Ceilings of Consciousness

By Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (from the Writings of the Ari as recorded by Rabbi Chaim Vital); translated and edited by Baruch Emanuel Erdstein

Kabbalah teaches that the roof of the sukkah channels divine consciousness.

Of the many mitzvot connected to the holiday of Sukkot, perhaps the most conspicuous is the actual structure of the sukkah (booth) in which we dwell for the entire holiday - and for which the festival itself is named. While the explicit reason for constructing the sukkah is to recall the miraculous exodus from Egypt and G‑d's shelter as we traveled through the Sinai Desert, the Ari explains that, when properly constructed, the sukkah serves as a model of the spiritual worlds and conduit for expanded consciousness, channeling divine benevolence into the Lower Realms.

One of the elements necessary for a valid sukkah is the "schach", the roof of the sukkah, made of organic natural materials resting upon the walls. Chassidic literature teaches that the words "sukkah", as well as "schach", hint at the phrase "perceiving [in Hebrew, 'sochei'] with divine inspiration", used to describe our matriarch Sarah, also known as "Isca" (from the same root letters).

chanoch adds: Isca is a Talmudic Aramaic word. It is the same root as Schach. In the Talmud this word is used 7 times. I expect we will get a sense of its meaning from the Ari's writing in this class.

The schach of a kosher sukkah serves as the medium through which we absorb supernal wisdom and understanding….

The Ari teaches that this connection between the schach and divine inspiration, prophecy, or any level of expanded consciousness, is anything but marginal. In fact, the schach of a kosher sukkah in particular serves as the medium through which we absorb supernal wisdom and understanding. Kabbalah presents not only models of spiritual realities in the supernal worlds, but also how we play an active role in their manifestation in This World. In the sukkah, we function in the role of the partzufim of Zeir Anpin and Nukva, resembling immature son and daughter (or chicks in a nest), and the schach functions as an interface with the partzuf of Imma, the nurturing "mother" - not unlike "our mother" Sarah - hovering over her young in her nest, bestowing wisdom and understanding, allowing them to mature, and even giving them a glimpse of the universe from her exalted perspective.

Let us expound upon the matter of the schach of the sukkah. The partitions [of the sukkah] are the netzach, hod, yesod of Imma, in the aspect of Surrounding Light. But the schach is the lower half of tiferet of Imma, from her chest level and below, which resembles schach upon the three partitions within it. And it is known that this part of tiferet is actually the keter of Zeir Anpin - and this is the schach of the sukkah, which "hovers" [in Hebrew "socheach", from the root word for "schach"] over Zeir Anpin and Nukva, which dwell beneath it. This is because each keter [literally "crown"] is in the aspect of Surrounding Light, from the word "koteret" [meaning "crowned", implying "encircled"].

Now, the height of the schach should be no higher than twenty cubits, for a sukkah which is higher than twenty cubits is invalid. The reason for this is that Zeir Anpin and Nukva, which each stand beneath, each have ten sefirot - therefore together they total twenty cubits. And the schach is the keter upon both of them, whose height is particularly constricted to twenty cubits above them. But if it is above twenty cubits, it is invalid.

And even though there is schach over him, if it is above twenty cubits, he is unable to perceive its light….

The reason for this is, as the Sages have written in the Talmud, that when [the height of the sukkah] is up to twenty cubit [or less], a person acknowledges that he is sitting in the shade of the sukkah, etc. [The deeper] meaning of this is that it is known that, regarding all the supernal lights, each person, each one beneath the level of his companion, is unable to reach or perceive beyond his particular level. This is like they say about the souls of the tzaddikim, that each is burned [i.e. damaged] by the canopy of his companion [i.e. by the close proximity to another's domain]

The reason for this is, as the Sages have written in the Talmud, that when [the height of the sukkah] is up to twenty cubit [or less], a person acknowledges that he is sitting in the shade of the sukkah, etc. [The deeper]. And here we see that this "person" which sits beneath this [metaphoric] sukkah is Zeir Anpin and Nukva, Adam and Eve, upon whom it is said, "masculine and feminine He created them, and He called them 'Adam'" (Gen. 5:2). And in particular Zeir Anpin, referred to by the name "Mah" (Havayah spelled out with alefs, whose numerical value equals 45), which has the same numerical value as the word "Adam" [Hebrew for 'person'], as is known.

