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Talmud Bavly Hagigah - Soncino edition 19.07.2013 05:07
The SEVEN-HEAVENS Scheme in the TALMUD - Bible study - environment

Seven-heavens schemes are found in many cultures, probably deriving from the apparent planets. The Jewish scheme brought here details the character of each such heaven and its possible mention in the scriptures.

The Seven-Heaven Scheme in the Talmud

R. Judah said: There are two firmaments, for it is said: Behold, unto the Lord thy God belongeth heaven, and the heaven of heavens.[1]

Resh Lakish said: [There are] seven, namely, Vilon,[2] Raqia’,[3] Shehakim,[4] Zebul,[5] Ma'on,[6] Makhon,[7] ‘Araboth.[8]   

Vilon serves no purpose except that it enters in the morning and goes forth in the evening[9] and renews every day the work of creation, for it is said: That stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain,[10] and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in.[11] 

Raqia’ is that in which sun and moon, stars and constellations are set, for it is said: And God set them[12] in the firmament [Raqia’] of the heaven.[13] 

Shehakim is that in which millstones stand and grind[14] manna for the righteous for it is said: And He commanded the skies [Shehakim] above, and opened the doors of heaven; and He caused manna to rain upon them for food etc.[15] 

Zebul is that in which [the heavenly] Jerusalem[16] and the Temple and the Altar are built, and Michael, the great Prince,[17] stands and offers up thereon an offering, for it is said: I have surely built Thee a house of habitation [Zebul], a place for Thee to dwell in for ever.[18] And whence do we derive that it is called heaven? For it is written: Look down from heaven, and see, even from Thy holy and glorious habitation.[19] 

Ma'on is that in which there are companies of Ministering Angels, who utter [divine] song by night, and are silent by day for the sake of Israel's glory,[20] for it is said: By day the Lord doth command His loving-kindness,[21] and in the night His song is with me.[22]  … And whence do we derive that Ma'on is called heaven? — For it is said: Look forth from Thy holy habitation [ma'on], from heaven.[23]  

Makhon[24] is that in which there are the stores of snow[25] and stores of hail, and the loft of harmful dews and the loft of raindrops,[26] the chamber of the whirlwind and storm,[27] and the cave of vapour, and their doors are of fire, for it is said: The Lord will open unto thee His good treasure,[28] 

But are these to be found in the firmament? Surely, they are to be found on the earth, for it is written: Praise the Lord from the earth, ye sea-monsters, and all deeps; fire and hail, snow and vapour, stormy wind, fulfilling his word![29]  Rab Judah said in the name of Rab: David entreated concerning them, and caused them to come down to the earth. He said before Him: Lord of the universe, Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness; let not evil sojourn with Thee;[30] righteous art Thou, O Lord, let not evil sojourn in Thy abode.[31]

And whence do we derive that Makhon is called heaven? For it is written: Then hear Thou in heaven, Thy dwelling place [Makon].[32]  

‘Araboth is that in which there are Right and Judgment and Righteousness,[33] the treasures of life and the treasures of peace and the treasures of blessing, the souls of the righteous and the spirits and the souls[34] which are yet to be born, and dew wherewith the Holy One, blessed be He, will hereafter revive the dead. Right and Judgment, for it is written: Right[35] and judgment are the foundations of Thy throne.[36] Righteousness, for it is written: And He put on righteousness as a coat of mail.[37] The treasures of life, for it is written: For with Thee is the fountain of life.[38] And the treasures of peace, for it is written: And called it, ‘The Lord is peace’.[39] And the treasures of blessing, for it is written: he shall receive a blessing from the Lord.[40] The souls of the righteous, for it is written: Yet the soul of my lord shall be bound up in the bundle of life with the Lord thy God.[41] The spirits and the souls which are yet to be born, for it is written: For the spirit that enwrappeth itself is from Me, and the souls which I have made.[42] And the dew wherewith the Holy One, blessed be He, will hereafter revive the dead, for it is written: A bounteous rain didst Thou pour down, O God; when Thine inheritance was weary, Thou didst confirm it.[43] There [too] are the Ofanim[44] and the Seraphim,[45] and the Holy Living Creatures,[46] and the Ministering Angels,[47] and the Throne of God; and the King, the Living God, high and exalted, dwells over them in ‘Araboth, for it is said: Extol Him that rideth upon Araboth[48] whose name is the Lord.[49] And whence do we derive that it[50] is called heaven? From the word ‘riding’, which occurs in two Biblical passages. Here it is written: ‘Extol Him that rideth upon Araboth’. And elsewhere it is written: Who rideth upon the heaven as thy help.[51] And darkness and cloud and thick darkness surround Him, for it is said: He made darkness His hiding-place, His pavilion round about Him, darkness of waters, thick clouds of skies.[52] But is there any darkness before Heaven?[53] For behold it is written: He revealeth the deep and secret things; He knoweth, what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with Him.[54] — There is no contradiction: the one [verse][55]

Talmud - Mas. Hagigah 12b, Soncino Talmud translation
(with parsing and few transliteration spelling changes by me)


Note that the Talmud follows this discussion with a discussion of the Merkavah (Chariot) Vision of Ezekiel chap. 1 and then goes on to discuss the secret manner in which to impart the mysteries of the Merkavah and of the Creation, and the story about the four Sages who entered the mystical Pardes.


