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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Tzachtzachot & the Christian Trinity

Earlier this evening I was confronted by an individual who thought the time of celebrating the birthday of the Christian Saviour to be the most ideal to practice his missionary zeal to the fullest. He "most urgently" exhorted me to attend the service to be held this Christmas Eve by his "spirit-filled" pastor, the one who could save my soul from the damnation which is, as it were, around the corner. Nothing I could say in a polite manner would sway him to "drop" the matter. As it is, I would not have referred to the incident here if it wasn't for the fact that I told him that I am a Jew and that I am particularly enamoured with the teachings of Jewish Mysticism, specifically Kabbalah. His face sort of lit up as he victoriously informed me that Kabbalah teaches the "doctrine of the Trinity," the Christian one, in its doctrine of the "Tzachtzachot." Eventually, after some fruitless bantering backwards and forwards, I informed the individual in question that I am simply not interested in going to his church, that neither my wife nor I would be attending the special service of his "spirit-filled" pastor, and he departed in great disappointment with a final rejoinder that he would "pray for my lost soul." Ah well.....this is a fairly regular occurence, albeit senza the "Tzachtzachot" bit!
The doctrine of the "Tzachtzachot" ("splendours") is the one Kabbalistic doctrine which Christian students of Kabbalah later claimed to be extolling the Christian concept of the "Trinity," quite despite the fact that in none of the extensive discussions of this topic in primary Kabbalistic literature are there any references made to the Christian "triune divine personages," i.e. "father, son and holy spirit." However, we will get to the Christian claim shortly. Let us first have a look at what the teaching of the "Tzachtzachot" is all about, and where the idea started.
Currently available evidence would have it that the source of the concept is the mystical speculations of the "Chasidei Azkenaz," the 13th century German Pietists (David ben Yehudah he-Chasid; etc.), regarding the emanation of the ten Sefirot out of Ayn Sof (Eternal No-Thing). These mystics of early Kabbalah were particularly perplexed by the fact that whilst there are ten Sefirot, there were traditionally the so-called "thirteen attributes" of God, and they were wondering whether any connection existed between the Sefirot, and these "attributes." In a "responsa" attributed to the famous rabbi Hai Gaon, there are references to "three forces" which are understood to be the foundation of the "ten," hence they thought the "thirteen attributes" should be divided into "ten" and "three," which respectively pertain to the ten Sefirot and three "primordial forces."
However, there were at the time quite diverse opinions regarding this matter, especially as some thought the "thirteen attributes" were considered to be contained in Keter, the first Sefirah. This idea was certainly not generally accepted, since others attributed the "thirteen attributes" to the sixth Sefirah (Tiferet). Others still, maintained that these "three forces" were emanations which were "split of" from Malchut, the tenth Sefirah. Some considered them to be effects "in the manner of Chesed, Din and Rachamim." It is important to keep in mind that right from the start the terms "Sefirot" and "Middot" (attributes) were used interchangeably as synonyms. We also need to consider that this topic was very complex, and that in the mystical thinking of the time it was conceived that there were, as it were, two sets of Sefirot, with the higher Sefirot of 'Illat ha-'Illot ("Cause of Causes") belonging to the "first cause." These "higher Sefirot" were considered entirely distinct from the standard, manifested Sefirot, so to speak. The Sefirot of 'Illat ha-'Illot were termed tzichtzuchim.
To really understand the very foundation of the doctrine of the "hidden splendours," one has to focus on the teachings regarding the relationship between Ayn Sof and Keter. Some of the early Kabbalists taught that Ayn Sof and Keter are the same, whilst others felt that they are not identical at all, and some even taught that Keter was not the first emanation. There was great uncertainty regarding this issue amongst the early Kabbalists. Moses de Leon for example alluded in one of his writings to the expression "Cause of Causes" ('illat ha-'illot or sibbat ha-sibbot), saying it is a reference to Keter, whilst in another he tells us "the Cause of all Causes is the cause of Nothingness (Ayn)," and he appears to be quite uncertain as to whether there should be a distinction between Ayn Sof and Keter.
As far as Kabbalists are concerned, Ayn Sof is hidden and have therefore no active participation in the emanation process. In fact, they maintain that there are intermediary stages between the unmanifest and the manifest, and some consider such a stage to exist between the "Eternal No-Thing" (Ayn Sof) and the ten Sefirot. As said earlier, in the 13th century some of the early Kabbalists, e.g. David ben Yehudah he-Chasid and the German Pietists, maintained this stage to comprise ten "higher Sefirot" considered to be the "roots" of the ten regular Sefirot. Others, specifically those from the Iyyun circle, perceived this intermediary stage to be "three roots concealed in the depths of Ayn Sof" which they termed "tzachtzachot," and which were understood to be three unattainably hidden lights. They were respectively called:
1. Or Penimi Kadmon ("internal primordial light");
2. Or Tzach ("ultra-transparant light"); and
3. Or Metzuchtzach ("clear light").
In a way, these concepts influenced many generations of Kabbalists, even though by the fourteenth century (when the thinking of many Kabbalists were more directly focused on the ten Sefirot and their significance in the world and in our lives), the earlier "ten and thirteen" ideas almost disappeared into obscurity. It took a couple of hundred years before the debate on the "ten and thirteen" resurfaced very strongly in the writings of Moses Cordovero, who offered explanations in accordance with the views held by the mystics living in sixteenth century Safed, the "home" of Lurianic Kabbalah. We are told that he "contended the thirteen truly are God's moral attributes embodied in the first Sefirah, and it is man's responsibility to emulate them." It is worth comparing the 13th century ideas regarding the three primordial lights (Or Penimi Kadmon, Or Tzach, Or Metzuchtzach) with the Adam Kadmon (primordial man) doctrine of Lurianic Kabbalah.
However, getting back to Moses Cordovero, it should be mentioned that he expounded the doctrine of emanation in many wonderful ways. The process of emanation is generally understood to be one of "unfoldment from within." Everything comprises everything, so to speak, i.e. Keter (Crown) comprises all the other Sefirot, and the succeeding Sefirah, Chochmah (Wisdom), actually derives from Chochmah in Keter. In turn, each of the ten Sefirot also comprise the entire array, an entire universe as it were, and each succeeding Sefirah derives from its equivalent in the preceding Sefirah, e.g. Binah is emanated from "Binah in Chochmah"; Chesed from "Chesed in Binah"; etc.
Cordovero tells us that each Sefirah is made up of an infinite number of bechinot (inner "characteristics" or "aspects"). Whilst most of these aspects are unknowable, there are some which can be perceived and six in particular were considered most important in the process of unfolding each Sefirah from its predecessor. Through these inner aspects all the Sefirot are causally related to one another, and each Sefirah can relate or "communicate" with any of the other, by resonating inwardly with the aspects of the other Sefirot to be found deep within itself. For example, an individual working in Malchut (Kingdom) can "awaken" Keter (Crown) by resonating his consciousness with the "Keter-aspect" hidden inside Malchut, etc.
Now, it would appear as if there was a "gulf" between the manifest and the absolute, or between the restricted finite and the limitless infinite, yet Kabbalists maintained that just as every Sefirah comprises the entire sefirotic ladder, so Ayn Sof contains the very primordial essences of the Sefirot. Whilst in early Kabbalah we were told that there are three tzachtzachot, hidden primordial lights, between the Eternal No-Thing (Ayn Sof) and the first Sefirah (Keter) on the ladder of emanation, Moses Cordovero informed us that these "concealed splendours" are in fact the loftiest bechinot (aspects) of Keter hidden within Ayn Sof.
Since the days of the great Moses Cordovero there have been a lot of speculation regarding the three hidden "splendours" (Tzachtzachot) in Kabbalistic literature, and as mentioned earlier, Christian students of Kabbalah claimed the doctrine of the three Tzachtzachot to be expressing the verity of the Christian trinity. Considering everything Kabbalists wrote about these "hidden splendours," it is rather difficult to reconcile Christian doctrine with this Kabbalistic teaching. Besides, the Christian claim has as much verity as would say a Hindu claiming this teaching to be about the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, or perhaps some clever physicist somewhere could say it pertains to the three basic components of the atom (proton, neutron and electron), etc. In fact, we may extrapolate from all the writings regarding the three Tzachtzachot, that they were understood to represent, amongst many other concepts, three SefirotChochmah, Binah, Da'at; the three "Pillars" on the sefirotic Tree; the three levels of the "Soul" (Nefesh, Ruach, Neshamah); etc.
There are lots of primary and secondary sources which you can consult for detailed deliberation on this topic. Some of the more readily available are:
1. "Sod ha-Shabbat: The Mystery of the Sabbath" by Meir ibn Gabbai, translated by Elliot K. Ginsburg;
2. "Isaiah Horowitz: The Generations of Adam" by Isaiah Horowitz;
3. "Lessons in Tanya: The Tanya of R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi" by Yosef Wineberg;
4. "Kabbalah" by Gershom Scholem;
5. "Origins of Kabbalah" by Gershom Scholem;
6. "The Sabbath in the Classical Kabbalah" by Elliot K. Ginsburg;
7. "An Introduction to the Kabbalah" by Moshe Hallamish; etc.
Wishing one and all well over the Festive Season!

