Seder hishtalshelus

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In Kabbalistic and Hasidic philosophy, seder hishtalshelus or hishtalshelut (Hebrew: סדר השתלשלות) refers to the chain-like descent of spiritual worlds (Olam/Olamot) between God and Creation. Each spiritual world denotes a complete realm of existence, resulting from its general proximity or distance to Divine revelation. Each realm is also a form of consciousness reflected in this world through the psychology of the soul.

The theosophical tradition in Kabbalah is concerned with defining in great detail the esoteric nature, particular divine manifestations, and functional role of each level between the infinite and the finite. Each spiritual realm embodies a creative stage God continually uses to go from his self to the creation of the physical world, the material Universe being the end of the chain, and the only physical realm. Hasidic thought applies the Kabbalistic scheme to its own concern of perceiving divine omnipresence in this material world. In this, Hasidism varies in its use of Kabbalah, Mainstream-Hasidism avoiding Kabbalistic focus, while Habad thought explains seder hishtalshelus in relation to man's psychology. In contrast to the functional aim of Kabbalah, this contemplates seder hishtalshelus as a vehicle for relating to the divine unity with creation.[1][2]

The term Seder Hishtalshelus is sometimes used restrictively to refer to the actually emergent Created Order (the comprehensive Four Worlds). More broadly, all preceding levels are included, as their function underlies resulting Existence. This page lists and links to all the main spiritual levels described in Lurianic Kabbalah, the scheme of Isaac Luria (1534–1572), the basis of modern Jewish mysticism. Its listing incorporated, expanded and explained earlier Medieval/Classical Kabbalah. After Luria, esoteric Kabbalists broadened explanation within the Lurianic listing. The supra-rational doctrines of Luria described Chokhmah-Wisdom levels of Divinity (Tzimtzum, Shevira) that preceded the "rationally" perceived Binah-Understanding levels of Medieval Kabbalah and Moshe Cordovero.[3] In turn, the Habad Hasidic exploration described Keter-Will levels of Divine intention that preceded Creation.[4][5]


Seder hishtalshelus (Hebrew: סדר השתלשלות) means the "order of development" or "order of evolution", where the word Hishtalshelus (or Hishtalshelut) is derived from the reduplicated quadriliteral root ŠLŠL "to chain", and so literally means "the chain-like process".[citation needed]

The Upper Unity[edit]

Ohr Ein Sof[edit]

Preparatory stages in the Ohr Ein Sof ("God's Infinite Light") before the beginning of the creative process. The Ohr Ein Sof is a paradoxical form of divine self-revelation. These are above any world/limitation. Kabbalah considered the functional question whether the Ein Sof represents God's divine essence or God as First Cause. Habad intellectual Hasidic thought explores Atzmut (divine essence) in the purpose of Creation:

  • Atzmut ("God's Absolute Essence")
  • Yachid ("The Single One")
  • Echad ("The One")
  • Sha'ashuim Atzmi'im ("The Delights of Self")
  • Aliyat Haratzon ("Rose in His Will")
  • Ana Emloch ("I will reign")
  • Ein Sof ("No End" - classic term for the Unknowable God in Kabbalah)
  • Kadmon ("Primordial One")
  • Avir Kadmon ("Primordial Atmosphere")
  • Adam Kadma'ah Stima'ah ("Concealed Primordial Man") God's will for Creation before the Tzimtzum


Three stages of the Sod HaTzimtzum ("Secret of Contraction") taught in the new doctrines of Lurianic Kabbalah. These received differing interpretations after Luria, from the literal (more mythological) to the metaphorical (more philosophical). In this dynamic myth, the first act in Creation was Divine Self-Withdrawal, the opposite of Creative revelation. Tzimtum is a paradox as Creation depends on God also being present in the vacuum and resulting existence:

  • Tzimtzum ("Contraction") "Self-Withdrawal/removal" of God's Infinite Light to create the Khalal ("Vacuum")
  • Reshimu ("Impression") Light left behind in the vacuum, the Residue
  • Kav ("Ray") New Divine light radiated into the primordial darkness/vacuum

Adam Kadmon ("Primordial Man"), an anthropomorphic term, is the revelation of the specific Divine Will for Creation after the Tzimtzum. Its paradoxical nature is expressed as both Adam (creation) and Kadmon ("primary" divinity). As the level of Keter ("Crown") divine will, it is pure light, with no vessels, bounded by its future potential to create vessels. It is sometimes counted as the first of the Five Worlds, but its supreme transcendence is prior to the emergence of the sephirot and Shevirat Hakeilim ("Shattering of their Vessels"):

  • Ratzon Kadum ("Original Desire")
  • Adam Kadmon ("Primordial Man")
  • Orot Ozen-Chotem-Peh (Five "lights from the eyes, ears, nose, mouth and forehead" of Adam Kadmon)

Akudim, Nekudim, Berudim[edit]

Three Worlds of "lights" and "vessels" resulting from the interacting lights that emanated from Adam Kadmon, in the Lurianic Kabbalah. Each embodies different stages in the emergence of the 10 sephirot ("Divine Attributes"). Their progression corresponds to the archetypal realms of Tohu and Tikun ("Chaos and Rectification") described in the new doctrines of Luria. Tohu causes Shevirat HaKeilim ("Shattering of the sephirot Vessels"), the catastrophic exile in Creation:

  • Akudim ("Binding") 10 lights in one vessel - Stable Tohu ("Chaos")
  • Nekudim ("Points") 10 isolated lights in 10 vessels - Unstable Tohu ("Chaos")
  • Berudim ("Connection") 10 inter-relating lights in 10 vessels - beginning of Tikun ("Rectification")

The Lower Unity[edit]

General Worlds
in Kabbalah
Shiviti on vellumTetragrammaton.jpg
  1. Atziluth
  2. Beri'ah
  3. Yetzirah
  4. Assiah

Keter of Atzilut[edit]

The World of Atzilut ("Emanation") is the first of the comprehensive Four Worlds (ABiY"A) of our Created Order, which are collectively the realm of Tikun ("Rectification") of the Shattered Vessels from Tohu. Atzilut completes the Upper rectification, which began in Berudim, through the sephirot transforming into Partzufim ("Divine Countenances"). Partzufim harmonise the sephirot in the scheme of Yosher ("Upright") full interacting configurations in the form of Man. Rectification of Atzilut begins with rectification of its Keter ("Crown") Will. Eight rectification stages in Keter D'Atzilut ("The Crown of Emanation"):

  • Atik Yomin ("Ancient of Days") Upper partzuf of Keter (Inner Will-Delight)
  • Arich Anpin ("Long Countenance/Infinitely Patient One") Lower partzuf of Keter (Outer Will)
  • Reisha D'lo Ityada (RaDLA) ("Unknowable Head")
  • Reisha D'Ayin ("Head of Nothingness")
  • Reisha D'Arich ("Head of Infinity")
  • Gulgalta ("Skull") Keter in Arich Anpin
  • Mocha Stima'ah ("Concealed Brain") Origin of Chochmah-Wisdom in Arich Anpin
  • Dikna ("Beard") Contracts the light of Arich Anpin through 13 channels


Rectification of Olam Ha'Atzilut (the "World of Emanation"), first of the Four Worlds, is completed with ten stages of Partzufim (Divine "Countenances") after Keter. Each of the 6 Primary and 12 Secondary Partzufim correspond to the 10 Sephirot arranging around one of their number. Interaction of the Partzufim rectifies Atzilut eternally, completing Upper rectification. Redemption of the fallen sparks by Man rectifies the time-related three lower Worlds Below. Atzilut is separated from the three independent lower Worlds by its exclusive consciousness of Divine Unity, without self-awareness, the level of Chokhmah ("Wisdom"). Creation from Nothing is seen from the view of Ayin ("Nothing"):

