Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Shadal on his father and kabbalah

In Shadal's autobiography the following interesting paragraph appears (translation into English courtesy of R. Sabato Morais from The Jewish Record, Philadelphia, Aug. 3, -Oct. 26, 1877):
Before my father had given up his Cabbalistic notions, he invented a very singular method for explaining the text of the Pentateuch, which we occasionally read together for our mutual edification. The first twenty-five chapters of Genesis contain, on each sentence, a number of remarks of a mystic nature, accompanied with a corresponding number of elucidations. I present here some illustrations of the queer system chosen. My parent would reckon how many times the letter "Aleph" was found in the same verse; how many times "beth," then the "Gimel," and so on. Having done that, he would arrange such letters this way. The one which occurred oftener than the rest, was placed first in rank, that which happened with less frequency next, ending with that which was met only once. Setting them all in array, according to alphabetical order, my father would then proceed in coining novel words. But as the fantastic plan did not produce words to which any sense might be attached, he tried by having recourse to the rules of permutation, to make what was devoid of meaning, convey new ideas. I myself filled many a sheet of paper with these monstrosities, not because I believed in mysterious interpretations, but because I wished to spare my parent the hard labor of finding out what he eagerly sought after. At length the author of that odd system of exegesis, recognized its groundlessness and drew two perpendicular lines across his magical notes.*

*(Trans. footnote) In a Hebrew manuscript, which _____ had forwarded, our autobiography illustrates the results of his father's method by quoting words forced to signify what bears no analogy whatever with the original. For instance, by exchanging one letter for another, the sentence "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." was made to foretell that "instead of a righteous son, (Isaac) a ram would (in future) be offered."

The footnote goes on to explain that by "permutation" is meant the system of at-bash (only calling it "temurah"), and discusses the famous "sheshech"and "Lev Kami" in Jer. 51.

You can download his ויכוח על חכמת הקבלה.

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