Seek­ers of the Face: Secrets of the Idra Rab­ba (The Great Assem­bly) of the Zohar 

Melila Hell­ner-Eshed

February 2, 2021

A mag­is­te­r­i­al, mod­ern read­ing of the deep­est mys­ter­ies in the Kab­bal­is­tic tradition.

Seek­ers of the Face opens the pro­found trea­sure house at the heart of Judais­m’s most impor­tant mys­ti­cal work: the Idra Rab­ba (Great Gath­er­ing) of the Zohar. This is the sto­ry of the Great Assem­bly of mys­tics called to order by the mas­ter teacher and hero of the Zohar, Rab­bi Shim’on bar Yochai, to align the divine faces and to heal Jew­ish reli­gion. The Idra Rab­ba demands a rad­i­cal expan­sion of the reli­gious world­view, as it reveals God’s faces and bod­ies in dar­ing, anthro­po­mor­phic language.

For the first time, Melila Hell­ner-Eshed makes this chal­leng­ing, eso­teric mas­ter­piece mean­ing­ful for every­day read­ers. Hell­ner-Eshed expert­ly unpacks the Idra Rab­ba’s rich ground­ing in tra­di­tion, its prob­ing of hid­den lay­ers of con­scious­ness and the psy­che, and its strik­ing, sacred images of the divine face. Lead­ing read­ers of the Zohar on a trans­for­ma­tive adven­ture in mys­ti­cal expe­ri­ence, Seek­ers of the Face allows us to hear anew the Idra Rab­ba’s bold call to heal and align the liv­ing faces of God.

Discussion Questions

The Zohar is a foun­da­tion­al work of mys­ti­cal expli­ca­tion and bib­li­cal com­men­tary on the Torah. Its anthro­po­mor­phic descrip­tions of God and dense explo­rations of the ori­gins of the uni­verse have chal­lenged read­ers for cen­turies. The devout have been equal­ly daz­zled by the spir­i­tu­al and psy­cho­log­i­cal guid­ance that the Zohar offers. Per­haps the most chal­leng­ing sec­tion of this most chal­leng­ing text is the Idra Rab­ba, the descrip­tion of the Great Assem­bly of mys­tics that R. Shi­mon bar Yochai, the hero of the Zohar, gath­ered in order to expli­cate the mean­ing of the Divine Faces and bring repair to a bro­ken world. In Seek­ers of the Face, Melila Hell­ner-Eshed mas­ter­ful­ly guides the read­er through the mys­ti­cal jour­ney of the Idra Rabba.

New­ly trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish by Raphael Das­calu, the book unpacks the anthro­po­mor­phic and fan­tas­ti­cal descrip­tions of God’s Faces as set down in the Zohar by R. Shi­mon bar Yochai, includ­ing detailed descrip­tions of the beards, eyes, nose, and over­all body of the Divine. Com­bin­ing mys­ti­cism with phi­los­o­phy, psy­chol­o­gy, and fem­i­nist thought, Hell­ner-Eshed invites the read­er to expand their spir­i­tu­al hori­zons and bring tikkun–repair and improve­ment — to a frac­tured world.

Seek­ers of the Face makes these com­plex and elu­sive texts acces­si­ble to the lay read­er and pro­vides insight to the expert. Read­ing Hell­ner-Eshed is like shad­ow­ing a sleuth as she decodes the deep­est secrets of the universe.