Sunday, 23 March 2014

Trainee Golem Builder Shelfie

The in thing at the moment seems to be taking selfies. Now since I'd rather not scare away my last three regular readers, I have instead decided to share with you dear and loyal readers a 'shelfie'. Which I am reliably informed by refers to:

A picture or portrait of your bookshelf. Showcasing literature IN ALL IT'S GLORY!
(This term was originally defined by author Rick Riordan).
Not to be confused with selfie .
As you can see, everything in my shelfie is color coordinated.
by chocopath December 17, 2013

Anyway, here is my shelfie in all it's glory:
Trainee Golem Builder 101 bookshelf
As you can see, the books are in Hebrew but to help get through them - I sue Klein's Etymological dictionary. It's the best dictionary that I have come across so far. As it covers biblical, post-biblical, mediveval, and modern Hebrew. In truth there is not that much difference between the different stages of Hebrew development, at least not compared say to Greek.

Anyway, let's take a close look at some of the books and explain why they might be of interest to a trainee golem builder...

Sefer Yetzirah (2) and Emek Hamelech
Sefer Yetzirah Hashelem (in white) "Complete Book of Creation" - The earliest Kabbalistic text that survived. Redacted around the 2nd to 5th centuries common era, Rabbinic sources claim it was edited and collated by Rabbi Akiva and first penned by the Patriarch Abraham. There are a number of different versions and this version of the text has commentaries by a number of famous Kabbalists.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan translated and added commentary to one version of the text. But having started studying other commentaries (and there are well over 20 different commentaries) the Rabbi Kaplan version is somewhat academic and not that easy to turn in to a practical manual of meditation and magic.

The blue slim volume second from the right is the commentary on Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation) by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (wiki entry). He lived around the time of the Arizal and drew on some interesting sources such as Rabbi Abraham Abulafia.

Next to that book is the two volume set entitled Emek Hamelech. It actually details the steps needed to build a golem. However, before rushing to follow the steps please bear in mind even if someone provides you with instructions for building a jet engine - you still need the fuel to make it go. The book Emek Hamelech ("Valley of the King") was written by Naftali Hertz ben Yaakov Elchanan.

Abraham Abulafia (4 blue books in middle)
The four blue books in the middle are all by Rabbi Abraham Abulafia. He was a 13th century wandering Kabbalist whos is widely regarded as the father of Ecstatic or Prophetic Kabbalah. He led, in my opinion, a very interesting life including one episode where he survived an attempt to convert the pope. No one is sure where he is buried.

The books in order from right to left are: 1. Chayei ha-Olam ha-Ba ("Life of the World to Come") (1280), 2. Imrei Shefer ("Words of Beauty") (1291), 3. Gan Naul ("Sealed Garden", a commentary on Sefer Yetzirah), 4. Otzar Eden Ganuz "Hidden Treasury of Eden", another commentary on Sefer Yetzirah. He wrote many more books, but for the moment I am holding off purchasing them as I have yet to study these four. Amnon Gross has, in my opinion, been instrumental in bringing Abulafia's teaching in to the hands of the masses - even if for example Proff. Idel has some concerns about the accuracy of the manuscript transcriptions.

Sodei Raziya, Sha'ar Kedush, Ginat Egoz,
Shorshei HaShemot, Sefer Peulot
The texts in this series are: Sodei Raziya by Rabbi Elazar of Worms (Germiza), Sha'areh Kedushah HaShalem ("Complete Gates of Holiness", includes chapter 4 which was censored until recently) by Rabbi Chaim Vital , Ginat Egoz ("Nut Garden") by Rabbi Joseph Gikatilla who started off as a student of Rabbi Abulafia in the school of Ecstatic Kabbalah and then moved across to join the theosophic Kabbalists in Spain , Shorshei HaShemot ("Roots of the Names") By Rabbi Moshe Zucato , Sefer Peulot by Rabbi Chaim Vital - another book on the banned book list and mentioned a number of time on evocation magic forums. I got that one mostly to see what the fuss was all about.

Anyway, I have just been informed that selfie (and hence probably shelfies too) are meant to be glanced at briefly and not over analyzed. Looking back at this post, I think that I have failed to grasp what a selfie or shelfie is all about. So I'll stop here and re-visit several of these books in more detail over the next year or two as and when I get through them.

The book that I am currently studying is: the commentary on Sefer Yetzirah ("Book of Creation") by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero. After several months of very slow progress, I have made it to the commentary on chapter 1, verse 9...

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Dissolving Coagulation of Clay

For the past two weeks I have felt a deep sense of sadness which manifest by a strong desire to want to cry all the time. This caused some interesting interactions in the office at work.
The thing is there was no immediate cause that I could identify as the source. So as any good project manager would do, I held a retrospective meeting to see what had happened over the past couple of months that might have brought about the sadness.

