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Seder hishtalshelus (Hebrew סדר השתלשלות) means the "order of development" or "order of evolution", where the word Hishtalshelus (or Hishtalshelut) is derived from the reduplicated quadriliteral root ŠLŠL "to chain", and so literally means "the chain-like process". This is the term found in kabbala and hasidic philosophy that is used to refer to the progression God continually uses to go from His Self to the creation of the physical world. The Tanya states that learning about the seder hishtalshelus will bring a person to a "complete heart".

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The Basic Stations

The basic stations of this process from above to below are:

  • Atzmus Ohr Ein Sof before the Tzimtzum ("The Essence of the Infinite Light before the Contraction")
  • The Tzimtzum ("The Contraction")
  • The Reshimu ("The Impression")
  • The Kav ("Line of Light")
  • Ratzon Kadom ("Original Desire")
  • Adam Kadmon ("Original Man")
  • Atzilus ("World of Emanation")
  • The Masach ("The Curtain")
  • Beriya ("World of Creation")
  • Yetzira ("World of Formation")
  • Asiya ("World of Action")

Although these are the basic stations, each level contains infinite details. To understand Seder Hishtalshelus properly, one must first understand how all of the analogies given in kabbalah and hasidic philosophy exists in a person. Once one has mastered this, one can begin to see how all of these levels exist in the world. Then, one will be able to take any event or aspect of creation and trace it up the Hishtalshelus to G-d Himself, then back down to the original view and see how G-d is literally here with us, relating to us directly through his creations.

The purpose of learning about seder hishtalshelus is not merely to know about many distinct levels, rather, the purpose is to see how all the levels in between us and G-d are transparent and irrelevant, and in truth G-d is relating to us directly, and there is "none besides for Him". (Deuteronomy 4:35)

This is much like two friends talking on the phone. There are many stages one's voice must undergo before it reaches the other. Yet, the two people are talking to each other, not to their phones. The stages in between become irrelevant and transparent in such a situation.

One can understand these levels through the analogy of a man who wants a house. The hishtalshelus is generally broken down into two general stages, called the "Upper Unity" and the "Lower Unity". Below are the relevant analogies for all the basic stations of the hishtalshelus in the analogy of a man who wants a house starting from the top (primodial desires) and going down (until the desire is actualized).

The Upper Unity


Atzmus Ohr Ein Sof Lifnei Hatzimtzum

"The Essence of the Infinite Light before the Contraction":

The analogy for this stage is the essence of the person's soul. At this stage we are dealing with only the person himself, who at this point has no revealed desire for a house at all or anything else. However, since he is a person, we must say that at some point he will desire a house because this is part of human nature. At this stage, however, this desire doesn't have any independent existence at all, it's just part of who he is.

The Tzimtzum and Reshimu

"The Contraction and the Impression":

At this stage there is still no revealed desire for a house. However, the person realizes that his ultimate desire will be to express his true self through things that are separate from himself. This could be through music, art or a house or whatever. Those decisions have not yet been made. There is only the realization that one will want to express his true self by making something that appears separate from him, express him. This is similar to the way one might want the challenge of playing an instrument, which is something separate from a person, and allow himself to be expressed through it. Reshimu means impression, because at this stage the person realizes that he will not be able to express himself directly, but his self will somehow leave its own impression on the things he does so he can be seen through them.

All the stages until this point are not revealed desires yet, but subsconscious ones. Later, this will actually happen when people look at his house and will be able to determine what kind of person this is based on his things. A very perceptive observer will be able to figure out the whole essence of the person through the impression he left behind.

The Kav

"The measuring Line":

This is the part of the person that connects the Tzimtzum and Reshimu to the Infinite Light before the Tzimtzum. The analogy for it is the person's judgement. In life, whatever choices he makes, will be free choices made by the person. Although all the decision of his life down to what he chooses to order at a restaurant, still express his essence, however, because they are his choices. They are his way of expressing himself. If one looks carefully at his choices one can see how they brings across his unique style and taste. The fact that he's able to control the outcome with free choice reveals that fact that he is a person. By looking at the choices that were made you see what kind of person he is.

At this point there is still no revealed desire for a house, there is only the subconscious framework that will eventually be used when he does actually want his house. We know when he does want his house there will be particular decisions about things which are separate from his self, and those decisions will bring across who he really is, or his essence.

Ratzon Kadum

"Original Desire"(Lower Purity):

Now the person is probably older, and he begins to feel a desire for independence and belonging. This is one particular expression of his original desire to express himself. But now it is specific to wanting a sense of contentment and a feeling of being at "home". He doesn't want a house yet. He just wants that feeling that one has when they have a nice house. Technically he could still express this desire in other ways than having a house. Possibly he could meet nice friends or something like that and achieve that same sense of belonging and contentment. There are still no details yet of how this desire will be fulfilled.

Adam Kadmon (A"K)

"Original Man":

He now looks at the outside world for the first time. Up until this point, he was only thinking about himself, and what he wants, and how he wants to feel. Now in order to bring out this desire to practicality, he must decide what in the physical world will fit this what he wants. He creates a world image, i.e., a picture of what is going on in the world. Then he figures out where he fits into this world. He figures out that since he's a person, and not an animal so he wants a house, not a nest. Or if he is a rock star, sports fan, or Hasidic Jew, he will choose a house that fits those particular needs. The kind of house he will want has been limited at this point based on his world view and his realization of who he is. But he still has not actually desired a house. It's just that his priorities are set-up in such a way that should he want a house, it will be a house fitting for a human being and according to the limitations of time and space and in general fitting the world in with who he is.

The Lower Unity

Keter of Atzilut

"The Crown of the World of Emanation":

This stage is what results from the associations created in A"K, namely, a particular desire for a particular house. This stage includes: A. Arich Anpin-Chitzoneyus of Keser: Desire for this particular house B. Atik Yomin-Pnimiyus of Keser: The pleasure he gets in knowing that this will express who he is.


"The world of Emanation":

A"K already included all the details of the levels below it. However, the actual details only come out as needed. Now he know the way he will express himself will be specifically through a house.

At this stage he may sit down with his wife, or real estate agent, and clarifies exactly how he wants his house to be.

This stage includes Chochma (wisdom) of Aztilus which is when he creates the general picture of what he wants in the abstract. "A warm home" Binah (understanding) of Atzilus i.e. figuring out what are the components of such a home. Everything he wants the house to be with all their details.

In A"k he only knew what types of homes are apporpirate with what kind of person. Here he actually decides where he will fit into the picture. Here he also decides what is practical based on how much money he has and what is available etc.

Based on all of these things he comes up with: Z"A of Atzilus-The Small Face of the world of emanation:

This stage is the picture of what things are good and what are bad. Here he sets up what things will bring him closer to his goal (his dream house) and what things will bring him further. He will have Chesed (a love) for things he will like. He will have Gevurah (a fear or hate) for things he will not like. He will have Tiferes (beauty) for the compromises he makes (or the beauty that results) and Netzach (feeling of victory in spite of challenges) to want to go and get what he wants, and the Hod to not settle for something less than he wants. He will have a Yesod, which forms the compromise of how he will actually interact with everyone resulting from the interplay between his netzach and hod. This results in malchus (kinddom or actualization), which is the stage at which he will talk to himself about what he likes and doesn't like. And he will talk about what he is actually going to do.

Finally, all of the above will lead to his creation of his Malchus of Atzilus i.e. he will actually tell the real estate agent what he wants, what he will settle for and what he will not, what he likes hates etc. The desires are all setup now, but still the real building process of the house has not occurred.


"World of Creation":

At this stage the real-estate agent will take everything the man told him about what kind of house he wants. He will take these words of the original guy and translate them into things that can exist in a home. For instance, if the person said he wants a home where he can swim, the real-estate agent might translate that into him having a pool, or having a beach-home. This translations process is called the masach (screen)which carries across all the upper desires and connects them to things in the real world.

Real estate agent must pull out from those words what this guy really wants and how to find a house that will accomplish his goal. To translate what this guy wants to get out of a house and make it into a picture of an actual house. What he creates is the world of Beriyah. He must figure out all the different scenarios that would have all the elements with the best combination=Beriya. The real-estate broker need not do this, this technically could also be done within the person's self.


"World of Formation":

Now someone must figure out exact dimensions for each of these things, its shape, what it will be constructed out of. Will it be made of brick, limestone, wood or something else. Someone must look at the person's style, needs and desires. For instance if they intend to have parties, they should probably have a hardwood floor instead of carpet. Someone at this stage figures out the exact shape, size of the house and its location and then creates a floorplan.

Asiyah Ruchnis

"Spiritual World of Action":

Now this plan must go to the builders. The builders must look at the blueprint and figure out how to actually build a house like this. Sometimes a certain type of house can be drawn up in Yetzira but in real life wouldn't hold up or would be impracticable. These builder must figure out how to pour the cement, how to make it strong, and figure out where they will we get the furniture to actually make something like that. They must study the blueprint and figure out how to make something that will work.

Asiyah Gashmis

"Physical World of Action":

The builders actually pour the cement or whatever and build the physical structure and everything in the house. Now the man can go live in the house and enjoy and express himself in fulfillment of his original desire which started this entire process in the Infinite Light before the Contraction.

Only Analogies

While the hasidic texts offer many analogies of how seder hishtalshelus exists with a person, such as the one given above, they also emphasize that these are only analogies and the analogue is nothing like the analogies. These analogies are meant only to give a glimpse into seder hishtalshelus in a way that we are familiar with, but the true analogue deals with how G-d interrelates with our world. Much like a house, G-d desires a "dwelling place" in this world. This means He desired that his Essence be revealed through the medium of this world much like a person might wish his own essence to be revealed through the medium of his house. While analogies are a necessary step, the true goal of study of the seder hishlshelus must be to pick out the point that unites all of the analogies and apply it to the analogue i.e. how G-d is being revealed in our world directly.

On the other hand, the analogies are not vague, These analogies are precise and exact, much scholarly work has been dedicated to understanding and analyzing why particular analogies have been used, some that are not, and some that are inconsistent in application (i.e. a text may use different analogies to demonstrate the same point - the analysis required is to understand and examine the deficiency in each analogy, and how they can be reconciled with each other)

Relation to Western Philosophy

Much of the Seder Hishtalshelus has been expounded upon by late Chassidic masters, especially those of Chabad. Some speculate that the recent Hasidic explanations of Seder Hishtalshelus may have been influenced by certain principles in Western Philosophy. Various dichotomies mentioned in western philosophy are strikingly similar to those mentioned in late Chassidic texts: Form/Matter, Sense/Feeling, Initial Cognition/Semiotic Cognition/Semiotic Transition. (cf. 5663, Rashab; Values in a Universe of Chance, Charles S. Peirce). Furthermore, the prose of the Rebbe Rashab is almost identical to that of G.W.F Hegel.

Others counter that the dichotomies meantioned in Chassidic texts originate in sources predating Western Philosophy.

Proponents of hasidic philosophy, however, would counter that since hasidic philosophy is an essential wisdom that is higher than, and includes all other wisdoms it will necessarily make reference to all other forms of wisdom whether Western or otherwise. They would argue that such similarities are not proof of influence of Western philosophy, but rather are evidence that hasidic philosophy touches upon, unites, and enlightens every other wisdom in the world, whether it be Torah wisdom or secular wisdom. (see hasidic philosophy "Key to all Wisdom").

See also


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