And this "person" is completely unable to perceive beyond the lower half of the tiferet of Imma. And even though there is schach over him, if it is above twenty cubits, he is unable to perceive its light, and doesn't know that he is sitting in its shelter, and that it [the schach] is hovering over and shining upon him.

And all 100 of these lights pass through this schach….

Now, to clarify the meaning of the word "schach". It is known that the sefira of keter includes all nine sefirot beneath it…. Also [regarding] tiferet of Imma itself, certainly all the lights within her and beneath descend and are transmitted through it [tiferet of Imma]. And so we find two reasons that this is the case, that in this keter all that is below it is included within it: For we know that the lights of Imma, which are drawn into Zeir Anpin are one-hundred lights, which is the secret of the "100 Blessings" that a person should say each day; these are the name Sag [the name Havayah spelled out to equal 63, which is associated with the partzuf of Imma] plus 37, just the spelling-out alone of Sag, which together equal 100; these [numbers] represent the place of both the hidden and the revealed lights of Zeir Anpin (see Shaar Hapasukim, parashat Vayetzei)…. And all 100 of these lights pass through this schach, which is the keter of Zeir Anpin, and are integrated within it, and place their impression [i.e. influence] within it - just that the light of the schach is in the aspect of Surrounding Light, as mentioned above.

And via these perforations of the schach…these lights descend … resembling the stars of the heavens….

It is for this reason that it is called "schach", for the meaning of the term is that it "hovers" [in Hebrew, "m'sachech", the verb form of "schach"] above them in the aspect of Surrounding Light. Also [it is named thus for the reason that] the numerical value of the word "schach" equals 100, corresponding to the 100 Lights of Zeir Anpin, which descend through it, as was mentioned.

Also, regarding what the Sages have said in the Talmud, Tractate Shabbat, that [a sukkah which is so] thickly covered as to resemble a house - that even though one can't see the stars in it, it is valid retroactively, but ideally the stars should be visible from within [i.e. beneath] the schach: The secret of this is as elaborated upon in our commentaries on the additions to the Shabbat Eve prayers, "Spread upon us the sukkah of Peace"; there it is clarified at great length, the idea that the yesod of Imma becomes spread out like a kind of tent, or sukkah schach, within the body of Zeir Anpin, from the place of his chest, and spreads until the partitions of the body [i.e. his netzach, hod and yesod] - and all the chasadim of the body of Zeir Anpin are above this barrier, for they ascended from below to above, for the barrier is penetrated and they rise. And via these perforations of the schach, and this barrier, these lights descend, and are visible from below via the perforations of this barrier, resembling the stars of the heavens. This is what I heard from my master [the Ari], of blessed memory, at a different time; and it seems not connected to what we said at the beginning [that the schach is at the level of Zeir Anpin's keter, not at his chest level], but this needs in depth investigation.

Translated and adapted from Sefer HaLikutim]

Origin of (4) Species

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

In this week's Torah reading, G‑d gives the commandments of the holidays, including the holiday of Sukkot, on which we are commanded to hold the four species - namely, the citron (etrog), palm branch (lulav), myrtle (hadas), and willow (arava) – together.

"And you shall take for yourselves on the first day of Sukkot the fruit of the beautiful tree, date palms, a branch of the thick-bough tree, and willows of the brook." (Lev. 23:40)

[The Sages explain:] "The fruit of the beautiful tree" is the etrog; "date palms" refers to the palm stem - lulav; "a branch of the thick-bough tree" is the myrtle - hadas; and "willows" of the brook" is the willow branch - arava. (Sukka 32b, 35a)

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai explained (Zohar III:24a) that these plants allude to the seven sefirot that build the world, and the four letters of the name Havayah.

The seven midot are referred to as the seven sefirot of building the world, for they manifest in the material world as the seven days of Creation.

To explain: The hadas manifests chesed-gevura-tiferet, which in turn are alluded to by the letter yud spelled out.

The four plants are actually seven….

According to Jewish law, we must hold a minimum of three hadas branches in order to fulfill this commandment. The three hadas branches therefore allude to the primary triplet of the seven midot, chesed-gevura-tiferet.

The letter yud is spelled out with three letters: yud-vav-dalet.

In as much as the leaves of the hadas must be triplets, this indicates that we should consider the yud spelled-out twice - i.e., expanded into its third iteration, like this: yud-vav-dalet vav-alef-vav dalet-lamed-tav.

In order for the hadas to be valid, its leaves must issue in triplets from the same point on the branch at least for a length of three handbreadths. Thus, the triplet of hadas branches becomes nine hadas leaves, alluding to an additional iteration of the letter yud.

