Black Fire on White Fire–Torah of Atzilut

Mount Sinai ablaze in revelation and clouds of smokeA Shavuot Teaching (2019 / 5779)
from the teachings of R. Shlomo Elyashiv (The Leshem)
Sarah Yehudit Schneider

The Torah revealed at Sinai (on Shavuot) is not the one in our study halls today. Those Tablets shattered when Moshe, witnessing the Golden Calf, cast them to the ground. HaShem eventually accepted our teshuva and 120 days later (on Yom Kippur) we received their replacement—a second set—related to the first…but different. At Sinai we got the Torah of Atzilut—the Torah of Unanimity. A searing revelation of presence engraved the souls of an entire nation with the truth-of-the-universe compressed into a single burst of light. But we couldn’t hold on to it. That light receded and on Yom Kippur we received the Torah of Briyah—the Torah of dualities—of permitted/forbidden, pure/impure, guilty/innocent, holy/profane.

The Torah of Atzilut actually preceded creation. When the Zohar states that “HaShem looked into the Torah and created the world”[1] it refers to the Torah of Atzilut—which is a cosmic, multidimensional scroll of souls, in contrast to our earthly Torah comprised of ink on parchment.[2]

Yet, not only did HaShem look into the Torah and create the world…in the Beginning, but also in every instant Hashem recreates the world in exactly the same way, by “looking” into his evolving and shape-shifting scroll of souls, extracting its chidushim, and sharing them with the world.

A beautiful teaching by the Leshem explores this idea.[3] What follows is an elaborated translation of his holy words.

.ועל זה אמרו עבו”ז ג’ ב’ שהקב”ה עוסק בתורה

The Talmud informs us that Hashem studies Torah on His/Her/Its side of the mechitza (or heavenly curtain, as it’s called).[4]

כי אור פנימית התורה. היא כחות כל הבריאה כולה בכלל ובפרט ובפרטי פרטות. וכל מציאיית המתחלפים ומתחדשים בכל עת וכל מקריהם שבכל רגע

But what can it possibly mean that HaShem studies Torah? It’s so anthropomorphic. The Leshem explains that the Torah’s inner light is what drives the entire creation in whole and in part and in every detail. And not just the objects of creation, but all the changes and happenings that transpire in each day—the unfoldings of creation as well.

A definition of terms. Kabbala equates: 1) light with consciousness, 2) HaShem (the One who is studying Torah) with the Primal-Will-to-Good-Which-Eternally-Creates-and-Sustains-the Universe and  3) Torah of Atzilut with the cosmic blueprint that includes (embedded within it) all the available choices, and all the manifold paths that creation could possibly take, that would bring it to its destined, blissful and enlightened end. Some of these options have already occurred, and some hold the future (wide open with possibility) awaiting our choices and HaShem’s providential responses to them.

הוא נמשך הכל מגילויי אור פנימית התורה שמתגלית בכל עת. בגילוים חדשים מעסק הקב”ה שעוסק בה בכל יום

As the Divine Mind engages with the Torah of Atzilut it unearths new layers of potential that become the driving force (and guiding force) of each moment in time. HaShem studies Torah and His/Her/Its chidushei Torah (inspired insights) produce the hashgakha that orchestrates the circumstances that press forth creation’s potential down to its last drop.

This primordial Torah of Atzilut is depicted as “black fire on white fire”—passion lights (called gevurot that are dark knots of unactualized potential) and lucid lights (called chassadim that function as pure awareness). Since fire is a form of light, and light equates with consciousness these two fires are complementary modes of mind.

The layer that we call reality is the active seam of encounter between them.  As the white fire descends (through the Holy One’s Torah study), it penetrates the outer surface of the gevurot (the compacted “letters” of the Torah).  Like air puffs up a shrunken balloon, when touched by white fire, these dark lights spring open to unfurl a luxurious treasure of hidden beauties, wisdom and insights.  From a “compressed knot the size of a grasshopper antenna,”[5] their outer surface inflates to embrace the entire world.  Moment by moment the white fire releases a new bundle of dark light that expands to become our next second of time.  It is this “Torah study” that drives the unfolding of cosmic history.[6]

וזה היה ענין התורה שהיה ניתן לאדה”ר אילולא החטא. וכן היה ניתן לנו ג”כ אלו שזכינו להלוחות הראשונות…

This Torah of Atzilut was what Adam would have received had he not opted for duality, preferring Knowledge of Good and Evil (permitted/forbidden, holy /profane) over the Tree of Life’s non-dual Knowledge-of-the-Holy-One.  It is also the Torah that we received at Sinai, but forfeited when we too betrayed its calling.

