Sephirot

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The Sephirot in Jewish Kabbalah
Keter Binah Chokhmah Da'at Gevurah Chesed Tiferet Hod Netzach Yesod MalkuthThe Sefirot in Jewish Kabbalah
View the image description page for this diagram Category:Sephirot

Sephirot (/sfɪˈrt/, /ˈsfɪrt/; Hebrew: סְפִירוֹתSəphîrôṯ, pronunciation), meaning emanations, are the 10 attributes/emanations in Kabbalah, through which Ein Sof (The Infinite) reveals himself and continuously creates both the physical realm and the chain of higher metaphysical realms (Seder hishtalshelus). The term is alternatively transliterated into English as Sefirot/Sefiroth, singular Sephirah/Sefirah etc.

Alternative configurations of the sephirot are given by different schools in the historical development of Kabbalah, with each articulating different spiritual aspects. The tradition of enumerating 10 is stated in the Sefer Yetzirah, "Ten sephirot of nothingness, ten and not nine, ten and not eleven". As altogether 11 sephirot are listed across the different schemes, two (Keter and Daat) are seen[by whom?] as unconscious and conscious manifestations of the same principle, conserving the ten categories[citation needed]. In Kabbalah the functional structure of the sephirot in channeling Divine creative life force, and revealing the unknowable Divine essence to Creation is described.

The first sephirah describes the Divine Will above intellect. The next sephirot describe conscious Divine Intellect, and the latter sephirot describe the primary and secondary conscious Divine Emotions. Two sephirot (Binah and Malchut) are feminine, as the female principle in Kabbalah describes a vessel that receives the outward male light, then inwardly nurtures and gives birth to lower sephirot. Corresponding to this is the Female Divine Presence (Shechinah-Hebrew: שכינה). Kabbalah sees the human soul as mirroring the Divine (after Genesis 1:27, "God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them"), and more widely, all creations as reflections of their life source in the sephirot. Therefore, the sephirot also describe the spiritual life of man, and constitute the conceptual paradigm in Kabbalah for understanding everything. This relationship between the soul of man and the Divine, gives Kabbalah one of its two central metaphors in describing Divinity, alongside the other Ohr (light) metaphor. However, Kabbalah repeatedly stresses the need to avoid all corporeal interpretation. Through this, the sephirot are related to the structure of the body and are reformed into Partsufim (Personas). Underlying the structural purpose of each sephirah is a hidden motivational force which is understood best by comparison with a corresponding psychological state in human spiritual experience.

In Hasidic philosophy, which has sought to internalise the experience of Jewish mysticism into daily inspiration (dveikus), this inner life of the sephirot is explored, and the role they play in man's service of God in this world.

Ten Sephirot[edit]

The Sephirot are united in the Divine view. Medieval Kabbalah describes the sin of Adam as introducing false separation between male Divine and female Shechina, by eating from the Tree of Knowledge before the Tree of Life, two aspects of the Sephirot

The "Sefirot" (סְפִירוֹת), singular "Sefirah" (סְפִירָה), literally means "counting"/"enumeration", but early Kabbalists presented a number of other etymological possibilities from the same Hebrew root including: sefer (text), sippur (recounting a story), sappir (sapphire, brilliance, luminary), separ (boundary), and safra (scribe). The term sefirah thus has complex connotations within Kabbalah.[1]

The Sephirot are considered revelations of the Creator's Will ("ratzon"),[2] and they should not be understood as ten different "gods" but as ten different ways the one God reveals his Will through the Emanations. While in Cordoveran Kabbalah, Keter (The Divine Will) is listed as the first Sephirah, it is an intermediary above consciousness between God and the other, conscious Sephirot. The Sephirot are emanated from the Divine Will, because Kabbalah sees different levels within Keter, reflecting God's inner Will and outer Will. The innermost, hidden levels of Keter, also in some contexts called "The head/beginning that is not known",[3] are united above the Sephirot with the Ein Sof (Divine essence). It is not God who changes but the ability to perceive God that changes. This difference between the "Ma'Ohr" ("Luminary"-Divine essence) and the "Ohr" ("Light") He emanates is stressed in Kabbalah, so as to avoid heretical notions of any plurality in the Godhead. In its early 12th-century dissemination, Kabbalah received criticism from some Rabbis, who adhered to "Hakirah" (medieval Jewish philosophy), for its alleged introduction of multiplicity into Jewish monotheism. The multiplicity of revealed emanations only applies from the perspective of the Creation, and not from the perspective of the infinite Divine essence.[4]

Listings[edit]

The ten Sephirot are a step-by-step process illuminating the Divine plan as it unfolds itself in Creation. They are fully found in the Medieval Kabbalah texts, such as the central work in Kabbalah, the Zohar. The Hebrew etymology of their names in Kabbalah is understood to refer to the nuanced aspects of meaning of each Sephirah. This direct connection between spiritual and physical creations and their Hebrew names, reflects the theology in Kabbalah that Creation is formed from the metaphorical speech of God, as in the first chapter of Genesis. Kabbalah expounds on the terms of the Sephirot. In the first complete systemisation of Kabbalah, in the 16th-century rational synthesis of Moshe Cordovero (Cordoveran Kabbalah), the Sephirot are listed from highest to lowest:[5]

