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Reconciling Duality in The Zohar's Donkey Driver Tale

Created by
Riley Woollen
Node Type Description Visible Clusters Connections Relevance Betweenness Closeness Coreness Exegesis
Binah (Shabbat Above) sefirot
In addition to conceptualizing the Sabbath in terms of a duality of time as above, here a division is drawn in terms of space. As footnote 220 explains, this space extends from the higher Sabbath of Binah to the lower Sabbath of Yesod, the seventh sabbath from Binah. Again, these higher and lower emanations of the Sabbath are always fundamentally held as the same, as one whole Sabbath. 
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God motif
Here we may mark the beginning of the trope of what one might term ‘doubling’ in this macro-unit of the donkey driver tale. In his exegesis, Rabbi Shim’on explicates the power of God’s speech in terms of its creation of 1.) heaven, and 2.) earth. From the singular source of the word, heaven and earth emerge as two distinct entities. Rabbi Shim’on points to the perpetuity of this act with “‘so do you.’” In other words, just as God brings creation into being through the act of divine speech, so may the student of the Zohar, as part of this creation, engage in oneness with the divine (intense, concealed study of the Torah) to create heavens and earths of their own. 
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Israel & God (Unit 3) unit
From the thirty, he was most honored (2 Samuel, ibid 23). These are the thirty celestial years on which He drew conveying Them below. Drawing on Them, He drew near. But the three he did not attain. They approached Him giving to Him wholeheartedly, but He did not approach Them. Still, although He was not counted as one of Them, David set him over his bodyguard, for He never faded from the tablet of His heart. They are never separated. David set Him close--not conversely--for with the praises, songs, and love that the moon offers to the sun, She draws Him towards Her, so that He dwell with Her. This is: David set him over his bodyguard” (42). 
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(Kaph) כ letter
(כ) + (י) + (ס) The three letters together form a “pocket” =  כיס. They cannot survive alone. But together, they symbolize something (a pocket) that holds and supports. Again, we see separate pieces that come together in union, a symbol of collective strength. 

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Man motif
Shifting from a connection with God predicated on a sense of community, a sense of “My people,” from the perspective of the divine, the student of the Zohar is pushed to conceptualize himself as growing to be with God, welcomed into an intimate partnership.  The figure of Rabbi Shim’on articulates a deeply central tenet of Zoharic mystical engagement--the notion of moving ever-closer to the divine through sustained, disciplined, and passionate exegesis of the Torah. 
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Man & God are Never Separated motif
"David set Him close . . . for with the praises, songs, and love that the moon offers to the sun, She draws Him towards Her, so that He dwell with Her."

As Israel listens to God, is obedient to Him, and keeps Him close to his heart, Shekhinah and Yesod “are never separated.” With the praises, songs, and love that the moon/Shekhinah/Israel offers to the sun/Yesod/covenant, She/Israel draws Him/God towards Her/Israel to dwell with her. Israel with the Covenant becomes partners with God, drawing God to reside among the people to be עימי, immi, “with me”. Here we come to a point where we more fully understand the meaning of our initial focus on the connections and distinctions between being עמי (ammi) and עימי (immi). We can more fully grasp the kabbalistic partnership with God as distinct from a solely Jewish community with God. 

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Passage 1 passage
“Now you might ask, ‘If so, why My Sabbaths you are to observe, two?’ The answer is: the Sabbath of Sabbath eve and the Sabbath of the day itself, which are indivisible (31).” 
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Passage 2 passage
Rabbis Abba, El’azar: “They said to him, ‘Speak!’
Donkey Driver: “He opened, saying, (Et Shabbetotai), My Sabbaths. (Et)  amplifies the meaning to include the range of Sabbath, which is 2,000 cubits in every direction. So the meaning is expanded: (Et Shabbetotai), My Sabbaths--one is the higher Sabbath; the other, the lower Sabbath; both included as one, concealed as one (32).”

