Sefer ha-Zohar, the Book of Splendor, Radiance, Enlightenment, 1 has amazed and overwhelmed readers for seven centuries. The Zohar is the major text of Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition. It is arranged in the form of a commentary on the Torah, the Five Books of Moses. It is a mosaic of Bible, midrash (see Glossary), medieval homily, fiction, and fantasy. Its central theme is the interplay of human and divine realities. Its language is a peculiar brand of Aramaic that breaks the rules of grammar and invents words.
Who wrote the Zohar? The question has been debated ever since the first hand-written booklets were distributed in Spain late in the thirteenth century. The Introduction below tells the story of the answer.
The Zohar is immense. This volume contains approximately 2 percent of the entire work. It is presumptuous to pick and choose from a mystical corpus, but I have tried to select passages that are spiritually evocative and that demonstrate the uniqueness of the Zohar's encounter with Torah. I have supplied the passages with titles, and occasionally omitted material within a passage, in which case the omission is indicated by ellipsis points. An index at the end of the volume identifies the location of the passages in the Zohar. The translation attempts to convey the lyrical flavor of the original without smoothing away its rough vibrancy.
The Zohar is an esoteric and cryptic work, a commentary that requires a commentary. The notes in the second half of the volume are designed to guide the reader through the maze of kabbalistic symbolism and to identify rabbinic sources and zoharic parallels. Here I have relied especially on Ketem Paz by Shim'on Labi; Or ha-Ḥammah, edited by Avraham Azulai; Niẓoẓei Zohar by Re'uven Margaliot (printed in his edition of the Zohar); Mishnat ha-Zohar by Isaiah Tishby; and the works of Gershom Scholem (nishmato eden). I suggest that the reader first encounter each passage on his own, and then go back to study it with the notes, which are unnumbered (except in the Foreword and Introduction) and keyed to a particular Zohar selection.