Category: Sephirah:
Above-consciousness 1 Keter-"Crown"
Conscious intellect 2 Chokhmah-"Wisdom"

3 Binah-"Understanding"

Conscious emotions (Primary emotions:)

4 Chesed-"Kindness"
5 Gevurah-"Severity"
6 Tiferet-"Beauty"
(Secondary emotions:)
7 Netzach-"Eternity"
8 Hod-"Splendour"
9 Yesod-"Foundation"
(Vessel to bring action:)
10 Malkuth-"Kingship"

In the subsequent 16th-century transcendent Kabbalistic scheme of Isaac Luria (Lurianic Kabbalah), the Sephirot are usually listed slightly differently, by taking out Keter and adding in Daat, as Daat is seen as the conscious manifestation of the unconscious Keter. This difference of opinion reflects earlier Medieval debate on whether Keter can be identified with the Ohr Ein Sof (Infinite light) itself, or as the first revealed Sephirah. Isaac Luria includes Keter in the list only in relation to the inner light of the Sephirot. In his usual list of the Sephirot as formed attributes (vessels), Keter is considered too lofty to include:[6]

Category: Sephirah:
Conscious intellect 1 Chokhmah-"Wisdom"

2 Binah-"Understanding"
3 Daat-"Knowledge"

Conscious emotions (Primary emotions:)

4 Chesed-"Kindness"
5 Gevurah-"Severity"
6 Tiferet-"Beauty"
(Secondary emotions:)
7 Netzach-"Eternity"
8 Hod-"Glory"
9 Yesod-"Foundation"
(Vessel to bring action:)
10 Malkuth-"Kingship"

Description[edit]

  • Keter-"Crown": Divine Will to create/Infinite Light of the Creator/the Hebrew name of God "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh-I Am that I Am"
  • Chochmah-"Wisdom": First unbounded flash of an idea before it takes on limitations/male light/Divine Reality/first revelation/creation from nothingness
  • Binah-"Understanding": the infinite flash of Chochmah brought into the vessel of understanding to give it grasp of breadth and depth/feminine vessel that gives birth to the emotions/reason/understanding brings teshuva return to God
  • Daat-"Knowledge": Central state of unity of the 10 Sephirot, also called the Tree of Life.
  • Chesed-"Kindness": Loving grace of free giving/love of God/inspiring vision
  • Gevurah-"Severity": Strength/judgment/intention/withholding/awe of God
  • Tiferet-"Beauty": Symmetry/balance between Chesed and Gevurah in compassion
  • Netzach-"Victory"
  • Hod-"Splendor": Withdrawal/Surrender/sincerity
  • Yesod-"Foundation": Connecting to the task to accomplish/wholly remembering/coherent knowledge
  • Malchut-"Kingship": Female vessel for the pregnant nurturing of the male lights of the emotional sephirot into action/becomes the Keter Will source for any subsequent lower level in Creation/accomplishment/realization of the Divine Plan.

Interinclusion of the Sephirot[edit]

The first development that enabled the Sephirot to unite in cooperation was the interinclusion within each of them of a further subset of the 10 Sephirot. So, for example, Chesed contains Chesed within Chesed, Gevurah within Chesed (typified by a restriction performed out of love, like a father punishing a child) etc. In Kabbalistic interpretation, as there are 7 emotional Sephirot, their subsets form 7x7=49 emotional states. This gives the Kabbalistic interpretation of the mitzvah (Jewish observance) of Counting of the Omer, to count the 49 days of personal spiritual development between the festivals of Passover and Shavuot. Passover commemorates the exodus from Egypt, and in Jewish mystical thought, Egypt (in Hebrew "Mitzrayim", meaning "Limitations") represents the challenges to leave behind in spiritual development. In Kabbalah and Hasidism, leaving Egypt becomes a daily spiritual exodus, especially in the 49 days of preparation to reach Shavuot, commemorating receiving the Torah on Biblical Mount Sinai. Kabbalah teaches the benefit of focusing on the aspect of each Sephirah related to the particular day of the Omer. A person would examine each of their spiritual qualities, as a rectification process of Teshuva (Return to God), in preparation to reliving the acceptance of the Torah.