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Passage 3 passage
I heard my father say so precisely: (Et) includes the the range of the Sabbath. My Sabbaths are a circle with a square inscribed within. They are two, corresponding to which are two hallowings we should recite. One is (Vaykhullu), And they [heaven and earth] were completed…(Genesis 2:1-3); the other, (qiddush), hallowing. Vaykhullu contains thirty-five words, altogether amounting to seventy names of the blessed Holy One, with which Assembly of Israel is adorned. Since this circle and square are My Sabbaths, they are both included in (Shamor), Observe, as is written: (Tishmoru), You are to observe, whereas the higher Sabbath is not included here in (Shamor), Observe, but rather in (Zakhor), Remember (Exodus 20:8), for the supreme King is completed by (zakhor). So He is called ‘the King who possesses peace,’ and his peace is (zakhor). That is why there is no strife above, because of the two peaces below: one, Jacob; the other, Joseph (34).
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Sabbath (Unit 1) unit
What we might call our first ‘micro-unit’ within the macro-unit of the Donkey-Driver Tale begins here, with Rabbi El’azar effectively closing the first stretch of discourse solely between himself and Rabbi Abba, directly before the “rambling donkey-driver” inserts himself into the conversation (31). Significant within this moment is the question posed by Rabbi El’azar on the division of the Sabbaths,
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(Samekh) ס letter
(כ) + (י) + (ס) The three letters together form a “pocket” =  כיס , something which symbolizes collective strength. Again, the theme of union is repeated.

This pocket was filled with “goodness” = “hidden, celestial splendid letters” = the knowledge of the ingredients of creation

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Shekhinah (Shabbat Eve) sefirot
Rabbi El’azar questions the division of the Sabbaths, and answers by stating a duality of time. The Sabbath, divided into “eve” and “day”, while made out to be distinct, are ultimately reconciled into a single entity. They are described as indivisible. Footnote 214, which addresses the quote sefirotically, points to the two aspects of the Sabbath in terms of gender: the Sabbath eve is feminized and equated with Shekhinah, while the Sabbath day is masculinized and equated with either Tif’eret or Yesod. While the duality of gender is upheld here, it is ultimately reconciled into totalizing understanding of the Sabbath.
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(Shin) ש letter
 (shin)  ש  and  (yod) י  →  unite to form יש

יש (noun) :  substance 
יש (verb): to have

What did he have? ?מה יש לו 
What substance was he filled with?
      
He was filled with everything: 
 Wisdom (חכמה) and Understanding (בינה) → the ultimate substance יש (sefirot)
 In his treasury, meaning this wisdom and understanding that came from God is valuable like wealth.

Once he was filled with this substance, he was told, “so my son go and goad donkeys,” go and teach, spread wisdom of the flow of emanation of God.

By demonstrating that the distinct pieces of creation i.e. the hebrew letters can come together to create a meaning that is more substantial than the meaning of the distinct pieces, the donkey driver points to the capability of growing closer to God through wisdom and understanding, which unite to form an ultimate connection to the divine. 