  • Abba ("Father") General partzuf of Chokhmah (Wisdom)
  • Imma ("Mother") General partzuf of Binah (Understanding)
  • Abba Ila'ah ("Higher Father") Upper secondary partzuf of Chokhmah
  • Imma Ila'ah ("Higher Mother") Upper secondary partzuf of Binah
  • Yisrael Sabba ("Israel the Elder") Lower secondary partzuf of Chokhmah
  • Tevunah ("Comprehension") Lower secondary partzuf of Binah
  • Zeir Anpin ("Short Countenance"-"Ben" Son) General partzuf of Emotions
  • Nukvah D'Ze'ir Anpin ("Female of Zeir Anpin"-"Bat" Daughter) General parzuf of Malkhut (Kingdom)
  • Leah (First wife of Jacob) Upper secondary partzuf of Malkhut
  • Rachel (Second wife of Jacob) Lower secondary partzuf of Malkhut

The 10 sephirot shine in each of the Four Worlds, the last sephirah Malkuth ("Kingship") of a World becoming the first sephirah Keter ("Crown") of the next Realm. Malkuth of Atzilut, called "God's speech", is the general source of independent Creation.


Olam Ha'Beriah (the "World of Creation")


Olam Ha'Yetzirah (the "World of Formation")


Olam Ha'Assiah (the "World of Action")

Asiyah Gashmit[edit]

Asiyah Gashmit ("Physical Action")

Analogies for Seder Hishtalshelut[edit]

The basic stations of this process from above to below are:

  • Atzmus Ohr Ein Sof before the Tzimtzum ("The Essence of the Infinite Light before the Contraction")
  • The Tzimtzum ("The Contraction")
  • The Reshimu ("The Impression")
  • The Kav ("Line of Light")
  • Ratzon Kadum ("Original Desire")
  • Adam Kadmon ("Original Man")
  • Atzilut ("World of Emanation")
  • The Masach ("The Curtain")
  • Beriah ("World of Creation")
  • Yetzirah ("World of Formation")
  • Assiah ("World of Action")

Although these are the basic stations, each level contains innumerable details. To understand Seder Hishtalshelus properly, one must first understand how all of the analogies exist in a person. Once one has understood this, one can begin to see how all of these levels exist in the world. Then, one will be able to take any event or aspect of creation and trace it up the chain to God Himself, then back down to the original view and see how God is literally here with us, relating to us directly through his creations.

The purpose of learning about Seder Hishtalshelus in Hasidic thought is not merely to know about many distinct levels, rather, the purpose is to see how all the levels in between us and God are transparent and irrelevant, and in truth God is relating to us directly, and there is "none besides for Him". (Deuteronomy 4:35) Because of this, the Tanya states that learning about the Seder Hishtalshelus will bring a person to a "complete heart".

This is much like two friends talking on the phone. There are many stages one's voice must undergo before it reaches the other. Yet, the two people are talking to each other, not to their phones. The stages in between become irrelevant and transparent in such a situation.

One can understand these levels through the analogy of a man who wants a house. The hishtalshelus is generally broken down into two general stages, called the "Upper Unity" and the "Lower Unity". Below are the relevant analogies for all the basic stations of the hishtalshelus in the analogy of a man who wants a house starting from the top (primordial desires) and going down (until the desire is actualized).

