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Jewish Book Week II

Thanks to Hagahot, I picked up the bargain of my life today: the Magnes Press facsimile edition of Gershom Scholem’s own copy of the Zohar.

According to the introduction Scholem bought this Zohar in 1915 when he was 17, and it never left his desk for the rest of his life. At some point when the margins were too full of his annotations, he had it rebound with blank pages interleaved, and he went on to fill most of those with annotations as well, and also stuffed the volumes with notes on separate sheets. The whole lot is reproduced in the facsimile, six fat volumes weighing in at 10.3 kg.

And this was going for ₪185, about $50 Canadian, or less than the list price of one volume of the Pritzker Zohar.

Let’s look at one of the annotations, on something which puzzles me in the very first paragraph of the Zohar, which I had been meaning to blog about if I had found a good answer to my question:

There are a lot of numbers in that paragraph: two colours in the rose (which represent justice and mercy), thirteen petals (which represent thirteen measures of compassion), five leaves (which are five gates and which are symbolized by five fingers holding the kiddush cup).

These numbers are hidden in a “figure/ground” kind of way in the first verses of Genesis: if you take the occurences of God’s name, אלהים, and count the words in between them, you get:

בראשית ברא — 2 
את השמים ואת הארץ והארץ היתה תהו ובהו וחשך על פני תהום ורוח — 13
מרחפת על פני המים ויאמר — 5 

So far I follow. But then in the last line we get another number appearing out of left field:

וכמה דדיוקנא דברית אזדרע בארבעין ותרין זווגין דההוא זרעא. כך אזדרע שמא גליפא מפרש במ”ב אתוון דעובדא דבראשית

And just as the image of the covenant sows that seed in forty-two couplings so the engraved, explicit Name sows in forty-two letters of the Work of Creation.

Which forty-two letters are those exactly? The commentary I linked to above has a few suggestions, but none of them really seem to me to fit the description “forty-two letters of the Work of Creation”. Because of the “couplings”, I tried to work out a theory that it was a calculation of the number of possible pairings of the seven days of the week (or the seven lower sefirot), 7 × 6 = 42 but never came up with anything totally convincing.

So let’s see what Scholem says:

מ”ב זווגים (צ”ל גוונין?) דהיינו לב אלהים + י’ מאמרות

First, he suggests emending זווגין, couplings, to גוונין, colours, and then he explains 42 as the sum of 32 times that אלהים occurs in the whole chapter plus the “10 sayings”, i.e. the 10 occurences of ויאמר אלהים, “and God said”. (Actually there are 9 but let’s not get sidetracked. There are several ways of resolving this difficulty, trust me on this.)

He then points to an earlier work that lists the 32 occurences of אלהים, Sha’arei Orah (I think this is by Yosef Gikatilla, an important Spanish Kabbalist from a generation or two before the first appearance of the Zohar), and then there is a note in German which I can’t really read and wouldn’t be able to understand if I could (the notes are mostly in very clearly written Hebrew, interspersed with quite illegible German), but I can at least see that it points to a parallel passage on page 30a. Turning to there, I see more notes pointing to two more parallel passages …

… and so it goes on. This clearly doesn’t represent anything like a systematic course on the Zohar, but it’s a huge resource of information, and a great acquisition, and did I say it was a huge bargain?

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