The Year of Jubilee
“When the stars threw down their spears
And watered heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”
—William Blake, “The Tyger”
Science has long taught us that the physical Universe existed for many eons before the first Man walked the earth. But modern Science now also acknowledges that the Universe remained a inchoate tangle of mere possibilities until Consciousness appeared on the scene to actualize what was, until then, only probable. In its mythical-religious rendering, then, the story of Creation is the history of the awakening of this Consciousness — an awakening that has yet to become total and complete. Like travelers emerging from a deep slumber, we at first open our eyes just a little, and find ourselves startled by what we behold: What are these unfamiliar surroundings, and how did we get here?
And so, the mystery of Creation must continue to fill us with anxious awe and clueless wonder until we are fully awake to the Presence of the Uncreated — the One who is the presumptive source of all we see. Yet we do not awaken of our own accord, but only in response to the Light that dispels our benighted state and infuses us with awareness of this sublime Presence.
At the core of mankind’s sacred traditions of Creation, however, there lurks a dark enigma which cannot but trouble us, as it did William Blake. The poet shapes this paradox into his marvelously menacing figure of the incendiary Tyger, crouching in the “forests of the Night” — which is to say, in the profound depths of the primordial Abyss from which Creation unfolds.
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
It was remarkably prescient of this 18th Century visionary to have discerned, in the very womb of Time itself, a symmetry so stark and absolute as to inspire terror. I say prescient because such a condition of “super-symmetry” is exactly the way today’s cosmologists conceive of the embryonic Universe. They envision a state in which all of the diverse varieties of matter and energy were fused into a single form, with all distinctions of spatial direction and temporal sequence utterly obliterated. This is but one of many examples we will encounter of humanity’s mythical “memories” not only anticipating the “discoveries” of empirical Science, but revealing their transcendental meaning.
In the Introduction to this book, we briefly touched on the concept of Symmetry as the “blueprint” of the Universe created by the God of Genesis — God in His/Her manifold Female aspect, the Elohim. Integral to the plan of Creation is the alternating pattern of action, represented by the first Six Days of Moses’ narrative, and repose, as enjoyed by the Elohim on the Seventh Day. We have noted that this cyclical pattern reflects the complementary roles of Symmetry — the underlying pattern which informed the Six Days of Creation — and Equilibrium, the consummate Peace which epitomizes the Sabbath Day. One way to visualize this complementary relationship is by analogy to the poles of a magnet: the closer we are the “pole” of total Symmetry, the further we are from the “pole” of absolute Equilibrium, and vice-versa.
Which brings us back to Blake’s enigma of the Tyger’s terrifying Symmetry. Here, the poet’s fervid imagination transports us back to the very first moments of the Universe, a Universe in which, according to the King James translation of Genesis, “the earth was without form and void”. If we take the trouble to refer back to the original Hebrew phrase, however, we read of the nascent Earth being Tohu, which means “Chaos”, and Bohu, which signifies “Desolation”. With regard to the latter, we are perhaps reminded of the spontaneous utterance of the first of our species to step onto the surface of the Moon: “Magnificent desolation!”
Blake also writes of the Tyger “burning bright” as did the speaking bush on
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes!
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?
Thus, it seems that the state of “super-Symmetry”, for which our Tyger is the emblem, is sustained by a fathomless font of the most intense energy. Again, this corresponds exactly to the configuration of the “pre-Big Bang” Universe , when the four physical forces (gravity, electromagnetism, and the “strong” and “weak” subatomic interactions) merged into one force at a temperature about a trillion trillion times hotter than the center of the Sun! It’s safe to say that, within the constraints of material existence, such a hyper-elevated energy level is as far from Equilibrium as it’s possible to get. And that’s precisely what we would expect, based upon the complementary relationship between Symmetry and Equilibrium: the closer we are to complete Symmetry, the further are we from perfect Equilibrium.
Now, the antithesis of Equilibrium is Chaos, a wild sort of dynamic which drives things into modes of explosive instability and intractable complexity. Consequently, we would expect to find Tohu-Chaos accompanying the absolute Symmetry Bohu that Moses ascribes to the Earth “in the Beginning”. While all of this sheds some light on the paradox we are pursuing, however, it raises more questions than it answers. Not the least of which these is, “Who, or what, engendered the realm of Chaos which existed on the First Day of Creation?” It is the essentially the same disturbing question that William Blake asks of his Tyger: “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”
Light and Darkness
Starting out with the premise of one omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent Creator, we immediately run into several logical contradictions which have long occupied philosophers and theologians. If God is All — All that is or might be — then how does He/She engender a Creation distinct from His/Her own Essence? And how does He/She arrange for His/Her creatures to act other than as automatons carrying out His/Her predetermined Will? These questions were pondered by prominent Jewish sages in the early centuries of the current era, and their teachings have survived in a series of mystical texts known as the Kabbalah. Drawing upon the Torah, the Kabbalah endeavors to reconstruct the prelude to the Seven Days of Genesis, that is, to trace Creation back beyond the dawn of human Consciousness.
Before there was Space or Time, according to the Kabbalists, the ineffable One radiated a pure Essence which is the Ain Soph Auor, “Limitless Light”. As the Psalmist conceives it, this Light is the very first thing God created, and it surrounds Him/Her like a garment:
Thou art clothed with honour and majesty.
Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment:
who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain...
Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire
It’s interesting that this Psalm also alludes to the firmament and the Angels as other features of the Lord’s pre-Genesis groundwork. This strongly suggests that they, too, were formed of ethereal Light, the only substance extant at that juncture.
As we discussed in the Introduction, Solomon’s Proverbs identify “Understanding”, or Binah in Hebrew, as the first of God’s creations. Accordingly, Binah must be one aspect of the sublime Light — and a decidedly feminine one at that. In his inspired epic masterpiece Paradise Lost, John Milton also casts the highest Light in a distinctly female role:
... Light Ethereal, first of things, quintessence pure
Sprung from the Deep, ...
