The first book in any language ever to reveal the methodology of the ancient Kabbalists, this is one of the oldest and most important of all ancient Kabbalistic texts. All references, both to manuscripts and printed material are carefully cited, and the complete Hebrew text of The Bahir is included.
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By Aryeh Kaplan
Samuel Weiser, Inc.Copyright © 1979 The Estate of Aryeh Kaplan
All rights reserved.
1. Rabbi Nehuniah ben HaKana said:
One verse (Job 37:21) states, "And now they do not see light, it is brilliant (Bahir) in the skies ... [round about God in terrible majesty]."
Another verse, however, (Psalm 18:12), states, "He made darkness His hiding place." It is also written (Psalm 97:2), "Cloud and gloom surround Him." This is an apparent contradiction.
A third verse comes and reconciles the two. It is written (Psalm 139:12), "Even darkness is not dark to You. Night shines like day — light and darkness are the same."
2. Rabbi Berachiah said:
It is written (Genesis 1:2), "The earth was Chaos (Tohu) and Desolation (Bohu).
What is the meaning of the word "was" in this verse? This indicates that the Chaos existed previously [and already was].
What is Chaos (Tohu)? Something that confounds (Taha) people.
What is Desolation (Bohu)? It is something that has substance. This is the reason that it is called Bohu, that is, Bo Hu — "it is in it."
3. Why does the Torah begin with the letter Bet? In order that it begin with a blessing (Berachah).
How do we know that the Torah is called a blessing? Because it is written (Deuteronomy 33:23), "The filling is God's blessing possessing the Sea and the South."
The Sea is nothing other than the Torah, as it is written (Job 11:9), "It is wider than the sea."
What is the meaning of the verse, "The filling is God's blessing?" This means that wherever we find the letter Bet it indicates a blessing.
It is thus written (Genesis 1:1), "In the beginning (BeReshit) [God created the heaven and the earth." BeReshit is Bet Reshit.]
The word "beginning" (Reshit) is nothing other than Wisdom. It is thus written (Psalm 111:10), "The beginning is wisdom, the fear of God."
Wisdom is a blessing. It is thus written, "And God blessed Solomon." It is furthermore written (I Kings 5:26), "And God gave Wisdom to Solomon."
This resembles a king who marries his daughter to his son. He gives her to him at the wedding and says to him, "Do with her as you desire."
4. How do we know that the word Berachah [usually translated as blessing] comes from the word Baruch [meaning blessed]? Perhaps it comes from the word Berech [meaning knee].
It is written (Isaiah 44:23), "For to Me shall every knee bend." [Berachah can therefore mean] the Place to which every knee bends.
What example does this resemble? People want to see the king, but do not know where to find his house (Bayit). First they ask "Where is the king's house?" Only then can they ask, "Where is the king?"
It is thus written, "For to Me shall every knee bend" — even the highest — "every tongue shall swear."
5. Rabbi Rahumai sat and expounded:
What is the meaning of the verse (Deuteronomy 33:23), "The filling is God's blessing, possessing the Sea and the South"?
This means that wherever we find the letter Bet it is blessed.
This is the Filling referred to in the verse, "The filling is God's blessing."
From there it nourishes those who need it. It was from this Filling that God sought advice.
What example does this resemble? A king wanted to build his palace among great cliffs. He mined into the bedrock and uncovered a great spring of living water. The king then said, "Since I have flowing water, I will plant a garden. Then I will delight in it, and so will all the world."
It is therefore written (Proverbs 8:30), "I was with Him as a craftsman, I was His delight for a day, a day, frolicking before him at every time."
The Torah is saying, "For two thousand years I was in the bosom of the Blessed Holy One as His delight."
The verse therefore says, "a day, a day." Each day of the Blessed Holy One is a thousand years, as it is written (Psalm 90:4), "A thousand years in Your eyes is as but yesterday when it is passed."
From then on, it is at times, as the verse states, "[frolicking before Him] at every time."
The rest is for the world. It is thus written (Isaiah 48:9), "I will [breathe out] My praise through My nose for you."
What is the meaning of "My praise"? As it is written (Psalm 145:2), "A praise of David, I will raise You high [my God, O King, and I will bless Your name for the world and forever]."
Why is this a praise? Because I will "raise You high."
And what is this elevation? Because "I will bless Your name for the world and forever."
6. What is a blessing?
It can be explained with an example. A king planted trees in his garden. It may rain and water them, and the ground may be wet and provide them with moisture, but still, he must water them from the spring.
It is thus written (Psalm 111:10), "The beginning is Wisdom, the fear of God, good intelligence to all who do them [His praise endures forever]."
You may think that it lacks something. It is therefore written, "His praise endures forever."
7. Rabbi Amorai sat and expounded:
What is the meaning of the verse (Deuteronomy 33:23), "The filling is God's blessing, possessing the Sea and the South?"
Moses was saying, "If you follow my decrees, you will inherit both this world and the next."
The World to Come is likened to the sea, as it is written (Job 11:9), "It is wider than the sea."
