His hand did not leave hers until he was grown

Two Little Known Works from Moses Cordovero (Ramak)

Marvin J. Heller

R. Moses ben Jacob Cordovero (Ramak, 1522B1570) is considered by many to be the greatest theoretician of Jewish mysticism. He was the first to describe the dialectical process through which the Sefirot pass in their development and to interpret the various stages of their emanation as manifestations of the Divine mind. 1 A prolific writer, he is responsible for two of the classics of Kabbalah, Pardes Rimmonim and Tomer Devorah. The former, completed when Cordova was only twenty seven, is a large, comprehensive and systematic exposition of kabbalistic principles. It is, moreover, a synthesis between the major lines of Spanish Kabbalah, based on the Zohar, and elements of ecstatic Kabbalah, integrated for the first time in the work of a major Spanish kabbalist. Tomer Devorah, in contrast, is a small kabbalistic ethical and inspirational treatise. The popularity of this book is attested to by the number of times it has been reprinted and the fact that it has been translated into several languages, including English. 2 Less well known are a number of other works written by Cordovero. Two in particular are of interest and will be the subject of this article.

Based on his name, Cordovero appears to have been descended from Jewish exiles from the city of Cordova. It has been suggested, but this is uncertain, that he was born in Safed. Cordovero was a student of R. Joseph Caro (1488B1575) in nigleh (revealed, literal Torah) and, after, heeding a heavenly voice that urged him to study Kabbalah, of his brother-in-law ,R. Solomon Alkabez (Lekhah Dodi) in nistar (esoteric Torah, Kabbalah).3 Cordovero became a leader of the ascetic mystical community of Safed, preparing for it a list of rules of conduct, primarily instructions and commands. 4 It has been suggested, but this too is uncertain, that Cordovero was one of the four ordained by R. Jacob Berab, not all in that small group being known with surety. 5

Cordovero served as a dayyan in Safed and founded a yeshivah there in about 1550, which he headed until his death in 1570. Among Cordovero's students were R. Elijah de Vidas (Reshit Hokhmah), R. Abraham Galante (ha-Kodesh), R. Samuel Gallico (Asis Rimmonim, an abridgement of Pardes Rimmonim), R. Hayyim Vital, and R. Isaac Luria (ha-Ari). Although Luria was Cordovero's student for a short while only, and his system of Kabbalah would supplant that of Cordovero, Luria refers to Cordovero as his master and teacher, testifying that Cordovero was completely free of sin, that both the sages of the Mishnah and Elijah the prophet appeared to him, and that at Cordovero's funeral a pillar of fire preceded his coffin. Others, such as R. Menahem Azariah da Fano (1548B1620), although in Italy, considered themselves disciples of Cordovero.

Cordovero wrote, in addition to Pardes Rimmonim and Tomer Devorah a number of other works, not equally well known. Among these other printed books are Sefer Gerushin (Venice, c. 1602), a record of his discourses with Alkabez; Zivhei Shelamim (Lublin, 1613) on the order of prayers and shofar for Rosh Ha-Shanah; Tefillah le-Moshe (Przemysl, 1892), on prayers for the entire year according to the Sephardic rite; Elimah Rabbati (Lvov, 1881), another systematic kabbalistic work; Shi'ur Komah (Warsaw, 1883) on the Sefirot; and, in part only, Or Yakar (Jerusalem, 1965), Cordovero=s commentary on the Zohar. Two other printed works need be mentioned, both small in size but of great value, of interest to us and the subject of this article. They are Or Ne'erav and Perush Seder Avodat Yom ha-Kippurim, both printed in Venice in 1587 by Cordovero=s son R. Gedaliah Cordovero at the press of Giovanni di Gara.

Gedaliah, a kabbalist and halakhist, was born in 1562. At the age of eighteen he traveled to Italy to see to the printing of his father's books, that is, Or Ne'erav, Perush Seder Avodat Yom ha-Kippurim, and Tomer Devorah. He was assisted in this task by Menahem Azariah da Fano, the preeminent exponent of the Cordovian school of Kabbalah in Italy. Gedaliah also printed two other works at this time, Perush Shir ha-Shirim (Venice, 1587), a commentary on the Song of Songs by the Safed kabbalist R. Elisha ben Gabriel Gallico, and, the following year, Heshek Shelomo, a biblical glossary of difficult words translated into Ladino, the name of the author is not known. Heshek Shelomo is dedicated to R. Solomon Shirish of Constantinople, who assisted Gedaliah with his travels and with whom he stayed in Constantinople on his return to Erez Israel. By 1592 Gedaliah is in Jerusalem where he served the Jewish community in an official capacity, becoming, in 1614, the head of the bet din (rabbinic court). 6

It was not fortuitous that Gedaliah traveled to Venice to print his father's books, despite the presence of Hebrew print shops in Constantinople and Salonika. Scholars in Safed, and at times even in Salonika, chose to send their books to Venice to be printed there because of the high quality of the imprints of the Venetian print-shops. This despite the hazards of sending a manuscript by sea, and of having their text typeset and edited by strangers, often in the absence of the author, and the need of approval by the censors, all because of the perceived superiority of the Italian presses. 7

One of the first books that Gedaliah brought to press was his father's Or Ne'erav, an introduction to the study of Kabbalah.8 A small book (80, 56 f.), it is largely an abridgement of Pardes Rimmonim, Cordovero's systematic exposition of kabbalistic principles, with additional chapters by Gedaliah. The intent of Or Ne'erav is twofold, the popularization of the study of Kabbalah, Cordovero realizing that Pardes Rimmonim was not for the novice, and as a defense of the esoteric study of Torah against its detractors.

