אֵל מִסְתַּתֵּר | El Mistater :: The God who is hidden, by Avraham Maimin (circa 1550)


Hebrew:

English translation:

Source (Hebrew) Translation (English)

אֵל מִסְתַּתֵּר בְּשַׁפְרִיר חֶבְיוֹן
הַשֵּׂכֶל הַנֶּעְלָם מִכָּל רַעְיוֹן
עִלַּת הָעִלּוֹת מֻכְתָּר בְּכֶתֶר עֶלְיוֹן
כֶּתֶר יִתְּנוּ לְךָ יְיָ
The God who is hidden––to all of our reason is naught.
Wisdom concealed, wisdom kept secret, from all of our deepest thought.
Cause of all causes, surpassing all causes, hidden crown of all.
A keter we give you, a crown we now offer, to you YHVH (Adonai).[1]Why do we begin with the most distant sephira, Keter (Crown)? Keter is beyond all attempts to grasp it with the mind. It appears to be something like a canopy. We can only receive from it. Here is a quote from Tomer Devorah (The Palm Tree of Deborah) by Moses Cordovero, whose disciple (Avraham Maimin) was the author of El Mistater: “The quality of humility includes all qualities, for it belongs to Keter, which is the highest attribute. It is ashamed to gaze at its Source, but the Cause of its emanation looks continually into it to give goodness to it.” So we begin our exploration of the tree of life with an act of pure receptivity.

בְּרֵאשִׁית תּוֹרָתְךָ הַקְּדוּמָה
רְשׁוּמָה חָכְמָתְךָ הַסְּתוּמָה
מֵאַיִן תִּמָּצֵא וְהִיא נֶעְלָמָה
רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה יִרְאַת יְיָ
At the first was your Torah, the Torah before time.
Imprinting your wisdom, it was sublime.
It came forth from nothing, and then it was hid. (2x)
The beginning of wisdom, resheet ḥokhmah, is yir’at Adonai.[2]The second sephirah—Chochmah—is wisdom, but it is a wisdom which offers itself to us only in flashes. Most of the time it hides from us. So once again we can receive from it only with awe and humility. Chochmah itself receives from Keter, but turns arounds and bestows its gifts on those below it. Tomer Devorah refers to it as “the father of all created things”.

רְחוֹבוֹת הַנָּהָר נַחֲלֵי אֱמוּנָה
מַיִם עֲמֻקִּים יִדְלֵם אִישׁ תְּבוּנָה
תּוֹצְאוֹתֶיהָ חֲמִשִּׁים שַׁעֲרֵי בִינָה
 
אֱמוּנִים נוֹצֵר יְיָ
The rivers are flowing, emunah streaming,
Waters run deep for one with understanding.
The gates are all open, gates yielding binah,
fifty in number, all bringing binah.
When we’re faithful, we know you are there, guarding us always, Adonai.[3]Unlike Chochmah, Binah (or Understanding) is available continually, but only to those possessing “emunah”—faith. The devotee swims in the waters of Binah, as in a river. Binah is on the left or dark side of the Tree of Life, so its function is to absorb the dark forces and bring them to the light. According to Tomer Devorah: “The function of Binah is to sweeten all judgments and to neutralize their bitterness. The root of every Supernal bitterness is sweet. The Left Side draws its sustenance from above. All its branches are destined to become sweet and they will be perfect once again. Man roots himself in the secret of evil and renders it sweet and brings it into the good.”

הָאֵל הַגָּדוֹל עֵינֵי כָל נֶגְדֶּךָ
רַב חֶסֶד גָּדוֹל מֵעַל שָּׁמַיִם חַסְדֶּךָ
אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם זְכֹר דָבָר לְעַבְדֶּךָ
 
חַסְדֵי יְיָ אַזְכִּיר תְּהִלּוֹת יְיָ
O great Lord of all, all your creatures search for you.
From your great love, grace from the heavens pours down on us.
God of Avraham, remember us now.
Remember us your servants: we’re all here to serve you.
Ḥesed of Adonai, hear now our praises, Adonai.[4]The fourth sephirah, Chesed or lovingkindness, is perhaps the easiest to receive from but at the same time the most difficult to emulate. To act in accordance with Chesed one must (in the words of Tomer Devorah), “concentrate on the good side of a quality and conceal its judgment.”. Our prayers go to the sephirah of Tipheret, which in turns receives from both Chesed and Gevurah. So Tomer Devorah states: “One should intend, with the deeds he performs, to bind Tipheret constantly to Chesed and to bring it forth from Binah in the direction of Chesed.”

