1. “A spark of impenetrable darkness flashed within the concealed of the concealed.”
This quote comes from the Zohar’s parable “The Creation of God.” Dense and contradictory, the story explains how a “spark of impenetrable darkness” flashed within Ein Sof at the beginning of time. The Zohar’s paradoxical phrase “spark of darkness” has confounded scholars for many centuries. Most now agree that the contradiction of the two terms reflects the contradictions of Ein Sof, a god that exists everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Like the spark of darkness, Ein Sof’s defining trait is that it cannot be known or understood. Whereas Ein Sof is infinite, the human mind is finite, unable to comprehend the vastness of Ein Sof. The phrase “concealed of the concealed” refers to Ein Sof and underscores the gap of understanding between Ein Sof and the human mind. As Ein Sof withdrew into itself at the moment of creation, it became eternally shrouded in mystery. The goal of all followers of Kabbalah is to free Ein Sof from its state of concealed obscurity, to restore it to wholeness in the hope of making God fathomable and knowable to all.
2. “It split and did not split its aura, was not known at all until under the impact of splitting, a single concealed supernal point shone. Beyond that point, nothing is known, so it is called, Reshit, beginning, first command of all.”
This passage also comes from the Zohar parable “The Creation of God” and describes the origin of the universe. After the “spark of impenetrable darkness” flashed within Ein Sof, it “split and did not split its aura,” sending off a glint of light, described here as a “supernal point.” The word supernal means “heavenly,” and in Kabbalah it has come to refer to the first three sefirot, known together as the “Supernal Triad.” kabbalists consider the appearance of Ein Sof’s supernal light to be the beginning of time, the moment at which Ein Sof released its energy into the universe. The notion that Ein Sof could both split and not split its aura is yet another manifestation of Ein Sof’s unknowable identity. To the human mind, the idea of splitting and not splitting at once is unfathomable, a reflection of the vast unknowable identity of God.
3. “My Child, strive to see supernal light, for I have brought you into a vast ocean. Be careful! Keep your soul from gazing and your mind from conceiving, lest you drown. Strive to see, yet escape drowning.”
This quote comes from a passage in the Zohar entitled “Drowning.” The story tells of how Moses, who led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt, at one point wished to die in order to see the light of God. But because God knew that the people of Israel still needed Moses, God did not let him die. The quotation above evokes the story of Moses’ desire to see God’s light, and it serves as a warning to those who undertake the study of Kabbalah. Kabbalists believed in the power and danger of knowledge. They considered kabbalistic study an opportunity for enlightenment, but also peril. Those who study Kabbalah without caution and restraint face the danger of being overwhelmed by the knowledge they acquire, just as Moses became overwhelmed by the desire to know God.
The caution evident in the quotation above led early kabbalists to limit the study of Kabbalah to well-educated men in their forties, a group they considered the least vulnerable to the dangerous prospects of Kabbalah study.
4. “Torah reveals and conceals herself. With love she approaches her lover to arouse love within him.”
This quotation comes from the Zohar’s parable “The Old Man and the Ravishing Maiden,” in which an old man tells two rabbis the story of a maiden and her devoted lover. The lover comes to the maiden’s gate every day and waits for just one glimpse of her face. One day the maiden finally shows her face at a window and then quickly withdraws it. The old man compares the maiden to the Torah, which always reveals and conceals its wisdom. Just as the maiden knows that her lover hovers by the gates of her palace, the Torah knows that its readers pore over its pages, hoping for a glimpse of understanding. Just as the lover who catches a glimpse of the maiden feels a strong desire to know her more intimately, enlightened readers of the Torah become desperate for more insight into its teachings. Kabbalists believe the Torah contains innumerable layers of meaning that must be uncovered over a lifetime of patient study. By falling in love with the words of the Torah, as the lover falls for the ravishing maiden, one sets out on the path toward religious wisdom.
5. “So it is with one who grasps the principle and does not know all those delectable delights deriving, diverging from that principle.”
This quotation comes from the Zohar’s parable “The Essence of Torah,” the story of a man who comes to town from the mountains. When he visits the city, he tries bread, cakes, and pastries for the first time, after a lifetime spent eating wheat kernels raw. When he learns that these delicious treats are also made of wheat, he begins to consider himself a master of them all since he knows their main ingredient—raw wheat—so well. But the man is mistaken, because by knowing wheat alone, one doesn’t also know the many products of wheat, like pastries, bread, and cake. Together these four foods symbolize the four different levels of Torah interpretation. Kabbalists believe strongly that to know each successive level, one must study and master one level at a time. By knowing merely the words of Torah, one masters only the first level, not all four—just as the man from the mountains knew only wheat, not pastries, cake, and bread, by eating raw wheat kernels throughout his life. Kabbalists believe true knowledge comes with profound patience and diligence, as the countless mysteries of Torah reveal themselves only to the truly devout.