The Wisdom of Kabbalah and Philosophy
Kabbalist Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag
Author of the “Sulam” commentary on the book of Zohar
What is Spirituality?
Philosophy has gone through a great deal of trouble to prove that corporeality is the offspring of spirituality and that the soul begets the body. Still, their words are not acceptable to the heart in any manner. Their primary mistake is their erroneous perception of spirituality, that spirituality fathered corporeality, which is certainly a fib.
Any parent must some how resemble its progeny. It is this parent-progeny relation that is the path and the route by which its sequel extends. In addition, every operator must have some regard to its operation by which to contact it. Since you say that spirituality is denied of any corporeal incidents, then such a path does not exist. Thus, what regard can the spiritual have of the corporeal by which to contact corporeality and set it in any kind of motion?
However, understanding the meaning of the word “spirituality” has nothing to do with philosophy. How can they discuss something that they have never seen or felt? What do their rudiments stand on?
If there is any definition that can tell the spiritual apart from the corporeal, it belongs only to those who have attained and felt a spiritual thing. Those people are the genuine Kabbalists; thus, it is the wisdom of Kabbalah that we need.
Philosophy with regards to His Essence
Philosophy loves to concern itself with Him, and prove which rules do not apply to Him. However, Kabbalah has no dealings whatsoever with His essence, for how can the unattainable and imperceptible be defined? Indeed, a negative definition is just as valid as a positive one. For example, if you see an object from a distance and recognize its negatives, meaning all that it is not, that too is deemed as seeing and some extent of recognition. If an object is truly out of sight, then even its negative characteristics are not apparent.
If, for example, we see a black image from a distance, but can still determine that it is neither human nor a bird, this too is considered vision. If it had been even farther away, we would have been unable to determine that it is not a person.
That is the origin of the confusion and invalidity of philosophy; it loves to pride itself in understanding all the negatives about His essence. However, the sages of Kabbalah put their hand to their mouth at this point, and do not give Him even a simple name, for we do not define by name or a word that which we do not attain. That is because a word designates some degree of attainment. However, Kabbalists do speak a great deal about His illumination in reality, meaning all those illuminations they have actually attained as validly as tangible attainment.
The Spiritual is a Force without a Body
That is what Kabbalists define as “spirituality” and that is what they talk about. It has no image or space or time or any corporeal regard. I think that philosophy has generally worn a mantle that is not its own, for it has pilfered definitions from the wisdom of Kabbalah, and made delicacies with its human understanding. If it had not been for that, they would never have thought of fabricating such acumen. However, it is only a potential force, meaning not a force that is clothed in an ordinary body, as it normally is in this world, but rather a force without a body.
A Spiritual Vessel is Called “A Force”
This is the place to point out that the force that spirituality speaks of is not the spiritual Light itself. That spiritual Light extends directly from His essence and is therefore the same as His Essence. It means that we have no attainment in the spiritual Light that we may define by name. Even the name “Light” is borrowed and is not real. Thus, we must know that the name “Force” without a body refers only to the “spiritual vessel.”
Lights and Vessels
Therefore, we must not inquire how the sages of the Kabbalah, which fill the entire wisdom with their insights, differentiate between the various Lights. That is because these observations do not refer to the Lights themselves; but rather to the impression of the vessel, being the above mentioned force, which is affected by the Light that meets it.
Vessels and Lights (the meaning of the words)
Here is where the line between the gift and the love that it creates must be drawn. The Lights, meaning the impression on the vessel, which is attainable, is called “form and substance.” It is attainable because the impression is the above form and the above force is the substance.
However, the love that is created by it is considered a “form without a substance.” This means that if we separate the love from the gift itself, as though it never clothed any gift, but only in the abstract name, “the love of God,” then it would be regarded as a form. In that event, the practice of it is regarded as, “Figurative Kabbalah.” However, it would still be regarded real, without any similarity with Figurative Philosophy because the spirit of this love remains in the attainment. It is completely separated from the gift, being the Light itself.
