Sunday, 7 January 2018

Moses Cordovero's Kabbalistic Eightfold Path (The Palm Tree of Deborah)

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Tomer Devorah (The Palm Tree of Deborah) by Moses Cordovero
trans. Louis Jacobs, New York Sepher-Hermon Press, 1960
Moses ben Jacob Cordovero, aka the Ramak, one of the most profound and systematic exponents of the teachings of the Zohar and a leading figure in the circle of mystics for which sixteenthcentury Safed in Palestine was renowned. The Ramak was born in 1522 and died at the age of 48, in 1570. First published in Venice in 1588, the little book Tomer Devorah is an ethical commentary on the ten sefirots in a true theosophical spirit.

Chapter II: Attaining the Qualities of Keter
For man to resemble his Creator according to the secret of the Supernal Crown he must possess, too, many of the chief qualities of the divine providence.

I) The quality of humility includes all qualities, for it belongs to the Crown, which is the highest attribute. It does not raise nor exalt itself upwards; on the contrary, it descends to look downwards at all times. For this there are two reasons. The first is that it is ashamed to gaze at its Source[1], but the Cause of its emanation looks continually into it to give goodness to it while it looks down to those beneath. So, too, man should be ashamed to gaze proudly upwards, but he should ever look downwards in order to abase himself as much as possible. This quality depends chiefly on the head, for the proud man lifts his head upwards while the poor man lowers his head. Behold, there is none so patient and so humble as our God in His quality of Crown. For there is perfect mercy before which there can enter no flaw, sin, judgment nor any other quality to prevent it providing and flowing with goodness at all times. So, too, should man behave, that no cause whatsoever prevent him doing good to others and any sin or the misdeeds of unworthy persons be barred entrance in order to prevent him doing good to all who need it at all times and in every moment. As He provides from the horned buffalo[2] to the brood of vermin despising no creature (for if He were to despise His creatures because of their insignifigance they could not exist even for one moment), showing mercy to them all, so man should be good to all creatures, despising none, that even the most insignifigant assumes importance in his eyes and he be concerned with it. And he should do good to all in need of his goodness. This quality depends on the Crown according to the secret of the head as a whole[3].

II His thoughts should resemble the thoughts of the Crown. Just as wisdom never ceases from thinking good thoughts, not allowing evil to enter, for it is perfect mercy and there is no judgment and nothing at all harsh there, so, too, man's mind should be free from every ugly thing. And just as it accords with the secret of the Supernal Wisdom, the Pre-existent Torah[4], and no secret of Torah is lacking there, so man should not turn his mind to any thoughts apart from those of Torah and the contemplation of God's majesty and goodness and the way to do good and so forth. In short: nothing strange nor negative should be present in his thoughts. This was the elevated state pf R. Simeon and his group. Behold how R. Simeon rebuked R. Jose (as recorded in the Zohar[5], section Vayakhel) when the latter separated his thought in some small measure from the Torah.

III His forehead should have no hardness whatsoever but should resemble at all times the forehead of the Will and he should be pleased to accept everyone. Even when he meets with provokers he should appease them and quiet them with good will. For the forehead of the Will constantly accepts and appeases the divine powers and perfects them. So man, too, should appease those whose anger prevails and he should lead them on in good will, drawing on great wisdom to weaken their anger that it does not overstep its boundaries and cause harm, God forfend. He should behave as the Supernal Will, which proceeds from the wonderful wisdom in the forehead of the Ancient One[6] which accepts all creatures. He should derive, too, the power to be pleasant to all creatures. For if in some respect his character is harsh to men he will not succeed in the quality of acceptance. This is the reason for the teaching of the Mishnah[7] that he in whom the spirit of his fellows takes delight the spirit of the All-Present takes delight.

IV That his ears be ever open to hear good but an evil or ugly report be barred from entering them, according to the secret of Supernal Listening; for no cry of judgment nor the flaw of evil talk is allowed entry there. So he, too, should listen only to good and useful things; and other things which cause anger to prevail should recieve no hearing whatsoever. Just as the serpent, his words and his speech have no entry above so no ugly thing should be allowed to enter man's ear. This is the meaning of 'Thou shalt not bear[8] a false report'; how much more other ugly things. These should in no way enter his ear, which should listen only to good things.

V His eyes should not gaze at any ugly thing. They should, however, be ever open to notice and show mercy to sufferers as much as possible. He should in no way close his eyes when he sees the sufferings of the poor but give as much thought to their predicament as lies in his power and awaken the pity of Heaven and of humans upon them. He should be far removed from noticing evil, just as the Supernal Eye is ever open to look immediately at the good.

VI As for his nose[9], there should be no anger in him whatsoever. But there should be at all times vitality, good will and great patience even to the unworthy. He should desire at all times to fulfil everyone's desires, to grant every request, and to revive every sufferer. From his nose there should proceed forgiveness of sin and pardon of iniquity. He should not be angry with those who offend him but he should be constantly willing to be appeased and desire to do kindness so as to please all.

VII His face should shine constantly, so to welcome all men with good countenance. For with regard to the Supernal Crown it is said: 'In the light[10] of the king's countenance is life.' Neither redness[11] nor any judgment enters there. So, too, the light of his face find there only joy and good humour; and no cause should in any way disturb him in this.

VIII His mouth should produce nothing but good, his spoken word should be constantly Torah and the fulfillment of good will. He should never allow an ugly thing nor a curse nor anger nor frivolous talk escape from his mouth. His should resemble that Supernal Mouth which is never closed, never being silent from sounding the good at all times. He should, therefore, speak well of all and constantly make of his words goodness and blessing.

Behold, these are eight good qualities, all of them under the banner of humility, all of which are in the higher worlds in the Crown among the Supernal Limbs. Whenever man wishes to draw near to the higher worlds to resemble Him so as to open the heavenly sources of blessing to those beneath it is necessary for him to be well-versed in these two chapters. Of course, we know that it is impossible to conduct oneself in obedience to these qualities continually for there are other qualities in which a man has to be well-versed, namely the lower qualities of Power, as we shall explain. But there are days when the Powers do not function and when men have no need of them, for in these days Crown reigns, or it is a time when Crown is required. Then it is necessary to resort to all the qualities we have mentioned.
1. its Source 'En Soph.
2. the horned buffalo A reference to the Talmudic saying that God feeds the whole world from the horned buffalo to the brood of vermin, A.Z. 3b
3. the head as a whole i.e., as distinct from the organs of the head, the eye, ear and so forth, to be described later.
4. The Pre-existant Torah The Rabbinic teaching that the Torah preceded the creation of the world (Gen. R. VIII) is mystically interpreted as referring to the Sephirah of Wisdom, the secret source of the Torah, v. Zohar I, 15b, II, 200a
5. In the Zohar 'At this point R. Simeon noticed R. Jose meditating worldly matters. Said he: "Jose, arise and complete your image, inasmuch as you are short of one letter." R. Jose then rose up and joyously absorbed himself in the expositions of the Torah. R. Simeon then looked at him again, and said: "R. Jose, now you are whole before the Ancient of Days, and your image is complete,"' II, 217b
6. the Ancient One. The appellation of Crown
7. the teaching of the Mishnah. 'Aboth III, 11.
8. Thou shalt not bear Rabbinic interpretation of Ex. XXIII. 1, v. Pes. 118a.
9. nose 'Anger' in Hebrew is harah 'aph, lit. 'snorting with the nose,' hence the nose symbolises anger and its opposite good will.
10. In the light Prov. XVI. 15, cf. 'Aboth I, 15.
11. redness In Kabbalistic symbolism the color of judgment (Gevurah)