The two willow branches manifest netzach and hod, and are alluded to by the spelling out of the letter hei: hei-hei.

We must hold two willow branches in performing this commandment. Netzach and hod are always considered a pair.

The lulav manifests yesod, and alludes to the spelling out of the vav: vav-vav.

The lulav must be straight, alluding to the straight line of the vav. It is valid if the two halves of its central leaf are connected for the majority of its length; these two halves allude to the two vav's used to spell out the letter vav.

The etrog manifests malchut, alluding to the final hei spelled out as hei-hei.

Thus, the four plants are actually seven.

The lulav alludes to the 18 vertebrae of the spinal column….

Now, according to this [explanation], the Torah lists them neither in ascending nor descending order. Logically, it should have begun with the hadas, which alludes to chesed-gevura-tiferet, and continued with the willow, which alludes to netzach-hod, etc. Or, it should have begun with the etrog, proceeded to the lulav, and continued with the arava before the hadas.

Furthermore, the lulav alludes to the 18 vertebrae of the spinal column, and yesod is not part of the spinal column, for tiferet is manifest in the spinal column, and all 18 vertebrae are part of it, not yesod. Yesod is below the 18 vertebrae of the spinal column, as we see physically.

Another question: If the etrog is one of the four plants, why don't we tie it together with the others, making one bundle.

The other three plants - the lulav, hadas, and arava are bound together, while the etrog is held separately and just touched to the group of the other three.

Another question: When we shake the four plants, we do so in all four directions, up and down. These [correspond to the sefirot as follows:] south manifests chesed, north manifests gevura, east manifests tiferet, up manifests netzach, down manifests hod, west manifests yesod - in which all the other lights coalesce, as is known - and for malchut, which is manifest in the etrog, we do not make any movement at all.

The Hebrew word for "west", "ma'arav", comes from the Hebrew word for "to mix", "l'arev", for it is in the west that day blends gradually into evening.

In contrast, in the circuits [hakafot, made with the Torah on Simchat Torah] there is a seventh circuit. Moreover, the lulav [and the other three plants] are [held and] moved on the seventh day [of Sukkot], so why with regard to the days [of moving] there is a day [for malchut], while with regard to the movements in particular there is not?

Another question: [Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai] said that the etrog corresponds to the heart, while malchut is the lowest sefira.

The heart is generally associated with tiferet, not malchut.

The source of all seven sefirot and their vitality is stored within daat….

And when we explain, as we will later, please G‑d, that [the etrog] manifests the crown [of yesod], this will give rise to the question of what connection is there between the crown [of yesod] with the heart? The later is one of the internal organs, while the former is one of the external organs.

Finally: The hadasim correspond to the eyes, so why are there three of them? There are only two eyes, not three.

To answer all this, you have first to understand the following: As you know, the sefirot are composed of their essence and their vessel, which [are like] a soul and a body.

These "essence" or "content" of the sefira is also known as its "light".

chanoch adds: One way of understanding the vessel of the Sefirot is its literal translation. Then the Light of the sefirot is its metaphorical translations. As we will learn below each sefirah has multiple metaphorical translations.

We are not speaking now of the vessels; [we are speaking] only of the inner entity [of the sefirot], which divides into an inner, middle, and outer aspect, [known as] the Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshama [of the sefira, in reverse order].

Nefesh ("animating soul"), Ruach ("spirit"), and Neshama ("breath") are three synonyms for "soul", and are generally used to indicate the instinctive, emotional, and intellectual aspects of the soul. Here, they are used to describe the three aspects of the divine light within each sefira.

The Nefesh [of the sefira] is the aspect [manifest as] the name Elo-him; the Ruach is the aspect [manifest as] the name Havayah; and the Neshama is the aspect [manifest as] the spelling-out of the name Havayah.

They also possess a simple name Havayah, which is a Neshama to it; and a [further] Neshama to [both of] them, a name Havayah spelled-out; and a [further yet] Neshama to them all, a simple yud. All this will be explained in its context, please G‑d.

In any case, what always strengthens the body and makes it grow is the states of chesed, which produce the drop of semen that initiates the birth process. The source and position [of these states of chesed] is daat.

The "body" here is the sefirot that correspond anatomically to the torso and its limbs, i.e. the sefirot from chesed to malchut.

The states of chesed and gevura within daat are the subjective aspects of the intellect, the propensities of attraction and repulsion toward and against the implications of an idea based on what it means for the individual.