Day of Counting the Omer: Sub-divided Sephirah:
First day of Passover
Exodus from Egypt
1 Chesed of Chesed
2 Gevurah of Chesed
3 Tiferet of Chesed
etc.
47 Hod of Malchut
48 Yesod of Malchut
49 Malchut of Malchut
Festival of Shavuot
Receiving of Torah at Sinai

Two configurations of the Sephirot: Iggulim-Circles and Yosher-Upright[edit]

Two alternative spiritual arrangements for describing the Sephirot are given, metaphorically described as "Circles" and "Upright". Their origins come from Medieval Kabbalah and the Zohar. In later, 16th-century Lurianic kabbalah, they become systemised as two successive stages in the evolution of the Sephirot, during the primordial cosmic evolution of Creation. This evolution is central to the metaphysical process of tikkun (fixing) in the doctrines of Isaac Luria.

Iggulim-Circles[edit]

Metaphorical representation of the Five Worlds, with the 10 Sephirot radiating in each, as successively smaller Iggulim-concentric circles

One diagrammatic representation depicts the Sephirot metaphorically as successively smaller concentric circles, radiating inwards from the surrounding Divine Omnipresence. The Four Worlds of the Seder hishtalshelus ("Chain of Progression"), or with the addition of the highest Fifth World (Adam Kadmon), can be depicted in this diagram, starting with the highest and proceeding towards the centre of the circle to our lowest, physical realm. In each World the 10 Sephirot radiate, as 10 successive steps in the downward chain of flow towards the next, lower realm. This depiction shows the successive nature of each of the 10 Sephirot, as a downward chain, each more removed from Divine consciousness.

The surrounding space in the diagram is the Infinite Divine reality (Ein Sof). The outermost circle in the teachings of Lurianic kabbalah is the "space" made by the Tzimtzum in which Creation unfolds. Each successive World is progressively further removed from Divine revelation, a metaphorically smaller, more constricted circle. Emanation in each World proceeds down the 10 Sephirot, with the last Sephirah (Malchut-Actualisation of the Divine plan) of one World becoming, and being shared as, the first Sephirah (Keter-The Divine Will) of the next, lower realm. The vertical line into the centre of the circle represents the path of downward emanation and constriction, from the initial first Ohr (light) of the "Kav" (Ray) in Lurianic doctrine.

Yosher-Upright[edit]

The Yosher-Upright configuration of the 10 Sephirot, arranged into 3 columns

The most important and well known scheme of depicting the Sephirot arranges them as a tree with 3 columns. The Right column represents the spiritual force of expansion. The Left represents its opposite, restriction. The Middle column is the balance and synthesis between these opposing tendencies. The connecting lines in the diagram show the specific connections of spiritual flow between the Sephirot, the "22 Connecting Paths", and correspond to the spiritual channels of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Kabbalah sees the Hebrew letters as channels of spiritual life force. This derives from the account in Genesis of the Creation of the World, where Creation takes place through 10 Hebrew "Sayings" of God ("Let there be.."). In Kabbalistic theology, these letters remain the immanent spiritual forces that constantly recreate all existence. The paths divide into 3 Categories, shown in this diagram by their different colours, corresponding to the 3 types of letter.

The Man-metaphor in Kabbalah[edit]

Kabbalah relates the Sephirot and Indwelling Shechinah Presence to Male-Female Divine principles, represented in the union of Jewish marriage Below. In Medieval Kabbalah the task of man is Yichud-"Union" of Male and Female Divinity on High. In Lurianism man redeems exiled Sparks of Holiness of the Shechinah from material Kelipot

Kabbalah, the central system in Jewish mysticism, uses subtle anthropomorphic analogies and metaphors to describe God in Judaism, both the God-world relationship, and the inner nature of the Divine. These include the metaphor of the soul-body relationship, the functions of man's soul-powers, the configuration of man's bodily form, and male-female influences in the Divine. Kabbalists repeatedly warn and stress the need to divorce their notions from any corporality, dualism, plurality, or spatial and temporal connotations. As "the Torah speaks in the language of Man",[7] the empirical terms are necessarily imposed upon man's experience in this world. Once the analogy is described, its limitations are then related to, stripping the kernel of its husk, to arrive at a truer conception. Nonetheless, Kabbalists carefully chose their terminology to denote subtle connotations and profound relationships in the Divine spiritual influences. More accurately, as they see the emanation of the Material world from the Spiritual realms, the analogous anthropomorphisms and material metaphors themselves derive through cause and effect from their precise root analogies on High.

Describing the material world Below in general, and man in particular, as created in the "image" of the world Above is not restricted in Rabbinic Judaism to Kabbalah, but abounds more widely in Biblical, Midrashic, Talmudic and philosophical literature.[8] Kabbalah extends the Man-metaphor more radically to anthropomorphise particular Divine manifestations on high, while repeatedly stressing the need to divest analogies from impure materialistic corporality. Classical "proof texts" on which it bases its approach include, "From my flesh I envisage God",[9] and the Rabbinic analogy " As the soul permeates the whole body...sees but is not seen...sustains the whole body...is pure...abides in the innermost precincts...is unique in the body...does not eat and drink...no man knows where its place is...so the Holy One, Blessed is He..."[10] Together with the metaphor of Light, the Man-metaphor is central in Kabbalah. Nonetheless, it too has its limitations, needs qualification, and breaks down if taken as a literal, corporeal comparison. Its limitations include the affect of the body on the soul, while the World affects no change in God; and the distinct, separate origins of the soul and the body, while in relation to God's Omnipresence, especially in its Acosmic Hasidic development, all Creation is nullified in its source.

