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The Kabbalah of Shabbat -- rectification of all Creation

Shabbat is for Keeping

Shabbat is for Keeping

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Shabbat is for Keeping
The Kabbalah of Shabbat -- rectification of all Creation

"Every man should fear his mother and his father, and keep My Shabbats, I am G‑d, your G‑d." (Lev. 19:3).

Rabbi Chaim Vital begins his exposition of the Arizal's teachings on this verse by explaining why the word "Shabbats" is in the plural when we would have expected the more usual singular form.

Now, [by understanding] the eighth king [as will be explained,] you will understand the two Shabbats the Torah refers to. For whenever mention is made of the Shabbat, it is mentioned twice. For example: "Keep My Shabbats" and "the Children of Israel will keep the Shabbat to make the Shabbat"(Ex. 31:16) etc. From the following explanation you will also understand how those who say that our present sabbatical [cycle] is the second, actually err.

According to the sages of the Talmud, our world is destined to exist for no more than seven thousand years: six millennia of normal existence, followed by a millennium of rest. (Sanhedrin 97a). This seven-millennium time period is envisioned as one gigantic "week"; the six millennia of normal existence corresponding to the six workdays and the millennium of rest and reward corresponding to the Shabbat. In Kabbala, this imagery is expanded to the sabbatical cycle of six years of field labor followed by a year when the land is to lay fallow. The six years of agricultural work correspond to the six workdays and six millennia of normal existence and the seventh, sabbatical year to the Shabbat and the seventh millennium.

Furthermore, just as the agricultural cycle consists of seven sabbatical cycles totaling 49 years, followed by an additional year of rest - the jubilee - so is the entire seven-millennium period of the world's existence only one of seven such periods, which will be followed by a fiftieth, jubilee millennium.

According to some opinions, our present seven-millennium period is the second such period since the creation of the world. This is why the Torah begins with the letter beit, the numerical value of which is 2. The Arizal, however, contends that this opinion is incorrect.

To explain: When G‑d emanated the ten sefirot, He first emanated the first three. After this was the [first] supernal Shabbat.

The Arizal now begins to describe the creation of the primordial world of Tohu ["Chaos"]. It is important to bear in mind that this imperfect version of Creation was not a "mistake" or a miscalculation on G‑d's part but rather a necessary stage in the unfolding of Creation. The first seven kings are understood to refer to the primordial, unrectified version of Creation…

G‑d did not create time, of course, until He created our physical world but before time there was a sequential progression of spiritual steps leading to our universe. This sequence may be referred to as "proto-time". Although all these steps "occurred" simultaneously in the "instant" before the creation of the physical world, they followed a certain developmental order, which we, as finite humans, would experience eventually as time.

In this context, we may speak of the process of the creation of the spiritual worlds preceding ours as if it happened in the context of what we call "time" [since we have no other way of describing a sequential progression]. We must bear in mind, however, that time, as we know it, did not yet exist.

When He emanated these [first] three, He did not do so in a wholly rectified manner and they were not fully and properly rectified. Therefore, this day is not counted.

The exact nature of this not-fully-rectified emanation will be explained later.

Afterwards He emanated a different group [of sefirot], in seven other "days". These are the mystical correlates of the kings who ruled in the land of Edom. On the Shabbat [the seventh day of this primordial "week"], the eighth king, Hadar, was [also] emanated.

The emanation of the next seven sefirot is spoken of as occurring in seven "days", one day for each sefira. But since, as we said, this all is occurring before the creation of time, what this essentially means is that each sefira is a separate entity. These seven sefirot will, when time is created, manifest themselves as the seven days of the week, each sefira dominating a particular day. Yesod is the sefira of inter-connection…since it expresses the drive and ability to relate and connect with another entity…

It is written in the Torah that there were eight kings who ruled the land of Edom before there was a king in the land of Israel.(Genesis 36:31-39; 1 Chronicles 1:43-51) Of the first seven of these kings, the Torah states that they ruled and they died, while of the eighth, Hadar, it only records that he ruled, not mentioning his death. Since Edom symbolizes the unrectified existence of evil, the first seven kings are understood to refer to the primordial, unrectified version of Creation described here, the world of Tohu.

[Editor's note:The death of Hadar is mentioned in Chronicles, but not in Genesis.]

Since the first three sefirot were not yet fully rectified, all these kings died. Since they were not rectified above, these kings could not bear the supernal light of the Emanator. Thus, since all these kings evinced strict judgment, they all died and were nullified.

The perfection of the emotions is dependent upon the rectification of the intellect, since emotional responses are primarily the result of some idea that is understood.