Of daat, it is written, "And with daat the rooms are filled," (Proverbs 24:4) meaning that [the states of chesed within daat] spread out to "water" the body and make it grow. This is the mystical meaning of the [Sages'] statement that "there is no erection without" (Yevamot 53b), meaning that the root of the whole body is alluded to and rooted in daat. For this reason, it is forbidden to show mercy to someone who has no daat. (Berachot 33a) It is also said that "Without daat, a soul is not good" (Proverbs 19:2) for the soul needs to live.

Thus, the source of all seven [sefirot] and their vitality is stored within daat. From there, the life-force spreads out and causes all seven [sefirot] to develop. But the origin and root always remains [within daat], and it only spreads forth [in response] to the deeds of [those in] the lower worlds and their arousal [of it] through acts [here] below. [Their acts] cause the upper levels to be aroused and give additional light of daat [in to the seven lower sefirot], and from the plentitude of light that enters the "body", it bestows and adds greatly throughout the seven sefirot.

Yesod, on the other hand, has only a spiritual, not physical, function….

This daat comprises states of chesed and states of gevura. All couplings are effected through via these [states of chesed acting] as male waters and these [states of gevura acting] as female waters. These [ten] are ten simple names Havayah. The masculine ones [extend] to the male [partzuf, Zeir Anpin, particular to its] chesed-gevura-tiferet-netzach-hod. In contrast, [its] yesod and malchut - that is, the crown [of yesod] - do not each possess a state of chesed, as is the case with the first [five of the seven midot], for there are only five states of chesed.

The same applies to the states of gevura [that extend] into malchut, [the female partzuf, Nukva d'Zeir Anpin]. They spread out into here chesed-gevura-tiferet-netzach-hod, as do the states of chesed throughout the male [partzuf].

As for yesod and malchut [of Zeir Anpin], the general radiance of the five [states of chesed] descends to them from daat. This general [radiance extends] to yesod and to the crown [of yesod], too, in order to prepare them to receive the [five] states of chesed themselves.

The same applies to yesod and malchut of Nukva: they also receive the general [radiance] of the states of gevura, in order to [prepare them to] later receive the [five] states of gevura themselves.

This general light that spreads through yesod comes to them [yesod and malchut of Zeir Anpin] from daat, preparing it to receive afterwards the drop of semen from the totality [of the preceding five sefirot], for were they not to receive this general radiance, they would not afterwards be able to receive the states of chesed themselves as a drop of semen, as mentioned.

Similarly, the same applies to [the partzuf of] malchut with regard to the states of gevura.

Thus, there are five states of chesed, their general radiance for yesod [of Zeir Anpin] and their general radiance for malchut [of Zeir Anpin]. These add up to seven. And likewise for [the partzuf of] malchut, it is veritably constructed from the [five] states of gevura, which cause it to develop just as the states of chesed do for the male [partzuf], as is known.

[Now that we have explained all this], it is time for me to tell you another principle. We should ask: why are there only five states of chesed, which shine into chesed-gevura-tiferet-netach-hod, while for yesod and malchut there is only a general radiance, as we have explained? G‑d could have made it so there were seven states of chesed, each [of the seven midot] receiving [the light] of one state of chesed. The same question may be asked about the states of gevura.

The answer is as follows. All the limbs of the body - the hands, the feet, and the torso - perform functions: walking with the legs, artistry and deeds with the hands, and similarly the torso, which is the "stem" of the legs and hands; they are always active. [The limb of] yesod, on the other hand, has only a spiritual, not physical, function, and then only from time to time. It remains flaccid except for during marital relations. This is why it is said that, "Joseph was born" (Zohar I:1b). It means that when [Zeir Anpin] wants to couple [with Nukva], and all the lights [of the higher sefirot] spread through it, it comes to life.

chanoch adds: Yesod does have a physical function. It expels waste from the body. Why does the Ari not explain this in this context?

To be continued…

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim parashat Emor.

Lights of the Lulav

Through the lulav, we draw down supernal consciousness

By Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (from the Writings of the Ari as recorded by Rabbi Chaim Vital); translated and edited by Baruch Emanuel Erdstein

Via the lulav, the seven kinds of chasadim [plural for chesed] of Inner Lights [ohr pnimi] enter Rachel/Nukva from Zeir Anpin - in the seven lower sefirot [i.e. from chesed to malchut], one chesed for each day of the holiday.

