Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Spiritual Garment & the Colours of the Sefirot

In "The Book of Self Creation" I referred to a unique literature in Kabbalah dealing with what is termed a “Malbush,” a special spiritual “garment.” These writings are amongst the most interesting which have survived in the collection of Merkavistic documents. A fair amount of this literature weathered the travails of time, and some has been made available in English, e.g. in the translations of Shi’ur Komah material.

The Sod ha-Malbush (Secret of the Garment) refers to a special vestment which spirit entities have to dress themselves in, acting almost like a skin as it were. It is said higher beings, i.e. angels, have to wear such a “garment” when they descend to a “lower world” like ours, in order to become visible in these lower domains. The following quote from an anonymous Kabbalistic text, the Sefer ha-Meshiv (The Book of the Answering [Angel]), apparently written in Spain in the first half of the 15th century, is most informative regarding angels descending and becoming visible through the power of a special spiritual garment:
“You should know that the secret causing the descent of the supernal book is the secret of the descent of the supernal chariot, and when you pronounce the secret of the great name, immediately the force of the ‘garment’ will descend downward, which is the secret of Elijah, who is mentioned in the work of the sages. And by this R. Simeon bar Yochai and Jonathan ben Uzziel learned their wisdom, and they were deserving of the secret of the ‘garment,’ to be dressed in it. And R. Chanina and R. Nechuniya ben ha-Kanah and R. Akiva and R. Ishmael ben Elisha and our holy rabbi and Rashi and many others learned likewise. And the secret of the ‘garment’ is the vision of the garment,’ which the angel of God is dressed in, with a corporeal eye, and it is he who is speaking to you.....And the secret of the garment was given to those who fear God and meditate upon his name; they have seen it, those men who are the men of God were worthy of this state. And they were fasting for forty days continuously, and during their fast they pronounced the Tetragrammaton forty-five times, and on the fortieth day (the ‘garment’) descended to him and showed him whatever he wished [to know], and it stayed with him until the completion of the [study of the] subject he wanted [to know].....” [quoted in Idel, M.: Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation, Yale University Press, New Haven & London 2002]
By the end of the 16th century the doctrine of the Malbush was transformed in the writings of Israel Sarug, who saw it as the primordial Torah, a garment comprising the exact combinations of letters constituting the 231 gates referred to in the Sefer Yetzirah, which according to Sarug played an important role in the act of creation.

Now, I chanced upon a statement comparing this donning of the Malbush to the saga of the “Fall of Man.” In this case it is said that we ourselves were originally spiritual beings, but were obliged to dress ourselves in “coats of skin” in order to exist in this nether world. However, as in the case of Angelic beings having to wear a “garment” in their descent to this nether world, we too have to clothe ourselves in a garment of light in order to ascend into the loftier realms of existence. In this regard, I noted in "The Book of Sacred Names," that we are taught that during conception a soul is granted a Levush Neshamah, a “soul garment,” which can accurately be considered the “body” used by the Neshamah, the “Higher Self,” during the period of its incarnation in the flesh.

I further noted that Chaim Vital maintained “there is no soul [Neshamah] in the world.....that can exist naked, without a garment [Levush] in which it is clothed in this world.”[Vital, Chaim: Sha’ar ha-Gilgulim, edited Yehudah Ashlag, Eshel, Tel Aviv 1961; quoted in Fine, L.: Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos: Isaac Luria and His Kabbalistic Fellowship, Stanford University Press, Stanford 2003.] In fact, it is understood that throughout our lives, we receive the sacred life-force, or “Divine Abundance,” via these Levushei Neshamot, these “bodies of light” of our Higher Selves. It is maintained that the actual quality of this “garment” is dependent on both parents, the best “garment” being acquired when the parents of the soul in question love each other, acknowledge the sanctity of their sexual union, and couple in holiness.[Zacutto, M.: Shorshei ha-Shemot, Hotzaat Nezer Shraga, Jerusalem 1999.] In this regard, Meir Poppers tells us that even in the case where “a great soul” is incarnating in the flesh, that soul “needs the sanctity of his father and mother during lovemaking so as to bring forth a superior garment, lest this garment cause him to sin.”[Poppers, M.: Ta’amei ha-Mitzvot, Vilna 1880. Transl. in Fine, L.: Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos: Isaac Luria and His Kabbalistic Fellowship, Op. cit.] In fact, in the case of such a sacred sexual union, the Kavvanah (focussed attention) of the one to be born will be centered on Achatri’el, whilst he or she is being clothed in the “Levush Neshamah.”[Zacutto, M.: Shorshei ha-Shemot, Op. cit.]

