Moshe Chaim Luzzatto ("RaMChaL"):
138 Openings of Wisdom
The form in which the Sefirot appear is a spiritual form, yet even this form is not part of their intrinsic essence but only the form in which they appear when seen through the "looking glass" of Malchut.
Although the Sefirot appear in the form of likenesses, even so, the form seen is not like a physical form. What is seen is something that is understood as if one saw that form in the lower world. This is called the vision of the soul, whose vision is not like the vision of the body. Accordingly, the subjects of the prophetic vision do not necessarily appear in the same way as the corresponding physical objects would appear to the physical eye. What is seen by the soul is a shining light that is understood as a circle (Igul) if what is seen is "circular", or as a straight line (Yosher) if what is seen in the vision is "straight". The same applies to all the other forms or images seen by the soul: it is not that the actual physical form is seen. Even the spiritual form that is seen is not of the intrinsic essence of the Sefirot themselves, but only the way they appear through Malchut, which shows these powers in this way.
Having explained the forms in which the Sefirot appear, we will now explain how even this vision is not of a physical form.
The proposition has two parts: Part 1: Although the Sefirot... The forms in which the Sefirot appear are not like physical forms. Part 2: Even the spiritual form that is seen... Even this subtle form is not intrinsic to the Sefirot but was purposely chosen.
Part 1: Although the Sefirot appear as forms and likenesses, even so, the form that appears is not like a physical form. This is what Moses said to the Children of Israel: "For you did not see any form" (Deuteronomy 4:15). For it is certainly impossible that the Supreme Glory could appear even symbolically in any physical form or likeness whatever. For even the soul has no physical form whatever, let alone the Supreme Glory. It is therefore not possible that the physical form of a lion or an ox or a man or a circle or a straight line would appear in the upper realm. Thus it is written: "But you saw no form, only a voice" (ibid. 4:12). The vision we are talking about is the vision of the soul, which means understanding rather than vision in the physical sense. The soul does not see what it sees as external physical forms. Rather, the prophet's soul gains insight into the true spiritual essence of what he "sees", after which his intellect forms a mental picture or image of it. If one could see into the prophet's soul, one would see that subtle mental or spiritual picture there.
If you say that the intellect forms a mental picture of something seen by the soul in some physical form [e.g. an actual circle], it is not so. What the soul sees are the powers of the spiritual realm arranged in a certain order that is expressed in the form in which the soul sees them. [For example, the soul may have a perception of God's overall, general providence - as opposed to His individual providence over the details of creation - and "translate" this perception into the form of a "circle".] Thus the Sefirot are seen as lights arranged in a spiritual order which is understood as having the form of circles (Igulim) or as having a linear, upright form (Yosher). The Sefirot may "break through" or "ascend" or "descend" in various ways. Not that this is the actual form it takes, but this is how we can understand it.
Thus: What is seen is something that is understood as if one could see that form in the lower world. This is called the vision of the soul, whose vision is not like the vision of the body. In other words, the soul itself understands what it sees. The vision of the soul itself is not like the vision of the physical eyes - for God's glory cannot be seen by the physical eye. Accordingly it need not be pictured other than in forms appropriate and relevant to the vision of the soul that beholds it, and the soul sees things as they actually are, not some external physical form.
...Accordingly the subjects of the prophetic vision do not necessarily appear in the same way as the corresponding physical objects would appear to the bodily eye. What is seen by the soul is a shining light that is understood as a circle (Igul) if what is seen is "circular", or as a straight line (Yosher) if what is seen in the vision is "straight". The same applies to all the other forms or pictures seen by the soul: it is not that the physical form itself is seen.
Part 2: Even the spiritual form that is seen is not of the intrinsic essence of the Sefirot themselves... For the created realms and beings are of two kinds: physical and spiritual, and each have their own respective forms. But the Supreme Glory does not intrinsically possess either of these two kinds of forms. However, it may appear through such forms, though not in a physical form, which is gross, but in a spiritual form, which is fine and subtle. It "appears" or is "seen" in the same way that thoughts "appear" or are "seen" in the mind.
Even what is seen is not the actual divine powers themselves. This is obvious. For one who wanted to know these powers in their intrinsic essence would have to know Godliness in its intrinsic essence, because the Sefirot are pure Godliness. Since the essence of Godliness cannot be known at all, it is also impossible to know the essence of the Sefirot. Whatever is known of the Sefirot is only because it is permitted to see them in this way, not because they are this way intrinsically. What is known of them is this spiritual form. This spiritual form is not their intrinsic essence but only the form in which they are permitted to be seen.
The form in which they are seen is ...only the way they appear through Malchut, which shows these powers in this way. These powers constitute the order throughwhich the creation is governed. The Supreme Will wanted that not only should this be the order governing the lower realms -they being the governed - but also that the order of government should be able to be seen in and through the lower realms themselves. The created realms and their inhabitants were designed in such a way as to show and illustrate God's system of government in the very form they take. There are just as many creatures as there are parts of the system of government. Thus each of the individual powers which constitute the overall system of government produces a creature that emerges from it and which provides a visual cognate of that power in its form, its structure and its qualities and attributes.
There has to be something in between that channels the laws of government in such a way that they are visible and manifest in the created realms themselves, causing different powers to appear in the form of an "ear", a "mouth", an "apple", "water", "silver" and so on. There certainly must be a light that has the power to translate and express the system of government through imagery in this way.
All this comes about through the attribute of Malchut, to which allusion is made in the verse: "And he beholds the likeness of God" (Numbers 12:8). Malchut is called "the likeness of God" because this is the attribute that produces the spiritual forms or likenesses in which the Sefirot appear. The attribute of Malchut is the root of all the lower realms and the source of their whole existence, and it is through the attribute of Malchut that the laws of God's government are seen in the forms of the bodies of the creatures of the lower realms. But there on the level of Malchut itself, the form is spiritual, because everything descends gradually, level by level. The spiritual form is inscribed in the attribute of Malchut and from there, the material form emerges afterwards.
Human beings do not have the power to apprehend the supernal lights except in the way in which those lights relate to themselves in lower realms, inasmuch as the supernal lights are the roots of the forms found in the lower realms and thereby relate to them. Thus we humans can perceive the Sefirot only through the lens of Malchut, which shows the supernal lights and their mode of government through imagery. Accordingly, ".let him that glories glory in this [Hebrew, זאת, zot], that he understands and knows Me" (Jeremiah 9:23). Here the word "this" alludes to the attribute of Malchut, for only in this way is it possible to attain any perception at all, as will be discussed further below.
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by Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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