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space motif
This section on the meaning of the Sabbath illustrates the positionality of God. The circle and square unite the full spectrum of divine personality.  God manifests in sacred time, from Sabbath eve to Sabbath Day and sacred space, from Sabbath Above and Sabbath below. The Assembly of Israel must remember and observe God’s commandments, as symbolized through the Sabbath, through time and space. In this way, the Shekhinah the divine feminine counterpart of the people, and the aspect of God most intimately connected with Israel, will be united with with Tif’eret (Jacob) and Yesod (Joseph), in divine intercourse. Altogether, the section on the Sabbath emphasizes the omnipresence of God, occupying all time and space. Through observance and remembrance, Israel can encounter God and experience this partnership in the form of the union between male and female.  
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Tif’eret (Shabbat Day) sefirot
Rabbi El’azar questions the division of the Sabbaths, and answers by stating a duality of time. The Sabbath, divided into “eve” and “day”, while made out to be distinct, are ultimately reconciled into a single entity. They are described as indivisible. Footnote 214, which addresses the quote sefirotically, points to the two aspects of the Sabbath in terms of gender: the Sabbath eve is feminized and equated with Shekhinah, while the Sabbath day is masculinized and equated with either Tif’eret or Yesod. While the duality of gender is upheld here, it is ultimately reconciled into totalizing understanding of the Sabbath.
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time motif
This section on the meaning of the Sabbath illustrates the positionality of God. The circle and square unite the full spectrum of divine personality.  God manifests in sacred time, from Sabbath eve to Sabbath Day and sacred space, from Sabbath Above and Sabbath below. The Assembly of Israel must remember and observe God’s commandments, as symbolized through the Sabbath, through time and space. In this way, the Shekhinah the divine feminine counterpart of the people, and the aspect of God most intimately connected with Israel, will be united with with Tif’eret (Jacob) and Yesod (Joseph), in divine intercourse. Altogether, the section on the Sabbath emphasizes the omnipresence of God, occupying all time and space. Through observance and remembrance, Israel can encounter God and experience this partnership in the form of the union between male and female.  
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Yesod (Shabbat Below) sefirot
In addition to conceptualizing the Sabbath in terms of a duality of time as in Passage 1, here in Passage 2 a division is drawn in terms of space. As footnote 220 explains, this space extends from the higher Sabbath of Binah to the lower Sabbath of Yesod, the seventh sefirah from Binah. Again, these higher and lower emanations of the Sabbath are always fundamentally held as the same, as one whole Sabbath. 
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Yod & Donkey Goading (Unit 2) unit
They said to him, "Who appointed you to go here, goading donkeys?" He replied "(Yod) waged war with two letters, (kaf) did not want to depart and be bound, since it cannot survive for a moment anywhere else. (Samekh) did not want to depart, so it could support those who fall, for without (samekh) they cannot survive. Alone, (yod) came to me, kissing and embracing me. She wept with me, saying, 'My son, what can I do for you? But look, I will ascend and fill myself with goodness--with hidden, celestial splendid letters! Then I will come to you, serving as your support. I will endow you with two letters, higher than those that departed, namely, (yesh), substance--celestial (yod) and (shin) as your treasuries filled with everything. So my son, go and goad donkeys.' This is why I go like this" (36). 
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(Yod) י letter
We understand "goading donkeys" to mean teaching Torah or leading people towards wisdom. When the donkey driver is asked who appointed him to do this, his answer is Yod (י).

Yod symbolizes God. First, because the gematria of  Yod  = 10 = ten sefirot, and the sefirot are the emanations of God. Also, because Yod is the smallest letter, the building block of all other letters, which God uses as His tool of creation.   

So the meaning of the first part of this verse is: God appointed him to teach torah and lead people towards wisdom.

Yod waged war between two letters (כ) and (ס) that were then bound by (י), which explains the placement of Yod in the center between Kaph and Samekh.

The passage then says that the donkey driver was endowed with the letter (shin)  ש and  (yod) י , so Yod and Shin are also connected in our diagram.

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"You Are With Me" text/central question
Rabbi Shim’on: “Do not read ‘You are (ammi), My people,’ But rather ‘You are (immi), with Me, becoming My partner! Just as I made heaven and earth by speaking, as is said: By the word of YHVH, the heavens were made (Psalms 33:6), so do you.’ Happy are those engaged in Torah!” (28).

