As mentioned, Revelation is so rich in deep Torah concepts, we will expound on each as they come up rather than relegate them to footnotes. Some will be partially addressed in their first mention with additional aspects discussed in subsequent appearances. (We will be going down some interesting ‘rabbit holes’ in the chapters ahead.)
Chapter 5 is a continuation of themes from the previous one. Again, many spiritual concepts are found beneath the level of the literal text, most dealing in some way with the theme of Yichud Hashem – ‘Unification of the Name’ (of G-d). As mentioned, John’s vision at this point is at the level of the world of Beriah (Creation), which is that of the, “Throne Room of G-d” and “Forces/Powers” of Creation. These are also called “arch-angels” and resemble the idea of archetypes – an original form, image or pattern, which exists irrespective of (or ‘outside of’) time.
Things which are clearly differentiated by space, time, function, or other factors in the physical world, will appear greatly unified at this level. Without knowledge of the ‘four worlds of existence,‘ it is very easy to err at this level of revelation.
For instance, in this account of the four sages who went on a famous ‘spiritual journey,’ it speaks of ‘water not really being water’:
Four entered the Orchard (Pardes). They were Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher and Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva warned them, “When you enter near the stone of pure marble, do not say ‘water, water,’ since it is written, ‘He who speaks falsehood will not be established before My eyes’ (Psalms 101:7).”
Talmud, Chagigah 14b
We even find this reflects in a popular song by Matisyahu:
In the spiritual desert things are not what they seem.
Snakes camouflaged just fit the scene.
Put your faith in a mirage it’s just a smoke screen.
The king is sitting on his throne of glory.
“Chop ‘Em Down,” Matisyahu
John’s revelation from the beginning (chapter 1) is said to be from the messiah. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught that the ‘soul of Mashiach’ is unique, and originates from the level of Keter (Atik), the loftiest point of creation. Any vision from this source would transcend time.
“The Keter (Crown – here referring to Arikh Anpin, “The infinitely Patient One”) is the loftiest Parfutz (personification). But the ARI writes, Keter actually has two levels, a lower level corresponding to Arikh Anpin and an upper level, the intellect of Arikh Anpin, which corresponds to Atik. Atik is referred to in the holy writings by several names: Atik (“The Ancient One”), Atik Yomin (“The Ancient of Days”), Atika Kadisha (“The Holy Ancient One”). … The connection between Mashiach and Atik is learned from Daniel’s vision: “A man came and he approached (the level of) the Ancient of Days …” Rashi explains that this refers to Mashiach, who will minister justice to the entire world. … Atik thus transcends anything that we can conceive — giving and receiving, right and left, reward and punishment, and so on. At this level there is neither past or future. Everything is in the present. And, as we have seen, every part of Creation, from the first constriction, until the lowest level of the world of Asiyah, is contained within Keter. Thus Atik includes all time and space — yet transcends it all. The soul of Mashiach “resides” within Atik, and it is from this level that all his powers will be drawn. And, since he transcends time and space, Mashiach can transcend every transgression ever committed and rectify it — for since he can transcend everything ever done, he can bring each person to a state prior to his having sinned. … With this power inherent in this exalted level, Mashiach will be able to bring the world to a state of perfection.
… “This is absolutely necessary, for Mashiach must be able to transcend anything and everything in the world – even and especially all evil that was ever perpetrated – to rectify and perfect all mankind.”
From “Mashiach – Who? What? Why? How? Where? When?,” Chaim Kramer, Breslov Resarch Institute, Jerusalem, pp. 18, 208,209
And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals.
The “right hand” of G-d is generally associated with His mercy (i.e., the Sefirah of Chesed). With regard to what follows in John’s vision, it may at first seem that this is not the case, as the opening of the scroll is the beginning of judgment (Gevurah) generally associated with the left. The explanation for this is that G-d’s judgment and His mercy are not ‘distinct.’ A simple example is where we are told that, “He chastises those He loves.”
In fact, each Sefirah has aspects of all the others within it, We experience this when counting the Omer at Shavuot. (See the resource on the Aish web site for an excellent guide to the Omer count.)
The Zohar mentions the idea of the two hands of G-d working as one in its commentary on how He dealt with Egypt in the book of Exodus. It also links this idea to another Divine action that will come at the end of days (the “Day of the Lord”):
“All the ten punishments which the Holy One brought on Egypt were achieved by the power of one “hand”, for the “left hand” is included in the right, the ten fingers forming one entity in correspondence to the Ten expressions by which the Holy One is designated. Then came a punishment which was equal to all the rest, that of the sea: “The last one was the hardest” (Isaiah 8:23). And in the future the Holy One will deal similarly with all the hosts, princes and chieftains of Edom (Rome), as it is written: “Who is he who comes from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save” (Isaiah 43:1).”
Zohar, Shemoth 56a
The Zohar goes on to associate the action of the right and left hands of G-d with the time of Messiah’s arrival:
“THY RIGHT HAND, O LORD, GLORIFIED IN POWER, THY RIGHT HAND DASHES IN PIECES THE ENEMY. The form “ne’ddari” (glorified) instead of “ne’ddar” suggests a plural, referring as it does to the joining of the Left Hand with the Right. Said R. Simeon: ‘It is as we have explained. Just as man was divided physically, in order that he should receive a wife and both together form one body, so the Right Hand was divided, as it were, in order that it might take unto itself the Left and both become one, and therefore it is that G-d smites and heals with one and the same Hand. Note that this whole song has a reference both to the time of its composition and to the future; hence it does not say “hath dashed”, but “dashes” (tirtaz, lit. will dash), i.e. w hen the Messiah shall arise. The same applies to the following verse: “In the fulness of thy majesty thou wilt overthrow (taharos) thine opponents; thou wilt send forth (teshalah) thy wrath; it will devour them like stubble.” Thus the words, “Thy right hand, O Lord, glorified in power”, refers to this time, to this world; the words “Thy right hand will dash the enemy” to the time of the Messiah; “ln the fullness of thy majesty thou wilt overthrow thine opponents” to the time of Gog and Magog; “Thou wilt send forth thy wrath, it will devour them like stubble” to the time of the resurrection, of which it says, “and many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). Blessed are those who will be left in the world at that time.”
