<span lang='en'>Kaballah and Art</span>

Kaballah and Art

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With Hashem’s help:

1

The only thing that is important is emes. If emes be the hardest thing to truly find, nevertheless only emes matters, only emes is worth striving for.

The kaballah, being the innermost aspect of the Holy Torah, is the most protected part of the Torah, that is; it is not taught as openly as other aspects of the Torah, and it requires the most training both in terms of learning and in terms of prishus and chassidus of the learner in order to enter into it’s study, all the more so it’s practice. It is the most innermost aspect of the Torah and the Holiest, and the most treasured learning before Hashem Yisborach, the treasure house of the King that only the most trusted servants have access to. Thus is understood the shita of the Perushim who protect the sanctity of the Kaballah so that no adam zar should approach, etc. as is well known. Yet, the Chassidim otherwise hold; that since both our personal and national success, redemption and the entire road to our redemption and the end of our bitter galus is dependent upon this learning, thus we must learn it, with yirat shamayim, but we must learn it. This is also well known.

A person in his right mind cannot easily understand or certainly not sanction that non-Jews, who haven’t a trace of kedushah, can lay their hands on kaballah of all things; it is tantamount to Titus bringing … into the Holy of Holies. A non-observant Jew who also finds the kaballah fascinating, and imagines that he can have ‘Torah w/o mitzvoth‘ also cannot be taken seriously in the least by someone who’s reason is still intact.

Nevertheless, in my humble opinion, one should permit himself to ask: “why are so many people that are so far from Kedushah, davka so interested in the thing that is most Holy?” The answer , I think, is not so hard to understand. Davka because of the awesome spiritual darkness which is the lot of these generations, thus the people of the world find themselves empty of all good. Yet from the lowest possible madregah a person can still find Hashem Yisborach there, for ‘the whole earth is full of His glory’.

Though we might not readily understand how a person so distant from true Holiness can have any kind of true attachment to it, nevertheless if we, ourselves, had understanding we would see it all clearly; and since we know, that in the end, all will return to Hashem, then we can understand that even now, these phenomena of the Kaballah being found in the outhouses of the world, is in some form a part of this process of returning to Hashem. If their course is indeed a perverse twist, nevertheless our vision of things is also not straight. Therefore it seems proper to hold on to the pure emunah that we have, however big or small it is, that all is from Hashem, and for good; and not seek to understand what is beyond us, rather be careful to see as certain that that which we call our understanding is true understanding.

[I wish to note another somewhat related phenomenon which at one point came to me as a novel idea, and over the course of time, as I have found no opposition to it, I find myself referring to it again and again until I suspect that it could well be true; that there is an angle from which to view the history of art in the Western world, and therefore also the history of the Western world itself, as a series of rebellions against falsehood and a searching for truth. I have elaborated a bit elsewhere and it needs further elaboration.]

2

My initial impetus to become an artist emanated from the cognition that the creation of art-pieces held the potential for expressing very deep and primary truths about a person in particular and man in general; that, paradoxically, although art embraces the very most superficial aspects of our reality, the external appearance of the world, nevertheless, it holds seemingly unlimited potential for expressing seemingly endless depths of truth. I grew to learn that the ability to exploit this potential was tied up with the artist’s desire and willingness to exploit the pure components of his trade alone, namely: line, tone and color, and to wean himself of his desire to relate to the world through his pictures in conventional and superficial ways. Thus the artist must involve himself of developing his own personal language in form an color to express the extent to which he is able to reach into the truths of his being, which are only in the depths and only found with much labor.

 Taking the most superficial aspect of the Torah (which is also the most deep, in accord with the principle of kaballah that the sod is intimately connected to the peshat [malchut of one partzuf being in ceter of the partzuf below it, thus: ceter-malchut referred to in Petach Eliahu] that is, the shapes of the letters as they appear to us, (the most superficial aspect. If you ask a Torah student, what are you learning? He’ll tell you the tractate, the perek, the page, the sugya, the ma’amar, endless sides and depths of the matter, but he won’t come to telling you “I’m learning, see here, ot alef, ot gimel,” etc. all the more so he won’t point to the shape of the letters on his page and say: “isn’t it beautiful how the leg of this alef moves like this…” He would only be considered an idiot. Thus this aspect is the most superficial aspect of the Torah,) this is the interface between the Torah and art, between the Holy and the profane, between the Highest and the Holiest and the most mundane. (I have written about this place of interface at some length in other places and it is a most awesome subject.

