Preface to The Book of Zohar

Found in the book “Unlocking The Zohar


1) The depth of wisdom in the holy Book of Zohar is enclosed and caged behind a thousand locks, and our human tongue too poor to provide us with sufficient, reliable expressions to interpret one thing in this book to its end. Also, the interpretation I have made is but a ladder to help the examiner rise to the height of the matters and examine the words of the book itself. Hence, I have found it necessary to prepare the reader and give him a route and an inlet in reliable definitions concerning how one should contemplate and study the book.

2) First, you must know that all that is said in The Book of Zohar, and even in its legends, is denominations of the ten Sefirot, called KHB (Keter, Hochma, Bina), HGT (Hesed, Gevura, Tifferet), NHYM (Netzah, Hod, Yesod, Malchut), and their permutations. Just as the twenty-two letters of the spoken language, whose permutations suffice to uncover every object and every concept, the concepts, and permutations of concepts, in the ten Sefirot suffice to disclose all the wisdom in the book of Heaven. However, there are three boundaries that one must be very prudent with, and not exceed them while studying the words of the book.

3) First boundary: There are four categories in the conduct of learning, called “Matter,” “Form in Matter,” “Abstract Form,” and “Essence.” It is the same in the ten Sefirot. Know that The Book of Zohar does not engage at all in the Essence and the Abstract Form in the ten Sefirot, but only in the Matter in them, or in the Form in them, while clothed in Matter.

4) Second boundary: We distinguish three discernments in the comprehensive, Godly reality concerning the creation of the souls and the conduct of their existence:

  • Ein Sof (Infinity);
  • The world of Atzilut;
  • The three worlds called Beria, Yetzira, and Assiya.

You should know that The Zohar engages only in the worlds, BYA (Beria, Yetzira, Assiya), and in Ein Sof and the world of Atzilut, to the extent that BYA receive from them. However, The Book of Zohar does not engage in Ein Sof and the world of Atzilut themselves at all.

5) Third boundary: There are three discernments in each of the worlds, BYA:

  • The ten Sefirot, which are the Godliness that shines in that world;
  • Neshamot (Souls), Ruchot (spirits), and Nefashot (life) [1] of people;
  • The rest of reality in it, called “angels,” “clothes,” and “palaces,” whose elements are innumerable.

Bear in mind that although The Zohar elucidates extensively on the details in each world, you should still know that the essence of the words of The Zohar always focuses on the souls of people in that world. It explains other discernments only to know the measure that the souls receive from them. The Zohar does not mention even a single word of what does not relate to the reception of the souls. Hence, you should learn everything presented in The Book of Zohar only in relation to the reception of the soul. […]

11) Here we should study these four manners of perception, presented above in the first boundary:

  • Matter;
  • Form Clothed in Matter;
  • Abstract Form;
  • Essence.

Yet, I shall first explain them using tangible examples from this world. For example, when you say that a person is strong, truthful, or deceitful, etc., you have the following before you:

  • His matter, meaning his body;
  • The form that clothes his matter—strong, truthful, or deceitful;
  • The abstract form. You can shed the form of strong, truthful, or deceitful from the matter of that person, and study these three forms in and of themselves, unclothed in any matter or body, meaning examine the attributes of strength, truth, and deceitfulness and discern merit or demerit in them, while they are devoid of any substance.
  • The person’s essence.

12) Know that we have no perception whatsoever in the fourth manner, the essence of the person in itself, without the matter. This is because our five senses and our imaginations offer us only manifestations of the actions of the essence, but not of the essence itself.

For example, the sense of sight offers us only shadows of the visible essence as they are formed opposite the light.

Similarly, the sense of hearing is but a force of striking of some essence on the air. And the air that is rejected by it strikes the drum in our ear, and we hear that there is some essence in our proximity.

The sense of smell is but air that emerges from the essence and strikes our nerves of scent, and we smell. Also, the sense of taste is a result of the contact of some essence with our nerves of taste.

