Ch’s 41-55 will go to great lengths to explain why we humans would need all the upper worlds God created for us in the first place, while the rest of the book will address the humdrum spirituality of our age, and how our knowledge of the Zohar (whose stellar qualities Ashlag then expands upon) in particular and Kabbalah in general would help rectify us and satisfy God’s intention for creation.
We’d still need to clarify in fact why humankind would need all the supernal worlds that the Creator forged for it, though. What use are they to it?
That will be solved for the most part by Ch. 56. But before we can understand the answer we’d first need to learn some things about the supernal worlds, about how they’re connected to humankind, and about what all that has to do with Torah and mitzvot. In fact we’ll find that they’re all intimately, even congenitally linked.
It’s important to realize that unlike most of Ashlag’s works, this one isn’t a Kabbalistic book per se, though these next few chapters will draw on certain Kabbalistic ideas and motifs. So while we’ll try to offer insight into their import and meaning, we won’t be providing the kind of detailed Kabbalistic comments here in our notes that would be called for in a fully Kabbalistic text.
You’d need to know, though, that reality is comprised of five (supernal) worlds en toto that are termed: Adam Kadmon, Atzilut, Briah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, each of which is comprised of an infinite number of elements.
These utterly nonmaterial, inchoate “worlds” can best be depicted as whole, largely unfathomable realms that somehow emanate and devolve downward from God’s nonmaterial, transcendent Being, and then culminate in our material universe.
Adam Kadmon (“Primordial Man”) is the first supernal, utterly transcendent world to have emerged from God’s Infinitude. It’s termed Adam (or, Man) because it’s the supernal basis of humankind, and Kadmon (or, Primordial) since it’s nearly as primeval as God’s original idea to create the universe in the first place.
Atzilut is the world that flowed forth from Adam Kadmon. It’s termed that both because it’s aristocratic, if you will, in its import, high standing, and inaccessibility (from atzil), and because it’s adjacent to and next after Adam Kadmon (from eitzel) in sweeping consequence.
Briah (“Creation”) is termed that because it’s the first utter-existent appearing out of the relative formless nothingness of Adam Kadmon and Atzilut, which are so utterly unfathomable and immaterial.
Yetzirah (“Formation”) is the first realm in which “something” came about, and where the raw undefined “stuff” that was created out of the formless Divine began to assume shape.
And while Asiyah (“Activation”) is just as much a spiritual realm essentially as the others, it still-and-all grazes against the physical universe, and is thus able to provoke or activate formed and molded materiality.
It’s important to recall, as Ashlag put it above, that each one of the five worlds is comprised of an infinite number of elements. For not only is each one of the worlds extensive in implication, they’re likewise comprehensive in scope, and each part of each is interwoven with each other part in an infinite amalgamation. Those elements are known as the sephirot, which we’ll discuss below. They too are infinitely divisible.
Those (five) worlds correspond to the five (primary) sephirot, termed K.C.B.T.M. (Keter, Chochma, Binah, Tipheret, and Malchut), in that Adam Kadmon corresponds to Keter, Atzilut corresponds to Chochma, Briah corresponds to Binah, Yetzirah corresponds to Tipheret, and Asiyah corresponds to Malchut.
There are ten sephirot (“spheres”, as in spheres-of-influence or of- concern) altogether in fact: Keter (“Crown”), Chochma (“Wisdom”), Binah (“Understanding”), Chessed (“Kindness”), Gevurah (“Strength”), Tipheret (“Beauty”), Netzach (“Endurance”), Hod (“Splendor”), Yesod (“Foundation”) and Malchut (“Kingship”).
As we see here, the ten are often lumped together into a cluster of five: Keter, Chochma, Binah, Tipheret (which itself incorporates Chessed, Gevurah, Tipheret itself, Netzach, Hod, and Yesod), and Malchut.
Suffice it to say that each sephirah has a unique luster and timbre, and that their names help explain that, but that’s all beside Ashlag’s point here. He assumes we know all this already (or perhaps he’s whetting our appetite for all this in hopes of encouraging us to study Kabbalah, which he’ll argue for later on in this work), and he means only to explain how the lot of them interact with our beings and the mitzvah-system as we indicated above.
The (supernal) lights that are engarbed in those five worlds are termed Y.C.N.R.N. (i.e., Yechidah, Chaya, Neshama, Ruach, and Nephesh).
What Ashlag terms the “lights” are the five primary depths of the soul, from Yechidah to Chaya to Neshama to Ruach to Nephesh in descending order.
Each term could be translated as either soul or spirit, but the Yechidah, the most sublime level, is termed “the soul’s source”, the Chaya is “the soul’s soul”, the Neshama is “the soul” itself, the Ruach is perhaps best termed “the spirit”, while the Nephesh is what’s termed “the élan vital”.
Each of these is encased and irradiates in a corresponding world, so…
The light of Yechidah shines in Adam Kadmon, the light of Chaya shines in Atzilut, the light of Neshama shines in Briah, the light of Ruach shines in Yetzirah, and the light of Nephesh shines in Asiyah.
And all these worlds and everything included in them are incorporated in the holy name (spelled) “Yud, Hey, Vav, and Hey” as well as the tip of the Yud.
We can’t perceive anything of the first world, Adam Kadmon, whatsoever, which is why it’s alluded to by the tip of the Yud and why we never speak of Adam Kadmon (itself) but only cite the four worlds A.B.Y.A. (Atzilut, Briah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah). The Yud corresponds to Atzilut, the (first) Hey corresponds to Briah, the Vav corresponds to Yetzirah, and the final Hey corresponds to Asiyah.
God’s Ineffable Name (known as “The Tetragramatton”, often misspelled as “Jehovah”), which is the basis for all of creation, is spelled out with the Hebrew letters Yud, Hey, Vav, and Hey. Each letter serves a particular function.
The letter Yud’s tip is considered a separate and fifth “letter” if you will. Since it’s unapparent and because we’re only vaguely aware of it if at all, the tip of the Yud corresponds to Adam Kadmon, which “we can’t perceive anything of” and which isn’t spoken of in Kabbalistic literature because it’s so extramundane. And Yud itself corresponds to Atzilut, the first Hey corresponds to Briah, etc.
In the end then the following is true:
The tip of the Yud = Yechidah = Keter = Adam Kadmon.
Yud = Chaya = Chochma = Atzilut
The first Hey = Neshama = Binah = Briah
Vav = Ruach = Tipheret = Yetzirah
And the final Hey = Nephesh = Malchut = Asiyah.
Thus we see that the letters of God’s Name, our souls, the sephirot, and the supernal worlds do indeed interact with each other, and we’ll soon determine how all that ties in with the mitzvah-system.
(c) 2011 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
AT LONG LAST! Rabbi Feldman’s translation of Maimonides’ “Eight Chapters” is available here at a discount.
You can still purchase a copy of Rabbi Feldman’s translation of “The Gates of Repentance” here at a discount as well.
Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).