Through a Mirror, Darkly
James Scott Trimm
In the KJV of 1Corinthians we read:
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
(1Cor. 13:8-13 KJV)
And as we read in the Aramaic as translated in the HRV:
8 Love never fails. For prophecies will cease, and tongues will be silent, and knowledge will cease.
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 Now when that which is complete comes, then that which is partial will cease.
11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, and I thought as a child, and I reasoned as a child: but when I became a man, I ceased these [things] of youth.
12 Now as in a mirror, we see in a parable, but then face-to-face. Now I know in part, but then I will know, as I am known.
13 For there are these three that abide: trust, and hope, and love. But that which is the greatest of these, [is] love.
(1Cor. 13:8-13 HRV)
In order to understand these verses, it is necessary to understand that according to Jewish tradition, the revelation of YHWH is compared to a mirror. YHWH was revealed to Moses through a “clear mirror”, but to the other prophets after Moses only through a “dim mirror”, as we read in the Talmud:
[Do not] the contradictions between the Scriptural texts, however, still remain? — ‘I saw the Lord’,(Is. 6:2) [is to be understood] in accordance with what was taught: All the prophets looked into a dim mirror, but Moses looked into a clear mirror.—
And also as we read in the Zohar:
R. Simeon remarked: ‘Ezekiel the prophet said: “As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it I fell upon my face, etc.” (Ez. 1: 28). This verse illustrates the difference between the other prophets and Moses, of whom it is written, “And there hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses” (Deut. 34:10). For Moses gazed into the clear mirror of prophecy, whereas all the other prophets looked into a hazy mirror.
In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul is telling us that though the manifestations of the Ruach HaKodesh give the revelation of YHWH to us only through the dim mirror, the time will come when these dim mirror manifestations will cease and we will see through the same clear mirror through which Moses himself saw. This will happen when the Messiah returns. As we also read in the Zohar:
“Righteousness” reveals the Supernal Power and the reign of the Holy One, blessed be He, who delegates to that Righteousness authority to rule over all the worlds, to guide them and lead them towards perfection. For this reason does it go on to say: “Gave nations before him and made him rule over kings”, since all the kings of the world are under the authority of that “Righteousness”, as it is written: “And he will judge the world in righteousness” (Ps. 95:13). Moreover, when it says “Righteousness calleth to his foot”, the question is: Who calleth whom? The answer is that “Righteousness” calls to the resplendent mirror, which is ever bright and refulgent, as it is written: “Keep not thou silence, O God; hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God” (Psa. 83:1). Now the Holy One has let His light shine upon us on our way for the sake of my son Eleazar, who called down the supernal light upon us, and it has not waned. Happy is the lot of the righteous in this world and in the world to come.’
… And he who thus strengthens it becomes worthy of the white light, the light of the “refulgent mirror”, and of the world to come. This mystery is expressed in the words: “And those that seek me (meshahrai) shall find me” (Prov. 8:17), namely those who, out of the blackness of the dawn, prepare a light. The double n in yimzaunni (“they shall find me”) signifies that they will merit the two lights: the dim, blackish light of dawn and the white light of day: or, the mirror that is not refulgent and the mirror that is.
Our teachers have laid down that Moses derived his prophetic vision from a bright mirror, whereas the other prophets derived their vision from a dull mirror. So it is written concerning Ezekiel: “I saw visions of God”, whereas in connection with the difference between Moses and all other prophets it says: “If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord will make Myself known to him in a vision…. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all my house: and with him I will speak mouth to mouth” (Num. 12: 7-8). R. Jose remarked that all the prophets are in comparison with Moses like females in comparison with males. The Lord did not speak to him in “riddles” (Ibid.), but showed him everything clearly. Blessed, indeed, was the generation in whose midst this prophet lived! Said R. Jose the son of R. Judah: ‘The Israelites saw the splendor of the glory of their Lord face to face; and, moreover, there were neither blind, nor lame, nor deaf, among them: they all saw (Ex. 20: 18); they all stood (Ibid. 19:17); they all heard (Ibid. 19:8). And of the Messianic Age it says: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped, then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing” (Isa. 35: 5-6)
(Note the word translated “parable” in 1Cor. 13:12 may also be translated “riddles” as we read in the Zohar above.)
