We now touch on the idea of teshuvah, which while commonly translated as “penitence” is actually better termed “returning” — returning to God after having abandoned Him and gone one’s own merry way without giving a thought of Him. So if dwelling on thoughts of God draws one close to Him as most would say, or if emulating Him as Ashlag would indicate does that, then giving no thought to any of that is a great and terrible error. While conventional Jewish ethics-texts would challenge us to repent if that were true, that’s to say, to amend our ways and rectify our character, Ashlag charges us to intensify our efforts to emulate Him.
He now explains the process, which can be likened to a form of spiritual evolution that entails rising higher and higher up the great chain of being.
Know that you’re only credited with having drawn closer to God and purified yourself when your efforts are permanent, and when (it’s clear that) you won’t ever lapse. As it’s said, “What is (true) penitence? When He who knows all secrets would testify that (you) won’t ever lapse” (see Maimonides’ Hilchot Teshuvah 2:2).
Philosopher, halachist, and classic ethicist Rabbi Moses Maimonides indicated that true penitence — true spiritual ascent and expiation after having transgressed and lowered one’s stature — comes down to “no longer committing the transgression one once committed, not thinking of committing it anymore, and affixing in his heart the commitment to never do it again” (ibid.), and to doing that so distinctly that even He who knows your heart (i.e., God) would affirm your effort.
Ashlag will now make the point that the source of our transgressing — our stark willingness to only take-in itself — is what calls for teshuvah.
Hence it follows that what we’d said … that if you purify the mineral-ness of your ratzon l’kabel that you’ll merit a partzuf of the Nephesh of Assiyah, and that you’ll ascend upward and be engarbed in the sephirah of Malchut of Assiyah … means that you’ll certainly be rewarded when you permanently purify your mineral-ness to the degree that you’ll never lapse. And you’ll be able to ascend to the world of Assiyah, since you’ll have realized purity and a complete affinity of form with that world.
That means to say that if you repent for your willingness to only take-in on a mineral, a most basic level, then you’ll have achieved a degree of purity and teshuvah that would enable you to draw closer to God than you could have before indeed. For you will have attained an “affinity of form with that world” at least, and thus begun the process of attaining an essential affinity with God Himself (see 11: 2), which is the greatest act of teshuvah and of drawing close to Him.
But as to (achieving) the other levels — Ruach, Neshama, Chaya and Yechidah of Assiyah — you’d need to (first) purify their ratzon l’kabel’s corresponding vegetable-ness, animal-ness, and verbal-ness in order for them to be engarbed in and receive those lights. But that purification wouldn’t have to be permanent, (i.e., to the point where) “He who knows all secrets will testify that (you) won’t ever lapse”.
… as you had to do to achieve the above level.
Because the whole world of Assiyah — along with its Keter, Chochma, Binah, Tipheret, and Malchut (cluster of) sephirot — actually only encompasses the realm of Malchut, which is only germane to the purification of mineral-ness. And its five sephirot are only five subdivisions of Malchut.
Thus, since you will have already merited purifying the mineral part of the ratzon l’kabel, you’d already (be experiencing an) affinity in form with the entire world of Assiyah.
That is, since “everything that exists on a comprehensive level exists on a particular level as well” (Ch. 50), you’re having achieved an affinity in form to the above degree insinuates that you’ll achieve it to succeeding degrees, too — though not permanently, as we’ll soon see.
It’s just that since every sephirah from the world of Assiyah receives (illumination) from its corresponding sephirah in the higher worlds.
Thus when, for example, Tipheret of Assiyah receives (illumination) from the world of Yetzirah, which is all Tipheret and Ruach-Light; when Binah of Assiyah receives (illumination) from the world of Briah, which is all Neshama; or when Chochma of Assiyah receives (illumination) from Atzilut, which is all Chochma and Chaya-Light — even though you’ll have only permanently purified your mineral-ness, still and all if you (eventually) purify the remaining three aspects of your ratzon l’kabel (i.e., their vegetable-, animal-, and verbal-ness), even though you will not permanently purify them, you can still receive the Ruach, Neshama, and Chaya (levels) from Tipheret, Binah, and Chochma of Assiyah, though only temporarily.
But why will you only receive them temporarily?
Because once one of those three parts of the ratzon l’kabel has been stirred, it’s immediately deprived of these lights.
That’s to say that once your innate inclination to take-in rather than bestow kicks in, be it on a primitive or sophisticated level (for even the more erudite and learned lapse into selfishness to a degree from time to time), you’ll have taken a step backward and wouldn’t have truly repented of your ways as you would have to.
(c) 2012 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
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Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).