Atziluth, or Atzilut (also Olam Atzilut, עולם אצילות, literally World of Emanation), is the highest of four worlds in which exists the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Beri'ah follows it. It is known as the World of Emanations, or the World of Causes. In the Kabbalah, each of the Sephiroth in this world is associated with a Name of God, and it is associated with the Suit of Wands in the Tarot.
- Firstly, it is taught that the whole tree is contained in each of the four worlds, and in this manner they are described one on top of another, and in symbolic form, by a diagram called Jacob's Ladder.
- Secondly, is taught that the Tree of Life can be subdivided into four horizontal sections, each representing one of the four worlds.
It should be remembered that in Kabbalah each of the ten Sephirot of the Tree of Life also contains a whole tree inside itself. In this philosophy of the "whole in the part," Kabbalastic theories are in harmony with David Bohm's model of implicate order. The realm of Atziluth is thus related to the top three Sephirot of the Tree of Life; these three spheres of Kether, Chokmah and Binah are considered to be wholly spiritual in nature and are separated from the rest of the tree by a region of reality called the Abyss.
The word is derived from "atzal" in reference to Numbers 11:17; and in this sense it was taken over into the Kabbalah from Solomon ibn Gabirol's Meḳor Ḥayyim (The Fountain of Life), which was much used by Kabbalists. The theory of emanation, which is conceived as a free act of the will of God, endeavors to surmount the difficulties that attach to the idea of creation in its relation to God. These difficulties are threefold:
- the act of creation involves a change in the unchangeable being of God;
- it is incomprehensible how the absolutely infinite and perfect being could have produced such imperfect and finite beings;
- a creatio ex nihilo is difficult to imagine.
The simile used for the emanation is either the soaked sponge that emits spontaneously the water it has absorbed, or the gushing spring that overflows, or the sunlight that sends forth its rays—parts of its own essence—everywhere, without losing any portion, however infinitesimal, of its being. Since it was the last-named simile that chiefly occupied and influenced the Kabbalistic writers, Atziluth must properly be taken to mean "eradiation" (compare Zohar, Exodus Yitro, 86b).
Later on the expression "Atziluth" assumed a more specific meaning, influenced no doubt by the little work, Maseket Atzilut. Herein for the first time (following Isaiah 43:7: "I have created"; "I have formed"; "I have made"), the four worlds are distinguished: Atziluth, Beri'ah, Yetzirah, and Assiah. But here too they are transferred to the region of spirits and angels:
- In the Atzilah-world the Shekinah alone rules;
- in the Beri'ah-world are the throne of God and the souls of the just under the dominion of Akatriel ("Crown of God");
- in the Yetzirah-world are the "holy creatures" (ḥayyot) of Ezekiel's vision, and the ten classes of angels ruled over by Metatron;
- and in the Assiah-world are the Ofanim, and the angels that combat evil, governed by Sandalphon.
- the Atzilah-world represents the ten Sephirot;
- the Beriah-world (world of creation) the throne of God, emanating from the light of the Sephirot;
- the Yezirah-world (world of becoming) the ten classes of angels, forming the halls for the Sephirot;
- and the Assiah-world (world of making, that is, of form) the different heavens and the material world.
In contradistinction to the Atzilah-world, which constitutes the domain of the Sephirot, the three other worlds are called by the general name "Pirud". Later Kabbalists explain "Atziluth" (according to Exodus 24:11, and Isaiah 41:9) as meaning "excellence," so that according to them the Atzilah-world would mean the most excellent or highest world.