Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism

Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism

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by Daniel C. Matt, Daniel Chanan Matt

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A translation of the Kabbalah for the layperson includes a compact presentation of each primary text and features a practical analysis and vital historical information that offer insight into the various aspects of Jewish mysticism.

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A translation of the Kabbalah for the layperson includes a compact presentation of each primary text and features a practical analysis and vital historical information that offer insight into the various aspects of Jewish mysticism.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Edition description:
1st ed
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.54(d)

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Chapter One

Ein Sof: God as Infinity

Ein Sof and the Sefirot

IN THE BEGINNING Ein Sof emanated ten sefirot, which are of its essence, united with it. it and they are entirely one. There is no change or division in the emanator that would justify saying it is divided into parts in these various sefirot. Division and change do not apply to it, only to the external sefirot.

To help yo u conceive this, imagine water flowing through vessels of different colors: white, red, green, and so forth. As the water spreads through those vessels, it appears to change into the colors of the vessels, although the water is devoid of all color. The change in color does not affect the water itself, just our perception of the water. So it is with the sefirot. They are vessels, known, for example, as Hesed, Gevurah, and Tif'eret, each colored according to its function, white, red, and green, respectively, while the light of the emanator--their essence-is the water, having no color at all. This essence does not change; it only appears to change as it flows through the vessels.

Better yet, imagine a ray of sunlight shining through a stained-glass window of ten different colors. The sunlight possesses no color at all but appears to change hue as it passes through the different colors of glass. Colored light radiates through the window. The light has not essentially changed, though so it seems to the viewer. just so with the sefirot. The light that clothes itself in the vessels of the sefirot is the essence, like the ray of sunlight. That essence does not change color at all, neither judgmentnor compassion, neither right nor left. Yet by emanating through the sefirot--the variegated stained glass-judgment or compassion prevails.

FIRST, You should know that the Creator, Ein Sof, is the cause of causes, one without a second, one that cannot be counted. Change and mutability, form and multiplicity, do not apply to it. The word "one" is used metaphorically, since the number one stands on its own and is the beginning of all numbers. Every number is contained within it potentially, while it inheres in every number in actuality.

The Creator is called one from this aspect: Ein Sof is present in all things in actuality, while all things are present in it potentially. It is the beginning and cause of everything. In this way oneness has been ascribed to the Creator; nothing can be added to this oneness or subtracted from it. Ein Sof is necessary being, just as the number one is necessary for all numbers, since without it no number can exist. If the number one were nullified, all numbers would be nullified, whereas if the numbers were nullified, the number one would not. Such is the power of one.

So it is with the Creator of all, the one who acts and sustains existence. If an action were nullified, the actor would not be nullified, since Ein Sof does not need anything. If existence were nullified, Ein Sof would not be nullified, since it does not need space and exists on its own.

Furthermore, you should know that Ein Sof emanated its sefirot, through which its actions are performed. They serve as vessels for the actions deriving from Ein Sof in the world of separation and below. In fact, its existence and essence spread through them.

These qualities possess unerasable names. Keter (Crown) is named Eheyeh; Hokhmah (Wisdom) is named Yah; Binah (Understanding) is named YHVH with the vowels of Elohim; Hesed (Love) is named El; Gevurah (Power) is named Elohim; Tif'eret (Beauty) is named YHVH; Netsah (Eternity) is named Tseva'ot; Yesod (Foundation) is named Shaddai or El Hai; Malkhut (Kingdom) is named Adonai.

These names are the sefirot. It is not that the names are merely ascribed to the sefirot; rather, the names are the sefirot. These sefirotic names are names of Ein Sof, according to its actions.

Ein Sof is not identical with Keter, as many have thought. Rather, Ein Sof is the cause of Keter; Keter is caused by Ein Sof, cause of causes. Ein Sof is the primal cause of all that exists; there is no cause higher than it. Keter is the first to derive from it. From Keter the rest of emanation is drawn forth. This does not contradict the fact that Keter is counted as one of the sefirot. It is reckoned as one of the ten, considered similar to the emanated ones. On account of its loftiness, however, Keter does not reveal itself in the emanated totality of ten. The decade is kept complete by including Da'at (Knowledge) in place of Keter.

It is inappropriate to say of Ein Sof "blessed be he," "glorified be he," "praised be he," or similar expressions, since it cannot be blessed, praised, or glorified by another. Rather, it is the one who blesses, praises, glorifies, and animates from the first point of its emanation to the farthest. Before the formation of the universe, it had no need of emanation. it was concealed in its holy, pure simplicity. No letter, vowel, or image can be applied to it, for even Keter, the beginning of emanation, is devoid of name and image in letter or vowel. How much more so with Ein Sof, whom we cannot depict, of whom we cannot speak, of whom we cannot posit either judgment or compassion, excitement or anger, change or limit, sleep or motion, or any quality whatsoever, either prior to the emanation or now.

At the very beginning, Ein Sof emanated the subtle emanation, namely, ten sefirot--noetic forms-from its essence, uniting with it. It and they together constitute a complete union. These sefirot are souls, which clothe themselves in the ten sefirot called by name, which serve as vessels for the ten essences. Within these ten named sefirot are found judgment and compassion and the aforementioned actions, which we would not ascribe to Ein Sof.

Before these qualities emanated, they were utterly concealed within Ein Sof, utterly united with it.

Essential Kabbalah, The. Copyright © by Daniel C. Matt. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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