Soul faculties and Male-Female principles[edit]

The Yosher-Upright configuration of the Sephirot arranges the 10 Sephirot into a Partzuf interrelationship, where each Sephirah relates and mediates the influence of the others. This metaphor for Divine interrelationships on High is arranged in the schematic relationship of man's soul, because alone amongst all Creation, Adam-Man is held to encapsulate all harmonized forces, while animals and angels embody only singular instinctive drives. The significance of this, as well as the full meaning of the Partzufim reconfiguration of the Sephirot, emerges only in 16th century Lurianic Kabbalah, where the Yosher-Upright arrangement, the Partzufim and the souls of Israel represent the secondary World of Tikun-Rectification, while angels, animals and the root origins above of the Nations of the World embody the primordial World of Tohu-Chaos. Lurianic Kabbalah applies the verse, "God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them"[11] to this reconfigured Tikun-Yosher arrangement. In the Yosher scheme, Divine principles are described through the soul faculties of Man, with Binah-Understanding and Malkuth-Kingship-Shechinah-Indwelling Divine Presence, encapsulating the Divine Feminine in Creation, the principle of receiving, nurturing and pregnant internalization.

In Medieval Kabbalah, the task of man is the Yichud-Union on High of the Male-Female principles of Divinity, healing the apparent separation and concealment of the Shechinah Female indwelling Divine presence that sustains this world from the "Holy One Blessed Be He", the transcendent Divine on High. Separation and interruption of the Shefa-Flow of Divine vitality into this World is caused by man's sins. Unification and revelation is opened by man's benevolence, so that in Kabbalah man encapsulates the whole spiritual cosmos and upholds the Heavens. The 16th century Sefad Kabbalistic Renaissance ennacted the prayer before performing Mitzvot Jewish observances, uniting Tiferet-Beauty, central principle in the male emotions (Zeir Anpin) with Malkuth-Kingship, the feminine Shechinah:

For the sake of the union of the Holy One, Blessed Be He, and His Shechinah; to unite the name Yud and Hei, with Vav and Hei in the name of all Israel

Together, the four letters of the Tetragrammaton essential Divine name encapsulate the sephirot on High.

Configuration of the body[edit]

Despite the particular geometric depiction of the Yosher scheme, through each soul faculty in the body, man's physical organs also reflect the supernal Divine forces on High, as the scheme of Yosher underscores the inter-relationship of the Sephirot as a unit or body. In this context, the physical upright standing of man contrasts with the horizontal forms of animals. The correspondence of the Sephirot with the physical organs of man:

Sephirah: Organ:
Keter-Crown Skull
Encompassing crown
Da'at elyon
Chochmah-Wisdom Right brain
Brain
Binah-Understanding Left brain
Heart
Da'at-Knowledge Central brain
Da'at tachton
Chesed-Kindness Right arm
10 fingers included
Gevurah-Severity Left arm
10 fingers included
Tiferet-Beauty Torso
Front Pnimiut-Internality
Back Hitzoniut-Externality
Netzach-Victory Right leg
10 toes included
Right kidney
Hod-Glory Left leg
10 toes included
Left kidney
Yesod-Foundation Sexual organ
Holy covenant
Male and female partzufim
Malkuth-Kingship Mouth
Speech-revelation
Feet

Lurianic Shevirah (Shattering) and Tikun (Rectification)[edit]

Sefer Hakavanot from "Kisvei HaAri", disciples of the 16th century Lurianic Kabbalah. It moved the origin of perceived exile in the Sephirot to Primordial Creation, before the influence of Man on supernal harmony, as in Medieval Kabbalah

Isaac Luria reinterpreted and recast the whole scheme of Kabbalah in the 16th century, essentially making the second of two different versions of the Kabbalah: the Medieval (the initial, direct understandings of the Zohar, later synthesised by Moshe Cordovero) and the Lurianic. However, he understood his new doctrine as no more than a new revelation-teaching of the true meaning of the Zohar. Lurianic Kabbalah became the dominant Kabbalistic system, displacing Cordovero's, and afterwards the Zohar was read in its light. Lurianic Kabbalists sought to integrate this with the Cordoverian scheme, seeing both as true, but describing different aspects ("Worlds") of the Divine process.

Medieval Kabbalah depicts a linear descending hierarchy of Divine vitality, the sephirot emerging from the Ein Sof to enact Creation. Lurianic Kabbalah describes enclothing processes of exile and redemption in the Divine flow, where higher levels descend into lower states, as souls to spiritual bodies. The first emanation in Creation leads to spiritual shattering of Divinity in a definitive "catastrophe" (Shevirat HaKeilim - "The Shattering of the Vessels"), and the exile of its "sparks" into the descending created realms. Cordovero had reconciled previous opinions of the Sephirot by describing each as Divine Ohrot ("lights") invested in 10 spiritual Keilim ("vessels"), adapted by Luria to his scheme. In Lurianic Kabbalah, the first vessels of the Sephirot shatter due to the sublime intensity of the light. Because each of the Sephirot act as independent forces, Isaac Luria's attribution of the Iggulim (independent "Circles" arrangement of the Sephirot) without cooperation, their immature vessels are weak. From the destruction of this primordial realm, the World of Tohu ("Chaos"), is built the subsequent World of Tikun ("Rectification"), characterised by lower lights and stronger vessels. The sublime lights of Tohu withdraw into the Ein Sof, while their Sephirot vessels shatter down Creation. Sparks of the original high lights remain attached in exile to the descending fragments, and the Messianic task is the redemption of all the holy sparks of Tohu. In the World of Tikun in contrast, the Sephirot vessels are mature, stronger and act together in harmony. To this reformed state, Isaac Luria attributed the former Kabbalistic concepts of Yosher (harmonised "Upright" arrangement of the sephirot), and the many Zoharic passages expounding the Partzufim (Divine "Personas/Configurations"-particular Divine manifestations). This systemised the classic concept of the Partzufim as the secondary, evolved arrangements of the Sephirot in Creation.

Isaac Luria related the transition from Tohu to Tikun to Genesis 1:1-3:

"In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth", the initial source in potential, from which all would unfold. "And the earth was Chaos (Tohu) and Void (Vohu), with darkness over the surface of the deep...", each sephirah acts independently causing the shattering (Shevirat HaKeilim). "...And God said let there be Light", the ability of the harmonised Sephirot of Tikun to reveal Divinity and enact stable Creation.

The Lurianic doctrine of the shattering of the emotional sephirot vessels describes the esoteric meaning of Genesis 36:31 and I Chronicles 1:43:

"These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before there reigned any king over the children of Israel..."

Edom is described in Genesis as the descendents of Esau. In the Kabbalistic scheme, this is identified with unrectified Gevurah - Severity, the source of the vessels of the World of Tohu - Chaos. The eight kings listed who reigned in Edom before any king of Israel, embodied the eight sephirot of Daat to Malchut in the World of Tohu, the vessels that shattered. Of each it says they lived and died, death connoting the soul-light of the sephirot ascending back to its source, while the body-vessel descends-shatters. Attached to the broken vessels are the holy residues of the former light as Nitzot - "Sparks" of holiness, sustaining Creation by the Divine flow of Will. The sparks are the creative force of the Sephirot down the Four Worlds. The unabsorbed residue of the broken vessels in our physical, lowest World Assiah becomes the realm of Kelipot impurity. Genesis 1:2, "...And the Spirit of God hovered over the waters." Merachepet - "hovered" splits into the number "288 died", the root number of Divine sparks that then subdivide into innumerable fragments.

Partzufim-reconfigured sephirot[edit]

Main article: Partzufim

The four realms of our created existence are together called the World of Tikkun ("Fixing"). In Tikkun, the Sephirot evolve into new arrangements, where they can unite together. The different realms Tikkun are characterised as lower lights and stronger vessels.

Subsequent to the interinclusion of the 10 Sephirot within each other, in Lurianic Kabbalah they then develop into "Partsufim" ("Personas"). Wide discussion of the Partsufim is found in the Medieval Kabbalah of the Zohar, before Isaac Luria. In the Zohar, Shimon bar Yochai expounds upon the spiritual roles of the Parsufim, by talking about them as independent spiritual manifestations. "The Holy Ancient of Days", or "The Long Visage", two of the different Parsufim, are not just alternative adjectives for God, but are particular spiritual manifestations, levels and natures. Lurianic Kabbalah focused on the role of the Parsufim as the fully evolved stage of the primordial evolution of the Sephirot, in the beginning of Creation. Instead of each of the 10 Sephirot merely including a full subset of 10 Sephirot as latent potential forces, the first stage of their evolution, in the Parsufim the Sephirot become fully autonomous and interrelated. The name of each Partsuf denotes that the Sephirah from which it derived, has now become an independent scheme of 10 fully functioning Sephirot in the "Upright" (Yosher) form of "Man". This reconfiguration is essential in Lurianic Kabbalah to enable the opposing spiritual forces of the Sephirot to work together in harmony. Each Parsuf now operates independently, and unites with the other Parsufim. So, for example, "The Long Visage" is said to descend, and become enclothed within the lower Parsufim. The Sephirot now harmonise, to enable the Lurianic scheme of Tikkun (Rectification) to begin. The names of the fundamental Partsufim and their English translations:

Sephirah:
Original Sephirah before evolution
Partsuf:
Developed full "Persona" form
Above conscious Crown:
Keter
Inner Keter: Atik Yomin
"Ancient of Days"

Outer Keter: Arich Anpin
"Long Face/Visage"
(Macroprosopus)
Intellectual Wisdom:
Chochma
Abba
"Father"
Intellectual Understanding:
Binah
Imma
"Mother"
6 Emotional Sephirot:
Chesed
Gevurah
Tiferet
Netzach
Hod
Yesod
Zeir Anpin
"Small Face/Visage"
(Microprosopus)
Male son
Last Emotional Sephirah:
Malchut
Nukvah
"Feminine"
Counterpart of Zeir Anpin
Feminine daughter

Inner dimensions of the Sephirot and the Powers of the Soul[edit]

Main article: Kochos hanefesh

As all levels of Creation are constructed around the 10 Sephirot, their names in Kabbalah describe the particular role each plays in forming reality. These are the external dimensions of the Sephirot, describing their functional roles in channelling the Divine, creative Ohr (Light) to all levels. As the Sephirot are viewed to comprise both metaphorical "lights" and "vessels", their structural role describes the particular identity each Sephirah possesses from its characteristic vessel. Underlying this functional structure of the Sephirot, each one possesses a hidden, inner spiritual motivation that inspires its activity. This forms the particular characteristic of inner light within each Sephirah.

Understanding the Sephirot throughout Jewish mysticism is achieved by their correspondence to the soul of man. This applies to the outer, Kabbalistic structure of the Sephirot. It applies even more to their inner dimensions, which correspond to inner psychological qualities in the perception of man. Identifying the essential spiritual properties of the soul gives the best insight into their Divine source, and in the process reveals the spiritual beauty of the soul. In Hasidic thought these inner dimensions of the Sephirot are called the Kochos HaNefesh-"Powers of the Soul". Hasidism sought the internalisation of the abstract ideas of Kabbalah, both outwardly in joyful sincerity of dveikus in daily life, acts of loving-kindness and prayer; and inwardly in its profound new articulation of Jewish mystical thought, by relating it to the inner life of man.[12] Articulation of the Sephirot in Hasidic philosophy is primarily concerned with their inner dimensions, and exploring the direct, enlivening contribution of each in man's spiritual worship of God.[13] Kabbalah focuses on the esoteric manifestations of God in Creation, the vessels of Divinity. Hasidut looks at the lights that fill these vessels, how the structures reveal the Divine essence, and how this inwardness can be perceived. This difference can be seen in the names of these two stages of Jewish mysticism. "Kabbalah" in Hebrew is derived from "kabal" (to "receive" as a vessel). "Hasidut" is from "chesed" ("lovingkindness"), considered the first and greatest Sephirah, also called "Greatness", the wish to reveal and share. The names of the Sephirot come from Kabbalah, and describe the Divine effect that each has upon Creation, but not their inner qualities. Hasidic thought uses new descriptive terms for the inner dimensions of the Sephirot:[14][15]

Sephirah:
Outer function in Divinity and soul
Inner experience:
Inner Divine motivation and human soul response
Above conscious:
Keter-Crown
Essence of Keter:
Emunah-"Faith"
(expresses essence of soul in Infinite)

Inner Keter:
Taanug-unconscious source of "Delight"
(soul rooted in delight)

Outer Keter:
Ratzon-unconscious transcendent "Will"
(soul expresses through will)
First revelation of intellect:
Chochma-Insight of Wisdom
Bittul-"Selflessness"
(Revelation inspires self nullification)
Grasped Intellect:
Binah-Understanding
Simchah-"Joy"
(Understanding awakens joy)
Assimilated Intellect:
Daat-Knowledge
Yichud-"Union"
(Union with idea awakens emotions)
Primary emotion of giving:
Chesed-Lovingkindness
Ahavah-"Love" of God and Divine in all things
(Response of Divine giving)
Primary emotion of restriction:
Gevurah-Might/Severity
Yirah-"Fear" of God
(Mystical awe of Divinity)
Primary emotion of balance:
Tiferet-Beautiful harmony
Rachamim-"Mercy/Compassion"
(Balances kindness with restriction)
Secondary emotion of giving:
Netzach-Victory/Eternity
Bitachon-"Confidence"
(Confidence inspires determination)
Secondary emotion of restriction:
Hod-Splendour/Thanksgiving
Temimut-"Sincerity/Earnestness"
(Sincere response to Divine Glory)
Secondary emotion of balance:
Yesod-Foundation
Emet-"Truth"
(Drive to verify connection in task)
Emotional vessel for action:
Malchut-Kingship
Shiflut-"Lowliness"
(Action through receiving higher Sephirot lights)

The Sephirot and the Four Worlds[edit]

