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Binah (Kabbalah)

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The Sefirot in Kabbalah
The Sefiroth in Jewish KabbalahKeterBinahChokmahDa'atGevurahChesedTiferetHodNetzachYesodMalkuth
The Sefiroth in Jewish Kabbalah


View the image description page for this diagram Sefirot

Binah (meaning "understanding"; Hebrew: בִּינָה Bīnā) is the third sephira on the kabbalistic Tree of Life. It sits on the level below Keter (in the formulations that include that sephirah), across from Chokmah and directly above Gevurah. It is usually given four paths: from Keter, Chokmah, to Gevurah and Tiphereth.[1]

Etymology and names


Binah (בִּינָה), meaning "understanding" in Hebrew, is derived from the root ב-י-נ, which conveys the concept of discerning or distinguishing knowledge into structured understanding. This root implies building or constructing insight from raw data. In Kabbalistic tradition, Binah is personified as a nurturing mother, reflecting its role in developing and shaping the abstract wisdom from Chokmah into intelligible forms.[2]



The concept of Binah has its roots in early Jewish mystical texts, such as the Sefer Yetzirah, which dates between the 2nd and 6th centuries CE. In this foundational work, Binah is associated with the sefirot, the ten attributes through which the Infinite reveals itself and continuously creates both the physical realm and higher metaphysical realms.[3]

In the medieval period, Binah's role in Kabbalistic cosmology was significantly developed with the publication of the Zohar in the late 13th century. Attributed to the 2nd-century sage Shimon bar Yochai but likely compiled by Moses de León, the Zohar describes Binah as the "supernal mother" from whom the lower sefirot emanate. This maternal aspect is crucial as Binah gives birth to the six lower sefirot, the Zeir Anpin or "Small Face".[4]

The 16th-century teachings of Isaac Luria, known as Lurianic Kabbalah, introduced complex ideas about the sefirot's dynamics and interactions. Luria's cosmology emphasized Binah's role in the process of Tikkun, or rectification, restoring divine order following the shattering of the vessels (Shevirat HaKelim). In this process, Binah brings order and structure to the fragmented divine light.[5]

In the modern era, Binah continues to be studied and interpreted by Kabbalists and scholars who emphasize its role in balancing Chokmah (Wisdom) and the lower sefirot, maintaining the equilibrium of divine flow. Scholars like Gershom Scholem and Moshe Idel have contributed significantly to the understanding of Binah within Jewish mysticism. Moshe Idel's analyses offer a comprehensive look at these developments.[6]



Binah, the third of the ten sefirot, represents "understanding" or "contemplation". According to the Bahir:

The third (utterance): quarry of the Torah, treasury of wisdom, quarry of God's spirit, hewn out by the spirit of God. This teaches that God hewed out all the letters of the Torah, engraving them with the Spirit, casting His forms within it.[7]

Binah is often likened to a 'palace of mirrors' that reflects the pure point of light of Chokmah (wisdom), increasing and multiplying it in an infinite variety of ways. In this metaphor, Binah is the 'quarry' carved out by the light of wisdom. It is also described as the womb that gives shape to the Spirit of God. On a psychological level, Binah is 'processed wisdom', also known as deductive reasoning. It is davar mitoch davar—"understanding one idea from another idea". While Chokmah represents intellect that does not stem from the rational process (it is either inspired or taught), Binah embodies the innate rational process within a person, working to develop an idea fully.[3]

Binah is associated with the feminine aspect of divinity. The Bahir states: "For you shall call Understanding a Mother" (Bahir 75).[8] Classical Jewish texts further elaborate, stating that "Binah yeterah natun l'nashim" ("an extra measure of Binah was given to women").[9]

In its fully articulated form, Binah possesses two partzufim. The higher of these is referred to as Imma Ila'ah ("the higher mother"), whereas the lower is referred to as tevunah ("comprehension"). These two partzufim are referred to jointly as Imma ("the mother").[4]





