THE ZOHAR is the most prominent work of Rabbinic literature within the kabbalistic tradition. The title “Splendor/Radiance”relates to several verses in Ezekiel 1:28; :2 and Daniel 2:31; 12:3 (Those who manifest wisdom will shine like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who turn many to righteousness will shine like the stars for ever and ever – Dan. 12:3). It follows the path of classical Midrash and is indeed a commentary on the Chumash (5 books of Moses).
THE ZOHAR deals with the mystical theories concerning creation, cosmogony and psychology of man in relation to the divine in this world and the coming world. There are many themes and endless discussions and homily on various topics such as the nature of G-d, creation, what the souls is and the cause and consequences of man’s actions (ethics). It contains numerous volumes and is written in an obscure Aramaic. The Ortodox or religious view of authorship states that Shimon bar Yohai (2nd century sage) was the true author while modern scholarship claims it has a much later autorship. Gerschom Scholem’s research proves that the Zohar was compiled and written down by a man called Moses De Leon in 1270.
THE ZOHAR – PRITZKER EDITION is a work of modern scholarship and pays attention to scientific methods concerning its history, origins and translation. The first volume was released in 2003. The final volume n:o 12 was released in 2017 so now you know how vast the entire text of the Zohar is in reality. Daniel C. Matt, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Jewish mysticism, has done the translation and commentary on the text. I only own the First volume which is enough for me since Genesis is sort of my favourite book when it comes to religious literature. Now we have a complete translation of all volumes available to anyone who which to learn more about the core text of Jewish mysticism. So how did it happen?
BACK IN 1995 Daniel C. Matt was contacted by Margot Pritzker who previously had studied the Zohar with her rabbi. She used a translation from the 1930’s and there was a desatisfaction with the many available, but rather outdated, translations. Thoughts of a new translation of Zohar into English emerged. Matt warned it would take about 12-15 years to complete the task. But he agreed to carry out the project with the help of the Pritzker family who funded the entire project. Each volume was printed by the Stanford University Press.
THE FIRST VOLUME contains Margot Pritzker’s short foreword followed by translator’s introduction by Matt; acknowledgements, a foreword by Arthur Green on the contents of Zohar, theology of Zohar (10 sefiroth and so forth) and Zohar as text. The ingress consist of a longer text Haqadamat Sefer ha-Zohar. First lines: Rabbi Hizkiyah opened, “Like a rose among thorns, so is my beloved among the maidens (Song of Songs 2:2) Who is a rose? Assembly of Israel. For there is a rose, and then there is a rose! Just as a rose among thorns is colored red and white, so Assembly of Israel includes judgement and compassion (Matt 2004, p. 1). To understand the context of these lines one needs to be familiar with the ten sefiroth, the divine emanations which connects the divine world with the earthly. These are core values within the Kabbalah and shows how G-d works within the divine and earthly worlds. In Kabbalah the functional structure of the sephirot in channeling Divine creative life force, and revealing the unknowable Divine essence to Creation is described. From the top of the Tree of Life resides keter (“crown”) which is the most divine, remote sefirah and it’s too difficult for any human to grasp. Only through kavannah, intense prayer a connection with the divine source can be established. The first sephirah describes the Divine Will above intellect.
The next sephirot describe conscious Divine Intellect, and the latter sephirot describe the primary and secondary conscious Divine Emotions. Two sephirot (Binah and Malchut) are feminine, as the female principle in Kabbalah describes a vessel that receives the outward male light, then inwardly nurtures and gives birth to lower sephirot. Corresponding to this is the Female Divine Presence, שְׁכִינָה, Shekhinah. Kabbalah sees the human soul as mirroring the Divine (after Genesis 1:27, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them”), and more widely, all creations as reflections of their life source in the sephirah. Every sefirah belongs to either a masculine or feminine quality. Duality in the verse above is clearly visible through the words judgement and compassion. The sefirah din (“judgement”) is associated with the feminine while rahamin (“compassion”) is a masculine quality. The verse which is about the Assembly of Israel, i.e the Jewish people, but also represent the shekinah, the tenth and final sefirah. The ingress is followed by Parashat Be-Reshit (Genesis 1:1-6:8) and Parashat Noah (Genesis 6:9-11:32).
The Zohar is not easy as a text. It’s full of symbolism, metaphors and allusions. Therefore, the commentary with explanations is greatly appreciated. And believe me, one needs them. Curious about the translator? Read more about Daniel C. Matt here (Questions & Answers).
Matt, Daniel C. 2004. The Zohar Vol. 1. Vol. 1. The Zohar. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.