Text sample from Tiqqunei ha-Zohar merged with a A composite image of mystical concepts

Tiqqunei ha-Zohar: A Guide

Have you ever heard of Tiqqunei ha-Zohar but not quite known what it actually is? If so, you're not alone. During the decade my husband David (Solomon, translator and editor of the Tiqqunei ha-Zohar Margalya English translation) spent translating Tiqqunei ha-Zohar, I knew he was working with an important mystical text. But as someone who isn't a scholar of Kabbalah, I struggled to understand fully what this text was and why it was significant.

However, over the past three years, I have worked with David on the production of Tiqqunei ha-Zohar Margalya, to bring this extraordinary text to the English-speaking world. In doing so, I have filled in the gaps in my understanding of this text and its significance. I'd like to share what I have learned.

Who Wrote Tiqqunei ha-Zohar and When?

The answer to this question is not simple. All the texts of the Zoharic corpus were revealed in Medieval Spain over roughly half a century. Some texts, including the Zohar, emerged in the late 13th century, while others like the Tiqqunei ha-Zohar appeared in the early 14th century.

The second-century sage and mystic Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is said to be the author of all Zoharic texts. However, many academic scholars contend they were likely composed by Spanish kabbalists from that time.

What is the Difference Between the Zohar and the Tiqqunei ha-Zohar?

Even with only the most basic knowledge of Jewish mysticism, chances are that you have heard of the Zohar and appreciate its importance. Name recognition for the Tiqqunei ha-Zohar is less common, as is the general understanding of its significance. Moreover, among those who have heard of Tiqqunei ha-Zohar, there is a reasonable chance they do not fully understand a) whether there is a difference between the two texts and b) what that difference is.

Here is the difference in a nutshell. The Zohar provides a mystical commentary on the entire Torah, while Tiqqunei ha-Zohar consists of 70 chapters of commentary, known as tiqqunim, on the first word of the Torah: Be-reishyt ("In-the-beginning"). Both texts are written in Aramaic, but the literary style of Tiqqunei ha-Zohar is considered denser and more difficult. This difficulty may partly explain why, while there are several English translations of the Zohar, Tiqqunei ha-Zohar has never before been completely translated into English or any Western language (until now!).

Is There a Difference Between the Tiqqunei ha-Zohar and Tikunei Zohar?

Because we are dealing with translation and transliteration, Tiqqunei ha-Zohar is sometimes written in English as Tikkunei HaZohar or Tikunei Zohar (or other permutations). Tiqqunei ha-Zohar is also frequently called the "Tiqqunim" (or Tikkunim), referring to the 70 chapters (tiqqunim) that comprise the text. Margalya Press uses the scholarly Hebrew/Aramaic to English translation convention in which a qof (ק) is represented as 'q' rather than 'k'. 

Why is Tiqqunei ha-Zohar Important?

Like the Zohar, Tiqqunei ha-Zohar is one of the most foundational texts of Jewish mysticism, having influenced Jewish mystical ideas and rituals since the Middle Ages. The study of Tiqqunei ha-Zohar is said to repair a person's soul. Consequently, there is a centuries-old kabbalistic custom to learn Tiqqunei ha-Zohar through Elul and the Ten Days of Repentance until Yom Kippur, a period in the Jewish calendar of introspection and te-shuvah (repentance).

Key concepts of Jewish mysticism are believed to have emerged from Tiqqunei ha-Zohar, including the idea of the "Four Worlds". Additionally, the cornerstone Jewish mystical text Patach Eliyahu, now embedded in parts of Jewish liturgy, comes from Tiqqunei ha-Zohar. Patach Eliyahu discusses the sephirot and their relationships to different parts of the human body. It also explores the infinite and unique nature of God.

For a book that many people know nothing about, it has been incredibly influential. As the 18th-century Hasidic rabbi and mystic Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said: "Even though the Book of the Zohar is very holy and awesome, it cannot compare to the holiness and mysteries of the Book of the Tiqqunim."

A Glimpse Inside Tiqqunei ha-Zohar

We have already established that Tiqqunei ha-Zohar is a commentary on the first word of the Torah, Be-reishyt. The commentary largely takes the form of discussions between Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and a range of other figures, including sages from his time, as well as anonymous elders, prophets (like Elijah), and souls from the past. Many of these figures appear before Rabbi Shimon to share their wisdom and mystical teachings or to seek mysteries from him.

Discourses within Tiqqunei ha-Zohar traverse a range of topics, including the nature of God, angels, reincarnation, redemption, the soul, the universe, prophecy, and many more subjects. They also provide mystical insights into topics that are more grounded in earthly realities, such as love, sex, psychology, and ritual.

Tiqqunei ha-Zohar contains many passages that appear to be written in a style reflective of automatic writing. However, there are also narrative elements, placed inside the continuing dialogue that Rabbi Shimon has with those around him.

Studying Tiqqunei ha-Zohar 

Despite the complexity of the language and ideas of Tiqqunei ha-Zohar, David's annotated English translation helps to open up this extraordinary text, rich in ideas and saturated with Biblical, Talmudic, and Midrashic references.

There is a reason that Rabbi Nachman placed the Tiqqunei ha-Zohar on such a pedestal of holiness. The text is a rich repository of meaning, layers, and insights. David's clear translation and valuable annotation will be immensely helpful for readers wishing to engage with this text. But even with this remarkable literary contribution, the most essential element for a student to unpack the many treasures contained within this remarkable and revered text, in my opinion, will be time and repeated study. It's an enormous text - powerful, complex, and profound. I have no doubt that such an ambitious labour of study, for anyone who is willing to undertake it, would be transformative.

As the Tiqqunei ha-Zohar says in Tiqqun 111b: “Worthy is the generation in which this text is revealed.”   

Marjorie Solomon is Publishing Director at Margalya Press.

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