Hence, it’s a change of tsurah that “hews” (things apart) on a spiritual level the way an ax hews two material objects; and it’s the discrepancy in their tsurot that determines their “distance” (from each other).
From this we can see that when the aforementioned willingness to accept pleasure was implanted in our souls — which doesn’t exist in the Creator, for after all, from whom can He receive? — that very change of tsurah in our beings “hewed” us from God’s essence the way an ax hews a stone from a mountain. And that change of tsurah consequently shifted our souls from the order of Creator into that of creations.
Rabbi Ashlag is thus saying (and quite clearly so) that were it not for the fact that our souls were granted the ratzon l’kabel, there’d be nothing to differentiate them from God! But make no mistake about it, that’s not to say that you and I are actually God “except for this one small detail”, if you will, because that’s simply not true.
You and I, as we experience ourselves in and present ourselves to the world, are nothing other than manifestations of a unique conduit of the ratzon l’kabel. Our unfathomable essence in its pristine state on the other hand — our soul — was actually subsumed in God’s Being before the ratzon l’kabel came into being and was thus at one with His indivisible Self. But the fact remains that it experienced something utterly transformative which God’s Being didn’t experience, i.e., it became willing and able to accept rather than to only bestow, and that set our souls as apart from Him as any two things could be, and allowed one of the two to remain Creator and the other to be a separate created entity. Our souls would still be conjoined with Him had the ratzon l’kabel not come into being, but since it did (and purposefully so) we’re no longer a part of the great Divine Mix (other than on a transcendent level as the following statement makes clear).
That notwithstanding, (it’s also true that) everything that our souls derived from God’s light is still-and-all culled directly from His Essence, and is (an instance of a derivation of) yesh from yesh.
This is a rather arcane point. First off, “light” itself represents anything bestowed on us from God. It’s an expression of the idea of something or another endlessly and effortlessly issuing forth things from the core of its being the way sunlight issues from the sun.
Next, the statement that something is bestowed upon us from “God’s light” means to say that it comes only indirectly from Him (i.e., it comes from His light, rather than from Himself). Ashlag’s ironic statement that it’s “still-and-all culled directly from His Essence” means to say that though it’s indeed thus coming to us through an intermediary, it’s still from God Himself at bottom, much the way a recorded message from a friend is still a “direct” message from him.
As to the fact that everything that our souls derives from God’s light is an instance of yesh from yesh, that refers to the following.
Reality is comprised of instances of yesh (translated as “somethingness”, or rank materiality) and of ayin (“nothingness”, or pure immaterial Godliness). We’re taught for example that the universe was created yesh from ayin — “out of the blue” so to speak — which is to say that the material universe en toto was a product of pure immaterial Godliness. Everything subsequent to that has merely been fashioned yesh from yesh — out of something material like itself rather than “out of the blue”, as when a child is born of parents rather than created anew.
As such, Ashlag is indicating that even though our “willingness to accept … wasn’t a part of God’s essence before He placed it in our souls” and had to be created anew (7:1), its creation was still-and-all an instance of yesh from yesh simply because “everything that our souls derived from God’s light” is just that.
It thus follows that any Godly light that our souls accepted into its vessel — that is, within our willingness to accept — is itself indistinguishable from God’s very Essence, since our souls received it directly from His Essence as (an instance of) yesh from yesh.
“Light”, as we said, represents anything bestowed on us from God, that we accept into our “vessel”, i.e., our selves, which we’d earlier-on termed “manifestations of a unique conduit of the ratzon l’kabel“. The point is that anything material that we accept is still-and-all directly from God, even though our having accepted it set us apart from Him.
So, again, the only difference between our souls and God’s Essence is the fact that our souls are a “part” of it. For the light that our souls accepted into their vessels — into their willingness to accept things — is differentiated from God, since it came about by the change of tsurah known as the willingness to accept. And that then made it a “part” which is termed a “soul”. (Once more,) the only difference between them (i.e., our souls and God’s Essence) is that one is the “whole” and the other is a “part”, like a stone hewn from a mountain.
Ashlag is undoubtedly repeating himself because the point is so vital. For as he goes on to say…
Reflect upon (the ramifications of) this carefully, for it’s impossible to expand upon it (adequately in print since), it’s so sublime.
There’s a world of things to say about this but the thrust of the argument is that the only thing that sets us apart from achieving the rich and fecund Godliness in our being and from fully flowering in our essence is our being willing to only take-in. It’s the crux of our humanity and what defines it, but it’s also what keeps us human, and only merely so.
There’s no easy way to rid ourselves of it, as it can’t be partially undone, only completely so. After all, as it stands now, whenever we give-out we only do it to take-in. How many times have we heard people offer that they do good things in life because it gives them so much more in return than they ever give-out. No one is to be blamed for that, since few would be inclined to give in the first place if given nothing in return, but it’s off-putting nonetheless and argues against that noblest of human traits, altruism.
But know that our overarching willingness to only take-in isn’t merely a character fault: it’s a fundamental component of reality utterly removed from right and wrong. After all, in a very real sense, gravity is an expression of taking-in — of the earth drawing-in rather than imparting outward. And our own innate and mystical human need to return to the source is fundamentally a need to be taken-over and drawn-in.
But none of that is true of God. He persistently effulges outward, and has no source to luxuriate in. The point once again is that reality is indeed, and utterly so, the utter un-God.
(c) 2010 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).