Main article: Four Worlds

These ten levels are associated with Kabbalah's (Zohar) four different "Worlds" or planes of existence, the main part from our perspective of the descending "chain of progression" (Seder hishtalshelus), that links the Infinite Divine Ein Sof with our finite, physical realm. In all Worlds, the 10 Sephirot radiate, and are the Divine channels through which every level is continuously created from nothing. Since they are the attributes through which the unknowable, infinite Divine essence becomes revealed to the creations, all ten emanate in each World. Nonetheless, the structure of the Four Worlds arises because in each one, certain Sephirot predominate. Each World is spiritual, apart from the lower aspect of the final World, which is our "Asiyah Gashmi" ("Physical Asiyah"), our physical Universe. Each World is progressively grosser and further removed from consciousness of the Divine, until in our World it is possible to deny God. In descending order:

  1. Atzilut (אֲצִילוּת)-World of "Emanation": In this level the light of the Ein Sof radiates and is united with its source. Divine Chochma, the limitless flash of wisdom beyond grasp, predominates.
  2. Beriah (בְּרִיאָה or alternatively[16] בְּרִיָּה)-World of "Creation": In this level, is the first creation ex nihilo, where the souls and angels have self-awareness, but without form. Divine Binah, the intellectual understanding, predominates.
  3. Yetzirah (יְצִירָה)-World of "Formation": On this level, creation is related to form. The Divine emotional Sephirot of Chesed to Yesod predominate.
  4. Asiyah (עֲשִׂיָּה)-World of "Action": On this level creation is relegated to its physical aspect, the only physical realm and the lowest World, our realm with all its creatures. The Divine Kingship of Malchut predominates, the purpose of Creation.

In the Zohar and elsewhere, there are these four Worlds or planes of existence. In the Lurianic system of Kabbalah, five Worlds are counted, comprising these and a higher, fifth plane, Adam Kadmon-manifest Godhead level, that mediates between the Ein Sof and the four lower Worlds.

As the four Worlds link the Infinite with our realm, they also enable the soul to ascend in devotion or mystical states, towards the Divine. Each World can be understood as descriptive of dimensional levels of intentionality related to man's natural "desire to receive", and a method for the soul's progress upward toward unity with or return to the Creator. (The terminology of this formulation is based on the exposition of Lurianic Kabbalah by the 20th Century Kabbalist Yehuda Ashlag).

Scriptural, Numerological and Spiritual associations of the Sefirotic Tree[edit]

The 10 Sephirot, arranged into the 3 columns, with the 22 Paths of Connection of three types

Associations of the 3 columns[edit]

The Sephiroth are organized into three discrete columns or gimel kavim ("three lines" in Hebrew). They are often referred to as the three "Fathers," are derived from the three "Mothers," and are attributed to the vowels (Vav, Yud, and Heh.) They are as follows:

  • Central column:

Kether heads the central column of the tree, which is known metaphorically speaking as the "Pillar of Mildness" and is associated with Hebrew letter Aleph, "the breath", and the air element. It is a neutral one, a balance between the two opposing forces of male and female tendencies. Some teachings describe the Sephirot on the centre pillar as gender-neutral, while others say that the Sephirot vary in their sexual attributions.

  • Right column, in Hebrew kav yamin:

Chokhmah heads the right column of the tree, metaphorically speaking the "Pillar of Mercy", associated with the Hebrew letter Shin, the fire element, and the male aspect;

  • Left column, in Hebrew kav smol:

The left column is headed by Binah and is called the "Pillar of Severity." It is associated with Hebrew letter Mem, the water element and the female aspect.

While the pillars are each given a sexual attribution, this does not mean that every sephirah on a given pillar has the same sexual attribution as the pillar on which they sit. In Jewish Kabbalah, of all the Sephirot only Binah and Malkuth are considered female, while all the other Sephirot are male.[citation needed]

Additionally (and this applies to both Jewish and Hermetic Kabbalah), each sephirah is seen as male in relation to the following sephirah in succession on the tree, and female in relation to the foregoing sephirah.

Alternative traditions consider the grammatical genders of the words involved. Thus, Gevurah is feminine because it has an atonal finial Heh. Thus, Severity or Justice becomes a feminine attribute while Chesed (Mercy or Lovingkindness) becomes a masculine one, despite the modern Western tendency to genderize these terms in reverse manner.

Numerological meanings[edit]

In a numerological sense, the Tree of Sephirot also has significance. Between the 10 Sephirot run 22 channels or paths which connect them, a number which can be associated with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Together the spiritual forces of the 10 Sephirot and the 22 connecting channels are called the "32 Paths of Wisdom".

To envision the tree, consider each of these ten spheres as being concentric circles with Malkuth being the innermost and all others encompassed by the latter. None of these are separate from the other, and all simply help to form a more complete view of the perfected whole. To speak simply, Malkuth is the Kingdom which is the physical world upon which we live and exist, while Kether, also call Kaether and Kaether Elyon is the Crown of this universe, representing the highest attainable understanding of God that men can understand.

