Sunday 2 April 2017



Sefer Emek haMelech first published in Amsterdam in 1648.


R. Naftali Hertz Bachrach lived in the first half of the 1600’s. Born in the town of Bacharach in the German Rhineland, he excelled in Kabbalistic philosophy and travelled to Israel to study from the students of the R. Yitzchak Luria known as the Ari Zal (1534-1572). Although he had never met the Ari Zal personally, he referred to him as his ‘teacher’. 

Then, in 1648, he published a book called Emek haMelech, or Valley of the King, in which he claimed to expound on the teachings of the Ari Zal, as he received them through his (the Ari Zal's) foremost student, R Chaim Vital.


For some, Emek haMelech was to become one of the most authoritative textbooks on the Lurianic Kabbalah of the Ari Zal - as transmitted directly through his student R. Chaim Vital – and then to R. Naftali Bachrach.

For others, though, the alleged authenticity of R. Bachrach as custodian of Lurianic Kabbalah was considered to be questionable, and the book was regarded as unrepresentative of the teachings of R. Chaim Vital. According to this view,  the line from the Ari Zal to Emek haMelech was regarded as having been broken, and it was suggested that R. Bachrach may have been more influenced by another student of the Ari Zal, R. Yisrael Sarug.


As a rule, Emek haMelech found favour predominantly amongst the Ashkenazim.


R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi and the Vilna Gaon – although polar opposites in terms of theology – both regarded the work as an absolute primary source for Lurianic Kabbalah. 

The Sefer Baal Shem Tov records:

There is a tradition in the hands of the masters of Chabad handed down from one master to another, going back to our holy rabbi, Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch—and possibly going back to the Baal Shem Tov, and indeed I heard that it does go back to the Baal Shem Tov—that the Baal Shem Tov accepted the kabbalah (of the author of Emek Hamelech). 
And on the basis of this kabbalah, the teachings of Chabad always cite the words of the author of the Emek Hamelech
And it appears as well that the words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov that address levels higher than Atzilus are based on this kabbalah (see further for elaboration on this point)”[1]

TOSAFOT YOM TOV (1579-1654):

The book was additionally held in high esteem by R. Yom Tov Lipman Heller (1579-1654) known after his commentary on the Mishna as the Tosafot Yom Tov. He even wrote his approbation to the first edition of Emek haMelech, and praised the fact that it expounded on the idea of reincarnation. 


Another supporter of the book was R. Yehoshua Heschel of Cracow[2] who was the teacher of the Shach, one of the greatest commentators on the Shulchan Aruch.


Furthermore, Emek haMelach informed much of the teachings and writings of the Ramchal as well.

It is also of interest to see that selections from Emek haMelech were translated into Latin.[3]



On the other hand, many other respected rabbis were opposed to Emek haMelech because they felt that R. Naftali Hertz Bacharach was not as genuinely rooted in Lurianic Kabbalah as he had claimed. They maintain that he misrepresented his close connection to R. Chaim Vital, the key student of the Ari Zal.

According to this view, the line tracing back to the Ari Zal may not have been as direct as first presented. It appears that R. Bachrach drew much from another student of the Ari Zal, the Egyptian Kabbalist, R. Yisrael Sarug.

In fact, it appears that R. Bachrach copied sections of text directly from R. Yisrael Sarug’s manuscript Limudei Atzilut.

However, this only became widely acknowledged about two hundred years later in 1850, when Limudei Atzilut was first published. Up to that time, R. Sarug's work may not have been well known because it remained in manuscript form.[4]

This may be one of the reasons why prior to the mid-1800’s, people were not aware of R. Bachrach's connection to R. Yisrael Sarug, and assumed he was simply expounding on the teachings of R. Chaim Vital.

Limudei Atzilut Lemberg Edition, only published as late as 1850.

