The Day of Judgment: An angel in the heavens sounds the celestial trumpet, heralding the return of the Messiah. Those who had died believing on Him are risen from the grave to reign alongside Him for a thousand years. Affixed to the horn is the banner of the Crusader, and in the distance, snow caps the peaks of distant mountains.
We read in the 20th chapter of Revelation about the resurrection of the dead in Christ, and it is a perfect example of “as above, so below” applied to God’s Creation; for as His Son was risen after the crucifixion, so too shall His disciples be risen. Christ’s core teaching, after all—love God with all your heart, and treat your brother as you would have him treat you—is a simple summation of basic kabbalistic principles: What might best be called the Law of Divine Reciprocity, a kind-of Newtonian Third Law applied to human spirituality. Those of us who are believers in Him, then, shall earn the same reward as He. But what of those who have fallen short, or been led astray?
“Judge not, lest ye be judged,” He instructs us in Matthew, and He enjoins us in John to only throw stones at others if we have never committed sin of any kind. But who among us can honestly claim that? Therefore, if we are to be imitations of Christ and faithful devotees of kabbalistic thought, it is imperative that we forgive any and all among us who have ever wronged us in any fashion. This is much easier said than done, for it puts the believer in all sorts of ethical quandaries: Does this mean we must forgive the people who attacked America on September 11? Forgive Hitler and the Nazis, who ravaged Europe and slaughtered millions? Stalin and his forced labor camps that killed millions more?
As above, so below: If we would be forgiven our transgressions, we must forgive the transgressions of others—all of them. We don’t get to pick and choose who receives salvation; that is the Creator’s task, and it is not for us to know how and when He gives His dispensations; neither is it for us to ask for any portion of it for ourselves before we have surrendered it unto others of our own free will. This is not to say that there is to be no accountability for such heinous crimes as the Holocaust or the Gulag Archipelago; governments among men are created to write and enforce rules of law that govern our conduct on earth, and God will have the final say either way. But as infinitesimally small pieces of the transcendent Universal Spirit, it is the moral obligation of each of us to offer forgiveness to all, that we might be forgiven from above. Rachel Pollack puts it eloquently: “No one can be truly free when someone else is enslaved.” We are our brother’s keeper, and if we withhold forgiveness, we keep others “enslaved” in our pettiness and spite. We also ”enslave” ourselves this way. Christ Himself declared that the only “unforgivable” sin was blaspheming the Holy Spirit; it would be presumptuous, not to mention arrogant, to claim He spoke in error.
The Talmud teaches that he who withholds forgiveness of others invites enmity unto himself. Therefore, if we are to truly ascend into that “upper room,” we must accept and embrace this unbending, eternal truth, for it is the reason why the path of Judgement, which connects Hod on the Pillar of Severity to Malkuth in the material world, is known as the Perpetual Intelligence.
The Hebrew letter assigned to Judgement is Shin, or “tooth.” Paul Foster Case surmises this as a serpent’s tooth, but in any event, if we think of the function of our teeth, much of the card’s meaning can be revealed to us. Take an apple: It is delicious and nutritious, but it is much too big for us to swallow whole. Our teeth are the instrument of the body that solves this problem; it takes edible items and breaks them down into a form that we can swallow and digest. In a similar vein, the transformative power of Divine Judgement transforms dead inert mass into living spirit that can praise and exalt it. Likewise, our judgment—that is, our forgiveness—breaks down barriers between us and our brothers, and allows us to nourish each other with love.
The angel here is, of course, Gabriel, archangel of Water, though Judgement is unique among the Trumps Major, as Robert Wang notes, by portraying a scene in which all four elements of the Tarot work more or less in equilibrium. The element assigned to shin is Fire, and this commingling of fire and water produces the vapor, or Air, that sounds the trumpet and that gives the dead, risen from Earth, the breath of new life. This again points to the reconciliation of opposites, the broken vessels of light made whole, and the aeon brought to an end. (In some decks, this card is called “The Last Judgement.”)
Three figures in the foreground hail the angels’ arrival, while three more in the background raise their arms in praise. As they are arranged in groups of three, this could be yet another representation of the hexagram or six-pointed star: Two triangles, one emanating upward and the other downward in perfect balance. The snow-capped mountains represent the purity and holiness of the distant upper room to which we shall one day all be borne.
Meanings in a reading can include: the final conflict resolved, “answering the call,” victory over adversity, good fortune comes to the faithful, a new enterprise undertaken or one brought to an end; but also defeat, loss, “dropping the ball”, or lack of faith. Resurrection is just a spiritual form of liberation. True liberation comes when we practice the miracle of forgiveness. For as we forgive others, we learn to forgive ourselves, and in so doing, we discover the true Self that lies at our spiritual center.