Although Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (the Arizal) wrote relatively little himself, as mentioned in the "Works" section, his teachings were nevertheless systematically recorded by his disciples, primarily by Rabbi Chaim Vital. It is from these teachings that the startlingly innovative teachings of the Arizal have been given to posterity.
Following the era of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his disciples, a long line of distinguished kabbalists focused their teachings on one or more of the themes already found explicitly or implicitly in early texts such as Sefer Yetzira , Sefer HaBahir and Zohar and in the works of their immediate predecessors and contemporaries. They set out to clarify and compare these teachings, and ultimately to transmit them to a disciple or small group of select disciples. In this sense the work of the Kabbalists after the Tannaitic era (i.e., until the 4th or 5th century CE) was primarily classificatory, with very little by way of innovation.
The Arizal, however, was clearly an original thinker. Although he also set out to explain the most abstruse parts of the kabbalistic literature available at the time, particularly Zohar, his analysis of those texts and the innovations he subsequently taught his disciples were unparalleled and may therefore be regarded as an entirely new school of kabbalistic thought.
There are five areas of focus in the Arizal's teachings that may be regarded as the primary innovations of his system:
1.the concept of tzimtzum (G‑d's self-contraction, so to speak) through its various stages;
2. the process of shevirat hakeilim (the shattering of the vessels in the world of Tohu);
3. the Tikkun (rectification) of that shevira through birur hanitzotzot (elevating the sparks);
4. the concept of partzufim (literally, "visages" -- compound structures of the sefirot in arrays that interact with each other);
5. the nature of the soul, the purpose of its descent into this world, and its relationship with the higher realms and ultimately with G‑d.
Introduction to the Ari's concept of 'tzimtzum'
How did a finite being evolve from the infinite…?
A question that puzzled Jewish philosophers and theologians alike is how a finite world came to exist within the infinite being of G‑d. Prior to Creation, there was only G‑d and His infinite revelation of Himself, the Ohr Ein Sof, filling all existence (Etz Chaim, Heichal A"K, anaf 2). How did a finite being evolve from the infinite? One cannot argue that Creation always existed, nor that finite being is a mere illusion, since the Torah states explicitly, "In the beginning of G‑d's creating the heavens and the earth". (Gen. 1:1)
chanoch adds: These two possible explanation for this important question about creation is related to various philosophies - Creation always existed and Christian Theology - the world is an illusion. Kabbalah explains that the world is an illusion and the work of man is to dematerialize the physical illusion. Chassidut, which is the background of the translator, teaches that while the physical world exists - prior to its dematerialization by Mankind - it is important and is a tool to utilize getting closer to HaShem and the Shechinah.
Before the Arizal, the prevailing view of how the Creator brought the Creation into being can be summed up as follows: In order for a finite world to come into existence within the revelation of the infinity of G‑d, a process of self-contraction or self-limitation of the infinite (the Ohr Ein Sof) was required. The worlds then came about, according to this view, by a series of emanations that proceeded in a sequence of cause and effect, in which the Creator gradually reduced the intensity of the Ohr Ein Sof and downgraded it from level to level until the worlds were created (see e.g., Eilima Rabbati, Eyn Kol Tamar part 2, ch. 3-5, 11-12; part 3, ch. 1.) Accordingly, the Ohr Ein Sof was never actually "removed" from any given place - it was merely reduced in intensity. In the cause-and-effect relationship, the effect is already contained within the cause…
This view, however, is problematic: If G‑d would have merely reduced the intensity of His infinite revelation (the Ohr Ein Sof) in a quantitative manner, i.e., in a gradual ebb from level to level by means of cause and effect, a finite world could not have come into being, since in a causal process "the effect is encompassed by the cause, in relation to which it is essentially non-existent… so that even numerous contractions would not bring about physical matter…" (Tanya, Iggeret HaKodesh, ch. 20) by way of an evolution from spirituality. In other words, in the cause-and-effect relationship, the effect is already contained within the cause, albeit in an unrealized state.
