The Five Aspects of Light: Creating Higher Yichud/Unification
Jewish meditation spans many methodologies, from the most complex mystical and scriptural contemplations, to the most simple and direct forms of self-inquiry. As we light the candles of our Chanukah menorah, we have an opportunity to tap into rich resources of Kabbalistic wisdom and self-improvement. To help us access these resources, we will begin our meditation by delving into a Kabbalistic text.
There are two main parts of a candle flame, in the words of the Zohar, ‘the Book of Brilliance’:
In the flame itself, there are two lights:
One white and luminous, the other black or blue.
The white light is the higher of the two, and it rises steadily.
The black or blue light is underneath the (white light),
Which rests on (the black or blue light) as on a pedestal.
The two are inseparably connected,
The white resting upon and enthroned upon the black…
The blue or black base is in turn attached to something beneath it (the wick)
Which keeps it in flame and impels it to cling to the white light above.
This blue or black light sometimes turns red,
But the white light above it never changes color.
The lower light, which is sometimes black, sometimes blue, and sometimes red,
Is a connecting link between the white light to which it is attached above,
And to the concrete body (the wick) to which it is attached below,
Which keeps it alight.
This (red) light always consumes anything under it
Or anything brought in contact with it,
For such is its nature, to be a source of destruction and death.
But the white light which is above it
Never consumes or destroys, and never changes.
(1 Zohar, p.51a)
In order to turn this passage into a practical meditation, we first need to unfold its deeper meanings, as well as its applications for our personal lives. We will begin by exploring the mysticism of the Divine names that correspond to different parts of the candle flame.
Looking more closely, the passage from the Zohar mentions several elements of a candle flame:
- “The flame itself”, in which the various manifestations of light appear,
- The unchanging or steady aspect of the flame’s white light,
- The fluctuating aspect of the blue or black light,
- The destructive aspect of the flame, symbolized by the red color that sometimes appears within the blue or black light.
We will add a fifth element that is not mentioned in the passage: if you look very carefully, below the blue or black light, there is a subtle but steady white light where the flame is attached to the wick. Like the large, upper white light, this small white light does not change color. It is, in this sense, a diminished reflection of the upper white light. Because of their similarity, we could say that the first manifestation, the large white light, is present within the final manifestation, the small white light. This is consistent with the principle, “The beginning is wedged in the end.”
The above elements are metaphorically associated different Divine names:
- Only the “flame itself”, doesn’t have a corresponding name, for it is not an attribute of the flame, but its totality or essence. It is itself. Just as your name is irrelevant when you’re thinking about yourself (since you’re one with yourself), all names and descriptions are irrelevant to the ‘Self’ or ‘Essence’ of Divinity.
- The upper white light corresponds with the Divine name Havayah, the ‘Yud-Hei-Vav-Hei’. This is the main part of the flame that doesn’t change color, but “rises steadily upward” detached from the wick. It does not need to destroy or negate the wick in order to exist. Havayah, sometimes called ‘Hashem’ or the Tetragrammaton, connotes the changeless, transcendent attribute of Divinity. It is the Infinite Reality that completely transcends the world without negating its existence.
- The light that constantly changes in appearance from blue, to black, to red, corresponds with the Divine name Eheyeh. This name means, “I will be,” for the way that Hashem appears to us is always changing and evolving, according to our own spiritual evolution.
- The red light that appears within the blue or black light corresponds with the name Elokim. This name indicates the ‘concealment’ of Hashem in relation to the world, and the letters of Elokim can be re-arranged to spell the phrase, ilam Yud-Hei, ‘the silencing of the Yud-Hei (Hashem)’. Elokim also alludes to the attribute of din or severity, as in the power of Divinity to consume worldly forces, negating that which is not-Divinity.
- The subtle white light attached to the wick corresponds with the name Ado-noi. As this light is a reflection of the upper white light, the name Ado-noi is like a receptacle for the transcendent name Havayah. When, in the recitation of formal prayers, we come to the ineffable Tetragrammaton, we recite instead its diminished, more tangible reflection, Ado-noi.
Allusions of the Divine Names
- Everything in the world reflects these five dimensions. Let’s use a tree as an example:
- The Essence of a tree is its tree-ness. It is completely itself, without regard to its attributes.
- The Havayah of a tree is its ineffable presence. It is impossible to comprehensively describe a tree, or anything else for that matter.
- The Eheyeh of a tree is the fact that it is constantly changing, growing, and fluctuating with the seasons. A tree is always ‘tree-ing’.
