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Lesson 1

In his writings, Rav Yehuda Ashlag explains to us that the Light emanating from the Creator designates the desire to create beings and to please them. You might remember that Light is the sensation of the Creator, pleasure. This in Kabbalah we refer to as the Root Phase and is numbered zero (0). In Hebrew, we call it Phase Shoresh and name it Keter. It is given the number 0 because it is considered the preliminary phase to actually creating anything at all. It is simply a desire to please and create something in which to give pleasure.

So at this point, all that we can say about Phase 0 (Keter) is that the Creator wishes to please, has a desire to bestow, to give, and begins the process of creating something that can receive what He wishes to give, namely pleasure. While continuing with the lesson, it may help you to refer to Figure 1.

In the second stage, referred to as Phase 1 in Hebrew – Phase Aleph (Hochma)—this Light creates a Vessel (in Hebrew – Kli). A Kli is something that has the ability to enclose a substance. It has boundaries. And just as the glass blower creates a glass to hold water or other beverages, this Vessel is created to hold something within it, that being pleasure.

The Vessel is created in such a way that it is perfectly suited to fulfill this purpose. In other words, the Vessel is the desire to receive pleasure in a perfect manner. To understand the relationship between the Light and the Vessel, one can think of a stamp and the imprint it makes.

An even simpler analogy might be if we imagine we are on a beach. If we press our hands into the wet sand and then lift our hands out, we will leave excellent imprints of our hands. If the sand is fine enough, we can even see the lines within the palm of the hand on the imprint.

The Bible tells us that God created man in His own image. That is exactly what I am referring to. The Vessel is designed in just this way, where the Vessel, this desire to receive pleasure, perfectly matches the Light that fills it completely and pleases it.

The Light itself has one single characteristic, one attribute, which is to please, to delight, to give pleasure. The attribute of the Vessel is the exact opposite. It is the perfect will to receive, the desire to experience pleasure. So the Light creates the Vessel, and then fills it completely. But when the Vessel is filled, it not only feels pleasure, but also feels what the Giver is like; it feels the Giver’s attribute of bestowal. This exact experience of feeling who is giving that pleasure causes the next phase of creation to happen.

The experience of not only feeling pleasure but also feeling the property of the Giver, bestowal, can be thought of as transference. What is transferred to the Vessel is that very attribute of the Creator. This transference causes the Vessel to now wish to become like the Light. In other words, the Vessel feels this property of the Giver and wants to do what the Light can do, to give without restraint, to be like the Giver. But the Vessel has absolutely nothing to give. It is built for receiving. So in order to come as close as it can to giving, it stops receiving altogether. This stage we call Phase 2 – Phase Bet (Bina).

Now we have a serious predicament. The Vessel, which is now empty of Light because it felt the Creator and wishes to be like the Light, refuses to receive. The Light cannot perform what it is supposed to do and the Vessel cannot do what it is supposed to do. If the Vessel had anything to give, it would. But all it can do is the next best thing: refuse to receive any pleasure. This leads directly to the next stage which Kabbalah refers to as Phase 3 – Gimel (Zeir Anpin). The Vessel knows that the goal of the Light is to create and delight it. It also knows that its very existence is based on receiving pleasure, that it must receive a certain portion of the Light or it ceases to exist. In short, receiving is the Vessel’s nature.

How can the Vessel accomplish fulfilling what it needs and at the same time fulfill its desire to be like its Creator? Phase 3, Zeir Anpin (ZA), provides the answer. It is in fact, a mixed phase and the only possible answer to this problem. The Vessel decides it will receive a portion of the Light, but with one rather incredible stipulation. It will only receive Light if it is doing so in order to delight the One who created it. Let’s repeat that. The Vessel knows it must receive and will do so, but only if it can perform its function with the intent of pleasing the Giver.

What actually happens here is very important. The Vessel, the will to receive, now has two different attributes it can compare with each other. It knows what the desire of the Giver feels like, and it knows what its own nature is, receiving. It has the desire to be like its Creator – to bestow—and it has the desire to receive delight. But it also knows that its true nature is one of total and complete reception, something it cannot change. It realizes that it is far more natural for it to receive than to give, for this is exactly how it was created. What has happened here is a discovery. Before, this Vessel had not realized its own nature was the opposite of its Giver, and now it does. This leads to the 4th phase Kabbalah calls Phase Dalet (Malchut).

