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Absorbing PerfectionsKabbalah and Interpretation$

Moshe Idel

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780300083798

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: October 2013

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300083798.001.0001

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Secrecy, Binah, and Derishah

Secrecy, Binah, and Derishah

(p.202) 7 Secrecy, Binah, and Derishah
Absorbing Perfections

Moshe Idel

Yale University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter is concerned with the existence of secrets within the Torah during late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. It also focuses on the concepts of binah and derishah. These are two verbs that occur within biblical literature and have respective careers within the domain of Jewish esoterica.

Keywords:   secrets, Torah, binah, derishah, biblical literature, Jewish esoterica

I. Secrets of the Torah

In its biblical forms, Judaism is a rather exoteric and democratic type of religiosity. The emphasis on making the teaching of the revealed instructions open to all classes of Israelites and the paramount importance of making religious actions open, in most cases, to all members of the nation, marginalize during the biblical phase of Judaism the surfacing and privileging of mysteries and secrets. Some of the subsequent phases of Judaism can, however, be described as part of an ongoing process of arcanization, to use a term I adopt from Jan Assmann,1 which means that the common texts and actions become fraught with “deeper” and, later on, multiple esoteric meanings. Secrets, in matters of religion as well as in other domains, reflect an important evaluation of a certain topic. If this assumption (p.203) is correct, rabbinic Judaism would look for secrets more in texts than in other realms of reality. Articulated in a period when political power was part of the past, rabbinic esotericism is a matter of decoding the secret found in limited aspects of the text par excellence: the Torah. Unlike Platonic esoteric thinking, which embraces a form of secrecy that is much more political and is articulated in an environment that did not cultivate a canonic text, i.e., the Greek polis, rabbinic religiosity gravitated around a bibliocentric mentality. As such, the religious esotericism in rabbinic texts, and in those formulated in its immediate vicinity or within some of its circles, like the Heikhalot literature, rotates around the transmission of secrets believed to be within some few and limited texts, the way they are extracted from those texts, and how they are to be expounded to a few others.

This does not mean, at least in my opinion, that Jewish esotericism emerged solely from exercising forms of exegetical activity. I assume that in some cases “secrets” had penetrated Jewish circles from outside and were subsequently connected to the biblical texts by some sort of exegesis. According to recent studies, it seems that parts of Jewish esotericism, emerging in later periods, had significant affinities to much earlier esoteric traditions, especially of Assyrian and Babylonian extraction.2 Yet some explicit beginnings of Jewish esotericism are to be found in a later—perhaps the latest—biblical book, the book of Daniel, as well as in the apocryphal literature of the Second Temple3 and in the Qumran literature.4

The vast majority of the literary corpora extant in Hebrew are not esoteric, in the sense of the existence of a comprehensive arcanization of the biblical texts. This is conspicuous in the talmudic and midrashic literatures, which are palpably exoteric corpora; the Heikhalot literature, on the other hand, where esoteric elements are to be found in many cases, is not an interpretive literature that would expand on the idea of a comprehensive and pervasive secret sense of the entire biblical text. The several references to secrets in the apocryphal literature have to do either with secrets of nature5 or with historical, namely eschatological, topics, as is obvious in the Qumran literature6 and in the ancient apocalypses.7

On the other hand, many of Philo of Alexandria's biblical interpretations can be described as mystical, as some scholars have already pointed out.8 Moreover, almost all the rabbinic discussions mentioning secrets, and some of the Heikhalot references to secrets, involve secrets that are at least formally related to some limited parts of the Bible.9 The expression sitrei torah—the most widespread phrase describing Jewish esoterica—or the less well known razei torah and sod ha-torah point to a restriction of the greater variety of secrets in Jewish nonrabbinic literatures to topics included in the Bible alone. In other words, the secrets believed to be inherent in the Bible constitute the bulk of the secrets recognized as such by the rabbis or other Jewish elites.10 This strategy allowed the absorption of several (p.204) types of secrets one would like to adopt, with the condition of being able to offer, ingenuously, links between them and biblical verses. This development raises the importance of hermeneutics, the disclosure of secrets in the canonic texts as well as devices that facilitate their exposition.

I would like to emphasize the possible impact of this simple statement about the existence of a rather wide consensus over the existence of secrets in the Torah in late antiquity and early Middle Ages among Jewish elites. These elites waged intellectual and religious battle over the nature of these secrets and resorted to a huge and diversified array of exegetical methods; but the very invention of secrecy is not their achievement, as it is part of the processes I have described as arcanization. Neither Maimonides nor his Kabbalistic contemporaries nor the Hasidei Ashkenaz invented the concept of secrecy as inherent in the canonical texts of Judaism. Thus, the very concept of secrecy does not emerge as the result of a specific crisis, given the preexistence of the concept of secrecy to the different religious backgrounds of those thinkers. If there were crises that invited some forms of arcanization and the introduction of exegetical methods in order to extract these secrets from the canonic texts, this is a matter of a certain interpretation of the commonly accepted theory of secrecy.

Indeed, the preoccupation with exegetical devices is manifest in medieval Jewish mystical corpora created in different places and times, as the vast literatures of Hasidei Ashkenaz and ecstatic Kabbalah demonstrate.11 The precise sources of some of the complex exegetical devices still await detailed analysis, which may well show their ancient extraction, even when the historical links have been uncharted for centuries.12 In this framework I would like to deal with some expressions that betray these exegetical concerns in the context of studying secrets related to the Torah, or to show how the biblical text has been gradually enveloped by secrets. The nature of these secrets can be approximated by attempting to analyze the context in which they occur, followed by an academic discussion of the nature or the different opinions on the meaning of the Creation (maʾaseh bereshit) or the Chariot (maʾaseh merkavah). Here, however, I would like to adopt a different strategy and investigate two of the verbs that recur in the context of secrets, verbs that describe how one may decode these secrets or expound them. By adopting such a strategy, I will advance a claim about the nature of these secrets: they represent contents that are deeply connected to texts of the Bible but constitute a hidden understanding of some parts of this canon. This understanding could be fathomed and consequently is different from mysteries, which, even when presented as part of a ritual, can hardly be understood and primarily have a great emotional effect. Let me survey the use of two verbs occurring in biblical literature and their subsequent careers in the domain of Jewish esoterica.

(p.205) II. Binah, or Understanding the Bible

The term binah, meaning understanding or discernment, and its derivatives occur many times in the Bible and postbiblical literature. They possess a variety of nuances, each developing successively. Here I should like to focus on one particular usage of the derivative verb, which signifies a deeper understanding that penetrates the superficial knowledge of a given topic. This fathoming of the meaning of a text, of a tradition, of a vision or revelation, sometimes involves the disclosure of the (often allegedly) implied secrets. Let me adduce the descriptions of this term in several scholarly studies and then add some texts concerning the extraction or reception of secrets in a context where Binah is mentioned. In the first chapter of Deuteronomy Moses tells the people of Israel, “Take wise men, of understanding, who are known among the tribes,”13 in order to help him guide the people. Later in the same chapter, however, Moses indicates that he took “wise and known men,”14 while nevonim, the understanding ones, are not mentioned at all. In some rabbinic discussions of the discrepancy between the verses, the claim is made that understanding men were not found in Moses' generation, an argument that implies that understanding is a very high spiritual attainment.15 Against this view of understanding as higher than wisdom, represented by the Babylonian attitude,16 the apparently Palestinian view was that wisdom is superior to understanding.17 In another biblical discussion, a rather hypostatic view of Binah is found, which parallels that of Hokhmah, Wisdom. In Proverbs 8:14 Wisdom declares, “Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom, I am understanding, I have strength.” This identity between the hypostatic Wisdom and Understanding is also found at the beginning of the same chapter: “Does not Wisdom call? And Understanding put forth her voice?”18

This sequence to the features of Wisdom is reminiscent of Isaiah 11:2, where the messianic figure is described in the following words: “And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of Wisdom and Understanding, the spirit of Counsel and Strength, the spirit of Knowledge and of Fear of the Lord.”19 It is quite plausible that, as in the phrase “spirit of the Lord,” which implies a descent of the divine on the chosen man, so too the expression “spirit of Wisdom and Understanding” reflects a hypostatic status of those two concepts. An alternative reading may assume that the spirit of the Lord is a collective description of the six characteristics later enumerated; such a reading again implies a hypostatic status of Binah.

In the book of Daniel, however, the hypostatic stand seems to be absent, and the occurrence of the term binah has more to do with an epistemic claim; the meaning of binah in this book has been described by Gerald H. Wilson: “Bina in (p.206) Daniel therefore, unlike the wisdom literature, is not the end product of careful observation of experience through the analytic processes of the human mind. It is instead the knowledge which is beyond the ability of even the great hakam Daniel to understand and which must be interpreted by divine revelation … This increased emphasis in ch. 8–12 on instruction in esoteric knowledge sets Daniel's usage of these terms apart from that of biblical wisdom.”20 Indeed, the use of binah and haven in those chapters is very conspicuous, involving both the deeper understanding of the content of a vision21 and of a book,22 in both cases the eschatological secrets being evident. Moreover, the terminology of secrecy is found in Daniel 2:22, where ʿamiqataʾ, the profound secrets,23 and mesatrata', the hidden things, have had a great influence on the subsequent Jewish esoteric nomenclature.24 The two tendencies found in the biblical literature, seeing in the terms derived from BYN either the hermeneutical activity of understanding a text or a hypostasis on the high, have become the blueprints of the later Jewish esotericism. Binah as a noun represents the hypostatic approach, while the verbal forms, which may likewise imply the gift of understanding given by a higher entity, reflect the hermeneutical approach.