THE RASHASH (1720-1777):

The famed Yemenite kabbalist, R. Shalom Sharabi (1720-1777) known as the Rashash, was also sceptical about those who claimed to write in the name of the Ari Zal. According to him, the only authoritative line of Lurainic Kabbalah was to be found in the teachings of the Ari Zal’s primary student, R. Chaim Vital himself. It was only R. Chaim Vital who had personally received the most direct form of oral transmission of the mystical tradition from the Ari Zal.

R. Sharabi together with many other mystic purists, suggested we only study kabbalah from three main works – Eitz Chaim, Shmoneh Shearim and Mavo Shearim – because we know these to have been transmitted directly from the Ari Zal to R. Chaim Vital.

Most Sefardim held steadfastly to R. Sharabi’s objection and (with the notable exception of the Ben Ish Chai), excluded Emek haMelech from their kabbalistic literature.


The following are two examples of possible points of contention:


The Eitz Chaim speaks of a ‘world’ or realm called Adam Kadmon, which is the beginning of Atzilut (which is regarded as the highest spiritual realm). It does not reference in great detail any worlds higher than Adam Kadmon (except for a vague reference).

However, R Yisrael Sarug – the other student of the Ari Zal – does delve into these higher realms, which get subdivided further into more ‘worlds’ and ‘gates’. These ‘higher realms’ are then recorded in Emek haMelech and presented as the normative view of R. Chaim Vital.


Another difference between R. Yisrael Sarug and classical Kabbalah of the Ari Zal is the direction of the Tzimtzum or ‘removal’ of the infinite divine light prior to creation (to ‘make space’ for physical creation).  It appears that, according to the Ari Zal, the light withdrew to the ‘outside’ (to create an empty space’) in the middle - whereas according to R. Sarug it contracted to a central focal point in the ‘middle’.


R. Chaim Yosef David Azulai, known as the Chidah, made the following rather derisive remark regarding R. Bachrach’s Emek haMelech:

 “I have heard that no genuine writings (from the Ari Zal) ever made their way into his (R. Bacharach’s) hands...For this reason, those who understand, will refrain from referring to this book.”

R. MOSHE CHAGIZ (1671-1750):

For similar reasons, R. Moshe Chagiz the great anti-Sabbatean activist and kabbalist, was also opposed to this book.
Interesting Gemara which belonged to two scholars: The first was R. Elchanan Bachrach, father of the Emek haMelech. His name can be seen deleted at the top, probably by the next owner, R. Leib of Altona.



Emek haMelech describes some details on how to make a Golem.

Extract from Emek haMelech describing the unusual event in Hebron, 1619.
Emek haMelech records the famous story about a synagogue in Hebron which only had nine congregants for prayers on Yom Kippur, and needed one more to make the minyan. Most of the congregation had gone to Jerusalem, ‘a quarter of a day’s walk away’. 

As night was falling, they noticed an elderly stranger approaching and they were overjoyed when he joined to form the quorum. The Chazzan was selected to host the stranger for the breaking of the fast the following evening, but the stranger had disappeared. 

That night the stranger appeared to the Chazzan in a dream and told him that he was Avraham Avinu who had come from his nearby grave at Machpela to make the minyan.

The synagogue then became known as the ‘Avraham Avinu Synagogue’, and today there is a plaque on the wall containing an extract from Emek haMelech describing the unusual event.




Emek haMelech also describes how, about seven years before the destruction of the First Temple, five righteous men began to hide the treasures of the Temple, for fear that they would be plundered:

These documents (‘treasure maps’ according to some) were written by five righteous men (under the prophet Jeremiah). They were: Shimur the Levi, Chizkiyahu, Tzidkiyahu, Chaggai and Zecharia.

They hid the vessels of the Temple and the treasures of Jerusalem, which will not be found again until Mashiach ben David...”

These five men recorded this in Babylon, together with other prophets including Ezra haSofer...”