This realization of its own true nature leads the Vessel to a decision that it must do as it was designed and receive all the pleasure the Light brings, all one hundred percent of it. Something special has happened here; an independent decision.In the previous three phases, the Vessel was only reacting under the power of the Light. But in the fourth phase, the desire to receive one hundred percent of the Light once more, is a completely independent decision. This is what distinguishes this phase from Phase 1, Phase Aleph (Hochma). In both phases, the Vessel is only receiving but in this last phase, the Vessel now has its own independent desire. This independence is what allows us to call it a “creature” or “the Creation.” In other words, the reception of pleasure was the Vessel’s choice, not the Creator’s.

It can now be called “the creature” because the desire actually came from within itself, not directly from the Light where the Light was simply filling it with no decision on the Vessel’s part. What gave it this distinction is the choice. It can receive or not receive. What decision did it make? It chose to receive, accepting everything once more. Prior to this, it was filled only because it was what the Creator wanted. In other words, the very first independent desire to receive pleasure from the Light has now been born totally within the created being.

This concept is so fundamental to our work! Let’s look at an example. Consider the process of birth. No matter what we do before we are born, we receive all of our nourishment whether we want it or not; every need is met by our mothers. We have absolutely no choice in the matter. All of our systems are completely dictated by what our mothers provided for us within the womb.

Yet once we make that long trip down the birth canal and announce our presence to the world, usually with a hair-raising scream, everything changes. The moment that umbilical cord is cut, our systems begin to act independently. We begin to breathe air on our own. Our blood supply is independent. Our nourishment must come from an external source and into our mouths. Certainly our parents may still force many things within our lives, but now, when we are hungry, we cry. When we need to be changed, we let Mom and Dad know it. The process of an independent creation has taken place.

Now let’s discuss for a moment the way Kabbalah names Light. This will be easier if you will refer to the list below. We have five phases:

A quick check with an English-to-Hebrew Dictionary will confirm that Aleph, Bet, Gimel, and Dalet are the first four letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It is important to note that the names, Keter, Hochma, Bina, Zeir Anpin, and Malchut are not names of creatures, but rather names of phases in the process of creation. So when we say Malchut, we are talking about the creature as it is in that stage.

In each phase, there is a different kind of Light, at least from our perspective. In reality, there is never anything but one Light, and the difference we sense is completely and totally because of our own perception. The Root Phase, Phase Zero, Shoresh, corresponds to a Light called Keter. Phase one, Hochma, corresponds to a Light called Hochma. Phase 2, Bina, corresponds to a Light called Hassadim. Phase 3, Zeir Anpin, corresponds to a combination of the first two Lights, both Hochma and Hassadim. Phase 4, Malchut, corresponds to the Light of Hochma once again.

The Hebrew word for Light is Ohr. Those astute readers will see the correlation between Ohr Hochma and the Creator giving pleasure, as well as Ohr Hassadim, the creature rejecting pleasure.

Our entire existence is based upon one single fact. All that exists in this entire universe is the Creator’s desire to delight us and our desire for that pleasure. Everything in the universe happens the way it does because of this law. We are completely and totally under its rule. All different kinds of existence, be them inanimate, vegetative, animate, or speaking, every single solitary thing wants to receive pleasure, to receive a spark of the Light.

We were created with only one purpose, that when we receive the Light from the Creator, we feel infinite and everlasting pleasure, not in a selfish way, but rather in a perfect and an absolute way. If the Light enters the Vessel and fills it up completely, then this Vessel can no longer receive because the desire is saturated by the Light; and in the absence of a desire, the pleasure passes away as well. It is a vicious circle. We want pleasure, we receive pleasure, the pleasure kills the desire, and so the pleasure is no longer felt. It is this exact problem that the spiritual system of Kabbalah cures.