It seems that in this sense the verb occurs several times in the Qumran literature. In the Manual of Discipline, for example, it is said that at the end of time God “will cause the upright to understand the knowledge of the Most High, and teach the wisdom of the sons of heaven to the perfect way.”25 I take the understanding of the knowledge of God as higher than the knowledge of the wisdom of angels, referred to here as the sons of heaven. The strong hifʿil verb form is understood here as the act of God, who causes the upright to understand, and not simply as an act of independent understanding of man.26 The verb is used in this sense in a Qumran psalm, where it is demanded of God to grant understanding of the Torah, havineni YHWH be-toratekhah.27 In another pertinent passage, found in the so-called Apocalypse of Levi as preserved by the Qumran community, we learn that the sage Hakim “understands the depths and speaking the enigmas.” The first part of this quote translates the phrase mitbonen be-ʿamiq[i]n,28 which has been translated into French as comprendre les profondeurs.29 Elsewhere this treatise speaks of the “revelation of the profound secrets, which were not understood.”30 Several times in the Scroll of the Thanksgivings the sectarian confesses that he knows by means of the binah of God,31 in the context of revelation of the wondrous secrets.32

Aside from this direct illumination of God, in the Qumran literature there is yet another relevant meaning of the verb, as Steven Fraade has noted: “In the Dead Sea Scrolls the verb hevin is commonly used to denote the prophetic enlightenment of the community by its priestly leaders and by God.”33 The same tendency to discern in the verb BYN a special form of understanding is found in David (p.207) Daube's analysis of rabbinic texts; following W. Bacher,34 Daube assumes that BYN is “employed by the Rabbis preferably where the deeper meaning in question is of a secret, dangerous character.”35 He mentions several sources, including chapter 9 and 12 of the book of Daniel, and understands the instance of this verb in Daniel 9:2 as denoting “to get at the bottom of allusions made in the sacred books.”36 It seems that binah is a superrational faculty that is the organ of perception of the alleged inner or even esoteric meanings of a text. This also seems to be the term's meaning in a famous mishnaic passage dealing with the spiritual qualities of those to whom someone is allowed to expound the accounts of Creation and the Chariot; the recipient scholar is supposed to be “wise, and he understood by his own intellect,” hakham vehevin mi-daʿato.37 I assume that understanding, being a requirement for the reception of the most esoteric kind of knowledge in Judaism, somehow transcends the kind of elementary comprehension that comes from having an ordinary intelligence (daʿato). In a talmudic discussion (BT, Shabbat, fol. 31a) the understanding of one thing from another is described as proceeding from a preoccupation with wisdom. The talmudic list of qualities required in order to receive the secret topics also includes the phrase navon lahash,38 which means “‘one who understands [things] transmitted in a whisper,’ namely one who is able to receive esoteric matters, which are transmitted orally, in a whisper.”39

On the same page in the Talmud we learn that a young boy, Tinoq, “was reading the book of Ezekiel in the house of his master, and he was understanding40 [the nature of] the Hashmal, and then a fire went out of the Hashmal and consumed him.”41 This text assumes that the book of Ezekiel, found in the house of a master, is an esoteric work and that its reading implies an esoteric activity.42 Understanding therefore stands for a more advanced form of activity, and it alone seems to entail lethal danger. Thus I assume that it is an understanding not merely of the prophetic text but of the nature of an esoteric issue, the Hashmal43 (apparently a kind of amber emanating light around the divine throne), which was interpreted as some sort of angelic powers in the Talmud.44 Understanding is more than simply decoding the meaning of the mysterious Hashmal; it involves bringing someone into a direct relation to the entity represented by words in the text, and thus it creates a dangerous situation. I assume that such a reading also means fathoming the secret knowledge allegedly coded within the biblical text. This view regarding the story of the boy is corroborated by another story, also found in the Hagigah version, where the discussion of topics related to the Chariot induces the presence of the Shekhinah and produces some fiery phenomena fraught with danger.45 R. Eleazar ben ʿArakh's exposition is lauded by his teacher, R. Yohanan ben Zakkai, in a rather interesting manner: he blesses the (p.208) patriarch Abraham for his descendant's achievement, because the latter is able to “understand, and inquire and expound.”46 It seems, therefore, that according to those sources, the mere discussion of secrets pertaining to the higher world is instrumental in the emergence of extraordinary phenomena, which may endanger someone who is not prepared to encounter them.47 An interesting statement, found in what is called the Hebrew Book of Enoch, claims that the book's protagonist is granted “all the secrets of the Torah, all the secrets of binah and all the depths48 of the secret of Torah.”49

It should be emphasized that in rabbinic texts, unlike Daniel, no divine revelation, in the strict sense of this term, is connected to binah, but rather permission for the transmission of an already existing, though apparently initially revealed, type of knowledge. In one of the Heikhalot texts the mystic is told that he “should understand what is in his heart, and be silent,50 in order to merit the [vision of] the beauty of the Merkavah.”51

The inner understanding, together with other acts, is therefore a prerequisite for mystical experience. In our case the mystical vision of the Merkavah, formulated in a manner reminiscent of the vision of God's beauty,52 is preceded by the understanding of what is in one's heart. This expression is very similar to other expressions that also occur before an act related to the Merkavah. So, for example, in the Gemara it is said that “many have expected to expound the Merkavah, though they never saw it.”53 In the context of the discussion about a blind man's officiating in the ritual for the congregation, this sentence means that because of his blindness he could not view the Chariot and thus should not attempt to expound this topic to others. R. Yehudah's answer is that the vision of the Merkavah is not an ocular activity or achievement but depends on the understanding of the heart, ʿovantaʾ de-libbaʾ.54 At least in the view of R. Yehudah, the understanding of the Merkavah in the heart does allow even a blind person to expound related topics to others. What is the meaning of ʿovantaʾ in this context? In my opinion, the view of R. Yehudah is an alternative to the ocular vision, and though speaking about understanding, he actually refers to an inner vision. Thus, the above text from the Heikhalot literature, which is related to the Merkavah, opens the way to another, more external or, in the last case, public understanding concerning this issue, which we shall return to later on.

It is the understanding of the paramount importance of binah as pointing to instruction in esoteric knowledge, as included in the book of Daniel, which reverberates in a relatively late midrash ʾOtiyyot de-Rabbi ʿAqivah, which preserved views and material from the Heikhalot literature: “You should know that binah is exalted in the eyes of God, even more than the Torah is, so that even if one reads the Torah, the Prophets, and the Hagiography, and studies Mishnah, Midrash Halakhah and (p.209) ʾAggadah, Traditions and Tossafot, Moshelot and Maʿamadot, and all the orders of the Midrash, and has no binah, his Torah is as worth nothing, as it is written,55 ‘The binah of His wise men shall be hid.’”56 I assume that it is not only intellectual capability—a very high one indeed, as it is considered to be higher than the Torah—that defines binah but also a peculiar power that penetrates complex issues. In my view, this passage does not afford a totally independent status to binah, but this capacity is exercised while studying the various parts of the Jewish canon.

A similar stand seems to be reflected in a well-known talmudic passage that elucidates R. Abbahu's quotation of the verse “The words of the Lord are pure words, silver refined in a furnace upon the ground, purified seven times,”57 as follows: “Fifty gates of understanding were created in the world, and all were given to Moses save one, as it says:58 ‘Yet thou hast made him little59 lower than a God.’”60 The forty-nine gates seem to be related to a cosmological principle, which initially was not linked to the interpretation of the Bible. This seems obvious from the fact that the gates are depicted as created in the world. On the other hand, the reference to the verse concerning the sevenfold refinement can be understood, as some interpreters have already done, as meaning seven times seven.61 Because this refinement is ostensibly related to the scriptures, a nexus has been created, by dint of this juxtaposition, between the gates, which apparently are a cosmological principle revealed to Moses, and the seven-times-seven ways to understand the scriptures.62 Although no secret way of understanding is explicit here, the fact that only Moses was graced with such a gift shows that this is indeed a superior type of knowledge.

At the end of this short survey of the occurrence of the term binah in connection with secrets and secrecy, it would be in order to draw attention to two texts that assume a metaphysical existence of binah, in a way reminiscent of the biblical hypostatic views mentioned above. One is the famous talmudic passage dealing with the creation of the world by means of ten things, one of them being teuunah, a synonym of binah.63 This is one of the sources of the Kabbalistic hypostatic notion of Binah as a sefirotic attribute of God. In the second passage, from Sefer ha-Razim, a third-century magical text,64 the sun is invoked by the names of “the angels that cause men of knowledge to understand65 and to discern66 lore and obscure [things].”67 Again the angels are portrayed as instructing men to understand secret lore.

III. Binah: Medieval Reverberations

The use of the verb haven to point out a special, oftentimes more profound understanding of a text, occurs thousands of times in the Middle Ages, both in philosophical and in Kabbalistic literatures. Phrases like ha-mevin yavin and ha-maskkil (p.210) yavin are commonplaces for an independent understanding of a topic conceived to be difficult, and their recurrence is so ubiquitous that it needs no detailed demonstration. Here, however, I would like to address but a few of the many instances of the special meaning of binah.

Let me turn first to a short text found in a manuscript whose precise background is unclear: “The perfect hasid, who has no evil thought, [namely] R. ʿAqivah was described as being worthy of [magically] using the glory of heaven,68 and he was given Binah and he knew how to expound.”69,70 Here, as in the Mishnah of Hagigah, the presence of binah is a precondition for expounding esoteric issues. However, whereas in the Hagigah passage the recipient of understanding receives the exposition from another sage, here the understanding is a precondition for his own capacity to expound. This hierarchical distinction between binah and derishah,71 both related to the transmission or exposition of religious secrets, also involves a magical moment: the power to use the divine glory, a quality attributed to R. ʿAqivah in BT, Hagigah, fol. 15b.72 In this text both the faculty of binah and the activity of expounding are attributed to R. ʿAqivah, a figure whose name plays an important role in the Heikhalot literature as a mystic and in the midrashic literature as someone who expounded the scriptures in a rather peculiar way.73 Indeed, this last quote is consonant with the one we saw earlier from ʾOtiyyot de-Rabbi ʿAqivah.

