Abigail’s art works can be viewed in the galleries of her works on the page of this website titled “ABIGAIL’S ART”, where they are divided into various categories and some, but not all, of the works have been provided with brief written explanatory comments.
For those who wish to engage with the symbolism and underlying meanings of Abigail’s works at a deeper level, the previous “JEWISH SPIRITUAL ART” page contains text that introduces viewers to the subject of Jewish spirituality that informs much of her work. Kabbalah – the mystical tradition of Judaism that is the focus of much of Abigail’s art – was previously briefly introduced on that page; and this “KABBALAH ART” page provides more specific and in depth information on that highly esoteric subject.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF MYSTICAL KABBALAH AND THE ‘UNITY IN DUALITY’ INHERENT IN EIN-SOF
Kabbalah is the ancient mystical tradition that developed within Judaism mainly during the period from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, and considerably enlivened what had until then been a somewhat dry and legalistic faith based on the Torah (the Hebrew Bible, which Christians refer to as the Old Testament) and post-biblical literature. It is a vast and highly complex mystical theosophy that covers the complete structure of traditional Jewish metaphysics.
This post-biblical literature comprises the Mishnah (the earliest codification of the Jewish oral law, redacted during the third century) and the Talmud (a compendium of discussions on the Mishnah by generations of scholars and jurists compiled in several academies during the period from the third to the sixth centuries). The Talmud in turn includes the Gamara (traditions, discussions, and rulings by rabbis and learned scholars commenting on and supplementing the Mishnah), which concentrates on the specific meaning of individual words and letters in order to ensure exact compliance with G-d’s Holy Law as set out in the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses that comprise the first part of the Torah).
Kabbalah derived principally from two ancient mystical books, the Bahir and the Zohar, which are based on the ancient biblical and post-biblical texts. It makes use of metaphor and subtle categorisations; and requires intensive study of the interaction between the upper and lower realms of the deity, and of the descriptions of the ten emanations or potencies of G-d that took place at the time of the Creation, termed sefirot, which reveal and mediate G-dliness.
The Bahir, the oldest classical work of Kabbalistic literature, was known in Provence, France in the eleventh century and is generally considered to be the work of a number of authors from Palestine or Syria. The Zohar, the primary source of Kabbalistic thought, is a mystical commentary on the Torah named after the Hebrew word for brightness, as bright light is a frequent element of mystical experience. While Kabbalists contend that the Zohar was compiled by Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai in the early mishnaic period from a ‘tradition’ of previously existing materials ‘received’ by several authors from biblical Adam; Professor Moshe Idel has convincingly demonstrated through scholarly and academic analysis that it was probably only written much later in the thirteenth century, and in the Aramaic language, by a single author named Moses de Leon who reduced more than a century of intense Kabbalistic development into a single book.
The Zohar includes discussions on the nature of G-d, the origin and structure of the universe, the nature of souls, and redemption; commentary on the mystical aspects of the five books of Moses in the Torah; and, scriptural interpretations and material on mysticism, mythical cosmogony and mystical psychology. The Zohar propounds that the cosmic system we inhabit is constantly evolving and is centred upon Ein-Sof, the form of the infinite or unending G-d prior to his self-manifestation at the time of the creation. Ein-Sof is a form of primal unconsciousness that is beyond the conscious awareness of humanity, the totality of being (Yesh) and complete nothingness (Ayin or the abyss); of which nothing (“Ein“) can be grasped (“Sof“- limitation), known or said.
According to the Zohar, at the time of creation Ein-Sof created the ‘lower’ earthly world as a reflection of the ‘upper’ divine world; and did so by emanating the ten sefirot (emanations, aspects or qualities of G-d that have previously been mentioned on the “JEWISH SPIRITUAL ART” page of this website) to form the second stratum of the Kabbalistic structure of the G-dhead. The ten sefirot are the primary bearers of G-d’s active and creative forces, the ten stages of His revelations to Humankind and the ten aspects of His nature through which He manifests Himself in the lower realm.
