Moshe Chaim Luzzatto ("RaMChaL"):
138 Openings of Wisdom
How the Sefirot appear in the prophetic vision. The images seen by the prophets and what they represent
The Sefirot can shine with an abundant radiation of light or with diminished radiation. They can appear in numerous different forms and likenesses, although in truth they possess no form or appearance. It is just that they appear in some form or likeness, but one who examines them will see that in truth, the form and likeness are purely contingent upon the observer, as stated in the verse: "And by the ministry of the prophets I have used likenesses" (Hosea 12:11). In their essence, however, the Sefirot are only an extended array of powers organized in their necessary order, interdependent in their various laws and influenced by one another, as required according to the perfection of the entire ordered plan.
Having explained that the powers (Sefirot) with which God created and governs the worlds appear by way of radiation, we will now explain the principles governing how this radiation appears.
The proposition consists of three parts. Part 1: The Sefirot: This refers to the amount of radiation emitted by the Sefirot. Part 2: They can appear... This refers to the images or likenesses through which they appear. Part 3: But in themselves... This is a general comment on all the images and likenesses through which they appear.
Part 1: The Sefirot can shine with an abundant radiation of light or with diminished radiation. What this means is as follows: Since the Supreme Will wanted to display His simple powers by way of light, the revelation may be lesser or greater, since one light may shine only a little, whereas another may shine more powerfully. And this is what we see: Sefirot and Partzufim. As Sefirot, they shine with little light, but as Partzifim, they shine with abundant light (see below, Opening 17 on Sefirot and Partzufim). When they shine as Partzufim, more details are revealed; as Sefirot, fewer parts are seen. So too there are variations in terms of the power and influence of individual Sefirot. Sometimes a Sefirah may shine with little light and little power (during the period of exile): this is known as "smallness" (קטנות, katnut, "smallness", also "childhood"). At other times the Sefirah may shine with great power (after the redemption): this is known as "greatness" or "maturity".
Part 2: They can appear in numerous different forms and likenesses: Many of the terms used in discussing the Sefirot have connotations of form anmaterial substance. However, we certainly cannot say that the Sefirot themselves actually possess any kind of form or substance, for this would be heresy, and the Torah states explicitly: "For you did not see any form" (Deuteronomy 4:15).
As discussed earlier, the Sefirot are the powers of the Supreme Thought, and are "seen" (with spiritual vision) by the prophets or souls in a way comparable to the way a person "sees" the thoughts passing through his mind. Nevertheless, there is a great difference. For a person's mind and thoughts are within him and are not Godly. Accordingly there is nothing to prevent us applying concepts of "form", "likeness" and "appearance" of some subtle kind to the thoughts in a person's mind, except that the form would be spiritual rather than physical. This is not so in the case of the Sefirot, which are the powers of the Thought (or "Mind") of the Supreme Will, blessed be He. It is impossible to say that they possess any form at all, since we know that in all His aspects, the Emanator, blessed be His Name, completely transcends all the accidents and events that occur to those He created.
Nevertheless, we do speak in terms of "smallness" and "greatness", "ascent" and "descent", "clothing", "position" and so on in relation to the Sefirot. We certainly cannot say that any of these phenomena exist as such in the Sefirot. Yet if you say that all such concepts are purely metaphorical, hinting at exalted matters involved in the government of the worlds and its laws - this too is impossible to say. For if it were so, most of the investigations of the Kabbalah would be pointless since they would be like trying to base what we know (the metaphors) on what we don't know (the Sefirot). This is not what is indicated by the teachings of the ARI, the earlier and later Mekubalim, and, above all, those of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. All these teachings indicate that these phenomena actually do exist in the Sefirot. Here is the place to clarify the truth, for if this foundation is laid properly, everything will be understood properly, clearly and simply. But if this foundation is not laid properly, all the structures will remain flying in the air and it will be impossible to attain any understanding whatever of the investigations of the Kabbalah.
The truth is that all the Sefirot are powers of the Supreme Thought. They all operate to bring about what is necessary in the world, all leading to one goal: the final, ultimate perfection, as explained above. These powers contain everything necessary for the government of the entire world at all times. For example, the power of Chessed, Kindness, includes all the ways in which it must act in the worlds, sometimes holding sway, sometimes yielding its dominion, sometimes dominating strongly, at others, only a little. At times the power of Chessed operates in conjunction with Gevurah, Strength, in various different ways, whether in a revealed or hidden manner. Likewise, the powers of Din, Judgment, and Rachamim, Mercy, also contain everything necessary for the government of the entire world at all times.
All of the three root powers of Kindness, Judgment and Mercy contain everything necessary for reward and punishment (Judgment), the existence of the world (Mercy) and the eternal reward (perfect Kindness). The Supreme Mind calculated in advance everything necessary for the government of all His creatures until the end of the entire cycle. Everything is a single weave of these three powers including all the different kinds of controls, laws and pathways necessary and sufficient to bring about everything that must come into being in the world.