מָרוֹם נֶאְדָּר בְּכֹחַ וּגְבוּרָה
מוֹצִיא אוֹרָה מֵאֵין תְּמוּרָה
פַּחַד יִצְחָק מִשְׁפָּטֵנוּ הָאִירָה
אַתָּה גִּבּוֹר לְעוֹלָם יְיָ
Highest one, adorned with power: gevurah,
Drawing down light from where opposites merge.
“Fear of Yitsḥaq”, bring our judgment to light.
O source of strength, you give us strength, unceasing strength, Adonai.[5]Gevurah is associated with power as well as with the evil inclination. It appears on the left or dark side of the Tree of Life, directly below Binah. According to El Mistater, it draws its energy from eyn temurah: the “place of exchange”. As such it is close to the place where good and evil turn into their opposites. The devotee’s task is to “bestir his evil inclination in the direction of the sweet Gevurot”, as it says in Tomer Devorah. One channels one’s vital energies in the direction of Binah by striving to do the divine will, whereby the dark forces are sweetened. This sephirah is called Pachad Yitzchak (“the Fear of Isaac”) because Isaac—having been nearly offered up on the divine altar but became instead one of the fathers of the chosen people—understood the transformative potential of Gevurah.

מִי אֵל כָּמוֹךָ עוֹשֶׂה גְדוֹלוֹת
אֲבִיר יַעֲקֹב נוֹרָא תְהִלּוֹת
תִּפְאֶרֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל שֹׁמֵעַ תְּפִלּוֹת
 
כִּי שֹׁמֵעַ אֶל אֶבְיוֹנִים יְיָ
What God is like you: doing great things for us all.
Vigor of Yaaqov, showing kindness, yet you fill us with awe.
Tiferet Yisrael: you never cease to hear our prayers.
The living grace of Israel is hearing all our prayers:
No one but you hears the prayers of the poor, Yah. (2x)
You are the one who listens to prayers, Adonai.[6]Tipheret is beauty, but it a kind of beauty that is not easy to acquire because it requires a balance between Gevurah and Chesed. As such it is associated with justice. When the dark forces of judgment become so heavy that they become destructive, Tipheret attempts to push the energy to the right, towards the sepherah of Chesed. Thus according to Tomer Devorah: “There are angels in a certain celestial palace whose function it is to receive the kindness done by man, and when the divine quality of Tipheret pleads against Israel these angels immediately bring that kindness to the notice of the Holy One, Blessed is He, Who has mercy upon Israel, for He delighteth in mercy.” Tipheret is invoked by studying Torah. It is also God in its most personal form.

יָהּ זְכוּת אָבוֹת יָגֵן עָלֵינוּ
נֵצַח יִשְׁרָאֵל מִצָּרוֹתֵינוּ גְאָלֵנוּ
וּמִבּוֹר גָּלוּת דְּלֵנוּ וְהַעֲלֵנוּ
 
לְנַצֵּחַ עַל מְלֶאכֶת בֵּית יְיָ
Yah, through our parents’ merits watch us now and guide us.
Netsaḥ Yisrael, from our troubles do redeem us.
From the pit of galut, please raise us and uplift us.
And from the pit of exile, do raise us and uplift us.
So our labors, the battles we fight, the efforts we make
may be for the sake of Adonai.[7]Netsach is victory attained through perseverance, overcoming all obstacles. It enlists the aid of every available ally in the struggle, and in particular the “zechut avot”: merit of the ancestors”. Its success is assured to those who dedicate their lives to the service of God.

