I was torn as to what to write about! I was quite entranced with the Jewish festival of Purim, as well as Hasidic Judaism, the concept of Midrash, the mysticism of the Kabbalah, and the very cool Golem found in Jewish folklore (I actually began last week to write an essay on the Golem, and if I have time this week I will finish it and post it here). But alas I am choosing to write about the original subject I choose to write about in this week of studying Judaism (I actually was thinking about the writing and subject of my essay for week 6 in late August! And I had chosen this subject back then 😉).
The Guf / Chamber of Guf / Treasury of Souls / The Hall of Souls and Spirit.
The word is sometimes misspelled as guff.
I first learned about The Guf from watching the 1988 film The Seventh Sign. Being a fan of Demi Moore and of apocalyptic drama horror films, I was quite interested in The Guf mythology portrayed in the film and I developed a general interest in the subject, so I went to the library (in the days before the Internet! 😉) and learned about it.
Fast forward to 2021, and with studying Judaism in this course this week, the subject came to mind immediately as to what I wanted to write about for my essay.
The word Guf is derived from Hebrew for “body/corpse”. It is the source of every human soul. It is from the Talmud and Kabbalah texts. In Jewish mysticism, the Chamber of Guf is the Hall of Souls, a heavenly and sacred place where souls reside until they are born to the flesh. It is thought to be located in the Seventh Heaven. Every human soul is held to emanate from the Guf. The Talmud teaches that the Messiah will not come until the Guf is emptied of all its souls. Though some cite Isaiah as the source of the concept, Isaiah never uses the word, so the Talmud offers one of the earliest direct references to the Guf and teaches that the Messiah will not come until the Guf is emptied of all its souls. (1, 2, & 6) “This is given a longer, if more enigmatic treatment in a work of early Kabbalah, Sefer Bahir:
In its hand is the treasury of souls. In the time when Israel is good, these souls are worthy of going forth and coming into this world. But if they are not good, then [these souls] do not go forth. We therefore say, “The son of David will not come until all the souls in the Guf are completed.” What is the meaning of “all the souls in the Guf [Body]”? We say this refers to all the souls in the body of The Adam. [When they are completed] new ones will be worthy of going forth [Bahir 184].” (2)
“The mystic significance of the Guf is that each person is important and has a unique role which only he, with his unique soul, can fulfill. Even a newborn baby brings the Messiah closer simply by being born.” (5 & 11)
In keeping with other Jewish legends that envision souls as bird-like (derived from the Biblical notion that the dead “chirp” – Isaiah 29:4), the Guf is sometimes described as a columbarium, [a dovecote], or birdhouse. This connects it to a related legend: the “Palace of the Bird’s Nest,” the dwelling place of the Messiah’s soul until his advent (Zohar II: 8a-9a). Jewish “folklore, according to Rabbi Isaac Luria, says the trees are the resting places for souls; sparrows can see the soul’s descent and this explains their joyous song. The Tree of Souls produces all the souls that have ever existed, or will ever exist. When the last soul descends, the world will come to an end.” (2, 6, & 11)
What is the Seventh Heaven?
Seventh Heaven – “Araboth (ערבות), The seventh Heaven where ofanim, the seraphim, and the hayyoth and the Throne of God are located. The Jewish Merkavah and Hekhalot literature was devoted to discussing the details of these heavens, sometimes in connection with traditions relating to Enoch, such as the Third Book of Enoch.” (7 & 8)
“(A) Tree of Souls: In Paradise (heaven) grows a tree of souls (a Tree of Life) upon which all the souls once began. Some versions have the souls on the branches with birds, in others, they are on the roots. In some versions, this tree is still in the garden of Eden.
“I am like a cypress tree in bloom; your fruit issues forth from Me.” (Hosea 14:9)
“He drove the man out and stationed east of the garden of Eden the cherubim and the fiery ever-turning sword, to guard the way to the Tree of Life” (Genesis 3:24).
“(B) Falling Souls: When ripe, the souls they fall off the tree and descend to a chamber for holding.
(C) Guf: AKA, Treasury (Otzar) of Souls or Hall of Souls, called “Guf”. This is felt to exist in the Seventh Heaven. There are those that say that Guf contains an infinite number of souls, while others insist there is only a finite number of souls in it, and that the Messiah will not come until the Guf has been emptied of every soul. Others say that from the day the Temple was destroyed, no more souls entered the Guf, and when it has been emptied of all the remaining souls, the Messiah will come.
(D) Angel Gabriel: The angel Gabriel reaches into the treasury (Guf) and takes out a soul, putting it into a human embryo.
