Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Original Sin in Judaism?

[Adam und Eva, from Die Bucher der Bibel, by Ephraim Moses Lilien]

A comment I recently received asks:

I have an unrelated question to this post. Can you elaborate on the traditional Jewish understanding of the concept of original sin? (if there is one at all as this may be a later Christian development) Since sacrifice for sins plays an important role in Judaism, i was wondering if it started with the Genesis account and the eating of the fruit by Adam/Eve. (or maybe that story has an alternate explanation within Judaism)thank you for your time and your knowledge.

The short answer is that Judaism does not have a doctrine of Original Sin. Jewish theology emphasizes the freedom humans have to make moral choices. Humans are born with conflicting impulses (See my earlier entry, Yetzer ha-Ra: A Necessary Evil), but we are not born already "in the red," sin-wise, because of actions not our own.

The longer answer is this: Christian Scriptures have a notion of inherited sin (Romans 7; John 5:19; Luke 11:13) which evolves into the dogma of “Original Sin” in the Church. This worldview of sin that is inherited from earlier generations, either from the mythic progenitors, Adam and Eve, or from the devolution of the generations prior to the Flood, is not entirely de novo to the early church. They are drawing upon and elaborating on a thread of thought found in Jewish apocalyptic literature (see Jubilees I:12-13; 2 Esdras 7).

These Apocalyptic beliefs of inherited sin, however, are not adopted by Jews outside of apocalyptic circles. The Rabbis, who formulated Jewish thought based on the Bible, certainly do not adopt this position about the state of the human soul, either formally or informally. The punishments meted out to Adam, Eve, and their children, for example, are explicitly listed in Gen. 3 and "innate sinfulness" is not one of them. Jews have seen attempts to attribute the doctrine to other passages in the Hebrew Scriptures, such as Gen. and Numbers 15:37-41, but such interpretations strike us as eisogetical, retrojecting a later doctrine into these verses by over-reading them. These passages describe an "inclination" to sin, but that's a far cry from an innate depravity that prevents us from making good moral choices. Rather, the Torah assures us that we can, of our own free will, do what is required of us - Deut. 30.

The daily prayer, Elohai Neshamah, likewise affirms that "God, the soul you have given me, it is pure...", reflecting the absence of any Jewish doctrinal belief that the human soul is "sinful" or ontologically flawed.

Since this really kind of tangential to the stated focus of the blog, I refer all interested people to a more detailed discussion of this, which can be found on the website of my colleague and teacher, Rabbi Toviah Singer:

Zal g'mor - to learn more about Jewish traditions, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism:http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Metatron: Angel Prince, Enoch Transformed

A Sar (Princely, Chieftain Angel) who features prominently in Jewish esoteric literature. The name “Metatron” itself is a puzzle, being either a Greek derived word meaning meta-thronos, “beyond [behind] the throne” or meta-tetra, “beyond the four [Angels of the Countenance],” or the Latin metator, “guide.” Less plausible is the argument that it is a corrupted form of the Persian God Mithras.

[William Blake's illustration of the Chariot-Throne as a fiery four-headed angel. Is that Metatron sitting there?]

Intriguingly, gematria reveals that one spelling of his name has the same numeric value as the divine title Shaddai.

Metatron has many other names and titles. Among the most common are Sar ha-Panim (Prince of the Countenance), Sar ha-Olam (Prince of the World), ha-Naar (the Youth), Marei de-Gadpei, (Master of Wings), and Yahoel. The very name “Metatron” is spelled differently in different documents. In the Merkavah traditions we learn that Metatron has twelve names, corresponding to the twelve tribes. This may account for why there are so many overlapping names and titles in the Metatron traditions (Sanh. 38b; Zohar I:21a).

Metatron’s place in the angelic host is truly unique for several reasons. So exalted is his status that in some sources he is referred to as the “Lesser YHWH”:

A heretic challenged Rabbi Idit: It is written, "[God] said to Moses, 'Go up to YHVH'" {Exodus 24:1}. [Since God was speaking], it ought to say 'Go up to Me!' Rabbi Idit answered: [YHVH] here refers to Metatron, whose name is the same as the name of his master. As it is written, "Behold, I am sending an angel before you to guard you on the way... My name is in him" (Exodus 23:20-21). -Sanhedrin 38b (also see Yev. 16b).

