Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking

By Michael Fishbane | Go to book overview

12 Divine Sorrow and the Rupture of Exile

The themes of destruction and sorrow and exile, which recur throughout midrashic literature, are not absent from the pages of the Zoharic corpus; and one will similarly observe the recurrence there of such older rabbinic themes as divine tears and mourning. What distinguishes their reuse is another matter: the drama and crisis in the supernal realms caused by the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem and the banishment of the nation from its homeland into foreign exile. In the new myth, the effect is not simply on the divine personality, which sorrows for its own loss and also that of the people, resulting variously in a withdrawal into the depth of heaven or a sympathetic sharing of Israel's woes in the exile. It is this and more, since these historical events cause doom and disaster in the divine structure itself—splitting off parts of Divinity, so to speak, and effecting a rent in the very fabric of its Being. Indeed, the new myth does speak this way; for Israel is not just an earthly embodiment of its supernal archetype, and the supernal Israel is not some idealized or spiritual prototype of the mundane reality. Rather, in the bold terms of the Zoharic myth, the two are mysteriously one—two different modalities of one and the same Reality. Myth is history and history is myth, for those who see with the eyes of R. Simeon and his disciples.

Of the numerous and varied expressions of this myth, three examples shall be considered. They are chosen as much for their content as for the exegetical character of their articulation. The first two cases provide terse teachings of two dimensions of the myth of divine rupture. The third one provides an extensive account of divine loss and longing, and shows how numerous older traditions could be assembled and transformed into one long narrative of lament.


A DESTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE

I Rupture on High

In this first text, we find a passage dealing with the destruction of the Temple and its precedent in the supernal realm above. Remarkably, on the basis of one old mythic fragment found in Scripture, and a midrashic transformation of another one, this involves an initial act of rupture within the Godhead; only then (as a simultaneous corollary) is there a corresponding disaster in the material world of human habitation.

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