FROM BOOK FIVE, MYTHS OF THE HOLY WORD
315. THE BOOK OF RAZIEL
The Book was revealed to Adam while he was still in the Garden of Eden, to show him each
generation and its sages, each generation and its leaders. How did God show him generations
that did not yet exist? Some say that God cast sleep upon him and showed him, while
others say that Adam saw them all with his eyes, for whatever he read in that book he saw
with his own vision. For since the time the world was created, all of the souls of those yet to
be born stand before God in the very same form in which they will live in this world.
God sent the angel Raziel, the Angel of Secrets, to read the Book to Adam. But when
Adam heard the first words issue from the mouth of the angel, he fell down in fear.
Therefore God let Raziel leave the Book with him so that he could read from it on his
own, and in this way Adam came to know the future and was made wise in all things.
Some say that book was written on parchment, while others say it was engraved on a
sapphire. How was that sapphire read? Adam held it up to his eyes, and the flame burning
inside that sapphire took the form of the letters, so Adam could read them there. So
too there are those who say that the true text of the Book of Raziel was the Torah, for the
Torah was one of the seven things created before the rest of Creation, and this way its
wisdom was transmitted even to the first man.
Contained in the Book was a secret writing that explained seventy-two branches of
wisdom, mysteries which had not been revealed even to the other angels. So too did the
Book contain the entire history, past and future, of mankind. Whenever Adam opened
the Book, angels gathered around him to learn all the mystical secrets it contained. Then
the angels made a plea to God, saying, “Impart the mystery of Your glory to the angels,
not to men.” Instead, the angel Hadarniel was secretly sent to Adam and said: “Adam,
Adam, do not reveal the glory of your Master, for to you alone and not to the angels is the
privilege given to know these mysteries.”
After that Adam kept the Book concealed, and read it in secret. In this way he learned
mysteries not even known by the angels. But at last the envy of the angels became so
great that they stole the Book and threw it into the sea. Adam searched for it in vain, and
then fasted for many days, until a celestial voice announced: “Fear not, Adam, I will give
the Book back to you.” Then God called upon Rahab, the angel of the sea, and ordered
him to recover the Book from the depths of the sea and to give it to Adam, and so he did.
When Adam transgressed, the Book flew away from him. But Adam begged God for
its return, and beat his breast, and entered the river Gihon up to his neck, until his body
became wrinkled and his face haggard. Then God made a sign for the angel Raphael, the
Angel of Healing, to heal Adam and bring the book back to him. After that Adam studied
the book intently, and bequeathed it to his son Seth. So it went on, through successive
generations, as it is said, This is the book of the generations of Adam (Gen. 5:1).
In this way the book was handed down from Seth to Enosh to Kenan to Jared, and in
this way it reached Enoch. It was from this Book that Enoch drew his vast knowledge of
the Mysteries of Creation. Before he was taken up into heaven and transformed into the
angel Metatron, Enoch entrusted the book to his son, Methuselah, who read the Book
and transmitted it to his son Lamech, and from there it reached Noah, Lamech’s son, who
made use of its instructions in building the Ark. Indeed, there are those who insist that
the book was revealed to Noah by the angel Raziel. They say that Noah heard the book
from the mouth of Raziel and later the angel wrote it down for him on a sapphire stone.
By reading this book it was possible for Noah to penetrate great secrets of knowledge,
hierarchies of understanding, and ideas of wisdom, to know the way of life and the way
of death, the way of good and the way of evil, and to foresee the concerns of each and
every year, whether for peace or for war, for plenty or for hunger, for harvest or for
drought. By gazing there the destinies of the stars were revealed, as well as the course of
the sun and the names of the guardians of each and every firmament. Revealed as well
were the secrets of how to interpret dreams and visions, and how to rule over all of a
man’s desires, as well as how to drive away evil spirits and demons. Happy was the eye
that beheld that book, and happy the ear that listened to its wisdom, for in it were revealed
all the secrets of heaven and earth.
Noah placed the Book into a golden box and it was the first thing he brought into the
ark. In this way it came to be revealed to Abraham, whose knowledge of it permitted him
to gaze upon the glory of God. And from Abraham it was passed down to Isaac and to
Jacob and to Joseph, who consulted it to discover the true meanings of dreams. The book
was buried with Joseph, and in this way it was preserved when his coffin was raised by
Moses from the Nile and carried beside the Tabernacle throughout the wandering of the
Israelites in the wilderness.
In this way the Book came into the possession of King Solomon, who made good use
of its wisdom, and also sought its assistance in constructing the Temple. Some say that
the book was lost again when the Temple was destroyed, its letters soaring on high as
flames approached the Sanctuary in which it was hidden. Yet there are others who say
that it was saved from the flames, and has been secretly passed down ever since. In this
way it was said to have reached Rabbi Adam, and from Rabbi Adam it was passed down
to the Ba’al Shem Tov, who learned the supernal mysteries from reading it and in this
way became the Tzaddik of his generation.
