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Perception of Reality

Many terms are used to describe understanding. For Kabbalists, the deepest level of understanding is called “attainment.” Since they are studying the spiritual worlds, their goal is to reach “spiritual attainment.” Attainment refers to such profound and thorough understanding of the perceived that no questions remain. Kabbalists write that at the end of humanity’s evolution, we will all attain the Creator in a state called “Equivalence of Form.”

To reach that goal, Kabbalists carefully defined which parts of reality we should study, and which we shouldn’t. To determine these two paths, Kabbalists followed a very simple principle: If it helps us learn more quickly and more accurately, we should study it. If it doesn’t, we should ignore it.

Kabbalists in general, and The Zohar in particular, caution us to study only those parts we can perceive with absolute certainty. Wherever guesswork is involved, we shouldn’t waste our time, as our attainment would be questionable.

Kabbalists also say that of the four categories of perception—Matter, Form in Matter, Abstract Form, and Essence—we can perceive only the first two with certainty. For this reason, everything The Zohar writes about is desires (Matter) and how we use them: whether for ourselves or for the Creator.

Kabbalist Yehuda Ashlag writes that, “If the reader does not know how to be prudent with the boundaries, and takes matters out of context, he or she will immediately be confused.” This can happen if we don’t limit our study to Matter and Form in Matter.

We must understand that there is no such thing as a “prohibition” in spirituality. When Kabbalists declare something as “forbidden,” it means that it is impossible. When they say that we shouldn’t study Abstract Form and Essence, it doesn’t mean that we’ll be struck by lightning if we do; it means that we can’t study those categories even if we really want to.

Yehuda Ashlag uses electricity to explain why the Essence is imperceptible. He says that we can use electricity in many different ways: for heating, cooling, playing music, and watching videos. Electricity can be dressed in many Forms; but can we express the Essence of electricity itself?

Let’s use another example to explain the four categories—Matter, Form in Matter, Abstract Form, and Essence. When we say that a certain person is strong, we are actually referring to that person’s Matter—body—and the Form that clothes his or her Matter—strength.

If we remove the Form of strength from the Matter (the person’s body), and examine the Form of strength separately, undressed in Matter, this would be examining the Abstract Form of strength. The fourth category, the Essence of the person in itself, is completely unattainable. We simply have no senses that can “study” the Essence and portray it in a perceptible form. In consequence, the Essence is not only something we don’t know right now; we will never know it.

In the material world, if I know what I want, I can see if I am getting it or not, or at least if I’m on the right track toward getting it. This is not the case with spirituality. There, when I am wrong, I am not only denied what I wanted, but I even lose my present spiritual degree, the Light dims, and I become unable to redirect myself correctly without help from a guide. This is why it is so important to understand the three boundaries and follow them.

A Nonexistent Reality

Now that we understand what we can study and what we can’t, let’s see what we are actually studying through our senses. The thing about Kabbalists is that they leave no stone unturned. Yehuda Ashlag, who researched the whole of reality so he could tell us about it, wrote that we do not know what exists outside ourselves. For example, we have no idea what is outside our ears, what makes our eardrums respond. All we know is our own reaction to a stimulus from the outside.

Even the names we attach to phenomena are not connected to the phenomena themselves, but to our reactions to them. Most likely, we are unaware of many things that happen in the world. They can go unnoticed by our senses because we relate only to phenomena we can perceive. For that reason, it is quite obvious why we can’t perceive the Essence of anything outside of us; we can only study our own reactions to it.

This rule of perception applies not only to the spiritual worlds; it’s the law of all Nature. Relating to reality in this way immediately makes us realize that what we see is not what actually exists. This understanding is paramount to achieving spiritual progress.

When we observe our reality, we begin to discover things we were never aware of. We interpret things that occur within us as if they were happening on the outside. We don’t know the actual sources of the events we experience, but we feel they are happening outside us. However, we can never know this for sure.

To relate correctly to reality, we mustn’t think that what we are perceiving is the “real” picture. All we are perceiving is how events (Forms) affect our perception (our Matter). Moreover, what we perceive is not the outside, objective picture, but our own reaction to it. We cannot even say if and to what extent the Forms we sense are connected to the Abstract Forms we attach them to. In other words, the fact that we see a red apple as red doesn’t mean that it is actually red.


Actually, if you ask physicists, they’ll tell you that the only true statement you can make about a red apple is that it’s not red. If you remember how the Masach (Screen) works, you know that it receives what it can receive in order to give to the Creator and rejects the rest.

