The Divine Name YHVH in the Zohar Explanations of the Letters
The Divine Name YHVH in the Zohar Explanations of the Letters
Upon examining the Zohar one soon comes to several places throughout the various volumes that select individual letters and names which are developed, discussed, analyzed, and taken apart in the process of mythological descriptions of their meanings. It is one of the most fascinating things about reading the Zohar, as well as the Hebrew alphabet and language. In this paper, I will explore a few of these themes to show the flavor of the Zoharic exegesis of the rabbis. One of their most favorite and important is the divine name YHVH.
In Kabbalah is a sacred diagram the rabbis and kabbalists called “The Tree of Life.” It has ten circles and twenty two paths connecting all the circles together in a geometric design.
If one does not know what it looks like, a Google search, I am sure, could get you to a picture of it. It is necessary to at least have that in mind when we read how the rabbis discuss different letters because they many times equate a specific letter with a specific circle, called a “Sefira.” Sefiroth is the plural of Sefira, and the collection of sefiroth with the connecting paths is what they label “The Tree of Life,” perhaps one of the most famous diagrams in the Kabbalah..
Daniel Matt says “According to Kabbalah, the name YHVH symbolizes the entire sefirotic spectrum.” That is, all ten sefira and the paths connecting them. He continues, :The י (Yod) symbolizes the primordial point of [the sefira] Hokhmah, while its [the yod’s] upper tip symbolizes Keter [the crown, the topmost sefira on the Tree of Life]. The first ה (he) often a feminine marker, symbolizes the Divine Mother, Binah. The ו (vav) whose numerical value is six, symbolizes Tif’eret and the five sefirot surrounding Him (Hesed through Yesod). The second ה (he) symbolizes Shekhinah.”
Why is YHVH meant to depict the sefirot, even the entire Tree of Life? What is this supposed to mean to us? The Jewish esoteric tradition says that “the world was called into being by ten utterances. Since the Middle Ages, these ten stages have been known as the Sefirot.” “Why are they called Sephirot? Because it is written (Psalm 19:2) ‘The heavens declare (me-SaPRim) the glory of God.’ This is typical, yet serious, of the Jewish love of playing with words which convey hidden meanings. The very first sentence of the Jewish mystical text Sefer Yetzirah notes 32 paths which are manifest with 10 digits and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, with the ten digits being the sefirot as well, “which are the most basic concepts of existence.”
Gershom Scholem described their function as “God reveals himself do[ing] so through the creative power of the sefiroth. The God of whom religion speaks is always conceived under one or more of these aspects of His Being, which the Kabbalists identified with stages in the process of divine emanation. This Kabbalistic world of the sefiroth encompasses what philosophers and theologians called the world of divine attributes.” These are the channels God rules through and interacts with the universe, “from them come all of existence,” and the energy flows down through from the infinite to the finite levels and is geared down as it were until it reaches this earth. “All ten sefirot function as a unit to channel the divine energy.”
“The mystic who sets out to grasp the meaning of God’s absolute unity is thus faced at the outset with an infinite complexity of heavenly spheres and stages which are described in the Kabbalistic texts. From the contemplation of these ‘Sefiroth’ he proceeds to the conception of God as the union and the root of all these contradictions. Generally speaking, the mystics do not seem to conceive of God as the absolute Being or absolute Becoming but as the union of both; much as the hidden God of whom nothing is known to us, and the living God of religious experience and revelation, are one and the same.”
A scripture kabbalists use to demonstrate why the symbolism of the name YHVH fits the entire sefiroth is Isaiah 43:7 - “Even every one that is called by my name; for I have created him for glory, I have formed him: yea I have made him.” These four levels of calling, creating, forming, and making recur throughout the scriptures and throughout Kabbalah. They exist within the Primordial Tree of Life, in Atzilut and correspond symbolically to the root, trunk, branch, and fruit, or to the four letters of the Tetragrammaton, or most especial name of God, YHVH.” This ten-fold nature according to Gershom Scholem and Leonora Leet, was influenced by Pythagoreanism, essentially being a “secret Rhythm of its movement and pulse beat is the law of motion of all creation.” Leet demonstrates at length the influence and parallels to the Pythagorean tetractys, and the ten sefiroth, including the same underlying philosophies of each and how they interlace with Plato’s creation account the Timaeus, all based upon the sound, number, geometry and the diatonic music scale.
