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The Path of Silence: An Unknown Story from a Zohar Manuscript

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This article presents a Zoharic story found in one manuscript only—ms. Vatican 206. The focal point of this story is the question whether in order to cleave to God while walking, one should make use of the homiletical discourse, which naturally involves a dialogue with one's walking partner, or whether one should focus one's heart and will on God in utter silence. Rabbi Yose represents the group consensus (widely described in the printed edition of the Zohar) as he expects Rabbi Abba to converse with him about matters of Torah; Rabbi Abba, on the other hand, represents ideas novel to that circle, probably under the influence of contemporary spiritualist trends. The story is very succinct, but its comparison to other Zoharic texts and the attention to the strong emotions alluded to between the lines reveal a rich plot. It seems that the fellows of the historical Zohar circle found themselves at a spiritual crossroads—one of them was attempting to undermine their dominant spiritual system and replace it with a more introverted one. It seems, however, that the fact that this story was excluded from the Zoharic corpus—it only appears in one manuscript—shows that the positive ending to this imaginary story, whereby Rabbi Yose silently agrees with Rabbi Abba, remains a wishful thought and that this attempt at incorporating new ways into the circle's traditions failed.

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