The Great Chain of Being and the Desire to Receive

by tillerofthesoil

Ba'al ha-Sullam Portrait

Introduction to the Book of Zohar (33–42), by Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag (Ba’al ha-Sullam).

It is very perplexing that for man—whose worth is but a wisp compared to the reality before us in this world, much less compared to the supernal spiritual worlds—the Creator would go to all the trouble of creating everything for him. And even more perplexing: what does man need all these vast spiritual worlds for?

And you must know that any contentment of our Maker from giving abundantly to His creatures depends on the extent that the creatures sense Him—that He is the giver, and that He is the One who delights them. For then He takes great pleasure in them, as a father playing with his beloved son, to the extent that the son feels and recognizes the greatness and exaltedness of his father, and his father shows him all the treasures he has prepared for him, as is written: ‘Is Ephraim My precious son? Is he a child of delights? For since I spoke against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore My insides yearn for him; I will surely have compassion upon him,’ says YHWH (Jeremiah 31:19) [cf. Tanuma, Tetsaveh 1 ad loc.].

Ponder these words and you may come to know the great delights of the Name, may He be blessed, with those perfect ones that have been granted sensing Him and recognizing His greatness in all those manners He has prepared for them, until they are like a father with his precious son, the delight of his parents. And we need not continue on that, for it is enough for us to know that for this contentment and delight in those perfect ones, it was worth His while to create all the worlds, above and below alike.

To prepare His creatures to attain this exalted rung, the blessed Holy One wished to act on them in a sequence of four rungs, one הַמִתְפַּתֵחַוֹת (hamitpateḥot), evolving, from the other, called: דוֹמֵם צוֹמֵחַ חַי מִדָּבָר (domem, tsomeaḥ, ḥai, midavar), mineral, vegetable, animal, human [lit., mute, growing, living, speaking]. These are, in fact, the four phases of the רָצוֹן לְקַבֵּל (ratson le-qabbel), desire to receive, by which the supernal worlds are categorized. For although the majority of the desire is in the fourth phase of the desire to receive, it is impossible for the fourth phase to appear instantly, but only by its preceding three phases, in which, and through which, it gradually מִתְפַּתֵחַת (mitpateḥat), unfurls, and appears, until it is fully completed in the form of the fourth phase [cf. Rabbi Yosef Albo, Sefer ha-Iqqarim 3:1–6].

In the first phase of the desire to receive, called דוֹמֵם (domem), mineral, the initial manifestation of the desire to receive, in this material world, there was but a general capacity for movement for the whole of the mineral category. But no motion is apparent in its particular elements. This is because the desire to receive, generates needs, and the needs generate movements sufficient to satisfy the needs. And since there is but a minimal desire to receive its effect is only apparent, since it causes general movement, but its effect over the particular elements is indistinguishable.

The צוֹמֵחַ (tsomeaḥ), vegetable, was added to it, which is the second phase of the desire to receive. Its capacity is greater than in the mineral and its desire to receive dominates each and every element because each element has its own potential for movement, expanding through its length and breadth, and moving towards the sun. The matter of eating, drinking, and secretion of waste is apparent in each element too. However, the sensation of freedom and individuality is still absent in them.

Atop this the חַי (ḥai), animal, category was added, which is the third phase of the desire to receive. Its potential is already complete to a great extent, for this desire to receive already generates in each element a sensation of freedom and individuality, which is the life that is unique to each particular element, yet, they still lack the sensation of others; they have no sense of their companion’s distress or happiness and so forth.

Above all the אָדָם (adam), human, was added, the fourth phase of the desire to receive. It is the complete and final measure, and its desire to receive includes the sensation of others as well. And if you wish to know the precise difference between the third phase of the desire to receive, which is in the animal, and the fourth phase of the desire to receive, in the human, I shall tell you that it is like the worth of a single creature compared to the whole of reality.

This is because the desire to receive in the animal, which lacks the sensation of others, can only generate needs and desires to the extent that they are embedded in that creature alone. But man, who can sense others, becomes needy of everything and is thus filled with jealousy to acquire everything that others have too. When he has a hundred, he wants two hundred, and so his needs forever multiply until he wishes to devour the whole world.

Now we have shown that the Creator’s desired goal for all of creation is to benefit His creatures, so they know His truthfulness and greatness, and receive all the delight and pleasure He has prepared for them, in the measure described in the verse: ‘Is Ephraim My precious son? Is he a child of delights?’ (Jeremiah 31:19). Thus, you clearly find that this purpose does not apply to the mineral and the great spheres, such as the earth, the moon, or the sun, however luminous they may be, and not to the vegetable or animal, for they lack the sensation of others, even from among their own species. Therefore, how can the sensation of the Divine and His bestowal apply to them?