Similarly, an object’s color is determined by light waves that the illuminated object could not absorb. We are not seeing the color of the object itself, but the light that the object rejected. The real color of the object is the light that it absorbed; but because it absorbed this light, it cannot reach our eye, and we therefore can’t see it. This is why the red apple’s real color is anything but red.


Here’s how Ashlag, in the Preface to The Book of Zohar, relates to our lack of perception of the Essence: “It is known that what we cannot feel, we also cannot imagine; and what we cannot sense, we cannot imagine, either. … It follows that the thought has no perception of the Essence whatsoever.”

In other words, because we cannot sense an Essence, any Essence, we also cannot perceive it. But the concept that leaves most Kabbalah students completely baffled the first time they study Ashlag’s Prefaceis how little we really know about ourselves. Here’s what Ashlag writes concerning this: “Moreover, we do not even know our own Essence. I feel and know that I occupy a certain space in the world, that I am solid, warm, and that I think, and other such manifestations of the operations of my Essence. Yet, if you ask me what is my own Essence … I will not know what to answer you.”

The Measurement Mechanism

Let’s look at our perception problem from another angle, a more mechanical one. Our senses are measurement instruments. They measure everything that they perceive. When we hear a sound, we determine if it’s loud or soft; when we see an object, we can (usually) tell which color it is; and when we touch something, we immediately know if it’s warm or cool, wet or dry.

All measurement tools operate similarly. Think of a scale with a one-pound weight on it. The traditional weighing mechanism is made of a spring that stretches according to the weight, and a ruler that measures the tightness of the spring. Once the spring stops stretching and rests at a certain point, the numbers on the ruler indicate the weight. Actually, we do not measure the weight, but the balance between the spring and the weight (Figure 6).

This is why Kabbalist Ashlag says that we cannot perceive the Abstract Form, the object in and of itself, because we have absolutely no connection with it. If we can place a spring on it to measure the external impact, we’ll get some result. But if we can’t measure what is happening on the outside, it’s as though nothing is happening. Moreover, if we place a defective spring to measure an external stimulus, we will get the wrong result. This is what happens when we grow old and our senses deteriorate.

In spiritual terms, the outside world presents Abstract Forms to us, such as the weight. Using the spring and the dial—the will to receive and the intention to bestow—we measure how much of the Abstract Form we can receive. If we could build a gauge that would “measure” the Creator, we could feel Him just as we feel this world. Well, there is such a gauge; it is called “the sixth sense.”

The Sixth Sense

Let’s begin this section with a little fantasy: We are in a dark space, a complete void. We cannot see a thing, we cannot hear a sound, there are no smells and no flavors, and there is nothing we can touch around us. Now imagine being in this state for such a long time that you forget you ever had senses that could feel such things. Eventually, you even forget that such sensations could exist.

All of a sudden, a faint aroma appears. It strengthens and engulfs you, but you can’t pinpoint its source. Then, more fragrances appear, some strong, some weak, some sweet, and some sour. Using them, you can now find your way in the world. Different aromas come from different places, and you can begin to find your way by following them.

Then, without forewarning, sounds appear from all directions. The sounds are all different, some like music, some like words, and some just noises. But the sounds provide additional orientation in that space.

Now you can measure distances, directions; you can guess the sources of the smells and the sounds you are receiving. This is no longer just a space you’re in; it’s a whole world of sounds and scents.

After some time, a new revelation is made when something touches you. Shortly after, you discover more things you can touch. Some are cold, some are warm, some are dry, and some are moist. Some are hard and some are soft; some you can’t decide which they are. You discover that you can put some of the objects you are touching in your mouth, and that they have distinct flavors.

By now you are living in a plentiful world of sounds, smells, sensations, and flavors. You can touch the objects in your world, and you can study your environment.

This is the world of the blind-from-birth. If you were in their shoes, would you feel that you needed the sense of sight? Would you even know that you don’t have it? Never. Unless you’d had it before.

The same is true for the sixth sense. We don’t remember ever having it, although we’d all had it prior to the breaking of Adam ha Rishon, of which we are all parts.

The sixth sense operates much like the five natural senses, with the only difference being that the sixth sense is not given by nature, we have to develop it. In fact, the name “sixth sense” is a bit misleading, because we are not actually developing another sense; we are developing an intention.

While developing this intention, we study the Creator’s Forms, the Forms of bestowal, opposite from our natural egoistic makeup. This is why the sixth sense is not given to us by Nature; it is opposite from us.

