The Eucharist and The Jewish Mystical Tradition • Part 1
Ed. This article appeared in The Hebrew Catholic #77, pp 15-18. Athol is a lay missionary with the Missionary Society of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament. This series reflects talks that Athol gave in the early 1990s.
Caution: Athol’s reflections spring from his life previously as an observant Jew and now as a Catholic. Our inclusion of these articles are not to be understood as a recommendation to study Jewish mysticism as found in modern day versions of the Kabbalah. On the contrary, without special studies and a firm formation in the Catholic faith, we would urge all Catholics to avoid the Kabbalah – it is a mixed bag of the occult and other elements contrary to the faith. Athol’s reflections sort through the distortions introduced by the Lurianic Kabbalists to show the truths of the Catholic faith hidden in the Jewish mystical traditions. Here is Athol’s response to an email query.
Q. I studied Kabbala years ago; it is a gnostic corruption of Judaism. Could you explain … your position …?
A. In regards to the Kabbalah being gnostic this is a rather complex topic. It is more that Gnostics took elements of the Jewish and Christian Mystical traditions and distorted them to their own ends. Also, some Gnostic elements have come into the Jewish Kabbalah via certain schools and I am very discerning when reading the interpretations of Kabbalah by the Lurianic Kabbalists. At times the wheat is mixed with the chaff. When we stand on the Rock of our Faith in Yeshua and His Kehilla we are able to discern what is part of the authentic Kabbalah and what has been introduced as a distortion.
In the Middle Ages there were a number of Jewish converts to the Church who had become convinced Christians by studying and practicing the Jewish Mystical Tradition. These Jewish converts wrote a number of books which explored the Kabbalah or Jewish Mystical traditions in the light of Catholic belief. Pope Sixtus IV along with some other Popes approved of this movement and ordered the Kabbalah to be translated into Latin and to be studied by all Divinity students. This was the pre-Lurainic Kabbalah. However with the rise of a more rationalistic generation this field of research was neglected by Catholic scholars.
Shekinah is the central concept of this mysticism. Father Elias Friedman in his writings mentions this understanding of Shekinah in regards to the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus in the Tabernacles of the Catholic Church. Just as the Shekinah dwelt in the Temple of Solomon so the Shekinah in the flesh was Yeshuah and now dwells in the tabernacles of the world. Thus the central concept of both Jewish and Catholic mysticism is the Divine Presence (Shekinah). A study of the Jewish Mystical tradition in the light of the Eucharist is, in my opinion, essential in the future development of a Hebrew Catholic spirituality that would enrich the whole Church. Adoration of the Shekinah is the central activity of the Jewish mystics just as Eucharistic Adoration is the central activity of the Catholic mystics. These adorers in the Jewish traditions are called the Reapers of the Field or Comrades. The present Pope is calling all of us to grow in our personal relationship with Yeshuah through Eucharistic Adoration. On 13 June 1993 at the Eucharistic Congress in Seville, Spain the Pope called on all parishes and Christian communities to establish Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration. The Church in the U.S. has responded generously to this call with over 1000 parishes now having Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration.
It is significant that it was in Spain, where the population is very Jewish in ancestry, due to the mass conversions of Jews in 1391 and 1492, that the Pope expressed this desire. It is in Spain that many Catholics believe that a future Eucharistic miracle in connection with the Shekinah Presence of God will occur at Garabandal.
The Old Testament speaks of a similar event to happen on the mountain where Moses died in the last days. In the Second Book of Maccabees (2:4-12), it describes how the Prophet Jeremiah hid the Ark of the Covenant in a cave. He prophesied that the Ark of the Covenant would remain hidden until the time of the return of the Jews and their receiving of God’s mercy. Then the Ark will be revealed and the Shekinah Presence of God will manifest himself just as he did in the time of Moses and Solomon. In this passage of Scripture our attention is drawn to the two figures of importance in a reflection on the Jewish origins of the Eucharist. They are Moses (Moshe) and Solomon (Shlomo). This short passage is like a capsule hiding many interesting treasures. The figures of Jeremiah, Moses and Solomon represent the role of Yeshuah as prophet (Jeremiah), priest (Moses), and king (Solomon) as well as the three sections of the Old Testament – the Torah (Moses), the Prophets (Jeremiah) and the writings (Solomon).
Verse 8 of this chapter links us to the Manna of the Old Covenant in Exodus as a type of the Eucharistic bread, and verses 10-11 with the institution of the Old covenant sacrificial priesthood (Leviticus 9). This passage also draws our attention to the Tabernacle (Exodus 40) and the Temple (1 Kings 8) showing the connection between the Shekinah and the sacrificial system.
What is Kabbalah?
