From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky
The portion of the Torah read this week begins with the commandment of letting the land lie fallow every seventh year. To quote the verse:
Note: This is the first of four installments of the Arizal's teachings on parashat Behar.
When you come into the land which I am giving to you, the land shall rest, a Shabbat for G‑d. (Lev. 25:2)
The meaning of the Sabbatical year and the jubilee will be understood [after the following discussion]. We see that there is a weekly Shabbat and a Sabbatical year, which is also called a Shabbat. As it is written: "…a Shabbat for G‑d" (Lev. 25:2,4) and "And the Shabbat of the land…" (Lev. 25:6) Let us examine why the Sabbatical year is also called a Shabbat and what difference there is between the [weekly] Shabbat and the Sabbatical year.
The spiritual ascent of all worlds is the essence of the Shabbat…
We have already explained that the spiritual ascent of all worlds is the essence of the Shabbat. Each world rises to a higher level than it is on during the rest of the week.
Specifically: The netzach-hod-yesod-malchut of Asiya [collectively] ascend to the level [normally "occupied" by] chesed-gevura-tiferet; chesed-gevura-tiferet ascend to the level of chochma-bina-daat; chochma-bina-daat of Asiya ascend to the level of netzach-hod-yesod-malchut of Yetzira, and so on, up to the original beginning of emanation itself. For even Arich Anpin ascends [on Shabbat], and its place is taken by Abba and Imma, as is known.
The sefirot behave collectively relative to their "energy levels". Although each sefira has its own identity, the sefirot of the intellect, of the emotions, and of behavior function together as units. For this reason, the ascent they undergo on Shabbat occurs relative to these energy levels.
A "world" in Kabbala is a level of consciousness, a realm in which everything on this level shares a common awareness of G‑d. A lower world sustains less divine consciousness; a higher world, more. The ascent of the worlds on Shabbat one notch in the hierarchy of consciousness thus means that each level temporarily is able to sustain a level of G‑d-awareness that is normally too high for it. Normally, if someone or something on the level of chesed-gevura-tiferet of Asiya would acquire the consciousness of chochma-bina-daat of Asiya, this would mean that he has ascended from the previous level up to the higher one. On Shabbat, however, the lower level ascends to the higher level while still retaining its identity as the lower level. This temporary "bending" of reality occurs only on Shabbat. As soon as Shabbat is over, reality reverts to its former state.
The ascent of the worlds on Shabbat upward one notch in the hierarchy of consciousness means that each level temporarily is able to sustain a level of G‑d-awareness that is normally too high for it.
It follows that on Shabbat all worlds experience an ascent.
The Sabbatical year is called a Shabbat since it is similar in this respect to Shabbat. All worlds ascend to a level higher than their normal one, just as they do on the [weekly] Shabbat.
The difference is that on Shabbat all creation experiences an ascent, while in the Sabbatical year only the three [lower] worlds - Beriya, Yetzira, and Asiya – ascend.
This works as follows: netzach-hod-yesod of Asiya ascend to the level of chesed-gevura-tiferet of Asiya, and so on, [just as on Shabbat]. Thus, chochma-bina-daat of Beriya ascend to the level of malchut of Atzilut. But from malchut of Atzilut on up, there is no ascent whatsoever, and we [mortals] have no power to cause any such ascent. Only on Shabbat do these levels ascend.
Notice that in the description of what happens on Shabbat, netzach-hod-yesod and malchut all function as one unit, whereas here, the Ari mentions only netzach-hod-yesod functioning as a unit, and malchut seems to be functioning separately (as seen in the fact that chochma-bina-daat of Beriya are described as ascending to malchut of Atzilut and not to netzach-hod-yesod-malchut of Atzilut). This discrepancy is now explained.
On Shabbat, all four lower sefirot of each world ascend to the level of the three middle sefirot…
There is a second difference, which will shed additional light on the difference just described. On Shabbat, all four lower sefirot of each world ascend to the level of the three middle sefirot. In the Sabbatical year, this is not the case, but rather, only netzach-hod-yesod of Asiya ascend to the level of chesed-gevura-tiferet of Asiya, while malchut of Asiya ascends to the level of netzach-hod-yesod of Asiya. Thus, malchut behaves independently of netzach-hod-yesod and does not ascend with them to the level of chesed-gevura-tiferet, but only up to the level of netzach-hod-yesod, and remains there by itself.
