In the beginning G-d made the Heaven and the Earth. (Bereishis 1:1)
For the most part, we take for granted the Creation process. It sounds so simple in the Torah, similar to the way we build something down here on earth. But it isn’t so. The method by which G-d made Creation is the essence of Kabbalah, the physical reality being the end of a long, complex, and completely spiritual process that most, in advance of Moshiach’s arrival, will never even know about.
Even the most basic component of the Creation process, a sefirah, is an obscure concept to most, even if they have heard of one. I have referred to these and other Kabbalistic fundamentals in the past, but I don’t recall if I ever tried to put it together in a comprehensive picture from start to finish in layman’s terms. With respect to this year (Tav-Shin- Samech-Vav), it has been said, “tihiyeh shnat Sod v’gilui” – a year of hidden and revealed. I’m going to try to provide such a glimpse, as I understand it.
It might be a little bit of self-indulgence, but I do believe that others will benefit by it as well.
We use the word “G-d” freely, and we easily talk about a Supreme Being Who created everything, maintains everything, and supervises everything. But the reality is, relating to G-d is, of course, one of the most difficult things to do properly. I say “properly” because it does not take much to make a person relate to G-d in a way that the Torah constitutes to be idol worship, meaning that the person ascribes to G-d inappropriate qualities.
The Kabbalists talk about three aspects with respect to G-d.
First, there is what is called “Atzmus,” which can be translated as “Essence.” There is not much to say about this level because there is no way to relate to it. To try and imagine or describe it would fall far short from the actual reality, to say the least, and make a person guilty of idol worship. Even the holiest Names of G-d with which we are familiar apply to a revelation of G-d’s light much further down in the system.
After this level is what is referred to as Ain Sof (Without End). It too is beyond description, so therefore we talk about it in terms of what it is not. It is not bound in any way, not what it is. The Arizal explains that, though it is not a revelation of G-d’s light, it nevertheless represents His Will to reveal His Light, some kind of transitional stage between Atzmus and what will eventually follow to make Creation.
The Creation story usually begins about here, with the existence of the Light of Ain Sof, which was everywhere at one time. It was like a room filled with nothing but water, except that the room is infinite, which means there really isn’t a room at all, just water – forever water, and light – forever light.
And then, an amazing miracle happened that is impossible to fathom. The infinite Light of Ain Sof was constricted, pulled back until a “hollow” (a Challal) was left behind in its place, right in the center of Infinity, and in the shape of a ball far larger than anything we have ever experienced. And yet, it was still only a completely spiritual reality. This constriction of light is called Tzimtzum Ohr Ain Sof (the Constriction of the Light of Ain Sof).
With Stage One complete, the Light of Ain Sof was everywhere, except for a spherical hollow space in the “center,” the size of which being dictated by the Will of G-d to suit His purpose for making man and Creation: to use free-will to make the proper decisions that result in one having a portion in the World-to-Come. Creation of man was G-d’s initial reason for making Creation, but he was still a long way away from even coming into existence.
There was much “work” to do in the meantime.
And G-d said, “Let there be light!” And there was light . . . (Bereishis 1:3)
One imagines from the Creation story that the world, at this point, already existed, albeit undeveloped, but ready for the light. From the Torah, it sounds like Creation was simply a dark empty room until someone came in and flipped on the switch and brought some light into the darkness.
On one level that is not far from the truth. On a more realistic level, it is far more Kabbalistic.
As great a miracle as the creation of the Challal was, holding back the overwhelming spiritual Light of Ain Sof on all sides equally, it was worth nothing without anything inside of it. However, nothing can exist if it is not attached somehow to the Light of Ain Sof, but if the Light of Ain Sof were to re-enter the Challal, the Challal would disappear altogether, undoing the first constriction of the Infinite Light.
The problem was solved with the creation of the Kav Ain Sof – a thin, regulated line of the Light of Ain Sof allowed to penetrate the Challal at a specific point in order to bring into the Challal an umbilical cord of G- dly light that could both, create everything meant to exist inside the Challal, and to maintain it all on a moment-by-moment basis, as long as they are meant to exist.