The Tetsavveh says “First mystery י (Yod) primordial point standing upon nine pedestals supporting it. These are stationed in four directions of the world, just as End of Thought final point, is stationed in four directions of the world…” “In Lurianic Kabbalah they [the Four Worlds] synergistically work with the ten sefirot, which become the five major archetypes, who are the manifestations of different Divine Names and Letters as they manifest or de-manifest in pre-cosmic history.” The divine letter Yod has three tips or heads, all of which are chained and connect it with the higher worlds and lower worlds as it was taught in the Book of Enoch - “When he was shown supernal mysteries and saw the Tree in the Garden of Eden, he was shown wisdom by sublime mystery , and he saw that all the worlds are connected… all are established on Yod, from which they are composed and linked together.” The very word itself יוד (Yod) signifies “three letters, fullness of all. Beginning of all, Yod highest of all. Vav - middle one, perfection of all aspects, conveying all spirits; upon it depends faith. Dalet - Garden, bundle of life.”
In Be-Midbar the four letters of the Divine name are labeled according to the 4 direction, Yod the east, the beginning of light, He the south, Vav in the center between north and south, and He suspended between north and south, final He is west.
It is not just the divine name which represent important concepts, rather, “All the alphabets combine, permuting one another, joining in permutation of the Holy Name. As soon as letters appear in this permutation, they are hidden away and others emerge; and so with all of them; these hidden and those emerging…”
“The Blessed Holy One created man with י (yod), ה (he), ו (vav), ה (he) within - His holy name, soul of soul - this is called Adam. Radiances shine through nine luminaries, suspended from י (yod). One light without division. Thus, body of man is called garment of Adam. ה (he) called soul. Coupling with י (yod). it spreads out to numerous radiances, and it is one. י (yod) ה (he), with no separation. Of this it is written God created the image in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them… and He called their name אדם (Adam) (Genesis 1:27, 5:2). ו (vav) - called spirit, and also called Son of יה (yod, he). ה (he) - called נפשא (nafsha), soul, and also called Daughter. Father and Mother, Son and Daughter - great mystery of יוד (yod vav dalet), הא (he alef), ואו (vav alef vav), הא (he alef), - called Adam. His radiance, scattering to forty-five radiances - numerical value of אדם (Adam), forty five. The name יוד (yod), הא (he) ואו (vav), הא (he) - male and female He created them… and He called their name אדם (Adam). 
In the Matnitin, we read “Celestial ones fly off from the right. Nine points of Torah flow, apportioned among the letters. Letters undulate through them on subtle journeys, allocated to mysteries. These nine rule over letters - letters ramifying from them. Points remain to elevate them, mobilizing only when these emerge, in the mystery of Ein Sof - all letters undulating in the mystery of Ein Sof. Just as these convey those, so are these concealed ones conveyed. Letters revealed and not revealed. These hidden ones - upon what do they rest? Letters.”
The rabbis are positively obsessed with elaborating on the incredible connection of letters, language, words, with sound, color, and amazingly enough, geometry, as well as with man, the ultimate geometric concept of God. “Come and see: Utterly Supreme, Concealed One - י (yod), celestial point emerges from Him. From this supernal point everything issues, channeling and gushing forth ה (he), Supernal Mother, irrigating all. From here flows ו (vav) mystery of six, uniting all sides - rods of fresh poplar, almond, and plane (Genesis 30:37). Two arms joined to it extend and unite with lower ה (he), connecting to tabernacle as one, becoming one. Then the thirteen attributes are one. Whiteness revealed, ascending above all colors, as is written: exposed whiteness (ibid). Then it is called: YHVH is one and His name is one (Zechariah 14:9).”
