There is a concept in Jewish mysticism that the primordial Torah is the blueprint of creation. The question of course arises, if the primordial Torah is the blueprint – then what was it written on before material reality came in to existence?
The midrash (allegorical commentaries on the Torah) states that the primordial Torah was written black fire on white fire. Professor Moshe Idel in his second chapter of his book “Absorbing Perfections” focuses on this topic. The name of the chapter is “The God-Absorbing Text: Black Fire on White Fire”.
The question posed above is mentioned on page 47 and Professor Moshe Idel then goes on to state:
“...More specifically, however, some midrashic sources became aware that if the Torah anetdates the world, a quandary arises as to the material involved in the visible manifestation of the written. This question was explicitly posed in at least two different midrashim, using similar structural formulations, though the details differ substantially. A late midrash, ‘Aseret ha-Dibberot, formulates the question as follows: ‘Before the creation of the world, skins of parchments were not in existence, that the Torah might be written on them, because the animals did not exist yet. So, on what was the Torah written? On the arm of the Holy One, blessed be He, by a black fire on [the surface of] a white fire’...”
If we take for a minute the metaphor of the Divine as infinite light, anything that is created would instantly be absorbed and nullified in the infinite reality of the Divine. Hence why later Kabbalists (16th century) wrote about the concept of Tzimtzum – a Divine contraction so to speak in which the Divine light was constrained layer by layer until a “blackness” existed in which the presence of the Divine was not immediately apparent to any emanated entity. Thus the blackness is a carving out of “space” in the Divine to create room for eventually material reality to be formed (from our perspective).
Coming back to the difference between the black fire and white fire in the primordial Torah, the 13th century mystic Rabbi Isaac Ha-Kohen, son of Rabbi Jacob Ha-Kohen write as follows (quote from pp51-52 of Absorbing Perfections):
“...The inner [form] stands for the Holy One, blessed be He, as He is hidden from the eye of any creature and His innerness cannot be reached. The external form stands for the [external] world, which depends on the arm of the Holy One, blessed be He, as an amulet on the arm of a powerful man. And just as the inner form is the locus of the external form, so [also] is God the locus of the world, and the world is not the locus of God. What I have mentioned to you [si] that the white form of the ‘aleph stand for the level of Holy One, blessed be He, but not the black one, [which is] external. I did tell you this by way of a [great] principle, and as a great secret because the whie form stands for the white garment, and as our sages, blessed be their memory, said: Whence was the light created? It teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, clothed himself in a white garment, and the splendor of it shone from one end of the world to another, as it is said: “Who covers himself with light as with a garment and “and the lights dwells with him”...”
So… the Divine fills all of reality as explained via the metaphor of light but the Divine also transcends all of creation. As the quote above states, the Divine wears a garment of light (reality) but that is not the essence of the Divine (the metaphor of the body in the garment).
Taking this a step further, what meaning or use can be made with the white fire that surrounds the black fire? Are there deep secrets which can grant us a deeper connection with the Divine?
Rabbi Levi Isaac of Berditchev, a Hasidic master of the eighteenth century wrote (yet another quote from chapter 2 of Absorbing Perfections):
“...We can see by the eye of our intellect why in the Torah handed down to us one letter should not touch the other. The matter is that also the whiteness constitutes letters, but we do not know how to read them as [we know] the blackness of the letters. But in the future God, blessed be He, will reveal to us even the whiteness of the Torah. Namely we will [then] understand the white letter in our Torah, and this is the meaning of “A new Torah will go forth from me,” that it stands for the whiteness of the Torah, that all the sons of Israel will understand also the letter that are white in our Torah which was delivered to Moses. But nowadays the letters of whiteness are obscured from us...”
It’s a bit disappointing to hear that we’ll have to wait for the Messiah to understand and interact in a meaningful way with the white letters. However, perhaps there is a way of living in Messianic times before the advent of the coming of the Messiah…. Rabbi Abraham Abulafia, according to my studies & understanding, put forward the idea that we could all be our own personal Messiahs in a way.
Rabbi Abulafia wrote about permutating letters first on the page, then moving on to permutate the letters with sound and head movements, followed by just permutating them internally. Maybe, just maybe, we can absorb the whiteness from the page that surrounds the black letters – carve out this whiteness with sound and internalise the white letters finally to make them part of our being. Anyway, it’s just a thought.