The Eucharist and Jewish Mystical Tradition – Part 2
Ed. This article appeared in The Hebrew Catholic #78, pp. 24-27. All rights reserved. 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 1990’s.
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.
The Four Rabbis
A story is told about four Torah scholars (Rabbis) who entered into the mystical realm. One returned from the mystical ascent insane, one still orthodox (according to Rabbinic Judaism), one as a heretic, and another as a Christian. The rabbi that remained strictly Orthodox was Rabbi Akiva who proclaimed Simon bar Kokba as the Messiah in the 2nd century. Thus, as a Hebrew Catholic I must query whether Rabbi Akiva was deluded by Satan (as an angel of light) in his attempt at the mystical ascent. The rabbi that came back a Christian was the famous Rabbi Simeon ben Zoma who was a contemporary of Rabbi Akiva.
It is only through Yeshuah and his shed blood that one can safely attempt the mystical ascent, and such an ascent must be totally Eucharistic centred. St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, both from Judaeo-Converso families, reveal the completion of the Jewish Kabbalah in the Revelation of Yeshuah as the Messiah. Avila was a centre of medieval Jewish Kabbalah – so it is quite possible that Teresa and John would have been familiar with the Jewish understanding of the mystical ascent. The seven castles of St. Teresa mirror the seven palaces (heikhalot) of the early Kabbalah tradition. The famous compiler of the Zohar, Rabbi Moses de Leon, was centred with his Kabbalistic school in Avila. That the Jewish Kabbalah is truly ancient can be seen in that St. Paul and St. John the Beloved seem to be familiar with its images and symbolism. The Egyptian theology of the Ennead is a corrupted version of this same mystical tradition. Later misuse of Kabbalah can be seen in Lurianic Kabbalah and its offspring Freemasonry. These both distort the Kabbalah into an occultic direction.
Wisdom and Understanding
Hokmah (Wisdom) is also called Reshit (Beginning) and is associated with the creation of the Universe in the first word of the Bible Bereshit (In the Beginning). Thus Hokmah is linked to Dabar (the Word) which brings forth all creation. St John in John 1 confirms this Jewish concept linking Wisdom, creation and the Word. Binah (Understanding), the third Sefirah of the Head Triad, is seen as the Divine Womb or Mother. She receives the seed, the point of Hokmah and conceives the lower Sefirot. Binah on one level can be associated with the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Understanding. In Catholic tradition the Holy Spirit and Mary are so united as to call Mary the Spouse of the Holy Spirit. Mary, like the Spirit, became a divine womb or Mother receiving the seed of divinity (the Divine Word or Wisdom) and conceiving the God-Man. The role and function of Mary is so united to the Holy Spirit that Mary (Miriam ha Kadosha) is the perfect mirror of the Holy Trinity.
On one level each Sefirah in each Triad can represent a person of the Holy Trinity. Also each of the three Triads can also represent one of the persons of the Trinity. The Head Triad with the Father, the middle Triad with the Son and the Lower Triad with the Holy Spirit. In the Head Triad Keter represents the Father, Hokmah the son and Binah the Holy Spirit. Within the Middle Triad Din represents the Father, Hesed the Holy Spirit and Tif’eret (Rachamim) with the Son. In the Lower triad Hod represents the Father, Netzach the Holy Spirit and Yesod the Son. The dynamic of reaction within the family of the Godhead is animated by Hesed. Hesed is the blood of the Divine Body.
In one sense then we can say that Mary is the daughter of Keter, the mother of Hokmah and the spouse of Binah. Binah is the mother of the seven lower sefirot that make up the Mystical Body (Adam), just as Mary is the Mother of the Body of Christ – the Church.
The Eucharistic Mystery
This heavenly or mystical understanding of the Sefirot opens up a fuller understanding of the unity of the Godhead with the Church and with each member of the Church. It is only through the Eucharist that this mystery of unity can be found. The Eucharist is the way to the mystical union or marriage of the soul with the Heavenly Bridegroom. It is Eucharistic Adoration that helps sanctify the soul in preparation for that mystical union. The outward appearance of the Eucharist is in time and space but within the veil it is beyond time and space and the whole mystery of the Heavenlies and the Trinity is encompassed within the Sacred Host, as a portal to the Divine realm. The Trinity dwells not so much in the heights but in the depths of the Sacred Host of the Altar – which is the Sacred Heart.
The Reapers of the Holy Field
The Jewish mystical tradition calls the masters of the mystical wisdom the Comrades or the Reapers of the Field. This field is of course the Apple Field mentioned above in connection with the Shekinah and the Song of Songs. The Apple Trees of this Holy Field or Orchard are the sefirot from Hesed to Yesod. The Zohar links this concept of the Holy Apple Orchard with the Heavenly Bread similar to the Heavenly Manna. To understand the Heavenly mysteries and to make the mystical ascent one must feed on this Heavenly Food or Dew. This Bread is Jesus himself proclaims John 6. St. John the Beloved, as his name suggests, is a master of this mystical tradition of the Apple Trees of the Song of Songs of the Beloved. Thus John and Paul, both Jewish Rabbis, can be called Reapers of the Holy Field. Thus today the true Reapers of the Field are those who enter in to the Eucharistic Mystery and spend time feeding on the Eucharistic Lord through the Mass and Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration. The Zohar says:
“Come and see; Every single day, dew trickles down from the Holy Ancient one to the Impatient One, and the orchard of holy apple trees is blessed. Some of the dew flows to those below; holy angels are nourished by it, each according to his diet, as it is written: “A human ate angel bread” (Psalm 78:25) Israel ate of that food in the desert. Rabbi Shimon said: ‘Some people are nourished by it even now! Who are they? The Comrades, who engage Torah day and night. Do you think they are nourished by that very food? No, by something like that very food…’.”
The Divine Body
The Divine Body of the Sefirot is not only Trinitarian but is the Divine Body of the Messiah/Word (the Primordial Adam) himself. The first Triad represents his role as King, the second triad his role as Priest and the Third Triad his role as Prophet. The Divine Body is the Son as the visible manifestation of the invisible Deity as stated by St. Paul. Man (Adam) is created in his image and likeness. Man also has the sefirot as the make up of his spiritual emotive being. The Sefirot in the Godhead are of one substance with the Deity. The Sefirot emanate from the Deity (Ein Sof/Father) in the sense of generation and procession. In man the Sefirot of his spiritual self (soul powers) are a created illumination made in the image and likeness of the Divine Sefirot. These sefirotic soul powers are reunited by the Holy Spirit with the Divine Sefirot (Attributes) in baptism and we regain the full likeness of God which was lost in the Fall and is relost each time we fall into mortal sin. In Eucharistic Adoration this likeness grows from glory to glory.
The Zohar proclaims that the Shekinah is also Kneset Yisrael, the mystical community of Israel and that all of Israel are her limbs (Zohar 3:231b). thus the Church, the New Israel, is the Shekinah seen as Bride of God. The shekinah as the Eucharistic Presence is so connected with the Church, that both are seen as Shekinah. It is the Church which possesses and brings forth through its priesthood the Presence of the Eucharistic Lord. Therefore the concept of the Sefirot shines a light of understanding on the unity between Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit: and the unity between Christ and the Church: and the unity of the hearts of Jesus and Mary: and the unity of the soul with the Divinity. The Shekinah as Bride is seen as a daughter of Binah (Understanding) also called Moon, just as Mary is the Moon (or Understanding) of Israel and the Mother of the Church. As noted above Miriam ha Kadosha (Holy Mary) is the spouse of the Holy Spirit (or Binah) and Mother of the Eucharistic Lord (the Shekinah).
What is the Torah? Jewish people call the first five books of Moses the Torah. They also use the word Torah for the whole of Scripture and the oral Tradition. Thus the word Torah is associated with the term Word of God (Dabar). The Jewish tradition claimed that the Patriarchs also kept ‘Torah’ so that Torah was not just the giving of the Torah on Mt Sinai. The giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai is seen as the earthly garments of the heavenly or Primordial Torah. In Kabbalah, as handed down by Rabbi Isaac the Blind of Provence, it states that:
“It is written ‘God by Wisdom founded the Earth’ (Proverbs 3;19). Wisdom (Hokmah) is nothing other than Torah due to the number of its commandments. Also its name was Amon before the world was created, as it is written “It was by Him, as an architect (Amon)” (Proverbs 8:30).”
Thus Torah as Wisdom and word of God is part of the divinity itself – and the commandments of the Torah are only an earthly garment of this Primordial Torah. Thus it can logically be said that Jesus as Wisdom and Word of God is the Living and Primordial Torah who took on flesh in the Incarnation. The garment Torah cloaked itself in, in the Old Covenant, was only temporary whereas Jesus as Living Torah (as the early Jewish Christians called him) took on human nature for eternity – thus elevating man to level of Divinity. Rabbi Isaac the Blind of provence further reveals that from the Primordial Torah was drawn a single name – Hesed (Love/mercy/Lovingkindness). St John the Beloved also states that God is Love (Hesed). Rabbi Isaac explains that this power Hesed (which is the Divinity himself) is divided into three forces – from these three forces emanate the ten sefirot. Thus Kabbalah states that the Torah is based on Love (Hesed). Jesus sums up the Torah as Love of God and neighbour. God is Hesed and Jesus is Hesed incarnated. The angelic salution of Mary as ‘full of Hesed’ (meleat ha Hesed) proclaims that Mary as Mother of God is full of Hesed or full of Jesus/God. Thus the way of the spiritual life must be the way of Hesed.