This also agrees with what Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians:
11 For if that which has ended was glorious, that which remains will be increasingly glorious.
12 Therefore, because we have this hope, we conduct ourselves more boldly:
13 And not as Moshe who put a veil over his face so that the B’nai Yisra’el could not look on the consummation of that which was ended,
14 But they were blinded in their understanding. For until this day when the ancient Covenant is read, that veil rests upon them and it is not known that, in the Messiah it ended.
15 And until this day when Moshe is read, a veil is put over their heart:
16 But when any man from them should turn to YHWH, the veil is lifted from him. (Exodus 34:34)
17 Now YHWH Himself is Spirit, and where the Spirit of YHWH [is], [there] is freedom.
18 But all of us, with open faces, behold the magnificence of YHWH as in a mirror: and we are being changed into that likeness, from glory to glory, as by YHWH, the Spirit.
(2Cor. 3:11-18 HRV)
What does Paul mean by “from glory to glory”? He describes here the ladder of the Tree of life, as we read in the Zohar:
A “vision” (mar’eh=vision, or mirror) is so called because it is like a mirror, in which all images are reflected. (Thus we read: “And I appeared… as El Shaddai” (Ex. 6:2), this grade being like a mirror which showed another form, since all supernal forms are reflected in it.) AND BEHOLD A LADDER SET UP ON THE EARTH. This ladder signifies the grade on which the other grades rest, to wit, the “Foundation of the world”. AND THE TOP OF IT REACHED TO HEAVEN , so as to be attached to it. For this grade is the conclusion of the Body standing between the upper and the lower world in the same way as the sign of the covenant is situated at the end of the trunk of the body, between the thighs. AND BEHOLD, THE ANGELS OF GOD ASCENDING AND DESCENDING ON IT ; this alludes to the Chieftains who have charge of all the nations, and who ascend and descend on that ladder. When Israel are sinful, the ladder is lowered and the Chieftains ascend by it; but when Israel are righteous, the ladder is removed and all the Chieftains are left below and are deprived of their dominion. Jacob thus saw in this dream the domination of Esau and the domination of the other nations. According to another explanation, the angels ascended and descended on the top of the ladder; for when the top was detached, the ladder was lowered and the Chieftains ascended, but when it was attached again, the ladder was lifted and they remained below. But it comes to the same thing.
AND JOSEPH DREAMED A DREAM, ETC . On the subject of dreams, R. Hiya discoursed on the text: And he said: Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord do make myself known unto him in a vision, I do speak with him in a dream (Num. 12:6). ‘God’, he said, ‘has brought into existence a series of grades, one higher than the other, one drawing sustenance from the other, some on the right, others on the left, all arranged in a perfect hierarchy. Now all the prophets drew their inspiration from one side, from the midst of two certain grades which they beheld in a “dull mirror”, as it says: “I do make myself known unto him in a vision”, the word “vision” denoting, as has been explained, a medium reflecting a variety of colors; and this is the “dull mirror”.
In 2 Corinthians 3 Paul is telling us that our knowledge or the Torah was diminished after the death of Moses, as we also read in the Zohar:
On the death of Moses, the sun in his splendor was darkened and the Written Torah was locked up, that light of the luminous mirror. The Moon withdrew her light when King David died, and the Oral Torah ceased to shine. Since that time the lights of the Torah have remained hidden, and controversy has increased over the Mishnah (i.e. the traditional Law), and the wise men dispute, and all the great thinkers are in confusion, so that to succeeding generations the joy of the Torah has been lost. When a great man dies the scholars proclaim a fast. Seeing, then, that the joy of the Written and Oral Torahs was gathered in at this hour, is it not fitting that the gates of the Torah should close then? This, then, is the reason why we repeat the three “justifications of judgment”, as explained.’
Thus if we approach Paul’s words from a Jewish perspective, we understand the significance of the “mirror” mentioned in 1Corinthians 13:12 and 2 Corinthians 3:18.
Prophecy, tongues and interpretation of tongues are a dim mirror through which we receive the revelations of YHWH, but when the Messiah returns and establishes the Messianic Kingdom, we shall know see though the same clear mirror through which Moses saw.
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