Last update: January 29, 2006
2a And I heard a voice from heaven,
THE "BAT KOL"
The concept of a "voice from heaven" exists in Judaism in the Bat Kol (or
"Bath Kol"), meaning "daughter of a voice" (i.e., Luke 3:22). Its
feminine attribution is similar to that of the Shekinah ("Divine Presence") and
Ruach haKodesh ("Holy Spirit").
The Bat Kol is referred to as a "manifestation" of the Holy Spirit in the
Talmud, Makkoth 23b - R. Eleazar said: The Holy Spirit manifested
itself in three places; at the Tribunal of Shem, at the Tribunal of Samuel of Ramah, and
at the Tribunal of Solomon. At the Tribunal of Shem, as it is written, And Judah
acknowledged them, and he said, She is right, it is from me. How did he know [for
certain]? Maybe, just as he had come to [consort with] her, some other man had come to
[consort with] her? [But] it was a Bath Kol that came forth and said, She is right,
constrained by Me these things came about. At the Tribunal of Samuel,
as it is written, Here I am; witness against me before the Lord and before His
anointed, whose ox have I taken? or whose ass . . . and they said, Thou hast not defrauded
us nor oppressed us, neither hast thou taken aught of any man's hand. And he said unto
them, The Lord is witness against you and His anointed is witness this day that ye have
not found aught in my hand, and He said, [He is] witness. And He said;
should it not be And they said? [But] it was a Bath Kol that came forth and
said, I am witness in this matter. At the Tribunal of
Solomon, as it is said, And the king answered and said, Give her the living
child, and in no wise slay it; she is his mother: She is his mother; whence
knew he [for certain]? Maybe, she had been acting craftily? [But] it was a Bath Kol that
came forth and said, She is his mother.
(Also see notes to verse 13 regarding "dialogue"
between the Bat Kol and Holy Spirit.)
The guidance of the Bat Kol is said to be what "remained" of prophecy
following the age of the prophets:
Midrash Rabbah, The Song of Songs VIII:13 - R. Aibu said: Said the
Holy One, blessed be He: It is My intention to assign to Israel an advocate among
the nations. What is this? The Bath Kol, as it says, Except the Lord of Hosts had
left unto us a very small remnant (Isaiah 1:9). It has been taught: With the death of the
last prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, the holy spirit departed from Israel, but
still the Bath Kol was available to them.
As the voice John hears is from "heaven" (Beriah) which is associated with
the "heavenly Temple," the voice of the Bat Kol was often heard from the earthly
Midrash Rabbah, The Song of Songs VIII:13 - Once Johanan the High
Priest heard a Bath Kol issue from the Holy of Holies and say: The young men who
went out to war have gained a victory at Antioch. They made a note of the day and
the hour, and it proved to be so; they did in fact gain a victory on that day. Once Simon
the Just heard a Bath Kol issue from the Holy of Holies and say, The intention of
the enemy to destroy the Temple is frustrated, and Caius Caligula is slain, and his
decrees are annulled
The Bat Kol is also seen as directly speaking to an enemy of Israel. Note references to
the Temple and singing (as compared to this chapter of Revelation):
Midrash Rabbah, Lamentations Prologue XXIII - And one shall
start up at the voice of a bird: this refers to the wicked Nebuchadnezzar. Rabbi
said: For eighteen years a Bath Kol used to go forth in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar and
proclaim, ' Wicked servant, go and destroy thy Master's house, because His children
disobey Him. And all the daughters of music shall be brought low: thus
Nebuchadnezzar went up and stopped all singing in the house of feasting, and so it is
written, They drink not wine with a song (Isaiah 24:9)
2b like the voice of many waters, and
like the voice of loud thunder.
The mention of a voice of waters/thunder is reminiscent of Ezekiel's
The following passage from the Zohar offers a description of how "God's
voice" emanates from His pure "thought" and manifests from the place of
"Binah" which is considered "feminine" in nature. The
"unity" of God's name is central to this:
Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, 246b - Observe that Thought is the
beginning of all. This Thought is recondite and inscrutable, but when it expands it
reaches the place where spirit abides and is then called Understanding (Binah), which is
not so recondite as the preceding. This spirit expands and produces a Voice composed of
fire, water, and air, which corresponds to north, south, and east. This Voice embraces in
itself all forces, and speaks to Utterance, and this shapes the word properly. When you
examine the grades closely, you find that Thought, Understanding, Voice, Utterance are all
one and the same, and there is no separation between them, and this is what is meant by
the words: The Lord is one and His Name is One.
In the following citation, we see that regarding the "unification of the
Name," the "countepart to the heavenly voice" is that caused by the recitation of the Shema on our part: 1
Soncino Zohar, Shemoth, Raya Mehemna, 43b ... the Shema, contains
the mystery of the right side, called The Supernal Grace, for it effects the
union of all things extending unto the four quarters of the universe; and the Holy One,
blessed be He, through the medium of this attribute, brings forth order and harmony in the
whole universe, a harmony which extends even to the lowest depths. By this attribute of
Grace the Holy One created the world, when He wrapped Himself in the garment of light.