Thus when the final effect is eventually produced, it is not a newly created entity; it is merely revealed from its former state of potential or of concealment. Accordingly, the effect always remains in some way commensurate with the original cause that produced it. Thus the infinite can never become finite through gradual reduction: "The creation of the worlds is not by way of a development from cause to effect… for even myriads upon myriads of dwindling and evolution from level to level [of the Ohr Ein Sof] in a causal process will not bring about the development and being of physical matter… Rather, it is the power of Ein Sof who creates ex nihilo, not progressively, but by way of a radical 'leap'" (Likkutei Torah, Devarim 46c). Thus, tzimtzum as contraction or self-limitation precludes the existence of finite beings, and cannot explain how finite Creation came into being.Moreover, tzimtzum as contraction or self-limitation also seems to contradict the important principle of "yesh mei'ayin" - that the world was created ex nihilo, and not that it evolved from some prior state of being.
chanoch adds: To try to explain this issue - that seems so insignificant but is very significant - here is an analogy. The power station produces electricity at a tremendous capacity in amperage and watts. Included in this capacity is the small amount of electricity needed by each individual house. The house can not utilize the capacity of the power station because it would burn the house down. Thus the house can never come into being since it would burn down as soon as the electricity of the power station is hooked up to the house. Notice that the word city is included in the word electricity. This is significant because the capacity to run a city with electricity is included in the original power source. In effect the only difference between electricity in the house and the power station is capacity. The nature of physical matter is intrinsically different than the nature of what we call spirituality. This is what is being discussed. Hope this metaphor is helpful to your understanding.
Accordingly, the Arizal explained that we must understand the tzimtzum in an entirely different way - in a qualitative sense - as the total self-exclusion of the infinite Ohr Ein Sof from its state of revelation, thereby allowing finite worlds to exist:
Prior to Creation, there was only the infinite Ohr Ein Sof filling all existence. When it arose in G‑d's Will to create worlds and emanate the emanated...He contracted (in Hebrew "tzimtzum") Himself in the point at the center, in the very center of His light. He restricted that light, distancing it to the sides surrounding the central point, so that there remained a void, a hollow empty space, away from the central point... After this tzimtzum... He drew down from the Or Ein Sof a single straight line [of light] from His light surrounding [the void] from above to below [into the void], and it chained down descending into that void…. In the space of that void He emanated, created, formed and made all the worlds. (Etz Chaim, Heichal A"K, anaf 2)
chanoch adds: To truly understand this it is best to study the "Ten Luminous Emanations" - "Esser Sefirot" by Rabbi Ashlag which is a commentary and rearrangement of the writings of the ARI called "Etz Chaim - Tree of Life".
The exact nature of the tzimtzum became the subject of disagreement among later kabbalists. Some viewed the tzimtzum as a metaphorical act of self-limitation in which the Ohr Ein Sof was merely concealed 2, rather than removed, while the essence of G‑d remained completely unchanged. Others maintained that the Ohr Ein Sof was actually removed, not merely concealed 3. Another opinion maintained that the tzimtzum was the actual withdrawal of G‑d's essence as well as the removal of the Ohr Ein Sof 4. A fourth view held that the tzimtzum consisted of a concealment (but not a withdrawal) of both G‑d's essence and the Ohr Ein Sof 5.
Notes delineating the sources of these different theories:
2. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi in Tanya, Shaar HaYichud v'HaEmunah ch. 7; Iggeret HaKodesh ch. 25; Rabbi Yosef Irgas in Shomer Emunim.
3. Rabbi Yonatan Eibeshutz in Shem Olam.
4. GRA in Likkutim at the end of his commentary on Safra d'Tzniuta; Emmanual Chai Riki in Yosher Levav.
5. Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin in Nefesh HaChaim.
