from The Sefirot (author).
The Crown of Nothingness
Keter is the crown. Just as a crown is higher than the head, so is keter beyond thought. So profound is it that it can only be conceived of as a supernal Nothingness. Thus, it is also known as Ayin–Nothing.
Keter is the first frame of God’s thought, blinding us into darkness (Rav Kook).
And when the letters of Ayin are re-arranged, they spell out the word Ani-I. God is the “I” of the universe (Baal Shem Tov).
The Loving Countenance of Keter
Keter is the first emanation of the infinite light of God. It is therefore a manifestation of complete giving and love. It is in regard to this aspect of God’s relationship to the universe that the prophet, Michah, glorified God: “Who is a god like You? You forgive sin, and You pass over the iniquity of the remnant of Your inheritance. He does not hold forever onto His anger, for He desires lovingkindness. He will again have compassion on us. He will subjugate our sins and cast into the depths of the sea all of their sins. You give truth to Jacob, lovingkindness to Abraham, as You have vowed to our forefathers, from the days of old” (Michah 7:18-20).
Just as God relates to the universe in utter love, so must a human being relate to others lovingly.
Keter does not look up at its magnificent source, the Light of the Infinite Creator, but it looks down, sending its rays to the lower universes.
God looks down at His world with love, allowing only goodness to enter before Him and showing respect to even the slightest creature (for if He had any lack of respect for it, it would immediately cease to exist). So must a person look lovingly at others, not considering their flaws.
We should honor all beings, recognizing that they were created by God’s wisdom. We should recognize that by not respecting them, we do not appreciate He Who made them.
We should fill our heart with love of humanity. We should even think lovingly of those who do evil, wishing, “Would that they repented and became pleasing to God.”
Keter sits upon a head, so to speak, and that head is subsumed within keter.
In our head are our thoughts. The “thoughts” of keter are a continuous outpouring of goodness and love. They are thoughts of the primal Torah, the blueprint of creation. So should a person have only thoughts of goodness and love, and only meditate upon the Torah and upon God.
The “forehead” of keter is involved in ameliorating all harshness and judgments. So should we quiet the anger of others when we can, and act in a soothing manner.
The “ears” of keter do not allow entry to harsh judgments or slander. So should we not listen to empty and ugly words, words which arouse anger, but only to good and useful things.
The “eyes” of keter gaze down always at goodness. So should we not look at any ugly or immodest sight. Instead, we should only look to help the unfortunate.
The “nose” of keter refers to God’s acceptance of man’s prayers, which are “a pleasing scent to the Lord” (Leviticus 1:9). So should we always strive to be calm, even when provoked. We should always desire to help the oppressed, overlooking provocations.
The “countenance” of keter gives life, as in the verse, “In the light of the King’s countenance is life” (Proverbs 16:15). So should we look at people pleasantly and kindly.
The “mouth” of keter is always speaking goodness. Similarly, we should not speak curse words, violent words or empty words. Instead, we should only speak good of others, and our mouth should be filled with blessings.
It is true that we must often act with strictness and firmness. Those traits stem not from keter but from lower emanations of Godliness.
But in certain situations, we should only act with the traits that are appropriate to keter.
Such times are the Sabbath and holidays–particularly Yom Kippur. And during a regular day, there are the times of prayer and learning Torah (cf. Tomer Devorah, chapter 2).
Keter: Protective Screen
Keter is a screen that stands between our consciousness and the infinite, unfathomable light of Divinity. Keter is the curtain between the Emanator and that which is emanated.
The thoughts of a God-intoxicated person might run into the infinite regions and be swallowed up forever.
Keter prevents this. Keter allows us to rise to the heights of spirituality without self-annihilation. Therefore, Keter represents the greatest possible rectification of our consciousness.
The ability to access keter marks the difference between human beings and angels.
Angels are called seraphim, which means fiery beings. They burn up and are aflame in the light of their great insight and God-intoxication. Because they cannot access keter to receive God’s light, they are overwhelmed by that light.
A human being can access keter because he has the ability to do good deeds. The Jews have been given the 613 mitzvot of the Torah, and gentiles have been given the 7 Noahide laws.
Jewish tradition calls the universe that we inhabit the world of “Asiyah”: the world of action.
When we serve God with action, we lift physicality to Godliness until it reaches the level of keter. We infuse physicality with spirituality.
This is the purpose of existence: to raise the most corporeal aspect of existence to keter, the root of thought and consciousness.
