The Teachings of the Ari
Rabbi Isaac Luria
Know that before emanations were produced and creatures were created, there was a simple supernal light that filled all existence; and there was no empty space, like a completely empty space or vacuum, but all was filled with that simple infinite light (or, light of the Ayn Sof, the Infinite One). It had no aspect of beginning or end, rather all was one simple light equally distributed, and this is called the light of the Ayn Sof.
When it arose in [the Ayn Sof's] simple will to create worlds and produce emanations, to bring to light the perfection of [the divine] acts, names, and designations--which is the purpose of the creation of the worlds, as is explained by us in Branch 1 in the first essay--the Ayn Sof then concentrated (tzimtzem) Itself in the central point in the actual centre of that light. It concentrated the light and removed it on all sides from around the central point. Then there was an empty space, a complete vacuum, from that actual central point, like this.
Now, this withdrawal (tzimtzum) was equal all around that central, empty point, in such a manner that that empty space was a circle completely equidistant all around. It was not in the form of a square, with right angles, for the Ayn Sof withdrew Itself in the form of a circle, equidistant on all sides. And the reason is that since the light of Ayn Sof was completely equally distributed, it was necessary that It withdraw Itself equidistantly on all sides, and not withdraw Itself more on one side than on another. It is well known in mathematics that no other geometric shape [has all its sides] equidistant [from the centre] like a circle. This is not so of the square with protruding right angles, nor of the triangle, nor of other shapes. Therefore, it was necessary that the withdrawal of the Ayn Sof be in the form of a circle. And the reason is that It should be equally [distributed] in all Its attributes, as mentioned above. Also it says in [the Zohar, vol.II], parashat Bo', fol.42 'from it, in a circle, which is [the letter] yod'.' See also parashat Pekudei, fol.258, where it says that the 'palaces' and all that is in them are [in the form] of circles.
Moreover, there is another reason: That is, for the sake of the emanations that would in future be produced in that empty vacuum, as mentioned above. The meaning is this: Since the emanations were to be in the form of circles, they would all be completely equally near and adhering to the Ayn Sof surrounding them, and they would be able to receive the light and the influence of the Ayn Sof that they require from all sides equally in one measure. This would not have been the case had the emanations been in the shape of a square, or a triangle, or any other figure. For then they would have protruding angles that would be nearer to the Ayn Sof than other parts, and they would not be able to receive the light of the Ayn Sof equally. And at the end of Branch 3, I will explain the necessity for this withdrawal as well as its meaning. (Another version: The purpose of this withdrawal was to reveal the root of the forces of judgment (dinim), in order to put the attribute of judgment (din) into the worlds later on. And this power is called the butzina dekardinuta, ('dark lamp'?) [mentioned in Zohar I, 15a, as [in the phrase] 'wheat of kardinuta' [in Talmud Pesachim 7a, where however it refers to a district south of Armenia].
Now, after this aforementioned withdrawal, there remained a completely empty vacuum in the middle of the actual light of the Ayn Sof, as mentioned above, and there was now a space in which the things to be emanated (hane'etzalim), created (hanivra'im), formed (hayetzurim), and made (vena'asim), could exist. Then It drew down from out of the light of Ayn Sof above a single straight line from Its circular light, which wound down into that empty space, like this.
The top of this line is derived from the Ayn Sof Itself, and touches It. However, the end of the line does not touch the light of Ayn Sof, but through this line the light of Ayn Sof is drawn and spreads downwards. In this empty space, It emanated, created, formed, and made all of the worlds. This line is like a fine channel through which (the water of) the supernal light of Ayn Sof is drawn and spreads to all the worlds [that will be produced] in that completely empty space.
Hayyim Vital (1542-1620), 'Etz Hayyim ('The Tree of Life'), from Gate 1, Branch 2 (Warsaw:1891), p.22.
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