Lecture #10b: Appendices to the Discussion of Letter 44, Section E

  • Rav Tamir Granot


By Rav Tamir Granot



Lecture #10b:

Appendices to the Discussion of Letter 44, Section E



Appendix A: On the Epistemology of Immanuel Kant


The works of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) continue to have tremendous impact on thinking about human consciousness, and his metaphysics and ethics constitute a cornerstone of all modern thought.


Kant attempted to understand how man takes in and understands his surrounding reality. We see the computer screen in front of us, feel the clothes we are wearing, etc. At first glance, we perceive reality as it truly is. But reality is disloyal and problematic, and what we perceive as existing is not absolutely the way we perceive it. For example, science claims that the world is composed of atoms and that tremendous distances separate between their various particles; when we “see” a table, however, we do not see this tremendous collection of particles, nor do we see through the table, which, according to the above, should be transparent (due to the tremendous distance between the particles). So what do we really see? To what extent do we see the thing as it truly is? Does what we see as a table really exist in this form?


The light that we see is really a wave of photons, to which we attribute a color – red, green, or something else – depending on the frequency of its vibrations. Color is an “invention” of the human brain; the wave itself is only the movement of particles. Moreover, we only see a narrow spectrum of light wavelengths, and other creatures can see other waves of various frequency and intensity.


If so, what do we see - reality or merely a coarse translation of it? In Kant’s language, we are asking about the difference between ontology (the thing as it really is) and epistemology (the thing as perceived by our consciousness).


This, however, is only the first problem. Let us presume, according to Kant’s method, that there is a God, who is perfect and powerful and who is concerned with the existence of all reality, and that we perceive that God as existing. If that God verifies that we perceive reality as He wishes for us to perceive it, we will never know what really exists and what does not exist; we always receive what God wants us to perceive. How, then, will we know if existence really exists? Perhaps God’s decision merely causes us to think that it exists?


We must not forget that we take in reality through our senses, which translate what they absorb from the outside on our behalf. The sense of sight translates certain waves into the image that the brain receives; the sense of hearing translates other waves into a note, and so forth. What is the relationship between the image or the note portrayed in the brain and reality? The senses translate the external input, they make changes, and send it on to the brain. But the brain also processes-translates (in a manner that we do not fully understand) the data that it receives and transforms the sensual data into concepts/images. How precise is this process?


These and similar questions have been debated by many philosophers (and scientists) for generations. Whenever someone proposes a solution, others point out its flaws. They demonstrated, for example, that while experiencing a dream, one does not know whether or not it is real. Perhaps we are always dreaming… The film “The Matrix” shows the degree to which it is impossible to determine the truth or deception of sensory input.


We can clarify this dilemma through a simple allegory. Let us presume that we are sitting in a sealed room and know nothing of the existence outside the room. Our knowledge of the outside world is fed completely by devices inside the room: television, radio, other media, meteorological equipment, etc. We can thus live for a long time thinking that we know what is going on outside. But suddenly a question arises in our mind - how do we know that these devices are reliable? How would we know if they transmit reality as it really is? What transformation does reality undergo in them? Regarding the latter question, we can provide a simple answer – we can dismantle the device and see its operational transmission mechanism. Then we can know what kind of transformation there was, but we still could not know what really exists outside because we simply cannot go outside; we are at the mercy of the devices.


Kant explained that our reason is akin to such a sealed room that we cannot leave. We are absolutely certain that there is something outside, but we depend on the devices for the particular manner of perceiving them. It is impossible, Kant explained, to really know what exists in the world as such. The things as they are (the ontology of the world) remain unidentifiable and unknowable because, on their way to us, they undergo too many alterations and because they are ruled by numerous factors that we do not know about (God, the matrix, or anything else).


The only thing that we can become aware of in an unmediated fashion is our reason. Consciousness of reality is, as we said, “mediated,” and we therefore have no certainty with regard to it - but we are capable of investigating what our reason is. This essentially is the critique of reason that Kant made his life’s work – both the aspects related to science and metaphysics and the aspects related to ethics (practical reason).


We are familiar with the two categories upon which human thought is premised, categories that man cannot escape working inside of. It does not matter if these categories exist or not, if they are artificially contrived or the world is actually like that – man must operate in this way. These categories are time and space.


We take in reality as something that progresses through time – we cannot escape that. Every event is absorbed in relation to other events on the basis of time. Crazy people might confuse the concept, but the present discussion is not about the insane, but rather those among us who are trying to live in the world.


Try to ignore the concept of time once – to imagine a world without time. It is impossible. More precisely, it is impossible to conceive of it through our imaginations, since we operate within time at every instant…


We may say that we grasp the concept of an hour. We know when to get to work or school, or determine what hour of the day it is based on the sun’s location. These are all temporal phenomena; they are not time itself, that mysterious pattern by virtue of which we can grasp all of these things. I do not know anything about time, upon which I base everything! What is time itself? You can show me numerous phenomena, but this does not explain the ability of each of us to understand time. What is that ability? How are we able to comprehend the world as working in time? Note that each time that I ask about time, I obtain temporal phenomena, and that there is nothing in this world that we do not do within time constraints. Every action occupies time, every thought takes time. I cannot think about anything that does not require that it be linked to time. But all of these grasp temporal phenomena. The thing itself – time – is incomprehensible to us; it merely defines reality for us. In other words, time is what allows us to work and live in the world, it precedes anything that we can think about, it enables us to act and think – and as such we cannot think about it or operate on it, only within it.