Here is the shortlist of possible causes:
  1. Reading “Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis” by David Chaim Smith – the continued emphasis on the non-dual nature of Creation gave my ego a serious battering. 
  2. Reading “World Mask” by Rabbi Akiva Tatz – this too gave my fragile ego a battering, however this was compounded by the fact that unlike the book above, Tatz actually challenges the reader to take action based on their new-found knowledge.
  3. Several failed attempts to get a new job – got through first and second round, but then the roles are withdrawn due to lack of funding or re-organization. Whilst disappointing as set-backs, I am not sure they would evoke quite this level of sadness.
  4. Studying commentary on Sefer Yetzirah) Book of Creation) by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero – in Hebrew. It’s pretty mind-blowing stuff and as my wife says: “you’re punching way above your weight”. To which I replied: “how else am I going to keep progressing?”
  5. That some of my favourite vices no longer give me any pleasure – this took a while to realize. Having spent the last few years moving my ‘set point’ in terms of study, practice, and behaviour it dawned on me that some of the things I loved doing are now empty shells without appeal. 
Looking back at the list I think that it is likely to be point 5. Habits are incredibly hard to change, especially when they are bordering on the level of addiction. The again it could be a combination of all of the above that has made me feel like a layer of my being has broken off and something inside me is regenerating in to a clearer form.

Logan was kind enough to remind me of the importance of stoicism. Rabbi Kaplan makes this point in his book ‘Meditation and Kabbalah’. All of the activities 1-5 can be classed as “running”. By that I mean trying to go beyond the point where I find myself at to try to reach a new stage of my development.
However, as Logan pointed out – “running” must be accompanied with “returning” as is made explicitly clear in Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation). There is a balance to be found in all things and a person cannot be constantly “running” form one level of development to the next without having periods of “returning” and allowing the changes to be integrated in to one’s life in a healthy manner.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

This is not a review: The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis: Commentary on Genesis 1-3

The back cover of "The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis: Commentary on Genesis 1-3" by David Chaim Smith has the following blurb:
"The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis is the first book of its kind. It rigorously re-examines the first three chapters of the book of Genesis from a radical non-theistic position, completely removing the concept of a creator God. Despite this 'heretical' position, the book utilizes a traditionally precise kabbalistic vocabulary and structure. Previous works that have attempted to unpack the text invariably rely on theistic dogma and mythology. Smith's book is absolutely devoid of conventional religious 'truth', and probes the ultimate mysteries using epistomological and ontological questioning from the base of gnostic realization. The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis was previously only available to a small group of Smith's students and close colleagues, but it is now apparent that this work is enormously important and had to be made available to a wider audience."
Firstly I would like to say that it is a brilliant book, doing a really good job of explaining some (in my opinion) difficult to traansmit concepts from Ma'aseh Bereishit (The Work of Creation).

Second of all, there is nothing heretical in this book in my opinion.

However, one thing that I am struggling to understand is why the author wanted to extract the honey from the sandwich. In other words, all of the rabbis and tzaddikim that the author quotes extensively in the book observed the commandments. And yet the author writes on pp. 116:
Religious law posits that right and wrong are a closed book; there is no creative choice when morality is frozen solid. It is up to the human beings to assert that morality does not need a set form other than kindness and awareness. It can be based on the fluid adaption to every unique circumstance, each in its peculiarities.
This to me hints that perhaps the author whilst knowledgeable of 'esoteric' Hebrew teachings, may not be as versed in 'exoteric' teachings. I use inverted comments to describe esoteric and exoteric as I believe this dualistic view of Judaism is flawed. There is no gap between and these teachings are not just known by a handful of advanced kabbalists.

Anyway, rant over. I learned a lot from the book. Including the lesson of not entering the Pardes unprepared. Which means being proficient in all levels of Pshat, Remez, Drush, and Sod.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Festival of Masks, Looking at Text through Differing Personas

It's coming up to Purim, which comes from the word relating to 'casting lots', and a friend of mine sent me a link to a talk by Rabbi Hayyim Angel that takes a very different view of the Megillat Ester - the Scroll of the Story of Ester.

Apart from it being a very ineteresting view on the story of Purim, it also highlights that different ways of interpreting the scriptures is perfectly acceptable. It could become an issue if the outcome of the re-interpretation had legal implications, by that I mean affecting religious laws and customs.

1651 Jan Victors
However, in an area such as the Kabbalah - there are many different ways and schools of thought to interpret scriptures and they are of equal validity. One example is the differences between the theosophic (focused on ten sefirot) Kabbalistic schools compared to the ecstatic (prophetic) Kabbalistic schools.

I guess that is one of the things that I don't understand about some Wester Mystery tradition books that I've come across. In a number of books the attribution of colours, planets, letters, precious stones etc to specific Sefirot is presented as definitive. Rather than presenting a variety of views & attributions as put forward by different Kabbalists over the centuries.