  • Atzmut Ohr Ein Sof Lifnei Hatzimtzum ("Essence of the Infinite Light before the Contraction"):
    The analogy for this stage is the essence of the person's soul. At this stage we are dealing with only the person himself, who at this point has no revealed desire for a house or any other physical object. However, since he is human, we must say that at some point he will desire a house because this is part of human nature. At this stage, however, this desire doesn't have any independent existence at all, but is simply a part of his soul.
  • Tzimtzum and Reshimu ("Contraction and Impression"):
    At this stage there is still no revealed desire for a house. However, the person realizes that his ultimate desire will be to express his true self through things that are separate from himself, such as through music, art, a house, etc. Those decisions have not yet been made, however. There is only the realization that one will want to express his true self by making something that appears separate from him, express him. This is similar to the way one might want the challenge of playing an instrument, which is something separate from a person, and allow himself to be expressed through it. Reshimu means impression, because at this stage the person realizes that he will not be able to express himself directly, but his self will somehow leave its own impression on the things he does so he can be seen through them.
  • Kav ("Measuring Line"):
    This is the part of the person that connects the Tzimtzum and Reshimu to the Infinite Light before the Tzimtzum. The analogy for The Kav is the person's judgement. In life, whatever choices a person makes, will be free choices made by the person, without influence from those around him. Even small and seemingly insignificant choices, such as what one decides to order at a restaurant, still express his essence, because they are 'his' choices, and are his way of expressing himself. If one looks carefully at a person's choices one can see how they bring across his unique taste and personality. At this point there is still no revealed desire for a house, but only the subconscious framework that will eventually be used when he begins to desire one.
  • Ratzon Kadum ("Original Desire"):
    Now that person is most likely older, he begins to feel a desire for independence and belonging. This is one particular expression of his original desire to express himself. But now it is specific to wanting a sense of contentment and a feeling of being at "home". At this point, he still does not desire a home, but wishes for the happiness gained when one gains a house. Technically he could still express this desire in other ways than having a house, such as interacting friends or participating in activities which he enjoys and achieve that same sense of belonging and contentment. There are still no details yet of how the desire for belonging will be fulfilled.
  • Adam Kadmon (A"K-"Primordial Man"):
    The person now looks at the outside world for the first time. Up until this point, he was only thinking about himself, and his desires. Now, in order to bring out this desire to practicality, he must decide what in the physical world will fit these desires. He creates a world image, i.e., a picture of what is going on in the world. He then decides where in this mental picture he belongs. He eventually realizes that the best way to integrate into society is to possess a house, and will choose a house that fits his particular character in order to best express himself. The kind of house he will want has been limited at this point due to his still ignorant outlook on the world and the very basic ideas of his own personality. However, he still does not truly desire a physical house. Rather, it is that he has realized his own desires and needs and now knows the best type of "house" that would suit him.
  • Keter of Atzilut ("Crown of the World of Emanation"):
    This stage is what results from the associations created in A"K, namely, a particular desire for a particular house. This stage mainly compromises two concepts: Arich Anpin-Outer/Chitzoneyus of Keter: Desire for this particular house; and Atik Yomin-Inner/Pnimiyus of Keter: The pleasure he receives in knowing that this will express who he is.
  • Atzilut ("World of Emanation"):
    A"K already included all the details of the levels below it. However, the actual details only come out as needed. Now he knows the way he will express himself will be specifically through a house. At this stage he may sit down with his wife, or real estate agent, and clarifies exactly how he wants his house to be. This stage includes Chochma (Wisdom) of Aztilus which is when he creates the general picture of what he wants in the abstract, "a warm home". Binah (Understanding) of Atzilus involves figuring out what are the components of such a home; everything he wants the house to be with all their details. In A"K he only knew what types of homes are appropriate with what kind of person. Here he actually decides where he will fit into the picture. Here he also decides what is practical based on how much money he has and what is available etc. Based on all of these things he comes up with the Zeir Anpin (Z"A-"the Small Face"-Emotions) of Atzilus: This stage is the picture of what things are good and what are bad. Here he sets up what things will bring him closer to his goal (his dream house) and what things will bring him further. He will have Chesed (a love) for things he will like. He will have Gevurah (a fear or hate) for things he will not like. He will have Tiferet (Beauty) for the compromises he makes (or the beauty that results) and Netzach (feeling of victory in spite of challenges) to want to go and get what he wants, and the Hod to not settle for something less than he wants. He will have a Yesod, which forms the compromise of how he will actually interact with everyone resulting from the interplay between his Netzach and Hod. This results in Malchut ("Kingdom" or actualization), which is the stage at which he will talk to himself about what he likes and doesn't like. And he will talk about what he is actually going to do. Finally, all of the above will lead to his creation of his Malchus of Atzilus i.e. he will actually tell the real estate agent what he wants, what he will settle for and what he will not, what he likes hates etc. The desires are all set up now, but still the real building process of the house has not occurred.
  • Beri'ah ("World of Creation"):
    At this stage the real-estate agent will take everything the man told him about what kind of house he wants. He will take these words of the original guy and translate them into things that can exist in a home. For instance, if the person said he wants a home where he can swim, the real-estate agent might translate that into him having a pool, or having a beach-home. This translations process is called the masach (screen) which carries across all the upper desires and connects them to things in the real world. Real estate agent must pull out from those words what this guy really wants and how to find a house that will accomplish his goal. To translate what this guy wants to get out of a house and make it into a picture of an actual house. What he creates is the world of Beriyah. He must figure out all the different scenarios that would have all the elements with the best combination=Beriya. The real-estate broker need not do this, this technically could also be done within the person's self.
  • Yetzirah ("World of Formation"):
    Now someone must figure out exact dimensions for each of these things, its shape, what it will be constructed out of. Will it be made of brick, limestone, wood or something else. Someone must look at the person's style, needs and desires. For instance if they intend to have parties, they should probably have a hardwood floor instead of carpet. Someone at this stage figures out the exact shape, size of the house and its location and then creates a floorplan.
  • Asiyah Ruchnit ("Spiritual World of Action"):
    Now this plan must go to the builders. The builders must look at the blueprint and figure out how to actually build a house like this. Sometimes a certain type of house can be drawn up in Yetzira but in real life wouldn't hold up or would be impracticable. These builder must figure out how to pour the cement, how to make it strong, and figure out where they will we get the furniture to actually make something like that. They must study the blueprint and figure out how to make something that will work.
  • Asiyah Gashmit ("Physical World of Action"):
    The builders actually pour the cement or whatever and build the physical structure and everything in the house. Now the man can go live in the house and enjoy and express himself in fulfillment of his original desire which started this entire process in the Infinite Light before the Contraction.