The effect of the tzimtzum (irrespective of which explanation is offered) is nevertheless clear: it established a radical distinction between Creator and created (from the viewpoint of the created, although not from the viewpoint of the Creator 6), between cause and effect, so that creation comes about by way of a "quantum leap" rather than by way of a developmental, evolutionary order.7
chanoch adds: Notes from sources:
6. See Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the "Tzemach Tzedek," Derech Mitzvotecha, Achdut HaShem ch. 3; Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneersohn, Veyadata Moscow 56577. See Likkutei Torah, Devarim 46c; Mystical Concepts in Chassidism, Rabbi J. I. Schochet, Kehot, ch. 2.
This summary is written by MOSHE MILLER
"The shattering of the vessels" (in Hebrew, "Shevirat haKeilim") of the world of Tohu is the key concept in explaining the basic problem of diverseness and multiplicity in Creation as well as the origin of evil1 and is a central component in the Arizal's system of Kabbala, where it receives a full exposition2
Notes of Sources:
1. See at length Rabbi J. I. Schochet, Mystical Concepts in Chassidism, ch. 7.
2. See Etz Chaim, Heichal HaNikudim (Shaar 8, ff.); Mevo She'arim, Shaar 2, part 2, chs. 1-11; Shaar HaHakdamot, Derush b'Olam HaNikudim.
The concept of Shevirat haKeilim is linked together with the mystical account of the eight kings who "reigned in the land of Edom before any king ruled over the Israelites" (Gen. 36:31) and the Midrashic account of the building and destruction of the primordial worlds (Bereishit Rabba 3:7, 9:1), as will be explained below. Although the idea of Shevirat haKeilim is also found in several sections of Zohar (in Sifra d'Tzni'uta3, Idra Rabba4 and Idra Zuta5), the concept and its ramifications are very difficult to understand there without the elucidation of the entire subject in the writings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria.
The Arizal explains that when it arose in the Divine Will to create the finite world, the first step was to "withdraw" or conceal the infinite Or Ein Sof in the process known as "the first constriction" or "tzimtzum harishon". The first "world" (plane of existence) that came into being after the tzimtzum is called Adam Kadmon. But even though Adam Kadmon is a post-tzimtzum world, it is still a "meta-world", so-to-speak - undefined, unified, and transcending time, comprising a single transcendent primordial thought.
Light emitted from the eyes of Adam Kadmon … signifies a descent from an internal, essential level to an external 'sensory' level…
chanoch adds: The above statement is the language written in the "Etz Chaim" and is difficult to understand without Rabbi Ashlag's explanation in "Ten Luminous Emanations".
The existence of the finite world as we know it, and as G‑d intended it, is still not possible in Adam Kadmon due to its extremely lofty state. In order for a finite world to exist, the light in Adam Kadmon had to go through several more stages of quantitative contraction and descent. In one of these stages of descent, one of the several types of light emitted from Adam Kadmon is manifested as ten individual qualities or attributes that act as separate, independent points of light, or quanta of energy. Technically, this is called "light emitted from the eyes" of Adam Kadmon or "or ha-einayim". This metaphorical term signifies a descent from an internal, essential level to an external "sensory" level where the beam of light is refracted into discrete quanta. Each of these points is an extremely powerful concentration of light (the level of keter of each of the ensuing sefirot) as it descends from Adam Kadmon. These sefirot compose the world of Tohu (chaos or disorder).
chanoch adds: Tohu is a word that comes from the Torah in Genesis Chapter 1 Verse 2. We are also taught that this second verse "happens" prior to the first verse in the Torah. This teaches among other things that the Torah is not a literal history since Creation of the worlds of Heaven and Earth happen after the world of Tohu and Bohu. Bohu is usually thought of as "World of dots" which is the worlds of the Sefirot when grown to a large capacity as opposed to the world of dots in a small state expressed by the word "dots". This is my opinion and hopefully is helpful to your understanding. See below as well.
The first "world" outside of Adam Kadmon is called Akudim. In it is the first development of a vessel, such that ten degrees of light are bound together (in Hebrew, "akudim") in a single vessel (Writings of the Ari, Shaar HaHakdamot, Derush 1 b'Olam HaNikudim).
