The primal point

Arthur Green points out that in Kabbalah, wisdom (Hokhmah) is also primordial teaching (like Buddhist dharma) which is a ‘twin process’ with God’s creation of the world.

As the primal point of existence, Hokhmah is symbolized by the yod, the smallest of the letters, the first point from which all the other letters will be written. Here all of Torah, the text and the commentary added to it in every generation—indeed all of human wisdom—is contained within a single yod.

— Green (2004, 40)

Knowledge is a single point, but the ignorant have multiplied it.

— Islamic hadith (“tradition”) attributed to the Prophet Muhammad or the Imám Alí

‘The ignorant’ here includes you and me and all sentient beings subject to explicit knowledge, whose complexity conceals the implicit knowledge by representing it as multiplex. As Voltaire is said to have remarked in a different context, ‘the multitude of books is making us ignorant.’

Another hadith quotes the Imám Alí as saying that

All that is in the world is in the Qur’an, and all that is in the Qur’an is condensed in the first chapter of the Book, and all that is in the first chapter is in the basmala [first verse], and all that is in the basmala is in the bā’ [first letter, ب], and I am the point under the bā’.

(Lawson 2012, 102)

We might read this as a reference to the extreme compression of meaning found in turning signs. They seem to have a magical quality of turning meaning inside out, as it were, so that a single verse says it all: rather than serving as one of many particles in a vast System, it seems to be the point around which the System revolves – the I of the cyclone, in which Author and Reader are one with Scripture. As Northrop Frye puts it (1982, 208-9), ‘Ideally, every sentence is the key to the whole Bible … every sentence is a kind of linguistic monad.’

The Zohar (1:21a) speaks of ‘primordial light prevailing on the first day’; in the Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi El’azar said that ‘With the light created by the blessed holy one on the first day, one could gaze from one end of the universe to the other’ (ZP I.159).

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