1130 AD to 1150 AD, Psalm 104: The Bahir.

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sefirot shutterstock_annote 437276272(1)This generation is that of the 1130s and 1140s.

As we will see, the psalm of this generation is quite particular.
Indeed, this generation is marked by esotericism. To illustrate this esotericism, we will realize that the various comments historically made to the present generation and that we will evoke aim at …. to comment on this psalm!

By commenting verse by verse, they build it!
The psalmist, wishing to illustrate the esotericism of this generation gives in esotericism itself, because the psalm is built as it is studied, a singular recursion!

In order not to weigh down our comments, the verses of this psalm, which are repeated in the quotations that follow, will not be transcribed again.

The excerpts and quotations of Psalm 104, the psalm of this generation, are materialized in blue later.
This generation, with the exception of the last years marked by the Second Crusade and the beginning of the Almohad conquest in Spain, still marks a relative pause for the Jews.
In Christian Spain, Jews have an apparently satisfactory status. Although the reconquest is on the march and is heralding future catastrophes for Hispanic Judaism, in the period we are interested in, the Jews are rather well treated by the Spanish Christian princes.
To switch from the rational world, the real world, in which the Jew has more and more difficult to understand where is his place, to an irrational mode in which everything is possible, the Jews of this generation rely on an esoteric writing from which they gradually redefine the divine:
  • Towards [1] the middle of the twelfth century appeared, within the Judaism of southern France (at the time, Provence and Languedoc), a mystical ideology, formulated in an anonymous writing rather brief but chaotic and obscure, that we usually referred to as Sefer ha-Bahir (The Book of Clarity). The pieces collected in this compilation seem to be, largely, of Eastern origin. They represent a kind of Gnosticism, with a certain impregnation of theurgic conception, all adapted to the Jewish monotheism and decked out with the literary coating of the Midrash. That is to say the exegesis and homiletics practiced by the doctors of the synagogue.
This work does not question the theological bases of Judaism:
  • All [2] insisting on the absolute unity of God, the Sefer Ha-Bahir can describe, with the aid of a symbolism that has not yet revealed all its secrets, the tensions and conflicts within the a deity manifested by his attributes; the latter take on individual characteristics, delicate innovation, and, among other things, more scandalous novelty, distinctive features of masculinity and femininity.
The Sefer Ha-Bahir relying on the first verses of Genesis, is no longer content with the narrative content of creation but tries to understand through it what is the true nature of the world. For this, he takes up the symbolism of the letters used in the text of the Torah, starting with the first book of the pentateuch:

Hebrew letters Alphabet

  • Why [3] is Beth (ב) curly on all sides and open in front of her?
  • To teach you that she is the House of the World. It means that the Holy One, blessed be He, is the place of the world but the world is not his place. So you should not read (Beth) but « Bait » house, as it is written (Proverbs, Chapter 24, verse 3): « A house is built with wisdom, and it is established with understanding. « 
  • And what is Beth comparable to?
  • One could compare it to the man, formed by the Hokhmah (wisdom), because it is closed on all sides and opened in front, while Aleph is open in the back (א). It is to teach you that it is through the coda that Beth is opened backwards. If this were not the case, man could not subsist; and in the same way, if there was not a Beth in Aleph’s coda, the world could not subsist.
The Sefer Ha-Bahir which becomes a reference book in the generation that interests us is based precisely on the first verses of the psalm of this generation by opposing them at first to one of the verses of Psalm 102, that relating to the generation of the first Crusade following the theory developed on this website.
He thus opposes the imperfection of the real world (« the earth »), characterized by Psalm 102, and therefore the generation that saw the destruction of the first crusaders, to the irrational world (« the sky »), esoteric associated with Psalm 104 characterizing a new orientation of the Jews from the generation that interests us:
  • Rabbi  [4] Yanai says: The earth was created before the heavens, as it is said (Genesis, Chapter 2, verse 4): « the Lord God made earth and heaven.« .
  • He was asked: But is it not written (Genesis, Chapter 1, verse 1): « the heavens and the earth » He answered them: It is like a king who had bought a beautiful jewel but far from perfect. So the king refrained from giving him a name. He said to himself: I am going to complete it, set it up, and put it up. And only after that will I give him a name. This is what is expressed in the verse (Psalm 102, verse 26): « In the beginning You founded the earth« . And it is only after (that it is said): « and the heavens are the work of Your hands« .  
  • And it is written: (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, verse 2 and first part of verse 3 )  [You] enwrap Yourself with light like a garment; [You] extend the heavens like a curtain /  Who roofs His upper chambers with water, etc /. It’s written about fire on the other hand (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, verse 4 ) « He makes winds His messengers, burning fire His ministers », after that (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, verse 5 )  He founded the earth on its foundations that it not falter to eternity. It is only after having « founded the earth on its foundations » that he fortified it as it is said « it not falter to eternity« . (the end of the verse 5 is in hebrew: « ע֘וֹלָ֥ם וָעֶֽד« , we can read it « Olam Vaèd »). And what is his name? His name is « Vaèd » and his base is called « Olam », that’s what « Olam Vaèd » means.
We will rely on this excerpt from the Bahir to interpret the beginning of the psalm of this generation which thus explains the birth of Jewish mysticism to the generation that interests us:
  • When [5] we approach the various currents of Jewish mysticism of the Middle Ages, whose starting point is around the middle of the twelfth century – the Kabbalah, to use a usual term, annoyingly overused – we find ourselves facing a problematic. Problematic if not entirely new, at least very different from those reflected in the rabbinical documents, then the philosophical texts of previous centuries. It is a knowledge that is suprarational and whose essential purpose is the fulfillment – timeless – of the divine life. His passage from the impenetrable occultation of the unmanifested to the modes of being more and more manifest and indissolubly linked to the extradivine world by no means illusory, but very concrete, which is its symbolic counterpart.
  • This means, from the point of view of the question which concerns us here, that the narrative of the creation, true, insist on it, in the literal sense, reflects in all its details the process that unfolds of the non-manifestation of the divine at its manifestation. In every detail; as regards texts, above all of Genesis 1-2 and Psalm 104 (that of this generation), symbolic correlation interests all elements and components, arrangement of description and narration, sentences, words, letters and even the traits of which these are made. One of the hermeneutical results being that the writing of the Torah, traced first by the fingers of God, is the square Hebrew alphabet and no other; none of this is new, but everything now takes on a new meaning for the initiate.
  • By virtue of these presuppositions, the first verse of Genesis is supposed to contain the general schema of the divine world. Beginning with the hidden Deity towards which, without even symbolizing it graphically, the hook which ends on the left and above the initial letter of the story of creation. And continuing by the ten aspects, called « sefirots », modes of progressive manifestation of the deity.
  • One of the writers of this generation who will be illustrated in this new mystical orientation is Judah Halevi. After having wondered about the place of the Jews during the exile between the hammer and the anvil that are Islam and Christianity, Judah Halevi in the last part of his book « The Kujari » is in turn mysticism. Echoing the book of the Bahir, Judah Halevi comments on the first verses of Genesis, building on the Psalm 104 (psalm of this generation). Here we take up these comments which directly illustrate the parallelism of this psalm and the generation interested in:
    • (The Rabbi who is supposed to defend the attractions of Judaism in Kujari, King Khazar, in order to bring about his conversion is expressed here) We must take into account all the allusions made by David, when he wrote:
    • (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, first part of verse 24 ) « How great are Your works, O Lord! »  to refute the argument of Epicurus the Greek who maintained that the world is a coincidence.
      The Kujari replies: Although this brings us a little out of our subject, could you briefly explain to me the meaning of this psalm?
    • The Rabbi continues: It corresponds to the story of creation in Genesis. It begins with the words:
      • (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, first part of verse 2 ) [You] enwrap Yourself with light like a garment; which refers to « Let there be light, » and there was light »  (Bereishit – Genesis – Chapter 1, verset 3).
      • (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, end of verse 2 ) « [You] extend the heavens like a curtain » correspond to « Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water » ( Bereishit – Genesis – Chapter 1, verse 6) » and (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, first part of verse 3 ) « Who roofs His upper chambers with water » is an allusion to the « and the water that was above the expanse » (Bereishit – Genesis – Chapter 1, verse 7) ». The psalmist then enumerates what has been created in the air: clouds, winds, fires, flashes, thunders, all of which are formed with the permission of God, as it is said : « Because by them He judges peoples »He expressed this idea in these terms: (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, second part of verse 3 and verse 4 )  » Who makes clouds His chariot, which goes on the wings of the wind. / He makes winds His messengers, burning fire His ministers. »  He means He sends them where He wants to do what He wants. All this part of the psalm is related to the text of Genesis on the firmament. The psalmist then arrives at the verse: « Que les eaux s’amassent et qu’apparaisse la terre ferme (Genèse, Chapitre 1, verset 9) » et il déclare : (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, first part of verse 5 ) « He founded the earth on its foundations« 
      • that is to say, the heart to men, and to other animals the bark, as He then says: (Bereishit – Genesis – Chapter 1, verses 30 ) « And to all the beasts of the earth and to all the fowl of the heavens, … , every green herb to eat, » and it was so. » By its nature, the water should have enveloped the earth, covering it all, plains and mountains, like a garment: (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, verse 6 ) « You covered the deep as [with] a garment; the waters stand on the mountains. » But the Divine Power and Wisdom has changed the nature of water and contained it in the depths, where the seas are, so that dry land is a place for the growth of the animal and that there manifests Divine Wisdom. (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, first part of verse 7 ) « From Your rebuke they fled; » . These words indicate that they have been contained in the seas and under the earth. The psalmist alludes to it by saying: (extract of the psalm 136, first part of verse 6 )  » To Him Who spread out the earth over the water« . Taken in the literal sense, this verse contradicts this other (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, first part of verse 6, already quoted) « You covered the deep as [with] a garment;« But the latter is understood in regard to the nature of the water while the other is understood with regard to the Power and Wisdom. This is how it says: (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, verse 9 ) « You set a boundary that they should not cross, that they should not return to cover the earth. »  All this was wanted for the good of the animals. The man also, by his ingenuity and his art, pushes most of the waters of the rivers in dikes and other works of art to take the quantities of water which he needs for his mill, for the irrigation, etc. In our psalm he refers to it when he says: (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, verse 10 and first part of verse 11 ) « He sends the springs into the streams; they go between the mountains. They water every beast of the field;« , when the animals will have been created; (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, verse 10 and first part of verse 12 ) « Beside them the fowl of the heavens dwell;  » when the bird was created. The psalmist then has in view the verse: « Let the earth sprout vegetation » (Bereishit – Genesis – Chapter 1, verse 11) », when he said: (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, first part of verse 13 ) « He waters the mountains from His upper chambers » hearing by these words « And a mist ascended from the earth » (Bereishit – Genesis – Chapter 2, verse 6) » for the sake of man and his offspring, he says: (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, first part of verse 14 ) « He causes grass to sprout for the animals » so that we do not despise the grass since it is one of the things useful for domestic animals: oxen, sheep and pack animals, which it designates as: (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, other part of verse 14 ) « vegetation for the work of man » that is to say used in agriculture, so that man can use them to extract for himself the heart of the plant, as it is said (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, end of verse 14 ) « to bring forth bread from the earth. » These verses are a part of Genesis (Bereishit – Genesis – Chapter 1, verses 29 ) : « I have given you every seed bearing herb ». After that, our psalm quotes the three foods that agriculture extracts from the soil: wheat, wine, oil called by the generic name of « lehem ». He then points out their usefulness: (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, other part of verse 15 ) « And wine, which cheers man’s heart, to make the face shine from oil, and -lehem- (taken in its particular sense of bread), which sustains man’s heart. » The author then turns to the benefits that fall trees bring to the trees: (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, first part of verse 16 ) « The Lord’s trees »  he said, (continuing) « are sated« , he sings the usefulness of tall trees for animals: (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, first part of verse 17 ) « Where birds nest« , that of high mountains for other animals: (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, verse 18 ) « The lofty mountains for the ibexes; the rocks a shelter for the hyraxes. » In Genesis (Bereishit – Genesis – Chapter 1, verse 9), all this was involved in the mention of the « the dry land« . He now comes to the verse (Bereishit – Genesis – Chapter 1, verse 14) : « Let there be luminaries » when he says: (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, first part of verse 19 ) « He made the moon for the appointed seasons« . He indicates the benefits of the night which is expressly desired by God and not by chance. There is nothing idle in the divine work, no more than in the accidents which are its consequences. Of course, the night is simply the time of the absence of the sun but it is expressly wanted for its usefulness it, is said: (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, first part of verse 20 ) « You make darkness and it is night, etc. « .  