... Spher’d in a radiant Cloud, for yet the Sun
Was not; shee in a cloudy Tabernacle
Sojourn’d the while.
Hail holy Light, offspring of Heav’n first-born,
... Bright effluence of bright essence increate.
First of all, we hear in the opening words, “Hail holy Light”, an unmistakable echo of the angel Gabriel’s salutation to the Virgin Mary at the moment that She, who was the perfect Vessel, experienced the in-pouring of heavenly Grace. This tells us something very important about the nature of the “holy Light”: It does not form things, but rather it “in-forms” them. It is very much like a liquid in this regard — i.e., it is not a “material” out of which an object can be shaped, but an “effluence” that fills up the interior of anything into which it flows. In this sense, it once again mirrors the traits of King Solomon’s Binah, whom he describes as being “poured out” like a molten metal into a mold.
the celestial Light is, as
Based upon its fundamental property of indestructibility, Aristotle deduced that Quintessence must be without an “opposite” or “contrary” capable of negating it. This constitutes an important distinction from the forms of matter and energy known to us: Air is consumed by fire, which may be quenched by water, which in turn may be absorbed by earth. Indeed, it’s become a basic postulate of modern physics that all “particles” of matter and energy must have corresponding “anti-particles” capable of annihilating them on contact. But this may not be said of Quintessence, which — being indivisible — is not composed of particles at all.
From this quality of indivisibility, Aristotle also went on to infer that Quintessence is not subject to either increase or diminution in its intensity. In contrast, if mundane matter expands, it becomes less dense — i.e. the gaps between its particles widen — while physical energy likewise attenuates over distance as its waveform is stretched out. But Quintessence retains the same primal intensity whether it is bounded in a nutshell or spread out over infinite space. This helps explain why the fire of Blake’s Tyger can originate in the furthest reaches of the sky and still retain its full, unabated ferocity.
One might well imagine that it demands quite a special sort of container to hold this inexhaustible intensity without bursting at the seams. In fact, such an ethereal Vessel would, of necessity, be without any “seams” at all. This is another way of saying that it would be perfectly symmetrical, possessed of that ultimate refinement of Symmetry which, in the Tyger, we experience as “fearful”. In order to form such a super-symmetrical Vessel, God needed to first extract from it His/Her ubiquitous Light, leaving it in Darkness — the “forests of the Night”, which are the Tyger’s metaphysical habitat. The Kabbalah refers to this withdrawal or constriction of the Divine Essence as the Tzimtzum, and to the resulting vacated space as the “Lamp of Darkness” — an oxymoron intended to remind us that God’s Essence is immanent even in this ostensible void. In other words, “there is no place empty of Him”, not even that very heart of Darkness which throbs within the burning bosom of Blake’s carnivore.
At first glance, this Tzimtzum process appears self-contradictory: Why should the Creator withdraw the Light from the place intended to be its repository? To comprehend this, we might think of a farmer whose field is covered with water. If he wished to channel the water to irrigate his crops, he would first pump the water off the field, then dig his irrigation ditches, and finally release the water back into the field again. We must also remind ourselves of the inexhaustible capacity for expansion that characterizes the quintessential Light. Without a Vessel to restrict it, it will inflate ad infinitum and with undiminished intensity, attaining a level of energy insupportable by all but the highest One, “dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto”.
very significant that, when Moses besought a glimpse of this unabated Glory on
It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up forever: ... and He shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness.
Once again, our understanding of these words is much enhanced by going back to the original Hebrew, which reads:
... He shall stretch out upon it the line of Tohu, and the stones of Bohu.
shall examine the symbolic significance of
From our discussion to this point, we know that perfect Symmetry implies a polarization in which Equilibrium occupies the opposite pole. Another way of saying this is that absolute Symmetry is produced by the withdrawal of Equilibrium. This process immediately strikes us as identical to the Tzimtzum by which the Creator formed the first Vessel to contain His/Her ethereal Light. It must follow, therefore, that Equilibrium is an attribute of this Light, of this Quintessence that we have been studying. And it equally follows that God’s shaping of a super-symmetrical Vessel to receive the sublime Light necessarily engenders an ambient realm of Chaos.
The Abyss of Chaos
Revisiting our earlier description of the Creation from Milton’s Paradise Lost, we notice that he speaks of the ethereal Light/Quintessence as springing up from “the Deep”, much as the Sun — its visible token in the manifest World — appears to rise from beneath the Earth each morning. The poet is obviously referring of “the Deep” pictured in Genesis’ embryonic Universe of Chaos (or Tohu) and absolute Symmetry (or Bohu):
And the earth was without form [Tohu] and void [Bohu]; and darkness was upon the face of the deep [Tehom].
In Hebrew, the Deep is Tehom, signifying the primordial watery Abyss. The manifold Creatrix Elohim separated this Abyss into three parts: the sublime “waters above the firmament”, the briny waters of the Sea, and the subterranean aquifers of fresh water:
He gathereth up waters of the sea together as a heap: he layeth up the depth [Tehom] in storehouses.
Once again, we see the rocky caves of the Earth’s interior — Isaiah’s “stones of Bohu” — used as a metaphor for the ultra-symmetrical Vessels formed by the withdrawal (Tzimtzum) of the supernal Light, or Quintessence. This withdrawal of the Light accounts for the “darkness” that Genesis depicts upon the “face of Deep”. Without the confining force of these Vessels, Creation would be swept away by the waters of Tehom, as it was during the great Flood:
In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the deep opened up, and the windows of heaven were opened.
we noted in our Introduction, the numbers recited in such passages as this one
are always to be regarded as — if I may be permitted my occasional pun — “integral” to the sacred theme. We have already discussed how the Deluge of
40 days and nights corresponds to the Hebrew letter Mem מ , the symbol of Water and the supernal Male principle Chochmah/Wisdom. We should also recall that the Hebrews, like
the Romans, had their letters serve double-duty as numerals, with Mem representing the number 40. What we didn’t mention earlier is that Mem
may, in the form ם which it assumes at the end of a word,
also equate to 600 — Noah’s age in years at the onset of the Flood. The number 600, being a multiple of six, also
invokes the unfolding Symmetry of the Six Days of Creation. In this “exposed” or manifest aspect, Mem is
associated with the great metaphysical “belly” or Womb — the “fullness” and
rotundity of sacred Time (Gilgal) out
of which unceasingly flows the
He that believeth on me, ... out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.