Thus, all that these four senses offer us are manifestations of the operations that stem from some essence, and nothing of the essence itself.

Even the sense of touch, the strongest of the senses, separating hot from cold, and solid from soft, all these are but manifestations of operations within the essence; they are but incidents of the essence. This is so because the hot can be chilled; the cold can be heated; the solid can be turned to liquid through chemical operations, and the liquid into air, meaning only gas, where any discernment in our five senses has been expired. Yet, the essence still exists in it, since you can turn the air into liquid once more, and the liquid into solid.

Evidently, the five senses do not reveal to us any essence at all, but only incidents and manifestations of operations from the essence. It is known that what we cannot sense, we cannot imagine; and what we cannot imagine, will never appear in our thoughts, and we have no way to perceive it.

Thus, the thought has no perception whatsoever in the essence. Moreover, we do not even know our own essence. I feel and I know that I take up space in the world, that I am solid, warm, and that I think, and other such manifestations of the operations of my essence. But if you ask me about my own essence, from which all these manifestations stem, I do not know what to reply to you.

You therefore see that Providence has prevented us from attaining any essence. We attain only manifestations and images of operations that stem from the essences.

13) We do have full perception in the first manner, which is Matter, meaning the manifestations of operations that manifest from each essence. This is because they quite sufficiently explain to us the essence that dwells in the substance in such a way that we do not suffer at all from the lack of attainment in the essence itself.

We do not miss it just as we do not miss a sixth finger in our hand. The attainment of the matter, meaning the manifestation of the operations of the essence, is quite sufficient for our every need and learning, both for attaining our own being and for attaining the all that exists outside of us.

14) The second manner, Form clothed in Matter, is a satisfactory and clear attainment, too, since we acquire it through practical and real experiments we find in the behavior of any matter. All our higher, reliable knowledge stems from this discernment.

15) The third manner is Abstract Form. Once the form has been revealed, while clothed in some matter, our imaginations can abstract it from any matter altogether and perceive it regardless of any substance. Such as that are the virtues and the good qualities that appear in moral books, where we speak of properties of truth and falsehood, anger, and strength, etc., when they are devoid of any matter. We ascribe them merit or demerit even when they are abstract.

You should know that this third manner is unacceptable to the prudent erudite, since it is impossible to rely on it one hundred percent, since being examined while not clothed in matter, they might err in them.

Take, for example, one with idealistic morals, meaning one who is not religious. Because of his intensive engagement in the merit of truth, while in its abstract form, that person might decide that even if he could save people from death by telling them a lie, he may decide that even if the whole world is doomed, he will not utter a deliberate lie. This is not the view of Torah, since nothing is more important than saving lives (Yoma, 82a).

Indeed, had one learned the forms of truth and falsehood when they are clothed in matter, he would comprehend only with respect to their benefit or harm to matter.

In other words, after the many ordeals the world has been through, having seen the multitude of ruin and harm that deceitful people have caused with their lies, and the great benefit that truthful people have brought by restricting themselves to saying only words of truth, they have agreed that no merit is more important than the quality of truth, and there is no such disgrace as the quality of falsehood.

And if the idealist had understood that, he would certainly agree to the view of Torah, and would find that falsehood that saves even one person from death is far more important than the entire merit and praise of the abstract quality of truth. Thus, there is no certainty at all in those concepts of the third manner, which are abstract forms, much less with abstract forms that have never clothed in any substance. Such concepts are nothing but a waste of time.

16) Now you have thoroughly learned these four manners—Matter, Form in Matter, Abstract Form, and Essence—in tangible things. It has been clarified that we have no perception whatsoever in the fourth manner, the essence, and the third manner is a concept that might mislead. Only the first manner, which is Matter, and the second manner, which is Form Clothed in Matter, are given to us by the Upper Governance for clear and sufficient attainment.

Through them, you will also be able to perceive the existence of spiritual objects, meaning the Upper Worlds ABYA, since there is not a tiny detail in them that is not divided by the four above manners. If, for example, you take a certain element in the world of Beria, there are Kelim there, which are of red color, through which the Light of Beria traverses to the dwellers of Beria. Thus, the Kli in Beria, which is the color red, is considered Matter, or object, meaning the first manner.

And even though it is only a color, which is an occurrence and manifestation of an operation in the object, we have already said that we have no attainment in the Essence itself, but only in the manifestation of an operation from the Essence. And we refer to that manifestation as Essence, or Matter, or body, or a Kli.

And the Godly Light, which travels and clothes through the red color, is the form clothed in the object, meaning the second manner. For this reason, the Light itself seems red, indicating its clothing and illumination through the object, considered the body and the substance, meaning the red color.

And if you want to remove the Godly Light from the object—the red color—and discuss it in and of itself, without clothing in an object, this already belongs to the third manner—Form removed from the Matter—which might be subject to errors. For this reason, it is strictly forbidden in studying the Upper Worlds, and no genuine Kabbalist would engage in that, much less the authors of The Zohar.

It is even more so with regards to the Essence of an element in Beria, since we have no perception whatsoever even in the essence of corporeal objects, all the more so in spiritual objects.

Thus you have before you four manners:

  • The Kli of Beria, which is the red color, considered the object, or the substance of Beria;
  • The clothing of the Godly Light in the Kli of Beria, which is the form in the object;
  • The Godly Light itself, removed from the object in Beria;
  • The essence of the item.

Thus, the first boundary has been thoroughly explained, which is that there is not even a single word of the third and fourth manners in the whole of The Zohar, but only from the first and second manners.

17) Along with it, the second manner has been clarified. Know that as we have clarified the four manners in a single item in the world of Beria, specifically, so are they in the general four worlds ABYA. The three colors—red, green, black—in the three worlds BYA, are considered the substance, or the object. The white color, considered the world of Atzilut, is the form clothed in the matter, in the three colors called BYA.

Ein Sof in itself is the essence. This is what we said concerning the first manner, that we have no perception in the essence, which is the fourth manner, concealed in all the objects, even in the objects of this world. When the white color is not clothed in the three colors in BYA, meaning when the Light of Hochma is not clothed in Bina, Tifferet, and Malchut, it is abstract form, which we do not engage in.

The Zohar does not speak in this manner whatsoever, but only in the first manner, being the three colors BYA, considered substance, namely the three Sefirot Bina, Tifferet, and Malchut, and in the second manner, which are the illumination of Atzilut, clothed in the three colors BYA, meaning Light of Hochma, clothed in Bina, Tifferet, and Malchut, which are in turn form clothed in matter. These are the two that The Book of Zohar is concerned with in all the places.

Hence, if the reader is not vigilant, restricting his thought and understanding to always learn the words of The Zohar strictly under the two above-mentioned manners, the matter will be immediately and entirely miscomprehended, for he will take the words out of context.

19) Now we shall explain the third boundary. The Zohar engages in the Sefirot in each and every world, being the Godliness that shines in that world, as well as in every item of the SVAS (Still, Vegetative, Animate and Speaking), being the creatures in that world. However, The Zohar refers primarily to the Speaking in that world.

Let me give you an example from the conducts of this world. It is explained in the “Introduction to the Book of Zohar” (item 42) that the four kinds, Still, Vegetative, Animate and Speaking in each and every world, even in this world, are the four parts of the will to receive. Each of them contains these own four kinds of SVAS. Thus, you find that a person in this world should nurture and be nourished by the four categories SVAS in this world.

This is so because man’s food, too, contains these four categories, which extend from the four categories SVAS in man’s body. These are a) wanting to receive according to the necessary measure for one’s sustenance; b) wanting more than is necessary for sustenance, craving luxuries, but restricting oneself solely to physical desires; c) craving human desires, such as honor and power; d) craving knowledge.