Then he goes on to show that the animals that are harmful to humans move during the night and hide during the day. For the man and the animals which are familiar to him, it is the opposite: (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, first part of verse 22 and verse 23 ) « When the sun rises … Man goes out to his work, to his labor until evening. » In speaking of the rivers, the author has been led to cite all terrestrial animals; then, about the luminaries, to mention the man. It only remained for him to report aquatic animals. But most of their conditions of existence are ignored, and divine wisdom is not manifested in them as it is manifested in the first. Having mentioned these in which the Wisdom transpires, he proclaims the praise of God: (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, first part of verse 24 ) « How great are Your works, O Lord! « . The psalm now looks at the sea and what it contains, then continues with this exclamation: (extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, verse 31 ) « The glory of the Lord will be forever; the Lord will rejoice with His works. » This verse expresses the same idea as that of Genesis (Bereishit – Genesis – Chapter 1, verse 31 ) « And God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good », what relates to the seventh day: (Bereishit – Genesis – Chapter 1, Chapter 2, verses 2 and 3 ) « He abstained on the seventh day from all His work that He did / And God blessed the seventh day and He hallowed it », because on this day were finished the natural works because they are intellects whose acts need no duration, to be realized, like the human intellect which we see that it conceives in one, instant the heavens and the earth. It’s the world of angels and the world of rest. When the human soul joins Him, it finds rest there. That is why we have qualified the Shabbat as a foretaste of the future world.
Judah Halevi finished writing the Kuzari in 1140 and immediately undertook the return to Sion that he had previously advocated. He died en route in 1141. His work will largely mark the Jewish thought of generations to follow.
Almohad_Expansion
At the end of this generation, the weakened Almoravids give way to an even more fanatical Muslim conqueror, the Almohads. They break with the policy of tolerance towards Jews that took place so far in Muslim Spain (and in the Maghreb).
Deuxième_croisade
At the same time, as the tension of the first crusade fades, and the Jewish Community in Europe takes a new breath, a new shake less strong than the previous one shows that the future of Jews in the West remains fragile :
  • The situation [6] of the Jews became, in appearance at least, what it was before. Protected by the emperors, they resume their customary occupations, the commerce of which is still the principal one; for several decades, there has been little talk of persecutions against them, either in Germany, France, or England, where in the meantime they have been a compact and prosperous community. […]
  • It was so until the progressive weakening of the Frankish states of the Levant, the fall of Edessa, pushed Pope Eugene III and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux to preach a new crusade (1146). We know that this second expedition, better prepared and more disciplined than the first, led by the King of France and the Emperor of Germany in person, did not lead on the other hand to a great popular movement comparable to 1096. However the Preaching was also accompanied by excesses against the Jews, perpetrated in various places on a vast scale. And what fifty years earlier had only been a popular and spontaneous thrust is this time doctrinally exploited by fiery preaching monks. Thus the Abbé Pierre de Cluny in France: « What good is it to go to the end of the world, with great loss of men and money, to fight the Saracens, when we allow to remain among us other infidels who are a thousand times more guilty to Christ than the Mohammedans?  » Thus the monk Rudolph in Germany: « … Avenge first the crucified on his enemies, who live among us, and then go fight the Turks! « . In the immediate future, the propaganda of Pierre de Cluny and Rodolphe was less fraught with consequences than the popular excesses of 1096. The times were already more civilized, so that princes and bishops were more successful in removing the Jews from fury. crowds. While Bernard of Clairvaux in person recalled the popular agitators to reason, showing them the theological danger of the enterprise (they did not risk, by causing the extermination of the Jews, to annihilate the great hope of the Church in their conversion?). The chronicle reports incidents and massacres only in Cologne, Speyer, Mainz and Würzburg in Germany, in Carentan (presumably Carinthia [7]), Ramerupt and Sully in France; the number of victims this time was only a few hundred at most (!!). But the chronicle also tells us something else. It was precisely at this time that the accusation of « ritual murder » arose for the first time, in two different places, in an ill-defined form in Germany, in a sharper form in England, followed by the accusation of profanation of hosts (these two imputations constituting in fact only one, since the murder of a Christian child and the attempt against Christ substantialized are dominated by the same sacrilegious idea). From this point of view too, 1146 is a capital date.
So if the first part of the psalm of this generation corresponds to an aspiration towards the irrational world and corresponds to the new developments of mysticism among the Jewish people, the conclusion is more down to earth and reminds that the material earth is not paradise . It is necessary to coexist with its enemies, for this generation marked by the arrival of the Almohads and the second Crusade, until the day when God will come to deliver the Jewish people.
The end of the psalm thus recalls the divine power and the conviction of the Jewish people in a divine justice that will eventually triumph:

(extract of the psalm 104 associated to this generation, verses 24 to 35 )

  • How great are Your works, O Lord! You have made them all with wisdom; the earth is full of Your possessions!
  • This sea-great and wide; there are creeping things and innumerable beasts, both small and large.
  • There the ships go; You formed this leviathan with which to sport.
  • They all look to You with hope, to give their food in its time.
  • You give them that they may gather; You open Your hand that they may be sated with goodness.
  • You hide Your countenance and they are frightened; You gather in their spirit and they perish and return to their dust.
  • You will send forth Your spirit and they will be created, and You will renew the surface of the ground.
  • The glory of the Lord will be forever; the Lord will rejoice with His works.
  • He Who looks at the earth and it quakes; He touches the mountains and they emit smoke.
  • I shall sing to the Lord while I am alive; I shall sing praises to my God as long as I exist.
  • May my speech be pleasing to Him; I shall rejoice with the Lord.
  • Sinners will be destroyed from the earth and the wicked will be no more; my soul, bless the Lord. Hallelujah.

 

 

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[1] Georges Vajda: « Sages and Sephardic thinkers from Baghdad to Cordoba ». Chapter XI: « Neoplatonism in the Jewish thought of the Middle Ages. » (French: « Sages et penseurs sépharades de Bagdad à Cordoue ». Chapitre XI : « Le néoplatonisme dans la pensée juive du moyen-âge ». (p. 154) (Le même extrait est cité également au chapitre XII, p. 162) )

[2] Georges Vajda: « Sages and Sephardic thinkers from Baghdad to Cordoba ». Chapter XV: « The religious thought of Moses Maimonides: Unity or duality ». (French: « Sages et penseurs sépharades de Bagdad à Cordoue ». Chapitre XV : « La pensée religieuse de Moïse Maïmonide : Unité ou dualité ». (p. 220) )

[3] « The Bahir, Book of Clarity » (French translation by Joseph Gottfarstein). ( French: « Le Bahir, Livre de la Clarté », Paragraphe 24 (p.30) ).

[4] « The Bahir, Book of Clarity » (French translation by Joseph Gottfarstein). ( French: « Le Bahir, Livre de la Clarté » paragraphes 14 et 15 (p. 25-26) ).

[5] Georges Vajda: « Sages and Sephardic thinkers from Baghdad to Cordoba ». Chapter IX: « Summary Record of the Interpretation of Genesis 1,1-3 in Post-Biblical Judaism ». (French: « Sages et penseurs sépharades de Bagdad à Cordoue ». Chapitre IX : « Notice sommaire sur l’interprétation de Genèse 1,1-3 dans le judaïsme post-biblique ». (p. 124-125) ).

[6] Leon Poliakov: « History of anti-Semitism, I – The age of faith ». Chapter: « Christian Europe ». (French: « Histoire de l’antisémitisme, I – L’âge de la foi ». Chapitre : « L’Europe chrétienne ». (p. 247-248) ).

[7] Simon Schwarzfuchs: « Jews in the time of the Crusades ». Simon Schwarzfuchs makes the following correction: Some authors, however, thought they could identify other attacks on the Jews of France at Ham, Sully and Carentan, while nothing is known of a Jewish presence in these localities. But it is a mistake to read a text in bad condition and these massacres took place in fact in Bohemia, Halle and Carinthia: in Bohemia there are one hundred and fifty victims, some kills in Halle and a larger number in Carinthia .
(French: « Les Juifs au temps des croisades » )