Only Analogies[edit]

While the Hasidic texts offer many analogies of how Seder Hishtalshelus exists within a person, such as the one given above, they also emphasize that these are only analogies and the analogue is nothing like the analogies. These analogies are meant only to give a glimpse into Seder Hishtalshelus in a way that we are familiar with, but the true analogue deals with how God interrelates with our world. Much like a house, God desires a "dwelling place" in this world. This means He desired that his Essence be revealed through the medium of this world much like a person might wish his own essence to be revealed through the medium of his house. While analogies are a necessary step, the true goal of studying Seder Hishlshelus must be to pick out the point that unites all of the analogies and apply it to the analogue i.e. how God is being revealed in our world directly.

On the other hand, the analogies are not vague, These analogies are precise and exact, much scholarly work has been dedicated to understanding and analyzing why particular analogies have been used, some that are not, and some that are inconsistent in application (i.e. a text may use different analogies to demonstrate the same point - the analysis required is to understand and examine the deficiency in each analogy, and how they can be reconciled with each other)

Relation to Western philosophy[edit]

Study and contemplation of Seder Hishtalshelus is central to the Intellectual-Hasidism school of Chabad. Some speculate that the recent Hasidic explanations of Seder Hishtalshelus may have been influenced by certain principles in Western philosophy. Various dichotomies mentioned in philosophy are strikingly similar to those mentioned in late Hasidic texts: Form/Matter, Sense/Feeling, Initial Cognition/Semiotic Cognition/Semiotic Transition.[6] Furthermore, the prose of the Rebbe Rashab is almost identical to that of G. W. F. Hegel.

