Beginner Level Kabbalah: Development of Kabbalistic Thought – Three Conceptualizations of Time

Another set of concepts, expressing various perspectives on the relationship between time and Creation, can be correlated as well with the three Kabbalot.

The first, which appears in philosophical texts as the concept of ila v’alul (“cause and effect”), represents the temporal dynamic of causality implicit in the “evolutionary” model of Creation articulated by the Ramak. According to this model, every unfolding stage in Creation is the product of all stages that precede it. Unlike other conceptions of causality which, viewing all of reality as deterministic, oppose the fundamental belief in free will and moral responsibility, the causality of hishtalshelut is limited to the external dimension (the “outer vessels”) of Creation alone, leaving the inner dimension of “light,” or soul, to operate according to its own principles.

Indeed, the Ari‘s focus upon hitlavshut, the “enclothement” of soul within outer reality, implies an entirely different temporal dynamic within Creation, that of bri’ah yesh m’ayin (“creation ex-nihilo“). In the Ari‘s system, creation ex-nihilo is described as the process whereby God continuously regenerates existence “at each and every moment” by alternately nullifying reality and then re-enclothing a ray of His infinite light within the resulting existential vacuum. This continual re-creation is responsible for the pulse of life which reverberates throughout the cosmos, the persistent back and forth (or “run and return,” as called in Kabbalah) between Divine “nothingness” and created “somethingness.” Without the dynamic of hitlavshut, one is simply not “alive” spiritually; but rather a “rolling stone,” an inanimate, ongoing physical process with no sense of its own free will and creative potential.

Although the concept of continuous re-creation suggests that time is nothing more than an ever recurring present moment, unconnected to (and thus undetermined by) a past, this is not entirely the case. The collective past of Creation, rooted in its Divine source, is conveyed into the present through the ray of infinite light which enclothes itself within every reconstruction of reality. Hence the infinite light, or “soul” of reality, serves to bind these quantum re-constructions into a single integrated pursuit of Divine actualization.

There is yet another level of consciousness which implies an even sublimer appreciation of the relationship between time and Creation. This is the level of consciousness advocated by the Ba’al Shem Tov in his depiction of Creation as the ultimate field of Divine self-expression. Ki mimcha hakol – “for all emanates from You,” not only the singular spirit of Creation but its multiplicity of form as well.

Whereas the Ari views Creation as emanating out of “nothingness,” the Ba’al Shem Tov sees it as emanating out of God Himself. The “nullity” of pre-existence spoken of by the Ari is synonymous with God’s “infinite light” obliterating all other reality. As sublime a realm as it may be, the domain of the “infinite light” cannot compare with that of its ultimate source, the absolute Essence of God which, according to the Ba’al Shem Tov, is the true origin of reality.

In the context of experiencing time, this level of consciousness leads one to identify a Divine synchronization of timeframes whereby past, present and future all exist simultaneously within Creation. This paradoxical state of consciousness in fact reflects the ultimate Divine reality expressed by God’s essential four-letter Name (Havayah), an amalgam of the words hayahhoveh and yihyeh–“was, is and will be.” Only by transcending the boundaries of “created time,” even in its profoundest sense as a continuous present moment, can we approach the true nature of reality.

Hence we see that there are three stages in the maturation of consciousness which correspond to varying psychological conceptions of time. The classical conception of time as a contiguous progression of moments flowing one into the next reflects the consciousness of hishtalshelut; a consciousness which, in isolation, can lead one to view himself as the victim of an entropic and deterministic reality with limited creative potential.

The more enlightened conception of time, deriving from the consciousness of hitlavshut, allows for constant renewal and creativity as each and every moment releases one from the past and reveals the range of possibility inherent in the continuous present moment.

Yet it is only the supra-temporal conception of time, associated with the consciousness of hashra’ah, which allows one the absolute freedom of identifying with He who created time itself. This state of consciousness, which will crystallize at the time of universal redemption, holds the key to liberating all of Creation from its imaginary bonds of selfhood and restoring the true Divine face of reality.

More information about Kabblah you can read in “What you need to know about Kabbalah”