This Supernal Grace is the Unifier. For this reason the section of the Shema is joined to
that of And it shall be; for the act which makes each day a unity and likewise
forms the whole sum of separate days into the perfect whole, is the fact of following the
Divine Will in knowledge and action; and through this act alone (of concentration on the
union during prayer and the recitation of the Shema) can that union of which we have
frequently spoken be attained: that is, the union of each day, the union which is
expressed in the sentence: Hear, O Israel, YHVH Elohenu YHVH is one. These
three are one. How can the three Names be one? Only through the perception of Faith: in
the vision of the Holy Spirit, in the beholding of the hidden eyes alone. The mystery of
the audible voice is similar to this, for though it is one yet it consists of three
elements-fire, air, and water, which have, however, become one in the mystery of the
voice. Even so it is with the mystery of the threefold Divine manifestations designated by
YHVH Elohenu YHVH - three modes which yet form one unity. This is the significance of the
voice which man produces in the act of unification, when his intent is to unify all from
the En-sof to the end of creation. This is the daily unification, the secret of which has
been revealed in the holy spirit. There are many kinds of unification, and all are
appropriate, one involving the other, but the one which is effected on earth by the
symbolism of the voice is the most appropriate.
The verse in Revelation mentions both a voice of many waters and of thunder, indicating
a "mingling" of both mercy and judgment. (Also see notes to verse 7b).
The Zohar comments as follows:
Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, 186a - R. Judah discoursed here on the
text: The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High gave forth his voice;
hailstones and coals of fire (Psalm 18:14). When God, he said, created
the world, He constructed for it seven pillars by which it was to be upheld. So Scripture
says: Wisdom hath builded her house (Binah/Understanding*), she hath hewn
out her seven pillars (The seven lower Sefirot*) - (Proverbs 9:1). These in
turn are upheld by one grade from among them called the Righteous One, the
everlasting foundation (Yesod*) - (Ibid. x, 25). Further, when the world
was created, it was started from that spot which is the culmination and perfection of the
world, the central point of the universe, which is identical with Zion, as it is written:
A psalm of Asaph. God, God the Lord hath spoken and called the earth from the rising
of the sun unto the going down thereof. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath
shined forth (Psalm 50:2). That is to say, God started the earth from Zion, from the
spot where faith culminates in its full perfection. Zion is thus the citadel and central
point of the universe, from which it began to be fashioned and from which the whole world
is nourished. This lesson is esoterically indicated in our text. For Zion and Jerusalem,
while one, represent two degrees, the one being the channel of judgement, the other of
mercy; first there issues from one the sound of mercy, and afterwards there comes forth
from the other the voice of judgement, the two forming the source from which the paths of
judgement and mercy issue and diverge. Hence the expression And the Lord also
thundered in the heavens indicates judgement, while the Most High gave forth
his voice refers to mercy, and hailstones and coals of fire signify
water and fire, that is, mercy and judgement commingled.
* Yashanet Editor
Significant is this next passage from the Zohar, that shows the emergence of
"Jacob" (i.e., the Messiah) in conjuncture with this voice of "fire, air
and water." (Also see previous section
notes on the "image of Jacob in the Throne of God"):
Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, 74a - When the Holy One, blessed be He,
wills that His glory should be glorified, there issues from His thought a determination
that it should spread forth; whereupon it spreads from the undiscoverable region of
thought until it rests in garon (throat), a spot through which perennially flows the
mystic force of the spirit of life. When the thought, after its expansion,
comes to rest in that place, it is called Elohim hayyim (living God). It then seeks to
spread and disclose itself still further, and there issue from that spot fire, air, and
water, all compounded together. There also emerges Jacob, the perfect man,
symbolic of a certain voice that issues and becomes audible.
The following text links the voice of God with the "living creatures" of
verse 3 (below):
Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, 71b - And above the firmament that was
over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone
(Ezekiel 1:26). Before this verse, he said, we find the words, And
when they went I heard the noise of their wings like the noise of great waters, like the
voice of the Almighty (Ibid. 24). These are the four sacred and mighty beings called
Hayyoth (animals), by whom the firmament is upheld, and whose wings are usually joined
together to cover their bodies. When, however, they spread out their wings, a volume of
sound swells forth, and they break out into songs of praise, as the voice of the
Almighty, which never becomes silent, as it is written, so that my glory may
sing praise to thee, and not be silent (Psalm 30:13). The tenour of their praises
is, The Lord hath made known his salvation, his righteousness hath he revealed in
the sight of the nations (Psalm 98:2). It says further: A noise of tumult like
the noise of a host (Ezekiel 1:24), i.e. like the sound of the holy camps when all
the supernal armies assemble on high. What is it they declaim? Holy, holy, holy, is
the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory (Isaiah 6:3). They turn to
the south and say holy, they turn to the north and say holy, they
turn to the east and say holy, they turn to the west and say
(With regard to the end of the above passage, as shown in earlier studies, the
"earth" is said to be in the direction of Malkut on the Tree of Life diagram,
that being considered "west.")
