Sunday, 23 August 2020


The following very penetrating article is another guest post by Rabbi Boruch Clinton, a regular contributor to this site. [See here, here and here.] This discussion is quite technical but well worth a careful read as he raises some fundamental issues which are not often addressed - and when they are, are usually explained glibly away. I found this to be a fascinating, honest and scholarly piece of writing from a serious student of  Torah Judaism.

For me personally, it reinforces my conviction that Rambam, through his rationalist approach of depopulating the heavens of beings, counterintuitively presents a purer form of monotheism than the created constructs of the kabbalist schools. 

This article deals with the profound question of who, according to the mystics,  are we actually praying to - and who responds - when we think we are praying to G-d.

(I have added footnotes to explain some Hebrew terms.)

A guest post by Rabbi Boruch Clinton:

NOTE: This is an updated version of the article that reflects some of the discussion included in the comments section below.


I always assumed that prayer involved speaking to the all-knowing and all-powerful G-d Who created the universe and Who alone determines our destinies. Obviously, the more sincere and morally responsible you were, the more powerful your prayers could be but, nevertheless, G-d is close to all who call Him (Tehilim 145:18).

However, exploring some of the most authoritative sources of the mainstream modern kabbalistic world (including those of the Ari and his students), I’m left with the impression that there’s no point praying to the Master and Creator of everything, but instead prayers must be directed to a created entity – known as a partzuf – called זעיר אנפין.[1]

My heart tells me that this belief – or at least the way I’ve understood it – is not compatible with traditional Torah teachings. In that, I might be in line with reservations expressed by Rabbi S.R. Hirsch (and explored in the next chapter). But it’s also possible that I’ve simply misunderstood either the traditional Torah teachings or the mainstream kabbalistic sources. Perhaps you can help me decide.

The Traditional Approach to Prayer

Before we begin, let’s use the Rambam’s opinion as a baseline for this discussion. That’s not to say that his is the only opinion that’s available to us – the fact that most kehilos [2] include “מכניסי רחמים” in סליחות [3] demonstrates that that’s not the case – but it is a good place to start.

חמשה הן הנקראים מינים…וכן העובד כוכב או מזל וזולתו כדי להיות מליץ בינו ובין רבון העולמים כל אחד מחמשה אלו הוא מין (רמב”ם פ”ג מהל’ תשובה הל’ ז’)

Five are called heretics…and also one who serves a star, mazal, or anything else in order that it should be an intermediary between him and the Master of all worlds.

היסוד החמישי (מתוך הי”ג עקרים מפירוש הרמב”ם למשנה פרק חלק ממס’ סנהדרין)
שהוא יתברך הוא הראוי לעבדו ולגדלו ולהודיעו גדולתו ולעשות מצוותיו. ושלא יעשה כזה למי שהוא תחתיו במציאות, מן המלאכים והכוכבים והגלגלים והיסודות ומה שהורכב מהם. לפי שכולם מטובעים, ועל פעולתם אין משפט ולא בחירה אלא לו לבדו השם יתברך. וכן אין ראוי לעובדם כדי להיותם אמצעים לקרבם אליו, אלא אליו בלבד יכוונו המחשבות, ויניחו כל מה שזולתו.

That He – who should be blessed – is appropriate to serve and magnify and to acknowledge His greatness and do His mitzvos. And you should not act this way to one who is below Him in creation; not angels, stars, spheres, or the elements that are founded of them…Similarly, it is not appropriate to serve them so that they should be a means to bring them close. But to He Himself you should address your thoughts, and all others you should abandon.

I should add here that, at least according to the Chazon Ish (Hilchos Akum 62:12), the Rambam’s definition of מינות (as opposed to עבודה זרה) is primarily focused on the service of conceptual creations (כח נברא) rather than physical objects like people or stars.

The Tzfas [4] Approach to Prayer

Now, by contrast, let’s see a few quotations from some mainstream kabbalists. These sources are all widely available (including from multiple internet sources), so you should feel free to look up the originals.

In all fairness, I should note that both the Ari and Rabbi Chaim Vital apparently forbade the publication of their works even after their deaths. R’ Vital further insisted that his words simply could not be understood unless they were transmitted through direct oral communication. So I believe we can only assume that we’re not properly understanding the sources.

