The Essence of the Wisdom of Kabbalah
Before I go about elucidating the history of the wisdom of Kabbalah, conversed about by many, I find it necessary to begin with a thorough clarification of the essence of this wisdom, which I believe so few know. Naturally, it is impossible to speak of the history of something before we know the thing itself.
Although this knowledge is wider and deeper than the sea, I will exert with all the strength and knowledge I have acquired in this field to clarify and illuminate it from all sides, enough for any person to draw the right conclusions, as they truly are, leaving no room for error, as is often the case in such matters.
What the Wisdom Is About
This question comes to the mind of every right-minded person. To properly address it, I will provide a reliable and lasting definition: This wisdom is no more and no less than a sequence of roots that hang down by way of cause and consequence, following fixed, determined laws that interweave into a single, exalted goal described as “the revelation of His Godliness to His creatures in this world.”
And here there is a conduct of general and particular:
General—the whole of humanity, obligated to eventually come to this immense development, as it is written, “For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea” (Isaiah 11, 9). “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, know the Lord, for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them” (Jeremiah 31, 33), and he says, “Your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, and your eyes will behold your Teacher” (Isaiah 30).
Particular—that even before the perfection of the whole of humanity, this rule is implemented in a chosen few individuals in every generation. These are the ones who are endowed, in each generation, with certain degrees of revelation of His Godliness. These are the prophets and the men of God, and as our sages said, “There is no generation without such that are as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Midrash Rabbah, Beresheet, Portion 74). Thus, you see that the revelation of His Godliness is implemented in each generation, as our sages, whom we find trustworthy, proclaim.
The Abundance of Partzufim, Sefirot, and Worlds
According to the above, a question arises: Since this wisdom has but one, special, and clear role, why is there an abundance of Partzufim, Sefirot, and interchangeable connections, which are so prevalent in the books of Kabbalah?
Indeed, if you take the body of a small animal, whose only task is to nourish itself so it may exist in this world long enough to procreate and carry on its species, you will find in it a complex structure of millions of fibers and tendons, as physiologists and anatomists have found, and there is much there that humans have yet to find. From the above, you can conclude the vast variety of issues and channels that need to connect in order to fashion and reveal that sublime goal.
Two Conducts—from Above Downward and from Below Upward
This wisdom is generally divided into two parallel, equal, and identical orders, like two drops in a pond. The only difference between them is that the first order extends from above downward, to this world, and the second order begins in this world and traverses from below upward precisely by the same routes and make-ups imprinted at their root when they appeared from above downward.
The first order is called “the order of descent of the worlds, Partzufim, and Sefirot,” in all their occurrences, whether lasting or transient. The second order is called “attainments or degrees of prophecy and Holy spirit.” A person rewarded with it must follow the same trails and inlets, and gradually attain each detail and each degree, precisely by the same rules that were imprinted in them upon their emanation from above downward.
This is so because the matter of revelation of Godliness does not appear at once, as with the revelation of corporeal things, but gradually, over a period of time, depending on the cleansing of the one who attains, until one discovers all the degrees that are prearranged from above downward. Because they come in an order of attainment one after the other and one above the other, as do rungs of a ladder, they are called “degrees” [steps].
Many believe that all the words and the names in the wisdom of Kabbalah are a kind of abstract names, since it deals with Godliness and spirituality, which are above time and space, where even our imagination has no hold. For this reason, they have decided that all that is said about such matters is only abstract names, or even more sublime and exalted than abstract names, as they are completely and from the outset devoid of imaginary elements.
But this is not the case. On the contrary, Kabbalah uses only names and appellations that are concrete and real. It is an unbending law for all Kabbalists that “Anything we do not attain, we do not define by a name and a word.”
Here you must know that the word “attainment” [Heb: Hasagah] means the ultimate degree of understanding. It derives from the phrase, Ki Tasig Yadcha [“Your hand shall attain”]. That means that before something becomes utterly lucid, as though gripped in one’s hand, Kabbalists do not consider it attained, but by other names such as understanding, comprehension, and so on.
