The Seven Chambers of Prayer in the World of Creation

Translated excerpts from a class given by Rabbi Ginsburgh on the 5th of Av, in honor of the Holy Arizal’s day of passing.

The Morning Prayer’s Structure

The Holy Ari emphasized prayer with deep concentration as the main part of our service of God. This is the Arizal’s practical advice for coming close to our Creator. Prayer is called a “ladder of prayer.”[1] The ladder has four rungs,[2] corresponding to the four worlds of Emanation, Creation, Formation and Action.[3] The main simple construct of prayer according to the Arizal is the ascent through the four worlds.

In Keter Shem Tov,[4] an anthology of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s teachings, it says that we must contemplate how to progress from world to world. First we are in the World of Action (Asiyah), then we ascend to Formation (Yetzirah), from there to Creation (Briyah) and then to Emanation (Atzilut).

The shortest version of this progression can be described by breaking the morning prayer into four parts, each corresponding to one of the Worlds, as follows:

 

Korbanot (Sacrifices) Action
Pesukei Dezimrah (Verses of Praise) Formation
Shema and its blessings Creation
Amidah (the Silent Prayer) Emanation

The Seven Chambers of Creation

Of all four stages, there is something unique about the World of Creation. When we pray the morning prayer, we enter the World of Creation with the invitation to bless God, “Barchu” (ברכו). We remain in this world until the Amidah also called the Silent Prayer. During our time in Creation, we pass through seven chambers. While there are seven chambers in each of the Worlds, the Arizal elaborated[5] specifically on the chambers in the World of Creation. Although most people are not familiar with this analysis and its kavanot (intentions), it is important to know them.

After “Barchu” (ברכו), we say the blessing, “Blessed are You…who forms light” (ברוך אתה ה’… יוצר אור ובורא חשך עושה שלום ובורא את הכל) with which we enter the first chamber of Creation called the Chamber of the Sapphire Brick (Heichal livnat hasapir). This chamber is the chamber of the sefirah of both foundation (yesod) and the foundation’s coronet (ateret hayesod) – these are also known as the foundation and kingdom (malchut) of Ze’er Anpin (the small countenance) in Creation (“the Brick” refers to the foundation’s coronet, which is also the kingdom of Ze’er Anpin of Creation, while the “sapphire” alludes to the foundation itself).

We enter the next chamber called the “Essence of the Clear Heavens (Etzem hashamayim latohar),” with the words, “Kel baruch gedol dei’ah” (אל ברוך גדול דעה) which is written in an acrostic. On Shabbat, instead of each word beginning with a letter of the aleph-beit, there are four or five words for each letter, in the Kel adon (אל אדון על כל המעשים) liturgical poem. As soon as we say, “Kel” we pass from the Chamber of the Sapphire Brick, the foundation and kingdom of Creation, to the Chamber of the Essence of the Heavens for Purity, which is the chamber of the sefirah of acknowledgement (hod). We remain in this chamber until the words “Baruch kevod Hashem mimekomo” (ברוך כבוד ה’ ממקומו).

From the chamber of acknowledgment, we ascend to the chamber of victory (netzach), which is called the Chamber of Translucence (Heichal nogah), into which we enter with the words “Lakel baruch” (לאל ברוך נעימות יתנו).  We remain there until the words “Hamechadesh betuvo bechol yom tamid” (המחדש בכל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית) until the end of that blessing. This short passage is called “The Chamber of Merit” (Heichal hazechut), which is the chamber of the sefirah of might (gevurah). According to the order of the sefirot, we would have expected to enter the chamber of beauty (tiferet), but we will enter that chamber later, as will be explained. The Chamber of Merit is the seat of the heavenly Sanhedrin (court of law), in which we are judged.

From the beginning of the blessing of “Ahavat olam” (אהבת עולם) we enter the Chamber of Love (Heichal ha’ahavah) where we remain for the entire Shema. This is the chamber of the sefirah of lovingkindness (chessed).  In this chamber, we bask in the encompassing light of love; indeed, we utter the word “love” (ahavah) seven times prior to the first verse of the Shema and then twice more after the first verse. In addition, the final word of the first verse, is “one” (אחד), which shares the numerical value of “love” (אהבה).

From there, we ascend to the Chamber of Will (Heichal haratzon), which is the chamber of the sefirah of beauty (tiferet). The fact that we are ascending from loving-kindness and might to beauty means that the sefirah of beauty here is situated above (rather than under) these two sefirot. Beauty is thus standing in the place of the sefirah of knowledge (da’at). Knowledge is considered to be the soul of beauty or to use the Zohar’s idiom, “Moses [i.e., knowledge]—inside and Jacob [i.e., beauty] from without.”[6] Beauty is akin to pure will. We usually identify will with the external dimension of the Crown, the partzuf call Arich Anpin (the Long countenance). But when will manifests through the attributes of the heart, it does so through the sefirah of knowledge, which is the soul of beauty. Knowledge is described as the power to connect and since it follows the Chamber of Love in prayer, it represents a will to connect through love.

The order we have seen then is that first we are judged. But, since the judgment occurs in the Chamber of Merit, it all turns into love, which then forms the basis of will. We remain in the Chamber of Will from “Emet v’yatziv” (אמת ויציב) until the end of the blessing, “ga’al Yisrael” (ברוך אתה ה’ גאל ישראל).

The final chamber is the Chamber of the Holy of Holies (Heichal kodesh kodashim), which includes the first three sefirot of the world of Creation, understanding, wisdom and crown (binah, chochmah and keter). “Holy,” in the singular, refers to the crown and “holies,” in the plural, refers to wisdom and understanding. We are in this chamber for just one verse, the verse with which we begin the Amidah, the silent prayer, “Adni sfatai tiftach ufi yagid tehillatecha” (אדני שפתי תפתח ופי יגיד תהלתך).[7] Since we have completed our journey through the seven chambers of the world of Creation, this verse marks our passage into the mindset of the world of Emanation, a world that is complete Godliness. To do so, we leap from a place that is multi-faceted (Creation) to a place of simple unity (Emanation)—into the Amidah, which is the highest rung on the ladder of prayer. The entire Chamber of the Holy of Holies is this one verse, which is called “the long prayer” (tefillah arichtah).[8]

When we are in the part of the morning prayer that corresponds with the world of Creation, from Barechu up to and including “Adni sefatai tiftach,” that is the time to contemplate, especially as we ascend from chamber to chamber. When we reach the Amidah, there is an actual experience of Godliness, feeling like a servant standing before God,[9] but we are not in a contemplative state anymore.

Review and contemplation of the Seven Chambers

After having covered the chambers of the world of Creation, let us review them, this time contemplating the inner meanings of each of the chambers:

The Chamber of the Sapphire Brick: As above, this is the chamber of foundation, about which it is said, “and the tzaddik is the eternal foundation.”[10] The entire world of Creation is about contemplation. Thus, when I contemplate my connection to the tzaddik, to the Rebbe, I am in the Chamber of the Sapphire Brick. “

In the Torah, the term “sapphire brick” (לבנת הספיר) appears in the same verse as, “the essence of the clear heavens” (עצם השמים לטהר):

Moses and Aaron, Nadav and Avihu and the seventy Elders of Israel ascended. And they saw the God of Israel and beneath His feet were the makings of the sapphire brick and like the essence of the clear heavens.”[11]

Rashi, based on the sages, explains this image.

God placed the brick, before Him while they [the Jewish people] were enslaved, so that He would constantly remember Israel’s sorrow; [the brick itself was a reminder] that they were enslaved to make bricks.

So, the brick symbolizes the enslavement and hard labor that we endured in Egypt. Why then is this brick made of sapphire? When a Jew works hard to accomplish something, the product is a sapphire – even if he does not see it. He thinks that he is making bricks, but in truth, he is producing gems. Every brick that we make is a sapphire. Nonetheless, it is a symbol of enslavement.

In the High Priest’s breastplate, sapphire is the fifth stone,[12] upon which was inscribed the name of the tribe of Yissachar. When Jacob blesses Yissachar, he describes him as “a [strong-] boned donkey,” which refers to his ability to shoulder the yoke of intense Torah study.[13] The sapphire brick symbolizes hard work, particularly the hard work of Torah study, which though it is hard work, creates sapphires.

The Chamber of the Essence of the Clear Heavens: This is the chamber of the sefirah of acknowledgement. Acknowledgment in Creation means contemplating how much good God does for me, giving a great deal of thanks to Him[14] and believing in Him. In this chamber, we say “Holy, holy, holy is the God of Hosts” and “Blessed is the glory of God from His place,” together with the angels. This chamber has an atmosphere of splendor (another meaning of the Hebrew word, hod). The Chamber of the Essence of the Clear Heavens and the Chamber of Love are the two most important chambers. In the first, we join the angels in their song of praise to God and in the Chamber of Love we say the Shema, which is the song of the souls.[15]

We mentioned that, “the essence of the clear heavens” appears in the same verse as “the sapphire brick.” Rashi explains this image as well: “When they were redeemed, there was light and sharp joy before Him.” After the nation of Israel was redeemed from the slavery in Egypt, there was light and sharp joy before God—the symbol of the redemption. First, there is the enslavement, the “sapphire brick.” But then, just as in the verse, it immediately turns into “the essence of the clear heavens”—redemption.