So why bother quoting them in the first place? Because, for better or for worse, their books are being published and actively promoted. And because their ideas – incorrectly understood or not – have been continuously and actively spread for centuries. In effect, this article is focused on contemporary popular interpretations of the words of the Ari and R’ Vital, rather than on their actual thoughts.

Rabbi Chaim Vital was, by his own account, the primary student of the Ari. In this passage, he claims that the expression “ה’ אלוקיכם” actually refers to the two lowest of the partzufim, Zeyr Anpin and his “wife.”

והנה עם מה שביארנו לעיל — כי זו”ן מתחברים בכותל א’ משא”כ יעקב — בזה תבין סוד מ”ש משה לישראל בכניסתן לא”י “ואתם הדבקים בה’ אל-היכם חיים כולכם היום”, כי “ה’ אל-היכם” הוא זו”ן – (ספר עץ חיים שער הכללים פרק יא)
[זו”ן = זעיר ונוקבא או זכר ונקבה]

From what we explained previously – that the male and female partzufim are united in a single wall as opposed to Yakov – with this you can understand the secret of what Moshe said to Israel when they entered the Land of Israel: “And you are attached with the Lord your G-d, living all of you today” – for “The Lord your G-d” (refers to) the male and female.

In his Sha’ar Hakavanos, where he describes the way he feels Jews should pray, the Ari himself associates the name “הוי”ה” with Zeyr Anpin. This is specifically within the context of tefila:

ונבאר מלת “יהו-ה”. כי צריך אתה לכוין כי כבר יצא השפע הנזכר מחוץ למלכות דבינה והגיע לד’ מקיפין של הד’ מוחין דז”א הנקרא הוי”ה. –
(שער הכוונות דרושי השחר כוונת הברכות)

And we will explain the word “יהו-ה”. You must concentrate (on the fact) that the abundance mentioned has already exited from outside to the Kingdom of Understanding and reached the four circles of the four brains of Zeyr Anpin, which is called “יהו-ה”.

In his recommendation for the “ideal” focus of the Musaf prayer, the Machberes Hakodesh also equates Zeyr Anpin with G-d:

מלאכים המוני מעלה הם או”א שכן בתיקונים הוא אומר כי או”א הם מלאכים לכתר מאצי’ יתנו כתר לזא שהוא ה‘ אלהינו – (ספר מחברת הקודש בסדר מוסף שבת כ) [ז”א = זעיר אנפין]

Angels of the heavenly host, (the partzufim) Abba and Ima – for in Tikunim it is said that Abba and Ima are the angels of keser from the supernal world (i.e., atzilus) – will give keser to Zeyr Anpin who is the Lord our G-d.

The Broader Tzfas Influence

Many influential mainstream kabbalists through the generations of and following the Ari consistently and clearly wrote about these practices and, equally consistently, directly attributed their beliefs to sources in the Zohar. Rabbi Immanuel Chai ben Avraham Ricchi, for instance, begins his sefer Yosher Levav with a question:

עמוד 6: מפני מה אנו קוראים לעולם ומשבחים ומתפללים לשם הוי”ה המיוחד לפרצוף ז”א ולא לשמות מפרצופים הגבוהים ממנו או לפרצוף אחרון שבכולם

Why do we always call, praise, and daven to the (name of G-d that’s) specific to the partzuf Zeyr Anpin and not to names of the partzufim that are higher than (Zeyr Anpin) or to the highest of all (the partzufim)?

Much later in the book, he explains:

עמוד 58: משא”כ פרצוף ז”א שהוא הקב”ה שנשמתו המסתתרת בו ע”י הפרצופים שלפנים ממנו היא הסיבה ראשונה ממש ולה אנו עובדים בעבודתו

…Which is not true of the partzuf Zeyr Anpin who is the Holy one, blessed be He, whose soul is hidden within him by way of the partzufim deeper within. This is actually the first cause and it is what we serve.

