This year we will concentrate on the first pages of the Zohar, the Haqdamat Sefer ha-Zohar. Found in Volume One of the Pritzker Edition of The Zohar.
This is how the Zohar introduces itself to you, the reader. Instead of jumping right into a text that is, in the words of Professor Daniel Matt:
“profound and intense; one who hopes to enter and emerge in peace should be careful, persevering, simultaneously receptive and active. The message is not served to you on a platter; you must engage the text and join the search for meaning. Follow the words to what lies beyond and within; open the gates of imagination.”
There is an introduction! Ha-qda-mat. A safe place to start, an excellent way to be introduced to the Zohar, and for experienced readers, to appreciate how the Zohar wants to be understood in its own terms.
The “Haqdamat,” introduces us to the surprising formats and set pieces of the Zohar. We will join Rabbi Hiyya and Rabbi Yose “walking on the way." They will encounter (it is all about encounters) an amazing child filled with wisdom, a beggar with precious teachings, a belligerent donkey-driver who is a sage in disguise.
We are introduced to Rabbi Shim’on and his disciples, the chevraya: his son, Rabbi Elazar; his scribe, Rabbi Abba, and Rabbis Yehudah, Yossi ben Yaakov, Yitzchak, Chizkiyah, Chiya, Yossi and Yaakov bar Idi.
Rabbi Shim'on and his disciples are often outshone in wisdom by these most unlikely figures. And they are almost always out of doors. They might be in a garden or a grove of trees. If they go inside they are visiting their teachers homes. They are never found in the confines of a house of study or synagogue.
They will, time and time again, run into Elijah. They will contemplate creation; and delve into the holiness of the Sabbath,
There will be discussions about evil, especially human evil. There will be love songs to human creativity. There will be observations of the connection between God and individual human beings through the consequences of combined actions. “These actions join us to the divine reality, as we add to creation, finding our own beauty, wonder, and awe.”
And there will be fish (with messianic overtones).