The underlying spiritual forms. The circular and straight or upright form: general and individual providence.
The underlying spiritual forms seen in prophecy show things in accordance with the nature of each particular form as it actually appears in the lower world. Thus the circle (Igul) indicates an encompassing mode of government without differentiation in terms of Kindness, Judgment and Mercy, but rather, like a general, overall providence reflecting the distinctive quality of the particular Sefirah seen in this form. This is from the standpoint of causal development (Hishtalshelut). On the other hand, the straight or upright form (Yosher) indicates detailed government varying according to the requirements of Kindness, Judgment and Mercy – right, left and center. The same approach applies to all the other forms seen in the prophetic vision.
Having explained general terms how the Chariot appears in the prophetic vision, we will now begin to discuss some of the more basic details that need to be understood. First of all is the general form in which the Sefirot appear, circular or upright.
The proposition has two parts: Part 1: The spiritual forms… This discusses generally how the forms seen in the prophetic vision are to be understood. Part 2: Thus the circle… This explains the circular and upright, linear schemas in which the Sefirot appear.
Part 1: The spiritual forms seen in prophecy show things… We already know that the spiritual form or picture (temunah) that we are talking about is nothing but a light (he’arah) shining from Malchut, which shines in this particular way because Malchut is the root of the created, “separate” realms in which this form or picture is actually found. It follows that the prophetic vision must be interpreted accordingly: the prophetic image must be understood in accordance with the way the corresponding form appears in the material world. We refer to the form seen in the prophetic vision as the underlying form (sod hatemunah). This is because in the prophetic vision, what is seen is not the physical form as it exists in the material world but rather the spiritual root of this form, and thus we call it the underlying form. The way that the subject of the prophecy must be understood is in accordance with the nature of each particular form as it actually appears in the lower world. This should now be quite clear.
Part 2: Thus the circle (Igul) indicates an encompassing government without differentiation in terms of Kindness, Judgment and Mercy… This is a general point that applies to all the Sefirot. They can all appear in both circular and straight or upright form. This is because, as a hierarchical order consisting of different levels, the Sefirot may be viewed either in terms of the causal chain through which one develops from another, or in terms of the way they actually govern.
In terms of the way the Ten Sefirot manifest level by level, each successive Sefirah is caused by and develops from the one above it. In this aspect, it is of no relevance that one Sefirah inclines towards Kindness while another inclines towards Judgment. For although in terms of government, Kindness and Judgment act in partnership, from the point of view of their development, Judgment emerges from Kindness. From the developmental viewpoint, each successive Sefirah is lower than the one above it, and the Sefirah of Gevurah, “Strength”, develops out of Chessed, “Kindness”. Thus the sages said: “The waters conceived and gave birth to darkness” (Midrash Rabbah Exodus 15:22). In other words, Kindness, symbolized by water, produced Judgment, symbolized by darkness. From this point of view, the Ten Sefirot emerge as ten levels, one below the other. Because of the additional fact that every higher Sefirah bears and carries the Sefirah below it, we can picture them as one inside the other, like the skins of an onion.
However, in terms of the way in which the worlds are governed (Hanhagah), Gevurah ascends and stands facing Chessed, while Tiferet, “Beauty”, also rises and stands between them. Similarly, Hod, “Splendor”, rises up and stands against Netzach, “Victory”, and so on in the same way. Thus the government of the worlds in detail is ordered on the basis of the three lines of Kindness, Judgment and Mercy.
Since the Supreme Will wanted to show these different aspects by means of the forms seen in the prophetic vision, He instituted these two forms: circles, and the straight or upright form. The circles indicate the developmental chain through which the Sefirot emerge one from another, while the upright, linear depiction indicates the governmental order, in which the Sefirot are arranged along the three lines of Kindness, Judgment and Mercy. Matters relating to the causal and developmental interrelationship between the Sefirot must be understood from the circles, while matters relating to government must be understood through the linear depiction.
From the developmental point of view, there is no difference at all between Kindness (right) and Judgment (left), for Gevurah (left-leaning) emerges from Chessed (right-leaning) and is beneath it, just as Netzach (right-leaning) emerges from Tiferet (center) and is beneath it. What this means is that when examining the developmental aspect, we do not take into account a particular Sefirah’s action in terms of its own distinctive quality. Rather, we consider the level of this Sefirah in terms of how near to or far from the Source it is. From this point of view, the distinctive qualities of this particular level are not evident in detail but only in a general way as part of the overall providence. Thus the underlying form of the circle is like a sphere that is completely round and does not divide into parts, for you cannot say it has a head, top or beginning, or a bottom or end, or a middle, right or left.
When a circle is seen in the vision of the Chariot, the immediate inference is that this is a radiation of light (he’arah) that shines in a general, undifferentiated way. It encompasses all the created realms and beings, and accordingly takes the form of an encompassing sphere or circle, inasmuch as it encompasses and shines to the entire existence contained within it without any differentiation. Thus the Supreme Will maintains this lowly world in existence through a general providence which makes no differentiation between one species and another or between one individual or another, but which encompasses all the created realms and beings equally.
The form of the circle only indicates the way in which the light seen in this form shines down generally over all that exists within it. But what are the particular powers of this level? This is not the place for these to be revealed but elsewhere, when the light appears in a different form, one that divides it into its different sides properly. Thus the circular form indicates only a general providence – an encompassing mode of government that does not divide into different sides or aspects in terms of Kindness, Judgment and Mercy.
Nevertheless, even in the circular form, there is a difference between the qualities of each of the different circles, for this one is called Chochmah, “Wisdom”, this one Binah, “Understanding” and this one Da’at, “Knowledge”, etc. What this means is that all the Sefirot exercise a general providence over all that exists, and accordingly everything that exists is under the providence of all of the ten equally. These ten kinds of providence are arranged hierarchically, with the providence of Keter, the “Crown”, being the outermost of all of them and encompassing all of them. That of Chochmah is inside that of Keter, and so on in the same way down to the end. However, when we examine the actual government of the worlds, the Sefirot do not all act equally in this way, but each according to what is appropriate depending on the time in question and in response to people’s behavior. Thus in terms of the government of the worlds, any one of the different component levels may or may not act at any given time, while its overall influence certainly continues when we consider the circular or developmental aspect.
…like a general, overall providence reflecting the distinctive quality of the particular Sefirah seen in this form. This is from the standpoint of causal development (Hishtalshelut). On the other hand, the straight or upright form (Yosher) indicates detailed government varying according to the requirements of Kindness, Judgment and Mercy – right, left and center. In other words, the different “sides” – right, left and center – indicate Kindness, Judgment and Mercy. When there are different “sides”, we can measure the degree to which a given force extends, assess the relative power and quality of different forces, trace their effects and make all the other distinctions that are discussed in relation to the Partzufim. Each Partzuf is an upright array of powers arranged along the lines of Kindness, Judgment and Mercy.
The same approach applies to all the other forms seen in the prophetic vision. This should now be clear, because the information derived from the prophetic vision depends upon the nature of the forms seen, whether they be general or specific lights, whether they spread or do not spread. For example: each point is a root of light that stands above but does not extend below, while each line is a light that spreads or extends. The same applies to all the forms and likenesses seen in prophecy: what they signify above corresponds directly to what the actual physical form signifies here below.