The subject of this letter, the Ten Sefirot of the World of Atzilut and of the other worlds, is a fundament of both Kabbalah and Chassidut.
All the worlds are both created and conducted by means of the Sefirot, the emanations by which the various attributes of Divinity become manifest. Thus we find in the discourse beginning Patach Eliyahu, “You are He Who has brought forth ten ‘garments’, and we call them ten Sefirot, through which to direct hidden worlds which are not revealed, and revealed worlds.”
The Ten Sefirot demonstrate both G‑d’s infinite power (Ko’ach HaBli-Gvul) and His finite power (Ko’ach HaGvul). For, as is pointed out by the author of Avodat HaKodesh, “The Or Ein Sof (‘the [infinite] Ein Sof-light’) is שלימותא דכולא (‘the completeness of everything,’ or: ‘the most complete entity of all’): hence, just as He has infinite power, so too does He have finite power. For if you were to say that He possesses infinite power but lacks finite power then you minimize His completeness — and He is the most complete entity of all.”
It is within the Sefirot that infinity and the finite first coalesce, as it were, in order for worlds to be created and directed. For the Sefirot are composed of both orot (“lights”) and kelim (“vessels”). The orot of the Sefirot are simple and formless. Since they are not limited by specific characteristics (such as Chochmah or Chesed), they reflect G‑d’s infinite power as revealed within the Sefirot. The kelim, by contrast, do have specific characteristics, and thereby reveal G‑d’s power of limitation and finitude. It is thus through the Sefirot that the Ein Sof-light, which is by definition infinite, creates and conducts the finite worlds.
Since both the orot and the kelim which together comprise the Sefirot are utterly united with the Ein Sof-light, for “He and His orot are One; He and His kelim are One,” it is possible for the worlds to be created and animated by the Ein Sof and still be finite — for, as explained above, the Sefirot are infused with a capability for finitude.
The garbing of the Ein Sof-light within the Sefirot is known as “man”, as in the verse, “And upon the likeness of the throne there was a likeness of man,” for “man” denotes a visage comprising ten Sefirot.
The Kabbalah deals mainly with the Sefirot as they exist in the Supernal worlds, as in the World of Atzilut. In addition to the above, Chassidut gives closer attention to the Sefirot insofar as they appear as the ten corresponding faculties of a Jew’s soul, which derive and evolve from them. Thus, on the one hand, the middah (the mortal attribute or spiritual emotion) of Chesed, for example, derives from the Supernal Sefirah of Chesed, and so on. But conversely, too, when a Jew utilizes the ten soul-powers within him in his divine service here below, he is able to affect their source, the Sefirot of the higher worlds.
The knowledge and understanding of the Ten Sefirot Above as well as the knowledge of the evolvement of the worlds, is in itself “a great and lofty mitzvah,” as the Alter Rebbe writes below in Kuntres Acharon. This understanding leads to a love and fear of G‑d, which are the source and root that motivate the performance of all mitzvot, as explained in Likkutei Torah. Moreover, a comprehension of the Sefirot and their corresponding soul-powers inspires a Jew’s spiritual service with vitality, and elevates it.
להבין משל ומליצה, דברי חכמים וחידותם, בענין הספירות
“To understand the allegory and metaphor, the words of the wise and their riddles,” with respect to the Sefirot:
The commentaries note that “allegory and metaphor” refers to the Written Torah, which includes allegorical passages which are true at both the allusive and the literal levels. An example would be, “Seek life with the woman whom you love.” Although in this context “woman” is a metaphor for the wisdom of the Torah, the verse retains its simple meaning as well.
The commentaries note further that “the words of the wise and their riddles” refers to the Oral Torah: “the words of the wise” refers to those things that are revealed to all, while “their riddles” refers to those things which need to be revealed and solved.
By applying this phrase to the Sefirot, the Alter Rebbe is indicating that the Sefirot contain all four levels — allegory, metaphor, words of the wise, and riddles, for the Sefirot are found both Above in the spiritual worlds, as well as within a Jew’s soul.
מודעת זאת בארץ, מפי קדושי עליון, נשמותיהם עדן
It is known “throughout the land” from the mouth of heavenly saints, may their souls rest in Eden,
לקרב קצת אל השכל מאי דכתיב: ומבשרי אחזה אלוה
enabling us to somewhat comprehend the verse, “And from my flesh shall I behold G‑d,”
שהכוונה היא להבין קצת אלקותו יתברך, מנפש המלובשת בבשר האדם
that [this verse] speaks of a partial understanding of G‑d’s blessed Divinity from [a consideration of] the soul which is vested in the flesh of man.
This refers only to the dimension of the soul that animates the body, for, as the Rebbe notes, the essence of the soul, like the spirituality that transcends this world at large, remains incomprehensible to man.
ועל פי מאמר רז״ל על פסוק: ברכי נפשי וגו׳
This [correspondence between the soul and its Creator] accords with the teaching of our Sages, of blessed memory, on the verse, “Give praise, my soul, [to G‑d]”:
מה הקב״ה כו׳, אף הנשמה כו׳
“Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, [permeates the world,] so does the soul [permeate the body].”
