[This article is a continuation from Part 1: (click here).]
[The ten sefirot of Atzilut thus constitute one entire system or "body", and You are the Soul that fills it and directs it. Just as the human body disguises the intensity of the soul, the sefirot serve to disguise and conceal Your Light.] You also arranged [a system of three lower worlds, Beriya, Yetzira, and Asiya, that serve as] "garments" [to further cover over the sefirot of Atzilut and protect us from the intensity of Your Light]. It is from these "garments" that the souls [Neshama, Ruach and Nefesh] of human beings originate.
[The sefirot of Atzilut are clothed within these "garments", and for this reason] they are called ["limbs" of] a "body" relative to the "clothes" that cover over them. [These "limbs"] are arranged as follows: chesed (or loving-kindness) is the right arm, gevura (restraint) is the left arm, and tiferet (harmony) is the torso. Netzach (dominance) and hod (empathy) are the two legs, and yesod (foundation or channel) is the body's extremity, the sign of the Holy Covenant. Malchut (kingship) is the mouth [of the holy covenant]. It is therefore called the "Oral Torah".
Thus, every mention of G‑d's right hand/arm in the Torah is a reference to the quality of loving-kindness through which He bestows His love and blessing irrespective of whether we, the recipients, are worthy. In this sense, chesed is an "unconditional" love. This is also brought out in the alternate term for chesed, "gedula", which literally means "greatness" and implies largesse and magnanimity. Both terms imply a quality of total benevolence or unbounded giving.
Gevura is the equal and opposite force that opposes and sets limits on chesed. On the human level, it is the power to hold back and restrain oneself, to set boundaries for oneself, to totally subjugate one's desires to a higher will. When used to describe G‑d's interaction with mankind, Gevura is represented as G‑d's left hand/arm, and refers to His quality of restraining His love in order to judge man solely on the basis on his actions.
Netzach and hod represent a reciprocal relationship of giving and taking, imposing and giving in…
As above, this kind of judgment is an extension of G‑d's love, for His entire purpose in creating us was so that we could receive the ultimate good that He wishes to give us based on our own effort and accomplishment. In order to do this, He restrains and withholds His good and makes its bestowal dependent upon our worthiness.
G‑d's gevura thus refers to His ability to hold Himself back from creation, to hide Himself and even to withdraw Himself (partially) in order to allow the world and man to exist. Of course, this must be balanced by chesed. Neither of these attributes can work in isolation from the other. Creation must exist as an independent entity and therefore cannot be totally infused with G‑d's Essence.
The term netzach derives from "lenatzeach", meaning "to conquer" or "to overcome". Hod is the opposite. Although it is usually translated as "splendor" or "majesty", it also has the connotation of hodaah, which means "admitting" or "acquiescing" in the face of something that exhibits splendor and majesty. We have therefore rendered it "empathy" because it denotes the ability to submit to the needs of another. Specifically in terms of G‑d's interaction with mankind, it denotes His quality of allowing man to have free will in order to acquire perfection by his own efforts (instead of imposing this perfection). Together, netzach and hod represent a reciprocal relationship of giving and taking, imposing and giving in; in this sense, they are really only extensions of chesed and gevura. They are therefore described here in terms of the action of two legs, which also have a reciprocal relationship with each other.
[Above these "limbs" is the "head" in which] chochma is the [right] brain, the seat of thought, and bina is [the left brain and] the heart, the heart's ability to discern. Concerning these, it is written, "The hidden things belong to G‑d [corresponding to chochma] our G‑d [corresponding to bina]". (Deut. 29:28)
Keter Elyon (Supernal Crown) is the keter of malchut, concerning which it is said, "I [G‑d] declare the end from the beginning". (Isaiah 46:10) [Keter surrounds and contains the two hemispheres of the brain, chochma and bina, like] the leather box of the Tefillin [that surrounds and contains the parchments].
Within [this unified system of "limbs" and "head" which constitute one "body" or "tree," is the Divine Name "spelled-out" with alefs, i.e. Mah, thus]: Yud-vav-dalet = 20, hei-alef = 6, vav-alef-vav= 13, hei-alef= 6. [With this name You determine] the way [in which Your light is transmitted through the sefirot] of Atzilut. This name therefore fills and saturates [the "roots" and the "trunk" of the "tree" of the sefirot, together with] its "limbs" and "branches", as water irrigates and saturates a tree. [The "tree"] then grows in proportion to how much "water" flows through it. That flow is the very life-force of the 'tree' - like a soul to a body…
Eternal Hidden Master of the worlds, You are the Supreme Cause of all causes and the Origin of all effects! You water the tree with that flow. And that flow is the very life-force of the "tree" - like a soul to a body. But no "human" likeness or "bodily" image exists in Your Infinite Essence with which we might liken You to anything within or without.