“The letters represent the raw material with which we express the products of our intelligence… the letters of the Alpha-Beis are the array of individual spiritual forces through which God articulates His will in Creation.”
1. Daniel Matt, The Zohar, Pritzker edition, (12 vols), Stanford University Press, 2012, “Va-Yiqra,” Vol. 7: 9, note 27.
2. Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi, Kabbalah, Tradition of Hidden Knowledge, Thames & Hudson, reprint, 1998: 5.
3. The Bahir, translated and commentary by Aryeh Kaplan, Samuel Weiser, 1st paperback, 1989: 47.
4. Sefer Yetzirah, translated and commentary by Aryeh Kaplan, Samuel Weiser, 1997: 5. See David Sheinkin, Path of the Kabbalah, Paragon House, 1986: 194 - “Sefirot, the ten energy essences that are said to be in constant interplay and underlie all of the universe.” S. L. MacGregor Mathers, The Kabbalah Unveiled, Samuel Weiser, 5th printing, 1997: 21, says they are “the most abstract forms of the ten numbers of the decimal scale… in Qabalah we reason of the Deity by the abstract forms of the numbers.” A. E. Waite contends otherwise, The Holy Kabbalah, University Press, 1992: 194 - “We must not be so crude as to suppose that mere arithmetical numerals are here intended: it was powers, forces, vitalities, virtues, attributes, principles, which were thus produced or unfolded, and these are the ten sephiroth.”
5. Gershom Scholem, On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism, Schocken Books, 1969: 35.
6. Howard Schwartz, Tree of Souls, The Mythology of Judaism, Oxford University Press, 2004: 7. Neil Asher Silberman, Heavenly Powers, Unraveling the Secret History of the Kabbalah, Castle Books, 1998: 155, notes Cordovero “systematically described the chain of divine emanation as almost an industrial production process…”
7. Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, Schocken Books, 1974: 13.
8. Halevi, Ibid., p. 8.
9. Gershom Scholem, The Mystical Shape of the Godhead, Schocken Books, 1992: 39. The divine energy taking a different shape at each level reached, which, theologically appears as different attributes. “In its totality the individual elements of the life process of God are unfolded yet constitute a unity (the unity of God revealing Himself); together they are the shape of the Godhead. See also Leonora Leet, The Secret Doctrine of the Kabbalah, Inner Traditions, 1999: 74-87; Also The Universal Kabbalah, Deciphering the Cosmic Code in the Sacred Geometry of the Sabbath Star Diagram, Inner Traditions, 2004: 4-6. Johann Reuchlin, On the Art of the Kabbalah, University of Nebraska Press, first Bison Book print, 1993: 43.
10. “Tetsavveh” in Zohar, Matt translation, Pritzker edition, 6:4.
11. Eliahu Klein, Kabbalah of Creation, The Mysticism of Isaac Luria, Founder of Modern Kabbalah, North Atlantic Books, 2005: xliii. According to Charles Ponce, Kabbalah, 4th Quest Books printing, 1986: 103, the sefirot are different colored vessels which change with influences from above and below and yet they represent what is eternal and unchanging.
12. “Va-Yiqra,” Matt translation, Zohar, 2012, 7:54.
13. “Emor,” Matt translation, Zohar, 2014, 8: 83.
14. “Be-Midbar,” Matt translation, Zohar, 2014, 8: 263.
15. Rav-Metivta,” Matt translation, Zohar, 2016, 9: 141.
16. “Rut,” Joel Hecker translation, Zohar, Pritzker edition, 2016, 12: 95-96. In “Shir ha-Shirim,” Another explanation: Upright ones - יה (yod, he) - their love toward ו (vav), in complete harmony, and unified desire toward ו (vav). Zohar, 12: 421.
17. “Mantinin,” Joel Hecker translation, Pritzker Zohar, 11: 535.
18. “Tosefta,” Joel Hecker translation, Pritzker ed., Zohar, 11: 613-614.
19, Rabbi Michael L. Munk, The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet, Mesorah Publications, 2nd ed., 13th impression, 2003: 23.