As mentioned in the previous section, we will begin this section with verse 11:19. At this point, John’s vision spans the course of time as well as the “worlds” of existence.
“But it must be emphasized that these two processes, the cosmic and the historical, are intrinsically two sides of the same dynamic coin, called “Divine revelation,” which penetrates the upper and the lower realms, and no creature is able to exist outside of its perimeters.”
‘Ramban, Philosopher and Kabbalist’, Chayim J. Henoch, Jason Aronson Inc, Jerusalem, 1998, p. 365.
“The Zohar describes the unfolding of the generations as a descent through the body of the Holy One, at the End of Days the process will reach his feet [Malkut] and the Messiah will arrive.”
“Studies in the Zohar, Yehuda Liebes, SUNY Press, Albany, 1993, p. 164, citing Zohar II 9a-b, II 258a.
“The physical world is bound by time and place. These parameters do not exist in the spiritual realm and they, of course, do not bind Hashem, in the least. We can, to a certain degree, understand that Hashem is not bound by space since mankind, to a certain degree, has overcome the parameters of space. We live in a world of CNN’s global village. We can, in real time, observe events that are occurring on the other side of the globe. As such, we can somewhat understand that Hashem is not bound by that parameter. Existing beyond time, on the other hand, being that we are totally bound by it, is most difficult to understand. We remember the past, surmise about the future and exist in the split-second known as the present. However, the true reality for those not bound by this parameter is that the past, present and future all exist simultaneously! Rav Dessler offers an illuminating understanding of this idea. He explains that it can be compared to a map of the world covered by a large paper with a small ‘window’ cut out. This window is only large enough to reveal one city of this world map. By moving the paper, the city that had been revealed becomes covered as the next city comes into view. The cities that were in view, the city that is in view and the cities that will come into view all exist simultaneously. They are only hidden from us. Time is the cloak that inexorably moves over the map of our lives, relegating the past to our memory while revealing the present and concealing the future. This time-cloak of concealment only obscures the physical realm. No such cloak exists in the spiritual domain.”
Parsha-Insights – Pesach, 2001, Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, (Torah.org)
“We are accustomed to regarding time as a string of segments second follows second, hour follows hour, Monday follows Sunday. Special days–Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Passover–each have their place in the sequence of days and months portrayed by our calendar, preceded and followed by the “ordinary” days that separate them. This, however, is a most perfunctory perception of time, just as a description of the human body in purely physical terms–hair, skin, bone, blood, flesh, sinew and brain tissue classified solely by their spatial juxtaposition to each other–is a most superficial vision of man. Time is a complex organism whose various organs and faculties interact with each other, each fulfilling its individual function and imparting its effect upon the whole. G-d created the whole of time–every age, millennium, century, year and second of it–as a single, multifaceted body. It is only that we, finite and temporal creatures that we are, encounter its “limbs,” “organs” and “cells” one at a time, regarding the past as passed because we have passed through it, and the future as yet to be because we have yet to experience it. Just as time, as a whole, consitutes a integral organism, so it is with the various time-bodies–the day, the week, the month, the year, etc.–designed by the Creator of time as distinct components of the universal time-body. Each of these has its own “head,” a neurological center which generates, processes and controls the stimuli and experiences of its “body.” So if we learn to be sensitive to the structure of time, we can transcend the “sequential” timeline of our lives. If, upon entering the “head” of a particular time-body, we imbue it with a certain quality and stimulate its potential in a certain way, we can profoundly affect the days and experiences of that entire time-body, whether they lie in our ‘future’ or our ‘past’.”
From www.jewishnewyear.com/holidays/tishrei/4763, The Neurology Of Time, Chabad-Lubavitch.
“The lowest level is the Torah’s outer garments which are the stories of the Torah in their plain sense; their supernal source lies not in the sefirot but in the heavens and their hosts (the stars, spheres or angels). The stratum beneath the garments is the body, comprising of the mitsvot, which are called “gufei Torah,” the “bodies of the Torah,” their source is the Shekinah. Beneath the body is the “soul,” which is the true essence of the Torah, and has its origin in Tiferet. The fourth stratum is the “soul of the soul” of the Torah, and it originates in Attika Kaddisha.”
Studies in the Zohar, Yehuda Liebes, SUNY Press, Albany, 1993, p. 45.
11:19 And opened was the sanctuary of G-d in the heaven, and there was seen the ark of His covenant in His sanctuary, and there did come lightnings, and voices, and thunders, and an earthquake, and great hail.
The “sanctuary of G-d in heaven” is the heavenly Holy of Holies, which is associated with the world of Beriah. Critical to understanding this chapter is the idea that John’s vision sees events both in the “Beriatic state” as well as how they play out in time in the lower worlds. In Beriah, ‘that which is to come,’ exists in a “formless” state which plays out in time in the lower worlds of Yetzirah and Asiyah.
Thus, in this chapter, we see a “repetition” of the story of a woman who gives birth and is protected by a dragon seeking to harm her and her offspring. The first account (verses 2 to 6) is viewed ‘in the heavens’ of Beriah and exists beyond the space and time dimensions of the lower realms (Yezirah, the world of ‘form’ and Asiyah, the world of ‘action.’) What John sees exists in that it is ‘ordained’ by G-d in Beriah. The second account (verses 13 to 17) takes place in the lower realms and within the course of (future) history.
“The source of the Cosmic purpose of Heaven lies in Azilut, the perfect image of the likeness of G-d. Beriah, emerging out of this perfection, fulfils the will of En Sof in creating an unfolding cosmic framework in which every creature has a specific reason for existing. Everything has its place, be it the vastness of celestial space or the most minute impulses and particles of terrestial energy and matter … Everything moreover has its particular time to be born and die. … All is ordained in Beriah. … However, none of this can take place without their being a change of form; and this cannot happen in Heaven (Beriah), because in the World of Creation only essences can exist Thus, in Beriah, although the destiny of each creature is predetermined, it cannot actually move through its stages, cannot grow and manifest the different states of its existence.”
‘A Kabbalistic Universe,’ Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi, Samuel Weiser, Inc. York Beach Maine, 1977, p. 63.
12:1 And a great sign was seen in the heaven, a woman arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars,
From 11:19 to 12:11, John is seeing events in their Beriatic essence. The role of Messiah is forecast — he will usher in salvation and rule the nations. Thus, he is seen as “… slain since the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8) and “existed” (along with several other things) before the creation of the physical world.
The Talmud offers the following on this subject:
“Seven things were created before the world was created, and these are they: The Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gehenna, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah. The Torah, for it is written, The Lord made me [sc. the Torah] as the beginning of his way. Repentance, for it is written, Before the mountains were brought forth, and it is written, Thou turnest man to contrition, and sayest, Repent, ye children of men. The Garden of Eden, as it is written, And the Lord planted a garden in Eden from aforetime. The Gehenna, for it is written, For Tophet [i.e., Gehenna] is ordered of old. The Throne of Glory and the Temple, for it is written, Thou throne of glory, on high from the beginning, Thou place of our sanctuary. The name of the Messiah, as it is written, His [sc. the Messiah’s] name shall endure for ever, and has exited before the sun!”
Talmud, Pesachim 54a
The vision John sees is comparable to that of Joseph’s — with Joseph being the twelfth “star”:
“And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brothers, and said, Behold, I have again dreamed a dream; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me. And he told it to his father, and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him, and said to him, What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow down ourselves to you to the earth?”
The “sign” in John’s vision is seen in “heaven” corresponding to Beriah.
We are presented with:
- the sun associated with Jacob
- the moon associated with Rachel
- the twelve stars associated with the 12 tribes
- the “woman” as a representation of the Shekinah — which is both the presence of the Lord in the world (described in feminine terms in kabbalistic literature) as well as with the community of Israel. We will later see that there is a “heavenly” as well as “earthly” aspect to the Shekinah.
The following verse associates the Shekinah with the heavenly Holy of Holies (i.e., verse 11:19):
“My dove that art in the clefts of the rock, in the coverts of the steep place” (Song of Songs 2:14). “My dove” refers to the community of Israel; “the clefts of the rock” refers to Jerusalem, which is firm and eminent like a rock; “the coverts of the steep place” refer to the place which is called “holy of holies”, the heart of the world. It is called “coverts,” because there the Shekinah is concealed like a woman who converses only with her husband and never goes out.”
Zohar, Bereshith 84b
The “New Testament” makes use of the term “Holy Spirit” which at that in Jewish history was another way of referring to the Shekinah:
The Shekinah (“Dwelling”) is the personified Presence of G-d. In the Talmudic period, the Shekinah was identified with the “Holy Spirit.” (Ruach ha Kodesh) … Both Hebrew terms are of the feminine gender. Still in Talmudic times, the Shekinah became identified with the “Community of Israel” (also a feminine term), and as such represented Israel in its relationship with G-d.
The Messiah Texts, Raphael Patai, 1979, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, pp. 181-182.
When Israel goes into exile (at the hand of the nations and their spiritual powers), the Shekinah goes with them and functions in a different (i.e., diminished) capacity.
The Zohar is filled with such references:
“Whilst they were walking, R. Jose said to R. Eleazar: ‘It has been said that with Rachel’s death the house was transferred to Her who required to be adorned with twelve tribes. Nevertheless, why should Rachel have died immediately after the birth of Benjamin?’ R. Eleazar in reply said: ‘It was in order that the Shekinah should be duly crowned and take her place in the house as “a joyful mother of children”. With Benjamin, the Shekinah was equipped with the full twelve tribes, and with him the kingdom of heaven began to be made manifest on earth. Now the beginning of any manifestation is brought about with strain, and involves a doom of death before it can become established. Here, when the Shekinah was about to assume her rightful place and to take over the house, the doom fell upon Rachel. Similarly, when the kingdom was about to be made manifest on earth, it commenced with a judgement, and the kingdom was not established in its place until a doom had fallen upon Saul, in accordance with his deserts; and only then was it established. It is a general rule that beginnings are rough, whereas the subsequent course is smooth. Thus, on New Year’s day (Rosh-hashana) the year opens with severity, as the whole world passes under judgement, each individual according to his deeds, but soon after comes relief and forgiveness and atonement. The reason is that the beginning is from the left side, and so it brings harsh judgements, until the right side is aroused and ease follows. In time to come G-d will first treat the idolatrous nations gently and indulgently, but afterwards with severity and stern judgement. So Scripture says: “The Lord will go forth as a mighty one, he will stir up jealousy as a warrior; he will cry, yea, he will shout aloud, he will prove himself mighty against his enemies” (Isaiah 42:13); which interpreted means that first He will manifest Himself as YHVH (the Lord), in His attribute of mercy, then as a mighty one, but not in His full might, then as a warrior, but not in His full war panoply, and finally, His whole might will become manifest against them in order to exterminate them, so that “he will cry, yea, he will shout aloud, he will prove himself mighty against his enemies.” Again, it is written: “Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fighteth in the day of battle” (Zechariah 14:3). Also: “Who is this that cometh from Edom with crimson garments from Bozrah? etc.” (Isaiah 63:1).’ AND IT CAME TO PASS, AS HER SOUL WAS IN DEPARTING FOR SHE DIED-THAT SHE CALLED HIS NAME BEN-ONI; BUT HIS FATHER CALLED HIM BENJAMIN. R. Judah discoursed on the verse: The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that take refuge in him (Nahum 1:7). ‘Happy’, he said, ‘is the man who finds his strength in the Holy One, blessed be He, since His strength is invincible. The Lord is indeed “good to all” (Psalm 145:9), “a stronghold”, wherein is salvation, as we read: “He is a stronghold of salvation” (Ibid. 28:8); “in the day of trouble”, to wit, in the day of Israel’s oppression at the hand of other nations.”
