of Rabbi Moshe Cordevero (the 'Ramak')
by Rabbi Moshe Miller
(Chagiga 14b), Zohar (I, 26b) and Tikunei Zohar (Tikun 40) report the
following incident regarding four Mishnaic Sages
taught: Four [Sages] entered the Pardes [literally "the orchard."
Rashi explains that they ascended to heaven by utilizing the [Divine]
Name, i.e., they achieved a spiritual elevation (Tosafot, ad loc) through
intense meditation on G-d's Name]. They were Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher
[Elisha ben Avuya, called Acher - the other one - because of what happened
to him after he entered the Pardes] and Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva said
to them [prior to their ascension]: "When you come to the place
of pure marble stones, do not say, 'Water! Water!' for it is said, 'He
who speaks untruths shall not stand before My eyes' (Psalms 101:7)."
Ben Azzai gazed [at the Divine Presence - Rashi] and died. Regarding
him the verse states, "Precious in the eyes of G-d is the death
of His pious ones" (Psalms 116:15). Ben Zoma gazed and was harmed
[he lost his sanity - Rashi]. Regarding him the verse states, "Did
you find honey? Eat as only much as you need, lest you be overfilled
and vomit it up" (Proverbs 25:16). Acher cut down the plantings
[he became a heretic]. Rabbi Akiva entered in peace and left in peace.
cites the Tikunei Zohar which adds some details not mentioned in the
Saba [an old man] stood up and said [to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai], "Rabbi,
Rabbi! What is the meaning of what Rabbi Akiva said to his students,
"When you come to the place of pure marble stones, do not say,
'Water! Water!' lest you place yourselves in danger, for it is said,
'He who speaks untruths shall not stand before My eyes.' But it is written,
"There shall be a firmament between the waters and it shall separate
between water [above the firmament] and water [below the firmament]"
(Genesis 1:6). Since the Torah describes the division of the waters
in to upper and lower, why should it be problematic to mention this
division? Furthermore, since there are [in fact] upper and lower waters,
why did Rabbi Akiva warn them, "do not say, 'Water! Water!'"
The Holy Lamp
[a title accorded to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai] replied, "Saba, it
is proper that you reveal this secret that the chevraya [Rabbi Shimon's
circle of disciples] have not grasped clearly."
Saba answered, "Rabbi, Rabbi, Holy Lamp. Surely the pure marble
stones are the letter yud - one the upper yud of the letter aleph, and
one the lower yud of the letter aleph [an aleph in script is formed
by an upright yud at the top to the right, and an upside-down yud at
the bottom to the left, joined by a vav, the diagonal line between them
- à]. Here there is no spiritual impurity; only pure marble stones,
and so there is no separation between one water and the other; they
form a single unity from the aspect of the Tree of Life, which is the
vav in the midst of the letter aleph. In this regard it states, "[lest
he put forth his hand] and if he take of the Tree of Life [and eat and
live forever] (Genesis 3:22)
begins to analyze these passages
of Rabbi Akiva's exhortation is that the Sages should not declare that
there are two types of water. Since there are not [two types of water]
one would be causing a separation. This is the meaning of "do not
say, 'water, water'" - do not say that there are two types of water,
lest you endanger yourself because of the sin of separation. For this
reason the old man asked two questions, both of which are real questions:
"There shall be a firmament between the waters and it shall separate
(Genesis 1:6). Thus there are two types of water and a separation between
them. In this case, does it not appear to be permissible to refer to
two types of water? Even more problematic is that the Torah itself states,
"It shall separate between water and water" - the water above
the firmament and the water below the firmament. This is a complete
The old man
asked a second question - the waters are in fact of two types: water
above the firmament and water below the firmament [in rivers, lakes
and seas]. Why then did Rabbi Akiva exhort them not to say "water,
water, lest they endanger themselves?" On the contrary; it should
be permitted to mention two types of water, for this is no worse than
the language used by the Torah, and this is also the situation in fact!
