Sunday, June 23, 2013

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The Eye, the I and the Ayin – Part 1

We are pleased to offer Eye to the Infinite, a Torah Guide to Jewish Meditations for Divine Awareness, in a weekly serialized form.

Eye to the Infinite – A Torah Guide to Jewish Meditations to Increase Divine Awareness. Copyright © 2013 by Aharon Rubin – serialized on the Mystical Paths blog with permission.

Our sages[1] stress that physi­cal sight is only pos­sible by vir­tue of the pu­pil, that black sphere of emptiness at the centre of the eye[2] through which light can en­ter and fall upon the ret­ina. The optic nerve that transmits the electric signals from the retina to the brain also does so through a point of void, the scotoma or blind spot. Sight occurs through me­diums of dark­ness and nega­tion.[3] The laws of physics are a re­flection of G-d’s metaphysi­cal laws that gov­ern all universes; the cor­poral reality mirrors the spiri­tual. (In es­sence, the natural laws are a manifestation of G-d’s Name, expressed through the material world.) [4] Hence, “spiritual sight” likewise can only take place through a space of self-nega­tion.[5]

The sum­mit of quiet­ness and in­visi­bil­ity of self, the “eye of the hurri­cane” or “calm af­ter the storm”[6] reached dur­ing medita­tion, is the spiri­tual equivalent of the pupil of the eye. The self-ne­ga­tion while standing be­fore G-d[7] is the door to ex­perienc­ing G-d’s immi­nence, intro­duc­ing the mystical phenome­non of devei­kus,[8] the eye to the Infi­nite. That this point of nothingness is the door to the Infi­nite is hinted at in the Tal­mudic maxim, “אין הברכה מצוי' אלא בדבר הסמוי מן העין” – “Blessing is only found in that which is hidden from the eye”:[9] spiri­tual bless­ing, mani­festation of the Infi­nite in­ner re­ality of all creation, is expressed only through the nullification of the physi­cal.[10]

In his book of Psalms, King David says, “The eyes of all look hopefully towards You, and You give to them their suste­nance in its fixed time.”[11] G-d gives con­tinu­ously. Receipt of in­flux how­ever has to be fa­cili­tated by the re­ceiver through the for­mation of a vessel. For the in­di­vid­ual, this spiritual vessel is formed through affirm­ing the soul’s natu­ral ca­pacity to look upward towards G-d.[12] It­self a part of G-d, this long­ing to re­ceive His Presence or In­flux is part of the soul’s re­ality and sub­stance.

To consciously experience the soul’s longing and de­velop a clearer awareness of G-d, we must create a vacuum in our own ego­cen­trism, in much the same way as G‑d Himself forms a space, as it were, for our separate ex­istence. This vac­uum is formed by pon­der­ing G-d’s greatness and by re­al­is­ing our own futility, thus cre­ating a win­dow in the ego through which the soul can communi­cate its own percep­tion, the natural devei­kus of the part with the Whole.[13]

According to the mas­ters of Kabbalah, deveikus is a state of su­preme at­tach­ment to G-d. Since all Mitsvos are expres­sions of G-d’s Will and His Attrib­utes, we unite with Him by per­form­ing His Mits­voth[14] and by do­ing G-d’s ac­tions we experi­ence His Unity – an expression of sym­pa­thetic reso­nance. How­ever, even while “imi­tating” G-d as it were, one’s ac­tions in harmony with the Di­vine, to truly ex­peri­ence de­veikus, to mentally and emotion­ally feel G-d’s close­ness, one has to be­come a vessel to G-d’s at­trib­ute of Nothing­ness, to see oneself as an exten­sion of G-d, a physi­cal tool of His In­finite Self.[15]

In Kabbalistic texts, G-d is referred to as Ein Sof. Literally “with­out end,” Ein Sof describes G-d as be­ing without end, a Being Whose Infinite Nature defies defi­nition or classifi­cation. Any delinea­tion limits and implies an ab­sence of its op­posite; as G-d is infinite and incomprehensible, His Essence lies beyond description. We can only say what He is not: Ein Sof – He is not limited.