Similarly, the three higher sefirot of Asiya ascend to the level of malchut of Yetzira, malchut of Yetzira to the level of netzach-hod-yesod of Yetzira, netzach-hod-yesod of Yetzira to the level of chesed-gevura-tiferet of Yetzira, chesed-gevura-tiferet of Yetzira to the level of keter-chochma-bina of Yetzira, keter-chochma-bina of Yetzira to the level of malchut of Beriya, and malchut [of Beriya] to the level of netzach-hod-yesod of Beriya. Following this pattern, keter-chochma-bina of Beriya ascend to the level of malchut of Atzilut. From this point upward, all the sefirot remain at their usual level and do not ascend, as we pointed out above.
We will now explain how it is possible on Shabbat for all four lower sefirot - netzach, hod, yesod, and malchut - to ascend together.
Netzach, hod, and yesod exist on the three axes of right, left, and center respectively.
It will be recalled that the sefirot are organized into a tri-linear array that depicts the various relationships among them. This structure is as follows:
left axis - center axis - right axis
The "energy level" of the sefirot is reflected in their position in this structure. For example, the energy level of netzach and hod is lower than that of chesed and gevura.
The fourth [of the four lower sefirot], malchut, is not situated below them [as the chart might seem to indicate], such that we might assume that it occupies a level of its own. If this were the case, we would have to explain how it is possible that three [sefirot] can occupy the place normally occupied by four, or four [sefirot] the place normally occupied by three.
Malchut is not underneath netzach-hod-yesod but behind them…
As was detailed above, on Shabbat the netzach-hod-yesod-malchut of each world collectively ascend to the level of chesed-gevura-tiferet of that world. Likewise, the chochma-bina-daat of each world ascend to the level of netzach-hod-yesod-malchut of the next world up.
This is not the case, however, since malchut is not underneath netzach-hod-yesod but behind them, as is known. Malchut stands behind the netzach-hod-yesod of Zeir Anpin. It follows that the "feet" of malchut extends down only as far as [does the lower extremity of] netzach-hod-yesod of Zeir Anpin. This being the case, malchut does not occupy any "vertical" space by itself at all.
This is true on weekdays, when malchut is back-to-back with Zeir Anpin. It is also true on Shabbat, when they turn to face each other.
During the week, the emotions are somewhat divorced or disconnected from their means of expression, and Zeir Anpin and its Nukva (referred to here simply as malchut) are "back-to-back". What this means is that the emotions are somewhat divorced or disconnected from their means of expression. During the week, as we have explained previously, we are meant to focus on the task of rectifying and elevating the physical world. This entails a temporary disconnection from our higher selves as we sally forth into the jungle or desert of unredeemed reality to slay the dragons and spread the light.
In order to engage reality on its own level, we have to turn our backs…
In order to engage reality on its own level, we have to turn our backs, so to speak, on the pure experience of inspiration so we can get on with the work at hand.
On Shabbat, however, we are bidden to rest from this challenge in order to reconnect with our higher selves. In Kabalistic terminology, this means that our Nukva and Zeir Anpin face each other anew in order to couple; our means of expression get recharged from their renewed contact with the emotions that power them.
This is in fact exactly what malchut demanded, i.e. that she stand face to face with netzach-hod-yesod.
This refers to the demand of the moon, recorded in the Midrash, that it be placed on equal footing with the sun. The moon symbolizes malchut, while the sun symbolizes netzach-hod-yesod.
chanoch adds:i have always learned nthat the sun is Tiferet not that lower level of Netzach Hod Yesod.
In any case, it never occupies any level by itself below them. Thus, if these four sefirot ascend to a level occupied by three sefirot, or three others ascend to the level occupied by these four, this is no problem, since the "vertical" space occupied by these four is the same as that occupied by three.
We have thus explained how the ascent [of the sefirot] occurs on Shabbat.
However, we must now explain [something else]. For by this same token, we must ask how in the Sabbatical year the first three [sefirot of any particular world] can ascend to [the level normally occupied by] malchut [of the world immediately above it], which is [a level normally occupied by] one sefira. Or how malchut, which is only one sefira, can ascent and occupy the level of netzach-hod-yesod, which are three sefirot.
