Revelation and Torah - The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism - Daniel Chanan Matt

The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism - Daniel Chanan Matt (1996)

Revelation and Torah


THERE WAS a man who lived in the mountains. He knew nothing about those who lived in the city. He sowed wheat and ate the kernels raw.

One day he entered the city. They brought him good bread. He said, “What is this for?” They said, “Bread, to eat!” He ate, and it tasted very good. He said, “What is it made of?” They said, “Wheat.”

Later they brought him cakes kneaded in oil. He tasted them and said, “What are these made of?” They said, “Wheat.”

Finally they brought him royal pastry made with honey and oil. He said, “And what are these made of?” They said, “Wheat.” He said, “I am the master of all of these, for I eat the essence of all of these: wheat!”

Because of that view, he knew nothing of the delights of the world; they were lost to him. So it is with one who grasps the principle and does not know all those delectable delights deriving, diverging, from that principle.


“Woe to the human being who says
that Torah presents mere stories and ordinary words!
If so, we could compose a Torah right now with ordinary words,
and better than all of them.
To present matters of the world?
Even rulers of the world possess words more sublime.
If so, let us follow them and make a Torah out of them.
Ah, but all the words of Torah are sublime words, sublime secrets!

“Come and see:
The world above and the world below are perfectly balanced:
Israel below, the angels above.
Of the angels it is written: ‘He makes his angels spirits.’
But when they descend, they put on the garment of this world.
If they did not put on a garment befitting this world,
they could not endure in this world
and the world could not endure them.

If this is so with the angels, how much more so with Torah,
who created them and all the worlds,
and for whose sake they all exist.
In descending to this world,
if she did not put on the garments of this world,
the world could not endure.

“So this story of Torah is the garment of Torah.
Whoever thinks that the garment is the real Torah
and not something else—may his spirit deflate!
He will have no portion in the world that is coming.
That is why David said:
‘Open my eyes, so I can see wonders out of your Torah,’
what is under the garment of Torah.

“Come and see: There is a garment visible to all.
When those fools see someone in a good-looking garment
they look no further.
But the essence of the garment is the body;
the essence of the body is the soul.

“So it is with Torah.
She has a body: the commandments of Torah,
called ‘the embodiment of Torah.’
This body is clothed in garments: the stories of this world.
Fools of the world look only at that garment, the story of Torah;
they know nothing more.
They do not look at what is under that garment.
Those who know more do not look at the garment,
but rather at the body under that garment.
The wise ones, servants of the King on high,
those who stood at Mount Sinai,
look only at the soul, root of all, real Torah.
In the time to come, they are destined to look at the soul of the soul of Torah.

“Come and see: So it is above.
There is garment, body, soul, and soul of soul.
The heavens and their host are the garment.
The Communion of Israel is the body,
who receives the soul, Beauty of Israel.
So she is the body of the soul.
The soul we have mentioned is Beauty of Israel, real Torah.
The soul of the soul is the Holy Ancient One.
All is connected, this one to that one.

“Woe to the wicked who say that Torah is merely a story!
They look at this garment and no further.
Happy are the righteous who look at Torah properly!
As wine must sit in a jar, so Torah must sit in this garment.
So look only at what is under the garment.
All those words and all those stories are garments.”


RABBI HIYVA and Rabbi Yose met one night at the Tower of Tyre.
They stayed there as guests, delighting in each other.
Rabbi Yose said, “I am so glad to see the face of Shekhinah!
For just now, the whole way here, I was pestered by an old man,
a donkey driver, who kept asking me riddles the whole way:

“‘Who is a serpent that flies in the air and wanders alone,
while an ant lies peacefully between its teeth?
Beginning in union, it ends in separation.

“‘Who is an eagle that nests in a tree that never was?
Its young who have been plundered,
who are not created creatures,
lie somewhere uncreated.
Going up, they come down; coming down, they go up.
Two who are one, and one who is three.

“‘Who is a ravishing maiden without eyes,
her body concealed and revealed?
She comes out in the morning and is hidden all day.
She adorns herself with adornments that are not.’

“All this he asked on the way; I was annoyed.
Now I can relax.
If we had been together, we would have engaged in words of Torah
instead of strange words of chaos.”

Rabbi Hiyya said, “That old man, the donkey driver,
do you know anything about him?”
Rabbi Yose answered, “I know that there is nothing in his words.
If he knew anything, he should have opened with Torah;
then the way would not have been empty!”

Rabbi Hiyya said, “That donkey driver, is he here?
For sometimes in those empty fools, you discover bells of gold!”

Rabbi Yose said, “Here he is, fixing some food for his donkey.”

They called him, and he came over.
He said to them, “Now two are three, and three are like one!”

Rabbi Yose said, “Didn’t I tell you that all his words are empty nonsense?”

He sat before them and said,
“Rabbis, I turned into a donkey driver only a short time ago.
Before, I wasn’t one.
But I have a small son, and I put him in school;
I want him to engage Torah.
When I find one of the rabbis traveling on the road,
I guide his donkey from behind.
Today I thought that I would hear new words of Torah,
but I haven’t heard anything!”

Rabbi Yose said, “Of all the words I heard you say,
there was one that really amazed me.
Either you said it out of folly, or they are empty words.”

The old man said, “And which one is that?”
He said, “The one about the ravishing maiden.”

The old man opened and said,
“‘YHVH is on my side; I have no fear.
What can any human do to me?
YHVH is by my side, helping me.
It is good to take refuge in YHVH.’

“How good, pleasant, precious, and high are words of Torah!
But how can I say them in front of rabbis
from whose mouths, until now, I haven’t heard a single word?
But I should say them
because there is no shame at all in saying words of Torah
in front of everyone!”