There is a basic duality inherent in Ein-Sof that stems from the creation of the ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ worlds of the Zoharic cosmic system, which resemble each other in all respects and find their unity in G-d. Earth is a copy of heaven and heaven is a copy of earth, and together they comprise an absolute unity, not a duality, which the Zohar describes as follows:
Now G-d has made the lower world after the pattern of the upper world and all the arrangements laid down by David and Solomon, and by all the true prophets, were [created] after the supernal [heavenly] pattern … In the same manner as there are watchers of the night on earth, so in heaven there are relays of angels who sing praises to their Master and intone hymns continually, they all stand ranged in rows, facing each other, and producing one harmony of song and praise.
Not only is the lower world modeled after the upper world, but both worlds constantly interrelate and impinge upon each other. Thus, the Zohar states that every human action on earth has a reaction in heaven: “… if a man does kindness on earth, he awakens [G-d’s] loving kindness above”.
The basic dualism inherent in Ein Sof gave rise to the core Kabbalistic belief that duality is inherent in all things in the cosmos and extends to all basic oppositions, for example, good and evil, male and female, and so forth; and gave rise to the Kabbalistic concept of ‘unity in duality’.
The Kabbalistic concept of ‘unity in duality’ was, in turn, the source or rationale for the development of the Kabbalistic belief in the existence of a feminine aspect, named the Shekinhah, within the indivisible single male G-dhead of Judaism. The novel notion of the Shekinhah as the feminine aspect of G-d came to fruition in the Zohar after many centuries of gradual development, and is regarded as a principal accomplishment of the Zohar.
In its original usage in the ancient texts, the term Shekhinah was used to denote a manifestation of G-d dwelling over Israel, a ‘presence’ of G-d in the lower world. Over time this concept gradually grew and developed in mystical Kabbalistic thinking, and eventually acquired a totally different significance in the Zohar, in which the Shekhinah finally emerged from Her original role as a manifestation of the presence of G-d dwelling over Israel, in a new and transformed role as the feminine aspect of the G-dhead in a sacred union with G-d in which the unity of the divine life is realised.
The Shekhinah appears in an enormous number of passages in the Zohar with an endless variety of names that all deal with Her symbolism and reiterate her role as G-d’s female partner. She is G-d’s feminine form, the exemplification of all women; the divine female equivalent of His masculine form in the upper realm; the Matronita, Queen and Bride of G-d. Zohar 1: 228b states that that “[a]ll women in the world are contained in Her mystery”, and uses the phrase ‘the world of the female’ to denote Her feminine aspects.
The gradual transformation and evolution of the concept of the Shekhinah came to fruition as part of the development of the detailed, mystical, Kabbalistic cosmological system set out in the Zohar, where the Shekhinah is portrayed in two main roles; firstly, as G-d’s Bride and Queen in the upper realm; and, secondly, as Knesseth Israel (the active representative and presence of G-d in His ongoing daily relationship with the Community of Israel) in the lower realm. As such, the Shekhinah plays two leading roles in the Zoharic cosmic system, that of G-d’s Bride and that of the link between the upper divine and the lower human realms. In her latter role the Shekhinah has come to be regarded as a heavenly addition to the people of Israel in the material world, and as the ‘mother’ of every individual in Israel.
The recognition of the Shekhinah as the feminine aspect of the G-dhead represents the point at which Kabbalah markedly digressed from prior Jewish theology. Traditionalists originally strongly resisted this innovation as being inconsistent with the fundamental monotheistic belief of Judaism in a single indivisible male G-d. However, the Zohar survived this resistance as its author was astute not to offend the basic monotheistic tenet of Judaism and did not seek to elevate the Shekhinah to the status of a separate G-ddess.