Since the Sages go on to enumerate other similarities between the soul and G‑d, it is clear that from the soul we are able to catch a glimpse of things as they exist Above.
But how, indeed, can we possibly compare the soul to G‑d?
The Alter Rebbe therefore goes on to quote the Zohar: The soul derives from the innermost aspect of G‑dliness, thus sharing characteristics with the Supernal Sefirot and with Divinity itself. We are therefore able to understand G‑dliness through the analogy of the soul.
ועל פי מאמר הזהר על פסוק: ויפח באפיו נשמת חיים
[This correspondence likewise] accords with the teaching of the Zohar on the verse, “And He blew into his nostrils a soul of life”:
מאן דנפח, מתוכיה נפח
“He who blows, blows from within him,” i.e., from his inwardness and his innermost being.
Unlike speech, which utilizes only the external aspect of the speaker’s breath, blowing emits the innermost breath. Thus, when Scripture states that “He blew into his nostrils a soul of life,” it means to indicate that the soul derives from the innermost aspects of G‑dliness, as explained in Iggeret HaTeshuvah, ch. 4.
ואפילו נפש דעשיה, היא באה מזיווג ז״א ונוקבא דעשיה
For even a Nefesh (i.e., a soul of the lowest grade) of Asiyah (i.e., the lowest world) derives from the union of Za (ז״א: the initials of זעיר אנפין, i.e., the bracket of six masculine middot, or emotive attributes) with nukva (i.e., the feminine attribute called Malchut) of Asiyah,
I.e., a Nefesh in the World of Asiyah is born of the union of the above masculine and feminine middot (this union being called the yichud (or zivug) of זו״נ, which is an acronym for ז״א ונוקבא),
והמוחין שלהם, שהם בחינת חיה ונשמה דזו״נ
and of [the union of] their Mochin (i.e., ChaBaD, an acronym for the intellective soul-faculties of Chochmah, Binah and Daat, together constituting the Mochin of Za-and-nukva in the World of Asiyah), which are the Chayah and Neshamah of Za-and-nukva.
Foreshadowing the above-mentioned union at the level of the lower (emotive) Sefirot, the union which first brings a Nefesh to the stage of potential creation is that which takes place at the level of the higher (intellective) Sefirot. The two partners to this union are the soul-level called Chayah, representing the level of Chochmah (the masculine element), and the soul-level called Neshamah, representing the level of Binah (the feminine element).
Thus, even a soul that is merely of the level called Nefesh comprises all the Sefirot of the World of Asiyah — Chochmah, Binah, Za (the six emotive attributes), and nukva (Malchut).
שהן הן אחוריים דכלים דזו״נ דאצילות
These, in turn, are the external aspect of the kelim of Za-and-nukva of Atzilut.
For the kelim of Za-and-nukva of Atzilut illuminate and are infused within the Sefirot of the World of Asiyah. The Sefirot of Asiyah are thus the external aspect of the kelim of Za-and-nukva of Atzilut.
שהם אלקות ממש
And they (the kelim of Atzilut) are truly Divine,
שבתוכם מאיר אור אין סוף ברוך הוא, המלובש וגנוז בחכמה דאצילות
for in them radiates the [infinite] Ein Sof-light, which is vested and concealed in the Chochmah of Atzilut, for reasons explained in the Alter Rebbe’s Note to ch. 35; indeed, the infinite light vested in Chochmah illuminates all the kelim of the Sefirot of Atzilut: “The Supernal Father ‘nests’ in Atzilut,”
דאיהו וגרמוהי חד באצילות
and “He (the [infinite] Ein Sof-light) and His kelim are one in Atzilut.”
Since the Sefirot of Atzilut are the internal aspect of the Sefirot of Asiyah, the [infinite] Ein Sof-light is thus vested within the Sefirot of Asiyah.
ועל כן גם בנשמת האדם מאיר אור אין סוף ברוך הוא, מלובש וגנוז באור החכמה שבה, להחיות את האדם
Hence, since the soul derives from these Sefirot, it follows that the [infinite] Ein Sof-light radiates in the soul of man as well, vested and concealed in the light of its Chochmah, in order to animate man.
וממנה יוכל האדם להבין קצת בספירות העליונות
And from it (the soul), man is enabled to understand something of the Supernal Sefirot,
שכולן מאירות בנשמתו, הכלולה מהן
for they all radiate in his soul, which comprises them.
Since the soul derives from the Ten Sefirot and hence comprises ten corresponding faculties, man can arrive at an understanding of the Supernal Sefirot through contemplating the dynamics within his own soul.
The Alter Rebbe now goes on to make it perfectly clear that the Sefirot are, however, infinitely higher than the corresponding faculties within the soul. Indeed, even Abraham’s attribute of Chesed could in no way compare to the Chesed of the Sefirot, notwithstanding the fact that Abraham was considered a “chariot” to G‑d, i.e., a self-effacing vehicle with no direction or desire other than that of his Rider.