The present world is referred to as the South. It is thus written (Joshua 15:19), [Give me a blessing] for you have set me in the land of the south, [therefore give me springs of water]." The Targum translates this, "behold the earth is the south."
8. Why did God add the letter Heh to Abraham's name, rather than any other letter?
This was so that all parts of man's body should be worthy of life in the World to Come, which is likened to the sea.
To the extent that we can express it, the Structure was completed in Abraham. [Regarding this Structure] it is written (Genesis 9:6), "For in the form of God, He made the man."
The numerical value of Abraham is 248, the number of parts in man's body.
9. What is the meaning of (Deuteronomy 33:23), "[The filling is God's blessing, the Sea and the South] he shall inherit it (YiRaShaH)?" It would have been sufficient if the verse said, "inherit (RaSh) [the Sea and the South]."
But this comes to teach us that God must also be included. The word YiRaShaH thus contains the letters RaSh YH [meaning, "inherit God].
What does this resemble? A king had two treasuries, and he hid one away. After many days he said to his son, "Take what is in these two treasuries." The son replied, "Perhaps you are not giving me all that you have hidden away." The king said, "Take everything."
It is thus written, "the Sea and the South, he shall inherit it." Inherit God (YH RaSh) — everything will be given to you if you only keep My ways.
10. Rabbi Bun said:
What is the meaning of the verse (Proverbs 8:23), "I was set up from eternity (Me-Olam), from a head, before the earth?"
What is the meaning of "from eternity (Me-Olam)?" This means that it must be concealed (He-elam) from the world.
It is thus written (Ecclesiastes 3:11), "He has also placed the world (Ha-Olam) in their hearts [that they should not find out the work that God has done from the beginning to the end]." Do not read Ha-Olam (the world), but He-elam (concealment).
The Torah said, "I was first, so that I might be the head of the world." It is thus written, "I was set up from eternity, from a head."
You may think that the earth was before it. It is therefore written, "before the earth."
It is thus written (Genesis 1:1), "In the beginning created God the heaven and the earth."
What is the meaning of "created"? He created everything that was needed for all things. And then God. Only after that is it written "the heaven and the earth."
11. What is the meaning of the verse (Ecclesiastes 7:14), "Also one opposite the other was made by God."
He created Desolation (Bohu) and placed it in Peace, and He created Chaos (Tohu) and placed it in Evil.
Desolation is in Peace, as it is written (Job 25:2), "He makes peace in His high places."
This teaches us that Michael, the prince to God's right, is water and hail, while Gabriel, the prince to God's left, is fire. The two are reconciled by the Prince of Peace. This is the meaning of the verse, "He makes peace in His high places."
12. How do we know that Chaos is in Evil? It is written (Isaiah 45:7), "He makes peace and creates evil."
How does this come out? Evil is from Chaos, while Peace is from Desolation.
He thus created Chaos and placed it in Evil, [as it is written "He makes peace and creates evil." He created Desolation and placed it in Peace, as it is written, "He makes peace in His high places."]
13. Rabbi Bun also sat and expounded:
What is the meaning of the verse (Isaiah 45:7), "He forms light and creates darkness?"
Light has substance. Therefore, the term "formation" is used with regard to it. Darkness has no substance, and therefore, with regard to it, the term "creation" is used. It is similarly written (Amos 4:12), He forms mountains and creates the wind."
Another explanation is this:
Light was actually brought into existence, as it is written (Genesis 1:3), "And God said, let there be light." Something cannot be brought into existence unless it is made. The term "formation" is therefore used.
In the case of darkness, however, there was no making, only separation and setting aside. It is for this reason that the term "created" (Bara) is used. It has the same sense as in the expression, "That person became well (hi-Bria)."
14. Why is the letter Bet closed on all sides and open in the front? This teaches us that it is the House (Bayit) of the world. God is the place of the world, and the world is not His place.
Do not read Bet, but Bayit (house).
It is thus written (Proverbs 24:3), "With wisdom the house is built, with understanding it is established, [and with knowledge are its chambers filled]."
15. What does the Bet resemble? It is like a man, formed by God with wisdom. He is closed on all sides, but open in front.
The Alef, however, is open from behind.
This teaches us that the tail of the Bet is open from behind. If not for this, man could not exist.
Likewise, if not for the Bet on the tail of the Alef, the world could not exist.
16. Rabbi Rahumai said:
Illumination preceded the world, since it is written (Psalm 97:2), "Cloud and gloom surround Him." It is thus written (Genesis 1:3), "And God said, 'let there be light,' and there was light."
They said to Him, "Before the creation of Israel your son, will you then make him a crown?" He replied yes.
What does this resemble? A king yearned for a son. One day he found a beautiful, precious crown, and he said, "This is fitting for my son's head."
They said to him, "Are you then certain that your son will be worthy of this crown?"
He replied, "Be still. This is what arises in thought."
It is thus written (2 Samuel 14:14), He thinks thoughts [that none should be cast away]."
17. Rabbi Amorai sat and expounded:
Why is the letter Alef at the beginning? Because it was before everything, even the Torah.