Substance and Form in Kabbalah
The reasoning behind this situation is that although this love is merely a consequence of the gift, it is still far more important than the gift itself. It is like a great king who gives an unimportant object to a person. Though the gift itself is worthless, it is the love and the attention of the king that make it priceless and precious. Thus, it is completely separated from the substance, being the Light and the gift, in a way that the work and the insights remain carved in the attainment with only the love itself. The gift itself, however, seems to be forgotten from the heart. Therefore, that aspect of the wisdom is called the “Figurative Wisdom of Kabbalah.” Indeed, this part is the most important part of the wisdom.
This love consists of four parts that are much like human love: when we first receive the present we do not refer to the giver of the gift as one who loves us, all the more so if that someone is important, and the receiver is not equal to the giver.
However, the repetitive giving and the perseverance will make even the most important person seem like a true, equal lover. That is because it is a rule that in love there is no greater or smaller, and two real lovers must feel equal.
Thus, you can measure four degrees of love here. The first incident is called Assiya, the repetition of the giving is called Yetzira and the appearance of the love itself is called Beria.
It is here that the study of the Figurative Wisdom of Kabbalah begins, for it is in this degree that love is separated from the presents. This is the meaning of the words, “and create darkness,” meaning the Light is removed from the Yetzira and the love remains without Light, without its gifts.
Then comes Atzilut. After it has tasted and entirely separated the form from the substance, as in, “and create darkness,” it became worthy of ascending to Atzilut where the form clothed the substance once more. Now, Light and love are once more together.
The Origin of the Soul
Everything spiritual is perceived as a separated force from the body because it has no corporeal image. However, because of that it remains isolated and completely separated from the corporeal. In such a state, how can it set anything corporeal in motion, much less beget anything physical, when it has no way to come in contact with the physical?
The Acidic Element
However, the truth is that the force itself is also considered a genuine substance, just as much as any other corporeal substance in the concrete world, and the fact that it has no image that the human senses can perceive does not reduce the value of the substance, meaning the “force.”
Take a molecule of oxygen as an example: It is a constituent of most materials in the world. Yet, if you take a bottle of pure oxygen when it is not mixed with any other substance, you will find that it seems as though the bottle is completely empty. You will not be able to notice anything about it; it will be completely like air, intangible and invisible to the eye.
If we remove the lid and smell it, we will find no scent; if we taste it we will find no flavour and if we put it on a scale it will not weigh more than the empty bottle. The same applies to hydrogen, which is also tasteless, scentless and weightless.
However, when putting these elements together, they will immediately become a liquid, drinking water that possesses both taste and weight. If we put the water inside active lime, it will immediately turn as solid as the lime itself.
Thus, how can we determine about natural forces that they are not a corporeal substance just because they are not arranged in such a way that our senses can perceive them? Moreover, we can evidently see that most of the tangible materials in our world consist preliminary of the oxygen element, which human senses cannot perceive and feel!
Even the solid and the liquid in the tangible reality that we can vividly perceive in our world, might turn to air and fume at a certain temperature. Likewise the vapors can turn to solids when the temperature drops.
In that event, we should wonder, how does one give that which one does not possess? We clearly see that all the tangible images come from elements that are in and of themselves intangible, and do not exist as materials in and of themselves. Likewise, all the fixed pictures that we know and use to define the materials, are inconsistent and do not exist in their own right. Rather, they only dress and undress forms under the influence of conditions such as heat or cold.
The primary part of the corporeal substance is the “force” in it, though we are not yet able to tell these forces apart, as with chemical elements. Perhaps in the future they will be discovered in their pure form, as we have only recently discovered the chemical elements.
Equal Force in Spiritual and Physical
In a word: all those names that we ascribe materials are completely fabricated, meaning stem from our concrete perception in our five senses. They do not exist in and of themselves. On the other hand, any definition we ascribe to the force, which separates it from the material, is also fabricated. Even when science reaches its ultimate development, we will still have to regard only the tangible reality. This means that while seeing and feeling a material operation, we must still perceive the operator, who is also a substance, just like the operation itself.
We must know that this erring of separating the operator from the operation comes from the Figurative Philosophy, which insisted on proving that the spiritual act influences the corporeal operation. That resulted in erroneous assumptions such as the above, which Kabbalah has no need for.
Body and Soul in the Upper Ones
The opinion of Kabbalah in this matter is crystal clear, excluding any mixture of philosophy. That is because it is the opinion of the sages of Kabbalah that even the separated spiritual entities, which philosophy denies having any corporeality and displays them as purely conceptual substance, although they are indeed spiritual, more sublime and abstract, consist of a body and soul just like the physical human.