Zohar, Shemoth 57b
This idea is also reflected in the following verses from Song of Songs (Song of Solomon), where G-d’s right and left arms work together.
“His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me. Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”
Song of Songs 2:6-7
The Zohar interprets the above verse in light of the end of days, and offers this interesting commentary:
“Then said R. Simeon: ‘Eleazar, my son! Thou can find all this in the mystery of the thirty-two paths of the Holy Name. Before these wonders have taken place in the world, the mystery of the Holy Name will not be manifested in perfection and love will not be awakened: “Ye daughters of Jerusalem, I adjure you by the gazelles and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake the love until she pleases.” The “gazelles” (zebaoth) symbolize the king, who is called Zebaoth; the “hinds” represent those other principalities and powers from below; “that ye stir not up, etc.” refers to the “Right Hand” of the Holy One, called “Love”; “until she pleases”, namely She (the Shekinah) who lies at present in the dust and in whom the King is well pleased. Blessed be he who will be found worthy to live at that time! Blessed will he be both in this world and in the world to come.”
Zohar, Shemoth 9a
Song of Songs is a deeply mystical text concerning the reunion of the groom (the Sefirah of Tiferet) and bride (the Sefirah or Malkut, also the Shekinah/divine presence), which represents G-d and Israel (with the Shekinah among them). The text is even called “Holy of Holies” by the sages. (See Zohar citation in notes to verse 9 below, on the subject of “singing.”)
In the following section of the Zohar, it speaks of the Torah of Sinai coming from a combination of the merciful right hand and judgmental left hand of G-d. Here, the color black is associated with “tempered judgment,” (as opposed to the color red, which is linked to unmitigated judgment). The text links Song of Songs to a number of related themes, including; the Jubilee (Yovel) which is the Sefirah of Binah/Understanding and heavenly “mother” (i.e., Galatians 4:26), and”father,” (which is Chokmah), and “son” (which is Tiferet or all of Ze’ir Anpin) — the latter bearing the colors white, red and green, symbolic of Metatron and Tiferet:
“When the Israelites received the Torah the Jubilee crowned the Holy One, blessed be He, even as a king is crowned in the midst of his host, as it says, “Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and behold King Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals” (Song of Songs 3:11). Who is His “mother”? The Jubilee. And the Jubilee crowned itself with perfect joy, as it is written: “The mother of the children rejoiced” (Psalm 113).’ R. Judah said: ‘Concerning this it is written: “Thy father and thy mother shall be glad, and she that bore thee shall rejoice” (Proverbs 23:25).’ Said R. Isaac: ‘In the hour when the Holy One, blessed be He, revealed Himself on Mount Sinai, that mountain began mightily to shake and all the other hills and high places of the earth trembled in accord with it, so that they heaved and quaked until the Holy One stretched out His hand and calmed them, and a voice was heard: “What aileth thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest, and thou Jordan that thou wast driven back? Ye mountains that ye skipped like rams, and ye hills like young sheep?” And the answer was: “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the G-d of Jacob” (Psalm 114:5-7). Now, “the Lord” in this verse refers to the “Mother” (Binah); “earth”, to the “Mother” below (Malkut); “the G-d of Jacob”, to the Father (Chokmah), whose “firstborn son is Israel” (Exodus 4:23), whom “his mother crowned in the day of his espousals”: she crowned him with the symbolic colours, white, red, and green, in which all other colours are included, and in him they were all united.’ According to R. Judah, the “crown” symbolizes Israel, who is G-d’s glory, as it is written :”Israel, in whom I am glorified” (Isaiah 44:3); “and I will glorify the house of my glory” (Ibid. 40:7). Said R. Isaac: ‘The Torah was manifested in a black fire which was superimposed upon a white fire, signifying that by means of the Torah the “Right Hand” clasped the “Left Hand” that the two might be fused, as it is written: “from his right hand a fiery law to them” (Deuteronomy 33:2).’ Said R. Abba: ‘When the smoke came out of Mount Sinai a fire ascended enveloped therein, so that its flames were of a blue colour. They flared high and dwindled again, and the smoke emitted all the aromas of Paradise, displaying itself in the colours of white, red, and black, as it says, “perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant” (Song of Songs 3:6). It was the Shekinah who manifested Herself thus at the giving of the Law in the wilderness on Mount Sinai, as it says, “Who is this (zoth) that cometh up from the wilderness like pillars of smoke?” (Ibid.)’ Said R. Judah: ‘But surely it is not necessary to go so far afield to discover this. Have we not the direct statement that “Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire, and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace” (Exodus 19:18)? Blessed were the people who beheld this wondrous thing and apprehended the mystery thereof!’Said R. Hiya: ‘When the letters were engraved upon the two tablets of stone they were visible on both sides of the tablets. The tablets were of sapphire stone, and the letters were formed of white fire and covered again with black fire, and were engraved upon both sides.’ According to R. Abba, the tablets were not engraved, but the letters fluttered on to them, being visible in two colours of fire, white and black, in order to demonstrate the union of Right and Left, as it is written, “length of days is in her right hand and in her left hand is riches and honour” (Proverbs 3:16). But are we not told that “from his right hand (came) a fiery law to them” (Deuteronomy 33:2)? The truth is that although the Torah emanated from the side of Power-that is the Left-the Left Side was included in the Right, and thus Justice was tempered by Mercy, which was symbolized by the two fires: white for Mercy, black for Power and Severity. It is written: “And the tablets were the work of G-d” (Exodus 32:18). They were indeed so, for, as R. Judah said: ‘The word ha-luhoth (the tablets) being written in a defective form, indicates that although they were two they appeared like one, and the Ten Words were engraved upon them, one section of five being included in, or superimposed on, the other five, so that they should be included in the emanations of the Right Side, that is, of Mercy; and in this way they were indeed the very “work of G-d’.”
