The Astral Body
In Scholem’s book, On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead, he says that the Astral Body poses many difficulties for scholarly study. He refers to Genesis 1:26, where the astral body is referred to as “the image or tzelem body”.
The first problem, is defining what constitutes an astral body. It has been called the aura, the psychic body and the container of the soul. The Rabbi explained to me that ancient Chinese physicians were well aware of the astral body. They began using acupuncture five-thousand years ago to balance the astral with the physical. They believed that disease began in the astral form, which eventually, manifested in the physical body. The Zohar refers to the tzelem body as an etheric double that surrounds the body. In Scholem’s book, he cites a passage from an Oxford manuscript of the Shushan Sodot: “Know that the complete secret of prophecy to a prophet consists in that he suddenly sees the form of his self standing before him, and he forgets his own self and ignores it….and that form speaks with him and tells him the future. And concerning this our sages said, ’Great is the power of the prophets, who made the form appear to them to resemble its Former’” (1509).
Jewish Mysticism teaches that the astral body can be separated from the physical body. The waking consciousness of the person can then be transferred to the astral body. There is nothing new about this phenomenon in the history of mysticism. The Egyptian mystics meditated inside the Great Pyramid and purportedly separated from their astral bodies. Their astral forms would leave the Pyramid through small square portals that pointed toward different stars. When they returned to their physical bodies, they had gained superior knowledge. These Egyptian Pharaohs and mystics wrote inscriptions in their tombs claiming to have visited ‘The Far World’.
The Hindus claim that Mahatmas, Avatars and highly advanced spiritual beings can leave their bodies at will. After the crucifixion, Jesus enters his ‘light-body’ and appears to Mary Magdalene and many others. Therefore, the astral body is a well-known spiritual phenomenon. Sometimes, it is called an apparition. According to Jewish Mysticism, the astral body is a second garment that each person slips into after the physical body dies. The Rabbi pointed out a Biblical reference about the tzelem body. He explained, when mythical Adam and Eve were in The Garden of Eden, they were light beings living in their astral bodies (naked). When God evicts them from The Garden, they fall to earth and subsequently, God “makes them garments of skin” (Genesis 3:21). In this metaphorical story, Adam and Eve fall from the astral world down to the physical world.
People who have experienced the NDE (near-death experience) have reported being outside their bodies while being pronounced dead. Their astral bodies move to the top of the room and hover over the body until they see a tunnel. This common experience is the best evidence for validating the existence of the astral form. Thousands of people have reported experiencing this phenomenon. The tzelem body is an intermediary between the physical world and the second world on The Tree of Life, known as Briah (creation). When the tzelem body dissipates, the soul stays in its world of rest until the time comes to incarnate once again.
The tzelem body is one layer of our being. The Rabbi used the metaphor of an egg to explain the multi-level nature of our being. He asked me to think of an eggshell as our physical body; the membrane inside the shell as the astral body; the soul as the albumin (white part) and the life essence (Yechidah-Chiah or monad) as the yolk. The egg is a primordial form which is an archetype for the birth of our being. The correspondence is obvious: The egg of our Universe with its four potential Worlds (as above) is analogous to the egg with four layers (as below) in our refrigorator.
A few weeks later, I thought that a flame would also be a good metaphor for this structure. The black smoke from the flame (carbon) symbolizing the physical body; the yellow glow - the astral body; the blue glow - the soul; and the clear, inner center - the life essence. Thus, there are four levels in all aspects of matter.
Many of my students have asked, “is transmigration the same as reincarnation?” Transmigration is similar to reincarnation in the sense that the soul continues to incarnate on earth as it strives for spiritual perfection. The original teaching says that only those who disobeyed the First Commandment were subject to transmigration. The process of transmigration was a punishment that kept the soul from entering ‘the world to come’. When The Zohar was written (circa 1285 CE), transmigration (Gilgul), became a popular topic of study. By the 15th century, transmigration was the accepted theory for the continuing cycle of life and death.
I learned that there are similarities and differences between the Hindu system of reincarnation and other theories of transmigration. The Hindu soul can devolve backward into the animal kingdom, whereas in Jewish Mysticism, souls remain in the human kingdom.
