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Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag (Baal HaSulam)

The Preface to the Commentary of “The Sulam”


1. First of all, one should know the names of the ten Sefirot: KaHaB HaGaT NHYM (Keter, Hochma, Bina, Hesed, Gvurah, Tifferet, Netzah, Hod, Yesod and Malchut). These ten Sefirot constitute the ten concealments of the Supreme Light, which exist in order to let the created beings receive that Light. It is impossible to look at the Sun without the help of some darkened glass that weakens sunlight and makes it suitable for visual perception.

With certain reserve, this may be compared to the reception of the light by the spiritual objects (created beings), for which the Creator’s Light is too powerful; hence, it can be received only through these ten concealments. It should be noted that the lower the concealment is located, the more it weakens the Creator’s Light.

2. These ten Sefirot correspond to the Creator’s ten Sacred Names, mentioned in the Torah (Zohar, Vayikra §§ 156-177):

The Name אהיה (Ekeh) corresponds to Sefira Keter.

The Name יה (Yah, pronounced as “Koh”) corresponds to Hochma.

The Name יהו"ה (HaVaYaH, with the vowels of “Elohim”) corresponds to Bina.

The Name אל (El) corresponds to Hesed.

The Name אלהים (Elohim) corresponds to Gvura.

The Name יהו"ה (HaVaYaH, with the vowels of Shvah-Holam-Kamatz) stands for Tifferet.

The Name צבאות (Tzevaot) corresponds to two SefirotNetzah and Hod.

The Name שדי (Shaddai) is Yesod.

The Name אדני (Adonai) is Malchut.

3. Ten Sefirot correspond to the five Behinot (phases). The fourth Behina Zeir Anpin (ZA) or Tifferet contains six Sefirot: Hesed, Gvura, Tifferet, Netzah, Hod, Yesod. The reasons for it are explained in great detail in the Book of the Zohar (See “Hakdamat Sefer Zohar”, “Marot HaSulam”, p.5). Thus, the 5 Behinot are called: Keter, Hochma, Bina, Tifferet (or ZA) and Malchut (See also “The Preface to the Wisdom of Kabbalah”, §§ 1-7) .


4. Each of the five Behinot KaHaB TuM in turn consists of its own five Behinot KaHaB TuM. However, the Sefirot de Tifferet are not called KaHaB TuM, but HaGaT NH (Hesed, Gvurah, Tifferet, Netzah, Hod), since their level is lower than the Gar. Sefira Yesod unites all of them. The fact that Behina Tifferet includes six Sefirot does not at all mean it is higher and better than Keter, Hochma and Bina.

On the contrary, since the Behina Tifferet does not have the light of the Gar, its five Sefirot KaHaB TuM received new names - HaGaT NH. Sefira Hesed corresponds to Keter, Gvurah – to Hochma, Tifferet – to Bina, Netzah – to Tifferet and Hod – to Malchut. Sefira Yesod is added to them. It is not a new level; it is rather a mixture of all the previous Behinot. Tifferet is otherwise called VAK–“Vav Ktzavot” (six edges), which means six Sefirot.


5. We cannot speak about the light in the absence of the vessel. “The Preface to the Wisdom of Kabbalah” in §§ 3-4 explains what the spiritual vessel is. First, there was just one vessel – Malchut. When we say, there are the five Behinot KaHaB TuM, we actually mean that they constitute parts of Malchut called Behina Dalet. In fact, these Behinot are stages of the vessel’s development, whereas Malchut is a final stage (See “The Preface to the Wisdom of Kabbalah”, § 5).

After the First Restriction (Tzimtzum Alef, TA) the Kli Malchut puts up a screen (Masach), which prevents the light from getting inside it. As the Supreme Light tries to enter Malchut, it impacts the screen, and is reflected by it. This process is called “a Zivug de Haka’a” (a stroke interaction) between the light and the screen of Malchut. The light that bounces back is called “the ten Sefirot of the Reflected Light”.