Or Ne'erav has a decorative title page with a frame comprised of pillars with a woman at each side above a lion, both facing out. The text describes Or Ne'erav as,

As weet to the soul and a healthy for the bone" (Proverbs 16:24), [a remedy] for the strange concepts described [within] of those who distance themselves from the true wisdom. "This is the gate of the Lord," (Psalms 116:20) to merit afterwards the book Or Yakar, which is the great light, the commentary on the Zohar. The sixth part of this work is a praiseworthy and glorious summarization of the introductory material, explained at length by the Rav in his youth, in his book Pardes Rimmonim.

At the bottom of the page is the phrase, Con licentia de Superiori, indicating the approval of the Church censors. On the verso of the title page is the introduction of R. Moses ben Mordecai Bassola (1480-1560), who praises Gedaliah for the publication of this work and his proofreading, noting that, AMistakes are not found with him.@ Bassola continues with praise of the book (2a-b), concluding with verse in the same vein. Bassola was an Italian kabbalist who served as rabbi of Ancona and is deserving of some of the credit for the Zohar being published in Mantua (1558-60). In his old age Bassola traveled to Erez Israel where he met Cordovero, who reputedly kissed the older man's hands. 9 Next is Gedaliah=s introduction (3a-b), in which it is again noted that Or Ne'erav is an abridgement of the material in Pardes Rimmonim, with additional prefatory chapters by Moses Cordovero, to make Kabbalah more readily understandable, to instruct in its usefulness, and the need to study it. Moreover, since copies of this work are already in many hands Gedaliah expresses concern that what happened to his father's commentary on Rosh Ha-Shanah should not happen to this book, writing,

I was afraid that what happened to [his, i. e.., Moses Cordovero=s]commentary on Rosh ha-Shanah would happen to it [Or Ne'erav]. For it was stolen from me, and the one who printed it without my permission did not fathom the intention of the author. He not only did not correct what he found in his stolen [manuscript], but he expunged and diminished it.

What Gedaliah is referring to is a printing, with a Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur mahzor (Constantinople, 1576, 40 [130] f.) by the Jabez brothers, unauthorized and containing many errors. 10 There is yet one additional introduction (4a-6a), from the editor, Menahem Azariah Immanuel da Fano. There is no introduction from Moses Cordovero, suggesting that Or Ne'erav is an unfinished work.

The text, which begins on 6b, is divided into seven parts, each subdivided into chapters. They are: 1) rectification of the harm that occurs from the opinions of those who stay distant from this science; 2) the obligation of the enlightened to study theology; 3) the manner and time of study; 4) the superiority of this to other portions of our Holy Torah; 5) the virtues of this science over other portions of our Holy Torah; 6) the necessary preparation for beginners in this science; and 7) a brief explanation of some [Divine] appellations.

Or Ne'erav was completed, according to the colophon, on, AWednesday, A[God has endowed me] with a good dowry (ZEVED = 15th)@ (Genesis 30:20) [in the month of] merciful father (Av), [in the year, may He] Aoften turn away "LECHACHIV- (347 = August 19, 1587) his anger@ (Psalms, 78:37) and Acause the palace to stand where it used to be@ (paraphrase of Jeremiah 30:18). Although not forgotten or overlooked, it was reprinted several times, and the stature of the author notwithstanding, Or Ne'erav did not become a primary introductory work to Kabbalah, perhaps due to the ascendancy of Lurian rather than Cordoveran Kabbalah.

Gedaliah undertook, almost simultaneously, another of his father's works, Perush Seder Avodat Yom ha-Kippurim. The order of the two books is not clear. We have a completion date, but no start date for Or Ne'erav, and a start but no completion date for Perush Seder Avodat Yom ha-Kippurim. This book, as the title makes clear, is Cordovero's commentary on the Yom Kippur Temple service.

The title page of has a patterned frame. At the top is the verse, AThus shall Aaron come into the holy place@ (Leviticus 16:3). The text states that it was printed in a small format, it measures about 15 cm., so that "it can be placed at the end of the prayer book to be available on the mighty and awesome day." It is dated in the year 387 (1587) followed by the censors' license. Next is a brief preamble from Gedaliah, appearing on the verso of the title page, stating,

Because of the exile, due to our many iniquities, variations exist in the order of prayers. Perhaps whomever sees this work will think it is based on the rite of the Sephardim. I state this to make known to all who see this work that it is constructed about the order of the sacrifices according to the Rambam -' and not on the order of prayers as one who looks can see.

