"When I am I"

A Kabbala Teaching of Rabbi Yosef Caro

Translated and explained by Rabbi Moshe Miller from Magid Meisharim

Note: The selections below are all taken from Maggid Meisharim (see Bibliography), Rabbi Caro's recording of the teachings he heard from his angelic mentor (see Biography). The large type indicates the original text; this size type is commentary.

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am for myself, what am I" (Avot 1:14).

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me" means that if I do not grasp hold of the "I," namely malchut which is called ani, who will be for me -- that is, to which of the supernal sefirot can I dedicate myself?

Malchut represents the authority of G-d, and dedicating oneself to malchut means accepting upon oneself the Yoke of Heaven. If one does not accept the Yoke of Heaven, what holiness is there in emulating any of the Divine Attributes?

"And if I am for myself, what am I" means when I grasp the "I," malchut, and I take it "for myself," for the lower malchut (malchut of the lowest world, Asiya), namely, the human individual, in this case "myself," as it says in the verse, "Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh," 1 (Gen. 2:23) then "what (ma'h) am I?" This can be read as "I am ma'h," meaning that at that moment I join together the Name Yud-Hei-Vav-Hei expanded to the numerical value of mah 2 (45) with ani, malchut.

In other words, when I take upon myself the Yoke of Heaven (malchut) and make it part of me, there is revealed upon me the Ineffable Name, whose transcendent, indefinable quality is alluded to in the word "what" -- mah.

(Maggid Meisharim, Ki Tissa)

1 The word used here for "bone," which is indicative of the lower malchut, shares the same root as that of the word "myself" in the mishna cited above and indeed refers to Man.
2 Each sefira has two primary aspects -- or (the light of the sefira) and keli (the vessel which contains the light). The vessel of each sefira is associated with one of the ten Divine Names (E-l, Elokim, Sha-dai, etc.) The light of all of the sefirot is associated with the Ineffable Four-Letter Name. However, the light infuses the vessels in four different "expansions" of The Name, according to the level and type of the sefira. These four expansions have the numerical values of 72, 63, 45 and 52. The expansion here is 45 = ma'h (mem=40; hei=5): The expansion is calculated by the sum of the gematria of the letters, which is 45: yud-vov-dalet, hei-alef, vov-alef-vov, hei-alef.

Rabbi Moshe-Leib Miller, a guest teacher at Ascent when he lived in Israel, was born in South Africa and received his yeshiva education in Israel and America. He is a prolific author and translator, with some twenty books to his name on a wide variety of topics, including a new, authoritative, annotated translation of the Zohar. He currently lives in Chicago.


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