6. Because of the emergence of new vessels of the Reflected Light, three parts are formed in each Partzuf: the Rosh, the Toch, and the Sof. As was already stated, the screen blocked the reception of the light inside Malchut, which led to the Stroke Interaction (a Zivug de Haka’a) between the light and the screen. The ten Sefirot of the Reflected Light created by this Zivug “dressed” on the ten Sefirot of the Direct Light. The ten Sefirot of the Reflected Light combined with the ten Sefirot of the Direct Light form the ten Sefirot de Rosh. However, the ten Sefirot of the Reflected Light and the ten Sefirot of the Direct Light are not yet genuine vessels.

The word “vessel” points to a certain Aviut” – the size of a 'desire to receive'. This means that the power of the category of Judgment, the ban inherent in the screen, prevents the light from entering Malchut. There is a rule: the power of the ban is effective only below the point of the restriction, but never above it. Since the ten Sefirot of the Reflected Light rise above the screen, the restriction does not apply to it; therefore, it cannot be a genuine vessel.

The ten Sefirot of the Reflected Light are called “the Rosh”. These ten Sefirot are not considered the real vessels. Malchut with a screen that makes a Zivug de Haka’a is called “the Peh” (mouth). Similar to a material mouth, which utters sounds designated by letters, the spiritual Peh forms the ten Sefirot of the Reflected Light called the five Behinot KaHaB TuM resulting from a Zivug de Haka’a. These Sefirot are the vessels for the Direct Light; these vessels are called “letters” (“Otiot”). Thus, now we know what the ten Sefirot de Rosh are.

7. When the ten Sefirot of the Direct Light, and the ten Sefirot of the Reflected Light spread under the screen, the ten Sefirot of the Reflected Light turn into the real vessels for the reception of the light. These in turn dress onto the ten Sefirot of the Direct Light. This happens because the screen that created the Reflected Light already rules over it with the help of its Aviut. These ten Sefirot (now genuine vessels) are called “the Toch” and “the Guf”, i.e., they constitute the inner part of the Partzuf.

The Malchut de Toch is called “Tabur”. The Tabur is a center. It means that Malchut de Toch is a central, principal Malchut. The genuine vessels of the Guf were formed out of its Reflected Light. We may also add that the word Tabur (טבור) consists of the same combination of letters as the word טובאור (“Tov - Ohr”, good light). This suggests that the light is good when it is inside the vessels fit to receive it. Thus, now we understand the meaning of the ten Sefirot de Toch down to the Tabur.

8. There are two Behinot in Malchut de Rosh: 1. Malchut Mesayemet (limiting), i.e., Masach in this place prevents the light from entering the vessels of Malchut; 2. Malchut Mizdaveget, which makes Zivug. There would have been no vessels of reception, unless the light impacted on the screen (a Zivug de Haka’a) and elevated the Reflected Light. There would have been no light, because without the vessel the light does not exist.

These Behinot exist in Malchut de Rosh only as “Shorashim” – roots, sources. Malchut Mesayemet de Rosh is a root of the Malchut Mesayemet, which completes this level. Malchut Mizdaveget de Rosh causes the light to get inside the vessels. Both of these actions really happen only in the Guf of the Partzuf, i.e., in the space between the Peh and the Tabur, where the Malchut Mizdaveget rules, and so the Supreme Light enters the vessels.

Malchut Mesayemet rules in the space between the Tabur and the Sium, creating the ten Sefirot de Sium (end of the Partzuf). Each of these Sefirot has only luminescence of the Reflected Light; the Supreme light cannot enter them. The Partzuf ends at the point of Malchut de Sium, since this is exactly the Malchut Mesayemet that does not receive any light; it limits the spreading of the Kli de Partzuf. We also call it Malchut de “Sium Raglin” (“end of the legs”), which cuts the light off and limits the Partzuf.

These ten Sefirot de Sium, which spread from the Tabur down to the Sium Raglin, are called the ten Sefirot de Sof; they are all parts of Malchut de Sof and de Sium. By saying that there is only the Reflected Light inside these Sefirot, we do not mean they have no Direct Light at all. There is some luminescence of the Direct Light in them, but it is considered the VAK bli Rosh (See “The Preface to the Wisdom of Kabbalah”, §50-53).


9. Up to this point, we have spoken about the Partzufim of the world of Adam Kadmon (AK). However, a new Sium is added in the Partzufim de Atzilut, in the ten Sefirot de Toch. It happens because Malchut de Toch, called the Tabur, rose to Bina of the ten Sefirot de Toch, and restricted them. This new Sium (end) is called “the Chazeh”. This is where the Parsa is.

