Rabbi Yosi recounts to Rabbi Chiya a number of annoying riddles that had been posed to him by an old merchant with whom he had traveled on a voyage. The two rabbis call for the merchant to speak to them. The merchant says that there are matters of wisdom hidden in every subject of the Torah, all of which require interpretation. He goes on to speak about the verse "And if a priest's daughter be married to a stranger," telling how the soul is drawn from Binah and clothed with Chesed that puts them into the Tree of Life; then the souls soar from there and enter the treasury, Malchut. He says that it is important to know how to be careful when attracting a soul into a body during intercourse. During our lives we must conduct ourselves to the good side so that the great scales are balanced and tipped to the good side.
[Verse 35] The merchant talks about the greatness of God, and how he is falsely compared to the sages of the various nations. We hear of the names Elohim, Yud Hei Vav Hei fully spelled out, King of the Nations, and Hashem. "For among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You."
We learn about idolatry [verse 41] and about the soul that incarnates for evil deeds in the world, as alluded to in "And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant." When God sees that a child will turn bad later in life he gathers it into Himself while it is still young and fragrant. The merchant says that when God created the world he also created all the souls that would later be incarnated into bodies, and that even when souls do not wish to come to the world he makes them do so, since that is why they were created. When the time comes to depart from the world the soul must be free, refined and cleansed so that God can be pleased with it and reward it in the Garden of Eden. The souls are entered into the King's book, where they are recorded with their names. If the soul was soiled, and not worthy, it is met by strange camps of demons who bring it to Gehenom. Pure souls are protected by the garment that is spread on them, which is the name Eloha. We hear that the souls of the beloved enter into the chamber of love, which is situated underneath the Holy of Holies of Briyah, in the hidden firmament. The Holy One, blessed be He, finds that holy soul there, and raises it with up with Him in delight.
[Verse 75] The merchant turns to the question of who is the son of the Holy One, blessed be He, explaining that at the age of thirteen a boy is considered a son to the Congregation of Yisrael, and at the age of twenty a man is considered to be a son of the Holy One, blessed be He. The merchant tells of the additional soul that is attained by the righteous on the Sabbath.
[Verse 83] We hear an explanation of "Hashem my Elohim, You are very great, You are clothed with glory and majesty," "who covers Himself with light as with a garment," "who stretches out the heavens," "who lays the beams of His chambers in the waters," "who makes the clouds His chariots," "who walks upon the wings of the wind," and who "makes the winds His messengers." Next we learn about the souls of converts that soar from the Garden of Eden.
[Verse 96] The merchant says that "And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and went up into the mountain" means that the rainbow, that is the secret of Malchut, stripped off her three colors and gave them to Moses, in which garment he ascended the mountain. The old man reminds us that the Torah reveals its secrets subtly and fleetingly to those who love it and who pursue it with heart and soul.
[Verse 105] He now reveals that all the Neshamot emerge from the great strong tree that is the river that comes out of Eden, that is Zeir Anpin, and all the Ruchot emerge from another smaller tree that is Malchut. They join together as male and female, and when they unite they are called a candle as they shine forth a great light. The Neshamah is enveloped in the Ruach so as to be there above in the Supernal Garden of Eden in the hidden chamber; the Nefesh does not come there, but when the Neshamah and Ruach descend to the lower Garden of Eden they are clothed in another spirit, the soul of a convert. The explanation turns to the concept of Levirate marriage following the death of a man who left no children. The merchant tells of the seven lands, Eretz (Land), Adamah (Ground), Gai (Valley), Neshiyah (Forgetfulness), Tziyah (Wilderness), Tevel (World) and Arka.
[Verse 121] The merchant, during these expositions, constantly berates and questions himself about the propriety of revealing these secrets, but then regains strength and sureness of purpose, and continues. Now he speaks of "Go forth, O daughters of Zion, and behold King Solomon," saying that Zeir Anpin calls Malchut daughter, sister and mother - everything is in her. The merchant explains at length the complicated arrangement of souls in the dead husband, the widow and the children of a Levirate marriage. The question of the role of soulmates in this instance is also addressed.
[Verse 143] The talk turns to "Hashem, my heart is not haughty," and we are reminded how important it is to be humble of heart before the Holy King, however powerful we are in the world. The merchant then begins a section about divorce and the rules about remarriage. We hear of persons mentioned in scripture who were reincarnations of other named persons; for example, the merchant says that Boaz was a reincarnation, and that good often emerges from what had been evil.
[Verse 180] The merchant tells the rabbis about the levels Chesed, Gvurah, Tiferet and Malchut attaching to the grades Reuben, Shimon, Levi and Judah, and how this relates to barrenness. He speaks a great deal about Judah, and about the twelve tribes of Judah, saying that they are celestial shapes after the supernal shape; since they were real people in this world, the Shechinah was perfected by them.
[Verse 210] We hear an explanation of "Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Yisrael," and "and many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake." The merchant says that the "dust of the earth" was seen in the Book of Enoch as the letters floating in the air. "The dust" is the first dust, that is the body of the childless dead man, and "the earth" is the second, corrected one, the body of the incarnated man which corrects the first. In the time to come those who are corrected are destined to live forever, and the other side will be removed from the world. Repentance breaks many sentences and verdicts, and nothing withstands repentance; God accepts everyone who repents, as He is full of compassion and mercy. The Holy One, blessed be He, sees the ways of one who walks in evil, and He holds his hand, and gives him healing, and leads him in the true path.
[Verse 238] The old merchant talks about David's situation when he took Bathsheba to wife and when he slew her husband, Uriah, with the sword of the children of Amon. He says that David did no sin when he took Bathsheba, but that he should have killed Uriah when he rebelled against the kingdom rather than using the Amonites to kill him. Some sins are against other men, and some are solely against God.
[Verse 269] At the time of resurrection, we are told, all those who have not died will experience death from the Holy One, blessed be He, and will then immediately rise back to life; this is in order that none of the impurity in the world will remain, and that the new world will be brought about from the workings of God.
[Verse 289] The merchant now begins a long section to do with strength, speaking about strong mountains, about the strong foundations of the earth, about King Solomon and about the mighty patriarchs. This leads to the issue of the birthright that Jacob took from Esau, and Jacob's strength over his brother. The serpent was able to seduce Adam because Adam lacked strength and might; that quality first appeared in Seth. Jacob's strength already existed in the form of Joseph.
[Verse 331] The old man's talk returns repeatedly to the issue of one who has no offspring. He says that God does not want anyone who practices evil to produce future generations that might devastate the world. The merchant tells the story of King Solomon riding on the eagle four hundred parasangs until arriving at the mountains of darkness. There, in the area of the olive tree, King Solomon learned the foreign wisdom that he was interested in, and then went aboard the eagle again and returned home. Then he contemplated that wisdom that he had learned. He knew of the many oppressions of the world.
[Verse 359] The merchant says that prior to the Sabbath, the letters, the written alphabet and the tablets had already been created. These were the work of Elohim, and it is only after the completion of Creation that we find the full name "Hashem Elohim." "Engraved upon the tablets" means freedom from everything - from the Angel of Death, from the subjection of nations. It is the seal of the World to Come.
[Verse 366] The old merchant now reveals himself to be Yeva Saba, and Rabbi Chiya and Rabbi Yosi prostrate themselves before him and weep. They said to him, "May we be favored that our image be engraved in your heart as your seal is engraved in our heart."