As mentioned above, an understanding of the Eucharist as the Shekinah Presence dwelling in the tabernacles of the Church is helped with a knowledge of the Jewish mystical traditions called Kabbalah. Some Kabbalah is a part of the Jewish Oral Tradition which first started to be written down from the second century onwards, as were the other oral traditions found in the Talmud. Certain aspects of this tradition were also found in written form such as the Books of Enoch. I Enoch was found written in Aramaic in the Dead Sea Scrolls. In Jewish tradition both Enoch and Elijah are associated with the Kabbalah, and aspects are found in Scripture in Ezekiel, Isaiah and Daniel. However, the Jewish mystical tradition as recorded in the Zohar (an important work of Kabbalah written by Moses de Leon), relates that all Scripture has a hidden mystical meaning as well as the literal historical meaning. The earthly meaning is only a shadow of the true heavenly or mystical reality.
Blurred Cloudy Lens
It is through the use of the earthly language of symbols that man can get a glimpse of the heavenly reality as through what the Rabbinic tradition calls a blurred, cloudy lens (as also mentioned by St.Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:12). Thus in one sense we could say that the Eucharistic species is that blurred, cloudy lens through which we see the Real Presence of the Divinity. Paul states that one day the full glory of the Eucharist will be revealed when we see God face to face. This dwelling of God’s Presence in time and space is called in Judaism the Miniature Presence or Shekinah. The Jewish Artscroll Siddur-Sefard (p.391) states in the commentary:
“Although God’s Presence is everywhere, it is not readily discernable on earth where events can be understood as a result of natural causes rather than emanating from Him. The lack of clarity in our perception of His Presence is as if we observed an event through ‘me-iy-rah is-pak-lar-ya she-ey-nah’, a blurred, cloudy lens. The result is that we have a diminished appreciation of God’s greatness. This is the unclear lens through which we attempt to perceive His influence and is referred to as the miniature Presence of God.”
The Miniature Presence
The Shekinah or Miniature Presence of God is also called in Kabbalah the Holy Apple Orchard or the Field of the Sacred Apples. This terminology comes from the Song of Songs where the Bridegroom (in Hebrew, Hatan) is associated with the Apple Tree (Song of Songs 2:3;8:5). The fruit of the apple tree is associated by the Rabbis with the Torah. They interpret Song 8:5 as:
“How worthy she is who rises from the desert bearing Torah and His Presence, clinging to her beloved.”
The Bride and the Bridegroom
In this interpretation the Bride (Kallah) is called the Kehal (the Community, Church, Assembly, Synagogue, Ekklesia) and is the bearer to mankind of the Torah and the Divine Presence. Thus the Jewish tradition proclaims that the Torah which is the Word of God (Dabar), and the Divine Presence are the possession of the Community (Kehal or Kehilla) of God’s People. In the Catholic sense this is the bride of St. Paul’s writings – the Church – which is the bearer of the Word of God and the Sacraments that make the Divine Presence really present in the life of the believer. That the Song of Songs is a mystical writing is proclaimed by both the Jewish Tradition and the Church Fathers. The Mystery of the Church (or Body of Christ) is explained in symbols through the love of the Bridegroom (Hatan) for his Bride (Kallah).
Jesus himself drew on this imagery and referred to himself as the Bridegroom and His disciples as the children of the Huppah (the Marriage Canopy). This is why the Blessed Sacrament, when it is processed, is covered by the Huppah of the New Covenant. Paul also explains the mystery of the Church in this mystical language drawn from the Jewish tradition. As the Jewish bride circles round the bridegroom, so the Church revolves around Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
The Shekinah Presence
St. John the Beloved also uses this tradition. John links the Incarnation of the Divine Word (Dabar in Hebrew, Memra in Aramaic and Logos in Greek) in John 1:14 with the Shekinah in the Tabernacle (or Tent) and Temple of the Old Covenant. John 1:14 states literally that “the Word was made flesh and pitched his tent among us.” This can be translated also as “the Word was made man and tabernacled or shekinah-ed amongst us.” Thus Yeshuah is the ‘Miniature’ Presence of God which in the Old Covenant was veiled by the cloud but in the New Covenant was veiled by Yeshuah’s human flesh and also by the veil of the Eucharistic species of the bread and wine.
John 1:14 continues in the second part: “and we saw his glory (Kavod in Hebrew closely associated with the concept of Shekinah), the glory (Kavod) that is his as the only begotten Son of the Father, full of Grace (Hesed) and Truth (Emet).” The Jerusalem Bible commentary on this states that:
“The ‘glory’ is the manifestation of God’s Presence (Ex 24:16+), but the human nature of the Word now screens this glory as the cloud once did. Yet at times it pierces the veil, at the transfiguration, for instance, cf Lk 9:32,35 (alluded to in Jn 1:14?) and when Jesus works miracles – ‘signs’ that God is active in him …The Resurrection will reveal the glory fully (cf Jn 17:5+).”