The Torah calls this boundary “the firmament” (“Rakia”); it separates “the upper waters” (i.e., Keter and Hochma de Toch) from “the lower waters” (the vessels of Bina, ZA and Malchut), which descended from the level of the Toch to the Sof. Because of this, the ten Sefirot de Toch split into two levels: a space from the Peh to the Chazeh, still considered the Toch, Atzilut and the Gar de Guf; and a space below the Chazeh and the Tabur, regarded as the ten Sefirot de Sof, Beria and also the VAK bli Rosh like the ten Sefirot de Sof.


10. The lights and vessels are always inversely related. This happens because the upper vessels are the first to grow in the Partzuf: Keter emerges followed by Hochma, Bina, Tifferet (ZA) and Malchut. Hence, we call the vessels KaHaB TuM, i.e., top-down, according to the order of their emergence in the Partzuf.

The lights, however, enter the Partzuf in the opposite order, starting with the lowest: first, Nefesh, then Ruach, Neshama, Haya and Yechida. Thus, Nefesh (the smallest light), which corresponds to the Sefira Malchut is first to enter the Partzuf, whereas Yechida (the most powerful light), which corresponds to the Sefira Keter, is last to enter the Partzuf. Hence, we always call the lights NaRaNHaY, i.e., according to the sequence of their emergence inside the Partzuf.

11. It turns out that when there is only one upper vessel, Keter, which appears first, it is not filled by the light of Yechida that corresponds to it, but with the weakest light of Nefesh. When the second vessel Hochma appears in the Partzuf, the second light of Ruach enters it. By this, the light of Nefesh descends from Keter to Hochma, while Ruach fills Keter.

After the emergence of the third vessel, Bina, the light of Nefesh descends from Hochma to Bina, Ruach passes from Keter to Hochma, and the light of Neshama enters Keter. As the fourth vessel ZA appears, the light of Nefesh descends from Bina to ZA, Ruach passes from Hochma to Bina, Neshama – from Keter to Hochma, and Haya enters Keter. With the emergence of the fifth, last vessel, all lights take their rightful places: Nefesh enters Malchut, RuachZA, NeshamaBina, HayaHochma and Yechida fills Keter.

12. It turns out that before all the five vessels of the KaHaB TuM emerge, the lights are not in their places. Furthermore, the lights and vessels are inversely related, for unless Malchut, the smallest vessel, appears, the light of Yechida will remain outside the Partzuf. If two lower vessels, ZA and Malchut, are absent in the Partzuf, the two upper lights, Yechida and Haya, will not be able to enter it.

13. By saying that because of the rise of Malchut to Bina, each level (Partzuf) ends after Hochma and only two SefirotKeter and Hochma remain in the Partzuf, while Bina, ZA and Malchut descended one level (See § 17), we mean only the vessels. Contrary to that, the lights Nefesh and Ruach remained on their level, and Neshama, Haya, and Yechida exited the Partzuf.

14. Certain places in “the Book of the Zohar” say that since Malchut rose to Bina, only two letters מ"י of the five letters that make up the Name Elokim (אלהים) remained on the same level, while three letters אל"ה descended to the lower level (See The Introduction to the Zohar, p. 20). Other places in the “Zohar” state the contrary, that because of this ascent, two letters א"ל remained on their level, while three letters הי"מ descended to the lower level (See “The Zohar”, “Bereshit (Genesis) 1”, § 59).

The fact is that the five letters of the Name אלהים constitute the five Sefirot KaHaB TuM or the five lights NaRaNHaY. When Malchut rises to Bina, two upper vessels remain on this level – Keter and Hochma, designated by letters א"ל, and three letters, ,הי"מ descended to the lower level. The opposite happens to the lights: the two last letters, מ"י, correspond to the two lower lights – Nefesh and Ruach. They retain their level while the first three letters, אל"ה, corresponding to the lights Yechida, Haya, and Neshama descended to the lower level. If one keeps that in mind and determines whether the lights or the vessels are meant in each particular case, many seeming contradictions will no longer be relevant.