- The Elokim of a tree is that it is revealing only ‘tree’, and thus concealing everything else—it exists by negating non-tree objects. A tree also consumes non-tree elements such as the water and minerals in the soil below it.
- The Ado-noi of the tree is its diminished reflection within the concept or word ‘tree’. We indicate a tree with the name ‘tree’, even though what a tree really is transcends our comprehension.
A Kabbalistic unification or yichud, is a contemplative method of drawing the power of transcendent Divinity into the manifest world. Unifications may be performed by means of letters and/or their numerical values (gematria). Here, we are contemplating the three basic ways that the unchanging transcendent light of the Infinite One can unite with the changeable, manifest, finite reality.
- When the gematria of Havayah is united with, or added to, the gematria Eheyeh (21), the sum is 47.
- When Havayah is added to the name Elokim (86), the sum is 112.
- When Havayah (26) is added to Ado-noi (65), the sum is 91.
The total of these three sums, (47 + 112+ 91), is 250. The word ner, ‘candle’ or ‘light’, also has a gematria of 250 (Nun=50, Reish=200). Therefore, before we light a Chanukah ner, we can bring to mind these three yichudim. By doing so, we hope to invite the transcendent light to shine within the world.
There are 25 letters in the names used in the above yichudim: Havayah has 4 letters, and it appears three times in the yichudim, so we have 3 x 4 = 12. Eheyeh has 4 letters, Elokim has 5, and Ado-noi has 4, with a combined total of 13. Thus, we have 12 + 13 = 25. The number 25 in Hebrew is represented by the letters Kuf and Hei, spelling the syllable kah. Thus, the word Chanu-kah can thus mean chanu, ‘rested upon’, kah, ‘the 25 letters of these three unifications’. In other words, the light of these three unifications are to rest upon, settle into, our lives. They are not just conceptual structures; they can be absorbed and felt. Therefore, when we recite the word ‘Chanukah’ in our blessings over the Chanukah lights, we could intend to internalize the tangible illumination represented by these unifications.
Turning the Meditation Inward
After you light your Chanukah candles, take some time to quietly gaze at them and take their mystical meanings to heart.
- “The flame itself” represents what you are in essence, your total ‘you-ness’, prior to any of your attributes. Gaze at the flame, and ask yourself, “Who am I in essence, prior to any of my attributes?” Now turn your gaze inward, and look for a moment at the irreducible you-ness of you.
- The large, white part of the flame represents your Havayah, the ineffability of your unchanging, transcendent soul. Gaze at the white light and ask, “What is the most stable aspect of my life, that which I hold onto the most, or that which is most precious? Turn your gaze inwards, and recognize the awesome fact that you are always part of the Infinite Light of Hashem.
- The blue or black light near the base of the flame represents your Eheyeh, your state of yearning, changing and becoming. Gaze at this light and ask, “What are my aspirations and dreams? What do I see myself becoming, and what can I do to begin the process?” Turn your gaze inward, and recognize your yearning to embody more of your higher self, your transcendent soul.
- The red light that sometimes appears within the blue or black light represents your Elokim, the element of concealment or negation in your life. Gaze at this area of the flame and ask, “What are the negative or destructive habits that I need to release?” Turn your gaze inward, and recognize any concealment of your soul’s brilliance.
- The small, white light attached to the wick represents your Ado-noi, the way you express your self through your most non-fluctuating identity: perhaps it is your profession, your family role, or your social identity. Gaze at the small white light attached to the wick and ask, “How do I express my identity the world? How can I better reflect my soul in thought, word, and action?” Turn your gaze inward and recognize that your mind and body are vehicles for your soul and its purpose.
To turn the unifications inward, you could gaze at the flame, and notice that the upper white light of the flame does not cancel out the lower three lights, nor vice-versa. On the contrary, all the colors are united in a continuous rainbow of light. This represents the fact that Havayah is in yichud with Eheyeh, Elokim, and Ado-noi. Now, turn your gaze inward and recognize the fact that your changeless, transcendent brilliance miraculously co-exists with the ups and downs of your life, your ambitions and identifications. You are one.
Simple and Direct
To amplify the five inward meditations above, here are five direct questions that you could ponder, as you meditate on the Chanukah lights:
- Who am I?
- What is most precious to me?
- What are my aspirations and dreams?
- What do I need to release from my life?
- Am I expressing my higher self in the world?
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