Zohar, Bereshith 174a
“R. Simeon said: ‘The clause “Who commandeth the sun, and it riseth not” applies to Joseph, whilst the sequel, “and sealeth up the stars”, applies to his brethren, regarding whom he said, “And eleven stars bowed down to me.” Alternatively, “Who commandeth the sun” is an allusion to Jacob at the time his sons said to him: “Know now whether it is thy son’s coat or not”; “that it shineth not” is a reference to the time when the Shekinah departed from him; whilst “sealeth up the stars” implies that through his sons Jacob’s light was sealed and closed up, the sun for him was darkened and the stars did not shine-all because Joseph was separated from his father. And note that from the day on which Joseph disappeared Jacob abstained from marital intercourse and observed all the other rites of mourning until the day the good tidings of Joseph reached him.’ AND THE LORD WAS WITH JOSEPH, AND HE WAS A PROSPEROUS MAN; AND HE WAS IN THE HOUSE OF HIS MASTER THE EGYPTIAN . R. Jose quoted here the verse: “For the Lord loveth justice, and forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved for ever” (Psalm 37:28). ‘Observe’, he said ‘that wherever the righteous walk, G-d protects them and never abandons them, as David said: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and staff they comfort me” (Ibid. 23:4); wherever the righteous walk the Shekinah accompanies them and does not abandon them. Joseph walked through the valley of the shadow of death, having been brought down to Egypt, but the Shekinah was with him, as we read: “And the Lord was with Joseph”, and by reason of the presence of the Shekinah all that he did prospered in his hand; so much so that if he had something in his hand and his master wanted something of a different kind, it changed in his hand to the kind his master wanted.”
Zohar, Bereshith I89a
The following reference to the Shekinah accompanying G-d’s people, outside of the Land of Israel, also includes a mystical reference to the number forty-two which is significant. (See previous studies on the meaning of this number.) Here, the Shekinah is accompanied by the “celestial Jacob” — representative of the bride and groom being in union:
“Said R. Simeon: ‘When the Shekinah went down to Egypt, a celestial “living being” (Hayah, cf. Ezek. 1:5), called “Israel”, in form like the patriarch Jacob, went down with Her, accompanied by forty- two heavenly attendants, each of whom bore a letter belonging to the Holy Name. They all descended with Jacob to Egypt, and hence it says “and these are the names of the children of Israel which came into Egypt … with Jacob’.”
Zohar, Shemoth 4b
Though the Shekinah is considered to be “G-d’s presence in the world,” one should not make the mistake of “dividing” G-d in any sense as such things are only ‘from our perspective.’ The Zohar speaks of the Shekinah being both “above” and “below” as follows. (Also note the connection to the 12 tribes (i.e., 12 stars):
“In a similar sense it is written: “And G-d remembered Rachel”, which has a meaning similar to that of the passage”and I remembered my covenant”. Now, if we say that the term “visiting” is used only of the female principle (the Shekinah), we are met with a difficulty in the text: “I have surely visited you”. For how could the Shekinah speak thus, seeing that she was herself in exile, and, in fact, how could she appear to Moses at all? But in truth there is a deep significance in this passage. For as the sun, although his centre is in heaven, yet spreads his power and might throughout the earth, so that the whole earth is full of his glory, so, as long as the Temple was in existence, the whole earth, to wit, the Holy Land, was full of G-d’s glory; but now that Israel is in exile, the Shekinah is on high, but still her might surrounds Israel so as to shield them, even when they are in a strange land. For the Shekinah is both here below and on high. The Shekinah on high abides in the twelve holy chariots and the twelve supernal Hayyoth; the lower Shekinah is among the twelve holy tribes, and thus the upper Shekinah and the lower Shekinah are intertwined, and both operate together and simultaneously. Now, when Israel is in exile, the upper Shekinah is not complete because the lower Shekinah is not complete, and that is what is meant by the Shekinah being in exile when Israel is in exile. It is like a king who has lost a son, and who as a sign of his mourning turns over his couch and spreads thistles and thorns on its underside and then lays himself down on it. Similarly when Israel went into exile and the Temple was destroyed, G-d took thorns and thistles and put them underneath Him, as it were, as it is written: “And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a thorn-bush” (Exodus 3:2), the reason being that Israel was in exile.”
Zohar, Bereshith 159b
2 and being with child she doth cry out, travailing and pained to bring forth.
The idea of the Shekinah being a “mother” and giving birth to Messiah(s) is found in the Zohar:
“My dove, my undefiled, is but one, she is the only one of her mother” (Song of Songs 6:9), the Holy Shekinah, who proceeds from the twelve flashes of the radiance which illumines all things, and is called “Mother”. And the Holy One, blessed be He, dealt according to this principle with the earth: He scattered the nations abroad in separation and appointed supernal chiefs over them, as it is written, “which the Lord hath imparted to all the nations under heaven” (Deuteronomy 6:19). But He took unto Himself the congregation of Israel to be His own portion and His own choice, as it is written, “For the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob is the lot of his inheritance” (Ibid. 32:9). Thus it is clear that Israel is directly under G-d and none other; and He says of her: “My dove, my undefiled, is but one, she is the only one of her Mother.” She is the only one of her Mother Shekinah who dwells in her midst. “Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all” (Proverbs 31:29).”
Zohar, Shemoth 14b
“The Faithful Shepherd said, “At that time (there will come) pangs and pains upon the woman in childbirth, that is, the Shekinah … And through these pains, which will make her cry out, seventy supernal Sanhedrins will be aroused, until her voice reaches the Lord … And from those voices which she gives forth … her womb opens — and her womb consists of two houses — to give birth to two Messiahs … and she bends her head betwixt her knees; her head is the Middle Column and her two thighs are Eternity and Majesty [the Sefirot of Netzah and Hod] … and from there are born two Messiahs. In that time the forests will be denuded, and the Serpent will pass from the world.”
Zohar, Ra’aya Mehemma, 3:67b-68a
3 And there was seen another sign in the heaven, and, lo, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his head seven diadems,
At the level of Beriah, evil is associated with the angelic name “Samael” which is literally “poison-god.” This is associated with the dragon of Revelation:
The Designations and The Categories – The distinction between ‘right’ and ‘left’ in the Zohar corresponds, not only to the distinction between reward and punishment in the next world, but also between good and evil, and specifically moral good and evil in this world. Samael, the power of evil, the tempter, the accuser, the evil Serpent, is placed on the left and is identified with the grade Geburah. Now Samael is represented as the opponent not of Hesed but of Tifereth [identified with the archangel Michael.] He is the Great Dragon, who on New Year swallows the Moon, that is, prevents the union of the Matrona with the Holy King, until Israel by their sacrifice on the Day of Atonement induce him to desist. He also, by means of his minions, Lilith and others, seduces men to defile their souls, contrary to the desire of the Holy King.
Soncino Zohar Appendix III
The Beriatic dragon has seven heads which represent the physical materialization of its power – seven being the number of “maximum compactness” in the physical world. It also has ten horns, which are heavenly powers, understood as the “evil counterpart” to the ten divine sefirot.
The numbers seven and ten, when associated with each other, speak of an earthly and heavenly manifestation of a common idea. Consider the concept of ten heavenly Sefirot, compare to the seven Sefirot that relate to the physical world. This is reflected in the teaching that the “spiritually wise” Moses had ten names, whereas his “earthly wise” father-in-law, Jethro, is said to have had seven names.
A ‘positive example’ of such a union (between seven and ten) is seen in the idea of the “great Tzaddik” who unites (the seven) below with (the ten) above. The sum of seven and ten equals seventeen which is the gematria of the word TOV (Tet-Bet-Vav = 9+2+6=17), the Hebrew word for “good.” In kabbalah, the aspect of “tov” is associated with the Sefirah of Yesod (foundation) which, as we have discussed earlier, is the idea of the (divine) “tzaddik” — the “righteous one.”
The great tzaddikim are those seen as unifying above and below, which in both the past and future is symbolized by the establishing of G-d’s Tabernacle/Temple on earth. Three people who come to mind are Moses, Betzalel and Yeshua. (Betzalel was the young man who was given the ‘divine insight’ into the details of the Tabernacle construction.)
We find a common thread between these three:
- Moses is associated with “tov” in that tradition says his original Hebrew name (before Pharaoh’s daughter named him “Moses”) was Tovia (meaning “goodness of God) and derived from the root “tov,” with its numerical value of 17.
- Betzalel’s name has a numerical value of 153 — which in Kabbalah is the “triangle” of the number 17 — that being the sum of all numbers from 1 to 17.
- Yeshua is also associated with the number 153 as seen in John’s gospel which makes a point to specifically mention that 153 fish were miraculously caught in the disciple’s nets after Yeshua told them to recast their nets.
The following texts offer additional insight into the concepts brough forth in verse 2. The first two describe the relationship between seven and ten (here muliplied with a product of 70) with regard to the “division” of physical and spiritual realms into 70 units. (i.e., the “70 nations” of the earth). Mention is also made of how the fate Egypt met will be the same for Rome one day:
“Observe that whatever is engendered on earth grows through the stimulus of a celestial Chieftain who has charge over it, and that all on earth is shaped after a celestial pattern. There are on high seven firmaments, and seven zones of earth. Correspondingly, in the lower world there are seven graded firmaments and seven zones of earth. These, as the Companions have expounded, are arranged like the rungs of a ladder, rising one above the other, and each zone has ten divisions, so that there are seventy in all. Each one of these is presided over by a Chieftain, and these seventy Chieftains have under their charge the seventy nations of the earth. These seventy earth-divisions, again, border on and surround the Holy Land, as Scripture says: “Behold, it is the couch of Solomon; threescore mighty men are about, of the mighty men of Israel” (Song of Songs 3:7), there being, in addition to the threescore mentioned, ten concealed among their number. All these surround the Holy Land. This alludes to the upper world, and the same is reproduced in the lower world. Now at that time the Holy One, blessed be He, stretched forth His finger over the zone that was allotted to the Egyptians, and a fiery flame passed through the whole tract and dried up all the alluvial soil, with the result that the dust of the earth generated vermin. It was Aaron that smote the dust, in order to show that the right hand of the Holy One, blessed be He, breaks His enemies, as we read: “Thy right hand, O Lord, dasheth in pieces the enemy” (Exodus 15:6). The same punishment is destined to be meted out by the Holy One, blessed be He, to Rome the great Metropolis, as it is written: “And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone” (Isaiah 34:9). Thus “all the dust of the earth became vermin throughout all the land of Egypt”.