The truth is that this, too, is self-understood. For malchut, after all, is not just one sefira, but rather an entire partzuf [i.e. Nukva]. It is just that the length [i.e. height] of this partzuf is the same as that of netzach-hod-yesod of Zeir Anpin. Thus, when it ascends, malchut can fill the level usually occupied by netzach-hod-yesod, and keter-chochma-bina [of the lower world] can ascend to [and fill] the place occupied by malchut alone. This explains everything.
Malchut…is called the 'daughter'…
There are other differences, which will also be self-understood based on what we will explain presently, please G‑d.
Bear in mind that the word "Shabbat" [spelled shin-beit-tav], as explained in the Zohar (I:23b, II:204a, III:243b, 281a) may be read as "daughter of the [letter] shin" [shin-bat]. This is because malchut, which is called the "daughter", ascends to the level of chesed-gevura-tiferet, which are alluded to by the [three branches of the] letter shin, [which alludes as well to] the three axes [of the sefirot] and the three patriarchs, as is known.
Nukva is called the "daughter" of Abba (the "father") and Imma (the "mother"), while Zeir Anpin is called the "son". This simply means that the emotions and their means of expression are revealed by the intellect. The three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, personified the three axes of the sefirot, right, left, and center, respectively.
When netzach-hod-yesod ascend, malchut ascends with them to the level normally occupied by chesed-gevura-tiferet; this is Shabbat. This is the advantage of Shabbat over the Sabbatical year, for in the Sabbatical year, malchut ascends only as far as netzach-hod-yesod.
As detailed above, during the Sabbatical year malchut only ascends to occupy the level of netzach-hod-yesod. On Shabbat, in contrast, malchut ascends with netzach-hod-yesod to occupy the level of chesed-gevura-tiferet. Since the soul is "born" out of malchut, the consciousness of the Jew therefore follows the same paradigm. This is why on Shabbat more worldly pursuits are forbidden than are during the Sabbatical year: the soul is experiencing a higher level of spirituality, which would be contravened by engaging in material work.
This, then, is the mystical meaning of the verses [which refer to the Sabbatical year as a Shabbat]: "And the Shabbat of the land…", "and the land will rest…", etc. The "land" refers to malchut. It rests by itself and is not included with netzach-hod-yesod [as they ascend to the level of chesed-gevura-tiferet], but rather ascends only as far as the level of netzach-hod-yesod.
The phrase "and the land will rest" alludes to the first distinction we detailed [between Shabbat and the Sabbatical year]. For Shabbat is the day of rest and ascent for all ten sefirot of Atzilut, whereas on the Sabbatical year only malchut rests and ascends, while the other sefirot of Atzilut remain at their usual levels and do not ascend at all.
Note here that the concept of "ascent" is considered equivalent to that of "rest", while we might assume that rest means staying at one's native level and not ascending. This indicates that resting, and particular Shabbat resting, is conceived in Judaism as a return to one's higher spiritual self - which in fact can often be quite taxing - rather than simple relaxation.
This, then, is the meaning of "a Shabbat of the land" and "the land shall rest, a Shabbat for G‑d": the land [malchut] will ascend to G‑d, meaning to [the higher consciousness of G‑d informing] Zeir Anpin. It does not, however, ascend to the level of chesed-gevura-tiferet as it does on Shabbat. If this were so, it would not be a Shabbat of rest only for "the land", but for netzach-hod-yesod of Zeir Anpin as well. Rather, the Sabbatical year is a time of rest only for "the land", for it alone ascends.
Even though in the three [lower] worlds - Beriya, Yetzira, and Asiya - all ten sefirot ascend, these three worlds are relatively all Nukva, being the hosts of malchut of Atzilut.
All three lower worlds are "born" from the "womb" of malchut of Atzilut and are therefore subject to the vicissitudes of her spiritual dynamics. In this case, it is the issue of whether or not malchut of Atzilut ascends all the way up to the level of chesed-gevura-tiferet or only as far as netzach-hod-yesod that determines whether it will be Shabbat or the Sabbatical year in these lower worlds.
Thus, all the rest [of the Sabbatical year] is only as far ["up"] as malchut of Atzilut, as it is written, "the land will rest".
Read Below to continue on to the next installment: "Supernal Sabbaths".
Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutimand Taamei HaMitzvot; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."
From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky
The reader is advised to review our first installment of the Arizal's teachings on parashat Behar: Shabbat: Relaxation-Elevation. The following is a direct continuation of that excerpt.
