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Introduction to Understanding the Hasidic Mystical System:
By Yechezkel Gold
This is part three of our online mystical primer. Click here for part one and part two.
Adam Kadmon is a principal or generality subsuming all particulars of all the worlds in one single thought. It may be deemed existence in general. In contrast, Hasidic mysticism usually speaks of the first beginning of particular existence being the level called Keser of Atzilus. Keser means crown. Atzilus is the highest of the four worlds: Asiya - this world, Yetzira, Breriah, and Atzilus.
Just as a crown is worn above the head, the highest part of a man, and confers special status to a man vis-a-vis other men, rendering him king over subjects, so Keser initiates and creates the "space" and system in which God is king of the world. As such, Keser is an intermediate level between higher reality as subsumed in Adam Kadmon, which is entirely Godly, and the reality of God as King and Creator of the universe, also a Godly level but in which a non-Godly reality is also implicit.
There are several different levels of mystical crowns. The one we are discussing here is the Crown of the highest particular world, Atzilus, the first to emerge from the generality of Adam Kadmon. Through the world of Atzilus, God emerges as King and Creator of the world. Although the King himself is holy and far removed from and superior to the level of His subjects, acting as King and Creator bespeaks some close relation to created, prosaic (relatively speaking) beings such as souls, angels and even to non spiritual beings and levels of creation. This is the role of Atzilus.
Nevertheless, a king's crown represents and confers a reality of entirely different order upon the king, far removed from his subjects.
Similarly, the perspective of Keser emphasizes the great difference between God and the worlds. Whatever may be the individual characters and inclinations of a king's subjects, they must accommodate themselves to the king's terms and comply to his edicts. In like manner, the Keser of Atzilus establishes the order and significance of all of Atzilus and of all subsequent levels. The truth and value of all that exists is assessed only in relation to God's being King, represented by His Crown. All the created universes exist entirely in God's terms and not independently. It is not that God exists within or in terms of the world. As the sages said: "He is the place of the world and the world is not His place."
Keser has two general levels. The higher, inner level is called Atik Yomin (meaning beyond time and sometimes called just Atik). Atik is a realm of Godly delight, an extension of the Infinite Light, Ohr Ain Sof, as it pertains to revelation and creation. Arikh is a realm of Godly will. Analogous to human functioning, delight (either actual or the anticipation of it) engenders the will to actualize. We want what gives us pleasure.
In the supernal realms, God's "delight" (Atik) in our actually or potentially living according to Torah and the Commandments generates the Godly will (Arikh) for them. As a result and for that purpose, Godly delight also generated the will to create and maintain the world. n which God's exclusive existence is manifested, but in a manner implicitly providing a space for the created spiritual worlds.
Stated otherwise, Atik Yomin is the ultimate source of the people of Israel and of Torah and Mitzvot. These are the expression of Godly delight. This is the interior level of the Divine crown, a realm in which God's exclusive existence is manifested, but in a manner implicitly providing a space for the created spiritual worlds.
From this perspective, the created world is merely a means to an end, a "corridor leading to the palace" (Ethics of the Fathers). True, eternal being, the figurative "palace" alluded to, is the world's purpose, and it is a different reality. It is the reality of Keser. Thus, as the sages comment on the first verse of Genesis, the beginning of creation was for the righteous, for the people of Israel, and for the Torah.
The etymological root of Atik can have three meanings: copy (as an extension of the Ain Sof), old (eternal, not existing in time), and disengaged or removed, a separate reality. All three of these are appropriate in characterizing Atik.
Atik is a copy of the Ain Sof, of the Infinite Light before the contraction called Tzimtzum. What could a copy of infinity mean? Before the contraction, the Infinite Light was above and beyond all bounds and manifestations. Therefore, it had no interface with anything else. No creation was even possible. After the contraction, Infinity was presented to the possibility of finite existence. This level of Infinity is considered only a copy of the Ain Sof because it does relate to finite existence. It is the delight in how infinity relates to finite existence.
How does infinity relate to finite existence? How does one express Godly Infinity? By being entirely above it. This can be in a variety of ways (and here we have the potential beginning of particular existence implicit in Atik): for instance, through generosity and other behavior which transcends the boundaries between individual people, through remaining steadfast in Torah beliefs and actions despite opposition, and through absolute truth. All these modes of being bespeak being disengaged (another meaning of Atik) from limitations. They are instruments to convey the Infinity of Atik.
These truths and modes of being are timeless and eternal. They are the roots of Torah and the Commandments. Or, stating this a little differently, when the people of Israel engage in Torah study and performance of Mitzvot, they connect and unite with Eternity, with the timeless Godly delight which is the ultimate purpose of the universe. Thereby they also elevate everything in the world that serves this ultimate purpose.
Arikh Anpin, the exterior aspect of Keser, refers to God's boundless will. Since we are only dealing with the Keser (the will for, not yet the actualization) of Atzilus, the highest particular world, we can not yet speak of particular existence. Indeed, the phrase "He who dwells in mystery" (Psalms 91) alludes to Keser. As such, there are no rules or boundaries yet on this level. The phrase "And God created the heavens" (Chronicles I, 16) means that even spirituality as we know it was created and given form by Keser, by God's boundless will. It is often difficult for us to imagine that logic, proportion and causality operate only because and to the extent that it is God's will, and things could be otherwise. In general, Arich is the origin of miracles. It is also the first cause of the universe. Only after the products of God's will have appeared can we speak of order and consistency, of logic and causality.
from the February 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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