Zohar, Shemoth, Page 84a
The one coming from the desert in Song of Songs (above) it the same one coming from Botzrah, as seen in Isaiah 63. This passage also speaks of the end times and redemption, alluding to G-d’s judgment (i.e., “Thou hardenest our heart from Thy fear”), in the context of His mercy.
“…of Him who is sitting upon the throne a scroll, written within and on the back,”
Previous references in the Tenakh, also associate the idea of a scroll with the themes of warning,repentance, judgment, and the Temple:
- In the book of Ezra (chapters 5 and 6) a scroll is found containing the decree of King Cyrus to rebuild the Temple.
- In Isaiah chapter 30, G-d’s judgment against rebellious Israel is recorded on a scroll.
- Isaiah 34:4 speaks of the heavens being rolled up like a scroll (i.e., Revelation 6:14) due to the anger of the Lord against the nations. G-d’s sword is specifically said to come down upon Edom (Isaiah 34:5).
- In Jeremiah 36 and 37 the prophet is told to issue G-d’s warning and call for repentance on a scroll, which is destroyed by the King, who then receives G-d’s curse in a second scroll.
- Ezekiel (chapters 2 and 3) is told to “eat of the scroll” that has writing on both sides. The eating of the scroll is associated with Ezekiel receiving and accepting the Word of G-d (Ezekiel 3:10). John has a similar experience in Revelation 10:8-10.
- In Zechariah 5, the prophet is shown a scroll that represents a curse going out to the nations. G-d makes it a point to mention that this curse is going out against, “the house of the one who swears falsely by My name.” (Zechariah 5:4) This is an important point later in the study. This scroll accompanies a basket, which is described as wickedness that goes out throughout the earth, having it “base” set in Shinar, which is in Babylon (Zechariah 5:5-11).
“…sealed with seven seals;”
As mentioned in earlier parts of this study, the number seven is associated with both the idea of “completion” (in the physical world), and the lower seven Sefirot. (See comment from Pinchas Winston in section on the Moedim, below.)
And I saw a strong messenger crying with a great voice, `Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose the seals of it?’
The theme of unity in relation to the ‘voice of G-d,’ is the focus of this enigmatic Zohar passage and again, critical to keep in mind moving forward.
“The Voice speaks to the Utterance, there being no voice without utterance. This Voice is sent from a deep recess above in order to guide the Utterance, the two being related as general and particular. The Voice issues from the south and speaks to the west, inheriting two sides, and therefore Moses said to Naphtali: “Possess thou the west and the south” (Deuteronomy 33:23). Observe that Thought is the beginning of all. This Thought is recondite and inscrutable, but when it expands it reaches the place where spirit abides and is then called Understanding (Binah), which is not so recondite as the preceding. This spirit expands and produces a Voice composed of fire, water, and air, which corresponds to north, south, and east. This Voice embraces in itself all forces, and speaks to Utterance, and this shapes the word properly. When you examine the grades closely, you find that Thought, Understanding, Voice, Utterance are all one and the same, and there is no separation between them, and this is what is meant by the words: “The Lord is one and His Name is One.”
Zohar, Bereshith, Page 246b
And no one was able in the heaven, nor upon the earth, nor under the earth, to open the scroll, nor to behold it.
The latter of the three ‘places’ mentioned (‘under the earth’) would likely be referring to the souls in gehenna.
“The fire of the Gehenna which is below comes from the Gehenna which is above, and is kindled by the heat of the sinners in whom the evil inclination burns, and there all the piles burn.”
Zohar, Shemot 150b
“A judge should always imagine himself as if he had a sword lying between his thighs, and Gehenna was open beneath him.”
Talmud, Yevamoth 109b
The soul of Mashiach emanates from the highest realms, and is thus able to connect with all levels of creation to bring rectification:
“Keter actually has two levels, a lower level corresponding to Arikh Anpin and an upper level, the intellect of Arikh Anpin, which corresponds to Atik (“The Ancient One”), Atik Yomin (“The Ancient of Days”), Atika Kadisha (“The Holy Ancient One”). … The connection between Mashiach and Atik is learned from Daniel’s vision: “A man came and he approached (the level of) the Ancient of Days.” Rashi explains that this refers to Mashiach, who will administer justice to the entire world. … Atik thus transcends anything we can conceive … at this level there is neither past nor future. Everything is in the present. And, as we have seen, every part of Creation, from the first constriction to the lowest level of Asiyah, is contained within the Keter Atik. Thus, Atik includes all time and space – yet transcends it all. The soul of Mashiach “resides” within Atik, and it is from this level that all his powers will be drawn. And, since he transcends time and space, Mashiach can transcend every transgression ever done, he can bring each person to a state prior to his having sinned. This is because in Keter, G-d overrides the rules that He set up for all the Sefirot and their interaction between each other and man. With the power inherent in this exalted level, Mashiach will be able to bring the world to a state of perfection.”
