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Three Boundaries in Studying the Upper Worlds

The spiritual worlds have three boundaries, or guidelines. To achieve the purpose of Creation and become like the Creator, we need only follow them.


A Kabbalist’s advice

Kabbalists’ tips are never forceful or coercive. They suggest, but it is we who must choose whether or not to follow their advice. In the “Preface to the Book of Zohar,” Baal HaSulam introduces three boundaries. He explains that following them is the easiest and fastest way to achieve spirituality. He also says that these guidelines are the only way to study Kabbalah in a way that will grant the student spiritual perception. But the author also says there are other ways to study; and although he warns that they are spiritually futile, the option of trying them out is open to anyone.


First Boundary—What We Perceive

In his “Preface to The Book of Zohar,” Baal HaSulam writes that there are “four categories of perception—Matter, Form in Matter, Abstract Form, and Essence.” When we research the spiritual Nature, we should only work with those categories that yield solid, reliable information.

As we will soon see, only the first two categories, Matter and Form in Matter, are workable for us. This is why The Book of Zohar explains only those two, and every word in it is written either from the perspectives of Matter or Form in Matter. There is not a single word in it from the perspectives of Abstract Form or Essence.

Second Boundary—Where We Perceive

As we’ve said before, we are all pieces of the soul of Adam ha Rishon, which was initially created in the Upper Worlds and then broke in pieces. The Zohar teaches that the vast majority of the pieces, ninety-nine percent to be exact, were scattered in the worlds Beria, Yetzira, and Assiya(BYA), and the remaining one percent rose to Atzilut.

Thus, Adam’s scattered soul makes up the content of the worlds BYA. And since we are all pieces of that soul, clearly everything we perceive can only be parts of these worlds. So even when we achieve spirituality, everything we sense as coming from higher worlds than BYA, such as Atzilut or Adam Kadmon, is inaccurate whether or not it appears that way to us. All we can perceive of the worlds Atzilut and Adam Kadmon are reflections, seen through the filters of the worlds BYA.

Our world is at the lowest degree of the worlds BYA. In fact, the degree called “our world” is completely opposite in nature from the spiritual worlds. This is why we don’t feel them in our world. It is as if two people were standing back to back and going in opposite directions. What are their chances of ever meeting each other?

But when we correct ourselves, we “open our eyes” and discover that we are already living in the worlds BYA. Eventually, we will even rise along with them to Atzilut and to Adam Kadmon.

Third Boundary—Who Perceives

Even though The Zohar describes the content of each world and what happens there in great detail, almost as if there were a physical place where these processes unfold, it refers only to the experiences of souls. In other words, it relates to how Kabbalists perceive things, and tells us about them so that we, too, can experience them. Therefore, when we read in The Zohar about events in the worlds BYA, we are actually learning how Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai (Rashbi), author of The Book of Zohar, perceived spiritual states.

Also, when Kabbalists write about the worlds above BYA, they are not actually writing about those higher worlds, but about how the writers perceived those worlds while being in the worlds BYA. And because Kabbalists write about their personal experiences, there are similarities and differences in Kabbalistic writings.

Some of what they write relates to the general structure of the worlds, such as the names of the Sefirot and the worlds. This is especially true for Kabbalist teachers such as Baal HaSulam and the Ari. Other writings relate to personal experiences of Kabbalists in these worlds.

For example, if I tell a friend about my trip to New York, I might talk about Times Square or the great bridges that connect Manhattan to the mainland. But I might also talk about how overwhelmed I felt driving across the massive Brooklyn Bridge, and what it feels like to stand in the middle of Times Square, engulfed in the dazzling display of light, color, and sound, enveloped by a sense of total anonymity.

The difference between the first two examples and the latter two is that in the latter pair I am reporting personal experiences. In the first two, I am speaking of impressions that everyone will have while in Manhattan, though everyone will experience them differently.


The Book of Zohar shouldn't be treated like a report of mystical events or a collection of tales. Like all Kabbalah books, The Zohar should be used as a learning tool. This means that the book will help you only if you want to experience what it describes. Otherwise, the book will be of little help to you, and you will not understand it.

Understanding Kabbalistic texts correctly depends on your intention while reading them, on the reason why you opened them, not on your intellectual abilities. Only if you want to be transformed into the altruistic qualities that the text describes will the book affect you.


When we talked about the First Boundary, we said that The Book of Zohar speaks only from the perspectives of Matter and Form in Matter. Baal HaSulam explains that the Matter that The Book of Zohar describes is the will to receive, and the Form in Matter is the intention with which the will to receive operates—for me or for others.

In simpler terms: Matter = will to receive; Form = intention.

The Form of bestowal in and of itself is called “the world Atzilut.” Bestowal in its Abstract Form is the attribute of the Creator; it is totally unrelated to the creatures that receive it by their nature. However, the creatures (people) can wrap their will to receive with the Form of bestowal, so it is turned into bestowal. In other words, we can receive, and in so doing actually become givers.

There are two reasons why we cannot simply give:

1) To give, there must be someone who wants to receive. But besides us (the souls), there is only the Creator, who doesn’t need to receive anything, since His nature is giving. Therefore, giving is not a viable option for us.

2) Because the Creator wants to give, He originally created only with a desire to receive. Reception is our substance, our Matter.

Now, this latter reason is more complex than it may seem at first. When Kabbalists write that all we want is to receive, they don’t mean that all we do is receive, but that this is the underlying motivation behind everything we do. They phrase it very plainly: If it doesn’t give us pleasure, we can’t do it. It’s not only that we don’t want to; we literally can’t.

This is because The Creator (Nature, The Giving Force) created us with only a will to receive, since He only wants to give. Therefore, we need not change our actions, but only the underlying motivation behind them.

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