David Goldstein in his book Jewish Mythology (p.24) states that:
“… the Torah then became personalised as a kind of artisan, a medium by which the creation of the world was set in motion, and the whole creative process planned. In this sense it may be seen as Logos, or the divine word… Connected with the idea that the Torah was present at God’s side at the creation is the view that the letters of the Hebrew alphabet were in themselves instrumental in the formation of the world. This view is most directly put at the beginning of the Sefer Yezirah (The Book of Formation), which was attributed to the Patriarch, Abraham… It states that the world was created by the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the ten numbers, which together form the 32 paths of understanding.”
This corresponds with the Christian idea found in the New Testament that Jesus is the Alef and Tav (in Greek, Alpha and Omega), the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet which encompass all the letters, and are thus the Divine Word. The first line of the Bible states “Bereshit bara elohim et” (In the Beginning created God the). The ‘et’ is alef and tav. It is through this alef and tav which is the divine Word that the creation occurred. This teaching of Judaism is confirmed by the first chapter of John’s gospel. The Zohar tells us that this ‘et’ is the Shekinah and 3 Enoch tells us that the Shekinah dwelt with Adam and Eve in the Garden. The Zohar considers this as a great mystery or secret. The Hebrew word for mystery or secret is ‘sod’. The eastern Church refers to the Seven Sacraments as the Holy Mysteries and the early Church referred to the Eucharist as the Great Secret. Thus the Latin term ‘sacramentum’ corresponds with the Hebrew ‘sod’. Zohar teaches that the Shekinah is a great ‘sod’ and the Church refers to the Eucharist as one of the seven great Mysteries of the new covenant.
Dangers of Power
When one seeks the mystical way or kabbalah to gain more power rather than love as did many of the Lurianic Kabbalists, one enters into evil –Sitra Ahra (the Other Side) and encounters the Evil One (Satan) and his demons often as ‘angels of light’. The followers of Rabbi Isaac Luria (mid 16th century) took the authentic Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah centred on Love (Hesed) and used or misused it to gain power over spiritual entities not distinguishing between invoking angels or demons. The Scriptures forbid the occultic practice of summoning spirits- thus the Lurianic mystics generally follow occultic practices which seek power rather than love. Freemasonry and theosophy owe much to this perversion of Kabbalah. True Kabbalah (such as found in Zoharic Kabbalah) warns that to seek power (Gevurah) without Hesed is to enter in to evil – the Other Side. The rigid code of legalistic observance found in Shulhan Arukh, that seems to me to be lacking in love, was compiled by a Lurianic Kabbalist Rabbi Joseph Karo (1488-1575) of Safed. He was guided and instructed by a spirit guide – a ‘maggid’ or celestial teacher. Rabbi Morris Margolies in his book A Gathering of Angels states:
“Lurianic Kabbalists were also given to summoning angels and demons by using intricate combinations of the names of God, literally numbering in the hundreds. They did not think of this as magic (though, in effect, it was), since God himself was the means by which they were seeking certain ends.”
Thus Lurianic Kabbalism has introduced occultism into Judaism and the Jewish tale of Joseph della Reina is a warning of this perversion of Kabbalah. The movement of the false messiah Sabbetai Zvi (1626-1676) also followed Lurianic Kabbalah and fell into sexual as well as spiritual perversion. The only safe way to enter into the mystical realm is through Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament – the God of compassion. In the Eucharist we enter the mystical realm in and through and with the power of his Precious Blood which is the hesed of the Divine Body.
Apocalypse 19 and Kabbalah
Apocalypse 19 describes Jesus in kabbalist imagery. Jesus is seen in a mystical way crowned with many crowns. The Kabbalah equates the ten sefirot with crowns. So John is proclaiming that Jesus is crowned with the attributes of God himself – with the many crowns of the Divinity’s Attributes or Sefirot. Jesus’ title of ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords’ is seen inscribed in his thigh or right side. Kabbalah states through the teaching of Rabbi Isaac the Blind:
“The world was created in the right side of the Holy One, blessed be He … In the right side of the Holy One… was engraved all the inscriptions which were destined to change from potentiality to actuality, due to the emanations of all the crowns which are inscribed, pressed and formed in the degree of Loving kindness (Hesed).”
