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Kabbala #7: Chochma: Inspired Intellect

May 8, 2009 | by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

Out of the Ten Sefirot, chochmah, wisdom is the trait which allows creating something out of nothing, for it truly comes from "nowhere."

Let us now take a closer look at those of the Ten Sefirot that relate to the intellect.

Chochmah, "wisdom," is the "input" into the mind. It is the information we have been taught, or more so, the flash of inspiration -- when an idea pops into our head. The Tanya –- a Chassidic/Kabbalistic work describes chochmah as consisting of two Hebrew words: koach mah, meaning "potential." For chochmah is pure potential. It is an idea waiting to be developed.

Besides unlimited potential, chochmah has one other important characteristic -- it comes from "nowhere." Let us explain this.

The verse (in Job 28:12) states: V'chochmah me'ayin timatze?

The word me'ayin can be properly translated as "from where" or "nowhere."

One way to translate this verse is as a rhetorical question: "And wisdom from where can it be found." Meaning, that wisdom is hard to come by. But the Kabbalists read this verse: "And wisdom is nowhere found." This is because the word me'ayin can be properly translated as "from where" or "nowhere."

This means that it is not possible to intellectually inquire above the level of chochmah. God's activities may be researched, inquired, thought about and analyzed up to a certain point. Past this point intellectual understanding is impossible because higher aspects of God's providence simply do not come through intellectual channels.


Let us illustrate this point:

A rough draft of a play or essay is handed in editing. The editor is a professor who explains to his students editing process and how it is done. He explains that sentences and phrases constructed in a certain way convey a desired meaning, that a specific choice of words paints a certain picture and so on.

Editing is a logical technique that may be taught and explained to others. But then the author walks in and the students ask him, "How does one think of creative ideas?" Struggle as he might, the author is at a loss for an explanation. He may suggest different stimuli that evoked thought patterns and ideas, but there is no way that "creativity" can be explained in terms of logical processing. For the logical processing starts after the idea has come into being.

There is no way that "creativity" can be explained in terms of logical processing.

We are colloquially on mark when we refer to such thinking as "creative thought," in the sense that creation is an ex-nihilo process. It comes from "nowhere."

There is an early text known as "Targum Yonatan ben Uziel." (It is printed in many Hebrew editions of the Bible.) The author interprets the words "in the beginning God created the world" as "with chochmah God created the world" -- he interprets "beginning" as meaning chochmah. For chochmah is a beginning process.

Chochmah does not follow anything. It is that distinct moment of inspiration which comes out of "nowhere," and only then does it become logically fleshed out into full understanding and action (as we shall see when we examine subsequent Sefirot.)

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