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[Adapted by Abraham Sutton from the Writings of the Ari, augmented by Shaar Maamarei Chazal (p. 3b on Chagiga 14b), in square brackets with (SMC) at the end.]
Ben Zoma wanted to draw up the bina of Abba. He thought and reasoned like this: The third aspect of Adam's sin (see above) consisted in allowing the kelipot to grab unto and derive nourishment and power from the crown of gevura (the gevurot) when he caused it (them) to descend below and become separated from the crown of chesed (the chasadim). (This was the root of the third defect and blemish that Adam had brought about.)
"If so", Ben Zoma thought, "I will attempt to rectify and raise up the crown of gevura alone. In this way, everything else will automatically receive its rectification". Ben Zoma thus began by drawing up the bina of Abba so that it would draw up the bina of Imma, which would then draw up the gevurot, which are from her side [the left side]. In this way, they would all rise up above, and the chitzonim [the external forces of the kelipa - the forces of chaos, randomness and disorder, darkness and evil, etc.] would be prevented from grabbing unto them any more as they had as a result of Adam's sin. Ben Zoma caused a great defect by joining the gevurot with bina of Imma…
But Ben Zoma also erred. At least the chasadim were together with the gevurot below before he started. The gevurot were therefore at least partially sweetened by virtue of their close proximity of the chasadim. In particular, bina, which is sometimes called supernal gevura [because it is the source of gevura] was far away [and far above] them [the gevurot]. [As the source of gevura, bina is also called "Ba'al Hagevurot", "Master of the Gevurot", as in the second blessing in the Standing Prayer.]
Now, however, the gevurot had risen up, and in the process had become distanced from the chasadim. If this wasn't enough, they now had bonded with bina of Imma which [as stated] is called Supernal gevura. In short, he caused all the gevurot to join together without the mediating and sweetening agency of the chasadim. The gevurot thus became extremely stern dinim [judgments].
And though Ben Zoma relied on Ben Azzai's accomplishments, he nevertheless caused a great defect by joining the gevurot with bina of Imma. Indeed, Ben Zoma's sin was more severe than Ben Azzai's. At least Ben Azzai had left the chasadim below to continue sweetening the gevurot. In addition, as mentioned, bina, Supernal gevura, had been far away from [and far above] the gevurot. Ben Azzai, therefore, did not cause a defect in them. He rather distanced the chochma of Imma from them by raising it up.
Ben Zoma, on the other hand, distanced the gevurot from the chasadim and the chochma. And in addition, he allowed them to bond with the gevura of bina [i.e. with bina, the supernal gevura], and they became extremely severe dinim [judgments]. He was therefore punished more harshly, for he gazed and was stricken, and went out of his mind. It is the nature of the female to rise up and to seek the male…
The mystery of the matter is this: It is the nature of the female to rise up [i.e. to arouse passion] and to seek [to unite with] the male, as per the verse concerning Eve, "Your desire/passion will be to/for your husband". (Gen. 3:16) The male, on the other hand, has no desire to rise up [i.e. arouse passion] toward the female. It is human nature that she needs him, whereas he does not need her. [The male energy is giving, while the female energy is a receiving and nourishing one.] In the same way, if the chasadim rise up first, the gevurot naturally follow suit. Now, however, that the gevurot, which are female relative to the chasadim, have risen up, the chasadim will not necessarily rise up with them.
Now, behold, the inner level of daat of Zeir Anpin is yesod of Imma, within which are the crowns of chasadim and gevurot respectively. [In other words, yesod of Imma, which contains the crowns of chasadim and gevurot, is clothed with the level of daat of Zeir Anpin.] This yesod of Imma descended below. (Know, too, that daat is only complete/perfect when its two halves, chesed and gevura, are united.) Such that, when Ben Zoma brought forth [raised up] the gevurot from daat (which is none other than the yesod of Imma that descended below), one half of daat (i.e. the gevurot) went up, while the other half (the chasadim) remained below.
Having caused the gevurot to depart from daat, he too - measure for measure - was stricken with insanity. He lost his daat by going out of his mind. Because Ben Zoma relied on what Ben Azzai had already succeeded in rectifying…he did not die, but rather went out of his mind…
It turns out that, in one sense, Ben Zoma was punished less severely than Ben Azzai. [After all, Ben Azzai died, and Ben Zoma only went out of his mind.] This is because Ben Zoma relied on what Ben Azzai had already succeeded in rectifying, and he actually added another partial tikun. For this reason, he did not die, but rather went out of his mind.
Thus, as we said, in view of the fact that Ben Azzai rectified the right side of chesed, he was called "Chasid" [in Hebrew, "pious/devoted one", who serves the Beloved out of complete selflessness and love]. Regarding him it is written, "Precious in G‑d's eyes is the death of His pious ones" (Psalms 116:15), which is a praise and an approbation [as brought in the Zohar on this verse].
Ben Zoma, on the other hand, is described disparagingly. Regarding him it is written, "You have found honey, eat moderately lest you bloat yourself and vomit it". (Proverbs 25:16) That is, as I have already informed you concerning the mitzvah of Shofar (Shaar Hakavanot, Rosh Hashanah, Drush 7; Pri Etz Chayim, Drushei HaShofar, chapters 1-2), there are 320 Judgments. "Honey", in Hebrew "devash" [which has a numerical value of 306], and which is considered the kind of sweetness that is the root and source of judgments, is equal to the numerical value of the first two letters of the word "shofar", the shin and vav [= 306]. Because Ben Zoma greatly amplified the severe power of the gevurot and the judgments, this disparaging verse was applied to him.
Rabbi Akiva rectified more than all of them. And furthermore, he did not sin, for focused more on rectifying the crown of chesed.
Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim and Likutei Torah; 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.