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10.2.16

Ten Sepherot.





Ten Sepherot. This is the most famous concept in Kabalah.  (note 1) Plato was the first person on record to ask for a rational explanation of the wandering of the planets [in the book, Timaeus, circa 350 B.C.E.]. To give an approximate answer, Plato sketched a model of a spherical earth in the center of a vast, rotating sphere containing fixed stars (note 3). Inside of this celestial sphere were concentric spheres, like an onion, each carrying one of the planets.   Then he asked for a precise mathematical explanation of the reason for the wandering of the planets. His disciple, Eudoxus came up with the mathematical details to complete geometric model.
This model was still accepted in the days of Aristotle (384 -322 B.C.E. about a hundred years before the miracle of Hanukkah in 165 BCE). He put this onion model into his writings and from then on was widely known and accepted.
But a better model was discovered by Apollonius (262-190 B.C.E.) of wheels and smaller wheels (epicycles) revolving on the larger ones. But the spheres remained as a picture of the location of the planets though they were not used any longer to explain the motion of the planets. [Their problem was they could not explain why the planets get brighter and dimmer.]
By the time of R. Shimon Bar Yochi (about 500 years after Plato) the spheres were well known. The Almagest (published by Ptolemy in 150 C.E.) is a mathematical extremely well detailed account of the motions of the stars and planets. It consists of 13 books. The first one contains an outline of the spheres. The Almagest was translated from the Greek into Latin in 1160. "On The Spheres" by Johannes Sacroboso published in 1220 (30 years before Moshe De Leon 1250-1305) was a standard university text and described the spheres. (You can still see the onion picture in many textbooks that describe ancient astronomy. See the picture attached. The mechanical wheel model of the Solar System is still found in some museums.) [The Ten Spheres are the spheres of the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Celestial Sphere of the stars, the Crystal Sphere and the Primum Mobile. Outside of all that is the habitation of God. (note 2)]
Medieval Aristotelians (Alfarbi and Avicenna) believed The One created the First intelligence and that intelligence is aware of the duality and so created a third thing. This process continues until you get ten intelligences and nine spheres.
The Kabalah took this conceptual scheme and extended the spheres to the spiritual realms also. In the Eitz Chayim, the spherot of igulim are spiritual spheres. "Sepherot" is not Hebrew. It is an adaptation of the word "sphere". (note 4)
The question arises what would have happened if we had lived in a solar system of five planets? Would there have been five sepherot?


[] The wheels. Kabalistic books say the "Higher Intellect" is what makes the "galgalim" (lit. "wheels") go around.[See Plotinus that says the One emanates the Mind and the Mind controls Nature/Soul.
During the Middle Ages the motion of the planets was accounted for by their being attached to large wheels in the heavens that went around.


 (note 6)


[] The condensation process of the Kabalah in the Ari is a modified form of Anaximander's [611-547 B.C.E.] theory of creation: that an empty space formed in the middle of the original primordial unlimited stuff of the universe; the warm stuff moved outward and the cold sank inward (that made the empty space)- the reunion of the two created life.
The Greek Philosophers after him modified his ideas in different ways but the same principle still seems to apply to them. First there was an original Primordial unlimited, unchangeable substance. Then somehow it was separated into different things. Then those opposite things came together to create life. Anaxagoras and Empedocles modified this idea to get gradiated levels coming down from the first undifferentiated substance. Thus with Empedocles you get four elements.
The kabalah extended the idea of the condensation process into the spiritual realm.