I thus saw, immediately, that I was involved, almost inherently in what I was doing, in bringing Torah down into the farthest reaches of the spiritual darkness and void of this world. Any place where artworks, which in their essential and most powerful form are inspired movements of form and color on a surface, could reach and move people, there, the Holy Torah embedded and clothed and expounded upon in this artwork could go with it.

 3

A great paradox:

the verse states:

Sheker haChen (grace is false)

nevertheless, the wisdom of kaballah, which is the innermost truth of existence is called

Chachmat haChen (wisdom of grace)

The mishnah states, at five years he begins to learn mikre...also someone who approaches the Torah from outside as an adult firstly is presented with and accepts the whole of the written text, the Tanach. He accepts that Hashem created the universe and revealed His will to man. Although the acceptance is necessarily an acceptance of the whole of Torah, it may be a long time if at all that he can transform his nature in accord with all the mitzvoth, both those of ‘the heart’ and those of the limbs. Immediately upon acceptance of the Tanach he accepts upon himself the Oral law and he begins to learn Talmud and Poskim and perform mitzvoth. If he furthers himself in learning he finds himself involved intimately with the words of Torah, and even the components of words, letters. He understands that words of Torah are not simply words in the generic sense as they are thought of in the world, vessels of communication, rather fundamentally they are vessels of Divine light and foundation stones of all reality. The greatest scholar becomes of the like of Rabbi Shimeon bar Yochai who grasps the Torah at it’s most fundamental— Holy names of Hashem Yisborach. Thus seventy tikkunim on the word Bereshis which is the concentration of the entire Torah in six letters, as the Vilna Gaon explicated. It stands to reason that furthermore the Torah can be concentrated in the letter bais, the first letter of Bereshis. Perhaps I have seen this. I heard recently in the name of the Pri Medadim that all the letters can be formed from the ot vav. Certainly the four letter name of Hashem contains the whole Torah and all the worlds of the entire creation.

Thus a student’s progress in Torah, and a Jew’s progress as a human in general is a progression ever more inward; a parallel, l’havdil, could be found in the world of a scientist who starts by examining the nature of the world with his sight and ends up examined with a microscope, finding endless expanses within the minute.

Avraham Avinu cognizised the Torah without prophecy, though the virtue of intelligence alone. That is, he probed and penetrated the depths of existence with the tools of logical human analysis and found the true underlying nature of the world, the Torah, to the extent of cognizing Eruv tavshilin. Thus we see that human intelligence when it is utilized by the pure desire of a soul such as Avraham Avinu is in complete consort with the Divine. Avraham Avinu wrote the first sefer of Kaballah, Sefer Y’tzirah, w/o a ‘kaballah’, rather from his own intelligence (although some of these points can be disputed, I think that the basic premise is agreed upon, that human reason is in total consort with the Torah; see the introduction to sefer Chovos HaLevavos, where the author builds his theses upon the Torah, the Masoret and also by virtue of human reasoning.)

 We saw above that one who would choose as his subject of study in the Bais HaMedrash, the shapes of the letters that he sees with his eyes; not the study of the forms of the letters as they are handed down through the poskim and sofrim and the discussions of there various aspects; not even deepest meanings of the letters and their combinations as they are discussed in the Zohar and in other kaballistic writings, rather he ponders the shapes of the letters as they appear to his eyes and chooses to sketch these shapes on a page, this is his Torah study; this person is considered as someone outside of the realm of normal study of the Torah.

And one who sketches different subject that he sees with his eyes; landscapes, still-lives portraits, even imaginations, he is called an artist. The artist may be considered a spiritual person, but his connection to the Bais Hamedrash? Is there any connection? If there is, the mind does not seem to fathom it. If, perhaps, some, even many, Torah scholars would admit and say, yes, the artist can be a spiritual person; but let him define it in light of the Torah, what does the Torah call this artist?

If the artist chooses as his subject the letters and words of the Torah, is he now involved in Torah?? Ask a scholar; what would he say?

I would say that he is involved in Torah, in the very most superficial aspect of Torah, (and therefore also the deepest aspect, as mentioned above.)

