Saturday, December 24, 2011

Of Moles, Warts and Sacred Lights

In the process of "weeding" my PC of seriously dated documents, I chanced upon the following essay which I wrote in 2003. At the time I had started to collect primary and secondary writings on "Divinatory Arts" in Kabbalah, amongst others texts dealing with determining ones character and destiny by scrutinizing ones anatomy, e.g. "Metoposcopy," "Phrenology," "Physiognomy," "Chiromancy," etc. I recall that as I was perusing the mass of documentation dealing with the topic in question, I was having a running conversation with my "Nefesh," my Instinctual Self. I then wrote the said essay which I thought I would share here, in hopes of adding some cheer to the "Festive Season." After all, I do believe "a smile improves ones face value," and what is more, it is also "sooo very serious"! So here goes:
"I thought I would write a special essay on those 'alien visitors' blemishing our skins, the ones we view with either indifference or distaste, and which can be most uncomfortable when it appears that everyone you encounter is scrutinizing them with a morbid fascination.....especially when you are trying to make decent conversation and finding it difficult to concentrate on the subject at hand with this constant diversion of attention. Of course, the real reason for your discomfort is that some of us are quite self-conscious, and read all kinds of meanings in the most casual glances directed at that insignificant little blemish on ones skin.
'But is that taint really that insignificant?' you ask. 'I better have it investigated in case the little blighter is malignant,' says the Paranoid Self.
'There is a deeper, mystical meaning to it,' says the Divining Self.
'What? A deeper meaning?' you query. 'Well....that depends on its size, and where it is placed on the body,' replies the All-knowing Self complacently.
With the sudden realization that the Diviner could read you like an open book by merely looking at moles, warts and such things, you decide you better shut up about the ones located rather strategically on portions of the anatomy which your Embarrassed Self prohibits you from acknowledging, least of all having publically scrutinized!
Soon you discover that this form of divination is part of an enormous study which was considered of great significance in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, comprising not only the examining of moles, but also 'Physiognomy' — the investigation of the proportions of the face and the body; 'Metoposcopy' — a term referring to analyzing the lines on your forehead; 'Chiromancy' - commonly called 'Palmistry'; etc.
With a grateful motion you dismissively wave such matters away, retorting 'Thank heavens Kabbalah did not indulge in this kind of superstitious foolishness,' only to be told that the subject of physiognomy was, and still is, of major significance in Jewish Mysticism. The Merkabah mystics, amongst others, employed physiognomic criteria 'to determine eligibility for admission into the circle of mystics. These criteria have to do with the character of the nose, lips, eyes, eyebrows, eyelashes, and sexual organs, although greatest significance was attached to the lines and letters upon the palm and forehead.'
You suddenly recall that it is written in the Zohar that '.....all happens here below as it does above.....on the firmament which envelops the universe, we see many figures formed by the stars and planets. They reveal hidden things and profound mysteries. Similarly, upon our skin which encircles the human being there exist forms and traits that are the stars of our bodies.' What is more, the famed Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luria, was able to read the entire life of a person expressed in the 'letters' revealed on the forehead of that individual. So what is this curious 'mystical art,' and what are the 'profound mysteries' revealed by the 'stars of our bodies'? Soon you find that the subject comprises many diverse opinions, and is much too large to be dealt with in one casual chat, and as Kabbalah in fact addressed all of the mentioned subjects, you choose to focus on the 'metoposcopical' abilities of Isaac Luria, the 'Lion' of Kabbalah, which will at least divert attention away from embarrassing warts....oy gevalt!!