Building the intention over each desire we feel is what makes us conscious of who we are, who the Creator is, and whether or not we want to be like Him. Only if we have two options before us can we make a real choice. Therefore, the Creator does not force us to be like Him—altruistic—but shows us who we are, who He is, and gives us the opportunity to make our own free choice. Once we’ve made our choice, we become the people we intend to be: Creator-like, or not.

Why, then, do we call the intention to bestow “the sixth sense”? Because by having the same intention as the Creator, we become Creator-like. This means that we not only have the same intention, but because we have developed equivalence of form with Him, we see and perceive things we would not and could not perceive otherwise. We actually begin to see through His eyes.

Where There’s a Way, There Was a Will

Back in the first chapter, we said that the concept of the Kli (tool/vessel) and Ohr (Light) is unquestionably the most important concept in the wisdom of Kabbalah. Actually, of the Kli and Ohr, the first is more important to us, even though obtaining the second is the actual goal.

Let’s clarify this with an example. In the film, What the Bleep Do We Know!?, Dr. Candace Pert explains that if a certain Form does not exist within me in advance, I will not be able to see it on the outside. As an example, she uses a story about Indians who stood on the ocean shore and looked at Columbus’s armada arriving. She says that it is commonly believed that the Indians could not see the ships, even though they were looking straight at them.

Dr. Pert explained that the Indians couldn’t see the ships because they didn’t have a similar preexisting model of ships in their minds. Only the shaman, who was curious about the odd ripples that seemed to come from nowhere, discovered the ships after trying to imagine what could be causing the ripples. When he discovered the ships, he told his tribesmen, described what he saw, and then they, too, could see the ships.

Kabbalistically speaking, it takes an inner Kli to detect an outer object. In fact, the Kelim (plural for Kli) not only detect the outer reality, they create it! Thus, Columbus’ armada existed only in the minds, the inner Kelim of the Indians who saw it and reported it.


If a tree falls in a forest, and nobody is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?

This famous Zen koan (a special kind of Zen riddle) can also be phrased in Kabbalistic terms: If there is no Kli that detects the sound of the tree, how can we know that it made a sound at all?

Similarly, we could turn Columbus’ discovery into a Zen koan and ask, “Before Columbus discovered America, did it exist?”


There is no such thing as an outside world. There are desires, Kelim that create the outside world according to their own shapes. Outside us there is only Abstract Form, the intangible, imperceptible Creator. We shape our world through shaping our own tools of perception, our own Kelim.

For this reason, it will not help if we pray to the Creator to help us out of our miseries or to change the world around us for the better. The world is neither good nor bad; it’s a reflection of the state of our own Kelim. When we correct our Kelim and make them beautiful, the world will be beautiful, as well. The Tikkun is within, and so is the Creator. He is our corrected selves.

Similarly, to a night owl, a night in the dark forest is the time of best visibility. To us, it is a time of chilling blindness. Our reality is but a projection of our inner Kelim. And what we call “the real world” is but a reflection of our inner correction or corruption. We’re living in an imaginary world.

If we are to rise above this imaginary world to the real world, to the true perception, we must adapt ourselves to the true models. At the end of the day, whatever we perceive will be according to our inner makeup, according to the way we build these models within us. There is nothing to discover outside of us, nothing to reveal except the abstract Upper Light that operates on us and reveals the new images within us, according to our readiness.

Now all that remains is to find out where we can find the corrected Kelim. Do they exist within us or do we have to build them? And if we have to build them, how do we go about it? This will be the topic of the following sections.

The Thought of Creation

Kelim are the building blocks of the soul. The desires are the building materials, the bricks and the wood; and our intentions are our tools, our screwdrivers, drills, and hammers.

But as with building a house, we need to read the blueprint before we can begin the work. Unfortunately, the Creator, the Architect of the blueprint, is reluctant to give it to us. Instead, he wants us to study and execute the Master Plan of our souls independently. Only in this way can we ever really understand His Thought and become like Him.

To learn who He is, we must attentively watch what He does and learn to understand Him through His actions. Kabbalists phrase it very concisely: “By Your actions, we know You.”

Our desires, the souls’ raw materials, already exist. He gave them to us, and we just have to learn how to use them correctly and place the right intentions over them. Then, our souls will be corrected.

But as we have said before, the right intentions are altruistic intentions. In other words, we need to want for our desires to be used to benefit others, not ourselves. By doing so, we will actually be benefiting ourselves, since we are all parts of the soul of Adam ha Rishon. Whether we like it or not, harming others returns to us, just like a boomerang returns to its thrower, and just as forcefully.

