Mystical Prime: the Beginning of Revelation

    July 2011          
Search the Jewish Magazine Site: Google


Search our Archives:

Opinion & Society


Primer of Mystical Concepts, Part Six

By Yechezkel Gold

This is Part Six of our online mystical primer. Click here for Part One, Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. and Part Five.

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 spiritually.)

Generally, 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 G-dliness.

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 later article.

Chochma 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).

In chochma 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.

In people, 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.

Paralleling 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 are.

Chochma 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.

Chochma 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.

Analogous to 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

Please let us know if you see something unsavory on the Google Ads and we will have them removed. Email us with the offensive URL (