The rectification these sefirot lacked was their ability to contain or absorb the "light", i.e. creative energy, of G‑d. In their fragility, they shattered as soon as the higher light attempted to shine through them. The reason why these sefirot were so fragile was because they were immature and undeveloped. In this iteration, the sefirot were simple, one-dimensional manifestations of G‑d's attributes and did not inter-include any aspect of their sister-sefirot. They were therefore incapable of accepting any content other than their own intrinsic one. This rejection of anything not consonant with one's own world-view is the mentality of strict judgment [din].

I have already explained (see Etz Chaim 9:7-8) regarding the supernal rectification [process], that it consists of separating screens that enable the lower [entities] to receive light greater [than their intrinsic level] without being blinded. This is similar to how someone [is blinded] by looking at the light of the sun. Thus, the dimming of the light is [not a bad thing, but] on the contrary, the rectification.

By screening the divine light, G‑d created a new, more stable world that could withstand and transmit the light it received. The intensity of each sefira would be less, but this lack of intensity would enable each sefira to accommodate the "personality" of its sister-sefirot. The combined strengths of each sefira present in the others would enable the world comprising them to endure the divine light shining into it.

Still, when the eighth king, Hadar, was emanated, he emerged more rectified than the others did. He manifested the sefira of yesod; this was on the [first] Shabbat.

As we have said, the principal reason why the world of Tohu shattered was because the sefirot in it were too "egocentric" to interrelate. The reason this was so was because the predominant aspect of these sefirot was their malchut; each sefira of Tohu was in effect nothing more than the malchut of that sefira in general. Malchut is the sefira of the ego, inasmuch as it expresses the drive to rule, to impose oneself on reality. The malchuts of the sefirot clashed, and therefore the entire structure collapsed.

The eighth "king", or emanation, in contrast, was constructed out of the yesods of the various sefirot. Yesod is the sefira of inter-connection par excellence, since it expresses the drive and ability to relate and connect with another entity.

After this, the first three sefirot were rectified, as described in the Zohar. Then, the second week emerged, i.e. the seven lower sefirot, which we call nowadays chesed, gevura, tiferet, netzach, hod, yesod, and malchut. Malchut issued on the [seventh day, the] Shabbat.

Out of this emanation emerged a second set of seven middot [from chesed to malchut], which were more fully rectified than the first set of seven "kings". This second set of seven constituted a second week, or Shabbat-cycle.

Thus we have two Shabbats: the first being the first Shabbat, when Hadar was emanated, and the second Shabbat, when malchut was emanated the second time. This is the mystical meaning of the two Shabbats that are mentioned in many places, [as we said above].

You will now understand the mystical reason why we call the seven millennia [we are presently living in] the "second" sabbatical-period. It is because they are the second [order of creation] after the "kings of the land of Edom".

Thus, our present sabbatical-period [of seven thousand years] is not the second because it was preceded by another period of seven thousand physical years, but because it follows the spiritual "period" of Tohu, the emanation of the seven "kings" that preceded the present order, that of Tikun.

In this respect they [i.e. the earlier authorities] erred [as well]: They said that if this is the second sabbatical-period, then there must certainly be [in the end] a total of seven such periods.

Just as the agricultural jubilee-cycle consists of seven sabbatical-cycles, the macrocosmic jubilee-cycle should logically consist of seven sabbatical-cycles of seven thousand years each. In other words, after the seventh millennium of our time period, there will be [according to these opinions] another five sabbatical-periods [of seven thousand years each]. The Arizal will now explain why this is not the case.

Understand, however, that Hadar, the eighth king, is entirely [composed of] yesod, even though he precedes the chesed that we nowadays call chesed. Tikun is not the ultimate fulfillment and highest vision of Creation…

When we refer to chesed, we mean (unless we specify otherwise) the rectified sefira of chesed in the world of Tikun. In the normal order of sefirot, yesod is the sixth emotion, and chesed is the first - so chesed precedes yesod. When we consider the initial emanation of the sefirot of Tikun, however [and note that they all emerged from Hadar, who was constructed wholly out of the yesods of the primordial sefirot], yesod precedes chesed [and all the other sefirot as well].

After the [second set] of seven sefirot were emanated, those other "kings" came back to be rectified, and they were all absorbed into the [second set of] seven sefirot.

When the first set of seven sefirot, those of Tohu, collapsed, they didn't just disappear. These sefirot were much more intense and powerful than those of the subsequent world of Tikun, as we have mentioned. Their shattered fragments were therefore "particles" of great energy and potential. The challenge of the world of Tikun is to assimilate and integrate these supercharged energy particles as far as possible. In fact, this is the whole reason why G‑d created the world of Tohu in the first place and did not just create the world of Tikun from the beginning. Despite its name, Tikun is not the ultimate fulfillment and highest vision of Creation. The goal is to integrate these two worlds and produce from them a third order of existence much greater than either of them in and of themselves.