We can only receive endlessly when we do not receive for our own sake, i.e. we enjoy for the sake of the Giver. Then the Light entering the Vessel does not neutralize the desire to receive. Through experience we all know that when we are hungry and begin to eat, after a certain time we no longer feel the hunger, even if the most delicious dishes are made available. Pleasure is experienced on the borderline between pleasure itself and the desire for it. However, as soon as pleasure enters the desire and starts to satisfy it, this desire slowly fades away. And if the pleasure is stronger than the desire, this can even lead to repulsion.

So we have a problem here, but the good news is we have a solution as well. The Creator devised a system that gives His creature a remedy for its predicament. If we choose to feel pleasure while pleasing others instead of feeling it within ourselves, the pleasure never ends. You see, this pleasure relies on how much you can give. The more pleasure you give to people, the more pleasure you get to feel. In other words, I live outside myself, outside my own will to receive. This condition produces an eternal existence, the state of perfection, which is one of the attributes of the Creator. This is exactly the state the Creator wants to usher us into.

At first glance, this idea seems totally preposterous. But think about it for a moment. Suppose everything as we know it was actually backward, and instead of experiencing pleasure when someone does something for you, it was the other way around. Imagine that every time you did something for someone else, you received this incredible pleasure far surpassing any pleasure you ever received by doing something for yourself or receiving from another.

In that case, we would be lining up to give, and to whom would not make a bit of difference. The more we gave, the more pleasure we would receive. In the blink of an eye, our entire world would change. And as crazy as it sounds, this is exactly the destination to which we are heading.

If the creature, the Vessel, chooses only to receive, it finds itself caught in a trap. The problem is that in receiving for itself, it only feels whatever is inside of it. If the creature could feel the Creator’s pleasure from delighting the creation, it would endlessly experience the pleasure, just like a mother, who selflessly gives to her children. But in its current state, everybody loses.

Fortunately, we have an absolutely perfect system in which to exist, and just as unfortunately, we choose not to exist in it. Right at our fingertips, we have unlimited knowledge, infinite existence, a feeling of eternity and harmony. Within this system, the Creator constantly pours Light on to its creature. But the creature only receives the Light if by doing so it delights the Creator. Kabbalah refers to this system as Returning Light (Ohr Hozer), as opposed to the Direct Light (Ohr Yashar) the Creator sends. See Figure3.

But for this system to exist, the creature must first have a desire that attracts that Direct Light toward it. Previously we have spoken about a screen that reflects, just like an ear drum or the retina of the eye. This is where that screen enters the picture. A screen must be placed between that Direct Light and the creature.

This screen, known in Kabbalah as a Masach (pronounced ma-ssah), prevents the creature from receiving for its own sake. It only allows the creature to accept an amount of Light in proportion to its own strength; to accept it only for the sake of the Creator. Kabbalah calls this action “receiving in order to bestow.” In this way, the creature can resemble the Creator, be like Him. In other words, the following exchange takes place: the Creator sends pleasure to the creature, who accepts it under the exclusive condition that by doing so it pleases the Creator.

Baal HaSulam quotes the very simple and eternal example of the guest and the host. The host presents to his guest a table full of delicacies. The guest sits down but dares not eat because he does not want to be in a position to receive and he is not certain if the host is sincere in his desire to delight him. The guest is embarrassed because he has nothing to offer in return and can only receive while the host gives. That is why the guest refuses what is offered in order to understand the host’s true desire.

If the host insists, asking his guest to honor the food and assuring him that he will be very pleased if he does so, then the guest will start eating. He will do so because he is convinced that this will please the host and he no longer feels that he is receiving from the host, but is giving to him, i.e., he gives his host pleasure.

The roles have been reversed. Even if it is the host who has prepared all the food and acts as the inviter, he clearly understands that the fulfillment of his desire to please depends uniquely on his guest. The guest holds the key to the success of the dinner and consequently masters the situation.

The Creator has especially made the creature in such a way that under the influence of the Light it will feel ashamed of only receiving. The creature, using its freedom of choice freely, will finally reach a level where it does not experience pleasure selfishly, but to please the Creator. These divine attributes, these feelings, are beyond description and we cannot understand them. The entrance into the spiritual worlds by acquiring just one degree of similitude with the Creator already means eternity, absolute pleasure, and attainment.