Jesus rose dramatically to proclaim these words on the eighth and last day of the feast of Succoth. During the first seven days of this festival, also known as the feast of Tabernacles, the Jews luxuriated among the fruits and flowering foliage of the trees lining the banks of the River Jordan. As we shall soon discover, the watering of the Tree of Life is the primary purpose and original raison d’etre of the mystical River of living Water. For present purposes, however, we are more concerned with the source of this Water in Tehom, the Abyss. The identification of this source is implicit in the locale of Christ’s encounter with the Samaritan woman of Sychar, and in her questioning of Him:
Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence hast thou this living water?
the Lenten liturgy, this Gospel reading is coupled with a reading from the book
of Exodus. In the latter passage Moses
strikes the rock of
But how can this be true of a God who is All and knows All? Can Chaos coexist with divine omniscience? To answer these questions, we must first understand what Chaos actually is — a task not as easy as it may superficially appear. Indeed, it has only been in recent decades that mathematicians have begun to define what it means for a process to be “chaotic”. Interestingly, the scientific picture of Chaos which emerges bears little resemblance to the concept of “chaos” in the vernacular sense. We commonly use the term “chaos” to describe situations which we perceive to be “out of control”, lacking any discernable pattern, obeying no consistent set of rules. This popular notion draws no real distinction between occurrences that are chaotic and those that are truly random. Yet, this distinction is the essential key to comprehending the nature of Chaos and its role in Creation.
Ask the proverbial man on the street what is the opposite of “chaos”, and he will say “order”. But the fact is that Chaos is far more ordered than any other species of Reality! In fact, a chaotic process is so highly and intricately structured that it exceeds the capacity of our brains and computing devices to disentangle and analyze its workings. The sheer complexity of Chaos renders its consequences unforeseeable. Interestingly enough, this trait of baffling inscrutability is one of the nuances of the Hebrew word for Chaos Tohu, which also connotes “confusion”. Our finite intellect is confounded by Chaos because the chaotic dynamic is infinitely involved and endlessly convoluted — an interminable maze of patterns within patterns which mathematicians call fractals.
is at once so disconcerting and so fascinating about the structure of Chaos is
that it is fathomless. It extends “all
the way down” beneath the weave of Space and Time — into the Deep, the Abyss,
the Tehom of Genesis. In this bottomless depth burn the eyes the
elusive Tyger — Blake’s symbol of
primeval Symmetry — peering ominously out from the Darkness cast by the
“withdrawal”(Tzimtzum) of the
supernal Light. Blake’s imagery is again
traceable back to
... ride forth, and bid the Deep
Within appointed bounds be Heav’n and Earth,
Boundless the Deep, because I am who fill
Infinitude, nor vacuous the space.
Though I uncircumscrib’d myself retire,
And put not forth my goodness, which is free
To act or not, Necessity and Chance
Approach not mee, and what I will is Fate.
By withdrawing Her luminous Quintessence — which we have associated with the principle of Equilibrium — the Creatrix Elohim fashions a space which is “free” of both “Necessity and Chance”. Quite astoundingly, we find in these lines of a 17th Century poet an insight into the nature of Chaos which our vaunted 20th Century Science has only begun to grasp: It is the source of all novelty and freedom of action arising within the bounds of Space and Time. Within the limits of a finite Universe, the outcome of a chaotic process is unpredictable — so Science now informs us — for two reasons. First, accurate prognostication would require infinitely detailed and precise knowledge of the conditions that existed when the process began. Second, even if we had such limitless data, the calculations required to forecast the course of the process beyond its initial stages would consume an eternity. Hence, insofar as God’s finite creatures are concerned, chaotic events are indeterminate and “free” of predestination.
then, is the Promethean fire which sets Man free by severing the inexorable
cause-and-effect chain of Necessity.
Yet, it is not equivalent to pure
Chance — as
In the Bahir, one of the oldest of the Kabbalah texts, there appears a parable about a king whose daughter is to be married to a royal prince. Though he is loathe to be separated from his beloved daughter, the king recognizes that, as a married woman, she cannot be with him constantly. So he has his servants construct, between his and her apartments in the palace, a window, which might be opened whenever they desire to be together. As explained by scholarly commentators, this parable addresses the fundamental paradox which we raised at the beginning of this chapter, namely: How does God maintain His/Her Presence in Creation without negating the autonomy of His/Her creatures? And the answer which the Kabbalah gives us is consistent with the one we just derived from modern Chaos theory: The Divine Presence in this Universe issues not from “above”, not from the ethereal planes of Spirit, as we might expect, but from “below”, from the deepest core of Matter itself! Thus, the parable’s king, representing the supreme Creator, bypasses his courtly hierarchy in order to make himself directly and immediately accessible to his cherished child, who personifies material Creation.
This explains why the Scriptures we cited earlier describe the Vessels of the quintessential Light as hollows within rock and wells deep in the Earth. The material Universe is not made up of dead, cold “things”, as our demoralized culture would have it. The truth lies far closer to the belief of those we condescendingly call “primitives”, closer to the perception that the Universe and everything in it is alive. And not merely alive, but possessed, as we humans feel ourselves to be, of a sentient Interior which connects, in an immediate and visceral way, with the very fountainhead of Being itself. All we need do to behold, in rapture, the Immensity within our material World is to pull aside the veil of Chaos which covers it — to dare to open the window which our heavenly King has built between our chambers and His — to dare, in the words of the poet, to “seize the fire”.
