EMANATION AND UNITY by Rabbi Eli Mallon, M.Ed., LMSW
The subject matter of the Advaita Vedanta of Shankara (the non-dual branch of Indian philosophy) is the true, real unity of all apparently diverse things; “from the one comes the many,” but the “many” only seem to “come from” the One. In truth, there is always, only the One. As Maharishi Mahesh Yogi wrote in “The Art of Living and the Science of Being,” “The whole of creation is the field of consciousness [expressed] in different forms and phenomena.” (p. 29)
In Kabbalah, this process of the “One becoming the many” is called the “Seder Hishtalshelut,” often translated into English as the “process of emanation.” Things are said to “emanate” from their Divine source, like lightrays “emanate” from the sun. In fact, the rays have no separate existence from the sun itself. This emanation proceeds by “degrees,” called the S’firot (or Sephiroth, etc.). Yet, the S’firot themselves are only varying expressions of the unchanging, all-encompassing “Ein Sof.”
Rabbi Mosheh Cordovero, the great systematizer of Kabbalistic teachings, said that until he began learning Kabbalah, he was “as if asleep and pursuing idle thoughts.” He wrote: “Do not say, ‘This is a stone and not G-d.’ G-d forbid! Rather, all existence is G-d, and the stone is a thing pervaded by divinity.”
Or, as Vedanta says, “All this is that.”
Cordovero famously depicted the s’firot as emanating one-within-the-other, from “outer” to “inner”, beginning with “Keter” (of which כ is the first Hebrew letter). Each subsequent name is indicated by its initial Hebrew letter.
Other Kabbalistic diagrams and illustrations depict Divine emanation as a process that unfolds from the “inner” to the “outer.”
These might seem to conflict. However, if we remember that these aren’t “empirical” illustrations of the process itself, but rather depictions of different ways that we can view (or conceive of) the process, we see what our teachers are trying to tell us: Both “outer” and “inner” only describe our own limited viewpoint.
Meditation, or contemplation, in Kabbalah/Hasidut, may begin on the “process,” but points back to the essential, unchanging Oneness. As Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi says in his book “Tanya,” from G-d’s viewpoint, the “emanation” never took place. It only takes place from the “human” viewpoint. Contemplation of this ultimately produces changes in consciousness and spiritual growth.
All “this” eternally remains “That.”
I see real parallels with Vedanta; you might, as well.
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook extolled the contemplation of “emanation”:
“How beautiful is the mystical conception of the divine emanation as the source of all existence, all life, all beauty, all power, all justice, all good, all order, all progress. How great is the influence of this true conception on all the ways of life, how profound is its logic, what a noble basis for morality. The basis for the formation of higher, holy, mighty and pure souls is embodied in it.
The divine emanation, by its being, engenders everything. It is unlimited in its freedom, there is no end to its unity, to its riches, to its perfection, to its splendor, and the influence of its potency and its diverse manifestations. All the oceans of song, all the diverse torrents of perception, all the force of life, all the laughter, the joyous delights — everything flows from it. Into everything it releases the influence of its soul force. Its influence, its honor, its deliverance reaches to the lowest depths.
The innocent and luminous will of man has already embraced some of its splendor. He continues to ascend, and he elevates everything with him. Everything proclaims G-d’s glory: ‘The grandeur of Your Holiness fills Your creation; (yet) You are forevermore, L-rd’ (Psalm 93;5).” You are forevermore.
All this is that.