Later still, he further clarifies the status of Zeyr Anpin, and identifies a source in Zohar:

עמוד 78: כי זה הוא רצון הסיבה ראשונה שיהיה הוא הז”א המוציא והמביא שפעו לתחתונים ואין עוד מלבדו. ודבר זה מבואר בזהר פ’ נשא דף קכ”ט ע”א

For this is the will of the first cause that Zeyr Anpin should be the taker and bringer of his influence to the lower worlds and there is nothing besides him. The matter is clear in the Zohar…

I’ll quote – and then translate – that passage from the Zohar at length. But first, to add some context, here’s a fragment from a second passage in Zohar (Parshas Naso) where Erech Anpin, the “highest” of the partzufim, is identified as “Ayn”:

זוהר פרשת נשא דף קכט א
ועל האי תאיבו בני ישראל לצרפא בלבהון דכתיב היש יי’ בקרבנו אם אין. בין זעיר אנפין דאקרי יי’ ובין אריך אנפין דאקרי אי”ן

And on this the Jews longed to purify their hearts, as it is written: “Is G-d in our midst or not?” – between Zeyr Anpin that is called “G-d” and Arich Anpin that is called “Ayn”.

Now here’s that key Zohar passage:

זוהר פרשת בשלח דף ע”ב:
אמר רבי אבא, מאי דכתיב “היש יהו”ה בקרבנו אם אין”, וכי טפשין הוו ישראל דלא ידעי מלה דא, והא חמו שכינתא קמייהו, וענני כבוד עלייהו דסחרן לון, ואינון אמרו היש יהו”ה בקרבנו אם אין, גוברין דחמו זיו יקרא דמלכיהון על ימא, ותנינן ראתה שפחה על הים מה שלא ראה יחזקאל, אינון אשתכחו טפשין ואמרו היש יהו”ה בקרבנו אם אין. אלא הכי קאמר רבי שמעון, בעו למנדע בין עתיקא סתימאה דכל סתימין דאקרי אין, ובין זעיר אנפין דאקרי יהו”ה, ועל דא לא כתיב היש יהו”ה בקרבנו אם לא, כמה דכתיב הילך בתורתי אם לא, אלא היש יהו”ה בקרבנו אם אין, אי הכי אמאי אתענשו, אלא על דעבידו פרודא, ועבידו בנסיונא, דכתיב ועל נסותם את יהו”ה, אמרו ישראל אי האי נשאל בגוונא חד, ואי האי נשאל בגוונא אחרא, ועל דא מיד “ויבא עמלק

Rabbi Aba said: why does it write (Shemos 17:7) “Is G-d in our midst or not?” Were the Jews such fools that they didn’t know this? Did they not see the Shechina before them, and did the clouds of glory not cover them? How could they say “Is G-d in our midst or not?” Men who saw the precious shine of their King on the sea, and (about whom) it’s taught that a slave girl saw on the sea things that Yechezkel didn’t see; could they have been such fools to say “Is G-d in our midst or not?”
Rather, this is what Rabbi Shimon said: they wanted to understand (the difference) between the Ancient One, hidden from all that’s hidden, which is called “Ayn,” and between Zeyr Anpin which is called G-d. And for that (reason), it doesn’t write “Is G-d in our midst or not (אם לא) – as it writes (Shemos 17:4) “Will they follow in My Torah or not”, but “Is G-d in our midst or Ayn”.
If so, why were they punished? Because they served a distinct part, and served as a test, as it says (Shemos 17:7) “And because they tested G-d.” The Jews said: “Should one be approached in one way, and the other in another way?” For that it says (Shemos 17:8) “And Amalek came.”

Note that in the first passage the Zohar enumerates two sins: על דעבידו פרודא, ועבידו בנסיונא. The first sin (“…they served a distinct part”) is understood by Rabbi Ricchi to be the “error” of davening to anything (including what we think of as G-d) besides Zeyr Anpin. And, in fact, his reading of the Zohar seems perfectly reasonable.

Even more recent European kabbalists followed this approach in their own writings. R’ Chaim Volozhiner (ספר נפש החיים שער ב פרק ב), in the context of prayer, wrote:

כי עצמות א”ס ב”ה סתים מכל סתימין ואין לכנותו ח”ו בשום שם כלל אפילו בשם הוי”ה ב”ה ואפי’ בקוצו של יו”ד דבי’ … וז”ש האריז”ל בלשונו הקד’ הובא בהקדמת פע”ח. שכל הכנויים והשמות הם שמו’ העצמו’ המתפשטים בספירות וע”ש

For Atzmus Ain Sof (“the Essence of G-d without end”) is hidden from all secrets and there’s no way to describe Him in any way, even with the Name “Havaya”…And this the Arizal wrote in his holy language – brought in the introduction to Pri Eitz Chaim – that all descriptions and names are (really just) names of the essence that has spread among the sefiros.