Humanity alone, having been prepared with the sensation of others of the same species, who are similar to them, after delving in Torah and mitsvot, when they invert their desire to receive, to a רָצוֹן לְהַשְׁפִּיעַ (ratson le-hashpi’a), desire to give, and come to equivalence of form with their Maker, they receive all the rungs that have been prepared for them in the supernal worlds, called nefesh, ruaḥ, neshamah, ḥaya, yeḥida (being, spirit, soul, living, unique). By that they become qualified to receive the purpose of the Thought of Creation. After all, the purpose of creation of all the worlds was for humanity alone.

And I know that this is totally unaccepted in the eyes of some philosophers. They cannot agree that man, which they think of as low and worthless, is the center of the magnificent Creation. But they are like a worm that is born inside a radish. It lives there and thinks that the world of the Creator is as bitter, as dark, and small as the radish it was born in. But as soon as it breaks the skin of the radish and peeps out, it claims in bewilderment: “I thought the whole world was the size of the radish I was born in, but now I see a grand, beautiful, and wondrous world before me!”

So too are those who are immersed in the shell of the desire to receive they were born with and did not try to take the unique antidote [lit., spice], which is practical Torah and mitsvot, which can break this hard shell and turn it into a desire to give contentment to their Maker. It is certain that they must determine their worthlessness and emptiness, as they truly are, and cannot comprehend that this magnificent reality has been created only for them.

Indeed, had they delved in Torah and mitsvot to give contentment to their Maker, with all the required purity, and would try to break the shell of the desire to receive, they were born with and assume the desire to give, their eyes would immediately open to see and attain for themselves all the rungs of wisdom, intelligence and a clear mind, that have been prepared for them in the spiritual worlds. Then they would themselves say what our Sages said, “What does a good guest say? ‘Everything the host has done, he has done for me alone’” (BT Berakhot 58a).

Yet there still remains to clarify why man would need all the supernal worlds the Creator had created for him? What use has he of them? Bear in mind that the reality of all the worlds is generally divided into five worlds, called: Adam Qadmon (Primordial Man), Atsilut (Emanation), Beri’ah (Creation), Yetsirah (Formation), and Assiyah (Actualization). In each of them are innumerable elements, which are the five sefirot KḤBTM (Keter, Ḥokhmah, Binah, Tif’eret, and Malkhut). The world of Primordial Man is Keter; the world of Emanation is Ḥokhmah; the world of Creation is Binah; the world of Formation is Tif’eret; and the world Actualization is Malkhut.

And the lights clothed in those five worlds are called YḤNRN. The light of yeḥidah shines in the world of Primordial Man; the light of ḥaya in the world of Emanation; the light of neshamah in the world of Creation; the light of ruaḥ in the world of Formation; and the light of nefesh in the world of Actualization.

All these worlds and everything in them are included in the Holy Name, YHWH, and the apex of י (yod). We have no perception in the first world, Primordial Man. Hence, it is only implied in the apex of י (yod) of the Name. This is why we do not speak of it and always mention only the four worlds ABiYA. י (Yod)—the world of Emanation; ה (he)—the world of Creation; ו (vav)—the world of Formation; the final ה (he)—the world of Actualization.

We have now explained the five worlds that include the entire spiritual reality that extends from Infinity to this world. However, they are included in one another, and in each of the worlds there are the five worlds, the five sefirot KḤBTM, in which the five lights, nefesh, ruaḥ, neshamah, ḥaya, yeḥida, are enclothed, corresponding to the five worlds.

And besides the five sefirot, KḤBTM in each world, there are the four spiritual categories—mineral, vegetable, animal, and human. In it, man’s soul is regarded as the human, the animal is regarded as the angels in that world, the vegetable category is called לְבוּשׁים (levushim), garments, and the mineral category is called הֵיכָלוֹת (heikhalot), halls. And they all enclothe one another: the human category, the souls of people, enclothes the five sefirot KḤBTM, which is the godliness in that world. The animal category, which are the angels, enclothes the souls; the vegetable, the garments, enclothe the angels; and the mineral, which are halls, revolve around them all.

The enclothing means that they serve one another and evolve from one another, as we have clarified with the material mineral, vegetable, animal, and human in this world: the three categories—mineral, vegetable, and animal—did not extend for themselves, but only so the fourth category, which is the human, might develop and rise by them. Therefore, their role is only to serve man and be useful to him.

So it is in all the spiritual worlds. The three categories—mineral, vegetable, and animal—appeared there only to serve and be useful to the human category, which is man’s soul. Therefore, it is considered that they all enclothe man’s soul, meaning serve him.

“The theory of evolution accords with the secrets of Kabbalah better than any other theory. Evolution follows a path of ascent and thus provides the world with a basis for optimism. How can one despair, seeing that everything evolves and ascends? When we penetrate the inner nature of evolution, we find divinity illuminated in perfect clarity. Ein Sof generates, actualizes potential infinity” (Rabbi Avraham Kook, Orot ha-Qodesh, 2:537, translated in Matt, The Essential Kabalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism, p. 31).