The science of Kabbalah studies the unfolding of creation. It describes the path along which our world and all other worlds —indeed the whole universe—must tread while achieving its progressive correction (Tikkun) to reach the level of the Creator, the ultimate degree of perfection and eternity. We need to undertake this work of correction while living in this world, in our everyday circumstances and dressed in our bodies.

Kabbalists have already reached this degree of perfection and described it for us. All souls without exception must reach this ultimate level in due time. Each one of us has to start from the beginning point and eventually reach the final point. There is no free will for this. Nor is there free will for us to alter the path, because everyone has to go through all the phases and feelings and progressively integrate them. In other words, we must “live” the path.

Let’s return to the phases of creation. The phases of development of the creature are divided by what Kabbalah calls Aviut (pronounced Ah-vee-yut). The thickness or coarseness of the desire for delight is called Aviut. What is thickness or coarseness? The farther away the creature is from the Creator, the more desire it feels, and the more Aviut it has. For instance, in the 0 Phase, Keter, and in Phase 1, Hochma, there is no (or hardly any) desire at all. There is almost no coarseness, no Aviut. Everything is under the power of the Creator, like an unborn baby that has everything done for it. But in the last phase, which is farthest from the Creator, Malchut, the creature, has the greatest intensity of desire to receive. It is good to remember that this desire to receive comes from its own decision, hence it is a selfish one, turned toward itself.

So the creature is now in that Phase 4 , Malchut. As in the Phase 1, Hochma, the creature is simply receiving, and receiving 100%. You will also remember that during the stage of Hochma, the creature also was able to feel the attributes of the Creator. That is exactly what happens again. Malchut begins to feel the Giver. But this feeling of who is giving it pleasure is different than the first time. There is a huge difference in Phase 1– Hochma and Phase 4 – Malchut. Malchut is an independent creature, making its own decision to receive, whereas in Hochma, the Creator controlled everything.

From the combination of feeling the Creator and having made its own decision to receive, an entirely new sensation is felt for the very first time, the sensation of shame. Malchut feels that its attribute of receiving is completely opposite of the Light and it has become aware of its own selfishness. Now this is no ordinary shame, as in what we feel when we are caught doing something bad, but immense and intense shame. This shame is felt so strongly that Malchut decides to stop receiving the Light, and that is exactly what it does.

This rejection of the Light by Malchut is called First Restriction. Restriction in Hebrew is Tzimtzum. Hebrew letters are also numbers; thus 1 is Aleph, or “first.” And so Kabbalah calls this act Tzimtzum Aleph. Now once again, everything is in balance, but backward, as Malchut does not receive and the Creator does not give.

At this point, you are probably thinking, “Here we go again!” But rest assure that help is on the way. Now if we try to picture this in our mind, it may appear like some sort of massive pacing, drooling monster of desire, wanting and wanting and wanting, but it cannot take what it wants because of the torture it brings the poor miserable beast when it receives.

Our creature ponders endlessly, finally coming up with a solution. It will imitate our example of the guest and the host. Malchut can push away all the incoming Light because it does not want to feel like a receiver. Then it sets the condition that it will accept a portion of the Light, though not for its own delight, but because it wants to please the Creator, as it knows that the Creator wishes it delight.

Receiving in such a way is like giving, so Malchut is now in a position to be the giver. Remember, Malchut first rejects everything, then calculates how much it can receive for the Creator. Only after that calculation is made does Malchut take in even the most minuscule amount of Light, and of course, only with the intent to please the Creator.

What does all of the above tell us? What we have been describing is the birth of desire. If a true desire is to be brought to life, we see that the Light needs to undergo four different phases. We do not count the Root Phase. This is exactly what happens with every single desire you experience. Before those desires are felt inside us, that exact process occurs as it goes through all the phases of development of Light coming from the Creator until at last, we feel it. It is totally impossible for a desire to appear without the Light first. This is important: Light comes first, then the desire.