What Are Partzufim?

We should pause a moment to clarify the status of these “partzufim.” The sources we’ve seen appear to advocate directing our prayers to one or more partzufim, but did they understand those partzufim to be distinct from G-d Himself? Could they not just represent alternate aspects of a single, undivided G-d?

The “history” described by the tzimtzum theory strongly suggests that partzufim are creations that came to exist only after (or in the course of) creation. If, after all, they’re not independent entities or identities and whatever they describe effectively existed before tzimtzum, so then what changed during tzimtzum?

Nevertheless, I have been told that some, including the Ramchal in Vikuach 132, do understand tzimtzum as “G-d limiting his will without limiting his essence” and that, as a result, partzufim could be considered somehow as elements of G-d.

But that’s still a direct conflict with Rambam’s second principle (that G-d is infinitely simple and comprises no “parts”). More to the point, why would anyone advocate specifying one “element” of G-d over another in his prayers? Isn’t G-d perfectly capable of directing incoming internal “mail” however He sees fit without us adding “zip codes” to the address? The passages we’ve seen just don’t seem to agree with Ramchal’s approach. In any case, since it’s highly unlikely the Ramchal was a recipient of a direct oral transmission from the Ari, his opinion is, at best, not authoritative.

Putting Together the Pieces

Within a more general context, here’s another idea of R’ Chaim Vital quoted by R’ Volozhiner (נפש החיים שער א פרק טו):

שאין עצמות מהותה נכנסת כלל בתוך גוף האדם ואדם הראשון קודם החטא זכה לעצמותה ובסיבת החטא נסתלקה מתוכו ונשארה רק חופפת עליו. לבד משה רבינו ע”ה שזכה לעצמותה תוך גופו ולכן נקרא איש האלקים

…That (G-d’s) Essence of the Existence does not enter at all into the body of a human. And Adam before the sin merited the Essence and, due to the sin, it was removed from his midst and remained only hovering above him. (All this is) besides for Moshe who merited to have the Essence (of G-d) inside his body. For this reason, he is called “man of G-d.”

So, unless I’m missing something significant, it would seem that the Ari and his mainstream followers, basing themselves on their reading of sources in Zohar, believed:

  • That partzufim are (almost certainly) taken to be the created products of G-d
  • That the various names of G-d mentioned in Tanach and the siddur actually refer to various partzufim or other creations that are not synonymous with what we think of as G-d
  • That there’s no value in praying to what we think of as G-d
  • That there is a creation (Zeyr Anpin) that was delegated the exclusive job of receiving our prayers and delivering our blessings
  • That it’s theoretically possible for G-d’s Essence to become incarnate within a human body
  • It is possible that most or all of those sources are not meant to be understood literally. In fact, there is no shortage of reliable individuals who make that very claim. But, at least in the context of these particular passages, that seems very unlikely.

As a rule, one uses a metaphor to obscure a deep idea within a seemingly innocuous text, making the truth available only to initiates. But knowing that the text will also be read by countless outsiders, one would be wise to choose a metaphor that’s truly harmless.

Why, however would anyone couch his ideas within an outer metaphor that not only expresses the exact opposite of what he’s teaching, but stands opposed to the very core of Jewish belief? And, in addition, why use a metaphor that’s not in the least obscure – leaving no clear hint that there’s anything deeper to find beneath the surface?

I can, therefore, only conclude that at least most authors of modern kabbalistic texts fully believed the simple meaning of what they wrote and further believed that that meaning didn’t contradict true Torah beliefs.

Rabbinic Reaction

Let me restate my questions from above:

Are the beliefs and practices presented by these kabbalistic sources actually in conflict with those of Rambam and other rishonim? If they are, how could the Torah world’s “official” understanding of these matters have evolved so far and so quickly to the point where even suggesting they’re new invites accusations of heresy? And why have no ranking Torah authorities over the past centuries said anything publicly about it?