The same applies to the concept of space. Everything is perceived as existing in space. We are incapable of neutralizing it. We cannot place things inside things (even the word “inside” entails a spatial relationship). Again, any question about the substance of space will be answered with spatial phenomena. Space itself is something that defines our ability to think and act in the world. We always act within a special perception that we do not understand. We can always explain phenomena, point out the surrounding room. But what is space in general, that infinite thing that we exist within and constantly act within? This is hard to explain.


Our thought is premised upon time and space. We perceive everything within their rubric.


Note that neither of these categories can be proven. We cannot prove the existence of time or space – we are simply incapable of thinking otherwise. Moreover, these categories form the basis of our thought. Neither time nor space can be pointed out; only spatial and temporal phenomena (this table, an hour ago…). Indeed, the general thing characterized by the words “time” and “space” is not grasped or controlled by us; it is the basis for our thought. It does not exist in our world, but our world is perceived through thoughts formed by time and space. Such categories are called transcendent categories.


Another category of thought that is very important for the premise of scientific research is causality. All empirical science (based on scientific experimentation) presumes that there is a causal link between various phenomena, and scientific legality presumes the consistency of these links. If we reconstruct the same act under the same exact conditions, the same result will occur. British philosopher David Hume challenged the empiricist stream of thought. Causality is hypothesis, he argued. It cannot be proven; perhaps it is a mistake. Kant responded to Hume’s question in this way: causality is also a category of thought – a category through which we grasp reality.


Kant defined his philosophy as a second Copernican revolution. The first revolution was the discovery that the sun does not revolve around the Earth, but that the Earth revolves around the sun. The second revolution was that perception does not depend on reality (that what we perceive is what we know), but that reality depends on perception (what we perceive is subject to the categories of reason).

Appendix B: Several Kabbalistic Concepts



The Seven Sefirot


Below is a concise summary of the structure of the seven emotional sefirot (the seven lower sefirot). The graph shows the general structure of the sefirot with important parallels, followed by a brief explanation of each of them.


Right line:

The pillar of kindness

Middle line:

The pillar of Torah

Left line:

The pillar of prayer

D. Chesed




E. Gevurah




F. Tiferet




G. Netzach




H. Hod




I. Yesod





J. Malkhut





Chesed: The interior of Chesed is love. In the body, Chesed corresponds to the right hand, and the figure that represents it is Avraham. Chesed is the most general of the virtues of the heart – it opens them and accompanies them (since all of the virtues of the heart are forms of relating to others, and the essence of good relations with others is chesed). The features of Chesed grow and extend from above to below.


Gevura: The interior of Gevura is awe. In the body, Gevura corresponds to the left hand, and the figure that represents it is Yitzchak. Gevura is characterized by meticulous precision, which is also a type of intense sensitivity to detail, and by powerful justice. Gevura restrains the expansion of Chesed, and in its interior it has an ascending movement, going upwards.


Tiferet: The interior of Tiferet is compassion. In the body, Tiferet corresponds to the body itself (and sometimes to the heart), and the figure that represents it is Yaakov. Tiferet is the center of all the emotional sefirot: it combines and balances Chesed and Gevura, and this is its splendor. The Torah, which shines a measured light (a combination of Chesed and Gevura), corresponds to Tiferet.


Netzach: The interior of Netzach is trust (as in self-confidence that leads to taking initiative, which stems in holiness from trust in God, “Who gives you the strength to create wealth”). In the body, Netzach corresponds to the right leg (or right kidney), and the figure that represents it is Moshe. Netzach’s subject is victory (which is sometimes expressed in contentiousness), eternity, and organizational ability (“conducting” work).


Hod: The interior of Hod is innocence (that is, seriousness and honesty, whose opposite is cynicism). In the body, Hod corresponds to the left leg (or left kidney), and the figure that represents it is Aharon. Hod is manifested in confession, thanksgiving, admission of the truth (even without understanding it through reason), and the surrounding light of “majesty and beauty.” Hod is also a weak point and an opening for evil.


Yesod: The interior of Yesod is truth (in the sense of the drive for validation and actualization). In the body, Yesod corresponds to the circumcision, and the figure that represents it is Yosef. All matters of procreation and sexual purity belong to Yesod. Yesod is called “the tzaddik, foundation of the world.”


Malkhut: The interior of Malkhut is baseness. In the body, Malkhut corresponds to the mouth, and the figure that represents it is David, the sweet singer of Israel. Malkhut is an external expression – in speech or action – and is the purpose and completion of all the sefirot. Since Malkhut descends to reality, it is at risk of breaking or dying. It is generally identified with feminine aspects.



The sefiriotic Kabbala of the Rishonim originated in the Zohar of R. Shimon bar Yochai and culminated with the summaries of R. Moshe Cordovero, the last kabbalist before the Arizal. The Arizal reintroduced four principles into Kabbala, corresponding to the four letters of the Tetragrammaton: Tzimtzum (corresponding to the yud), Shevira (hey), Partzuf (vav), and Birur (hey). In this context, we will explain only Tzimtzum, which is the principle that we currently need.


In the doctrine of the Rishonim, Divine power and creation in general are seen as developing from the Creator Himself. The Arizal revealed that in order to create creatures and reveal Divine powers that relate to these creatures in the world there was a need to create a space that was free of the presence of God’s infinite light, since a finite creation cannot proceed directly our of God’s infinity. The principle of tzimtzum is the creation of a space free of God’s (revealed) presence, which constitutes the “place of creation.” The place of creation – the empty space formed by the initial Tzimtzum (and by subsequent acts of Tzimtzum) – serves as the tool within which the Divine powers that illuminate this creation are enclothed. The letter yud of the Tetragrammaton alludes to the manifestation of the precise and restricted light of God after the hiding of the infinite light.