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

The matter is similarly expressed in the Zohar:

Come and see: The supernal world and the lower world are balanced on one scale. Israel below and the angels above. Concerning the supernal angels it is written, “He makes his angels into spirits” (Ps. 104.4 ). When they descend below they are garbed in the garment of this world, and if they were not garbed in the garment that is in the likeness of this world, they could not exist in this world and the world could not endure them. If this is so with respect to the angels, how much more so with respect to the Torah, which created them and all the worlds, and they exist on account of it, when it descends to this world, if it were not garbed in the garments of this world, the world could not endure. Thus the narrative of Torah is the garment of Torah. The one who thinks that the garment is the Torah itself, and not another matter, let his spirit deflate, and he will have no share in the world to come. Therefore, David said, “Open my eyes that I may perceive the wonders of your Torah” (Ps. 119.18 ), what is beneath the garment of Torah (Zohar 3:152a).

In the continuation of the passage, the exegetical layering of Scripture is expanded from two to four levels: garment, body, soul, and soul of souls, which correspond respectively to stories, laws, esoteric wisdom, and messianic secrets. The standard reference to this idea was by the acronym PaRDeS: peshat (contextual sense), remez (allegorical sense), derash (homiletical sense), and sod (mystical sense). Pardes was apparently first used by Mosheh de Leon but applied more systematically by Baḥya ben Asher (d. 1320) in the second part of the 13th century. It was formulated as an elaboration of the principle of dual meaning, the internal and external, esoteric and exoteric, revealed and concealed, the garment and what is beneath it. The hermeneutical principle of dual meaning in the text is based on the parallel between the supernal and lower worlds. In the zoharic idiom, the image of two worlds “balanced on one scale,” be‐ḥad matkela ʾitkalu, conveys the notion of similitude through difference, that is, two dissimilar things rendered equal in their incongruity. The zoharic kabbalists maintained that the spiritual is discerned through the physical, the invisible through the visible, a cosmological principle that shaped their hermeneutical disposition. The hidden meaning of the text, the “mystery” (raz) or “light” (ʾor)—an equivalence of terms that was substantiated on the basis of their numerical equivalence, both equaling 207—was discoverable through its literal body, the letter; mystical cognition thus entails a seeing of the secret “through the garment” (migo levusha) rather than by removing the garment (Zohar 2:98b). In inverse emulation of the dissimilitude of Torah to conceal in the charade of revealing, the master of esoteric gnosis reveals in the display of concealing. The capacity to divulge secrets, attributed in the zoharic passage to Simeon ben Yoḥai,is traced to the “skilled tongue,” leshon limudim (Isa. 50.4 ), which is identified as the “holy tongue,” leshon ha‐kodesh, or the “holy spirit,” ruaḥ ha‐kodesh. In the divine outpouring to the world through Shekhinah (compare Zohar 1:228a and 2:236b), the lower wisdom (ruaḥ) receives the overflow from the upper wisdom (kodesh) and is thereby transformed from passive female to active male (Zohar 3:60b–61a). This suggests that the word leshon, “tongue,” is to be interpreted phallically; indeed the phallus empowers the “skilled tongue” of the holy spirit to talk.

The intent of the passage above comes into sharper focus when seen with another text from the Zohar, a dramatic section that chronicles the discourse of the elderly donkey driver focused on the mystery of conversion and the doctrine of transmigration of souls (metempsychosis), the voyage of the soul from one embodiment to another. The old man lures other members of the fraternity (and, by implication, the reader) onto his path with three seemingly incomprehensible parables. In time, through the unfolding of the narrative—which presents the tension between the urge to reveal and the need to conceal—the donkey driver, outwardly foolish, discloses himself to be a true master. The point of the narrative is that by plumbing the depths of the mystery of conversion of the Gentile (which implies for these thinkers the existence of a Jewish soul in a non‐Jewish body), one is led to a mystical understanding of the ontological identification of God and Torah, two seemingly disparate realities, one delimited and beyond semantic demarcation and the other comprised of the twenty‐two letters that are the names branching off the root YHVH. Conversion suggested to the Castilian kabbalists a crossing of the boundaries of being that seemingly challenged the overtly dualistic view that Israel was aligned with the holy right side of God, mercy, and the nations of the world (Gentiles) with the unholy left side, judgment.

Part of the text (Zohar 2:98b) articulates the assumption regarding the Torah and mystical secrets, an assumption that is, at once, ontological and hermeneutical (the two cannot be separated in the thinking of these kabbalists). The explanation of the garbing of a Jewish soul in a non‐Jewish body, the key factor to understanding the mechanics of conversion, is interrupted, so it seems, by the observation of the old man that God hides secrets in the garments of Torah. Only the wise that are replete with eyes are capable of apprehending these secrets, a vision that is designated as seeing through rather than discarding the garment. Shortly after the reader encounters this principle, the old man offers a parable of the beautiful maiden in a castle, which recounts the erotic relationship that pertains between Torah and the mystical exegete (Zohar 2:99a–b). Four levels of meaning are delineated: remizu, “sign”; derashah, “homily”; ḥidah, “allegory,” or hagadah, “narrative”; and razin setimin, “hidden mysteries.” These four levels are presented sequentially as stages of ever‐increasing disclosure: In the first meaning is offered through the barrier of the wall, in the second from behind a curtain, in the third through a more subtle veil, and, finally, in the fourth the reader encounters the text face to face, which, in the zoharic vernacular, signifies union of a most intimate and erotic sort. When the Torah removes her veil and exposes her face fully to her lover, he comes to realize that the secret was already present in the first stage when the initial hint was offered. At that moment he understands that peshatei dikeraʾ, the literal sense of the text—the text in its literal embodiment, the mien of the letters—must be as it is, no word added or subtracted, precisely in accord with the halakhic ruling. To discern the initial insinuation at the end confirms the point that the secret can be seen only through the garment of the letters, the body of the text, the face unmasked in effacing the mask. The uncovering of the innermost meaning at the culmination of the journey is thus a recovery of the overt sense allusively disclosed in the beginning.

The somewhat curious choice of the term remizu (“sign”) to denote the peshat in the initial delineation underscores that in the mysticalunderstanding of the revealed word, the literal is metaphorical and the metaphorical literal. To be sure, on the face of it, the final disclosure—the fourth level—bears the intimacy of the face‐to‐face encounter, a showing that ostensibly does away with the previous barriers, the wall, curtain, and veil; but when one understands that the secret exposed at the end was contained in the hint offered at the beginning, it then becomes apparent that the face itself is a veil, indeed the greatest of veils, since it can be unveiled—appear in the flesh—only by being veiled—remaining enfleshed. What is revealed in the final hermeneutical disclosure, therefore, is the veil of presuming there is an unveiling that results in a vision of the divine without the veil of the text, to apprehend the essence of God without the shibboleth of the name, which is the Torah. As the matter is expressed in another zoharic context, “The letters are inscribed in the supernal mysteries, for they all emerge from the mystery of the supernal Wisdom by way of the thirty‐two paths that come forth from Wisdom.…All the letters are inscribed in a mystery and they are the bodies of Torah (gufei torah) for they exist to instruct and to notify about the supernal mysteries” (Zohar Η̣adash, 73b). The author of this comment appropriates the rabbinic expression gufei torah—which in the older sources that use guf (body) metaphorically denotes the rudiments of law—to formulate the idea of a mystical body of God, taking guf literally, a body that is composed of letters, which are at one and the same time linguistic signs and numeric ciphers of divine wisdom.

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