Sunday, November 10, 2013

Divine Strength: Clothing the Highest in the Lowest

Background Introduction:

The following excerpt is translated from “Explanations on the Zohar” written by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (1789 – 1866) [1]. The excerpt is short selection embedded in the midst of an extensive discourse discussing the Torah’s role in the creation and maintenance of the universe. I selected this excerpt to translate because of its ability to stand alone as a teaching in itself. I feel that it fits nicely with my ongoing project to translate meaningful selections of Jewish spiritual thought into English for the benefit of others.

Mainly, the excerpt is about the Creator’s “strength”, which is defined as His ability to bring the highest spiritual lights down into the lowest realms. By doing so, the Creator demonstrates that limitations found in lower levels don’t ever present a barrier to His designs. His ability clothe the highest in the lowest extends to the Torah as well and is the main subject of this excerpt.  In the Torah, the sections where the Creator cloaks the highest spiritual mysteries are in the stories and mundane teachings.

The excerpt refers to two spiritual realms Adam Kadmon or Primordial Man and Atzilut or Emanation. Truthfully, there are five basic realms. In Hebrew, from up to down, they are Adam Kadmon, Atzilut, Briyah, Yetzirah and Assiyah. In English their names translate as (in the same order) Primordial Man, Emanation, Creation, Formation and Action. Since humans are microcosms of the universe, humans and the universe parallel each other. The universe can be loosely said to be a “giant human being” with these five realms roughly tracing his/her contours to outline a body and multileveled soul. The body is the parallel of the earthly realm and each level of the soul parallels a different spiritual realm. Therefore, we can use the human body and soul as a springboard for understanding something about the five realms of the universe. Please note that we commonly experience illuminations of our souls via our psychological side. For example, our thoughts and feelings flow from our souls. In Jewish mystical thought the psychological and spiritual are intertwined.

The core driving impulse in a human being, which is often referred to as will or volition, is a sampling of Adam Kadmon.   Here, exist the core impulses used by the Creator to direct the universe. The subconscious and near-subconscious thinking associated with the right hemisphere of the human brain is a sampling of Atzilut. Here, exist generalized sweeping concepts which will later become more defined, so as to serve as the divine blueprint for the universe.

The next three realms down, are not mentioned in the excerpt. However, they are worth mentioning in this introduction for the sake of clarifying context. The defined left brained thinking is a sampling of the realm of Briyah. Here’s where the divine architectural design of the universe exists.

Emotions and personality are samplings of the realm of Yetzirah. I think of this realm as where the “packaging” happens. Here, the higher blessings on their way down are “packaged” to be presented into the next realm down - namely, Assiyah.  Yetzirah is where proportions, relationships and presentations are fashioned. This is a realm of art more than of mind. It’s the realm where the angels sing.

The human bodies, along with their attending biological souls, are samplings of the realm of Assiyah – the earthly realm and its immediate spiritual level.

Lower realms are said to be layered over higher realms or alternatively, described as “dressing them”. In the excerpt, Atzilut “dresses” Adam Kadmon from the waist down. This anthropomorphic language is not intended to be taken literally. There are no human forms in the higher realms. Being the initial impulse behind the creation of the universe, Adam Kadmon certainly does not have a literal “waist” any more than a human impulse has one.  This has to be understood as the point of demarcation where the initial impulse of creation moves from being Creator oriented towards becoming creation oriented.

It is my sincere hope that with the above introduction the translated excerpt will become an easier read. If there is any practical lesson I derived from this selection, it’s that strength is not about domination, destruction or control. It’s about successfully reaching across seemingly difficult barriers.

The Excerpt:

The Zohar states, “All higher inaccessible mysteries are found in the Torah.” [2]  To explain this quote, Etz Chaim [3] states on the topic of “you are permitted to ask about the mysteries from one edge of heaven to the other” that you are permitted to ask questions up to the region of Adam Kadmon’s waist [4].  Above the waist, however, it is impossible to ask [5]. Regarding this, we are taught, “What is too wondrous for you, don’t seek.” [6]

To further explain, much of Adam Kadmon is far above the realm of Atzilut [7]. All the spiritual structures of Atzilut, even the very highest (like the “Crown”[8], also called “Ancient of Days” and “Patient Faced” [9]) only dress Adam Kadmon from the waist down.  Since only this area is dressed by Atzilut, this is why it’s only possible to ask questions in the region up to the waist. However, what is above this region of Adam Kadmon it is impossible to ask about at all, as it is not dressed by Atzilut. The “higher inaccessible mysteries…” mentioned by the Zohar, refers to mysteries and matters of Adam Kadmon which are above the waist, a region not covered by even the highest reaches of Atzilut. Yet, even such mysteries are found in the Torah. They are dressed and hidden in the letters of the Torah; indeed, very covered and hidden.. (When the Torah relates stories, in them are hidden these higher mysteries which are far higher than Atzilut.)

“In the Torah are found all higher matter, both revealed and concealed.”  The meaning is consistent with what was just mentioned, that the spiritual structures of the realm of Atzilut are referred to as “revealed”, while what’s above Atzilut is referred to as “concealed”.

(It’s also possible to say that Atzilut itself contains many aspects of both “hidden” and “revealed” realms; namely, aspects of the spiritual structures respectively referred to as the “Cosmic Parents” [10] and “Cosmic Couple” [11] - yet, another of understanding “revealed” and “concealed”.  Alternatively, “revealed and concealed” can refer to aspects of Atzilut which contain both a revealed and hidden side, sides which are open to questioning, but, not to answers - see the Zohar and commentary “Mikdash Melech” [12] to the Introduction of Genesis. )

Therefore, “Who can recount God’s strength?” [13]  To explain: After all the supernal mysteries are dressed and hidden in the Torah, both those which are too beyond Atzilut for even Atzilut to clothe and those belonging to Atzilut proper, God’s strength is His ability to dress up these supernal mysteries in mundane teachings and stories.  His ability to bring down what’s high up into lowly expression [14] is an aspect of “His strength”.  Indeed, His “strength” is in dressing these mysteries in the mundane teachings of the Torah.

[1] Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch was the third Grand Rabbi of the Lubavicher Chassidic dynasty. His work explaining the Zohar is called in Hebrew “Biurei HaZohar”. This particular excerpt is from Volume 2 of the work, Parshat Toldot, the very first discourse, paragraph 3.
[2] Zohar, Volume I, Parshat Toldot, 135A
[3] A classic of Lurianic Kabbalah compiled from the writing of Rabbi Chaim Vital (1543 – 1620).
[4] See introduction for an explanation of Adam Kadmon or in English, “Primordial Man”.
[5] For the sake of simplicity, I referred to the sefirot of netzach, hod and yesod as “below the waist” of Adam Kadmon. I did not want to unnecessarily encumber the body of the translation with concepts which aren’t directly central to the topic.
[6] Chagigah 13A
[7] See introduction for an explanation of the realm of Atzilut.
[8] The Sefira of Keter
[9] Atik Yomin and Arich Anpin
[10] The Partzufim Abba and Ima
[11] The Partzufim Z”A and Nukvah
[12] A commentary on the Zohar written by Rabbi Shalom ben Moshe Buzaglo (1700 – 1780).
[13] Psalm 106:2
[14] Tzimtzum (divine contraction)

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