Zohar, Shemoth 30b
The following text offers another insight into the relationship between seven and ten, here with regard to Israel’s struggles in conquering the Land:
“This is also the reason why the Jewish people were only commanded to conquer seven nations of Canaan upon entering the land, as opposed to the original ten that G-d first spoke about; we didn’t merit a complete acquisition of Eretz Yisroel, due to our sins in the desert. The ten nations, of course, correspond to the Ten Sefiros, and the seven nations we did have to fight against represent only the lower seven Sefiros, indicating our lack of spiritual ability to bring complete perfection to creation.”
‘Judging by the Situation,” Rabbi Pinchas Winston, http://www.torah.org/learning/perceptions/5761/shoftim.html
The “dragon,” as an image of evil in the higher realms, is referred to throughout Hebraic literature. It is not only associated with the archangel Samael (see above), but also with Israel’s enemies in the physical realm.
A 7-headed dragon is mentioned in Talmud:
“[R. Aha b. Jacob] entered and spent the night in that schoolhouse, during which it [the demon] appeared to him in the guise of a seven-headed dragon. Every time he [the Rabbi] fell on his knees [in prayer] one head fell off.”
In this midrash, a dragon is associated with the leader of Babylon:
“Thus it is written, And I will punish Bel in Babylon, and I will bring forth out of his mouth that which he hath swallowed up (Jeremiah 51:44). For Nebuchadnezzar had a great dragon which swallowed up everything thrown to it. Said Nebuchadnezzar to Daniel: ‘How great is its might that it swallows up everything that is thrown to it!’ ‘ Give me permission,’ he rejoined, ‘ and I will make him weak.’ On being granted permission, what did he do? He took straw, hid nails in it, and threw it to the dragon, and the nails lacerated his bowels. That is the meaning of the verse, ’And I will bring forth out of his mouth that which he hath swallowed up.)”
Midrash Rabbah, Genesis 68:13
Here a dragon is linked to the leader of Egypt:
“AND THE LORD SAID UNTO MOSES: PUT FORTH THY HAND, AND TAKE IT BY THE TAIL (Exodus 4:4). We have already explained what the serpent implied for Moses; but what did this sign signify for Israel? R. Eleazar opined that the rod was converted into a serpent as symbolic Of Pharaoh who was called a serpent, as it says: Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh King of Egypt, the great-dragon (Ezekiel 29:3). He is also referred to as the leviathan the slant serpent (Isaiah 27:1), because he hit Israel. G-d said to him [Moses]: ‘ Dost thou see Pharaoh who is like a serpent? Well, thou wilt smite him with the rod and in the end he will become like wood; and just as the rod cannot bite, so he will no longer bite’; hence: PUT FORTH THY HAND AND TAKE IT BY THE TAIL. THAT THEY MAY BELIEVE THAT THE LORD, THE G-D OF THEIR FATHERS… HATH APPEARED UNTO THEE (Exodus 4:5). Go and perform before them this miracle that they should believe that I appeared unto thee.”
Midrash Rabbah, Exodus 3:12
An examination of Scripture shows an association being made between other leaders and the evil side (i.e., the king of Tyre). The following text mentions the idea of there being “more than one Samael” — a key point in understanding how evil manifests:
“Various impurities are mingled in the composition of Israel, like animals among men. One kind is from the side of the serpent; another from the side of the Gentiles, who are compared to the beasts of the field; another from the side of mazikin (goblins), for the souls of the wicked are literally the mazikin (goblins) of the world; and there is an impurity from the side of the demons and evil spirits; and there is none so cursed among them as Amalek, who is the evil serpent, the “strange god”. He is the cause of all unchastity and murder, and his twin-soul is the poison of idolatry, the two together being called Samael (lit. poison-god). There is more than one Samael, and they are not all equal, but this side of the serpent is accursed above all of them.”
Zohar, Bereshith 29a
The ultimate manifestation of evil is linked to Amalek, whom Jewish tradition teaches is present in every generation (as is the potential for the coming Elijah and Messiah) and who will be strong again at the time of Messiah’s return:
‘AND MOSES ASSEMBLED ALL THE CONGREGATION OF THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL, ETC. R. Hiya opened here a discourse on the text: “And Saul said unto the Kenites: Go depart”, etc. (1Samuel 15:6). ‘Observe’, he said, ‘that in regard to Amalek it is written: “I remember that which Amalek did to Israel”, etc. (Ibid. 15:2). What is the reason that none of the wars waged by other nations against Israel was so displeasing to the Almighty as was the war waged against them by Amalek? The reason, assuredly, is that the battle with Amalek was waged on both fronts, both on high and below; for at that time the evil serpent gathered all its forces both above and below. It is the way of a serpent to lie in wait on the cross-roads. So Amalek, the evil serpent of Israel, was lying in wait for them on the cross-roads, as it is written: “how he set himself against him in the way” (Ibid.). He was Iying in ambush on high in order to defile the Sanctuary, and below in order to defile Israel. This we deduce from the expression, “how he met thee by the way” (Deuteronomy 25:18), where the term qar’kha is meant to suggest the kindred term in the passage, “If there be among you any man that is not clean by reason of that which chanceth him (miqre) by night” (ibid. 23:11). By using the term qar’kha, the text as much as says: “He has arrayed against thee that evil serpent from above that he may defile thee on all sides”; and were it not that Moses from above, and Joshua from below, put forth all their strength, Israel would not have prevailed against him. It is for this reason that the Holy One, blessed be He, cherished His enmity against him throughout all generations, inasmuch as he planned to uproot the sign of the covenant from its place.” ([Tr. note: i.e. to lead Israel into ways of unchastity.]
Zohar, Shemoth 194b-195a
Samael can manifest in such a fashion that he can come into direct conflict with individuals. Two such people are Moses and Jacob. The first text below also hints at the complexity of the spiritual realm in that Samael and “the serpent” are seen as both the same, yet different:
“Each incident recorded in the Torah contains a multitude of deep significations, and each word is itself an expression of wisdom and the doctrine of truth. The words of the Torah, then, are all sacred, revealing wondrous things, as we read: “Open thou mine eyes, that may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (Psalm 119:18). Here is a proof. When the serpent had subverted Adam and his wife, and infected her with impurity, the world fell thereby in a state of defilement, and was laid under a curse, and death was brought into it. So the world had to be punished through him until the tree of life came and made atonement for man and prevented the serpent from ever again having dominion over the seed of Jacob. For each time the Israelites offered up a he-goat the serpent was subdued and led captive, as already said. Hence Jacob brought his father two he-goats (se’irim), one to subdue Esau, who was hairy (sa’ir), and the other to subdue the grade to which Esau was beholden and to which he adhered, as has been said already. And it is through this that the world will be preserved until a woman will appear after the pattern of Eve and a man after the pattern of Adam, who will circumvent and out-manoeuvre the evil serpent and him who rides on him, as explained elsewhere.’ R. Jose further discoursed as follows: And Esau was a cunning hunter… and Jacob was a perfect man, dwelling in tents (Genesis 25:27). ‘In which way was he “perfect”? In that he was “dwelling in tents”, i.e. that he held fast to the two sides, to that of Abraham and that of Isaac. In dealing with Esau he advanced from the side of Isaac, as already said, and in the spirit of the passage: “With the merciful thou dost show thyself merciful… and with the crooked thou dost show thyself subtle” (Psalm 18:6-27). But when he came to receive the blessings, he came with help from on high, and with support from both Abraham and Isaac, and thus all was prescribed by wisdom, as already said above. For Jacob conquered the serpent with prudence and craft, but chiefly by means of the he-goat; and although the serpent and Samael are the same, yet he also conquered Samael by another method, as described in the passage, saying: “and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him” (Genesis 32:25-26). Observe how great Jacob’s merit must have been. For as his adversary was intent on destroying him completely, and that night was the night when the moon was created, it was doubly unpropitious for Jacob, who remained behind all alone. … Samael thus came and attacked him, in order to destroy him utterly. Jacob, however, had strong support on all sides, on the side of Isaac and on the side of Abraham, both of whom constituted the strength of Jacob. When Samael attacked Jacob’s right he saw there Abraham equipped with the strength of day, being of the side of the Right, the same being Mercy (Hesed). When he attacked his left, he saw there Isaac with the strength of stern judgement. When he attacked in front, he found Jacob strong on either side by reason of those surrounding him, and thus we read: “And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh” (Genesis 32:26), that is, a part that is outside of the trunk and one of its supports. Hence, “the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was strained” (Ibid.). When day appeared and night departed, Jacob’s strength increased and Samael’s waned, so that the latter said: “Let me go, for the moment of the recital of the morning hymn had arrived”, and it was therefore necessary for him to depart. He thus confirmed Jacob’s blessings and added to them one blessing more, as it says: “And he blessed him there” (Ibid. 30).”
Zohar, Bereshith 145b,146a
This next text speaks of Moses’ encounter:
“AND MOSES REARED UP THE TABERNACLE, AND LAID (vayiten) ITS SOCKETS. At the time when these pillars and supports were put into their places, the pillars and supports of the evil side were loosened and swept away from their places. Moses, as we have learnt, saw the wicked Samael advancing towards him with intent to bring accusations against him. But he overpowered him and bound him in fetters, and then reared up the tabernacle, and fixed its sockets. The term vayiten (and he laid) indicates the use of intense force, for no other man but Moses would have been able to overcome this antagonist and to fix the foundations in their place. It was on the first of Nisan that the Tabernacle was reared up, a season when the evil powers are let loose in the world; for in the days of Nisan, as the saying goes, “even when the ox has his head in the fodder basket, go up the roof” [Tr. note: T. P. Pesahim, 112.] Moses saw Samael going round and round him to confuse him, but he overpowered him.”
Zohar, Shemoth 240b
The concept of “horns” has to do with (spiritual) power. Midrash speaks of Israel’s ten horns, being given over to the nations due to the former’s sin:
“HE HATH CUT OFF IN FIERCE ANGER ALL THE HORN OF ISRAEL (Lamentations 2:3). There are ten horns: of Abraham, of Isaac, of Joseph, of Moses, of the Torah, of the priesthood, of the Levites, of prophecy, of the Temple, and of Israel. There are some who add: the horn of the Messiah. ‘ The horn of Abraham,’ as it is said, My well-beloved had a vineyard in a very fruitful hill (Isaiah 5:1). ‘The horn of Isaac,’ as it is said, Caught in the thicket by his horns (Genesis 12:13). ‘The horn of Joseph,’ as it is said, And his horns are the horns of the wild-ox (Deuteronomy 33:17). ‘The horn of Moses,’ as it is written, The skin of his face sent forth beams (Exodus 34:29). ‘The horn of the Torah,’ as it is written, Horns hath He from His hands (Habakkuk 3:4). ‘The horn of the priesthood,’ as it is written, His horn shall be exalted in honour (Psaslm 112:9). ‘The horn of the Levites,’ as it is written, All these where the sons of Heman the king’s seer in the things pertaining to G-d, to lift up the horn (IChronicles 25:5). ‘The horn of prophecy,’ as it is written, My horn is exalted in the Lord (ISamuel 2:1). ‘The horn of the Temple,’ as it is written, From the horns of the wild-oxen do Thou answer me (Psalm 22:22). ‘The horn of Israel,’ as it is said, And He hath lifted up a horn for His people (ib. 148:14). ‘ There are some who add the horn of the Messiah,’ as it is written, And He will give strength unto His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed (I Sam. II, 10). All of these horns were set on the head of Israel; and when they sinned these were taken from them–as it is said, HE HATH CUT OFF IN FIERCE ANGER ALL THE HORN OF ISRAEL–and given to the other nations, as it is said, And concerning the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn which came up, and before which three fell (Daniel 7:20), after which it is written, And so for the ten horns, out of this kingdom shall ten kings arise; and another shall arise after them; and he shall be diverse from the former, and he shall put down three kings (ib. 24). When Israel repents, the Holy One, blessed be He, will restore the horns to their place, as it is stated, All the horns of the wicked also will I cut off; but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up (Psalm 75:11), i.e. the horns which the Righteous One of the Universe had cut off. When will He restore them to their place? When the Holy One, blessed be He, raises aloft the horn of His Messiah, as it is written, ’And He will give strength unto His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed.”
Midrash Rabbah, Lamentations 2:6.
4 and his tail doth draw the third of the stars of the heaven, and he did cast them to the earth; and the dragon did stand before the woman who is about to bring forth, that when she may bring forth, her child he may devour;
The following Zohar passage is relates some similar themes. It speaks of the origin of souls (Beriah), how the serpent’s role (in attampting to “bite” these souls as they enter the world) is in fact ordained by G-d, and how the souls of the especially righteous (i.e., Messiah) are protected with a “sanctified body,” and how all of this is tied to the coming of Messiah:
“R. Simeon and R. Eleazar his son were one night sitting together studying the Torah. Said R. Eleazar to his father, R. Simeon: ‘It is written: “Unto the woman he said: I will greatly multiply thy pain and thy travail, in pain thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband”, etc. (Genesis 3:16). We have learned that this passage contains a profound mystical teaching. One may comprehend this passage in its terrestrial significance, but what corresponds in the supernal world?’ R. Simeon cited the verse: “As the hart panteth after the water brooks”, etc. (Psalm 42:2). ‘This verse has already been expounded,’ he said. ‘There is, however, a certain female animal that has under her daily charge a thousand keys, and that pants continually after the water brooks to drink and quench her thirst, of which it is thus written, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks.” It is to be observed that this verse commences with a masculine subject, “hart” (‘ayyal), and continues with a feminine predicate, tha’erog (she panteth). The recondite explanation of this is that it is an allusion to the male-female as one undivided and inseparable; and so it is the female part of the same that “panteth for the water brooks” and then becomes impregnated from the male element, and is in labour, coming under the scrutiny of Rigour. But at the moment when she is about to be delivered of offspring the Holy One, blessed be He, prepares for her a huge celestial serpent through whose bite she is safely delivered. And this is the hidden meaning of, “I will greatly multiply thy pain and thy travail”, for she is in daily convulsions and pain because of the deeds of mankind: “in pain thou shalt bring forth children”, a hidden allusion to the Serpent who casts a gloom over the faces of mankind; “and thy desire shall be to thy husband”: this is in harmony with the expression, “she panteth for the water brooks”; “and he shall rule over thee”: this has been already expounded elsewhere. Why all this? It was on account of the Moon’s dissatisfaction with her state, in punishment for which, as tradition teaches us, her light was diminished, also her power was reduced so that she is beholden to what they grant her from outside. It may be asked, Why is the Serpent necessary in this connection? It is because it is he who opens the passage for the descent of souls into the world. For if he did not open the way, no soul would come down to animate a man’s body in the world. So Scripture says, “sin coucheth at the door” (Genesis 3:7), alluding to the celestial door through which pass the souls at birth to emerge into this world. He, the Serpent, waits at that door. It is true, when the souls about to emerge are such as are to enter sanctified bodies, he is not present, having no dominion over such souls. But otherwise, the Serpent bites, and that spot is defiled and the soul passing through is unpurified. Herein is concealed a sublime mystical teaching. “In pain thou shalt bring forth children” is a mystical allusion to that Serpent, as it is with him that She brings forth souls, since he is responsible for the body and she for the soul, and the two are combined. The Serpent is destined in the future to bring about the birth of the whole of the bodies before its own time comes, as Scripture says: “Before she travailed, she brought forth” (Isaiah 66:7). For, whereas the period of the serpent’s gestation is seven years, that will be at the end of six. And at that hour, when he will have brought about their birth, he himself will die. Of this, Scripture says: “He will swallow up death for ever” (Ibid. 25:8), also “Thy dead shall live, my dead bodies shall arise” (Ibid. 26:19).’ Said R. Simeon: ‘At the time when the dead will be awakened and be in readiness for the resurrection in the Holy Land, legions upon legions will arise on the soil of Galilee, as it is there that the Messiah is destined to reveal himself. For that is the portion of Joseph, and it was the first part of the Holy Land to be destroyed, and it was thence that the exile of Israel and their dispersion among the nations began, as Scripture says, “but they are not grieved for the hurt of Joseph” (Amos 6:6). Thus there they will rise up first, for the reason that it is the portion of him who was put in an ark, as it says, “and he was put in an ark in Egypt” (Genesis 50:26), and subsequently was buried in the Holy Land, as it says “And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem” (Joshua 24:32); and he it was who kept the purity of the holy covenant symbol in a special degree. As soon as they will rise from the dead all those hosts will march, each man to the portion of his ancestors, as Scripture says, “and ye shall return every man unto his possession” (Leviticus 25:10). They shall recognize each other, and G-d will clothe every one in embroidered garments; and they will all come and offer up thanksgiving to their Master in Jerusalem, where there will assemble multitudes upon multitudes. Jerusalem itself will spread out in all directions, to a further extent even than when the exiles returned there. When they assemble and offer up praises to their Master the Holy One, blessed be He, will rejoice in them. So Scripture says: “And they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow unto the goodness of the Lord”, etc. (Jeremiah 31:12), namely, every one to his portion and the portion of his ancestors. And the possession of Israel will extend till it will reach Damietta of the Romans, and even there they will study the Torah. All this has already been stated, and it is in harmony with the Scriptural passage, saying: “Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust”, etc. (Isaiah 16:19). Blessed be the Lord for evermore! Amen and Amen!”
Zohar, Shemoth 219b
5 and she brought forth a male child, who is about to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, and caught away was her child unto G-d and His throne,
The one who rules is Messiah ben David:
“THE SCEPTRE [STAFF] SHALL NOT DEPART FROM JUDAH alludes to the Messiah, son of David, who will chastise the State with a staff, as it says, Thou shalt break them with a rod [staff] of iron (Psalm 2:9).”
Midrash Rabbah, Genesis 92
“BINDING HIS FOAL UNTO THE VINE . The vine is the Community of Israel, so called also in the verse: “Thou didst remove a vine from Egypt” (Psalm 80:9). By “his foal” is meant the Messiah, who is destined to rule over all the hosts of the peoples, that is to say, the heavenly hosts who have charge of the Gentiles, and from whom they derive their strength. The Messiah will prevail over them, because this vine dominates all those lower crowns through which the Gentiles have dominion. This will be the victory above. Israel, who are “a choice vine”, will conquer and destroy other hosts below; and the Messiah will prevail over all. Hence it is written of him that he will be “poor and riding on an ass and on a young ass’s colt” (Zechariah 9:9). “Colt” and “ass” are two crowns by virtue of which the Gentiles have dominion, and they are from the left side, the side of uncleanness. It is strange that the Messiah should be called “poor”. R. Simeon explained that it is because he has nothing of his own, and he is compared to the holy moon above, which has no light save from the sun. This Messiah will have dominion and will be established in his place. Below he is “poor”, because he is of the side of the moon, and above he is poor, being a “mirror which does not radiate”, “the bread of poverty”. Yet withal he “rides upon an ass and upon a colt”, to overthrow the strength of the Gentiles; and God will keep him firm. HE HATH WASHED HIS GARMENT IN WINE . With this may be compared the verse: “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah?” (Isaiah 63:1); and also: “I have trodden the winepress alone, etc.” (ibid. 3). “Wine” here alludes to the side of Geburah, of stern justice which will be visited on the idolatrous nations. AND HIS VESTURE IN THE BLOOD OF GRAPE . This is the lower-world tree, the judgement court which is called “grapes”, in which the “wine” is kept. Thus the Messiah will be clothed in both to crush beneath him all the idolatrous peoples and kings.”
Zohar, Bereshith 238a
Regarding the idea of this child (mashiach) being ‘caught away,’ the Book of Enoch mentions the idea of the “Son of Man” being “hidden” from the earliest time:
“For from the beginning the Son of Man was hidden, and the Most High kept him in the presence of his power.”
Book of Enoch, Chapter 62
The following Zohar passage, deeply esoteric in nature, speaks to the idea of Messiah being hidden for some period of time in a spiritual abode called “the bird’s nest” – both of which are taken up to the heavenly realm (i.e., the Throne of G-d in Beriah):
”If a bird’s nest chance to be before thee in the way in any tree, or on the ground, young ones or eggs, and the dam sitting upon the young… thou shalt in no wise let the dam go” (Deuteronomy 22:6-7). ‘This passage’, he said, ‘we interpret as an esoteric commandment in the Law, containing mysteries of doctrine, paths and ways known to the Fellowship and belonging to the thirty-two paths of the Torah.’ Then, turning to R. Eleazar, his son, he said: ‘At the time when the Messiah shall arise, there will be great wonders in the world. See now, in the lower Paradise there is a secret and unknown spot, broidered with many colours, in which a thousand palaces of longing are concealed. No one may enter it, except the Messiah, whose abode is in Paradise. The Garden is encompassed with multitudes of saints who look to the Messiah as their leader, along with many hosts and bands of the souls of the righteous there. On New Moons, festivals, and Sabbaths, he enters that place, in order to find joyous delight in those secret palaces. Behind those palaces there is another place, entirely hidden and undiscoverable. It is called “Eden”, and no one may enter to behold it. Now the Messiah is hidden in its outskirts until a place is revealed to him which is called “the Bird’s Nest”. This is the place proclaimed by that Bird (the Shekinah) which flies about the Garden of Eden every day. In that place the effigies are woven of all the nations who band together against Israel. The Messiah enters that abode, lifts up his eyes and beholds the Fathers (Patriarchs) visiting the ruins of G-d’s Sanctuary. He perceives mother Rachel, with tears upon her face; the Holy One, blessed be He, tries to comfort her, but she refuses to be comforted (Jeremiah 31:14). Then the Messiah lifts up his voice and weeps, and the whole Garden of Eden quakes, and all the righteous and saints who are there break out in crying and lamentation with him. When the crying and weeping resound for the second time, the whole firmament above the Garden begins to shake, and the cry echoes from five hundred myriads of supernal hosts, until it reaches the highest Throne. Then the Holy One, blessed be He, beckons to that “Bird”, which then enters its nest and comes to the Messiah, and flits about, uttering strange cries. Then from the holy Throne the Bird’s Nest and the Messiah are summoned three times, and they both ascend into the heavenly places, and the Holy One swears to them to destroy the wicked kingdom (Rome) by the hand of the Messiah, to avenge Israel, and to give her all the good things which he has promised her. Then the Bird returns to her place. The Messiah, however, is hidden again in the same place as before.”
Zohar, Shemoth 8a
There’s are other ideas related to mashiach being hidden away for a time:
In both the Jerusalem and in Midrash Rabba we find the tale of Menachem son of Hezekiah who was born on the day that the Temple was destroyed and was named messiah. The infant was plucked from his mother’s arms by the wind and disappeared with no trace. The reader of this tale is left wondering whether the infant was snatched up to the heavens still alive – some day perhaps to return. …
The Book of Kings relates the story of Aviah the son of Jeroboam son of Nabat. Aviah grew sick, and came together with his mother to the prophet Achiya so that he would pray for his recovery. Achiya, however, decreed that the child would die and after his death he was eulogized by ‘all of Israel…for some good thing for G-d, the G-d of Israel, was found in him. … The good found in the dead Aviah was the messianic potential within him – the Josephian (father of Efraim) messiah. … The Talmud interprets this as referring to the ‘Josephian messiah who was killed.’ …
There is another messianic tradition based on the story from the book of Kings which tells of the prophet Elijah’s resurrection of the widow’s son. Concerning this child, a midrash states, ‘he was the Josephian messiah.” The analogy between this miraculously resurrected child and the Josephian messiah is strengthened even more when we take into account the tradition that foretells of this messiah’s own future resurrection after death.
The Scroll of Secrets: The Hidden Messianic Vision of R. Nachman of Breslav, Zvi Mark, pp.130,131
6 and the woman did flee to the wilderness, where she hath a place made ready from God, that there they may nourish her — days a thousand, two hundred, sixty.
The idea of “42 months” (1,260 days = 42 months of 30 days) presents itself here again, with relation to a period of time leading up a time of unification. The “wilderness,” where the Shekinah and Israel take refuge, can be seen both literally and metaphorically.
The following passages are concerned with these themes:
“Not all men know that the Shekinah at its last exile did not withdraw to heaven, but to “the wilderness, to an inn of travellers” (Jeremiah 9:1), and that since then it is always to be found in the place where Israel is particularly in distress.”
Zohar, Bereshith 225a
“So in the days to come, when the Holy One, blessed be He, will remember His people, the community of Israel, the Shekinah will return from exile first and proceed to her House, as the holy Temple will be built first. The Holy One, blessed be He, will then say to the Community of Israel: “Shake thyself from the dust, arise and sit down, O Jerusalem”
Zohar, Bereshith 134a
“R. Hizkiah said: ‘The Holy One, blessed be He, will one day sweep away the unclean spirit, as it is written, “And the unclean spirit I will cause to pass out of the land” (Zechariah 13:2), and further, “He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord G-d will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people will he take away from off all the earth, for the Lord hath spoken it” (Isaish 25:8). The Holy One, blessed be He, will also one day restore the moon [i.e., the Shekinah], to its full light, and dissipate the darkness brought on her by the evil serpent, as it is written, “And the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of the seven days” (ibid. 30:26), the reference here being to the primordial light which the Holy One, blessed be He, stored away during the period of the creation.”
Zohar, Bereshith 70b
The departure of the Shekinah from its place is directly linked to the sin of Israel. This verse from Midrash clearly links such sin with the departure of the Shekinah for a period of “forty-two stages”:
“MY MOTHER’S SONS, the sons of my nation, namely the spies, WERE INCENSED AGAINST ME: they attacked me, they filled the Judge with wrath against me. THEYMADE ME KEEPER OF THE VINEYARDS: because I stayed in the wilderness journeying forty-two stages, I was not able to enter the land of Israel. Hence, MY OWN VINEYARD I DID NOT KEEP.”
Midrash Rabbah, Song of Songs 1:41
These texts expound on the idea of Israel’s apostasy (i.e., 2 Thessalonians 2:3) causing the departure of the Shekinah from the land:
“The community of Israel does not dwell outside its own place save in the time of exile, and because it is in exile, therefore other nations enjoy greater prosperity. When Israel were in their own land everything was as it should be, the heavenly throne was fully spread over them, and the liturgy which they performed pierced through the ether and ascended on high to its place. For Israel alone was qualified to serve God in that land, and therefore the Gentiles kept aloof, since they did not rule over it as now, but were nourished only by the “residue”. You may say, How do you reconcile this with the fact that a number of (foreign) kings ruled over it at the time when the Temple still existed. The answer is that in the time of the first Temple, before Israel defiled the land, the Gentiles did not rule over it but were nourished from the “residue”. But when Israel sinned and defiled the land, they, as it were, drove the Shekinah from its place, and it went to another place, and therefore other nations were allowed to rule over the land. For no angel has control of the land of Israel, but only G-d. When Israel sinned and burned incense to other gods in the Holy Land, the Shekinah was driven from its place, and other gods were associated with it, and so other nations obtained dominion and the prophets died out, and all the higher grades ceased to rule, and dominion was not withdrawn from other nations, because they drew the Shekinah to themselves. Hence in the time of the second Temple the rule of the other nations did not cease, and even less so in the period of the Exile, when the Shekinah found herself among other nations where other chieftains exercise dominion, deriving their sustenance from the Shekinah, which has consorted with them.”
Zohar, Bereshith 84b
“Before Israel went into captivity, and while the Shekinah was still with them, G-d commanded Israel: “thou shalt not uncover thy mother’s nakedness” (Leviticus 18:7), and this captivity is the uncovering of the nakedness of the Shekinah, as it is written, “On account of your sins your mother has been put away” (Isaiah 50:1), i.e. for the sin of unchastity Israel has been sent into captivity and the Shekinah also, and this is the uncovering of the Shekinah. This unchastity is Lilith, the mother of the “mixed multitude”. It is they who separate the two He’s of the sacred name, and prevent the Vau from entering between them; so it is written, “the nakedness of a woman and her daughter thou shalt not uncover”, referring to the upper and lower Shekinah. When the “mixed multitude” are between the one He and the other, the Holy One, blessed be He, cannot link them together, and consequently “the river becomes dry and parched”-dry in the upper He and parched in the lower He, in order that the “mixed multitude” may not be nourished by the Vau, which is the Tree of Life. Therefore the Vau does not link together the two He’s when the mixed multitude is between them, and the letter Yod is not able to draw near to the second He’; thus the precept “thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy daughter-in-law” is transgressed. Further, they separate the Yod from the upper He, and so break the command “thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father’s wife”, the Yod being the father, the first He the mother, Vau the son and the second He the daughter. Therefore it is ordained with regard to the upper He, “thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father’s wife”; “the nakedness of thy sister the daughter of thy father” refers to the lower He; “her son’s daughter and her daughter’s daughter” refers to the He and He which are the children of He; “the nakedness of the father’s brother” refers to the Yod, which is the product of the letter Yod, a brother to Vau. In a word, when the “mixed multitude” are mingled with Israel, the letters of the name YHVH cannot be joined and linked together; but as soon as they are removed from the world, then it is said of the letters of G-d’s name that “On that day the Lord shall be one and his name one” (Zechariah 14:9). This is why Adam, who is Israel, is closely linked with the Torah, of which it is said, “It is a tree of life to those who take hold on it”; this tree is the Matron, the Sefirah Malkhuth (Kingship), through their connection with which Israel are called “sons of kings”. On this account G-d said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” (Genesis 2:18). This help is the Mishnah (the oral Law), the handmaid of the Shekinah. If Israel deserve well, it is a help to them in the captivity from the side of the permitted, the clean, and the proper; if they do not deserve well, it is a hindrance to them from the side of the unclean, the unfit, and the forbidden, the clean, the permitted, and the fit signifying the good inclination, and the unfit, the unclean, and the forbidden signifying the evil inclination. Thus the Mishnah resembles the woman, who has both pure and impure blood of menstruation. But the Mishnah is not the spouse of his real union, for real union is denied to him until the “mixed multitude” shall be removed from the earth. On account of this Moses was buried outside of the Holy Land.”
Zohar, Bereshith 27b
“When the days of the Messiah shall be come, when we shall see face to face, all the “faces” will give their consent. Now, the sin which the “outsiders”- “the mixed multitude”- committed, and in which the holy people participated, was a sin against the “Holy Mother”, the Shekinah, because they said, “Up, make us a god” (Elohim) (Exodus 32:1)- Elohim, the Glory of Israel, She who rested upon them like a mother on her children. This is the secret contained in the words: “They changed their glory into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass” (Psalm 116:20). Yea, verily, that is the Glory of Israel: their Mother. Therefore it also says, “The glory has departed” (ISamuel 4:22), because they caused the Shekinah to go into exile with them. They changed their glory with what? “The similitude of an ox.” Herein lies a mystery. From out of the midst of the dregs of the wine, the dregs of evil, an Accuser emerges, the first Damager, in the form of a man approaching the Sanctuary. As soon as he passes on from there and desires to descend and wreak his evil will upon the earth he has to cover himself with a garment. Then he comes down with his hosts. And the first garment in which he clothes himself is the form of an ox. Therefore the first of those accusing demons is an ox. He is one of the “four principal damagers” [Tr. note: Cf. T. B. Baba Kama]. who come down to inflict misery on the world. All the three other damagers belong to and are under this first ox.”
Zohar, Shemoth 191a
The idea of the Shekinah “being nourished” while in exile has a positive side to it. Exile causes repentance, which in turn gives deeper insight into G-d and His Torah. A modern kabbalistic text views more recent exiles in this way:
“… by means of the gerushin, the forced banishments or exile wanderings from place to place, the kabbalists were elevated above their own state of exile, for they gave support to the weakened Shekinah and received mystical illumination in the form of innovative Scriptural interpretations.
‘Along the Path: Studies in Kabbalistic Myth, Symbolism and Hermeneutics,’ Ellliot Wolfson, 1995, State University of New York Press, p.91
The idea of “innovative Scriptural interpretations has to do with the deeper levels of the Torah. Through the study of Torah, prayer and righteous actions, the Shekinah is strengthened.
