Reckoning With Kabbalah

If G-d is any, He is One. Not the one of counting or one of many, but the One and Only, alone. He has no parts, no aspects, no faculties, no cause. His one is truly infinite. He is not the unit for addition; there is no room for a second; nothing additional can exist.

G-d then creates another, a universe. It could be a universe consisting of an atom or full of fish or our own frustrating cosmos, but no matter which it is, it is Two. The creation is separate, composite, and inherently bifurcated, since however lofty it may be, it always has at least two aspects – itself and its relationship to its Creator. This is the split of all splits, not a big bang but a big crack. Imagine! Something composite, something dependent, something that could exist but doesn’t have to exist.

Two radically reverses our understanding of one. The original one and only, of course, contained no potential for a second. Now that there is two, we must say it came from one. There is now a one-implicit-in-the-two, in addition to the original one-and-only.

The two can be iterated or multiplied to produce as many things as one wants. The first atom can become the one-implicit-in-the-second atom, and the second atom may in turns become the implicit cause to yet a third. In this way, the one-implicit-in-two, cause of causes, and the two, the template for all effects, are the two needles with which all things are sewn.

If the counting ended with two, however, then every further creation would only be a further two – a two-and-a-half, a two-and-a-quarter, an infinity of twos. A world of twos is a sad place indeed. It would call out to us, each two aspiring to be our one, our cause, almighty. They all say, “Trust me, for mine is the way, to escape the pain of two and become one.”

There is no such thing, of course, as our forefather Avraham realized. A caused being is ever a two, and one is beyond us. Avraham was as close to the one as ever walked this earth, but he resigned himself to life in a world of twos.

Then the One gave us three, the Torah of Truth, one and two united. Three contains two – it has a source and it speaks to the world. But three also contains one – it is the mind of G-d, infinite and inscrutable. Three takes one and the other and unites them. When two argues with two, each saying they are superior, they may each turn to three. Three exists beyond their struggle and division. It is the light at their feet that helps them find each other, for it speaks to them from an unassailable place beyond them.

Every two has a place in three; the trick is finding the right place. Generally, the more a two recognizes it is not a one, the more it may coexist with one through the three.

Four is a thing. One, two, and three are the Creator, the creation, and their unity, but even two, close as it is to (at least the implicit) one, is an awareness of being created. “I am after one,” it says when it’s thinking clearly. In fact, “thinking clearly” can be defined as one, two, and three in their right places.

Four is not thinking at all, clearly or otherwise. Four counts not the world as opposed to G-d, but each thing simply as it is. Three helps one and two past their duality, and four is the result. Four is stable being, a thing in itself. It does not need to consider its source; three sorted that out. And three naturally leads to the static realm of four. Four is so much the nature of each thing as it is, that even ten reduces to the tetragrammaton.

But if four is being, five is its limit. Five says that a four only reaches so far, that things have their edges. Five is a number that counts non-being then, the partner of four just as two is the partner of one. Even though four does not think and therefore has no room for others inherent in its nature, there is still a point beyond which it does not extend and a reality to which it is not relevant. That reality, following naturally from four, is five.

Four and five are very different from one and two, however. One and two exist in obvious mathematical dichotomy in a way that four and five do not; one is the number beyond numbers, whereas two begins to actually count limited things. Four and five are not obviously so different. That the difference is concealed, even though four and five are opposites, is itself indicative of the simple, “non-declarative” nature of these higher numbers. They are exactly the non-descript pair for counting “just a thing” and “where the thing ends.”

Now, five, as four’s limit, is still more than four, the way the negative space at the page’s margins is bigger than the image sketched at the center. That negation is more than affirmation is a consequence of the ancient Jewish belief in counting from one instead of from zero.[i] If zero is the first number, if nothing is the ultimate reality, then taking away from four would result in a smaller number. The negative space would be cut out from the page, rather than extend as its margin. Since we start from one, and one is the greatest and the most perfect, when we delineate the limits of four, the end of each thing, we do it by adding one. When we see “not four,” it says to us, “but maybe one.” Negation, the not-four, thus naturally yields five.

Six contains both four and five in one unity. Whereas four is a thing and five it its end, six is the elegant balance between the two.

The Torah dictates the balance of all things, what they are and what they aren’t, and ensures that neither being nor non-being transgresses on the territory of the other. Six is that aspect of all things by which they are neither entirely limited to being what they are not entirely defined by what they are not. G-d, in His mercy, has implanted in each creation the ability to transcend this dichotomy. Four can be even where it is negated; its negation is shown to be part of its definition. The nothingness of five prevails even where something abides, for it, too, is an expression of something, and a deep one, the quintessence.

If the thing and its negation are united in one higher unity containing both, are not the numbers exhausted? What else is there to count?

In truth, there exists in each creation not only its source and interplay with G-d almighty, nor its self-contained being and limitations alone. There is also the result of the balance of being and negation, the way a thing affects others beyond its borders, the way every creation is, in its own way, a father to other creations.

This is not the same way that two can endlessly cause further twos. Three through six have rendered the cause of new creations no longer a single number, but a complex balance of unified contradictions. This is what allows a creation to give of itself without losing itself, to continue even as it ends, to carry on in its children, not as a solitudinous clone but as the soul to the next generation.

Seven, the count of nature, to make the world a certain way. Where one is the source, and four is the self, seven is the remnant, the bullet point remaining after the lecture. One was simple by being beyond complexity; seven is simple because complexity has come and gone. Rather than the interaction of something and nothing, self and other, unity and diversity, seven simply tells the world “this is how I am, and this is how you should be.”

Eight, the supernatural, is the negation of mundane seven. Eight counts secrets and illusions. It says, “Do not take the story of seven at face value.” It is not the stark apartness of two, nor the radical denial of five, but a humble villager telling seven, “You, too, are a number.” In eight we see non-being in the world, that the evaluation of self + world can equal only world. When seven gives a gift to G-d or humanity, eight thanks them for gifts already received.

Nine is the unity unifying all unities. Three weds G-d to universe, six weds being to non-being. Nine shows the other to both exist and not exist, to stand in relation to us and not affect us at all. Nine says that we can become the other and remain ourselves, can separate from each other yet remain untied. Nine, in other words, says that we can have children and our solitude can be shared.

In a way, there is no ten. One through nine, in combination, reckon where everything comes from, what everything is, and where everything is going. They accommodate the negations of source, self, and other. They count the unities and paradoxes of G-d and world, being and non-being, other and none other. There is nothing about anything, including nothingness itself, that is not described in one through nine.

Ten is really the nine in a different place. Just as the nine derive from the One, so does ten derive from the nine. Ten takes the prismatic web of their interaction and communicates it. Ten is the nine in transit and therefore in context, the complete whole repeating, source, self, and effect. Ten reflects the decimal nature of reality. After nine, the One is carried to a new column, and the digits count up again. Ten reveals that the nine are not self-contained, even counting the implicit one. Ten shows that the nine are a message, a signal in the night.

Ten is us, who hear the numbers, add them up, and turn our eyes toward the heavens and our own hearts, looking, always looking, for more.


[i] Incidentally, if you count to ten starting from zero, it yields eleven numbers. Eleven is a rough number in kabbalah, and better avoided.