After the element of strict judgment had been removed from them and they had been purified of it, like waste matter, the remaining [elements of these sefirot] were absorbed and sweetened in the [second set of] seven sefirot, each one in accordance with its nature. The Shattering of the Vessels effectively neutralized the egocentricity of the sefirot of Tohu

The Shattering of the Vessels effectively neutralized the egocentricity of the sefirot of Tohu. Thus rid of their negative, judgmental, aspects, they were able to be absorbed into the sefirot of the world of Tikun. This process is called "sweetening", inasmuch as it evokes the imagery of some sour, poisonous substance being distilled and purified of its odious elements.

[This was possible] because those "kings" were themselves these [second] seven sefirot.

The sefirot of Tohu and Tikun, though radically different in their orientation, possessed the same "identities". Chesed of Tohu was chesed, just as chesed of Tikun; the difference lay only in the way chesed was expressed. In this sense, the sefirot of Tohu may be considered simply immature, undeveloped versions of the sefirot of Tikun.

It follows that the statement in the Zohar (III:135b) that "some of them rectified and some of them were not" does not mean that only some of the "kings" were rectified and others not, for all eight of the "kings" were rectified. Rather, it means that in each of them, part of it was not rectified and part of it was.

As has been explained in our discussion of the 288 Sparks, sparks of each [sefira] fell [from Tohu into the subsequent, lower worlds of Tikun]. The lights remained in Atzilut, and then what fell from Beriya was rectified in Yetzira, as is known.

The death of the seven "kings" of Tohu is alluded to in the Torah's account of creation in the verse: "and the spirit of G‑d was hovering over the water." (Gen. 1:2) The Hebrew word for "was hovering" ["merachefet"] may be split into two sets of letters: mem-taf and reish-pei-chet. The first set [mem-taf] spells the word for "died" [in Hebrew, "meit"], and the numerical value of the second set is 288. This word may thus be read: "the 288 died". This alludes, according to Kabbala, to the 288 Sparks of the world of Tohu that fell after the collapse of that world and the shattering of its sefirot. After the coming of Mashiach will be infinite ascents of the new physical-spiritual order of Creation…

Every sefira, as we have mentioned previously, is composed of its "light" and its "vessel". The "light" is the divine creative energy that determines the nature and identity of the sefira, while the "vessel" is the means through which this energy is expressed, the interface between the light and the rest of reality. When the sefirot of Tohu shattered, it was the vessels that broke.

The first world of Tikun created after the shattering of the vessels was the world of Atzilut. The consciousness of this world is one of total immersion in the awareness of G‑d, and thus the lights were able to remain in this world.

With regard to the broken vessels, however, only the more sublime aspects were able to remain and be assimilated into this world; the lower, more self-aware aspects were rejected and fell further, into the world of Beriya. There, the same process was repeated: the more sublime aspects were assimilated and the grosser aspects were rejected. This process continued in the worlds of Yetzira and Asiya, and finally, the coarsest aspects of Tohu became absorbed and embedded in our physical world.

This process set the stage for the process of "elevating the sparks", or liberating the raw, great power of Tohu from the physical context into which it became entrenched. The conclusion of this process is what will precipitate the cosmic Redemption of all reality and the coming of Mashiach.

Thus, after the Redemption there will be no additional, physical sabbatical-periods akin to our present world, since physicality will already have been rectified. What will occur after the coming of Mashiach will be infinite ascents of the new physical-spiritual order of Creation into higher and higher levels of divinity and consciousness of G‑d.

[Translated and adapted by Rabbi Moshe Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard." available at Kabbala Online Shop]

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria […Ashkenazi ben Shlomo] (5294-5332 = 1534-1572 c.e.); Yahrtzeit (anniversary of death): 5th of Av. Buried in the Old Cemetery of Tzfat. Commonly known as the Ari, an acronym standing for Eloki Rabbi Yitzchak, the G-dly Rabbi Isaac. No other master or sage ever had this extra letter Aleph, standing for Eloki [G-dly], prefaced to his name. This was a sign of what his contemporaries thought of him. Later generations, fearful that this appellation might be misunderstood, said that this Aleph stood for Ashkenazi, indicating that his family had originated in Germany, as indeed it had. But the original meaning is the correct one, and to this day among Kabbalists, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria is only referred to as Rabbenu HaAri, HaAri HaKadosh [the holy Ari] or Arizal [the Ari of blessed memory].
Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky is a scholar, writer, editor and anthologist living in Jerusalem. He is a co-founder of Ascent Institute of Safed and one of the first contributing writers for KabbalaOnline.org. He has recently produced two monumental works: "Apples from the Orchard: Arizal on the Weekly Torah" (available for purchase from KabbalaOnline here) and a Chumash translation with commentary based on the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Kehot).
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