מִיָּמִין וּמִשְּׂמֹאל יְנִיקַת הַנְבִיאִים
נֶצַח וָהוֹד בָּהֶם נִמְצָאִים
יָכִין וּבֹעַז בְּשֵׁם נִקְרָאִים
וְכָל בָּנַיִךְ לִמּוּדֵי יְיָ
From right and from left is the prophets’ insight,
netsaḥ and hōd is the source of their light.
Yakhin and Boaz: these two pillars shine bright.
And all your children (3x) do learn from Adonai.[8]Hod is called “Splendor”, and is a place of learning, communication and prophesy. In Christian kabbalah it is associated with Mercury, the divine messenger. The secret to accessing it is let everyone and everything be your teacher. The Tomer Devorah states: “As a result of becoming a pupil of all, one has the merit of becoming a chariot to Netsach and Hod: those taught of the Lord.”

וִיסוֹד צַדִּיק בְּשִׁבְעָה נֶעְלָם
אוֹת בְּרִית הִיא לְעוֹלָם
מַעְיַן הַבְּרָכוֹת צַדִּיק יְסוֹד עוֹלָם
צַדִּיק אַתָּה יְיָ
Within seven veils is the tsaddiq hidden.
He is the brit: the world’s true foundation.
The fount of blessing is the tsaddiq: yesod olam.
The tsaddiq are you (3x) Adonai.[9]The sephirah of Yesod refers to the hidden tzaddik or holy person, and to the correct channeling of energies into the earthly realm, especially in the spheres of speech and of sexuality. El Mistater teaches that the true tzaddik is hidden inside of the seven lower sephirot. Since the goal of creation is in the sephirah of malchut, the Tomer Devorah says: “The Bow of the Upper World is outstretched only for the purpose of shooting arrows into the sephirah of Malchut.”

נָא הָקֵם מַלְכוּת
דָּוִד וּשְׁלֹמֹה
בַּעֲטָרָה שֶׁעִטְּרָה לוֹ אִמּוֹ
כְּנֶסֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל
 
כַּלָּה קְרוּאָה בִּנְעִימוֹ
עֲטֶרֶת תִּפְאֶרֶת בְּיַד יְיָ
Now: raise up malkhut, malkhut of David, malkhut of David,
David and Solomon.
Restore now the crown, as did our mother, mother Shekhinah.
This our mother, keneset Yisrael,
She is a mother, keneset Yisrael
this your kalah, this she is called, your own bride.
Crown of beauty and of splendor all are in your hands, Adonai.[10]The culmination of the divine act of creation is the sephirah of Malchut. The most difficult task is to unite Malchut with Tipheret. According to Tomer Devorah: “The Shekinah is love-sick for the Union of Tipheret with Malchut.” “One should bind Her (Malchut) between Netsach and Hod. It is necessary to visit Her soul and to entreat Her to take food and drink from the Supernal Flow from which she abstains because Her soul is sick for the misery of Israel, just as it is with the sick of the material world. And Tipheret is sick, for He moves from His place in the world to come to wander after Her in this world.” It further states: “Do all of your actions for the sake of Heaven and without any trace of evil inclination. Tephillin and Tzitzith are also powerful in shielding Her (Malchut) that the Outside Ones have no dominion over Her and he should be accustomed to wear them. Thirdly, to make union with Tipheret during the time of reading the Shema and by setting aside periods for the study of the Torah. And when he sets aside a period for any purpose he should intend that this is the time of the Shekinah, the King’s Daughter.”

חָזָק מְיַחֵד כְּאֶחָד
עֶשֶׂר סְפִירוֹת
מַפְרִיד אַלּוּף לֹא יִרְאֶה מְאוֹרוֹת
סַפִּיר גִּזְרָתָם יַחַד מְאִירוֹת
תִּקְרַב רִנָּתִי לְפָנֶיךָ יְיָ
Strong One! Unite us! Make us as one now!
Through these sephirot, through the ten sephirot.
If even one is cut off, the light will fail us.
Count all, take us all, make us one: together we will be a light.
Our song, please receive it. Our song, do accept it.
Our song will bring us closer;
our song will bring us closer to your Spirit.
May our song now bring us to you,
because you are our beloved, Adonai.[11]The ultimate goal of spiritual practice is to integrate the ten sephirot in oneself. This not only leads to self-realization, but also serves to bring the entire community together, because each member of a congregation becomes a focal point for one of the sepherot, which explains the principle of the minyan. As Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi interprets El Mistater: “If one (of the ten sepherot) be cut off, no light wil be seen.”