130 Levites were killed but 100 escaped with Shimur the Levi. They then hid 500 000 trays of fine gold, 1 200 000 trays of silver... in a tower in the land of Babylon, in the great city of Baghdad...There is no end, no measure, no set amount and no weighing of the gold that overlaid the Temple...All this plus another 7 000 talents of gold were brought and hidden in the Segel haBar...All these were hidden from Nevuchadnezzar by the fittest men of Israel...All these were concealed, hidden and safeguarded from the army of the Chaldeans in a place called Borseef.”[5]

R. Nafrali Hertz Bacharach thus reveals what he says is a (lost) Tractate of Mishnaic literature, which deals with vessels from the Temple. There are twelve paragraphs and each is called a ‘mishna’. This is allegedly the missing text of Masechet Keilim.


It’s interesting to see that while the Jewish world did not pay too much attention to this ‘lost Tractate’, Napoleon apparently attempted to search for the treasures of Jerusalem during his Palestine Campaign in 1799.

Later, after the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, a Hebrew Copper Scroll was then also found in Qumran in 1952. This now famous ‘Copper Scroll’ is, according to some, an inventory of the treasures of the First Temple. It is eight foot long and lists sixty-four locations written in twelve columns indicating where the treasures were hidden.

Today it is difficult to reference the locations mentioned in this Copper Scroll because it referred to landmarks known only in those times. For example, it states: “Sixty-five bars of gold lie on the third level of in the cave of the old Washer House,” and “Seventy talents of silver... in Matia’s courtyard.”

Some try to link the Qumran Copper Scroll to a fascinating reference to a ‘Copper Scroll’ mentioned in Emek haMelech

In chapter two of the ‘missing Mishnaot’ brought in Emek haMelech, it also tells of an inventory of the Temple items which were inscribed on a Copper Scroll!

Coincidence or not, it certainly is very interesting.

When the Cairo Geniza was discovered 1896, a copy of a Tosefta - which is a supplement to the Mishna – was discovered amongst the fragments. It was thought to have been the missing sections of Masechet Keilim. 

This was alleged by the well-known archaeologist Vendel Jones (who is said to have been the inspiration for Spielberg's Indiana Jones, and who appears to have had a good relationship with R. Shlomo Goren and the Lubavitcher Rebbe). These Tosefta fragments are said to match the text in Emek haMelech - thus proving that R. Bachrach had indeed found the lost Tractate of the Mishna!

However, according to the Tosefta Blog,[6] these ‘matching Tosefta fragments’ have not yet been verified, or made available for viewing, nor are they recorded in the Bar-Ilan University Tosefta project and other libraries which house the Cairo Geniza fragments!

For more on the actual historical fragments of the Cairo Geniza see KOTZK BLOG 91.


Leaving alone all the intrigue surrounding the location of the treasures of Jerusalem, there remains much controversy over the authenticity of Emek haMelech as a kabbalistic primary source.

As we have seen, some hold it in the highest esteem while others deride it.

It’s remarkable and sad, although not uncommon, for a work which could shed so much light on the teachings of the Ari Zal, to be subjected to such controversy and disagreement.

There really does appear to have been a battle for the soul of the Ari Zal.


The Tosefta Blog.


A Tribute to Rav Shlomo Elyashiv, Author of Leshem Shevo v-Achloma: On his Ninetieth Yahrzeitby Joey Rosenfeld.

[1] Mekor Chaim 9, Parshat Ki Tisa.
[2] Although a Kabbalist, R. Yehoshua Heschel did not allow his mystical leanings to exert any influence on his halachic writings.
[3] See: Knorr von Rosenroth‘s Kabbala denudata (1677/1684).
[4] R. Naftali Hertz drew from R. Yisrael Sarug as well as from R. Shlomo Delmedigo and R. Shabbatai Horowitz although he does not sufficiently acknowledge these sources in his book.  However, some still claim the Limudei Atzilut was written by R Chaim Vital. HebrewBooks, for example, lists the author as R. Chaim Vital.
As an interesting aside, according to Jacob Haberman (Jewish Virtual library): ‘R. Joseph Solomon Delmedigo (1591-1655) immersed himself in the Kabbalah for two purposes: (1) To find in it solutions which philosophy could not offer, and (2) to criticize it.’
[5] Emek haMelech: ch. 11 Introduction (Hakdamat hamechaber) 14a.
[6] Tosefta Blog August 2009.