2c And I heard the sound of harpists playing
MUSIC AND PROPHECY
Music of praise to God, emanating from the heavenlies, is an important theme in Hebraic
Soncino Zohar, Shemoth, 173b - ... the three watches of the night
correspond to the hosts of angels when they divide themselves into three groups in order
to sing praises to the Holy One. Therefore the conductor of them all is the harp of
David, for this never ceases to play, but constantly emits hymns of thanksgiving and
praise before the Supernal King, and concerning this it is written: Who giveth songs
in the night.
Besides the plain view of these harpists "playing music of praise to God," it
is also known that music has a strong connection to prophecy.
Soncino Zohar, Shemoth, 45a - Moreover, the fact that it does not
say shegioth (errors), but shigionoth, shows that the reference is to the musical
instruments, like shigayon of David (Psalm 7:1), which were used by all the
prophets (except Moses, who was independent of external aids to prophecy), in order to
enter into an ecstatic mood before receiving the spirit of prophecy (cf. I Samuel 10:5;
2Kings 3:15), and Habakkuk needed the calming influence of music more than anybody.
The Rambam (Moses Maimonides), wrote the following on this subject:
When they were seeking prophecy, the prophets would therefore have people play
music for them. We thus find, "(A band of prophets, coming from a high place, led by
harp, drum, flute and lyre,) and they were prophesying themselves" (1 Samuel 10:5).
The term "prophesying themselves" (mitnavim) means that they were making use of
the prophetic methods in order to receive a prophetic vision. 2
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan comments as follows:
One important practice mentioned explicitly in the Bible was the use of music in
order to help attain the prophetic state A very clear example of this is found in the case
of the prophet Elisha. The Bible relates that when he sought a prophetic message, he said,
"'Now bring me a musician.' And it was when the musician played, and the hand of God
came upon him" (2Kings 3:15). Another good example can be found in the account of how
Samuel inducted King Saul into the prophetic society. Samuel told Saul, "You shall
meet a band of prophets, coming from a high place, with harp, drum, flute and lyre, and
they will prophesying themselves" (1Samuel 10:5). Through the power of the music,
they were concentrating the prophetic energy into themselves in order to focus it. When
they did so they were able to make Saul prophesy as well. Finally, we find another
explicit statement regarding Asaph, Hemen and Judathun, "Who would prophesy with the
harp, lute and cymbal" (1Chronicles 25:1). ...
... Kabbalists note that another important role of music and song is to cut through
the forces of evil, and help the prophet penetrate the klipot ("husks" or
"shells" associated with the Sitra Atra). It is pointed out that the word
"Zamar" (Zayin-Mem-Resh) meaning "to sing," as well as its derivative
"Mizmor" (Mem-Zayin-Mem-Vav-Resh), meaning a song or a chant, come from a root
that also means "to cut." Music thus cuts through the Husks of Evil, opening the
way for the mind to ascend on high. It is significant to note that another word for song,
Shir (Shin-Yod-Resh), is very closely related to the word Shur (Shin-Vav-Resh), meaning
"to see." This is another indication that song and vision are related, and this
is especially true of mystical vision. 3
The roles of music and prophecy are associated with the Sefirot of Netzah and Hod, which as discussed earlier, are linked to the two
"witnesses" mentioned in chapter 11.
Again referring to Aryeh Kaplan's work, who in turn cites Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
A prominent Hasidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810), notes that the
mystical source of music is associated with the Cherubs, and hence, it shares the same
root as the source of prophecy. These two Cherubs are said to represent the Sefirot
Victory (Netzach) and Splendor (Hod), the Sefirot which are the source of all prophecy,
and which are also related to song and melody. 5
As mentioned in an earlier study, the idea of "prophet" has to do with one
who "connects heaven and earth." This entails more than "foreseeing the
future," as explained by Aryeh Kaplan:
The eminent philologist, Rabbi Solomon Pappenheim (1750-1814), states that it
("navie" i.e., "prophet") is related to the root Boa (Bet-Vav-Aleph),
meaning to "come" or "bring." According to this, the main ability of a
prophet is to bring spiritual power, channeling it where it is needed. ...
... The clearest example of this occurs with regard to Ezekiel in his vision of the
Valley of Dry Bones. Before these bones were resurrected, God told the prophet,
"Prophesy to the spirit, prophesy, son of man, and say to the spirit: Thus says the
Lord God, 'From the four winds, come O spirit, and blow into these corpses that they
should live'"(Ezekiel 37:9). What God is telling Ezekiel to do is not to be a
spokesman or to predict the future, but to channel spiritual force into these dead bodies.
So potent was this spiritual force that it literally had the power to bring the dead back
to life. (Med and Bible 29). ...
