It is a well-known fact that the Zohar frequently describes the
Godhead as a threefold unity, doing so in different ways. The tenfold
structure of the Kabbalistic sefirot can actually be fitted into
threefold division, particularly in accordance with a certain passages
from Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer - a passage on which the Zohar
bases itself (see note 15) - thus remaining within the realm
Yehuda Liebes - Studies in the Zohar, pg. 140.
The third chapter of Yehuda Liebes Studies in the Zohar is entitled "Christian
influences in the Zohar." In this chapter, he documents a few of the many threefold formulations
of classic Jewish doctrines, taking special care to analyze the "mystery of the threefold unity" of the Godhead
derived from the Shema (cf. Unity Holograph).
His fundamental thesis is that the Trinitarian formulations - which are simply too
obvious to dismiss - must have come through the influence of the Christian doctrine, of which the
author of the Zohar was certainly aware. But before he presented his arguments, he was careful to
state the painfully obvious fact that "Needless to say,
the Zohar is emphatically a Jewish, not a Christian work." With this, I wholeheartedly agree.
Liebes' argument that the appearance of Trinitarian formulations must be due to Christian influence
has one extremely obvious alternative. Suppose the Trinity is true.
It then would be intrinsic to the nature of God and would therefore be a doctrine taught by God Himself!
As it turns out, Liebes provides this alternative in the first text he quoted,
Zohar (III, 43b) (emphasis added):
Hear, 0 Israel, Adonai Eloheinu Adonai is one. These three are one.
How can the three Names be
one? Only through the perception of faith: in the vision of the Holy Spirit, in the
beholding of the hidden eye alone! The mystery of the audible voice is similar to this,
for though it is one yet it consists of three elements-fire, air and water, which have,
however, become one in the mystery of the voice. Even so it is with the mystery of the
threefold Divine manifestations designated by Adonai Eloheinu Adonai - three modes which
yet form one unity. This is the significance of the voice which man produces in the act
of unification, when his intent is to unify all, from the Infinite (Ein Sof) to
the end of creation. This is the daily unification, the secret of which has been revealed
in the holy spirit.
It is important to note that if this is a genuine Jewish glimpse of the Trinity, it is somewhat occluded
by the fact that they don't have the full light of the Gospel. But note how it is based on the Shema, which
Jews from before the time of Jesus have recognized as the "first and greatest commandment."
It is hard to imagine that the
Jewish authors of this Jewish work would write anything like this if it were not perceived as
a true mystery of their own faith. What would they have to gain by accommodating a Christian doctrine? And
why would they sully the holiest of all commandments with something they thought
originated from a false Christian doctrine? And besides
all this, there is the mathematical identity - Love = 13 = Unity - that naturally lends itself to
contemplation of Three united as One. As documented in the
Unity Holograph article, this
knowledge made its way into the Daily Prayer Book and the formulation of the Jewish Faith as Thirteen
Articles. Liebes arguments do not seem convincing to me at all. It seems to me that the
Wisdom of God revealed in the intrinsic alphanumeric structure of the supernatural Hebrew
alphabet is a much more likely source for the Trinitarian formulations found throughout Jewish writings.
Liebes then gives another very enlightening quote from the pen of Moses de Leon, who refers to the
"mystery of the triune singularity", which he supports with the words "as our sages
teach us [Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, 3]: "The world was created through ten sayings, and of three are they
comprised -- wisdom, understanding, and knowledge -- forming a single secret of reality."
Now it is granted that this is not identical to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, but it certainly
is compatible with it, and with the help of God's Holy Spirit it is a natural stepping stone to
the Christian Faith. If nothing else, it proves that the Doctrine of the Trinity is not incompatible
with the Jewish understanding of God.
I highly reccomend Liebes scholarly work, for
it bears witness not so much to his thesis that these references are due to Christian influence as
to the truth that the one God is a Blessed Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May the day
soon come when all Israel will say "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!"
Liebes erred in his reference to the Zohar on page 140 of his book where he wrote that the
quote is from Zohar II, 53b when in fact no such text exists. But he does give the correct reference
(Zohar III, 43b) in footnote #3. The quote is found on page 134 of the Zohar III printed by
The Soncino edition also contains a citation error. It states that the quote is from the
Ra'aya Meheimana. Liebes corrected this in his footnote #4 stating:
This passage is not part of the Ra'aya Meheimana, as is indicated in the printed editions,
but from the section of Pikkudin, written by the author of the main text.
See E. Gottlieb, "The Pikkudin Passages in the Zohar" (Hebrew), in his Mehkarim
be-Sifrut ha-Kabbala, Tel Aviv 1976 pp. 215-30.
Originally Posted: 01/24/2004