He is also unique in that he alone among the angels sits upon a throne, as does God. Because of this, Elisha ben Abuyah mistakes Metatron for a god and concludes there are “two powers in heaven”:

What happened [to make Elisha ben Avuyah deny the oneness of God] ? He had a vision of Metatron, who had received permission to sit and write down the merits of the Jewish people. He said: We have learned that on High there is no sitting... Perhaps there are two Powers! [The celestial order] demoted Metatron and beat him with sixty whips of fire. They said to him: When you saw [ben Avuyah], why did you not stand up? Then they gave him permission to erase the merits of Elisha ben Avuyah. - Chagigah 15a

The other remarkable fact about Metatron is that he was once human – the antediluvian hero Enoch (Gen. 5; Jubilees 4:23; Sefer Hechalot 12:5). In III Enoch, Metatron describes to Rabbi Ishmael how he was transubstantiated from mortal to angelic form: Under the direction of Michael and Gabriel he grew in size until his body filled the whole universe (signaling a reversal of the “fall” of Adam Kadmon). He sprouted 72 wings (for each of the 72 names of God), grew 365,000 luminous eyes (indicating he had became omniscient, symbolized by acquiring 1000 eyes for each day of the year), and his material body burned away to be replace with a form of pure fire. According to the Zohar, he has the appearance of a rainbow (1:7a). Finally, he is given a crown resembling the crown worn by God.

Metatron has a very prominent role in Hechalot literature, where he appears as a guide to human adepts visiting heaven, (except in Hechalot Rabbati, where that role is filled by Anafiel). At times Metatron is associated with the supernal Mishkan (see my earlier entry), and is described as the High Priest in the heavenly Temple, a role ascribed to Michael in other texts. The Zohar attempts to reconcile these conflicting traditions:

From this we see that the Holy One, blessed be He, actually gave Moses all the arrangements and all the shapes of the Tabernacle, each in its appropriate manner, and that he saw Metatron ministering to the High Priest within it. It may be said that, as the Tabernacle above was not erected until the Tabernacle below had been completed, that "youth" (Metatron) could not have served above before Divine worship had taken place in the earthly Tabernacle. It is true that the Tabernacle above was not actually erected before the one below; yet Moses saw a mirroring of the whole beforehand, and also Metatron, as he would be later when all was complete. The Holy One said to him: "Behold now, the Tabernacle and the ‘Youth’; all is held in suspense until the Tabernacle below shall have been built." It should not be thought, however, that Metatron himself ministers; the fact is, that the Tabernacle belongs to him, and Michael, the High Priest, it is that serves there, within the Metatron's Tabernacle, mirroring the function of the Supernal High Priest above, serving within that other Tabernacle, that hidden one which never is revealed, which is connected with the mystery of the world to come. There are two celestial Tabernacles: the one, the supernal concealed Tabernacle, and the other, the Tabernacle of the Metatron. And there are also two priests: the one is the primeval Light, and the other Michael, the High Priest below. (II:159a, translation taken from the Soncino Zohar)

In Sefer Zerubbabel, he is explicitly identified with Michael. He also functions as the heavenly scribe, writing 366 books. He also teaches Torah to the righteous dead in the Yeshiva on High (A.V. 3b; Seder Gan Eden). He is involved in events on earth as well as in heaven. He led Abraham through Canaan, delivered Isaac from his father’s knife, Wrestled with Jacob, led the Israelites in the desert, rallied Joshua, and revealed the End of Times to Zerubbabel (Sefer Zerubbabel). Even so, he is only rarely adjured in angel summoning incantations. One magical book, Sefer ha-Cheshek, is devoted to the power of his 72 names.