‘Mashiach – Who? What? Why? How? Where? When?,’ Chaim Kramer, Breslov Research Institute, Jerusalem, 1998, pp. 208-209.
And I was weeping much, because no one was found worthy to open and to read the scroll, nor to behold it,
As mentioned, although the opening of the seals releases judgment, these judgments are wrapped in G-d’s mercy and the opportunity for repentance (i.e., Revelation 9:20-21; 16:9-11), all of which leads to the coming of His Kingdom and fulfillment of His promises to those who come to trust and obey (i.e., Revelation 14:12; 22:14).
And one of the elders saith to me, `Weep not; lo, overcome did the Lion, who is of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, to open the scroll, and to loose the seven seals of it;
The reference to the Lion of Judah goes back to Jacob’s prophecy from the book of Genesis, one containing several Messianic references:
“Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s children shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; And as a lion, who shall rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people. Binding his donkey to the vine, And his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, He washed his garments in wine, And his clothes in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, And his teeth whiter than milk.”
And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of G-d sent forth into all the earth.
“.. and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb hath stood as it had been slain”
The same entity called a lion in verse 5 is now called a lamb. This relates to the idea of ‘joining of opposites.’ Note that John also sees the Lamb as being in the midst of the throne (verse 6) as well as separate from the one in the throne in one verse (verse 7). As mentioned, the great theme of this chapter is the unity of G-d when He is perceived at the higher realms.
As stated by Rabbi Moshe Miller:
“… the higher the world or plane of reality, the greater the unity and infinity of G-d that is revealed or manifest there. Nevertheless, since all worlds are the result of a constriction and lessening of the Infinite Light (the Eyn Sof), they are all, in one sense or another, limited and defined. That is to say, the revelation of G-d is less or more limited, depending on which world is referred to. Therefore the word for “world” in Hebrew, “olam,” is etymologically related to the word “he’elem,” meaning hiddeness, or concealment — referring to the concealment of G-d’s Infinite Light, so that in the higher worlds the Infinite Light is more revealed, and in the lower worlds the Infinite Light is less revealed.”
‘Zohar: Selections translated and annotated by Moshe Miller,’ Moshe L. Miller, Fiftieth Gate Publications and Seminars, Morristown, NJ, 2000, p.39.
Author Daniel Matt puts it even more succinctly:
“At the deepest levels of divinity, all opposites and distinctions vanish, overwhelmed by oneness.” … “There is a secular world and a holy world, secular worlds and holy worlds. These worlds contradict one another. The contradiction, of course, is subjective. In our limited perception we cannot reconcile the sacred and the secular, we cannot harmonize their contradictions. Yet at the pinnacle of the universe they are reconciled, at the site of the holy of holies.”
‘The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism,’ Daniel C. Matt, HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1996, pp.154,167
… having seven horns … and seven eyes, which are the Seven Spirits of G-d, which are sent to all the earth
The “seven eyes” are said to be the seven Spirits of G-d, which are associated with the lower seven Sefirot. These lower seven are more associated with ‘earthly things’ when spoken of separately from the structure of ten.
Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh states:
“There are seven eyes of G-d that transverse the entire earth.” This metaphor portrays G-d’s Providence as “contracted” and revealed through the “eyes” of the seven lower sefirot, which, in the soul of man, correspond to the seven attributes of the heart, the seven ways of serving G-d.”
‘The Hebrew Letters, Channels of Creative Consciousness,’ Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, Gal Einai Publications, Jerusalem, 1990, p. 119.
The following teaching from Rabbi Ginsburgh expounds on the theme of the eyes of G-d, associating them as well to the righteous ones who serve Him.
“The word for “tree” in Hebrew, etz, is composed of two letters: ayin and tzadik. Ayin means “eye”; tzadik means the “righteous one.” Each and every Jew is in essence a tzadik, as it is said: “And your people are all tzadikim, they shall forever inherit the land, they are the sprout which I have planted, the workings of My hands in which to take pride.” The potential tzadik inherent, though initially latent, in every Jew becomes activated when the “eye” of the Torah enters his consciousness and becomes part of him. Just as the Torah is the “tree of [eternal] life,” so does the tzadik, when connected and one with the “eye” of the Torah, become a “tree of [eternal] life.” This is the secret of the word “tree,” etz–ayin (“eye”) tzadik (“righteous one”). And so do we find in Psalms: “The eyes [einei] of G-d are to the righteous [tzadikim].” To each potential tzadik G-d gives His “eyes,” His ability to look into the Torah (the secret of the insight of His “right eye”) and His ability to thereby create (and rectify) reality (the secret of the power of His ‘left eye’).”
‘A Torah Message for the Month of Shevat: The Tree of Life, The Tree – Man and the Torah,’ Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, http://www.inner.org/times/shevat/shevat58.htm.
The concept of eyes is an anthropomorphism related also to G-d’s ‘view’ of everything in Creation:
“The Hebrew noun ayin can mean the physical organ we call an eye, but it can also refer to one’s attention. [I, 44] An example of this occurs in Jeremiah 39:12. The verse says “take him and place your eyes on him….” Obviously, Nebuchadnezzar was not instructing the captain of his guards to pluck out his own eyes and to place them on Jeremiah. He was telling him to watch Jeremiah and “place your eyes” is a metaphor for “pay attention.”
