Cordovero, Moses ben Jacob
CORDOVERO, MOSES BEN JACOB
CORDOVERO, MOSES BEN JACOB (1522–1570), the outstanding kabbalist in Safed before Isaac *Luria. His birthplace is unknown, but his name testifies to the family's Spanish origins. He was a disciple of Joseph *Caro and of Solomon *Alkabeẓ, and a teacher of Isaac Luria. His first large systematic work is Pardes Rimmonim, which Cordovero completed by the age of 27. Ten years later he finished his second systematic book, the Elimah Rabbati, and also wrote a lengthy commentary on all the parts of the *Zohar which has been preserved in manuscript in Modena.
The doctrine of Cordovero is a summary and a development of the different trends in Kabbalah up to his time, and his whole work is a major attempt to synthesize and to construct a speculative kabbalistic system. This is done especially in his theology, which is based on the Zohar, and in particular on Tikkunei Zohar and Ra'aya Meheimna. Since Cordovero considered these texts to be by one and the same author, he felt constrained to harmonize their different and at times even opposing conceptions. Cordovero follows Tikkunei Zohar in his conception of God as a transcendent being: God is the First Cause, a Necessary Being, essentially different from any other being. In this concept of God, Cordovero is obviously drawing upon the sources of medieval philosophy (especially Maimonides). In accordance with the philosophers, Cordovero maintains that no positive attribute can apply to the transcendent God. In his opinion, the philosophers had attained an important achievement in purifying the concept of God of its anthropomorphisms. Yet, Cordovero stresses that the essential difference between Kabbalah and philosophy lies in the solution of the problem of the bridge between God and the world. This bridging is made possible by the structure of the Sefirot ("Emanations") which emanate from God.
In this way Cordovero tries to unify the concept of God as a transcendent Being with the personal concept. Thus, the central problem of his theology is the relation between *Ein-Sof (the transcendent God) and the question of the nature of the Sefirot: are they God's substance or only kelim ("instruments" or "vessels")? Cordovero's answer to this question is something of a compromise between the Zohar and Tikkunei Zohar – the Sefirot are substance and kelim at the same time. They are beings emanated outward from God, but His substance is immanent in them. Cordovero describes the Sefirot as instruments or tools with which God performs His various activities in the world, and as the vessels containing the Divine substance, which permeates them and gives them life, as the soul gives life to the body. By means of this attitude Cordovero wants to preserve, on the one hand, the concept of the simple and immutable God, and on the other hand to maintain God's providence in the world. Although this providence is sometimes described as a substantial immanence of God through all the worlds, Cordovero has reservations about it. In Pardes Rimmonim, a distinction exists between the transcendent God, who undergoes no process, and the light emanated from Him, spreading through the Sefirot. This emanated expansion is not of a necessary existence, but is activated by God's spontaneous will. This makes for the involvement of the will in every Divine act – the active God is the God united in His will.
It is quite understandable, therefore, why God's will has such a decisive place in Cordovero's system. Here again, the same question arises: what is the relation between God and His will? Cordovero's answer is dialectic in its character. By itself, the will is an emanation, but it originates from God in a succession of wills which approach God's substance asymptotically.
The process of emanation of the Sefirot is described by Cordovero as dialectical. In order to be revealed, God has to conceal Himself. This concealment is in itself the coming into being of the Sefirot. Only the Sefirot reveal God, and that is why "revealing is the cause of concealment and concealment is the cause of revealing." The process of emanation itself takes place through a constant dynamics of inner aspects inside the Sefirot. These aspects form a reflective process inside each Sefirah, which reflects itself in its different qualities; these aspects also have a function in the process of emanation, in being the inner grades which derive, each from the other, according to the principle of causation. Only this inner process, which is but a hypostasis of the reflective aspects, enables the emanation of the Sefirot, each from the other, as well. These inner processes are of special importance regarding the first Sefirah – the will. After the series of wills, which are the aspects of the "Keter" ("crown") in the "Keter," there appear in "Ḥokhmah" ("Wisdom") in the "Keter" aspects which express the potential thought of all the not yet actualized Being. Cordovero calls these thoughts: "The kings of Edom who died before the reign of a king in Israel." This idea appears in the Zohar, but Cordovero reverses its meaning. In the Zohar this is a mythological description of the forces of stern judgment (din) that were conceived in the Divine Thought, and because of their extreme severity, were abolished and died, whereas according to Cordovero these thoughts were abolished because they did not contain enough judgment (din). Cordovero conceives of judgment (din) as a necessary condition for the survival of any existence. What is too near to the abundance of God's infinite compassion cannot exist, and therefore the highest thoughts were abolished, so that the Sefirot could be formed only when emanation reached the Sefirah of Binah ("Intelligence"), which already contains judgment (din).
The whole world of emanation is built and consolidated by a double process, that of or yashar ("direct light") – the emanation downward, and or ḥozer ("reflected light") – the reflection of the same process upward. This reflected movement is also the origin of din.
The transition from the world of emanation to the lower world is continuous. Thus the problem of creation ex nihilo does not exist in relation to our world, but pertains only to the transition from the divine "Nothingness" (Ayin) to the first Being – the uppermost aspects of the first Sefirah. In spite of Cordovero's attempts to obliterate this transition, his stand is theistic: the first Sefirah is outside God's substance. This prohibits any pantheistic interpretation of Cordovero's system. The immanence of the Divine substance in the Sefirot and in all worlds is likewise clothed always in the first vessel, even though Cordovero hints several times at a mystical experience in which the immanence of God Himself in the world is revealed. In this esoteric meaning, Cordovero's system may, perhaps, be defined as pantheistic.
In addition to his two principal systematic books, Pardes Rimmonim (Cracow, 1592) and Elimah Rabbati (Lvov, 1881), the following parts of his commentary to the Zohar were published separately: the introduction to the commentary on the Idras in the Zohar, Shi'ur Komah (Warsaw, 1883); and an introduction to the Zohar "Song of Songs," Derishot be-Inyanei Malakhim (Jerusalem, 1945). Publication of the complete commentary has been begun in Jerusalem. Two volumes of the commentary had appeared by 1968.
Other published works are Or Ne'erav (Venice, 1587); Sefer Gerushin (Venice, c. 1602); Tefillah le-Moshe (Przemysl, 1892); Zivḥei Shelamim (Lublin, 1613), Perush Seder Avodat Yom ha-Kippurim (Venice, 1587); Tomer Devorah (Venice, 1589; tr. L. Jacobs, Palmtree of Deborah, 1960). In this work Cordovero laid the foundations for kabbalistic ethical literature, which proliferated in the 16th–18th centuries. In its short chapters he instructed every Jew in the right way to follow in order to come close and identify spiritually with each of the ten Sefirot. This short treatise influenced many later kabbalistic moralists in Safed and Eastern Europe. There are two existing abridgments of Pardes Rimmonim: Pelaḥ ha-Rimmon (Venice, 1600) by Menahem Azariah of *Fano, and Asis Rimmonim (Venice, 1601) by Samuel Gallico.
S.A. Horodezky, Torat ha-Kabbalah shel Rabbi Moshe… Cordovero (1924); J. Ben-Shlomo, Torat ha-Elohut shel Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (1965).