In teaching us to revile Matter, the Pharisees of institutional Religion choose to forget that the source of our Redemption lies in Christ’s own immersion in Matter, whence he summons us to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood:
Never say, “Matter is accursed, matter is evil”, because there has come one who said ... “This is my body.”
Purity does not lie in separation from, but in a deeper penetration into the universe. It is to be found in the love of that unique, boundless Essence which penetrates the inmost depths of all things and there, from within those depths ... works upon them and moulds them.
Sadly, Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the intellectual giant who penned these profound lines, was silenced by a Church hierarchy which has been, until quite recently, openly hostile to the scientific view that the Universe is organized “from the bottom up”. And if we think about it just a little bit, we can well appreciate the grounds for this hostility. For, if Teilhard is right, God is no respecter of hierarchies, be they angelic or human. He loves the lowly and chooses a clod of clay to be the Mother of His children! Again, the poetry of William Blake dramatizes our theme, giving eloquent voice to the lowly Clod of Clay:
Thou seest me the meanest thing, and so I am indeed;
My bosom of itself is cold, and of itself is dark,
But he that loves the lowly, pours his oil upon my head.
And kisses me, and binds his nuptial bands around my breast,
And says: Thou art the mother of my children, I have loved thee,
And I have given thee a crown that none can take away.
As we shall discuss later in this book, Christ follows exactly the same anti-hierarchal pattern in organizing his Church “from the bottom up”. He chose to build it upon the Rock Cephas, which signifies the radical Symmetry abiding within the deepest heart of the material Universe. Understandably, for the Pharisees who have staked out for themselves a princely status within the institutional Church, this is an aspect of Jesus’ legacy best overlooked, particularly by those theologians who would have their works bear an official imprimatur.
More on that score later, but for now let’s return to considering the significance of the “window” through which the manifest Presence of the Most High is reintroduced into Creation after its withdrawal, or Tzimtzum. The Kabbalists call this window Malkut, which is the aspect of the Female principle operative in the manifest World.
True to the poet’s portrayal, She is at once the Queen of the material Universe and the humble Clod of Clay. She wears, in Blake’s words, the “crown that none can take away”, because She is the very first offspring — the beloved Daughter — of the ultimate Will which is the source of all Being. In the Kabbalah’s nomenclature, this utmost Will is Keter, the “Crown”, and it is this crown which His daughter Malkut is seen to wear upon Her head.
Before we go any further, it’s vital that we learn a bit more about Keter. In the Introduction, we mentioned that Keter is the pinnacle of Consciousness, the Oneness in which the Male and Female — the supernal Father and Mother, Chochmah and Binah — are perfectly joined. As a necessary consequence of this sublime Unity, however, Keter must be totally ineffable. If we reflect on this for a moment, it makes perfect sense, because, by definition, the total can never be encompassed by the partial. So if, again by definition, all other centers of Consciousness are less complete than Keter, none of them may comprehend it.
Because it is ineffable, Keter is associated with the first character of the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph א which we recognize as one of the three Mother letters. Aleph is a fitting symbol of Keter because it has the numerical connotation of One. It is also uniquely appropriate in that it is a “silent consonant” — that is, one doesn’t pronounce it as an articulate sound but simply lets out a soft breath of air. While the author is hardly qualified as a linguist, I am unaware of anything comparable to Aleph in any other language.
By developing this “breath” metaphor a bit further, we may gain some insight into the relationship of Keter and Malkut. If Keter is the silent “breath”, then Malkut is the “mouth” which shapes it into an audible sound, into a “letter” — one of the building blocks of the Word, the Symmetry or Logos, from which Creation springs forth. Malkut performs this function the same way our physical mouths enunciate speech, that is, through the interaction of the direct breath entering the mouth with the breath reflected within the cavity of the mouth. This is essentially a process of superimposing waves, similar to what happens when we drive a car into a narrow tunnel — the engine noise that was barely noticeable before suddenly becomes deafening. In this process, we start out with a single wave — the direct “breath” of Keter — and break it down into its harmonic components, which are then superimposed on one another to produce an audible sound.
It’s interesting that Jesus himself used the same metaphor of the “mouth” in one of the arcane utterances he purportedly dictated to his twin brother, Judas Thomas:
Jesus said, “Whosoever drinks from my mouth will become like me; I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him.”
These words immediately remind us of Jesus’ offer of “living Water” to the Samaritan woman:
... but the water that I give him shall be in him a well springing up to everlasting life.
Let’s step back a bit and consider what all of this means. In these sayings, Christ is teaching us something about the great metaphysical divide between what is potential and what is actual. On the level of the highest Will, Keter, this great divide is absent, i.e. there is no distinction between what the Mind of God conceives and what He wills. Therefore, the “living Water” of which Jesus speaks is the matrix of all that is and all that may be, all that is evident and all that is latent, all that has emerged and all that is inchoate. When Jesus refers to the “hidden things” being revealed, he is talking about achieving that level of Consciousness in which every potential is Real and palpable, that tier of consummate awareness in which Reality appears Infinite:
If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to Man as it is, Infinite.
For Man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks in his cavern.
How it came to pass that Man “closed himself up”, as Blake puts it, is an inquiry we will presently pursue. For now, however, the important point is that material Reality has an Infinite dimension — the realm of Malkut — which we fail to perceive in our “ordinary experience”. In our daily lives, we skim along the surface of Reality, never getting inside it, within its “mouth” where we may drink in its unceasing flow of permutations and possibilities. The only way we may drink through this mouth, as Christ instructs us to do, is to make it our own mouth, to put on the body of the living Universe. By doing so, we join with the Body of the Supernal Man, so that we become as He ... and He becomes us.