[The above] is [the basis of] the explanation of the statement of the Zohar (III:108a) that the sabbatical year "occurs" in the lower hei [of the name Havayah], whereas the jubilee year "occurs" in the upper hei. We have explained how the sabbatical year occurs in the lower hei, namely, that [in this year] the worlds do not ascend collectively any higher than the lower hei, i.e. malchut of Atzilut, but from there upwards nothing ascends.
Thus there are three degrees of ascent….
As explained in the previous installment, even though in the sabbatical year the three lower worlds of Beriya, Yetzira, and Asiya do ascend, they collectively can be considered "female" (i.e. malchut) relative to the world of Atzilut. Thus, whatever ascent occurs during the sabbatical year may be considered an ascent of malchut, nothing more.
The mystical meaning of the jubilee year, signified by the upper hei [of the name Havayah] is as follows:
[This year] undergoes everything that occurs in the sabbatical year, plus an additional [ascent]: there is an ascent within Atzilut itself. Zeir Anpin ascends to the level of bina, which is signified by the upper hei [of the name Havayah]. Higher than this, however, there is no ascent whatsoever.
Thus there are three degrees of ascent: the sabbatical year, in which ascent occurs only as far up as malchut [of Atzilut], the jubilee year, in which ascent occurs up to the level of bina [of Atzilut], and Shabbat, in which all levels ascend.
You will therefore observe that all the laws that apply during the sabbatical year apply as well during the jubilee year, with some few additional restrictions, due to the additional ascent in the jubilee over and above that of the sabbatical year.
The addition [in the jubilee year] is that bondsmen are released from slavery. This is analogous to the exodus from Egypt, when the Jewish people as a whole also went "out of the house of bondage." (Ex. 20:2) [Freedom] can only occur by means of Imma, i.e. by her opening up her Fifty Gates [of bina], as we have explained with regard to Pesach and Shavuot.
Freedom is thus the release of consciousness from its constricted state….
Shavuot occurs fifty days after Pesach; these fifty days correspond to the Fifty Gates of bina. "Freedom" is thus the release of consciousness from its constricted state, wherein it lacks the fifty levels of divine understanding.
It is for the same reason that the jubilee occurs after fifty years, corresponding to the Fifty Gates of bina, in contrast to the sabbatical year, which occurs after seven years. [The sabbatical year] corresponds [therefore] to the lower hei, which is the "daughter" of the seven [sefirot of the emotions].
Malchut receives its light from the six sefirot above it. This is reflected in the fact that the sabbatical year, in which the lower worlds ascend to malchut of Atzilut, occurs after six years, corresponding to the input of the six higher sefirot into malchut.
Now, we see that on Shabbat all types of work are forbidden, while on the festivals, preparation of food is allowed, and in the sabbatical year all types of work are permitted except those pertaining to working the land. In order to understand this difference, we will first explain the significance of the prohibition of work in general.
Bear in mind that we have already explained that the origin of all this is what happened to the kings who died in the land of Edom.
The account of the deaths of the kings of Edom is the allegorical correlate of the shattering of the vessels of the world of Tohu.
Because they died, we have to elevate and revive them.
This refers to our task of "elevating the sparks" of Tohu that became embedded in our material world.
For we cause Zeir Anpin and Nukva to couple, and through our prayers and good deeds we cause [the sparks of] these fallen kings to ascend, as "feminine waters", to malchut.
Our task is to harness the material aspects of this world for divine purposes….
Our task is to harness the material aspects of this world (including the mental and emotional energies, etc., allied with the material world) for divine purposes, i.e. to infuse divine consciousness into this world. This we accomplish primarily through prayer, the ascent of consciousness into divine consciousness, and "good deeds", whether the performance of actual, formal mitzvot, or of general deeds that serve to increase divine consciousness in the world.
The effect of these activities is, as we said, that the sparks, or potentials, of holiness inherent but trapped within material reality are "liberated" and enabled to "ascend" to the level of malchut of Atzilut. Malchut of Atzilut is the source of consciousness for the lower worlds. This released spiritual energy serves to develop or empower malchut, rendering it fit to couple with Zeir Anpin. The ascent of these released sparks is our act of initiative that catalyzes this coupling. In Lurianic terms, this is called "arousal from below"; in Zoharic terms, it is called "the ascent of feminine waters".
