On wings of moonlight : Elliot R. Wolfsons poetry in the path of Rosenzweig and Celan
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In the zoharic passage cited earlier, the gender transformation of this process is brought into sharper relief. Shekhinah assumes the posture of the moment et when she receives from and is thereby incorporated into the male.
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To appreciate the full import of this claim, it is necessary to recall that zoharic homilists, like other kabbalists of their time, linked Shekhinah, which is called atarah, with the corona of the phallus, ateret berit. As I have discussed this symbolism in several separate studies, I will not dwell on the point here, except to emphasize the particular relevance of this transposition to understanding the nexus of time and prayer.
By what means does the priest enter the shrine? With this we reach the point of perfect symmetry in the homiletical rhetoric exhibited by the zoharic author: Nadab and Abihu cohabited with gentile women and thereby placed the sign of the covenant in an unworthy place. The containment of the female in the male ensures that boundaries will not be traversed and that the distinction between holy and unholy will be preserved. When the potentially threatening force of the unruly, transgressive feminine is properly reined in, then crossing the threshold at the propitious moment—indeed, the moment is the threshold that one crosses, entering and departing not as sequential acts but as one contemporaneous gesture—facilitates the meeting-point of time and space, a concurrence that bespeaks the mystery of prayer, which serves as a paradigm for human worship generally.
This insight, which characterizes the kabbalistic orientation from early on, is well captured by Immanuel Hai Ricchi, the eighteenth-century Italian kabbalist and poet. Since their force Chapter Two is found in them we do not have to search anymore for the root of their existence and persistence, to know who he is, for it is known that he is Ein-Sof, blessed be he, who has concealed his force in the letters of the Torah with which all created beings have been created.
From the abundance of his concealment he did not reveal the name of his essence in any matter from the matters of the Torah and not in any name from the holy names, for even the holiest of names is created. Therefore, it is superior to all of them, for it is called by his name all the time that he illumines it. Thus, when the force of his cause is removed from it, even this name is removed.
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The letters, therefore, can be construed collectively as the veil that veils what is not to be un seen. In the place of withdrawal, the erasure is erased and the name inscripted. There is no eternity over and against time, but rather the timeless time of temporal eternity measured against the timelessness of eternal temporality, like the halo of silence enveloping the periphery of the verbal, the haze of invisibility permeating the showground of the visible.
The innovative element surfaces in his explication of this motif in terms of time and eternity. However, when time is without bound, as described above, that which is entirely above time, the essence of the light of Ein Sof, illumines it as it was before the withdrawal [simsum]. From this vantage point the inherent correlation of temporality and the feminine becomes evident.
In the midrash it says that this teaches that there was an order of time [seder zemannim] before this.
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Therefore it is not appropriate to ask why the creation of the world was not earlier since there was no time, and it does not apply at all either before or after, for before or after there only applies an aspect of time [behinat zeman]. What emerges from this is that he and his name were alone prior to [the creation] and will be so after the world is destroyed as well, and there will be no time.
We may conceive of time, therefore, as a bridge suspended over an abyss bounded by the nothing-that-is-everything at one end and the everything-that-is-nothing at the other end. Attaining this state of annihilation, turning yesh back to ayin, is the eschatological consciousness through which and in which time as the primordial pulse of creation is covertly revealed, openly concealed. The ultimate reality is described therefore as one elongated day that comprises both day and night rather than a span of time that is neither day nor night; identity of difference, as opposed to difference of identity, entails the absorption of one antinomy in the other such that we can speak of night contained in day, dark in light, left in right, female in male.
This is the seventh day that is entirely Sabbath, as is known. Therefore it is above the aspect of the name YHWH and above the aspect of Torah just as the thirteen attributes of mercy are the aspect that is above the Torah and hence forgiveness of transgression is found there. In this moment opposites coincide and difference is effaced in the identity of indifference, an ideal conveyed, as noted above, by the image of day without night, or alternatively, good without evil—rather than by the image of a time that is neither day nor night or a state that is neither good nor evil.
The corporeality of the world [gashmiyyut ha-olam] could not receive the vitality [hiyyut] from there so that it might be like it is now in the aspect of a being that is a separate entity [yesh davar nifrad]. The most basic feature of time according to kabbalistic wisdom concerns the eternal recurrence of what is recurrently ephemeral, the self-same repetition of what is repeatedly different, the chronic coming-to-be of what has perpetually never-come-to-pass. Time weaves its web of luminal darkness, concealing truth disclosed in the disclosure of untruth concealed.
The intent of this chapter is to shed light on the hermeneutical dilemma of the beginning: How does the beginning begin without having already begun? If, however, the beginning cannot begin without having already begun, in what sense is it a beginning? For it3 preceded everything, even Torah.
And why is beit next to it? To show the place whence it came, and there are some who say that from there the world is sustained.