This is the most famous of all the chain midrashim, a linked set of myths. It tells the
story of how God sent the angel Raziel to reveal this book to Adam, and how Adam
came into possession of it. Subsequent myths describe how the book was passed down
from Adam to Noah, following the genealogy in Genesis 5, and later reached the patriarchs
and kings. The book that the angel Raziel left with Adam has two names: it is
known as The Book of Raziel and as The Book of Adam. Raziel ha-Malakh explictly records
the transmission of the book from Adam to Enoch to Noah to Abraham, Isaac, Levi,
Moses and Arron, Pinhas, and so on down the generations.
The myth of the Book of Raziel grows out of a midrash attempting to explain the
verse, This is the book of the generations of Adam (Gen. 5:1). In B. Avodah Zarah 5a, Resh
Lakish is quoted as saying: “Did Adam have a book? This implies that God showed to
Adam every generation that would ever exist, every generation with its sages and its
leaders. When Adam reached the generation of Rabbi Akiba, he rejoiced at his teaching,
but was grieved about his death.”
While most accounts of this heavenly book assume that the book had already been
written and that Adam heard it for the first time when the angel Raziel read it to him,
the Maharal proposes an alternate scenario in which Adam had all future events revealed
to him in a vision, and later they were recorded in this book. That the angel
leaves the book for Adam to read later indicates that books are so important in Jewish
tradition that even the first man could read.
The earliest mention of the angel Raziel is in the Book of Enoch. Raziel ha-Malakh,
first published in Amsterdam in 1701, claimed to be the book that the angel Raziel
gave to Adam. It largely consists of the names of God and of the angels, and the texts
of amulets. The book itself was believed to have talismanic powers, especially the
ability to ward off fires and other disasters. For this reason it was commonly found in
many Jewish homes.
The angel Raziel, who delivered The Book of Raziel to Adam, plays a role in Jewish
mythology equivalent to Hermes in Greek mythology. That is, he serves as a messenger
of God, while Hermes (Mercury) is a messenger of the gods. Rahab, the Angel of
the Sea, is the Jewish mythic equivalent of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea.
B. Avodah Zarah 5a; Genesis Rabbah 24:4; Leviticus Rabbah 15:1; Avot de-Rabbi Natan
56a; Midrash Tanhuma Bereshit 1:32; Midrash Tehillim 139; Zohar 1:37b, 1:55a-b,
1:58b, 1:90b; Sefer ha-Razim 65-66; Raziel ha-Malakh 2, 4.
Kabbalah by Avraham Yaakov Finkel, pp. 23-30.
325. DEATH AND REBIRTH AT MOUNT SINAI
Moses brought forth the people to meet God. Yahweh came down upon Mount Sinai, on the
top of the mountain (Exod. 19:20). In that hour the world was completely silent. No one
dared to breathe. No bird sang, no ox lowed, the sea did not roar, and no creature uttered
a sound. Then God opened the portals of the seven firmaments and appeared over them
eye to eye, in His beauty, in His glory, in the fullness of His stature, with His crown and
upon His Throne of Glory. When He began to speak, thunder and lightning issued from
God’s mouth, and all of Israel flew back in horror at the sound of the awful voice. They
ran without stopping for twelve miles, until their hearts gave out and their souls fled
from them. All of them lay dead.
Then the Torah turned to God, saying, “Master of the Universe! Are You giving me to
the living or to the dead?” God replied, “To the living.” The Torah said, “But they are all
dead.” And God said, “For your sake I will revive them.” So God let the dew of life fall
from heaven, and as soon as it touched the people, they were restored to life, and they
became strong and of good courage. That is why, at the resurrection of the dead in the
End of Days, the Torah will stand up for the restoring of people’s lives.
Still, the people trembled mightily, even more than before. Nor were they brave enough
to look up and gaze upon the Lord. They were not even strong enough to stand on their
feet. God saw that their hearts would give out again, so He sent to earth one hundred and
twenty myriads of ministering angels, so that there were two angels to every one of them,
one to lay his hand on the heart of each one, to keep his heart still, and one to lift each
one’s head, so that he might behold the splendor of his Creator.
In this way, awestruck but comforted by the angels, they each beheld the glory of God.
Then God asked, “Will you accept the Torah?” And they all answered together, “Yes!”
At that moment God opened up the seven heavens, as well as the seven earths, and all of
Israel gazed from one end of the universe to the other. And God said, “Behold that there is
none like Me in heaven or on earth.” And they saw with their own eyes that it was true.
This haunting myth recounts that when God appeared on Mount Sinai, the shock
of His voice caused all of the people to drop dead. God then revived them and gave
each of the 600,000 Jews assembled there two angels, one on his right hand and one on
his left. The function of the angels was to calm the people enough for them to stand in
the presence of God without having their souls flee from their bodies in terror. Each of
the angels is said to have quoted a verse of the Torah. One angel said: “It has been
clearly demonstrated to you that Yahweh alone is God; there is none beside Him” (Deut. 4:35).
