Rabbis on the Torah and its Symbolic Fables

Collected Writings, Vol. 14 (pp. 37-38)—

“Not less explicit is Origen with regard to the Bible and its symbolical fables. He exclaims:

If we hold to the letter, and must understand what stands written in the law after the manner of the Jews and common people, then I should blush to confess aloud that it is God who has given these laws; then the laws of men appear more excellent and reasonable. [“Origen’s” “Homilies” (1475) “on” “Leviticus,” Bk. 8. VII.]

And well he might have “blushed,” the sincere and honest Father of early Christianity in its days of relative purity. But the Christians of this highly literary and civilized age of ours do not blush at all; they swallow, on the contrary, the “light” before the formation of the sun, the Garden of Eden, Jonah’s whale and all, notwithstanding that the same Origen asks in a very natural fit of indignation:

What man of sense will agree with the statement that the first, second and third days, in which the evening is named and the morning, were without sun, moon, and stars, and the first day without a heaven? What man is found such an idiot as to suppose that God planted trees in Paradise, in Eden, like a husbandman, etc.? I believe that every man must hold these things for images, under which a hidden sense lies concealed. [Origen, On First Principles, Bk. IV.]

“Yet millions of “such idiots” are found in our age of enlightenment and not only in the third century. When Paul’s unequivocal statement in Galatians, iv, 22-25, that the story of Abraham and his two sons is all “an allegory,” and that “Agar is Mount Sinai” is added to this, then little blame, indeed, can be attached to either Christian or Heathen who declines to accept the Bible in any other light than that of a very ingenious allegory.

Rabbi Shimon ben-Yohai, the compiler of the Zohar, never imparted the most important points of his doctrine otherwise than orally, and to a very limited number of disciples. Therefore, without the final initiation into the Merkabah, the study of the Kabalah will be ever incomplete, and the Merkabah can be taught only “in darkness, in a deserted place, and after many and terrific trials.” Since the death of that great Jewish Initiate this hidden doctrine has remained, for the outside world, an inviolate secret.

Among the venerable sect of the Tannaim, the wise men, there were those who taught the secrets practically and initiated some disciples into the grand and final Mystery. But the Mishnah Hagigah, 2nd Section, says that the table of contents of the Merkabah “must only be delivered to wise old ones.” The Gemara is still more dogmatic. “The more important secrets of the Mysteries were not even revealed to all the priests. Alone the initiates had them divulged.” [*Clement, Strom., v., 670.] And so we find the same great secrecy prevalent in every ancient religion. (†Isis Unveiled, Vol. II, p. 350.)

What says the Kabalah itself? Its great Rabbis actually threaten him who accepts their sayings verbatim. We read in the Zohar:

Woe to the man who sees in the Thorah, i.e., Law, only simple recitals and ordinary words! Because if in truth it only contained these, we would even today be able to compose a Thorah much more worthy of admiration. For if we find only the simple words, we would only have to address ourselves to the legislators of the earth,‡ to those in whom we most frequently meet with the most grandeur. It would be sufficient to imitate them, and make a Thorah after their words and example. But it is not so; each word of the Thorah contains an elevated meaning and a sublime mystery . . . . The recitals of the Thorah are the vestments of the Thorah. Woe to him who takes this garment for the Thorah itself . . . . The simple take notice only of the garments or recitals of the Thorah; they know no other thing, they see not that which is concealed under the vestment. The more instructed men do not pay attention to the vestment, but to the body which it envelops.” (§ Zohar, iii, fol. 152 b, quoted in Myer’s Qabbalah, p. 102.)”

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