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Epistle 15

Epistle 15


"To understand the allegory and metaphor, the words of the wise and their riddles"— with respect to the Sefirot.

To make the verse "And from my flesh I shall behold G‑d" more intelligible, it is known throughout [in tradition from the supreme saints, may their souls rest in Eden] that it refers to understanding somewhat of His blessed Divinity (by reflecting on) the soul which is vested in the flesh of man, in accordance with the saying of our sages, of blessed memory, on the verse "give praise, my soul ...": "Just as the Holy One, blessed is He,..., the soul also ..."; and in accordance with the saying of the Zohar on the verse "And He breathed into his nostrils a breath of life" : "He who exhales, exhales from within himself." For even a soul (nefesh) of Asiyah derives from the conjunctio of the masculine and feminine (זיווג זו"ן) of Asiyah and of their mochin [which are the aspects of the chayah and neshamah of the masculine and feminine ]— which in turn, are the achurayim of the kelim of the masculine and feminine of Atzilut. (The latter) are truly divine, because in them radiates the light of the blessed En Sof which is vested and concealed in the chochmah of Atzilut, and "He and His causations are one— in Atzilut." Thus it follows that the light of the blessed En Sof radiates in the soul (neshamah) of man as well, vested and concealed in the light of its chochmah in order to animate man. And from (the soul) man is able to understand somewhat of the supernal Sefirot, for they all radiate in his soul— which compounds them.

But it is necessary to state first what I heard from my master, peace be to him, on the verse "And I am dust and ashes."

Our father Abraham, peace be to him, said this of the illumination of his soul which in his body radiates from the light of the Supreme chesed; and that is his attribute: the attribute of magnanimous love (ahavah rabba). For he loved the Holy One, blessed is He, with so great and sublime a love, that he became a chariot unto the Holy One, blessed is He. Now, one might possibly assume that the type of chesed and love as it is above in the supernal Sefirot is of a similar nature to the attribute of abundant love of our father Abraham, peace be to him, though exceedingly greater and more marvelous ad infinitum than the (latter). [For it is known of the Supernal attributes that they are essentially without end and limit, because the light of the blessed En Sof actually radiates and is vested within them, and "He and His causations are one." As regards the soul of man, however, which is vested in matter, its attributes are finite and limited. But, in any case, one might possibly assume that its attributes are of the same type as the Supernal attributes.] Therefore he said: "I am dust and ashes," that is, just as ashes, which are the essence and substance of the burned wood. (For the wood) was composed of the four elements fire-air-water-earth, and the three elements of fire-water-air passed away and were consumed in the smoke that came about through their compound, as known. The fourth element of the wood, namely the earth which goes netherwards and over which the fire has no dominion, it remains in existence, and it forms the ashes. Now the whole of the essence of the wood, its substantiality and matter, and its form in terms of length, width and density [visible to the eye, before it was burned], was basically from its element of earth, though the fire, water and air were contained in it. For earth is the most material of them all. It has (dimensions of) length, width and density, which is not the case with the fire, and air, and even water, of which there is but very little in the wood. And all (the wood's dimensions of) length, width and density, "All is of the earth, and all returns to earth"— i.e. the ashes that remain after the fire, water and air have been separated from it. Now, there is neither a quantitative nor a qualitative resemblance and proportion between the ashes and the essence of the wood [which, prior to being burned, had sizeable dimensions of length, width and density], even though (the ashes) are its very essence and substance, and of them did (the wood) come into being. Precisely so, metaphorically speaking, our father Abraham, peace be to him, said of his attribute [the attribute of grace and love radiating in him and vested in his body]: "Though it is the attribute of the love and Supreme chesed of Atzilut that radiates in his soul [which was a supernal chariot], nevertheless, as (the soul) descended netherwards, [by the evolution of the worlds from one level to another, by means of many contractions] in order to become vested in his body, there is no semblance and proportion between the essence of the light of the love that radiates in him, and the essence of the light of the love and Supreme chesed of Atzilut, except of the sort of proportion and semblance as there is between the essence of the earth which became ashes, and its essence and core as it was (originally) in the "Tree, pleasant to the sight and good for food." (But even this is only) metaphorically speaking, and, moreover, not at all comparable, except that the Torah speaks in human phraseology by way of allegory and metaphor.

Now, as regards the totality of the ten Sefirot as they are in the soul of man, it is known to all that the attributes are generally divided into seven (emotive) attributes (midot), and all the detailed traits in man derive from one of these seven attributes.

For they are the root of all the traits, and their generality, namely: the attribute of chesed— to diffuse without limit; the attribute of gevurah— to withhold from diffusing so much, or from diffusing altogether; the attribute of Rachamim— to pity whoever is in need of compassion. It is the mediating attribute between gevurah and chesed, (the latter of) which seeks to diffuse to all, even where compassion is not applicable at all [inasmuch as he lacks nothing and is in no state of trouble whatever]. Because (rachamim) is the mediating attribute, it is called tiferet It is, by way of analogy, like beautiful garments, that is, garments dyed with many colours blended in such a way that there is beauty and embellishment. To a garment dyed in one colour, however, one cannot apply a term as "beauty" (tiferet).

Now, afterwards, as the diffusion is realised, that is, at the time of the actual diffusion, it is necessary to deliberate how to diffuse in such a way that the recipient be able to absorb the effusion. For example, when one wishes to convey a matter of wisdom to teach it to his son, if he will tell it to him in its totality, just as it is in his own mind, the son will be unable to understand and to absorb it. Rather, one needs to arrange it in a different order and context, "Every word spoken in a proper manner," gradually. This deliberation is referred to (by the terms) netzach and hod. They are the kidneys that advise, and also the two testicles that prepare the spermatozoon, i.e. the drop that issues from the brain. That is (they adapt) a matter of wisdom and intelligence deriving from the father's intellect in such a way that it will not issue as it is in itself [i.e. a very subtle intellection in his brain and intellect], but that it change somewhat from the subtlety of his intelligence and become an intellection not quite so subtle, so that the son will be able to absorb it in his mind and understanding. Metaphorically speaking, it is truly as with the (seminal) drop which descends from the brain; for it is extremely tenuous, and, through the kidneys and the two testicles, it becomes truly coarse and corporeal. Netzach and hod are also referred to as "pounders" and "grindstones," because "They pound the manah for the righteous." Just as, by way of example, he who mills [ wheat] with grindstones crumbles the wheat into very fine parts, so, too, the father needs to taper the insight and the wisdom he wishes to convey to his son and to divide them into many parts, relating (them) to him by gradual process, with devices and knowledge. The aspect of netzach also entails to prevail and stand up against anything that withholds the influence and study from his son— from within and from without; ["from within"— means to strengthen himself against the attribute of gevurah and tzimtzum existent in the father himself, for it arouses in his will contentions against his son, saying "He is not yet fit for this"].

The aspect of yesod is, by way of example, the bond by which the father binds his intellect to the intellect of his son while teaching him with love and willingness, for he wishes his son to understand. Without this (bond), even if the son would hear the very same words from the mouth of his father [ as he speaks and studies to himself], he would not understand them as well as now when his father ties his intellect unto him and speaks with him face to face— with love and desire, because he desires very much that his son understand. And the greater the desire and delight (of the father) the greater is the influence and the study, because then the son is able to absorb more and the father influences more. For through the desire and delight his (own) insight becomes greater and more abundant, with a contented disposition to influence and teach his son ( just as, metaphorically speaking, in the sphere of the truly physical, an amplification of spermatozoon derives from an abundance of desire and delight, and, thereby, he elicits much from the brain. That is why the Cabbalists drew a comparison with the physical conjunctio, as will be explained).

Now, these attributes are the external aspects of the soul. In them are vested the inner attributes, i.e. the faculties of love and awe .... analogous to the father who influences his son because of his love (for the son), and withholds his influence because of his dread and fear that (his son) might come to some downfall, Heaven forfend. The source and root of these internal and external attributes, is of the chabad of his soul, for corresponding to a person's intellect are his traits. This is empirically evident, (as in the case of) a child, the ChaBaD of which are in a state of pettiness (katnut), all its traits, too, are related to insignificant things. With adults, too, "According to his intelligence is a man praised," for corresponding to the quantity of wisdom is the quantity of his love and kindness; and also his other internal and external traits have their source from his ChaBaD. Most important is one's daat, which derives from one's chochmah and binah. This is empirically evident, for corresponding to the difference from one to the other in the opinions of people, is the difference in their traits.

Now all this is only by way of allegory, for all this applies to the rational soul, which is the lower one in man and derives from kelipat nogah. But in true fact, in the higher, divine soul, which is a part of G‑d above, all the internal and external attributes are to G‑d alone. For because of the love of G‑d and of one's great desire to cleave unto Him, "One takes delight in chesed" in order to cleave to His attributes, as the saying of our sages, of blessed memory, on the verse "And to cleave unto Him": "cleave unto His attributes." It is likewise with the attribute of gevurah: to punish and chastise the wicked with the punishments of the Torah; and, also, to prevail over his inclination and to "Sanctify himself in that which is permitted to him," and to "Put up a fence and a hedge for the Torah," because of the dread of G‑d and his fear lest he might come to sin, Heaven forfend. And, likewise, to glorify G‑d and His Torah by all means of glory, and to cleave unto His praises with all the faculties of his soul, that is, with the contemplation of the intellect and thought even when he speaks. Likewise, to prevail triumphantly against anything that would restrain from the service of G‑d and from cleaving unto Him, and against anything that would restrain having the "Glory of G‑d filling all the earth," just as the wars for G‑d fought by King David, peace to him. And, likewise, to prostrate oneself and to laud the Lord who animates and makes all there is, and with Him everything is essentially non-existent "And all that are before Him are esteemed as naught," truly as nothing and null. Though we cannot apprehend just how everything is truly as null before Him, nevertheless, we acknowledge, with a sincere admission, that in absolute truth such is the case. This also includes to thank the Lord for all the favours He has bestowed upon us, and not to be ungrateful, Heaven forfend; and this includes (further) to thank for all His praises, attributes and workings in the emanation and creation of the upper and lower worlds, for they are praiseworthy to no end, and are becoming and befitting to Him, blessed and exalted be He— which is (the .sense of hod as) etymologically related to hod vehadar. And likewise with the attribute of tzadik yessod olam, that his soul be bound up in the Lord, the Fountainhead of life, to cleave to Him by an attachment and desire out of a wondrous love and delight. And as for the attribute of malchut— to receive upon himself the yoke of His sovereignty and of His service, as the service of any servant to his master, i.e. out of awe and fear.

Now, the source and root of all the attributes are of the ChaBaD. That is, chochmah is the source of the intellect which apprehends the Lord and His wisdom, His greatness and His holy attributes wherewith He conducts and animates all the upper and lower worlds. Binah is the contemplation on this apprehension in the length, width, and depth of his understanding: "To understand one matter out of another," and to beget from this apprehension its offsprings, i.e. the attributes of love and awe, and the other attributes born in the Divine soul which cogitates and contemplates on the greatness of the Lord, how His greatness is unfathomable. There is an aspect of the greatness of the Lord through the Divine soul's contemplation on which a fear and dread will befall it. This (type of fear) is the yirah tataah an aspect of malchut. There is another aspect of the greatness of the Lord whereof derives the yirah ilaah i.e.. yare boshet There is (also) an aspect whereof derives the ahavah rabba and still another aspect, whereof derives the ahavah zutta. The same applies to the external attributes, i.e. chesed...

Now, with all these it is necessary that the faculty of da'at be vested in them. For (da'at) is the aspect of the bond of the soul which is bound and thrust into this apprehension, of apprehending some aspect of the greatness of the Lord whereof some trait of these attributes is born in (the soul). For by a momentary removal of da'at from this apprehension, the trait begotten thereof is also withdrawn from it, that is, from its manifestation in the soul (back) into concealment, to be there in potentia but not in act. That is why the term da'at is applied to coition, for it signifies a bond. Now, this is the faculty of da'at tachton, which extends to the attributes and vests itself in them to animate and sustain them. There is also a faculty of da'at elyon which is the faculty of the bond and joiner of the source of the intellect [which apprehends the profoundness of the apprehended notion which is a point and a flash flashing over his intellect] so that it extends downwards. Thereby the profoundness of the apprehended notion will come to be understood in the expansion of the elucidation, in length and breadth, which is the faculty of binah, referred to as rechovot hanahar, as will be explained in its place.

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