Therefore, you needn’t wonder how two can win the prize and say that they comprise of layers. Furthermore, philosophy believes that anything complex will eventually disintegrate and decompose, meaning die. Thus, how can one declare that they are both complex and eternal?
Lights and Vessels
Indeed, their thoughts are not our thoughts, for the way of the sages of the Kabbalah is one of finding actual proof of attainment, making its revocation through intellectual pondering impossible. But let me make these matters very clear for every person’s understanding:
First we must know that the difference between Lights and vessels is created immediately in the first emanated being from Ein Sof. Naturally, the first emanation is also the most complete and noble of every thing that followed it. It is certain that this pleasantness and completeness is received from His essence, which wants to give that more than any pleasantness and pleasure.
It is known that the measurement of the pleasure is essentially the will to receive that pleasure. That is because what we most want also feels as the most pleasurable. Because of that, we should discern two observations in this first emanation: the “will to receive” that received essence, and the essence of the object itself. We should also know that the will to receive is what we perceive as the “body” of the emanated, meaning its primary essence, being the vessel to receive the goodness. The second is the essence of the good that is received, which is the Light that is eternally extended to the emanation.
It turns out that we must necessarily distinguish two opposites that clothe one another even in the most spiritual and sublime matters the heart can contemplate on. It is the opposite of the opinion of philosophy, which fabricated that the different individuals are not combined materials. It is necessary that that “will to receive” that is obligatory in the emanated being (for without it there would be no pleasure but coercion, and no feeling of pleasure) is absent in His essence. That is the reason for the name “emanated,” since it is no longer His essence, for from whom would He receive?
However, the bounty that one receives is necessarily a part of His essence, for here there need not be any innovation. Thus we see that great difference between the renewed body and the received abundance deemed His essence.
How can a Spiritual Beget a Corporeal
It is seemingly difficult to understand how the spiritual can beget and extend anything corporeal. This question is an ancient philosophical query that much ink has been spilt in attempting to resolve it.
The truth is that this question is a difficult one only if one follows their doctrine. That is because they have determined the form of spirituality without any connection to anything corporeal. That produces a difficult question: how can the spiritual lead to or father anything corporeal?
But it is the opinion of the sages of Kabbalah that this is not difficult at all, for their terms are the complete opposite to the philosophers’. They maintain that any spiritual quality equalizes with the corporeal like two drops in a pond. Thus, the relationships are of the utmost affinity and there is no separation between them except in the substance, meaning the spiritual consists of a spiritual substance and the corporeal consists of a corporeal substance.
However, all the qualities in the spiritual materials abide in the corporeal materials as well, as the article “The Essence of the Wisdom of Kabbalah” explains.
The old philosophy presents three opinions as obstacles before my explanation:
1. Their decision that the power of the human intellect is the eternal soul, man's essence.
2. Their conjecture that the body is an upshot of the soul.
3. Their saying that spiritual people are simplex and not complex.
Not only is it the wrong place to argue with them about their fabricated conjectures, but also their time has already passed and their authority revoked. We should also thank the experts of materialistic psychology for that, having built its plinth on the ruin of the former, winning the public’s favor. Now everyone admits to the nullity of philosophy, for it is not built on concrete foundations.
The old doctrine became a stumbling rock and a deadly thorn to the sages of Kabbalah. Where they should have subdued before the sages of Kabbalah and taken upon themselves abstinence and prudence prior to admittance to even the slightest thing in spirituality, they received what they had wanted easily from the figurative philosophy. Without payment or a price they have watered them from their fountain of wisdom to satiation, and refrained from delving in the wisdom of Kabbalah. As a consequence, the wisdom has almost been forgotten from among Israel.
For that reason we are grateful to materialistic psychology for having beaten it a deadly blow.
I am Solomon
The above is much like a fable that our sages tell: “Asmodeus (the devil) drove King Solomon four hundred parsas (a distant measurement) from Jerusalem and left Him with no money and means of sustenance. Then he sat in King Solomon’s throne while the king was begging at the doors. Every place he went he said: “I am Ecclesiastes!” but not one would believe him. And so he walked from town to town declaring “I am Solomon!” but when he came to the Sanhedrin (the sages of the Talmud) they said: “A fool does not utter the same folly all the time, saying, “I was once a king.”
