But understand that while (all) the sephirot — from the top-most point of Keter in the world of Adam Kadmon to the bottom-most point of Malchut in the world of Assiyah — are Godly, changeless and undifferentiated, there’s still and all a great difference (between them) as far as those (of us) who receive are concerned.
That’s to say that from a God’s eye-view, the sephirot are all part of the one great, smooth, clear bouillon of His own making and Being without distinction and particularity. But from our perspective — from the other side of the picture, touching on the effect that each sephira has upon us and absolutely everything in the material universe — there’s a “world” of difference.
We could perhaps liken the difference between the two perspectives to the one between how parents see themselves when they make a decision about the household — as a unit, as opposed to how their children see them — as mother versus father.
For the sephirot are grouped into (two aspects, which are) lights and vessels. While their light (aspect) is pure Godliness, their vessel (aspect) which is termed K.C.B.T.M. (i.e., Keter, Chochma, Binah, Tipheret, and Malchut) in each of the lower worlds of Briah, Yetzirah and Assiyah, are not Godly. They are (merely) cloaks that conceal the light of the Infinite within them and bestow the receivers with the amount of light each is to receive according to its degree of purity.
Though thoroughly Godly on their own, as we just learned, nonetheless the sephirot are comprised of two aspects when they touch upon creation: an inner, essential aspect of light; and an outer, external aspect of vessel. What that comes to is this.
If the everything-bound-to-everything-else that is the primeval bouillon of God’s light were to emanate as-is toward us, we’d drown outright. We could withstand it and could even flourish thanks to it if it came upon us bit by bit, though. The phenomenon of it all becoming bit by bit is nonetheless unnatural to the primeval bouillon, as it calls for everything-bound-to-everything-else to unbind, but it’s a necessary event nonetheless. In order for each element to be set off from the next, though, it has to be encased and set off by a self-container or “vessel”. Thus, everything in our experience is comprised by an essential light and a necessary (albeit nonessential) vessel or encasement.
Ashlag is underscoring the point that while the sephirot’s light aspect is pure Godliness, their vessel aspect actually conceal the light within them, while still-and-all bestowing us receivers with the light due us, according to our purity (or, preparedness). He also makes the point of saying that all that only occurs in the lower worlds of Briah, Yetzirah and Assiyah, but not in Atzilut because everything in Atzilut is undifferentiated Godliness. But since that’s out of our present experience, it’s not to be considered.
As such, even though the light itself is one (i.e., undifferentiated), we nonetheless refer to the lights in the sephirot as N.R.N.C.Y. (Nephesh, Ruach, Neshama, Chaya, and Yechidah)…
That is, we break them down into their component parts, which can then be broken down into even more and more attenuate parts. And we do that…
… because the light is differentiated according to the attributes of the vessels.
That’s to say that we differentiate the lights into parts because the recipients of those lights each have their own needs. And we break them down by degrees, as we’ll now see in ascending order.
Malchut, which is the thickest cloak, conceals (nearly all) the light of the Infinite. The amount of light that issues from the Infinite (though Malchut) to the receivers is very small in relation to the purity of the mineral-ness of man’s body. Its light is (thus only) termed nephesh-light.
The vessel of Tipheret is finer than that of Malchut, so the light that the Infinite issues (through it) is connected to the purity of the vegetable aspect of man’s body, because it’s more active than the nephesh-Light. Its light is termed Ruach-Light.
The vessel of Binah is finer yet than Tipheret’s, so the light that the Infinite issues (through it) is connected to the purity of the animal part of man’s body, and its light is termed Neshama-Light.
And the vessel of Chochma is the finest of them all, so the light that the Infinite issues (through it) is connected to the purity of the verbal part of man’s body, and its light is termed Chaya-Light, and its actions are immeasurable (which is all the more so true of Yechidah).
The point is that the thinner and finer the cloak, the more light of the Infinite can shine through and the higher it passes in the human makeup, from mineral-ness all the way through to humanness. In ascending order that differentiated light is termed first Nephesh-light, then Ruach-Light, Neshama-Light, and Chaya-Light. “Yechidah-Light” isn’t discussed because Yechidah is the point at which the light is joined to (“yachad” with) the Yechidah Godliness itself, so there’s absolutely no differentiation there whatsoever.
(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).