Now, sometimes the Malbush, the "spiritual garment," was perceived to be a literal garment, a "mantle of righteousness," as in the case of a work entitled “The Book of the Putting on and Fashioning of the mantle of Righteousness.”[Sefer ha-Malbush v’Tikkun me’il ha-Tzedakah, MS British Museum, Margoliouth 752; quoted in Scholem, G.: On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, Schocken Books Inc., New York 1965] In this instance a pure deer-hide parchment was chosen and a sleeveless garment, in the form of a high priest’s Efod, was cut from this. It covered the shoulders and the chest, falling down the sides to the loins, and stretching down to the navel. A hood was connected to the garment, and on this “magic robe” the secret Divine Names were written. The practitioner was however not allowed to dress in this robe until the following conditions were fulfilled.

The wearer had to fast for a week, was not allowed to touch anything unclean, and had to follow a vegetarian diet. At the end of the week he was supposed to go to a body of water, such as a river or a lake, during the night, and call the Divine Name written on the parchment-robe over the water. If he saw a green shape above the water, something still unclean was within the individual concerned, and the preparations would have to be repeated for another seven days, accompanied by Mitzvot (good deeds) and Tzedakah (Acts of Righteousness mainly understood to be charitable deeds). If the shape over the water was red, “know that you are inwardly clean and fit to put on the Name. Then go into the water up to your loins and put on the venerable and terrible Name in the water.” This “putting on the Mantle of Righteousness” was believed to give the wearer immeasurable power.

It is a mystery to me why seeing a green figure “above the water” should signify “uncleanness” or the vision of red figure should specifically be equated with “purity” or “cleanliness,” but there are perhaps some clues in one of the first systems in Kabbalah of attributing colours to the various Sefirot on the Tree of Life, the colours then being mainly blue, red, green, white and black. Of course the last two are not really colours, but we should remember that the latter were definitely considered colours by these authors. Red, Green and White are by far the most important colours in this system, which Cordovero explained in some detail in his introduction to Kabbalah.[Robinson, I.: Moses Cordovero’s Introduction to Kabbalah: An Annotated Translation of His Or Ne’erav, The Michael Sharf Publication Trust of the Yeshiva University Press, New York 1994.] He said “colours are ascribed to the qualities [Sefirot] according to their actions,” and originally these were:
Keter (Crown) — White/Black
Chochmah (Wisdom) — Blue
Binah (Understanding) — Green
Chesed (Loving-kindness/Mercy) — White
Gevurah (Strength/Severity) — Red
Tiferet (Beauty) — White
Netzach (Victory/Endurance)— Red
Hod (Glory/Splendour) — Green
Yesod (Foundation) — White
Malchut (Kingdom) — White
Rabbi Cordovero explained that as one cannot attribute any colour to Nothingness, no colour can be ascribed to Keter, a sefirah understood to be balanced between the states of pure being and becoming, but still hidden, as it were, within the Eternal No-Thing. He referred to Keter as being represented by the extremes of white and black. As white is understood to represent “Mercy,” it shows the “Mercy of Keter.” The attribution of black is said to indicate the true “essence” of Divinity, beyond time, space and events, hidden as said. Thus the great Rabbi wrote in Pardes Rimmonim “That essence does not change colour at all, neither judgment nor compassion, neither right nor left. Yet by emanating through the [Sefirot]—the variegated stained glass—judgment or compassion prevails.”[Cordovero, M.: Pardes Rimmonim quoted in Matt, D.C.: The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism, HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco 1995]

Cordovero referred to Chochmah as the “beginning of action” and referred to blue as the “beginning of the development of colour from blackness,” or the first radiations of light from Ain Sof. He further stated that green is attributed to Binah since this colour “contains the colours of red and white, which are perceived together.” He also claimed that it “contains the colour blue, which is from Chochmah.” Cordovero is saying simply that Binah unites the principles of “Mercy” and “Severity,” respectively “white” and “red,” and is also channelling “Wisdom” (blue).