Torah is the wisdom of Hashem Yisborach, wisdom which assumes it’s form in words, words that are understood by human beings. The words of the written Torah and the spoken Torah, this is what we have as the revealed will of the Creator, blessed is He. The entire universe, of which we are a part, is also the expression of His will which can be ‘read’ and understood, yet the Torah alone is the explicit expression of His will as it pertains to man, His explicit instructions to man. The words of the Torah and their components, the letters of the Holy script, are the explicit expressions of Hashem‘s will, they are the aspect of creation which is closest to man’s intelligence, which speak most directly and clearly to the man.

 4

See Likutey Moharan, 4, 9;

For (the spherah) Malchus (Kingdom), is the aspect of spoken letters, each and every letter enclothing the Will of Hashem, may He be blessed . For the Will of Hashem, may He be blessed, was that this letter would have this form (lit. picture), and another letter would have a different form. Therefore [these expressions of His] Will, that is, the forms of the letters, are the revelation of His Malchus, blessed is His Name. And all these expressions of His Will, that is the forms [of the letters], are drawn from the Will Ein Sof(Will of the Infinite [One]), which transcends form. And all the speech and materiality of the world are from the letters, that is from Malchus, because materiality is because of Malchus. From that the Holy One blessed is He wanted His Malchus to be revealed in the world, and through this (will) He created the world from nothingness into matter; and all [these expressions of His] Will, that is the forms [of the letters] and all materiality; that is, the aspect of Malchus, exist by virtue of the Will Ein Sof. As it is written (in Talmud tractate Megilla) ‘In every instance that you find the greatness of The Holy One blessed is He’, that is, His Malchus, that is [these expressions of His] Will,‘there you find His humility, that is Will Ein Sof.

5

How can “chen” be both sheker and emes in one? What is it that it is both sheker; that is, deceptive truth, that which appears as truth but in truth is false, yet at the same time it is truth itself.

 It is possible to answer along the lines of what was spoken of previously, that the most superficial aspect of something is actually the gate for entering into the deepest most hidden aspect. The outermost layer of reality becomes impossible to grasp because it interfaces with a level that is unknown to us.

 When a matter has become so mundane to us that it no longer summons our attention and it becomes unpalatable to focus on it further, this is because we are not properly prepared to fathom it’s underlying meaning. For every superficial matter is only superficial to us, for our minds have not progressed beyond to see it’s hidden aspect. For every matter contains endless depth, for everything emanates from Hashem Yisborach. Just as of the Torah it is taught, “if it is empty, the emptiness is from you,” so, also is true of the entire creation, which is created from the Torah.

Therefore ‘chen‘, which is falsehood, that which appears true, is false because we accept a superficial appearance and an incomplete understanding as truth; whereas the truth of the matter is deeper, an understanding which we have not yet investigated.

Thus Toras haChen, the study of Kaballah, the hidden, innermost aspect of the Torah, is hidden behind the simple appearance of the Torah, the face of the Torah, that which a person accepts as his personal realm of Torah, the extant to which he sees himself as able or permitted to examine. Beyond this limit lies Sitrei Torah, the hidden aspect of Torah. Thus we see that what is generically referred to as Kaballah, is fundamentally the aspects of Torah which are beyond a person’s personal limitations which he chooses to consider as Torah applying to him; [ as the Baal Shem Tov, HaKadosh, said: that Tosephos is also Sitrei Torah for one who doesn’t understand it.]

Thus, the more simple and ‘mundane’ the matter, the fewer are those who seek to see what lies beneath, for it is considered already sufficiently understood, or beyond the scope of one’s interest to investigate, for the rewards seem small in proportion with the effort required to find new meaning there. Thus these aspects of creation are as a mais-mitzvah, they have no family member responsible for them. These matters are accepted as a ‘given’ and are passed over.

Thus the letters of the Torah, as they are, detached from their aspect as components of words, are such a superficial aspect of the Torah that most will refrain to remain fixed upon them, ‘for what can be known of them?’; immediately they wish to know the word and sentences which they form, that which the mind can hope to grasp. But a letter, or letters alone, what does it mean? Yet, these most superficial aspects of the Torah are the gateways to the deepest knowledge of the Divine, for they are ‘the building blocks of the Universe.’

6

From here we see the artist’s and the art lover’s reason for involvement in art. For the more superficial the subject or image is that which is hidden beneath it are the deepest, most remote secrets. Even if one does not penetrate with his mind and heart to seek out the inner nature of the subject, in any case, the hidden essence is nevertheless sensed in the depths of the beholder’s being. For most, this contact with the Divine, the G-dliness which underlies and permeates all existence is enough for most. Further investigation is not desried.