The existence of vessels [for the lights that issued forth from Adam Kadmon] begins only in the world of Akudim - in which there is but one general vessel for all the ten lights - and below.
Subsequently, the world of Nikudim [another name for Tohu] was emanated, in which ten vessels were formed for the ten lights. All of them were the aspect of keter of the ten sefirot, so that there were ten lights of keter of the ten sefirot. Each of these ten keter-lights had an individual vessel. The remaining nine parts of the lights [i.e., chochma, bina, chesed, etc.] in each of the sefirot were incorporated within the keter-light of each of the sefirot. For this reason they are referred to as ten "nekudot", meaning individual "points" of light, rather than as ten complete sefirot…,
chanoch adds: It is usually not taught or is passed over in the general discussions of Creation - this idea that there are 10 keters explains how all of the various Sefirot are in constant communication to each other and explains the idea of potential telepathy in human beings.
Now these ten sefirot were emanated in such a way that they were situated one above the other. (Ibid., Shaar HaHakdamot, Derush 1 b'Olam HaNikudim) The sefirot of Tohu were situated one above the other in a single line … unlike the array of the sefirot in the world of Tikun, in which the sefirot are arranged in harmonious triads…
The fact that the sefirot of Tohu were situated one above the other in a single line indicates that they act as independent entities, unlike the array of the sefirot in the world of Tikun, in which the sefirot are arranged in harmonious triads. Thus each sefira of Tohu existed as an autonomous fiefdom, so to speak, independent of, and even in opposition to, the others. Moreover, each sefira in Tohu is the manifestation of an absolute and quintessential aspect of the light of Adam Kadmon (the level of keter of each type of light, as explained above).
Furthermore, the vessels themselves were in a state of immaturity and were therefore unable to contain the intense light flooding them.
"…Only the malchut aspect of the seven sefirot was emanated… and therefore they were called nekudot, for nekuda and malchut are synonymous. . In addition, not only were they [in a state of immaturity], even in this state they were not clothed one within the other, nor were they bound together as a unit. Nor were they divided into arrays, [namely,] of kindness in the right array, severity in the left array and the mitigation between them in the middle array [as in Tikun]." (Etz Chaim, shaar 9, ch. 8)
Due to the intensity and exclusivity of the lights and the inability of their vessels to contain them, the vessels of the lower sefirot of Tohu shattered and the lights they contained remained above. The fragments of these vessels then fell to lower levels, becoming absorbed into the various worlds below the world of Tohu. The three uppermost vessels had the ability to contain the lights designated for them and did not die…
"Since the lights of these ten nekudot were so intense and powerful… the [vessels] did not have the power to contain them and the vessels "died", meaning to say, they descended below to the level that is now called [the world of] Beriya. This descent was their demise. But this was only as regards the seven lower nekudot, whereas the three uppermost vessels had the ability to contain the lights designated for them and did not die… The vessels of the seven lower [nekudot] descended to the world of Beriya… but their lights remained above, exposed, without vessels." (Ibid.)
Scripture hints at this process in describing the succeeding kings of Edom: "These are the kings who ruled in the land of Edom before any king ruled over the Israelites. Bela son of Be'or became king… He died and was succeeded as king by Yoav… Yoav died, and he was succeeded as king by Chusham… Chusham died, and was succeeded by… etc." (Gen. 36:31-39). The Arizal explained that this refers to the sefirot of Tohu, each of which rules exclusively, and then shatters and "dies."
Thus Tohu was a primordial form of existence that "was created in order to be destroyed, and destroyed in order to be rebuilt" in a superior form (see Mevo L'Chachmat HaKabbala part 2, shaar 6, ch. 7). The order of creation that followed the disintegration of the world of Tohu is called the world of Tikun (literally translated as "rectification" or "restoration"). Regarding Tikun, the Torah states, "And G‑d looked over everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). In the words of the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 3:7; 9:2), as explained by the Arizal, "these please Me" refers to the sefirot of Tikun, whereas the sefirot of Tohu "do not please Me".