And the other angel said: “Know therefore this day and keep in mind that the Lord alone is
God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other” (Deut. 4:39).
The myth of the two angels at Mount Sinai is found in Midrash Aseret ha-Dibrot
(Midrash of the Ten Commandments), where it is a commentary on the first commandment,
I am the Lord your God (Ex. 20:2). Each of the stories in the collection is linked to
one of the ten commandments. Midrash Aseret ha-Dibrot, dating from around the ninth
century, is regarded as the first story anthology in Jewish literature.
B. Shabbat 88b; Midrash Aseret ha-Dibrot on Exodus 20:2; Exodus Rabbah 29:4, 29:9;
Song of Songs Zuta 1:2, 4; Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer 20:4; Midrash Tehillim 19:13, 68:5,
68:7; Pesikta Rabbati 20:4; Otzrot Hayim.
330. GOD OFFERS THE TORAH TO ISRAEL
Some say that from the time of Creation until Israel went out of Egypt, God went around
offering the Torah to each and every nation, but they all refused to accept it. That is when
God offered it to Israel.
Others say that God created the world with a stipulation: “If Israel accepts the Torah
when it is offered to them, all of creation will continue to exist. Otherwise I will return the
world to chaos and void.”
So when the children of Israel had gathered at Mount Sinai, And they took their places at
the foot of the mountain (Exod. 19:17), God overturned the mountain like an inverted barrel,
and held it above their heads and said: “If you accept the Torah, all will be well. If not,
you will be buried here.”
That is when Israel declared its willingness to accept the Torah.
This midrash emphasizes the utterly essential role of Israel in God’s plan of Creation.
Here God declares at the beginning of the time of Creation that it is contingent on
Israel’s acceptance of the Torah. This leads to the grotesque image of God forcing Israel
to accept the Torah by holding Mount Sinai over their heads. This account derives from
a very literal interpretation of the verse And they took their places at the foot of the mountain
(Exod. 19:17). In some versions, God first offers the Torah to every other nation, and
each one turns it down. When He comes to Israel, the last nation to be asked, and holds
the mountain over their heads, of course they say yes. What they actually say is “We will
do and we will listen” (Exod. 24: 7). “We will do” refers to following God’s commandments,
the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. “We will listen” refers to studying the Torah with
great intensity. This myth, then, personifies the “yoke” of the Law: it illustrates the compelling
nature of Jewish law to those who observe it. According to B. Shabbat 88a, as a
reward for saying “We will do and we will listen,” 600,000 angels descended from heaven
and tied two crowns, one for “do” and the other for “listen,” to the head of every Jew.
Still, some commentaries attempt to reinterpret this midrash where the mountain
held over the head of the people serves as a metaphor for the revelation of God’s
infinite love for them (Likutei Torah). At the same time, if God forced Israel to accept
the Torah at Mount Sinai, it was indeed an agreement made under coercion, and it
was not until the time of Mordecai and Esther that the Jewish people truly accepted
the Torah of their own free choice: The Jews undertook and irrevocably obligated themselves
and their descendants, and all who might join them, to observe these two days in the
manner prescribed and at the proper time each year (Esther 9:27).
The giant Og is also said to have uprooted a mountain and held it over the heads of
the Israelites (B. Ber. 54b). See “The Giant Og,” p. 461.
Hakham Yosef Hayim of Baghdad, known as Ben Ish Hai, links this midrash with
the Oral Torah. In his view, the Israelites had already accepted the Written Torah when
they said, We will do and we will listen (Exod. 24:7). But God had to coerce them to
accept the Oral Law. That is why He held the mountain over their heads. Further, God
hollowed out the mountain like a barrel to teach them that each letter of the Written
Torah contains innumerable interpretations in the Oral Law, just as a barrel contains
innumerable drops of wine. Thus God was demanding that their acceptance of the
Written Law include their acceptance of the Oral Law. This is an interesting and original
interpretation of this bizarre midrash about God offering the Torah to Israel.
The continued existence of the world was dependent on Israel’s acceptance of the
Torah. God said, “If Israel accepts the Torah, the world will continue to exist. But if
not, I will reduce the world to a state of chaos” (B. Avodah Zarah 3a). According to this
myth, not only the continued existence of Israel was at stake, but the continued existence
of the world. Nor, according to Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, must the study of the
Torah around the globe ever cease, even for a split second. If this should happen, all
the worlds above and below would revert to nothingness (Nefesh ha-Hayim 4:1).
B. Shabbat 88a; B. Pesahim 68b; B. Avodah Zarah 2b; Exodus Rabbah 28; Midrash Tanhuma-
Yelammedenu, Bereshit 1; Midrash Tanhuma-Yelammedenu, Yitro 14; Eliyahu Zuta 11:192;
Zohar 3:7a; Nefesh ha-Hayim 4:1; Likutei Torah, Re’eh 22a; Otzrot Hayim; IFA 8415.