This type of relationship between understanding and mystical experience is paralleled by a statement of R. Hai Gaon, an eleventh-century Jewish religious master, in a passage that deals with the Hagigah esoteric topics: “The whispers he is whispered,74 and the general [principles]75 are delivered to him, and he understands them,76 and from heaven he is shown77 in the [most] hidden [part] of his heart.”78,79 Understanding is explicitly connected here to secrets shown from above. It should be emphasized that understanding is the human faculty that enables the mystic to comprehend the revealed principles, which facilitates the understanding of secrets. We can easily see here the two trends related to this verb—that of Daniel, emphasizing the need for revelation from above, and that of the superior understanding that enables the independent understanding of secrets. Here understanding concerns inductive knowledge; the principles are understood in their more detailed forms, and these forms, or contents, prepare the mystic for an understanding that precedes the vision of the beauty of the Merkavah. A contemporary of R. Hai Gaon uses the phrase mevinei sodim, namely those who understand the secrets.80

In a prayer pronounced before the ritual reading of the Torah on the New Year (Rosh ha-Shana) God is asked to grant “intelligence and understanding, in order to comprehend and understand the depths of its81 secrets.”82 Again this verb (p.211) occurs in a context ostensibly devoted to secrets, in a passage attributed to an eleventh-century rabbi,83 R. Isaac ha-Levi, one of the Rashi's teachers, who describes the concern of the Ashkenazi Jews with the ritual poems thus: “They fathom84 [in order] to understand85 the commandment of the secret of our Lord, in the Torah, which has a pedigree and a [reliable] tradition [qabbalah] from a rabbi.”86 The occurrence of the verb maʿamiqim, “fathom,” before the verb “to understand” seems to qualify the special understanding related to the “commandment of the secret of God,” a rather obscure phrase. What is especially pertinent to our discussion is the fact that the secret not only is related to God but also is found in the Torah, according to the reliable tradition. Thus, the secret related to God can be extracted from the Bible by fathoming its meaning.

This also seems to be the meaning of binah in another passage, written by the poet R. Benjamin ben Shmuel, who lived in Lombardy in the early eleventh century. In one of his poems he put in the mouth of God the following verse, as a response to the Torah: “How shall I give your secret87 to the immortals?88 Is not the majority of your binah,89 the matter of those [consisting of] flesh and blood, who decode them?”90 I assume that the secret of the Torah is parallel to the majority of the binah, which is deciphered by mortals. If this juxtaposition is correct, then the binah of the Torah means in this case the secret of the Torah, which is to be penetrated by man.91 In another poem this poet makes an explicit connection between the forty-nine gates and the tablets of the Torah, thereby establishing a rather hermeneutical role for the gates.92

The possible links between binah and secrets of the Torah served as the background for the emergence of a very complex treatment of the talmudic phrase “fifty gates of binah.” This seems to be the case in another eleventh-century text, R. Moses ha-Darshan's Bereshit Rabbati, where eight thousand gates of understanding were mentioned as having been given to Moses and as corresponding to the books of the prophets, while five thousand gates of wisdom correspond to the five books of the Pentateuch.93 Around 1217 R. Eleazar of Worms composed a lengthy treatise named Sefer ha-Hokhmah, on seventy-three exegetical methods of interpreting the Bible, designated as “gates of hokhmah.” These gates are explicitly related to the Torah, on the one hand, and to fifty (sometimes forty-nine) gates of understanding, on the other. The meaning of these links is by no means clear, as various scholarly attempts to explain them show.94 I am not sure that the Bereshit Rabbati view should not be addressed in this context. However, it seems that an interesting proposal in an article by Ivan Marcus may be relevant to our discussion.95 Marcus surmises that the seventy-three methods of hokhmah96 are intended as ways to reach the secret meanings of the Torah, meanings that are identical with the gates of binah.97 Or, to formulate this affinity differently: it is by means of (p.212) the gates of hokhmah, conceived of as technical devices, that the secret contents, the gates of binah, are allegedly extracted from the text. This resort to extrinsic methods to fathom the intrinsic secrets assumes that binah, or more precisely its gates, stands for the secrets of the text, in a manner reminiscent of some of the eleventh-century texts quoted above. Indeed, as a passage from Sefer Hasidim, a book composed in the milieu of R. Eleazar, indicates, the fifty gates of understanding are the goodness of God, which are hints and secrets placed in the Torah. They were dispersed there in order “to increase the reward of those who fear Him properly. They have to look for them, as it is written:98 ‘If you seek her99 as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.’”100

The verb in Proverbs deals with the search for binah, but in Sefer Hasidism this quest is undertaken within the text of the Torah. Once again, binah stands for the esoteric aspect of the Torah. Understanding is thus not a general quality, a general way of discerning, but the hidden aspects of the Torah. I would say that the cosmological background of a hypothetically earlier attribution of the comprehensive knowledge of Adam as possessing those gates was absorbed within a hermeneutics whose center is a text and the identity of whose protagonist was changed from Adam to Moses.101

The importance of understanding is quite obvious in Kabbalistic literature. This is a recurrent theme that cannot be dealt with in the present framework, given the hypostatic role attributed to the nouns binah and tevunah and the many functions that the sefirah to which they refer may serve. I would like to emphasize, however, the special importance of understanding at the beginning of Kabbalah, in the writings of R. Jacob ben Sheshet and Nahmanides. The Geronese Kabbalist R. Jacob ben Sheshet indicates that he received a tradition to the effect that the fifty gates consist of five sets of ten gates, each set explicating one of the five parts of the Pentateuch. Thus, we have strong evidence that from the very beginning of the Spanish Kabbalah, “gate” means a way of understanding the Torah.102 Elsewhere, ben Sheshet mentions the gates in a context that is conspicuously related to the Torah. He identifies forty-nine gates with the written Torah, on the basis of the nexus with the talmudic discussion of the forty-nine ways of interpreting the Torah, and views the remaining gate as identical to the oral Torah. The two Torahs represent, respectively, the male and female aspects of the divinity, which should, according to the text, be unified.103

Nahmanides, as we have seen, juxtaposed the fifty gates of understanding with the forty-nine ways of expounding the Torah.104 The relevance of this nexus becomes more obvious when he asserts that whatever was said to Moses in the framework of those gates has been written in the Torah, either explicitly or esoterically.105 (p.213) In general, however, Nahmanides should be seen as emphasizing the ontological view of the gates as related to various realms of reality.106 Indeed, he repeatedly points out the need of understanding for the reception of the esoteric tradition, Kabbalah. So, for example, he mentions that his own words regarding Kabbalah “would not be comprehended by [way of] intellect and understanding, but from the mouth of a wise Kabbalist to the ear of an understanding receiver.”107 Elsewhere he insists that secret topics will not be understood108 but by means of oral transmission.109 In this vein, he asserts that “the secret of the account of Creation is profound, that cannot be understood from the pertinent verses but should be received orally … neither understood in a complete manner from the verses.”110 In those instances Nahmanides betrays an attitude to binah that is rather complex: understanding is needed in order to receive the secrets by way of oral transmission, but it is not a reliable organ for extracting secrets from the biblical sources. In one case, he uses the verb “understand” in the context of secrets, but at the same time he mentions that one must be meritorious in order to receive the secret.111 This cosmological vision of the gates, which dramatically attenuates their exegetical role, seems to be fundamentally different from that received by ben Sheshet. In any case, it seems that Nahmanides was faithful to the mishnaic vision concerning understanding as the organ for receiving secrets, but not as an exegetical tool for extracting them from a text.112

In Sefer ha-Yihud, an anonymous thirteenth-century text, we read:

And the knowledge of the Creator, may His name be blessed and exalted, consists of eight sets of alphabets such as113 va-yisaʾ va-yavoʾ va-yet which contain twenty-six letters. And before the Torah proper was given at Sinai, Moses was in Egypt. And it is accepted that Levi possessed a book of Kabbalah and he studied from it, as did those who preceded him … Moses studied the Kabbalah in its most complete form, with a pure spirit and a new heart, more so than any other man, and he attained certain knowledge of the Creator. Regarding him it is written,114 “And there has not since then arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses whom the Lord knew face to face, not before or after.” And so too we find in Sefer ha-Mafteah that before Moses returned to Egypt, the Holy One, blessed and exalted be His name, chose him from among the tribe of Levi so that he may serve Him. And Moses learned the entire Kabbalah from the alphabets, and his study of wisdom and knowledge and understanding refers to the letters and their vowels. And anyone who will understand and know and understand [sic] the power of the letters and vowels and their [visual] forms and the effects of their forms will understand and have knowledge of the blessed Creator.115

(p.214) The emphasis on the linguistic elements points to the technical aspect of the Kabbalah, for according to this text the Kabbalist is able, by means of the secrets of letters, to reach an understanding of the divine on his own. In fact, the basic structure of this passage assumes that a secret knowledge that predated the revelation of the Torah includes wisdom. Moses prepared himself by study of the intellectual tools, which allows the understanding of the revelation to emerge only later. To a certain extent, acquaintance with the elements of the language and their secret meaning will open the way for understanding the revealed text. According to the anonymous passage Kabbalah, understood in a manner close to the elements of the ecstatic Kabbalah, preceded not only the Torah (in the case of the hero of that revelation) but also Jews in Egypt and, I assume, Jews in general, as it may point to an Adamic secret tradition that prepared the revelation of the exoteric canonic text.