Apparently Isaac Luria had the curious ability to analyse the character of an individual, by detecting and interpreting the Hebrew letters which are evident on the forehead of that person. Chaim Vital, a disciple of Luria, writes in his Sha'ar Ruach ha-Kodesh regarding his master's psychic abilities saying: 'Concerning his attainments, it is impossible for one to relate them [even] in general terms, no less in detail. However, these are the wondrous and true things which I witnessed with my own eyes: He knew how to make a future soul appear before him, as well as the soul of a living or deceased person, from among the early as well as later sages. He could inquire of them whatever he wished concerning knowledge of the future and secret mysteries of the Torah. The prophet Elijah, may his memory be a blessing, would also appear to him and teach him. He could also recognize the letters on the forehead and [was adept at] the science of physiognomy, as well as at [recognizing] the lights that are upon the skin and body of an individual. [He was also skilled at recognizing] the lights in the hair, the chirping of birds, and the language of trees and plants. [He understood] even the speech of inanimate things, as Scripture says: "For the stone shall cry out of the wall [and the beam out of the timber shall answer it]" (Habakuk 2:11). [He knew] the language of the burning candle and the flaming coal; he was able to see the angels who announce all the proclamations (from on high), as is well known, and to converse with them. His knowledge was expert concerning all the plants and the genuine remedies [which they provided]. There are many other such things which cannot even be related. Those who hear of them will not believe them when told. I have recorded that which my eyes have seen in all truth.'
The art of recognizing Hebrew letters on the forehead is based on that section of Kabbalah called 'Chochmat ha-Partzuf,' i.e. the study of permutations, which in turn is based on the idea that the whole of creation was manifested through a divine language. The view that Hebrew was the primordial language of creation found expression in texts like the Sefer Yetzirah, the Sefer ha-Bahir, and the Zohar, but was developed further in the commentaries and other writings of later Kabbalists. The latter were responsible for an extensive literature in which creation is not only considered to be the result of various combinations [permutations] of the glyphs of the Hebrew alphabet, but that all manifestation is actually 'clothed,' as it were, with these letter combinations. It is important to understand that the letters of the Hebrew alphabet are seen by Kabbalists not only as the instruments of creation, but as primordial divine forms. Sacred writ is thus believed to comprise combinations of 'Divine Names,' in which each 'Name' is a focus of divine force. As these 'Names' are manifested in all life, humans are also expressions of the divine language, each individual radiating a different combination of the divine forces represented in the forms of the Hebrew Alphabet.
Eventually the multitude of speculations regarding this theme, developed into a most practical psychic ability in the case of Isaac Luria's, who could 'read' a person in accordance with the sacred glyphs 'made flesh,' so to speak, in the being and body of that individual. In fact, these sacred forms are believed to be present in every aspect of ones being, thus Lawrence Fine wrote in his essay entitled 'The Art of Metoposcopy: A Study in Isaac Luria's Charismatic Knowledge,' that 'According to Chayyim Vital, the twenty-two letters of the alphabet are present in each of the three aspects of the human soul, in ascending hierarchical order, nefesh, ruach, and neshamah. Each is constructed, so to speak, on the basis of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The character and quality of each set of letters are somewhat different in accordance with the different levels of the soul's tripartite division. The letters present in the nefesh are small, those of the ruach are medium in size, and those of the neshamah are the largest of all. These three dimensions of soul clothe one another, as it were, with the body's skin constituting the outer covering of all.'
Vital explained that the letters, also called 'Lights,' are hidden beneath the skin of a wicked person, but in the case of a person who is purifying the different aspects of his/her being, the divine forces and their expression in the power forms of the Hebrew glyphs are openly revealed on the skin, where 'the skilled eye' can observe them. Again Lawrence Fine writes in this regard that 'The appearance of the letters on the skin allows one who can recognize them and determine their meaning virtually to see the divine part of the human personality, the soul itself. One 'sees' the soul in the sense that the letters are a relatively material expression of that which is otherwise immaterial. In the case of one who has sufficiently mended all three grades of soul, the entire alphabet belonging to each grade will appear, at one time or another, on the body's skin, most especially upon the forehead.'