One possibility is that the problems are privately acknowledged, and that offensive kabbalistic principles are informally suppressed by individuals wishing to preserve the authority of kabbala without explicitly promoting problematic beliefs. This would fit a pattern among at least some 19th Century Torah leaders (some examples can be found in a separate article) to “reinterpret” Torah passages to fit modern needs.

In a remarkable example of this approach, the ספר שם משמואל quotes the very same passage in Zohar quoted above, but his interpretation (that Zeyr Anpin is a kind of metaphor meaning bracha that comes through your own hard work and Ayn means bracha that comes without effort) is, as far as I can see, going to be pretty much impossible to square with the actual text of the Zohar.

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, in the second volume of his עלי שור (in the chapter entitled עמלק), offered a similarly benign but apparently irreconcilable approach to this Zohar.

And it’s also possible that many authorities were simply not familiar with the finer details of the Tzfas system. Getting access to and reading related books was not nearly as simple for Jews in centuries past than it is in our astounding internet age. Knowing the stature of many of modern kabbala’s proponents, why wouldn’t a responsible rabbi assume there couldn’t be anything truly controversial being taught?

There is evidence that even R’ Yosef Karo – despite his personal relationship with the big players in the Tzfas community – might never have been fully introduced to the theological system. And even if he was, I suspect that there were times when he would make a conscious effort to separate kabbala from his halachic rulings.

Take, for example, his lengthy discussion of the prohibition of seeking to communicate with the dead (בית יוסף יו”ד קע”ט יג-יד דה”מ אוב). R’ Karo offers strong interpretations of a number of seemingly contradictory sources in Chazal before concluding that, indeed, the prohibition of דורש אל המתים remains in force in its simplest understanding. This, despite the existence of a passage in Zohar (זהר חלק ג עא א) that unambiguously permits the act:

אמר רבי ייסא בשעתא דאצטריך עלמא למטרא אמאי אזלינן לגביהון דמיתייא והא כתיב ודורש אל המתים ואסיר. אמר ליה עד כען לא חמיתא גדפא דצפרא דעדן. ודורש אל המתים אל המתים דייקא. דאינון חייבי עלמא דאינון מעמין עכו”ם דאשתכחו תדיר מתים. אבל ישראל דאינון זכאי קשוט שלמה קרא עלייהו ושבח אני את המתים שכבר מתו בזמנא אחרא ולא השתא. שכבר מתו. והשתא אינון חיין.

Rabbi Yosa said: “when the world needs rain, why do we go to the dead; does it not say ‘(do not) seek (the counsel of) the dead’? (Rabbi Chizkiya?) replied:… “(that refers) only to the dead who are (sinners) from the nations of idolaters who are indeed permanently dead…But the Jews who, in truth, are meritorious, are they not truly alive?”

Here, the Zohar clearly permits seeking the counsel of dead Jews (in obvious conflict with halachic sources like the Rambam). The fact that R’ Karo completely ignores such an unambiguous Zohar and, in fact, rules against it, suggests that he prefers to exclude it from the halachic process.

Nevertheless, later halachic authorities like the Mishnah Brurah, who relied heavily on kabbalistic sources, apparently disagreed.

(By Gavin Michal)

In subsequent communications between myself and Rabbi Clinton, he mentioned to me that he had shown these kabbalistic sources to a very well-known Rosh Yeshiva who had "significant exposure to mainstream kabbalistic writings, yet he had never seen or heard anything like the sources I present. He was clearly upset by what I showed him, but was convinced that we were somehow misunderstanding it. In the end, though, he simply had no answers to my questions."


The Bavli on 'Two Powers in Heaven'.

[1] Zayer Anpin, the Lesser Countenance.
[2] Communities.
[3] An invocation to the angels requesting them to carry our prayers on High, recited in the Selichot or penitential service before the High holy days.
[4] The mystical town of Safed where modern Kabbalah was developed around the sixteenth century.


  1. I think you have it all wrong. The Partzufim are not creations. They are various capacities or functions of G-d. We don't pray to G-d in His capacity as the Creator, but rather to G-d Who sustains the universe.

  2. Thanks for this. So, to fully understand, you're saying that, in the Ari's system, the partzufim are not independent entities or identities and that whatever they describe effectively existed before tzimtzum just as it did after. So then what changed during tzimtzum?
    Also: do you have sources from the Ari and his talmidim to support this?