The Actuality in the Wisdom of Kabbalah
Actual things are found even in the corporeal reality set before our eyes, although we have neither perception nor an image of their essence. Such are the electricity and the magnet, which are called “fluidum.”
Nevertheless, who can say that these names are not real, when we have completely satisfactory awareness of their actions, and we are utterly careless about the fact that we have no perception of the essence of the subject itself, namely electricity in itself.
This name is as tangible and as close to us as though it were entirely perceived by our senses. Even little children are familiar with the word “electricity,” as well as they are familiar with words such as “bread,” “sugar,” and so on.
Moreover, if you wish to exercise your tools of scrutiny, I shall tell you that as a whole, as there is no perception of the Creator whatsoever, so is it impossible to attain the essence of any of His creatures, even the tangible objects that we feel with our hands.
Thus, all we know about our friends and relatives in the world of action before us are nothing more than “acquaintance with actions.” These are prompted and born by the association of their encounter with our senses, which render us complete satisfaction although we have no perception whatsoever in the essence of the subject.
Furthermore, you have no perception or attainment whatsoever even in your own essence. Everything you know about your own essence is nothing more than a series of actions extending from your essence.
Now you can easily conclude that all the names and appellations that appear in books of Kabbalah are indeed real and factual, although we have no attainment in the subject matter whatsoever. This is so because those who engage in them have the complete satisfaction of inclusive perception in its ultimate wholeness, meaning also, merely perception of actions that are prompted and born from the association of the upper light and its perceivers.
However, it is quite sufficient, for this is the rule: “All that is measured and extends from His guidance so as to become a reality, the nature of creation, is completely satisfactory.” This is just as one will not wish for a sixth finger in his palm because the five fingers are quite sufficient.
The Corporeal Terms and the Physical Names in Books of Kabbalah
Any reasonable person will understand that when dealing with spiritual matters, much less with Godliness, we have no words or letters with which to contemplate. This is because our whole vocabulary is but combinations of the letters of our senses and imagination, and how can they assist where there are neither imagination nor senses?
Even if we take the subtlest word that can be used in such matters, meaning the word “upper light,” or even “simple light,” it is still imaginary and borrowed from the sunlight or a candlelight, or a light of contentment one feels upon resolving some doubt. How can we use them in spiritual matters and Godly ways? They offer the examiner nothing more than falsehood and deceit.
It is particularly so where one needs to find some rationale in these words to help one in the negotiations customary in the research of the wisdom. Here the sage must use rigorously accurate definitions for the eyes of the readers.
Should the sage fail with but a single unsuccessful word, he will confuse and mislead the readers. They will not understand at all what he says before and after it, and everything connected to that word, as is known to anyone who examines books of wisdom.
Thus, one should wonder how it is possible for Kabbalists to use false words to explain the interconnections in this wisdom. Also, it is known that there is no definition through a false name, for the lie has no legs and no stance.
Indeed, here you must first know the “law of root and branch” by which the worlds relate to one another.
The Law of Root and Branch by Which the Worlds Are Related
Kabbalists have found that the form of the four worlds named Atzilut, Beria, Yetzira, and Assiya, beginning with the first, highest world, called Atzilut, down to this corporeal, tangible world, called Assiya, is exactly the same in every item and event. This means that everything that eventuates and occurs in the first world is found unchanged in the next world, below it, too. It is likewise in all the worlds that follow it, down to this tangible world.
There is no difference between them, but only a difference of degree perceived in the substance of the elements of reality in each and every world. The substance of the elements of reality in the first, uppermost world, is finer than in all the ones below it. And the substance of the elements of reality in the second world is thicker than in the first world, but finer than all that is of a lower degree.
This continues similarly down to this world before us, whose substance of the elements of its reality is coarser and darker than in all the worlds preceding it. However, the shapes and elements of reality and all their occurrences come unchanged and equal in every world, both in quantity and quality.