These extend to the four parts of the will to receive in us:

  • Wanting the necessary provision is considered the Still of the will to receive.
  • Wanting physical lusts is considered the Vegetative of the will to receive, since they come only to increase and delight one’s Kli (vessel), which is the flesh of the body.
  • Wanting human desires is considered the Animate in the will to receive, since they magnify one’s spirit.

Wanting knowledge is the Speaking in the will to receive.

20) Thus, in the first category—the necessary measure for one’s sustenance—and in the second category—the physical desires that exceed one’s measure for sustenance—one is nourished by things that are lower than the person: the still, the vegetative, and the animate. However, in the third category, the human desires such as power and respect, one receives and is nurtured from his own species, his equals. And in the fourth category, knowledge, one receives and is nurtured by a higher category than one’s own—from the actual wisdom and intellect, which are spiritual.

21) You will find it similar in the Upper, Spiritual Worlds, since the worlds are imprinted from one another from Above downward. Thus, all the categories of SVAS in the world of Beria leave their imprint in the world of Yetzira. And the SVAS of Assiya are imprinted from the SVAS of Yetzira. Lastly, the SVAS in this world is imprinted from the SVAS of the world of Assiya.

It has been explained in “Introduction to the Book of Zohar” (Item 42) that the still in the spiritual worlds are called Heichalot (Palaces), the vegetative is called Levushim (Clothes or Dresses), the animate is named Mala’achim (Angels), and the speaking is considered the Neshamot (Souls) of people in that world. And the Ten Sefirot in that world are the Godliness.

The souls of people are the center in each world, which are nourished by the spiritual reality in that world, as the corporeal speaking feeds on the entire corporeal reality in this world. Thus, the first category, which is the will to receive one’s necessary sustenance, is received from the illumination of Heichalot and Levushim there. The second category, the animate surplus that increases one’s body, is received from the category of Mala’achim there, which are spiritual illuminations beyond one’s necessary measure for sustenance, to magnify the spiritual Kelim that his soul clothes in.

Thus, one receives the first category and the second category from lower categories than one’s own, which are the Heichalot, Levushim, and the Mala’achim there, which are lower than human Neshamot (souls). The third category, which is human desires that increase one’s spirit, is received in this world from one’s own species. It follows that one receives from one’s own species too, from all the Neshamot in that world. Through them, one increases the illumination of Ruach of his soul.

The fourth category of the desire, for knowledge, is received there from the Sefirot in that world. From them, one receives the HBD to one’s soul.

It follows that man’s soul, which is present in every single world, should grow and be completed with all the categories that exist in that world. This is the third boundary we have mentioned.

One must know that all the words of The Zohar, in every item of the Upper Worlds that are dealt with, the Sefirot, the Neshamot, and the Mala’achim, the Levushim, and the Heichalot, although it engages in them as they are for themselves, the examiner must know that they are spoken primarily with respect to the measure by which the human soul there receives from them and is nourished by them. Thus, all their words pertain to the needs of the soul. And if you learn everything according to that line, you will understand, and your path will be successful.

23) To understand that, you must remember the explained above, in Item 17. It explains that a necessary object is an essence that we have no perception of, even in the corporeal essences, and even in our own essence, all the more so in The Necessary One.

The world of Atzilut is a Form and the three worlds BYA are Matter. The illumination of Atzilut in BYA is Form clothed in Matter. Hence, you see that the name, Ein Sof, is not at all a name for the essence of The Necessary One, since what we do not attain, how can we define it by name or word?

Since the imagination and the five senses offer us nothing with respect to the essence, even in corporeality, how can there be a thought and a word in it, much less in The Necessary One Himself? Instead, we must understand the name, Ein Sof, as defined for us in the third boundary, that all that The Book of Zohar speaks of pertains precisely to the souls (Item 21).

Thus, the name, Ein Sof, is not at all The Necessary One Himself, but pertains to all the worlds and all the souls being included in Him, in the Thought of Creation, by way of “The end of an act is in the preliminary thought.” Thus, Ein Sof is the name of the connection that the whole of Creation is connected in, until the end of correction.