The view that at the age of forty one achieves binah, together with the various formulations that connected the term binah with deeper understanding, including an understanding of the secrets in the biblical text, contributed to the emergence of the idea that secrets can be transmitted to one who has reached forty years of age or, alternatively, that this age is appropriate for studying secret topics.116 So, for example, the age of forty has been connected by a thirteenth-century philosopher active in Spain, R. Shem Tov Falaquera, to the study of Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed, which should be approached only at forty because of the vanishing of the fervor of youth at that age.117 Moreover, Falaquera says, the topics dealt with by Maimonides are called binah. I am inclined to assume that the issues referred to by the vague term ʿinyanim stand for the secret aspects of the Guide of the Perplexed.118

Abraham Abulafia, around 1280, defined the mevin as higher than the hakham, who is described as a student of books: “If he obtains it [knowledge] by [way of] the Kabbalah, that is to say as a tradition from one who has himself obtained it from the contemplation of the divine names or from another Kabbalist, then he is called mevin.”119 Higher than the mevin is the daʿatan, who receives the content of his knowledge of reality from his own heart. Thus Abulafia interprets the mishnaic statement about hakham, mevin mi-daʿato, as pointing to three different stages in the intellective process, understanding being the second. Elsewhere in the same context Abulafia speaks about “the binah that is received from the mouth of the true Kabbalists,”120 thus creating a clear identification between the concept of a received, apparently secret tradition and binah. According to this vision of Kabbalah, this means of acquiring lore is a rather mediocre approach which should, ideally, be transcended by independent speculations and revelations.121

In the 1280s R. Todros ben Joseph ha-Levi Abulafia, a central figure in Castilian (p.215) Jewry and an important Kabbalist, emphasized the fundamental role of the knowledge of the esoteric tradition dealing with the structure of the Tetragrammaton in order to understand the mysteries of the Torah:

Know that by the knowledge of the innermost [part] of the structure of its letters, all the secrets of the Torah and the prophets122 will be explained and revealed to whoever will know it, each in accordance with what he will be announced from heaven to understand, one thing from another, and to return the thing to its [proper] essence. Happy is he who will be able to understand even one of the thousands upon thousands of mysteries and allusions that are inscribed in the innerness of the letters of the [divine] name for [the sake of] those who know. Oh we who see and do not understand what do we see!123 All the ancient and later masters of Kabbalah have sworn not to hint at issues [of Kabbalah], but they hint at their modest124 disciples the notes of the chapters.125

From the perspective of the types of Kabbalah represented in their books, R. Todros Abulafia's thought has nothing to do with Abraham Abulafia's ecstatic Kabbalah. Despite the coincidence of their names, the two masters were not from the same family, nor did they share a common Kabbalistic worldview. Nevertheless, the quoted passage, dealing with the secrets of the structure of the Tetragrammaton as a compendium of the entire text of the Bible and thus its understanding as a sine qua non, is reminiscent of the ecstatic Kabbalist's emphasis on the importance of the Tetragrammaton and the centrality of revelation from above. Even more fascinating are the affinities between this passage and that of a student of Abraham Abulafia's, R. Joseph Gikatilla, who also assumed that the entire Torah is contained within the Tetragrammaton. (We shall explore this topic in Chapters 10 and 12.) Therefore, seeing the letters of the Tetragrammaton should be complemented by a more profound knowledge, the understanding, which is also related to the concept of revelation from above.

Within this limited framework it is impossible to treat all the avatars of binah and of the processes related to the understanding of secrets. They remained part and parcel of Jewish mysticism,126 and a much more detailed survey is still a desideratum.

IV. Derishah: From Oracle to Interpretation

Let me investigate a development that points to the peculiar nature of the rabbinic and Heikhalot methods of expounding Torah secret. Instead of the direct approach to the divine found in the prophetic literature, the mediation of the text and its study or the decoding the significance of a revelation is necessary in order (p.216) to reach a realm of experience beyond the ordinary types of cognition. The first step of this development has been ably described by Michael Fishbane:

Whereas the verb DRSh refers to oracular inquiry in Exod. 18:15, it is used as a term of rational legal investigation in Deut. 13:15, 17:4, 9, and 19:18 … For whereas the expression “to inquire (lidrosh) of the Torah of YHWH” occurs in a mantic context of prophetic inquiry in 1 Kgs. 22:8, for example, and the expression “to inquire of ʾElohim” occurs in a mantic context of legal inquiry in Exod. 18:15 of “the Torah of YHWH.” Here the text of the divine words serves, as it were, as an oraculum for the rational-exegetical inquiry.127

The shift from the oracular use of the root DRSh128 in relation to God to the inquiry into the text in an exegetical manner is a development that assumes that the text substituted divine direct revelation. I would like to propose that these two forms of mantic understanding of the verb DRSh remained interconnected in some later Jewish texts, where the inquiry into the secret meaning of the Torah was instrumental in experientially discovering the divine within the text.129 The canonic text functions, in many important instances in Jewish mysticism, as a means of recovering the divine by various forms of intense reading and studying the details of the revealed book. In my opinion, the overlapping of exegetical or hermeneutical experience, on the one hand, and mystical experience, on the other, is an alternative way of separating literature from experience or of making a sharp distinction between interpretation and ecstasy.130

So, for example, a possible nexus between the verb DRSh and secrets is represented by a reconstructed verse of Ben Sira: “He will inquire into the hidden aspects of the parable, and he will itratash131 the enigma of the mashal.”132 It is not certain that the biblical texts are implied here at all, though at the beginning the torat ʿelyon and the nevuʾot are mentioned (verses 1–2), while in verse 3 the sihat ʾanshei shem and ʿimqei melitzot, namely the depths of the metaphors,133 are mentioned. The basic assumption here is that a parable has a cryptic meaning that should be disclosed by the sage. In any case, even if we assume that these verses deal with some biblical passages, there is no doubt that only a few instances in the Bible may be included in this category.

To demonstrate that esotericism has not been envisioned as an important preoccupation, it is sufficient to quote two well-known verses from Ben Sira III: “21: Things hidden from you [pelaʾot] do not inquire into [al tidrosh], and things covered to you do not seek. 22: What you have been permitted to deal with do contemplate, but have nothing to do with things hidden [nistarot].”134 This text is to be understood in the context of verse 18: “The graces of God are numerous, and to the humble135 will He disclose His secret[s].”136 This means that the verb lidrosh (p.217) implies a deliberate but forbidden initiative to understand hidden things, which can nevertheless be disclosed by God. As Segal has proposed,137 the term pelaʾot may stand for the wonders of the Creation, as the parallel in Ben Sira XLIII:2g may indicate. Thus, the knowledge of secrets is a matter not of successful inquiry but of a revelation promised to those who are humble.138 This warning has been repeated in many instances in rabbinic literature, which adopted this reticence to plunge into esoterica as a basic position.139 Given the fact that a literary continuity between Ben Sira's view of esotericism and the rabbinic one is conspicuous, for the passage from this book is widely quoted in rabbinic sources, we may assume that the significance of the verb lidrosh is shared by some texts written in the middle of the second century B.C.E. and some written around 200 C.E. Indeed, the continuity related to the verbs that recur in the context of discovering and sometimes exposing secrets shows that at least some consistency in terminology, and to a partial degree insofar as concepts are concerned, can be established.

In the Qumran literature we again find a use of this verb in the context of exposing an esoteric layer of the Torah. In fact, the institution of doresh torah, the interpreter of the Law, seems to be related, as S. Fraade has indicated, to an esoteric teaching characteristic of the Dead Sea sect.140 This verb also plays an important role in the passages discussing the exposition of secrets in the mishnaic and talmudic material. In one of the passages, three topics were considered eminently esoteric: the ʿarayyiot (or, according to some versions, sitrei ʿarayyiot), the secrets of incestuous relations; the account of the Creation (Bereshit); and the account of the Chariot (Merkavah).141 An Aramaic version of the boy's story regarding the Hashmal, mentioned above, indicates that the boy was expounding the matter of the Hashmal rather than understanding it.142 Provided that understanding precedes expounding, a condition found in this context, we may assume that two different forms of dealing with the Hashmal are involved: one, represented by the Hebrew version, involves understanding, which means the boy's mental involvement with the topic and which may have an experiential aspect (hence the danger), and at the same time a transgression of the esoteric restriction on studying some texts, as we shall see below. The Aramaic version, however, insists on the disclosure of secrets rather than their understanding. It is the later stage of dealing with the Hashmal secret, the turn to the audience, the revelation of a secret, that incited the reaction of the Hashmal. Indeed, R. Shlomo Yitzhaqi, better known as Rashi, the famous eleventh-century interpreter of the Talmud, connected the two stages of the boy's activity, saying that hayah mevin refers to an activity that leads to an exposition of the Hashmal.143 According to such an interpretation, the intention of the fathoming of this topic was its subsequent exposition, apparently under the impact of the story on R. Eleazar ben ʿArakh, mentioned (p.218) above. It seems quite plausible that the three esoteric topics point to particular well-defined parts of the Bible: as Origen pointed out, the first chapter of Genesis and the first chapter of Ezekiel. According to Origen, the third forbidden part of the Bible was the Song of Songs, which in my opinion is somehow related to incest.144

The possible implication of the mentioning of these texts is, however, far from encouraging for a theory of a comprehensive arcanization of the Bible. On the contrary, it displays a restrictive arcanization: it assumes that only these texts, out of the huge biblical corpus, should not be interpreted, and again the verb lidrosh is used to point out issues not to be dealt with in public. This restriction means that the Bible as a whole is not an esoteric text. Origen's formulation of his statement, namely that the rabbis had limited the study of the last three texts, which were not taught to the younger ones, ad ultimum reservari, assumes that the texts themselves, not only their secret interpretations, have been reserved for a later period of study. I propose to call this phenomenon unisemic arcanization. We may assume that it is something in the plain sense of those texts, as perceived by some rabbis contemporary with Origen, that was thought to be problematic, not its alleged esoteric level. It may well be that some more widespread topics in the ambiance of the Tannaites were considered to be harmful, and the very reading of the book of Ezekiel could serve as a trigger of interest in these issues.