You alone created the starry galaxies and the earth. From the galaxies above, You brought forth sun and moon, planets and starry constellations. On the earth below, You brought forth trees and plants, the Garden of Eden and [fields of] grass, living creatures, birds and fish, animals and humanity.
Together with the Earth, which is the category of malchut, ten details are mentioned here: earth, trees, plants, Eden, grass, living creatures, birds, fish, animals, humanity. These are the earthly counterparts of the ten sefirot.
Through them [through all that exists below], You make known that which is Above. [You also make known] how all that is above [in Atzilut] and below [in Beriya, Yetzira and Asiya] is regulated, and how the higher worlds may be known from the lower. But knowledge of Your Essence is completely impossible. Without You there is no unity in the higher or lower realms. You are therefore known as the Cause of all and the Master of all. You are He who permeates them all, and You are He who perfects them all….
The Gra comments: "From that which is below we recognize that which is Above. This is similar to the analogy of the Zohar (1:244b, 2:114b; Tikunei Zohar 1, p.18a) of the wax seal which produces an exact mirror image of the original stamp. This teaches us that it is precisely by looking deeply into the various changes and transformations that characterize physical phenomena that we can understand the spiritual reality behind them. Finally, through understanding the interrelatedness of the spiritual and the physical, we can recognize that G‑d's glory permeates all that is above and below."
Ramak (Pardes Rimonim 4:6, p. 19d) provides another insight. According to his explanation, our passage may be translated thus: "[The heavens and the earth were created] in order that 1) we could contemplate from below all the way up to the Supernal sefirot and G‑d's infinite light with which He governs all that is above and below, and then 2) contemplate from above how His Essence flows down and permeates everything below." Ramak adds:
"[G‑d created] all the myriad aspects of this lower physical dimension to familiarize us through them with all that exists in the highest spiritual dimensions. For it is through contemplating that which is below that we come to understand that which is above, as the verse states, "From my flesh I will envision the Divine [i.e. the spiritual dimension]" (Job 19:26). Then [from contemplating the highest spiritual dimension], we come to know Divinity itself. After attaining direct knowledge of Divinity... we return from above to recognize the greatness of all that is below, how everything below depends on [and is an extension of] that which is above. This then is the order that one should follow when attempting to grasp these hidden things: From the effect [below] to the cause [above], i.e. from that which follows to that which precedes, and only afterwards, from that which precedes to that which follows."
Each sefira corresponds to a specific divine name [or attribute], and it is with these names that angels are called [or, it is with these names that angels can be called down]. You, however, are beyond any name, for You are He who permeates them all, and You are He who perfects them all. Therefore, when You withhold Your light from [the sefirot], all the names remain [as empty vessels], like a "body" devoid of "soul". You are intrinsically wise, but not with a knowable attribute of wisdom…
As for You, You are intrinsically wise, but not with a knowable attribute of wisdom. You understand, but without a knowable attribute of understanding. No "place" can contain You [You clothed Yourself in the sefirot] only in order to make Your mastery and power known to human beings and to show them how the world is conducted through Justice and Mercy - i.e. that Righteousness and Judgment are meted out in perfect accord with the actions of men.
[The seven lower sefirot are also likened to a scale, wherein chesed corresponds to the right arm of the scale.] Din [i.e. justice] is gevura [the left arm]. Mishpat [i.e. judgment] is the middle column [mercy, tiferet]. Righteousness is the holy malchut [the base of the scales]. The scales of Righteousness are the two pillars of truth. The measure of Righteousness is the sign of the Holy Covenant [yesod]. All of these together show how You conduct the world [relative to man], but not that You Yourself possess a knowable quality of righteousness with which to be Just. Neither do You possess an attribute of Judgment with which to be Merciful. The same is true of all these qualities. May the Eternal G‑d be blessed and revealed in this world and forever more, Amen and Amen.
About the translation:
Our translation of this highly condensed Kabbalistic treatise follows the commentaries of Ramak (Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Pardes Rimonim 4:5-6), the Gra (Tikunei Zohar 19a), Kisei Melech by Rabbi Shalom Buzaglo (Tikunei Zohar 30a), Nitzotzei Or by Rabbi Rueven Margoliot (Tikunei Zohar 17a), Yein HaRekach by Rabbi Yehudah Fatayah, Ziv HaZohar by Rabbi Yeshayahu Asher Zelig Margoliot, Matok MiDevash by Rabbi Daniel Perish (Frisch), and Magen VeTzinah by Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Chaver. Notes have also been added based on Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's Innerspace (Moznaim, 1990).
To view part 1 of Elijah's Meditation Prayer, click here.
[Annotated translation by Avraham Sutton]