Rabbinic significance[edit]

As to the actual significance of the numbers 10 and 22 in context of Judaism goes into Kabbalistic interpretation of Genesis. God is said to have created the world through Ten Utterances, marked by the number of times Genesis states, “And God said.”

  • Gen 1:3 - "And Elohim said, 'Let there be Light.' and there was Light." (Kether)
  • Gen 1:6 - "And Elohim said, 'Let there be a firmament in the midst of the Waters, and let it divide the Waters from the Waters." (Chockmah)
  • Gen 1:9 - "And Elohim said, 'Let the Waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear.' And it was so." (Binah)
  • Gen 1:11 - "And Elohim said, 'Let the Earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth.' And it was so." (Chesed)
  • Gen 1:14-15 - "And Elohim said, 'Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth.' And it was so." (Gevurah)
  • Gen 1:20 - "And Elohim said, 'Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.'" (Tiphareth)
  • Gen 1:22 - "And Elohim Blessed them, saying, 'Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.'" (Netzach)
  • Gen 1:26 - "And Elohim said, 'Let us make Man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air,and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.'" (Hod)
  • Gen 1:28 - "And Elohim blessed them and Elohim said to them, 'Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.'" (Yesod)
  • Gen 1:29-30 - "And Elohim said, 'Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat.' And it was so." (Malkuth)

As for the 22 letter-paths, there must first be an explanation of the three different types of letters in Hebrew. See “Bahir Tree” of “Kircher Tree” image for reference.

  • There are three “Mothers” (Aleph, Mem, and Shin) that represent the horizontal lines.
    • Their difference from the other letters is a matter for another article.
  • There are seven “Doubles” (Bet, Gimel, Dalet, Kaf, Peh, Resh, and Tav) that represent the vertical lines.
    • Each double is attributed to a soft and hard sound, positive and negative meaning, direction, planet, gate of the soul, color, angels, and vowel.
    • Gimel, Dalet, Resh, and Tav’s second pronunciations are lost or disputed, with different dialects using different sounds. Tav has no second pronunciation in Sephardi, but Ashkenazi use a 's' sound when the dagesh is absent.
  • The twelve “Elementals” (Heh, Vav, Zayin, Chet, Tet, Yud, Lamed, Nun, Samech, Ayin, Tzaddi, and Qof) have one pronunciation, and represent the diagonal lines. Other sources say that they correspond to the twelve zodiacal constellations.

Each letter grouping has significance in Genesis 1:

  • The Mothers represent the three times Genesis states “God made."
  • The Doubles represent the seven times Genesis states “God saw."
  • The elementals (or singles) represent the rest of the times “God” (Elohim in every instance of Genesis Chapter 1) is mentioned.

See also[edit]

Photo gallery[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Scholem, Kabbalah, p. 100, cited on Kabbalah page, note 14.
  2. ^ The Song of the Soul, Yechiel Bar-Lev, p. 73, cited on Kabbalah page, note 16.
  3. ^ See the discourse "On the Essence of Chassidus", Kehot Publication Society, described on the Hasidic philosophy page. The acronym "RADLA" for this level is identified as the origin of the Torah of Hasidus.
  4. ^ See for example the classic passage from the Zohar beginning "Elijah opened his discourse.." that is read every Friday afternoon to prepare for the Sabbath, in the Habad Siddur "Tehillat HaShem".
  5. ^ Mystical Concepts in Chassidism by Jacob Immanuel Schochet. Kehot Publications. Chapter on the Sephirot. Available separately, or printed at back of Bilingual Hebrew-English edition Tanya
  6. ^ Mystical Concepts in Chassidism by Jacob Immanuel Schochet. Kehot Publications. Chapter on Sephirot. Available separately or printed at back of bilingual Hebrew-English Tanya
  7. ^ Talmud Berachot 31b and other sources in Chazal
  8. ^ Mystical Concepts in Chassidism, Jacob Immanuel Schochet, Kehot, Chaptor 1, "Anthropomorphism and Metaphors"
  9. ^ Job 19:26
  10. ^ Talmud Berachot 10a, Midrash Tehillim 103:4,5, Tikunei Zohar 13:28a and later Kabbalistic commentary. Cited in footnote 7, chapter 1, Mystical Concepts in Chassidism
  11. ^ Genesis 1:27
  12. ^ Overview of Chassidut from www.inner.org. Retrieved Nov. 2009
  13. ^ The Ten Sefirot-Introduction from www.inner.org. Retrieved Nov. 2009
  14. ^ "Sefirah" in Glossary of Kabbalah and Chassidut at www.inner.org. Retrieved Nov. 2009
  15. ^ The Powers of the Soul explained at www.inner.org. Retrieved Nov. 2009
  16. ^ Rabbi David Seidenberg (2004). "The One-Page Save-The-Trees Tu Bish’vat Haggadah". Archived from the original on 2010-07-29. Retrieved 2014-03-11. [dead link]

References[edit]

Early texts:

Modern guides:

Academic study:

External links[edit]