15. One should pay close attention to the correction of Malchut in Bina. This notion is the root, the source of all Kabbalah, since Malchut represents the category of judgment (restriction). The world, the spiritual Universe, cannot be based only on restriction. Hence, the Creator elevated Malchut (judgment, restriction) to Sefirat Bina, which is the category of mercy.

The sages say that the world was first created with the help of the category of judgment (restriction), i.e., Malchut, but seeing that such a world cannot exist, the Creator mixed the category of judgment (Midat haDin) with the category of mercy (Midat haRachamim), i.e., Malchut with Bina. Because of the rise to Bina, Malchut acquired its properties, i.e., the category of mercy. After that, Malchut starts ruling the world using its new properties. The process takes place on all levels, in all the Sefirot from the Rosh de Atzilut and down to the Sof de Malchut of the world of Assiya, because absolutely all levels, all worlds and the Partzufim consist of the ten Sefirot – KaHaB HaGaT NHYM.


16. All Sefirot, all levels, are known to end with the Sefira Malchut. This means that Malchut of each level does not let the light enter it. The reason for this lies in TA (restriction), which forbids Malchut from receiving the Supreme Light. Hence, the light spreads only down to Malchut without entering it; it stops, blocked by the screen.

A Zivug de Haka’a (stroke interaction) is made on this screen. Therefore, as Malchut of each level rises to Bina, it begins to restrict the light in its new place in the middle of Bina. The lower part of Bina, ZA, and Malchut are now below Malchut Mesayemet. They happen to be outside this particular level and by this form its second half.

Therefore, owing to the rise of Malchut to Bina, each level was divided into two levels. Keter, Hochma and the upper half of Bina remained on their level, while the lower half of Bina, ZA (which includes HaGaT NHY), and Malchut turned into the lower level. The new end created by Malchut in the middle of Bina is called “the Parsa”.

17. As we know, there must be five lights on each level: Yechida, Haya, Neshama, Ruach and Nefesh, which are inside five vessels: Keter, Hochma, Bina, ZA and Malchut. After Malchut rose to Bina, only two full vessels – Keter and Hochma – remained in each level; Bina, ZA, and Malchut are absent there.

Hence, only two lights – Nefesh and Ruach – were left in each level. They are inside the vessels Keter and Hochma. Three lights – Neshama, Haya and Yechida are absent for the lack of appropriate vessels. In the language of Kabbalah, this process is described in the following way: letter י (Yud) enters the word “אור” (“Ohr”, “light”). As a result, the word “אור” turns into “אויר” (“Avir”, “air”). It means that the rise of Malchut to Bina causes the loss of the three first lights called “Ohr”, the light by each level.

It retains only the lights Nefesh and Ruach, called “Avir”, air. Alternatively, this process can be described with the help of five letters of the Name “אלהים”, which was divided in two parts - אל"המ"י, so that the two letters מ"י correspond to the two lights Nefesh and Ruach in two vessels Keter and Hochma that remained on their level. The remaining three letters אל"ה correspond to the three vessels Bina, ZA, and Malchut, which descended to the lower level.


18. Because of raising MAN (request, prayer) by the lower Partzufim, the upper luminescence descends from the Partzufim AB and SAG (Hochma and Bina). This forces Malchut to leave Bina and return to its own place. Now letter י' exits the word “אויר” (“Avir”, “air”), turning it into “אור” (“Ohr”, “light”).

The vessels of Bina, ZA, and Malchut return to their level. Now each level again has the five vessels KaHaB TuM filled with the five lights NaRaNHaY. Avir” turns to “Ohr”, because the three upper lights of Gar, called “Ohr”, returned.


19. Owing to the rise of Malchut to Bina, each level began to have two states, two periods: Katnut and Gadlut. After Malchut rose to Bina, the level ends under Sefirat Hochma; Bina, ZA, and Malchut descend to the lower level. Only the vessels Keter and Hochma with the lights Ruach and Nefesh remain there.

This state is called Katnut. When because of raising MAN by the lower Partzufim, the luminescence of Hochma and Bina (light AB and SAG) descends from the world of AK; Malchut descends from Bina and returns to its position. The vessels of Bina, ZA, and Malchut rise to their level.

