Today, Yud Shvat, is the yartzeit (anniversary of passing) of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, a.k.a. the Rebbe Rayatz, or the Frierdiker Rebbe. On the day of his yartzeit, it is customary to study his last maamar (Chassidic discourse), Basi LeGani.
One of the themes expounded in the first chapter of this discourse is the concepts of four worlds: Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Assiyah (collectively referred to as ABYA). Actually, in Kabbala and Chassidic philosophy, we speak of five worlds and the “world,” which precedes Atzilut is call Adam Kadmon (Primordial Man, often referred to by its acronym as the A”K).
In this post, I will draw a parallel between these spiritual worlds and stages of the creation of our physical world. Why do that? It is axiomatic in Jewish mysticism that our physical world in a reflection of the spiritual worlds. Therefore, it is only natural to expect the higher worlds to leave some impressions in the physical world, which would allow us to find parallels with the original spiritual concepts.
Kabbalah speaks of Seder Ishtalshelut – the Order of Unfolding of the creation: Adam Kadmon (Primordial Man), Atzilut (the world of Emanation), Beriah (the world of Creation), Yetzirah (the world of Formation) and Assiyah (the world of Action). Similarly, the emergence of the physical reality can be described in few principal stages: information, causality, time and space, quantum reality described by the wavefunction, quantum reality as it exists after the collapse of the wavefunction. Let us now consider each world and each stage of the emergence of the physical reality one at a time.
Adam Kadmon (A”K – the Primordial Man) is not really a world in the kabbalistic sense of the word. The word for “the world” in Hebrew, is “haolam.” The masters of Kabbalah tell us that this word etymologically is related to the word “helem” – to cover or conceal. The world in Kabbalah is a construct that conceals (helem) G‑dly light. As the worlds get coarser, the concealment is greater. Strictly speaking, A”K is not a world because it does not conceal G‑dly light – Ohr Eyn Sof. Having clarified this, we will loosely refer to the A”K as to the world in a sense that this is the first “stop” in the unfolding of creation after the great Tzimzum (Contraction of G‑d’s presence – the principle concept of the Lurianic Kabbalah). The A”K precedes the creation of time and space. However, the information about all past and future events are present there. Thus, this is the world of Information.
The fact that the starting point for the creation is the A”K – the world of information – jives very well with the modern thought in theoretical physics that information is the basic building block of creation. Late John Archibald Wheeler formulated this program back in the 60s and termed it “It from Bit.” For as long as I can remember since I began studying physics, I’ve been convinced that the information is the most fundamental level of physical reality. It is actually very intuitive and easy to see. Information is intimately connected to the entropy (the measure of disorder), entropy is connected with energy and energy is connected with mass – E=mc2. There you have it. We are still trying to work out how time and space emerge from information, but I am convinced that the Theory of Everything will have information as the basic fabric of physical (or proto-physical) reality.
The next world, the first of ABYA, is the world of Atzilut, the world of Emanation. This world is still before time and space. However, it is here that time is beginning to form. Not time as we know it, but what is called in Kabbalah, Seder HaZmanim – the “Order of Times.” In Kabbalah, seven lower sephirot (emanations) are called “days.” Kabbalists understand the first seven days of creation as a metaphor for the establishment of the seven middot (i.e., seven lower sephirot) of Atzilut: Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet, Netzach, Hod, Yisod, and Malchut. Although there is not time yet in Atzilut, we can say, however, that middah of Chesed came before middah of Gevurah. In other words, a temporal order is emerging in Atzilut. We can’t yet measure duration between events, but we can say which event was first, or which event caused the other. So Atzilut is the world where we experience the birth of the temporal order and causality.
The next world is the world of Beriah – the world of creation. It is here where the full-fledged time and space come into existence. Creation always involves a change which is only possible in, and, according to Aristotle, is synonymous with, time. Thus, the Torah begins with Bereshit bara – in the beginning of creation… Creation comes with the beginning – the beginning of time. Space also takes root in the world of Beriah. Here, the concepts of “above” and “below” first acquire their meaning. Indeed, the world of Creation is below the world of Emanation and above the worlds of Formation and Action.
There are three main units in physics – meter (unit of space), second (unit of time), and kilogram (unit of mass). Every physical quantity can be expressed in these three fundamental units. Beriah is the world of Creation, which implies change (from nothing to something that has been created). All three fundamental physical quantities, space, time and mass can be expressed in terms of change: time is change, space is the absence of change and mass is a resistance to change.
The next world is Yetzirah – the world of Formation. Here the world is already fully formed, but not tangible, not physical yet. The parallel to this is, of course, the quantum world described by a wavefunction. The wavefunction contains all information about all possibilities and it evolves in time deterministically according to the Schrödinger equation. It is a fully formed reality, but not a tangible reality yet (I call it a proto-physical reality), as the wavefunction is an abstract mathematical construct whose square amplitude gives the probability of finding a quantum system in a particular state.
Only collapse of the wavefunction leads to the tangible physical reality. And this happens in the world of Assiya, the world of Action – the lowest of all worlds.
We can summarize this in the following table:
|Adam Kadmon (A”K)||Information|
This is not to say that the world of Beriyah is the world of time and space or the world of Yetzirah is the world of wavefunction. These worlds are spiritual worlds and first and foremost signify different gradations of the concealment of the G‑dly light. Each of them has rich spiritual structure and deep mystical significance. It is gratifying, however, to see how the Seder Yishtalshelut – the order of unfolding of the creation as it is expressed in the worlds of the A”K and ABYA corresponds to the stages of formation of the physical reality.