We take up the lulav in order to…draw down the chasadim from daat of Zeir Anpin…

Before Rosh Hashanah, Zeir Anpin and Nukva are connected back-to-back, as a protective measure against the External Forces. This, however, is not an ideal form of unification, or communication, and the process throughout the High Holy Days eventually brings them face-to-face, at this time possible due to negative forces' lack of influence. In brief, Zeir Anpin must first be put to sleep, i.e. his mochin, or intellectual facilities, must ascend to Imma, rendering him unconscious; this allows the separation of Zeir Anpin and Nukva to occur. After his wits return to him, and he and Nukva turn around to be face-to-face, their process of "reuniting" progresses step by step. This transpires, to a very large extent, by way of the mitzvahs of the lulav and the encirclings.

And even though each day we take up the lulav in order to draw down all these chasadim via our wavings [of the lulav], in any case we essentially only draw down one chesed each day, from above to below, i.e. the first chesed in the aspect of the sefira of chesed, the second chesed in the aspect of the sefira of gevura, etc. - until the seventh day, which is called "Hoshana Rabba" [literally the "Great Salvation"], when the all-encompassing influence of the chasadim, in malchut, enters her [Nukva]...

And the secret of the wavings [of the lulav] is that through them we draw down the chasadim from daat of Zeir Anpin, which are concealed within yesod of Imma [which is generally represented by the sukkah itself]. And through waving, the influx of the spreading forth of the chasadim descend into the seven lower sefirot of Zeir Anpin - which themselves are the secret of the lulav and its accompanying species. And from there they are drawn to Nukva, as is elaborated further [in the Writings of the Ari].

And after [the wavings], we encircle the Alter [in the times of the Holy Temple], or the lectern [since the Destruction of the Temple] once each day, with the lulav and its accompanying species; and the intention is to draw forth the aforementioned chasadim - [this time] in the aspect of Surrounding Lights [ohr makif] - to the Nukva, which is called "altar" or "lectern".

All this is in order that this Surrounding Light becomes revealed, and this is why we don't wave the lulav at the time we encircle [the lectern]. As before, with the encirclings we also have seven aspects, and each day one of these lights descends, until the completion of the seven days of the holiday. In the same way as the Inner Lights, from above [the sefira of chesed] to below [the sefira of malchut], the [Surrounding Lights] enter in the same order, like the Inner Lights. And, as has been clarified above [in the Writings of the Ari], Inner Lights always enter before surrounding lights, and therefore it is only after taking up the lulav, its wavings with the blessing, and the Thanksgiving Prayer [Hallel] that we encircle [the lectern]

...The four species of the lulav hint at the four letters of the name Havayah…

We will now briefly clarify some particulars of the lulav and its accompanying species, i.e. what they represent, in order that you understand the secret of the wavings:

…The four species of the lulav hint at the four letters of the name Havayah (which, in this instance is the express domain of Zeir Anpin) in the following manner: The Yud (spelled yud, vav, dalet), corresponds to chesed, gevura, and tiferet, and is represented by the three myrtle branches. [The first letter] hei (in this case spelled hei, hei) corresponds to netzach and hod, represented by the two willows. Vav [of Havayah] corresponds to yesod, the lulav.

The final hei [of Havayah, in this case spelled hei, hei], the etrog, represents the malchut [of the yesod/Zeir Anpin], i.e. the crown of the yesod, known as "the head of the tzadik", but it is not the Nukva of Zeir Anpin itself, as many have thought (for this is a common mistake), because the malchut of Zeir Anpin is itself, connected to itself. This is also hinted at by the spelling of the letter hei (hei, hei) of Havayah, while Nukva has her own name, i.e. either Elokim or Ado-nai, as is known. It is for this reason that [the etrog is referred to in the Torah as] "the fruit of the beautiful tree", meaning "the fruit" of yesod, known itself as "a beautiful tree". And its [yesod's] "fruit" is its crown.


Species - Letter of Havayah - Body Part – Sefirot - Seven Shepherds

Myrtle – Yud – Eyes – chesed – gevura – tiferet - Abraham, Isaac – Jacob

Willow – Hei - Lips - netzach – hod – Moses

Palm Branch - Vav - Spinal Cord - yesod – Joseph

Etrog – Hei - Crown of membrum – malchut – David

Adapted from Shaar Hakavanot, Sukkot, section 5

By Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (from the Writings of the Ari as recorded by Rabbi Chaim Vital); translated and edited by Baruch Emanuel Erdstein