An interesting article by Moses ben Nahman (Nahmonides) describes Job’s sufferings as the painful effects from past lives. This idea is similar to the Hindu system of karma - every action creates a cause and effect. In Jewish Mysticism, karma is called ‘the residue’ (Klippot), and it latches onto the soul. Negative tendencies of the personality carry forward into the next life. The Egyptians, Cathars, Gnostics, Buddhists, Shintos, Sufis and Taoists have similar doctrines in their religious systems.
Transmigration also refers to the eternal energy of an individual’s soul (Yechidah-Chiah). This energy first manifests itself in the mineral kingdom as part of a life-wave. Eventually, this life-wave raises its consciousness to become the life force of the plant kingdom. Millions of years later, the life wave graduates to the animal kingdom, and finally, it moves up to the human kingdom. Pythagoras taught a similar doctrine that includes his version of the life force, known as the monad. The Hindu system has a life force called, Atman-Buddhi. In these traditions, the same theory of spirit and matter coming together, create forms in the universe (as taught by Plato). This creative, animating force of spirit and matter, propels all of nature forward. Spirit needs matter as its vehicle; every spark of light needs its ray; every sound vibration needs its musical tone.
Good and Evil
I've found that the most interesting aspects of good and evil relate to the evolution of the soul. I learned that Jewish Mysticism teaches the concept of a three-part soul. The first part is Nefesh, the breath of life; the second is Ruach, the spirit of the personality and the third is Neshamah, the eternal aspect. When introduced to this subject, my first impulse was to equate the trinity of the soul, with the Trinity described in The Nicene Creed. I felt that the concept of Father - Son - Holy-Spirit was the macrocosm of Neshamah, Ruach and Nefesh. I was also reminded of another trinity: Osiris (Father), Isis (Holy Spirit/Mother) and Horus (Son) of ancient Egypt. My inclination was to pursue this line of comparative thinking to learn more about universal patterns and symbols in other religions.
On the subject of good and evil, The Guide For The Perplexed by Maimonides, offers insightful explanations. Maimonides discusses the plight of Job and ‘why bad things happen to good people’. After reading The Book of Job, my first impression was that Job was not so ‘good’ after all. I noticed at the beginning of the story, Job’s sons held feasts inside his home on certain days. His sons invited their sisters to eat and drink with them, and, “when the feast days were over, Job would send word to them to sanctify themselves, and, rising early in the morning, he would make burnt offerings, one for each of them; for Job thought, ‘Perhaps my children have sinned and blasphemed God in their thoughts’” (Job 1:5). I began to wonder, what were Job’s sons and daughters doing during these feasts? What was going on with these boys and girls that caused Job to constantly atone for their sins? It did not sound like they were acting very ‘good’. My feeling was that something ‘bad’ was happening during those feast days. Especially, since Job “sent word” for them to cleanse themselves (Job 1:5). I spoke with Rabbi Abraham about why Job would allow his children to ‘sin and blasphemy God’. I asked him if Job‘s behavior could have been the cause of his suffering? The Rabbi told me, the Biblical writer was referring to specific sacrilegious events that Job did not terminate. Job’s failure to discipline his children may have been one of the causes of his suffering. The Rabbi agreed with my conclusions and was supportive of my method of evaluation.
Since Job allowed his children to hold these feast days in his house, he is responsible for the events that transpired during the feasting period. If he wanted them to sanctify themselves after the feasts, he must have known that they were up to ‘no good‘. Instead of stopping the feasts and disciplining his children, Job simply ‘sent word’ to them and prayed that they would stop their ‘bad’ behavior. Therefore, Job is not symbolic of the good man who suffers for no reason. Later in the story, Job’s children are killed as part of his penance. This action by God further corroborates the children’s role as one of the causes for Job’s misery.
Maimonides states the reasons for Job’s suffering when he speaks to God at the end of the book:
“I know that You can do everything,
That nothing you propose is impossible for You.
Who is this who obscures counsel without knowledge?
Indeed, I spoke without understanding
Of things beyond me, which I did not know.
I will ask, and you will inform me.