It seems as though the name is not the essence of a person, but rather the owner of the name is. Therefore, how can a wise man such as King Solomon not be recognized if he is indeed the owner of the name? Moreover, it is the person that dignifies the name, and should have displayed his wisdom to the people!
There are three reasons that prevent us from knowing the owner of a name:
1. Because of the truthfulness of this wisdom, it becomes clear only when all the details appear together. Therefore, before one knows the entire wisdom, it is impossible to glimpse at even a tiny fragment of it. Thus, it is the publicity of its truthfulness that we need, so as to have enough prior faith in it to make a great effort.
2. Just as Asmodeus, the demon, wore the clothes of King Solomon and inherited his throne, so philosophy sat on the throne of Kabbalah with easier concepts to grasp, for the lie is quickly accepted. Therefore, there is a twofold trouble here: first, the wisdom of truth is profound and laborious, while philosophy is easily grasped; second, it is superfluous, because philosophy is quite satisfying.
3. As the demon claims that King Solomon is mad, so philosophy mocks and dismisses Kabbalah.
However, as long as wisdom is sublime, it is elevated above the people and separated from it. Because King Solomon was the wisest man, he was also higher than every man. Thus, the finest scholars could not understand him. Only those friends, meaning the Sanhedrin, whom he taught his wisdom to every day for days and years, understood him and publicized his name in the entire world. The reason for this is that minute wisdom is perceived in five minutes and thus easily publicized and accessible to every person. However, a weighty concept will not be understood in less than several hours. It may even take days or years, depending on the intelligence. Accordingly, the greatest scholars will be understood only by a selected few in the generation, because profound concepts are founded on much prior knowledge.
It is therefore not surprising that the wisest of all men who was exiled to a place where he was not known, could not demonstrate his wisdom or even show a hint of it before they believed that he was the owner of the name.
It is the same with the wisdom of Kabbalah in our times: The troubles and the exile that have come upon us brought us to forget it. Moreover, if there are people who do practice it, it is not in favour of Kabbalah but rather does it harm. That is because they did not receive it from a Kabbalist sage. Hence, Kabbalah is in the same situation today, as was King Solomon in exile, declaring, “I am the wisdom and all the flavours of religion and Torah are in me,” yet none believe it.
But this is perplexing, for if it is a genuine wisdom, can it not display itself like all other wisdoms? It can not. As King Solomon could not display the depth of his wisdom to the scholars at the place of his exile and had to come to Jerusalem, the place of the Sanhedrin, who knew him and testified to the profoundness of his wisdom, so Kabbalah requires great sages who examine their hearts and study it for twenty of thirty years. Only then will they be able to testify to it. It is the same as with King Solomon, who could not prevent Asmodeus from sitting on the throne pretending to be him until he arrived in Jerusalem.
Sages of Kabbalah also observe philosophic theology and complain that the philosophic theologians have stolen the upper shell from their wisdom, which Plato and his Greek predecessors had acquired while studying with the disciples of the prophets in Israel. They have stolen elementary constituents from the wisdom of Israel and wore a cloak that is not their own. And up until these days, philosophic theology sat on the throne of Kabbalah, being hair under her mistress.
Who would believe the sages of Kabbalah at a time when others sit on their throne? It is as when they did not believe King Solomon in exile for they knew him to be sitting on his throne, meaning the demon Asmodeus. As with King Solomon, it is hopeless that the truth will be exposed, for it is deep and cannot be expressed by testimony or by mere experimentation. It is only shown to those believers that dedicate themselves to it with heart and soul.
Just as the Sanhedrin did not recognize King Solomon as long as the falsehood of Asmodeus did not appear, so Kabbalah cannot prove its nature and truthfulness, before the futility of theological philosophy that has taken its throne becomes apparent. Until that time, not any kind of revelation will suffice for people to recognize it.
Therefore, there was not a salvation for Israel as at the time when the materialistic psychology appeared and struck theological philosophy on its head a lethal blow.
Now, every person who seeks the Lord must bring Kabbalah back to its throne – and restore its past glory.
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