Chaim Vital maintained that the letters of the soul are best displayed on the forehead, because the entire Hebrew alphabet corresponds to Binah, the sphere of "Understanding" on the sefirotic tree, of which the forehead is a symbol. However, the amount and clarity of the letters disclosed by each person is dependent on his or her level of purity and quality of service in this world. Another factor referred to is that these revealed letters can, and do, form themselves into words, which can be observed at certain times. Again quoting Vital, Lawrence Fine wrote 'Certain letters, however, will appear more brightly than at other times under various conditions. When one performs particular mitzvot, the appropriate letters shine especially brightly on that same day. Sometimes a certain word - such as the word chayyim (signaling that a person can expect to continue in life) - will appear briefly and then disappear. One skilled in this art, then, must be careful to gaze at the right time upon an individual's forehead. An exception is the deed of charity (tzedakah), whose letters remain shining brightly upon one's forehead for an entire week. This is demonstrated by the scriptural text: "And his righteousness (tzidkato) endureth forever" (Psalms 111:3).'
As briefly mentioned earlier on, and as Lawrence Fine further elaborated, 'The level of the soul which one has achieved is also discernible on the basis of the size of the letters which appear. Thus, if a person has only perfected the level of nefesh, the letters will be small, and so on. If an individual manifests only one set of letters, having attained only the level of nefesh, and more than one of a particular letter is required to spell out a word on his forehead, the letter will initially appear brightly in one place in the word, and reappear a second or third time as needed.'
For Kabbalists the letters of the Hebrew alphabet corresponds to the ten sefirot, hence there is the further possibility of viewing those glyphs manifested on the forehead in terms of their sefirotic attributions. In this manner one might determine in those letters that are expressed particularly strongly and most frequently, the 'soul root' of an individual understood as a 'sefirotic root.' Some actions strengthens, as it were, the revelation of the glyphs on the forehead. Reciting the daily 'blessings' is said to be of special significance as one such empowering activity. Again Lawrence Fine wrote: 'The lights of the letters which appear on the skin as a result of reciting berakhot (blessings) are special insofar as there is light surrounding each letter; this surrounding light is more luminescent than that of the letter itself. If one sees that the opposite is the case, that the light of the letter is more intense than the surrounding light, it signals that the blessing was not performed properly.'
Now, whilst we have made special reference to the forehead as far as this divinatory art is concerned, it should be clearly understood that the glyphs of power manifests everywhere in your anatomy, as Chaim Vital wrote: 'Know that in each and every organ of a person's body, there are letters engraved, informing us about that individual's actions. But the primary place is the forehead, as indicated earlier.'
It is somewhat difficult to discuss this subject in absolute detail in this already overly long essay, but I would like to include a couple of anecdotes regarding Isaac Luria's mastery of this art as told by his followers.
Eleazar Azikri reports in his Sefer Charedim, how Luria looked at the face of a sage and told him that 'the transgression of cruelty toward animals is inscribed upon your countenance.' Apparently the sage rushed home in a state of great distress, where he found that his wife had forgotten to feed the turkeys. He promptly took appropriate care of these creatures, and returned to Luria. Not knowing what had transpired, Luria looked at his forehead and informed him that the misdeed is no longer evident, at which point the sage proceeded to tell the Ari what had actually transpired.
Amongst the many anecdotes which Chaim Vital preserved in his books, there is the one in which he tells how Isaac Luria clearly recognized the first three letters of the Hebrew alphabet, i.e. Alef, Bet and Gimel on Vital's forehead. The first two letters, spelling the word Av (father) were well expressed in normal Hebrew, but the third, the Gimel, was shown upside down. Following the message expressed by these indicators, the Ari instructed his student to show kindness to his father.
Clearly Rabbi Isaac Luria was a man of extraordinary talent and ability which goes way beyond the traditional study of Torah and Talmud. Perhaps Chaim Vital was right when he said 'There is no doubt that these matters [i.e., esoteric knowledge] cannot be apprehended by means of human intellect, but only through Kabbalah, from one individual [directly] to another, directly from Elijah, may his memory be a blessing, or directly from those souls which reveal themselves in each and every generation to those who are qualified to receive them'."

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