Zohar, Torah, world
June 19, 2007
The current homework for my Zohar class is to step outside the comfort zone of Daniel Matt's 1983 translation (our primary textbook thus far) and spend some time with the nifty bilingual text at Zohar.com. Specifically, we're each supposed to read the Zohar's commentary on parashat Toldot (Genesis 25:19 - 28:9), choose a passage, and identify some of the questions and teachings rooted in that passage.
In the process of doing this assignment, I ran across a passage that I find particularly beautiful, which I thought I'd share here. It's the third teaching on this page:
Come and behold: whoever studies the Torah sustains the world and properly sustains every act in the world. There is no part within man that does not have a counterpart creature in the world. Just as the body of man is composed of levels of parts that act together to form a unified body, so is the world. All the creatures in the world are hierarchical parts that act on and react with each other, so they will actually be as one body. Everything, whether it be man or the world, resembles the Torah, because the Torah is made of different parts and sections that support each other. When they are all correct, they will become as one body. When David looked at this work, he said: "Hashem, how manifold are your works! In wisdom You have made them all: the earth is full of Your creatures" (Tehilim 104:24).
I love the way this teaching plays with different macrocosm / microcosm notions. Like the world, I have many parts which must work together -- and when they don't, I'm in trouble. The organs in my body, even the molecules that make up those organs, are all a part of the whole of me. Just so, I take part in the life of the world, in my own molecular way. (I'm reminded here of Reb Zalman's teaching that each religion is an organ in the body of the world -- that the world needs each tradition to fully be what it is, and also to be in cooperative conversation with each other tradition, because without both integrity and communication our system will fail.)
Torah, the Zohar says, is a cosmic blueprint for this kind of macrocosm and microcosm. The Torah too is made up of many parts. Though they differ (even contradicting one another, at least in a simple or surface reading) we need to understand them as part of the same whole. We need to be capable of accepting apparent contradictions, in our texts and in our lives, in order to see the system in a holistic way. When we can step back far enough to see the whole of Torah -- written Torah, oral Torah, commentaries and commentaries upon commentaries, the lived Torah of human experience, the white fire on which the black fire is inscribed -- then we allow Torah to be embodied as one.