They compared it to the conduct of a seal and its imprint: All the shapes in the seal are perfectly transferred in every detail and intricacy to its imprinted object. So it is with the worlds: Each lower world is an imprint of the world above it. Hence, all the forms in the higher world are meticulously copied, in both quantity and quality, to the lower world.
Thus, there is not an element of reality or an occurrence of reality in a lower world that you will not find its likeness in the world above it, as identical as two drops in a pond. And they are called “root and branch.” That means that the item in the lower world is deemed a branch of its pattern found in the higher world, which is the root of the lower element, as this is where that item in the lower world has been imprinted and made to be.
That was the intention of our sages when they said, “You have not a blade of grass below that has not a fortune and a guard above that strike it and tell it, ‘Grow’!” (Omissions of The Zohar, p 251a [source in Hebrew], Beresheet Rabbah, Chapter 10). It follows that the root, called “fortune,” compels it to grow and assume its attribute in quantity and quality, as with the seal and its imprint. This is the law of root and branch that applies to every detail and occurrence in reality, in every single world, in relation to the world above it.
The Language of the Kabbalists Is a Language of Branches
This means that the branches indicate their roots, being their molds that necessarily exist in the upper world. This is because there is nothing in the reality of the lower world that does not stem from its superior world. As with the seal and the imprint, the root in the upper world compels its branch in the lower one to reveal its entire form and attribute, as our sages said, that the fortune in the world above, related to the grass in the world below, strikes that grass and forces it to complete its growth. Because of this, each and every branch in this world well defines its mold situated in the higher world.
Thus, Kabbalists have found a set and annotated vocabulary sufficient to create an excellent spoken language. It enables them to converse with one another of the dealings in the spiritual roots in the upper worlds by merely mentioning the lower, tangible branch in this world, which is well defined to our corporeal senses.
The listeners understand the upper root to which this corporeal branch points because it is related to it, being its imprint. Thus, all the beings of the tangible creation and all their instances have become to them like well-defined words and names, indicating the high spiritual roots. Although there cannot be a verbal expression in their spiritual place, as it is above any imagination, they have earned the right to be expressed by utterance through their branches, arranged before our senses here in the tangible world.
This is the nature of the spoken language among Kabbalists by which they convey their spiritual attainments from person to person and from generation to generation by word of mouth and in writing. They fully understand one another, with all the required accuracy needed for negotiating in a research of wisdom, with precise definitions one cannot fail in. This is so because each branch has its own natural, unique definition, and this absolute definition indicates its root in the higher world.
Bear in mind that this language of branches of the wisdom of Kabbalah is better suited to explain the terms of the wisdom than all our ordinary languages. It is known from the theory of nominalism that the languages have been disrupted by the masses, meaning that due to excessive use of the words, they are being emptied of their accurate content, resulting in great difficulties to convey precise deductions from one to another by word of mouth or in writing.
This is not the case with the Kabbalah’s language of branches: It is derived from the names of the creations and their occurrences, set before our eyes, and defined by the unchangeable laws of nature. The readers and the listeners will never be misled into a misunderstanding of the words being offered to them, since the natural definitions are absolute and cannot be breached.
Conveyance from a Wise Kabbalist to an Understanding Receiver
Thus wrote Nachmanides in his introduction to his commentary on the Torah, and Rav Chaim Vital also wrote similarly in the essay Pesi’ot: “The readers should know that they will not understand a single word of all that is written in these essays, unless when they are conveyed from a wise Kabbalist to the ear of a wise receiver who understands with his own mind.” Also, in the words of our sages (Hagigah 11b): “One does not study the Merkava [structure/epithet to the wisdom of Kabbalah] on one’s own, unless he is wise and understands with his own mind.”
Their words are thoroughly understood when they say that one must receive from a wise Kabbalist. But why the necessity for the disciple to first be wise and understanding with his own mind? Moreover, if he is not so, then he must not be taught, be he the most righteous person in the world. Additionally, if one is already wise and understands with his own mind, what need has he to learn from others?
