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The Zohar

David Cowles

Apr 25, 2023

‘The Zohar’ is a TOE (a theory of everything) - everything from Big Bang to Big Freeze, from Creation to Eschaton.

The Zohar was either written by a Rabbi who lived in a cave in northern Israel in the second century CE, or by a different Rabbi who lived in the bustling city of Leon, Spain, c. 1400 CE, or by person or persons unknown. The evidence one way or another is inconclusive.

This is just the first ‘strange’ thing about one of the world’s strangest books. Strange, because we can pinpoint the authorship of many New Testament (NT) texts down to a single decade. Worst case (Hebrews, Revelation), we’re talking about a window of no more than 25 years, not 1,000+ years as in the case of the Zohar.

(We use context clues to date NT material. The problem is, Zohar provides no context clues. It is a book about eternity, written in the language of eternity. Ugh!)

Like any book worth its salt, The Zohar is a TOE (a theory of everything) - everything from Big Bang to Big Freeze, from Creation to Eschaton. Put it on your bookshelf next to Moses’ Torah, Homer’s Odyssey, Plato’s Timaeus, John’s Revelation, Joyce’s Ulysses, and Pound’s Cantos.  

The Zohar is yet another illustration of Heisenberg Uncertainty: the more comprehensive something is, the more incomprehensible it is! Corollaries: the better I understand something, the less useful it is to me; the more important something is to me, the less likely it is that I’ll understand it. Sounds just like my high school!

Via Negativa: God is my ‘ultimate concern’ (Tillich); therefore, I can know nothing of God. The Zohar is ‘all ye know on Earth and all ye need to know’(Keats) – if only it were written in a language we could understand (and I don’t mean the Aramaic used in its composition).

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The Zohar, like Torah, is the story of our search for God and God’s search for us. Anything beyond that is just metaphor. According to Zohar, there are five ‘gates’, openings that connect Heaven and Earth; together these gates make up what Kabbalists call the Tree of Life:

  • Keter, Crown (Le Neant)

  • Hokhmah, Wisdom

  • Bihah, Understanding 

  • ZA, God’s essence…

    • Hesed, Love

    • Gevurah or Din, Judgment (justice)

    • Tif’eret, Beauty (harmony)

    • Netsah, Eternity

    • Hod, Splendor

    • Yesod, Righteous One

  • Malkhut or Shekinah, Kingdom (Israel, ‘Middle-Earth’)

Well, it’s not everyday lingo, but it’s certainly not incomprehensible, not yet…but we’re far from finished. Each of these five gates consists of five ‘sub-gates’, and guess what? The five sub-gates are also called Keter, Hokhmah, Binah, ZA, and Malkhut

So we have five gates, each with five sub-gates: 25 ‘openings’ altogether, ranging from Keter-Keter to Malkhut-Malkhut. Are you still with me? Ok, how about now: each ‘sub-gate’ consists of five ‘sub-sub-gates’ also called…

Get where we’re going with this? Now we have 125 ‘openings’ to describe, catalog, and account for, ranging from Keter-Keter-Keter to Malkhut-Malkhut-Malkhut. Will it ever end? Mercifully, The Zohar stops at three iterations, but in theory, at least, this pattern could go on forever. Next stop: 625 openings, and so on. I don’t care who you are; at some point you’re going to run out of bandwidth! 

What we are describing here is what mathematicians call a fractal – a pattern that repeats indefinitely regardless of scale. Another way of saying this: the universe is ‘self-similar’; it is continually mapping itself. Sidebar: Is that what we mean by consciousness?

The structure that The Zohar identifies at the heart of Being is not imposed on Being or deduced from beings; it is Being per se! To be is to be a ‘piece of fruit’ on the Tree of Life but also to be the Tree of Life itself. Every part is the whole.

What? Outrageous! Well, not so much. Consider the lowly acorn that you just ran over and crushed in your driveway. It is a piece of ‘fruit’ that once hung on an oak tree, but it is also a ‘seed’ consisting of a blueprint for a new oak (RIP). According to Kabbala, the fruit is the seed, and the seed is the fruit. Botany 101 = Cosmology 404.

But there’s a problem here! The mathematical concept of a ‘fractal’ was not fully formed until the mid-20th century! The ‘theologians’ who wrote The Zohar, whoever they may be, had a thorough working knowledge of the concept of ‘fractal’ many centuries before mathematicians formalized it.

Now that we have our bearings, such as they are, it’s time for us to do a walk through of ‘the world according to Zohar’:

We begin our walk at Keter, nothingness (always a good place to start). Keter manifests as a point, Hokhmah, wisdom. Wisdom is the point where the transcendent (Keter) and the immanent (Malkhut) intersect. 

But like the ‘Planck point’ known as ‘Big Bang’, Hokhmah ‘inflates’, becoming Binah, Understanding. Binah is the womb of all things. Like Janus, Binah is two faced: one face turns toward Keter-Hokhmah, the other toward Malkhut

Keter (nothing) and Hokhmah (point) do not require or disclose any ontological structure that we might recognize as ‘spacetime’. Crown and Wisdom are eternal, period. So is Understanding; but within the eternity of Binah lies spacetime, Malkhut, the Kingdom, aka our World. 

Binah is where Crown-Wisdom meets Kingdom-World; but between the two lies ZA, God’s essence, which is God. ZA consists of the six virtues, qualities, behaviors of Emmanuel, ‘God with us’. God’s essence is God’s substance!

‘Simply’ stated, we (Malkhut) encounter Keter as ZA in Binah. ‘Crystal’, right? Don’t worry, we’ll be returning to The Zohar in future articles. (We couldn’t escape it if we tried.)

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