[There are four universes, Atzilut (Nearness),
the universe of the Sefirot, Beriyah (Creation), the universe of the Throne, Yetzirah
(Formation), the universe of angels, and Asiyah (Making), the universe of forms.]
The prophets were able to see into Atzilut, although it
was completely clothed in the lights of Beriyah when they saw it. Ezekiel
lived after the destruction [of Solomon's Temple], and he therefore
only received prophecy from Atzilut after it was clothed in Beriyah,
with Beriyah itself clothed entirely in Yetzirah.
After this, the lights of Atzilut and Beriyah were no
longer revealed at all. This is the meaning of the teaching that after
Hagai, Zechariah and Malachi, prophecy ended completely, and only Ruach
HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) remained.
[This Ruach HaKodesh] consists of a transmission of the
lights of Yetzirah itself, as well as lower levels. Attaining this level
is called "Ascending to the Orchard (Pardes)." This refers
to Yetzirah, which is called "the Universe of [the angel] Metatron."
There are given techniques through which one can open
the gates of the physical world so as to enter Asiyah and Yetzirah.
These consist of Unifications (Yechudim) and prayers pertaining to the
Universe of Yetzirah and its Ten Sefirot. It is these techniques that
are taught in the Chapters of Hekhalot, and these practices were used
by Rabbi Nehuniah, Rabbi Akiba, Rabbi Ishmael, and the members of the
These techniques were then forgotten. Besides this, the
ashes of the Red Heifer were lost in the period of the later Talmudic
sages (Amaraim), during the generation of Abaya and Rava [who lived
in the Fifth Century], as mentioned in the Talmud. After this, they
no longer made use of these techniques to ascend to the Orchard.
From then on, people only made use of techniques involving
the universe of Asiyah. Since this is the lowest of the universes, its
angels have only a little good, and are mostly evil. Besides this, this
is a level where good and evil are closely intertwined [and it is very
difficult to separate them]. This does not bring any enlightenment,
since it is impossible to perceive good alone, and one's perception
is therefore a combination of good and evil, truth and falsehood.
This is the significance of the Practical Kabbalah. It
is forbidden to make use of it, since evil necessarily attaches itself
to the good. One may actually intend to cleanse his soul, but as a result
of the evil, he actually defiles it.
Even if one does gain some perception, it is truth intermingled
with falsehood. This is especially true today, since the ashes of the
Red Heifer no longer exist. [Since one cannot purify himself,] the uncleanliness
of the Husks (klipot) attaches itself to the individual who attempts
to gain enlightenment through the Practical Kabbalah.
Therefore, "he who watches his soul should keep far
from them. For besides polluting his soul, he will also be punished
in purgatory (Gehinom). We also have a tradition that such an individual
will be punished in this world. Either he or his children will become
sick, will be impoverished, or will become apostates. Learn a lesson
from Joseph Della Reina and Rabbi Shlomo Molcho, who made use of the
Practical Kabbalah and were destroyed from the world.
All this is because of the above-mentioned reason. This
involves a realm where there is no good devoid of evil. Besides this,
it involves coercing angels with oaths against their will. These angels
retaliate by enticing this individual, draw him into evil ways until
his soul is destroyed.
Beyond this, the methods involving these oaths were concealed
by earlier generations, and we are not well-versed in the proper techniques.
One must therefore keep himself far from these things.
from Meditation and Kabbala by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan]