The Mystery of the Zohar (The Book of Radiance)

The Zohar is the most important work of the Kabbalah.  It emerged/appeared in the 13th century in Spain and was associated with Rabbi Moses de-Leon.  According to de-Leon, the Zohar was an ancient book (composed by a famous 2nd century Jewish sage) which was found in a cave in Israel and was brought to Spain and into his house.  De Leon sold portions of the work and claimed he was copying from the ancient book.  Even so, during his life ad after his death some didn’t believe de Leon’s version and believed him to be the real author of the work.  Those who thought de-Leon was the author believed that that book was written by means of a mystical technique, namely employing one of the names of God to enter a trance like state whereby the book was channeled to him and written through “automatic writing”.  Today, most of all scholars think that the book was written in Spain in the late 13th century and that De Leon is connected to it either as a sole author or as one of the authors but it is still an unsolved mystery.

The Zohar is a very long and magnificent book:

  1. It tells a story of a great teacher – Rabi Shimon Bar-Yochai – and his 10 students who are travelling around Israel.
  2. If tells the story of how the Divine Powers – (the Sefirot) – emanated from the infinite God (Ein Sof). Something mysterious happened (a little bit like the big bang) and this event generated the ten divine powers which have different personalities and aspects – some masculine and some feminine in their nature (the infinite God is i a way similar to out soul or to the unconscious and the Sefirot to our body).  The last power is feminine and is known as Malkhut (kingdom) or Shekhinah.  Our world was born from Shekhina and therefore is always feminine is nature –  there are cycles and there are death in it.  Since the Shekhinah is not always connected to the other 9 powers – like her, we sometimes feel full and part of something bigger but often times not.
  3. It is structured as a commentary on the Five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) – the commentary shows how the bible stories actually hide the stories of the divine powers – their creation and their relationships with one another.
  4. It was written in Aramaic and in a special coded language.  Different words are actually symbols of the divine powers.
  5. The book was written in a way that can affect the readers as a drug.  The images that arouse the senses and feeling expand the reader’s mind and allow them to learn about the true and deep meaning of themselves, of their bodies, of their relationships, their sexuality etc.
  6. There is a similarity and maybe identification between the Divine and the Human.
  7. The kabbalists can affect the divine world in different ways and they can bring the divine female and the divine male together – this is usually described in sexual terms.  When the male and the female come together in a sexual union the beautiful divine flow comes into the world.
  8. The Shekhinah is the first and only gate into the divine realm and she is the main hero of the Zohar.




I will confess that when I heard the topic of the week was the Zohar/Kabbalah, I came to the conversation with little beyond “wasn’t Madonna into that at some point”?  I have made a point here of including the words that were on Merav’s handout and not my own notes and reflections because to be honest I found some of what I was hearing very strange to my (admittedly) limited understanding despite Merav doing an admirable job of trying to explain it!

What I DID do, by way of response, was immediately pick up a bible and flicked randomly to various sections of the Old Testament, trying to engage it as if I had never heard of Christianity before and recording my first impressions, I found myself in:

Exodus 30:11-16 “When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for himself to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them…”

> ransom/kidnapping/buy back language?

> rich people should pay the same amount of tax/tithe as the poor people

> pay up or you’ll get the plague

Judges 19:7-13 ” …saw the people who were there, how they dwelt in security… quiet and unsuspecting, lacking nothing that is in the earth, and possessing wealth… ‘Arise, and let us go up against them… Do not be slow to go, and enter in and possess the land… God has given it to your hands…’ And six hundred men of the tribe of Dan, armed with weapons of war, set forth…”

> invade others countries, it’s a God-given right, especially when you out-number them

> especially where there’s material wealth (ahem, OIL)

> invade them while they’re unarmed and unsuspecting without warning or negotiation

2 Samuel 13:23-29 “But Absolom pressed him until he let Amnon and all the king’s sons go with him.  Then Absolom commanded his servants, “Mark when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon’, then kill him.  Fear not, have I not commanded you?” 

> arranging to kill the guy that rapes your sister is ok

> lie to get near the target, offer them lavish hospitality and then
when they’re blind drunk (unarmed and unsuspecting) take them out

Say what you like about my methodology here, my point is merely that I would certainly struggle to describe my beliefs on the basis of a few readings to anyone who had never heard of it before, or to relate well how I choose to live and act on those beliefs in a way that bears any relation to these passages.

  • it is good to visit familiar places as if we are arriving for the first time and know how that might be experienced for people
  • the mystery of the Zohar might remain mysterious to me, but what I do not understand still has something to teach me