18. Why does Bet follow it? Because it was first.
Why does it have a tail? To point to the place from which it came.
Some say, from there the world is sustained.
19. Why is Gimel third?
It has three parts, teaching us that it bestows (gomel) kindness.
But did Rabbi Akiba not say that Gimel has three parts because it bestows, grows, and sustains. It is thus written (Genesis 21:8), "The lad grew and was bestowed."
He said: He says the same as I do. He grew and bestowed kindness to his neighbors and to those entrusted to him.
20. And why is there a tail at the bottom of the Gimel? He said: The Gimel has a head on top, and is like a pipe. Just like a pipe, the Gimel draws from above through its head, and disperses through its tail. This is the Gimel.
21. Rabbi Yochanan said:
The angels were created on the second day. It is therefore written (Psalm 104:3), "He rafters His upper chambers with water [He makes the clouds His chariot, He walks on the wings of the wind]." It is then written (Psalm 104:4), "He makes the winds His angels, His ministers from flaming fire."
[Rabbi Haninah said: The angels were created on the fifth day, as it is written (Genesis 1:20), "And flying things shall fly upon the firmament of heaven." Regarding the angels it is written (Isaiah 6:2), "With two wings did they fly."]
Rabbi Levatas ben Tavrus said: All agree, even Rabbi Yochanan, that the water already existed [on the first day]. But it was on the second day that "He raftered His upper chambers with water." [At that time He also created] the one who "makes the clouds his chariot," and the one who "walks on the wings of the wind." But His messengers were not created until the fifth day.
22. All agree that none were created on the first day. It should therefore not be said that Michael drew out the heaven at the south, and Gabriel drew it out at the north, while God arranged things in the middle.
It is thus written (Isaiah 44:24), "I am God, I make all, I stretch out the heavens alone, the earth is spread out before Me." [Even though we read the verse "from Me" (May-iti), it can also be read] Mi iti — "Who was with Me?"
I am the One who planted this tree in order that all the world should delight in it. And in it, I spread All.
I called it All because all depend on it, all emanate from it, and all need it. To it they look, for it they wait, and from it, souls fly in joy.
Alone was I when I made it. Let no angel rise above it and say, "I was before you."
I was also alone when I spread out My earth, in which I planted and rooted this tree. I made them rejoice together, and I rejoiced in them.
"Who was with Me?" To whom have I revealed this mystery?
23. Rabbi Rahumai said: From your words we could conclude that the needs of this world were created before the heavens.
He answered yes.
What does this resemble? A king wanted to plant a tree in his garden. He searched the entire garden to find a spring flowing with water that would nourish the tree, but could not find any. He then said, "I will dig for water, and will bring forth a spring to nourish the tree." He dug and opened a well, flowing with living water. He then planted the tree, and it stood, giving forth fruit. It was successfully rooted, since it was always watered from the well.
24. Rabbi Yanai said: The earth was created first, as it is written (Genesis 2:4), "[On the day that God made] earth and heaven."
They said to him: Is it not written (Genesis 1:1), "[In the beginning God created] the heaven and the earth"?
He replied: What is this like? A king bought a beautiful object, but since it was not complete, he did not give it a name. He said, "I will complete it, I will prepare its pedestal and attachment, and then I will give it a name."
It is thus written (Psalm 102:26), "From eternity You founded the earth" — and then, "the heavens are the work of Your hands."
It is furthermore written (Psalm 104:2), "He covered Himself with light like a garment, He spread out the heaven like a curtain, He rafters His upper chambers with water." It is then written (Psalm 104:4), "He makes the winds His angels, His ministers of flaming fire." Finally, it is written (Psalm 104:5), "He founded the earth on its pedestals, that it not be removed for the world and forever."
When He made its pedestal, He strengthened it. It is therefore written, "that it not be moved."
What is its name? "And Forever" (VoEd) is its name. And [the name of] its pedestal is "World" (Olam). It is therefore written, "for the World And Forever."
25. Rabbi Berachiah said:
What is the meaning of the verse (Genesis 1:3), And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light"? Why does the verse not say, "And it was so"?
What is this like? A king had a beautiful object. He put it away until he had a place for it, and then he put it there.
It is therefore written, "Let there be light, and there was light." This indicates that it already existed.
26. Rabbi Amorai said: What is the meaning of the verse (Exodus 15:3), "God is a man (Ish) of war"?
Mar Rahumai said to him: Great master, do not ask about something that is so simple. Listen to me and I will advise you.
He said to him: What is this like? A king had a number of beautiful dwellings, and he gave each one a name. One was better than the other. He said, "I will give my son this dwelling whose name is Alef. This one whose name is Yud is also good, as is this one whose name is Shin." What did he do then? He gathered all three together, and out of them he made a single name and a single house.
Excerpted from The Bahir by Aryeh Kaplan. Copyright © 1979 The Estate of Aryeh Kaplan. Excerpted by permission of Samuel Weiser, Inc..
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Table of Contents
Commentary on Bahir
Notes to the Introduction
Notes to The Bahir
Bahir (Hebrew Text)
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