Let us leave the surface and, without leaving the world, plunge into God.
This prescription of Father Teilhard bids us merely recognize that the World is far more than the veneer of mundane events we observe through the “narrow chinks of our cavern”. Reality goes much deeper than the superficial skin of “facts”. While our vacuous cyber-culture obsessively hordes information and data, it misses the point that facts are, at best, strictly negative indicia of Truth. Although what is contrary to fact cannot be True, our factual observations trace only the outlines of the Truth, but reveal nothing of its contents. If my reader needs proof of this proposition, they may perhaps recall a momentous occasion in their life that they went to great lengths to “capture” on video. Upon later viewing the film, they were disappointed to find that much of the “magic” of the moment had somehow eluded the lens.
Indeed, I think my reader will agree that the more factual detail we amass about a thing, the farther we stray from the essence of the thing itself. Even if we were capable of recording every sensible component of an experience, even one as simple as smelling a rose, we would still not have the experience itself, because we would only be sampling one layer of a Reality which has countless layers. To quote Teilhard once more:
... all abstract knowledge is only a faded reality: this is because to understand the world, knowledge is not enough, you must see it, touch it, live in its presence and drink the vital heat of existence in the very heart of reality.
The same basic message underlies the moving lyrics of that mighty spiritual anthem of Black slavery, “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?”: To be saved, it not enough that we know about what happened on Golgotha’s hill that afternoon, we need to have gone there and witnessed it, first-hand. We need to have, at some time in our lives, gotten outside of the narrow confines of our egocentric experience, gotten outside of our “little” selves, our nameplate identities, and touched that universal something which connects all of us and everything.
live in a Universe we appears to consists of dizzying multitudes and
multiplicities, but there is a golden thread which runs through it all, which
passes through every layer of this multi-layered Reality and ties it all
together. This golden thread is the Shechinah — God’s feminine Presence in
the material World. We said earlier
that, prior to the Creation of the Universe, God withdrew this luminous Female
Presence, in a process called the Tzimtzum,
so that it might be reintroduced once a suitable Vessel had been fashioned to
receive it. According to the Kabbalah,
God allotted a one-seventh portion of the withdrawn Quintessence to be
reinserted into the vacated sphere of Darkness in the form of a single “Thread
of Light”. From the remaining
six-sevenths of the supernal Light, God fashioned the World to Come, the
Malkut, then, is the channel or “window”, through which Adonai Elohim introduced the Shechinah — the seventh part of His/Her Quintessence — into the nascent Universe. The metaphor of the window is apt because a window has the dual function of restraining light, as when a shade or blind is drawn, and of transmitting it. In other words, what was required was not simply a Vessel which could receive and hold the supernal Light, but one which could also reciprocate and give forth, like the Moon, a reflected Light to illuminate the Heavens. After all, what point would there be for God to shine a signal beacon, so to speak, unless He/She expected some response? To the extent that we can understand what moved God to create the Universe, we must infer a strong desire to communicate with His/Her Creation. And, indeed, do we not discern a corresponsive passion in the human Soul: to reach out and communicate with beings of a higher order than ourselves?
Just as the Soul abiding within each individual human being yearns to commune with God, so much more so does the universal Soul abiding within Malkut, for She is His Bride and Queen of His Kingdom. Since Malkut is substantial — cast in the rock-like Symmetry of Bohu — the aspect of God whom She embraces must also be substantial, which is to say, endowed with a Body. Furthermore, since Malkut is feminine — being an avatar of the Female principle — Her longing must be for the Male Essence of God’s divine nature. Putting these two specifications together, we have a formula for the Son, who is the Supernal Man Zer Anpin of the Kabbalah, the Messiah of the Jews, and the Christ of the Gentiles.
Because Malkut is the Vessel which holds the Indwelling Glory, it’s natural that Her similitude should be the hand, and that She should be identified with the five fingers. For the same reason, the Hebrews associated Her with their fifth letter Heh ה, which appears twice the Tetragrammaton יהוה, or YHVH — the unspeakable Name of the unnameable Godhead. As interpreted by Jewish mystics, the first Heh in the Tetragrammaton represents the supernal Mother Binah, who is the Vessel of the six parts of the ethereal Light reserved for the World to Come. It is through the Mother that the seventh part of this Quintessence flows into the Daughter Malkut, who corresponds to the final Heh in the Tetragrammaton. Being the final letter in the divine Name, the Heh of Malkut embodies the attributes of finality, repose and peace, all of which we associate with the principle of Equilibrium.
In fact, we find in the Tetragrammaton a shorthand for the entire network of Vessels, or Sephirot in Kabbalistic parlance, which form the fountainhead of Creation. Thus, Yod Y stands for Chochmah/Wisdom, the supernal Father, and Vau ו connotes the “Body” of six Sephirot which together comprise the Son. As we discussed in our Introduction, the letter Vau and its equivalent numeral six are both symbols of Symmetry, the Logos which is the underlying source of Creation, the Word from which the World sprung. Together with the ineffable “Crown” Keter, the four sets of Sephirot comprising the Tetragrammaton define the five levels of the universal Soul, which again relates to the correspondence of the number five to Malkut.
recall that the influx of the “living Water” of Wisdom into the Soul is through
virtue of the fact that Heh ה is an emblem of Malkut,
therefore, this letter must likewise signify the incarnation of Souls through
Awakening from Below
When we look at the religions of humankind, one striking similarity is that all of them, in one way or another, sanctify the act of sexual intercourse. My reader will perhaps object that many religions, and particularly those that derive from Judaism, attach a number of taboos to expressions of sexuality. Such taboos do not reflect execration of the act, however, but rather protection of its hallowed status against profane usage. In much the same way, the Law of Moses proscribes invocation of the Lord’s name “in vain”, i.e., with impure motives or base intentions.
