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The Zohar : Mysticism

The Zohar Woe unto the man," says Simeon ben Yohai, "who asserts that this Torah intends to relate only commonplace things and secular narratives; for if this were so, then in the present times likewise a Torah might be written with more attractive narratives. In truth, however, the matter is thus: The upper world and the lower are established upon one and the same principle; in the lower world is Israel, in the upper world are the angels. When the angels wish to descend to the lower world, they have to don earthly garments. If this be true of the angels, how much more so of the Torah, for whose sake, indeed, the world and the angels were alike created and exist. The world could simply not have endured to look upon it. Now the narratives of the Torah are its garments. He who thinks that these garments are the Torah itself deserves to perish and have no share in the world to come. Woe unto the fools who look no further when they see an elegant robe! More valuable than the garment is the body which carries it, and more valuable even than that is the soul which animates the body. Fools see only the garment of the Torah, the more intelligent see the body, the wise see the soul, its proper being; and in the Messianic time the 'upper soul' of the Torah will stand revealed"

Pardes and Biblical exegesis
The Zohar assumes four kinds of Biblical exegesis: "Peshat" (literal meaning), "Remez" (allusion), "Derash" (anagogical), and "Sod" (mystic). The initial letters of the words "Peshat," "Remez," "Derash," and "Sod" form together the word "PaRDeS" (Paradise), which became the designation for the fourfold meaning of which the mystical sense is the highest part.

The mystic allegorism is based by the Zohar on the principle that all visible things, the phenomena of nature included, have besides their exoteric reality an esoteric reality also, destined to instruct man in that which is invisible. This principle is the necessary corollary of the fundamental doctrine of the Zohar. The universe being, according to that doctrine, a gradation of emanations, it follows that the human mind may recognize in each effect the supreme mark, and thus ascend to the cause of all causes.

This ascension, however, can only be made gradually, after the mind has attained four various stages of knowledge; namely: (1) the knowledge of the exterior aspect of things, or, as the Zohar calls it (ii. 36b), "the vision through the mirror that projects an indirect light"; (2) the knowledge of the essence of things, or "the vision through the mirror that projects a direct light"; (3) the knowledge through intuitive representation; and (4) the knowledge through love, since the Law reveals its secrets to those only who love it (ii. 99b).

After the knowledge through love comes the ecstatic state which is applied to the most holy visions. To enter the state of ecstasy one had to remain motionless, with the hand between the knees, absorbed in contemplation and murmuring prayers and hymns. There were seven ecstatic stages, each of which was marked by a vision of a different color. At each new stage the contemplative entered a heavenly hall ("hekal") of a different hue, until he reached the seventh, which was colorless, and the appearance of which marked both the end of his contemplation and his lapse into unconsciousness. The Zohar gives the following illustration of an ecstatic state:

"Once," says R. Simeon ben Yohai, "I was plunged in a contemplative ecstasy, and I beheld a sublime ray of a brilliant light which illumined 325 circles, and amid which something dark was bathing. Then the dark point, becoming bright, began to float toward the deep and sublime sea, where all the splendors were gathering. I then asked the meaning of this vision, and I was answered that it represented the forgiveness of sins."


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