Carl Jung and the Jewish Mystical Tradition Part III

The Orchard of Pomegranates by Moses Cordovero

From the 1591 edition of Moses Cordovero, The Garden of Pomegranates

The Sefirotic Tree of Life

By Tony Woolfson, Ph.D.

In the winter of 1944 Jung lost his footing when out walking, fell, and broke his foot. Perhaps the symbolic significance of losing his footing contributed to his suffering a heart attack shortly thereafter. For several weeks he hovered in a liminal  state, on the threshold of death, often with the feeling of being way above the Earth in an altered state entirely. He was certainly in a mystical condition, in an out of body near-death situation. The down-to-earth reality of the daily hospital routines irritated him intensely and about the only time he experienced a complete relief from the vagaries of his illness was late at night when the night nurse brought him some soup. Perhaps she brought him chicken soup, a symbolic cure-all that Jewish mothers will tell us cannot hurt, and it might even do some good. Jung even fancied that the nurse was an old Jewish mother figure, preparing ritual kosher dishes for him. And only then was Jung able to eat, and with appetite, as he describes it in his Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Click here to register for Jung and the World Religions
Diagram of the Sefirot from Cordovero's book

Diagram of the Sefirot from Cordovero’s book

In addition, then, to his roles as son, husband, father, psychiatrist, professor, medical psychologist, and analytical psychologist, Jung was obviously something of a mystic, with leanings towards Jewish Mysticism as well as the more obvious mysticism of one so deeply immersed in the study of alchemical symbolism. And so, the seriously ill Jung had a most significant and highly symbolic vision. Associated in some way with his fantasizing that he was being cared for by an old Jewish mother figure, who even, he says, “seemed to have a blue halo around her head”, Jung then imagined or envisioned himself in a profoundly mystical Jewish place: “I myself was, so it seemed, in the Pardes Rimonim, the Garden of Pomegranates in 16th. Century Jewish mysticism, and the wedding of Tifereth with Malchuth was taking place. Or else I was Rabbi Simon ben Jochai, whose wedding in the afterlife was being celebrated. It was the mystic marriage as it appears in the Kabbalistic tradition. I cannot tell you how wonderful it was. I could only think continually, “Now this is the garden of pomegranates! Now this is the marriage of Malchuth with Tifereth!” I do not know what part I played in it. At bottom it was I myself. I was the marriage. And my beatitude was that of a blissful wedding.”
Oriental Kabbalistic Scroll from around 1605

Oriental Kabbalistic Scroll from around 1605

Yes, upon first reading this stuff one might simply say what a crazy man Jung was. Before going straight to that conclusion, however, it might be worth looking up the section of Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections where he talks about this and other Visions he had in his immensely meaningful life. The bride in Jung’s vision is Malkhuth, the tenth of the sefirot in the Sefirotic Tree of Life, symbolizing the earthly, physical quality of female matter, as opposed to the ethereal, spiritual quality of Keter, the crown, the uppermost of the sefiroth. Four different images of the Kabbalistic Sefirotic Tree accompany this short commentary. Even more significant for Jung’s vision of being present at the marriage of Tifereth, Majesty, and Malkhuth is the fact that Malkhuth is another name for the Sheltering Presence, Shekhinah, and just that mystical wedding in Jung’s vision, or that coniunctio, was at the very heart of the Kabbalistic endeavour. The Kabbalists sought to re-unite the Shekhinah with the People Israel. Remember too the Sabbath story! And it
Contemporary diagram of the Sefirotic Tree

Contemporary diagram of the Sefirotic Tree

might be worth tuning in this Saturday, April 11th at noon, when I will surely have lots more to say about Jung and the Jewish Mystical Tradition. See you then, well, not exactly, unfortunately, but I have learned that people from all five five continents have registered, and won’t it just be marvelous to think about that for a wee while … Thank you. Register now for the Jung and Religion seminar series for more from Dr. Tony Woolfson

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Comments (2)

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    Judith Maidenbaum


    Rivka Kluger was studying Jewish mysticism while analyzing with Jung. I wonder if that had something to do with his interest in the Kabbalah. Her name was Rivka Scharf then. I have forgotten the dates. . .if they coincide. She eventually moved to Israel where I analyzed with her for many years before going to analyze with C.A. Meier in Zurich. Many Swiss men have fantasies about Jewish mothers. They seem earthy and warm, and since Jung’s mother was more ether than earth, why not conjure up a Jewess with chicken broth, maybe a matzoh ball. In Jung’s Kabbalah fantasy he seems more inflated than learned.

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    Dear Ms. Maidenbaum,

    First of all, may I ask if you are related to Aryeh Maidenbaum, colleague of Rene Malamud here in Zurich, whom I know so well, and I met Aryeh briefly at the Malamud home so many years ago. Assuming you are of the same family, no need to say much about certain topics here!
    Thank you so very much for your fascinating and interesting comment. C. A. Meier appears to be a somewhat equivocal reference these days, in light of the Jung-Neumann Letters and the whole issue of Neumann’s importance to Jung in the late 1940’s.
    Apart from Rivka Scharf’s importance we must also mention Sigmund Hurwitz, the Jung family dentist (a more recent Ziurich analyst who was also a dentist was the late and much loved Hermann Strobel, whom I knew well). as you will know but others may appreciate learning Sigmund Hurwitz wrote some wonderful pieces on the parallels, or links, or connections between Jung’s work and Kabbalah. I would love to work further on those, but it would have been too complicated for this one brief presentation.
    Ideally a matzoh ball or two!!!
    So hard to know if there is inflation in Jung’s vision of being present at such a numinous event as the wedding of Tifereth and Malkhuth. I would say that Jung’s whole life is an exercise in the presence of the sacred and the sacred quality of the present, from earliest dreams and religious experiences through the voluntary descent into the unconscious with the Black Books and the Red Books, and continuing through so many amazing writings, as you will know, right to the last recorded dream before he died, the stone “a symbol for you of wholeness”. If anyone deserved such a vision, it was surely Jung, but there may have been a serious unconscious compensation for some of the things written and not written, spoken and not spoken, done and not done especially in those terrible years for, among so many others, Jewish people in Europe. We Jewish people, myself much included, may have reason to question Jung concerning what he appeared not to know about things Jewish, and we may very well wonder at his eagerness to tie so much to the Incarnation by God in “His Son, Jesus Christ” (you see, I mention this stunningly numinous archetype in quotation marks), but of one thing I am completely sure: at worst Jung was somewhat inflated, but he was certainly never less than very learned!


    Tony Woolfson.

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