Lily Among Thorns

Perhaps Madonna and Britney are onto something. I’m not about to spend $100 on some red string, mind you. I still have no respect for the Kaballah Center that is repackaging the medieval mysticism for Hollywood “minds.”

However, a few years ago I picked up a copy of a five volume translation of The Zohar. The Zohar is Kaballah is the Zohar. The Zohar claims to be a dialogue between Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai, of the 2nd century C.E., and his contemporary Biblical scholars. The Zohar was ‘discovered’ in the 13th century by a Spaniard named Moses de Leon. Some argue it would have been impossible for one man, living in the 2nd century, or in the 13th, to have written it, as it is comprised of too many voices. So it goes.

I no longer remember where I got it. Isn’t that the way of mystical books? I do recall opening it up to a page at random and getting lost in the convoluted language. That may not have been the best method of testing the waters. The volumes have sat on my bookshelf for awhile. I picked it up again, recently, and began on the first page.

Before I reveal the words I saw, let me read the copyright information. This is from an English translation by Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon. From the Soncino Press. Copyright 1984. The author of an introduction says it is the first English translation.

The Zohar begins with a Rabbi Hizkiah talking about “a lily among thorns.” A lily, apparently, contains thirteen leaves, with five strong ones surrounding it. And so, apparently, there are thirteen words in the original Hebrew/Aramaic text of Genesis, between the first appearance of the word “Elohim” (G-d), and the second. And there are five words between the second appearance and the third.

Rabbi Hizkiah doesn’t mention here that thirteen plus five is eighteen. I suspect he will later, or someone will. Kaballah has become almost synonymous with gematria — a method of interpreting the Hebrew scriptures by interchanging words with the letters of the same numerical value when added. Eighteen is one of the bigger numbers in gematria, as eight is associated with the Hebrew letter, chet, and ten is associated with the Hebrew letter yod, and together they spell the word “chai”. Chai is not pronounced like it is at Starbucks. It’s the ‘Kh’ sound only a few dare to attempt to master. Imagine the look on the poor Starbucks clerk’s face when I first ordered the drink.

Some may be familiar with the song from the Broadway musical, Fiddler on the Roof. The lyrics of the chorus are redundant in a bilingual fashion. “To life, to life, Li Chaim. Li Chaim, Li Chaim, to Life.”

Rabbi Hizkiah concludes his opening discourse, before passing the torch to Rabbi Simeon, by bringing up a third number. “And as the ideal covenant was formed through ___ copulations, so the engraven ineffable name is formed of the ___ letters of the work of creation.”

Before I fill in the blanks with a number, thus providing the answer to these questions, let’s take a look at what these questions are. I will admit to a bit of sophomoric glee at seeing the word “copulations” on the first page of the Zohar. My initial thought was, “are there this many generations between Adam and the covenant?” I haven’t computed the results of this equation, but it doesn’t appear to be the generally accepted one, so I suspect the numbers don’t come out right. There is a book in another religion’s scriptures that postulates specific generations from Abraham to King David, another set to Exile, and another set to an important figure in their theology. A total matching the number in the Zohar. However, besides this being an unlikely reference for the Zohar to make, King David is listed twice in that list, making it really one less. (see chart). So perhaps a child of this religious figure could be important.

One popular interpretation of the text I’ve found was the number of journeys in the wilderness. In the last chapter of Numbers we get a series of journeys. The Israelites journeyed from point A to point B. From point B to point C. From point C to point D. etc. That someone would compare segments of a forty year journey to the act of copulation is, how shall I say it, interesting.

Other translations I’ve seen on the web, however, use the word ‘coupling.’ Semantically, the segments of the journey all consisted of two end points. This is a more grokkable metaphor.

The “engraven ineffable name” is also considered to be the first __ letters of Genesis. Either that, or ___ is the gematrian equivalent to the letters in the phrase “I am that I am”.

So, now that you understand the questions…the answer?


There are two types of people. Those who divide people into types, and those who don’t. For the sake of this, the two types are Fen and Mundanes. “Fen” is the plural of “Science Fiction fan”, spelled in this manner to distinguish them from electronic cooling devices, and fans of mundane things such as musicians, and athletes. If you aren’t Fen, you will unlikely not fully comprehend my excitement, and you are probably best left confused. I apologize.

It doesn’t surprise me that The Question is to be found in the Zohar. The Zohar is the ultimate of mystical texts. If it’s to be found anywhere outside recombinant DNA, it will be found there. I’ve read Tom Robbins book, Skinny Legs and All, and understand that the first veil might not be the one I expect. However, it is still surprising to discover this information on the opening page.

0 thoughts on “Lily Among Thorns

  1. John

    Believe it or not, a piece at Chabad (a branch of Hassidism) mentions the Ultimate Truth…

    “Obviously, we have to rethink the idea of truth. Maybe there isn’t an ultimate piece of information that is the ultimate truth (like in Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where […] the ultimate truth is 46). Maybe truth isn’t a fact at all. Maybe truth is more like a process.”

    Sigh. Ten out of ten for trying to be hip, but minus several million for getting it wrong.

  2. Pingback: TransylvanianDutch » Blog Archive » ANSI

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