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Ma'arekhet Ha-Elohut

MA'AREKHET HA-ELOHUT (Heb. מַעֲרֶכֶת הָאֱלֹהוּת; "The Order of God"), an anonymous systematic book of early Kabbalah literature. Moses Cordovero attributed it to Todros *Abulafia while Jacob Reifmann believed the author to be *Baḥya b. Asher. In the first edition, published in Ferrara in 1557, the book is attributed to *Perez the tosafist, but no author is named on the title page of the Mantua edition of 1558. The annotator remarks in his preface that "it is written that the author is the Gaon Perez the tosafist, but the truth is not known." There is no doubt whatsoever that the book cannot be ascribed to any of these writers. It was written at the end of the 13th or the beginning of the 14th century by a man who associated with the disciples of Solomon b. Abraham *Adret, in whose name and that of the kabbalist R. Isaac (probably Adret's colleague Isaac b. Todros), the author introduces some kabbalistic interpretations. There is reason to believe that he made use of Keter Shem Tov by Shem Tov (b. Abraham) ibn Gaon, which was written around that time.

Because of its systematic nature, Ma'arekhet ha-Elohut became one of the classical books of Kabbalah. The many commentaries on it, most of which were composed in Italy in the 15th and early 16th centuries, show the great interest it aroused. About ten commentaries were written, two of which were printed: the anonymous commentary which Judah *Ḥayyat called "Paz" (Perush Zulati, "commentary not by me"), and the commentary written by Judah Ḥayyat at the request of the elders of Mantua. The identity of the first commentator has not been established; recently it has become apparent that he was probably Reuben Ẓarefati, author of Perush ha-Yeri'ah ha-Gedolah and Perush ha-Yeri'ah ha-Ketannah. According to Judah Ḥayyat, and, as indicated by the many extant manuscripts, this commentary circulated widely in Italy during the late 15th century. "Paz" was printed in full in Ferrara and in a considerably abridged version in the Mantua edition (1558). The two commentaries are largely independent works and in their thematic discussions they go beyond the framework of a commentary. The systematic analysis of Ma'arekhet ha-Elohut by David Neumark (see bibl.) contributes very little to the understanding of the work, and Neumark's belief that it exerted a great influence on the Zohar is chronologically impossible and conceptually incorrect.

In general, the author's main aim was to remove, or at least weaken, the mythical elements which are basic in the Kabbalah and in certain rabbinic sayings. The author's theosophical tendency is not made apparent in the first two chapters, which are essentially theological and do not constitute a consistent theory. The author's purpose in the first chapter is to indicate that true faith is based on the concept of a personal God, the Creator of the world and its supervisor. God acts in the world and He can alter the laws of nature, as proven by the miracles related in the Bible. The second chapter, however, stresses the absolute unity of God, which is based on the denial of any corporeality, plurality, or change within Him. In God there is neither modification of thought nor of action. There is no change in Him and none in His deeds. The changes revealed by worldly events are caused by the actions of man. Man is a vessel which contains God's action, which is simple and undifferentiated but is received differently by different people, each one according to his merit.

The author's theosophical speculations first appear in the third chapter. The Divinity is here defined as the totality of the ten Sefirot, which constitute God's direction of the world. This aspect of God alone is expressed in the Bible and Talmud while the Divinity Itself, referred to as Ein-Sof ("infinity"), is hinted at only to initiates. Ein-Sof, the infinite, the hidden aspect of the Divine, is expressed neither through the order of nature nor in the laws of the Torah. The act of emanation itself, which is the emergence of the Sefirot from Ein-Sof, does not constitute an innovation or a change in the Divine: it is simply the revelation of what had been hitherto concealed. The author attempts to explain through reasoning and homily that both the legends of the rabbis on the modification in God's thought regarding the ways in which the world should be conducted and the description of the dynamic relations among the diverse Sefirot in Kabbalah literature are simply a projection of human experience upon Divinity. Because it is observable in human experience that man decides on the most desirable alternative by a process of choice and deliberation, he therefore ascribes to divine leadership an ideal synthesis of Justice and Mercy, as if it resulted from a similar process. In a similar manner, he expounds the aggadic legend concerning the waning of the moon which the kabbalists related to an act occurring in the world of the Sefirot; other legends are also given a kabbalistic interpretation.

The chapter entitled "Sha'ar ha-Harisah" (about the nature of sin) is of particular interest. According to this, the sins related in the Bible as committed by individuals or generations are essentially sins of a mystical character. Though the sin was actually committed, its essential significance lies in the thought connected with it. In some instances the sin is brought about by an excess of meditation, while in others it results from the sinner's wish to disrupt the pattern of relationship of the Sefirot. Most of these themes had already appeared in earlier kabbalistic literature but here they are given a systematic description, and the book is also a systematic summary of most themes treated in early Kabbalah literature.


D. Neumark, Toledot ha-Filosofyah be-Yisrael, 1 (1921), 192–206; G. Scholem, in: KS, 21 (1943/44), 284–95; Scholem, Mysticism, index; E. Gottlieb, Ha-Kabbalah be-Khitvei Rabbenu Baḥya ben Asher (1970), index; idem, in: Sefer Zikkaron le-Binyamin De Vries (1968), 295–304.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.