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Why is gimmel third? For it is third and to indicate that it bestows kindness [gomelet hesed]. Aqiva not say: Why is gimmel third? Why is there a tail at the bottom of gimmel? He said to them: The gimmel has a head on top and it resembles a pipe. Just as the pipe draws from what is above and discharges to what is below, so gimmel draws by way of the head and discharges by way of the tail, and that is gimmel.
And what of gimmel? It is third, exemplifying a threefold character—bestowing, growing, and sustaining. If that is the situation, then oblivion shows itself in a different light. The origin keeps itself concealed in the beginning. How, then, can we formulate the difference between beginning and origin? Beginning is the advent of something that begins at a discrete juncture in the past and will be brought to a conclusion at some time in the future.
A pattern of causal sequentiality is presumed and grafted onto the aggregate of experiences believed to take shape on a horizontal plane of temporality. The beginning is there just to be abandoned and passed over. The beginning is always surpassed and left behind in the haste of going further. What something is, as it is, we call its essence or nature. The origin [Ursprung] of something is the source of its nature. On the contrary, origin comes to be in the course of an event, and it is thus fully clear only at the end of that which cannot begin.
The term origin is not intended to describe the process by which the existent came into being, but rather to describe that which emerges from the process of becoming and disappearance. That which is original is never revealed in the named and manifest existence of the factual; its rhythm is apparent only to a dual insight. On the one hand, it needs to be recognized as a process of restoration and reestablishment, but, on the other hand, and precisely because of this, as something imperfect and incomplete.
In this we perceive that from whence there is emergence is the same as that back toward which evasion returns. The origin invades the future by awaiting us in the past, advancing beyond all that is to come by returning to where it has been. Beginning is a veil that shrouds what has come before, and thus origin keeps itself concealed in the beginning. Surprisingly, I have found in the words of Heidegger a key to unlock the bahiric symbolism.
I am certainly not advocating an interpretative model of academic study that discards philological competence on the spurious grounds that all readings are equally valid; on the contrary, as even a cursory perusal of my work indicates, I embrace the discipline of philology as a legitimate means for reconstructing historical meaning and thereby situating a text in its proper literary context. Beyond this determination, however, the meaning one imparts or elicits from a text need not be constricted by chronological proximity.
To return to the symbolism of the Bahir, the beginning, we can say, is beit, while alef is the origin. Beit, accordingly, is a veil that conceals alef, but can what is hidden be veiled? Through the agency of the third, gimmel, the conduit that draws from alef and disseminates to beit.
That is why Torah begins not with alef but with beit, the beginning that is before the origin that precedes it. Just as [the word] berakhah begins. How do we know the Torah is called berakhah? To what may this be compared?
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To ones who seek to see the face of the king but they do not know the whereabouts of the king. The bestowal of wisdom is compared parabolically to the gifting of the daughter as a conjugal offering to the son by their mutual father. How so? The blessing is the dwelling, the sheltering-exposing; the question of its location marks the beginning of the path.
Here philological attunement is most expedient: the word tehillah stems from the root hll, to perforate, to make a hole, to open, to be an opening. What can we say of this opening? That it opens, and as a consequence—or perhaps as a cause—that it is opened. But what is en closed in the opening that can be further opened? An opening, no doubt, but how and why might an opening be opened if it is already opened?
To open the open, the open must be en closed , for the opening of opening is enclosure, the circumference that encircles the center, the limit from without that delimits the limit within. Beginning, the beit with which Torah begins mathil , is the opening that encloses the enclosing that opens, the questioning utterance that silences the silence of alef by exposing the shelter of the sheltered exposure. Why is beit closed on every side and open in front? Thus, the holy One, blessed be he, is the place of the world but the world is not his place. Beit is enclosed on three sides but open in front, signifying that it is beit olam, the dwelling within which temporal beings come to be in passing-away and pass away in coming-to-be.
The measure of this dwelling in the stream of coming-to-be and passing-away is determined by and from wisdom, gnostically conceived as a potency of God, but its way is open, for in front there is empty space whence new possibilities abound. From the kabbalistic perspective this is the intent of the rabbinic dictum that God is the place of the world but the world is not his place.
That is, all things in timespace are God even if God is not all things in spacetime. The inscription, however, is concomitantly an erasure, for the beit that begins Torah veils the alef whence it originates. The role of Torah as preserving the concealment of that which must be concealed is alluded to in the following bahiric text: R. I have opted for a literal rendering, but this may obscure the intended meaning.
From there he gives drink to the needy and from the fullness he took counsel at the beginning [tehillah]. To a king who wanted to build his palace with hard granite.
He cut out rocks and carved stones, and there emerged for him a well of abundant living water. What is the praise? And what is exaltation [romemut]? And what is the blessing?
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Note, again, that the word for beginning is tehillah, the expression used in conjunction with the question of the whereabouts of the bayit that shelters and exposes the king, the beit that begins Torah, beginning of the opening that is the opening of beginning. The poetic images convey in visual terms the two principles that depict the basic dialectic within the divine nature, according to kabbalistic theosophy the outpouring power of mercy and the constraining force of judgment.
The doubling of self to be the other stands at the beginning of the way.