In this regard, the entire cosmological system postulated by the Zohar is based upon a sacred union between the masculine and feminine elements of a single unified G-dhead. The Zohar portrays this relationship in vivid sacred-sexual terms, that is, at a sacred level consistent with the Kabbalistic notion of ‘unity in duality’ inherent in Ein-Sof that goes beyond the purely sexual. Central to this relationship is the rich body of Kabbalistic myth that developed around the weekly ritual observance of Sabbath day, which Kabbalah presents as an elaborate and mystical marriage ceremony that takes place between G-d and the Shekhinah each week on the Sabbath evening in the upper realm during which the divine lovers re-unite both spiritually and sexually.
In accordance with the Kabbalistic concept ‘as above, so below”, this ceremony is ritually mirrored and observed by all married couples in the lower realm. The ceremony starts at the time of the synagogue service in the early evening, during which the congregants ritually turn to the door and ‘welcome in’ the Shekhinah. This is followed by an elaborate Sabbath evening feast at home with all family members in attendance; and culminates at midnight when the divine lovers unite sexually. Human couples who participate in the ritual are enjoined to do so as well in order to spiritually restore themseves and, for this purpose and for the duration of the holy Sabbath day, they are graced with a pneuma, an additional soul that provides greater mystical insight and enables them to participate more meaningfully in the mysteries of the divine world.
Participation in this ritual is regarded as the doing of a mitzvah, a good deed that helps to ‘raise the holy sparks’ that fell from the holy vessels that shattered at the time of the creation, and to thereby contribute to healing and restoring the fractures in the cosmos that occurred at the time of creation. Kabbalah postulates that the cosmos will eventually be healed when all of humanity participates on a daily basis in the doing of mitzvot in all of their activities of daily life, no matter how mundane. All of the holy sparks will then be raised, the fractures in the cosmos will be healed, G-d will appear on earth as the Messiah, and perfect harmony will be restored to the cosmos.
The mystical teachings of Kabbalah were controversial and for many centuries were suppressed by mainstream Judaism, which was then still a largely legalistic faith that concentrated on the precise meanings of words. During this period Kabbalah was generally inaccessible and existed on the fringes of the religion as the preserve of scholarly elites. Despite this, Kabbalah continued to slowly grow and develop within Judaism until the 18th century when a mass social movement named Hasidism came to the fore among the Jewish communities of present-day Poland and Ukraine, and adopted the basic precepts of Kabbalah in a simplified and more accessible form.
As a result of religious persecution and consequent disillusionment traditional Talmudic learning and scholarship had declined in these communities and they were consequently fertile ground for Hasidism, a popular new religious and social movement involving a vibrant new form of worship whose adherents participate in a direct personal relationship with G-d. Hasidism took hold and spread rapidly through these communities and provided its adherents with new scholarly and philosophical stimulation. It did so by furnishing them with easily understood interpretations of mystical Kabbalah that made the intricate doctrines of the Zohar accessible to the majority for the first time.
In Kabbalah each soul is unique and each person is therefore also unique, with his or her own desires, fears, hates, loves and passions. The soul is regarded as a divine spark that comes from the divine itself; it is that part of a person that stems from G-d, that allows him or her to reach out to G-d, and which ultimately returns to G-d. It may live through many lifetimes, returning to earth when necessary in order to carry out a particular function. As such, each soul is viewed as a manifestation of G-d in the world and every person is regarded as an intrinsic part of the divine source of light.
The journey of a soul is regarded as a desire to know G-d, with the result that the life journey of a righteous person becomes a striving to perfect or purify his or her soul in order to raise it to a higher level so as to be able to imagine and experience G-d and thereby attain closeness to G-d. The souls of all humanity can therefore be imagined as flowing continually in and out of the same primeval source, all simultaneously aspiring to grow closer to G-d and return to the same divine source.
Unlike animals, the soul provides humans with free will and choice how to act and thus, for example, with the capacity to either choose to create (including in relation to the creative artistic process) or to destroy. It is the soul that elevates humans above animals and provides them with the ability to imagine, to dream and to dwell on the divine. The soul consists of different levels and its uppermost part – the neshamah – is what enables the mystic to observe the higher wisdom. The mind alone is not able to perceive G-d, it is the soul that allows us to move from the material world to the incorporeal realm.