 וכל המון ברואים לאין תכלית הנמצא בהמציאות. הנה הם רק פרטי הקומה הכללי. כולם הם רק כללות קומת פרצוף אדם שלם. ובפרט מין האדם ר”ל האישים שבכל דור הנה הוה כללות כל דור רק אדם אחד שלם עם כלל המציאות יחד

The entirety of creation—its infinitude of creatures and moments—comprises a single, universe-encompassing stature—a complete and whole Adam. This also applies to the sum-total of human beings in every generation, who also comprise a single, complete Adam on a smaller scale. This time-limited, generational Adam also integrates the entirety of creation but only what exists at its particular interval of history.

 ולכן הם נצרכים זה לזה (ר”ל אדם אחד לחבירו. ולכל המציאייות שבהעולם) ומשתמשים זב”ז ונעזר כ”א ע”י חבירו והם כולם רק כללות אדם אחד שלם

The threads that weave us into a higher order unity derive from our interdependence.  Every exchange produces a thread of light, and the tangle of these threads knits creation into an interconnected unity—a single, composite Adam.

Spiders spin threads and leave a gossamer trail of strands behind them. So do we.  It is a metaphysical law that wherever light passes it leaves a trace of itself (a reshimu) behind.  As we crisscross through the world we leave golden strands that are our traces and, like a giant loom, we weave ourselves into the cosmic tapestry that unites us into a single one.

כי תיקון כל דור הוא תלוי בכולם דוקא כי הם קומה אחת. ומעכב כ”א על תיקון זולתו.

Every generation must accomplish a tikun that is its contribution to the messianic process and which requires the input of every creature in it. And because it’s a holographic world where everyone contains aspects of everyone else inside themselves, so if person-z shirks his duty, no one is complete, because their interincluded spot of person-z remains blemished. Consequently the collective Adam as well as all the individuals of that generation remain flawed until everyone completes their work.

…והרי עכ”פ הוא כי כללות הקומת אדם הוא כולל פרטים רבים אין חקר. והם מתחלפים ומתחדשים בהתחדשות כל דור ובמציאת כל איש. הן בהאדם והן בהעולם

And yet, it is important to remember that this collective Adam (whether on the cosmic or generational scale) includes every single creature, cell or molecule present in the universe at its time. It’s impossible to fathom its full extent. And its complexity goes further still because every one of its components is a moving part going through simultaneous changes and lifecycles (individually and collectively). Creation is in constant flux. Every instant brings chidush to the world and to every creature in it.

וכ”ז הנה הוא נמשך ונעשה מגילויי אור התורה שמתחלפים ומתחדשים גילוייה תמיד במה שהקב”ה עוסק בה בכל יום

What drives this unfathomably complex enterprise, assuring that neither Adam nor adam nor atom loses its way? The Leshem reveals that our guiding force is nothing but the chidushei Torah that HaShem “uncovers” in His daily Torah study.  Hashem “reads the traces”[7] probes our souls, accepts our choices, embraces the world that has newly emerged and then, in a state of creative reverie, finds the chidush and enacts it as providence. In this way, without exception, we all move one step closer to our destiny.

כי התורה היא …כלי אומנתו של הקב”ה. ונעשה הכל ע”פ אורה וגילויה וכמ”ש בריש ב”ר. והנה העיקר בכ”ז הוא אורייתא דאצילות שהיא תורתו של הקב”ה

The Torah of Azilut is the instrument with which HaShem creates and recreates the world.[8] Its multidimensional, living scroll-of-souls includes each of our life-stories as a letter in its cosmic tale. This Torah of Atzilut becomes the interface between HaShem and creation. We unpack the potentials crammed inside our letter of Torah. HaShem, from His side, delights in these new revelations for they stimulate the chidushei Torah that He/She/It now shares with the world that are experienced down here as ruach hakodesh and hashgakha pratit.

As we celebrate our elusive Torah of Atzilut that left its imprint on our soul, changed the destiny of the planet forever, and fused us into a people-with-a-mission, may we  embrace its message of unity in a way that brings true peace (messianic peace, not cosmetic peace) to ourselves and to the world.


[1] Zohar 2:161b.
[2] See the Still Small Voice 2016 / 2776 Shavuot teaching called “The Scroll of Souls” https://astillsmallvoice.org/the-torah-of-atzilut-the-torah-of-souls/
[3] .ספר לשם שבו ואחלמה – הקדמות ושערים – שער ד פרק ה
[4] TB AZ 3b.
[5] Zohar 1:35b.
[6] Leshem, HaDrush Olam HaTohu 2:4;18:6-8; 2:4:16:5; 2:2:3:1-4; 2:2:3:5-7.
[7] TB BK 82a; San 104b.
[8] Gen. Rabba 1:1.

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