Eternal Joy is a Crown Upon the Jews’ Heads
When we carry out God’s commandments, we should do so in a state of joy. The prophet speaks of “Eternal joy on their heads” (Isaiah 35:10).
Keter is “on their heads.” The realm of keter is a realm of eternal joy.
When we carry out good deeds and God’s commandments in a joyous spirit, we can lift ourselves to the state of keter.
And when we reach keter, we are able to access the light of the Infinite One.
Angels, on the other hand, cannot bear the test of living in this low world. And correspondingly, they have no filters to receive God’s great light. Thus, human beings have the potential to reach a level of Godliness beyond the ability of angels.
At times, we may be dismayed by the frustrating boundaries of our human condition. It may seem that our physicality, our upbringing, our emotional problems, our everyday limitations keep us distant from God. We may feel that the desires and needs that constitute our makeup are a barrier to Godliness.
We may envy the angels, who are free of all earthly desire and needs.
Yet it is precisely on this earthly plane that we can actualize the will of God in perfecting His universe (cf. LH OH Nefilat Apayim 4:9).
The Path of Action
“Those who go down in ships, who do work on the great seas, They have seen the works of God and His wonders in the depths” (Psalms 107:22-23).
There are holy and good people who carry out God’s commandments in joy. They rectify the level of keter, and so their consciousness can run joyfully to attain the light of the Infinite One. They go down to the sea of wisdom and do their work in the water of knowledge. They truly see and know how great are the works of God. They have seen His wonders in the depths.
But sometimes, a storm wind blows up. “He spoke and brought up a storm wind, which raised the waves. They rose to the heavens and sank to the depths. The [sailors’] spirit melted in fear” (ibid. 25-26).
Sometimes keter does not adequately hold back their consciousness. Then they are battered and confused. “They circled and staggered like a drunkard.” Lost in the storm of supernal energy and consciousness, they are flung about by the overwhelming light, rising to the heavens and being cast to the depths.
Because they were not adequately prepared when they rose to the heights, they receive no insight, and they are cast down.
All of us experience such a process to some degree.
And by engaging in joyful and holy action in this world, we redeem the delusions of the world. Here, so far from the fountain of Divinity, we wander amidst palaces of illusion. Here desire masquerades as reality; entanglement as maturity; confusion as truth; distance from God as sophistication; intellect as understanding.
By actively working our way through these issues, we prepare our keter so that we can regain our natural, healthy state. Then not only our body and psyche, but our soul as well, are in a state of well-being.
The Path of Silence
The more we try to rise to holiness, the more do our delusions begin to clamor. And barriers may also arise from without.
This is similar to stirring the clear water in a barrel. The refuse that had lain in the bottom now swirls throughout the water.
Such a time represents a precious opportunity to rectify these matters. We can best do so with the aid of a teacher. And we must always seek friends and colleagues. Then we can extract holiness from the palaces of illusion and raise the sparks of holiness to their source.
And we need a great deal of patience. We must often wait in silence as the trials of living endure. “Silence is a fence to wisdom” (Pirkei Avot 3:17). Keter–the crown–is a surrounding fence. Silence and acceptance before God provide a vessel in which wisdom can be contained.
“They rejoiced, for [the waves] were silent” (Psalms 107:30)–which can be read, “They rejoiced, yes, they were silent.”
Via the accomplishment of good deals in a joyful spirit, we attain keter, the holy inner silence. And then, “He led them to the port of their desire” (cf. LH OH Hodaah 6:5).
“Be silent before God and hope in Him” (Psalms 37:7). The essence of returning to God is silence before Him. It is via this silence, a state beyond words, that God has compassion–and we attain repentance.
This is the level of keter.
The Torah defines man’s distinction from animals as his ability to speak. The Aramaic translation of “a living soul” is “a speaking soul” (Genesis 2:7).
When we acted in a way not consonant with the illumination of Godliness, we allowed ourselves to be overwhelmed by a this-worldly consciousness. We acted on a clouded level. We were, was, to a greater or lesser extent, animalistic.
We must rectify all that we flawed. We must again make ourselves wordless like an animal.
This silence is higher than speech. It is the level of keter.
We can call out to God in a wordless cry.
This is the cry of the shofar, which is blown on Rosh Hashanah, the time of judgment and repentance. The shofar, the wordless cry, awakens a person from his sleeping state of consciousness: “Awaken sleepers from your slumber.”
When we return to God, there is a time to stand before Him and before our own conscience in silence. Our words–our patterns of thought–are still tied to our previous, unenlightened state. Were we to begin speaking prematurely, we would only precipitate ourselves back to our previous state. Sometimes a person talks endlessly, trying to extricate himself from the morass of his life. But although he uses all the proper phrases of self-growth, he remains blocked. First, we must remain silent. We must allow ourselves to rise to a different sphere of perception. Then our speech is clear and new.
The shofar does not try to explain or defend. It does not even plead over our sins. It is a wordless call to God.
So too does a person feel within himself a wordless cry for cleanliness and redemption.
At that point, our animal nature is augmented by our human essence. Our animal nature is symbolized by our blood–in Hebrew, dam. When we connect wordlessly to God on the level of keter, we connect ourselves to the Master of the world, the Aleph (Alpha). The letter aleph prefixed to dam spells adam–human being. Now we regains our link to Godliness–that is, our humanity (LH OH Rosh Hashanah 4:2).
The Path of Confession
We can only rectify a situation of exile by descending into the depths and raising the sparks of joy and holiness.
We do so by confessing our wrong-doings. We cast ourselves down in order to raise joy from the depths of exile. We admit the reality of our lives–to ourselves, to God, to another human being. We take responsibility for the flawed state of our lives.
Now we can rectify our level of keter, our joy. Now we can access the light of the Infinite One (cf. LH OH Nefilat Apayim 4:2).
In Shacharit, the morning prayers, we confess our wrong-doings to God immediately after the Shmoneh Esrai prayer, the apex of the morning service.
In the course of our prayers, we are, ideally, raising all the worlds to God.
Having finished Shmoneh Esrai, all the universes have been lifted up. Now we must incorporate them into the Light of the Infinite One.
This is only made possible when we confess our wrong-doings. Then we rectify keter, and we can access the Light of the Infinite One.
When confessing our wrong-doings, we lower our face: we lower ourselves to the level that we are actually on.
When Moses stood before God, he “hid his face, for he feared looking at God” (Exodus 3:6). It was at that time that God blessed the Jews with the thirteen traits of compassion.
The Path of Hope
Whatever level we find ourselves on, we must struggle to lift ourselves. Despair, the acceptance of degradation and incompleteness, removes us from the possibility of self-transcendence. And because it is always possible to grow, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov exclaimed, “Despair does not even exist” (Likutei Moharan II 78).
“If [your sins] will be red as scarlet wool, they will become like cotton” (Isaiah 1:18).
Scarlet wool is tola. When rearranged, the letters spell out olat–a raised offering. Cotton is tzemer. When rearranged, the letters spell out meitzar–straits.
Even if our sins are as red as scarlet wool, we can raise ourselves. Even from the straits, we can purify ourselves.
When we never give up but rise from the most precipitous fall, we come to keter.
Our only hope is to act in a manner consonant with God’s will, and constantly to approach His glory.
“Where is the place of God’s glory?” The Jewish spiritual tradition teaches that the word “where” refers to keter. The constant search for self-improvement, the constant pushing for goodness raises us from distance and degradation to a point where we are able to gain access to the light and clarity of Divine glory (cf. LH YD Tolaim 3:3).
When a person remains stale and unchanging, when he repeats the spinning cycles of weary time, when the course of his days is an unending corridor lined with closed doors, then he may be said to have accepted the corruption of his station. “That soul shall be cut off, its sin is in it” (Numbers 15:31). His “evil,” that part of his life which must be improved and clarified, is in him. Because such a person makes no effective effort to transform his life, his life shall not change: “that soul shall be cut off.”
There are two avenues of relating to Godly consciousness. One: for every specific area in our life, there is a corresponding specific consciousness. And two: there is a general, over-arching consciousness that can envelope the entirety of our life. This second consciousness is related to keter.
The specific consciousness is on a lower level–but it is accessible. The general consciousness, on a higher level, is more hidden.
When we sin, acting in a life-denying manner, we cut ourselves off, from the vines of the specific Godly consciousness.
Then our life is maintained only by the mercy of the general consciousness. The Divine energy that we receive from that general consciousness is constrained and narrow. We live a life that is shrouded in shadows. Yet it is also a life that is maintained by great Divine compassion.
Whenever we wish, we can gain greater access to that Divine energy. When we are ready to rectify our state of being, our fall can turn to a great ascent.
Then our state of being “cut off” is transformed.
The Hebrew word for “cut off” is karet. When rearranged, the letters spell out keter (cf. LH EH Gittin 3:29).
The Experience of God
God created the world to give of His goodness to others. Closeness to God gives a person fulfillment. It is through knowing God that we experience satisfaction.
The more that people experience Godliness in their lives, the more can it be said that God’s greatness and honor grow. Therefore, the more that those who experience Godliness bring such an experience to others, the more do His greatness and honor grow.
“Speak of His wonders” (Psalms 105:2). God’s “wonder” refers to keter. Keter is wondrous because it is beyond the level of cognition. It is experienced as wonder.
But keter is also the filter via which the light of the Infinite Being is made accessible. Thus, it is possible to “speak of His wonders.”
Another verse says, “They thank God for His mercy and His wonders to man.”
What is mercy? Mercy relates to our raised state of consciousness, for then we are solely aware of God’s mercy. Such an exalted state of being is something to thank God for. We have reached the level where our consciousness runs after God to receive His light.
But this is not perfection. Remaining on such a level, we would be nullified out of existence. The rest of the world would not know of His greatness.
We must have both the elevated state of consciousness and the ability to conceptualize and communicate that exalted state to others (cf. LH OH Hodaah 6:6).
The Place of the World
In the rhythm of life, we sometimes work hard to come close to God.
But when the light is not apparent, we seem to be in a state of darkness, and we rest.
Our sages taught, “He who comes to be purified is told, ‘Wait’” (Yoma 39a). This is the level of keter, for the word keter also means “Wait” (Job 36:2).
Sometimes, after an initial burst of enthusiasm, we encounter obstacles and complications. Sometimes we must wait for years, making our way through thickets of this-worldly complications and personal entanglements. This is part of the process of growth.
It is during this period of comparative rest and darkness that we deal with this-worldly reality. Our spirituality will not help us solve or escape those issues.
It may be dismaying to find an apparent drop in our spiritual level. But we may also make discoveries about the imperfection of what had seemed ideal. We may discover that our spiritual superiority had masked a fear of other human beings. We may discover that our drive for purity had masked feelings of unworthiness.
It is during this often painful, slow process that we work to lift the holy sparks that have fallen amidst the refuse.
As we proceed in this work, integrating and clarifying our being, we come to a true and mature wholeness that we can then lift back to holiness.
We must take care even while in the darkness and difficulty of the process to retain a memory of holiness, to tie our thoughts and heart to goodness and purity: to the strength of the Torah. Even if we do not understand, we still keep our thoughts linked to the level of keter. Then, although we may be spiritually asleep, we are asleep in the midst of words of Torah.
And after we have gathered the holy sparks, we can ascend in health to heaven.
The Story of Jacob
This process can be seen in the story of Jacob.
On his journey, Jacob came to a place that would be the site of the Temple, the transfer-point between heaven and earth. The word used in the Bible for “came to” is “pagah,” which implies “to hit upon.” Jacob’s mind hit upon and was blocked by the “place”–keter. (“Place” is one of the names of keter. Keter is called Place because it is the root of spatiality.)
Here, it grew dark, and Jacob lay down to rest. This is the level of relative spiritual darkness.
Before falling asleep, Jacob gathered stones and placed them beneath his head. He gathered the holy sparks in his situation and fell asleep in the midst of holiness.
And while he slept, he “saw a ladder reaching to earth and its head reaching to heaven.” This is the ascent to heaven that we can make to heaven after clarifying the holy sparks here on earth.
The Awe of God
Then, when Jacob awoke, “he feared and said, ‘How awesome is this place’” (Genesis 28:17).
Approaching keter brings us to a state of awe.
“The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God” (Psalms 111:10). The beginning of wisdom, that is, the source of wisdom, is keter. On this level, we have an awesome awareness of God’s greatness.
The level beyond our consciousness, beyond our ability to conceive and interpret reality, is a level of great fear. It is also a level of great compassion.
On a this-worldly level, when we come to the border of our preconceptions and courageously step into a new way of life, we are filled with a fear that is mixed with excitement. It is the level of the unknown. It is in the acknowledgment that we do not know that we truly grow (cf. LH OH Hodaah 6:24).
The Path of This-Worldly Love
As was noted earlier, keter is the region of joy–“eternal joy on their heads” (Isaiah 35:10).