[] Four elements. Mentioned often in Kabalah. The first one to suggest these as the essential elements was Empedocles. [Born 492 B.C.E.,--the beginning of the Second Temple period.] (It is true that the Kabalah also uses this. But R. Shimon bar Yochai lived 600 years after Empedocles.) (note 5)
You could say Empedocles heard it from some Jew. But it was not pulled out of thin air. It came after a long process of thought and argument and debate starting with Thales of Miletus [640 B.C.E.(during the period of the First Temple)] who declared water to be the basis of all matter. Next came Anaximander who wrote that all matter comes from an primordial stuff called "the unlimited" , -- an (apeiron) ether. (Brought in LM 2:67)
Anaximenes took this idea and said the first substance is air which can be modified into fire, water and earth. Heraclites assumed the original substance was fire. This corresponded with his basic idea that the most basic essence of everything is change. Empedocles then came and said here are actually four basic original substances: fire, air, water and earth, built up by two working principles or forces -- Love as the cause of union and Hate as that of separation.
Maybe then too you could say they all got it from the Jews -- but the Jews of that period wrote nothing on science, music, art, and philosophy. There were no writings on principles of existence, space, time, matter, substance or science. There is no evidence that anyone was interested in these subjects. (note 8)
The world was looked upon as God- saturated. God could intervene in all aspects of the world ,- in particular human life. The natural order was looked at as something to change, not understand. I don't think they thought natural order is Divine. Maybe they did in the First Temple period as the Rambam says but any writings of that nature have been lost.


[] Ether (Iyuli) . Aristotle conceived the Iyuli to account for the fact that the heavenly spheres don't seem to follow the same laws as air, fire, water, earth.
The problem is this. Matter if left alone comes to a stop. All matter. All matter that is except the heavenly spheres. So they can't be made of ordinary matter. And they need to be strong enough to hold the stars in place. So the spheres must be made of a perfectly transparent, Fifth element Iyuli [ether].
Now I have thought for years that the Aether that is mentioned by kabalists and RN could be said to refer to some relevant concept like quantum foam. But here I am only giving one source from where the concept came from.
Perhaps you can say Kabalah referred to some advanced concept and Aristotle to some primitive concept. But Aristotle seems to have anticipated the modern approach. He rejects empty space completely. This seems corroborated by modern physics. What we call empty space definitely has a deep mathematical structure to it. (Do the classical scattering experiment of quantum mechanics but put a solenoid nearby and you will see this. Space itself changes its structure.) Space is filled with quantum foam or something like it.


[] Kabalah books mention  Matter and Form equals Body and Soul .
The first one to suggest that all things consist of matter and form was Aristotle (Metaphysics book 7). Together they equal substance. This idea came as an answer to a question that had bothered philosophers for hundreds of years, i.e. what exists? We see physical things change. What part or aspect of physical things is it that has essential existence? (Matter itself can't be said to have existence as a basic part of its essence because it can be destroyed and changed. Since existence must be, therefore any given piece of matter that might not be can't be said to have essential existence. There must be something that possesses existence itself. Or maybe not. Maybe everything changes. That is the question the Greeks were trying to answer.) Some said only fire exists. Others said water. Empedocles said four things: fire, air, water, earth.
Aristotle answered matter and form. From this idea, he came out with a system that looks very much like the four worlds of the Kabalah. For Aristotle saw the universe as being between two extremes - pure Form with no matter and pure Matter with no form. Matter is pure potential. Form is pure Action. The process going from potential into action is in four stages (by four causes: material cause - "out of which", efficient cause - "by which", formal cause- "essence", and final cause-"for what purpose".)
Plotinus suggested that Matter and Form equal Body and Soul. (The Six Enneads. Ennead 1. written in Rome 260 C.E. - during the period of the Amoraim.)


[] Kabalah books  say ones entire portion in the next world depend on "Acquired Intelligence" [LM vol. 1 chapter 25]. "What is left over from a person after his death is his acquired intelligence. That is- that by which he knows everything a human being can know (in one thought)."
The First person to suggest that virtue and wisdom are mutually dependent was Socrates.
The first one to suggest potentiality and actuality as basic components of nature and the mind in particular was Aristotle. ["Physics" and "On Generation" pg. 319b-320a] This also was not pulled out of a hat like a magic trick. It was the sum result of a complicated long train of thought. Aristotle asked how we conceive things. He used his idea of actuality and potentiality to answer this question. He said there is potential intelligence. It is passive. But there is also an Active Intelligence that sets up categories in the world to make it conceivable. Without it, it would be impossible to understand anything. The idea that one's portion in the next world depends gaining this intelligence is from the Rambam (More Nevuchim 3:27). This is a very radical opinion and disagrees with normative Judaism that says ones portion in the next world depends on doing good deeds. \(note 7) (It is not from the ancient Greeks.)