The Zohar offers the following commentaries on this idea:
“Said R. Simeon: ‘Alas for the man who regards the Torah as a book of mere tales and everyday matters! If that were so, we, even we could compose a torah dealing with everyday affairs, and of even greater excellence. Nay, even the princes of the world possess books of greater worth which we could use as a model for composing some such torah. The Torah, however, contains in all its words supernal truths and sublime mysteries. Observe the perfect balancing of the upper and the lower worlds. Israel here below is balanced by the angels on high, of whom it says: “who makest thy angels into winds” (Psalm 104:4). For the angels in descending on earth put on themselves earthly garments, as otherwise they could not stay in this world, nor could the world endure them. Now, if thus it is with the angels, how much more so must it be with the Torah-the Torah that created them, that created all the worlds and is the means by which these are sustained. Thus had the Torah not clothed herself in garments of this world the world could not endure it. The stories of the Torah are thus only her outer garments, and whoever looks upon that garment as being the Torah itself, woe to that man-such a one will have no portion in the next world. David thus said: “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (Psalm 119:18), to wit, the things that are beneath the garment. Observe this. The garments worn by a man are the most visible part of him, and senseless people looking at the man do not seem to see more in him than the garments. But in truth the pride of the garments is the body of the man, and the pride of the body is the soul. Similarly the Torah has a body made up of the precepts of the Torah, called gufe torah (bodies, main principles of the Torah), and that body is enveloped in garments made up of worldly narrations. The senseless people only see the garment, the mere narrations; those who are somewhat wiser penetrate as far as the body. But the really wise, the servants of the most high King, those who stood on Mount Sinai, penetrate right through to the soul, the root principle of all, namely, to the real Torah. In the future the same are destined to penetrate even to the super-soul (soul of the soul) of the Torah. Observe that in a similar way in the supernal world there is garment, body, soul and super-soul. The heavens and their hosts are the outer garment, the Community of Israel is the body which receives the soul, to wit, the “Glory of Israel”; and the super-soul is the Ancient Holy One. All these are interlocked within each other. Woe to the sinners who consider the Torah as mere worldly tales, who only see its outer garment; happy are the righteous who fix their gaze on the Torah proper Wine cannot be kept save in a jar; so the Torah needs an outer garment. These are the stories and narratives, but it behoves us to penetrate beneath them.”
Zohar, Bemidbar 151b-152a
“AND THE LORD G-D CAUSED TO GROW. The two names may be referred to the Father and the Mother; “every pleasant tree” refers to the Zaddik; “good to eat” refers to the Central Column, through which He provided food for all, and from which alone the Zaddik is nourished, as the Shekinah from him. These have no need of the lower world, but, on the contrary, all below are nourished from him. For in this period of captivity the Shekinah and “the Life of the universe” are only nourished by the eighteen blessings of Israel’s prayer, but at the time he will be food for all.”
Zohar, Bereshith 26a
“Whilst they were walking, R. Jose said to R. Eleazar: ‘It has been said that with Rachel’s death the house was transferred to Her who required to be adorned with twelve tribes. Nevertheless, why should Rachel have died immediately after the birth of Benjamin?’ R. Eleazar in reply said: ‘It was in order that the Shekinah should be duly crowned and take her place in the house as “a joyful mother of children”. With Benjamin, the Shekinah was equipped with the full twelve tribes, and with him the kingdom of heaven began to be made manifest on earth. Now the beginning of any manifestation is brought about with strain, and involves a doom of death before it can become established. Here, when the Shekinah was about to assume her rightful place and to take over the house, the doom fell upon Rachel. Similarly, when the kingdom was about to be made manifest on earth, it commenced with a judgement, and the kingdom was not established in its place until a doom had fallen upon Saul, in accordance with his deserts; and only then was it established. It is a general rule that beginnings are rough, whereas the subsequent course is smooth. Thus, on New Year’s day (Rosh-hashana) the year opens with severity, as the whole world passes under judgement, each individual according to his deeds, but soon after comes relief and forgiveness and atonement. The reason is that the beginning is from the left side, and so it brings harsh judgements, until the right side is aroused and ease follows. In time to come G-d will first treat the idolatrous nations gently and indulgently, but afterwards with severity and stern judgement. So Scripture says: “The Lord will go forth as a mighty one, he will stir up jealousy as a warrior; he will cry, yea, he will shout aloud, he will prove himself mighty against his enemies” (Isaiah 42:13); which interpreted means that first He will manifest Himself as YHVH (the Lord), in His attribute of mercy, then as a mighty one, but not in His full might, then as a warrior, but not in His full war panoply, and finally, His whole might will become manifest against them in order to exterminate them, so that “he will cry, yea, he will shout aloud, he will prove himself mighty against his enemies.” Again, it is written: “Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fighteth in the day of battle” (Zechariah 14:3). Also: “Who is this that cometh from Edom with crimson garments from Bozrah? etc.” (Isaish 63:1).’ AND IT CAME TO PASS, AS HER SOUL WAS IN DEPARTING FOR SHE DIED-THAT SHE CALLED HIS NAME BEN-ONI; BUT HIS FATHER CALLED HIM BENJAMIN. R. Judah discoursed on the verse: The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that take refuge in him (Nahum I, 7). ‘Happy’, he said, ‘is the man who finds his strength in the Holy One, blessed be He, since His strength is invincible. The Lord is indeed “good to all” (Psalm 145:9), “a stronghold”, wherein is salvation, as we read: “He is a stronghold of salvation” (ibid. 28:8); “in the day of trouble”, to wit, in the day of Israel’s oppression at the hand of other nations. Now of him who relaxes his hold of the Holy One, blessed be He, it is written: “If thou art faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is straitened” (Proverbs 24:10), and the only way of holding firmly to God is to hold firmly to the Torah; for whosoever holds firmly to the Torah holds firmly to the tree of life, and, as it were, adds strength to the community of Israel. But if he relaxes his hold of the Torah, then, as it were, he presses hard the Shekinah, which is the strength of the world. Again, when a man relaxes his hold of the Torah and walks in the wrong path, ever so many enemies are ready at hand to act as his accusers in the day of trouble, nay, even his own soul, which is his power and strength, turns against him, and becomes his enemy, so that it may be said of him “thy strength becomes an enemy” (zar=enemy, or straitened).’ Said R. Abba: ‘When a man follows the guidance of the Torah and walks in the straight path, many are the advocates that rise up to say a good word for him. Thus we read: “If there be for him an angel, an intercessor, one among a thousand, to vouch for man’s uprightness; then he is gracious unto him, and saith: Deliver him from the pit, I have found a ransom” (Job 33:23,24).”
Zohar, Bereshith 174a
7 And there came war in the heaven; Michael and his messengers did war against the dragon, and the dragon did war, and his messengers,
With verse 7 we begin to see a transition from a purely ‘Beriatic level’ vision, to one where events “play out” in time.
Traditional commentaries on this “battle” typically convey the idea of a “fight” between these two spiritual entities. However, we know that haSatan’s role is that of “accuser” and this puts a different spin on what is going on “behind the scenes.” This is alluded to in verse 9, where John uses the term “adversary,” and also in verse 10 where he is called, “accuser of our brethren.”
Author Raphael Patai, in his classic work, “The Messiah Texts” puts it as follows:
Part of the contest …- is not a combat between opposing powers … but a legal conflict between Michael, the celestial prince of Israel, and Samael, the celstial prince of Edom-Rome, epitomizing the nations of the world. Samael accuses Israel of the same sins for which Michael demands the punishment of Edom. Finally it is only G-d Himself who can present the clinching argument in defense of His children. This is in keeping with the old Jewish idea that the fate of Israel and the relations between Israel and the nations depend on the degree of piety of Israel.
‘The Messiah Texts,’ Raphael Patai, 1979, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, p. 90.
This idea is found in the Midrashim on Ruth and Exodus:
“AND IT CAME TO PASS, IN THE DAYS THAT THE JUDGES JUDGED (I, 1). R. Johanan introduced his exposition with the verse Hear, O My people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify against thee (Psalm 50:7). R. Johanan said: Evidence is given only in the hearing [of the defendant]. R. Judan b. R. Simon said: In the past, Israel had a name like all the nations, [for instance] And Sabta, and Raamah, and Sabteca (Genesis 10:7); henceforth they are called solely ‘My people’, thus: ’Hear, O My people, and I will speak’: Whence have ye merited to be called ’ My people’ ? From the time of ‘ and I will speak’, from that which ye uttered before Me at Sinai and said, All that the Lord hath spoken will we do, and hearken (Exodus 24:7). R. Johanan said ’ Hear, O My people ‘, to that [which was said] in the past; ‘and I will speak’ in the future; ‘Hear, O My people’ in this world; ’and I will speak’ in the World to Come, in order that I may have a retort to the princes of the nations of the world, who are destined to act as their prosecutors before Me, and say ‘Lord of the Universe, they have served idols and we have served idols; they have been guilty of immorality and we have been guilty of immorality; they have shed blood and we have shed blood. Why do they go into the Garden of Eden while we descend to Gehenna? ‘ In that moment the defender of Israel keeps silence. That is the meaning of the verse And at that time shall Michael stand up (Daniel 12:1). Do they then as a rule sit in Heaven? Did not R. Hanina say, there is no sitting in Heaven, as it is written I came near unto one of ka’amaya (ib. 7:16), the meaning of this word ‘ ka’amaya ‘ being that stood by, as it is written, Above him stood the seraphim (Isaiah 6:2), and it s also written And all the host of heaven standing on His right hand and on His left (2Chronicles 18:18)? And yet the verse says ‘shall [Michael] stand up’!.What then is the meaning here of ’stand up’? ‘Stand silent,’ as it is said, And shall I wait because they speak not, because they stand still, and answer no more? (Job 32:16). And the Holy One, blessed be He, says to him: ‘ Dost thou stand silent and hast no defence to offer for My people? By thy life, I will speak righteousness and save My people! ‘ With what righteousness? R. Eleazar and R. Johanan:-one says: The righteousness which ye wrought for My word in that ye accepted My Torah, for had ye not accepted My Torah, I should have caused the world to revert to void and desolation. For R. Huna said in the name of R. Aha: When the earth and all the inhabitants thereof are dissolved (Psalm 75:4) means that the world would long have gone into dissolution had not Israel stood before Mount Sinai. Who then set the world firmly upon its foundation? I myself establish the pillars of it (ib.). By the merit of ‘I’: I have established its pillars for ever. The other Rabbi says: By the righteousness which ye wrought unto yourselves in that ye accepted my Torah; for were it not for this, I should have caused thee to disappear from the nations.
Midrash Rabbah, Ruth – Prologue I
To what may Michael and Samael be compared? To an intercessor and an accuser before a tribunal: each speaks in turn, and when each has finished the intercessor sees that he has triumphed, and he begins to praise the judge that he may issue his verdict; and when the accuser wishes to add anything, the intercessor says to him: ‘You remain quiet and let us hear the judge.’ So also do Michael and Samael both stand before the Divine Presence; Satan accuses, while Michael points out Israel’s virtues, and when Satan wishes to speak again, Michael silences him, because, as it says: I will hear what G-d the Lord will speak; for He will speak peace unto His people (Ps. 85:9). This is the meaning of: ’In the night I will call to remembrance my song’ (ib. 77:7), referring to the miracle of Hezekiah.
