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Primer of Mystical Concepts,
By Yechezkel Gold
This is Part Six of our online mystical primer. Click here for
The mystical Line of Assessment's first
revelation is in chochma of the world of Atzilus. chochma
means wisdom. It is also inspiration. The world's purpose and
creation were an inspiration derived from G-d's wisdom. Before
chochma, there is no "existence", proper. The Line
of Assessment manifest in chochma is but an implicit reality.
Only in what are termed "worlds" or "realms" can
we refer to manifestation, to proper existence. The worlds manifest
G-dly reality that precedes these worlds, from before creation.
(Strictly speaking, the term "before" employed here is
inaccurate because before creation there was no time. Even in
Atzilus, the highest of the worlds, time is but a theoretical
construct. Above Atzilus there is no time at all. Rather, that
G-dly reality that the worlds manifest precedes the worlds
there are four worlds. They are Atzilus, Bria, Yetzira and
Asiya. The highest is Atzilus, and it is in the highest
sefira of Atzilus, chochma, that the Line of
Assessment is first manifested, where there is proper existence.
Obviously, this is a very lofty, spiritual existence, entirely unlike
physical reality. Nevertheless, it is a form of existence.
As opposed to the other three worlds,
Atzilus is a G-dly world. Although Atzilus is
considered only a reflection of Divinity, it differs from the
other three worlds by not being separated from the implicit, G-dly
reality above it by a "curtain" or "veil". The
veil differentiating Bria, Yetzira and Asiya
from the more exalted reality above them renders those worlds not
G-dly, though they are spiritual. But in Atzilus we speak of
The notion of Atzilus is the way
the cabalists resolved an apparent contradiction: How could Torah
state that we beheld no image, that is, that G-d has no attributes,
and nevertheless depict Him as Great Mighty and Awesome, as well as
attributing to Him other characterizations and acts. In the
cabalist's resolution of this issue, even the Infinite Light is a
mere reflection of G-d. That Light was further reduced by the
Contraction that ultimately led to Atzilus.
Atzilus is a description of how
G-d rules the creation. He rules according to certain attributes:
Divine wisdom, kindness, power, magnificence, etc. These attributes
are the sefiros and from them Torah is derived. From this
perspective one can understand prophetic descriptions of G-d upon the
throne of glory (Isaiah 6) or on the chariot (Ezekiel 1). The throne
of glory is in the world of bria and the chariot in yetzira,
but the so-called Man on the throne means Atzilus.
To say that these prophecies are
casting G-d in the image of man is to get things just backwards: as
the verse states in Genesis 1, "And G-d created man in His
image". This image is the form that Divinity took after the
contractions: Atzilus. But the ultimate Divine reality is
beyond characterization. Nevertheless, the form assumed by the
Infinite Light in Atzilus is G-dly. It enables people
to relate to G-d and, more important, do His will. But that is a
broad subject in its own right, and G-d willing, will be treated in a
is the first sefira, the beginning of revelation. It presents
as a point, a flash of insight, often compared to a lightning bolt.
The first definite expression of the Ohr Ain Sof or Infinite
Light, chochma appears from above, "from out of nowhere",
in a delightful flash. The delight itself bespeaks the supernal
source of Divine wisdom: it is wonderful, excellent, in short,
delightful. (In this sense, the mystics connect the delight of
Sabbath specifically to chochma.) The delight derives from
Atik, the internal aspect of the supernal Crown (see the 3rd
article in this series).
this is a sense of G-dly purpose, eternity, absolute meaning and
significance. Those are the ultimate delight. Without these life and
reality are a mere void. These traits embodied in chochma are
not G-d, but they evoke G-dly reality, the Ohr Ain Sof. Thus,
the mystical literature states plainly that the Infinite Light, the
Ohr Ain Sof, is revealed in chochma.
A spark of
creativity and source of new meanings, chochma unifies and
spontaneously organizes a myriad of detail. Thereby, it generates
vitality and direction, as the verse (Ecclesiastes 7, 12) states:
"chochma gives vitality to its possessor". When
something profoundly inspires us, when we find something to be very
meaningful, we are changed, moved, excited, motivated, directed and
vital. The original inspiration, chochma, is the very basis of
all of life, on all levels.
