The writings of Kabbalah and Chassidism speak of four worlds—Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah. Where are these “worlds”? Why haven’t any of them been discovered yet?
If you’re picturing galaxies many light-years away, think again. These are not worlds to be reached through space travel or observed with a Hubble telescope. They’re actually right here.
Let me give you an analogy to work with. Ever get your eyes checked? Remember having to look through two different lenses, and being asked which one is clearer, 1 or 2? (If you’re like me, you had to ask the optometrist to go back and forth five times before making your decision.)
When I try to relate to these worlds, I picture each of them as another lens through which we can view reality. The higher the world, the sharper and clearer the lens—so that everything in that world is a harmonious expression of G‑d’s simple oneness. The lower the world, the more it feels otherness—as though it never had a creator to begin with. Things become fragmented, discordant, even downright ugly, as that sublime oneness is lost.
We live in the bottom-level, physical world of Asiyah—meaning “actuality”—a reality in which G‑dliness is completely hidden. Our lenses allow us to see nothing more than the end-product of all the processes that came before it. We see a table—not the divine energy that keeps it in existence. We marvel over a sunset—as though it were just another natural phenomenon, rather than a masterpiece of a Master Artist. We attribute financial success to smart business tactics—not to the blessings of G‑d. It’s no coincidence that the word for “world” in Hebrew, olam, shares the same root as he’elem, meaning “hidden.” Everything but the most outer façade is hidden from our view.
What keeps our prescription so low? Well, aside from being out of focus, these lenses can also be dark sunglasses. Higher worlds get lots of light flooding in—like having clear glasses. Lower worlds let in much less light—like different grades of sunglasses. The details and the beauty get lost. Try visiting the art gallery while wearing dark sunglasses and with the lights out, and you’ll get the idea.
Sunglasses diminish the light—but the information is still there, just that you need to look much closer to see it. But then there’s another factor in those lenses: They distort the picture. Everything gets so jumbled that it seems complete nonsense. Nothing makes sense. Everything seems without purpose, just as something that is “just here.” Which is a good description of our world: a place that (superficially) just appears to be here with no reason or purpose.
Adjust those lenses, and your perception quickly changes. The world becomes an expression of something much higher. You are able to perceive souls and angels. Heavenly voices (called a bat kol) are heard. A tremendous love and fear for G‑d is felt. Travel deep enough, and the very feeling of “I” and otherness dissolves in the great light. This is the experience of the prophets and mystics.
Now, this may seem counterintuitive, but the purpose of creating anything at all does not lie in any higher world, but rather here in our physical Asiyah world. The Creator charged us with the task of brightening up our otherwise dark world through the light of Torah and Mitzvot. We are to discover holiness within the mundane, the supernatural within the natural, and the spiritual within the physical. By doing this, we decode all the distorted mumbo-jumbo, blast in an intense light and reveal how this last-stop world is actually holier than any other beyond it.
This is a job in progress. When it’s all done, we will have heaven on earth. And that’s Moshiach.
This article is a more technical discussion of the four worlds.
You might also enjoy reading How can any human claim to know of other worlds?
And here’s a fun yet deep presentation of how the angels above look at our world: The Angel Files.