This nigh-universal consecration of sexuality begs the obvious question: Why? The facile answer which one hears parroted by many pious Christians nowadays is that the sanctity of sexual intercourse derives from the sanctity of procreation and, indeed, from the paramount sanctity of “human life” in and of itself. In truth, however — and this is an extremely important point — the sanctity of the act of sexual Union between the Male and the Female is primary, and it sanctifies procreation, not the other way around! At first blush, this may seem to be an outrageous, even blasphemous proposition, but if my reader will keep an open mind as we proceed in this treatise, I will demonstrate its validity.
have spoken of the metaphysical “window” called Malkut, which is the conduit of
God’s Light into the material realm.
This window is to be found in each human Soul, the inner sanctum of our
Where then, and how, is the Soul conceived? And how does that sublime conception relate to the conception of the physical body? As usual, we can count on the prophet Isaiah to points us in the direction of the answers:
Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.
Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you, for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.
Here again, we encounter the image of the Rock symbolizing the consummate Symmetry and substantiality of the Vessel, Malkut, through which the Thread of Light is drawn into the vacuous Darkness of the nascent Universe. This much we already understand, but the prophet takes us even further into this mystery by instructing us to “look unto Abraham… and unto Sarah”. Isaiah specifically directs our attention to the Lord’s Covenant of Circumcision with Abraham, in which He vowed to “increase him” and make of him “a father of many nations”. We can read of this Covenant in the book of Genesis:
... the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly ...
Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but they name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.
This particular passage and those that follow it are so very dense with meaning that it’s worth our taking some time to “unpack” what we find here. First of all, we notice that the Lord refers to Himself by a special name — the “Almighty God”, which is translated from the Hebrew El Shaddai. Since El Shaddai appears and speaks directly to Abram, we can only infer that He represents one of the Vessels — or Sephirot, in the Kabbalah’s lexicon — through which the supernal Light becomes manifest in the World. We have learned that this luminous Presence Shechinah infuses Creation “from below”, emanating through Malkut from the depths of Matter and ascending “upward”. Ultimately, the Light ascends back to its source in the ineffable Godhead — the Crown of Keter. But, if Malkut is to play the role of the Bride, She must be joined to Her divine Bridegroom so that the upward path of the Light can be completed. And the Vessel that enables this nuptial coupling of the King and Queen is the Sephirah designated as Yesod, which means “Foundation”.
Of the six members comprising the Body of the Supernal Man, Yesod corresponds to the Male sexual organ, by which He is joined to His Bride, Malkut. This explains why the Covenant of Circumcision pertains to Yesod. As interpreted in the Kabbalah texts, El Shaddai (Almighty God) is the appearance presented by Yesod as viewed from the human perspective, i.e. from Malkut’s World of Time and Space. Therefore, Yesod is that aspect of the Divine Essence which is aroused “from below” and responds by descending to the base or “Foundation” of the spiritual plane, from which it can commune with the human Soul.
noteworthy that the passage from Genesis quoted above contains the very first
mention of the name El Shaddai in
Scripture. After establishing His
Covenant of Circumcision with Abraham, Almighty God would next appear to his
grandson Jacob at
Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
It seems, therefore, that “Righteousness” characterizes the attribute of God which descends to embrace the human Soul through Yesod and its Covenant of Circumcision. Indeed, we find allusions to Righteousness sprinkled along each segment of the Scriptural trail we’ve traced thus far, starting with Isaiah’s appeal to “ye that follow after righteousness”, and continuing into Genesis’ account of the circumcision of Abraham when he was 99 and Sarah was 90 years old. By now we are quite acclimated to the Jewish bent for expressing recurring concepts in numerical “shorthand”, and so we are not surprised to learn that the Hebrew character for the number 90 is Tzaddi צ , from whence derives the word “Righteous” Tzaddik. Should one require further proof of the mystical identification of Righteousness with the “Foundation” Yesod, we can offer no less an authority than Solomon himself:
As the whirlwind passeth, so is the wicked no more: but the righteous is an everlasting foundation.
And even more intriguing yet, we find Jesus — the veritable Son of Righteousness — applying this very same esoteric terminology in his parables:
Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will show you whom he is like:
He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.
reference to the Flood connects with the theme of Noah which we discussed
earlier. It serves to remind us that the
stream of “living Water” can turn into a destructive torrent of Chaos unless
confined and channeled by the sacred sexual
Our next chapter will be largely devoted to a discussion of these failed Universes and how they continue to influence our own, both for good and evil. But before we reach that point, we still need to inquire further into the nature of the Righteousness that forms the Foundation of the World order in which we live.
The Sun of Righteousness
If we’re to get a good handle on Righteousness, we need to jump from the first book of the Old Testament to the last, which is the book of the prophet Malachi. In the very last chapter of that book, Malachi prophesies the return of Elijah in the last Days:
Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.
For, behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.
But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings ...
It should never cease to amaze us how consistently Shechinah speaks to Her prophets, and how faithfully and uniformly they employ Her “language” in their writings. This passage from Malachi, for example, fairly bristles with the entire panoply of sacred symbols we have thus far derived. In the staccato lines of Blake’s Tyger, we can literally feel the heat pouring off of the searing oven of the World to Come:
What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
In what furnace, indeed ... For when the Sun of Righteousness arises upon the World on that last, eternal Day, He must shine with the full intensity of the ethereal Light which was God’s first creation on the first Day. Now we begin to understand the method in God’s “madness”: It is as if She pours into our void Universe only a fraction of Her full Treasury of Light, so that we, Her creatures might, by exposure, become acclimated to it and ultimately capable of bearing it — even thriving in its unabated intensity. In one of the companion poems to The Tyger, William Blake expresses this same thought:
And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love,
For when our souls have learn’d the heat to bear
The cloud will vanish, we shall hear his voice.
