Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks is a philosophy graduate of Cambridge University. He tells the following story. After graduating, he spent some time studying in yeshiva at Kfar ChaBaD in Israel. On one occasion, he was studying Hassidism with a chassidic student who had been born and bred in the Kfar. In the middle of their studies, the chassidic student turned to the Chief Rabbi and said, “Do you know what the difference between me and you is? You think about G‑d all day and I think about myself all day!” The Chief Rabbi was somewhat taken aback by this statement. He asked his study partner, “But surely you who have been raised in this isolated chassidic village and spoon fed with faith and stories of the righteous, you should be thinking about G‑d all day, and I who was educated in the bastions of secular philosophy should be thinking about myself all day!” The student replied, “You failed to understand my point. You who attended university and received a degree in philosophy know that you exist; your only question is whether G‑d exists, so you think about G‑d all day. I, who was raised in Kfar ChaBaD, know there is a G‑d, but my whole question is where I fit into the picture, and how I fulfill the will of G‑d. Therefore, I think about myself all day!”

This story encapsulates what Kabbalah describes as Daat Elyon (Supernal knowledge) and Daat Tachton (terrestrial knowledge). Or simply put, the view from Above and the view from below. From G‑d’s perspective, He exists and we are merely an infinitesimally small manifestation of His Divine creative energy. That is Daat Elyon. His knowledge of us is knowledge of Himself. From our perspective, we and our world exist—the whole question is how G‑d fits into our world.

That is Daat Tachton.

Let us for a moment take the view of Daat Elyon. We have described above how infinite energy is condensed through the gradation of the chain order to create the material world.

That energy has passed through various transformations and filters, contracted and condensed until packaged so that it can create and vivify the physical world. Albert Einstein taught us that E=MC2. Even if one does not understand quantum mechanics, this equation means that there is a relationship between energy and mass, and mass is a form of energy. Take an object such as a glass. What is a glass made from? The answer is silicon. And what is silicon? Silicon is a conglomeration of molecules. And from what are molecules made? Molecules are made of atoms. What are atoms? Atoms are protons, neutrons, and electrons. Going deeper and deeper into sub-atomic particles, one finds that the smallest particles with the smallest mass are forms of energy and that there is a relationship between their mass and energy.

Kabbalah calls this energy Divine creative energy. This means that every physical object is a form of energy that creates it. If we look at our world with this view, we would see diversity and multiplicity within creation, with creations ranging from the tiniest grain of sand to the largest whale. In reality, however, this seeming array is really a manifestation of a unified creative force which we call G‑d. The only reason we don’t perceive this energy in its pristine form is because it is dressed in numerous layers of garments, creating what looks to the eye as a multifarious world rich in its chemical and physical tapestry. Truthfully, if we were to strip any gas, liquid, or solid to its sub-atomic makeup, we would perceive the bare Divine creative energy that vivifies creation.

Kabbalah helps us to realize and recognize this spirituality of matter, that in every physical thing, even in the inanimate, there is a “soul” which is the creative force that has created it; a force that continuously keeps it from reverting back to its former state of non-existence or nothingness. It is this “spark” of G‑dliness that is the true essence and reality of all things and this spark is released and revealed when physical matter is used for a holy purpose or deed in accordance with the will of the Creator in Mitzvah performance. This is the meaning of the Shema Yisrael prayer. When we say, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our G‑d, the Lord is One,” it is not only a statement of monotheism. It also means that the entire world which we witness, in all its diversity, is the ongoing creation of a unified being we call G‑d. G‑d is well aware of what is happening in the creation, for He is re-creating it every second something from nothing. His knowledge of the world is knowledge of Himself.

Building on the concept of G‑d’s Oneness, it is found in the Code of Jewish Law that when we say the Shema Yisrael we should have in mind that the word “echad” is made up of three Hebrew letters: Aleph, chet, and Dalet. Aleph numerically is one and represents the one G‑d. The Dalet numerically equals the number 4 which represents the four directions, and chet numerically is 8, which represents the seven heavens and the Earth. When pronouncing the word “echad” one should have in mind that Dalet—all directions and chet, the seven heavens and the earth, are all made by echad—the one G‑d.

When a person speaks, the spoken word represents a mere fraction of the thought process, which in turn is only a garment to the soul powers expressing themselves in the mind. The whole speech process is one of contraction and condensation and is a metaphor of the chain order of creation.

As discussed in previous chapters, Kabbalah explains that Divine creative energy, originally emanating in the ten utterances found in Genesis, is configured in the shapes of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet as it flows down the chain order of creation.

Each letter of the Aleph Bet represents a certain configuration of energy which when combined can create the physical form.

This explains the speech metaphor used in creation, “And G‑d said, Let there be light.” G‑d created through the ten utterances which were enumerated in the first chapter of Genesis. The speech metaphor is not a mere anthropomorphism, but according to the Kabbalah is exact. When G‑d said, “Let there be light,” it represents a condensation and contraction of infinite energy into the combination of the letters Aleph, Vav, and Reish, which constitute the word “Or” (light). The letters Aleph, Vav, Reish contain all the creative Divine energy to create physical light. This knowledge of creation through letters was known to Adam, who named all the creatures through perceiving their spiritual source and ascribing to them a name which describes the flow of creative energy into them.

This means of creation through combinations of letters is referred to by the Sefer Yetzirah when it states that one brick can build one house, two bricks two houses, three bricks six houses, four bricks houses etc. The mathematical formula is simple. If you have two bricks, for example Aleph and Bet, you can build two houses, meaning, you can either write them in the order Aleph, Bet or Bet, Aleph. If you have three bricks then you can create 6 houses (3 x 2 x 1). Four letters can create 24 houses (4 x 3 x 2 x 1). Furthermore, if we take into consideration the final letters and the possibility of inter-changeability of letters called “At Bash” (exchanging an Aleph for a Taf and a Bet for a Shin) the number of houses you can build is enormous.

The Sefer Yetzirah speaks of 231 gates through which the world was created. This figure is arrived at simply by drawing a circle and writing the Aleph Bet around the circumference of the circle. If one now joined the Aleph and Gimmel with a line, and then with the Dalet, and so on with all the letters, you would have a total of 231 lines. The 231 lines connecting the 22 letters are called the “231 gates.” This means simply that the gateway of creation is through the combination of letters which represent Divine powers. According to the early Kabbalists, the 231 gates are hinted at in the name “Israel”. In Hebrew, Israel is spelled YiSRAeL. These letters can also spell out YeSh RLA, which literally means “there are 231,” for the numerical value of the three letters Reish, Lamed, and Aleph equal 231. The Midrash states that at the beginning of creation, “Israel rose in thought.” The name Israel thus alludes to the fact that creation took place through these 231 gates. Some Kabbalists identify these 231 gates with the letters of the residue (Reshimu) left after the Tzimtzum.

The Sefer Yetzirah begins by stating that the world was created by 32 pathways of wisdom. The number 32 is simply the 22 letters of the Aleph Bet plus the ten Sefirot. In Kabbalah, the Sefirah of Malchut within the world of Atzilut is called the “mouth of G‑d.” It is through this mouth that the ten utterances of creation found in the Book of Genesis were said. The combinations of letters, each of which represent a flow from the Sefirot, diffuse down the chain. At each stage, their power is reduced and condensed until they create physicality in this world. The Baal Shem Tov explains that the words which G‑d used to create the world were not just uttered once, but are being said constantly. In other words, the ten utterances of Genesis are not a mere historical occurrence, rather they are an ongoing dynamic, and represent the constant flow of Divine creative energy which vivifies all creation. If G‑d were for one moment to withdraw that energy from the creation, then the world would cease to exist. If G‑d were to withdraw the energy configured in those letters, or figuratively speaking, if He was to stop uttering the words, “Let there be light,” the Light would cease to exist.

The following short story will illustrate this point. Once a fellow and his friend were having a discussion and one of them asked his fellow, how G‑d would destroy the table at which they were sitting. He replied that G‑d would bring a fireball from heaven which would incinerate the table. The first fellow inquired about the ashes which would remain. He said that G‑d would send a tornado which would scatter the ashes over the seven seas. “What about the ashes that are floating in the water?” Again, he had an answer: “G‑d would send all the fish of the sea to eat the ashes.” The first fellow exclaimed, “Yes but in the belly of the fish you still have the ash!” At his wits end, he turned to and asked him his opinion. He replied, “If G‑d wanted to destroy the table, He would simply stop creating it!” In terms of Daat Elyon, the world is therefore only a manifestation of an on-going flow of Divine creative energy, and G‑d may at will withdraw that energy. The entire physical existence is therefore a dependent existence. G‑d however is totally independent of the creation for His existence.

Furthermore, the entire energy that G‑d expends in the creation of the cosmos is only an infinitesimally small fraction of His infinite power. Building on the previous chapters, we may now start a meditative process to help us fully understand the greatness of the Creator. Firstly, one has a look at the splendid physical creation and sees how G‑d has robed His glory in this world. One then contemplates that everything in this world is influenced and affected by the stars and in turn by the angels in the world of Yetzirah. One contemplates the service of the angels, how they stand completely nullified before the Divine. One then rises further into the world of Beriah, the world of the Throne, and finally one stands totally in awe in the world of Atzilut. One may then meditate that even the highest level of Atzilut is the Light of Memale Kol Almin, which is only a fraction of the Light of the Or Ein Sof.

Such meditation puts one “face to face” with Atzmut Ein Sof (essence of the infinite Light).

The Men of the Great Assembly structured our daily prayers corresponding to this meditation. Firstly, we recite the morning blessings and thank G‑d for our daily functions. We then recite the sacrifices (korbanot) depicting the necessity for us to draw near our own Nefesh HaBehamit—the animalistic within us—to be consumed with a fiery love of G‑d. We then say the Pesukei D’Zimrah, the verses of praise describing G‑d’s majesty in the world. Next, we ascend into the world of Yetzirah depicting the service of the angels, with further ascent into the world of Beriah when we recite the Shema, and we meditate on the Oneness of G‑d. We then stand in awe for the Amidah in the world of Atzilut.We meditate further that the world of Atzilut is in the post-Tzimtzum state, though prior to the Tzimtzum was the Or Ein Sof. Finally, we stand like a child making our request, asking G‑d that He should grant us physical sustenance so that we may be able to fulfill our role in creation, which is to infuse material affluence with Divine purpose and create an abode for G‑d in this world.

Ladder of Prayer

At this height, we then begin our descent, or re-entry, into this realm. We first recite Tachanun, a penitential prayer. Because we have been so close, we feel the distance from the Divine, and try to mend our ways. Our prayers continue, culminating in Aleinu, where we express our desire and prayer that this world should yet again be dominated by the kingdom of G‑d.

The true mystic is not concerned about going on spiritual ecstasy trips, rather he is more concerned about translating and integrating the spiritual experience to become a better, more productive, and spiritual individual here in this world.

We may now clearly see the great utility in the knowledge of the chain order of creation, and its profound affect in meditation.

When man contemplates that he stands at the foot of the ladder of creation, and he stares up the ladder, he truly becomes totally nullified before the Or Ein Sof. However, he also becomes truly elated contemplating that he also is the purpose of creation, a speck of dust in the cosmos that is vitally important. Such meditation imbues man with true humility and total focus on fulfilling his purpose.

When man contemplates the principle of ongoing creation he feels intimately the imminent presence of G‑d. The world is no longer a place that was here yesterday and will be here tomorrow, but it is a fresh daily creation. G‑d creates the world afresh for a purpose, and He has communicated that purpose.

He is the omnipotent Being upon whom we are all totally dependent and who directs the affairs of man.

This leads us to the principle of Divine providence (Hashgachah Pratit). The Baal Shem Tov differed from previous Jewish philosophers by stating that Divine providence extends even to the inanimate world. He taught that even if a leaf turns over in the street it is with Divine providence. This is consonant with his first principle that G‑d is creating the world from nothing every single second, including the wind and the leaf.

Following this principle, nothing happens just by chance.

One of the ways of serving G‑d is to see this Divine providence within one’s daily affairs. One does not merely go about life, rather one is lead from Above, for “G‑d prepares the footsteps of man.” One’s true purpose of coming to any place is to make that place an abode for G‑d.

One of the implications of this philosophy is that even when events do not go as we plan, it is all the will of G‑d, and despite our frustration, we must strive to see how this is so.

The Talmud teaches that getting angry is analogous to idolatry.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman in Tanya explains that when a person gets angry, it means that they are frustrated and upset at a turn of events. Failure to understand that this turn of events is orchestrated from Above is tantamount to idolatry. A true believer understands that, in the words of the Talmud, “Everything that happens is from the hands of heaven, except the fear of heaven.” Everything that happens is ordained from Above except man’s reaction to a given set of circumstances. That reaction remains the free choice of man.