Anthropomorphism of God in the Torah, Rabbi Jack Abramowitz, https://www.ou.org/torah/machshava/the-god-papers/1-anthropomorphism-god-torah/
The concept of a spiritual “lamb” immediately draws a connection to Passover, one of the ‘moedim,’ the “feasts of the Lord” found in Leviticus 23. Here however, we have the ‘Lamb’ of G-d being worthy to unleash judgment from above – rather a strange idea in terms of Passover’s typical themes. It is important to keep in mind that the three sets of judgments in Revelation have the purpose of atonement – that is bringing things back to their intended unity.
As given in the Torah of Sinai, these “Appointed Times” took place throughout the year, involved very different commandments, and seemed to have little in common. However, at a deeper level, the Moedim are shown to be unified in purpose and how they are portrayed.
“The Arizal teaches that the whole concept of Passover provides the Jews with a method of rectifying Adam’s sin.”
‘Passover Thoughts: The Rectification of Adam’s Sin,’ from ‘The Aryeh Kaplan Reader’ p. 112, Mesorah Publications 1985.
Another lesser-known understanding of Passover associates it with a “limited” defeat of the evil realm though its victory over death:
“If the Days of Awe and Sukkot are part of a process of unification, Pesah (Passover) is a theurgic drama of vanquishing of evil and demonic forces … Jewish mystics invested the holiday with special significance. For them it symbolized a victory over the demonic forces that prevail in the world as a result of the separation of Malkut and Tiferet. … The many rituals of Pesah are linked to the symbolism of redemption from evil. The paschal lamb was slaughtered in ancient times and eaten on the holiday. A vestige of this practice, which was abandoned after the destruction of the second Temple, can be found in the roasted shankbone that is placed on a special plate at the seder table. Jewish mystics describe this as a theurgic ritual that destroys the powers of evil. … The slaughter of the lamb is the first ritual performed on the holiday and indicates that the “husks” must be destroyed in order for the Sefirot to escape from their dominion. … The seder is a theurgic ritual designed to reunite the Shekinah with Tiferet.”
‘The Mystic Quest, An Introduction to Jewish Mysticism,’ David S. Ariel, Jason Aronson publishers, London, 1988, pp. 157-159.
The seven-week period between Passover and the Feasts of Weeks (Shavuot), called the counting of the Omer, is a time of learning and preparation. Shavuot, coming on the 50th day, is the time of reward – the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
One does note get to the end (Shavuot) without having a beginning (Passover). As Rabbi Pinchas Winston states:
“Pesach, specifically Seder Night, is a once-in-a-year opportunity. It is as if G-d, on that night, picks us up and places us in His hand, and raises us up high so that we can see life more the way G-d does. In fact, the first night of Pesach is like the night of Shavuos, when G-d came down and revealed Himself to the Jewish people, with one very big difference. And that is, whereas Shavuos comes at the end of a process, Leil Seder comes in advance of it. Shavuos and “Kabbalos HaTorah” (receiving of the Torah) comes after forty-nine days of Omer-Counting. It is the fiftieth day, which corresponds to the fiftieth gate of the “Fifty Gates of Understanding.” Like the number eight, the number fifty represents rising above physicality, which is represented by the number seven. In other words, the first night of Pesach is a tremendous gift. It is a taste of spiritual perfection, of closeness to G-d so intense that the yetzer hara is completely neutralized by awe of G-d. It is a night on which one can, if taken seriously, gain a taste of the final and eternal redemption, when the yetzer hara will be no more and mitzvos will be performed purely out of love for G-d and Torah. Then, by the next morning after the Seder, G-d gently returns us back to our former realities, with the commandment to count the Omer on the following eve, in order to build for ourselves what was given to us for free the night before. After forty-nine days of Omer-Counting, on the fiftieth day and on holiday of Shavuos itself, we are supposed to have risen back up to the level of Leil Seder. However, since we have earned it this time, it is a higher experience than what we underwent then without making an effort.”
‘Perceptions on the Parsha, Parashas Tzav, The Supreme Sacrifice,’ Rabbi Pinchas Winston,http://www.torah.org/learning/perceptions/5761/tzav.html.
The Zohar links the offerings asked for by G-d (to Moses when he ascended the mountain), to the Moedim, and states that these Feasts all point to the seventh day, (i.e. Exodus 24:16), and are “united” above with the Supernal Sabbath:
“GOLD AND SILVER, AND BRASS, AND BLUE AND PURPLE, AND SCARLET, AND FINE LINEN, AND GOATS’ HAIR, AND RAMS’ SKINS DYED RED, AND SEALSKINS, AND ACACIA WOOD. Gold symbolizes New Year’s Day, the day of “gold”, because it is a day of judgement, and the side of judgement, symbolized by gold, dominates it; as it is written, “gold cometh from the north” (Job 37:22), and “evil will be opened from the north” (Jeremiah 6:2). Silver symbolizes the Day of Atonement, when the sins of Israel are made “white as snow” (Isaiah 1:I8), for “on that day shall he make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord” (Leviticus 16:30). Brass is symbolic of the days of the Sacrifices of the Feast of Tabernacles, which alluded to the powers and principalities of the heathen nations, who are designated “mountains of brass”. “Blue” (techeleth) corresponds to Passover, which established the dominance of the true object of Faith, symbolized by the colour blue, which could predominate only after the punishment of the firstborn of Egypt was accomplished. So all colours seen in dreams are of good omen, except blue. “Red-purple” (argaman) is connected with Pentecost, symbolizing the giving of the written Law, consisting of two sides, of the Right and of the Left, as it is written: “From his right hand went a fiery law unto them” (Deuteronomy 33:2). “Scarlet” (tola’ath shani) is connected with the fifteenth day of Ab, a day on which the daughters of Israel used to walk forth in silken dresses. So far six symbolic elements have been enumerated; the rest symbolize the Ten Days of Repentance: [Tr. note: From New Year to the Day of Atonement.] fine linen, goats’ hair, rams, skins dyed red, seal (tahash) skins, acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the incense, beryls and set jewels. These are nine, corresponding to nine days of Repentance, and the Day of Atonement completes it and makes ten days. ‘From all of these we take “the heave offering of the Lord” [Tr. note: Malkut] on each of these special seasons, in order that it may rest upon us: on Passover by means of the paschal lamb, on Tabernacles by means of the tabernacle, and so forth. The six [Feast] Days are but a preparation for her. As they are united above in “One”, so she is unified below in the mystery of “one”, to correspond to them above. The Holy One, blessed be He, who is One above, does not take His seat upon the Throne of Glory, until She has entered within the mystery of the One in accordance with His very essence of Oneness, to be the One in One. This, as we have said, is the significance of the words: “The Lord is One, and His Name is One.” It is the mystery of the Sabbath, which is united with the mystery of the One so that it may be the organ of this Oneness.”
