Sunday, 9 November 2008

Zohar Parshat Vayeira - Complete Kindness




 [At the end of Parshat Vayeira Abraham is commanded by G-d to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice (Genesis 22:1-19.) Abraham is about to slaughter Isaac when an angel calls to Abraham, “Abraham, Abraham.” This passage of Zohar explains the reason for the angel calling out to Abraham by calling his name twice. Although often explained as expressing endearment, this passage of Zohar teaches something else. Abraham is the personification of kindness. The test of the binding of Isaac “forces” him to connect with another SefirahGevurah (everything completely opposite to Abraham). Although not Abraham’s true nature, he must link with it in order to connect himself with true kindness. To reach levels of complete perfection, even an Abraham must in some way experience and understand how to integrate an attribute foreign to him.]

And an angel of G-d called to him from heaven and he said Abraham, Abraham. There is a separation cantillation mark between them [the two names of Abraham] to teach that the last [mention of] Abraham after the binding is not like the first which is before the binding [of Isaac.] [In the actual reading of the Parsha, there is a musical cantillation mark that breaks between the two mentions of Abraham’s name. When the reader reads these two names he must make a brief pause. This hints to the fact that the first Abraham is different to the second Abraham. While the name is the same, something else has changed in the quality of Abraham that necessitates mentioning his name again to illustrate that Abraham had changed due to something happening.] And it explains: The last [mention of Abraham] [Daf 120b] is perfect, because through the binding, the Chesed [Kindness] that is there is included with Gevurah [Strength], and the Gevurot [judgments] are sweetened through the Chassadim [Kindnesses.] The first was not yet perfect since there was only kindness by itself. [Before the binding, Abraham who represents complete kindness, proceeded with kindness only. Through the binding of Isaac he attached himself to the Gevurot and thereby sweetened them.] Similar to this (I Samuel 3:10), “Samuel, Samuel.” There is also a reason why there is a separation between them. [In this chapter of the book of Samuel, G-d calls to Samuel two times. In the reading, a separation mark is made between these two names as well.] And the reason [for the separation] is because the last is perfect, the first is not perfect. And it explains: The last Samuel is said concerning the period of time when the prophecy was perfected, the first time Samuel is mentioned, is when he had still not merited prophecy. But (Exodus 3:4), “Moses Moses.” [The Zohar brings out an inconsistency with G-d calling to Moses in comparison to the way He called to Abraham and Samuel.] Between the two times that Moses’ name is mentioned [in this verse], there is no separating cantillation mark. This is because from the day he was born, the Shechinah [the Indwelling Divine Presence] did not depart from him i.e. in this they [the two Moses’] were equal all his days. But certainly after the giving of the Torah he ascended upwards even further many great levels. [With Moses, he was the same Moses from his birth even until the giving of the Torah – with the Shechinah being with him all the time, even though he became even greater after that. With Abraham and Samuel, there was a time when they were on one particular level, and only after something did they rise to a much higher level.] (Ramak, Mikdash Melech and commentaries.)

[Another explanation is given concerning the repeated mention of Abraham.] And it explains further, in that it says twice Abraham, Abraham: Rabbi Chiya said: Because Abraham was drunk with the wine-of-desire of serving his Creator by sacrificing Isaac his son, therefore the angel called him in order to awaken him, like one would awaken a person from his sleep. And he said, “Abraham, return into yourself from the attribute of Din [judgment], and be Abraham in another spirit with the attribute of Chesed – as is your custom, to do other actions fitting a doer of kindness, in another heart, that the cruelty in your heart be turned around into mercy, to love Isaac once again as before.” (Ramak and commentaries.)

[A third explanation is given.] Rabbi Yehuda said the reason why Abraham’s name is doubled is because through the sacrifice, Isaac was purified and arose in favor before the Holy One blessed be He, like the smell of the incense spices that the Kohanim offered before the Holy One blessed be He two times a day i.e. Isaac arose and was purified through the intention that was to bind and be bound – like the smell of the incense that is brought half in the morning corresponding to the attribute of Chesed and half in the evening corresponding to the attribute of Gevurah, and the burning of the incense in half amounts is to show that everything is one unity. So too here, through the will and action of the sacrifice of Abraham and Isaac – that there is included water with fire and fire with water, scripture attributes to Abraham and Isaac as if they offered the incense two times a day. If so, the first Abraham corresponds to the half of the morning which is not yet perfected until the half of the afternoon which corresponds to the second Abraham – which included in it already the Gevurot of Isaac who rules in the evening. And the offering is perfected in favor as if Isaac was offered before Him. For it was a great distress for Abraham at the moment that it was said to him, “Do not send your hand to the youth, and do not do anything to him,” because he considered it to be an uncompleted offering and that it was not received favorably. And he thought that it was in vain that he did and arranged everything and he built the altar. Immediately, “And Abraham lifted up his eyes and he saw, and behold a ram! Afterwards…” that the Holy One Blessed be He prepared for him a ram and he offered it instead of Isaac, to appease his mind that his offering was accepted in favour. (Ramak and commentaries.)


Bold print: Original Zohar
Ordinary text: Matok Midvash
[Square brackets]: Rabbi Eliyahu Shear

(Round brackets): Either the source being quoted e.g. Proverbs etc., or alternatively used to quote the kabbalistic language as discussed in Matok Midvash. The Matok Midvash formats the Nigleh side of things in an ordinary print, and the Nistar terminology in Rashi script. I’ve therefore put the Rashi script – the Nistar terminology in round brackets.

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