Jewish Studies At The University
Root of Faith Is the Root of Heresy,’
‘Circles and Straightness,’
and Other Kabbalistic Concepts
unique perception of faith and heresy in Kabbala, Jewish mysticism, was
formulated by R. Azriel of Gerona in the first half of the 13th
century, using the famous statement in Rabbi Yehuda Halevy’s Kuzari:
”The root of faith is the root of heresy.”
From there it evolved via the literature of the Zohar (perhaps the
seminal work of mysticism) to R. Nachman of Bratslav in the early
19th century, and from him to Rav Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook in the
early 20th century.
Despite the big differences among these three thinkers both from the
different historical circumstances in which each lived, worked, and formulated
his world outlook, and from the completely different nature of each, their
approach to the issue of faith and heresy is fundamentally similar. This basic
similarity does not seem likely, except against the background of their common
Kabbalistic perception, which views faith first and foremost as a divine
The evolution of the concepts of “circles” and “straightness” as
the two principal aspects of the emanation of the heavenly sefirot is
also being traced. This concept was
formulated by the Ari (Rabbi Yitzhak Luria) in the 16th century and
evolved through the doctrines of the Ramhal (Rabbi Moshe Hayim Luzzato) in the
18th century and the Gaon (R. Elijah) of Vilna and his disciples (end
of 18th, beginning of 19th century) to Rav Kook (end of 19th,
early 20th century). This
research shows how the concepts of “circles” and “straightness” in the
Kabbala of the Ari were comprehended in their simple geometric meaning, but in
the course of their evolution took on a more and more abstract meaning to the
point that, with Rav Kook, they are understood as signifiers of religious-moral
Such a process of abstraction and demystification also characterizes the evolution of another pair of concepts, “smallness” and “largeness.” In the Ari’s Kabbala, this pair signifies two basic states in the development of the lower divine configurations in parallel with the two periods in the process of the physical and spiritual development of a person, from birth to adulthood. In their evolution to the initial writings of Hasidism and the doctrine of R. Nachman of Bratslav, however, the mythic layer was peeled off and they have came to mark two psychological states of every human being in general and of the zaddik— the righteous—in particular.
As a result of the surveys described, another, more detailed tracking
will be made of the evolution of the Kabbalistic concept of evil through a
description of the history of the formula, “depth of goodness and the depth of
evil” from the Book of Creation to the doctrine of Rav Kook.
Similarly the evolution of the concept of Ein Sof (infinity) as
“surrounding all the worlds and filling all the worlds” will be traced from
the literature of the Zohar to the thought of R. Hayim of Volozhin
(beginning of 19th century), on the one hand, and to that of Habad
Hasidism (end of 18th century) and R. Nachman of Bratslav (end of 18th,
beginning of 19th century), on the other.
The tracking and tracing of the history of these Kabbalistic concepts
will be assembled into a volume, to be called Circles and Straightness—The
History of Kabbalistic Ideas.
Prof. Mordechai Pachter, who has been tracing the evolution of basic Kabbalistic concepts and terms from the beginnings of Kabbala to the writings of Rav Kook, heads the Center for the Study of Jewish Culture.