The Kavod or Glory of God is closely associated with the concept of Shekinah, as it is Shekinah that allows the Kavod to manifest in time and space through the power of the Holy Spirit (Ruach haKodesh) in a veiled form that man can perceive as through a blurred cloudy lens. It is the Kavod or Dabar (Word), also known as Wisdom or Primordial Torah, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that manifests himself in time and space. This process is what Shekinah is. Thus the Shekinah came to be seen in the Jewish tradition as a simile for the Divine Presence itself.
The Shekinah is often refered to in the feminine form because in the Jewish traditions the Holy Spirit and wisdom are at times referred to in the feminine gender. Understanding (Binah) which is closely linked to Wisdom (Hokmah) is also referred to in feminine terminology. Yeshuah also gives himself feminine imagery when he describes himself as a mother hen who gathers her chicks under her wings – this is a direct allusion to the concept of the ‘wings of Shekinah’ found in Rabbinic literature.
The Heavenly Portal
The Kabbalah states that the portal or gateway to the mystical realm of the Heavenlies is through the Holy Apple Orchard or Shekinah. Thus we can say that the Eucharistic Presence in the Tabernacle is the portal or gateway to ascending to the Heavenlies and the mysteries of the Holy Trinity. The following prayer-praise is recited during the Jewish Sabbath evening meal.
“Prepare the feast of perfect faith, the joy of the Holy King. Prepare the feast of the King. This is the feast of the Field of Sacred Apples. And the Miniature Presence and the Holy Ancient One come to feast with it. I will cut away (the accusers) with praises, bringing them up through the portals that are in the Apple Orchard, for they are holy. Let us now invite (the Shekinah) with a newly laid table…”
This links the earthly Sabbath meal with the Heavenly Wedding Feast. The Sabbath itself is called the Sabbath Bride or Queen in the Jewish liturgy for the Sabbath. Thus we see that the Sabbath meal is associated with the Heavenly banquet or Wedding Feast in connection with the Shekinah as the kingly bridegroom and the Sabbath as the queenly bride – the linking the Sabbath meal with the Song of Songs. In the New Covenant the Sabbath meal along with all the festival meals is transformed into the Mass as the Wedding Feast of the Eucharistic King. Thus the Jewish Sabbath Meal is a type of the Mass and Eucharist.
All the festival meals of Judaism including the Passover have their roots in the weekly Sabbath Evening Meal. These meals all find their fulfillment or culmination in the meal of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which we call the Holy Mass.
The Sabbath Queen
The Sabbath Bride or Queen is an image or type of Our Lady and the Church. Our Lady is the Sabbath Queen for whom Catholics honour each Saturday as a feast day of Our Lady, and the Jews unknowingly invoke her in song as the Sabbath Queen. The Orthodox Jews sing the song Lechah Dodi (Come my Beloved) each Sabbath to welcome the Sabbath Queen. The title alone links in to the Song of Songs. It concludes with:
“Enter, O bride! Enter, O bride, enter O bride, the Sabbath Queen, Come my Beloved to greet the bride – the Sabbath Presence, let us welcome!”.
In the Jewish mystical tradition the Sefirot are the ten Attributes of the Divinity or Godhead. The Sefirot are seen in Kabbalah as the garments or crowns of the King and as aspects of the Divine Personality which are united ‘like a flame joined to a coal’. The Kabbalah uses the image of a tree or a body to explain the Sefirot. They call this Body the Primordial Adam (Adam Kadmon) and this can be linked to St Paul’s concepts of the Second Adam and the Body of Christ. The Shekinah is also Malkut (Kingdom) as the tenth Sefirah of the Jewish mystical understanding of the Godhead. It is through Malkut/Shekinah that one enters the heavenly realm or palaces of the Divine Sefirot (or Attributes of the Divinity). Besides this tenth Sefirah through which one has to enter as a portal or gateway, the Sefirot are grouped into three triads of Attributes. These nine Sefirot within the God head are in complete unity – God is not divided into separate parts but is a unity (Echad). The ten Sefirot are further seen as three forces with in the Godhead. One commentary on the Jewish Kabbalistic book Bahir states that “ the ten sefirot are indeed three, and they represent three celestial forces.” The Kabbalah (in the teaching of Rabbi Isaac the Blind of Provence) states that the power that unifies these three forces within the Godhead is the power of Hesed (Divine Mercy/Love/ Grace). Thus we can say the dynamics of the Trinity is that of Love or Mercy. Hesed can also be translated as lovingkindness.