I had heard you with my ears, But now I see you with my eyes;
Therefore, I recant and relent,
Being but dust and ashes.” (Job 42:2)
Job realizes he has been arrogant in his ways and ignorant about the nature of God. Now, he is ready to listen for the first time after losing everything he loved. Maimonides summarizes Job’s situation by concluding that he was a religious man who understood rituals, worship and prayer (“I had heard you with my ears“), but he had never experienced God (“But now I see you with my eyes“). Job humbles himself and acknowledges that he does not know anything about the nature of God. Job’s admission is reminiscent of Socrates’ declaration to The Oracle at Delphi. Socrates tells The Oracle that he doesn’t know anything, and The Oracle responds by telling Socrates, ‘that’s why you are the wisest man in the world’. The message in The Book of Job is: it is not enough to take part in rituals, prayers and worship, if one wants to know God. The person, who wishes to commune with God, must experience God. This mystical experience is usually achieved through meditation. The goal of meditation is to connect the essence of the soul, with the essence of The Godhead.
The Zohar mentions another form of evil known as Sitra Ahra. When reading about Sitra Ahra, I immediately thought of the Dark Side from Star Wars. During the emanation of The Tree of Life, the spheres or vessels broke, and their shards (Klippot) form the Sitra Ahra (other side). The Klippot and Sitra Ahra become the source of evil in the universe. Luria named the breaking of these vessels, the Tzim-Tzum - a contraction of light descending through Four Worlds on The Tree of Life.
Once the vessels of The Tree are repaired (Tikkun), the manifested part of God will be in balance again. Luria taught that the vacant space eliminated by the Tzim-Tsum would restore (Tahiru) ‘good’ in the world. Luria’s teachings about the reparation of the vessels turned the focus of life to the outside world and away from the inner. He created the concept that humanity should perform good deeds for the sake of repairing these cosmic vessels. I wondered how he knew these vessels broke in the first place. I also felt that he was changing the rules to modernize the philosophy and change it into an organized religious movement. The same type of modernization took place when Gnosticism was abolished by the early Christian Fathers.
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto ("RaMChaL"): 138 Openings of Wisdom Opening 8: The Sefirot may appear in opposite likenesses even simultaneously.
The Sefirot can appear in likenesses that may even be mutually contradictory, in exactly the same way as images in a dream may change in a single moment. Each likeness seen in the prophetic vision provides knowledge about one power and one attribute. The attributes and powers become known according to the true, proper order in which they are arranged and function, while the likenesses are in accordance with the soul's ability to receive.
Having explained how the Sefirot appear as likenesses or images, we will now explain how these images may change from one to another.
The proposition consists of three parts. Part 1: The Sefirot can appear... This explains how the images change. Part 2: Each image seen... This explains the utility of these changes. Part 3: The attributes and powers... This explains the difference between the images and what they represent.
Part 1. The Sefirot can appear in likenesses that may even be mutually contradictory... If the likenesses through which the Sefirot appear were intrinsic to the Sefirot themselves, it would obviously be impossible to attribute two contradictory opposites to one and the same subject. However, since these likeness are not intrinsic to the Sefirot but were chosen by God, there is no difficulty in the fact that they may appear in different and contradictory likenesses, one after the other, or even simultaneously. For at one moment the Supreme Will wants them to appear in one way, and afterwards in a different way.
This enables us to resolve a problem arising out of various passages in the writings of the ARI that appear to contradict one another. Particularly difficult is the use of apparently contradictory terms to describe the state of the worlds. One of the hardest problems is the apparent contradiction between the depiction of the worlds in the form of a series of concentric circles (Igulim) and their depiction in linear form (Yosher). In the circular likeness, the world of Asiyah is in the middle, and accordingly, the line (Kav) should pass through the center of Asiyah and continue down below it. But for various reasons, this is impossible (as discussed by all the Kabbalistic masters), These problems can be resolved if we understand that these are simply the likenesses and images of prophetic vision. It is perfectly possible for the prophetic vision to contain contradictory images. The best way to understand this is by considering the parallel case of dreams.