This also explains the power of all superficial connections which draw and move the masses of humanity. The ‘media’, the ‘entertainment network’ and the advertising industry, for example, and, in particular, the use of visual imagery, influence and direct the mass of humanity, for this ‘touch’ of the Divine, even in its heavy clothing of falsehood, is nevertheless, a touch of the Divine, in truth. [As we have seen, the more false a matter is, paradoxically, the deeper is the secret of it’s underlying truth.] This ‘attraction of images can be called “chen“. The more attractive, the more chen. The more superficial and external, the deeper is the secret beneath, thus the more chen and the more attraction. Thus the most superficial images, which enter deeply into the realm of the klipah (Hashem yishmor) attract all, for they enclothe the deepest secrets. The place of the greatest kedusha is surrounded by the greatest teumah. [There are so many profound ramifications of this understanding that it is best left unexplicated. The wise will understand and increase wisdom.]

 The more that one remains fixed on the initial powerful sensation of an encounter with an image, or piece of information and doesn’t seek to uncover its’ underlying truth , he is in the place: “sheker hachen (grace is false)”. If he goes deeper he can enter into chachmat hachen (the wisdom of grace), the inner essence of reality.

The world which would like to plumb the depths of art, both artists and art lovers alike, without simultaneously searching for the truth, at least subconsciously, they necessarily enter into the realm of the klipah, of avodah zara. Art for arts sake is nothing more than paganism. Thus the essential avodah zara in the world is in visual art (as I have written upon at length in several places). These seekers, and this includes all seekers of ‘kaballah without mitzvoth‘, applies to them the words of the mishnah: if there is not fear (of heaven) there is no wisdom. Delving the depths behind the surface of reality can only be for one of two reasons; one—to discover the truth, or two—to achieve one’s personal gain and motives. If one looks for Hashem he will find Him, and see that all that is beneath the surface is Torah and the surface, too, is Torah. If he doesn’t want to face Hashem, Heaven forbid, he turns his face and embraces avodah zara.

featured image:

מליקוטי מוהר”ן א, ד’,ט’

From Likutey Moharon

Oil on canvas

ציור שמן על קנבס

 תש”ע

120 x 90 cm.

120 x 90 cm.

כי המלכות, שהוא בחינת אותיות הדבורים, כל אות ואות מלבשבה רצון השם יתברך, שרצון השם יתברך היה, שזאת האות יהיה לה תמונה כזו, ואות אחרת יהיה לה תמונה אחרת. נמצא, שרצונות, הינו תמונות אותיות הם התגלות מלכותו יתברך שמו. וכל אלו הרצונות, הינו התמונות נמשכין מרצון אין סוף, שאין בו תמונה. וכל הדברים והישות שבעולם הם מהאותיות, הינו ממלכות, כי ישות הוא מחמת המלכות, שרצה הקדוש-ברוך-הוא שיתגלה מלכותו בעולם, ועל ידי זה ברא את העולם מאין ליש, וכל הרצונות, הינו התמונות וכל הישות, הינו בחינת מלכות מקבלים חיותם מרצון אין סוף. כמו שכתוב (מגלה לא.): ‘בכל מקום שאתה מוצא גדלתו של הקדוש-ברוך-הוא’, הינו מלכותו, הינו רצונות ‘שם אתה מוצא ענותנותו’, הינו רצון אין סוף

For (the spherah) Malchus (Kingdom), is the aspect of spoken letters, each and every letter enclothing the Will of Hashem, may He be blessed . For the Will of Hashem, may He be blessed, was that this letter would have this form (lit. picture), and another letter would have a different form. Therefore [these expressions of His] Will, that is, the forms of the letters, are the revelation of His Malchus, blessed is His Name. And all these expressions of His Will, that is the forms [of the letters], are drawn from the Will Ein Sof (Will of the Infinite [One]), which transcends form. And all the speech and  materiality of the world are from the letters, that is from Malchus, because materiality is because of Malchus. From that the Holy One blessed is He wanted His Malchus to be revealed in the world, and through this (will) He created the world from nothingness into matter; and all [these expressions of His] Will, that is the forms [of the letters] and all materiality; that is, the aspect of Malchus, exist by virtue of the Will Ein Sof. As it is written (in Talmud tractate Megilla) ‘In every instance that you find the greatness of The Holy One blessed is He’, that is, His Malchus, that is [these expressions of His] Will, ‘there you find His humility, that is Will Ein Sof.

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