The coupling of Zeir Anpin and Nukva is the unification of emotion and expression. This, as we have explained previously, is necessary in order that the female drive for expressing divinity in the world be properly inspired by divine emotion and not sidetracked into the enhancement of the existential reality it is intended to elevate. The accomplishments of our feminine consciousness, i.e. our prayers and good deeds, "inspire" our male consciousness, i.e. our abstract orientation towards divinity, to "couple" with our feminine consciousness, as we have also explained previously.
This causes the [fallen kings] to be renewed and revived. This process will continue until, with G‑d's help, our righteous Mashiach arrives. When all [the sparks of] these kings will be able to be elevated, and the good and holiness within them will be rectified and purified [from the dross attached to them], the "shells" will be left by itself, as dross. At that time, it is written, "death will be swallowed up forever." (Isaiah 25:8)
Presently, the negative ("evil") energies and contexts in which the sparks of Tohu are embedded derive their energy to exist from the sparks they host. Once these sparks are all liberated and re-ascend, however, the encasing shell of evil has no life-force, and therefore disintegrates. Our task in life may therefore be seen as "decontextualizing" the energies of this world from evil and reorienting them toward holiness.
Thus, all our prayers and good deeds in this world are only in order to purify and elevate [the sparks of] these seven [fallen] kings.
The purpose of work is to refine and elevate reality….
Now, on weekdays, we are allowed to work, for work implies that things need to be worked on by our efforts. [This would not be the case] had G‑d created the world the way it will be in the [messianic] future. [Of that time] it is written, "Let there be an abundance of grain on the earth," (Psalms 72:16) and we are taught that the earth will produce [fully baked] cakes, etc. (Ketubot 111b) We would not have perform numerous forms of work in order to eat. Nowadays, however, we do indeed have to perform numerous forms of work in order to eat, to plow, to plant, to remove the hay, straw, and bran - which are the "shells", and then to prepare it through fire, i.e. to bake the bread - this being the culmination of the process, giving us a finished product. The same is true of other forms of work [other than preparing bread].
This recalls Rabbi Akiva's response to Tinneius Rufus regarding beans, which must be [cooked in order to be] sweetened, and wheat, which must be ground, etc. (Midrash Tanchuma, Tazria 5)
The Roman general Tinneius Rufus asked Rabbi Akiva: "Whose deeds are nicer, those of the Holy One, blessed be He, or of man?" He answered, "Those of man!" Tinneius Rufus asked further, "Look at heaven and earth! Can man make anything like this?" Rabbi Akiva responded, "Don't talk to me about things that are beyond mankind's ability, but about things which are in his purview." He said, "Why do you circumcise yourselves?" He said back, "I knew you were planning to ask me about this. That's why I said that the deeds of man are nicer than those of the Holy One, blessed be He."
Rabbi Akiva then brought him ears of grain and baked cakes, and said to him, "This was done by the Holy One, blessed be He, and this was done by man. Is not this [cake] nicer than these ears of grain?" Tinneius Rufus then asked him, "If He wants us circumcised, why doesn't He bring the child out of his mother's womb already circumcised?" Rabbi Akiva answered him, "Why does his umbilical cord come out with him, attached to his stomach, and his mother cuts it? As to why he does not emerge already circumcised, it is because the Holy One, blessed be He, gave the commandments to Israel only for their own purification. Thus, King David said, "The word of G‑d is pure."(Psalms 18:31)
From this passage from the Midrash, we see that the purpose of work is to refine and elevate reality.
Everything that makes up all the worlds derives from these seven kings….
As we have explained, everything that makes up all the worlds derives from these seven kings; there is nothing that is not derived from them. Now, had these kings not died and become nullified, and had not the "shells" been formed from their remains, it would not be necessary for us to purify them; they would be intrinsically purified and would require no rectification whatsoever. But now that they have died and require rectification, we need our prayers, good deeds, and mitzvot in order to rectify them and elevate them as "feminine waters".
Now, just as it is with regard to the four worlds - Atzilut, Beriya, Yetzira, and Asiya - namely, that they need to be rectified, so it is with regard to the souls, for they derive from these [worlds], i.e. from that which remains after the purification process required by the [four] worlds.
