Origins of the Kabbalah, by Gershom Scholem (Favorite Passages)

ImageOrigins of the Kabbalah, by Gershom Scholem

[p. 159-60, an excerpt from section 105 of the Bahir, commenting on the Sabbath:] [Every day] has a logos, who is its ruler, not because it was created with it, but because it accomplishes with it the effect that is within its power. When all have accomplished their effect and finished their work, then the seventh day comes and accomplishes its effect, and all rejoice, even God [with them]; and not only that: it [the effect] makes their souls great, as it is said: on the seventh day there was rest and animation…. This is like a king who had seven gardens, and in the garden in the middle, from a well of living water, a bubbling source from a well of waters the three to its right and the three to its left. As soon as it accomplishes this work, it fills itself; then all rejoice and say: it is for us that it fills itself. And it waters them and makes them grow, but they wait and rest. And it gives the seven drink…. Is it then [itself] one of those [seven] and does it give them drink? Say rather: he gives drink to the “heart” and the “heart” gives drink to them all.

[p. 245, a sentence from Yehudah Halevi on prayer to God:] As I went towards you, I found you on the road towards me.

[p. 267, Scholem on the mysticism of language:] It is, after all, one of the principles of mystical exegesis to interpret all words, if possible, as nouns. This emphasis on the noun character, on the name, may be taken as an indication of a more primitive attitude in the mystics’ conception of language. In their view language is ultimately founded on a sequence of nouns that are nothing other than the names of the deity itself. In other words, language is itself a texture of mystical names.

[p. 277, Scholem on the mysticism of language:] For the kabbalist, evidently, language-mysticism is at the same time a mysticism of script and letters. The relation between script and language is a constitutive principle for the Kabbalah. In the spiritual world, every act of speaking is concurrently an act of writing, and conversely every writing is potential speech, destined to become audible. The speaker engraves, as it were, the three-dimensional space of the word on the plane of the ether. The script, which for the philologist is only a secondary and otherwise rather useless image of real speech, is for the kabbalist the true repository of its secrets…. Beyond language lies the unarticulated reflection, the pure thought, the mute profundity, one could say, in which the nameless reposes.

[p. 277, quoting Isaac the Blind:] In every letter are the ten sefiroth.

[p. 305-6, from Isaac the Blind‘s commentary on Psalms 119:96, “I have seen that all things have their limit, but your commandment is broad beyond measure”:] Although at first it appears to have a purpose, your commandment extends itself further and further to infinity. And if everything transitory has an end, nevertheless no man can penetrate [the interior] of your commandment, which is at the end of all comprehension, for man understands only the beginning of the middoth. 

[p. 306, from, Scholem says, “an old text an prayer as a sacrifical service”:] Since the destruction of the Temple, there remained in Israel only the great name [of God]. And the righteous and the Hasidim and the men of [pious] action withdraw into solitude and rake the fire in the depths of the hearth of the altar in their own hearts: and then, from out of the pure thinking [of their meditation], all the sefiroth unite and attach themselves to one another, until they are draw to the source of the infinitely sublime flame.

[p. 415:] On the latter subject the kabbalists were substantially in accord, since they saw in man the sum of all the powers of Creation, which, for their part, were also the powers of the deity. It was the reflected radiance of these powers that they sought to uncover by an active life lived in accordance with the Torah. Man, in whom all sefirotic being is mirrored, is at the same time the transformer by means of which these powers are led back to their source. All things egress from the One and return to the One, according to the formula borrowed from the Neoplatonists; but this movement has its goal and turning point in man when, turning inward, he begins to recognize his own being and from the multiplicity of his nature strives to return to the unity of his origin.