(E & F) Angel Lailah & the Womb: The Angel Lailah then guards the embryo while it is in the woman’s womb.” (4 & 17)
In the story of the Guf we experience the mystical concept of the whole universe being filled with consciousness. It strengthens the idea of our interconnectedness, our kinship, our oneness, with all of humanity.
The Angel Gabriel in Judaism:
Of the four angels mentioned in the Jewish bedtime Sh’ma prayer, “Gabriel appears most commonly in Jewish texts. He is one of at least seven archangels, or focal angels, who are known in liturgy and biblical commentary to be the highest or most powerful of the angelic legions. Gabriel’s first mention in the Tanakh comes in the Book of Daniel.” (9)
Special Prayer for Protection at Night (Bedtime Sh’ma prayer)
In the name of Adonai the God of Israel:
May the angel Michael be at my right,
and the angel Gabriel be at my left;
and in front of me the angel Uriel,
and behind me the angel Raphael…
and above my head the Sh’khinah (Divine Presence).” (12, 13 & 14)
In the pseudepigraphic “Book of Enoch, Gabriel is an avenging angel, sent to incite sinners into war. In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 95b), God sends Gabriel to smite the Assyrians, and Gabriel replies that his sword “has been sharpened since the six days of Creation.” In other words, he was in some way created to be an avenging angel.” (9)
“Most references to Gabriel in traditional literature, including the Talmud and the Bedtime Shema liturgy, depict him as the emissary of God’s strength. In fact, the Hebrew name Gavriel, or Gavar El, translates to “God’s might” or “God’s power.” At times he is represented by the element of fire (Talmud Yoma 21b) and at other times, water (Targ. Job 25:2). Regardless, he is always known to be either the absolute strongest or among the strongest of the angels.” (9)
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, Gabriel takes the form of a man and stands at the left hand of God. (15 & 16) Alongside [the] archangel Michael, Gabriel is described as the guardian angel of Israel, defending his people against the angels of the other nations. (10 & 16)
And in the Jewish legend of The Guf, the blossoms of the Tree of Life are souls, they ripen, then fall from the tree into the Guf, the Treasury of Souls in Paradise. The soul is stored there until the angel Gabriel reaches into the Guf and takes out the first soul that comes into his hand. (17)
The Angel Lailah in Judaism:
Lailah is the Angel of Conception, that watches over the embryo until it is born. Lailah is the only angel with a feminine name and distinctly feminine characteristics. (17)
She “is an angel of the night in some interpretations in the Talmud and in some later Jewish mythology.
The name Lailah is the same as the Hebrew word for “night” laylah לילה. The identification of the word “night” as the name of an angel originates with the interpretation of “Rabbi Yochanan” (possibly Yochanan ben Zakkai c. 30 – 90 AD) who read “At night [Abraham] and his servants deployed against them and defeated them” (JPS Genesis 14.14) as “by [an angel called] night” (Sanhedrin 96a).” (21 & 22)
Lailah, the angel of conception, according to “midrash, brings the soul and the seed together, and then sees to it that the seed is planted in the womb. In doing so, Lailah serves as a midwife of souls. While the infant grows in the womb, Lailah places a lighted candle at the head of the unborn infant, so he or she can see from one end of the world to the other” (19) (as it is said, “His lamp shone above my head, and by His light I walked through darkness.” (Job 29:3)) (17)
Ellen Frankel notes that God decides the fate of the child when it is conceived and leaves one thing undecided, whether it will be righteous or wicked allowing it to have free will. (20)
“So too does the angel teach the unborn child the entire Torah [the spirit of the Torah], as well as the history of his or her soul. Then, when the time comes for the child to be born, the angel extinguishes the light in the womb and brings forth the child into the world. And the instant the child emerges, the angel lightly strikes its finger to the child’s lip” (19) – “the philtrum—that groove we all have above our upper lips—may not be a commonly-referenced body part, but in Jewish mystical tradition, it’s quite significant. And it’s said to be the result of a tap from Lailah, the angel of conception, administered the moment a baby is born” (18) “as if to say “Shh,” and this causes the child to forget everything learned in the womb. Still, the story implies, that knowledge is present, merely forgotten.” (19)
“Lailah is a guardian angel, who watches over that child all of his days. And when the time has come to take leave of this world, it is Lailah who comes to him and says, “Do you not recognize me? The time of your departure has come. I have come to take you from this world.” Thereupon Lailah leads him to the World to Come, where he renders an accounting before God, and he is judged according to his merits.” (17)
☆ This blog entry is from my work in the World Religions course at Phillips Seminary ☆
3. Origins of the Kabbalah – Gershom Gerhard Scholem – Google Books, p. 53 (The Book – Bahir)
8. Scholem, Gershom (1965). Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and the Talmudic Tradition. New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
11. Guf – Wikipedia
Additional related links of interest:
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