Revelation shows the initiation of G-d’s judgment as being associated with Passover (via the Lamb opening the scrolls), and continues to its climax with allusions to Yom Kippur. As mentioned above, Passover and Shavuot are linked together as the beginning and end of a process. We will now look at how Passover has a mystical connection to Yom Kippur via the ‘lamb.’
Note that Passover is in the month of Nisan – as far away as you can be from all the great holy days in the month of Tishrei, in the fall. In fact, the day the Passover lamb was chosen, the 10th of Nisan, is as far from Yom Kippur, on the 10th of Tishrei, as you can get.
“Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: ‘On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household.”
Tishrei is nicknamed “G-d’s favorite month,” due the three major holy days that occur. Conversely, the month of Nisan, on the ‘opposite side of the spiritual cycle,’ has the nickname, ‘the month of demons’ (sheddim).
“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;”
Zohar, Shemoth 240b
The Zohar makes a connection between Pesakh and Yom Kippur, explaining how each of these days is dependent on the other. It is the ‘lamb’ and the 10th day of each month that provides the mystical connection:
“DAY OF THIS MONTH THEY SHALL TAKE TO THEM A LAMB. According to R. Abba, the tenth day was chosen because on this day the Jubilee illumines the Moon (i.e. Binah communicates light to Malkuth); for of the Jubilee it is written: On the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement (Leviticus 23:27). They shall take a lamb. Why a lamb? Because it symbolized the power of the lowest crown, which the Holy One broke, the crown to which all the other inferior crowns cling, forming the unholy triad signified by the phrase, lambs, menservants, and womenservants, sent by Jacob to Esau, as a sop, as it were, to the evil powers which the latter represented. The Holy One said: Do ye perform this act of slaughtering the Passover lamb, and I myself will nullify its power above. Do ye let it pass through fire (v. 8) here below, and I shall lead the impure principality which it represents through the fiery Stream. And why was the lamb to be tied up on the tenth day and slaughtered on the fourteenth? Because, according to R. Abba, the four days corresponded to the four hundred years that Israel was subjected to the power of Egypt. And why was the slaughter performed in the evening? Because that is the time when judgement predominates above and below, and also because it was at this time (between the evenings) that Israel’s exiles were foretold to Abraham, as it is written: And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abraham, and lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him (Genesis 15:12). Horror signifies one supernal crown which represents Egypt; darkness is a second such, representing Babylon; and great refers to the Edomite (Roman) exile, which was to be the hardest of all. Thus it is seen that the Israelites did not go out of Egypt until all the supernal powers and principalities which were Israel’s enemies had been brought to nought; but when these things had come to pass the people were freed from their domination and brought under the holy and heavenly sway of the Holy One, blessed be He, and were joined to Him and to Him alone, as it is written: For unto me the children of Israel are servants; they are my servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt (Leviticus 25:55). Similarly, R. Simeon interpreted the verse: Even the first day ye shall put away leaven (hamez) out of your houses, for whosoever eateth leavened bread (mahmezeth), etc. (Exodus 12:15). Said he: Seor, hamez, and mahmezeth all mean one and the same thing, and are symbols of the same supernal grade, namely the powers appointed to represent all the other nations, which are pagan and enemies of Israel, and are termed variously evil imagination, foreign domination, strange god, and other gods. Said G-d to Israel: All these years ye have been subject to an alien power, but now you are free men, you shall put away leaven, etc. Said R. Judah: If so, why is leaven prohibited on these seven days only? R. Simeon answered: This ceremony is only necessary when the Israelite requires to demonstrate the fact of his freedom. If a king raises a man to a high office, the latter will celebrate his elevation by rejoicing and donning costly festive garments for a few days; but subsequently he merely celebrates the anniversary as it comes round. The same is true of Israel: they, too, have each year their season of joy and gladness when they celebrate the high honour which the Holy One, blessed be He, showed them when He brought them out of the power of impurity into the invincible power of His holiness. Therefore it is written, seven days ye shall eat mazoth (unleavened bread). Said R. Simeon further: The unleavened bread is called the bread of poverty (Deuteronomy 16: 3), because at that time the moon was not at full strength, the reason being that, although the Israelites were circumcised, the rite had not been completed by peri’ah, and therefore the seal of the covenant was not revealed in its complete form. But later, when this completion had been achieved-namely at Marah, where Moses made for them a statute and an ordinance (Exodus 15:25)- the Holy One spake unto them, saying: Until now ye have eaten the bread of poverty, but from now on your bread shall emanate from a far other region: I will rain bread from heaven for you (Ibid.16: 4). This phrase means literally from heaven, that is, from the very centre of Grace, and not, as previously, from the blemished Moon. Therefore the holy Israelites observe as a memorial the anniversary of the days when they came under the wings of the Shekinah, and eat the bread which emanates from Her. And why was the rite not brought to its completion in Egypt? Because the Exodus would then have been delayed until those who had undergone this operation had recovered. Observe that when the Israelites were about to enter the Holy Land, Moses described it as a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness (Deuteronomy 8:9), in contrast to the bread of misery, of poverty, which was their food in Egypt, when the moon did not derive blessing and light from the sun, when she was not illumined by the Jubilee. And because they did not carry out the peritah in Egypt, the unification and harmonization of the Divine attributes was not manifested in its fulness. Why they continued to eat the bread of poverty in the land of Israel was in remembrance of Egypt. R. Simeon also connected the words, Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement (Leviticus 23:27), with the words, In the tenth day of this month (Exodus 12:3), used in regard to the Passover lamb; for the one tenth day is dependent on the other.”
