Tuesday, March 27, 2012

God and the Senses (2): Hekhalot Rabbati §§163-164

I wanted to continue my discussion of God and the senses with Hekhalot Rabbati for a couple reasons.  Firstly, I have been sitting on this passage for a while and wanted a forum to discuss it.  Secondly, it contributes to two series of posts at once:  resuming (at least briefly) my "Daily Hekhalot" discussions from last summer and the series of posts on "God and the Senses," for which my primary concern has been and will be after this for the most part with early Christian texts.  Hekhalot Rabbati has many series of hymns set within various narrative frameworks throughout (though usually they are set within a series of other hymns).  If Michael Swartz's conclusions in his analysis of Ma'aseh Merkavah (another Hekhalot work) are at all transferable, then we might consider that the hymnic portions of the work are older than the other portions.  The passage I want to discuss is quite notable for several reasons:  (1) it engages at least 4 out of 5 senses; (2) it is really about communal instruction of worship; thus, (3) it is a hymn sung about communal practice of engaging (and as we shall see, embracing, with even erotic overtones) God. 

I will give the text in Hebrew; my translation; and then discuss the passage.

‎   ברוכים לשמים ולאר‫ץ יורדי‬ מרכבה
‎אם תאמרו ותגידו לבניי מה אני עושה
‎בת‫פילת שחרית ובתפילת המנחה וערבית ‬
‎בכל יום ובכל שעה ושעה שישר‫' אומ' לפני קדוש ‬
‎ולמדו אתם ואמרו להם
‎שאו עיניכם לרקיע כנגד בית תפילתכם בשעה שאתם אומ' לפני קד'
‎כי אין לי הנאה בכל בית עולמי שבראתי
‎באותו שעה שעיניכם נשואות בעיניי ועיניי נשואות בעיניכם
‎בשעה שאתם אומ' לפני קד'
‎כי הקול היוצא מפיכם באותה שעה
‎טורד ועולה לפני כריח ניחוח

‎והעידו לי‫/‬לו‫/‬להם מה עדות אתם רואים אותי
‎מה אני עושה לקל‫סתר פניו של יעקב אביכם שהיא חקוקה לי על כסא כבודי ‬
‎‫כי בשעה שאתם אומרים לפני קדוש ‬
‎‫כורע אמי עליה ומחבקה ומנשקה ומגפפה וידיי על זרועתיו שלשה פעמים‬
‎‫ שאתם אומרים לפניי קדוש  כדבר שנ' ק'ק'ק'‬

Textual Notes:
I generally used O1531 as a guide, but overall this is a conflation of mss.

Blessed are you who descend to the chariot to the heavens and the earth.
If you will say and will proclaim to my children what I do:
During the morning prayer and the afternoon prayer and the evening one,
Every day and every hour when Israel says before me "Holy,"
You teach them and say to them:
"Lift your eyes to the expanse over against your house of prayer;
At the time you say before me "Holy,"
For I have no enjoyment in all the world that I have created
As at that time that your eyes are lifted up to my eyes
And my eyes are lifted up to your eyes
At the time when you say before me "Holy"
For the voice goes out from your mouths at that time
Stirs and ascends before me as a pleasing savor.

They testify to me (to/for me/it/them) what testimony you have seen.
What I do to the brightness of the face of Jacob you father that is engraved for me upon my throne of glory
For at the time you say before me "Holy"
I bow down upon it and embrace it and kiss it and clasp it
And my hands (rest) upon its arms three times
At the time you say "Holy."
As it is said, "Holy Holy Holy"

This hymn from Hekhalot Rabbati is a good example of a communal experience of the divine in which multiple sense are, throughout, engaged.  This experienced is reported back to the human community by the descender to the chariot, who acts somewhat like a messenger, or, better yet, a diplomat between God and Israel.  Here he reports what happens in heaven during the Qedushah, the recitation of the angelic formula from Isaiah 6:3:  "Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of hosts."  In the meantime, knowing what God does, Israel has actions to perform in response.  So, let's see how the sensual engagement plays out.

Firstly, I would say that the primary sense engaged in this is auditory.  It is a hymn, after all, about singing hymns.  One learns through the mediation of the mystic diplomat about the divine-human relationship through singing it and singing about the recitation of the Qedushah itself.  This auditory experience is not merely human either:  it is about divine senses and sensibilities as well:  it is hearing Israel say "Holy" that gives God pleasure. 

Next there are also visual cues throughout.  This is part of the instruction for communal practice:  the human community is instructed to lift their eyes to the expanse (or firmament) above and God will also look upon the people.  It is a moment of eye-contact, an interlocking gaze, between humans and the divine during worship. 

There is also smell, at least for God.  In this the human breath used to say "holy" goes forth and rises to God "as a pleasant savor."  This terminology is the same used in the Bible (particularly the P Source) for sacrifice--when sacrifices are offered, they are a pleasant savor before God.  It designates the divine acceptance of the offering.  Sacrificial language is being transferred here to the vocalization of the word "holy."  The human breath itself becomes the sacrifice. 

The last part is tactile.  This, again, falls mostly on the divine side of things; nonetheless, the embrace of God and Jacob or "Israel" on the throne has elicited a great deal of commentary (well, as much commentary as anything else in Hekhalot scholarship), noting its potential eroticism.  There are two words here that could be translated as embracing (and while the first is in Pi'el, in Hithpa'el it can be used to denote making love).  It is an ultimate "touching":  embracing and kissing.  The loving, erotic embrace between God and the crystalline image of Jacob, representing Israel (note: קל‫סתר‬ is likely from the Greek word κρὐσταλλος or "crystal" indicating here likely brightness or brilliance of Jacob's countenance) .  The lovers (God and Israel) show physical affection (almost like they're making out) during the moment of the Qedushah, embracing one another three times (one for each "holy"). 

The only sense missing is taste, unless it is implied in the kiss (or unnecessary due to the savor).  Nonetheless, this hymn stands out as a highly sensual account of the relationship between God and Israel as lovers who embrace during the recitation of the Qedushah:  firstly flashing flirting eyes to each other as they recite, then smelling, and finally touching and embracing.  The senses engaged, moreover, become ever-more intimate as one moves from sight (at a distance) to smell (in the presence of) to touch (the closest one can get to another without complete absorption).  All through the means of the delight of saying and hearing "Holy."

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