There is a reason we were discouraged from studying
the holy sefirot, the arrangements of the divine lights, the permutations of
the divine speech in their infinitely intricate manifestations. Upon meeting a
system, there is an all-too-human tendency to conquer it, to bend it to one’s
will, to direct it toward one’s ends. If that system undergirds our very
reality, all the better.
Thankfully, knowledge isn’t power, because knowledge
isn’t knowledge, any more than light is light.
G-d says “Let there be light,” and there is light,
but no distinction is made between the word “light” and actual light. The Torah
is made of words, but is also the Torah of Truth. To distinguish between the
light of “let there be light” and the light of earthly reality would introduce
a distinction both absent in the text and contrary to its nature, since the
nature of the text is to be the source of nature, and its words are inseparable
from the meaning they convey.
In other words, light is really the word “light,”
just as fish are “fish” and man is “man.” The physical manifestation, the
light, is merely “light” as He dissociates it from itself. The physical may be
defined by its concealment, by the way it distracts from, though does not cover
over (as the material does) the truth of its own creation. The
physical is, at essence, a change of subject rather than a lie; the
physical gives the impression of a result where only process, the speaking of
“light,” truly exists. It is thus the bias of an embodied mind to assume that
the divine word “light” is about anything other than itself, that its semantic
content and its form arrive independently, that light somehow precedes “light,”
at least conceptually.
Kaballah, which traffics in the divine speech, is
therefore rendered idolatrous in the eyes of those in the grip of this worldly
bias. One hears of sefirot, of ten divine emanations, modalities, tools,
building blocks, and the natural inclination of one’s mind is to make of these
emanations into mind things, members of categories, words describing things.
Indeed, the mind is a creature within time and space, two entities most simply
defined as “those by which other things are defined in multiplicity”; no single
thing within time and space is self-defined; they necessitate a
lexical-semantic split. It is this very quality of the mind, the way it parses
structures and sees the connections between things, that turns knowledge into
power, that leverages familiarity into mastery. So when this space/time mind
encounters the divine speech, it cannot help but provide a purpose for the
speech, a light for the “light” to be directed toward in creation.
The mind tends to see that “light” not only produces
light, but vice-versa, that the causality runs both ways, and light is the
ultimate purpose of “light”, in a way that it’s not the ultimate purpose of
“fish”. This is all that’s required to render Kaballah pragmatic and subject to
human needs; through manipulating light I can manipulate “light”; we alter and
shape the divine speech by altering its physical manifestation, and we can even
create new manifestations by deeper and cleverer manipulations. There emerges a new system, a nature behind
nature, the world of divine speech, no less real or useful for being spiritual,
no less bound by rules and correspondences the mind can manipulate.
Knowledge is power.
Kaballah is just another system.
Knowledge only is not power where knowledge isn’t
knowledge. But this, Kaballah cannot do, even without the biases of the mind. Kaballah
shows fish to be “fish.” By the same token, it shows knowledge to be “knowledge”
and mind to be “mind.” Even if we were to escape time and space, we would still
find divine parsing of structures, the divine word He speaks to unite words and
their meanings, the G-dly expression that itself necessitates the systematic
nature of words and their meanings.
Ironically, for knowledge to not be knowledge, we
must seek the place where the connection between mind and “mind” falls apart, where
even the divine speech is nothing other than itself, where even “mind” is empty
This is the uniquely Jewish idea that everything
before Him is as nothing.
It is the higher unity, where even knowledge is
powerless before its Creator.