Jewish mystics therefore believe that mystical speculation is dependent on the soul, and that the ability to visualise G-d in imaginative mystical visions is dependent upon the existence of the soul. Whether their vision takes the form of a prophetic vision or a scene of the next world, it is the imaginative faculty (which is in the domain of the soul) that allows the mystic to gaze on a representational form of G-d and on other–worldly phenomena. In this way the mystic does not contravene the essential anti-iconism of Judaism. Likewise, the imagination of artists and mystics relies upon the soul in order to enter into the spiritual realm and visualise what they receive from above.
ABIGAIL’S KABBALISTIC ART
Abigail’s mystical Kabbalistic belief is that the realm of the spirit is every bit as tangible as the material world, and that artistic imagination and intuition provide a means through which spiritual experience can be perceived and works of art can be created that reflect mystical artistic visions. Through her art she strives to provide insight into the realm of the spirit, and to thereby contribute to the communal ascent towards the divine light.
For Abigail, the process of creating art is a meditative one in which she contemplates aspects of Kabbalah in a manner akin to the Jewish mystics. Her imagination then allows that which is absent, and therefore invisible, to become present to her and this enables her, as an artist, to render the incorporeal visible in the human consciousness. Her works of art are therefore visual representations of imaginatively perceived visions of a deeper spiritual reality.
Abigail believes that the creative artistic imaginative process is facilitated by her soul, the immortal essence that allows her to think, to imagine, to dream, and to rise above the ordinary and mundane. The artistic process of creating images enables her to imaginatively perceive beauty and envision G-d’s spiritual sanctuary, and to create a union of within and without, of soul and world. Abigail was inspired in this belief by Kabbalah and by the interesting observation of the late Rabbi Kook, the first chief Rabbi of Israel, who pointed out that the root ‘emet’ of the Hebrew word for art (‘omonut’) means truth. The root letters ‘AMN’ (alef, mem, nun) are common to the words ‘aman’ (artist), ‘omonut’ (art), ‘neeman’ (faithful) and ‘emunah’ (faith or faithfulness), which suggests that art is faithful to the truth. Art is therefore considered to come from the soul, and to be holy. Rabbi Kook was in turn inspired by the 16th century Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague, who Abigail has portrayed in several of her works and who saw Kabbalah as a way to achieving closeness to G-d.
Abigail experiences the mystical cosmology of Kabbalah as a fertile field for the artistic expression of deeper unseen spiritual realities, including intensely esoteric issues of the soul. In this regard, the Zohar expounds that the souls of humankind have an unquenchable yearning to be united with their divine source and consciously seek to enter into the presence of G-d. The Zohar describes this quest of the soul for ultimate reunion with G-d in terms of a sacred union between male and female that employs sexual references at a sacred level beyond the purely sexual to describe a cosmic union or coming together, a fusion of all the manifold universes ‘above’ and ‘below’.
In exploring these aspects of Kabbalah Abigail’s works frequently depict a feminine soul figure representative of the Shekhinah, the feminine aspect of G-d within Jewish mysticism, and contains sacro-erotic spiritual imagery evocative of the mystical relationship between G-d and the Shekinah, and which point to the unseen spiritual cosmos of the Zohar. Abigail believes that in creating mystical works of art in this way she fulfils the task of a Jewish artist, namely to assist G-d in the creative process of beautifying and perfecting the world, and liberating the beauty hidden in the spiritual realms. This is consonant with the Kabbalistic approach that Art and aesthetics should not be regarded as a process of simply creating beautiful objects to be admired, but rather as a means of assisting humanity to experience closeness to G-d, with G-d as the Supreme Artist and all artists viewed as participating in G-d’s grand design.
If one imagines mystical Judaism as a beautiful rose comprised of many elegant petals woven together in a complex structure, Abigail’s works can be regarded as focusing on aspects of individual petals that seek to impart whiffs of the exquisite fragrance of the larger rose that lead the viewer to the timeless essence and beauty of Jewish mysticism.