This entire composite weave is visible to the prophets or the souls, and this is what is called the Chariot (מרכבה, Merkavah). The actual powers of the Supreme Thought are invisible, for they are simple and they cannot be seen in their intrinsic essence. Yet the Supreme Will wanted that they should be visible through lights and prophetic likenesses and images, and that they should appear in all the different aspects that we ascribe to them: Partzufim, worlds, one clothed in another, ascending, descending, and so on. However, we already know that this is not how these powers are in reality: this is only how they appear in the prophetic imagination.
Thus it says explicitly: "And through the ministry of the prophets I have used similitudes". This means that God conceals the profundity of His thoughts within these prophetic images and metaphors. But the truth is that this is only how the prophets see it, and even this "seeing" is not like physical seeing, as will be discussed below. What the prophets see are spiritual phenomena that take the form of "clothing", "ascent", "descent" and the like. However, this "seeing" is nothing but a prophetic vision made up of likenesses and images conveying the depth and breadth of the plan in the divine mind. We may conclude that Kabbalisitic teachings are not merely metaphorical. The phenomena we have mentioned, such as "ascent", "descent", "clothing" and the like, truly exist in the prophetic vision. However, the prophetic vision itself is only a likeness. The prophets have the special power of being able to see the vision and understand its meaning.
The subject of the prophetic vision is God's deep plan. When He wanted to reveal it, He showed it in the form of the "Chariot". The various parts of this Chariot have all been given their own individual names: these are the names of the Sefirot and the Partzufim, and the prophetic visions show all their different states and properties.
In an actual prophetic vision, the Sefirot and Partzufim may appear in many different forms and interrelationships, as we find in Kabbalistic writings about the various worlds and Partzufim etc.
...Although in truth they have no form or appearance. This is clear in the light of what we have explained above. It is just that they appear in some form or likeness. What this means is that prophetic likenesses and images are not mere metaphors and allusions: this is the way the prophet actually sees what he sees. What we say about the Partzufim is actually the way they are seen in the Chariot.
But one who examines them will see that in truth, the form and likeness are purely contingent upon the observer. This principle is expressed in the verse: "To whom then will you liken Me that I should be equal? says the Holy One" (Isaiah 40:5). What this means is that the prophets are not left with the illusion that this is the way it actually is, God forbid. As I have already said, the prophet sees the vision, likeness or image and understands the hidden level. When he attains his prophecy, he sees clearly that the picture in his vision is a likeness contingent upon the observer and not an integral aspect of the essence of that which is observed. The prophet himself understands this at the very time of the prophetic vision, as it says: "To whom, then, will you liken God and what likeness will you compare to Him?" (Isaiah 40:18).
Thus Moses warned Israel: "And guard your souls very much, for you did not see any image on the day that HaShem your God spoke to you at Horeb from out of the fire" (Deuteronomy 5:15). They were warned not to allow what they saw to cause them to err. They were to know that the entire vision was only prophetic, as they understood at the very time they saw it. Similarly, the rabbis said: "Since He was revealed to them at the sea as mighty [= Zeir Anpin], whereas at the Giving of the Torah He appeared in His attribute of kindness [= Arich Anpin], the verse states: 'I am HaShem your God', so as not to leave room to say there are two domains." (Mechilta Exodus 20:2). This was so that they should not fall into error because of what they saw in the vision but that they should understand the underlying truth of what they saw in the proper way.
As stated in the verse: " And in the hand of the prophets I have used likenesses" (Hosea 12:11): The meaning of the phrase, "In the hand of the prophets" is that the image (the "likeness") is formed in the mind of the prophets but is not integral to the Sefirot themselves. Each sees on his own levof perception and attainment, and the image is formed in his mind accordingly. Thus the Kabbalists said that "the hand of the prophets" refers to the attribute of Malchut (kingship, rule and control), which includes the power to form images.
In their essence, however, the Sefirot are only an extended array of powers. As explained earlier, everything is one deep plan, a composite weave of just so many powers ordered in such a way that each holds sway only at its own designated time and in its own specific manner. This is called "an extended array of powers". This array of powers "extends" and "spreads" in the sense that they are revealed in a variety of different ways according to specific, fixed rules.
They are organized in their necessary order... This indicates that the order does not consist of scattered, separate, unrelated parts, but that a single, general, all-encompassing order underlies the revelation of each of the different powers, for everything was calculated in such a way as to lead to the ultimate goal.
They are interdependent in their various laws. This indicates that the reason why we see states in which one power is clothed and garbed in another is because these powers are truly interdependent in the way they rule and function, in the sense that the functioning of one of them results from the functioning of others. In this way the Supreme Mind created a weave from which all the different phenomena we see revealed in the world emerge.
...and influenced by one another... In other words, the various chains of cause and effect and states of expanded consciousness discussed in the Kabbalah are bound up with the mutual influence of the various powers and laws on each other, as required according to the perfection of the entire ordered plan. For as we have explained, all these pathways were calculated in accordance with the overall goal of bringing the entire creation to perfection.
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