Baal HaSulam on the Perception of Reality
“…our five senses and our imagination do not offer us anything more than the disclosure of the actions of the essence, but not of the essence itself. For example, the sense of sight offers us only shadows of the visible essence, according to how they are formed opposite the light. Similarly, the sense of hearing is but a force of striking of some essence on the air. The air is rejected because of its force, strikes the drum in our ear, and we hear that there is some essence in our proximity.
“The sense of smell is but air that comes out of the essence, strikes out nerves of scent, and we smell. Also, the sense of taste is but a result of the touching of some essence on our nerves of taste. Thus, all that these four senses offer us is but manifestations of the operations that stem from some essence, and nothing of the essence itself.
“Even [with] the sense of touch, the strongest of the senses, separating hot from cold, and solid from soft, all these are but manifestations of operations within the essence; they are but incidents of the essence. The hot can be chilled, the cold can be heated; the solid can be made liquid through chemical operations, and the liquid [can be] made into air, meaning only gas, where any discernment in our five senses has been expired. Yet, the essence still exists, because you can once more turn the air into liquid, and the liquid into solid.
“Thus, you evidently see that the five senses do not reveal to us any essence at all, but only incidents and manifestations of operations of the essence. It is known that that which we cannot feel, we also cannot imagine; and what we cannot imagine, we also cannot contemplate; we have no way of perceiving it.
“It follows, that the thought has no perception in the essence whatsoever. Moreover, we do not even know our own essence. I feel and know that I occupy a certain space in the world, that I am solid, warm, and that I think, and other such manifestations of the operations of my essence. Yet, if you ask me what is my own essence, from which all these manifestations stem, I do not know what to reply to you.
“You therefore see that providence has prevented from us the attainment of any essence. We attain only manifestations and reflections of operations that stem from the essences.”
--Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam) “Preface to the Book of Zohar”