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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

The Glorious Name and the Incarnate Torah

The place occupied by the Bible in the mystical imagination cultivated by various fraternities of kabbalists in the high Middle Ages, is, as one can imagine, enormous in scope, thematically, chronologically, and geographically speaking. Although one must be careful not to offer a definition of mysticism that would obscure the complexity and multifaceted nature of the phenomenon of Jewish mysticism, it is valid to suggest that a current that runs through the mystical landscape in Jewish history has been the quest to see God. Within the aniconic tradition of Judaism, this quest took the form of the paradoxical imagining of the imageless. The iconoclastic reverberations of biblical faith fostered a prodigious imaginative representation of the non‐representable in Jewish mystic circles through the centuries where specific meditational practices were cultivated for the stated aim of attaining a vision of the invisible, the locus of that vision situated in the heart/imagination of the visionary, the site where the normative epistemic divisions between external and internal dissolved in the play of double mirroring.

A unique feature of Jewish mysticism in all of its historical manifestations has been the convergence of light and letter symbolism: The emanation of God's light coincides with the revelation of the divine name. It follows, moreover, that the experience of God's presence consisted of both an ocular and auditory dimension, that is, seeing and hearing are intertwined in mystical envisioning, to behold the invisible is to heed the ineffable. Even within the Bible—see Deut. 28.58 and Ps. 72.19 , for instance—the idea of “glory,” kavod (lit. “weighty,” that which impresses), was merged with the notion of the “name” (shem), that is, the most sacred of names, YHVH. Hence, in place of the indwelling of the glory in the Tabernacle, mikdash, or Tent of Meeting, ʾohel moʿed (Exod. 25.8; 29.44–45; 40.34–35 ), there are references to God causing His name to dwell, leshaken shemo (Deut. 14.23; 16.2, 11; 26.2; see also 12.11 : lasum et shemo sham leshikhno), in the place (makom) of his choosing, the Jerusalem Temple. In these biblical contexts, shem represents the divine Presence by metonymy, and thus shem and kavod were virtually synonymous: To speak of God causing His name to dwell is effectively to speak of God causing His glory to dwell. Nevertheless, the change in locution was not lost on subsequent mystical writers, for whom the substitution of terms meant a convergence of realities: a conception of the name that is embodied, the body that is the name.

The phrase kevod Yhvh, accordingly, is read esoterically not as a genitive phrase (i.e., the X of Y), “the glory of the LORD,” but as an appositive, “the glory [that is] the LORD.” Just as the concept arose during the Second Temple period that the God of Israel had no visible, manifest form, so YHVH became the ineffable name, the name that cannot be vocalized as it is written, the name that demarcates the Presence that cannot be represented. The metaphysical assumption behind this mythopoeic belief—a belief that was expressed in Heikhalot texts, Shiʿur Komah fragments, early Jewish Neoplatonic writings, and kabbalistic works—is that body is letter, and letter body. This premise knits together the disparate strands of Jewish esotericism. The kabbalistic tradition, particularly by the 13th century, goes a step further and identifies the name with Torah. Moreover, since kabbalists assumed that the Tetragrammaton (YHVH) comprises within itself the twenty‐two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the mystical identification of Torah as the name, ha‐Shem, incorporates the older notion that Torah consists of apolyphony of names that effectively make the divine present in the text. By assuming the identity of these different ideas, it is possible to substitute one for another: If the name is the glory, and the Torah is the name, it follows that the glory is the Torah. For kabbalists, the interchangeability of these terms meant that Torah was the incarnate form of divine Presence, which, at the height of prophetic vision, assumes a human shape (anthropos) in the heart of the visionary. This is the hermeneutical foundation for the kabbalistic understanding of Scripture: The scroll, rendered hyperliterally, constitutes the scriptural body of the divine.

The equation of the name and Torah thus yielded the notion of the textual body in which, or from which, those who read were led toward the text of the body. This incarnational theme, very significant for understanding the mystical approach to Scripture, is quite ancient, though the precise formulation is not attested until the 12th and 13th centuries. By the late Middle Ages, moreover, Neoplatonic influence had impacted the Jewish religious philosophies promulgated by elitist rabbinic circles throughout Europe, North Africa, and the Mediterranean countries, to the point that it was no longer tenable to conceive of presence and absence as antithetical; on the contrary, since God was widely conceived as the existence whose essence could not be fathomed by the human mind, the apophatic (negative) and kataphatic (positive) responses could not be credibly dissociated: The “absence” of all positive attributes, including “presence” itself, was the manifestation of the divine, and thus “absence” equals “presence,” presence signifies absence in the absence of presence.

The unique contribution of medieval kabbalists is to view YHVH, the most sacred of divine names, as comprising all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In line with the philosophical stance articulated by Judah Halevi (see “The Bible in the Jewish Philosophical Tradition,” pp. 1948–75), kabbalists considered Hebrew to be the one “natural” or “essential” language in contrast to all other languages, which are “conventional” or “contingent.” One of the better known, and surely most lucid, formulations of this idea is offered by the 13th‐century Castilian kabbalist Joseph Gikatilla (1248–ca. 1325), a likely member of the fraternity responsible for the zoharic anthology, in the introduction to his Shaʿarei ʾOrah, a systematic delineation of the symbolic names associated with each of the ten emanations progressing from the bottom to the top of the sefirotic ladder: The twenty‐two letters are portrayed as branches stemming from a tree whose trunk is inscribed with YHVH, the root‐word of the “original” language, the mystical essence of Torah. Thus Torah is the blueprint of creation, and furthermore by studying Torah one can gain knowledge, both historical and natural, of all that takes place in the world. From the vantage point formulated textually by kabbalists beginning in earnest in the 13th century, everything that exists in the cosmos may be perceived as a permutation of the name, elicited from the linguistic matrix of Torah. The permutation both says and unsays the ineffable name, as a garment both hides and reveals the body it clothes.

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