Through joy, we reach strength: “They will rejoice in strength” (Job 39:21).
And what is strength? Strength is love: “for love is strong” (Song of Songs 8:6). In particular, strength is related to well-directed sexual love.
One man who controlled and directed his passions correctly was Boaz. When he awoke to find the young woman, Ruth, lying at his feet, he did not touch her, but agreed to marry her. The meaning of Boaz is “in him is strength.”
Only by connecting our physical life to holiness can we, to whatever degree, reach the level of keter.
When the Jews stood at Mt. Sinai, ready to receive the Torah, they exclaimed, “We will do and we will listen” (Exodus 24:7). The Talmud teaches that as a result of these two commitments, each Jew merited two crowns.
These two commitments express the energies of male and female.
Man and woman are filled with the tension of incompleteness. When they join together in holiness, a great joy is liberated. This joy leads to strength: the strength of holiness permeating this-worldly reality.
In opposition to this great power of holiness is the strength of a lust that focuses solely on physical pleasure. Such lust is both a spiritual and a psychic degradation.
Rather, we infuse physicality with the joy that comes from the male and female crowns of holiness. Thus, the Talmud teaches that it is a mitzvah–a holy deed–to give joy to the groom and bride. This joy infuses them with the strength of holiness (LH EH Piryah Viriviah V’hilchot Ishut 4).
The Root of Man and Woman
The Bible tells that “a woman of valor is the crown of her husband” (Proverbs 31:10).
Because keter is so high, when its energy devolves to the earthly plane, it is very hidden, surrounded by the illusions of physicality.
The holy level of woman is surrounded by a mystique of lust.
It is for this reason that Judaism invests value in the concept of modesty. Precisely because the beauty of woman and sexuality is drawn from the highest level of holiness is it prone to degradation and perversity.
Sexuality is holy in its source, necessary in its expression, hypnotic in its power. It constitutes the basic arena of spiritual struggle.
In order to connect sexuality to its root in holiness, to lift it out of the realm of delusion, the Talmud surrounds it with joy. We are obligated to give joy to a newly-wed couple. And similarly, the Talmud teaches that “if a man does not have children, he should give joy to his wife with the mitzvah” (cf. LH EH Ishut 4:2).
The Pure Soul
One of the first blessings recited in the morning begins, “My God, the soul that You have placed in me is pure” (Prayerbook).
Every individual has a pure soul.
We have to work to live an outer life that will resonate with that gift of inner Godliness.
Many people believe that they are in essence not holy. This is an false modesty that originates in the palaces of illusion. It is a self-limiting thought that makes it difficult to surpass our circumstances and come close to God.
Many people assume that a spiritual life is not for them.
But spirituality and religiosity are very broad.
A person who takes pleasure in the sensuous being of life can come to serve God with his joie de vivre.
A person who loves to relate to others and nurture them can realize how by doing so she is emulating God and nurturing the Godly spirit in others.
A person who is a dynamic, social personality serves God by making the most of himself, creating events that are dedicated to the expansion of goodness.
An aggressive leader can lead others in a path of integrity.
Whoever has come to a higher state of healthy spiritual consciousness and closeness to God has done so as a result of a great deal of hard work. We can spend years, decades, working to improve and heal our emotional and spiritual self.
This is the job of a lifetime. It is the role that is meant to be filled by everyone.
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook taught that “as long as the revelation of one line in a thinking and feeling spirit has not yet emerged into actuality, we are obligated to bring it out through the creative act” (Shir Hashirim).
Our sages teach that “the Messiah will not come until every soul comes into the world.” Every soul in the world must fulfill its unique potential in order to serve God with complete joy (from conversation with Nechama Nadbourny).
Everyone who has attained a level of spiritual authority has done so only by great struggle and by overcoming many obstacles.
Everyone has free will. Everyone can achieve this.
As the Talmud states, “Aaron took the crown of the priesthood. David took the crown of kingship. But the crown of a good name lies before us. Whoever wants to can take it” (cf. LH OH 3:6).
In Tomer Devorah, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero delineates these thirteen types of love. See Appendix A.
 No created being on any spiritual plane can reach God, for He is extraordinarily high, beyond all concepts.
But when we prepares keter so that we can absorb the Light in a graduated manner, our mind can run up to that level of Divinity and then return. It arrives at that level although it does not fully arrive. This ability is made possible by keter.