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Pardes the Quest for Spiritual Paradise in Judaism

Pardes the Quest for Spiritual Paradise in Judaism

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Published by: bgeller4936 on Aug 01, 2009
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09/27/2010

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This is a report on a series of lectures givenby Moshe Idel at the University of Washington(Seattle) about a year ago. I have dividedreport into three posts, one for each lecture.These are not verbatim transcripts: they aresummaries of the sort that might be made byanyone from notes made during the lecture. Noteverything is included, and most of what Idelsaid is summarized. I have tried to indicatewhere I missed things, and what I missed. Theinitial material is from the flier that waspassed out to everyone before the lectures.Moshe Idel is in no way responsible for myreports of his lectures. I have done my best tobe as accurate as I could. At the same time, Ishould hope that I'm not infringing on hiscopyright by reporting what he said. --Such arethe mysteries of the copyright law!THE SAMUEL & ALTHEA STROUMLECTURESHIP INJEWISH STUDIESMoshe IdelPARDES:THE QUEST FOR SPIRITUALPARADISE IN JUDAISMApril 16Primordial Wisdom: The Philosophers' QuestApril 18Primordial Light: The Ecstatics' QuestApril 22PARDES: Between Sefirot and DemonologyThe Core of the "Pardes" Tradition: ToseftaHagigah 2:3-4Four entered the Orchard (Pardes): Ben Azzai,Ben Zoma, Akher and Rabbi Aqiva. One peeked anddied; one peeked and was smitten; one peeked andcut down the shoots; one ascended safely anddescended safely.Ben Azzai peeked and died. Concerning himScripture says: "Precious in the eyes of he
 
Lord is the death of His loyal ones" (Ps. 16.15).Ben Zoma peeked and was smitten. Concerning himScripture says: "If you have found honey, eatonly your fill lest you become filled with itand vomit" (Prov. 25:16).Akher peeked and cut down the shoots.Concerning him Scripture says: "Do not let yourmouth bring your flesh to sin, and do not saybefore the angel that it is an error; whyshould God become angry at your voice, and ruinyour handiwork" (Eccl. 5:5).Rabbi Aqiva ascended safely and descendedsafely. Concerning him Scripture says: "Drawme, let us run after you, the King has broughtme into His chambers" (Song I:4).Lecture I: Primordial Wisdom: The Philosophers'QuestTuesday 16 April 1991, 8:00 pm.[This is a precis summary; reporter's commentsare in square brackets; otherwise text should betaken as an attempt to transcribe the gist ofwhat the speaker actually said. The result is arather dry, compressed text; typographicaldevices have been used to break it up and makeit more readable. Some of these may nottranspose well to Net text. I have tried toregularize the spellings of Hebrew terms, butI'm afraid I've probably let a number of themvary all over the map.][The first lecture was something of a Societyevent; there was quite a collection of TheBetter Sort, who actually toughed it out throughmuch of the first lecture, if only for the sakeof the reception afterward. Idel's lecture (inthoroughly accented English) made fewerconcessions than one might imagine to a non-specialist audience. These lectures are usuallyedifying cultural events, but Idel used theopportunity to go over material he was workingup for a book. imposing countenances, who had areception for themselves and the speakerafterward.]First, some general observations in an attempt tolocate the Pardes legend in its context.1: Biblical and Rabbinic Judaism were exoteric innature: Judaism was seen as being open, to boththe elite and the vulgus [the crowd, common
 
people, hoi polloi] on the same basis. The ideawas that the knowledge and practice were to bespread, and could be spread, to all levels of theJewish nation, and that study of the Torah wasopen to all. Religious life was not regarded asdangerous.2. This might seem like belaboring the obvious,but it was not obvious if seen in the context ofcontemporary cults and religions, in either theworld of early Judaism (with the nature religionsof neighboring nations) or in the Hellenisticworld (with its mystery religions). Judaisminsisted on rules binding on all members, and onpublic rites, as exemplified by the need for aquorum to legitimize certain rites. It wascollective, group-oriented, and "nomian," [cf."antinomian"] that is, oriented toward practicinga nomos, i.e., the Torah. The attitude toward theCommandments was summed up in the saying, "Youshall live by them."3. Thus, in a sense, that Judaism was relativelyegalitarian [the speaker actually said"equalitarian"]. The Law was (in principle)available to and incumbent upon everyone, and theLaw, the nomos, was the standard. Religiouspractice was collective, public, non-sectarian,and not dangerous.This then is how one can describe the firstphases of Judaism, the Biblical and what might becalled the Classical (i.e. Rabbinic-Midrashic)phases.But there were also other types of Judaism,cultivated in smaller circles, as exemplified bythe Hekhaloth literature. These involvedcontemplation of the Divine vehicles, or theDivine stature, and involved non-Halakhictechniques for transcending common experiences infavor of achieving a strong but dangerous result:the experience or vision of the Merkavah, or ofthe Divine body or glory. One finds these effortsexpressed in some very ancient texts, which alsolink them with dangers and the paying of a highprice. These efforts lead to awful [or aweful]encounters with angels; their result is theexperience of a tremendum. It seems to have beenless than delightful, and it was reserved for thevery few.It is presented in terms that constituteboth the statement of an ideal and a warningagainst embarking on a quest for it.One of the key exemplary texts is the account ofthe four sages, the four upright persons, whoentered the Pardes, the Orchard or Garden, all but

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