Passive vs. Active Immigration

In 13th-century mysticism, two streams of thought emerged regarding the Land of Israel.


Medieval kabbalah (mysticism) in Spain is generally grouped in two broad categories: The “Gerona Circle” approached kabbalah philosophically, while “ecstatic kabbalah” sought a transformative spiritual experience. The following article examines the Land of Israel in the thought of the 13th-century Gerona kabbalists. Reprinted with permission from The Land of Israel: Jewish Perspectives, edited by Lawrence A. Hoffman (University of Notre Dame Press).

The conception of the Land of Israel as the center of the world was widespread in talmudic and midrashic literature; nevertheless, a new turn can be detected in kabbalistic comments upon this theme. In a letter written by R. Ezra b. Solomon (died c.1238), one of the kabbalists belonging to the school of Gerona, we read: 

“The inner line of the populated world is the Land of Israel, which is called the omphallus (i.e., the navel) of the world and around it there are 70 nations; so also regarding the Glorious Name (shem ha-nikhbad); the inner line and the heart (i.e., the center) are [the source of the] power of Israel… and around it there are 70 names, and all of them depend upon and are sustained by [the efflux] from the center.…

“This is the reason why the inhabitant of the Land of Israel [receives directly] from its [i.e., the Land’s] power and is under its [sphere of] influence and is similar to someone who has a God; whereas whoever dwells abroad actually must resort to [the efflux] he receives from the name which is appointed [i.e., has dominion] over him… But at the time of the resurrection, the souls, even of those who died in the Land of Israel, will return through its area, using the inner path, which ascends to the inner line of the Glorious Name, which is called ‘the bundle of life.'”Old City of Jerusalem

Center of Power

It is obvious that we face here a kabbalistjc version of the well-known al­chemical statement that asserts, “That which is above is like that which is below, and that which is below is like that which is above.” Thus the Land of Israel corresponds to the center of the creative divine powers. This cor­respondence is no mere structural paradigm. According to the last statement in the passage, “an inner path” links the two centers by which the souls of the dead return to their bodies. This “path” seems to constitute an ontological nexus and may reflect the influence of the Islamic concept of the straight line that connects two centers and is used by souls in their ascent to their source.

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Moshe Idel is Professor of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and one of the foremost contemporary experts on kabbalah.

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