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The Maggid [Heavenly Mentor] of R. Joseph Karo

Yakov Leib haKohain

R. Joseph Karo (1488-1575) is one of the greatest rabbis in Jewish history. He is best known for his codification of Jewish law called the "Shulchan Arukh" and also "Beit Yosef." He was expelled from Spain in 1492 and settled in Turkey where he lived for about 40 years. In 1536 he left Turkey for Safed, Israel where he headed a large academy. In Safed, Karo became a member of the circle of Kabbalists that included Moses Cordovero, Solomon Alkabetz and, of course, Isaac Luria.

Karo and his fellow Kabbalists believed himself to be in communication with a heavenly mentor (Hebrew = "maggid") from whom he claimed to receive divine revelations of the mysteries of Kabbalah. He identified this maggid as the Mishnah and Shekhinah (exiled, feminine aspect of God) whose revelations were in the form of automatic speech coming out of his mouth.

What follows is an eye-witness account of one such auditory revelation, written by the Kabbalist R. Solomon Alkabetz, who was present, in a letter from Safed, where it occured, to the mystic brotherhood in Salonika. Alkabetz (1505-1576), who is equally as famous as Karo and Luria, was the author of the hymn to welcome the "Sabbath Bride," Lechah Dodi, now sung in all synagogues and Jewish homes on the eve of the Sabbath.

What this account tells us about the nature of 16th-century Judaism, as compared to that of our own time, is equally as important as its Kabbalistic content.


(An Eye-Witness Account by R. Solomon Alkabetz)

No sooner had we studied two tractates of the Mishnah than our Creator smote us so that we heard a voice speaking out of the mouth of the saint [i.e., Karo], may his light shine. It was a loud voice with sounds clearly enunciated. All the chaverim [i.e., companions] heard the voice but were unable to understand what it was saying. It was an exceedingly pleasant voice, becoming increasingly strong. We all fell on our faces and none of us had any spirit left in him because of our great dread and awe. The voice began to address us, saying:

"Friends, choicest of choice, peace be to you, beloved chaverim. Happy are you and happy those who bore you. Happy are you in this world and happy in the next, that you resolve to adorn Me [i.e., the Shekhinah] on this night. [Now the Shekhinah speaks of Her exile.]

"For these many years had My head been fallen with none to comfort Me. I was cast down to the ground [i.e., from Sefirah Binah to Malkuth] to embrace the dunghills, but now you have restored the Crown to its former place. [i.e., returned Sefirah Malkuth to Keter]

"Be strong, My beloved ones. Be courageous, My friends. Rejoice and exult for you belong among the chosen few. You have the merit of belonging to the king's palace [i.e., Sefirah Binah]. The sound of your Torah [reading] and the breath of your mouth have ascended to the Holy One, blessed be He, breaking through many firmaments and many atmospheres until it rose upwards. The angels were silent, the seraphim still, hayyot [beasts of the field] stood without speech and all the host of heaven heard, together with the Holy One, blessed be He, the sound of your voice.

"Behold, I am the Mishnah [Shekhinah], the Mother who chastises Her children and I have come to converse with you. Had you been ten in number [i.e., the "minyan," a full quorum of men] you would have ascended even higher but you have reached a great hight nevertheless.  Happy are those who bore you, my friends, in that, by denying yourselves sleep you have ascended so far on high.

"Through you I have become elevated this night and through the chaverim in the great city [Salonika], a mother-city in Israel . . . Therefore, My sons, be strong and rejoice in My love, rejoice in My Torah, rejoice in the fear of Me. If you could only imagine one millionth of the anguish which I [the fallen Shekhinah] endure, no joy would ever enter your hearts and no mirth your mouths, for it is because of you that I am cast to the ground.

"Therefore, O My dear sons, be strong and of good courage and rejoice.  Cease not from studying, for a thread of mercy is stretched out over you and your Torah study is pleasant to the Holy One, Blessed be He.  Therefore, stand upon your feet and raise Me up, saying in a loud voice, as on the Day of Atonement: 'BLESSED BE THE NAME OF HIS GLORIOUS KINGDOM FOR EVER AND EVER."


note: I would add there is an obvious connection here with modern day religious and "New Age" "Channelled' communications.  Indeed, this is (cultural differnecs aside) an idntical phenomonon, both in content and style.  M.A. Kazlev
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page uploaded 6 May 1999