[1] Deut. X, 14.

[2] I.e., ‘Curtain’, from Lat. Velum.

[3] I.e., ‘Expanse, firmament’.

[4] Lit., ‘Clouds’, from eja, ‘dust’ (cf. Isa. XL, 15).

[5] B.D.B.: ‘Elevation, height, lofty abode’; N.H., ‘Temple’. Jastrow: ‘(place of offering or entertainment) residence, especially Temple’.

[6] I.e., ‘Dwelling, habitation’.

[7] I.e., ‘Fixed or established place, foundation, residence’.

[8] V. Ps, LXVIII, 5. Levy: Perhaps from crg, ‘to be dark’ (cf. crg evening) and syn. with kprg: (thick darkness, heavy cloud, in which God dwells; cf. Ex. XX, 18).

[9] According to Rashi, Wilon (‘Curtain’) draws in every morning, and thus causes the light of day to become visible; in the evening it draws out and hides the daylight. This process constitutes the renewal of the work of creation. But Tosaf. explains that Wilon produces the light of day, and when it withdraws at night darkness prevails.

[10] Thus there is a curtain-like heaven.

[11] Isa. XL, 22.

[12] I.e., the heavenly luminaries.

[13] Gen. I, 17.

[14] There is probably a play here on the meaning of eja (the root of shehakim), which means ‘to rub away, pulverize, grind’ (cf. Ex. XXX, 36 and Job, XIV, 19).

[15] Ps. LXXVIII, 23, 24.

[16] Cf. Ta'an. 5a: ‘The Holy One blessed be He, said: I shall not enter the Jerusalem which is above, until I enter the Jerusalem which is below’.

[17] Michael is Israel's Guardian Angel; cf. Dan. XII, 1 and Yoma 77a. Num. Rab. s. 2, Hul. 40a.

[18] I Kings VIII, 13; the earthly Temple corresponds to the heavenly Sanctuary.

[19] Isa. LXIII, 15.

[20] Because Israel utters God's praise by day.

[21] By silencing the angels by day. God shows lovingkindness to the children of Israel, who are thus permitted to win divine grace by their prayer. Cf. also A.Z. 3b on the same verse.

[22] Ps. XLII, 9. I.e., by night the song of the angels joins mine (says Israel), which I uttered by day (Rashi).

[23] Deut. XXVI, 15.

[24] According to Rashi, this heaven contains stores of punishments, the snow etc. being employed not for the world's benefit, but for retribution, Tosaf., however, holds that the contents of Ma'on are used for good as well as evil, and compares Ta'anit 3b and Isa. LV, 10.

[25] For these stores cf. Job XXXVIII, 22f also Isa. XXIX, 6.

[26] Rashi: to smite down the produce.

[27] Omitted by R. Elijah of Wilna,

[28] Deut, XXVIII, 12; implying also the existence of a bad store, i.e., of punishments; but the "Ein Jacob’ reads here Jer. L, 25.

[29] Ps. CXLVIII, 7, 8.

[30] Ibid. V, 5.

[31] Note how the Talmudic explanation of the verse transforms the negative description of God into a positive one, and changes (‘with Thee’ into ‘in thy abode’ to prevent any misconception about God's perfection.

[32] I Kings VIII, 39.

[33] Heb. vesm, which implies righteous actions and is often used in the sense of charity.

[34] Rashi explains that either ‘spirits’ and ‘souls’ are synonymous, or else ‘spirit’ means the soul that has bodily form (ectoplasm?).

[35] E.V. ‘Righteousness’.

[36] Ps. LXXXIX, 15.

[37] Isa LIX, 17.

[38] Ps.XXXVI, 10.

[39] Judg. VI, 24. Rashi renders: He (the Lord) called it (peace) unto Him.

[40] Ps. XXIV, 5.

[41] 1 Sam. XXV, 29.

[42] Isa. LVII, 1.

[43] Ps. LXVIII, 10. The verse refers to the Revelation at Sinai, when, according to the Midrash, the souls of the children of Israel momentarily left their bodies, but God with His bounteous rain or dew of resurrection revived them.Cf. Cant. Rab. to Cant. V, 6.

[44] Lit., ‘Wheels’, i.e., wheel-like angels; v. Ezek. I, 15f.

[45] V. Isa. VI, 2; in Rabbinic literature they are understood to be angels of fire, cf. Deut. Rab. s. 11. But v. B. D. B. s.v.

[46] V. Ezek. I, 5f.

[47] Apparently distinct from those dwelling in Ma'on (v. p. 70).

[48] A.V. ‘upon the heavens’; R.V. ‘through the deserts’.

[49] Ps. LXVIII, 5.

[50] I.e., Araboth.

[51] Deut. XXXIII, 26.

[52] Ps. XVIII, 12.

[53] I.e., God.

[54] Dan. II, 22.

[55] I.e., the latter. 


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