The divine soul, of course, originates in G‑d Himself. Nonetheless, as we say in the morning blessings every day, "The soul which You have placed in me is pure; You created it, You formed it, You breathed it into me…." The soul is pure divinity when it descends into the world of Atzilut; "You created it" - refers to the soul as it descends further, into the world of Beriya ("creation"); "You formed it" - this refers to the soul as it descends into the world of Yetzira; "You breathed it into me" - this refers to the soul as it descends into the world of Asiya. In other words, as the soul descends on its way into the body, it undergoes a process of consciousness-constriction paralleling the levels of consciousness defined as the four worlds. As part of this process, the soul picks up the perspective of the "sparks" of the world of Tohu that could not be assimilated into these worlds. A "world" is an objective state of consciousness; the soul is a subjective creature - at least it becomes one as it descends the rungs of consciousness. The sparks of Tohu too coarse to be absorbed into the worlds, i.e. the subjective elements, get taken up and integrated into the consciousness of the soul.
chanoch adds: It is recommended, by me, to contemplate the above information until it is integrated into yourself as truth or you develop a replacement paragraph that becomes nyour truth.
Furthermore, even all the lowest aspects of this world are [derived from the holy sparks of Tohu, that is,] from the coarsest refuse left from those seven kings. [Since the material aspects of this world are derived from the coarsest aspects of Tohu,] they can therefore be refined only after numerous processes of rectification and types of work.
chanochn adds: Remember work is a translation that can also be translated as service. Does thatchange your understanding ofnthe above paragraph?
For this reason, every type work done in this world is employed for some active mitzvah. For example, if one goes to plow the ground, he can perform the mitzvah of "you shall not plow with an ox and a donkey [harnessed] together." (Deut. 22:10) If one goes to plant, he can perform the mitzvah of "you shall not plant your vineyard with mixed species." (Ibid. 22:9) The same applies to all other types of work. This is the mystical meaning of the verse: "Know Him in all your ways." (Proverbs 3:6)
All this is in order that we may elevate those kings by means of our work and the power of the active mitzvot that they entail. Through this [holy use of our power to work in these ways] these types of work are elevated.
Then, when the bread has been finished and a person eats it, the [spark of divine life force in the bread] returns [upward,] being elevated, and becomes an integral part of the limbs of this person. And so it is with all things, in the secret of "Know Him in all your ways," as we have said. This principle can be applied in all details [of life], if someone seeks to understand these details fully.
If someone examines his life deeply enough, he will see how the above principle - that holy use of the material world increases the power of holiness in the world - holds true in all circumstances.
We shall therefore now repeat that even the lowly forms of physical labor performed in this world exist in order that we elevate the seven kings with them. And all types of work exist in the context of this world, the [physical correlate of the] world of Asiya.
Therefore, the numerical value of the word for "work" [in Hebrew, "melachah", 96] is the same as that of the two divine names "El" and "Ado-nai" together.
"Melachah" is spelled: mem-lamed-alef-chaf-hei = 40 + 30 + 1 + 20 + 5 = 96.
"E-l" is spelled: alef-lamed = 1 + 30 = 31. Adonai: alef-dalet-nun-yud = 1 + 4 + 50 + 10 = 65. 31 + 65 = 96.
The divine name Ado-nai ("My lord") is associated with the sefira of malchut and the world of Asiya.
As we have said, on weekdays all types of work are permitted, as long as in doing them one does not commit any sin. For if he does, they will not be elevated; on the contrary, this will increase the power of evil. [The sparks within them are elevated] only when they are performed in an completely permitted manner - fulfilling the verse, "Know Him in all your ways," as we said - and with the intention of elevating thereby the Seven Kings.
This applies both to [what we do in order to elevate the sparks of] this world and [to what we do] in order to elevate the supernal worlds and to elevate the souls. We accomplish all this ourselves, with the power of the work of our hands (i.e. our prayers and [mitzvot, such as] tzitzit, tefilin, and lulav, etc.), for it is possible to elevate [the sparks of holiness present in] the workday [aspect of Creation] only via our own efforts. This is why work is permitted and why we have been commanded to perform the various commandments, and especially the inner dimension of our prayers.
Read below to continue on to the next installment: "Shabbat: New Souls, New Songs".
On Shabbat, the higher realms return to their rightful home.
From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky
Note: The reader is advised to review our first three installments of the Arizal's teachings on parashat Behar. The following is a direct continuation of: "Supernal Sabbaths". See Above.
Now, humankind certainly requires the assistance of the celestial powers…and the supernal powers require the assistance of the nether powers [i.e. man, in turn]. This is the mystical meaning of the verse, "Give power to the angels." (Psalms 68:35)
It is only by virtue of what was elevated during the week that malchut ascends on the Shabbat…
For this reason the worlds descend on weekdays and become vested in levels below their own in order to assist in the process of elevating the fallen Seven Kings.