Torah tells us
that "man was created in the image of G-d" (Genesis 9, 6).
Chassidic mysticism applies this according to the verse (Job 19, 26)
"… and from my flesh I will glimpse G-d". By analogy
to how chochma appears in people, we can imagine something
about how it is in the World of Atzilus, the highest of the
defined spiritual realms. Thus, we can get a very vague, limited
sense of the sefiros' structure and function through
contemplating man's spirituality.
chochma has different levels: from functioning as a central,
essentially cognitive concept organizing a myriad of detail,
to a higher level of recognition and appreciation of a
unifying, central reality, to a still higher level of veritable
spiritual vision, close to prophecy. The latter two levels are
not oriented toward function: they simply exist for their own sake.
this in Atzilus, chochma serves as the fundamental
concept of the entire creation. On a higher level of Atzilus,
chochma is a G-dly reality in its own right, above serving a
function for lower realms. The notion of the People of Israel as the
expression of G-dliness originates in chochma. Paralleling the
different levels of chochma, one might say that the lower
level, a central concept and purpose for the entire creation, would
be the Divine purpose and notion of the People of Israel executing
G-d's Will through the commandments. They were chosen for what they
do. The higher level of chochma is the source of the People of
Israel themselves, especially as they can reveal within themselves
through Torah study. On this level, they were chosen for what they
is deemed the source of intellect, but the job of analyzing,
clarifying, specifying and understanding the creative flash is the
realm of bina. Paralleling their functions in people, chochma
is on the right and bina on the left (see article 5 in this
series) in the sefiros. Thus, chochma is a free,
spontaneous outpouring of spiritual energy while bina is a
careful intellectual orientation toward a collection of variables and
assumptions. Bina is careful and analytical, seeking to grasp
and understand the products of chochma, comparing them and
seeking to penetrate into their inner meaning and to derive
inferences and conclusions from this process.
and bina are intellectual modes. The third intellectual
sefira is daas. Unlike chochma and bina
which function in regard to the contents of intellect, daas
connects the intellect to the "emotional" or relational
sefiros. Daas is the sense that the intellectual
perception is true and real and important and therefore appropriate
to take seriously. We do not relate to matters we find to be
irrelevant. Daas is described as the key to the feelings.
Nevertheless, this function of daas derives from the
intellectual aspect of daas, to discern correct and proper
notions from a multitude of ideas and inferences and to assign the
appropriate weight to them. Although bina may suggest a
variety of outcomes, the actual conclusions come from daas.
On a deeper level, daas "feels"
the topic. For example, when we hear or read an exciting or a sad
story, we react with feeling. Our feeling is not from the conclusions
we draw from the story but rather because daas connects our
minds with our feelings; daas feels the content of the topic,
not just the conclusions.
From a somewhat different perspective,
by appreciating the importance of an intellectual notion, daas
brings a new, greater "light" and energy so that the matter
can no longer be contained within the intellectual domain and bursts
outward into the realm of feeling and eventually action. This faculty
of daas renders reality important and exciting. Applied in a
negative manner, daas is central to the first sin of Adam and
Eve and caused their ejection from the Garden of Eden (regarded as a
purely intellectual realm of delight in the mystical sources) into
the mundane world. But when it retains its true, holy character, it
bestows a great, G-dly gift upon our lives.
how daas functions in humans, daas of Atzilus
mediates between chochma and bina and the lower,
relational sefiros. The sefiros of Atzilus do
not operate independently of each other. In the realm of Tohu
which will be addressed in a later article, G-d willing, they
functioned independently, and this led to the sefiros'
shattering. But in Atzilus, their interplay is orchestrated
according to a central conception. This central conception is
chochma, as the verse in Psalms (104) exclaims: "How
manifold are Your works, O G-d, You made them all in chochma!"
To expedite this central concept and create and direct the world,
chochma must undergo an operation which will charge and
transform it from a "mere" concept to an active, directed
energy. That operation is performed by daas of Atzilus.
For more articles on Mystical Jewish Thought, see our Mysticism Archives
from the July 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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