Rabbi Azriel of Gerona's Text

QUESTION: If the inquirer persists after you have established that there are sefirot and that they are ten and they are emanated and not created and their multiplicity is derived from unity and asks: Now answer me, why should I not ascribe to them measure, limit, and corporeality?

ANSWER: I have already informed you that Eyn-Sof is perfection without imperfection, and that He has a finite power which is unlimited and that the limitation emanating from Him which delimits all existent beings is the sefirot, having the power to act in perfection and imperfection. Had he not existentiated for them limits, we would be unable to recognize that He has the power to existentiate limitation. As a testimony to the fact that nothing exists outside of Him, He brought into existence limitation, so that the confined beings could recognize their own boundaries. And though there are no limits above, the musings stemming from Eyn-Sof suggest that He is above and beyond extension in boundaries.

All that is limited, whether apprehended by the pondering of the heart or hinted at in thought extending below, can be found in speech and vision. Further, anything subject to limitation has magnitude and corporeality, because anything existent that is grasped by contemplation of the heart is called "body," not only spiritual things but even the sefirot. They are the root of limitation. This limitation which is unlimited is emanated, and thus it states: "Their measure is ten without end." (Sepher Yetzirah 1:5) Finally, the philosophers stated that man's intellect is finite, and that from the way of the Ruler we see that everything has limitation, magnitude, and measure.

Reb Yakov Leib's Commentary

Here R. Azriel returns to the exquisite logic that the "perfection" of God (by which is meant His all-inclusiveness) must, by virtue of being "perfect" include the potential (at least) for "imperfection." Based on such reasoning he can state, "This limitation which is unlimited, etc." which can be read to mean that unlike the "limitation" of man (who is finite), the "Limitation" of God (who is infinite) is "unlimited" or, like Himself, infinite.

Furthermore, according to R. Azriel, this potential for imperfection in Eyn-Sof becomes realized by its act of creation. Several centuries later R. Isaac Luria would incorporate this thought in his own cosmology of Tzimtzum and the "Shattering of the Vessels" attendant on God's first attempt at creating the Ten Sefirot. In that process, Luria proposes what he calls the Reshimu -- or a "lingering doubt" in the mind of God about mankind -- that "holds back" from the act of creation, contaminating the primordial space of Tzimtzum with a kind of "negative" Force, which can be likened to "evil" or "imperfection."

Finally, R. Azriel makes the point that Eyn-Sof makes man finite in order that he may have a base of comparison by which to comprehend the infinite nature of his Creator. In other words, just as one cannot "know" heat without cold, pleasure without pain, etc., one cannot know the "infinite" without the "finite."

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