... In this account, Ezekiel is told to prophesy three times, and in each of these
cases, it is evident that his prophecy is a channeling and "bringing" of
spiritual force. It is significant to note that in all three of these places, the word
Nava, meaning to prophesy, is paralleled in the same verse by the root Boa, meaning to
come, or bring. The appeareance in all three cases of these two words in the same verse is
not coincidence, but a deliberate play on words, indicating that the prophet is one who
brings spiritual forces to bear. 6
3a They sang as it were a new song
before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders;
The idea of "song" is also tied to the concept of prophecy. An example of
this is the "song" sung by the Israelites after escaping their Egyptian pursuers
The Israelites saw a vision of the angels and the entire Divine Assembly. They also
saw Jerusalem and the Temple on high. They attained a higher degree of prophecy even than
Ezekiel. Evidence for this is in the Song itself. All the Israelites sang exactly the same
song in unison. Although it was totally unrehearsed, they all sang exactly the same words.
The song came out as if a single person were singing it. All knew the words through
prophetic inspiration. 7
The above mentioned "song" sung by Israel at the sea, is elaborated on in the
following passage from the Zohar. Here, this song is associated with "uniting the
attributes" (i.e., Sefirot) of God, which is linked to the rebuilding of the Temple
of God. The text further speaks of God "withdrawing Zion" (the Sefirah of Yesod)
to Himself, until the time that the Community of Israel (the Sefirah of Malkut, the
Shekinah, etc.) is restored:
Soncino Zohar, Shemoth, 55b - All the Israelites beheld at the sea
what even the prophet Ezekiel was not privileged to see, and even the embryos in their
mothers wombs beheld the wonderful works of the Holy One, and sang praises to Him,
saying: This is my God and I extol Him; the God of my father and I exalt Him,
namely the God of father Abraham. Said R. Jose: Does the God of Abraham need our
exaltation? Is He not already exalted high above our comprehension? R. Jesse
replied: Yet man can and must exalt Him in the sense of uniting in his mind all the
attributes in the Holy Name, for this is the supremest expression of worship. R.
Judah sat one day at the feet of R. Simeon, and he began to expound the following verse:
The voice of thy watchmen, they lifted up their voices, they shall sing altogether... when
the Lord shall return to Zion (Isa. LII, 8). These watchmen , he
said, are those who watch for the time when the Holy One will build His
House once again. The use of the past tense lifted, where we should rather
have expected the future shall lift, conveys the lesson that he who has lifted
up his voice in weeping and lamentation over the destruction of the Temple shall be worthy
to be numbered among those of whom it says they shall sing altogether, and to
enjoy the privilege of beholding the Holy One when He shall inhabit His House once more.
The words when the Lord returns (to) Zion are to be understood as meaning
when the Lord brings back Zion. For when the earthly Jerusalem was destroyed,
and the Community of Israel was scattered over the face of the earth, the Holy King drew
Zion [Tr. Note: According to the commentators, in this place Zion=Yesod.] up to Himself
and stretched it out before Him, because the Community of Israel was banished. When,
however, the Community of Israel shall be restored, the Holy King will restore Zion to its
place, to unite itself with her in perfect bliss; and the children of Israel will sing:
He is my God, and I have prepared for Him an habitation. Concerning this it is
written: This is the Lord, we have waited for him, let us be glad and rejoice in his
salvation (Isaiah 25:9)- meaning, literally, in His own salvation.
The concept of a "new song" being one of "greater revelation" of
God is also expressed in terms of a "harp" (see above references to
"David's harp" as well as Psalm 144), specifically, the number of strings on
Talmud, Arachin 13b - R. Judah said, The harp of the Sanctuary had
seven cords, as it is written: In Thy presence is fitness [soba] of joy; read not,
fulness [soba], but seven [sheba]! The harp of the messianic days has eight
cords, as it is said: For the leader on the Sheminith, [i.e., the eighth string]. The harp
of the world to come has ten cords, as it is said: With an instrument of ten strings, and
with the psaltery; with a solemn sound upon the harp. Furthermore, it is said: Give thanks
unto the Lord with harp, sing praises unto Him with the psaltery of ten strings. Sing unto
Him a new song; play skilfully midst shouts of joy. You could say also that [our Mishnah
will be] in accord with R. Judah: Since, in the world to come, it will have more cords and
its sound will be stronger, like that of a harp, he calls it harp.
