Body of Land

In "escstatic" mysticism, the Land of Israel is a metaphor for the human body.

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Medieval kabbalah (mysticism) in Spain is generally grouped in two broad categories: The "Gerona Circle" approached kabbalah philosophically, while "ecstatic" or "prophetic"  kabbalah sought a transformative spiritual experience. The following article examines the Land of Israel in the thought of the 13th-century ecstatic kabbalists. Reprinted with permission from The Land of Israel: Jewish Perspectives, edited by Lawrence A. Hoffman (University of Notre Dame Press).

Alongside the theosophical brand of kabbalah, which is mainly con­cerned with the inner processes in the Godhead, there exists another type of Kabbalah, the prophetic, or ecstatic, one. This latter kabbalistic school was interested in techniques of reaching ecstatic experience rather than in influencing the divine powers.

land of israel The focus of discussion in the works of the representatives of prophetic kabbalah is the inner processes taking place within human consciousness. According to the theosophic kabbalah, the Land of Israel becomes symbolic of a supernal manifestation; the prophetic kabbalah perceives it as a metaphor for human status.

Prophecy, In & Out of the Land

According to R. Abraham Abulafia, the outstanding proponent of this brand of kabbalah, the true analogue of the Land of Israel is the human body. Commenting upon the rabbinic dictums which asserts that proph­ecy will not dwell (i.e., occur) outside the Land unless it dwells beforehand within the Land, Abulafia maintains that a simplistic, i.e., merely geo­graphical, understanding of the meaning of "Land of Israel" is untenable. He emphasizes the fact that the first prophecy reported in the Bible oc­curred in Ur Hasdim, when Abraham was told to leave his homeland for the Promised Land. In Abulafia's opinion, the Land of Israel is the body of the righteous man, whereas the term "huts la-aretz"--outside the Land--points to the soul, which is different from the body. Therefore, the geographic meaning of the Land of Israel is irrelevant in the context of the gift of prophecy; the Divine Presence (i.e., the Shekhinah) dwells everywhere, although only in someone who is worthy to receive prophetic inspiration.

The same rabbinic dictum was interpreted by R. Isaac of Acre, an­other outstanding kabbalist who was influenced by the prophetic kabbalah. In his mystical diary, entitled The Treasure of Lift, we read:

"The secret of 'outside the Land' and of 'the Land of Israel' is that… The Land (eretz) does not signify the earth of dust (i.e., the geographic land), but the lump of dust (i.e., the human body) in which souls dwell. 'The Land' is the palace of the souls; it is flesh and blood. The soul that dwells in earth (ba-aretz) which derives from Jacob's seed cer­tainly dwells in the Land of Israel. Even if the soul dwells outside the Land (i.e., geographically), the Shekhinah (the presence of God) will rest upon it since it is definitely in the Land (i.e., earth) of Israel. But the soul which dwells in the Land (i.e., geographically) which does not derive from the seed of Jacob . . . who is Israel, our father, cer­tainly dwells 'outside the land,' even if it is in the Land of Israel, [even] inside Jerusalem. Neither the Shekhinah nor the spirit of prophecy will dwell upon it, since it is certainly 'outside the Land.'"

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Moshe Idel

Moshe Idel is Professor of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and one of the foremost contemporary experts on kabbalah.