Rabbi Azriel of Gerona's Text

QUESTION: If the questioner continues to ask: How can you say that the Sefirot are emanated? I say they were created like all the other created beings!

ANSWER: I have already informed you [in the third lesson] that Eyn-Sof is perfect without imperfection, and that the agent which initially is brought forth from Him must also be perfect. Thus, the dynamic of emanation is fittingly the beginning of all creation, for the potency of emanation is the essence of the creation of all things. Had there been no emanative potency extracted from Eyn-Sof -- lacking in nothing -- how would we recognize the abundant perfection stemming from Eyn-Sof? How would the dynamic of the sefirot properly receive and subsequently circulate the abundant flow to all the needy beings without being diminished? For when one draws from something in creation it is decreased and diminished [but God is not decreased or diminished when one draws from Him]. Since the sefirot are the first act existentiated from Eyn-Sof, it is appropriate that He be their dynamic, perfect without imperfection. Yet they are the ones who flow upon the impoverished, receiving from Eyn-Sof.

Reb Yakov Leib's Commentary

To begin with, let me mention for our Hindu readers that "Eyn-Sof" is directly comparable in Kabbalah to the concept of Brahman in Vedanta; and for our other readers, let me point out that this Brahman (which should not be confused with the Hindu god, Brahma) is -- exactly like Eyn-Sof -- "the impersonal absolute Existence....the all-pervading transcendental Reality." (Ramakrishna-Vedanta Wordbook: A Brief Dictionary of Hinduism, Hollywood: Vedanta Press, 1978, p. 21) That having been said, we now turn to our present text.

R. Azriel takes up two issues in his fifth explanation of the Ten Sefirot -- perfection and emanation. Here, I will deal with each of these separately. First, with regard to "perfection" notice that R. Azriel states that Eyn-Sof is "lacking in nothing," thus defining its "perfection" as wholeness and "imperfection" as incompleteness. Thus, as we pointed out in our discussion of the third lesson, in order to be "perfect" (which is to say, whole) God must also be "imperfect" -- since everything, both "perfect" and "imperfect" is contained in and comes out of Him. In my commentary on that third lesson, I wrote:

"In other words, the wholeness of God -- by including all that has, does, and will ever exist -- must perforce include the condition of imperfection as well as that of perfection, which is to say 'evil' as well as 'good'....This is one of the exquisite paradoxes of R. Azriel's arguments: that is, how can anything perfect (i.e., 'good') also be imperfect (i.e., 'evil')? Yet, since Ayn-Sof contains all things, it must perforce contain 'imperfection' as well as 'perfection' in order to fulfill its omnipotence. Thus, when addressing God in the so-called, "Lord's Prayer, the alleged Jewish 'messiah,' Yeshua HaNotzri, could presumably petition Him by saying, 'And lead us not into temptation' (Matthew 6:13) -- which clearly implies and acknowledges God's capacity for evil. In the same way, the Baal Shem Tov could state, "The indwelling Glory embraces all worlds, all creatures, good and evil. And it is a true unity. How can it then bear in itself the opposites of good and evil? But in truth there is no opposite, for the evil is the throne of the good." ("Instructions in Intercourse with God," In Hasidism and Modern Man, Martin Buber, Horizon Press, 1958, page 208)

Jung makes the same point when he writes:

"Morality presupposes consciousness. By this I do not mean to say that Yahweh is imperfect or evil like a Gnostic demiurge. He is everything in its totality; therefore, among other things, he is total justice [for example], and also its total opposite." (Italics mine, C. G. Jung, Answer to Job, par. 574)

Now, with regard to R. Azriel's second point, that of emanation, he is arguing, as he does in others of these lessons, that the Sefirot (or at least the first three) are part and parcel of the Creator and are not merely His creations. For example, later in his eighth lesson he will write:

"Some of the sefirot existed in potentia within Eyn-Sof before they became actualized, like the first sefirah [Keter] which is equal to all the others. There were some that were intelligible that were then emanated, like the second sefirah [Hokmah] from which the pre-existent Torah came forth. There were some that were perceived and some that were innate, such as those sefirot which were needed for this world and which were emanated almost contemporaneously with the creation of the world. And since in the existentiation of the first two sefirot the hidden and intelligible powers of the two were totally intermingled, their reality nourished the other sefirot."

I discuss this statement in considerable detail in my commentary on the eighth lesson, to come. Here I want to consider the "proof" R. Azriel brings down for having made it -- that is, "When one draws from something in creation it is decreased and diminished." However, as he points out by implication, the sefirot are neither decreased nor diminished when they "flow upon the impoverished" and, therefore, they must not be "created" entities, but emanations of the Creator himself.

In summary, the question R. Azriel is dealing with here can be re-stated as: Are the Ten Sefirot merely created by God, or are they the very substance of God Himself? That is, are they the Creator or the created? Because, if they are the latter they are no different than stones, plants, animals, and man, all of which are imperfect due to what Luria later calls the Sheviret HaKelim, or "Shattering of the (Sefirotic) Vessels" at the moment of creation. But if they are the former -- which is to say, God Himself -- then they are, unlike created things, the very substance of God and without imperfection.

R. Azriel submits that the second answer is the correct one, and that the Ten Sefirot are the very substance of God Himself and, to paraphrase the Bhagavad Gita, although they, the Sefirot, are in all things, all things are not in them. But this would seem to contradict what R. Isaac Luria, three centuries later, proposes in his doctrine of TzimTzum. However, on further examination, it does not.

In his first lessons, R. Azriel defines divine "perfection" as "that which contains all things." Thus, in order to be perfect, God must contain the flawed as well as the flawless. We see this, of course, in the Book of Isaiah, where Yahweh states:

"I am the Yahweh, unrivaled [i.e., 'perfect']. I form the light and create the dark. I make peace [i.e., good] and create evil." (Isa. 45:7)

And also in 1 Samuel we can read:

"Now the [good] spirit of Yahweh had left Saul and an evil spirit from Yahweh filled him with terror." (1 Sam. 16:14)

Thus, God is all things, both "good" and "evil" -- "perfect" and "imperfect" -- in order to fulfill His omnipotence. For this reason, the Baal Shem Tov could say:

"The indwelling Glory [of God] prevails from above to below unto the rim of all rungs. That is the mystery of the word, 'And you animate them all.' Even when man does a sin, then too the Glory is clothed in it, for without it he would not have the strength to move a limb. And this is the exile of God's Glory . . . [which] embraces all worlds, all creatures good and evil. And that is the true Unity. How can it then bear in itself the opposites of good and evil? But in truth there is no opposite, for the evil is the throne of the good." ("Instructions on Intercourse with God," trans. by Martin Buber in Hasidism and Modern Man, 1958, pages 207-208.)

Consequently, what Luria proposes is consonant with what R. Azriel taught a century earlier: Being perfect (i.e., containing all things) God is also "flawed", and it is this "flaw" that gives rise to the "wobble" in his emanated "Body," the divine Ten Sefirot, and their subsequent collapse, or Shevirit HaKelim. Needless to say, we see in these speculations the seeds of the 17th century, post-Lurianic Kabbalah configured by Rabbi Nathan of Gaza out of his encounter with Sabbatai Zevi, whom he considered to be the Messiah and a Divine Incarnation whose ma'asim zarim (mystical "strange gestures") were another outer manifestation of the inner mind of God just as those of the so-called "Jesus" had been centuries before.

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