Moshe Chaim Luzzatto ("RaMChaL"):
138 Openings of Wisdom
The Sefirot are what Eyn Sof wanted to reveal of His attributes.
Each Sefirah is one of the attributes of Eyn Sof, blessed be He, with which He created the worlds and with which He governs them. Since He wanted that they should be known, He made each attribute appear as an individual light, through seeing which one may understand that attribute. When one sees the movements of that light, one understands the influence of the corresponding attribute on the government of the worlds at that time.
Having learned that the Sefirot are lights or radiations, we must now understand what these radiations are.
This proposition has two parts. Part 1: Each Sefirah is one of the attributes... This explains what is visible. Part 2: Since He wanted that they should be known... This explains how that which is visible is perceived.
Part 1: Each Sefirah is one of the attributes... Each attribute (מדה, middah, a "measure", "quality" or "trait") is one part of His Will, namely one of His powers. We may understand this by analogy. The body is composed of many different limbs, and someone who sees the body sees these limbs. On the other hand, the parts of the soul are not limbs but powers: these powers are the various faculties of the soul, such as memory, imagination and feeling. Someone who "sees" them (with spiritual vision) sees a variety of different powers. Similarly, when one sees what it is possible to see of the Supreme Will, what he sees are the powers of that Will. Each Sefirah is one of the attributes - one in the sense of being unique and separate. It is the revelation of His powers as separate attributes that distinguishes God's chosen way of acting through the Sefirot from His intrinsic omnipotence, in which He brings everything about through his unitary, all-encompassing power.
For a given cause cannot give rise to any and every effect, but only to the particular effect that can arise from it. The reason is that the cause in question hasonly the particular power that it possesses, and can give only what it has. When a person carries out a variety of activities, we necessarily differentiate between the various powers that he possesses, which enable him to carry out these different activities. But God is all-powerful, and we therefore cannot ascribe to Him any specific, limited power. This is because God's power is general and all-encompassing. God can do everything. For this reason we cannot divide God's powers into a multiplicity of specific powers as the causes of His various works.
Nevertheless, in His revealed way of acting through the Sefirot, Eyn Sof chose to act in a way similar to the way in which a person acts, using a variety of different powers and abilities. This is what is meant by the statement of the rabbis that: "The world was created with ten sayings... yet surely, it could have been created with only one!?!" (Avot 5:1). Accordingly, we differentiate a specific, separate cause corresponding to every manifest work or action.
.of the attributes of Eyn Sof, blessed be He: This indicates that the Sefirah is not a mere derivative that is caused by, outside of and secondary to Eyn Sof. For His Will is a single unity. In its intrinsic limitlessness, His will is invisible, and this is what we call Eyn Sof. Those aspects of this Will that are revealed we call the Sefirot, but the Will itself is Eyn Sof - limitless and indefinable. This is why we say that the Sefirot are the attributes of Eyn Sof.
One could object: Surely we are saying that Eyn Sof is the root, while the Sefirot derive from and are caused by Him, in which case they are secondary to Him. If so, how can we say here that the Sefirot are not derivative and secondary? To answer this, it is necessary to understand in what sense the Sefirot are derivative and what sense they are not. The Sefirot are not derivative in the sense of being a new, separate phenomenon that was caused by Eyn Sof but which did not exist in Him from the outset and does not exist in Him now, like separate bodies. For, if that were the case, the Sefirot would indeed truly be merely secondary. But in fact, the Sefirot are parts of His totality - the parts that He reveals.
However, when we compare the different levels, we say that the actual root revealed in and through the Sefirot is none other than Eyn Sof Himself. Even though intrinsically, Eyn Sof is not revealed, He leaves revealed to us what He wants. Accordingly, prior to the revelation of the Sefirot, they were subsumed under the name Eyn Sof, just like all the other powers encompassed within His limitless Will. However, when these attributes were revealed, they were no longer called Eyn Sof, for now they have an end and a limit, as mentioned above. Accordingly, they are called Sefirot, from the Hebrew root ספר (SaPhaR) meaning to count or number, indicating that they have a measure and a limit.
.with which He created the worlds... In other words, why should these attributes have been revealed and not others? Because these revealed powers relate to the lower realms, since it was through these powers that He created them ...and rules them... For even though the work of creation is complete, the supervision of the lights over their branches has not ceased, and the Sefirot continue to function as at first.
Part 2: Since He wanted that they should be known - This too was contingent upon His Will. For although these powers existed within Him, it was not intrinsically necessary that they should be able to be perceived and apprehended, except that He wanted it so.
He made each attribute appear as an individual light. This means that a specific likeness was instituted for each attribute (such as the likeness of a lion for Chessed, Kindness) in order to make it possible to gain an understanding of the governmental power expressed in this attribute through the corresponding image or likeness, as will be discussed later.
...through seeing which one may understand that attribute... This is as stated by Rambam (Maimonides): "At the very time when the prophet sees the prophetic vision, its meaning is inscribed in his heart" (Yesodey HaTorah 7:3).This additional point is very necessary. If the Sefirot shined each in their own particular way because of their intrinsic essence, the prophets should certainly have been able to understand the meaning of what they saw. However, since each Sefirah shines in its unique way only because God willed it so, something else was necessary in order for the prophet to be able to understand what was symbolized in the prophetic image - namely, that its meaning should be inscribed in his heart when he saw it. Accordingly, together with his vision of the Sefirot, the prophet is provided with the key to the interpretation of the vision and can thus understand the meaning of these lights in all their detailed aspects.
In this way - Seeing the movements of that light enables one to understand the influence of the corresponding attribute on the government of the worlds at that time. For just as the government of the worlds shifts from kindness to justice or mercy according to the time, so movements are visible in the Sefirot according to the time, and when the prophet sees them, he understands what they mean. All of the various powers involved in the government of the worlds change according to the time. Not only may the overall government shift between kindness and judgment. There are also changes in each of the individual attributes according to the time, and these are expressed in the movements of the lights. This is visible because of the desire of the Supreme Will to reveal to His creatures how He governs the world.
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