  1. I started to read this post, and from there I had to jump to Wikipedia for more info on the copper scroll, and one page lead to the other, its pass 4 in the morning and I just... finished this article. amazing post!

  2. I read that rav hutner heard or explains that the reason rav Chaim vital was anti any other students of the Ari to teach was one because he was told by the Ari himself that he was the chosen one and 2 because he never knew of Rav yisroel sarug because he had learnt under the Ari earlier and gone to Italy. The leshem uses sarug alot to explain the Ari's kabolah.

  3. tillerofthesoil
    July 27, 2017 at 11:08 pm (Edit)
    Ba’al ha-Sullam

    Letter № 33

    1927, London

    To the honorable disciples, may the LORD be upon them:

    Two nights ago a wonderful thing happened to me: a man asked me to come over to his house to see his books, among which there were also books of Kabbalah….

    I saw there a large book, about 180 pages, two printer sheets, titled, Emeq ha-Melekh, by one of the wondrous ascended ones, Rav Naftali Ashkenazi [Bacharach], printed in Amsterdam in 1648. The author established a complete order to the Wisdom of Truth, as in the book, Ets Ḥayyim, beginning with the tsimtsum, and ending with the lower worlds BiYA. It is based on the foundations of the Arizal with his own explanations, and he is also assisted by the Kabbalah of the Geonim and the Rishonim, similar to Rav Ya’aqov Koppel (Lipshitz) [author of Sha’arei Gan Eden].

    When I opened the book I saw in it many matters and foundations that were not introduced in any of the books of Arizal or the Rishonim, except in Limmudei Atsilut, presented in his book, letter by letter.

    This surprised me. I went over the book meticulously until I realized that the book, Limmudei Atsilut, attributed to the Arizal, is completely false and fabricated. Instead, a copier abridged this book, Emeq ha-Melekh, and turned it into a short composition, which is the book, Limmudei Atsilut, that we have.

    And not only that, that copier was completely ignorant and didn’t understand anything of Kabbalah, so he confused the pages of the book in a horrible manner. Out of every ten pages, he took half or a third of a page, and copied them verbatim, then put them together into a single matter.

    As a result, one matter in the book, Limmudei Atsilut, consists of ten thirds of pages from ten separate matters in the book, Emeq ha-Melekh. This is why it is so perplexing. I cannot put in writing my anger at this wicked fool, since it took me a long time to sort matters out for myself. But because of the sublime holiness of the matters presented there, I was fond of them, and so I spent a great deal of time—above and beyond—on this book.

    I understand that the same thing happened to all the great ones, therefore I wish to make it known that firstly it is not from the writings of the Arizal, and secondly it is distorted and confused to the point that it is forbidden to look at it, and must be put away so as to remove obstacles from future generations. One who wishes to understand the holiness of the matters will look into the book, Emeq ha-Melekh, where the matters are presented in their full sublime glory. I am contemplating interpreting the matter in the introduction that I will write.

    That book is precious. It must have been printed only once, approximately three-hundred years ago, and this was my first time to see it. It must have been an act of providence because I took with me Limmudei Atsilut, but when I wanted to read in it I couldn’t find it. I looked for a place where I could borrow it but couldn’t find it anywhere. In the end, I did find it, in my bag, to my surprise.

    Regarding the personal questions, I pray that he will succeed wherever he turns, for I cannot settle private affairs these days, as my own troubles engulf me. Hence, in His light we will see light.

    Yehudah Leib

  4. There was a Ger from Texas USa who recently passed away Vendyl Jones who did a massive amount of work on the copper scroll part dead sea scrolls and found it to contain this same words as also contained in emek hamelech written published 300 years ago!
    amazing for Both finds!