He continues his function as heavenly tour guide in medieval works like Gedulat Moshe, though Metatron does not enjoy the singular prominence in later Kabbalah that he does in early Maasei-Merkavah.

In the Zohar, Metatron is a manifestation of Shekhinah (I:179b), the first “offspring” of the supernal union of God’s feminine and masculine aspects (I: 143a, 162a-b. Also see Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, p. 187).

Zal g'mor - to learn more, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism:

Monday, September 10, 2007

Shem ha-Kotev: Jewish Automatic Writing

[A scribe from Die Bucher der Bibel, illustration by Ephraim Moses Lilien]

In Jewish mysticism we find a pneumatic phenomenon parallel to xenoglossia; that of “automatic writing,” composing while in an altered state of consciousness.

This phenomenon is sometimes thought to be inspired by the incident in Daniel of the “writing on the wall,” though the Biblical account doesn't actually describe a spiritual possession.

Moses DeLeon is a notable example under the influence of this, as there are indications he wrote parts of the Zohar while in an altered state of consciousness [1]. Medieval mystics describe it as the shem ha-kotev, “the writing Name.” This divine name can be invoked, sometimes through the angels Gabriel and Michael, to trigger the trance-induced writing (Sha’arei Tzedek). Sources mention the practice, but do not record the actual “name,” though Taitazak provides some details:

The secret of this supernal writing is the secret of the descent of the power of God in His glory…the secret included in this writing should be believed by everyone…for it is prophecy and will come true fully…you shall understand the secret of the “writing name,” guided by an angel, whenever you wish it...It should begin by two days of fasting, and on the third day should be performed. The person doing it should not drink any wine and he should eat on that day only after performing the practice. Before that he should eat three eggs, to give him the power for the Names. It should be performed in the morning and after midnight…[2]

Thise description of ritual preparation is almost stereotypical of Jewish rituals of power, with parallel features (fasting a number of days, but especially the eggs) that appear in Hekhalot texts and in magical texts as well.

Zal g'mor /Go forth and learn - more can be found in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

1. Jacob, Jewish Mystical Testimonies, pp. 138-139.
2. Dan, The Heart and the Fountain, pp. 177-180.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Deyokna -Tzelem - Guf ha-Dak: The Astral Body

I recently received this question:

I spend a good deal of time studying with Rabbi Gershon Winkler.

[A diagram of the hands, revealing their supernal structures]

He has discussed deyokna, the concept of a holy garment that we all possess. I would like to know more about the deyokna. I've picked up your book and examined your blog and notice you don't discuss the concept of deyokna. Unfortunately I don't read hebrew and was hoping that you could further clarify and explain the idea of deyokna. Thank you for your incredible contributions to Jewish mysticism, myth and magic.

Thank you for your kind words. Rabbi Winkler is both a wonder and delight. His hiddush of aboriginal Judaism is both truly originally and true to the most ancient traditions of our people.
I do not have an entry for this term in the current edition of the EJMMM because it is covered under other entries, but I should have had a cross reference. Let me give you a full entry now -
Deyokna; Deyokan ("Form/Template/Portrait"). The ideal form of a person. This elusive term refers to an image, seemingly shared simultaneous by God and a person. It is philosophically related to the Platonic notion of "forms," of idealized templates of all existent things that dwell on high simultaneously with the realized object in the lower world. As the Zohar puts it, it is the "Likeness that includes all likenesses." Rashi uses the term, commenting on Gen. 1:27:

God as Judge, alone without the angels, created the human being, by hand, in a mold which was like the mold with which a seal is made or like the die from which a coin is produced, and which had been specially crafted for the human being. In a mold which was a tzelem deyokon of God, God created the human being. One being which was both male and female and which was subsequently divided into two beings, God created them.