This represented the actual creation of “border” and “measure,” for prior to the Kav there had been only infinite light and the Challal. Since the Kav represented a definite “amount” of light that was both enough to result in Creation inside the Challal, but not too great as to overwhelm the Challal and make it disappear, it brought into reality, albeit on a spiritual level at this point, the concept of measure, making possible ideas such as “right” and “left,” and more importantly, “up” and “down,” without which spiritual growth could not be possible.
This is something that we take very much for granted. We are only too familiar with how, on any given day we can either feel spiritually inspired, or uninspired. The Aseres Yemai Teshuvah reminded us only too well of how during the course of a year we can have “ups” and “downs.” It is one of the most basic aspects of being human that we spiritually grow or descend during the course of our lives.
Yet, all of this is not the most obvious potential from a Kabbalistic point of view. Within the Light of Ain Sof, there is no up or down, only equal, infinite light. Within the Light of Ain Sof there is no possibility of “moving away” from G-d, and therefore, no possibility of moving towards Him either. There is only BE ONE with His Light.
However, the creation of the Challal meant the creation of a spiritual void into which only a measure of light could enter, making possible degrees of light, up and down, spiritual descent and spiritual growth. In short, the creation of the Challal represented the justification of the creation of the world, which, we are taught, only exists to give man free- will and the chance to EARN his portion of eternal reward.
Thus, the only reason why G-d could command the creation of light with the words, “Let there be light”, was because there existed a place where it wasn’t yet. The only reason why we have free-will and can use it to the point that our choices can make a difference and earn us merit for the World-to-Come, is because something exists that we can contribute to, or G- d forbid, detract from. We can find, and even create darkness in Creation, and we can also create light to eliminate it, just as G-d does.
G-d completed His creative work that He had done, and abstained from such creative work on the seventh day. G-d blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it, since on it He abstained from all His creative work. (Bereishis 2:2-3)
At this stage, the most fundamental aspect of Creation exists, but not the apparatus necessary to give expression to it. For mankind to eventually come into being and for free-will to become an actual possibility, even the Kav Ain Sof is too spiritually “bright.” It represents the actualization of measure, but only at the surface of the Challal, a measure of Divine Light that precludes any possibility of denying the reality of G-d, and something that will have to exist for free-will to be meaningful.
If hearing G-d speak at Mt. Sinai was an overwhelming, free-will denying experience, then the Kav Ain Sof was this and much more at its beginning. The light of the Kav would need to be filtered on a continuous basis resulting in different levels of Divine Light: the closer to the edge of the Challal the light is, the more spiritual it is, and vice versa.
Hence, after the Light of Ain Sof entered the Challal, it did not continue straight on down, but descended in stages, creating along its way. It entered a bit and then created a sphere within a sphere, leaving a barrier between what was created and the Light of Ain Sof outside of the Challal in order to maintain the Challal.
After creating the first sefirah, the light moved down a bit further before creating another sefirah, and it kept doing this until it created all ten sefiros of the first partzuf (the name given to a single body of Ten Sefiros) that is called “Adam Kadmon.” And, after each sefirah was created, the light that descended to create the next level was a spiritually less intense light, and so it continued down at every level G- d deemed necessary to exist for man to utilize his free-will and earn a portion in the World-to-Come.
It sounds simple enough, but in truth, just to understand what happened to create the first set of Ten Sefiros for Adam Kadmon, is the subject of many volumes of complicated Kabbalistic literature. Fascinating it is, but it also feels like entering a whole new realm of thought, which reveals how simplistic our thinking is on a day-to-day basis. Quantum Mechanics doesn’t even compare.
Our bodies are a good analogy, because so much has to happen from Day One just to form and maintain a person, 99.9 percent of which the average person just takes for granted as he breathes, eats, drinks, sleeps, and performs any of the other natural daily activities. How many people ever consider what has to happen in the engine of a car every second to make it move, and move so smoothly?
Not too many have any idea what has to happen every moment of life just to keep Creation in existence, let alone functioning. Kabbalah teaches that G- d renews the entire Creation process, not once a week, not once a month, and not even once a year; He renews Creation every second, and a major part of the miracle is how life seems to progress from moment-to-moment.