So the Rambam himself has a source for this; -- Socrates. In the opinion of Socrates Knowledge equals virtue. The Rambam made a simple deduction. If knowledge is virtue and one's portion in the next world depends on virtue then one's portion depends on knowledge. I think the reason is Knowing God's will gives a vessel or God's will to come on one and take hold of him and his life.
RN seems to contradict this later in the stories and in many other places in the LM but in Vol 1:25 it is what he says.
I am not aware of any place Socrates might have said one's portion in the next world depends on knowledge. Plato certainly believed being attached and included in the One is the sum total and goal of all virtue, but did he make it dependent on knowledge like Socrates did? I don't know. If not then the idea of the Rambam is his own or Ibn Rushd's.
The implication is that few people can come to the level of knowing everything that a human being can know. Therefore few people can even hope for any portion in the next world unless one is connected to a true tzadik who does have this knowledge.
One needs to come to and be one entity with the Mind of God or be connected with a true saint who is so connected.
(RN does say to learn the Shulchan Aruch which starts with a quotation from the More Nevuchim in the Rema so don't be surprised if he quotes from it in the Lekutai Moharan.)
[] RN says the human soul has certain powers Power of growth [LM 1:154] and power of imagination [LM 1:25] and others. These were originally conceived by Aristotle. He placed great importance on the type of soul something possesses. He said plants have a vegetative soul which has only power of growth. An animal has a vegetative and a sensitive soul that can feel and imagine and that is responsible for movement. Humans have the first two and also a rational soul. [Aristotle was the first to make a distinction between the rational soul from the feeling soul (except for Alcmacon). Also, he was the first to attribute powers to the soul, not parts. People had known that people can see and talk but no one had ascribed those abilities to the soul.]
All the Medieval Jewish thinkers (Rishonim) that I am aware of accepted this system. But it is not mentioned in the Talmud as far as I remember.

[] Theory of Thunder. RN says hot vapor goes into a cloud and splits it (LM Vol 1 68:8). This is based on Anaximenedes that the cloud is under pressure like a balloon and you need only to prick it for it to split. RN might have seen this idea in Aristotle. (Meteorology Book II.) But again the remarkable thing about RN is though his terminology is archaic; it is a modification of the Greek idea that corresponds to modern science. For, in fact, there is hot vapor that goes into the cloud from the ground (i.e. electricity) and splits it.

[] Kabalah books say "Vision is the result of the power of vision from the eye hitting the object and then returning."[LM 13:4]
Plato's theory of vision is thus: There are three types of fire or light. One is daylight from the sun. Second is the light issuing from the eye. It is a current of light or fire. Third is the color of the object. It is "a flame streaming off from every body having particles proportional to those of the visual current so as to yield sensation "when the two meet".
RN does not use the idea of light or fire but substitutes in its place an idea from Aristotle "the power of sight".

[] The peak of knowledge is to know that we don't know. (LM Volume 2 chapter 83). This is directly from Socrates [The Apology 23a-b]. For Socrates went to the oracle of Delphi. She told him he is the wisest of all men. He did not understand because he knew that he knew nothing. So he returned to Athens and went over to someone reputed to be an expert in some field. After a little bit of questioning he discovered that expert really knew nothing. He did this same process over and over again until he finally understood the oracle. She meant he is the wisest of all me because everyone else thought they knew something,--but he knew that he knew nothing. Then he understood that that is what the oracle meant--the greatest knowledge is not to know. If you know nothing that is more than someone who knows wrong things. Minus one is less than zero.
He also explained that he is wise because he knows human wisdom is nothing compared to Divine Wisdom.

[] Five differences between Divine and human knowledge. (LM 1:53, More Nevuchim 3:20).
There is a quantum leap from Creator to created. This is the place where it looks to me that the Rambam wishes to bridge between his own Aristotelian point of view and Plato. I think he must have thought that somehow he had resolved the conflict between them by means of insights from the Torah. I think this is how Avraham Abulafia understood him also when he claimed that the More Nevuchim contained the secret of the redemption.
[] RN says (LM 1:25) souls are all one over the other and each a garment for the other. This a clear hint to the Reshash (Shalom Sharabi) that holiness is above. But in the future Z&N will be the same height as father and mother which will be the same height as Arich etc. The spiritual levels will all be internal.