Others counter that the dichotomies meantioned in Hasidic texts originate in sources predating Western philosophy. Proponents of Hasidic philosophy, counter that since Intellectual-Hasidut is an essential wisdom that is higher than, and includes all other wisdoms it would necessarily make reference to all other forms of wisdom, whether Western or otherwise. They would argue that such similarities are not proof of influence of Western philosophy, but rather are evidence that Hasidic philosophy touches upon, unites, and enlightens every other wisdom, whether it be Torah or secular.

The website and books of Sanford Drob bring the Seder Hishtalshelut theosophical scheme of Lurianic Kabbalah into dialogue with Modern and Postmodern Philosophy and Psychology. In our age when Western philosophy deconstructs the possibility of metaphysics, he sees the Lurianic scheme as an essence-myth that transcends and incorporates secular disciplines, allowing it to re-open the possibilities of philosophy. This process both enriches the secular disciplines, while giving intellectual insights into the Lurianic myth through revealing its facets in human life. This dialogue includes Hegelian dialectics and its application in Marxism, Freud, Jung and Deconstructionism, as well as ancient systems of thought.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chassidut: Kabbalah's Final Frontier from
  2. ^ Divine Omnipresence and the Kabbalah of the Baal Shem Tov from Here Yitzchak Ginsburgh refers to Hasidic thought as a final stage in Kabbalah: "The dimension of Kabbalistic thought introduced by the Baal Shem Tov is what allowed for a fuller appreciation of God's omnipresence within Creation. Although the concept of God's immanence within the created realm was always a central one within Kabbalah, the implications of this concept as expounded by the Baal Shem Tov amounted to an entirely new revelation. According to the Baal Shem Tov, Divine immanence implies a direct equivalence between God and all other levels of reality, as expressed by the Hasidic aphorism: 'All is God and God is all'. The proper understanding of this idea, especially as it differs from that of pantheism, represents the supreme insight to be attained prior to the Messianic age. The presumption of a stratified reality, be it one which is statically hierarchic (as described by Moshe Cordovero) or dynamically interactive (as described by Isaac Luria), is one intuited by finite minds unable to grasp the true nature of existence. Although both the systems of Cordovero and Luria play an important role in advancing our awareness of the Divine element within Creation, they are only stepping stones on the path to a fully liberated consciousness capable of seeing God within all reality and thus attesting to His absolute exclusivity of Being."
  3. ^ The Development of Kabbalah in Three Stages from "Whereas the revealed law of the Torah realized its greatest revelation at Sinai, only to have its clarity diminish over time, the hidden tradition experienced a virtually opposite situation; its doctrine has come into sharper focus with every passing generation. Each stage in the historical revelation of Kabbalah represents a conceptual approach to understanding Kabbalistic tradition. Each system of thought served to advance the evolution of Kabbalistic theory by providing new and more illuminating frameworks within which to organize the totality of Kabbalistic doctrine existing up to their time."
  4. ^ Ohr Ein Sof: Ten stages of God's Infinite Light before the beginning of the creative process from
  5. ^ Overview of Hasidic thought from "By using the individual’s own inner experience as an allegorical model for understanding the deepest mysteries of the universe, Hasidut both elevates the consciousness of the ordinary Jew as well as expands the conceptual territory of Kabbalistic thought. Indeed, the classical tradition of Kabbalah can be considered superficial relative to that of Hasidut. By focusing upon immediate experience, Hasidut identifies aspects of Divinity that the highly formal and abstract system of Kabbalistic induction leaves unexplored."
  6. ^ Compare Maamarim 5663 by Shalom DovBer Schneersohn (the Rashab), with Values in a Universe of Chance by Charles S. Peirce
  7. ^ and books including Kabbalistic Metaphors: Jewish Mystical Themes in Ancient and Modern Thought, Sanford L. Drob, Jason Aronson, 2000

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