Clay of Spirituality
di Giovanni Carlo Sonnino
Tobia Rava’s work belongs to the rationalist current of Jewish tradition, the roots of which lie in the knowledge-giving books of the Bible, in which the invitation to search for knowledge is already present in the first meaning of the word Torah, namely “teaching”.
The carrying out by the chosen people of their priestly task is made possible by a path of knowledge that does not merely lead to the rightful recognition and understanding of the commandments and precepts, hiit also requires people to constantly question themselves as regards creation.
The teachings that can be found above all in Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon, by offering advice that helps people to act righteously, constitute an orthopraxis that, if followed by man, enables him to mirror the ideal cosmic order of divine origin in his social order, whiie the books of Job and the Qohelet are the fundamental texts of existential questioning.
The moral need to interpret the more interior meaning of the biblical message explains the predominantly hermeneutic nature of the techniques of Rabbinic literature: the Torah is divine scripture and contains not only the narration of Genesis, of the historical events at the origin of mankind and the laws governing the life of israel, but also explains the divine design in the architecture of the cosmos. This rationalist search is constantly evoked by the painting of Tobia Rava in his vision of the essence of all individual materiality, It must be specified here that the concept of “matter” brings to mind two quite different words in Hebrew: Homer, which in mediaeval Jewish literature indicates “corporeal matter”, the meaning present in the Bible in, for example, Isaiah 64, 7 we are the clay, and you are our potter… Job 10, 9: you molded me like clay; and Yesod, the literal meaning of which is “foundation” (in the Cabbalàh Yesod is the ninth sefira, which refers to the place of form, i.e. to that whict gathers the intelligible and spiritual light).
This distinction derives from the need in Jewish philosophy, above all in mediaeval times, to be able to conceive matter – the foundation of everything – as something treed from its corporealness.
The Jewish philosopher Solomon ibn Gabirol, known also by his Latin name Avicebron, wrote in his work Fountain of Life: “matter is based on divine science. praised be the Lord, like the earth is based on the cer – tre of the heavens.”
The millenary tradition of biblical exegesis and hermeneutics was developed to discover the secret of creation contained in the Torah, and is thus the Jewish way of searching for the Logos
For Jewish people, looking for the meaning that lies behind everything written in the Bible, behind ever word and even every letter, signifies fulfilling their duh, of trying to understand and becomes the very goal of human life: to know-understand man, to know-read-interpret what has been created means to truly celebrate the glory of God as revealed by creation. All language is a vehicle of knowledge, but Hebrew is the instrument of God’s word. Indeed, in Jewish mysticism each letter of the alphabet constitutes a number of the cosmos (each letter is a numerical symbol).
This ancient “faith” in the aiphabet, understood as a possible way of knowing a universe that is capable of being deciphered and decoded, has its origins in the biblical conception of knowledge. Two books result from this tradition and the meeting of Jewish mediaeval ohiiosophy and Greek civilisation; the Sefer Yetzira (Book of Creation) and the Shi’ur Qoma (Divine Dimensions), written sometime between the third and seventh century AD.
These texts were widely referred to in mediaeval literature and even afterwards, eventually becoming the points of reference for the Cabbalàh. The Sefer Yetzira shows the 32 ways of gaining access to true knowldge (22 of which are linked to the letters of the alphabet and 10 to the sefirot, the divine powers created by God to govern the casmos), while the Shi’ur Qoma presents the intimate relationship between the microcosm and the macrocosm in its depiction, apparently anthropomorphic, of divine greatness.
Cosmic knowledge is the order that lies behind what as been created and can be read: behind every stone, every leaf, every breath and every glance is hidden a sign, a figure.
In the work of Tobia Rava the concept of cosmic knowledge is realised through his search for that hidden meaning, even in the smallest material manifestation, which he re-states using his own language to offer a knowledge of matter that is spiritual.
All the signs together constitute reality and so knowing how to interpret the signs means TO LIVE. Tobia Ravà has understood this and has engraved this message in his works, which exist through the eyes of those who seek the message that lies within.
The Cabbalah is a hermeneutic tradition in the making and only that which helps us to see things from a different viewpoint makes union with the Absolute possible: “al tikrei”, literally “do not read”, is one of the hermeneutic rules handed down by the Great Masters, bless-ed be their memory.
“Do not read” what you see, but look at what you hear and then you will understand.
di Giovanni Carlo Sonnino