Rabbi Shimon’s opening statement introduces the question that is followed throughout the donkey driver tale: How do you, עמי, my people become my (God’s) partner?
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אֶל letter
אֶל  can be translated “over” but also ‘to’ or ‘towards.’
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דָוִד letter
King David symbolizes Shekhinah, which is also associated with the Kingdom of Israel, who yearns to unite with Yesod, associated with the covenant and righteousness. 
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וישימהו letter
The root of וישימהו is שים, which means ‘put.’ The structure of the whole word makes it read as ‘and he put him,’ the him evidencing David (דוד), which is the following word.
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וַיְשִׂמֵהוּ דָוִד אֶל מִשְׁמַעְתּוֹ passage
This section is illustrating Israel’s relationship with God. Israel must draw God close by “giving to Him wholeheartedly.” What does this look like?  וַיְשִׂמֵהוּ דָוִד אֶל-מִשְׁמַעְתּוֹ 

While the standard translation is noted as “David set him over his bodyguard” another reading is: And He put/applied/set David to his obedience. 
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מִשְׁמַעְתּוֹ letter
 מִשְׁמַעְתּוֹ comes from the root שמע, “to hear or listen,” with the connotation of obedience. Forming it into a possessive noun, as noted by the word’s construction, creates the meaning ‘his obedient band’, ‘his guard’, or ‘his obedience’. 
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Source Link Target Date
Binah (Shabbat Above) Passage 2
Israel & God (Unit 3) "You Are With Me"
(Kaph) כ (Samekh) ס
(Kaph) כ (Yod) י
Man God
Passage 1 Tif’eret (Shabbat Day)
Passage 2 Yesod (Shabbat Below)
Passage 3 space
Passage 3 time
Sabbath (Unit 1) Passage 1
Sabbath (Unit 1) Passage 2
Sabbath (Unit 1) Passage 3
(Samekh) ס (Kaph) כ
Shekhinah (Shabbat Eve) Passage 1
Tif’eret (Shabbat Day) Shekhinah (Shabbat Eve)
time space
Yod & Donkey Goading (Unit 2) (Yod) י
(Yod) י (Samekh) ס
(Yod) י (Shin) ש
"You Are With Me" God
"You Are With Me" Israel & God (Unit 3)
"You Are With Me" Man
"You Are With Me" Sabbath (Unit 1)
"You Are With Me" Yod & Donkey Goading (Unit 2)
"You Are With Me"
אֶל Man & God are Never Separated
אֶל וַיְשִׂמֵהוּ דָוִד אֶל מִשְׁמַעְתּוֹ
דָוִד Man & God are Never Separated
דָוִד וַיְשִׂמֵהוּ דָוִד אֶל מִשְׁמַעְתּוֹ
וישימהו Man & God are Never Separated
וישימהו וַיְשִׂמֵהוּ דָוִד אֶל מִשְׁמַעְתּוֹ
וַיְשִׂמֵהוּ דָוִד אֶל מִשְׁמַעְתּוֹ Israel & God (Unit 3)
מִשְׁמַעְתּוֹ Man & God are Never Separated
מִשְׁמַעְתּוֹ וַיְשִׂמֵהוּ דָוִד אֶל מִשְׁמַעְתּוֹ

Description

This interactive visual project combines multiple frames of close-reading analysis in its approach to conceptualizing the termed ‘Donkey-Driver Tale,’ stretching roughly from pages 25-44 of the Pritzker Edition’s Zohar.The project's editors have chosen three particular passages within the macro-unit of the story to apply our interpretive lenses. The focus on these micro-units works toward a penetrating deconstruction of the multiple layers of meaning and storytelling employed within the larger narrative. As Rabbi ‘Abba, Rabbi El’azar, and “the man goading the donkeys behind them” make their journey, we are particularly interested in the guiding trope of what we have termed ‘reconciling duality,’ a textual event which cyclically brings forward the creation of binaries that are inevitably reunited into the divine. We might here apply the theological terminology of Orthodox Christianity’s conception of unio mystica and Sufism’s notion of tawhid (divine unicity/oneness) as categories which assist in the conceptualization of reconciling duality in this particular text, but our reading nuances these terms and distinguishes them in a Jewish lens. This trope serves also as a site at which other themes of directionality, relationality, and always-ultimate oneness emerge continuously. We will utilize this virtual interactive system as the medium through which to display our investigation into the role of reconciling duality in terms of sefirotic play, key Hebrew translations, and embedded scriptural references within the text.