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R. Azriel on the Ten Sefirot

by Yakov Leib Ha-Kohain

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R. Azriel's Text 1/11

QUESTION: If a questioner asks: Who can compel me to believe that the world has a ruler?

ANSWER: Just as it is inconceivable that a ship be without a captain, so too is it impossible that the world be without a ruler. This Ruler is infinite (eyn sof) in both His Glory and Word, as in the matter that is written: "I have seen an end to every purpose, but Your commandment is exceedingly immense" (Psalms 119:96), and it is written: "For God shall bring every act into judgement -- every hidden thing whether good or bad" (Ecclesiastes 12:14). That which is hidden is without end and limit; it is unfathomable and nothing exists outside it.

The philosophers admit to this fact that the Cause of all causes and the Origin of origins is infinite, unfathomable, and without limit. According to the way of the Ruler we see that the end of every act is hidden from the probing of an investigator, as in the matter that is written: "So that no man can find out the work which God has made from the beginning to the end" (ibid. 3:11). And it is further recorded: "Should the wise man can say that he knows, even he will not be able to find it" (ibid. 8:17.


Here, R. Azriel begins his explanation of the Ten Sefirot by first establishing their origins from the absolute Eyn Sof ("No-Thing"), the Deius Absconditus of Kabbalah. To do so he uses both the rational arguments of philosophy - resembling those of St. Thomas Aquinas's "Watchmaker" (when you see a watch, you know there is a Watchmaker) and Plato before him (i.e., God as the "Unmoved Mover") - as well as the rabbinic method of "proving Scripture by Scripture."

We see by R. Azriel's definition of it that the Eyn Sof of Kabbalah is virtually identical to the Tao of Taoism and the Brahman of Hinduism - both of which define the Abolute Creator as limitless, undefinable and without attributes. And although merely a speculation, it is possible that the latter may, indeed, have come from the former through the Sons of Keturah who, the Bible tells us, were missionaries to the "East countries" for the esoteric portions of their father Abraham's new religion. (Genesis 25:1-6) In this regard, a Chinese incription on a pillar of the ancient synagogue of Kei Feng read,

"Through Abram the Religion [of China] was established, and its Laws had no visible image [i.e., they came from Eyn Sof]." (Chinese Jews, William Charles White, editor, page 146.)
Similarly, another pillar-inscription in the Kei Feng Synagogue reads:
"From the time of Abram, when [his] religion [was taught to us by talented men of Western India] men of China have diffused instruction, and obtained complete knowledge of Confucianism, of Buddhism, and of Taoism." (ibid. page 138.)
This last Chinese text, in particular, supports the theory that Hinduism, Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism - all of which are based on an Eyn-Sof conception of the Absolute Godhead - may have originally emerged from Abrahamic teachings brought to India and China by his sons through Keturah.

On another level, R. Azriel's reference to "every hidden thing whether good or bad" echoes the later antinomianism of Sabbatian Kabbalah and, later still, that of the Baal Shem Tov, who stated:

"The indwelling Glory embraces all worlds, all creatures, good and evil. And it is the true unity. How can it then bear in itself the opposites of good and evil? But in truth there is no opposite between them, for the Evil is the throne of the Good." (Instructions in Intercourse with God, Martin Buber, translator; Horizon Press, 1958, page 208)
And finally, the Kabbalistic notion of Eyn Sof discussed by R. Azriel bears a striking resemblance to the "One" described by Jung in his concluding paragraph of Answer to Job
"Even the enlightened person remains what he is, and is never more than his own limited ego before the One who dwells within him, whose form has no knowable boundaries, who encompasses him on all sides, fathomless as the abysims of the earth and vast as the sky." (ATJ, par. 758)

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page uploaded 25 May 1999