The Zohar makes an interesting comparison between between Moses and Solomon, with the
"song" of the latter said to be "superior" to that of the former:
Soncino Zohar, Shemoth, 144b-145a - This canticle is
superior to all that preceded it; for those which were sung by Solomon's predecessors
ascended only to join with the company of the songs chanted by the angels, as, for
instance, the Song of degrees to David, which means the song which the
celestial grades sing to David, to solicit nourishment from him; or again, as we
might translate, a song of degrees for the sake of David, the great king who
always praises the Great King. But when Solomon came, he sang a song which is high above
even that of David, a song which is the very same as that sung by the great ones of the
realms above, the pillars of the universe, in honour of the Supernal King who is the lord
of all peace and harmony. Other men send up praises by means of lower Chariots, but King
Solomon by means of higher Chariots. It may be asked, What of Moses, who ascended further
than all other men in the grade of prophecy and love of the Holy One, blessed be He? Did
his song also reach no further than the lower Chariots? The song which Moses uttered did
indeed ascend on high, but the truth is, that although it was not on a level with the
Canticle of King Solomon, whom no man equalled in poetry, Moses song was praise and
thanksgiving to the Supernal King who redeemed Israel and wrought many signs and wonders
for them, both in Egypt and at the Red Sea; but King David and Solomon his son sang with
quite different purposes. David endeavoured to prepare the virgins (the celestial grades)
and to adorn them for the Matrona's presence so that She and her maidens might be
manifested in beauty and grace. When Solomon came he found that Matrona and the virgins
thus adorned, so he in his turn aspired to lead the Bride to the Bridegroom. He brought
the Bridegroom to the place where beneath the marriage canopy the Bride awaited Him, and
drew them together with words of love, that they might be united as One, in one
perfection, in perfect love. Therefore Solomon produced a more sublime song than all other
men. Moses, by building the Tabernacle, brought about the union of the Matrona with the
world here below, Solomon brought about the perfect union of the Matrona with the
Bridegroom above: he first led Him to the Canopy, and then brought them both down to this
world and prepared a habitation for them in the Sanctuary which he built. It might
be asked, How could Moses bring down the Shekinah alone? Would not this cause separation
above? The answer is that the Holy One first caused the Shekinah to be united with Moses,
and She became, as it were, Moses bride, as has already been pointed out. As soon as
She was united with Moses, She descended to this world and united Herself with it, and She
became firmly established in this world, as never before. But no man since Adam was first
created has ever brought about love and union above except King Solomon, who, as we have
said, first prepared that union and then invited the Bridegroom and the Bride to the House
which he prepared for them. Blessed are David and Solomon his son who have furthered the
Supernal Union. Since the day when the Holy One said to the Moon, Go and make Thyself
small, She was never again joined in perfect union with the Sun until Solomon came.
As might be expected, the "singing" in heaven has an "earthly
counterpart" that is associated to the coming of Messiah:
Midrash Rabbah, The Song of Songs IV:19 - The exiles are destined
to break out into song when they reach the Taurus Munus,* and the nations of the world are
destined to bring them like princes to the Messiah.
* Soncino Editor: Probably Mount Hor.
The following text also comment on the musical aspect of the heavenlies:
Midrash Rabba, Leviticus XI:9 - . R. Berekiah and R. Helbo and
Ulla Bira'ah and R. Eleazar said in the name of R. Hanina: In the Time to Come, the
Holy One, blessed be He, will lead the chorus (holah) of the righteous-as it is written,
Mark ye well her ramparts-helah (Psalm 48:14). It is written holah [i.e. a round dance] -
and they will dance around Him like young maidens, and point to Him, as it were, with a
finger, saying: This is God, our God, for ever and ever; He will lead us almuth (ib.
15), i.e. with youthfulness, with liveliness. Or almuth means like
maidens (alamoth), as it is written, In the midst of damsels (alamoth)
playing upon timbrels (ib. 68:26). Aquila translated [the word almuth, Psalm 48:15]
athanasia [i.e. deathlessness, immortality; i.e. He will lead us to] a world in which
there is no death. Or "almuth means two, olamoth, i.e. worlds, [the
passage meaning], He will lead us in this world, and He will lead us in the World to Come.
John mentions the song being played "before the elders" indicating some type
of reverence to them. This is reflected in the following midrashim which speak of a
special group of elders appointed by God Himself:
Midrash Rabbah, Leviticus XI:8 - ... and in the Time to Come, too,
will the Holy One, blessed be He, accord honour to the Elders, as it is written, The moon
shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed; for the Lord of hosts will reign in Mount Zion,
and in Jerusalem, and before His elders shall be Glory (Isaiah 24:23). R. Ishmael b. R.
Bibi and R. Simeon and R. Reuben said in the name of Hanina: R. Abin said, in the name of
R. Ishmael b. R. Joshua: The Holy One, blessed be He, will in the Time to Come sit as in a
goren (court-room), with the righteous sitting before Him, like that [goren mentioned in
the verse], Now the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah sat each on his
throne, arrayed in their robes, in a threshing floor--goren (I Kings 22:10). Were they
then sitting in a threshing-floor? Surely, what is intended is the same as what we have
learnt in a Mishnah: The Sanhedrin were seated in the formation of a semicircular goren,
so that they [i.e. the members of the court] could see one another. [King] Solomon said: I
saw Him [as it were] confined in the midst of them; this is [indicated in] what is
written, Her master is known in the gates, as He sitteth with the elders of the land
Midrash Rabbah, Exodus V:12 - AND MOSES AND AARON WENT AND
GATHERED TOGETHER ALL THE ELDERS (IV, 29). R. Akiba said: Why is Israel compared to a
bird? Just as a bird can only fly with its wings, so Israel can only survive with the help
of its elders. Great is eldership, for if they [the elders] are old they are beloved
before God, and if they are young, their youth is but of secondary consequence. R. Simeon
b. Yohai taught: We learn in many places that God showed respect to the elders. At the
thorn-bush, as it is written: Go, and gather the elders of Israel together (Exodus 3:16)
At Sinai, as it says: And unto Moses He said: Come up unto the Lord, thou, and Aaron,
Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel (ib. 24:1). At the tent of meeting,
for it is written: Moses called Aaron and his sons, and the elders of Israel (Leviticus
9:1), and in Messianic times it will also be so, as it is said: For the Lord of Hosts will
reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before His elders shall be glory (Isaiah
24:23). R. Abin said: God will, in the future, seat the elders of Israel in a circle, and
He will sit at the head of them all as President of the Court, and they will judge the
heathen, as it says: The Lord will enter into judgment with the elders of His people, and
the princes thereof (ib. III, 14) It does not say Against the elders of his
people, but ' With the elders of his people, that is, He will sit with them
and judge the heathen. What will He say unto them? It is ye that have eaten up the
vineyard (ib.), namely, Israel, as it is written: For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is
the house of Israel (ib. V, 7). The spoil of the poor is in your houses (ib. III, 14), for
it is written: That the Lord hath founded Zion, and in her shall the poor [E.V.