From the liner notes for the album Life of the Worlds – Journeys in Jewish Sacred Music by Chazan Richard Kaplan, which contains Richard’s recording of “El Mistater” (2003):

[‘El Mistater’ is] a major hasidic composition, brought to North America by Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi in 1939, barely saving it (and thank G-d, himself) from the Holocaust. This poem on the Ten Sefirot (Divine Emanations) was written in Tsefat around 1550 by Rabbi Avraham Maimin, a student of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (1522-1570), the teacher and master to the great Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572), known as ha’ARI (“The Lion”), Rabbi Maimin’s name appears acrostically at the beginning of stanzas.

This musical version comes from the Husyatiner hasidim (devout ones), Poland. Each of the eleven sections of the song (the last section is a paean to the Ten Sefirot) has its own melody, reflecting the feeling of its corresponding Sefirah (Emanation), Reb Zalman told me that it was composed by a Husyatiner cantor who presented it to the Husyatiner Rebbe. … This prayer is most often found as part of the Sabbath Third Meal celebration, which in hasidic circles is seen as a most favorable time for mystical profundities to be experienced. Other communities chant it every day.

Because the poem was written by a disciple of Moshe Cordovero, I looked to the latter’s book Tomer Devorah (The Palm Tree of Deborah) for inspiration. This work describes the qualities of each of the Sefirot to show how we can emulate it to develop our own character. I wrote a commentary on ‘El Mistater’ by taking quotes from this work.

Then, because the musical version comes from the Husyatiner hasidim, I put together some notes about these Rebbes and their lineage (descended from the Ruzhin dynasty).
I treat the second Hisyatiner Rebbe, Yisroel Friedman (1858-1949), a grandson of the Ruzhiner)—as the inspiration for this music, and include his picture on my Etz Chaim diagram.

As always, when I want to make a Hebrew text something of my own, I create a singable English version. The more I sing this music, the more I feel the energy of each sefirah that its particular melody invokes. Singing it in both Hebrew and in English deepens my meditation on the sefirah’s essence. I have made recordings in both languages of all eleven melodies (ten + a final verse which unites the ten sefirot into one).

Source(s)

Notes   [ + ]