Thus, five vessels, Keter, Hochma, Bina, ZA and Malchut and five corresponding lights, Nefesh, Ruach, Neshama, Haya, and Yechida again make up each level. Such a state is called Gadlut. Therefore, the state without Gar, without the three upper lights, is called Katnut. The state wherein the three vessels Bina, ZA, and Malchut return and the lights of the Gar reappear is called Gadlut.


20. The rise of Malchut to Bina creates an opportunity for each lower object to rise to the level of the upper. The rule states that the upper Partzuf, which descended to the lower, acquires its properties; and vice versa, the lower Partzuf, which ascended to the upper, becomes similar to it.

Thus, during Katnut, i.e., when Malchut rises to Bina, moving Bina, ZA, and Malchut to the lower level, these Bina, ZA, and Malchut become similar to that new level. During Gadlut, i.e., when Malchut returns to its place, Bina, ZA and Malchut rise to their level.

By this, they elevate the lower level, inside which they were before, to their own. Consequently, the lower level receives all the lights that were in the upper level. Thus, we have discovered how the connection between the levels is formed due to the rise of Malchut to Bina, which allows even the lowest level to reach the highest.


21. Now that we know what the rise of Malchut to Bina generally means in all phases of the worlds of ABYA, let us look at the details. For example, let us take to phases in the world of Atzilut called the YESHSUT and the ZON. Because of the rise of the Malchut de YESHSUT to Bina de YESHSUT during Katnut, three SefirotBina, ZA, and Malchut descended to the ZON. While being in the ZON, these three Sefirot acquired their properties.

During Gadlut, when Malchut descended to its place, Bina, ZA, and Malchut returned theirs – in the YESHSUT. At the same time, they elevated the ZON (or, rather, Keter and Hochma de ZON), with which they actually constitute a single whole. As a result, the ZON also became the YESHSUT, i.e., acquired their properties and received the corresponding lights.


22. It should be stressed that the ZON cannot receive the light of Gadlut by themselves, since they refer to the space under the Tabur de AK. Malchut rules there, controlled by the power of Tzimtzum (Restriction), which prevents it from receiving the light. However, during Gadlut, when Bina, ZA, and Malchut de YESHSUT elevated the ZON with them, ZON, in fact, turn into YESHSUT; now they (like the YESHSUT) can receive the light of Gadlut.

23. Now we can understand what our sages meant by saying, “First, the Creator created the world in the category of judgment”. The ZON de Atzilut is called “world”. This word refers to our world, which receives the light from ZON de Atzilut. Whatever was received in ZON de Atzilut can be received by people in our world.

Conversely, whatever was absent in ZON de Atzilut, cannot descend to our world. As we said, the root (Shoresh), the source of ZON de Atzilut, is the space under the Tabur de AK, where Malchut rules in the state of restriction. Therefore, the ZON cannot receive the light and exist. Even more our world, located much lower and receiving from ZON de Atzilut, would be unable to exist.

That is exactly what the following words refer to: “Then the Creator saw that such world cannot exist, so He mixed mercy with judgment”. It means that the Creator elevated the Malchut (judgment) of each level to Bina (mercy). In particular, the Malchut de YESHSUT rose to Bina de YESHSUT; as a result, Bina, ZA and the Malchut de YESHSUT descended one level, i.e., to the ZON. By this, they acquire that level’s properties. In fact, the Sefirot and the ZON become a single whole after their descent.

Hence, during the Gadlut de YESHSUT, when Malchut descends to its own place from Bina, the three vessels – Bina, ZA, and Malchut also return to their position on the level of the YESHSUT. With that, they also elevate the ZON, with which they form a single whole. As a result, the ZON rise to the level of the YESHSUT. This means they can now receive the same lights that YESHSUT gets. At the same time, they pass the light to our world allowing it to exist.

However, unless the categories of judgment and mercy were mixed, i.e., unless Malchut de YESHSUT rose to Bina de YESHSUT, forcing Bina, ZA and Malchut to descend one level to the ZON, the ZON would never be able to rise to the YESHSUT, or receive the Supreme Light for our world and allow its existence. Thus, we understand what the rise of Malchut to Bina means.

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