  3. Danny's comment is in accordance with the Ramchal's interpretation of the Arizal's kabbalah (see his Vikuach 132). The Ramchal's explanation of tzimtzum is God limiting his will without limiting his essence, yet God's will remains part of the divinity.

    The interpretation of the Shem Mishemuel that you found hard to believe also seems to be fully in accord with the Ramchal's interpretation. See Kelalim Rishonim 21.

    Your comment that Rabbi Vital is "leaving no clear hint that there’s anything deeper to find beneath the surface" seems quite unfair after his warning at the beginning of his book that pretty much promises that you won't understand what he says unless you have an oral tradition. Not to say that the questions aren't valid or that I have an answer; but taking his words at face value is clearly not how he meant his books to be read.

  4. This is very interesting information. I'm grateful you offered it.

    > Danny's comment is in accordance with the Ramchal's interpretation of the Arizal's kabbalah (see his Vikuach 132). The Ramchal's explanation of tzimtzum is God limiting his will without limiting his essence, yet God's will remains part of the divinity.

    The Ramchal himself almost certainly didn't have a direct chain of oral transmission from R' Vital, so is his interpretation in any way authoritative? It certainly doesn't seem to fit well with the Ari and R' Vital's own words. Take, as an example, that quotation from נפש החיים where the Ari is saying: "שכל הכנויים והשמות הם שמו’ העצמו’ המתפשטים בספירות" - it really sounds like there's more going on there than constraints on God's will.
    I will concede, of course, that נפש החיים also had no direct oral transmission. And, more importantly, that I might be missing some of the nuance of these passages.

    > Your comment that Rabbi Vital is "leaving no clear hint that there’s anything deeper to find beneath the surface" seems quite unfair after his warning at the beginning of his book that pretty much promises that you won't understand what he says unless you have an oral tradition.

    That's a reasonable argument. But, as I understand it, neither Ari nor R' Vital wanted their works published in any form even after their deaths. So we could say that the fact that they remain in print (and actively promoted) simply shifts the responsibility to the publishers and promoters. Given that the books continue to be widely consumed "as-is" perhaps we now have no choice but to take their words at face value.
    I suppose, ideally, it would be best were such things simply never studied (as I've heard personally from roshei yeshivos), but we're not very good at pushing genies back into their bottles, so that's not happening. The next best option would be to at least install some "Danger: Here Be Monsters" signs every few miles along the trail as warnings.

  5. A discussion of what the AriZal meant should start and end with the AriZal - and at a push with R. Chaim Vital (d.1620) as R. Yisrael Serug also claimed to best represent the teachings of AriZal.

    A difference between R. Yisrael Sarug and the classical Kabbalah of the AriZal is the direction of the Tzimtzum or ‘removal’ of the infinite divine light prior to creation (to ‘make space’ for physical creation). It appears that, according to the Ari Zal, the light withdrew to the ‘outside’ (to create an 'empty space’) in the 'middle' - whereas according to R. Sarug it contracted to a central focal point in the ‘middle’.

    To bring in Ramchal who was born 87 years after R. Vital just compounds the issue.

    Besides this, Ramchal had some radical mystical views. The Italian rabbis threatened him with excommunication and accused him of heresy. They objected to the fact that he had written a ‘new Zohar’ and that he claimed he had been instructed by a maggid or ‘spiritual guide’.

    Rabbi Moshe Hagiz reported Ramchal to the Venice rabbinate, claiming he found evidence in a letter proving he was a secret follower of the false messiah, Shabattai Tzvi! The Sabbatians were well-known for 'explanations' of the Kabbalah of the AriZal.

    According to Tishby, Ramchal considered his student, Moshe David Valle, to be Mashiah ben David, while Shabetai Tzvi was allegedly considered to be Mashiach ben Yosef.

    For these reasons. I believe the debate should stop after the AriZal, before the latter Kabbalists began to explain him.

    Either way, this whole discussion gives new meaning to 'Da lifney mi atah omed'.