The sefirot of Tikun were emanated in such a way that they work together interdependently and harmoniously, as partzufim (literally, "visages" - sing. "partzuf") - compound structures of the sefirot. A partzuf is a metaphorical figure of human likeness, used to represent the expansion of an individual sefira (or group of sefirot) into a configuration with ten sefirot of its own. Partzufim include Atik Yomin, Arich Anpin, Abba, Imma, Zeir Anpin (ben), Nukva (bat)]. As mentioned, the partzufim work as symbiotic harmonious systems instead of the discrete, independent, overpowering nekudot of Tohu. What could not be elevated into Atzilut remained in Beriya…
Although the sefirot of Tohu shattered and "died," nevertheless, a residue of the lights that were contained in the vessels remained clinging to the fragments of the vessels. These are referred to by the Arizal as the 288 nitzotzin (literally "sparks") - the initial number of fragments from the vessels that broke. The entire process is alluded to in Scripture in the first couple verses of Genesis: "In the beginning of G‑d's creating the heavens and the earth, when the earth was tohu and void, and darkness was on the surface of the depths, and the sovereignty of G‑d hovered (in Hebrew "merachefet") above the surface of the waters…." The Arizal explains that the word "merachefet" is actually a compound of two words: "met" and "rapach" - signifying that 288 (the numerical value of rapach) fragments had died (in Hebrew, "met") - an allusion to the shattering of the vessels of Tohu into 288 initial sparks. (Mevo She'arim, shaar 2, ch. 8)
chanoch adds: Void is one of the translations of Bohu from Verse 2 of Chapter 1 of Genesis. Usually Bohu is left untranslated just as Tohu is left untranslated since it is incomplete to call it void.
Although the fragments of the vessels initially fell into the world of Beriya, when their rectification (tikun) began, the most refined aspects of the vessels were able to ascend and became absorbed in the world of Atzilut. What could not be elevated into Atzilut remained in Beriya and became an integral part of it. What could not be absorbed into Beriya then descended into Yetzira and Asiya. The aspects of the vessels that could not be absorbed in even the lowest realm of holiness became the vitality of the realms of impurity, known as the kelipot. (Ibid.)
The shattering of the sefirot of Tohu is not a coincidence, nor does it signify a flaw in the creative process. On the contrary, it serves a very specific and important purpose, which is to bring about a state of separation or partition of the light into distinct qualities and attributes, and thereby introduce diversity and multiplicity into creation, as explained above. In addition, the shattering of the vessels of Tohu allows for the possibility of evil, and gives man the opportunity to choose between good (for which he gains reward) and evil (for which he is punished). Thus G‑d's attributes of chesed and gevura - the attributes from which reward and punishment derive - are revealed in the world, which is one of the primary purposes of creation. (See beginning of Otzrot Chaim) - another book by Chaim Vital on the writings of the ARI.
chanoch adds: In my opinion, Rabbi Ashlags teaching of the 4 phases makes this process of transforming from the infinite Light to the physical world is a better explanation. No one else teaches this concept.
By Moshe Miller
"Birur" and "Tikun" - "Extrication" and "Rectification"
During the act of Creation, a residue of the lights of Tohu remained attached to the shattered vessels of Tohu, which became absorbed into the four worlds of Atzilut, Beriya, Yetzira and Asiya. What could not be absorbed into the realms of holiness became the vitality of the realms of impurity, known as "the impure kelipot".
It is man's duty to elevate the 'sparks of holiness' from their fallen state…
It is man's duty to elevate the "sparks of holiness" from their fallen state. This process of extracting the sparks is called "Birur", meaning "clarification", which is part of a larger cosmic plan called "Tikun", meaning rectification or restoration of the broken vessels, and, consequently, the restoration of the proper cosmic order.
