What are the various levels of Heaven?

Birth of a GalaxyHere is a broad “roadmap” of the range of spiritual levels, from “above to below.” This involves some deeper spiritual topics which are discussed in Chassidic teachings. [1] It may seem like an abrupt introduction with several new terms and concepts. But if you study it carefully detail by detail, it should make sense as a logical process.


Here is an outline of progressive levels:

  • G-d’s Essence
  • The Infinite G-dly Light
  • G-d’s Inner Thought to express a Divine attribute of Kindness through a Divine attribute of
    Sovereignty over mankind in a physical world.
  • The First “Tzimtzum“: G-d’s contraction and hiding of the Infinite Light from one “point,” leaving only a point of impression called
  • The “Reshimu” (Point of Impression): This point is just an impression of the original Infinite G-dly Light. From this, G-d brings
  • The “Kav“: A line of infinitely contracted and limited G-dly Light which contains the creative life force for all the subsequent worlds. Included within the Kav are the Hidden Worlds (which exist from G-d’s Thought) and the Revealed Worlds (which exist from G-d’s Speech). The Hidden Worlds culminate in the realm of:
  • Kesser” (or “Keter,” meaning “Crown”): This transcendent level of G-dliness includes (a) G-d’s Delight (called Ta’anug, which is the higher, inner level within Kesser, which is referred to as the “Hidden Eden”), and (b) G-d’s Will (called Ratzon, the outer level within Kesser). This includes G-d’s delight in having a creation, which is the motivating factor for G-d’s will to create the four Revealed Worlds (described below), which only exist for the ultimate purpose of culminating in a lowest, physical realm for the existence of mankind who will keep G-d’s Commandments, which is G-d’s inner delight. This is the meaning of the kabbalistic statement that “the end is wedged in the beginning, and the beginning is wedged in the end.” Therefore, from the hidden world of Kesser, G-d reveals the world of:
  • Atzilus (or Atzilut) – “Next to” [G-d]:

[The outline below is based on the book “Kuntres Uma’ayon.”]

[The highest spiritual created world] Atzilus is removed from any comparative terms to relate it to the lower [three] worlds. In general [spiritual] terms the Four Worlds parallel the four semi-spiritual fundaments, which are translated as “Fire,” “Air,” “Water,” and “Earth.” Atzilus would be [parallel to] the fundament of “Fire.” “Your G-d is a consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24), comparing G-d to fire. “Fire” has no connection with the other fundaments and has the tendency of constantly rising. Atzilus similarly has no common points with the lower worlds. Atzilus is G-dhood, no less, having no aspect of independent existence [thinghood].

Atzilus is the realm in which G-d first emanates the Ten Divine Attributes (Sefiros) and “enclothes” Himself within them. The Ten Attributes are:

The 3 intellectual attributes: Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding

The 6 emotional attributes: Loving-kindness, Judgment/Restraint, Beauty/Mercy, Eternity/Victory, Splendor/Humility, Foundation/Connection

The culminating (i.e. lowest) attribute: Sovereignty

These G-dly Attributes are not separate entities, but each one contains all of the others within it, which reflects the essential Unity of G-d. The intensity of revealed G-dliness in Atzilus is too intense for the possibility of the existence of angels. It is the realm of the souls of the perfectly righteous, through which life-force is channeled to the lower created worlds.

Within the lowest attribute, Sovereignity, of Atzilus, G-d contracts and hides its G-dly Light, and only an infinitely contracted line of its Light, in which the Divine Attributes of Atzilus are enclothed, continues on to become the Life Force for the world of:

  • Beriah – “Creation”:

The Ten G-dly attributes are expressed within this world in a more limited way that can be apprehended by the highest types of angels (for example, the Serafim angels that are described in Isaiah’s vision), and the souls of very righteous individuals, who have a sense of existence as separate entities from G-d. The G-dly intellectual attributes predominate in this world, and the angels and souls at this level attain bliss through an intellectual understanding of G-dliness. This is the level of the “Upper Garden of Eden.”

Within the lowest attribute, Sovereignty, of the realm of Beriah, G-d contracts and hides its G-dly Light, and only an infinitely contracted line of its Light, in which the Divine Attributes of Beriah are enclothed, continues on to become the Life Force for the world of:

  • Yetzirah – “Formation”:

The Ten G-dly attributes are expressed within this world in a still more limited way, that can be apprehended by the lower types of angels (for example, the Chayos angels that are described in Ezekiel’s vision), and the souls of righteous individuals who have more of a sense of existence as separate entities from G-d. The G-dly emotional attributes predominate in this world, and the angels and souls at this level attain bliss through an emotional response of Love and Awe to the G-dliness which is revealed to them. This is the level of the “Lower Garden of Eden.”

Within the lowest attribute, Sovereignty, of the realm of Yetzirah, G-d contracts and hides its G-dly Light, and only an infinitely contracted line of its Light, in which the Divine Attributes of Yetzirah are enclothed, continues on to become the Life Force for the world of

  • Asiyah – “Action” (comprised of the realms of Spiritual Asiyah and Physical Asiyah)

The Ten G-dly attributes are expressed within the spiritual Asiyah in an even more limited way, that can be apprehended by the lowest types of angels (for example, the Ofanim angels  that are described in Ezekiel’s vision), and the souls which are at lower levels, who have even more of a sense of existence as separate entities from G-d.

