the weird idea that “a north wind arouses in the world and joy prevails; the wind blows on those spices and aromas rise above. The righteous are adorned fittingly in their crowns and bask in the radiance of the resplendent speculum. Happy are the righteous who attain that supernal light! The radiance of the resplendent speculum shines in all directions…”?

In Jewish mythology, wind is one of the elements God creates with, fire and water are the other main two items. Perhaps the wind was from God shouting to the chaos and beginning the creation, as sound (God’s voice) is one of the key characteristics in Jewish thinking that involved creation of the universe. The legend is King David’s harp was suspended in his bedroom, and the wind blew it and its chiming reminded him to wake up and begin studying Torah. It was through the study of Torah that the rabbis and humans help God create the universe, as creation is an ongoing process.

God is actually said to have spoken the Torah and it was this energy of the sound and words which caused the creation. As rabbis engage in Torah study, they too participate with God in creating heavens and worlds. A heady concept! The resplendent speculum was a bright and shining window, perhaps a mirror of which the light of heaven shined on the righteous, which gave them actual power, actual knowledge, as it was supernal light, not natural light.

Novalis, one of the originators of the Romantic Movement in the 1800’s wrote in his Logologische Fragmente “Everything we come to know is a communication. Thus the world is indeed a communication – revelation of the spirit.” This strikes a chord with Ralph Waldo Emerson who similarly stated “…the noblest ministry of nature is to stand as the apparition of God. It is the organ through which the universal spirit speaks to the individual, and strives to lead back the individual to it.”

The approach of the Zohar that happy are the righteous who attain to the resplendent supernal light is very much in the spirit of W. B. Yeats – “I am content to follow to its source every event in action or in thought; Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot! When such as I cast out remorse so great a sweetness flows into the breast, We must laugh and we must sing, We are blest by everything, Everything we look upon is blest.” “The sacred tree, the sacred stone are not adored as stone or tree; they are worshipped precisely because they are hierophanies, because they show something that is no longer stone or tree but the sacred…”

Right after the rose is expounded and actually extended, we read on the 2nd page of the Zohar right in the beginning of the cup of salvation. The five leaves of the rose are called Salvation! This cup is to be held up by five fingers and no more. “This rose is the cup of blessing.” What is going on here? Notice how nature is incorporated directly into salvation for mankind. The close-knittedness of nature with man and our own creations (the cup) is a theme throughout the Zohar. A cup of blessing reminds us, of course, of the cup of Christ at the last supper, as well as the cup which Joseph of Arimathea is said to have collected the blood of Christ on the cross, the Holy Grail. A Christian Kabbalist would have no problem with this imagery.

In Robert Frost’s poem “Directive,” the drinking goblet he finds he likens to the Grail ending the poem with the directive “Here are your waters and your watering place. Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.” The idea here is that “any drink that quenches man’s spiritual thirst and makes him whole, is, like the one offered in ‘Directive,’ holy.” The number five is also the number of man (two legs, two arms, and one head), so we have nature, number symbolism, man, a creation of man, and all wrapped together in a most important subject, the salvation of man.

Yet the rose we are told also is the entire community of Israel! And this community, as the rose has 13 petals, has 13 qualities of compassion surrounding her on every side according to the Zohar. These compassions are described from God in Exodus 34:6-7. It is also a Jewish custom during their Bar-khu (call to prayer) to actually bless God. The idea is that by blessing God one blesses himself as well “In this way, blessing is not supplication, but symbiosis.”

This theme of man in nature is what Novalis said was “a relation of mutual representation (Wechsel Repräsentation) with man, the true being of nature and the true being of man are analogous… many things are linked by the One unifying spirit that underlies them all, the spirit that expresses itself in nature and is hidden beneath nature’s veil is also the spirit that animates man… the universe in us and the worlds of the past and future are the worlds of the depth of our spirit.. Time and eternity are conjoined in a coincidence of opposites.”

This is what we find in the Zohar, that most mystical of Jewish texts, attempting to get us and our attention onto the two things that matter the most, the Universe (Nature), and ourselves as beings, partners with God in the creation of that universe. The difference in thrust is in Christianity, mankind does not help in creation, but in some denominations of Christianity man is mere creature, God is wholly other, aloof, and unapproachable.


For full references and discussion please visit IO Thread

Christianity, Nature, and the Mystical Zohar

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