Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Secrets of Bereshit: The Occult Bible III

In earlier entries (Nov. 2006) on the blog, I discussed how esoteric readings of the Hebrew Scriptures are commonplace. Here I want to share with you a few examples of how occult meaning has been uncovered in the first word, of the first verse, of the first book of the Torah. Let us see what Bereshit reveals for us:

בְּרֵאשִׁית In the beginning/When [God] began... (TaNaKH)

Since RaSHI, it has been widely understood that the conventional sequential translation, "In the beginning.." is inaccurate. Bereshit is a construct, not absolute form, so a temporal "When [God] began..." is better. So already on the merely syntactical level the word has its complexities.

But Jewish tradition has also held the six letters contain secrets that the wise will understand:

By making a notarikon (in this case, separating the word into two words:

בָּרַא שִׁית He created six [things]....
(Genesis Rabbah 1:4; Midrash ha-Gadol)

A secret is revealed - six critical entities preceded the actual creation of heaven and earth: The Throne of Glory [positive existence], Torah [the blueprint for existence], the Ancestors [the righteous pillars that support existence], the concept of the Temple [the link between worlds], and the name of Messiah [redemption and rectification].

Although the Torah itself suggests that certain hylic entities co-existed with God at the beginning (water, darkness), by separating out the diacritical dagesh from the word [it is the dot in the first letter]:

Beginning with a point...בְ • רֵאשִׁית
(Zohar I:15a)

the Zohar finds the philosophic principle creation ex nihilo [from nothing] in the first word. Zohar also finds hints of the Sefirotic structure in the first sentence:

"With Wisdom [reishit = chokhmah, a claim based on Proverbs 8:22; 3:18], the Infinite [= Keter, the subject being implicit in the verb form bara] created Elohim [binah]"

All Jewish mysticism takes very seriously the pathos (the caring) of God, that God is driven by a 'need' to create and relate to that creation, an idea scandalous to rationalist philosophy, which posits that God must be impassive. Re-arranging the six letters yields that creation is a:

שִׁיר תָאֵב A song of desire
(Attributed to Isaac Luria)

And confirms the mystical premise of a deity longing for us.

All of which is very cool and enlightening. And its just a sample. Tikkunei Zohar has many, many d'rashot on the word Bereshit (70, I'm told, but I've never counted them). But this kind of free-form interpretation creates other problems for the tradition. For example, Christians can play this game too:

the letters can yield:
father אב
son בּר
fire [ = holy spirit, though don't ask me how] אישׁ
a fortunate daughter [guess?]בּת אשׁרי
crucifixion on the sixth [day] ת
[This last one's another stretch - the Hebrew tav is the equivalent of the Greek tau....which is cross-shaped!]
(courtesy of Alexander Neckham, a 12th Century monk, in his De Naturis Rerum)[1]

Which may in part explain the gradual shift to more contextual, plain-sense [peshat]interpretations of the Bible by later generations of Jewish commentators - less chance of having your hermeneutics used against you!

Zal g'mor - to learn more, read the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050
[1] Thanks to my colleague at UNT, Leona Marsh, for calling my attention to Alexander. She has been translating Alexander's work from Latin and approached me because she needed help making sense of his Hebrew homilies.


Blogger Lori Witzel said...

Stumbled across your blog while doing some digging into what little history I could find regarding mystic Jewish women (the middle ages seems replete with Christian women mystics, so I wondered where the Jewish women were...)

Anyway, kick-a** d'var torah! Thanks for sharing this!

Would like your thoughts on if there's any value to this simple, kinesthetic deeper dive: why did the book begin with beit and not aleph? The unspoken breath had to be sealed and thus given form by Divine lips for creation to begin.

12:33 PM  
Blogger Zeke said...

What a coincidence! Recently I am studying the interpretations of the word "Bereshit" in Zohar.

In Prologue of Zohar, it said that "At the beginning, the Hebrew letter Bet is immediately followed by another Bet, that is, BERESHEET BARA. Subsequently, IT IS WRITTEN at the beginning with an ALEPH and then another ALEPH, referring in Hebrew to Elohim Et. AND HE EXPLAINS THAT when the Holy One, blessed be He, was about to create the world, all of the letters WERE STILL hidden."

What is the meaning of "an ALEPH and then another ALEPH" for Bereshit here? Where is the location of these Aleph?

Toda Rabba.

10:46 AM  
Blogger sweetdreams said...

I just bought your book and am loving it. Great work.
Robert Roberg
Gainesville FL


12:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bereshet (In the Beginning) created Elohim Alph Tav heavens (host) Alp and Tav earth (eirts). I do not worship the trinity that is Jesus the host of heavns or mother earth. Reshet I look to as the Parent of all and Bereshet created all and they in turn created Adam Gen 1 and formed Adam. Can you comment on this and perhaps point out more info on this.
Thank you Eva

1:04 PM  
Blogger Bea Baldridge said...

Where do I find the first two on this subject?

12:29 PM  

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