  1. Why do we begin with the most distant sephira, Keter (Crown)? Keter is beyond all attempts to grasp it with the mind. It appears to be something like a canopy. We can only receive from it. Here is a quote from Tomer Devorah (The Palm Tree of Deborah) by Moses Cordovero, whose disciple (Avraham Maimin) was the author of El Mistater: “The quality of humility includes all qualities, for it belongs to Keter, which is the highest attribute. It is ashamed to gaze at its Source, but the Cause of its emanation looks continually into it to give goodness to it.” So we begin our exploration of the tree of life with an act of pure receptivity.
  2. The second sephirah—Chochmah—is wisdom, but it is a wisdom which offers itself to us only in flashes. Most of the time it hides from us. So once again we can receive from it only with awe and humility. Chochmah itself receives from Keter, but turns arounds and bestows its gifts on those below it. Tomer Devorah refers to it as “the father of all created things”.
  3. Unlike Chochmah, Binah (or Understanding) is available continually, but only to those possessing “emunah”—faith. The devotee swims in the waters of Binah, as in a river. Binah is on the left or dark side of the Tree of Life, so its function is to absorb the dark forces and bring them to the light. According to Tomer Devorah: “The function of Binah is to sweeten all judgments and to neutralize their bitterness. The root of every Supernal bitterness is sweet. The Left Side draws its sustenance from above. All its branches are destined to become sweet and they will be perfect once again. Man roots himself in the secret of evil and renders it sweet and brings it into the good.”
  4. The fourth sephirah, Chesed or lovingkindness, is perhaps the easiest to receive from but at the same time the most difficult to emulate. To act in accordance with Chesed one must (in the words of Tomer Devorah), “concentrate on the good side of a quality and conceal its judgment.”. Our prayers go to the sephirah of Tipheret, which in turns receives from both Chesed and Gevurah. So Tomer Devorah states: “One should intend, with the deeds he performs, to bind Tipheret constantly to Chesed and to bring it forth from Binah in the direction of Chesed.”
  5. Gevurah is associated with power as well as with the evil inclination. It appears on the left or dark side of the Tree of Life, directly below Binah. According to El Mistater, it draws its energy from eyn temurah: the “place of exchange”. As such it is close to the place where good and evil turn into their opposites. The devotee’s task is to “bestir his evil inclination in the direction of the sweet Gevurot”, as it says in Tomer Devorah. One channels one’s vital energies in the direction of Binah by striving to do the divine will, whereby the dark forces are sweetened. This sephirah is called Pachad Yitzchak (“the Fear of Isaac”) because Isaac—having been nearly offered up on the divine altar but became instead one of the fathers of the chosen people—understood the transformative potential of Gevurah.
  6. Tipheret is beauty, but it a kind of beauty that is not easy to acquire because it requires a balance between Gevurah and Chesed. As such it is associated with justice. When the dark forces of judgment become so heavy that they become destructive, Tipheret attempts to push the energy to the right, towards the sepherah of Chesed. Thus according to Tomer Devorah: “There are angels in a certain celestial palace whose function it is to receive the kindness done by man, and when the divine quality of Tipheret pleads against Israel these angels immediately bring that kindness to the notice of the Holy One, Blessed is He, Who has mercy upon Israel, for He delighteth in mercy.” Tipheret is invoked by studying Torah. It is also God in its most personal form.
  7. Netsach is victory attained through perseverance, overcoming all obstacles. It enlists the aid of every available ally in the struggle, and in particular the “zechut avot”: merit of the ancestors”. Its success is assured to those who dedicate their lives to the service of God.
  8. Hod is called “Splendor”, and is a place of learning, communication and prophesy. In Christian kabbalah it is associated with Mercury, the divine messenger. The secret to accessing it is let everyone and everything be your teacher. The Tomer Devorah states: “As a result of becoming a pupil of all, one has the merit of becoming a chariot to Netsach and Hod: those taught of the Lord.”
  9. The sephirah of Yesod refers to the hidden tzaddik or holy person, and to the correct channeling of energies into the earthly realm, especially in the spheres of speech and of sexuality. El Mistater teaches that the true tzaddik is hidden inside of the seven lower sephirot. Since the goal of creation is in the sephirah of malchut, the Tomer Devorah says: “The Bow of the Upper World is outstretched only for the purpose of shooting arrows into the sephirah of Malchut.”
  10. The culmination of the divine act of creation is the sephirah of Malchut. The most difficult task is to unite Malchut with Tipheret. According to Tomer Devorah: “The Shekinah is love-sick for the Union of Tipheret with Malchut.” “One should bind Her (Malchut) between Netsach and Hod. It is necessary to visit Her soul and to entreat Her to take food and drink from the Supernal Flow from which she abstains because Her soul is sick for the misery of Israel, just as it is with the sick of the material world. And Tipheret is sick, for He moves from His place in the world to come to wander after Her in this world.” It further states: “Do all of your actions for the sake of Heaven and without any trace of evil inclination. Tephillin and Tzitzith are also powerful in shielding Her (Malchut) that the Outside Ones have no dominion over Her and he should be accustomed to wear them. Thirdly, to make union with Tipheret during the time of reading the Shema and by setting aside periods for the study of the Torah. And when he sets aside a period for any purpose he should intend that this is the time of the Shekinah, the King’s Daughter.”
  11. The ultimate goal of spiritual practice is to integrate the ten sephirot in oneself. This not only leads to self-realization, but also serves to bring the entire community together, because each member of a congregation becomes a focal point for one of the sepherot, which explains the principle of the minyan. As Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi interprets El Mistater: “If one (of the ten sepherot) be cut off, no light wil be seen.”

Comments, Corrections, and Queries


בסיעתא דארעא