afflicted] of His people take refuge (ib. XIV, 32). It was the custom of
kings, too, to sit in a circular court-room, as it says: Now the King of Israel and
Jehoshaphat the King of Judah sat each on his throne, arrayed in their robes, and they sat
in a threshing-floor (II Chronicles 18:9). Did they then actually sit in a
threshing-floor? No, but as we have learnt: The Sanhedrin sat in a semicircle, so that
they should be able to see each other, and the two Scribes of the Court sat in front of
them, etc. Solomon said: I beheld Him sitting with them and judging in their midst,
for it is said: Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the
land (Proverbs 31:23).
3b ... and no one could learn that
song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth.
4 These are the ones who were not defiled
with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.
These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.
These 144,000 righteous ones (tzaddikim) "pave the way" as "first
fruits" for those to follow. Associating oneself with such tzaddikim, by way of
following in their footsteps of Torah observance (i.e., 1st John 2:3-6), enables a person
to "bind themselves" to them, thus receiving additional "spiritual
This concept was found in Torah with regard to reaching higher levels of prophecy:
Toward the end of this parasha, we are told how G-d bestowed the gift of prophecy
on the seventy elders. At that time, Miriam was standing next to Moses' wife, Zipporah,
when Gershom ran to Moses, saying, "Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the
camp." When Zipporah heard this, she said, "Woe to their wives if they have
become prophets, for they will now separate from them, just as Moses has separated from
me." Miriam overheard this and assumed that Moses had done this because he felt it
was inappropriate for a prophet to become defiled by marital relations (See Leviticus
15:18), just as G-d had bidden the whole people to refrain from marital relations in
preparation for the revelation at the Giving of the Torah.
(Exodus 19:15) 8
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, comments as follows - again with the concept of
"building the Temple" seen as an objective of every person:
It is for this reason that one's prayers should be offered to God by binding
oneself to the tzaddikim of the generation. Since the tzaddikim represent Moshe-Maschiach,
they are the ones who know how to direct our prayers toward their proper objective. This
is alluded to in our Sage's statement (Berakhot 28b), "Everyone should pray towards
the Holy Temple." That is, everyone should pray with the intent of building the Holy
Temple with his prayers. Since neither the sanctuary nor the Holy Temple can be built by
common men -- it must be built by the great tzaddikim -- one's prayers should be directed
through the tzaddikim (Likutey Moharan 1, 2:6) (This does not mean to pray to the
tzaddikim, God forbid, for that is idolatry. It does mean to pray in accordance with the
guidance of the tzaddikim.) Then one's prayers, one manifestation of Maschiach, have a
chance of reaching their mark. 9
Kabbalistically, the "spiritual benefit" one can attain by association with
someone more righteous than they are, is expressed in terms of "sharing in" or
"receiving" the soul of the greater tzaddik. This may also come by way of a
person experiencing tribulation or suffering in their life.
Rabbi Pinchas Winston, explains this in a recent Parsha commentary:
Without the potential for spiritual growth, a soul would not accomplish much in his
lifetime. What's that you say? You love mitzvos (good deeds)? You want to do
more, do better, but you feel as if your back is against a wall, unable to achieve the
levels of spiritual greatness you long for? No problem. We'll (i.e., God will)
just increase your spiritual capacity by sending you the soul of another who has the
capacity, and together you will accomplish great things, and also get the reward for doing
That is what crises are for, whether we are tzaddikim or not. Yesurim shel ahava
(afflictions from love) may only be for those who have already used their full potential
in this world. But yesurim, in general, always work the same way and for the same reason:
to create the need within us to rise to higher spiritual levels, to draw more on the
spiritual capacity of our own soul or that of the ibur (guest soul) within us.
It's all a question of how you see life. If you believe that this world is already the
World-to-Come, meaning that you assume challenges and crises are burdensome things to be
avoided like the plague, then they will annoy you. But if you understand that we are still
only in the waiting room, here to actualize our spiritual potential, then the door to
spiritual growth is open, and greatness lies on the other side of the spiritual threshold.
Revelation 14:4 and 14:5 are closely related. The emphasis on sexual purity is critical
to the ability of the 144,000 to "learn the song" (i.e., to attain a higher
revelation of God, enabling them to better function in unifying the Name of God.).
This association is expressed well as follows:
To be capable and worthy of accomplishing this mystical ascension, the Hasid must
"purify" his body by strict asceticism, that is, he must not give way to
temptations but hallow "what is permitted him" in his physical and material
existence, which means he must sanctify all the functions of his physical life, without
exception, and if he transgresses a commandment of Torah, he must submit to a harsh
penance in order to "return" purified to his God.
... Mystical ascension leads the Hasid to the Divinity, to the Shekinah itself, to
the "Presence of God" which "dwells" in us, with us, and around
us. It is of course impossible for man to attain God in His Essence, in His Transcendence,
to have an intellectual conception of Him through thinking. But it is given to man to be
able to experience Him in His Immanence, to feel Him in his soul, to perceive Him in the
world, by conforming to His Will, that is, by studying His Torah and observing His
mitzvot. Only then is man worthy of singing His Kavod, His "Glory"; he can
"contribute his own kavod to God's Kavod," to the Shekinah , in which He clothes
Himself so that man may approach Him and prostrate himself before the Kisse ha-Kavod,
before His "Throne of Glory." 11
Sexual purity is linked to the sexual organ and specifically the Covenant of
Circumcision. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov comments on the topic of purity:
One other aspect of "the nose" that is used to define Mashiach is purity.
More specifically, this refers to sexual purity. And one who is pure can detect purity in
others. Mashiach's sense of smell is so acute that he will immediately be able to identify
who has guarded the covenant -- the covenant of Abraham -- and who hasn't. ...
Joseph was the paradigm of the tzaddik. He was a servant in Potifar's house, and
for a full year Potifar's wife tried to seduce him. Joseph withstood the test and was
crowned with the title tzaddik, which denotes sexual purity. Mashiach is therefore
associated with the name of "Mashiach ben Yosef," because of his high level of
morality ... before he attained the great levels of knowledge which enabled him to rule
over Egypt, Joseph was tested for his sexual purity. When he passed his test the Torah
gave witness (Genesis 41:39), "There is none as perceptive and wise" (Likutey
Moharan 1, 36:2). Joseph's purity brought him Daat ...
We see that the higher a person's level of purity, the greater the perception of
Torah and Godliness he can attain ... one who tries to maintain purity can depart from
exile and merit revelations of Godliness. ...
One reason for the necessity of sexual purity is that Mashiach's main weapon is
prayer. Our Sages compare prayer to arrows which must be directed to their target. These
"arrows" require a bow from which they must be aimed, and this "bow"
is the Brit, the sexual organ. One who keeps himself sexually pure merits dynamic power
and is in control of his prayers, making them more potent. 12
To put it succinctly:
".. the title "tzaddik" applies specifically to one who maintains a
strict moral code regarding sexual behavior." 13
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan offers the following on this topic:
It has already been discussed how man's soul has countless (spiritual) Roots. The
higher the source of these Roots, the greater will be their power to transmit the influx
of prophecy. But even if the source of the Root of one's soul is on a very high level,
unless he rectifies it and purifies it so that it transmits to all the Roots that are
below it, he cannot transmit the prophetic influx. The only levels from which he can
transmit it are those which he is worthy of because he has rectified them, and from there
alone will his prophetic influx be transmitted. This explains why there are countless
levels among the prophets. 14
The battle over sexual purity involves a war agains the forces of the evil realm:
... the entire Redemption depends on this. We've already said that Geula
(redemption) and Moshiach shall be the result of Divine lovingkindness. The Sitra Achra,
or dark side, wants to prevent the Geula at all costs. Therefore, the Sitra Achra uses all
its power to promote promiscuity in the world, especially among Jews. So, every gain in
holiness hastens the Geula, while promiscuity and lewdness - which according to Kabbala
can be classified as Chessed d'Sitra Achra (unholy lovingkindness), perpetuate exile and
PURITY, FORCE AND
Using the Kabbalsitic Tree of Life, we can present a simple "visual" as to
the relationship between; Torah study, acts of kindness, and purity of intention,
regarding related spiritual areas such as "mystical ascension" and "level
Consider the idea of attaining such higher levels (of prayer, revelation, etc.) as
being like a "bow" launching an arrow (as mentoined by Rabbi Nachman above). As
with archery, the goal is twofold -- to aim straight and attain great distance.
In this analogy, the person "shooting the arrow" is located at the Sefirah of
Malkut. The bow is held in place between the Sefirot of Hod on the left and Netzah on the
right. These Sefirot respectively relate to Torah Study (the form/discipline of the left -
Hod), and acts of kindness (the force/outwardness of the right - Netzah). Proper balance
between these two assures "straight aim."
The distance of the launch is determined by the force attained at Yesod - the Sefirah
of purity (i.e., Joseph). With proper balance and purity, one's "arrow" can
reach Tiferet - the Sefirah of Truth and onward to Da'at, the gateway to higher
revelation. (i.e., "Joseph's purity brought him Daat.")
