The Language of the Kabbalists
All language comes from our basic human understanding of the world. We have words that describe the way we experience things through sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch. We have words that describe the physical sensation of things, like pain or joy. But when it comes to describing the spiritual world, things get a lot more complex. As we know, our physical experience of the world is limited. How, then, can we use words from the realm of senses to discuss something completely beyond the realm of senses?
Trying to describe the spiritual world is like trying to describe love to someone who has never experienced it. You can describe the butterflies in your stomach or the happiness it brings you, but it just barely touches the surface of what love truly is. It is impossible to explain it completely.
The same is true with the spiritual world. For instance, the word: Light. When we use the word Light, we can relate it to sunlight, which of course refers to the physical beams of light that emanate from the Sun. We can also relate it to the feelings the Light of the Creator gives us, using words like comfort, joy, and warmth. But all of those descriptions are still based on physicality, describing how Light looks or feels. We can use our words to approximate spiritual matters, the way we can try to approximately describe what love is, but the limitations of our words do not allow us to fully capture the essence of the wisdom.
This presents a challenge in our study of Kabbalah. Rav Ashlag teaches us that it is not enough to approximate the wisdom – we must understand it completely and perfectly to fully connect to it. This is why Kabbalah is referred to as The Wisdom of Truth. One cannot be approximate in describing this wisdom, one must be complete truthful. Therefore, there is an innate problem with using language in general to describe the wisdom – it is not exact enough.
Of course, we must use words to communicate with each other and to discuss the wisdom. So, in order to pass down Kabbalah through the generations, the ancient kabbalists chose to use existing language in a new way, one that Rav Ashlag calls the Language of Branches. The Language of Branches is a sort of code. Though the words have a literal translation, they are used to describe something spiritual instead of physical.
The idea behind the code is that everything we see around us in the physical world emanates from the spiritual world. The way we understand the words in our world is very far away from their origin in the supernal world – but there is a connection. For instance, when we see a table, we see something physical with four legs and a flat surface. We don’t tend to think about the origin of that table. Before it was a table, it was a slab of wood that a carpenter sculpted and arranged. Before that, it was a tree growing in a forest. Before that, it was a seed in the ground. And long before that, it came from the supernal world. Most of us when we look at a table, we don’t even think of the carpenter who created the table, or the tree from which it was made, much less its spiritual source. Everything physical in our world has a root in the supernal world. The ancient kabbalists trained themselves to see the spiritual source of everything. So when they use a word like table in their writing, they are describing the supernal source of the table, not the physical manifestation of the table.
Understandably, this created a lot of confusion over the years. For those who are new to studying Kabbalah, there may be some confusion upon first reading the writings of the ancient kabbalists. Often, the literal translation of the words does not make much sense. Sometimes there are words that seem out of place. This is because the words are coded in a way that we do not immediately understand without training our brains to understand them the way the kabbalists intended.
To address this confusion, Rav Ashlag made it his mission to share the supernal definitions of these words with the world, allowing us to decode the writings of the ancient kabbalists. This opened a doorway for all of us to connect to the wisdom on a deeper level. His work made it possible for someone who was unfamiliar with Kabbalah to study the wisdom without making the mistake of assuming the physical, literal translation of the words.
In this way, when we study the wisdom of Kabbalah and The Ten Luminous Emanations, what we in essence are doing is changing our consciousness completely. Instead of seeing the physicality around us, we can see the source of everything in our world. This is the level that the ancient kabbalists were able to reach. They were able to see the Light in everything in our world.
Understanding the Language of Branches is like learning an entirely new language, retraining the way our brains think. In order to do this, we must first understand how blind we are and how impossible is it for us to understand the writings of the kabbalists on our own. Kabbalah is the most difficult wisdom to grasp. Our ego tries to trick us into thinking that we understand the wisdom. We believe we grasp the general concepts of the wisdom. But as Rav Ashlag teaches us, it is not enough to hear it and comprehend it – we must fully retain it in our brains.
With this knowledge, we can begin to understand that we all experience, to one degree or another, a certain level of blindness in our understanding of the wisdom and the world. The reason we see negativity in others or in ourselves is because our eyes are closed. We must understand this in order to appreciate the incredible gift that is the wisdom of Kabbalah. Through our studies, we can open our eyes to truly understand the Language of Branches, to start seeing the world as it really is, and to transform our entire lives. The purpose of our lives is to merit the opening of our eyes.
*Adapted from Michael Berg’s TLE Lesson #11.