How the Zohar Addresses Torah

For the Zohar every word in the Torah is meaningful on many levels. On the level of sod (secret, mystical) itself, there are multiple valid readings of the same word, phrase, or passage. A section in the Zohar depicts this attitude explicitly: “Rabbi Shimon said: woe to the person who says that the Torah comes to present worldly stories and mundane matters … all the words of the Torah are sublime words and unfathomable secrets” (vol. 3, 152a).

The Zohar continues by decribing that the Torah's appearance as merely a collection of stories is necessary so that the world can endure the power of the Torah. The author(s) of the Zohar explains this, writing that “since the Torah descended into this world, if it didn't dress itself in the garments of this world, the world would not be able to endure. Therefore, this story of the Torah is the garment of the Torah. Whoever thinks that the garment is the true Torah, his spirit will deflate and he will not partake of the world to come… . There is a garment apparent to everyone and fools who see a person with beautiful clothing and look no further, thinking the clothing is the body and the body is the soul. Similarly the Torah has a body which are the Mitzvot of the Torah… . [T]his body is clothed in the garments which are the stories of this world. Fools of the world only look at that garment which is the story of the Torah and know nothing beyond, and don't look at what lies beneath the garment. Those who know more don't look at the garment, but at the body beneath that garment” (vol. 3, 152a).

The peak of the Zohar's influence in Jewish life was from the 1500s through the 1700s. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, some claimed that reciting the Zohar even without comprehending the words was still beneficial to the soul.

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