1 comment:

Jason Bright said...

I wrote a commentary on part of Z'ev HaLevi's book: A Kabbalistic Universe wherein I brought up this very subject but from a Zoharic perspective. Here is that section of my commentary:

Keter is the first manifestation of the Surrounding Light (Ohr Ein Sof) and contains from It the plenum of all possibilities. Earlier we spoke of the three Hidden Splendors (Zahzahot) and these three can be seen contained within Keter. Within the Sefirah of Keter these three orders of the Zahzahot are referred to as:

1.)Reisha d'Arich (the Elongated Head)- corresponds to the Divine Will (Ratzon) which is the lowest state of Keter and gives potential to the expression of Will within the varied Souls that are generated from Keter as they come forth as new babes with existence crying “I Am” or “I Will” (Ehyeh).
2.)Reisha d'Ayin (the Head of Nothing)- corresponds to the attribute of pleasure (ta'anug), which serves to motivate and direct the Divine Will (Ratzon).
3.)Reisha d'lo Ityada (the Unknowable Head)- corresponds to that attribute of faith (emunah), which is the highest state of Keter wherein it is most directly associated with the Force that brought it into existence. This place of connection with the Ohr Ein Sof is referred to as Atzmut.

These Zahzahot are described in the Book of the Zohar sec. III, 288a.