However, the mishnaic text, which uses the term lidrosh in the sense of expounding secret topics, assumes that the secrets can be extracted from the texts or elaborated when received from someone else. These texts are therefore understood at least as bisemic. Interpretation is instrumental in the extraction of secret meaning from the text, or at least in its exposition. Yet both Origen and the Mishnah indicate the special status of many of the same texts. We may assume that their slight divergence nevertheless reflects a bifurcation of an early esoteric position on the special status of these texts.

While Origen speaks of age as a criterion for dealing with these texts,145 the mishnaic passage regards the size of the restricted group as quintessential. Thus, we have two different criteria,146 which may reflect the existence of different nuances—and perhaps more than mere nuances—in ancient Jewish understandings of the unique nature of some parts of the Bible. It follows that the act of expounding secrets requires not so much a special initiation but rather a higher type of intelligence, which will facilitate the understanding of the details of the elaborations on the secrets. Mental maturity in general is mentioned elsewhere in the context of revealing the secrets of the Torah in a text that apparently constitutes a possible parallel to Origen's claim. E. E. Urbach, in his study of the relation between Origen's interpretations of the Song of Songs and the rabbinic (p.219) homilies,147 mentions (in another context other than Origen's tradition) the view in the Palestinian Talmud that while students are young they should be taught divrei torah, apparently only the plain sense of the Torah. When they become more mature, however, the secrets of the Torah should be revealed to them.148 No specific age has been mentioned, as in the case of Origen, nor does this text indicate the necessity of special intellectual preparation, as the Mishnah on hagigah implies. In any case, these discussions, both those preserved in the rabbinic texts and those found in Origen (but not those of the Heikhalot literature) appear to involve no special rite of disclosing secrets, no ascetic path, no total transformation of the personality by the disclosure of the secrets of the Torah or of the world. As we have seen in the discussion of ʾAvot, the transformation of the student's capacities precedes the reception of the secrets of the Torah, although their reception contributes to further transformations.

The talmudic interpretation of the mishnaic term lidrosh assumes an ascent of the protagonists to the Pardes.149 In my opinion, which I will elaborate elsewhere in much more detail,150 the three topics in the Mishnah correspond to the three first Tannaitic figures-Ben Azzai on incest, Ben Zoma on the account of Creation, and Aher on the account of the Chariot—while R. ʿAqivah is related to the correct knowledge of the concept of shiʿur qomah. In other words, the esoteric topics of the mishnaic period have been interpreted by means of legendary material dealing with the ascent on high. Although the rabbinic masters who edited the Talmud did not disclose the details of the three topics, it is obvious that they had in mind experiential moments related to the inquiry into these issues. At least in the Jewish Babylonian sources, discussions on esoteric issues were understood as leading to paranormal experiences.

I do not know, and therefore I cannot claim, that the discussions of the three topics also involved an in-depth study of the biblical texts mentioned by Origen. This is an open question, but a positive answer seems to be more plausible than a negative one.

An important text that reveals the use of the verb DRSh in a rather magical context, is found in the Heikhalot literature: “[God] has revealed to them the secret151 of the Torah, how they will perform it, how they will expound152 it, how they will make use of it. Immediately, the Divine Spirit appeared.”153 The verbs in this passage precisely parallel those in the previously quoted passage from Sar ha-Torah. In lieu of the gazing into the Torah, however, the appearance of the divine spirit is mentioned. This appearance is caused by magical means but in itself seems to be a rather mystical experience, which helps us better understand the mystical meaning of the gazing in the other text. This is, in my opinion, not a mere mentalistic reading but an experiential one fraught with revelatory potential.

(p.220) Unlike the important career of the verb BYN in Jewish mysticism, DRSh became part of the more general homiletic kind of interpretation, and during the Middle Ages it did not generally become associated with expositions of secret topics. An interesting instance of connecting secrets and expounding is found in a theosophical treatise by R. Moses ben Shem Tov de Leon, Sefer Shoshan ʿEdut, where it is mentioned that by means of some Kabbalistic secrets the Torah has been expounded.154 The only instance I am acquainted with that regards the derash as an exegetical device concerned with mystical meaning is found in a mid-thirteenth-century treatise by R. Isaac ben Abraham ibn Latif, as proposed by S. O. Heller-Wilensky.155

V. Concluding Remarks

The two most important biblical books mentioned above in the context of Jewish esotericism are Daniel and Ezekiel, books composed in Babylonia. Significant esoteric topics are alluded to in Ezekiel, and the emphatic use of the verb BYN in reference to deeper understanding occurs in Daniel. Interestingly, complex exegetical devices corresponding, according to Stephen Lieberman, to those found in the Babylonian environment have been applied to the enigmatic verses of the book of Daniel.156 These observations may contribute some modest insights toward locating some of the origins of Jewish esotericism in the ambiance of exile circles in Babylonia,157 or circles influenced by them, an observation corroborated by rabbinic statements asserting that the “names of the angels” were brought from Babylonia.158 One medieval tradition has it that a Babylonian figure, Abu Aharon ben Shmuel of Baghdad, allegedly brought some secrets to Europe.159 On the other hand, Palestinian tradition's preference for hokhmah over binah was adopted by the Kabbalistic theosophical tradition, where the sefirah of Hokhmah always precedes that of Binah. In any case, it is also possible to see the third sefirah as an evolutionary stage, in comparison to higher sefirah of Hokhmah.

To speak in broader terms, the above survey, tentative and fragmentary as it is, may be important for sketching later developments in Jewish esotericism in general and of Jewish hermeneutics in particular, for two main reasons. A belief in an esoteric aspect or layer, or even a comprehensive esoteric meaning of Jewish canonical texts, is not new to the medieval thinkers. In believing in such a dimension, they did not innovate out of nothing but sometimes continued, at times guessed, and often invented or fabricated secrets because they already had sufficient grounds to believe that a secret dimension is predicated in reliable sources. When dealing with the different forms of arcanization—magical, philosophical, or symbolic—we should bear in mind that it is rarely a crisis that created the claim for a secret dimension, as is sometime argued,160 but a much more complex situation that involved systemic, psychological, and sociocultural interactions.


(1.) Cf. Assmann's paper “Semiosis and Interpretation in Ancient Egyptian Ritual.”

(2.) See Moshe Weinfeld, “Divine Intervention in War in Ancient Israel and the Ancient Near East,” in H. Tadmor and M. Weinfeld, eds., History, Historiography and Interpretation: Studies in Biblical and Cuneiform Literatures (Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983), pp. 142–143, note 119; Lieberman, “A Mesopotamian Background”;Parpola, “The Assyrian Tree of Life”; and claims regarding the origin of some forms of Jewish hermeneutics, (p.548) similar to those of Lieberman later on, already in Jeffrey H. Tigay, “An Early Technique of Aggadic Exegesis,” in Tadmor and Weinfeld, History, Historiography and Interpretation, pp. 169–188; Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation, p. 464; and more recently in P. Kingsley's study, mentioned below, note 43. See also Fishbane, The Exegetical Imagination, pp. 41–55.

(3.) See Gruenwald, From Apocalypticism to Gnosticism, pp. 53–64.

(4.) On some aspects of esotericism in Qumran see my discussion of Binah, below, and the important remarks of Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, pp. 3–4. Pertinent remarks on ancient Jewish esotericism can be found in G. A. Wewers, Geheimnis und Geheimhaltung in rabbinischen Judentum (De Gruyter, Berlin, 1975), and Smith, Clement of Alexandria, s.v. “secret, secrecy.” Joseph Dan's attempt to point out the precise beginning of “Jewish mysticism” does not take into account the possible implications of the existence of esoteric topics in earlier Jewish, sometimes Hebrew, types of literature. See Dan, The Revelation of the Secret of the World: The Beginning of Jewish Mysticism in Late Antiquity (Providence, R.I., 1992).

(5.) See Michael Stone, “List of Revealed Things in the Apocalyptic Literature,” in Magnalia Dei: The Mighty Acts of God, ed. F. M. Cross (New York, 1976), pp. 414–452. Gruenwald, From Apocalypticism to Gnosticism, pp. 74–76.

(6.) Gruenwald, From Apocalypticism to Gnosticism, pp. 59–61; Cecil Roth, “The Subject Matter of Qumran Exegesis,” Vetus Testamentus 10 (1960), pp. 51–65; L. Schiffman, “Hekhalot Mysticism and Qumran Literature,” in Early Jewish Mysticism, ed. J. Dan (Jerusalem, 1987), pp. 121–137 (Hebrew); C. A. Newsom, “Merkabah Exegesis in the Qumran Sabbath Shirot,” JJS 38 (1987), pp. 11–30; J. M. Baumgarten, “The Qumran Sabbath Shirot and Rabbinic Merkabah Traditions,” Revue de Qumran (Memorial Jean Carmignac) 13 (1988), pp. 199–213.

(7.) See Mowinckel, He That Cometh, pp. 385–393.

(8.) Goodenough, By Light, Light; David Winston, “Philo and the Contemplative Life,” ed. Arthur Green, Jewish Spirituality (Crossroad, New York, 1986), 1:198–231, esp. pp. 223–236; idem, Philo of Alexandria, pp. 21–34. For more on Philo's interpretation see below, chap. 8, par. IV.

(9.) One of the major exceptions would be the magical text Sar ha-Panim. See Schaefer, Hekhalot-Studien, pp. 118–153.

(10.) See also the assumption that there are secrets in texts in Mesopotamian material, cf. Tigay, “An Early Technique,” p. 171, note 4. For the claim that the later Kabbalistic symbolism, which is somehow related to esotericism, is based on the semantic reservoir of Jewish canonical writings see below, chap. 11.

(11.) See, respectively, the studies of Dan, Marcus, and Idel, mentioned below in notes 94, 95, and 97 and in chap. 11.

(12.) See studies by Lieberman, Tigay, and Parpola cited in note 2, above.

(13.) Verse 13. On Binah and interpretation in the Bible see Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation, pp. 108–109.

(14.) Verse 15.

