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

Poetic Incarnation and the Embodied Text of Textual Embodiment

In the kabbalistic tradition, the anthropomorphic shape of God refers not to humanity in general but specifically to the Jew, a point often expressed in the relevant texts in terms of the rabbinic dictum (linked exegetically to Ezek. 34.31 ) that the title ʾadam (“person”) applies to Israel and not to the nations of the world. In particular, the ethnocentric dimension of the incarnational myth, which has profoundly informed the kabbalistic orientation, is captured in the symbolic identification of God, Torah, and Israel implied in the zoharic comment that “there are three gradations bound one to the other, the holy One, blessed be He, Torah, and Israel” (Zohar 3:73a). The full implication of this symbolism is shown in the obligation incumbent upon every male Jew to write his own Torah scroll, a theme found in other kabbalistic texts such as the anonymous Sefer ha‐Yiḥud:

The reason for this commandment by way of kabbalah alludes to the fact that the Torah scroll is the holy of holies…for the entire Torah is the name of the holy One, blessed be He…and His Torah is within the holy One, blessed be He, and within Him is His Torah, and this is what the kabbalists say the holy One, blessed be He, is in His name and His name is in Him. “His name” is His Torah and the Torah is made through the pure and holy chain in the supernal image, and it is verily the shade of the holy One, blessed be He…Therefore He commanded that each man should make a Torah scroll for himself to discern and to know that he cherishes the Torah and to allude to the unity and to demonstrate the pattern of the Creator, blessed be He. When the holy One, blessed be He, sees that each and every one in Israel has a Torah scroll that is precisely in the likeness of His pattern, blessed be He, the holy One, blessed be He, immediately causes His Presence to dwell upon Israel, verily in his pattern, in the Torah scroll. Therefore God, blessed be He, commanded each and every man from Israel to make a Torah scroll for himself…this alludes to the fact that all of Israel is one form, as the sages, blessed be their memory, said all Israel is one body.…Since all of Israel is one supernal pattern, and each and every one from Israel is a limb of the chariot, each and every man from Israel must take a Torah scroll for himselfso that the limb will cleave to the limb in the pure and holy chain (Sefer Taʿamey ha‐Mizvot, pp. 78 –80).

The incarnational theology that informs the kabbalistic standpoint is predicated on a distinctive understanding of corporeality. “Body” does not denote physical mass that is quantifiable and measurable, but the phenomenological sense of the corporeal as lived presence. Medieval kabbalists, due to the influence of philosophical thinking that had informed the general cultural trends of European societies in the high Middle Ages, adopted a negative view toward the corporeal body (indeed, according to some passages in zoharic literature, for example, 3:170a , the physicality of the human is linked to the demonic “left” side) and thus considered the contemplative life as a way to escape the bonds of carnality. (There are many other strong connections between the philosophical and mystical traditions; these traditions should not be depicted as opposites, as they often are.) This explains the adoption of ascetic forms of piety on the part of kabbalists with special emphasis placed on sexual abstinence. On the other hand, the positive value accorded the body in kabbalistic symbolism, reflected in the repeated use of anthropomorphic images to depict God, images that on occasion embrace an intense erotic tone, is related to the textual nature of bodiliness, which, in turn, rests on an assumption regarding the bodily nature of textuality. The linguistic aspect of embodiment accounts as well for the kabbalistic understanding of ritual as participation in divine energy, epitomized in the saying “limb strengthens limb”; that is, the performance of ceremonial acts by human limbs fortifies the divine attributes, which are envisioned as bodily limbs. Alternatively expressed, insofar as Torah is the name YHVH, and the latter takes the form of an anthropos (an idea buttressed by the numerical equivalence of the four letters of the name written out in full and the word ʾadam, “person”), it follows that each commandment can be represented as a limb of the divine body. The kabbalistic representation of Torah as body is supported by the idea that the 248 positive commandments correspond to the 248 limbs and the 365 negative commandments to the 365 sinews. This formulation is a modification of the tradition attributed to R. Simlai (b. Mak. 23b) according to which the 248 positive commandments correspond to the limbs and the 365 negative commandments to the days of the year. The kabbalistic perspective reverses the generally assumed allegorical approach to scriptural anthropomorphisms promoted by medieval rabbinic exegetes, for instead of explaining anthropomorphic characterizations of God as a figurative way to accommodate human understanding, the attribution of corporeal images to an incorporeal God indicates that the real body, the body in its most abstract tangibility, is the letter, which is the principle of poetic incarnation. Anthropomorphism in Scripture therefore indicates that human and divine corporeality are entwined in a mesh of double imaging through the mirror of the text that renders the divine body human and the human body divine. For kabbalists, life revolves about the axis of the embodied text of textual embodiment.

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