Binah is associated with the color black, representing the depth, mystery, and the hidden potential of understanding. Black in this context symbolizes the absorption of all colors, reflecting Binah's role in receiving and shaping the pure, undifferentiated light of Chokmah into structured and comprehensible forms. This association emphasizes Binah's function as the womb of creation, where raw wisdom is transformed into clear, discernible concepts.[2]

Ethical behaviour


According to Moses ben Jacob Cordovero in The Palm Tree of Devorah, the ethical quality associated with Binah is complete repentance and rectification of flaws: "Just as Binah sweetens all severities and neutralizes their bitterness, one should repent and rectify all flaws." This process involves deep introspection, acknowledging one's errors, and making sincere efforts to improve. By doing so, one can emulate Binah’s nurturing and transformative qualities, bringing wisdom and understanding into every aspect of life.[10]

Practical applications


Binah, as a key aspect of Kabbalistic understanding, has several practical applications in both spiritual practice and personal development.

Practitioners of Kabbalah often use Binah in meditation to enhance their understanding and insight. Meditative practices focused on Binah involve contemplating the interconnectedness of all things and the underlying structures of the universe. By meditating on Binah, individuals seek to cultivate deeper intuition and the ability to perceive the divine wisdom inherent in all aspects of life. Sources like Aryeh Kaplan's works on Jewish meditation provide detailed techniques and approaches.[11]

On a psychological level, Binah represents understanding or deductive reasoning. It encourages individuals to develop their rational thinking and problem-solving abilities. By engaging with Binah, one can enhance their capacity for davar mitoch davar—"understanding one idea from another". This process is fundamental in learning, critical thinking, and personal growth. Educational programs that integrate Kabbalistic principles often emphasize the development of Binah to foster cognitive and emotional intelligence.[12]

Binah is strongly associated with the feminine aspect of divinity. It is often invoked in spiritual practices that honor and develop the feminine qualities of understanding, nurturing, and intuition. Women's spiritual groups, in particular, sometimes focus on Binah to explore and deepen their connection to these qualities. The concept of Binah yeterah natun l'nashim ("an extra measure of Binah was given to women") underlines its significance in feminine spirituality. Texts likeThe Hebrew Goddess by Raphael Patai explore these themes in depth.[13]

In creative endeavors, Binah plays a crucial role as the sephirah that transforms abstract ideas (Chokmah) into concrete forms. Artists, writers, and other creatives might draw upon the energy of Binah to bring their inspirations to fruition. This involves not just the initial spark of creativity but also the structured development and refinement of ideas into tangible works. Resources on Kabbalistic creativity, such as Melinda Ribner's Kabbalah Month by Month, offer insights into harnessing Binah for artistic expression.[14]

Binah’s association with understanding and nurturing also extends to healing practices. In Kabbalistic healing, Binah’s energy is used to promote mental clarity and emotional balance. Therapists and healers might incorporate Binah into their practices to help clients process complex emotions and thoughts, leading to greater self-awareness and healing. Books like Kabbalistic Healing: A Path to an Awakened Soul by Jason Shulman provide practical guidance on integrating Binah into therapeutic practices.[15]

In Western esotericism


In Western esotericism, Binah is seen to channel the raw force of Chokmah into the various forms of creation. This transformative aspect of Binah is crucial in shaping the chaotic, unformed energy of Chokmah into structured, intelligible forms. Binah's role in this process underscores its importance in both the macrocosmic and microcosmic understanding of creation and manifestation.[16]

The name of God associated with Binah in Western esoteric traditions is Jehovah Elohim. The archangel presiding over Binah is Tzaphkiel, and the order of angels that resides in it are the Aralim (the Thrones). The planet Saturn is also linked to Binah, reflecting its attributes of structure, discipline, and limitation.[17]

Binah is related to the Yoni, the womb, the Priestess card in the occult tarot. These associations emphasize Binah’s role in nurturing and bringing forth new life, as well as its connection to hidden wisdom and the feminine divine.[18] Aleister Crowley's Liber 777 associates it with Isis, Cybele, Demeter, Rhea, Woman, The Virgin Mary, Juno, Hecate, and the "threes" of the Tarot.[19]

For its negative counterpart in the qlippoth (the impure or demonic realm), Binah corresponds to the demonic order of Sathariel.[20] This represents the shadow aspect of Binah, where the potential for understanding and structure can become rigid and oppressive, leading to a lack of compassion and flexibility.