5 And in their
mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God.
There is a further mystical connection between the "purity of the brit"
(covenant) of verse 4, and the "purity of the mouth" of verse 5. As mentioned,
sexual purity is linked to the sexual organ, the Covenant of Circumcision, and
kabbalistically to the Sefirah of Yesod. The "mouth" (i.e., "tongue"
or "speech") is linked to the Sefirah of Malkut, which is also known as Malkut
Pei - "Kingdom of the mouth."
The concepts of "brit" and "word" are also connected in that the
Hebrew word for circumcision - "milah" - also means "word,"
2Samuel 23:2 - God's spirit speaks in me, and His word (milah) is
on my tongue.
Here again we see the concept of the unifying of the Sefirot of Yesod and Malkut in the
personage of the 144,000 tzaddikim. Having "unified" the Name of God in this
manner (sexual purity and purity of speech) on a personal level, they attain a greater
revelation and reward.
The following text elaborates on the Covenants of the Brit (Circumcision, which impacts
in a "vertical manner" - between God and His people) and the Covenant of the
Tongue (which impacts in a "horizontal manner" - among people):
God made two covenants with the Jews, the Berit ha'Ma'or, the "Covenant of the
Flesh," and the Berit ha-Lashon, the "Covenant of the Tongue." These two
are closely connected an reveal God's creation, which is at the same time dual and unique:
a merger of nature and spirit. These covenants are refelcted in the dual and unique
structure of man -- a single being, made of a body and soul permeating each other. ...
In varying degrees, the spirit resides in every thing, and all matter supports the
spirit in varying degrees. It is the "word" that liks the material world and the
spiritual world. In God, the word is already, in itself, a concrete act. "By the Word
of the Lord were the heavens made ..." (Psalm 33:6), "for He commanded and they
were created..." (Psalm 148:5). Among men too, the word has both a spiritual and
concrete connotation. The "word" seeks to be fulfilled in a physical act:
"That which comes out of thy lips thou shall observe and do.." (Deut. 23:24).
The davar, the abstract "word," must be tranformed into a davar, a
"physical act." ...
In man, this holiness involves both the spiritual enlightenment of the body and the
physical consummation of the spirit. Hence, the holiness of the body is upheld by that of
the spirit, and the holiness of the spirit is heightened and strenghtened by that of the
body. This is the basis for the close link binding the two covenants that God has made
with the Jew: the "Covenant of the Flesh" and the "Covenant of the
Tongue." This is written into that part of the human body from which physical life is
transmitted; the second relates to that part of the body by which spiritual life is
communicated. The common aim of the two covenants is to bring human beings together. ...
The Jew, God's partner in this dual covenant, is called upon to answer a dual
demand, trenchantly expressed in the word shemirah, "vigilance." He must
"keep the covenant" -- the first demand, expressed in the words shemirat
ha-berit -- by penetrating into the deepest meaning of circumcision; and he must
"watch his tongue" -- the second demand, referred to as shemirat ha-lashon -- by
delving into the essential spirit of this expression. ... Through a "considered"
and prudent use of his tongue and his body, a man can be lead to great heights of virtue.
1. An excellent book on depth and beauty of the Shema is, The
Shema, Spirituality and Law in Judaism, Norman Lamm, The Jewish Publication Society,
2. From Yad Yesodey HaTorah 7:4, as cited in Meditation
and the Bible, Aryeh Kaplan, Samuel Weiser, Inc., York Beach Maine, 1978, p. 65.
3. ibid, pp. 63-64.
4: For more on the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, see the
Breslov Research Institute web site at www.breslov.org
5. Meditation and the Bible, Aryeh Kaplan, Samuel
Weiser, Inc., York Beach Maine, 1978, p. 65.
6. ibid, pp. 28-29.
7. From http://www.jewishgates.com/file.asp?File_ID=1019
8. From http://www.kabbalaonline.org/WeeklyTorah/Ari/Meriting_the_Land_of_Israel.asp
9. Mashiach - Who? What? Why? How? Where? When?, (An
exposition of the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov), Chaim Kramer, Breslov Research
Institute, Jerusalem, p. 51.
10. From www.thirtysix.org,
Weekly Parsha Sheet, VAYAISHEV: Settle Down? In This World?
11. Wisdom of Kabbalah, Alexandre Safran, Feldheim
Publishers, Jerusalem, 1991, p. 21.
12. Mashiach - Who? What? Why? How? Where? When?, (An
exposition of the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov), Chaim Kramer, Breslov Research
Institute, Jerusalem, pp. 68-70.
13. ibid, p. 26.
14. Meditation and the Bible, Aryeh Kaplan, Samuel
Weiser, Inc., York Beach Maine, 1978, p. 51.
15. From http://lazerbrody.typepad.com/lazer_beams/2006/01/the_war_of_kedu.html
16. Wisdom of Kabbalah, Alexandre Safran, Feldheim
Publishers, Jerusalem, 1991, pp. 158-160.