Within the lowest attribute (Sovereignty) of the realm of Spiritual Asiyah, G-d contracts and hides its G-dly Light, and only an infinitely contracted line of its Light, in which the Divine Attributes of the spiritual Asiyah are enclothed, continues on to become the spiritual Life Force for the realm of “Physical” Asiyah. At this point, no degree of infinite contraction of spirituality can ever result in the creation of an actual physical object, which is the ultimate of concealment of G-dliness. That is accomplished by the Essence of G-d.

From the above, it is therefore understood that the highest levels of G-dliness are present here in this phyisical world, enclothed within the progression of Divine Attributes of each of the spiritual worlds.

(Note: each of the four “general” worlds described above actually consists of infinitely many sublevels.)

Of course it is understood that G-d can “override” the normal orderly enclothement and concealment of Divine influence into the physical world, and thereby reveal higher spiritual levels here below, when it is His will to do so. This was manifested, for example, in G-d’s splitting of the Red Sea, and His revelation at Mount Sinai when He spoke the Ten Commandments.

Some sources refer to “the seven Heavens,” which are within the lower levels of the world of Spiritual Asiyah. These levels serve as conduits for blessings that come into the physical realm.

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Let us now follow the flow of a G-dly influence from its inception in the world of Atzilus, down to its actualization in this physical world. (This outline is based on the book “Kuntres Uma’ayon,” Discourse 19, Chap. 1.)

…The beneficence [G-dly influence] as it is in Atzilus has no vestige of the physical form of kindness of This World [the physical world]. [For example, when] an effusion of [G-d's] Kindness issues forth [in Atzilus] … it is all still in a state of spiritual Kindness at this stage.

But this ethereal [G-dly] Kindness must [descend through the three lower worlds to] become life and beneficence in the material sense, in terms of children, health, and prosperity. This is effected by [the culminating attribute of] Sovereignity of Atzilus investing itself in Beriah, Yetzirah, and [Spiritual] Asiyah.

We find that even … at special times, when Kindness of Atzilus is completely clothed in Kindness of Beriah, it vivifies the physical world through passage by way of Kindness of Yetzirah and [Spiritual] Asiyah. This too is properly called investment, for otherwise it [would remain so spiritual that it] could not effect the physical aspects of This World.

On ordinary weekdays it is by complete investment in Kindness of Yetzirah and [spiritual] Asiyah; this is also through the union of the “masculine” [directed from above to below] and the “feminine” [directed from below to above] G-dly attributes of Yetzirah. The investment in Kindness of Yetzirah is insufficient by itself, for the [attribute of Sovereignty] of Yetzirah is not in any category yet of being a source for the flow of Kindness of Asiyah. Vitality for Asiyah could not issue from it. Rather the flow proceeds THROUGH Sovereignty of Yetzirah, and the very Light of Yetzirah becomes contracted [until it can become the life force for the next lower world of spiritual Asiyah].

In Spiritual Asiyah too there must be the union of the “masculine” and the “feminine” G-dly attributes of Asiyah. The primary force for the emergence of a [seemingly] totally discrete existence must be from [the G-dly attribute of] Sovereignty, for “There is no king without subjects.” Then [each physical benificence] issues forth from these [spiritual] beneficences into the physical Asiyah here below, … through the six “boundaries” [i.e. the six G-dly emotional attributes] of the lower worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah. [These 6 spiritual "boundaries" express themselves all the way down to the lowest level, the 6 directions of physical space - Up, Down, North, South, East and West].

In all of these spiritual worlds and levels described above, the revealed Divine Presence within each world is called “Shechina” (Indwelling of G-dliness). At the creation of Adam and Hava (Eve), the Essence of the Shechina was [able to be] revealed here in this physical world. With the sin of Adam and Hava, and the sins of the subsequent generations up to Noah, the Essence of the Shechina became more hidden in this world, and its revelation withdrew to higher levels within the Seven Heavens. Its revelation began to return through the divine service of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the following generations of outstanding righteous individuals, until Moses brought its revelation back into this world, on Mt. Sinai and then in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle which the Jews built in the wilderness. Eventually its revelation moved to the Holy of Holies in the Temple which Solomon built in Jerusalem. It will again be revealed there when the Messiah builds the eternal Third Temple.

Footnote:

[1] Many of these details, taught by Abraham and Moses, remained a very mystical and highly specialized part of the Oral Torah until they were formalized by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai after the destruction of the Second Temple. These matters remained mostly as esoteric information, until Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (the “Ari Zal”) revealed that is was time to teach them more openly among the Jewish people. It was the Chabad dynasty of seven Rebbes, starting with Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, whose Chassidic teachings opened up detailed, open and practical understanding of these concepts, as a prelude to the spiritual revelations of the approaching Messianic Era.

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