It is specifically in the sefirah of acknowledgment, when we thank God for all His goodness, that we reach the clarity of the essence of the clear heavens.

The Translucent Chamber (nogah): This is the chamber of the sefirah of victory. “Nogah” is a type of light, one of Hebrew’s thirteen synonyms for “light.”[16] It is written, “The path of the righteous is as the light of dawn (nogah), which shines more and more brilliantly until the day proper.”[17] The light called “nogah” is a bit translucent. It is not completely clear, but it continually brightens and clears until it turns into a great light: daylight. There is also the husk called nogah, which is a mixture of good and bad, but in this context, we are referring to the light called nogah.

The Chamber of Merit: This is the chamber of the sefirah of might in the world of Creation, the seat of the heavenly Sanhedrin or court. When we enter this chamber, we are entering the heavenly courtroom. The concept of “merit” refers to being deserving as opposed to being undeserving in a trial. In the story of the creation of the woman, the Torah writes, “I will make him a helper, against him,”[18] and Rashi quotes the Sages: “If he merits, she is a helper, and if he does not merit, she is against him.” It is written[19]  that this statement of the sages applies to both a spouse and to one’s livelihood. When a person merits, he has a livelihood that helps him serve God and perform mitzvot. If a person does not merit, God forbid, he may have a very difficult livelihood that opposes him and prevents him from serving God, among other livelihood troubles.[20] The main place where one is judged if he merited or not is in the Chamber of Merit, where we say in our prayers, “He who renews the workings of creation in His goodness every day, always.” This is the source of livelihood on a daily basis, as the Torah writes about the manna, Israel’s livelihood in the desert, that it came, “day by day”[21] (דבר יום ביומו). Just as in the desert, each individual was judged on a daily basis how far he would have to go to find his portion of manna, near his tent or far away, all according to his actions on the previous day, we, too, are judged daily whether we merit an easy livelihood or not.

The higher chambers: Embracing, Kissing and Cleaving: The Tanya writes,[22] following the Zohar and the Arizal, that love is embracing the beloved. Why does the Chamber of Will come after the Chamber of Love? It is written[23] that will is kissing (“May he kiss me from the kisses of his mouth”[24] and “Da’at [the soul of Tiferet that ascends here to its place] is concealed in the mouth”[25]). Thus, first there must be love, and afterwards, will. Kissing is closer than embracing. After the kiss, we achieve true cleaving to God, to be one with Him literally. This is the inner meaning of the Chamber of the Holy of Holies.

The order of the three upper chambers is very intuitive. While saying the Shema, we are in a state of embracing God with love. When we reach “emet veyatziv,” we enter a state of kissing, and with “Adni sefatai tiftach” (God, open my lips) we enter a state of cleaving to God—transitioning into the world of Emanation.

The most beautiful things are those that can be described visually. The names of these chambers are very colorfully descriptive and therefore lend themselves to rectifying our imagination. When a visualization is true and it stems from a holy source, it has the power to rectify our power of imagination. You can paint pictures of these chambers. Of course, you need to have a talent for painting. Many synagogues have different visualizations of abstract concepts, such as the symbols of the Twelve Tribes. This knowledge can be made accessible and easy to remember if it becomes the subject of paintings and music.

Click here for part 2 of this essay: Celebrating Memories

[1] Hashmatot hazohar I:266b (from page 150a).

[2] Likutei dibburim 3-4 Likut 27 (pp. 690-691).

[3] Pri eitz chaim, Sha’ar hatefilah c. 6.

[4] See Keter Shem Tov (Kehot edition) 199a, 216-217, and elsewhere.

[5] Eitz chaim 46:2.

[6] Following Tikkunei zohar 13 (29a).

[7] Psalms 51:17.

[8] Berachot 4b.

[9] Shabbat 10a.

[10] Proverbs 10:25.

[11] Exodus 24:9-10.

[12] Exodus 28:18.

[13] Genesis 49:14 and Rashi ad loc.

[14] Berachot 9:45

[15] Kuntres hatefilah pp. 22 and elsewhere. For more, see chapter 3 of, “An introduction to Perek Shirah” in our Hebrew book, Adamah Shamayim Tehom, pp. 205ff.

[16] See 913: The Secret Wisdom of Genesis, p. 35.

[17] Proverbs 4:18.

[18] Genesis 2:18.

[19] Unpublished ms. from Rabbi Hillel of Paritch s.v. Zachah ezer lo zachah kenegdo. See also Bava batra 9a regarding “merit” and “lack of merit,” in regard to charity.

[20] See Ibid.

[21]  Exodus 16:4

[22]  Chapters 45-46

[23]  Zohar Part 1: 44B

[24]  Song of Songs 1:2

[25]  Zohar Part 2: 123A

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