  6. partzufim are not "creations" they are relevations of Hashem that he revealed to us to understand his hanagah. All mekubalim agree on this point. No one believes that partzufim are nifradim. Obviously we can bring up the same question in peshat regarding Hashem's different names in the Torah that we all reference in prayer As a principal rule in the torah of the arizal all "kabbalistic labels" are to be taken in terms of leshakek et haozen- to satisfy the ear. Meaning it is a spiritual system but the Torah especially the kabbalah references labels that are seemingly tangible/corporeal for us to understand the system because of our limitations in language & understanding. Unfortunately none of us are experts or have written commentaries on the vast sources of kabbalah to truly understand the essence of these holy works and it would behoove us to seek guidance from a Rabbi who is proficient in this area and operates within halachah before making assumptions or posing questions that would create doubt in this holy helek of the torah. Many of us dont realize that our greatest sages followed this system. The Goan of Vilna knew entire torah baal peh as quoted from his students. Many of us do not realize that he wrote more in the area of kabbalah than any other part of the Torah he considered the Arizal a primary source in terms of kabbalist principals at the least. I beg everyone hear to seek out proper torah guidance in this area only by our leading orthodox sages. Lastly this forum is a beautiful place to spread the Torah, the derech of the Rambam, and important debates and issues within the framework of halachah and our hachamim.Lets please respect the Torah of our ancestors even if you feel different please refrain from trying to cast doubt in a helek of our holy Torah to other. Please continue to spread Torah that will strengthen us in avodat kadesh

  7. Yishai,
    It would be more helpful if you could accompany your statements (like "All mekubalim agree on this point. No one believes that partzufim are nifradim.") with sources, the way AW did. That would give your claims much more credibility.
    Regarding your observation:

    > "Obviously we can bring up the same question in peshat regarding Hashem's different names in the Torah that we all reference in prayer"

    There's a very big difference. Regarding names in Chumash: the Torah itself, in places like Devarim 4:34, explicitly gives us a context for understanding multiple names. I'm not aware of any similar internal context in the writings of the Ari.

  8. Regarding your issue with Nefesh HaChaim 1:15, I think you are completely mis-translating it. When seen in context it is very clear that it is not referring to G-d's Essence, but rather to the essence of His breath. Now, what exactly that means is up for discussion, but to claim based on that that he believes that G-d's Essence can become incarnate in a human body is, to my mind, gross negligence and intellectually dishonest.

  9. I believe there is a slight but fundamental point missing. Where the Rambam said mazalos or corporeal entity's are minim, was said by entities. The sefiros, paetzufim, and different names of Hashem are in the realm of kochos and conceptual. That not where the Rambam was speaking of.

  10. Actually, Yybturner, if you check out the Chazon Ish to Hilchos Akum 62:12, you'll see that, within the context of minus (as opposed to avodah zarah), the Rambam meant EXACTLY "conceptual" prayer targets.

  11. Danny, I don't believe you're correct on this. The Nefesh Hachaim makes his context very clear. Whatever he meant by "שאין עצמות מהותה נכנסת כלל בתוך גוף האדם" at the start of the paragraph, he also meant by "לבד משה רבינו ע”ה שזכה לעצמותה תוך גופו" at the end. And whatever he meant concerning אדם הראשון he also meant by משה רבינו

  12. I agree completely. But when he said "sh'ein atzmus" etc, he was not referring to G-d's Essence, but rather to the essence of His breath.

  13. It's certainly true that breath is part of the discussion of that chapter. But, for two strong reasons, I don't believe it changes the meaning of the sentence. The first is grammatical: the word לבד is clearly coming to qualify "ואדה"ר קודם החטא זכה לעצמותה ובסיבת החטא נסתלקה מתוכו" - Adam lost the עצמות but Moshe earned it. It's true that both could be describing "breath" (whatever that might mean), but who says that "breath" is significantly distinct from the regular atzmus? R' Chaim certainly offers no indication one way or the other. Which leads to the second, technical, reason: in נפש החיים the word עצמות has very specific meaning. And that meaning is serious enough that R' Chaim doesn't want anyone making the mistake to thinking it can be associated with a human being...except for those two exceptions. And the usage here is, effectively, not qualified.

  14. The Ramak in Pardes Rimonim 32:2 asks this question. Why should we approach the servants rather than the king himself? There seems to be a fine line between idolatry and judaism. So why are all our prayers associated with the various sefiros?

    Hashem can't be encompassed by any name or word. It is not correct to speak of any attribute in this Essence, since it cannot change or be described.