After Creation, there was the general system of Ten Sefiros from the top of the Challal to the bottom point somewhere just before the other side of the Challal, from Keser to Chochmah to Binah to Chesed to Gevurah to Tifferes to Netzach to Hod to Yesod to Malchus. And, each of these ten sefiros have their own set of ten sefiros, which have their own set of ten sefiros, etc., until one sefirah exists for every single moment of history, providing it with the spiritual light and potential that it requires to give rise to existence at that particular moment.
It is mind-boggling, to say the least, but it is also the basis of everything that exists, including you, the clothes you are wearing, the computer you used to view this essay, and the paper you may have used to print this out. Absolutely everything comes down to these little “packets” of Divine Light, which helps to understand how all that happens in life is for the good, because it is made up of good, of G-dly Light.
The only question left to answer is, how something so holy and so good can project such unimaginable images of evil?
G-d commanded the Man, saying, “You may eat from every tree in the Garden, except from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If you do, you will certainly die, from that day.” (Bereishis 2:16-17)
If you were to ask a person, “What does the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil mean to you?” He would probably recount the story of Adam and Chava eating from it in the Garden of Eden. If you were to ask the same person, “What happened to the tree itself?” He would probably shrug his shoulders and say, “Who knows? We were expelled from the Garden a long time ago. Maybe the tree died after that.”
If you really wanted to throw him for a loop, you could tell him, “Nope. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil lives inside of you!”
He’ll probably answer, “Come again? What’s that supposed to mean?”
And, you wouldn’t have been far from the truth either. For, as the name implies, the tree itself was a combination of good and evil, or at least the potential for both, and that is exactly what mankind became as a result of consuming its forbidden fruit.
This is because prior to the sin, man was only good, and any evil to which he could relate at that time was embodied in the Original Snake. As a result of the sin, the process of transformation itself may not seem clear; the yetzer hara that was the Snake entered man becoming parting of his being, though not part of his essence.
Hence, like the original tree itself, man is a mixture of good and evil, making him a walking, talking, and breathing Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Rah. Likewise, everything else in Creation, as a result of the sin also became mixtures of good and evil, thus leaving them also on the same level. The extent to which this is true is relative to the amount of evil that can be associated with the thing or person.
In Sefiros-language, this means that prior to the sin, the sefiros were unaffected by the Chitzonim. The aspect of Creation “responsible” for spiritual impurity became affected, preventing them from delivering their spiritual light as clearly and as powerfully as they did before. This resulted in the Hester Panim of the reality of G-d on the levels that were previously all-pervasive.
Obviously then, the process of tikun is to reverse the process and separate the bad from the good. Be it through Torah learning, the performance of mitzvos, or suffering itself, this process of separation occurs and refines the person, the goal being to go from being a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil to an Aitz HaChaim (a Tree of Life). The slaughtering of the yetzer hara in Yemos HaMoshiach is symbolic of the completion of the process.
In the meantime, the job is ours. The Aseres Yemai Teshuvah helped us to focus on our will to be good in order for us to better recognize the essence of who we are, and who our yetzer hara is. Recognizing one’s yetzer hara is the first step to being able to separate oneself from it, to become more pure, and a more spiritually-refined individual. Succos helped to concretize that realization.
The rest of the year is a matter of introspection and doing what the Ba’alei Mussar call a Cheshbon HaNefesh (Soul-Accounting). Just as we check things like barley and rice for bugs, sifting through them pushing the check part aside while moving towards the unchecked part to remove the forbidden insects, likewise we are supposed to “sift” through our lives and personalities daily, checking and re-checking for unwanted “bugs” in our systems.
This is what transforms us from being human trees of knowledge of good and evil into trees of life, and brings tikun to the world. For that is where the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil went to after the sin: to the entire world. So, when a person eradicates any aspect of the evil from his person, he is reducing the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Rah from controlling the world, so-to-speak, and moves the world inches closer to becoming the Aitz HaChaim that it is destined to become in Yemos HaMoshiach.
Have a great Shabbos Bereishis,
Copyright © by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston has authored many books on Jewish philosophy (Hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston’s Perceptions on the Parsha, you may enjoy his books. Visit Rabbi Winston’s online book store for more details! www.thirtysix.org