Weekday consciousness is therefore one of being out of one's element, being an emissary sent on a mission. Feeling "at home" and "in one's element" is Shabbat-consciousness.
This is why the seven lower sefirot of Atzilut descend and become vested in the seven workdays - in order to elevate it all.
The Arizal now explains why he refers to seven workdays when there are in reality only six.
However, only Zeir Anpin, the male figure, has the power [to do this], so there are therefore only six workdays. The six extremities of Zeir Anpin elevate all the days of the week themselves. But with regard to the seventh day, the Shabbat, [the day of] malchut, malchut is incapable of elevating it. On the contrary, it is only by virtue of what was elevated [by Zeir Anpin] during the week that malchut ascends on the Shabbat.
The "six extremities" of Zeir Anpin are simply the six sefirot out of which it is constructed.
The higher one is, the less he is afraid to descend to a level lower than his.…
This will explain for you why the Shabbat, the holiest day, is associated with malchut, the lowest sefira, while the other days of the week are entirely profane. The reason is that the higher one is, the less he is afraid to descend to a level lower than his. This is not the case with malchut, as should be evident.
The energy and nature of malchut are such that is simply not "equipped" to elevate the lower realms on its own, as is Zeir Anpin. Feminine energy (associated with malchut) is too focused on the divine imperative to spread divine consciousness to contend with the dichotomy of divine consciousness and the material world.
But on the Shabbat, the [consciousness of] malchut [is ascendant], and malchut is incapable of elevating the seven fallen kings. Therefore, on this day the six higher extremities [i.e. Zeir Anpin] that were vested [in the lower worlds] during the six workdays return and ascend to their original status. When they are below, they elevate what there is to elevate below, but when they are above, in their proper places, there is nothing there to elevate. All they do there is couple with one another and produce new souls. This is the secret of the holiness of the Shabbat, and the reason why marital relations are prescribed for Torah scholars on the Shabbat - for on that day [the results of these relations] are new, "Shabbat" souls, originating in an [already] elevated source, and not in the realm [that requires] elevation.
As long as the pervading atmosphere in the lower worlds is determined by one of the six aspects of Zeir Anpin, "male" elevation can occur. As soon as the conduct of the world passes into the hands of malchut, however, elevation is not possible.
A married couple elicits a soul for their offspring relative to their state of consciousness during relations. The ideal time for relations is thus on the Shabbat night, since at that time consciousness is naturally more attuned to higher, divine levels.
The worlds were always on the level that they reach nowadays only on the Shabbat…
Still, the ascent of the worlds on the Shabbat is not a true ascent. As we have explained, when [the sefirot] are in their proper place it is enough for them to elicit new souls [through their coupling]. But when they go to elevate [the sparks of Tohu] they descend to levels lower than their own and become vested [in these levels]. This occurs on weekdays. It thus follows that it is only to their native, original position that they return on the Shabbat. During the week they are not in their true place, but below it, and they only descended there in order to elevate the Seven Kings.
Thus, what happens on the Shabbat is not an "ascent" to a level higher than the native level, but just a return to normality after the exceptional, unusual situation on the weekdays.
You can understand all this [better] based on what we explained in our exposition on Adam, that is, how he was originally on a higher level than Metatron is now. Based on this, you will understand that when Creation first occurred, the worlds were [always] on the level that they reach nowadays only on the Shabbat.
There is no elevation on the Shabbat; everything is new…
It follows that on weekdays [the sefirot] descend in order to elevate [the sparks], and on the Shabbat we restore them to their proper places, in order that they draw down new souls [through their coupling].
This is the reason behind the prohibition of work on the Shabbat, even those types of work necessary for the preparation of food [which are permitted on festivals]. For there is no elevation [to be performed] on the Shabbat; everything is new. Since everything is new, not the fallen remains of a primordial world, there is no need to elevate anything. This is the mystical significance of the "new" song sung on the Shabbat, as it written: "Sing to G‑d a new song" (Psalms 96:1), which we recite on the Shabbat.
Even separating is forbidden on the Shabbat.
