From Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, “Meditation and the Kabbalah” (Samuel Weiser or Jason Aronson editions), pp. 303-35, as translated from the writings of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev’s Chassidic classic, “Kedushas Levi” (specifically, his comments on the weekly portion of Bereshis / Genesis). We have slightly edited the text by removing most of the brackets and parentheses, as well as the Hebrew referents, and by adding a few words of explanation for this online version.
Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev on “Nothingness” (Ayin)
The most important thing to realize is that God created all and that He is all.
God's influence never ceases. At every instant, He gives existence to His creation, to all the universes, to the heavenly chambers, and to all the angels.
We therefore say in the blessing that begins the part of the prayer service which precedes the recital of the Sh'ma, “He forms light and creates darkness” in the present tense -- and not “He formed light and created darkness” in the past tense. We say that God “creates” in the present tense because every second He creates and gives existence to all that is.
Everything comes from God. He is perfect and He includes all things.
When a person attains the attribute of Nothingness (Ayin), he realizes that he is nothing, and that God is giving him existence. He can then say that God “creates” -- in the present tense. This means that God is creating, even at this very moment.
When a person looks at himself and not at Nothingness, then he is on a level of “somethingness” and independent existence. He then says that God “created” -- in the past tense. This means that God created him earlier, but that he now has independent existence.
We therefore say the blessing, “Blessed are You, O God ... who created man with wisdom." We use the past tense, since wisdom is on the level of “somethingness.”
We therefore find in the writings of the Ari that the expression, "God is King," is an aspect of Nothingness. For when we say that "God is King" in the present tense, it means that He is presently giving us existence. This is the aspect of Nothingness -- we are nothing, and it is God who is giving us the power to exist.
On the level of Nothingness, everything is above the laws of nature. On the level of “somethingness,” on the other hand, all things are bound by nature.
The way in which we bind “somethingness” to Nothingness is through the Torah and commandments. This is the meaning of the verse, “The Living Angels ran and returned” (Ezekiel 1:14) -- that is, from a level of Nothingness to one of “somethingness.”
The Zohar (III, 53b) teaches that the commandments and Torah are both hidden and revealed. “Hidden” alludes to Nothingness, while “revealed” applies to “somethingness.” Thus, they bind somethingness to Nothingness, and Nothingness to somethingness.
This is the meaning of the word mitzvah, meaning “commandment.” When we reverse the Hebrew alphabet through the “Atbash” cipher, then the first letter Alef becomes the last letter Tav, the second letter Bet becomes the next-to-last letter Shin, and so on. Through this cipher, the Mem which is the first letter of the word mitzvah becomes a Yod, while the Tzadi becomes a Heh.
Therefore, the first two letters of Mitzvah in the “Atbash” cipher are Yod-Heh, the first two letters of the Tetragrammaton, YHVH.
This is an aspect of Nothingness.
The last two letters of the word mitzvah are Vav-Heh, the last two letters of the Tetragrammaton.
This is an aspect of “somethingness.”
The letters Yod-Heh in the word mitzvah are hidden, just like the concept of Nothingness. The letters Vav-Heh, on the other land, are written directly, and are revealed, just like “somethingness.”
The commandments thus have a hidden part and a revealed part. The hidden part is our bringing pleasure to God through our observance of the commandments, since we have no way of detecting this. The revealed part is when we benefit ourselves, since this is visible.
This is the meaning of the verse, “Hidden things belong to the Lord our God, but revealed things belong to us and to our children forever” (Deuteronomy 34:22).
“Hidden things” allude to the hidden part of the commandment, and these “belong to the Lord our God.” What we accomplish with relation to God is hidden from us.
“Revealed things belong to us and to our children,” however, since the divine influence that we bring about is revealed to us.
At every instant, all universes receive sustenance and life force from God. Man, however, is the one who motivates this sustenance and transmits it to all worlds.
When a person wants to bring new sustenance to all universes, he must attach himself to the level of Nothingness (Ayin). This is the level in all universes that was not constricted.
When man nullifies himself completely and attaches his thoughts to Nothingness, then a new sustenance flows to all universes. This is a sustenance that did not exist previously.
A person must fear God so much that his ego is totally nullified. Only then can he attach himself to Nothingness. Sustenance, filled with all good, then flows to all universes…
The individual thus attaches the life force of all universes to Nothingness, which is higher than all worlds…
On the level where this life force had not yet been constricted into the universes, it is attached to the Nothingness, which is called the “hyle” (i.e., the "prima materia" -- the formless ground of reality from whence all manifest forms come into existence).