Thursday, June 10, 2004

R' Ashlag Ch. 2

Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag's "Introduction to the Zohar"

-- as translated and commented on by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Chapter 2


"But we’d first have to explore a few things before we can solve all that, though we certainly won’t explore anything we’re not allowed to, like G-d’s very Essence, Heaven forfend! For “no thought can grasp His Essence whatsoever” (TIkkunei Zohar, Introduction), so we dare not think about or reflect upon that.

"But we will delve into the things we’re commanded to explore, like G-d’s actions. After all, the Torah charges each one of us to “know your father’s G-d and serve Him” (1 Chronicles 28:9); and as it’s said, “we know You from Your actions” (Shir HaYichud)."

-- R’ Ashlag now begins to answer his questions by stepping back a bit and laying out certain Kabbalistic principles beforehand.

-- Let it be said from the outset that there's G-d Himself, and G-d as He “presents” Himself in the world.

-- But make no mistake about it. That's not to say that there are different aspects of the one, sheer, complete, total, unalloyed, and indivisible G-d. Just that there's how He is Himself, and how He's experienced now that the world has been created (which changes the whole picture, since He's no longer unto Himself).

-- The point is that G-d doesn't present Himself -- appear -- in the world as He is per se since the world couldn't endure that. He appears here on a more subdued, we might even say “suppressed” level (the way geniuses present themselves when they interact with more ordinary people).

-- And while we're indeed encouraged and charged to know Him as He presents Himself in the world, which we can deduce from what He does here (the way you can deduce anyone's character by his or her actions), we're still-and-all forbidden to know Him Himself, i.e., His ultimate thoughts and motivations. For “no thought can” -- is able or allowed to -- “grasp His Essence whatsoever”.

-- So we'll explore G-d's ways in the world, from the moment it occurred to Him to create it and onward, but not before that.


"So, our first inquiry would touch on this: How could anyone imagine a completely original creation -- something utterly new-sprung that hadn’t already been incorporated in His Being from the first -- when it’s obvious to any thinking person that everything was originally incorporated in His Being? After all, isn’t it apparent that a giver can only give what he himself already has?"

-- We’ll now address the first series of sub-questions (referred to in Chapter 1). Don't forget that these aren't reiterations of the five "underlying" questions we'd just presented. They're new conundrums we'd need to solve before we could go back to the original questions.

-- Just know that this is heady and deeply abstract stuff, so I'd advise you to be patient here and to allow yourself to luxuriate in it.

-- So, at the time it occurred to G-d to create the cosmos (which is our time-frame, don't forget) all that existed was G-d Himself and His idea to create it (other thoughts existed, too, but they're also out of our framework).

-- It follows then that the entirety that did eventually come about had to have been an utterly new and original phenomenon, rather than a derivation of or a variation on something else ongoing. It had to have "popped up" somehow "out of the blue", as we'd put it, unlike anything else (which means to say, unlike G-d Himself).

-- But, how can there be anything outside of or seperate from G-d -- that is, how could anything appear out of the blue in fact? For as R' Ashlag words it, "isn’t it apparent that a giver can only give what he himself already has?" So, how could anything other than He ever come about?


"Second, if you posit that since He’s omnipotent, He could certainly have created something out of sheer nothingness, which is to say, something that didn’t already exist in His Being -- then what is this “thing” that we’d decided wasn’t found in Him originally but was created out of sheer nothingness?"

-- That is, if in fact the cosmos did come about out of sheer nothingness, as it could very well have, since G-d can do anything including just that -- then what does that say about the nature and makeup of the cosmos? It must be nearly as sublime and utterly inexplicable as G-d Himself in its perplexity and marvel.

-- The truth of that should strike us, by the way. After all, the "everything" that has come into being is utterly original and fresh; everything that we do, don't, can't, and won't know of is a thing (and non-thing) sprung from G-d's mind, while every "thing" else is either G-d Himself, or still in His mind.

-- We've raised questions up to now about our essential natures, about G-d, and about the cosmos at large. Now onto our souls (which we said aren't our essential natures, if you recall). Did they "pop-up out of the blue" too? What are they comprised of? R' Ashlag begins exploring that by first citing a fundamental Kabbalistic portrayal of the soul.


"Third, the kabbalists say that the human soul is a “part of G-d”, with the only difference being that G-d is the "whole" while the soul is a "part" or “piece” of Him. And they equate the two to a rock hewn from a mountain, with the only difference between them being that one is the 'whole' and the other is a 'piece'"."

-- That's to say that the reason the human soul is the numinous, very otherwise, singular, and peculiar a phenomenon that it is, is because it's a "part of G-d".

-- First off, understand that we're not talking about the "battery-cell" that keeps the body alive when we refer to the soul; or about the human heart which is admittedly profoundly occult, forestial, and awash with mystery, but not the soul; or about the nearly equally numinous human mind either. Instead, we're referring to the immortal utterly non-physical "kernel" that lies both deep within and near-and-far outside our beings.

-- Each soul, we're told, is a particular detail in the perfect total makeup of G-d Himself.

-- Now, that's not to say that at bottom G-d is the sum-total of all souls, since He Himself can't be defined or limited in any way (as we said). What it means to say is that once G-d decided to create the cosmos, He allowed for the appearance of our souls as well. And they're each a part of Him, much the way each segment of a hologram is an independant example of the hologram itself.

-- But this point itself raises other questions.


"Only now we’d need to explore the following. A stone that’s hewn from a mountain had to have been hewn by an ax made for the express purpose of separating it from the "whole". But could anyone ever imagine hewing a seperate “part” of G-d, i.e., a soul, which would then be considered a part of His very Essence?"

-- That is, how could G-d Almighty be divided into parts -- and what in the world could ever have actually done that?

(c) 2004 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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