Zohar, Shemoth 39b-40b
8 And when he took the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, having each one harps and golden vials full of perfumes, which are the prayers of the saints,
The prayers of the people were elevated with the incense upon the altar. (Also see Revelation 6:9.)
“May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.”
The design of the tabernacle/temple corresponds with the worlds of existence:
- Outer courts with the world of Asiyah
- Inside area with the large altar with the angelic world of Yetzirah
- Sanctuary with the incense altar is Beriah
- Holy of Holies with Atzilut
(Click here for a chart showing a comprehensive look at themes related to all worlds of existence and pre-existence.)
9 and they sing a new song, saying, `Worthy art thou to take the scroll, and to open the seals of it, because thou wast slain, and didst redeem men to G-d in thy blood, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation,
The idea of the “lamb” (associated with the “suffering servant” personage of Messiah ben Joseph), being ‘worthy,’ and beginning the redemptive process at the heavenly level of Beriah is reflected in the following teaching:
“In hindsight, it is clear that Yosef ended up in jail as a stepping stone to become second-in-command of Egypt. Certainly, there are other more pleasant ways to promote a person in life. However, Divine Providence chose this route for Yosef for reasons that may be known only to Heaven. On the other hand, the fact that Yosef was able to succeed and remain spiritually unscathed even in the lowest part of the lowly Egypt, was a tremendous comment about Yosef’s spiritual stature. Furthermore, he did not lose his ability to reveal the unknown even while he was there, evident by his ability to correctly interpret the dreams of Paroah’s servants who “happened” to be in prison at the same time he was there. This, perhaps, is the basis of Yosef’s ability to play such an important role in the Final Redemption of the Jewish people, when they seem to be at their spiritual lowest. If the first Moshiach to come – Moshiach ben Yosef – is a spiritual heir to his illustrious ancestor, then a major part of his success will be his ability to reveal the hidden ONLY FOR THE SAKE OF HEAVEN, (many can do it for their own gain and glory), to act as a pure and successful channel for the Light of G-d. … That is Moshiach ben Yosef, someone from whom the unadulterated truth will flow like a stream of clear, refreshing, life-giving water. He will be a person so pure, so devoted to the will of G-d, that the Light of G-d will be drawn to him like metal filings to a magnet, and all that he does will be successful. His truth will be like fire that will burn up the straw – the lie – of Eisav. If so, why must he die in the process of bringing redemption (Succah 53a), only to be revived again by Moshiach ben Dovid, the final Moshiach?”
‘Parshas Vayaishev – Yesod HaOlam,‘ Rabbi Pinchas Winston
Interesting here is the idea of the death of a ‘worthy one’ redeeming others. Speaking of the great Nachman of Breslov, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan wrote:
“The Rebbe left Breslov on Tuesday morning, arriving in Uman on Thursday, the 5th of Iyar (May 9, 1810). Uman had been the scene of the great massacre of 1768 where thousands of Jews had been slaughtered by Gonta and his Haidmacks. Rabbi Nachman said that he now had the task of rectifying all these souls with his own death.”
‘Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom,’ translated and annotated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Breslov Research Institute, Monsey New York, 1973, pp. 442-443.
The theme of “song” is also associated with the unification of G-d’s name:
“Then there is one who expands even further until he unites with all of existence, with all creatures, with all worlds, singing a song with them all. There is one who ascends with all these songs in unison — the song of the soul, the song of the nation, the song of humanity, the song of the cosmos — resounding together, blending in harmony, circulating the sap of life, the sound of holy joy.”
‘The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism,’ Daniel C. Matt, HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1996, p.153.
The following text from the Zohar associates songs of praise with the concept of, “as above, so below”:
‘When the Holy One enters the synagogue, and the people are united in prayer and sing together praises to the King, He is honoured and glorified, that is to say, the Holy King is strengthened to ascend in glory and beauty. On the other hand, “in the want of people is the confusion of the prince”; that is to say, when He enters a synagogue and finds no congregation come to pray and praise, all the celestial hosts and all the chieftains above are degraded from the high estate to which they were raised by the glorification of that King. For when the Israelites worship the Supernal King with prayer and praise, all the celestial hosts join them and sing in unison with them, and are strengthened by that holy exercise, that the Holy One may be exalted from above and from below in harmony; but when Israel does not assemble to worship the Lord, they lose this dignity, since they do not ascend and cannot praise their Master in fitting manner.’