The Kabbalists also speak of G-d hav­ing the attribute of AYiN - אין, “nothing­ness.” This can be understood on two levels. G-d is be­yond com­pre­hen­sion or intel­lect, above crea­tion, physi­cal or spiri­tual. This point we call AYiN: a place of pure poten­tial, be­yond boundaries, from where the whole of crea­tion is constantly re­newed.[16] G‑d also negates Him­self, as it were, hid­ing His Infinite Es­sence in or­der “to make room” for His crea­tions, much like a fa­ther who hold­s him­self back to give space for His child to de­velop. The ultimate in hu­mility and self-ne­ga­tion, this “noth­ingness” of self, is the attrib­ute of AYiN.

G-d’s hiding, the apparent nega­tion of His Light, the pupil of G-d’s Eye so to speak, enables Him to view and inter­act with crea­tion as a separate en­tity apart from Him­self, and to re­veal Himself within it. Darkness is para­doxi­cally the catalyst to Revelation and Providence: only ob­scu­rity “allows” G-d to in­terrelate with His crea­tions,[17] and the deeper the dark­ness, the greater the Revelation po­tential. Though He is eve­ry­thing,[18] He thus ap­pear­s sepa­rate from crea­tion and can thus oper­ate within His own set pa­rame­ters.


[1] Midrash Rabboh Numbers, 15:7, Rashi Deut. 32:10 כאישון עינו: הוא השחור שבעין שהמאור יוצא הימנו , and Rashi, Psalms17:8.

כאישון: הוא השחור שבעין שהאור תלוי בו ועל שם שחרוריתו הוא קרוי אישון לשון חשך.

See also Rashi, Lamentations 2:18.

[2] Called Ishon – אישון. See Rashi, Mishlei 7:2,

ותורתי כאישון עיניך: שחור של עין שהוא דומה לחשך כמו אישון לילה

Interestingly, Rabbeinu Bachye explains Ishon to mean “small man,” see R. Bachye, Deut. 32:10, בת העין נקראת אישון על שם שיש בה צורת איש, ולשון אישון על שם קטנות הצורה

[3] See Ecclesiastes 2:13

[4] Thus the holy name Elokim, which means “Powers”, i.e. G-d’s supremacy and control over all powers, natural and supernatural, earthly or angelic, is not only the same gema­triah as HaTevah – “nature”, showing nature to be merely an ex­pression of G-d’s power, but is also the gematriah of כנוי Kinuy – lit. nick-name, i.e. natu­ral laws are merely the “outer” expression of the holy Ineffable Name; thus he who studies science properly, can gain an awareness of G-d’s True Name.

[5] Similarly, we empathise by lowering our ego boundaries. What we are essen­tially doing is negating a part of the self, or the ego, in order to consider another person.

[6] See Psalms 107:29.

[7] This is hinted at in G-d’s answer to Moses (Exodus 33:20), "כי לא יראני האדם וחי" – “No man can see Me whilst living,” i.e. while in a state of self-awareness.

[8] See Sha’arei Orah (Rabbi Yosef Gikatilia), Gate 1.

[9] Talmud Bavli, Ta’anis 8b, Bovo Metsioh 42a.

[10] In a similar way, the flip side to zero is infinity. By approaching zero, we come close to infinity.

[11] Psalms 145:15

[12] An explanation heard from my Father, ob”m.

[13] See Ibn Ezra, Numbers 20:8 – דע כי כאשר ידע החלק את הכל, ידבק בכל ויחדש בכל אותות ומופתים – “Know, that when the part knows the Whole, he will cleave to The All, and bring about signs and wonders.”

[14] The Baal Shem Tov teaches that the word “Mitsvoh,” besides meaning command­ment, has the addi­tional connotation of connecting to G-d. See note 248 and Talmud Bavli Bro­chos 6a.

[15] Vilna Gaon. See Siddur HaGra HaSholaym p. 25, פ' אמרי שפר.

[16] See Part Four, Chapter Six.

[17] This is the meaning of כסא הכבוד – “Kisei HaKovod” – the Throne of Glory. The word “Kisei” re­lates to “kisuy” – cover or concealment: paradoxically, concealment of G-d en­ables revela­tion.

[18] Rambam, Moreh Nevuchim, also Hilchoth Yesodei HaTorah 2:10.

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