This is what we name “the First State of the souls” (“Introduction to the Book of Zohar,” Item 13), since all the souls exist in Him, filled with all the pleasure and the gentleness, at the final Height they will actually receive at the end of correction.

24) Let me give you an example from the conduct of this world: A person wants to build a handsome house. In the first thought, he sees before him an elegant house with all its rooms and details, as it will be when its building is finished.

Afterwards, he designs the plan of execution to its every detail. In due time, he will explain every detail to the workers: the wood, the bricks, the iron, and so on. Then he will begin the actual building of the house to its end, as it was arranged before him in the preliminary thought.

Know, that Ein Sof pertains to that first thought, in which the whole of Creation was already pictured before Him in utter completeness. However, the lesson is not quite like the example because in Him, the future and the present are equals. In Him, the thought completes, and He does not need tools of action, as do we. Hence, in Him, it is actual reality.

The world of Atzilut is like the details of the thought-out plan, which will later need to manifest when the building of the house actually begins. Know that in these two, the preliminary thought, which is Ein Sof, and the contemplated design of the details of the execution in its due time, there is still not even a trace of the creatures, since this is still in potential, not in actual fact.

It is likewise in humans: even though they calculate all the details—the wood, the bricks, and the metal—that will be required for carrying out the plan, it is essentially a mere conceptual matter. There is not even a trace of any actual wood or bricks in it. The only difference is that in a person, the contemplated design is not considered an actual reality. But in the Godly Thought, it is a far more actual reality than the actual, real creatures.

Thus, we have explained the meaning of Ein Sof and the world of Atzilut, that how all that is said about them is only with respect to the creation of the creatures. However, they are still in potential and their essence has not been revealed whatsoever, as with our allegory about the person who designed the blueprint, which does not contain any wood, and bricks, and metal.

25) The three worlds BYA, and this world, are considered the execution from potential to actual, such as one who builds one’s house in actual fact and brings the wood, the bricks, and the workers until the house is complete. […]

26) In the above allegory, you find how the three discernments of one who contemplates building a house are interconnected by way of cause and consequence. The root of them all is the first thought, since no item appears in the planned blueprint except according to the end of the act, which emerged before him in the preliminary thought.

Also, one does not execute anything during the building, but only according to the details arranged before him in the blueprint. Thus you see, concerning the worlds, that there is not a tiny generation in the worlds that does not extend from Ein Sof, from the first state of the souls, which are there in their ultimate perfection of the end of correction, as in “The end of an act is in the preliminary thought.” Thus, all that will manifest through the end of correction is included there.

In the beginning, it extends from Ein Sof to the world of Atzilut, as in the allegory, where the blueprint extends from the first thought. Each and every element extends from the world of Atzilut to the worlds BYA, as in the allegory, where all the details stem from the blueprint when they are actually executed during the building of the house.

Thus, there is not a single, tiny item, generated in this world, that does not extend from Ein Sof, from the first state of the souls. And from Ein Sof, it extends to the world of Atzilut, meaning specifically associated to the thing actually being generated in this world. And from the world of Atzilut, the generation extends to the three worlds BYA, where the generation appears in actual fact, where it stops being Godliness and becomes a creature, and to Yetzira and Assiya, until it extends to the lower one in this world.

It follows that there is no generation in the world, which does not extend from its general root in Ein Sof, and from its private root in Atzilut. Afterwards, it travels through BYA and adopts the form of a creature, and then it is made in this world.

31) […]Yet, since the Thought of Creation was to delight His creatures, it teaches us that He has a desire to bestow. We find in this world, that the givers’ contentment grows when the receivers from Him multiply, and He wishes to proliferate the receivers. Hence, in this respect, we say that the Lights in Atzilut grow when the lower ones are given the bestowal of Atzilut, or that they nurture it. Conversely, when there are no lower ones worthy of receiving His abundance, the Lights diminish to that extent, meaning there is no one to receive from them.

