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Pardes From Sefiroth to Demonology

Pardes From Sefiroth to Demonology

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12/21/2012

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Lecture III: Pardes: From Sefiroth to Demonology
Monday 22 April 1991We have already examined two paradigms forreading the story of the entry into Pardes.Tonight, I want to talk about two others:the Theosophical and Theurgical paradigms.The paradigms already covered in the firsttwo lectures, different though they were,had a common feature: both deal with innerexperience, whether intellectualistic orecstatic. The drama takes place inconsciousness. Even if ecstasy involvespossession, it is still occurring in humanconsciousness.The Divine is not affected by the entranceof the philosopher or mystic into thePardes. This activity only affects thehuman intellect or soul - not the Divine.The two other paradigms also have anassumption in common: that the entry intothe Pardes has a deep effect on the non-human realms. In the Theosophical paradigm,the Divine is not a simple entity, but asystem of divine powers. The entry into thePardes influences the relationships betweenthese divine powers. The other paradigm,the Theurgic, involves an influence on, orstruggle with, the demonic realm. These twomay seem quite different, but, according theKabbalah, the demonic and the Divine share acommon anthropomorphic structure. TheSefiroth are prototypes for the demonic aswell as the Divine realms. Both paradigms,then, deal with attempts to affect thestructure and relationship of externalentities, either by inducing harmony in theDivine world or by combatting some aspect ofthe demonic world.In both cases, the Pardes again representsa danger zone: an aspect of these realmsthat is too strong for most mortals. Andboth approaches, in their reading of thePardes story, take as the key figure that ofAkher, or Elisha ben Abuya, the hereticalfigure, he who "peeked and cut the shoots."He is seen as one who was unable tounderstand appropriately either thesefirotic or Demonic realm.I would like to deal first with thedemonic, so that we can finish withsomething more positive. The basicassumption of this type of Kabbalah becameimportant around the end of the ThirteenthCentury (it is not generally found earlier):
 
that the knowledge of the structure of thedemonic is the most profound form ofKabbalah, the most recondite. A commonlyused name for members of this tradition canbe translated, "The More ProfoundKabbalists." Their texts run to long listsof evil angels, and detailed discussions ofthe relationships between the demonic andthe Divine. The tradition also includes astrong reinterpretation of the Pardes story.In this tradition, it was held (e.g. byMoses de Leon) that it was a religious dutyto know, and pursue knowledge of, thedemonic world - but not to be immersed init. Only when one has the ability todistinguish good and evil can one truly knowthe good, and truly worship God. But thismust be done so that one is not attracted byor immersed in or inundated by the demonicrealm.Thus, one also finds in these texts longlists of sinners, with Akher as the lastmajor figure.These sinners were those who were attractedby the demonic realm, who were, in essence,sexually seduced by it. They were those whohad become immersed in a certain commerce orintercourse with demonic sexual figures.Thus one finds Adam (seduced by Lilith), andSolomon, whose "thousand wives" wereregarded as a multitude of demonic powers,and Balaam, said to have had intercoursewith his ass. These figures were allseduced into sin. Sexual attraction, then,becomes an explanation of the power of thePardes, which one must understand but not beimmersed in.Why did this paradigm arise at the end ofthe Thirteenth Century? Most of theKabbalists who used it lived in Castile,where there was a certain phenomenon of Jewshaving sexual relations with Christians, or,more often, with Muslims. There arediscussions of this phenomenon in de Leonand others: the fascination with the Otheris there portrayed as a demonic attraction.Now, there is a basic pattern well-known inthe history of religions, often called"katabasis:" the descent into hell toperform some rite. Usually the katabasis isa salvific descent - an attempt to rescuesome of the dwellers in hell (thoughgenerally not demons). But in Cabalistictradition it often ends negatively: theperson who makes the descent is unable tosurface. Already in the Talmud Ben Abuya isdescribed as being in some relationship with
 
a prostitute. Kabbalists exploited this toportray him as indulging in sexualtransgression.The others are portrayed as moresuccessful. R. Aqiva entered, but did notget involved. A parallel was seen withAbraham, who descended into Egypt (oftentaken as a type of the demonic realm) andwho was able to emerge in peace. Anothersimilarity was found with Noah, whoexperienced the Flood but who came out insafety. This is, in other words, atypological approach. The Pardes story isused to summarize certain prototypicalstories from Adam onward. That theinterpretations are typological is obviousbecause of the range of figures adduced tomake the point. One of the most exciting isthe projection of the Pardes story onto theBiblical story of Samson. At the beginning,Samson is able into a relationship withDelilah, and ultimately he is able todestroy the realm of evil. Samson metDelilah in the equivalent of Pardes: in avineyard. All of these are instances thatindicate that medieval Jewish hermeneuticswas in fact very typological - which quitecontradicts the claims of certain modernscholars, who see the typological approachas typical of scholastic philosophy, and notat all Jewish.This approach remains, from the ThirteenthCentury up through the Lurianic Kabbalah,where it reaches an apex.The other paradigm I wish to consideraddresses itself to the Sephirotic realm.This paradigm was typical of thoseKabbalists who assumed that the crucialissue was to induce or re-induce the harmonyin the Divine spheres which had beendisturbed by primordial human transgression.There were two metaphors for the Divine:that of the Tree, and (to simplify) theanthropomorphic one of the couple. In thelatter, the first nine Sefiroth were takenas male, and the last as female. The basicsin of Akher was to break the connectionbetween the first nine and the tenth (seenas the shoots, or as a female figure). Thechallenge created by this transgression isto see the Pardes as a Garden.In Paradise, the transgression was theseparation of the fruit from the tree,projected on high. The transgression wasnot eating, but separating one aspect of theDivine from the rest. By separating the

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