In Zohar, it is described as something that is bonded to the body at birth. It appears to a couple in sexual union and, if the relationship worthy, imprints upon the seed of the child generated by that union (III:104b, Emor). Though invisible, the righteous can interact with their deyokna, even see through its "eyes," which gives the person the special sight of prophecy.
There are a number of cognate notions of an ethereal body or spiritual membrane that accompanies the material body which also appear in Kabbalah: Guf ha-Dak ("The sheer body") and/or the Tzelem ("image") [Zohar I:7a, I:224a-b; Miflaot Elohim 48:6; Nishmat Chayyim 1:13].[1]

If, God-willing, I get the opportunity to produce a 2nd edition of the EJMMM, I will include this information
Zal g'mor - Go learn more by reading the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

[1] Scholem, Mystical Shape of the Godhead, pp. 251-270.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Maggid: Jewish Spirit Guide, Revealing Angel

[From Die Bucher der Bibel, by E.M. Lilien]
("Teller/Revealer”). While the term is frequently used to refer to an itinerant Jewish preacher, in Jewish esoteric traditions a maggid is an angelic teacher; a spirit guide. The maggid is related to the historically earlier phenomenon of the Sar ha-Torah and to other angels of revelation and dreams (particularly Gabriel), but there does seem to be a meaningful distinction: A maggid is often the genius, the hypostasis, or personification of some high attribute or non-personal supernal reality like the Torah, Shekhinah, Wisdom, or the Mishnah. Occasionally the maggid is described as a kind of angelic apparition, but in most accounts it appears in the form of pneumatic possession. Though there is considerable variation in maggid accounts, conventionally a maggid manifests itself within the person, triggering automatic writing and xenoglossia (Maggid Mesharim; Hesed l'Avraham). Take, for example, this description of what happened to Moses Luzzato:
There is a young man...he is a holy man, my master and teacher...Rabbi Moses Hayyim Luzzato. For these two and half years a maggid has been revealed to him, a holy and tremendous angel who reveals wondrous mysteries to him....This is what happens. The angel speaks out of his mouth, but we, his disciples, hear nothing. The angel begins to reveal to him great mysteries. [1]

In contrast to this "silent speech," Joseph Caro's maggid was quite vocal:

No sooner had we studied two tractates of the Mishnah then our Creator smote us so that we heard a voice speaking out of the mouth of the saint, may his light shine. It was a loud voice with letters clearly enunciated. All the companions heard the voice but where unable to understand what was said. It was an exceedingly pleasant voice, becoming increasingly strong. [2]
It should be noted that in other accounts, Caro's maggid was understandable to bystanders.

Joseph Taitazak experienced his maggid as automatic writing [3]. The presence of the maggid is sometimes unsought and spontaneous, but is more usually associated with intensive text study combined with some mystical discipline and or/ritual [4]. It is in some way analogous to the Greek notion of a muse, though the maggid is largely bereft of the aesthetic dimension associated with a muse.

By the time of Chayyim Vital, the phenomenon was common enough that his teacher Isaac Luria had to spell out some criteria for distinguishing a legitimate maggid from a charlatan or mentally disordered person:

My master the Ari [Isaac Luria] gave a sign [through which one can recognize a reliable maggid]. It must constantly speak the truth, motivate one to do good deeds, and not err in a single prediction. If it can explain the secrets and mysteries of the Torah, it is certainly reliable. From its words, one can recognize its level. The mystery of ruach ha-kodesh [divine inspiration] is this: It is a voice sent from on high to speak to a prophet or to one worthy of ruach ha-kodesh. But such a voice is purely spiritual, and such a voice cannot enter the prophet's ear until it clothes itself in a physical voice. The physical voice in which it clothes itself is the voice of the prophet himself, when he is involved in prayer or Torah study. This voice clothes itself in his voice and is attached to it. It then enters the prophet's ear so that he can hear it. Without the physical voice of the individual himself, this could not possibly take place. [5]

Zal g'mor /Go forth and learn - read more in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism:http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

1. Louis Jacobs, Jewish Mystical Testimonies, pp. 171-172

2. Ibid., p. 124

3. Joseph Dan, The Heart and the Fountain, p. 177 - 179

4. Lawrence Fine, Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos, pp. 69-71; Dan, pp. 178-180

5. Aryeh Kaplan, Kabbalah and Meditation, pp. 223-224