(15.) See BT, ʾEruvin, fol. 100b; Rashi on Deuteronomy, 1:13.

(16.) See E. A. Finkelstein, “Tiqqunei Girsaʾot ba-Sifrei,” Tarbiz 3 (1932), pp. 198–199. See also R. Abraham ibn Daud's view of R. Isaac al-Fassi, cf. Sefer ha-Qabbalah, The Book of Tradition, ed. Gerson D. Cohen (Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1967), p. 63 [Hebrew part], a reference kindly pointed out to me by Prof. Israel Ta-Shma.

(17.) See Sifrei, par. XIII, ed. L. Finkelstein (Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, 1969), p. 22.

(18.) Ibid., VIII:1.

(19.) On this verse see Mowinckel, He That Cometh, p. 175. Compare also Proverbs 2:4–5.

(20.) “Wisdom in Daniel and the Origin of Apocalyptic,” Hebrew Annual Review 9 (1985), p. 377 = Biblical and Other Studies in Memory of S. D. Goitein, ed. R. Aharoni. See also Kugel in Kugel and Greer, Early Biblical Interpretation, pp. 58–59.

(21.) Daniel 8:15. Other interesting uses of this verb are found in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, also of Babylonian background.

(22.) See Daniel, 9:2.

(23.) I wonder whether this Aramaic form corresponds to the Hebrew ʿamuqot, which occurs in Job 12:22; in both cases the verb galleh occurs. See also Naftali Tur Sinai, Sefer ʾIyov (Jerusalem, 1972), pp. 131–132 (Hebrew), Bacher, Die exegetische Terminologie, 1:149–151, 2:28–35.

(24.) See especially the view that ʿamiqataʾ was interpreted as dealing with either maʿaseh merkavah or ʿomeq ha-merkavah, namely the depths of the divine chariot. See SederʿOlam Rabba, ed. Ber Ratner (Vilnius, 1896), p. 150, and Yalqut Shimʿoni on Daniel 2:22. Interestingly enough, two traditions that are related to Babylonian sources are equated: that of the book of Daniel and that of the book of Ezekiel. At the beginning of Kabbalah we found this equation also in a text of R. Ezra of Gerona, analyzed in Idel, “Sefirot above Sefirot,” p. 243. On the view that there is a profound secret related to the seat of Glory see the text referring to R. Eleazar of Worms and printed by E. E. Urbach, ʿArugat ha-Bosem (Jerusalem, 1963), 4:83 (Hebrew), and the version brought out by and analyzed in Daniel Abrams, “The Literary Emergence of Esotericism in German Pietism,” Shofar 12 (1994), pp. 72–73. Especially interesting from our point of view is the expression found in Abraham Abulafia's Sefer Shomer Mitzvah, Ms. Paris BN 853, fol. 39a, that maʿaseh merkavah is the depth of the science of divinity, ʿomeq hokhmat ha-ʾElohut, namely metaphysics. In the same context, this Kabbalist uses the phrase sitrei hokhmot [sic] ha-tevaʿ, the secrets of the sciences of nature; the depth corresponds to the secrets. See also R. Hayyim of Volozhin, Nefesh ha-Hayyim, p. 53: ʿimqei matzpunei ha-torah. See also above, chap. 3, note 35, and below, notes 48 and 84.

(25.) Manual of Discipline, IV:22. Ed. Yaʿaqov Licht, Megillat ha-Serakhim (Mossad Bialik, Jerusalem, 1965), p. 104; see Gruenwald, From Apocalypticism to Gnosticism, p. 78.

(26.) Such a use of the verb “haven” is found also much later, in the Middle Ages, in the context of the secret of the divine name. See R. Eleazar of Worms' preface to his Sefer ha-Shem, as printed in Dan, The Esoteric Theology, p. 75: Gillah lannu setarav, ve-havinenu leydaʿ shemo ha-gadol.

(27.) See David Flusser, Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1988), p. 201.

(28.) Emile Puech, “Fragment d'un apocryphe de Levi et le personnage eschatologique,” in J. Trebolle Barrera and L. Vegas Montaner, eds., The Madrid Qumran Congress (Brill, Leiden, 1992), pp. 458, 461. Puech has pointed out the nexus to Daniel 2:22. On the affinity between the Qumran esoteric terminology and that of Daniel see also Devora Dimant, “New Light on the Jewish Pseudepigrapha,” in ibid., p. 423. Thanks are due to Dr. Israel Knohl, who alerted me to the possible contribution of material printed in the Madrid conference volume.

(29.) Ibid., pp. 459, 461.

(30.) Ibid., p. 464.

(31.) Binatekha.

(32.) See Megillat ha-Hodaʾyyot, ed. Yaʿaqov Licht (Mossad Bialik, Jerusalem, 1957), pp. 42–43, 60–61, 188–189.

(33.) From Tradition to Commentary: Tradition and Its Interpretation in the Midrash to Deuteronomy (SUNY Press, Albany, 1991), p. 249, note 140; Moshe Weinfeld, “The Prayer for Knowledge, Repentance and Forgiveness in the Eighteen Benedictions: Qumran Parallels, Biblical Antecedents and Basic Characteristics,” Tarbiz 47 (1979), p. 194 (Hebrew).

(34.) Die Aggada der Tannaiten, 2d ed. (1903), 1:70, note 42.

(35.) The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism (Arno Press, New York, 1973), pp. 427, 431.

(36.) Ibid., p. 428.

(37.) Mishnah, Hagigah, II:1. On this passage see David Halperin, The Merkabah in Rabbinic Literature (American Oriental Society, New Haven, 1980), pp. 11–12, and the pertinent footnotes, as well as Bacher, Die Aggada der Tannaiten, and Daube, The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism.

(38.) BT, Hagigah, fol. 13a.

(39.) See Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, p. 58, and below, the quote from Hai Gaon.

(40.) Hayah mevin.

(41.) BT, Hagigah, fol. 13a. This incident, which occurs also in an Aramaic form and to which we shall return later, does not occur in the Heikhalot literature. See Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, p. 19.

(42.) For more on this issue see below, par. V.

(43.) On the Hashmal as pointing to a much earlier tradition see Peter Kingsley, “Ezekiel by the Grand Canal: Between Jewish and Babylonian Tradition,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 3d ser., vol. 2 (1992), pp. 339–346. See also Gruenwald, Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism, pp. 77, 209.

(44.) See Halperin, The Merkabah in Rabbinic Literature, pp. 155–162.

(45.) Fol. 14b.

(46.) Ibid. On this issue and its possible sources and parallels see Urbach, The World of the Sages, pp. 486–492; Gruenwald, Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism, pp. 75–76; Liebes, Hetʾo shel ʾElishaʿ, pp. 100–103.

(47.) See above, chap. 6, par. III, the story about the study of important texts by the Besht and the Great Maggid.

(48.) ʿImqei. Compare also another instance where the concept of the depths of the Torah is indicated in the Heikhalot literature. See Schaefer, Synopse, pp. 250–251, par. 678; see also par. 279; idem, The Hidden and Manifest God, p. 115; Idel, “The Concept of the Torah,” pp. 33–34. Some of the conclusions drawn in the following have been presented in this study but explicated here on the basis of a greater amount of material. See also Halperin, Faces of the Chariot, pp. 376–377.

(49.) Hugo Odeberg, ed., 3 Enoch or the Hebrew Book of Enoch (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1928), p. 16, version C.

(50.) Silence as part of an ascetic path recurs in the Heikhalot literature. It should be mentioned that while in many other cases the recitation of hymns is quintessential, here a quite different approach is offered.

(51.) Schaefer, Synopse, pp. 142–143, par. 335.

(52.) See Rachel Elior, “The Concept of God in the Hekhalot Mysticism,” in J. Dan, ed., Early Jewish Mysticism (Jerusalem, 1987), pp. 26–37 (Hebrew).

(53.) BT, Megillah, fol. 24b.

(54.) See Halperin, Faces of the Chariot, pp. 11–13, 318–319, 335.

(55.) Isaiah 29:14.

(56.) Batei Midrashot, ed. A. J. Wertheimer (Jerusalem, 1950), 2:358. See also ibid., p. 389, and Idel, “The Concept of the Torah,” p. 38.

(57.) Psalms 12:7.

(58.) Psalms 8:8.

(59.) Meʿat. It may well be that the letters mem and tet, which are part of the word meʿat, are understood to be a hint at the number forty-nine. It seems also that the idea of the diminution of Adam, as mentioned in the rabbinic sources, might be relevant for the citation of this verse. See BT, Hagigah, fol. 12a, and note 101 below.

(60.) BT, Rosh ha-Shanah, fol. 21b, and Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, 6:284, note 25.

(61.) Rashi, ad loc.

(62.) Compare BT, ʿEruvin, fol. 13b; JT, Sanhedrin, IV:2; Midrash Shir ha-Shirim Rabba, ed. S. Dunski (Devir, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, 1980), p. 58, etc., where forty-nine ways of expounding the Torah are mentioned. The two talmudic texts have been already juxtaposed by Nahmanides in one of his sermons. See Kitvei ha-Ramban, ed. C. D. Chavel (Jerusalem, 1963), 1:134. and our discussion later below, par. IV.

(63.) BT, Hagigah, fol. 12a.

(64.) For a description of the content see Gruenwald, Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism, pp. 225–234.

(65.) Mevinim.

(66.) Mevonenim.

(67.) Sefer ha-Razim, ed. Mordekai Margalioth (Yediyyot Aharonot, Jerusalem, 1967), p. 72 (Hebrew).

(68.) Kevod ha-shamayim.

(69.) For more on the verb lidrosh see below, par. 4.

(70.) Ms. Vatican 283, fol. 73a.

(71.) It may well be that the expounding mentioned here is that of the Merkavah: see the Heikhalot view that R. ʿAqivah “descended” in order “to expound the Merkavah.” Cf. the text in Schaefer, Synopse, pp. 252–253, par. 685.

(72.) See also the view of R. Abbahu, one of the most mystical rabbinic figures in late antiquity, as adduced in the midrash on Psalms 16:10, which may be translated to the effect that “the Glory rejoiced in the moment the little (children) were pronouncing, in order to use it.” Cf. Midrash Tehillim, ed. S. Buber (Vilnius; rpt. Jerusalem, 1977), p. 123. The text is not very clear, but nevertheless the nexus between mishtammshim, which points to a magical use, and Kavod seems to be rather plausible. In my opinion, this text is related, in a complex manner, to the quotes on the young boy adduced above and below from Hagigah. In the context of those quotes the name of R. Abbahu has also been mentioned. It should be stressed that the magical use of Kavod occurs in the Talmud, and probably in the above-quoted midrash, but not in the Heikhalot literature. In the closest parallel to the talmudic passage describing R. ʿAqivah as using the divine Glory, found in a Heikhalot text, Heikhalot Zutarti (Schaefer, Synopse, par. 346, pp. 146–147) the version is histakkel bi-khevodi, namely, R. ʿAqivah has contemplated the Glory. This is one of the examples that demonstrates that when a talmudic, as well as a midrashic, passage parallels one in the Heikhalot literature, it is quite possible that the more magical or theurgical stand will be found in the rabbinic versions, while the Heikhalot text may represent a more contemplative stand. See especially par. 335, where different attitudes toward the Glory are mentioned in order to warn the mystic, none of them being the theurgical use, as represented by the verb mishtammesh. See also Scholem, Major Trends, p. 46; idem, Jewish Gnosticism, p. 54; Liebes, Hetʾo shel ʾElishaʿ, pp. 90–91. Such a differing attitude may be explained by the different types of theology dominating the different types of literature. See Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives, pp. 157–158.

(73.) See Heschel, The Theology of Ancient Judaism, 1:3–23.

(74.) The transmission of secrets in a whisper is already mentioned in Bereshit Rabba, III:4, ed. J. Theodor and C. Albeck (Wahrman, Jerusalem, 1965), 1:19–20, and BT, Hagigah, fol. 13a. See also above, note 39.

(75.) Kelalut. This term is parallel to rashei peraqim, which is sometimes translated as rudiments, in the rabbinic sources. See also the text of R. Nathan, a student of Abulafia, the author of Sefer Shaʿarei Tzedeq, p. 9, who mentions the kelalim as related to the rudiments.

(76.) Mevin bahem.

(77.) On this expression see Isadore Twersky, Rabad of Posquieres: A Twelfth-Century Talmudist (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1962), pp. 293–296. See also below, note 125, the quote from Todros Abulafia's ʾOtzar ha-Kavod.

(78.) Compare the requirement of having an anxious heart for receiving secrets, in BT, Hagigah, fol. 13a.

(79.) ʾOtzar ha-Geʾonim, ed. B. Levin, Hagigah (Jerusalem, 1932), p. 12; Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, p. 58.

(80.) Megillat Ahimaʿatz (Jerusalem, 1964), pp. 1–3.

(81.) Namely of the Torah.

(82.) See Daniel Goldschmidt, Mahzor le-Yamim Noraʾim, According to the Ashkenazi Rite (Jerusalem, 1970), 1:133.

(83.) Although scholars consider the following to be a relatively early text in the Ashkenazi literature, its similarity to Hasidei Ashkenaz thought invites, in my opinion, a somewhat later dating.

(84.) Maʿamiqim. On the relation between this verb and the concept of secret see Dan, Studies, p. 46, note 9; Marcus, Piety and Society, p. 85; and also below, note 133. As Israel Ta-Shma has pointed out, the verb recurs in medieval Ashkenazi nonmystical nomenclature in order to describe a certain kind of legalistic study. See his “An Abridgement of ‘Hovot ha-Levavot,’” ʿAlei Sefer 10 (1982), p. 19 (Hebrew), and Soloveitchik's study mentioned below, note 100, p. 315, note 8. The term ʿomeq for secrets occurs also in ecstatic Kabbalah: see Idel, “Maimonides and Kabbalah,” pp. 57, 62. See also an early-fourteenth-century Kabbalistic book whose influence on later Kabbalah was very great, Berit Menuhah (Amsterdam, 1648), fol. 2b, discussed in Daniel Abrams, “The Shekhinah Prays Before God,” Tarbiz 63 (1994), pp. 509–533 (Hebrew). See also below, chap. 10, note 53.

(85.) The nexus between fathoming and understanding is found also in Sefer Hasidim, ed. J. Wistinetzki (Frankfurt am Main, 1924), p. 242, par. 983: she-maʿamiq be-binah, and in R. Eleazar of Worms' Sefer Hokhmat ha-Nefesh (Benei Beraq, 1987), p. 96: ʿomeq hahokhmah ve-ha-binah. On the other hand, in Sefer Hasidim, par. 984, understanding is presented as a condition for fathoming. On the latter paragraph see Peter Schaefer, “The Ideal of Piety of the Ashkenazi Hasidim and Its Roots in Jewish Tradition,” Jewish History 4, no. 2 (1990), p. 17.

(86.) Sefer ha-Pardes, ed. H. Y. Ehrenreich (Budapest, 1924), p. 229, par. 174. On this text see E. E. Urbach, Sefer ʿArugat Habosem, auctore R. Abraham b. R. Azriel (Meqitzei Nirdamim, Jerusalem, 1963), 4:6, 73 (Hebrew).

(87.) Sodekha.

(88.) Namely the angels.

(89.) Rubbei binatekha.

(90.) Printed by Yehudah Leib Weinberger, “New Poems from the Byzantine Period,” HUCA 43 (1972), p. 293 (Hebrew). For the date and place of this poet see more recently Ezra Fleisher, “ʾAzharot le-Rabbi Benjamin (ben Shmuel) the Poet,” Qovez al Yad, n.s., vol. 11 (21) (1985), pp. 3–75 (Hebrew).

(91.) Compare also another part of this poem, printed in Fleisher, ibid., p. 74, where God is described as compelling men to deal with His secrets, sodeikha.

(92.) See Weinberger, “New Poems from the Byzantine Period,” p. 296.

(93.) Bereshit Rabbati, p. 8.

(94.) On this composition see Dan, Studies, pp. 44–57, esp. p. 48, note 29.

(95.) Marcus, “Exegesis for the Few,” pp. 1–24.

(96.) Numerically this word is equivalent to seventy-three, as is the form u-vinah.

(97.) Ibid., pp. 16–18. See also his Piety and Society (Brill, Leiden, 1980), pp. 69, 119.

(98.) Proverbs 2:4–5.

(99.) Namely Binah.

(100.) Sefer Hasidim, par. 1514, in the edition of J. Wistinetzki (Frankfurt am Main, 1924), p. 369, adduced and discussed by Marcus, “Exegesis for the Few,” p. 22; Haym Soloveitchik, “Three Themes in Sefer Hasidim,” AJSR 1 (1976), p. 314, note 7. See also Abrams, “The Literary Emergence,” pp. 67–85.

(101.) For more on the esoteric aspects of the Torah in Sefer Hasidim see another important passage quoted and discussed by Marcus, ibid., p. 21. The nonexegetical nature of the fifty gates is corroborated by several discussions found in R. Eleazar's Commentary on Prayer, ed. M. Herschler and Y. A. Herschler (Jerusalem, 1992), p. 149, and in his Sefer ha-Hokhmah, in Y. Klugmann, ed., Perushei Roqeah ʿal ha-Torah (Benei Berq, 1985), 1:48, and again in the milieu of R. Eleazar, in a writing of R. Abraham ben Azriel, who describes the fifty gates as granted to Adam. See Urbach, Sefer ʿArugat ha-Bosem, 3:53. Thus, it seems that they can be conceived of as a very high form of intellection, but totally unrelated to the contents of the Torah. In my opinion, the attribution of the gates to Adam, found in the sources mentioned above and in many others not adduced here, in lieu of the classical attribution to Moses, represents an earlier tradition that was later shifted to Moses. On this issue I hope to elaborate elsewhere. See, meanwhile, note 59 above. See also Abrams, “The Literary Emergence,” p. 69.

(102.) Sefer ha-ʾEmunah ve-ha-Bitahon, chap. 23, in Kitvei ha-Ramban, ed. C. D. Chavel (Mossad ha-Rav Kook, Jerusalem, 1963), 2:435.

(103.) Meshiv Devarim Nekhohim, ed. Y. A. Vajda (Israeli Academy, Jerusalem, 1968), pp. 140–141.

(104.) See note 62 above.

(105.) Commentary on the Pentateuch, ed. C. D. Chavel (Jerusalem, 1959), 1:4; Halbertal, People of the Book, pp. 37–38.

(107.) Introduction to Commentary on the Pentateuch, 1:7. For the importance of this passage for the overall view of Kabbalah in Nahmanides' thought see Idel, “We Have No Kabbalistic Tradition,” pp. 59–60.

(108.) Loʾ itbonenu.

(109.) Commentary on the Pentateuch, 1:4. For more on this issue see below, chap. 13, par. I.

(110.) Ibid., 1:9.

(111.) Ibid., 1:14.

(112.) Compare Wolfson, “By Way of Truth.”

(113.) Exodus 14:19–21. On this view of the alphabets and that found in an anonymous commentary on the liturgy from the school related to Abraham Abulafia, I hope to elaborate elsewhere.

(114.) Deuteronomy 34:10.

(115.) Preserved in Ms. Schocken Kabbalah 14, fol. 120b; see also Idel, Language, Torah and Hermeneutics, pp. 151–152. This book differs from that referred to above in chap. 2.

(116.) See ʾAvot, ed. Taylor, p. 43, and our discussion above.

(117.) See Moshe Idel, “To the History of the Interdiction to Study Kabbalah before the Age of Forty,” AJSR 5 (1980), pp. 4–5 (Hebrew). See also R. Yehudah he-Hasid, Sefer Gematriaʾot, p. 54.

(118.) See Moreh ha-Moreh (Pressburg, 1837), p. 6. For more on the background of this view see Idel, ibid., pp. 2–6.

(119.) According to the translation in Scholem, Major Trends, p. 139, Hebrew original p. 382, note 75. Compare also Idel, Messianic Mystics, pp. 299–300. See also another important text stemming from Abulafia's school, Haqdamah, in Ms. Paris, BN 851, fol. 29ab, printed in the appendix to Abrams, “The Shekhinah Prays Before God,” where he adduced also a great variety of medieval sources dealing, inter alia, with secrets and understanding. On understanding and the divine name see also below, the quote from R. Todros ha-Levi Abulafia's book.

(120.) Scholem, ibid.

(121.) For more on this issue see Idel, “Defining Kabbalah,” p. 111.

(122.) See also ʾOtzar ha-Kavod, fol. 19d.

(123.) This form of exclamation is characteristic of the Zoharic style. I assume that the whole passage, starting with “Happy,” points to an awareness not only of the Zohar as a book but also of its ambiance. Indeed, this Kabbalist and his son were acquaintances of R. Moses de Leon. See especially Liebes, Studies in the Zohar, pp. 135–138.

(124.) Tzenuʿim. On this term see Idel, “Defining Kabbalah,” p. 115, note 14.

(125.) Sefer ʾOtzar ha-Kavod, fol. 13d, also quoted by R. Meir ibn Gabbai, SeferʿAvodat ha-Qodesh, fol. 16d. See, however, R. Todros's assault on Kabbalists who discuss divine names, below, appendix 2, note 20.

(126.) See the important passage of R.R. Hayyim Vital, ʿEtz Hayyim, gate Mohin de-Qatnut, chap. 3. The nexus between Binah and occult knowledge is still evident in the middle of the eighteenth century, when the Besht is described as someone who was graced by God with a bounty of Binah, binah yeterah, and he can understand things belonging to the upper world. Epistle of the Ascent of the Soul, printed in Joshua Mondshein, Shivhei ha-Baal Shem Tov (Jerusalem, 1982), p. 234. This term is found already in talmudic sources; see, e.g., BT, Sotah, fol. 35b. See also the importance of the hitbonenut, a term that became current for contemplation, sometimes regarding textual issues, in later Hasidism, as for example R. Dov Baer of Lubavitch's Quntres ha-Hitbonenut. See also R. Hayyim of Volozhin, Nefesh ha-Hayyim, pp. 52–53. It should be mentioned that Binah was also understood by the Besht as pointing to the understanding of the meaning of words of prayer or a text that is studied, in a rather interesting manner. He is reported by R. Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye to have said that a person who prays or studies without understanding the meaning of the words (p.556) corresponds to the sefirah of Malkhut, while he who understands (mevin) the meaning, and intends it, links this sefirah to Binah. See Ben Porat Yosef, fol. 127b.

(127.) Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation, p. 245.

(128.) And PRSh, as pointed out by Fishbane, ibid.

(129.) For the relations between the two phenomena in later Jewish literature see Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives, pp. 234–249, and idem, Language, Torah and Hermeneutics, pp. 101–109; Elliot R. Wolfson, “Circumcision, Visionary Experience and Textual Interpretation: From Midrashic Trope to Mystical Symbol,” History of Religions 27 (1987) pp. 189–215; idem, “The Hermeneutics of Visionary Experience: Revelation and Interpretation in the Zohar,” Religion 18 (1988), pp. 311–345.

(130.) For attempts to separate between what could be called mystical literature and mystical experience—too radical a distinction, in my opinion—see, e.g., the views of Halperin, The Merkabah in Rabbinic Literature, passim; Schaefer, Hekhalot-Studien, pp. 294–295, and Joseph Dan, The Revelation of the Secret of the World, pp. 11–13.

(131.) I do not know the meaning of this verb. See, however, Moshe Z. Segal, Sefer Ben Siraʾ ha-Shalem (Mossad Bialik, Jerusalem, 1972), p. 53.

(132.) Ben Siraʾ 39:4, according to the reconstructed text of Segal, Sefer Ben Siraʾ ha-Shalem, p. 152, on the basis of a Syrian translation: Nistarot mashal idrosh, uvehidot mashal itratash. Compare Proverbs 1:6, and see also Kugel, in Kugel and Greer, Early Biblical Interpretation, pp. 62–63.

(133.) The term ʿimqei in Ben Siraʾ is reconstructed by Segal, Sefer Ben Siraʾ ha-Shalem, p. 152, on the basis of Syrian. On ʿomeq in contexts of secrets see above, notes 24, 47, 84, and Idel, “Defining Kabbalah,” p. 102 and note 51, as well as below, in the context of the Hasidei Ashkenaz texts, where the notion of the depths of the Torah will be mentioned. In this context, the importance of the ten “depths” of the universe in Sefer Yetzirah should also be mentioned. See also Liebes, “The Messiah of the Zohar,” p. 211, and Daniel Abrams, “The Book of Illumination of R. Jacob bem Jacob HaKohen” (Ph.D. diss., New York University, New York, 1993), p. 34 (Hebrew), where more Kabbalistic sources dealing with the depths of the Torah are adduced. The concept of depths of the sefirot and the depths of nothingness are important aspects of Kabbalistic theology, but those topics should be discussed separately.

(134.) Segal, Sefer Ben Siraʾ ha-Shalem, p. 16; See also Liebes, HetʾshelʾElishaʿ, p. 154.

(135.) ʿAnavim. See also verse 16.

(136.) Segal, Ben Siraʾ ha-Shalem, p. 16.

(137.) Ibid., pp. 17–18.

(138.) This is reminiscent of the idea found in the Greek Bible as to those who will inherit heaven.

(139.) Segal, Ben Siraʾ ha-Shalem, pp. 17–18.

(140.) See his “Interpretive Authority in Studying Community at Qumran,” JJS 44 (1993), pp. 58–59, 62.

(141.) Mishnah, Hagigah, fol. 13a; Liebes, Hetʾo shel ʾElishaʿ, pp. 106–107, 131–141, 148.

(142.) Hagigah, fol. 13a.

(144.) Halperin, Faces of the Chariot, pp. 26–27.

(145.) See also the parallel pointed out by Halperin, ibid., p. 26, note 17, where the notion of the age is indicated in a talmudic text in connection with the study of the Merkavah topics.

(146.) Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, p. 38, has merged these criteria in a way that presupposes one view that informed both Origen and the mishnaic material.

(147.) The World of the Sages, p. 522.

(148.) ʿAvodah Zarah, chap. 2, Mishnah 8: razei torah. See also the parallel in Midrash Rabba on Song of Songs 1:2: sitrei torah.

(149.) BT, Hagigah, fols. 13a–14a. A different view of this legend is found in Liebes, Hetʾ o shel ʾ Elishaʿ.

(150.) In my monograph on the Four Sages Entered the Orchard, in preparation.

(151.) Sod. Unlike many other studies which translate this word as “mystery,” I prefer to translate it as “secret,” for reasons I shall elaborate elsewhere. See, meanwhile, the different view of Alexander Altmann, “Maimonides's Attitude toward Jewish Mysticism,” in Alfred Jospe, ed., Studies in Jewish Thought (Detroit, 1981), pp. 200–219, esp. pp. 201–202. According to other manuscripts, the version here is sar, namely “prince.” On the prince of the Torah see also above, chap. 4, par. I.

(152.) Yidreshuhu.

(153.) Schaefer, Synopse, pp. 132–133, par. 297;Idel, “The Concept of the Torah,” pp. 36–37, note 39. See also above, chap. 6, par. III.

(154.) See Gershom Scholem, ed., “Two Treatises of Moshe de Leon,” in Qovetzʿal Yad 8 (18) (1976), p. 332 (Hebrew): “And by means of this secret is the Torah expounded.” For another medieval use of the verb darash in the context of dealing with secrets see the text related to R. Eleazar of Worms mentioned above, note 24, and Abrams's discussion referred to there. On the history of derash in Jewish hermeneutics see David Weiss Halivni, Peshat and Derash (Oxford University Press, New York, 1991); Fishbane, The Garments of Torah, pp. 113–120; and Idel, Language, Torah and Hermeneutics, pp. 88–91.

(155.) See Sara O. Heller Wilensky, “The Dialectical Influence of Maimonides on Isaac ibn Latif and Early Spanish Kabbalah,” in M. Idel, W. Z. Harvey, and E. Schweid, eds., Shlomo Pines Jubilee Volume (Jerusalem, 1988), 1:294 (Hebrew).

(156.) See Idel, Language, Torah and Hermeneutics, pp. 53–54, and the pertinent footnotes.

(157.) See note 2 above.

(158.) Cf. Palestinian Talmud, Rosh ha-Shanah, 1:2.

(159.) See Scholem, Major Trends, pp. 41, 46, 84; Dan, The Esoteric Theology, pp. 18–20; Roberto Bonfil, “Tra Due Mondi: Prospettive di ricerca sulla storia culturale degli ebrei nellʾItalia meridionale nellʾAlto Medioevo,” Italia Judaica 1 (1983), p. 149, note 54; Abrams, “The Literary Emergence,” p. 68. The controversy between Israel Weinstock and Gershom Scholem concerning Weinstock's assumption that the secrets of Abu Aharon are still extant in a certain manuscript in the British Library is irrelevant (p.558) to the very possibility, which seems to be accepted by all scholars, including those mentioned above, that Abu Aharon apparently brought some secrets from Baghdad, whether they are still extant or not. It would be pointless to say that the possible Mesopotamian extraction of some of the topics related to Jewish ancient esoterics does not invalidate the possibility of other influences—Greek, Egyptian, Iranian, etc.

(160.) See Tishby, The Wisdom of the Zohar, 3:1077, and below, chap. 10.