The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism - Daniel Chanan Matt (1996)
Ayin: Mystical Nothingness
AYIN, NOTHINGNESS, is more existent than all the being of the world. But since it is simple, and every simple thing is complex compared with its simplicity, it is called Ayin.
THE INNER power is called Ayin because thought does not grasp it, nor reflection. Concerning this, Job said, “Wisdom comes into being out of ayin.”
THE NAME OF NOTHINGNESS
THE DEPTH of primordial being is called Boundless. Because of its concealment from all creatures above and below, it is also called Nothingness. If one asks, “What is it?” the answer is, “Nothing,” meaning: No one can understand anything about it. It is negated of every conception. No one can know anything about it—except the belief that it exists. Its existence cannot be grasped by anyone other than it. Therefore its name is “I am becoming.”
BEING AND NOTHINGNESS
YOU MAY be asked: “How did God bring forth being from nothingness? Is there not an immense difference between being and nothingness;”’
Answer as follows: “Being is in nothingness in the mode of nothingness, and nothingness is in being in the mode of being.” Nothingness is being, and being is nothingness. The node of being as it begins to emerge from nothingness into existence is called faith. For the term “faith” applies neither to visible, comprehensible being, nor to nothingness, invisible and incomprehensible, but rather to the nexus of nothingness and being. Being does not stem from nothingness alone but rather, from being and nothingness together. All is one in the simplicity of absolute undifferentiation. Our limited mind cannot grasp or fathom this, for it joins infinity.
THE WISDOM OF NOTHINGNESS
THE TEN SEFIROT are the secret of existence, the array of wisdom, by which the worlds above and below were created. Corresponding to this secret are the ten utterances by which the world was created, and the ten commandments, which epitomize the holy Torah. Indeed, the ten sefirot constitute the secret of divine existence; they comprise above and below, every single thing. They are ancient and concealed. From them emerges the mystery of the supernal chariot—a matter concealed and sealed for those who discover knowledge.
Keter Elyon, highest crown, is called the pure ether that cannot be grasped. It is the sum of all existence, and all have wearied in their search for it. One should not ponder this place. It is secretly named Ein Sof—Infinity—for it engenders everything that is. The belt of the wise is burst by this mysterious cause of causes.
Arouse yourself to contemplate, to focus thought, for God is the annihilation of all thoughts, uncontainable by any concept. Indeed, since no one can contain God at all, it is called Nothingness, Ayin. This is the secret of the verse, “Wisdom comes into being out of ayin.” Anything sealed and concealed, totally unknown to anyone, is called ayin, meaning that no one knows anything about it. Similarly, no one knows anything at all about the human soul; she stands in the status of nothingness, as it is written: “The superiority of the human over the beast is ayin.” By means of this soul, the human being ascends higher than all other creatures and attains the glory of Ayin.
At times, a breeze blows by, delighting the heart and the mind. You do not know what it is or why; it cannot be grasped. Similarly, when this sefirah is aroused, it radiates and sparkles and cannot be grasped at all.
How precious it is to know that God generates all of existence. From one bit of existence, the soul can perceive the existence of God, which has neither beginning nor end. The highest crown is not a beginning, yet from there emerged the point of concealment, the head of all levels, of all the other mirrors, the beginning of all existence. If you have eyes to see, you can search this matter meticulously and waft the mind in imagination to the secret power of this sefirah. Contemplate, understand, dedicate yourself to know that this sefirah returns to its original state. To whom does it belong?
The beginning of existence is the secret concealed point, primordial wisdom, the secret conceptual point. This is the beginning of all the hidden things, which spread out from there and emanate, according to their species. From a single point you can extend the dimensions of all things. Similarly, when the concealed arouses itself to exist, at first it brings into being something the size of the point of a needle; from there it generates everything.
Contemplate this: When the emanation was emanated out of Ayin, all things and all sefirot were dependent on thought. God’s secret existence emerged from this single point. That which abides in thought yet cannot be grasped is called wisdom: Hokhmah. What is the meaning of Hokhmah? Hakkeh mah. Since you can never grasp it, hakkeh, “wait,” for mah, “what” will come and what will be. This is the sublime, primordial wisdom emerging out of Ayin.
THINK OF YOURSELF AS AYIN
THINK OF yourself as Ayin and forget yourself totally. Then you can transcend time, rising to the world of thought, where all is equal: life and death, ocean and dry land. Such is not the case if you are attached to the material nature of this world. If you think of yourself as something, then God cannot clothe himself in you, for God is infinite. No vessel can contain God, unless you think of yourself as Ayin.
THE ESSENCE of serving God and of all the mitsvot is to attain the state of humility, that is, to understand that all your physical and mental powers and your essential being depend on the divine elements within. You are simply a channel for the divine attributes. You attain this humility through the awe of God’s vastness, through realizing that “there is no place empty of it.” Then you come to the state of Ayin, the state of humility. You have no independent self and are contained in the Creator. This is the meaning of the verse: “Moses hid his face, for he was in awe.” Through his experience of awe, Moses attained the hiding of his face, that is, he perceived no independent self. Everything was part of divinity.