Jewish mysticism (kabbalah) and philosophy blog.

Levinas and Volozhin Essay

The interval of space given by the light is instantaneously absorbed by light ...The illuminated object is something one encounters, but from the very fact that it is illuminated one encounters it as if it came from us. It does not have a fundamental strangeness. Its transcendence is wrapped in immanence. The exteriority of light does not suffice for the liberation of the ego that is the self's captive.[1]

At first glance, and without an attribution, the above quote could seem to the eyes of the scholar of Kabbalah as if it came from a traditional kabbalistic source. However, this quote was not drawn from the canon of kabbalistic writings, but rather from the writings of the avowedly non-mystical post-modernist philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas. Though he is clear in his work that his philosophy is opposed to mystical ecstasis,[2] the kabbalisitic influences on Levinas’s thought have lately been a topic of scholarly discussion.[3] Despite the fact that some have claimed that there is little more than a slight resonance of kabbalistic thought in his work, it seems that this topic requires a more rigorous analysis, especially because of Levinas’s admiration of the theology of kabbalistic musar in the Mitnagdic work Nefesh ha-Hayyim by the Lithuanian R. Hayyim of Volozhin. In the course of this essay, I will attempt to illustrate some of the striking parallels which can be drawn between several of his philosophical concepts and the peculiar kabbalistic musar of R. Hayyim of Volozhin.

Specifically, both thinkers seem to share the ideas of the ‘beyond essence’ or Ein Soph and the trace of this ‘beyond essence’ that is visible in the world in the face and the kabbalistic olamot. In addition to these two ideas, Levinas and R. Hayyim also share a distaste for the mystical union in its ecstatic formulation that was so common among Hasidim. They claim that this formulation contains in it the danger that the mystic will proclaim that God is in everything and that therefore ethics is irrelevant. Both of them also, on the other hand, express the possibility that a certain form of mystical union may be acceptable—that manner of union and ‘loss of self’ which occurs during study, and at least in the case of R. Hayyim, during prayer. However, ethics must be preferred over mystical union, and on the rare occasion that mystical union may be permitted, it is only in the service of the ethical—i.e. in times of study and prayer, which are inherently subordinate to the ethical. Finally, I will also briefly discuss how the kabbalism of R. Hayyim provides in Levinas’s mind a theology and means of identification for contemporary Jews based on an understanding of our position in the cosmic scheme as human beings and the responsibility which this position entails.

Kabbalistic Mysticism or Kabbalistic Musar?

First, it is important to address the question which has been asked by the above-mentioned modern scholarship of whether or not Levinas may be said to be at all influenced by Kabbalah. According to Ajzenstat,

“Little has been written on the subject of whether Levinas’s thought bears affinities to Jewish mysticism. In what is perhaps the most widely circulated article on the subject, Charles Mopsik argues that while Levinas culled the writings of the Lurianic kabbalists for some of his central terms, images and ideas—‘the infinite, the trace, the il y a, shame, the feminine…’…--he used them improperly, without due regard for the Kabbalistic understanding of the human relation to God and the human mission on earth. Others, however, have begun to lay the ground for a counter-case…Mopsik’s critique, Wolosky’s and Handelman’s reticence, and Cohen’s qualified set of disclaimers remind us of the slippery status of the endeavor on which we are embarking…The proximities we will find between Levinas and the kabbalists are limited; as we will see, he may reject as many elements of their thought as he takes up.”[4]

Some may think that since R. Hayyim of Volozhin’s teacher the GRA wrote a commentary on the Ari’s Etz Hayyim that R. Hayyim must be a mystic. Shaul Magid proposes in his article on R. Hayyim of Volozhin that although Nefesh ha-Hayyim is a kabbalistic work, “the result of R. Hayyim’s presentation is an anti-mystical reading of Kabbala which requires us to re-think the relationship between Kabbala and mysticism, two categories which have often been conflated.”[5] I am reticent to define mysticism as strongly as Magid does by having it require mystical union. In spite of this, the present analysis will show that it is likely that Levinas rejects precisely that form of mysticism which Magid refers to in his article on Hayyim of Volozhin. In other words, Levinas rejects precisely what R. Hayyim rejects of mysticism—the danger of an ecstatic union with God which is so typical of Kabbalah in its Hasidic formulation.

Ajzenstat writes that “…the gist of my argument is not really that Levinas is a mystic; I contend only that he draws on the mystical tradition while rejecting what he calls mysticism…”[6] Perhaps Ajzenstat is referring here to exactly the same definition of mysticism as Magid in his article on Levinas. It seems that both R. Hayyim and Levinas are not ‘mystics’ in the traditional sense of the word, however, it is possible that both thinkers may be ‘kabbalists’ in the same Lithuanian, Mitnagdic sense.

Ajzenstat also points out that “There can be no doubt that Levinas has borrowed certain motifs from the Lurianic cosmogony; it may be recalled that even Mopsik, who denies any similarity between kabbalistic and Levinasian conceptions, allows that Levinas makes frequent and free use of the Lurianic symbols.”[7] Though “Charles Mopsik is not wrong to address the question of Levinas and the Kabbalah in general as the question of Levinas and Lurianic thought”[8], this is probably only true because Levinas read Luria through the eyes of Hayyim of Volozhin. Indeed, Magid points out in regard to Levinas’s affinity for R. Hayyim that: “It is no surprise then, that someone like Emanuel Levinas…could find such an affinity with Nefesh Ha-Hayyim.”[9] However, he then qualifies this statement by claiming that “I could not imagine him [Levinas] taking the same interest in the Zohar, Luria, or even the kabbalistic writings of the GRA.”[10] It appears then that Levinas’s thought may be said to be Lurianic only through the formulation of Lurianic Kabbalah presented by R. Hayyim.

Perhaps, though a complete analysis of this is beyond the scope of this paper, comparisons may be drawn between Levinas and the ethical Kabbalah which emerged from Safed in the ethical kabbalistic works of Moshe Cordovero and Eliyahu de Vidas. However, I must point out for clarity that while some mistakenly claim that Cordovero was “…Luria’s teacher…”[11], Cordovero was not actually Luria’s teacher, as Luria moved to Safed in 1570 and Cordovero died approximately two months later. The kabbalistic model presented in Cordovero’s distinct Salonikan school is particularly ethical (e.g.-Tomer Devorah and Reishit Hochmah) and may have also had an influence on R. Hayyim and the GRA’s dictinctly ethical mystical musar.

The Kabbalistic Model and Levinas in General

Despite Magid’s claim that R. Hayyim, whose views are so similar to Levinas, is “anti-mystical”[12], he still maintains that R. Hayyim “uses Kabbala as the ideological base for an anti-mystical devotional ideology.”[13] R. Hayyim does indeed use conventional kabbalistic terms and ideology, and it would seem therefore, that Levinas may be drawing on these as well. It would thus be helpful, before drawing out the more specific comparisons between Levinas and R. Hayyim, to give a very brief synopsis of the basic concepts from the Kabbalah which R. Hayyim uses in his Nefesh ha-Hayyim that will be discussed in this essay, and relate them in a general way to some of Levinas’s philosophy.

Medieval and pre-Modern Kabbalistic thought deals with the same questions as much of Jewish theology, that being the relationship between God and the world, but in its own distinctive way, and with its own unique symbols and terminology. Two of the most common kabbalistic ideas are Ein Soph and and Sephirot. In Magid’s words, “For Jewish mystics the two essential elements of hypostatic theory were (1) Eyn Sof, the notion of ‘being beyond essence’, the apophatic via-negativa, and (2) torat ha-sephirot, the emanation of that essence into being, or the katophatic presence of divinity which was then made accessible to the mystic.”[14] The language applied here by Magid is interesting for use in this particular analysis, for it is so evocative of Levinas’s concepts of the Other (or the I ly a) and the trace (or the face). Further, kabbalistic, and particularly Lurianic, thought contains the idea of the contraction (tzimtzum) of the infinite Ein Soph to create a space for the world, into which a channel (kav) of its infinity is inserted. In the thought of R. Hayyim, tzimtzum is equated with Ein Soph and the kav is associated with the sephirot, or the God present in the world.[15] In truth, according to both Luria and Volozhin, the contracted Ein Soph is actually the same as the realm from which it contracts itself.[16] However, the form of pantheism which this idea engenders is dangerous (particularly in the thought of R. Hayyim)[17], and therefore, these two separate symbols are used. In fact, this danger is precisely the crux of the difficulty which both R. Hayyim and Levinas wish to avoid in their thought.

According to Ajzenstat the connection between these kabbalistic ideas and Levinas’s theology is evidently clear without even referring to explicit passages from Levinas’s writings. In Ajzenstat’s words,

“Even without reference to any specific passage in Levinas, we can recall that Levinas’s God is withdrawn from the world; that he must be so in order to leave room for separate beings; that he leaves a trace of himself in the world, a trace that it is humankind’s mission to see or realize; and that this realization is accomplished by means of ethical action, which is also describable as a meeting of faces or a setting face to face. In addition, though it is perhaps coincidental, it is worth noting that there are five archetypal partzufim in the Lurianic cosmogony, and also five primary archetypal others encountered in Totality and Infinity…”[18]

In my analysis, I will deal primarily with the ideas of the illeity or Other, and the trace or face. In addition, I will on focus the trouble which both Levinas and R. Hayyim have with the utilization of these concepts in the conventional context of mystical union (devekut) which inspires a sense of pantheism that erases the idea of the transcendent. However, I will try to show that under some circumstances, such as study and prayer, both R. Hayyim and Levinas accept a certain manner of devekut, but not in the conventional sense in which the term is understood—that being a unio mystica in which the mystic loses herself in the divine.

Mitzido and Mitzideinu in the Words of R. Hayyim of Volozhin

Before beginning a more specific discussion of the ideas of Ein Soph and torat ha-sephirot in R. Hayyim’s and Levinas’s work, perhaps it will be useful to illustrate what Magid calls “the epistemological notion of perspectivity (m’zido-m’zidanu)”[19] which appears in Nefesh ha-Hayyim. According to Magid, this idea was used in the mystical school of the GRA and it “strengthens the thesis that they recognized the extent to which the oft quoted Zoharic passage that, ‘there is no place void of Him’ is an incontestable truism.”[20] In his article on R. Hayyim, Levinas calls these ideas God “on our side” and God “on his side”[21]

R. Hayyim explicates these ideas and our inability to investigate God “on his side” in the following excerpt:

All the foundations of the Torah, in all its warnings and commandments, all of them, positive and negative, all of them proceed in this manner. [This is] that from the side of our understanding there is most definitely a separation, and a change in places. In pure places we are permitted, and also obligated to speak and contemplate words of Torah, and in impure places, we are forbidden even to contemplate words of Torah. So it is with all matters and arrangements of obligation of our behavior that we were commanded from His mouth in the Holy Torah, and without this aspect that is ‘from our side,’ (mitzideinu) there is no place for Torah and Mitzvot at all.

In spite of this, the truth is that ‘from God’s side’ may He be blessed, one grasps His essence—he fills everything with perfect equality without separating, and no distinction or difference of place at all, but rather everything is a simple unity as before the creation. However, we cannot, and we are not allowed, to enter at all into a meditation on this awesome matter, to understand and to grasp how a Single Blessed Lord fills everything and every place with a simple unity and a perfect equality—perish the thought![22]

Here we can clearly see the two aspects of God, ‘from our side,’ and ‘from His side,’ as defined by R. Hayyim. “From our side,” there is a distinct transcendent God whose ethical orders we adhere to, but “from God’s side,” God actually is a perfect unity and fills everything. However, we are not able to meditate on this notion, as we risk the danger of losing the ethical distinctions which must exist “on our side.”

Levinas addresses this passage directly, conveying his fascination with these two ideas to us clearly in his article on R. Hayyim. He writes:

Associated with the world, God would not exhaust his religious significance, for he would thus represent only God from the human viewpoint—God ‘on our side’, as Nefesh ha’Hayyim expresses it. But God also has a meaning in the Tetragrammaton, signifying something that man cannot define, formulate, think, or even name. The creation of the worlds does not in fact introduce any difference into God which would have made a definition possible…The Talmudic expression ‘God has no place in the world, it is the world which has a place in God,’ is read in a radical way: God, like the spatial dimension of place, is the condition of all being and is not, moreover, in his geometrical essence, affected by that which fills him…It is ‘God on his own side’. Like the Kabbalists, our author designates him by the term En-Sof: the In-finite. A contradiction sets the God ‘on our side,’ towards which we return in the light of the hierarchy of the incatenation of beings, against the God ‘on his own side,’ which is not affected by the distinctions that the Torah presupposes between things (III.6).”[23]

Ein Soph and Illeity for Levinas and R. Hayyim

Both the philosophy of Levinas and the kabbalistic ideology of R. Hayyim contain the idea of that which is beyond essence. Though many kabbalists have named this idea, either calling it Ein Soph, or even the Tetragrammaton,[24] it in truth is beyond naming. The unutterable nature of the name is asserted for both the Other of Levinas and the kabbalists. This idea, as recounted earlier is equated with the God of the philosophers which can only be described through the negative, the via-negativa. In his discussion of Nefesh ha-Hayyim, Levinas discusses this idea at length. It is unclear whether he actually drew his concept of the Other or the I ly a from Ein Soph, but it is obvious that he recognized the similarity between his idea and Ein Soph, and especially in the manner in which it is described by R. Hayyim.

In Time and the Other, Levinas discusses his idea of the il y a. He approaches this idea through trying to define a state of “existing without existents.” He writes,

“How are we going to approach this existing without existents? Let us imagine all things, beings and persons, returning to nothingness. What remains after this imaginary destruction of everything is not something but the fact that there is [il y a]. The absence of everything returns as a presence, as the place where the bottom has dropped out of everything…a plenitude of the void, or the murmur of silence.”[25]

Though Levinas constructs this idea through contemplating the end of all things, since this idea, in truth, is beyond time itself, it could just as easily be constructed by imagining “all things, beings and persons,” coming from nothingness. The il y a, or perhaps we may call it Ein Soph, is the ground of being which Levinas calls beautifully “the murmur of silence.”

Though this idea conveys a certain sense of nothingness, Levinas is clear to avoid defining this word as ‘nothingness’, a definition which his teacher Heidegger used, as it again ontologizes the aontological, names the unnamable. This unnamable is Levinas’s “otherwise than being”. He writes in regard to this: “The otherwise than being is stated in a saying that must also be unsaid in order to thus extract the otherwise than being from the said in which it already comes to signify a being otherwise.”[26] Levinas also expresses this idea in another way when he writes that, “The exisiting that I am trying to approach is the very work of being, which cannot be expressed by a substantive but is verbal.”[27]

Ajzenstat seems to express a reticence in equating the idea of Ein Soph with the il y a, precisely, it seems, because of Levinas’s reservations about ontologizing this idea. In Ajzenstat’s words,

“The only parallel in Levinas to the idea that the En Sof exists before creation and fills all is the il y a, which is not divine but rather represents a totality that encompasses and therefore consumes all being, an infinite totality, an oxymoron that can only exist as an idea or an anxiety. The Lurianic notion of a being that is all being may sound totalizing to Levinas...”[28]

Despite modern scholarship’s reservations in equating these two ideas, it seems that Levinas makes it clear in his article on R. Hayyim that he does not feel that Ein Soph is totalizing. Levinas conveys this to us clearly, commenting on the use of the Tetragrammaton in naming this idea: “The Tetragrammaton, the unpronounceable Name, but a Name nevertheless, already betrays, as a name, the unnameable En-Sof.”[29] Perhaps we may address the scholars of Levinas’s work who are nervous about creating a totality directly through Levinas’s own words; “Admittedly, it will be said precisely when speaking of the Infinite, or when thinking of the unpronounceable Tetragrammaton, that man is already creating for himself a certain idea of God in his absolute, and giving him a name. But is it an idea, and is it a name? Does it not bring us down to negative theology?”[30]

This unnameable aspect of God needs to contract itself in Lurianic cosmogony in order to make room for a relationship with the world. Otherwise it is too foreign, too withdrawn for human beings who live in the world of distinctions to relate to. Puzzlingly, R. Hayyim associates this unnameable aspect of God Itself with the idea of tzimtzum. Perhaps this is because, “cryptically or paradoxically, only by means of this contraction is infinity produced, that is, only an infinity that stands in relation to separated beings ‘exists divinely’…”[31] Consequently, “separated beings relate to the divine, and these relations constitute a redemption of the diminution of contraction…”[32]

Levinas expresses this paradoxical relationship with the unknowable as the relationship with the other. In Levinas’s words: “To be sure the other [l’Autre] that is announced does not possess this existing as the subject possesses it; its hold over my existing is mysterious…the relationship with the other is a relationship with a Mystery.”[33]

The Worlds, the Partzuf and the Trace in the Face

If we cannot relate directly with God mitzido, how can we know and experience this contracted essence? In Lurianic cosomology, after Ein Soph’s contraction, It inserted a kav, or channel into the empty space, and left a reshimu, or residue of Itself in this world of being. This is what some kabbalists call the four worlds, the partzufim, or the sefirot. In addition to using these terms, R. Hayyim uses the divine epithet Elohim for this aspect of the divinity. It is through these partially obsured, channeled aspects of the one God which are evident in our finite world that we can access this unnameable Other in our lives.

Humans occupy a distinct place in this cosmogony, as they dwell, somehow, in all of the worlds through which God channels Itself. “Man has an affinity with all levels of the real.”[34] Levinas explicates this beautifully in his article on R. Hayyim:

“Various images and symbols that are also taken from the Kabbalistic tradition express the privileged character of the relation between man and the world on the one hand, and man and Elohim on the other, without it being immediately possible to bring together in a unique plastic form the images used. On the one hand, what is visible throughout is a connatural element between man and the whole of the worlds, and a special intimacy between man and Elohim… On the other hand, man is made up of the residues or the ‘samples’ of each of these countless worlds: his substance is a mixture of the worlds’ substances (I. 6). Or the worlds are connected with the various organs of the human body, each one subject to the norms of the Torah’s commandments, in such a way that the whole of the worlds constitutes a human stature (I. 6).”[35]

Above, Levinas illustrates how for in kabbalistic cosmogony, and for R. Hayyim, the vast Mystery of Ein Soph clothes Itself in the various material forms in the world. Levinas also points out the immense ethical imperative which our “exceptional place” in the cosmos engenders. He writes, “Everything depends on him who is at the bottom, in contact with the matter on which his actions are carried out.” This is because, “Man has an affinity with all levels of the real.”[36] Each organ and tendon of our body for the ethical kabbalist compels us to perform a moral action related to the specific function of that organ. This is the incredible ethical consequence of the unnameable Mystery clothing itself in its diverse human forms. The incredible responsibility which this idea evokes can only be described as ‘fear’. Though many have chosen to translate yirah as awe, there is a definite scary element in our responsibility for the universe. Levinas expresses this eloquently:

“Man is interiority through his responsibility for the universe. The power of God subordinated to responsibility becomes a moral force. Man does not sin against God when he disobeys commandments; he destroys worlds. He ‘pleases God’ when he does obey because he reinforces and illuminates the being of the ‘worlds’… Man’s deeds count before God because they engage others. The fear of God is the fear for others.”[37] [yirah]

The specific terms which Levinas uses to describe this idea in his philosophical writings are “the trace” and “the face”. Levinas writes: “A trace is sketched out and effaced in a face in the equivocation of a saying. In this way it modulates the modality of the transcendent.”[38] Here, Levinas is clearly referring to that trace of the unnameable which is left in our finite experiences of the world which we can see hinted at in other people’s faces. It is also the notion of this trace which, for Levinas, calls us to ethical action: “The trace lights up as the face of a neighbor, ambiguously him before whom (or to whom, without any paternalism) and him for whom I answer.”[39] Thus the Lurianic partsuf is equivilant to the Levinasian “face,” and “…the reshimu, is equivalent to the Levinasian trace.”[40] The trace of the infinite unknowable God is seen in the face of our neighbor.

As for the kabbalistic terminology of “sefirot,” which Levinas does not address, R. Hayyim himself does not generally utilize[41] this terminology. Ajzenstat points out that “The partsufim are a new way of describing the ten sefirot.[42] Also, after a cogent analysis Ajzenstat proposes that, “…Levinas has little use for the sefirotic symbolization so prone to being (mis)understood as an ontology. But his rejection can also be described as a reinterpretation, such that if the Sefirot appear at all in his work it is in the form of earthly partzufim, the face of the partzuf appearing as the phenomenological the face of the other…”[43]

Perhaps, however, the reason Levinas does not use the sephirotic symbols is precisely because they may foster an overly immanent perception of the Godhead which may, as mentioned before, lead to immorality. This would also explain why R. Hayyim refrains from addressing the sephirot in the bulk of his work. This reasoning is supported by Levinas’s reference to the follow idea which was mentioned in the quote above from Nefesh ha-Hayyim 3:6. He writes,

“All is equal in the omnipresence of God. All is divine. All is permitted. But God who is everywhere, excluding differences from creature, is also God who is nowhere. On its own, the thought of En-Sof, of the Infinite, the height of religiousity, is also its abyss. The thought of En-Sof, when it is fully understood, leading outside and beyond the Torah which suggests it (III.3,) is the impossibility of the religious idea of God. We must therefore make space for the religion of Elohim, for the Law of the Torah, ‘for the God associated with the worlds in their differences’ and for our access to God in the light of the incatenation of worlds (III. 6,7)”[44]

The use of the terms “face,” “trace” and “worlds” is able to avoid the mistake of approaching the divine, which is actually immanent, in a way which would inevitably lead to a de-sacrilization of the law of the Torah.

A Distaste for Hasidic Ecstatic Union

Though both R. Hayyim and Levinas seem to accept kabbalistic ideology, they are both extremely wary of the possible dangers inherent in the kabbalistic idea of the ecstatic union which was so popular in Hasidic circles. In Magid’s words “R. Hayyim utilizes the same ideological foundation as Hasidism, namely the mystical literature of the Zohar and the kabbalistic/pietistic literature of the Safed mystics of the 16th century. Yet, R. Hayyim uses this kabbalistic literature as a polemic against Hasidic devotional ideology.”[45] According to Levinas, Nefesh ha-Hayyim “is aware of this temptation to go above the ethical. At least, it perceives it in the excesses of Hasidism.”[46] By the “excesses of Hasidism” Levinas is referring to the idea of ecstatic mystical union (devekut) whose consequence is a fully immanent God, and pantheism. This pantheism is for both R. Hayyim and Levinas equivalent to idolatry. Magid confirms this perceived equation between pantheism and idolatry in Nefesh ha-Hayyim when he writes “any attempt to experience his [Ein Soph’s] revealed state is tantamount to blasphemy.”[47]

In his philosophy, Levinas is also wary of the danger of mystical union, and the problems it poses. In Time and the Other, Levinas writes:

“In thus going back to the ontological root of solitude I hope to glimpse wherein this solitude can be exceeded. Let me say at once what this exceeding will not be. It will not be a knowledge, because through knowledge, whether on wants it or not, the object is absorbded by the subject and duality disappears. It will not be ecstasis, because in ecstasis the subject is absorbed in the object and recovers itself in its unity. All these relationships result in the disappearance of the other…Before the death that will be mystery and not necessarily nothingness, the absorption of one term by the other does not come about. I shall show finally how the duality evinced in death becomes the relationship with the other and time.”[48]

For Levinas, devekut, or ecstatic union is a philosophical problem because in this state, the subject is completely “absorbed in the object” resulting in “the disappearance of the other.” Levinas rather wishes to move towards “a pluralism that does not merge into unity…”[49]

Ajzenstat sums the aversion which both Levinas and R. Hayyim share for devekut, which was popular in many strains of Kabbalah and specifically Hasidism in the following statement:

“This is not to say that the goal of the kabbalists is to reattain or recreate the pre-tsimtsum state, although this is the Hasidic interpretation of Luria…the Hasidic goal, ‘refers to the reuniting of all things, transcending their particularity and separation and achieving the universal relatedness that is the true nature of existence; it also refers to the reunion with God…’ Moreover, the Hasidim also strive for ayin, nothingness, self-annihilation…In short, the Hasidim have a unitive interpretation of Luria, and their union is the kind of union that Levinas regards as inauthentic and totalizing: they strive for the annihilation of alterity and autonomy in the oneness of everything with God…For Vital, the human goal is not to return to primal unity, but to finish creation as it was meant to be, that is by means of the study of Torah…To repair the anthropos and the Sefirot is to repair the vessels of particularity; the lurianic goal is right differentiation and right relation.”[50]

Union Permitted During Study and Prayer?

Despite the above discussion of the shared disgust on the part of Levinas and R. Hayyim for devekut, it would seem that for both of them as well, there are some situations in which a certain manner of mystical union is permissible. In Nefesh ha-Hayyim, R. Hayyim formulates the notion that it is precisely during prayer and study that we should be aware of the dual nature of God as both filling and surrounding all the worlds. He writes,

“‘One must be very cautious not to direct one's attention in prayer to any sephirah, even to the root of its emanation. Not only that, one should refrain from any focus on any sephirah or celestial power, for such worship is not to the True God (Elohei Emet) and is ‘cutting the shoots’, God forbid ... this is true not only in prayer but also in the proper act of Torah study... one should intend to bind his, pure heart in prayer only to the infinite God (Makomo Shel Olam), Eyn Sof, Blessed be he who fills all the worlds and upon whom it is said ‘there is no place void of Him’’.”[51] [cf. NH 166, 3:8]

Magid rightly points out in regard to this statement that: “It is interesting to note the way in which R. Hayyim attempts to play both sides of the argument. He stresses that the sole focus of study and prayer be to the trans-experiential Eyn Sof and then proceeds to describe Him as the immanent God who fills all the worlds…”[52] However,perhaps this is precisely where Magid misunderstands Hayyim’s formulation- the Ein Soph is the immanent God. This is because when we unite with this Ein Soph in unio mystica we realize that this God is in us—we become the Other. This is the perspective of both Levinas and R. Hayyim, but this form of mystical union mitzido is only permitted during certain activities.

R. Hayyim says regarding the shma prayer that, “…in the unification of the first paragraph…in the word ‘one’ (ehad) it is seemly for the true worshipper to direct theirself to the holiness of His Thought, which is the Holy Blessed Name ‘from his side’ (mitzido), [one should contemplate that] God is literally one, even in all of the creations He is simple unity as before the creation.”[53] Though we saw earlier that R. Hayyim thinks that it is not permitted to meditate on this “perfect unity” mitzido, it is apparent that during certain times, namely during recitation of the first paragraph of the shma we may try to assume this perspective in a limited manner.

To reiterate, God from ‘His side’ may also be approached during study. Magid affirms that the perspective of God mitzido can be accessed during study in another passage:

“While remaining true to the metaphysical structure (but not the experiential consequences) of Luria and his disciples regarding mitzvot other than talmud torah, R. Hayyim suggests that talmud torah as a devotional act circumvents the cosmic realm of sacred space and puts the scholar in direct contact (albeit non-mystically) with the Eyn Sof or Eternal God. This notion, aptly coined by Norman Lamm as the ‘trans-Azilut’ character of talmud torah requires elaboration.”[54]

Ajzenstat also affirms this idea adeptly:

The untrained knowledge of divine immanence is a vehicle for hubris. If one becomes aware of divine immanence but remains ignorant in other ways, one will almost certainly begin to regard the Torah and the halachah as excess baggage…For Hayim, Torah study was mystical union: the highest spiritual goal was…Torah Lishmah: this study…was…devekut. But Hayim was uneasy about the Hasidic idea of union without study; too easy union is, as he saw it, a dangerous delusion; like too easy immanence, it leads at best to relativization of the Halakha and at worst immorality.”[55]

It is clear from the above discussion that though R. Hayyim accepted mystical union during study and prayer, this perspective is what Hayyim (and also Levinas) want to avoid in any other context apart from prayer and study. Perhaps this is to emphasize that we may only attempt to view God mitzido in service of the ethical.

Levinas demonstrates the respect he has for R. Hayyim’s approach to study when he proclaims that: “The Talmudic study whose spiritual primacy they asserted was not limited for them to any acquisition of knowledge: it was the life of the Torah itself, the principle of creation, the object of the contemplative life, the participation in the highest form of life.”[56]

Perhaps Levinas recognizes that Torah study mitzido is inherently in service of the ethical when he writes:

“The attributes of God are given not in the indicative, but in the imperative. The knowledge of God comes to us like a commandment, like a Mitzvah. To know God is to know what must be done. Here education—obedience to the other will—is the supreme instruction: the knowledge of this Will which is itself the basis of all reality.”[57]

The forum of learning is precisely the time when a mystical union is accepted, because it is here where we can the divine Will, and the ethical imperative which drives this Will that under-girds (or hypostasizes) reality. Talmud torah is unique in that it neutralizes the idolatrous danger of immanence and devekut because it participates directly in the pre-emanated divine Will in service of the ethical. According to R. Hayyim “ …there is no need for devekut at all! The act of study itself is bound (davuk) to His Will and His words. And God Himself, His Will and His words are One!!’”[58]

Kabbalistic Musar as a Means of Identification

From the above discussion, the extent to which Levinas drew on the kabbalistic musar of R. Hayyim of Volozhin is readily apparent. They share the idea of the Mysterious Other whose trace somehow remains in this world. They also share a dedication to the primacy of the ethical, and therefore a distrust for the idea of mystical ecstasis. Though it is not perfectly clear whether Levinas shared R. Hayyim’s affirmation that prayer was an opportunity for mystical union, he clearly approved of R. Hayyim’s statement that a form of union may be achieved during study. Perhaps, therefore, we may postulate that this is the reason that Levinas makes the following statement regarding R. Hayyim’s ethical kabbalistic model in the context of contemporary Jews finding a theological grounding in ethics and a means of identification:

“But this absolute and unshakable sense of identity, which is founded on an adherence that pre-exists any form of allegiance, is not expressed in uncontrollable terms, as being a subject that is stirred by unfathomable feelings. On the contrary, it is alien to any sense of introspection or complacency. Instead of just paying attention to the outside world, it exhibits a perpetual attentiveness that is exclusive and monotheist. It listens and obeys like a guard who never expects to be relieved [releve]. This was recognized by Rabbi Hayyim Volozhiner, the favourite disciple of the Gaon of Vilna, when, in 1824, in the Nefesh ha'Hayyim (a work little known in the West but one in which the living elements of Judaism converge), he wrote that a Jew is accountable and responsible for the whole edifice of creation. There is something that binds and commits [engage] man still more than the salvation of his soul. The act, word and thought of a Jew have the formidable privilege of being able to destroy and restore whole worlds. Far from being a serene self-presence, therefore, Jewish identity is rather the patience, fatigue and numbness of a responsibility - a stiff neck that supports the universe.”[59]

Jewish ethical monotheism, for Levinas, is expressed in the philosophy of R. Hayyim which affirms the grave accountability and responsibility which we have “for the whole edifice of creation.” The ethical imperative placed on the shoulders of the Jew by her power to create and destroy worlds in this ideology is certainly scary and “formidable,” and may perhaps serve as an interesting creative interpretation on the formulaic notion that the Jews are the ‘chosen people’—we, a people often made fun of for being ‘guilt ridden’ are chosen because we choose to see the frightening import, the burden which our actions have on the entire edifice of creation.

Finally, I would like to conclude this essay with a quote from Moshe Cordovero, which seems so similar in essence to the one by Levinas which began this essay. Perhaps the reader will now see the resonances in Cordovero’s words to the words of Levinas:

This is what is meant by ‘its end is wrapped up in its beginning and its beginning in its end [Sefer Yetzirah]’—that Keter is in Malchut and Malchut is in Keter. But not only this, however, even Malchut which is in Keter returns and descends downwards…and in everything the end is wrapped in the beginning and the beginning in the end, and this is the secret of the Tetragrammaton both backwards and forwards… [trans. mine].”[60]

[1] Levinas, Emmanuel. Time and the Other. Trans. Richard Cohen, Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, 1987. (Henceforth T.O.), pp. 64- 65.

[2] T.O., p. 41. He says, “Let me say at once what this exceeding will not be. It will not be a knowledge, because through knowledge, whether on wants it or not, the object is absorbed by the subject and duality disappears. It will not be ecstasis, because in ecstasis the subject is absorbed in the object and recovers itself in its unity. All these relationships result in the disappearance of the other…”

[3] For examples see: Ajzenstat, Oona. Driven Back to the Sources: The Premodern Sources of Levinas’s Postmodernism, “The Kabbalah and Deconstruction.” Duquesne University Press 2001. pp. 139-199 (Henceforth DBTS); Chalier, Catherine, "L'ame de la vie: Levinas, lecteur de R. Haim de Volozin," in Emmanuel Levinas (Paris: Editions de l'Herne, 1991), pp. 387-398; Moses, Stephane "L'idee de l'infini en nous," in Repondre d’autrui: Emmaniel Levinas (Boudry-Neuchatel (Suisse): Editions se la Baconniere, 1989), pp. 41-51; and Mopsik, Charles. "La pensee d'Emmanuel Levinas et la cabale," in Emmanuel Levinas (Paris: Editions de l'Herne, 1991), pp. 378-386. Apart from some influence of R. Chaim of Volozhin, Mopsik in particular denies that kabbalistic texts have anything more than a marginal importance for Levinas' work.

[4] Ajzenstat, Oona. Driven Back to the Sources: The Premodern Sources of Levinas’s Postmodernism, “The Kabbalah and Deconstruction.” Duquesne University Press 2001. pp. 147-148. (DBTS)

[5] Magid, Shaul. “Deconstructing the Mystical: The Anti-Mystical Kabbalism in Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin’s Nefesh Ha-Hayyim.” From The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy, Vol. 9, 1999, p. 25.

[6] DBTS p. 193

[7] DBTS p. 177

[8] DBTS p. 170

[9] Magid p. 51

[10] Magid p. 51

[11] DBTS p. 173

[12] Magid, p. 25.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Magid p. 33

[15] Nefesh Ha-Hayyim (NH) pp. 162-165, III:7-9. See also: Levinas, E. “’In the Image of God,’ According to Rabbi Hayyim Volozhiner,” Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures trans. Gary D. Mole (Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1994) (henceforth BTV) p. 166. Here, Levinas says: “It is here that Nefesh ha’Hayyim has recourse to the ancient idea of Kabbalistic speculation: the idea of the ‘originary contraction’ of the Divine, the idea of Tsimtsum. Through this idea the Kabbalah resolved the antimony between God’s omnipresence and the being of creature outside God. God first contracts himself from creation in order to make space, next to self, for something other than self. In an original way, Nefesh ha’Hayyim understands this Tsimtsum as a gnoseological event…”

[16] See Nefesh ha-Hayyim p. 162 “For they [tzimtzum and kav, transcendent and immanent, the named and the un-nameable, mitzido and mitzideinu] are in essence completely one aspect and one matter.” [trans. mine] Also see: Magid pp. 46-47: “Invoking the midrashic notion in Genesis Rabba that God exists in this world yet is not limited by it, R. Hayyim argues, as did others before him, that using the term makom for God allows us to embrace God’s immanence and transcendence simultaneously.” [on beg. of part III of NH]

[17] Ibid. Also see: Magid pp. 46-47.

[18] DBTS p. 177

[19] Magid p. 35

[20] Magid p. 35

[21] BTV p. 162

[22] Nefesh ha-Hayyim p. 160, III:6.

[23] BTV p. 162

[24] As R. Hayyim calls it in Nefesh ha-Hayyim. He equates Elohim with the Sefirot, and the Tetragrammaton with Ein Soph.

[25] T.O. p. 46

[26] Levinas, E. Otherwise Than Being or Beyond Essence, trans. Alphonse Lingis, Duquesne University Press Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1998, p. 7 (Henceforth OBBE).

[27] T.O. p. 48

[28] DBTS p. 179

[29] BTV p. 164

[30] BTV p. 163

[31] DBTS pp. 178-179

[32] DBTS pp. 178-179

[33] T.O. p. 75

[34] BTV p. 158

[35] BTV p. 158

[36] BTV p. 158

[37] BTV p. 162

[38] OBBE p. 12

[39] OBBE p. 12

[40] DBTS pp. 179-180

[41] The sephirot are however discussed briefly in Nefesh ha-Hayyim pp. 102-103 (particularly in the gloss). It is apparent there however, that the sephirot are just another formulation of the worlds.

[42] DBTS p. 176

[43] DBTS p. 184

[44] BTV p. 166

[45] Magid, Shaul. “Deconstructing the Mystical: The Anti-Mystical Kabbalism in Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin’s Nefesh Ha-Hayyim.” From The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy, Vol. 9, 1999, p. 24.

[46] BTV p. 166

[47] Magid p. 34. Also Magid writes the following: (p. 27), “Hasidic immanentism is unique in that it carries significant epistemological implications as the source for the experiential notion of devekut which R. Hayyim rejects.” And on p. 40: “R. Hayyim reiterates time and time again that a verifiable experience of God as immanent would nullify the possibility of Torah and mitzvoth .” (cf. BTV p. 156, NH 9, p. 168, NH III:14, p. 185, NH III:8, pp. 154, 155)

[48] T.O. p. 41

[49] T.O. p. 42 (also cf. D.F. p. 16 for Levinas’s assertion that pantheism may be a form of idol worship)

[50] DBTS p. 191. See also DBTS p. 198: “The Mitnagdim had reasons for taking their Kabbalah underground, and so does Levinas. It is as true today as it was in the nineteenth century that the open promulgation of kabbalistic doctrines seems to offer a healing or a cleaving that is too easy and that will undermine halachah and Torah study, not to mention the use of one’s rational faculties and one’s understanding of ethics.”

[51] Magid pp. 58-59 [quoting NH III:14, p. 183]

[52] Magid p. 59

[53] Nefesh ha-Hayyim p. 166, III:8.

[54] Magid p. 62

[55] DBTS pp. 196-197

[56] Levinas, E. “’In the Image of God,’ According to Rabbi Hayyim Volozhiner,” Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures trans. Gary D. Mole (Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1994), p. 152.

[57] D.F. pp. 17-18. Also see D.F. p. 19: “The law for the Jew is never a yoke. It carries its own joy, which nourishes a religious life and the whole of Jewish mysticism.

[58] NH IV:10, p. 221 [trans. Magid p. 63]

[59] D.F. pp. 50-51

[60] Cordovero, Moshe. Pardes Rimmonim. P. 75a, Gate 15 “From Below to Above.” [trans. mine]

Unification Above, Magic Below:

Nachmanides, Isaac of Acco, and Magical-Theurgical Interpretations of Sacrifice.

Ben Newman

Final Paper

Medieval Scientific Lit.


Astral magic is characterized by the idea that there are certain actions, if performed in the correct time and place, which can influence the powers of the constellations and thereby effect change in the terrestrial realm. Discussion of astral magic was widespread in the writings of 12th century Jewish theologians such as Moses Ibn Ezra, Judah Halevi, and Abraham Ibn Ezra.[1] Though many of these thinkers’ comments were obscure in regard to the relationship between astral magic and sacrifice, the connection was later clarified by Ramban and members of his school. Sacrificial worship was a “subject of bitter controversy in the middle ages”[2] largely due to Rambam’s rationalistic interpretation of sacrifice as being a concession by God to those Israelites who were still clinging to their pagan past. Many thinkers responded to Rambam, including Ramban. Ramban’s explanation of sacrifice contained psychological, magical-astral, and theurgical elements, which presented a strong response to Rambam’s rationalistic view.[3] Ramban’s disciples (e.g.- Rashba and Ritba) and their students built on Ramban’s view of sacrifices. According to Schwartz, there was a “split” among the interpreters of Ramban between those who supported a theurgical model of sacrifice, and those who supported a magical-astral model.[4] However, it is unclear how pronounced this distinction actually was. A clear example of where this distinction falls apart can be seen in Schwartz’s analysis of Isaac of Acco. Despite the fact that Isaac of Acco[5] expresses both the magical and theurgical opinions in Meirat Einayim[6], his supercommentary[7] to Nachmanides’ Torah commentary, Schwartz claims that Isaac’s primary model was theurgical, and that whenever he is discussing the magical model, he is simply quoting the opinion of others.[8] I question this claim regarding Isaac of Acco, and in addition, I question the (in my mind artificial) distinction which Schwartz draws between magical and theurgical models of sacrifice.

Sefer Ha-Bahir, a 12th century text,[9] considered by Scholem to be “the earliest work of kabbalistic literature,”[10] was one of the first texts to present a mystical interpretation of sacrifice. Many medieval kabbalistic interpretations of sacrifice, including that of Nachmanides, were heavily influenced[11] by the following statement from the Sefer Ha-Bahir:

Why is [a sacrifice] called a korban? Because it brings close [mekarev] the forms of the holy powers... And why is [the sacrifice] called a “pleasant smell”?... “Pleasant” [nihoah] is nothing other than descent, thus it is said, ‘and he descended’ {Lev. 9:22], The Targum translates this [into Aramaic as] we-nahit. This means that the spirit descends and unifies itself with those holy forms and is brought near by the sacrifice. Therefore [a sacrifice] is called a korban[12]

Here, we see the seed of the idea which formed the backbone of medieval mystical interpretations of sacrifice[13]—through the act of sacrifice the participant effects changes in the supernal world which cause the spirit of God to descend and unify itself with the supernal forms. Though the logistics and many of the mundane effects of this process are obscure in Sefer Ha-Bahir, commentators such as Ramban provide more in-depth explanations.

It is likely that the astral-magical interpretation of sacrifice put forth by Ramban (which will be discussed below) is, in part, a response to Rambam’s rationalistic explanations.[14] In the Guide for the Perplexed (III:32), Rambam explains sacrifice as a way of “amending opinions” by sacrificing “the very animals worshiped by the gentiles.”[15] In his opinion, since the Israelites coming out of Egypt were “steeped in idolatry”[16] when they received the Torah on Mt. Sinai, “it would have been extremely difficult to wean them away from the type of sacrificial worship to which they were accustomed through their idolatrous rites.” For this reason, God permitted sacrifice as a concession to help these Israelites adjust to monotheism. Rambam writes:

…it was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God…that he did not command us to give up and discontinue all these manners of service, for to obey such a commandment would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used…For this reason God allowed these kinds of service to continue; He transferred to His service that which had formerly served as a worship of created beings…and commanded us to serve him in the same manner; namely…to offer sacrifices to him…[17]

In short, Rambam claims that sacrificial worship was a transitional practice which was intended to wean the Israelites from the pagan sacrifices to which they had become accustomed. Sacrifice was a remnant of the idolatrous character of Israel which was permitted provisionally while the Israelites were adjusting to monotheism.

Many medieval thinkers openly opposed Rambam’s rationalist view.[18] We have already seen a kabbalistic response to Rambam in the statement from Sefer ha-Bahir, mentioned above, which affirms a mystical, though admittedly obscure, interpretation of sacrifice. This view purports that the human act of sacrifice has a profound influence on the powers of the cosmos. Nachmanides was among the first thinkers to propose a clear and detailed mystical explanation of sacrifice to compete with Rambam’s rationalistic perspective. Ramban’s explanation provided much of the basis for later mystical interpretations of sacrifice. According to Schwartz, Nachmanides “…created a synthesis of the two models[of interpretation of sacrifice]—the theosophical-theurgical and the magical-astral.”[19] Perhaps Ramban was drawn to these explanations because he was “a healer who employed magical-astral techniques.”[20]

Raman provides a detailed description of the theurgical view of sacrifice as helping to unify certain Sefirot. One clear example of this occurs in Ramban’s comments on Leviticus 1:9. However, in this exposition I will limit my discussion to the magical-astral elements of his exegesis. In some passages, Ramban clearly combines the theurgical and magical-astral positions. This combination is particularly striking in Ramban’s comments regarding the goat for Azazel, which explicate the concept of ransom. He writes:

Now this is the secret of the matter. They used to worship "other gods," namely, the angels, bringing offerings of a sweet savor to them…Now the Torah has absolutely forbidden to accept them as deities, or to worship them in any manner. However, the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded us that on the Day of Atonement we should let loose a goat in the wilderness, to that "prince" [power] which rules over wastelands, and this [goat] is fitting for it because he is its master, and destruction and waste emanate from that power, which in turn is the cause of the stars of the sword, wars, quarrels, wounds, plagues, division and destruction. In short, it is the spirit of the sphere of Mars, and its portion among the nations is Esau [Rome], the people that inherited the sword and the wars, and among animals [its portion consists of] the se'irim (demons) and the goats. Also in its portion are the devils called "destroyers" in the language of our Rabbis, and in the language of Scripture: se'irim " (satyrs, demons), for thus he [i.e., Esau] and his nation were called sa'ir. " Now the intention in our sending away the goat to the desert was not that it should be an offering from us to it - Heaven forbid! Rather, our intention should be to fulfill the wish of our Creator, Who commanded us to do so.[21]

Earlier on in the same passage, Ramban claims that he bases the above comments on an interpretation of Ibn Ezra on the same passage. Though his comments are probably intentionally obscured, Ibn Ezra intimates that Azazel represents the above negative forces mentioned by Ramban. Ramban’s interpretation of the goat for Azazel, on the other hand, is abundantly clear. For Ramban, the goat for Azazel is an offering to a power which is simultaneously the spirit of the planet Mars, the guardian of the children of Esau, and the force which makes destruction and chaos. A sacrifice is sent out to this power in accordance with God’s command, for the purpose of appeasement—‘giving the devil his due.’ Ramban was cognizant of the fact that the goat for Azazel could be construed as idolatry. For him, “the difference between idolatry and such an act is a question of intention only.”[22] Later in the same passage, Ramban summarizes his view:

Thus the matter is explained, unless you pursue a further investigation from this subject to that of the Separate Intelligences and how the spirits [are affected by] the offerings - [the influence upon the spirits] being known through the study of necromancy, while that of the [Separate] Intelligences is known by means of certain allusions of the Torah to those who understand their secrets. I cannot explain more, for I would have to close the mouths of those who claim to be wise in the study of nature, following after that Greek [philosopher Aristotle] who denied everything except that which could be perceived by him [through the physical senses], and he, and his wicked disciples, were so proud as to suspect that whatever he could not conceive of through his reasoning is not true![23]

Here, Ramban shows his perspective on the influence of the planets on the earthly realm. He also seems to be alluding to Rambam and the rationalist Jewish philosophers who do not accept the idea of astral magic.

Ramban’s view of the astral-magical effects of sacrifice is not limited to the idea of ransom as expressed in his comment about Azazel. In another passage, Ramban comments on the rabbinic interpretation of Genesis 2:15 as referring to sacrifices. He writes:

The intent of the Rabbis in this interpretation is that plants and all living beings are in need of primary forces from which they derive the power of growth and that through the sacrifices there is an extension of the blessing to the higher powers… just as the Rabbis have said: There is not a single blade of grass below that does not have a constellation in heaven that smites it and says to it, "Grow."[24]

In this passage, we see that Ramban did not limit his astral-magical interpretation to the idea of the scapegoat. Here, constellations have power over life, and this power may be drawn on, influenced, and directed through the magical act of sacrifice.

According to Schwartz, there was a dual nature to Ramban’s interpretation. He writes: “On the one hand, the sacrifice harmonizes the world of the Sefirot through the celebrant’s intention…On the other, the sacrifice also attracts the influence of the Sefirot and the stars, and this emanation has beneficial results from the standpoint of material human needs.”[25] These two models of sacrifice correspond to what Schwartz calls “theurgical” and “magical astral.” Many of Ramban’s disciples and later kabbalists drew on these ideas. According to Schwartz, some preferred to focus on the theurgical-kabbalistic side of Ramban’s interpretation dealing with the unification of the Sefirot, while others dealt more heavily with the magical-astral implications of Ramban’s theory. Since the act of theurgy is intimately connected with a subsequent flow of divine energy and blessing to the lower worlds, it is unclear to me how Schwartz can distinguish between theurgy and magic as separate models. The disintegration of the distinction between the categories which Schwartz posits can be seen in his analysis of the opinion of R’ Isaac of Acco, a disciple of Rashba and Ritba, who discusses both the magical and theurgical models.

Rashba, in particular, among Ramban’s disciples focused on the astral-magical explanation. He even goes so far as to permit what many would consider idol worship in the following responsa:

For the Lord…divided the lands among the constellations and gave them dominion over the earth, so that a certain star will control a certain place, and so the different countries and places are divided in their faiths, one worshiping a certain image and one worshiping another, and whoever worships the star that controls that place is not considered an idolater, provided that he knows and realizes that that star and its dominion derive exclusively from the Lord…who gave it the ability to rule that land…[26]

In this passage, we again see the extent to which the line between idolatry and acceptable worship is a matter of intention. As long as the worshipper is aware that HaShem is the ruler and creator of all of the stars, Rashba permits an appeal to the power of the star which rules over one’s locale. Rashba’s opinion is therefore explicitly magical. This is also illustrated in one of Rashba’s responsa in which he admits the efficacy of the use of amulets for magical purposes.[27]

There are many other versions of Ramban’s interpretation of sacrifice in the works of his disciples and their circles. According to Schwartz, some concentrate on the theurgical aspects of Ramban’s analysis, while others focus more on the magical-astral aspects.[28] In general, the astral-magical model purports that through the act of sacrifice, one brings down the influence of celestial powers to affect his or her life here on earth, while the theurgical model explained sacrifice as simply unifying the divine realm.[29] Schwartz writes:

…those who concentrated on the effect of sacrifice in the theosophical world could not ignore Nachmanides' explanation of the scapegoat ritual or the traditions relating to Balaam's actions. In his explanation of the scapegoat, for example, Nachmanides explicitly names Mars as the source of the emanation. The theosophical interpreters, however, insist that this astral emanation is negative and that the goat was essentially a ransom (Heb. kofer) to neutralize the emanation. Similarly, Balaam's actions, which combined theurgy and astral magic, were confined to the negative aspect. On the other hand, when they explain the positive action of sacrifice, they make no reference to the magical-astral technique. In their view, the sole direct action of sacrifice is to nourish the world of Sefirot. Another group of interpreters, however, believed that sacrifice was also an instrument for attracting spirituality down to the terrestrial world.[30]

In Schwartz’s opinion, the adherents of the ‘theurgical’ position have no choice but to admit that in a sacrifice such as the scapegoat, supernal evil powers are being effected, and are thereby causing effects in the physical world. However, Schwartz maintains that these interpreters also deny the positive aspects of the magical-astral view of sacrifices, confining the changes which are effected by sacrifice to the supernal realm.[31]

Schwartz cites R’ Isaac of Acco as being one of the “most typical representatives of this approach [the theurgic], which ignores the magical-astral aspect and its immediate beneficial effect...”[32] Later in his analysis, he elaborates on his claim regarding Isaac of Acco. He writes:

The theurgical interpretation, in its purest possible form, is briefly mentioned in comments by a disciple of Rashba [?] quoted by R. Isaac of Acre, and in the words of R. Isaac himself, referring to the bringing near of malkhut and tif’eret… We will see later that R. Isaac cites traditions of a different nature in his book, but the interpretations that he offers in his own name are confined to the theurgical aspect.[33]

Schwartz references several passages from R. Isaac’s work Meirat Einayim in support of his opinion that Isaac did not support the magical-astral model of sacrifice.[34] His claim here is that Isaac only supports the magical-astral rationale in the name of others, however, when he is speaking his own opinion, he supports the theurgical model. Later, in the section of his article discussing the magical-astral model, Schwartz writes: “R. Isaac of Acre, in his book Me’irat ‘Einayim, cites an otherwise unnamed author, M.R.D.C.Y., probably R. David Cohen, a disciple of Nachmanides, who injected a magical-astral element into the reason for sacrifices.”[35] He then quotes two more passages[36] from Meirat Einayim (p. 143), which describe the magical process of the emanation of divine energy to the lower worlds which results from the unification of the Sefirot. Though both of these passages which Schwartz quotes from Meirat Einayim are magical, they are in the name of other kabbalists. One of these passages reads as follows:

I heard from the mouth of a wise kabbalist that one day a Jew and a Gentile - both great sages - came together to discuss matters of wisdom. The Gentile said to the Jew: '[ truly see that your God is a true God, your Torah (or 'your teachings') is a Torah of truth, the deeds of your forefathers - the prophets of truth - and that of your priests in the service of your Temple - which is the service of sacrifices - was true. For with regard to the supernal powers, even though everything is in the hands of the Supernal, nevertheless the powers need a drawer (mamshikh) to draw them forth, in order to nourish the [inhabitants of the] lower world, through sacrifices, prayer, pleasant song, and a pure and clean intention of the mind/heart bound to the supernal [powers]. For God, may He be blessed, gave the human being the power to do all of His Will, and by way of his [the human's] actions, he will draw onto himself supernal power. [If he acts for the good, he will draw onto himself good power, and if he acts in the opposite manner, then he will receive the opposite consequence.] All is in the hands of the human being.[37]

This passage clearly demonstrates the core of Isaac of Acco’s magical model of sacrifice. The story is indeed reported by R. Isaac as coming from the mouth of an anonymous kabbalist. However, it is unclear whether one should attribute any significance to this fact. On the contrary, it would seem that the magical position reported by R. Isaac is in fact representative of his own opinion, which I will attempt to convey below.

In his analysis of the meditative techniques of R. Isaac discussed in Meirat Einayim, Moshe Idel seems to contradict Schwartz’s claim that R. Isaac did not support the magical view of sacrifices.[38] At the end of a section from Meirat Einayim describing a meditative practice Isaac concludes with the statement: “…and your mind shall perform much…”[39] Regarding this Idel writes: “The expression, ‘your mind shall perform much,’ and the end of the previous passage from Me’irat ‘Enayim suggest an explicitly magical direction…”[40] Here we see that in Idel’s opinion, R. Isaac’s mystical practices are “explicitly magical.”

However, the passages which Idel cites are not directly related to R. Isaac’s view of sacrifice. In the following passages I will attempt to illustrate that R. Isaac holds a unique position regarding sacrifice which is at once theurgical and magical.

One of the primary elements of R. Isaac’s view of sacrifice derives from the kabbalistic myth of an “inner-divine flaw directly caused by human sin.”[41] In this myth the sin of Adam and Eve cause a flaw in the godhead which can only be fixed through the “theurgic power of devotional intention.”[42] R. Isaac writes:

When Adam saw 'Atarah[43] - She that nourishes and rules the entire world - he was drawn to Her alone, and he [therefore] cut the shoots. Because of this he was expelled. Afterward, he sacrificed an ox, for sacrifice (qorban) draws (meqarev) the supernal forces together. Through this sacrifice he unified the forces of the Two Faces (du-parzufin)...a complete and true unity.[44]

We see here that R. Isaac believed that there was a primordial fault which was created in the godhead when Adam ate from the tree, and that this fault is only fixed through sacrifice. He again draws on the quote mentioned above from Sefer Ha-Bahir to illustrate this point. Therefore for R. Isaac, sacrifice plays a pivotal role in the universal drama, restoring the forces which were present in the Garden of Eden. In Fishbane’s words: “The sin of worshipping ‘Atarah …is cosmically rectified through the devotional act of sacrifice, which serves to reconnect elements of the divine Being which were separated by human heresy.”[45] Though the magical implications of this view are not immediately obvious, perhaps they will become clear as more examples are brought forth. It is interesting to note that whether Adam performed sacrifices or not was one of the major disagreements between Ramban and Maimonides.[46] If Adam had actually brought sacrifices, this would contradict Maimonides’ claim (mentioned above) that sacrifices were instituted to wean the Israelites off of their idolatrous practices.

R. Isaac’s view that sacrifices repair a divine fault seems decidedly theurgic, though it could have magical implications. I will illustrate a clearer statement of Isaac’s position regarding sacrifice in the following extended passage. This passage[47] (from Meirat Einayim on Leviticus 16:8) will demonstrate Isaac’s magical-theurgical view of sacrifices. In addition to conventional sacrifices, he will discuss the goat for Azazel, and prayer (which the rabbis instituted to replace sacrifice). All three of these categories of service take on a clearly magical-theurgical character for R. Isaac.

After the death of[48] “The secret of ‘‘b’zot’ (With this) Aaron will come’[49]… is like the secret of ‘zot’ (this is) the sign of the covenant which I have established. The full intention of the Rav [Nachmanides], may his memory be a blessing, is to hint that the word ‘zot’ (this) indicates Atarah.[50] ‘This (zot) is the Torah’[51]—Atarah is called the spoken Torah. ‘This (zot) is my covenant’[52]—Atarah is called ‘covenant,’ and she is united with the Tzadik[53] in a true unification, the uniting is the secret of circumcision. ‘Happy is the person who does ‘this’ (zot)’[keeps Shabbat][54]—Atarah is called Shabbat. Therefore, the rabbis, may their memory be a blessing, would go out every Shabbat eve to say ‘come let us go out to greet the Shabbat Queen. Out of their worthy and true intention they would do it in the way that scripture says: ‘Therefore the children of Israel will keep the Shabbat to do the Shabbat...’[55] ‘Happy is the person who does this’—the one who does it [receives] shefa (divine flow), blessing, compassion, life, and will from its[ the Shabbat’s] holiness. ‘This (zot) is Jerusalem[56]—that is the Supernal Jerusalem. ‘This (zot) is that which their father spoke to them’[57]—for through Her [Atarah] Jacob blessed the tribes. ‘This (zot) [Moses said] for Judah[58]—for through her the kings of Judah would win in war through the authority of Kenesset Yisrael[59]. She is called Kenesset Yisrael for she is a gathering (kenisah) of everything, she is made up of everything. Therefore, she is called ‘Everything,’ like the Tzadik, who is [also] made up of everything. If you were to say[60] that since the Tzadik is made up of everything, and the Atarah is made up of everything, why is the Tzadik not called ‘an attribute of Judgement’(Din) like the Atarah? For we call the Tzadik the attribute of shalom, which is a hint at Compassion. Although it is called Peace (Shalom), for it connects and completes, and through it, all is perfected, in any case, Shalom comes from the side of Compassion. It is also called Good…[?]

There are those who say,[61] that since the Atarah is the principle of the reception from Fear (Pahad), therefore, she is also called a ‘quality of Judgement (midat ha-din).’ However, it [the quality of Judgement in Atarah] is weak, for the height [Judgement itself] is strong [kasha-hard]. Therefore, the rabbis, may their memory be a blessing, would always say that ‘Moshe spoke from the mouth of Gevurah [the Almighty]…’ They interpreted [that] it was the ‘city of Gibburim’ which this sage Moshe went up to, for he ‘learned Torah from the mouth of Gevurah, which hints at Pachad (Fear). For since the rabbi Moshe is the one who received from It, It is Moshe Rabbeinu’s, rabbi, may he rest in peace. They [the rabbis] used to say thus.

And since the Tsadik is called ‘a Palm,’ as it is said, ‘the righteous (the Tzadik) will blossom like a palm…’[62] The Torah said regarding Atarah, ‘your stature is like a palm tree…’[63]--Just as the palm, which is the Tzadik is made up of everything, so too the Atarah is made up of everything. You already know that the palm tree does not make fruit until one puts another palm tree next to it[64], like the image of male and female, the male palm next to its companion, the female palm. I have found, in the poverty of my opinion and in my insufficient intelligence, a hint that the Atarah is made up of everything, and all of the ‘qualities’ are sown in her. ‘The righteous will blossom like a palm,’--this is the Tzadik, ‘grow like a cedar in Lebanon,’ hints at ‘the structure’. Until Lebanon, which refers to Hesed. What is written after this? ‘Planted in the house of HaShem’—they are all planted and united without a separation, ‘in the house of HaShem’ which is Atarah. If this is true, it also follows that Tzadik [in this passage] hints at [the sefirah] Tzadik. ‘Planted,’ refers to Tzadik which is ‘zayin,’[65] and the Atarah, which is the ‘nun,’ [which were united]. In that time everything was planted and exalted and unified in a true unification. ‘In the house of HaShem,’ refers to Binah, which is a gate to the house of the supernal HaShem, the upper Shechinah.

‘And this (zot) is the terumah (the offering),[66]’—is referring to Atarah. ‘Take for yod[67] an offering’[68]. She is called ‘Terumah’ (an offering), and ‘Hallah’ [the priest’s share of the dough]. Just like a person gives an offering from the dough, so those who contemplate her, the sages and the prophets, lift her up. Due to their worthy intention, she is lifted up to receive divine flow [shefa], blessing, life, and will. ‘And try me now with this (zot),[69] hints at Atarah, which is a tenth. The fact that the tithe-offering is one out of ten hints at her in ‘the merit of the offerings.’[70] For the intention of sacrifice (korban) is to bring near (lakarev)[71] the powers, to unite Two Faces (du partzufin), in order to bring blessing on us from the holy place by way of truth and faith. If you look at the nature of the nature of a candle flame, you will see a strong proof of the secret of sacrifice. You will know that in truth a person needs to make sure his ears can hear the words of his prayer. This is certainly so, for they [the rabbis] decreed that prayer replaces sacrifice, and everything becomes one when the prayer leaves a holy mouth. Understand this very well.

Their secrets [the priestly garments] are related to ‘the man clothed in linen’[72]—which is from the side of Compassion. For all white [the clothes were white] is from [the sefirah of] Gedulah,[73] and [the angel] Michael’s power is from there [Gedulah, whiteness]. Therefore the rabbis said that Michael is the supernal high priest. For Michael has authority on high, and Aharon the priest and his seed have authority below [in the physical world].[74]

“And one lot for Azazel…”[75]—Know that this is the secret of the goat which is sent out to Azazel. Know for yourself from the secret of the verse: “I have made the earth, and created man upon it; I, my own hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.[76]” “There is nothing new under heaven,”[77] everything is already established and stands. “‘For I, HaShem, do not change,’”[78]—for He, May He Be Blessed, is himself the Light and the Will. He is the Wisdom, there is nothing before him of the work of his hands that changes desire and will. He appoints ministers and officials, each one having their own burden and their own service. He is righteous and just, and therefore, Israel needed to shut the mouth of Satan in their feeding him. This is [the meaning of] “you may let the wicked stuff themselves with it till they die.”[79] Give a dog a bone to contend with until his master has quiet in his eating in peace and happiness. If you are intelligent, everything is explained to you. Despite this, I will write here a few of the words of my teachers the tellers of truth, may their memory be a blessing. The rabbis said that this seir (goat) is Esau. As it is written: ‘Esau my brother is a hairy man [ish sa’ir]…’[80] ‘All their iniquities (avonotam) [unto a land which is cut off’ [read instead] the iniquities of the ' quiet man/man of integrity ' (avonoth tam), [as it says, And Jacob was a quiet man-tam (Gen. XXV, 27).][81] They said that they [the priests] would give a bribe to Samael so that he would not bring an accuser against Israel. Samael would say to the Holy Blessed One: ‘Your children Israel are like ministering angels…’[82] As the Rabbi [Nachmanides] brought forth: ‘he shall atone…for all the people of the assembly.’[83] This teaches that Samael is an accuser, and they bribe him with this goat (seir). How could they have brought a sacrifice to Samael? It is written: ‘He who sacrifices to any god, except only to the Lord, he shall be completely destroyed…’[84] But rather, for this [reason] they would cast lots. This is not so with the remainder of the sacrifices. They would not choose it without a lot so it would not look like they were worshipping Samael. But rather, since it would come according to the lot, there is nothing in this, for it is from HaShem, as it is written: “The lot is cast into the lap… [but the decision is wholly from HaShem]”[85] Immediately the judgment came out. Because of this, they would stand the two of them [the goats] before HaShem, the portion going to Azazel being from HaShem. [The name] Azazel is derived from strength and power [oz and ayal), which are the language of toughness, for Samael has no rule except over plague, war, and evil. This is like Esau, as it is written ‘And by your sword shall you live, [and shall serve your brother; and it shall come to pass when you shall have the dominion, that you shall break his yoke from off your neck.][86] Therefore, they would send it to the desert, to a place of the destruction of his rule, and when Azazel took this bribe, he would not accuse [Israel.]

Further, ‘Samael’ is like [the word] left (smol), which is the evil inclination. As it is written: ‘A wise man’s heart is to the right (limino), but a foolish man’s heart is to the left (lismolo).’[87] The ‘right heart’ is the good inclination, and the ‘left heart’ is the evil inclination. This means that since they [the priests] would engage in worship and then return in repentance, they would remove the evil inclination from themselves, and send it [the evil inclination] to a place which does not produce fruit, which is the desert. He is called Azazel because of difficulties, and they would only send it [the goat] after the other goat sacrifice which is its companion, which is the good inclination, which they would sacrifice to HaShem. This is the bribe that they would give. They would close and blind the eyes of the evil inclination, as it is written, ‘the bribe blinds…’[88]—and the word Samael is derived from blindness.

Further, on this point, I should incidentally mention here hidden matters on whose foundation all the worlds stand. You should know that the entire world depends on ten Sefirot, and is maintained by them, and we need to contemplate this, for everything continues and spreads out from there, from reason to reason, and everything is [ultimately] from the cause of causes, and the reason of reasons, may He be blessed. The seven Sefirot which direct the world include the quality of Judgement, the quality of Compassion, and the line which is between them. Corresponding to these seven, there are seven firmaments, and the light and brilliance of the seven spreads out in all of the firmaments. The angels that are in them [the firmaments] bow down to the quality whose light and brilliance fills the firmament [which they are in], doing the will of HaShem through that very quality which is commanding them. For this reason, there is found among them angels of Judgement, angels of Compassion, and angels in between…

p. 155 L. 18

From this you can understand the secret of Azazel which we received. For he is Samael. This is what is written in Pirkei de’Rebbi Eliezer. It is [Azazel] called this [Samael] since it is derived from the quality of harsh Judgement. For this reason on the Day of Atonement they would send him a goat to push him away to a high mountain…

There are many elements in this passage which are relevant to R. Isaac’s view of sacrifices. First, however, I would like to briefly discuss the issue of when we know when R. Isaac is expressing his own opinion, and not that of another. Schwartz assumes, as discussed above, that when R. Isaac cites another source, even an anonymous source, this is not representing his own opinion. To me, this issue seems to be intertwined with the “eclectic”[89] nature of the text Meirat Einayim, which has been a subject of scholarly interest recently.[90] According to Fishbane, the genre of Meirat Einayim is an “interpretive anthologization,” in which R’ Isaac accepts a variety of diverse kabbalistic opinions as equally true. Quoting R’ Isaac, Fishbane writes:

The intelligent individual will make peace between (will reconcile) these different receptions (,ukce), just as it is proper for a wise individual to make peace between the different teachings of sages, and to reconcile each and every word by the way of truth, and not to completely reject the word of wisdom of one in favor of that of another. If God gave you the intellect to do this, then you will know that all [of these words of wisdom] are true.[91]

It would seem from this quote that R’ Isaac wants the reader to believe that all of the opinions represented in Meirat Einayim are simultaneously true. If this is so, then Schwartz’s characterization of R’ Isaac’s opinion on sacrifices is incomplete. When R’ Isaac is discussing the opinion of another, he does not label it as ‘true’ or ‘false’, but rather, he is able to accept differing opinions as simultaneously true.

On the other hand, Boaz Huss[92] has recently discussed the fact that Isaac of Acco has a four-fold hermeneutical model called NiSAN (which is an acronym for “Nistar (hidden), Sod (secret), ‘Emet (truth), and ‘Emet Nekhonah (correct truth).”[93]) Huss claims that

“…the NiSAN method was directed not only at explicating texts, but also at achieving ecstatic experience through the exegetical activity. The structure of the NiSAN system expresses R. Isaac of Acre’s critique of the dominant intellectual and mystical schools of the day, and posits his unique form of Kabbalah as the supreme form of knowledge.”[94]

According to Huss, the first level of R. Isaac interpretive method is relating to the human and psychological realm, the second level is relating to the angelic world, and the last two levels refer to the world of the Sefirot. The idea that R. Isaac does present a coherent opinion in his work may help Schwartz’s case for limiting R. Isaac’s view of sacrifice to theurgy (and not magic).

However, in light of Fishbane’s analysis[95] it would seem that Isaac’s NiSAN method of interpretation does not exclude any realm of kabbalistic discourse, and accepts all of the traditions which he presents as equally valid. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Meirat Einayim’s literary genre is an anthology, as Fishbane and Idel have suggested[96] (as mentioned above.) In other words, Isaac lists many opinions in the text without ranking them hierarchically and choosing one as truer than the other. Moshe Idel also expresses a similar opinion of the work in Absorbing Perfections. [97] It would therefore seem that whenever Isaac expresses an opinion in this text, we can assume that it is his own, unless he explicitly states that he is expressing an opinion which is not ‘true.’ I will now return to an analysis of the extended passage above assuming that when R. Isaac disagrees with any given kabbalistic opinion he will explicitly express this disagreement. Otherwise, we will assume that he agrees with all of the opinions he is presenting (most of which belong to Nachmanides).

In the above passage, R. Isaac begins by interpreting Nachmanides’ vague comments regarding the word ‘zot.’ He makes an extremely compelling case that Ramban is hinting that the word zot (this) mentioned in Leviticus 16:3 is referring to the Shechinah (in R. Isaac’s language Atarah). While interpreting this word, he begins to discuss the process of theurgy. He claims that Atarah is united with Tzadik in a perfect unification. Early on in his commentary, R. Isaac suggests that this unification produces a magical effect for the person unifying the two supernal forces. For example, he writes “the one who does it [receives] shefa (divine flow), blessing, compassion, like and will…”[98] and “through her [the Shechinah] the kings of Judah would win in war…”

Isaac then begins a theosophical discussion, describing the relationship between Tzadik and Atarah. He points out that Atarah receives from the left side of the Tree, from Pachad (Fear), while Tzadik receives from the right side of the tree, from Compassion.[99] In the following paragraph, Isaac compares these two Sefirot to palm trees. This metaphor, as stated above, is similar to one used in some of the later sections of Sefer ha-Bahir (197, 172).

In the next paragraph, Isaac begins to address the role of sacrifice in unification of the Sefirot. He explicitly compares Atarah to “an offering”. In addition, he adds a new element which we have not discussed before, this is that the act of animal sacrifice itself is not needed to perform unification of the Sefirot. Even someone who “contemplates” Atarah lifts her up. He then brings forth the example from Sefer ha-Bahir regarding the theurgical power of sacrifice which was discussed earlier in this exposition.[100] He writes: “For the intention of sacrifice (korban) is to bring near (lakarev)[101] the powers, to unite Two Faces (du partzufin), in order to bring blessing on us from the holy place by way of truth and faith.” In this excerpt, in addition to the influence of the Bahir, we can see the theurgical idea of sefirotic unification and its magical effect, bringing blessing down from the upper worlds to our human world. Though Isaac is interpreting Ramban here, it is clear to me that this is his own opinion—Isaac believed that through devotion (sacrifice, contemplation or prayer) one causes a theurgical effect, which in turn transmits blessing to this world. Thus Isaac of Acco believed in a theurgical and magical model of sacrifice.

In addition, Isaac adds a very interesting element to his interpretation of sacrifice which we have not considered before. He writes: “You will know that in truth a person needs to make sure his ears can hear the words of his prayer. This is certainly so, for they [the rabbis] decreed that prayer replaces sacrifice, and everything becomes one when the prayer leaves a holy mouth.”[102] For Isaac of Acco, the unification which was caused through sacrifice is also achievable through a prayer which is recited in the proper fashion. Fishbane writes regarding this passage: “What is most remarkable about this particular text, however, is the emphasis that is laid on the vocalized words of prayer as a theurgical stimulus for metaphysical unification. By implication, Isaac asserts that the sound of the human voice in prayer functions in a parallel fashion to the smoke of ancient sacrifice.”[103] Fishbane quotes several sections from Meirat Einayim which discuss this idea. Here is one passage which he quotes which is particularly relevant to our discussion:

By the power of the righteous ones of Israel - those who know the secret of unification - through the power of their good deeds, through sacrifice or through prayer, for prayer was established in the place of sacrifice, through their proper and pure intention, and through their clear mind bound above, above all the blessings, [from all this] the power of will, life, blessing, bright, clear, and radiant light, is drawn forth and descends from the Cause of Causes onto 'Atarah, and from Her to all the inhabitants of the world…[104]

Here we see clearly stated that not only does Isaac believe in a theurgical-magical model of sacrifice, but that he sees prayer and good deeds (with the proper intention) as being just as efficacious as sacrifice in performing unification and bringing down these blessing to our world. Though these two examples should suffice to demonstrate Isaac’s idea that prayer performs the same magical function as sacrifice, throughout Meirat Einayim he discusses this concept, and many examples could be brought forth.[105] However, it is worth noting that he applies this idea to specific prayers (e.g.- the Shema and Amidah) discussing how one should recite these prayers in order to be most effective in unifying the supernal forces.[106]

Let return us to our discussion of the extended quote above. If we were to analyze this quote according to the NiSAN model (mentioned above) the sections we have dealt with so far would seem to deal with the levels of ‘Emet and ‘Emet Nechonah, which relate to the sefirotic world. The section which follows this would seem to deal with the interpretive level of Sod which discusses angels. He discusses the angel Michael in relation to Raman’s commentary on the priestly garments. Isaac again illustrates the intimate relationship between the upper and lower worlds. According to Isaac, Aharon, the priest of this world, corresponds to Michael, the priest of the divine world. This seems to be a direct interpretation of Ramban, who quotes a passage from Leviticus Rabbah: “As the Service performed above, so is the Service below…”[107]

Next, Isaac begins to discuss the goat for Azazel. His interpretation seems to derive directly from that of Ramban. Since God is simple and unchanging, God needs to appoint the angels as representatives to perform His will in the physical world. When a goat is sent out for Azazel, who Isaac equates (after Ramban) with Samael, negativity, and Esau, it is not idol worship, but a bribe to keep Samael from harming Israel. He writes: “He appoints ministers and officials, each one having their own burden and their own service. He is righteous and just, and therefore, Israel needed to shut the mouth of Satan in their feeding him.” However, it would seem that Isaac spends more time than Ramban justifying why the goat for Azazel is not idol worship.

The next revolutionary idea which Isaac presents would probably be placed in the category “Nistar” in the NiSAN model. He equates the goat for Azazel and the goat for HaShem with the evil and good inclinations respectively. This is clearly a psychological interpretation of the sacrifices. The goat for Azazel is meant to blind the evil inclination through bribery. After this interpretation of the goat for Azazel, Isaac returns to a theosophical discussion. It is obvious from this excerpt that Isaac believed that sacrifice can effect change on a variety of different levels, psychological, magical, and theurgical. In addition, since for Isaac prayer has replaced sacrifice, the unification effected through sacrifice (which produces an effect on the human world) can be achieved through prayer, contemplation, and good deeds.

In light of the above analysis, Schwartz’s perspective on Isaac of Acco’s model of sacrifice and his distinction between the theurgical and magical-astral models of sacrifice can be called into question. Isaac (in his own words) clearly views sacrifice as having a magical effect. In addition, taking into consideration Fishbane and Idel’s analyses of Isaac’s hermeneutical method (see above) Schwartz’s claim that Isaac does not believe the statements which he presents in the name of others is quite shaky. Therefore, it seems quite possible that Schwartz’s distinction between theurgical and magical-astral interpretations of sacrifice is flawed. Indeed, logically, unification in the upper realms generally implies some kind of effect on the human realm. Interestingly, regarding Jacob Sikili (another disciple of Rashba who Schwartz claims holds a solely theurgical model) Schwartz writes: “Although Sikili, as we have said, is aware of the possible marriage of the theosophical and astral aspects of emanation, he still proposes a theurgical interpretation of the secret of sacrifices.”[108] In light of this ambiguity, perhaps Schwartz should revise his categories of theurgical and astral-magical. Though it would seem that there is always a magical effect produced by theurgy, some of Ramban’s interpreters do not mention the planets as bestowing a magical effect, while Ramban himself is clear in his commentary that Azazel represents the planet Mars.[109] In contrast to Schwartz’s distinction between magical-astral and theurgical models of sacrifice, perhaps it would be more useful to explore a new distinction between magical-astral and magical-theurgical models. However, perhaps the problem does not lie in Schwartz’s categories, but rather in the scholarly technique of grouping many diverse thinkers’ opinions into these kinds of broad sweeping categories. Is it not hard enough to systematically analyze the thought of one thinker?

[1] Schwartz, Dov. “From Theurgy to Magic: The Evolution of the Magical Talismanic Justification of Sacrifice in the Circle of Nachmanides and his Interpreters,” Aleph 1 (2001), p. 213.

[2] Tishby, Isaiah. The Wisdom of the Zohar Vol. III, trans. by David Goldstein, The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization Washington D.C., (1949, 1987) p. 878

[3] See Schwartz, p. 178

[4] Schwartz, pp. 184-5.

[5] Who learned with many of the great rabbis of the 13th and 14th centuries including both Rashba and Ritba. See Fishbane, E.’ doctoral dissertation: Contemplative Practice and the Transmission of the Kabbalah: A Study of Isaac of Acco’s Me’irat ‘Einayim,, Brandeis University (2003), pp. 34, 55, 88, 89

[6] See below.

[7] See Fishbane, p. 57.

[8] Schwartz, on pp. 186-7 writes: “R. Isaac cites traditions of a different nature in his book, but the interpretations that he offers in his own name are confined to the theurgical aspect.”

[9] Scholem, Gershom. Kabbalah, Meridian Books, New York (1978), p. 315.

[10] Scholem p. 312

[11] Tishby p. 880

[12] Sefer HaBahir 109 (translation mine with help from Kaplan, Aryeh, The Bahir, Samuel Weiser Inc., 1979, p. 41 and Margaliyot as quoted by Schwartz [Ibid. Schwartz, p. 171])

[13] Note that in Meirat Einayim (ed. Goldreich) p. 144, R. Isaac of Acco is explicit about his indebtedness to Sefer HaBahir for his opinion on sacrifices.

[14] See the following two articles for a more in-depth analysis of the disagreement between Rambam and Ramban: Stern, J. “The Fall and Rise of Myth in Ritual: Maimonides versus Nahmanides on the Huqqim, Astrology, and the War Against Idolatry,” in The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy, Vol. 6, 1997, pp. 185-263; Pinchot, R. “The Deeper Conflict Between Maimonides and Ramban over the Sacrifices,” in Tradition, 33:3, 1999, pp. 24-33.

[15] Schwartz, p. 182

[16] Tishby pp. 878

[17] Translation from Tishby p. 879 where he is quoting Friedlander’s translation.

[18] Tishby pp. 879-880

[19] Schwartz, pp. 167-8.

[20] This is the opinion of Rashba in Minhat Kenaot, see D. Margalit, Hachmei Yisrael ke-Rofim (Jerusalem 1962), pp. 131-33. This reference comes from Schwartz p. 167.

[21] Chavel pp. 219-20 (this quote also appears in Schwartz’s article referenced above).

[22] Schwartz p. 174

[23] Chavel, Charles B. Ramban (Nachmanides): Commentary on the Torah, Vol. 3. Shilo Publishing, New York (1974), p. 222

[24] Chavel (Vol. I) pp. 70-71 (also mentioned in Schwartz article.) A very similar passage also occurs later in Ramban’s commentary (Chavel p. 86).

[25] Schwartz p. 180

[26] Schwartz pp. 200-1

[27] In Teshuvot HaRashba, Minhat Kenaot, part 21, pp. 285-6, Rashba writes: “I say that in truth, I was asked by one of the men of wisdom who are in your land about making a form of the lion in metal for healing. I permitted it, for I said that I did not see any prohibition in making the form for healing…The Great Teacher Ramban, may his memory be a blessing, permitted it and did it, and we are no greater than him in wisdom or knowledge, or fear of sin…”

[28] Schwartz, p. 184: “Some, however, singled out the theurgical aspect—fertilizing sefirot with emanations—while others emphasized the magical-astral meaning of this action.”

[29] Schwartz, pp. 184-5.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid. p. 185.

[33] Ibid. pp. 186-7 [emphasis mine.]

[34] E.g.- Meirat Einayim pp. 149, 150.

[35] Schwartz, p. 190.

[36] Ibid., pp. 190, 194-5 (cf. Fishbane, pp.181-3 in reference to this second quote.)

[37] Translation: Fishbane, p. 182.

[38] Idel, Moshe. The Mystical Experience in Abraham Abulafia, SUNY Press, New York, 1988, pp. 33-4.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid. p. 34

[41] Fishbane, p. 144.

[42] Ibid.

[43] The sefirah of Malchut/Shechinah.

[44] Meirat Einayim pp. 30-1. Fishbane p. 145 [translation Fishbane]

[45] Ibid.

[46] Pinchot p. 26: “But Rambam’s most devastating attack on Maimonides’ views claimed that sacrifices to God were offered up from the very beginning of mankind. According to Ramban, sacrifices were not just an invention of the Egyptians and the Chaldeans that had to be eliminated from Israel’s psyche after their sojourn in Egypt.” See also Chavel (Vol. I) pp.70, 86, where the phrase leovdah uleshomrah is interpreted by Ramban (via the rabbis) to refer to sacrifice.

[47] Meirat Einayim pp. 152-155 (ed. Goldreich), [translation mine.]

[48] Leviticus 16:1, this translation is my own translation of Nahmanides, with some help from Chavel (p. 214).

[49] Leviticus 16:3 (Isaac of Acco directly quotes from Ramban here). Refer to Ramban to see how Isaac of Acco is interpreting his interpretation.

[50] Atarah is Isaac of Acco’s term for the sefirah otherwise known as Malchut or Shechinah. This view (that zot refers to the Shechinah) also appears in the Zohar (Tikkuney Zohar 19, p. 40a).

[51] Deuteronomy 4:44

[52] Genesis 17:10

[53] It would seem that this is the sefirah of Yesod, but it may also refer to Tiferet.

[54] Isaiah 56:2 (this is referring here to the person who ‘keeps Shabbat’)

[55] Exodus 31:16

[56] Ezekiel 5:5

[57] Genesis 49:28

[58] Deuteronomy 33:7

[59] I have not translated this term, as he probably intended it in a kabbalistic manner to refer to the sefirah of Malkhut (Atarah.)

[60] The use of these terms im tomar(if you were to say),and yesh lomar (there are those who say) (question and answer) is typical of Tosafist language (see Perlmutter, H. Tools for Tosafos. Targum Press, New York (1996), p. 38). This would make sense given that Samson of Sens’ franco-german tosafist schools dominated Acco (See Fishbane, E.’ doctoral dissertation: Contemplative Practice and the Transmission of the Kabbalah: A Study of Isaac of Acco’s Me’irat ‘Einayim,, Brandeis University (2003), p. 40) where Isaac spent his younger years.

[61] See footnote above.

[62] Tehillim 92:13

[63] Shir HaShirim 7:8, also quoted by Rambam (Chavel, p. 214)

[64] A similar passage occurs in Sefer HaBahir 197, 172, where the sefirot and Adam and Eve are likened to ‘date palms’.

[65] This may be a sexual euphemism.

[66] Shemot 25:3. R’ Isaac is returning to his interpretation of Rambam’s commentary on Leviticus.

[67] Isaac of Acco follows the interpretation of Rashi on this passage from Shemot, which interprets the word li (lamed yod) usually translated as ‘to me,’ as ‘to yod’, meaning to the name of God (see Rashi here).

[68] Ibid., 25:2.

[69] Malachi 3:10, after Ramban Leviticus 16:3.

[70] These are Rabmban’s words.

[71] This is after a passage from Sefer HaBahir (109) which is widely quoted in these circles which states that a korban (a sacrifice) is called a korban because it brings near (mekarev) the supernal powers. See also Schwartz, p. 171.

[72] Isaac of Acco is returning to interpreting Ramban’s commentary (now on Leviticus 16:4). “The man clothed in linen” is from Ezekiel 9:11, symbolizing God’s mercy (see Chavel p. 215). Here Ramban quotes Leviticus Rabbah’s (21:11) statement: “as above, so below (Ibid.)”

[73] Alias the sefirah of Hesed (see Cordovero’s Pardes Rimmonim, 2:11a)

[74] This idea also appears in the beginning of Sefer Ha-Pliah. Also see Gur Aryeh on BaMidbar 35:29.

[75] R’ Isaac is again returning to Ramban’s commentary (now on Leviticus 16:8)

[76] Isaiah 45:21 [translation Soncino].

[77] Kohelet 1:16

[78] Malachi 3:6

[79] Baba Kamma 69a (trans. Soncino)

[80] Bereshit 27:11. This follows the commentary of Nahmanides to Leviticus 16:8.

[81] Bereshit Rabbah 65:10-15 (a comment on the above verse about Esau). This is my translation with the help of Soncino and Chavel. Isaac of Acco and Nahmanides are obviously drawing widely from this passage which likens Esau to the goat on the day of atonement. Here is a short excerpt: “Even so, the wicked Esau is polluted by sin throughout the year and has nought wherewith to procure forgiveness, whereas Jacob is defiled by sin throughout the year, but has the Day of Atonement wherewith to procure forgiveness. R. Isaac observed: This interpretation is farfetched [but the same idea may be deduced from this verse]: And the goat (sa'ir) shall bear upon him (Lev. XVI, 22)-this alludes to Esau, as it says, BEHOLD, ESAU MY BROTHER IS A MAN A SA'IR; All their iniquities (‘awwonotham) unto a land which is cut off (Lev. Ioc. cit.)-the iniquities of the ' quiet man ' (’awwonoth tam), as it says, And Jacob was a quiet man-tam (Gen. XXV, 27) [trans. Soncino].”

[82] R’ Isaac is drawing from the passage from Pirkei de’Rebbi Eliezer (46) which Nahmanides quotes in his interpretation of Leviticus 16:8. Nahmanides writes: “When Samael saw that he could find no sin on the Day of Atonement amongst them [the children of Israel], he said to the Holy One, blessed be he ‘Master of All worlds! You have one people on earth who are comparable to ministering angels in the heavens…” [trans. Chavel] This is similar to a passage from Kedushin 72a: “Rabbi said to Levi: ‘Show me the persians.’ — ‘They are like the armies of the House of David,’ he replied. ‘Show me the Guebers.’ — ‘They are like the destroying angels.’ ‘Show me the Ishmaelites.’ — ‘They are like the demons of the privy.’ ‘Show me the scholars of Babylon.’ — ‘They are like the Ministering Angels.” [trans. Soncino] See also Midrash Mishlei 9, where Jewish scholars are compared to ministering angels.

[83] Leviticus 16:33 after Ramban [referring to Samael being an accuser].

[84] Shemot 22:19 [trans. Soncino].

[85] Mishlei 16:33 [trans. Soncino].

[86] Bereshit 27:40

[87] Kohelet 10:2

[88] Shemot 23:8, also see Devarim 16:16.

[89] Fishbane p. 99

[90] Idel pp. 449-460. Fishbane (entire dissertation).

[91] Fishbane pp. 99-100

[92] Huss, B. “NiSAN—The Wife of the Infinite: The Mystical Hermeneutics of Rabbi Isaac of Acre,” in Kabbalah: Journal for the Study of Jewish Mystical Texts 5 (2000), pp. 155-181.

[93] Ibid. p. 156

[94] Ibid. pp. 156-7.

[95] Fishbane p. 63: “Unlike a systematic work, in which an author might endeavor to construct a consistent and single-minded intellectual argument, the written work of an eclectic thinker such as Isaac of Acre represents an effort to function as a reliable conduit for the vast array of opinions and views espoused by predecessors and contemporaries in the kabbalistic arts of interpretation. He reports and these various perspectives, and he frequently offers his own conclusions, whether they be in accord or discord with the views of others.” Fishbane later writes (p.99) “As an eclectic, Isaac of Acre cites and paraphrases a wide array of teachings, constructing thereby a mosaic of oral and textual reception. He frequently inserts his own voice and perspectives into these matters, but his primary goal seems to be the reliable transmission of ,ukce (receptions) in a genre of discourse that may be characterized by interpretive antholigization.”; Fishbane continues, (p. 100); “Isaac of Acre thus adheres to what we may call a pluralistic hermeneutic. The task of the truly enlightened individual is to realize that there is no essential hierarchy in kabbalistic interpretive meaning, so long as the views involved were all transmitted through proper channels of reception…I would argue that we encounter here a non-determinate and unstable meaning structure, insofar as Isaac seeks to posit a conception of meaning which is not restricted to one fixed line of argument and interpretation.” According to Fishbane, through certain characteristic phrases throughout his writing, R’ Isaac “…calls on the kabbalist to harmonize or reconcile interpretations that may seem on the surface incompatable.” In a footnote (p. 101), Fishbane synopsizes appendix 3 of Moshe Idel’s new book Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation, New Haven, Yale University Press (2002) pp.457-458: he notes that according to Idel “such kabbalists [Isaac of Acco and his contemporaries] were open to the implementation and coexistence of numerous hermeneutical strategies and meanings…”

[96] Fishbane p. 101, Idel pp. 457-8

[97] Fishbane p. 101, Idel pp. 457-8

[98] See above (where he is referring to the effects of the unification performed on Shabbat). Also see Meirat Einayim p. 100 for a discussion of the Shabbat unification.

[99] Also known as Din (Judgement) or Gevurah (Strength)

[100] Sefer HaBahir 109. This begins: “Why is a sacrifice called a korban?

[101] This is after a passage from Sefer HaBahir (109) which is widely quoted in these circles which states that a korban (a sacrifice) is called a korban because it brings near (mekarev) the supernal powers. See also Schwartz, p. 171.

[102] See above.

[103] Fishbane, p. 149.

[104] Ibid. p. 177 quoting Meirat Einayim p. 126.

[105] Fishbane, p. 301 says that R. Isaac has “interchangeable paradigms of sacrifice and prayer.”

[106] See Meirat Einayim pp. 100, 211, 213 (on Shma unification) and p. 89 for Amidah unification.

[107] Leviticus Rabbah 21:11 Interestingly, the idea of sacrifice as a form of ransom to the evil powers occurs in Leviticus Rabbah 21:10.

[108] Schwartz p. 190.

[109] See also Chavel (Vol. I) p. 85.

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