This also explains why the Righteous can be exposed to the same “burning oven” as the wicked on the last Day, and yet they are not consumed like the “stubble”. The Righteous have availed themselves of the opportunity to become adapted to the Light in its partial Presence down here in the realm of Space and Time. They have achieved the Understanding that it is for this purpose, and this purpose alone, that “we are put on Earth”. In this regard, Blake’s poetic insight echoes the seminal teachings of that giant of medieval mysticism, Meister Eckhart:
If the soul could have known God without the world, the world would never have been created. The world, therefore, was made for the soul’s sake, so that the soul’s eye might be practiced and strengthened to bear the divine light ... which is so overpowering and clear that the soul’s eye could not bear it unless it were steadied by matter and supported by likenesses, so that it is led up to the divine light and accustomed to it.
God’s Infinite Love is such that He wants only to give Himself to us. So boundlessly unselfish is His Love that He can never be satisfied until He has given us all that He has and All that He is! He is always “standing at the door” waiting to give Himself to us totally and without reservation. But we must be ready to receive Him! He created Space and Time as a sort of nursery where we infant Souls may be shaded from the noonday Sun until we are mature enough to withstand its rays. This spiritual maturity is what we call Righteousness — but it does not come to us unless we hunger and thirst for it, as Christ bids us do in his Beatitudes.
“So far so good”, my reader may be thinking, “but why does Malachi describe the Sun of Righteousness as rising ‘with healing in his wings’?” Well, if we imagine the Sun/Son as a supreme Physician of sorts, then we can picture Him immunizing us, his “patients”, from the doom of the wicked. And how does He do this? Why, the same way as our own doctors do — by inoculating us with a diminished dose of the organism we must grow to withstand. In just the same way, then, God affords us the opportunity to be “inoculated” with a portion of the divine Quintessence — its feminine avatar, aka Shechinah. We need only open the window in our Soul and let Her Light shine in, and we begin to open, as a flower opens to the sunshine.
Such opening is all we really need to attain Righteousness — which actually amounts to being able to communicate with God, being capable of hearing His/Her voice and responding to it. We find this principle revealed quite plainly in Mark’s account of Jesus’ healing the deaf mute, which he accomplished by speaking the one-word command, Ephphatha “Be opened!”.
The notion of opening gets us back to the Covenant of Circumcision and the whole question of how Souls are conceived and how they enter the World. Again I must repeat, for emphasis, the basic premise that the sexuality of this process is primary and essential, not the sullied degradation of a divine Androgyne, as many pious folk would see it. Indeed, we instinctively and intuitively associate the concept of “opening” with the Female response to sexual intercourse. Insofar as the Covenant of Circumcision, therefore, involves the ritual opening of the masculine sex organ, it obviously has something to do with grafting a distinctly feminine element onto the Male principle.
At this point, I can imagine some of you out there squirming in yours seats, wondering whether I about to launch into a discourse on transsexual surgery or something of the sort. Let me reassure (or, perhaps, disappoint) you, dear Reader, that we are heading toward no such titillating conclusion. Instead, where all this is taking us is back to Abraham and Sarah — and if there’s anything less titillating than sex between a 99 year-old man and his 90 year-old wife, I’d like to know what it is! (... on second thought, maybe I’d rather not!)
Getting back to the tale of Abraham and Sarah, then, we may recall that part of the overall Circumcision bargain offered by El Shaddai involved some changes in the spellings of both of their names. Abraham started out as Abram and Sarah as Sarai, and the redoing of their names in Hebrew essentially involves transposing the letter Heh from Sarai’s name to Abram’s. From our discussion of Malkut a short while back, my reader may recollect that Heh denotes the numeral five and is a symbol of the five levels of the universal Soul which are juxtaposed in Malkut. We also learned that Heh appears twice in the Tetragrammaton YHVH, representing the two Female aspects of the Godhead: Binah/Understanding, the Supernal Mother, and Malkut/Shechinah, the Bride of Binah’s Son.
When we look at the positions of the two Hehs in the Tetragrammaton YHVH, we notice something quite interesting. The Vau, which stands for the Son, is surrounded by the two Hehs, which are avatars of the Female. Evidently this is what the prophet Jeremiah was talking about when he said:
... the Lord has created a new thing in the earth,
A woman shall compass a man.
If we think of the Universe as the Body of a supernal Man, as the Kabbalists did, then the Center would correspond to the plane of Symmetry which divides the right and left sides of the human frame. We know that the Hebrew “shorthand” for Symmetry is the character Vau. In the Tetragrammaton YHVH , we see the Vau acting as a plane of Symmetry dividing the two letters Heh — representing the two eternal Females — on the right and left. Since the letter Heh is also the number five, the spiritual plane of Symmetry divides the supernal Body — five on one side and five on the other — just as the bisected physical body has five fingers and five toes on each side.
The plane of Symmetry that splits the Male body was conceived of by the ancients as cleaving in twain the tongue, the heart, and the penis. Therefore, the ritual of physically circumcising the foreskin of the penis was symbolic of the Circumcision of the Tongue and the Circumcision of the Heart. Why the Tongue and the Heart? Because it is the Tongue of Man which calls upon God — the “awakening from below” of which we have spoken — and it is God who responds by writing His Law in our Heart. If we pick up where we left off in Jeremiah Chapter 31, we hear him preaching this very same doctrine:
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that
I will make a new covenant with the house of
Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers ...
But this shall be the covenant that I will make ... I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts ...
For Jew and Christian alike, the establishment of the New Covenant of which the prophet speaks involves the birth of the Son of Man, the incarnation of the Sun of Righteousness. In this perfect Man is revealed, definitively and for all Time, the mystery which informs the outward ritual of Circumcision. When the Son is conceived in the Womb of the Blessed Virgin, we do indeed witness a “new thing in the Earth”, as Jeremiah says. That “new thing” is the supernal Man, the Son, who is the Vau of consummate Symmetry. And He, in turn, is encompassed by the supernal Woman, the Mother/Bride who is the Heh of absolute Equilibrium.