Midrash Rabbah, Exodus 18:5
8 and they did not prevail, nor was their place found any more in the heaven;
The verse speaks of these evil entities being cast out of the heavens (Beriah). See comments to verse 12.
9 and the great dragon was cast forth — the old serpent, who is called `Devil,’ and `the Adversary,’ who is leading astray the whole world — he was cast forth to the earth, and his messengers were cast forth with him.
Verses 9 through 12 make a transition from a thematic Beriatic view, to the physical manifestation of “preordained” events.
The following text discusses how evil “descends” from the “Left” above when Israel’s “faith” falters. The term “Community of Israel” is a reference to both the Shekinah and people of Israel (similar to the “woman” of verse 1 above). Again, we see the idea of events “above” and “below” being directly tied to one another:
“R. Abba discoursed on the passage beginning: “If thou know not, O thou fairest among women”, etc. (Song of Songs 1:8). ‘The Community of Israel’, he said, ‘is she that gathers in from all the camps above, and holds in all that she gathers, letting it escape only by drops like dew, because there is not sufficient faith below. For if She were to find faith as it is found in her, She would pour the light on every side without restraint, and they would give to her also gifts and presents without stint. But it is those of the lower world who restrain them and restrain her, and therefore she is called Azereth (the restrainer). Nevertheless, as a mother gives to her sons in secret and unbeknown, so she does with her children, Israel. We have learnt from the Sacred Lamp [Rabbi Shimon Ben Yohai of the Zohar], that when She ascends to receive delights and dainties, if then there is a blemish in Israel She is separated from her Spouse a fixed number of days. Then it is known above that there is a blemish in Israel and the Left awakens and lets down a thread below. Then Samael quickly rouses himself to assail the world, as it says, “And he called Esau his elder (lit. great) son” (Genesis 27:1). He is indeed great with the camps of the “other side” and he steers all the ships of the sea of accusations with the evil breeze to sink them in the depths of the sea. Now when the Holy One, blessed be He, is in merciful mood, He gives to him all the sins of Israel and he casts them into the depths of the sea-for so his camps are called-and they take them and flow with them to all other peoples. Are, then, the sins and guilt of Israel scattered among their people? The truth is that they wait for gifts from above like a dog at a table, and when G-d takes all the sins of Israel and throws them to them, they think that He is diverting from Israel the gifts which He intended to give them, and giving to them instead, and they straightway rejoice and throw them to the other peoples.”
Zohar, Bemidbar 197a
10 And I heard a great voice saying in the heaven, `Now did come the salvation, and the power, and the reign, of our G-d, and the authority of His Messiah, because cast down was the accuser of our brethren, who is accusing them before our G-d day and night;
See Midrash Rabbah above in verse 7 for the dragon being the “accuser.” Note that the accusations were made “before G-d,” i.e., at the level of the Throne Room (Beriah). The process of rectification of each world (Beriah, Yetzirah, Asiyyah – as mentioned in our earlier chapter notes) is linked directly to the, “coming of the salvation, power and reign of G-d and authority of the Messiah.”
11 and they did overcome him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life — unto death;
See comments on Smyrna in chapter 2 notes regarding those “faithful unto death.” Viewing this as “overcoming” the accusations brought forth by Samael (haSatan), the brethren are able to do this due to a combination of two things:
- the “blood of the lamb”
- the word of their testimony
Two related principles of Judaism come into play here:
- a better atonement provided to others by a tzaddik
- associating oneself with that tzaddik in order to receive this benefit
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatton (the Ramchal) in his classic work, Derech Hashem, states that these concepts are fundamental to Judaism:
“… suffering and pain may be imposed on a tzaddik as an atonement for his entire generation. This tzaddik must then accept this suffering with love for the benefit of his generation, just as he accepts the suffering imposed upon him for his own sake. In doing so, he benefits his generation by atoning for it, and at the same time is himself elevated to a very great degree … In addition, there is a special, higher type of suffering that comes to a tzaddik who is even greater and more highly perfected than the ones discussed above. This suffering comes to provide the help necessary to bring about the chain of events leading to the ultimate perfection of mankind as a whole.”
‘Derech Hashem’ (The Way of G-d), Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem, 1997, p. 122.
The idea of the “shed blood of the tzaddik,” is considered with regard to bringing atonement to others as seen in the Zohar, which directly associates this “one righteous person” with the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 53:
“Why is it that whenever sinners multiply in the world and punishment impends over the world, the virtuous among them are smitten for them, as we have learnt, that for the guilt of the generation the holy and righteous are seized upon? Why should this be? If because they do not reprove mankind for their evil deeds, how many are there who do reprove but are not listened to (though the righteous do humble themselves before them)? If it is in order that there may be no one to shield them, let them not die and let them not be seized for their sins, since it is a satisfaction to the righteous to see their destruction. He replied: It is true that for the guilt of the generation the righteous are seized upon, but we may explain this on the analogy of the limbs of the body. When all the limbs are in pain and suffering from sickness one limb has to be smitten in order that all may be healed. Which is the one? The arm. The arm is smitten and blood is drawn from it, and this is healing for all the limbs of the body. So men are like limbs of one body. When G-d desires to give healing to the world He smites one righteous man among them with disease and suffering, and through him gives healing to all, as it is written, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities… and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. LIII, 5). A righteous man is never afflicted save to bring healing to his generation and to make atonement for it, for the “other side” prefers that punishment should light upon the virtuous man rather than on any other, for then it cares not for the whole world on account of the joy it finds in having power over him.”
Zohar, Bemidbar 218a
Rabbi Nachman drew a picture of close association between these things:
“One who attached himself to the true tzaddikim has true faith. Mashiach is the true tzaddik. One who accepts Mashiach will receive from him pure faith, and will not have misplaced his faith.”
‘Mashiach – Who? What? Why? How? Where? When?,’ Chaim Kramer, Breslov Resarch Institute, Jerusalem, p. 86.
Attaining a ‘better atonement through association with the tzaddik,’ is done by walking according to the Torah. (i.e., 1John 2:3-6, Romans 3:31, Matthew 5:17-21). This is expressed in John chapter 6 via the idea of “drinking his blood and eating his flesh.’ This is a figure of speech related to following Torah as a tzaddik teaches.
This is similar to what we see in the Tanya:
“Since through the knowledge of Torah the Torah is absorbed in the soul and intellect of the person and is encompassed within them, it is therefore called the “bread” and “food” of the soul. Just as physical bread nourishes the body when it is ingested and absorbed within it, and [when] it is transformed there into blood and flesh of one’s own flesh, and only then will the body live and be sustained; similarly, through the knowledge and comprehension of Torah by the soul of a person who studies it well, with the concentration of his intellect, to the point where the Torah is grasped by his mind and is joined with him so that they become one, [the Torah thereby] becomes food for the soul. It becomes inner life for it, from the Fountainhead of life, the blessed Ein Sof, Who is clothed in His wisdom and Torah that are in [the soul] of the Torah student. This is the meaning of the verse, “Your Torah is in my inner parts,”meaning that Torah is food for the soul.”
John makes this clear in verse 17 below, where he plainly refers to the keeping of the Torah’s commandments as a sign of being associated with the Messiah.
12 because of this be glad, ye heavens, and those in them who do tabernacle; wo to those inhabiting the land and the sea, because the Devil did go down unto you, having great wrath, having known that he hath little time.’
Three groups of inhabitants are mentioned here, those of the heavens (Beriah), the land (Asiyyah) and the sea (Yetzirah). The inhabitants of the heavens are made glad by the removal of the evil presence. Those of the lower realms are warned of his “arrival.” This includes the human inhabitants of Asiyyah, as well as the angels of Yetzirah. Again. we are seeing a transition in the text from the world of Beriah to the lower worlds. This is reflected in the three series of judgments.
The following text reflects these themes:
“AND THE SERPENT. R. Isaac said: ‘This is the evil tempter’. R. Judah said that it means literally a serpent. They consulted R. Simeon, and he said to them: ‘Both are correct. It was Samael, and he appeared on a serpent, for the ideal form of the serpent is the Satan. We have learnt that at that moment Samael came down from heaven riding on this serpent, and all creatures saw his form and fled before him. They then entered into conversation with the woman, and the two brought death into the world. Of a surety Samael brought curses on the world through Wisdom and destroyed the first tree that G-d had created in the world. This responsibility rested on Samael until another holy tree came, namely Jacob, who wrested the blessings from him, in order that Samael might not be blessed above and Esau below. For Jacob was the reproduction of Adam, and he had the same beauty as Adam. Therefore as Samael withheld blessings from the first tree, so Jacob, who was such another tree as Adam, withheld blessings, both upper and lower, from Samael; and in doing so Jacob but took back his own. It is written: AND THE SERPENT WAS SUBTLE. This serpent is the evil tempter and the angel of death. It is because the serpent is the angel of death that it brought death to the world.”
Zohar, Bereshith 35b
The idea of evil “intensifying” as its time grows short is described by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in terms of the yetzer hara (evil inclination) which is often synonymous with haSatan:
“The Baal Shem Tov compared the evil inclination’s “last stand” to a warrior who knows his end is near. An enemy who is dying throws everything he has into a last attempt to save the day.”
‘Mashiach – Who? What? Why? How? Where? When?,’Chaim Kramer, Breslov Resarch Institute, Jerusalem, p. 187.
“Horns of an ox” — as is written, (Deut. 33:17) “his horns are like those of an ox, with them he gores nations.” The main idea refers to Mashiach ben Yosef, as the Gaon explains at length in his remarks on this verse (in his work Aderet Eliyahu), for Mashiach ben Yosef is in the line of Joshua, who took part in the war “the Lord wages against Amalek from generation to generation.” The horns of an ox is refer to the war of Gog and Magog, which is divided into many parts, like the parable in the Midrash. In the parable, a king became angry at his son, and swore to throw a huge stone at him. Later on, he regretted what he had said, etc.It’s an important principle that all pain and anguish that Israel suffers because of the nations of the world, generally and well as personally, even more so in connection with the ingathering of the exiles–all these decrease the amount and intensity of suffering during the war of Gog and Magog (see the beginning of the section on Efraim is My fistborn as is known). Happy are you, dear sons of Zion who stand in the breach against savage descendants of Hagar, as promised to us that Mashiach ben Yosef will gore nations, and the Lord will provide the salvation. Now the best and surest path and medicine to lighten, even remove all the tribulations of Gog and Magog and all the tribulations of Eretz Israel, is to correct one’s conduct by setting up people of Truth in the Holy City. This will lead to the redemption of Truth and sanctification of the Holy Name, which are the main purpose of all our deeds during the beginning of the Redemption. We have already explained above that, according to the Gaon, while the footsteps of the Mashiach progress through the ingathering of the exiles, the Sitra Achra becomes stronger and stronger in his main purpose, which is to deny and uproot truth and righteousness, as our Sages have said: “during the footsteps of the Mashiach, truth will be missing” [Sota 49b], etc. In order to counter this, we must act and fight with all our strength with the help of God, to overcome the Sitra Achra with good deeds and with all the corrections, as noted and explained below.”
