I intended to blog about UFOs this week. I really did.
But my mind and spirit have been where they’ve dwelt for the past several weeks: in the eerie Kabbalistic world of Jonathan Eibeschuetz, the 18th-century rabbi, alleged pornographer, and in fact designer of a new faith that was to redeem all humanity. He set forth the theoretical underpinning of this faith in a book of Kabbalah called “I Came This Day to the Spring” (Hebrew, Va-avo ha-Yom el ha-Ayin), which circulated in manuscript in the year 1725 and shocked its first readers so profoundly that, as one of them put it, “after reading two or three paragraphs the hair of my flesh stood up.” (More background details in my previous post.)
Visiting one alien planet is enough for a month. So here’s my latest dispatch from Eibeschuetz-world:
The portion of “I Came This Day” that I’m now translating, which I’ve dubbed “Chapter III – The Gestation of God,” is about how God–the deity whom Eibeschuetz calls “God of Israel,” as distinct from Ein Sof, the Infinite being out of which God emerged–did what Nicodemus calls impossible in John 3:4. He entered His Mother’s womb to be reborn.
His “Mother” is the Shechinah, the female aspect of deity in Kabbalah, who at other times is God’s partner. Here She functions as His amniotic sac.
This is very weird–you see why I couldn’t quite make the switch back to UFOs–but not in itself heretical. The great Gershom Scholem, describing the impeccably orthodox teachings of the 16th-century Kabbalist Isaac Luria, speaks of God’s origin “in the womb of the ‘celestial mother,’ his birth and development … something very much like a mythos of God giving birth to Himself.”
Eibeschuetz inherits this theme from the Lurianic Kabbalah, but gives it his own distinctive twist.
He describes how the “Spot,” in which the “Shape” that is God has come into being, underwent “a Contraction and Self-folding, such that its entire form was made into a sort of knot, all the body’s limbs bound into one … folded around the head and made into a single aspect–head, heart, and all the limbs as one.”
To convey the image, he cites a Talmudic passage (Niddah 30b) describing the fetus in the womb. “You will see from this passage that it is all one knot, all essentially the head, with the entire body ranged around it. So it was here, [the Shape] still in a kind of maternal womb. …
“The Shechinah surrounded it, enclosing it like a curtain, functioning as its placenta. … The natural philosophers write, as is well known, that the placenta shelters the fetus, protecting it from being harmed by excessive heat or excessive blood. The placenta gathers everything to the fetus, which is nourished from it (say the philosophers) as though a nipple extends from the placenta to the fetus’s navel in the form of a thick vein.” Just so, “the Shechinah … shelters [God] from the expansion of the Graces so that they not wash Him away and obliterate Him as a Shape. That is why She receives everything from the Root and the fetus is nourished through her.”
Now there’s a complication. When God performed this act of “Self-folding,” He left traces of light in the space where He once had been. These light-traces “became mixed in a confused tangle,” took the form of water which first froze and then melted, in the course of which “these waters became savagely turbulent and came to be called ‘the Insolent Waters.'” These “Insolent Waters”–the phrase is taken from Psalm 124:5–will come to be a standing menace to the structures of Divinity. They must be tamed, if the world is to experience redemption.
But this is far in the future. In the meantime the light (that is also water), begun as a circle, reshapes itself into a square. “The sides of the circle … stretched themselves and drew near each other to transform into a square, withdrawing themselves from the walls of Ein Sof that surrounded them. Only their corners touched it.”
This is not too easy to visualize, so Eibeschuetz provides a diagram, reproduced in all the manuscripts of his treatise. (This one is from a manuscript, no. 976, in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.) If you know some Hebrew, you’ll recognize the first four letters of the Hebrew alphabet marking the four sides of the square: aleph at the top, bet on the right, gimel on the left, dalet at the bottom.
“And so they met together, drawing near each other, transforming themselves from a circle into a square. The entirety of the light-trace shaped itself into a square, leaving four empty spaces beside the four walls–four gaps, perfectly void, between them and the Emanator. In the uppermost of these empty spaces (the one marked aleph) the worlds were constructed. … As for the remaining three spaces, we are in complete ignorance as to what they may have served and are not authorized to say anything about them.”
A mysterious passage in the Talmud (Hagigah 11b) declares that “whoever contemplates four things–what is above, what is below, what is before and what is after–it were a mercy for him if he had not come into the world.” These “four things,” Eibeschuetz thinks, are the four gaps between the sides of the square and the inner circumference of the circle. The Talmudic passage “contains a deep secret which [the ancient sages] kept tightly guarded and which no one was authorized to reveal to me, yet by fleeting hints I have come to understand that Messiah ben David is destined to expound it openly. Wait for him.”
The “deep secret” is presumably what’s in those three spaces, other than the one containing our known universe. For Eibeschuetz, “Messiah ben David” is Sabbatai Zevi, who was hailed all over the Jewish world as Messiah in 1665 and then converted to Islam in 1666.
“Wait for him.” Sabbatai Zevi died in 1676. We’re still waiting.
by David Halperin
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