Yehuda Hayat (1558)

Excerpts form R. Yehuda Hayyat Introduction to Minhat Yehuda (Mantua 1558)
Selected and Translated by Boaz Huss, Ben Gurion University

It is written in Sefer ha-Tikkunim: “`if along the road, you chance upon a birds nest` (Deut 22.6). `Fledglings`: these are Torah Scholars (Talmidei Hachamim), whose merit makes the Divine Presence (Schechina) dwell on earth. `Or eggs`: these are young students of the Torah (Tinokot shel beit Raban), whose merit makes the Divine Presence dwell with the people of Israel, and they are the masters of the Bible (Baalei Mikra). And while they are studying Torah or Commandment, who are the Holy One Blessed be He and the Divine Presence, they unite them as one, and inherit from them souls, that are called `Birds`. Because the masters of the Bible and the masters of the Mishna are her wings, `the mother sits over the fledgling or the on the eggs` (ibid). She sits upon them with her four wings. About them it is written `four wings` (Ezekiel 1.6). Suckling, small countenance - these are four faces each. With these the mother sits upon them, and at time, she ascends from them. Yet, `the young (Banim)` (Ibid) – from her own womb, on them it is said, `sons of love`. These are the masters of Kabbalah. On them it is written: `do not take the mother together with her young` (ibid) – the Divine Presence never forsakes them.”1

From here you can learn that the masters of Kabbalah have ten times the merit of the masters of the Bible and the Mishna. And even though it is impossible to comprehend all of its (i.e., the Kabbalah) depths, because the height and loftiness of its homilies, `Are not the Amanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? I could bath in them and be clean` (II Kings, 5.12). For the little perceived from its high and lofty homilies is of greater benefit than the much perceived from the lowly homilies.

How happy we are, how great is our portion that we have merited to know Sefer ha-Zohar, which our forefathers (such as R. Hai Gaon, R. Sheshet Gaon, R. Eliezer of Warms, Ramban, Rabad, Rashba and other sages) did not, although their little finger was thicker than our waist! They did not taste its honey, as it wasn’t revealed in their time. Do not be perplexed about this, because it surely was not revealed until the last generation, which we live in.

I have found a proof for that in Sefer Ha-Tikkunim: “Elijah said to R. Shimon: Rabbi Rabbi, how great is your merit! From this book of yours (i.e., the Zohar), many supreme beings will find nourishment, until it will be revealed to the lower beings, at the end of days, and through its merit `each of you shall return to his holding and each of you shall return to his family` (Leviticus 25.10)”.2

It is explained here, that this book was intended to be hidden, and at that time the supreme beings, i.e., the angels, were to benefit from it, until the last generation, in which it would be revealed to the lower beings. And through the merit of those who learn and study it, the Messaiah will come, for the land shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord through it, and this will be the cause for his coming, as it was written “through its merit `each of you shall return to his holding`”.

You perhaps may say, that in this wisdom there are some things that are not rational, as the Divine Saint R. Shimon Bar Yochai said: `Not every mind can endure this, but only the saintly sages etc`.3 Even so, we must have complete faith in its words, `for this is not a trifling thing for you` (Deut. 32, 47), and if it seems a trifling, it is because of us. Thus, we must bend our heart, against our inclination, to except its words in truth with a whole heart, and to turn them into a crown on our heads. We must say: even if my heart inclines to the right or to left, I believe in whatever believed the divine saint, the candle of light, the glory of the Tanaites and the crown of the Sages, preferable than a prophet, R. Shimon Bar Yochai, and his comrades.

I Yehuda, son of my pious and sage father, R.Yakov Hayat, peace be on him, when I was still in Spain, tasted a small portion of honey, and my eyes have been enlightened. I have decided to look into and search this wisdom, and gathering strength, I have collected all that could have been found from this book. I have gathered a portion here and a portion there, until I had in my possession most of what can be found of it. I believe with perfect faith that this is the merit that helped me in all the predicaments that befell me during the expulsion from Spain….

After that, I arrived at the big and glorious town of Venice, through the sea, in rags. The Sephardic sages who resided there broke into tears when they saw me, and put cloths on me, may the Lord reward their deeds, in bad times may the lord keep them from harm.

If my power was the power of rocks, if my flesh was capable of suffering all these predicaments, it is surely because of the effort I have put in following this wisdom. This is what strengthened and kept me, as I have kept it, when no body else did.

