The Zohar is the
central book of Kabbalah, a Jewish mystical tradition which also has
Christian and occult offshoots. But it is more than that, and it is
possible to be nourished by the Zohar without being interested in
Kabbalah or deeply knowledgeable about Judaism.
There is a
lot of literature on the Zohar and there are many experts.
example, Kolel, The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning
word zohar is Hebrew for "radiance" or "splendour" or perhaps
"enlightenment". The Zohar, the book, is a long work -- at least
three large volumes, more than a dozen when a commentary is
included. It is a kind of midrash, an imaginative commentary on the
Torah, in which any verse or word can inspire pages of teachings and
stories. It has also been called the first modern novel, because its
interpretations of the Torah are placed in the mouths of characters,
a circle of rabbis, and interspersed with stories about the rabbis
and their travels and adventures.
The language of the Zohar is not the Hebrew of the Bible and most
Jewish books, but a simple form of Aramaic, the language of the
Talmud. The grammar is iffy, and the vocabulary is mixed with
medieval Hebrew and occasionally Spanish, which have helped academic
scholars make their case that the Zohar was written in Spain, where
it first became known, in the late 1200s. Traditional Kabbalists,
nevertheless, believe that it was written more than a thousand years
earlier, by the rabbis mentioned in it, whose names are known from
the Mishnah and Talmud.
Since its first appearance in Spain the Zohar has been associated
with a rabbi named Moshe de Leon. Skeptics in his own time, and
scholars more recently, have considered him to be the author. A more
recent theory, developed by Yehudah Liebes, helps to make sense of
the disagreements and divergent points of view found in the Zohar.
The theory is that de Leon belonged to a fellowship of Kabbalists,
who wrote the Zohar together as a literary version of their own
adventures and Torah discussions.
The Zohar circulated at first in manuscripts, with no fixed order;
it was finally arranged according to the weekly portions of the
Torah and put into print toward the end of the 1500s. Bit by bit, it
had been accepted as a holy work, because it was thought to be
ancient and because of the power of its dreamlike images and radical
ideas. It became the central text of the Kabbalistic tradition;
great Kabbalists such as the Ari (Rabbi Isaac Luria, 16th century)
presented their new ideas in the form of commentaries on the Zohar.
Christian and occultist students of Kabbalah celebrated it as well.
By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Zohar was accepted
by many Jews as a holy book on the level of the Bible and the
Talmud. Its prestige declined with the wave of rationalism in the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Still, today, the Zohar is
revered in many traditional religious communities, especially among
Sephardim and Hasidim. In liberal communities, more and more people
are discovering the Zohar as a spiritual treasure.
The Zohar, the Book of Radiance, is revered, even feared, but rarely
studied. Yet it is an exhilarating and challenging text, as
compelling today as when it became known in thirteenth-century
commentators on the Zohar approach it as a work to be decoded: its
symbolism needs to be translated into theological ideas. The Zohar
itself invites this decoding, but, as one of the early commentators,
Rabbi Shim'on Lavi, already recognized, the result of a completely
successful decoding would be a constant repetition of a few key
ideas, which the Zohar returns to over and over again. If the
purpose of the Zohar were to teach Kabbalah, it could have been ten
pages long, not thousands. Further, completely successful decoding
has turned out to be impossible, so that the great commentators
offer contradictory interpretations of the same passages, because
the Zohar deliberately teases and frustrates the interpreter. At the
same time that the Zohar works with Kabbalah, it is also undermining
it, in order to take us beyond.
Kabbalah is part of the raw material which the authors of the Zohar
were working with. They were steeped in its concepts and built on
them. Yet they drew at least as much on the Bible; on midrashic
literature; on their own physical lives and experiences. Knowing
about early Kabbalah can help us to understand the Zohar, but so can
knowing Scripture or, especially, being aware of our own physical
and emotional being. In the words of David Greenstein,
"the Zohar succeeds in reinventing Kabbalistic consciousness by
restoring its connection to lived reality." "
Scanning The Zohar- Move your eyes over
the text from right to left:
In Kabbalistic viewpoints everything,
especially letters and words have a metaphysical content, and a Holy
energy. Even if you cannot read Aramaic (few people can read this
dead language which uses Hebrew letters), connecting with the Holy
energy and the metaphysical code of the Zohar will bring you closer
to the infinite spirit. Connecting with the Divine is the ultimate
goal, the ultimate model.
Zohar Index, Volume 23 of
the English Zohar. For information on the spiritual issues of