[] All souls in their root above are one. Plotinus Enead 4:5 LM vol 1 ch 265

[] All souls are on a gradiated scale of perfection like a ladder.  Aristotle said all creatures are on a graded scale of perfection: the "scale naturae" i.e. the great chain of being.
[] Background noise aside, R. Nachman accepted the science of the Ancient Greeks. I think this may show a great insight into the nature of things.


[] To tie oneself to the wisdom in everything is from Natan from Gaza. This is not the same thing as seeing the wisdom of God in all things which the rishonim bring from Saadia Gaon and the Rambam.
[] The centrality of the Tzadik similarly comes from Natan from Gaza. You have to see this in the three books of Natan from Gaza. They were not printed but are available in microfilm



(note 1) The Ten Spherot are explained in the Zohar (published 1280 C.E.), the Sefer Yezirah and the Bahir (published in the eleventh century C.E. in France.)

(note 2) While it is true that there could have been a tradition from Sinai about the Ten Spherot that Eudoxus heard and applied to the stars.

(note 3) This model had apparently been suggested by Parmenides. Aet 2;1 Dox 827 "Parmenides taught that there were crowns encircling one another in close succession.." He goes on to paint this scheme. Except he does not place the earth at the center. Neither do the Pythagoreans.

(note 4) Ptolemy had only eight spheres. The celestial sphere is the eighth. I once saw a book that said there was added a Sphere in the Middle Ages because of he precession of the north pole. But I don't see how that could be right. Ptolemy himself knew about the movement of the North Pole (It was discovered by Hipparchus in about 130 B.C.E.) and he did not add any sphere because of it. Another astronomer during the Middle Ages suggested "trepidation" but not another sphere. As far as I know the ninth sphere, "the crystal sphere", was added in response to the verse about "waters above the firmament" in Genesis. The Tenth was the Primum Mobile. (The ninth was sometimes not counted.)
It seems to me that Kabalah tries to formulate its spiritual insights in the models and conceptions of physical reality that were available at the time. not hat it was saying physical reality was in this way.

(note 5) It is true that the Kabalah also uses the idea of four elements. But even after Moshe De Leon said he had an ancient hidden manuscript from R Shimon, no one but him saw it. He simply sold copies of it page by page. This is very different from the way the Gemara or other books come down to us. Of course, it could have been written by revelation of the soul of Shimon Bar Yochai as Nachman [of Uman] himself commented about many parts of it. (This was not uncommon during the Middle Ages. Brit Menuchah was written the same way.) But even if it had been written by R. Shimon, he lived 600 years after Empedocles.) This is not the place to discuss the Zohar but at least for the record, it seems to me that the Torah gives a prerequisite for a prophet - predict a positive event. The Zohar did this,--revival of the dead in the year of the massacre of Jews in the Ukraine (1648-1649). The Gemara also (Avodah Zara pg 9) also did so. It predicts the Messiah before the year 470 C.E. Now none of this is a problem if you don't assume they are Divine. The Gemara does not say it is the word of God, nor does the Zohar. But if one says they are, then there is a serious problem.
[See testimony of Isaac of Akko in Sefer Ha'Yuchsim.]
Standards were different at that time. One could say Moshe De'Leon simply took poetic license which was not unusual at the time.

(note 6) R. Natan understood R. Nachman to mean the wheels are real. See LM vol 1 ch 61. That chapter was said by RN but written by R. Natan. There it is clear that the wheels are not orbits. The Divine Intelligence makes the wheels go around and on them are attached the planets. It seems R. Natan believed in the "wheels" as he reported R. Nachman to have said the earth does not move. After all, in the wheels model of the solar system, the earth is at the center.
As a side note, -- the earth does move. You can see this from the way your cell phone works. The satellite that makes it work is in stationary orbit around the earth (i.e. stationary above the ground). The way it got there was by sending it up at an angle. So as it moves around in its orbit and the earth moves under it it seems stationary. If the Earth did not move only sending it up straight would make it stationary. But then it would fall down.
It is more likely that RN said you can take the earth as a stationary frame of reference. That is not the same thing as saying that it does not move. The difference is saying it does not move means there is one stationary frame of reference and it is the earth.

