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In the study of Kabbalah, we learn about the Ten Sefirot, unique filters the Light of the Creator passes through before reaching our physical world. In The Book of Formation, one of the first books written on Kabbalah, Abraham makes a point to stress that there are Ten Sefirot and not nine. Why would we assume there are nine sefirot in the first place? Why does Abraham feel the need to specify that there are actually ten?
"The term 'sefira' specifically refers to Light and Vessel together."
Rav Ashlag explores this in Ten Luminous Emanations. He explains that, after the Creation, our selfish inclinations, or the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone, can no longer be a way of receiving the Light of the Creator. Only the Desire to Receive for the Sake of Sharing can allow us to receive this Light. This is the reason we often discuss the importance of transforming our desire. The Desire to Receive for the Self Alone is the essence of the final sefira, Malchut, and so Malchut does not receive the Light of the Creator. However, Abraham makes a point that Malchut is in fact the tenth sefira.
The term sefira (the singular version of sefirot) specifically refers to Light and Vessel together. There are other terms for Vessels without Light, but they are never referred to as sefira. Since the Vessel of Malchut cannot receive any Light and is completely dark, one would think that Malchut should not be referred to as a sefira. Why then is it considered one of the sefirot?
Although the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone does not receive Light in a direct way, it is the cause of the revelation of a tremendous amount of Light. If not for the Desire to Receive for Self Alone, then the Light could not be revealed in any of the sefirot. For example, say that you go to your friend’s house and you are extremely hungry. Your friend offers to cook for you, but you decline, because you don’t want to trouble him. He begs you to eat and you insist you don’t want to eat. The argument gets to the point where you finally agree to eat, not because of your hunger, but because of the joy it will give your friend. It is clear that your friend wants so badly to cook for you that your thought is only of him and not of yourself. The desire to satiate your hunger has been completely removed, even though eating the food does still satiate you. In this scenario, your initial hunger drove the entire process. If you did not have that hunger, that Desire to Receive, you could not develop to the point where you eat only to give pleasure to your friend.
The same is true with the Light of the Creator. We have a Desire to Receive from the Creator. We want blessings and joy and all types of comforts. Although that selfish desire can never be fulfilled, it sets us on a path of transformation so that we can eventually come to the level where we are no longer selfish, where our desire is instead to Receive for the Sake of Sharing.
"Through helping others reveal Light, we still shine."
Malchut (the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone) does not receive Light, but nevertheless, it shines. We call it a sefira because it is the cause of so much Light that is revealed. As a matter of fact, no Light could be revealed without the process that involves this Desire to Receive for the Self Alone. So, it is considered not only one of the sefirot, but the most important sefira. Rav Ashlag says it is the most elevated, highest of all the Ten Sefirot. It is the greatest of the Ten Sefirot, because, if not for Malchut, none of the other nine could receive their Light, and so it is considered as though it is completely full of Light.
Another example of this is found in the Zohar. A story is recounted about a king who wants to see if his son is ready for leadership. He tells his son to be careful about the women he surrounds himself with. As a test, the king hires a prostitute to try and entice his son in all kinds of ways. His son does not succumb to the prostitute, and the king sees he is ready for the next level of leadership. The Zohar asks: Who has allowed the king to give his love to his son and reveal such Light? The answer is the prostitute. So, is the prostitute bad or good? She is in fact good, because she is the cause of all the Light that is going to be revealed.
This is what Rav Ashlag is saying here. Although Malchut does not receive any Light in itself, because it is the cause of the revelation of Light, it shines even brighter than the other sefirot. This is an important lesson for our own spiritual growth. Whenever we assist someone in revealing Light in any way, we receive that Light. Even the most terrible person can receive Light through enabling others to reveal Light. Just like Malchut, we can be in complete darkness, but assist in the revelation of the Light, and therefore, shine even brighter for it.
Rav Brandwein would often tell my father, Rav Berg, that there are some people who are capable of doing the spiritual work they need to do, and others that unfortunately are not yet open and able at this point in their process to make their own correction. So, there is another route, what is called the Tamchei d’Orita - the people who support the revelation of Light, but don’t directly reveal it themselves. The idea is that, even if we are not yet ready to do the spiritual work ourselves, through assisting others in revealing Light, we can receive the Light in turn. This will hopefully spark our ability to make our own transformation. There is a much greater capacity to receive Light that we’ve enabled others to reveal in their own lives than we can possibly reveal in our own lives.
My father would say that there are people who want to just study Kabbalah and others who want to disseminate the wisdom to others. Those who are studying only for themselves and working on themselves better hope they can do it all by themselves! If not, a large part of our spiritual work has to be dedicated towards disseminating it, because then, even if we cannot receive Light for some reason, through helping others reveal Light, we still shine.
*Adapted from Michael Berg’s Ten Luminous Emanations, lesson 41.