For the World of the Chariot

From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky

The first verse in the Torah literally reads ‘In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth.’ The verb in this verse, ‘to create,’ refers to the second of the four worlds, Atzilut (’emanation’), Beriya (‘creation’), Yetzira (‘formation’), and Asiya (‘action’).

The Torah does not [here] speak about the world of Atzilut, but rather about the world of Beriya. The Torah is therefore called ‘the Torah of Beriya.’ And therefore the Torah begins with the letter beit, for the alef (the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet) alludes to Atzilut [which is both the first world and begins with the letter alef], while the letter beit (the second letter) alludes to Beriya, which is [both] the second world and begins with the letter beit.

Not only does the verb in the first verse put us squarely in the world of Beriya, but this fact is alluded to also in the first letter of the Torah. In the words of our sages, ‘all is according to the beginning.’ This letter, beit, refers to the world of Beriya both because its numerical value is 2 and because it is the initial of the word Beriya.

It is also known that ‘Imma nests in the [world of the] chariot.’ (Tikunei Zohar 6,23a) This is another reason why the Torah begins with the letter beit, for beit is the first letter of bina. The Divine chariot that figures in the vision of Ezekiel is identified with this world

It is stated in the Zohar that Abba nests in the world of Atzilut; Imma in the world of the chariot; Zeir Anpin in Yetzira, and Nukva d’Zeir Anpin in Asiya. Beriya is called here ‘the world of the chariot’ because the Divine chariot that figures in the vision of Ezekiel is identified with this world. The partzufim referred to here are the partzufim of Atzilut; the meaning is that Abba of Atzilut nests in Atzilut, while Imma of Atzilut descends and rests in Beriya, and so forth.

All this simply means that, although each world possesses its own array of ten sefirot (in the form of their respective partzufim), each world is nonetheless pervaded by an overall consciousness that is an expression of one of the partzufim of Atzilut. Abba is the partzuf of chochma, which is the consciousness of bitul (‘self-nullification’); a person experiencing a flash of insight is not aware of himself but is rather absorbed totally in the experience of the revelation. This, overall, is the general consciousness of the world of Atzilut; the revelation of G-d in this world is so great that it leaves absolutely no room for self-awareness.

Imma is the partzuf of bina, which is a consciousness of self-awareness. A person involved in understanding the implications, applications, and ramifications of an insight he has received is very aware of himself and the way he perceives the world; it is precisely this self-awareness that he uses to evaluate the effect of his insight. This self-awareness is what distinguishes the world of Beriya from the world of Atzilut. In Beriya, for the first time, there is such a thing as self-awareness or self-consciousness; the beings that exist in this world are aware of themselves as entities distinct from G-d. The same paradigm applies to Zeir Anpin with regard to Yetzira and Nukva d’Zeir Anpin with regard to Asiya.

This is why the world was created in Tishrei, which is [an expression of the idea contained in the verse] ‘His left hand is under my head.’ (Song of Songs 2:6) For Abba is always [associated with] the right side, and Imma the left. The letters of the word for ‘in the beginning’ [bereishit, beit-reish-alef-shin-yud-tav] may thus be rearranged to spell ‘on the first of Tishrei’ [beit-alef tav-shin-reish-yud]. The holidays of Tishrei emphasize human effort… ascending heavenward

Although the world was created on the 25th of Elul, the crown of creation was the creation of man, who was created on the sixth day, or the 1st of Tishrei. The whole six-day creative process may thus be viewed as a preparation for what happened on the 1st of Tishrei, and therefore the world may be spoken of as having been truly or fully created in Tishrei.

Tishrei is the beginning of the cold half of the year, in contrast to Nisan, which is the beginning of the warm half. The holidays of Tishrei emphasize human effort, to crown G-d king (Rosh Hashanah), to achieve atonement for man’s sins (Yom Kippur), to rejoice in G-d’s protection, to achieve joy in His service, and unity in His people (Sukkot), and to elicit Divine revelation through the study of the Torah (Shemini Atzeret-Simchat Torah). The holiday of Nisan – Pesach – in contrast, emphasizes G-d’s initiative (in taking us out of bondage). Thus, the cold half of the year (which we have to ‘warm up’ on our own) is characterized more by human effort ascending heavenward, while the warm half of the year is characterized more by G-d ‘taking over’ and our simply being open and receptive to His leadership.

This dynamic in our relationship with G-d is alluded to in the verse, ‘His left hand is under my head, and His right hand will embrace me.’ The left hand signifies gevurah, the Divine attribute of judgement and justice, while the right hand signifies chesed, the Divine attribute of loving-kindness. Tishrei and the half of the year it ushers in is thus clearly an expression of G-d’s left hand (cf. G-d as judge on Rosh Hashanah, etc.), while Nisan and its half-year are an expression of G-d’s right hand.

This is also why [in the entire account of creation] the Name Elokim is mentioned 32 times. For the 32 pathways of Abba are 32 Names Havayah, while in Imma they are 32 Names Elokim.

It is stated in Sefer Yetzira (1:1) that there are 32 ‘pathways of chochma.’ The simplest understanding of these pathways is that they are the ten sefirot and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, i.e., ideas and their means of expression. The two principle Names of G-d, Havayah and Elokim, are associated with chochma and bina, respectively. This is because the Name Elokim, whose numerical value (86) is the same as that as the word for ‘nature’ (ha-teva, hei-tet-beit-ayin), signifies G-d as He is manifest in nature, while the Name Havayah, being a combination of the words for ‘was’, ‘is,’ and ‘will be,’ signifies G-d as He transcends nature (i.e., the limitations of time and space). Similar to what we said above, the experience of chochma is transcendent in nature, in which the individual is temporarily abstracted from the context of his own self-awareness, while the experience of bina is much more ‘natural,’ in which the individual is firmly positioned in the context of the limits of his own intellect.

Thus, when the revelation of Abba enters Imma, it is no longer represented by the Name Havayah but by the Name Elokim.

The word ‘beginning,’ [however,] refers to chochma, as in the verse ‘the beginning of wisdom.’ (Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 4:7)

This phrase (reishit chochma) can poetically be taken to mean ‘the beginning is wisdom.’ Also, since chochma is the first conscious sefira (as opposed to keter, which is sub- or super-conscious), it can rightfully be called ‘the beginning’ of the sefirotic (and thus any) process.

Thus, although the first verse of the Torah seems to revolve principally around Beriya and Imma, it also contains an allusion to chochma (and thus to Atzilut).

This [double allusion to chochma and bina] may be seen in the beit, [the first letter] of bereishit [‘in the beginning’]. [The dagesh inside the letter] alludes to ‘the point in its palace,’ i.e. [the state in which] Abba and Imma are equal and together. The insight of chochma…will disappear and be forgotten, [unless] integrated into the individual’s mental structures

The dagesh (point) inside the beit alludes to chochma, the ‘point’ or ‘drop’ of insight surrounded and encompassed by the three-line (i.e., three-dimensional) letter beit itself, alluding to bina.

As we have mentioned previously, chochma and bina have a ‘symbiotic’ relationship. The insight of chochma, if not processed by bina, will disappear and be forgotten, since it was not integrated into the individual’s mental structures. On the other hand, if bina is left to pursue its analysis unchecked, it is likely to stray far afield from the idea of the initial insight and arrive at spurious conclusions; it must therefore be-at least periodically-reviewed and compared with the original insight. The ideal condition, thus, is for chochma and bina to be constantly in a state of ‘union,’ i.e., mutual cross-fertilization. This is referred to in the Imagery of the Zohar as ‘the point [i.e., chochma] in its palace [i.e., bina].’

Therefore Scripture uses the verb ‘created,’ alluding to Beriya, and the Name Elokim, which refers to Imma. Furthermore, the numerical value of the Name Elokim[alef-lamed-hei-yud-mem, 86] is the same as that of the word for ‘the throne’ [ha-kisei, hei-kaf-samech-alef], for ‘Imma nests in the [world of the] throne,’ as above.

These two words, ‘created’ and the Name Elokim, thus refer to Imma of Beriya: ‘Created’ – Beriya; Elokim – Imma, which nonetheless acts with the power of Imma of Atzilut that is vested in it. This is the meaning of Bereishit, ‘in [i.e. with (the power of)] the beginning,’ the word ‘the beginning’ referring to [Imma of] Atzilut. The meaning of the entire verse is thus:

In the beginning — i.e. with the power of Imma of Atzilut,

G-d created — i.e. Imma of Beriya created,

the heavens — i.e. Zeir Anpin of Beriya,

and the earth — i.e. Nukva of Zeir Anpin of Beriya.

Thus we see, as the Arizal said above, this verse refers entirely to the world of Beriya.

[The Torah then proceeds to discuss] the elevation of the [seven] kings [of Edom] that died, for as is known, remnants of these ‘kings’ exist in every world. The sparks of Tohu ‘fell’ into the subsequently created worlds of Tikun…

As we have discussed previously, the seven kings of Edom who are all referred to as having ruled and died allude to the midot of Tohu whose vessels broke. The sparks of Tohu ‘fell’ into the subsequently created worlds of Tikun (the four mentioned above), the most sublime elements remaining in Atzilut, the less refined falling to Beriya, the even less refined falling to Yetzira, and the least refined falling to Asiya.

This is the mystical meaning of the next verse, ‘The earth was without form and void,’ referring to the shattering of the vessels.

We must therefore read this verse as if the verb were in the pluperfect: ‘the earth had been without form and void,’ i.e., the world of Tohu had previously collapsed, losing its stability (form) leaving sparks in all the realm of Tikun, including the world of Beriya.

The next phrase, ‘and the spirit of G-d was hovering over the waters,’ refers to the life force [i.e., ‘lights,’ of the world of Tohu] that the vessels could not receive.

In Tohu, the lights were too intense and powerful for the vessels to contain; this is why they shattered, similar to the way someone who hears some idea or concept for which he is not prepared becomes disoriented or even suffers a nervous breakdown.