    Therefore when one thinks of him, he should not call it any name. All these names are attributes which pertains to the sefiros. His intent should not be directed to the sefiros itself, but instead and only to his Essence. The sefiros are just the way we see Hashem specifically relating to us at that moment, just like the difference in names of Hashem.

    The Ramak is saying that when sending a message to the king, it makes a big difference how we relate to the messenger. Even though Hashem created certain sefiros and attributes with which to relate to us, they are all very much like wires to a phone. When calling the president, we certainly don't give respect to the wires of the phone, even though they are instrumental in delivering the message.

  15. I think you are completely wrong here. When he is referring to Hashem's atzmus he will say atzmuso yisbarach, or something along those lines. Here, not only does he not give it any "honorific", but he also uses the feminine 'atzmusah'. He is clearly differentiating between the two. The atzmus of His breath is merely the highest level of the soul (the topic he is discussing in that chapter). It is not in any way to be confused with the atzmus of Hashem himself.

  16. Yybturner:
    I appreciate the question you quote:

    > The Ramak in Pardes Rimonim 32:2 asks this question. Why should we approach the servants rather than the king himself? There seems to be a fine line between idolatry and judaism. So why are all our prayers associated with the various sefiros?

    Although I personally have no clue where such a question could come from. After all, דוד המלך already had the last word on that subject: קרוב ד' לכל קוראיו לכל אשר יקראהו באמת
    In other words: of course we should ignore all servants and direct our prayers only to God.

    In any case, your quotation is on target, but I'm not sure we can bring proofs from Ramak to the Ari and R' Vital: they had very different systems.

  17. Danny:
    Your distinction between different formulations of atzmus is purely speculative - although I can't rule out the possibility. But I haven't seen a shred of evidence supporting your claim that people like the Ari don't see the atzmus of the neshama within the same framework as any other formulation of atzmus. In fact, we're all keenly aware of the way those authors (mis)quote sources like the "חלק א' ממעל" posuk in איוב, in ways that suggest the exact opposite.

  18. My distinction is speculative!? Your conflation is speculative! This is what we call in yeshiva "yesh l'hakshos b'dochak". The essence of a person and the essence of his breath are two completely different things. Just because both can be called the atzmus of something doesn't make them the same.

  19. At a certain point, what's considered the simple reading of a source becomes subjective and isn't something that can be resolved. I can't see how a distinction between two kinds of atzmus which, to my memory, isn't actually found anywhere in Nefesh Hachaim can be applied to qualify the plain text we're discussing. You obviously disagree. Sounds like we won't be getting any further on that one.
    But one thing you haven't addressed is how Nefesh Hachaim (and others) seem to insist that the existence of atzmus in the human neshama is literal (through their quoting passages like "חלק א' ממעל" and "מאן דנפח מדילי הוא נפח").

  20. I searched on Sefaria and it seems like those two phrases do not appear even once in the Nefesh HaChaim. I think you should write a post on the Tanya as opposed to the Nefesh HaChaim.

  21. Danny, I can't fight you on that one. I do strongly believe that I once saw at least a version of the איוב quotation in Nefesh Hachaim (and elsewhere) in that context, but I, too, can't find it now. Perhaps someone else can point us to it.
    However, this page:
    shows how the term was used within this context by Tanya, Ramchal, and Malbim(!)
    Notwithstanding the fact that I'd never pictured the Malbim in that camp, this does show us that the close association of the human soul as a "part" of God (despite the obvious conflict with Rambam's second ikkar) is widespread.
    That, of course, doesn't make it correct, it just seems to illustrate how pervasive the new "Tzfas" theology has become.

  22. I recommend seeing Aderes Eliyahu on the passuk "v'ruach Elokim m'rachefes al pnei hamayim" to see how the Gra (and presumably his talmid, the Nefesh HaChaim) understood the phrase "chelek eloka m'maal"

  23. That is an excellent source: "הוא הרוח השוכן למעלה מהרקיע אשר עלינו וזה אמרו רז"ל שנשמת ישראל חלק אלו' ממעל. ביאורו שהוא חלק מה. מרוח אלוקים השוכן למעלה."
    I'd love to know which "Razal" he's referring to. But it's also ambiguous what, exactly even this source means by רוח אלוקים. Is it somehow distinct from God Himself?
    I think it raises more questions than it answers, but it's probably an important piece of the puzzle.