the nations and the shells

David Solomon (the Tishby translator whose work continues to hang fire) would not wish me to claim any greater acquaintance with the detailed english meanings of Isaiah Tishby’s various formulations in “Torat ha-Ra” than I really possess. Everybody knows my hebrew is comical in its inadequacy. But others (Moshe Idel, Matt Goldish) have also written about Tishby’s startling idea, so I feel entitled to write about it too. I want to address this idea, that the qlipot are nothing other than the nations of the world, and the sparks trapped within them are the lost Jewish individuals belonging to families converted out of the Jewish religion. Luria’s model is about something more than just the sociological and psychological problems of reintegrating them when they return to the Jewish fold: the question of the existence and nature of the Jewish soul is also involved. No major kabbalist has ever said that non-Jews have no souls. Rather, they talk of an additional ‘Jews-only soul’ being the only thing that distinguishes Jews (with 5 souls) from gentiles (with 4). Tishby’s theory that the nations are the shells is implausible as far as I know. I think that the shells are the indiscernible units of ‘matter’ itself, physical matter, stuff about which we know can in principle know nothing because it radically, permanently and completely obstructs our consciousness, but which is not itself alive unless it is organized into a biological structure that works. The soul is the spark and the body is the shell. The spark must leave the shell anyway, but whether it is blown away in some gale, or finds its true spiritual home, whether it lives or dies, all this is excessively naturalistic among the vulgar Lurianics, who have forgotten they were attempting to create a sort of spiritual science, not just another mythology. That is why I have returned to the pre-Lurianic terminology of the gufot, the ruhot and the neshamot (literally: bodies, minds and souls) but I insist that I continue to speak about the same things that are elsewhere called sparks and shells – RB

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