Now let’s take a look at the structure of the creature, just as it is in Malchut, Phase 4. The creature is the Vessel. In the diagram below, there are several kinds of Light. The Direct Light, Light that shines directly from the Creator is called Ohr Yashar. The Light that the creature, Malchut, initially rejects is called Ohr Hozer. It is also known as Returning Light, which the screen does not allow within.

Finally, the Light that Malchut determines it can let inside, because the strength of its screen is strong enough that it can accept it for the sake of the Creator is called Inner Light, or Ohr Pnimi (pronounced Pnee-mee). We will get to the Surrounding Light Kabbalah calls Ohr Makif a bit later. Study this diagram until you are familiar with the terms and what they mean.

Remember our story about the guest and the host? When the guest faces the host and the table full of delicacies he first refuses everything, then decides to eat a bit in order to please the host even though he would like to gulp everything down in one go. This means that one must use his selfish desires, but in an altruistic way. As the guest starts to consider things, he understands that he cannot accept the whole dinner for the sake of the host; he only may accept a small portion of it.

Our creature applies this exact concept after making Tzimtzum Aleph, First Restriction. Remember that due to the intense shame Malchut felt after deciding to receive 100% of the Light, it performed Tzimtzum Aleph and took in nothing. But if it applies the above idea, it accepts just a small portion of the Light, let’s say twenty percent, and then it pushes away the remaining eighty percent.

Now let’s take a look at the creature that exists at the point where it decides to only take in an amount of Light that it can receive for the sake of the Creator. We call the combination of a Vessel and Light, a Partzuf, an emanated being, a creature that has made that decision to restrict everything it cannot take in with the intent to please the Creator. As with the previous names, Partzuf is the name of a condition of the creature, but a very important condition.

Kabbalah divides the Partzuf into three general areas: the Rosh, the Toch, and the Sof. The part of the created being that makes a decision on how much Light it may accept inside for the sake of the Creator is called Rosh (Head). Think of it as the calculating part, the part that looks at the data and determines what can be taken in based upon that data. The part accepting the Light is called Toch (inner part). The last part, which remains empty, is called Sof (End). This is the place where the created being performs a restriction and no longer accepts the Light.

You might also notice that within each general part, there are subparts that correspond to the overall five phases of creation, Keter, Hochma, Bina, Zeir Anpin, and Malchut. Each part of the Partzuf has a bit of the entire picture in it. This fact will be very important later on, but for now, it is good to remember that every single thing has those parts in it. No matter how we break down any part, it always contains those inner parts, and so on and so on into infinity!

As for how Kabbalah names things, different terms are assigned [or given] to the various parts of creation using names of various parts of the human body. There are no terms, labels or numbers in the spiritual worlds. It is nevertheless easier and more understandable to use words.

Kabbalists have chosen to express themselves in a very simple language because everything in our world results from the spiritual worlds, in accordance with the direct connections descending from Above downward. These connections run from every spiritual object to every object in our world. For everything that has a name in our world, we may take the name of an object of our world and use it to designate the spiritual object that begets it.

None of the authentic Kabbalah scripts mention our world, not in a single word, although they may be using the language of our world. Every object of our world refers to a matching object in the spiritual worlds, but Kabbalah speaks only about the spiritual. So when we speak about the part of the Partzuf that is responsible for thinking, the calculating and the analysis of data, it is called Head, or Rosh.

The screen, the Masach, lies between the Rosh and the Toch at a place called the Mouth or Peh. That part where the Light can enter is called the Body, or Guf. There is a part where the Light is not allowed to go because the creature has determined to only take in a certain amount. That part is called the Sof. The part that divides the Toch and Sof in the Guf is called the Tabur, or Navel in English. The lowest part of the Partzuf where absolutely no Light can be is called the Sium, meaning conclusion. The entire creature is called Malchut.

Let’s take the example of a stone in our world. There is a Force Above that generates this stone: it will therefore be named “stone.” The only difference is that the spiritual stone is a spiritual root endowed with specific attributes, which in turn matches a branch in our world, labeled “stone,” a material object. This is how the language of branches was created. By means of names, denominations and actions in our world, we can refer back to elements and actions in the spiritual worlds. Thus, as it is above, so it is below.

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