This majestic Divine King is described, in other parts of the Apocalypse of John, as the ‘Lamb that was slain’ as the Eucharistic Lord. Kabbalah only finds its true fulfillment in the Eucharistic mystery as proclaimed by the Kehilla of the Messiah. It is the mystery of humility. The eyes of pride cannot perceive this key to the divine mysteries. It is only given to the childlike and the humble. Jesus is the humble (Aniv) Righteous (Tzaddik) King of the Old Testament prophecy who is even more humble now, as a prisoner of Love in the tabernacles of the world, than when he walked Israel 2000 years ago. The whole of the Jewish tradition, culture and religion was a preparation for mankind to understand this divine mystery of the Paschal or eucharistic mystery – but only a minority of men have been able to comprehend this mystery. However during the Eucharistic reign of Jesus over the earth which is the triumph of Mary’s Royal and Immaculate Heart (i.e., her heart full of Hesed), all men will see the glory unveiled of the Eucharistic Lord.
The Blood of Jesus
The Kabbalah also sees the ten sefirot as the cloak or garment or Tallit (Prayer Shawl) of the Godhead. This Tallit is also seen as the Divine Light in which God encompasses Himself. Jesus is the Divine Light that has come into the world according to the New Testament. Apocalypse 19 reveals this cloak or Tallit as soaked in blood. This blood is the Love (or Hesed) of God poured out for mankind. Love or Hesed is the principle of unity and life in the Godhead and in time and space manifests as the blood of Jesus. The Divine mercy devotion links Hesed with the Precious Blood. The Old Testament sees blood as the principle of life and thus sacred. Man was made in the image and likeness of God and this is why we can explain the heavenly mysteries as a Divine body in which the blood that animates its life is Hesed.
“And now I saw heaven open and a white horse appear; its rider was called Faithful and True; he is a judge with integrity, a warrior for justice. His eyes were flames of fire, and his head crowned with many crowns, the name written on him was known only to himself, his cloak was soaked in blood. He is known by the name, the Word of God. Behind him dressed in linen of dazzling white, rode the armies of heaven on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike the pagans with; he is the one who will rule then with an iron sceptre, and tread out the wine of almighty God’s fierce anger. On his cloak and on his thigh there was a name inscribed; The King of Kings and the Lord of Lords” (Apocalypse 19:11-16).
The symbolism of this whole passage is Kabbalistic and comes alive with hidden depth when seen in the light of Kabbalah. The glorious coming of the Lord with the clouds of Heaven is here seen as the God of Justice coming in Judgement (Din/Gevurah) but that Din covered with Hesed (the Precious Blood). The beings on white horses are the Heavenly company of the angels and saints (who the Epistle to the Hebrews calls a great cloud of witnesses), the white horses are the power of God. In apocalypse 11 and 12 the heavens are opened and this same Divine King is seen with Mary as the Ark of the Covenant as well as the divine child in the womb of the pregnant Queen-Mother (Givirah) – this imagery is completely Eucharistic. At other times such as in Apocalypse 5 and 6 the heavens open to reveal the Divine Liturgy (Mass). The whole Book of the Apocalypse is a Eucharistic exposition. It is the story of the lamb. That lamb is revealed as our Eucharistic Lord. It is the story of the battle between the Eucharistic Lord and the beast that would destroy the Eucharist. St. John is celebrating the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day when he is taken up into the Divine Liturgy in heaven. It is through the Eucharistic consecration that Jesus and his sacrifice become present on the altar – and a portal or vortex is opened up with heaven or eternity here on earth. By receiving the Eucharistic Lord in Communion we are already starting to enter into the Eternal life of God as explained in John’s Gospel. The true mystical life cannot be separated, since the coming of Christ, from the Eucharist as its central and supreme point. Any mystical movement that doesn’t have the Eucharist at its heart is not authentic. All the mystical Catholic saints saw the Eucharist as essential and central to their mystical spiritual life.
The Immanent God
The Jewish tradition saw that the Divine Presence in the Temple above the Ark of the Covenant was the point at which the Immanent God entered his creation and maintained it. God’s presence is the Eucharist in today’s world and it is this way through the Eucharist that the Immanent God manifests His love and power into His creation. The more that perpetual Adoration is spread – the more love and power flows from these Eucharistic gateways from the heart of God. Zohar 1:7h states that the Shekinah (the Real Presence) is the gate to the Divine. It is adoration of this Divine Presence that opens this gateway and allows the Power (Din/Gevurah) and the Love and Mercy ( Hesed) to flow from the heart of God (the Sacred Heart). 1 Kings 9:3 proclaims that the Shekinah is the eyes and the heart of God – and Catholic belief proclaims that the Real Presence of the Blessed Eucharist is the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
“The LORD said to him, ‘I grant your prayer and the entreaty you have made before me . I consecrate this House you have built; I place my name there forever; my eyes and my heart shall dwell there perpetually”(1 Kings 9:3).