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Ein Sof[pronunciation?], or Ayn Sof, (Hebrew אין סוף), in Kabbalah, is understood as God prior to His self-manifestation in the production of any spiritual Realm, probably derived from Ibn Gabirol's term, "the Endless One" (she-en lo tiklah). Ein Sof may be translated as "no end", "unending", "there is no end", or infinite.
Ein Sof is the divine origin of all created existence, in contrast to the Ein (or Ayn), which is infinite no-thingness. It was first used by Azriel ben Menahem, who, sharing the Neoplatonic view that God can have no desire, thought, word, or action, emphasized by it the negation of any attribute. Of the Ein Sof, nothing ("Ein") can be grasped ("Sof"-limitation). It is the origin of the Ohr Ein Sof, the "Infinite Light" of paradoxical divine self-knowledge, nullified within the Ein Sof prior to Creation. In Lurianic Kabbalah, the first act of Creation, the Tzimtzum self "withdrawal" of God to create an "empty space", takes place from there. In Hasidism, the Tzimtzum is only illusionary concealment of the Ohr Ein Sof, giving rise to Monistic Panentheism. Consequently, Hasidism focuses on the Atzmus Divine essence, rooted higher within the Godhead than the Ein Sof, which is limited to infinitude, and reflected in the essence (Etzem) of the Torah and the soul.
The Zohar explains the term "Ein Sof" as follows:
|“||Before He gave any shape to the world, before He produced any form, He was alone, without form and without resemblance to anything else. Who then can comprehend how He was before the Creation? Hence it is forbidden to lend Him any form or similitude, or even to call Him by His sacred name, or to indicate Him by a single letter or a single point... But after He created the form of the Heavenly Man, He used him as a chariot wherein to descend, and He wishes to be called after His form, which is the sacred name "YHWH".||”|
In other words, "Ein Sof" signifies "the nameless being." In another passage the Zohar reduces the term to "Ein" (non-existent), because God so transcends human understanding as to be practically non-existent.
In addition to the Sefer Yetzirah and the Zohar, other well-known explications of the relation between Ein Sof and all other realities and levels of reality have been formulated by the Jewish mystical thinkers of the Middle Ages, such as Isaac the Blind and Azriel. Judah Ḥayyaṭ, in his commentary Minḥat Yehudah on the Ma'areket Elahut, gives the following explanation of the term "Ein Sof":
|“||Any name of God which is found in the Bible can not be applied to the Deity prior to His self-manifestation in the Creation, because the letters of those names were produced only after the emanation. . . . Moreover, a name implies a limitation in its bearer; and this is impossible in connection with the 'Ein Sof.'||”|
The Ten Sefirot 
According to Gershom Scholem, Ein Sof is the emanator of the ten Sefirot. Sefirot are energy emanations found on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Ein Sof, the Ancient of All Ancients, emanates the Sefirot into the cosmic womb of the Ein in a manner that results in the created universe. The three letters composing the word "Ein" indicate the first three purely spiritual Sefirot.
The ten aspects of the Divine, with the relation to its precursor states of nonexistence, its self-realization stage called Tzimtzum, and their immediate manifest reflection in the top three aspects with the gap between those exalted states of being and the lower more mundane types, along with Da'at, the 11th or uncounted aspect of the divine which is a path that is forbidden, can be described as:
- 000. Ain (Nothing; אין)
- 00. Ain Soph (Limitlessness;אין סוף )
- 0. Ain Soph Ohr (Endless Light; אין סוף אוֹר)
- -.Tzimtzum (Contraction; צמצום)
- -.Daat (Knowledge; דעת)
- Chesed or Gedulah (Loving Kindness or Mercy; חסד)
- Gevurah or Din (Power or Judgement; גבורה)
- Tiferet (Beauty or Compassion; תפארת)
- Netzach (Triumph or Endurance; נצח)
- Hod (Majesty or Splendor; הוד)
- Yesod (Foundation; יסוד)
- Malchut (Realm; מלכות)
Concerned with philosophical criticism of any misinterpreted duality or multiplicity in God, the Kabbalists never tire of stressing that the Sephirot are bound up in the Ein Sof, and without the Ein Sof have no existence. Nonetheless, in Medieval Kabbalah, if the sephirot are only vehicles to manifest God, then why are they sometimes related to as Divine in themselves? Moshe Cordovero, who gave the first full sytemization of Kabbalah in the 16th century, adopts a compromise position; the sephirot consist of 10 lights invested in vessels. The vessels are differentiated vehicles for creation, while the light is undifferentiated light of the Ein Sof, in the manner that water is poured into different shaped vessels, or light streams through different colours of glass.
Hasidic Judaism in the 18th century internalised the esoteric, transcendent emanations of Kabbalah into immanent, psychological perception and correspondence. The term in Hasidic philosophy for the Divine source is "Atzmus" (Essence). While the Ein Sof of Kabbalah can only be infinite, Atzmus, rooted higher in the Godhead, is beyond finite/infinite duality. As the Etzem, it both transcends all levels, and permeates all levels. This is reflected in the paradoxical Acosmic Monism of Hasidic Panentheism, and relates to the essence of the Torah and the soul. In Hasidic thought, Kabbalah corresponds to the World of Atzilus, the sephirah of Chochmah and the transcendent soul level of Chayah; Hasidic philosophy corresponds to the World of Adam Kadmon, the sephirah of Keter and the soul essennce of Yechidah. The Baal Shem Tov taught that the only reflection of Atzmus is the sincerity of the soul in performing the Jewish observances and prayer. Consequently, Hasidism gave new emphasis to the common folk, and to prayer and action over traditionally pre-eminent Torah study, as Atzmus is most reflected in the lowest levels, the purpose of Creation in making a "Dwelling Place" for God in the lowest Realms. In response, Chaim Volozhin, the main theological theorist of the Misnagdim, opposed Hasidic Panentheism and re-emphasised Talmudic study.
See also 
- Zohar, part ii., section "Bo," 42b
- Zohar, ib. part iii. 288b
- Scholem, Gershom (1974). Kabbalah. Jewish Publication Society. pp. 88 and ff.
- Shoshan Sodot, 1b
- Overview of Chassidut from inner.org
- On the essence of Chassidus, Kehot publications, New York
- Torah for Torah's sake in the works of Haim Volozhin and his contemporaries, Norman Lamm, Yeshivah University
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: "En Sof". Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901–1906.
- Ehrenpreis (1895). Die Entwickelung der Emanationslehre in der Kabbala des XIII. Jahrhunderts. Frankfort-on-the-Main. p. 26.
- Franck (1889). La Kabbale. Paris. p. 136.
- Ginsburg, Christian David (1865). The Ḳabbalah. London. p. 105.
- Joël (1849). Die Religionsphilosophie des Sohar. Leipsic.
- Karppe (1901). Etude sur les Origines et la Nature du Zohar. Paris. p. 344.
- Myer (1888). Qabbalah. Philadelphia. pp. 251 et seq.
- Scholem, Gershom (1974). Kabbalah. Jewish Publication Society.