Now, while “white” is attributed to Chesed, its colour is considered to be quite different from that of Keter, almost as if the Light of Mercy, having been received via Chochmah and Binah, had become a bit contaminated and was thus somewhat grey, with a good dose of “blue” (Wisdom) in it. Now, while Gevurah is considered to be red (the colour of judgment), Cordovero attributed a number of colours to it. He said that blue can also be found here, since the “Light of Gevurah” also emanated via Chochmah and Binah, but he said this sefirah is also black because it contains that aspect of retribution that “blackens the faces of creatures.” Cordovero considered the special link between Gevurah and Binah by referring to “the joysome wine which proceeds from Gevurah to Binah.”

While Tiferet is traditionally understood to be white, Cordovero saw it as basically green, as well as comprising the principles represented by several colours at work within this special sefirah. Thus he wrote: “They ascribed to it sapphire in extension of Da’at (Knowledge). In its revealed aspect of determination, it includes white and red, that is, the green of an egg yolk, in truth. Now Tiferet includes the colour[s] of Chesed and Gevurah in one of two [manners]. It is either above them in the mystery of Da’at, which includes them in their roots or in its lower aspect, that is, the mixture of red and white. It also possess the colour of purple, which includes five colours. They are the mystery [of the angels] Uriel, Refael, Gavriel, Michael, and Nuriel.” [Robinson, I.: Moses Cordovero’s Introduction to Kabbalah: An Annotated Translation of His Or Ne’erav, Op. cit.]

Netzach and Hod are respectively described as “red shading to white, for it is mostly mercy because of its orientation to the side of Chesed,” and “white shading to red because it is mostly Judgment due to its orientation to the side of Gevurah.”

Again, whereas Yesod was originally considered to be white, as were all the spheres of the “Middle Pillar”—being the “Pillar of Being” in contradistinction to the outer “Pillars of Doing,” Cordovero maintained Yesod to be “a mixture of white shading to red and red shading to white,” thus focussing the qualities of Netzach and Hod within itself. However, since the Light of Yesod is refracted via the preceding Sefirot, the colour of Yesod was also understood to be a kind of sapphire blue.

Finally Malchut, originally white, was seen by Cordovero to comprise all colours, i.e. all the Light derived from all the Sefirot was focussed in Malchut, which is like a rainbow.

Now, looking at this teaching in which the sefirot of the “Middle Pillar” are white, and the colours red and green are connected to certain sefirot on the “Outer Pillars” it is clear that “Understanding” and “Splendour” (or “Glory”), representing the top and bottom of the “Left Pillar” are “Green,” while “Severity” — which represents the forces of Din (Judgment) [also considered “Discipline” as well as Pachad (“Fear”)], and Netzach (“Victory”) [also considered “Endurance” and “Determination”] are “Red.”

Using this information in order to comprehend the earlier references to the states of “purity” and “uncleanness” of an invocant attempting to put on the “Mantle of Righteousness,” this being indicated above the water respectively by a “red figure” and a “green figure,” and knowing very well that one is often confronted with that which one needs most in ones life, these messages might be interpreted this way:

Green figure: “While you perceive the splendour [Hod—green] of comprehension [Binah—green], you are in a state of imbalance [Left Pillar only]. You have not used self-discipline [Gevurah—red] in order to conquer [Netzach—red] lower desires and your fears [Gevurah—red].”

Red figure: “Your fears [Gevurah—red] have been conquered [Netzach—red]. Having proceeded with determination [Netzach—red], you were brought by your discipline [Gevurah—red] of self to a state of victory [Netzach—red] which will endure [Netzach—red].”

However.....there are many different ways in which these indicators can be many as there are people to interpret them. Everyone will understand in accordance with personal perceptions. Truly, each one of us perceives the world through “me”–coloured glasses!

No comments: