This self-limiting power of tzimtzum [which is the contraction, condensation and concealment of the emanating Divine light] derives from Atzmus HaMaatzil, the Essence of the Emanator. For just as the revelation [of the Divine light] derives specifically from His Essence, so, too, does tzimtzum result from His Essence.

This is analogous to the revelation of intellectual power in man. Its source is koach hamaskil, the potential for intellectual enlightenment which enables the thinker to plumb the very depth of a concept. At the same time, this selfsame [koach hamaskil] is the source of the process of contraction that makes the concept finite.

With regard to every concept and logical argument there must necessarily be a limit to the degree of intellectual power that will be drawn down and revealed within it. Were the [revealed] intellect to be without limit, it would thereby be removed beyond the pale of intellect, which is by definition circumscribed. Intellectual power can grasp only that which has boundaries that are specified as being such and not otherwise.

Though intellectual activity in itself is thus inherently delimited, the [resultant intellectual and emotional] excitation [may well be] unlimited. As described above, the necessary limitation of intellectual power (that is to be applied to a given concept) derives from the same source as the source of the revelation of intellectual power; indeed, from an even loftier source.

We therefore observe that it is more difficult to establish limits upon one‘s intellectual activity - thus far and no further - than to initiate it. This limitation of the intellect is more difficult to impose because it derives from soul-powers that are even loftier than the glimmering of soul-powers that reveal the intellect.

We can similarly understand the corresponding process Above. The power of tzimtzum that conceals, limits and measures the degree of Divine illumination [to be drawn down into the vessels] derives from the same source as the source of the revelation of the Divine illumination; indeed, from an even higher source - from the level of G‑d‘s Essence.

This is also the meaning of the verse,1 בראשית ברא אלקים - “In the beginning of creation there was [a manifestation of the Divine Name] Elokim.” [Or, more literally, “In the beginning He created Elokim.”] It was the Name Elokim, which signifies tzimtzum and limitation, that first arose in G‑d‘s thought [lit., “in the thought of Atzmus”], thus making possible the emanation of the Ten Sefiros. Were it not for the process of tzimtzum, the Ten Sefiros would not have been able to come about in the manner in which they did.

(As far as the infinite potential of G‑d‘s Essence is concerned, this could have come about in any way whatever, [such as in an infinite progression of Sefiros]. However, G‑d‘s desire that the emanation take place specifically in this manner [and produce Ten Sefiros] necessitated the medium of tzimtzum.)

Essentially, then, G‑d desired that His light be revealed within the created worlds specifically by the division of the Sefiros into ten; moreover, it is only the process of tzimtzum that thus limits and divides the Sefiros and also measures out the degree of illumination that is to flow into each vessel in accordance with its receptive capacity. It thus follows that the Divine intent that there be tzimtzum preceded revelation.

This, then, is the meaning of the verse,28 בראשית ברא אלקים - “In the beginning of creation there was [a manifestation of the Divine Name] Elokim.” The very first thought of the Emanator [with regard to the emanation of the Ten Sefiros] was the manifestation [lit., “the creation”] of [the Divine Name] Elokim, which signifies tzimtzum.

Within tzimtzum itself there are three main levels - or kinds - of “measurement”: the “measurement” that takes place in the Divine Will (ratzon); the “measurement” that takes place in the Divine Intellect (seichel); the actual “measurement” (befoal).

[Three Stages in Thought]

These are analogous to [the three stages of “measurement” that transpire within] a person when the thought of building a house first occurs to him.

First there is the “measurement” that takes place in his will or desire (ratzon) - the number, arrangement, size and height of the rooms. It is true that one‘s will as a whole is “encompassing” [lit., makkif; i.e., non-specific]. At this stage the particulars are to be found in a concealed state; what is experienced is the overall desire for a home rather than its details. Nevertheless, this stage still constitutes a form of “measurement,” inasmuch as it affects the outcome - the home will ultimately be built according to the particulars that are concealed within the individual‘s desire.

At the second stage, when this [desire for a home] is translated into intellectual terms, the “measurement” becomes more precise - the house is to be built in a specific manner, with a specified number of rooms arranged in a particular way.

When [the construction of the home] comes closer to actualization, the actual “measurement” takes place. “Actualization” here does not mean the physical construction of the home, but rather the final preparations for it, such as the builder‘s blueprint. In the words of Midrash Rabbah,2 “...nor does the workman build of his own accord. Rather, he has notebooks and diagrams, so that he will know how to construct his rooms.” Though the blueprint simply follows the architectural principles that are common to all buildings, it nevertheless incorporates the individual‘s thoughts and wishes on the construction of his own home.

The above-mentioned [three stages] may also be distinguished within the spiritual service of every Jew - in his [quest to] construct a home for G‑d, a dwelling-place for His Presence, within his heart.

First there is the non-specific “measurement” that takes place within his will.

In essence, every Jew desires to become a receptor for G‑dliness, to be sensitive to G‑dly illumination and to be drawn towards it, and to conduct his life and all his affairs accordingly.

(In this spirit, Rambam3 explains the Gemara4 which speaks of situations in which “a man is to be coerced until he says, ’I desire to do so.‘” Now, this includes even such weighty situations as [the case of a recalcitrant husband who refuses to issue his wife] a divorce. We are not concerned lest the court‘s coercion falsifies his true intention, thereby invalidating the bill of divorce [which is valid only if he gives it out of his own free will]. Why? - Because according to the Torah he is [in certain circumstances] obligated to [issue the divorce], and every Jew desires within the inner and concealed recesses of his soul to fulfill all that the Divine Intellect has decreed. It is only that certain [corporeal and mundane] factors prevent these promptings of his soul from surfacing. For this reason he is to be coerced.

Accordingly, “He is to be coerced...” may be understood to mean [that the person is forced] to remove those obstacles and hindrances, so that as a matter of course he will say of his own volition, “I desire to do this” - for this reflects his true desire, since every Jew desires to conduct himself in accordance with the decrees that emanate from G‑d‘s Wisdom.)

Though this [innate desire] may be very much concealed, here, too, the aspect of “measurement” applies. For in general terms every Jew has his own “measurement,” his spiritual self-assessment, for the [spiritual] aspirations of a businessman differ from those of the full-time Torah student of Torah, and so on.

The second stage is the kind of “measurement” that takes place in one‘s mind, i.e., the “measurement” of [his obligations according to] G‑d‘s decrees in the Torah. [This stage is necessary,] for the obligations of businesspeople and merchants differ from those of full-time Torah students. More specifically, some people have a greater aptitude for intellectual pursuits, while for others, kind and charitable deeds are more appropriate. This stage of “measurement” is more detailed than the previous one.

The third stage, “measurement” as it applies to prac­tical action, resembles the drawing of a builder‘s blueprint: though based on universal architectural prin­ciples, it incorporates the particular “measurements” made by the desire and mind of a particular individual. This is the kind of “measurement” that takes place during prayer, for at this time a clearer picture emerges of the particular kind of Divine service that is appropri­ate to one‘s stature and nature.

[The Function of Prayer]

It is indeed true that in general terms, the function of prayer is to bind oneself to G‑d and to cleave to Him, to nullify oneself and set oneself aside, and to take stock of all one‘s affairs in the realms of thought, speech and action. And just as a prospective builder must first ascertain whether the site is suitable or whether it needs cleaning and preparation, so, too, as everyone knows, a worshiper must first prepare himself, cleanse his thoughts and refine his attributes, and so on.

However, in addition to this seemingly non-specific preparation for prayer, prayer also entails a specific “measurement,” a gauging of oneself from the standpoint of every individual‘s self-knowledge - for example, which of his character traits and thoughts ought to be utterly uprooted. He knows that he can find traits that do not at all befit his standing, with regard to envy, falsehood, and the like, or inappropriate thoughts and fantasies, or character traits that call for rectification and refinement. It is during the service of prayer that one thus measures his manner of conduct and study during the ensuing day.

These, then, are the three stages of tzimtzum [or “measurement”] by which one calls forth the light of his soul, and causes the light of G‑dliness to be revealed within it, and to illuminate it together with the allotted portion of the world that he is destined to elevate with every facet of his life.

Similarly, in the worlds above, we find three [stages and] levels of tzimtzum and “measurement”: the level of Gevuros of Atik Yomin that are garbed in Mocha Stimaah; the level of the Five Gevuros of Imma [i.e., Binah]; and the Five Gevuros of the level of Malchus.

The first stage is the “measurement” that takes place in the Divine Will - the level of Gevuros of Atik Yomin that are garbed in Mocha Stimaah, bringing about the emanation of Chochmah and Binah [of Atzilus]. Though this “measurement” is still non-specific, for it is still in a state of concealment, its delineation is sufficiently finite to enable it to give rise to Chochmah and Binah.

Thereafter comes the “measurement” of the Five Gevuros of Imma [i.e., Binah]. This resembles the more precise “measurement” that takes place in the mind. From this “measurement” the six emotive attributes of Atzilus (collectively known as Z‘eir Anpin) emanate.

[Three Aspects of Atzilus]

They are the mainstay of the edifice of Atzilus, for it has three main characteristics:

(a) Atzilus relates to “inwardness” and “inbeing” (pnimiyus), and this is primarily manifested within the six emotive attributes of Atzilus. For the intellective levels (the Mochin) of Chochmah and Binah - such as Makkifin deImma (the transcendent aspect of Binah) - are still “encompassing” (as opposed to immanent), whereas the emotive attributes are at the level of pnimiyus. For this reason, specifically these emotive attributes are termed Adam5 [Whose mortal counterpart is called adam, lit., “man” - a being who is essentially a pnimi].

(b) Atzilus is characterized by illumination and revelation,6 for its Ten Sefiros emanated7 “in order that He be known therein.” This aspect is mainly found in the six emotive attributes of Atzilus, for Binah of Atzilus is called mi [lit., “Who?”]: “it is a subject of query, not of knowledge.”8 The six emotive attributes, in contrast, are called eileh [lit., “these”], signifying revelation.9

(c) Atzilus was created in order that it serve as an intermediary between the Emanator and created beings.10 This aspect, too, is found in the six emotive attributes of Atzilus, for the intellective levels of Chochmah and Binah are too lofty to serve as a source for the created worlds.

Thus it is said [of Chochmah and Binah] that11 “The Torah [i.e., the intellective levels of Chochmah and Binah from which the Torah emanates] preceded the world [not chronologically but qualitatively] by two thousand years.” The emotive attributes, on the other hand, do serve as a source for the created worlds, for “The six days [i.e., the six attributes] made....[i.e., were instrumental in creating the worlds],” with “every day [i.e., attribute] doing its appointed task.”12

Moreover, as is known, the “order of time” is found specifically in the six emotive attributes; time relates to Malchus, whereas the “order of time” which precedes time is to be found within these six attributes.13

Thus the mainstays of the edifice of Atzilus are the six emotive attributes of Atzilus, which are constructed from the Five Gevuros of Imma (Binah), for it is they who measure the degree of light and revelation that will be drawn down within the six emotive attributes.

[The third stage of “measurement” consists of] the Five Gevuros of Malchus, which make possible the creation and construction of the Worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah.

This, then, is the effect of the “measuring-line” - the tzimtzum which (a) limits the illumination and gauges the lights and vessels [of Atzilus] in order that the lights be in a finite state within each individual vessel, and (b) regulates the manner in which each Sefirah is elicited and diffused.