Let’s recap for a moment. A corrected Kli is a desire used with altruistic intentions. And conversely, a corrupted Kli is a desire used with egoistic intentions. By using a Kli altruistically, we use a desire in the same way the Creator operates, and thus equalize with Him, at least concerning that specific desire. This is how we study His Thought.

So the only problem is to change the intentions with which we use our desires. But for that to happen, we must see at least one other way of using our desires. We need an example of what other intentions look or feel like. That way, we will at least be able to decide whether we want it or not. When we see no other way of using our desires, we’re trapped in the ones we already have. In that state, how can we find other intentions? Is this a trap or are we missing something?

Kabbalists explain that we are not missing anything. This is a trap, but it’s not a deadlock. If we follow the path of our Reshimot, an example of another intention will appear by itself. Now let’s see what Reshimot are, and how they help us out of the trap.

Reshimot—Back to the Future

Reshimot—roughly speaking—are records, recollections of past states. Each Reshimo (singular for Reshimot) that a soul experiences along its spiritual path is collected in a special “data bank.”

When we want to climb up the spiritual ladder, these Reshimot comprise our trail. They resurface one by one, and we relive them. The faster we re-experience each Reshimo, the faster we exhaust it and move on to the next in line, which is always higher up the ladder.

We cannot change the order of the Reshimot. That has already been determined on our way down. But we can and should determine what we will do with each Reshimo. If we are passive and simply wait for them to pass, it will take a long time before we thoroughly experience them, and before that happens they can cause us great pain. This is why the passive approach is called “the path of pain.”

On the other hand, we can take an active approach by trying to relate to each Reshimo as to “another day in school,” trying to see what the Creator is trying to teach us. If we simply remember that this world is the result of spiritual occurrences, this will be enough to tremendously speed up the passing of the Reshimot. This active approach is called “the path of Light,” because our efforts connect us to the Creator, to the Light, instead of to our present state, as with the passive attitude.

Actually, our efforts don’t have to succeed; the effort itself is enough. By increasing our desires to be like the Creator (altruistic), we attach ourselves to higher, more spiritual states.

The process of spiritual progress is very similar to the way children learn; it is basically a process of imitation. By imitating grownups, even though they don’t know what they are doing, children’s constant mimicry creates within them the desire to learn.

Note: It’s not what they know that promotes their growth; it’s the simple fact that they want to know. The desire to know is enough to evoke in them the next Reshimo, the one in which they already know.

Let’s look at it from another angle: Initially, the fact that they wanted to know was not because it was their own choice, but because the present Reshimo exhausted itself, making the next Reshimo in line “want” to make itself known. Therefore, for the child to discover it, the Reshimo had to evoke in the child a desire to know it.

This is exactly how the spiritual Reshimot work on us. We are not really learning anything new in this world or in the spiritual world; we are simply climbing back to the future.

If we want to be more giving, like the Creator, we should constantly examine ourselves and see if we fit the description that we consider spiritual (altruistic). This way, our desire to be more altruistic will help us develop a more accurate, detailed perception of ourselves compared to the Creator.

If we do not want to be egoistic, our desires will evoke the Reshimot that will show us what being more altruistic means. Every time we decide that we do not want to use this or that desire egoistically, the Reshimo of that state is considered to have completed its task, and moves on to make room for the next. This is the only correction we are required to make. Kabbalist Yehuda Ashlag phrases this principle in these words: “…by hating the evil [egoism] in earnest truth it is corrected.”

And then he explains: “…if two people come to realize that each hates what one’s friend hates, and loves what and whom one’s friend loves, they come into perpetual bonding, as a stake that will never fall. Hence, since the Creator loves to bestow, the lower ones should also adapt to want only to bestow. The Creator also hates to be a receiver, as He is completely whole and needs nothing. Thus, man too must hate the matter of reception for oneself. It follows from all the above that one must hate the will to receive bitterly, for all the ruins in the world come only from the will to receive. Through the hatred one corrects it.”

Thus, simply by wanting it we evoke Reshimot of more altruistic desires, which already exist within us from the time when we were connected in the soul of Adam ha Rishon. These Reshimot correct us and make us more like our Creator. Therefore, desire (the Kli) is both the engine of change, as we’ve said in Chapter One, and the means for correction. We need not suppress our desires, just learn how to work with them productively for ourselves and for everyone else.

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