But we began this chapter by explaining how God began Creation by withdrawing a portion of His Essence — the Light of eternal Peace, the Quintessence of Equilibrium. We also said that the withdrawal of Equilibrium enabled God to establish a totally blank canvass for his artwork — the Tyger’s realm of utter Symmetry. Finally, we learned that God’s ultimate aim is to reintroduce His Light, His perfect Peace — just a little at first, but ultimately in its full Glory. Some of the more perspicacious among you may have already foreseen the quandary involved in accomplishing this latter aim, however, given that complete Symmetry engenders Chaos and is antithetical to Equilibrium. Another way of saying this is that Symmetry and Equilibrium are complementary — they cannot coexist side-by-side.
Albert Einstein, a man whose scientific greatness was only exceeded by the greatness of his faith, once observed that “Subtle is the Lord”, and here is a good example of the verity of that comment. God could not put Symmetry and Equilibrium side-by-side, at least not in the material Universe, so instead He/She introduced Symmetry within Equilibrium — the spiritual/sexual act in which the Son penetrates His Bride and is encompassed by the Womb of His Mother.
When this intercourse in consummated, the universal Soul, or Pleroma, is conceived in Eternity, and individual human Souls are conceived as windows opening into Space and Time. But, in order for those Souls to find their way into physical bodies, a corresponding carnal coition must occur. The Covenant of Circumcision teaches us, however, that not just any act of sexual intimacy will do — it must be preceded by an opening of the Tongue in God’s praise and an opening of the Heart to His Law. In the opening of the Heart is uncovered the Center where abides the Sun of Righteousness — the Womb which bears the divine Child. It is the source of the all-consuming Light which surrounds Creation from the inside, as the Woman encompasses the Man in the act of physical love.
So, what am I suggesting here? Maybe that a line like, “Let’s get metaphysical!”, might make a catchy come-on to lovemaking? All joking aside, there’s obviously a lot more to it than that. In the Book of Tobit, for example, we can read of the potentially destructive power associated with sexual energy that is not modulated by the Shechinah. Quite tellingly, in that book we read of another woman named Sarah who had seven husbands, all of whom died on their wedding night! As we said earlier, there are “alternate scenarios” to the formation of Souls as Vessels capable of holding the Light. There are alternatives to God’s “bottom-up” mode of Creation, by which the Light ultimately fills and envelops the “fearful Symmetry” of Matter.
The other obvious possibility is that God does not wait to be beckoned “from below”, but pours His/Her Light down hierarchically “from above”. Instead of the Heart opening to the loving, erotic touch of the Bridgroom, it might be violently twisted shut, like the Tyger’s, by a raging vortex of divine Wrath:
And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when that heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
As we know, all potential outcomes must come to pass in the Mind of the Most High. Accordingly, William Blake chose to close his poem of The Tyger with an allusion to the “alternative scenario” — the Fall of the Angels, that metaphysical calamity which must accompany the Creation of the Universe:
When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears ...
Let us bear this fateful image with us as we proceed into the next leg of our journey.
. Psalms 104:1-4
. Proverbs 8:14-30
. Proverbs 8:23
. See e.g., Scientific American, July 1998, p. 19.
. Aristotle, On the Heavens, Book I, Chapter 3.
. Aryeh Kaplan, The Bahir (Samuel Weiser, 1979), p. xxi-xxiv.
. 1 Timothy 6:16
. Exodus 33:22
. Isaiah 2:21
. Isaiah 34:10-11
. Genesis 1:6-10
. Psalms 33:7
. Genesis 7:11
. This final-letter form of Mem is symbolically associated with the Male principle, since the Male sexual organ is external, i.e., “exposed at the end”. See A. Kaplan, Sefer Yetzirah, (Weiser, 1997), p. 154.
. John 7:38
. John 4:11
. Exodus 17:1-7
. A. Kaplan, op. cit., pp. 123-124
. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Hymn of the Universe (Harper&Row, 1969), p. 64
. William Blake, The Book of Thel, III: 11-15
. Gospel of Thomas, 108
. John 7:14
. Thus, in Dante=s Inferno (III:94-96), Virgil warns Charon, the ferryman of the damned: “Thus it is willed where what may be and what is willed are the same.”
. William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, plate 14
. Teilhard de Chardin, op. cit., p. 139
. Isaiah 51:1-2
. Genesis 17:1-5
. Aryeh Kaplan, Sefer Yetzirah, (Samual Weiser, 1997), p. 17-18
Genesis 28:10-19. There is also great
significance in the name Luz by which
this sacred site was known before Jacob=s
dream. In Hebrew, the luz is a tree on which hazelnuts grow,
and the hazelnut was a well-known emblem of Wisdom in the ancient mythology of
. Psalms 85:10-11
. Proverbs 10:25
. Luke 6:47-48
. Malachi 3:18 - 4:2
. AThe Little Black Boy@, v. 13-18
. Meister Eckhart, “Nothing above the Soul!”, from Raymond Blakney=s translation in, Meister Eckhart (Harper & Row, 1941), p. 161
. Genesis 17:15
. Abram in Hebrew is ABRM, which, with Heh added, becomes ABRHM, or Abraham. Sarai in Hebrew is ShRY, which becomes Sarah ShRH by substituting a Heh for a Yod. Since Yod is equivalent to 10 and Heh to 5, the Hebrew numerologist (somewhat perversely, to be sure) conceives the change from Sarai to Sarah as involving the subtraction of 5, which amounts to subtraction of the letter Heh, from her name. See S.L. MacGregor Mathers, The Kabbalah Unveiled (Penguin, 1991), p. 232 (fn.)
. Jeremiah 31:22
. Jeremiah 31:31-33