(note 7) LM 1:25 literal translation: "The only part remaining of a man after he dies is the acquired intelligence."
The Rambam in Hilchot Teshuva says that one portion in the next world depends on deeds and wisdom. Wisdom he says in the first chapter of the Eight Chapters is synonymous with knowing the nature of unchanging things, i.e. metaphysics.
(note 8) (Certainly people had known there is fire, water etc. But no one had thought they were the essential elements. Now it is hard to understand how one can say earth or fire is an essential element. Perhaps there are four essential sub atomic particles that can't be broken or changed but are they earth, water etc.?
Appendix:

The basic layout of the Ari is this:
In the Arizal  (Isaac Luria) we have this basic pattern. At first the infinite light of God was everywhere and so there was no place for creation. Then there was a צמצום in the middle of the light to make a place for the future creation of all the worlds.
When it was first made that place was empty and perfectly spherical.

And there was left a dot of light in the center of that empty space. Then there was drawn into the empty space a קו "line" of light that went down a little bit and then started going around to make  kind of sub layer just underneath the infinity light that surrounded it. It was formed like a tennis ball. Empty inside but perfectly spherical. That was the sepherah of כתר of אדם קדמון. The sepherah of Crown of the archetype of Man. The Ari at this point will continue this process. [note 1 and note 2]
After the first sepherah of Adam Kadmon the ray of light went down a little more and then expanded into the next layer or ball of light of Wisdom. After that it went down more to make בינה understanding. Thus this process continued until the middle dot in the middle of the חלל הפנוי empty space which now is no longer empty.

These are all from the light of the name of G-d ב''ן that is the lowest level. That means the name of Yod Ke Vav Ke but with each letter spelled out. יוד הה וו הה.

After that came a new level of light from the name מ''ה which is also the name of G-d spelled out but with each letter also spelled out. [As if we we say "Aleph" instead of "A"]. Thus the name "45" is יוד הא ואו הא.

This new ray of light also came down from the exact same spot as the first one. But this time became of form of a man, as in the above diagram. This form is called ספירות דיושר. The feet here did not reach to the center dot but only until the bottom of the area which in the future will be called Emanation.
Each sepherah is like a pipeline. It is a vessel for flowing water. The vessel has an inner part and an outer part and contains the water (light) and there is also outer water (light).
Then after this process was completed, then light came out from the ears, nose, mouth and then eyes of Adam Kadmon.  עקודים ברודים נקודים. This is how the Ari, Isaac Luria explains a verse about Jacob's sheep that were stripped spotted and dotted.
Each of these outer lights [which should not be confused with the אור מקיף of Adam Kadmon] formed worlds outside of Adam Kadmon. When the light from the eyes reaches below the belly the process know as שבירת הכלים breaking of the vessels began because of reasons explained by the Ari .

As we can see all of these processes were hinted at by the Pre Socratics and Origen. That does not make this invalid. It just is a point to consider.  The Ari as all mystics understood the world through the framework that was available at the time. Clearly Yaakov Abuchatzaira held from the Ari. My own advice about all this is to learn Torah-the Oral and Written Law and then the Ari.






(note 1 But I should mention that the Ari is basing himself on Mediaeval mystics who disagreed about this process. Some held the ten sepherot were like a onion, spheres one inside the other. Others held they were in the form of a man. We will see that the Ari intends to bring balance to this by saying each was right and there are two different areas of spheres. (note 2 In any case you can see already the connection with my previous essay that this process was suggested by the Pre Soctratics and the Ari was building a kind of synthesis between the idea and concepts of ancient philosophy (whose ideas were written down and known during the Middle Ages) and the Medieval kabalists.)

(note 2) The reason this is so shocking is that plenty of people think they have nothing to learn others. That the Ari learnt some important ideas from Greek Philosophers is upsetting. It puts out of balance their conception of their being in the center of the universe.