Separating (birur) is one of the thirty-nine archetypal forms of work forbidden on the Shabbat. The type of separation forbidden is separating out unwanted elements from a mixture of wanted and unwanted things. For example, if there is a bowl of good and rotten fruit, it is forbidden to separate out the rotten fruit in order to be left with a bowl of good fruit. Separating the good fruit from such a mixture by hand, in order to eat it immediately is permitted, since this is considered the way of eating rather than separating as an end in itself. However, it is forbidden to separate the good from the bad if one is doing so for the sake of eating at a later time rather than right away, since, in this case, the act of separating becomes an end in itself. (See Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Orach Chaim 319:1-2) It is evidently to this type of separating "the wanted from the unwanted" that the Arizal refers to now.
The mystical reason why we do not separate out the wanted from the unwanted on the Shabbat is that on the Shabbat there is no such thing as separating something from refuse - i.e. from the Seven Kings - for everything is in the category of the "wanted" - new souls devoid of any refuse.
The spiritual correlate of "separating" is "elevating", i.e. removing the fallen sparks of Tohu from their material orientation in this world.
When a person does do some manner of work on the Shabbat, such as separating, he causes the supernal energies to descend below, just as they do during the workweek. The forces of evil can then attach themselves to these [energies].
When these energies are dragged down below and there is nothing for them to elevate, they can be easily diverted by the forces of evil for their own purposes.
The forces of evil are called "the realm of death"; it is therefore written [of the Shabbat]: "those who desecrate it shall surely die."
The Torah gives the death penalty to someone who has, on his own, already cut himself off from the source of life.
By working on the Shabbat, the individual has…misdirected divine energy…
Here, by working on the Shabbat, the individual has divorced himself from the divine energy informing the world and, even worse, misdirected divine energy, making it available to the forces of evil. Evil, as we have defined it previously, is the ascendancy in man's consciousness of self-awareness or ego. Attempting to "work", to accomplish and rectify reality, when it is not needed is an affront to G‑d's plan and purpose - as if one is saying that he knows what the world needs more than G‑d does. This attitude, rather than fostering divine consciousness, fosters human ego, which will in the end only oppose divinity.
You will be able to understand this [better] through understanding what we have explained regarding the mystical significance of the Shabbat boundary.
On the Shabbat, it is forbidden to walk further than two thousand cubits (roughly a kilometer) outside the city limits. This idea will now be explained in its mystical dimension.
On weekdays, [the realm of] holiness borders closely to [that of] evil, but on the Shabbat, there is a distance of two thousand "cubits", the Shabbat boundary, between them. Thus, the forces of evil do not cling to holiness.
In this imagery, the settled, civilized city is the metaphor for holiness, and the wild, untamed wilderness (desert, field, forest) surrounding it is the realm of evil. On weekdays, the lines between good and evil are somewhat blurred; it is very easy to slip from doing good into doing the opposite, so one must be constantly on guard.
On the Shabbat, however, evil "retreats" into the wilderness to a distance of 2000 "cubits" from the perimeter of holiness. Since evil is held at a distance, we can be more relaxed and "natural" on Shabbat, and need not be as concerned about falling into the trap of materialism and egocentricity.
Thus, one who works on the Shabbat causes holiness to descend into the realm of evil, and is liable to the death penalty.
This is also why it is forbidden to walk beyond the Shabbat boundary, for the mystical meaning of the boundary is that it extends for 2000 cubits, i.e. [the area originally occupied by] netzach-hod-yesod of Asiya, which ascend [on the Shabbat] to the position of chesed-gevura-tiferet of Asiya. Thus, the [original] position of netzach-hod-yesod of Asiya is left vacant. The forces of evil, whose position is [immediately] below Asiya, cannot ascend to fill this void; this realm is thus left vacant. We are allowed to walk in this [safe] area, but if we go beyond it we cause the supernal "man" to go outside the boundary as well, and he descends into [the realm of] evil.
As the Arizal explained previously, on the Shabbat, malchut ascends with netzach-hod-yesod to the level of chesed-gevura-tiferet.
The "supernal man" is simply the spiritual array of divine attributes (usually Zeir Anpin) that are organized into the form of a "man", i.e. a partzuf.
The feet of a man who walks outside the Shabbat boundary - which is [the physical manifestation of the area normally occupied by] netzach-hod-yesod of Asiya - descend below Asiya into the realm of evil. This is the mystical significance of the Shabbat boundary.
Below here is to continue on to the next installment: "Reapers of the Field".
Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim and Taamei HaMitzvot, parashat Behar.
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