The Head Triad
The first three sefirot of the Godhead make up the Sacred Head of the Divine Body. The Infinite God beyond all images or aspects or sefirah is called Ein Sof. Ein Sof in Catholic thought is the Father. The first Sefirah of the first Triad of the Head is called Keter (Crown) and is co-eternal with Ein Sof, and Keter is also called Razon (Divine Will) and Ayin (Nothingness). It is also the Sefirah of Divine Knowledge. It is from this Sefirah that all the others emanate or proceed. The other two Sefirot of the Head Triad are Hokmah (Wisdom) and Binah (Understanding). Keter, Hokmah and Binah are the three highest sefirot and represent the head of the Divine or Mystical Body and are the most hidden of the Sefirot.
The Triad of the Sacred Heart
The second or middle triad of the Primordial Adam is the arms and torso of the Divine Body. In Catholic devotion this is called the Sacred Heart. The White Right Arm is the Sefirah of Hesed (Mercy/Love) and the Red left Arm is the Sefirah of Din (Judgment/Justice/Power). The torso or heart of the divine body is the Sefirah of Rahamim (Compassion/Beauty). The Sefirah of Hesed (Mercy/Love) is the Attribute that unifies the Godhead – and Hesed is described in the Jewish traditions as having 13 Attributes which are recorded in Exodus 34:6-7. The invocation of these thirteen attributes of Mercy saved Israel from Divine Destruction or Judgement. Kabbalah teaches that, when the Sefirah of Judgement (Din) reacts with the Sefirah of Mercy (Hesed) it brings forth the Sirah of Compassion (Rahamim). These three Sefirot of Din, Hesed and Rachamim are the second or middle triad of the Sefirot.
The first three attributes of Mercy invoked before Moses was YHVH, YHVH, El – this is linked to the three mentions of God in the Shema as YHVH, Elohaynu (Our God), YHVH echad (echad = one unity). The Kabbalistic tradition also associates the thirteen attributes of Mercy with the three Kadoshim of “Holy, Holy, Holy” of Isaiah 6 and of the Jewish liturgy. The Jewish Prayer Book calls God the thrice- Holy God. Thus in the authentic Jewish mystical tradition is found a preparation for the Trinitarian and Eucharistic revelation of the New Covenant. This is one of the reasons that traditionally the Rabbinic Jews forbade anyone not over 50 from studying the Kabbalah, as it iwas considered potentially dangerous to Orthodox Jewish Faith.
The Sefirah of Hesed is also called Gedullah (Greatness) and the Sefirah of Din is also called Gevurah (Power). Mercy is the greatest of God’s Attributes. Hesed and Din are the right and left hands or arms of God. As mentioned above Hesed is the White Right Arm and Din the Red Left Arm. The concept of White as a colour of Mercy and red as a colour of Judgement/Justice reminds the Catholic of the divine Mercy Picture of the white and red rays streaming out from the torso or chest of Jesus in the region of the heart. The reaction between Hesed and Din produces the Sefirah of Compassion (Rahamim) which is seen as the torso or heart of the Divine Body and is also known as Tif’eret (Beauty) and Blessed Holy One. The Messiah is also seen as the Beauty of Israel and the Blessed Holy One. Thus this Sefirah is associated with the concept of the compassionate coming Messiah. Tif’eret (Beauty) is also called Heaven, Sun, and King as well as being considered the son of Hokmah (Wisdom) and the son of Binah (Understanding). Evil in this Jewish tradition is called Sitra Ahra –the Other Side- and comes when Judgement (Din) is not softened by Love/Mercy (Hesed).
The Lower Triad
The lower or third triad is made up of the two sefirot of Netzach (Endurance/Victory) and Hod (Majesty/Glory) which produce Yesod (Foundation) as the third Sefirah of this triad. Netzach and Hod are seen as the right and left legs of God and are considered the source of prophecy. Yesod is the foundation of the world and the axus mundi or cosmic pillar as the phallus of the divine Body. Yesod is also called Tsaddik (righteous) and is thus associated with the title of Tsaddik given to the Messiah. Proverbs 10:25 states: “ The Righteous One (Tsaddik) is the foundation (Yesod) of the world”. The light and power of the Sefirot are channelled through Yesod to the last Sefirah (the 10th) of Malkut/Shekinah. Tif’eret and Shekinah are united by Yesod. Shekinah is seen as the Bride and in this context can be associated with the Church (Community) as the Bride of the Messiah. Kabbalah sees that the human marriage symbolises the Heavenly or Divine Marriage. As we have seen above the Sabbath Eve is seen as the weekly celebration of the Sacred Wedding.