From Venice I arrived to the great city of Mantua, and there I met an exiled Sephardic sage, pious and righteous in all his deeds, R. Yosef Yavetz. He, and other wise dignitaries, asked me to write a commentary on the book Ma’arechet ha-Elohut, as their heart wished `to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord to frequent His temple` (psalms 27.4). I wanted to fulfill their wish, and I did not withhold grain from them. Especially as I saw that this book is full of delights, short but pure. This book is ten times preferable than the other books of this wisdom, because the others discuss the holy Sefirot, but they close the door. This book, on the other hand, intends to unlock the key, saying: `This is the gateway for the Lord, the righteous shall enter through it` (Psalms 118.20).

In a few places, I wished to discuss the great principals that are the special roots of the holy Kabbalah, as most Kabbalist wander unstably in them. And I have girded my loins like a man, to wage battle, sometimes against the Rabbi who wrote this book, and sometimes against his opponents, in a way that will clarify the mysteries.

I have called the name of this book “Minhat Yehuda”. And even though I am not worthy to comprehend fully their ideas, and even less so to argue against them, I am like a dwarf standing on the shoulders of a giant. I have seen that an anonymous author who resided in this area preceded me, but I did not like most of what he wrote. In places where there was no need of explanation he opened his mouth in a measureless gape, saying un-relevant things, and in the serious and important places he kept quiet. Furthermore, he tried to explain it using the principles of Philosophy, but `this is not the road, and that is not the town` (II Kings, 6.19). Even though I will bring some of his opinions, they will be few, and in those places where I cite him, I will refer to it as `the other commentary`. Thus, his opinions will be discerned from mine.

Because I have seen in this region some Kabbalistic books who can confuse the pure mind, I would like to warn you which books you should be careful from, and which books you must hold to.

The divine sage R. Isaac Ibn Latif, who wrote the books `ha-Shamaim ve-Haolam`, `Zror ha-Mor` and Sefer `Ginzei ha-Melekh` - his words are precious than pearls, but in matters of Kabbalah, he has one leg inside, and the other outside. So, look at some of it, but do not take is as a whole. If God wills, I shall sort out his sayings, the fine wheat from the waste.

I have also seen books written by a sage called R. Abraham Abulafia. In his foolishness and pride he called himself Abraham the teacher (ha-Moreh). Since the destruction of the temple prophecy was given to fools. And the meaning of `Moreh` in these parts is `fool`, as this is the Greek word for teacher, `shatia`, as Rashi interpreted in the verse `Listen you rebels (ha-Morim)` (Deut. 20.10). Beware of him and do not heed to his words, as his books are full of imaginations and forgeries invented from his own heart. He wrote the book `Or ha-Sekhel` (the Light of the Intellect), in which he walks in darkness. He also wrote `Moreh ha-Moreh` (the Guide to the Guide), a Kabbalistic commentary to the Guide (of the perplexed). See to what extent his foolishness reached! Interpreting the words of the Guide according to his own kabbalistic inventions, which the Rambam never had in mind! He also wrote Sefer ha-Shem – a commentary on the Name of Seventy Two. He filled it with drawings of circles, to impress the reader, as he thought that with this he would improve its deficiencies. It is full of forged combinations invented from his own mind. Concerning him the Rashba wrote in his Responsa: `one of them was that scoundrel, may the name of the wicked rot, that Abraham, who, in Sicily, pretended to be a prophet and the Messiah. He drew after him some Jews with his lies. If I had not closed the door on him, in Gods mercy, with many of my writings and those of the holy communities, he would have destroyed them, with his many imagined and false words, that seemed like lofty wisdom to the fool. He put his mind on them for several days, repeatedly, making himself used to it, making numerical permutations of Scriptures and the words of the Sages, combining them with some true things taken from the books of wisdom`.

And as to the sage Ibn Motot - do not let your heart inline to his ways, and do not approach the door to his house. He has in his hand the rod of wickedness that subverts from the right to the twisted way.

And these are the books you should approach:

Sefer Yezira, attributed to R. Akiva may he rest in peace. Sefer Ha-Bahir attributed to R. Nehunia ben Ha-Kanah of blessed memory – make them into a crown to your head.

Sefer ha-Zohar, let it not cease from your lips, but recite it day and night.

The books of R. Joseph Ibn Gikatilia of blessed memory, and R. Shem Tov De Leon, bind them around your throat.

The secrets of Ramban, write them on the tablet of your heart.

The books of R. Menahem Recanati may he rest in peace, bind them as a sign on your hand.

Sefer Ha-Marekhet with my commentary, let them serve as a symbol between your eyes.

Than you shall succeed in your ways and become wise.

From the Lord I ask help and say, `it is You who light my lamp; the Lord, my God, lights up my darkness` (Psalms 18.29)

1 TZ 21b

2 TZ 23a-24b

3 TZ 116a.