Zohar, Shemoth, 164a-165b
The time of the first (Solomon’s) Temple was a high point in Israel’s history, symbolizing a unity between G-d and His people. The following section of the Zohar, commenting on the “ultimate song” (the Song of Songs), offers great insight into this, linking many of the concepts covered in this study to this point:
“R. Jose thereupon began to speak on the words: The song of songs, which is Solomon’s (Song of Songs 1:1). Said he: ‘This song King Solomon poured forth when the Temple was erected and all the worlds, above and below, had reached their perfect consummation. And although concerning the exact time of its singing there is some difference of opinion among the members of the Fellowship, we may be certain that it was not sung until that time of absolute completion, when the Moon-the Shekinah-came to her fullness and was revealed in the full perfection of her radiance, and when the Temple had been erected in the likeness of the Temple that is above. The Holy One, blessed be He, then experienced such joy as He had not known since the creation of the world. When Moses set up the Tabernacle in the wilderness, another such was raised in the heavenly spheres, as we learn from the words: “And it came to pass… that the Tabernacle was reared up”, the reference being to the other Tabernacle, to that which was above, namely the Tabernacle of the “Young Man”, Metatron, and nothing greater. But when the first Temple was completed another Temple was erected at the same time, which was the centre for all the worlds, shedding radiance upon all things and giving light to all the spheres. Then the world was firmly established, and all the supernal casements were opened to pour forth light, and all the worlds experienced such joy as had never been known to them before, and celestial and terrestrial beings alike broke forth in song. And the song which they sang is the “Song of Songs”, or, as we might render, “Song of the Singers”, of those musicians who chant to the Holy One, blessed be He.
King David sang “A song of degrees”: King Solomon sang “the Song of Songs”. Now what is the difference between the two? Do we not interpret both titles to signify one and the same thing? Verily, this is so, for both things are certainly one, but in the days of David all the singers of the spheres were not yet set in their rightful places to chant the praises of their King, because the Temple was not as yet in existence. For, as on earth, the levitic singers are divided into groups, so is it likewise above, and the upper correspond to the lower. But not before the Temple was erected did they assume these their due places, and the lamp [Tr. note:Malkuth.] which before gave no light began then to shed radiance abroad, and then this song was sung to the glory of the Supernal King, [Tr. note:Tifereth.] the “King to whom peace belongs”. This song is superior to all the hymns of praise which had ever been sung before. The day on which this hymn was revealed on earth was perfect in all things, and therefore the song is holy of holies. [Tr. note:”R. Akiba says: ‘AII the Writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is holy of holies”. T. B. Yadaim, III, 5.] It is written in the Book of Adam that on the day when the Temple would be erected the Patriarchs would awaken song both above and below. Not that they would sing themselves, but they would rouse to song those mighty singers who preside over all worlds.
On that day, it is said, Jacob the “perfect” one arose and entered the Garden of Eden and caused it also to sing, and all the spices of the Garden likewise. He, therefore, it is who gave utterance to the song, since but for him the Garden would not have sung. This song comprises the whole Torah: it is a song in which those that are above and those that are below participate; a song formed in the likeness of the world above, which is the supernal Sabbath, a song through which the supernal Holy Name is crowned. Therefore it is holy of holies. Why so? Because all its words are instinct with love and joy. This is because the “cup of blessing” was then given with the Right Hand; and when this is so all is joy and love; therefore all the words of the Song of Songs are perfected with love and with joy.”
Zohar, Shemoth, 143a-145b
10 and didst make them to our G-d kings and priests, and they shall reign upon the earth.’
In fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah’s words (Isaiah 66:19-21), which show that gentiles will also be taken as priests:
11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.
12 In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
Among this large group of angels are numerous types, each with certain functions. The book of Enoch alludes to this in the following section, which mirrors the time John writes of:
“And He will summon all the host of the heavens, and all the holy ones above, and the host of G-d, the Cherubic, Seraphin and Ophannin, and all the angels of power, and all the angels of principalities, and the Elect One, and the other powers on the earth (and) over the water On that day shall raise one voice, and bless and glorify and exalt in the spirit of faith, and in the spirit of wisdom, and in the spirit of patience, and in the spirit of mercy, and in the spirit of judgement and of peace, and in the spirit of goodness, and shall all say with one voice: ” Blessed is He, and may the name of the Lord of Spirits be blessed for ever and ever.”
13 and every creature that is in the heaven, and in the earth, and under the earth, and the things that are upon the sea, and the all things in them, heard I saying, `To Him who is sitting upon the throne, and to the Lamb, is the blessing, and the honour, and the glory, and the might — to the ages of the ages!’
14 Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.
The “location” of the creatures in verse 13 includes everything “within creation,” (the lower three worlds of existence) outlined as follows:
- “… in the heaven” = Beriah
- “… in the earth” = Asiyah
- “… under the earth” = Gehenna
- “… upon the sea” = Yetzirah (said to be the “watery” realm between the heavens and earth)
Not only do these things (blessing, honor, glory, might), permeate all of space in creation, they also pervade all of time (“to the ages of ages”).
The idea of G-d being present not only in all places but through all of time, is reflected in the concept of the “613 commandments” of Judaism. There has never been a single, agreed upon list of the 613 commands. Rather, this number represents an ideal that reflects upon G-d’s presence in space and time.
“The 613 commandments are divided into two groups; 365 “negative commandments,” representing the days of the year (and thus time), and 248 “positive commandments,” which was somehow calculated as being the number of bones in the body, (representing the physical aspect of man as he exists in space). Thus the totality of the commandments was considered comprehensive and represented all the possible actions that a human might actually perform in the course of time.”
‘The Mystic Quest, An Introduction to Jewish Mysticism,’ David S. Ariel, Jason Aronson Publishers, London, 1988, p. 145.