The text is in seven parts, entitled tikkunim, followed (38b-39a) by sod neshamah yeterah (secret of the additional soul) by R. Menahem Azaria of Fano (1548-1620), concerning the prohibition on wearing tefillin on the intermediate days of festivals. The book concludes with an epilogue by Gedaliah, followed by verse in praise of Moses Cordovero from Samuel ben Elhanan Jacob Archivolti, rabbi, av bet din, and rosh yeshivah in Padua, but perhaps best known for his compositional work, Ma'yan Gannim (Venice, 1553).

It is worthwhile to conclude with the epilogue, written by Gedaliah, which is especially, poignant. Gedaliah writes,

Says the youth, Gedaliah, the Lord has granted me the merit to begin the work of heaven, today Wednesday, the 23rd of Tamuz, 5347 (July 29, 1587). I have fixed it for a fast and remembrance for ever, "above my highest joy" (Psalms 137:6) for it is the day that my father died, "the crown of my head," (Job 19:9) seventeen years ago, and I remained, as Josiah, "when he began to reign," (Kings II 22:1), eight years old, occupied with regularity in learning Bible but not rigorously (midah sheino midah) and then when I began to learn halakhot seriously with [my father my teacher of blessed memory] in his yeshiva I did not have the merit to be with him but for a little while. And that righteous woman, my mother supported me, "The wisdom of women builds her house," (Proverbs 14:1) praise to God may He be blessed, and she stood firm for me and "girded me with strength" (Psalms 18:40) to serve sages continuously and did not move her hand from mine until I was grown (reached maturity). And she was gracious to me and my Maker showed me grace, "[I swear] by the Torah and the teaching" (Isaiah 8:20) that I call it my mother's Torah. May it be [His] will that I have the merit to serve her with awe and honor for length of day and years of life for her image is for me like that of the Divine presence. And the sun that is always set before me for light (adaptation of Psalms 16:8), he is the wonder of the generation, ha-Rav, the distinguished, Solomon Sagis, to be diligently at his doorway day after day and to drink his words with thirst. May his eyes and our eyes behold, "Jerusalem, a safe habitation," (Isaiah 33:20) speedily in our day, May it be His will, Amen.

1 Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (New York, 1961), pp. 252-53;
2 Pardes Rimmonim was first printed by David Azubib in Salonika in c. 1584. No copies of this edition are known to be extant. Concerning this edition see
Israel Mehlman, AHebrew Printing in Salonika,@ in Genuzot Sefarim (Jerusalem, 1976), p. 73 n. 42 [Hebrew]. The earliest existing edition is the Cracow,
1591 printing of Isaac Prostitz. It is a folio 20 of [2], 211 leaves. Tomer Devorah was first printed in Venice in 1588 by Giovanni di Gara. It is a sextodecimo
(160) of 19 leaves. There are two English translations, both entitled The Palm Tree of Deborah, the first by Louis Jacobs (London, 1960), the second by
Moshe Miller (Southfield, Mich., 1993). Jacobs translation has been posted on the internet at www.digital-brilliance.com/kab/deborah/deborah.htm.
3 Alkabez is best remembered for Lekhah Dodi, the hymn recited in the kabbalat Shabbat service. Less well known is that Cordovero composed an alternate
version of Lekhah Dodi (concerning this see R. Moses ben Judah ibn Makhir, Seder ha-Yom (Venice, 1599, reprint Jerusalem, 1998), p. 82.
4 Mordechai Pachter, "Kabbalistic Ethical Literature in Sixteenth-Century Safed," Binah 3 (Westport, Conn., 1994), pp. 161-62 and Solomon Schecter,
"Safed in the Sixteenth century. A City of Legists and Mystics," in Studies in Judaism Second Series (Philadelphia, 1938), pp. 239-40.
5 The others, known with greater certainty, are R. Joseph Caro, R. Moses di Trani, and R. Joseph Sagis.
6 Mordechai Margalioth, Encyclopedia of Great Men in Israel I (Tel Aviv, 1986), col. 310-12 [Hebrew].
7 Meir Benayahu, The Relation Between Greek and Italian Jewry (Tel Aviv, 1980), pp. 98-100 [Hebrew].
8 Later additions of Or Ne'erav include Cracow, 1647; Feurth, 1701; Zolkiew 1800 and 1851; Vilna, 1885; and Brooklyn, 1965. There is also an English
translation by Ira Robinson, Moses Cordovero's introduction to Kabbalah: an annotated translation of his Or Ne=erav (New York, 1994). The
Korzec,1786 edition of Menahem Azariah da Fano's Pelah ha-Rimmon has appended to it both Or Ne'erav and Perush Seder Avodat Yom ha-Kippurim. As
Robinson notes, "Moses Cordovero and Kabbalistic Education in the Sixteenth Century," Judaism XXXIX (New York, 1990), p. 62 n. 47, "though it was
never absolutely forgotten, its publication history does not indicate an inordinate popularity."
9 Isadore Singer, Ed. The Jewish Encyclopedia II (New York, 1901-06), p. 576.
10 Concerning this edition of the Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur mahzor see Avraham Yaari, Hebrew Printing at Constantinople (Jerusalem, 1967), 126 n.
190 [Hebrew].

Retour au sommaire

- Copyright © 2001: Moïse Rahmani -