When the sparks of holiness are extracted from the kelipot and are rebuilt into the vessels of Tikun, the lights that formerly illuminated the sefirot of Tohu can once again be drawn down. But this time the repaired vessels will be able to contain the light.
Although in theory all the sparks from Tohu must be extracted from the kelipot and absorbed into holiness, practically speaking this cannot be done in the normal course of things. The kelipot are divided into two categories - kelipat noga and three completely impure kelipot. (Etz Chaim, shaar 49, ch. 2 ff.) Kelipat noga is an intermediate level between holiness and impurity, and the sparks that fell into it can be extracted through the proper observance of the mitzvot. The performance of most mitzvot requires the use of objects, the vitality of which stems from kelipat noga; some examples are wool from a sheep that is used to fulfill the mitzva of tzitzit, hide from a cow that is used for parchment on which Torah scrolls, tefillin and mezuzot are written, and the citron fruit and palm branch for the mitzva of lulav and etrog.
The degree of holiness to which the sparks will ascend depends on the person's kavanot…
When a person performs a mitzva, the vitality of the object, and indeed the vitality of his own body, which also derives from kelipat noga, is elevated into holiness. The degree of holiness to which the sparks will ascend depends on the person's kavanot (sing. kavana - intention or mystical meditation during prayer or while fulfilling a mitzva).
The sparks that fell into the three impure kelipot, however, ascend to holiness only if a person who became involved with these kelipot (through sin) repents to such an extent that his deliberate transgressions become transformed into merits. (Rosh Hashana 29a) The consummation of this purification will be effected only in the future by G‑d Himself: "I will cause the spirit of impurity to pass from the earth" (Zachariah 13:22), and all the fallen sparks will be restored to holiness.
chanoch adds: Please note this is very important. What is hinted to in the various statements in this section explain why there are two paths to Mashiach consciousness. One being the Armageddon War. The other is the path of peaceful Tikun.
By Moshe Miller - (Adapted from Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh's Gal Einai website.)
A definition of 'partzufim' according to the Arizal
"Partzufim" are compound structures of the sefirot. A partzuf is a metaphorical figure of human likeness, used to represent the expansion of an individual sefira (or group of sefirot) into an independent configuration with ten sefirot of its own.
A partzuf is a metaphorical figure of human likeness, used to represent the expansion of an individual sefira…
This is arranged such that each sefira contains within itself aspects of all the ten sefirot, and each aspect is further subdivided into ten again. (See Tikunei Zohar, tikun 47, p. 84a and tikun 69 p. 116b.)
As such, the partzufim represent the rectification of two "flaws" built into the world of Tohu - the immature state of the vessels and their lack of inter-relationship (not being "enclothed" one within the other). Indeed, the two primary features of the partzufim are their fully expanded vessels and their inter-relationship with one another, such that they are even described by names that characterize the way they function as complex structures and the way they interact with other partzufim. For example Abba (literally "father") as the partzuf of chochma, and Imma (literally "mother") as the partzuf of bina, the two of which interact with each other to "give birth" to a "son", Zeir Anpin, and a "daughter", Malchut.
In the universe of partzufim, it may be said that the chief dynamic of Creation is not evolution, but rather interaction. This means that higher strata of reality are constantly impinging upon lower strata, and affecting them like the soul within a body, thereby infusing every element of Creation with an inner force that transcends its own position within the universal hierarchy.
chanoch adds: This section takes additional information available in the "Ten Luminous Emanations" to understand the concept of Sefirot interacting with other Sefirot and interacting within the Hierarchy of the essence of consciousness.
By Moshe Miller
A tiny spark of G-dliness clothes itself in an extremely ethereal soul
Classical kabbala identifies four levels of the soul - called Nefesh, Ruach, Neshama and Neshama L'neshama. Nefesh is the animating principle of the physical body and the senses; ruach is the force vitalizing the emotions; neshama is the vitality of intellect; and neshama l'neshama is the essence of life of the human soul. The Arizal refers to this fourth level of soul as Chaya, signifying its function as the essence of life. However, all these four aspects of the soul he regarded as mere extensions of the essence of the soul, which he called Yechida.a
…Between the Creator and the created [i.e., the aspect of spirituality in general, as opposed to physical creation] there is an intermediate level, regarding which it states, "You are children of G‑d your Lord…," for our Sages have declared, "the Patriarchs are the merkava [the Divine Chariot]." The intention here is that a tiny spark of G‑dliness, drawn from the lowest level of the Creator, clothes itself in a single spark of the created in potentia, which is an extremely ethereal soul. Within this soul-spark, called Yechida, are the roots of all the other four levels of spirituality - Nefesh, Ruach, Neshama and Chaya. (Etz Chaim, shaar 42, chap 1)
The soul is both part of the Creator and at the same time it is created…
In other words, the soul is both part of the Creator and at the same time it is created. Its luminous essence is "a tiny spark of G‑dliness", and the sheath in which it is clothed is a created being, albeit a spiritual being and not physical. As the soul emanates from the Ein Sof eventually to be clothed in the physical body, the soul descends via the four worlds mentioned above, leaving a root in each of the worlds - Chaya in the world of Atzilut, Neshama in the world of Beriya, Ruach in the world of Yetzira, and Nefesh in the spiritual dimension of Asiya. (Shaar HaGilgulim, hakdama 1) All of this is then enclothed within a physical body.
The soul enclothed within the body is a reflection of the Divine Form, called the "Tzelem", or "Tzelem Elokim". This "Tzelem Elokim" may be described as the human mold of man's physical form, linking his body and soul. This mold derives from the configuration of the sefirot, which form the structure of the worlds through which the soul descends on its journey down into the body.
At the same time that the soul's outer dimension reflects the configuration of the sefirot, the inner dimension of the soul reflects the Infinite Light that illuminates the sefirot. This reflection is called the "Demut Elokim" (literally, the "Image of G‑d"; see R. Chaim Vital's Shaarei Kedusha, part 3, ch. 5, and Likutei Torah, Shir Hashirim, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi). Thus man includes all of creation within him, from the loftiest spirituality to the most mundane physicality. (Pardes, shaar 4, ch. 10) If he purifies himself greatly, he may be able to attain the level of…Yechida, the G‑d-consciousness of the level of Adam Kadmon…
chanoch adds: A single man may not achieve Yechida yet mankind as a whole may be able to do this on his own.
From the perspective of man's service of G‑d, these levels of soul may be described as five ascending levels of awareness of, and communion with, G‑d. Regarding these levels of soul, Zohar states that when a person is born, he is given a Nefesh from the world of Asiya, the lowest world, representing the greatest concealment of G‑d. If, through his divine service and proper action, he makes himself worthy, he is then given Ruach on the plane of Yetzira. With greater effort, he can earn the revelation of Neshama, paralleling the world of Beriya. If he purifies himself greatly, he may be able to attain the level of Chaya paralleling Atzilut, and even Yechida, the G‑d-consciousness of the level of Adam Kadmon and beyond. ("Beyond," because the level of soul called yechida, in essence, transcends all the worlds, since it is never separated from G‑d. It is described as being "truly part of G‑d above," the "spark of the Creator clothed within a spark of the created" described earlier. See Job 31:2 and Tanya ch. 2)
This setup puts humankind in a unique position, for through his spiritual and physical composition (soul and body) he is bound up with all levels of Creation. His actions and behavior are therefore capable of affecting all the worlds and all the sefirot. Thus, man is a microcosm of Creation, and his actions have cosmic significance. (R. Chaim Vital, Shaarei Kedusha III, 2-3) He is able to affect the balance of the universe, both spiritual and physical, by his kavanot (mystical intentions) and yichudim (unifications of the sefirot). The Arizal revealed an elaborate system of kavanot and yichudim designed to achieve this very purpose.
This ends our introduction to the basic concepts of Lurianic Kabbala.
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