These lights that could not settle in their vessels remained therefore ‘hovering’ over them.

This is the mystical meaning of the crowns atop the letters; they allude to the light that hovers above them.

Letters are vessels, i.e., they themselves are the medium, not the message. The meaning they convey (either as single letters or when combined into words and sentences) is the ‘light’ inside them. However, there is also residual, subliminal meaning to the letters that originates from the source of the vessels in Tohu. This is alluded to in the Torah scroll by the crowns affixed to certain letters.

The next verse, ‘G-d said, ‘Let there be light’,’ refers to the supernal chesed, i.e., the eighth king, Hadar, through whom [the other seven kings] were rectified.

As we have explained previously, the world of Tohu was characterized by an overemphasis on strict judgement; this was rectified by introducing love and empathy into the fabric of creation. This resulted in the world of Tikun, the rectified version of Tohu in which all the sefirot could relate to each other harmoniously.

The first elements to be rectified were the refuse and ‘shells,’ just as we see that the shell develops before the fruit.

A vessel void of its light is an empty shell. The broken vessels of the sefirot of Tohu, which broke because of their excessive selfhood and judgement, fall and became the ‘evil’ embedded in the worlds of Tikun.

These elements were not ‘evil’ in the sense of being sinister; they simply expressed non-G-d-consciousness and selfhood. As such, they became an absolutely necessary and crucial element in the creation of the subsequent worlds, for in order for there to be free choice, there must be an element of ‘evil,’ i.e., non-G-d-orientation available as an alternative to holiness. This aspect of reality became more pronounced with each successive world, until, in our physical world, it became the dominant consciousness: the physical world is a given, G-d must be proven.

In this sense, the ‘evil’ derived from the shells or refuse of the world of Tohu is analogous to the shell of a nut or skin of a fruit that develops on the tree before the fruit. Without the shell, the fruit would be exposed to the elements and thus unprotected would not endure. Similarly, without the a priori self-consciousness descended from the mentality of Tohu, there would be little, if anything, accomplished by the descent of the soul into the body or the creation of this world. …for this reason that separating the unwanted from the desired is forbidden on the Sabbath

Thus it is written, ‘Let the water swarm with living creatures,’ (Gen. 1:20) and similarly the creation of all other aspects of life, until finally, on the sixth day, man was created-the food [inside the shell].

The creation of the physical and biological systems of the earth serve as the backdrop to the creation of man, the purpose of it all and through whom all these other elements find meaning.

It is for this reason that separating the unwanted from the desired [literally: the refuse from the food] is forbidden on the Sabbath, for this is the way the refinement of the world [in the process of creation] occurred.

One of the 39 forms of work prohibited on the Sabbath is ‘separating’ (borer), which also means ‘refining’ in the sense of separating and removing the undesirable aspects of something, leaving it purified from its dross or chaff. We are taught that the prohibition consists only of separating the unwanted from the wanted, not the wanted from the unwanted. For example, if there is a bowl of fruit in front of us containing both good and rotten apples, we may not, on the Sabbath, separate out the rotten apples in order to leave a bowl of good ones. Rather, we must select out the good ones (which we may then place in another bowl), leaving a bowl of rotten ones.

This is because separating the bad from the good is a weekday type of work, i.e., one of the types of work the characterized the six days of creation. As we see here, as the worlds were created, one after another, the coarsest refuse of the world of Tohu was separated out of the entire mass of sparks. (We could Immagine the world as a spiritual fruit bowl, from which G-d removes all but the finest ‘apples,’ placing the rotten ones in another bowl. The bowl of perfect fruit becomes the world of Atzilut. The second bowl now contains only grade B, C, and D apples. G-d removes all the grade C and D apples from this bowl, which then becomes the world of Beriya, and puts them in a third bowl. The third bowl contains only grade C and D apples. G-d removes the grade D apples, leaving a bowl of grade C apples, which becomes the world of Yetzira. The bowl into which the grade D apples have been placed is the world of Asiya.)

Similarly, in the six days of creation of this world, G-d first created the lower types of creatures, the mineral world. To do this He had to separate out the lowest, coarsest elements from the creation-soup He had to work with from the first day. The creation-soup left was thus ‘purified’ from all the elements so coarse that only the mineral kingdom could be created from them. Next, G-d separated out the coarsest elements remaining in the creation-soup, which resulted in the creation of the vegetable kingdom. The creation-soup was thus left purified of those elements so coarse that only vegetative life could be created out of them. Next G-d separated out the anImmal elements, and finally, the choicest part left was the human.

(Notice that in both cases the bad is being separated from the good, the progression of creation in the cosmic realm is descending, while on the earthly level it is ascending.)

Separating the wanted from the unwanted, however, is permitted [even on the Sabbath], since this is not the way the world was created.

Separating this way does not therefore reflect the process of creation, which of course did not occur on the Sabbath. It is therefore not considered ‘weekday’ work, and is permitted on the Sabbath.


Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim; subsequently published in “Apples From the Orchard.”

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