...in exactly the same way as images in a dream may change in a single moment. In the case of a dream, it is not the actual object represented in the dream that is seen but rather, an image or likeness of the object manufactured by the image-making faculty of the mind - the imagination. It is this image that the person dreaming sees in his mind, and through it, he gains the knowledge which the dream was sent to him to reveal, be it true or false. The person's image-making faculty creates a picture in his mind consisting of dream images and symbols corresponding to the knowledge revealed through the dream. The picture is such that the dreamer thinks he is actually seeing the objects themselves.
However, what the person sees in the dream is nothing but the product of his imagination, and accordingly, the laws that would apply to the actual objects if they were seen by the physical eye in waking life do not apply to the images seen in the dream. The dreamer may dream that he sees a certain thing, yet that very thing may turn into something else in the same dream. These changes do not occur in such a way that the person can actually see the transition from one to another in the way the physical eye would see the transition if it took place in front of the person. In the dream, the person sees what he sees in one way, then afterwards he sees it in a different way. You cannot object that it was not that way a moment ago, for this is simply the way the imagination works.
Similarly in the case of the prophetic vision, it is possible to see contradictory images. The person may see one thing, but when he looks at it in order to understand it, it changes into something else. Thus in Ezekiel's vision, "the living creatures were running and returning" (Ezekiel 1:14).
When one looks at the totality of all the worlds with the line (Kav) within them, the circles appear one within the other and the line goes down through the middle, continuing all the way to the end (i.e. down to the lower half of the circles of Atik). In this view Asiyah appears to be in the middle. However, when one goes on to examine the line, Asiyah appears to be at the end of the line (as if the line does not continue past the center, down to the lower half of the circle of Atik). If one attempts to view Asiyah in the circular and linear view simultaneously, it appears to be above and below at one and the same time - "above", in the sense of being in the center of the circles, "below" in the sense of being at the end of the line. A similar example from this world would be what the rabbis said about Moses' burial place: to those standing below, it would appear as if it were above, but to those above, it would appear as if it were below (Sotah 14a).
The same principle applies in all the exalted visions of prophecy. They may take all kinds of different forms and change literally from moment to moment, as in a dream - for all these phenomena are found in dreams. Similarly, many other apparent contradictions in the writings of the ARI are not really contradictions at all. For in truth, what the prophet sees appears in both ways even at one and the same time, as in the case of a dream.
Each likeness seen in the prophetic vision provides knowledge about one power... Not for nothing do the images change. On the contrary, when two different visions of one and the same subject are seen, it is understood that both provide knowledge about the subject in question, and the prophet who sees the vision understands its meaning. From each image the prophet attains knowledge of a separate aspect of the general power that he sees ...and one attribute... i.e., he comes to understand things in de. When there are many different aspects, one likeness will provide knowledge about one attribute and everything dependent upon it and deriving from it in the overall scheme of government. Another likeness will provide knowledge about a different attribute and all that depends on and derives from it.
For example, when examining the causal chain (hishtalshelut) through which the various Partzufim are related, Yesod of Atik appears to end in the chest (Tiferet) of Arich Anpin, and from there emerge forces of Kindness and Severity, as will be discussed in its place (Opening 110). However, when we examine the Partzufim from the point of view of how one is clothed in another (äìáùä, halbashah), Yesod of Atik appears to end in Yesod of Arich Anpin. It seems both ways because both are true. These matters are revealed through the visions of the prophets.
The attributes and powers become known according to the true, correct order in which they are arranged and function... The difference between the vision seen by the prophet and the meaning of the vision, namely the underlying reality understood from it, is that the vision is in accordance with what the soul can receive. The Emanator, blessed be His Name, laid down the law that the prophets or the souls can receive only through this vision. Accordingly, their understanding of all the different aspects of God's attributes and His government that they need to understand comes to them through their visions, which follow the established laws governing the prophetic vision.
The vision changes according to the subject so as to make it possible for the souls to attain knowledge of each aspect in turn. Even though different visions may not be consistent with one another, this is of no import. On the contrary, the soul sees both visions, gaining knowledge of the two different aspects just as they are. The soul attains knowledge of God's powers and attributes according to their true essence and their place in the scheme of government. Yet the soul attains this knowledge in a way that is suited to its ability to receive. This is the meaning of the concluding words of this proposition: …while the likenesses are in accordance with the soul's ability to receive. For only in this way is it possible for the soul to attain knowledge and not in any other way.