Nephesh Hachaim 1:13
The things we say can also link celestial worlds, rectify this one, and interconnect with the upper worlds, as we’ll now see. After all, we’re taught that “He who forms mountains and creates the wind, and 1 declares to man what he has said” (Amos 4:13) 2. And we’re told that the word “declares” here refers to the hidden dimension of each thing we say 3.
We’re thus warned that even though we’re in the physical world and can’t fathom the sort of destruction or construction we bring about up above with each and everything we say so we take our words lightly, we’re nevertheless to know that everything we say has supreme consequences 4.
Words of Torah are especially auspicious. Joy and light permeate the entire universe as well as the supreme palaces and they’re all adorned by diadems of holiness when words of Torah are uttered 5. A slew of holy angels is created with each and every word and utterance of Torah and of prayer too, while each harmful or untoward utterance creates senseless and satanic worlds 6, G-d forbid, which destroy celestial worlds and put the arrangement of the Holy Chariot which corresponds to the source of speech in disarray 7.
Woe to those who “see but don’t understand what they’re looking at”, R. Chaim says 8, as there is no utterance without its effect. Thousands upon thousands of angels take hold of each utterance and bring it before celestial judges who evaluate it as being for the good or not 9. And if it isn’t for the good, then many angels of destruction join it and bring it down to the abyss, which has a terrible effect upon the person uttering it 10!
In fact, it’s said that sinful speech is worse than sinful action 11, and that it’s tantamount to idol worship 12.
That’s why we’re taught that once one has died and stands before G-d to be judged for what he’d done, G-d then reveals to him the hidden dimension of his words in life 13, which is to say, He reveals to that person just what his speech brought about up above.
1 I.e., Also.
2 That is, the very same G-d who forms mountains and creates the wind system is intimately aware of everything you say. It also implies that everything you say affects the lower worlds (i.e., mountains) and the upper ones (i.e., wind),
3 R’ Chaim cites various locations in the Zohar that make this point including 1:86b, 234b, 249a; 2:80a; 3:50b, 161a, 293a; and Zohar Chadash 2:17b.
Apparently because he has just referred to the hidden dimension of things, R’ Chaim now feels obliged — or at liberty — to explicate the hidden, recondite and Kabbalistic dimensions of the cosmos in a very arcane, fulsome, and stunning note of his own here.
R. Chaim starts off by explicating the makeup of the various supernal “worlds” or realms he’d cited only abstractly until now. In general, there are four such worlds which are termed in descending order Atzilut, Beriah, Yetsirah, and Assiyah (see 1:5:2 for another layout).
He notes that there are even more sublime and unfathomable realms than these that are known as the “supernal lights”, which R. Chaim referred to before, starting at 1:4:1 (see our footnote 5 there), and which will be discussed below in 2:17 in terms of Adam Kadmon
In any event, the first world most commonly discussed in Kabbalistic literature is Atzilut (termed “The World of Emanation”). The word Atzilut implies being in close proximity to something or someone as in the word aitzel, “next to”; to emanate (as in the passing on of something intangible from one’s being to another’s, see Numbers 11:25); and it also refers to the armpits (see Ezekiel 13:18) which, as R. Chaim points out, are permanently connected to the body while also being the point at which the arm and hand begin to emanate outward from the body.
This world is utterly Divine (R. Chaim cites Tikkunei Zohar 3b and Eitz Chaim 42:5, 43, 2:3, 26: 1, 44:1, and 47:2. But also see 2:2 below in R. Chaim’s note, and 3:4 below), since it emanates from and is connected to the pure G-dliness out of which it derives. So celestial is this realm in fact that it’s unfathomable and metaphorically termed “nothingness”. That’s not at all to suggest that there’s nothing there, G-d forbid. It only means that from our very limited perspective it seems to be nothing, given that there’s absolutely nothing about it that we can fathom or even imagine (see 3:2 below and Gra’s comments to Sifre D’tzniyusa, Ch. 1 “Milya tulya d’bdulcha”).
The world below it is Beriah (termed “The World of Creation”), where “creation ex nihilo” (creation out of a sheer void) occurred in the course of the six days of creation (R. Chaim cites Zohar Chadash 1:29b and directs to the earlier commentators who dwelt on this). In fact, R. Chaim adds, this phenomenon occurs all the time! G-d is constantly infusing things with being, each and every moment (see 1:2 above), as we’re taught in Pirkei Avot (4:22) where G-d is termed “the one who formulates, who creates” (in the present tense).
The world below it is Yetzirah (termed “The World of Formation”), where rather than creation out of sheer nothingness, there’s a process of formulating a new thing out of pre-existing material (the way we use preexisting materials to formulate new ones. See 1:2:1 above).
And the last world is Assiyah (termed “The World of Action”). It’s the culmination of everything that preceded it which it “fleshes out”, if you will. It’s the physical world that G-d ultimately intended to bring about, and where humankind does the things that affect and rectify those upper worlds (R. Chaim cites Genesis 18:7 and 2 Samuel 8:13).
See 4:10 below for more on all 4 worlds.
There is obviously a plethora of things to be said about all of this,, as the Ari and other kabbalists subsequent to him did, but we’ll take our cue from R. Chaim and stop here.
4 R. Chaim cites Zohar 2:100b, 3:55a, 105a, 121b. But also see R. Chaim’s own remarks in Ruach Chaim 4:3 and in his Drasha on Rosh Hashanna, the Gra’s remarks in Even Shleima 6:1-2, as well as others’ in Arvei Nachal, Vayeishev 1; Maggid Devarav L’Yaakov 26; and Tanya, Iggeret Hakodesh 28.
5 R. Chaim cites Zohar 2:217a, 3:85a.
6 See Zohar 2:5a.
7 R. Chaim cites Zohar 3:31b for the idea of all things in this world (i.e., speech, etc.) having a source up above.
8 See Chagigah 12b.
9 R. Chaim cites Zohar 1:92a.
10 R. Chaim cites Zohar 3:85a.
11 R. Chaim cites Arachin 15a.
12 R. Chaim cites Sanhedrin 92a.
13 This draws us back to the reference to the hidden dimension of our words cited at the beginning of this chapter.
(c) 2020 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
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