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Forming Time and Space

by Rabbi Moshe Miller


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The limitation that is added by the descent into the world of Yetzirah, the world of Formation, is that of dimension itself. Formation is essentially a spatial concept, and Kabbalah also discusses the nature of space. It is important to know that the Kabbalah views time and space as created conditions and not as intrinsic qualities, as will be discussed shortly. That is to say that until the descent of the light to the world of Yetzirah, the light is not limited by dimension. And even in the world of Yetzirah dimension is still spiritual and has not yet entered the physical limitations of space.

Physical space has six dimensions which limit and define it. These are: above and below, right (south) and left (north), in front (east) and behind (west). In Kabbalah each of the directions is derived from a spiritual quality, namely, one of the six aspects of the world of Yetzirah.(The spiritual dimension of the world of Yetzirah devolves in the world of Asiyah into actual physical space.) In the world of Yetzirah, these six dimensions are called the six middot, or the six sefirot, which are revealed primarily in that world. The word midda in Hebrew means "dimension", "limitation", or "measurement". This is the primary characteristic of the world of Yetzirah: that light which descends there is limited and measured.

One of the characteristics of dimension or measurement is that it requires at least two reference points - the place something starts and where it ends. Accordingly Yetzirah, the source of dimension, is the first plane of existence where polarity and duality (the opposite of unity and oneness) come into being. Thus, there is the beginning of relationship, i.e. a situation in which each aspect is defined in reference to something else, rather than in terms of its own intrinsic qualities. It is important to note that, in Yetzirah, this duality is still spiritual, and therefore the characteristics of the world of Yetzirah are beyond the limitations of physical space. 
Spatial dimension in the world of Yetzirah can be understood in the following way: "Above" is the active reaching out of light and life force (analogous to sunlight streaming down from above), which descend to the vessels, which are ready to receive them (to continue the analogy - like plants or trees which absorb the sunlight). "Below" is the receiving by the vessels; the more light the vessels receive, the more they expand and grow (south, toward the path of the sun, toward the light), and consequently, the more elevated they become (i.e. advance toward the origin of the light). If the vessels, however, are too immature and constricted, or because something prevents the light from reaching the vessels, they contract and do not grow. They may even face away from the source of light, and retreat, like a plant shriveling and dying. This is the inner spiritual dimension of physical space.

Kabbalah views time and space as created conditions and not as intrinsic qualities
In the analogy used previously to describe the worlds, if the original idea and its expansion in understanding represents the world of  Atzilut, and considering how to describe the idea to another person represents the world of  Beriyah, then the actual explanation of the idea to another represents the world of Yetzirah. In explaining an idea to someone else, there is bound to be a limit as to how much of the original understanding can be transmitted through speech. Some have more success at this than others, but even the best teacher cannot communicate his own exact understanding to his student. The student has to work on this himself. Thus, speech is much more limited than thought. So too, the descent of the light into the world of Yetzirah defines and limits the light so that it can be absorbed by the lowest level vessels of the world of Asiyah. In doing so, the light becomes much more hidden and much more limited. In this way each vessel becomes separated from the other, because each receives the light and expresses it according to its own specific nature. Thus there is division and diversity.

From the "Fiftieth Gate" edition of the Zohar, Introduction

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G-d » Creation
Torah » Kabbalah » Kabbalistic Concepts

The most basic work of Jewish mysticism. Authored by Rabbi Shimeon bar Yochai in the 2nd century.
Jewish mysticism. The word Kaballah means "reception," for we cannot physically perceive the Divine, we merely study the mystical truths which were transmitted to us by G-d Himself through His righteous servants.