Kol Hator, chapter 2
“The term “during the footsteps of the Mashiach, ” which is used by our Sages, should be interpreted literally: during the time of the footsteps of the Mashiach and at its high point, i.e., at the height of the activities at the beginning of the Redemption — primarily the ingathering of the exiles, rebuilding Jerusalem, redemption of Truth and sanctification of God’s name, as noted above–during this time the Sitra Achra will become more powerful in attempting to disturb and precipitate failure by uprooting the truth and preventing sanctification of God. This is what is meant by “who taunted the footsteps of Your Mashiach [Ps. 89:52]” How strong is the force of the Sitra Achra that he managed to hide from the eyes of our holy forefathers the danger of the klipot layers: from the eyes of our forefather Abraham, the klipa of Ismael; from the eyes of our forefather Isaac, the klipa of Esau; and from the eyes of our forefather Jacob, the klipa of the terafim. During the footsteps of the Mashiach, the Sitra Achra becomes even stronger, in order to strike Biblical scholars with blindness.”
Kol Hator, chapter 5
Beginning with verse 13, John “repeats” the theme of the dragon seeking to destroy the offspring of the woman and her being protected by G-d — only the scene takes place in the physical realm. In this case, no immediate mention is made of her child being “taken up” to G-d.
13 And when the dragon saw that he was cast forth to the earth, he pursued the woman who did bring forth the male,
14 and there were given to the woman two wings of the great eagle, that she may fly to the wilderness, to her place, where she is nourished a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent;
The reference to a “time,” “times” and “half a time,” may again be understood as related to the “forty-two months” in terms of 1 year, 2 years and a half year. the woman is said to protected from the “face” of the serpent, which again is allusion to its physical manifestation.
The “wilderness” mentioned in verse 14 may include an area outside of Israel as the Shekinah is said to follow Israel outside of the land with regard to protecting them:
”Jacob said when he saw them, etc.” (Genesis 32:3). It was from these angels that he sent a mission to Esau, as it says: “And Jacob sent angels” (mal’akhim).’ R. Isaac said: ‘Why, in one place in the Psalms does it say “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him and delivereth them” (Psalm 34:8), in the singular, and in another place, “For he will give his angels charge over thee” (ibid. 91:11), in the plural? The reason is that the term “angels” is a reference to angels proper, whereas in the verse: “The angel of the Lord encampeth”, the reference is to the Shekinah, as in the verse: “And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush” (Exodus 3:2). Thus “the angel of the Lord encampeth round about those who fear him” to deliver them; and when the Shekinah abides within a man, ever so many holy legions rally round him. David uttered this verse when he escaped from Achish the king of Gath, because the Shekinah encompassed him and delivered him from Achish and his people, and all those who assailed him. It is written in the same connection: “And he feigned himself mad (vayitholel) in their hands” (ISamuel 21:14). The term vayitholel here, in place of the more usual vayishtagea’, contains an allusion to the kindred term used formerly by David when he said: “For I was envious of the madmen (holelim)” (Psalm 52:3). G-d thus said in effect to David: “As thou livest, since thou enviest madmen, thou thyself wilt yet be driven to play the madman”; and so it came to pass when he was brought before Achish and his life was in danger; he then “feigned himself mad (vayitholel) in their hand”, that is, he behaved like one of those madmen (holelim) whom he had once envied; and only then did the Shekinah come to his rescue. How, it may be asked, could this be, seeing that the Shekinah abides only in her own heritage, the Holy Land? The answer is that from there only she bestows blessings, but for purposes of protection she is to be found elsewhere also. So here, when Jacob departed from Laban, all the holy legions surrounded him, so that he was not left by himself.”
Zohar, Bereshith 166a
15 and the serpent did cast forth after the woman, out of his mouth, water as a river, that he may cause her to be carried away by the river,
In kabbalistic literature, “water” is often an allusion to the “watery” mixed realm of Yetzirah. The concept of “rivers” has to do with the idea of transmission of power from a higher to lower realm:
Another reason why he told him to perform the miracle of the serpent was because Pharaoh was like a serpent, as it is said: The great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers (Ezekiel 29:3).
Midrash Rabbah, Exodus 9:4
R. Hiya asked R. Jose: ‘As the Holy One knew that the Egyptian magicians were able to turn their rods into serpents, why did He command Moses and Aaron to perform this sign before Pharaoh? There was nothing wonderful in this to him.’ R. Jose replied: ‘Pharaoh’s dominion originated with the Serpent, and therefore his punishment commenced with the serpent. When the magicians saw it they rejoiced because they knew that they could do the same, but then Aaron’s serpent turned into a dry rod again, as it says, “and Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods”. Then they were astonished, realizing that there was a superior Power on earth. Thus Aaron showed in fact a double sign, one above and one below: one above, by showing to Pharaoh that there was a higher Serpent which ruled over theirs, and one below by making wood subdue their serpents. Do not think that the magicians’ performance was mere make-believe: their rods actually did “become serpents”. It is written: “Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon (tanin) that lies in the midst of his rivers” (Ezekiel 29:4). It is from there that the Egyptian magicians derived their power of witchcraft, but the source of their wisdom was the lowest of all grades.’ Observe that their wisdom consisted in subjecting the lowest grades to higher grades, the chiefs of their dominion. These in turn derive their power from the Dragon underneath whom they are situated, as is indicated by the phrase, “who is behind the mill “ (Exodus 11:5).
Zohar, Shemoth 28a
The following text delves deeper into the theme of “dragons and rivers,” decribing a total of ten dragons and ten rivers. This may be seen as associated with the ten horns of the dragon mentioned in verse 3:
“R. Simeon continued: ‘It is now fitting to reveal mysteries connected with that which is above and that which is below. Why is it written here, “Come (bo) unto Pharaoh”? Ought it not rather to have said “go” (lekh)? It is to indicate that the Holy One, blessed be He, guided Moses through a labyrinth right into the abode of a certain supernal mighty dragon-that is to say, Egypt’s celestial representative – from whom many lesser dragons emanate. Moses was afraid to approach him, because his roots are in supernal regions, and he only approached his subsidiary streams. When the Holy One saw that Moses feared the dragon, and that none of the supernal messengers was able to overcome him, He proclaimed: “Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon (tanim) that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said: My river is my own, and I have made it for myself” (Ezekiel 29:3). Yea, truly, the Lord Himself had to war against this dragon, and no lesser being. This is the mystery of the “great dragon” for those who are familiar with the esoteric lore.’ Said R. Simeon further: ‘It is written: “And G-d created the great dragons (taninim) and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind” (Genesis 1:21). This verse’, he said, ‘we have already discussed, but the words “He created the great dragons” contain a yet more special and particular mystery: they refer to the Leviathan and his mate, which last was slain and is preserved by the Holy One for the regaling of the righteous (in the days of the Messiah). The great dragon reposes between nine rivers, the waters of which are turbulent; and there is a tenth river whose waters are calm, and into the depth of which the blessings of the waters of Paradise descend three times a year. Into this river the dragon enters, making there his habitation; and thence he sallies forth and swims down to the sea, and devours there fish of all kinds, and then returns again to the river. The nine swift rivers are banked by trees and fringed with flowers. The parent river issued from the Left Side and from it three drops fell into a certain channel, and each of the three was divided again into three, and every drop became a river. These are the nine rivers which flow through all the firmaments. And from the final moisture that remained when all the drops had issued forth yet another drop was formed, which issued gently, and of this drop was formed that tenth river, which flows calmly. Into this river also flows a drop from the blessings poured forth from the Right side by the “perennially flowing stream”, and it is greater than all the rest. When the four rivers which flow out of the Garden of Eden divide, the one called Pison flows into and is fused with the calm tenth river of which we have spoken. Out of the calm river, thus augmented, are fed and filled all the other rivers; in each of which a dragon dwells, so that the number of the dragons is nine. And each of these nine has a hole in his head, and the great dragon as well, because each of them emits breath upwards and not downwards. It is written: “In the beginning G-d created…” and also “And G-d created the great dragons”. This indicates that all the ten acts of Creation had their counterpart in these ten rivers, on each of which one of the dragons breathes heavily. Now, that great dragon, when he raises his fins, heaves up the waters around him, and all the earth is shaken and all the lesser dragons, and this takes place every seventy years.’ Said R. Simeon: ‘Verily, though the members of the Fellowship are students of the story of Creation, having knowledge of its wonders and perception of the paths of the Holy One, blessed be He, yet even among them there are few who know how to interpret it in connection with the mystery of the great dragon.”
Zohar, Shemoth 34a, 34b
16 and the land did help the woman, and the land did open its mouth and did swallow up the river, that the dragon did cast forth out of his mouth;
The following texts link G-d “swallowing up death” to His removal of the power of the serpent which seeks to polute Israel:
“Therefore a man should be on his guard on every side against the side of this evil serpent, which otherwise will gain the better of him. G-d has promised one day to remove it from this world, as it is written, “I will cause the unclean spirit to pass out of the land” (Zechariah 13:2), and also “He will swallow up death for ever” (Isaiah 25:8).’
Zohar, Bereshith 54a
“The Holy One, blessed be He, will one day sweep away the unclean spirit, as it is written, “And the unclean spirit I will cause to pass out of the land” (Zechariah 13:2), and further, “He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord G-d will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people will he take away from off all the earth, for the Lord hath spoken it” (Isaiah 25:8). The Holy One, blessed be He, will also one day restore the moon to its full light, and dissipate the darkness brought on her by the evil serpent, as it is written, “And the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of the seven days” (Ibid. 30:26), the reference here being to the primordial light which the Holy One, blessed be He, stored away during the period of the creation.”
Zohar, Bereshith 70b
17 and the dragon was angry against the woman, and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, those keeping the commands of G-d, and having the testimony of Yeshua the Messiah.
The “keeping of the commands of G-d” (the Torah) is of paramount importance with regard to protection during these dark times:
“R. Hiya and R. Hizkiah were once sitting underneath a tree in the field of Ono. R. Hiya fell into a slumber and beheld Elijah. He said to him: ‘The whole field is illumined with your presence.’ Elijah answered: ‘I am come to tell you that Jerusalem is about to be laid waste together with all the towns of the sages, for the reason that Jerusalem is the embodiment of judgement, and is preserved by judgement, and now judgement demands its destruction; and Samael has already been given power over it and over its mighty ones. I have therefore come to advise the sages thereof so that they may try to obtain for Jerusalem some years of grace. For so long as knowledge of the Torah is found therein it will be spared, the Torah being the tree of life by which all live. But when the study of the Torah ceases below, the tree of life disappears from the world. Hence so long as the sages cling to the Torah, Samael has no power over them, as Scripture says: “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau” (Genesis 27:22). The voice is the Torah, which is termed the voice of Jacob, and so long as that voice pours forth, the utterance also dominates and prevails (over the hands of Esau). Hence the study of the Torah should never cease.”
Zohar, Bereshith 151a