The old man covered himself.
The old man opened and said,
“‘Moses went inside the cloud and ascended the mountain.’
What is this cloud?
The same one of which it is written:
‘I have placed my bow in the cloud.’
We have learned that the rainbow took off her garments
and gave them to Moses.
Wearing that garment, he went up the mountain;
from inside it he saw what he saw,
delighting in the all, up to that place.”

The companions approached
and threw themselves down in front of the old man.
They cried, and said, “If we have come into the world
only to hear these words from your mouth,
it is enough for us!”

The old man said,
“Companions, not for this alone did I begin the word.
An old man like me doesn’t rattle with just a single word.
Human beings are so confused in their minds.
They do not see the way of truth in Torah.
She calls out to them every day, in love,
but they do not want to turn their heads.
She removes a word from her sheath,
is seen for a moment, then quickly hides away,
but she does so only for those who know her intimately.

“A parable.
To what can this be compared?
To a beloved, ravishing maiden, hidden deep within her palace.
She has one lover, unknown to anyone, hidden too.
Out of love for her, this lover passes by her gate constantly,
lifting his eyes to every side.
Knowing that her lover hovers about her gate constantly,
what does she do?
She opens a little window in her hidden palace,
revealing her face to her lover,
then swiftly withdraws, concealing herself.
No one near him sees or reflects, only the lover,
and his heart and his soul and everything within him
flow out to her.
He knows that out of love for him
she revealed herself for that one moment
to awaken love in him.

“So it is with a word of Torah:
she reveals herself to no one but her lover.
Torah knows that one who is wise of heart
hovers about her gate every day.
What does she do?
She reveals her face to him from the palace
and beckons him with a hint,
then swiftly withdraws to her hiding place.
No one there knows or reflects—
he alone does,
and his heart and his soul and everything within him
flows out to her.
This is why Torah reveals and conceals herself.
With love she approaches her lover
to arouse love with him.

“Come and see the way of Torah.
At first, when she begins to reveal herself to a human,
she beckons him with a hint.
If he perceives, good;
if not, she sends him a message, calling him simple.
Torah says to her messenger:
‘Tell that simple one to come closer, so I can talk with him.’
He approaches.
She begins to speak with him from behind a curtain she has drawn,
words he can follow, until he reflects a little at a time.
This is derasha.
Then she converses with him through a veil,
words riddled with allegory.
This is haggadah.

“Once he has grown accustomed to her,
she reveals herself face to face
and tells him all her hidden secrets,
all the hidden ways,
since primordial days secreted in her heart.
“Now he is a complete human being,
husband of Torah, master of the house.
All her secrets she has revealed to him,
withholding nothing, concealing nothing.

“She says to him, ‘Do you see that word,
that hint with which I beckoned you at first?
So many secrets there! This one and that one!’

“Now he sees that nothing should be added to those words
and nothing taken away.
Now the peshat of the verse, just like it is.
Not even a single letter should be added or deleted.

“Human beings should become aware,
pursuing Torah to become her lovers.”

The old man was silent for a moment.
The companions were amazed;
they did not know if it was day or night,
if they were really there or not.

“Enough, companions!
From now on, you know that evil has no power over you.
I, Yeiva Sava, have stood before you
to awaken your awareness of these words.”

They rose as if awakened from sleep
and threw themselves down in front of him,
unable to utter a word.
After a while they began to cry.
Rabbi Hiyya opened and said,
“‘Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm.’
Love and sparks from the flame of our heart will escort you.
May it be the Will
that our image be engraved in your heart
as your image is engraved in ours.”

He kissed them and blessed them, and they left.

When they rejoined Rabbi Shim’on
and told him everything that happened,
he was delighted and amazed.
He said, “You are fortunate to have attained all this.
Here you were with a heavenly lion,
a fierce warrior for whom many warriors are nothing,
and you could not recognize him!
I am amazed that you escaped his punishment.
The Blessed Holy One must have wanted to save you.”

He called out these verses for them:
“The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
growing brighter and brighter until the day is full.
When you walk, your stride will be free;
if you run, you will not stumble.
Your people, all of them righteous, will inherit the land forever—
a sprout of my planting, the work of my hands, making me glorious.”


LET US awaken to the mystery of Torah, musing on her day and night. The written Torah and the oral Torah are joined together like an almond hud and its blossom—neither one concealed from the other, growing on a single stalk, like male and female joined in love. Both emerge from the sheer, inner voice, to exist as one. From there the written Torah draws, and the oral Torah suckles from the written. Clasping one another, they are inseparable. One is general, the other specific. You cannot have one without the other.

However, the written Torah is an unripe fruit of supernal wisdom. Wisdom is the root: the all-inclusive, noetic point, from which all paths diverge. Both the written and oral Torah arise in Binah, the sheer voice that ordains and sustains everything. From there they emerge into being through the power of wisdom, hidden and concealed. Therefore the sages have said, “Torah is an unripe fruit of supernal wisdom.”

But isn’t the Torah the source of life? How can you say that she is unripe’ What is unripe is inferior! Like fruit that falls prematurely from a tree and ripens on the ground: it isn’t as good as fruit that ripens on the branch.

Look! The root of Torah is supernal wisdom—hidden and concealed, perceived only through its wondrous pathways. How wondrous are the offshoots! But since the root is wisdom, who can ever reach it? That is why Israel’s sweet singer sang, “Open my eyes, so I can see wonders out of your Torah!”


THE SCROLL of the Torah is written without vowels, so you can read it variously. Without vowels, the consonants bear many meanings and splinter into sparks. That is why the Torah scroll must not be vowelized, for the meaning of each word accords with its vowels. Once vowelized, a word means just one thing. Without vowels, you can understand it in countless, wondrous ways.