The Candle of God
Torah and mitzvot are called the way of God, as it is written: "Its ways are the ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17). For the ways of Torah are to keep to the paths of the Lord, to do
charity and justice. In another passage, we find a statement to the effect that the Heavenly world and this world are built on two letters of one of the Divine Names – the Heavenly world by the letter Yod, and this
world by the letter Heh.
What does this mean? Why should the letter Yod, the smallest and most insignificant of the alphabet, be that which becomes the basis for the most spiritual of worlds? And the answer is that Yod is ten; by ten
Divine utterances did Creation take place, and thus, according to the ten Sefirot, were the worlds formed. To be sure, it has to be remembered that God is not the same as His creation, that there is an unbridgeable gap between the actuality of Divine Being and the actuality of all the worlds, from the most spiritual to the most material. That is to say "for with You is the source of life, and in Your light shall we see light” (Psalms 36:10), meaning that in the next world the souls (of men) enjoy the radiance of
the Shekhina, Divine presence. This bliss is not other, cannot be more than what a person is capable of grasping. It is not a matter of the mind, obviously; it is a spiritual situation. At the same time, just as with intellectual matters or even physical, the soul has to be able to receive that which is bestowed on it; the bliss is only proportionate to the capacity of the individual to absorb it.
The other side of this concept is that the soul is able to absorb something of the Divine splendor, that the infinite light of the next world is not so far beyond the human that it is inaccessible. It is made available to a person by descending level upon level of purity and light. Ultimately it is available, and it can be experienced as real. To be sure, it is a very much condensed and contracted Divine Joy, as we have said, and for all its being intangible, it is not a nothing; being spiritual, it is a positive existence, a genuine reality. It is a nothing only in the sense that it is not anything that we can identify or grasp, as well as being so greatly contracted, and a something in the sense that it is the source of bliss, "for You are the source of life.” Bliss and life are identical here. Since the actuality of the Divine is not given, nor even the possibility of being with Him even when in His presence, we say that we can be in His light.
And that is the meaning of the Yod as a symbol of the great diminution and contraction, of the available reality of the next world for the soul. Following upon this is the concept of the extension of reality from the Yod through all the letters of the Divine Name, the Tetragrammaton, which is the key to the order of Creation. But this is a profound kabbalistic way of interpreting the world of God and man. For our purpose, it is enough to note the significance of a beginning point, a point of departure, so to speak, which is in itself meaningless for all but the One Who is giving. For this One Who wishes to transmit something, it is necessary to extend the initial impulse or inspiration through a number of gradations or channels: thought, speech, and action. The receiver does not have to do more than receive through the channels of transmission and somehow reconstruct the message. An idea is expressed in words; the listener has to interpret the words back to the idea. Sometimes a message is transmitted through electromagnetic waves and it has to be rechanneled through a proper electronic apparatus to be heard. In all cases, from the point of departure the message has to take form and go through a channeling, and then there must be a corresponding instrument to receive and "interpret” it.
Thus, the Yod of beginnings is the source of life. It has to extend in all dimensions and contract in terms of Infinite Light in order to become reality. For man, the capacity to "contract” in this way is also the beginning of expression. Without gathering together one’s impressions and mental processes, focusing them somehow, nothing significant can be done. Speech needs a prior contraction of thought, just as any transmission requires an ordering of the factors involved.
The "contraction” can take several forms besides that of actual diminution or shrinkage. It can be a concealment or screening process that beclouds the light (like smoked glass), shielding the receiver and
making it possible to absorb the rays of the sun or the higher worlds without injury to one’s self. Another kind of contraction is by the use of a transmitter. The moon can be safely looked at even though its light
is of the sun, because it is an agent, lessening the light by reflecting, by transmitting on a lower key, giving off less than it receives. Thus, the higher light of God can usually be received only through those lights that are able to transmit it to us in safety.
Similarly, the Torah has many degrees of light and transmission. But to return to the concept that the next world was created by the letter Yod. The premise is that this world is the revealed world; the next world is really the source, that from which this world gets its substantiality. The Heavenly world is illumed and infinite; this world below is dark, limited, and material; it is revealed only in the sense that it is a visible portion of reality, like the dry land surrounded by the sea. And of course there is considerable hiddenness also within the revealed, but altogether our world is "this” world, that to which we can point and with which we can interact as part of our existence, the world of good and evil.
This, in turn, brings us to the scriptural commandment to "do it today” (Deuteronomy 7:11). Besides the simple fact that this is always good sense, there is the well-known dilemma of putting off till tomorrow.
Both the tzaddik and the wicked are constantly provoked by the bad impulse as well as the good. The essential difference between the virtuous person and the sinful one is the difference between the postponement of the good impulse, and its immediate putting into action, today, and whether the bad impulse is deferred or eagerly realized now.
In this way we live on in this world of ours, oscillating between a constant choosing of one thing or another. Consequently, the world also presents a challenge. We are charged with the task of revealing the Divine, of bringing God out of His concealment by overcoming the obscuring barriers. This does not exist in the next world, where the Divine is available according to one’s capacity – where there is no object of desire, no privilege or duty. Everything is given and nothing is left to be yearned for. It is a static non-state in which one performs neither mitzva nor transgression. The next world is complete and infinitely satisfying. This world, in contrast, is marked by the need "to do it this day,” for only the present strives for perfection.
All of which is only an introduction to our subject of the Shabbat. The speculations concerning the nature of the next world are based on the insights of the Sages as well as reasonable hypotheses. Our intention
is to show that the essence of Shabbat is really a trickle, an infiltration, of the next world into this world. It is a percolation and diffusion of an existing Divine Reality.