The paths connecting Binah to other sefirot on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life highlight its transformative role. The path from Keter to Binah, represented by The Magician in the Tarot, symbolizes the descent of divine will into structured understanding.[21] The path from Chokmah to Binah, linked to The Empress, signifies the nurturing of unbounded wisdom into structured knowledge.[22] The path from Binah to Geburah, symbolized by The Chariot, represents the application of disciplined actions based on understanding.[23] Lastly, the path from Binah to Tiphareth, associated with The Lovers, involves the integration of understanding into harmonious expression.[21] These paths illustrate Binah's various roles.

See also




Works cited

  • The Bahir. Translated by Aryeh Kaplan. Aronson. 1995. ISBN 1-56821-383-2.
  • Cordovero, Moshe (1993). The Palm Tree of Devorah. Translated by Moshe Miller. Targum Press. ISBN 1-56871-027-5.
  • Crowley, Aleister (1969) [1944]. The Book of Thoth: A Short Essay on the Tarot of the Egyptians. Illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris (reprint ed.). New York: Samuel Weiser.
  • Crowley, Aleister (1986). 777 and other Qabalistic writings of Aleister Crowley. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser. ISBN 0-87728-670-1.
  • Fine, Lawrence (2003). Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos: Isaac Luria and his Kabbalistic Fellowship. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.[ISBN missing]
  • Green, Arthur (2004). A Guide to the Zohar. Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-4908-4.
  • Halevi, Z'ev ben Shimon (1992). Psychology and Kabbalah. Red Wheel/Weiser. ISBN 978-0-87728-529-8.
  • Idel, Moshe (1988). Kabbalah: New Perspectives. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-04699-1.
  • Kaplan, Aryeh (1988). Meditation and the Bible. S. Weiser. ISBN 978-0-87728-617-2.
  • Kaplan, Aryeh (1995). Meditation and Kabbalah. Jason Aronson. ISBN 978-1-56821-381-1.
  • Kaplan, Aryeh (2011). Jewish Meditation: A Practical Guide. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-307-76111-8.
  • Kaplan, Aryeh (1997). Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation. Weiser Books. ISBN 978-0-87728-855-8.
  • Patai, Raphael (1990). The Hebrew Goddess. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8143-2271-0.
  • Pollack, Rachel (1980). Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom: A Book of Tarot. Aquarian Press. ISBN 978-0-85030-220-2.
  • Regardie, Israel (1999) [1932]. A Garden of Pomegranates (3rd ed.). Llewellyn. ISBN 1-56718-141-4.
  • Ribner, Melinda (2002). Kabbalah Month by Month: A Year of Spiritual Practice and Personal Transformation. Wiley. ISBN 978-0-7879-6152-7.
  • Scholem, Gershom (1974). Kabbalah. Quadrangle/New York Times Book Company. ISBN 978-0-8129-0352-2.
  • Scholem, Gershom (1995). Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. New York: Schocken Books. ISBN 978-0-8052-1042-2.
  • Shulman, Jason (2004). Kabbalistic Healing: A Path to an Awakened Soul. Inner Traditions/Bear. ISBN 978-1-59477-015-9.
  • Waite, Arthur Edward (2005). The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (78 plates ed.). Mineola, NY: Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-44255-1. OCLC 57549699.
  • Wang, Robert (1987). The Qabalistic Tarot: A Textbook of Mystical Philosophy. S. Weiser. ISBN 978-0-87728-672-1.

Further reading