32) You might compare it to a candle. If you light a thousand candles from it, or if you light none, you will not find that it caused any changes induced in the candle itself. It is also like Adam HaRishon: if he had progeny of thousands of offspring like us today, or if he had no progeny at all, it would not induce any change at all on Adam HaRishon himself.

Likewise, there is no change at all in the world Atzilut itself, whether the lower ones receive its great abundance lushly, or receive nothing at all. The above-mentioned greatness lies solely on the lower ones.

33) Thus, why did the authors of The Zohar have to describe all those changes in the world of Atzilut itself? They should have spoken explicitly only with respect to the receivers in BYA, and not speak so elaborately of Atzilut, forcing us to provide answers.

Indeed, there is a very trenchant secret here: this is the meaning of, “and by the ministry of the prophets have I used similitudes” (Hosea 12). The truth is that there is a Godly will here, that these similitudes, which operate only in the souls of the receivers, will appear to the souls as He Himself participates in them to greatly increase the attainment of the souls.

It is like a father who constrains himself to show his little darling child a face of sadness and a face of contentment, although there is neither sadness nor contentment in him. He only does this to impress his darling child and expand his understanding, so as to play with him.

Only when he grows will he learn and know that all that his father did was no more real than mere playing with him. So is the matter before us: all these images and changes begin and end only with the impression of the souls. Yet, by the will of God, they appear as though they are in Him Himself. He does that to enhance and expand the attainment of the souls to the utmost, in accordance with the Thought of Creation, to delight His creatures.

34) Let it not surprise you that you find such a conduct in our corporeal perception, too. Take our sense of sight, for example: we see a wide world before us, wondrously filled. But in fact, we see all that only in our own interior. In other words, there is a sort of a photographic machine in our hindbrain, which portrays everything that appears to us and nothing outside of us.

For that, He has made for us there, in our brain, a kind of polished mirror that inverts everything seen there, so we will see it outside our brain, in front of our face. Yet, what we see outside us is not a real thing. Nonetheless, we should be so grateful to His Providence for having created that polished mirror in our brains, enabling us to see and perceive everything outside of us. This is because by that, He has given us the power to perceive everything with clear knowledge and attainment, and measure everything from within and from without.

Without it, we would lose most of our perception. The same holds true with the Godly will, concerning Godly perceptions. Even though all these changes unfold in the interior of the receiving souls, they nevertheless see it all in the Giver Himself, since only in this manner are they awarded all the perceptions and all the pleasantness in the Thought of Creation.

You can also deduce that from the above parable. Even though we see everything as actually being in front of us, every reasonable person knows for certain that all that we see is only within our own brains.

So are the souls: Although they see all the images in the Giver, they still have no doubt that all these are only in their own interior, and not at all in the Giver.

40) He named Himself El, Elokim, Shadai, Tzvaot, and Ekie, so that every single attribute in Him would be known. The ten names in the Torah that are not to be erased pertain to the ten Sefirot, as it is written in The Zohar (Vayikra, item 168):

  • The Sefira Keter is called Ekie;
  • The Sefira Hochma is called Koh;
  • And the Sefira Bina is called HaVaYaH (punctuated Elokim);
  • The Sefira Hesed is called Kel;
  • The Sefira Gevura is called Elokim;
  • The Sefira Tifferet is called HaVaYaH;
  • The two Sefirot Netzah and Hod are called Tzvaot;
  • The Sefira Yesod is called El Hay;
  • And the Sefira Malchut is called Adni.

41) Had His Light not expanded on all creations by seemingly clothing in these holy Sefirot, how would the creatures come to know Him? And how would they keep the verse, “the whole earth is full of His glory”? In other words, by that it explains the Godly desire to appear to the souls as if all these changes in the Sefirot are in Him. It is in order to give the souls room for sufficient knowledge and attainment in Him, for then the verse, “the whole earth is full of His glory” shall come true.



[1] Translator’s note: The usual translation for both Neshamot and Nefashot is “souls,” but here I had to choose a different word for Nefesh to distinguish it from Neshama.

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