From the aforesaid, their words are understood with utter simplicity: We have seen that all the words and utterances our lips pronounce cannot help us clarify even a single word from the spiritual, Godly matters above the imaginary time and space. Instead, there is a special language for these matters, the language of the branches, according to their relation to their upper roots.
However, this language, though very suitable for its task of delving into the studies of this wisdom, more than other languages, is only so if the listener is wise in his own right, meaning that he knows and understands the way the branches relate to their roots. It is so because these relations are not at all clear when looking from the lower to the upper. In other words, it is impossible to make any deduction or semblance concerning the upper roots by observing the lower branches.
Quite the contrary, the lower is studied from the higher. Thus, one must first attain the upper roots the way they are in spirituality, above any imagination and with pure attainment, as was explained in the essay, “The Essence of the Wisdom of Kabbalah,” Item 4, “The Actuality in the Wisdom of Kabbalah.” And once he has thoroughly attained the upper roots with his own mind, he may examine the tangible branches in this world and know how each branch relates to its root in the upper world, in all its orders, in quantity and quality.
When one knows and thoroughly comprehends all this, he has a common language with his teacher, namely the language of the branches. Using it, the Kabbalist sage may convey all the studies in the wisdom conducted in the upper, spiritual worlds, both what he had received from his teachers and the expansions in the wisdom he had discovered by himself. This is because now they have a common language and they understand each other.
However, when a disciple is not wise and comprehends that language on his own, meaning how the branches indicate their roots, naturally, the teacher cannot convey even a single word of this spiritual wisdom, much less negotiate with him in the scrutiny of the wisdom. Since they have no common language they can use, they become as mute. Thus, it is necessary that Maase Merkava, which is the wisdom of Kabbalah, will not be taught unless he is wise and understands with his own mind.
We must ask further: How then, has the disciple grown so wise as to know the relations of branch and root through tracing the upper roots? The answer is that here man’s efforts are in vain; it is the Creator’s help that we need! He fills those whom He favors with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge to acquire sublime attainments. Here it is impossible to be assisted by any flesh and blood!
Indeed, once He has grown fond of a person and has endowed him with the sublime attainment, one is then ready to come and receive the vastness of the wisdom of Kabbalah from a wise Kabbalist, for only now do they have a common language.
Appellations Alien to the Human Spirit
With all that is said above, you will understand why we sometimes find appellations and terms that are very alien to the human spirit in books of Kabbalah. They are abundant in the fundamental books of Kabbalah, which are The Book of Zohar, the Tikkunim, and the books of the ARI. It is indeed bewildering why these sages used such lowly appellations to express such exalted, holy notions.
Yet, you will fully understand it once you have acquired the above conceptions. This is because it is now clear that no language in the world can be used to explain this wisdom except for one that is intended for just that end, namely the language of the branches according to the relations to the upper roots.
Thus, obviously, no branch or occurrence of a branch should be neglected because of its inferior degree, or not use it to express the desired concept in the interconnections in the wisdom, as there is no other branch in our world to take its place.
As no two hairs nurse from the same foramen, we do not have two branches that relate to a single root. Hence, by leaving an incident unused, we lose the spiritual concept corresponding to it in the upper world, as we have not a single word to utter in its place and indicate that root. In addition, such an incident would impair the entire wisdom in all its vastness, since now there is a missing link in the chain of the wisdom connected to that concept.
This mutilates the entire wisdom, for there is no other wisdom in the world where matters are so fused and intertwined by way of cause and effect, primary and consequential, as is the wisdom of Kabbalah, connected from top to bottom just like a long chain. Therefore, upon the temporary loss of but a small cognizance, the entire wisdom darkens before our eyes, for all its matters are tightly connected to one another, literally fusing into one.
Now you will not wonder at the occasional use of alien appellations. They have no freedom of choice with appellations, to replace the bad with the good or the good with the bad. They must always use the branch or the incident, which precisely points to its upper root in all its necessary measure. Moreover, the matters must be expanded so as to provide an accurate definition for the eyes of their fellow readers.