Now Rabbi Shimon
did not wish to explain this matter himself; he wanted his disciples
to hear it from the old man. The old man explained that each of the
marble stones represents the letter yud. As we have explained elsewhere
this means a yud at the beginning, and a yud at the end, according to
the mystical explanation of "I am first and I am last" (Isaiah
44:6). The first yud represents chochma, and the second yud represents
malchut, which is also chochma according to the mystical explanation
of the light that returns from below to above (called or chozer). The
upper yud is the yud of the Tetragrammaton (Yud-Hei-Vov-Hei) while the
lower yud is the yud of the Name Alef-Dalet-Nun-Yud.
is the concept of "female waters" (Mayin Nukvin), and the
former the concept of "male waters" (Mayin Dechurin). They
are called "female waters" because they receive from below,
from the performance of the commandments, and through them a person
has the ability to affect the higher worlds so that the light will shine
forth and become clothed in them, as in a palace. Thus the light that
is elicited [by the performance of the commandments] is [like] a king
in his palace.
These are also
the keys to the inner and outer aspects. The inner aspect is the light
of the Tetragrammaton, which undoubtedly descends as or yashar from
above to below. The outer aspect is the returns according to the mystical
explanation of or chozer. This is the meaning of the statement in regard
to the sefirot "from below to above, and from above to below,"
as explained elsewhere. This is signified by the top and the bottom
yuds of the aleph. This is also the secret of the intertwining (shiluv)
of the two Names -Yud-Alef-Hei-Dalet-Vov-Nun-Hei-Yud - with the upper
yud at the beginning and the lower yud at the end.
These two yuds
are referred to in the passage "pure marble stones." Each
of the yuds is a stone because its shape is round like a stone. It is
called "marble" because marble is generally white, which is
indicative of the attribute of rachamim (mercy or compassion). In this
sense it is also similar to water [which represents kindness]. Now since
these two yuds are the aspect of compassion, just like water, which
is called "waters of kindness," they are therefore referred
to as "marble," as we just explained.
We can also
explain this by way of [the science of] tzeiruf (letter combinations
and permutations): The sefira of chochma is called yesh - "being"
[since it is the first immanent sefira], spelled Yud-Shin in Hebrew.
The lower chochma [i.e., malchut] is called shai [Shin-Yud -- the identical
letters, but in reverse order]. When both words are combined they form
the word shayish - Shin-Yud-Shin ("marble"). The yud is chochma,
the source, and the shin is the emanation of its branches [i.e., the
branching out into sefirot according to the mystical explanation of
or yashar] Malchut is called shai according to the mystical explanation
of the light that reverses (or chozer). When these two words, signifying
these two types of light, are combined to form the word shayish (the
two yuds combine into one).
They are called
"pure," for there are a number of different types of water
[mentioned in the Torah]; one of these is mei nida - literally waters
of impurity [because they are used to purify a person after he became
contaminated by contact with the dead. Water from a living spring is
mixed with the ashes of the red heifer and is then sprinkled upon the
impure person]. Separation and division is mentioned in regard to this
type of water, as will be explained. These waters [of the pure] marble
stones are completely pure and pertain to Atzilut.
are the letter yud - one the upper yud of the letter aleph "
We already explained above that the Name Yud-Alef-Hei-Dalet-Vov-Nun-Hei-Yud
has the upper and lower aspects of chochma [represented by the two yuds]
and six letters in between, alluding to the letter vav [which has a
numerical value of 6. Note that the upper and lower yuds of the aleph
are joined by a diagonal vav. This is the way a scribe traditionally
writes the letter à]. This symbolizes tiferet, which branches
out into six extremities [tiferet is the central sefira of the six sefirot
of Zeir Anpin]. The vav is situated between the yuds in order to join
them. That is to say, through tiferet the daughter [malchut] is able
to ascend "to her father's house as in her youth."
It is for this
reason that Rabbi Akiva warned them not to say that those two marble
stones were separated from one another, G-d forbid, for this is not
true. On the contrary, the firmament between them, which is tiferet,
actually unites them and through it they are joined together. There
is no separation other than in a place of spiritual impurity, as it
is written, "to separate between the impure and the pure"
(Leviticus 11:47). But in a place of purity - pure marble stones - "do
not say, 'water, water." This is what the old man was explaining,
"Here there is no spiritual impurity they are from the aspect
of the Tree of Life " These waters are in Atzilut and therefore
there is no separation between them on the contrary, the firmament
unites them .
Shaar Arachei HaKinuim, s.v. Mayim
Rabbi Moshe-Leib Miller, a guest teacher at Ascent when
he lived in Israel, was born in South Africa and received his yeshiva
education in Israel and America. He is a prolific author and translator,
with some twenty books to his name on a wide variety of topics, including
a new, authoritative, annotated translation of the Zohar. He currently
lives in Chicago.