The Sefirot of the Kabbalah The Ten Sefirot The sefirot was first found in the Sefer Yesirah (Book of Creation). It contains ten symbols that express many different things. Most generally they represent up, down, east, west, north, south, beginning and end, and good and evil (Dan, 8). Gershom Scholem defines the sefirot as "the potencies and modes of action of the living God (100)." The sefirot is also a symbol of Adam Kadmon, the primordial man, and the entire structure can be seen as a human body.**** Another way of looking at the structure is as if it were a tree. According to Joseph Wallman, the number ten "is probably derived from the fact that the Kabalists, being mystics, had seen in that number a hidden perfectionÃ¢ÂÂ¦(and) are perfect because they originate God (128)." It is important to note that the ten sefirot are equally important and part of a unified being.
Not only are there ten sefirot; the structure of the sefirot can also be divided into three different groups. The first group consists of the first three sefirot and involves the intellectual world. The second group consists of the next three sefirot and involves the moral world, while the third group contains the next four and involves the material world (Wallman, 128).
The first sefirah (Keter) is known as nothingness. In other words this means that God is a "undifferentiated being, neither this not that, no-thingness (Matt, 8)." It is also known as the crown on the head of Adam. Out of this nothingness the second sefirah (Hokhmah) can be seen which represents wisdom and the third (Binah) represents understanding. The second is considered to be "the world seed, the supreme formative and male-paternal potency (Scholem, 103)." The third sefirah is seen as the "Divine MotherÃ¢ÂÂ¦she conceives the seven lower sefirot (Matt, 8)." These three sefirah make up the head of the divine body. It is important to note that there is anon-sefirah known as the abyss and "is crucial in descending or ascending the Tree that is beginning to come into being (Halevi, 30)." Binah first gives birth to Hesed, which represents love and then Gevurah, which represents power and judgment. Love and Power are viewed as the left and right arm of God. According to Matt these are "two poles of the divine personality: free-flowing love and strict judgment, grace and limitation. For the world to function properly, both are essential (8)." This balance is what makes the central sefirah (Tiferet), which represents beauty and is known as the trunk of the sefirot body. Tiferet is also called the Sun, Kind and Holy One.
Tiferet forms the next two sefirah (Nezah and Hod), which represent the legs of the body. Nezah is known as eternity, perpetuity and victory and Hod is known as reverberation and glory. According to Halevi, "Nezah on the column of force cycles power into the complex while Hod reverberates the impulse throughout the tree (31)." The ninth sefirah (Yesod) represents the "procreative life force of the universe (Matt, 9)" and is called the Righteous One. Yesod is seen as the foundation of the tree and also acts as a "bridge and a barrier to anything coming down or rising up (Halevi, 32)." The last sefirah is named Malkhut and represents kingdom. Here is where the sefirot is balanced.
Kabbalists take the ten-sefirot symbols and allow them to represent the infinitely many ways in which God is known. According to Scholem "the totality of these potencies, united in the primordial dekas forms the world of the sefirot (101)." The Kabbalist believes that the insight found in the sefirot comes from "divine revelation through mystical interpretation of the biblical text or other sacred texts (Dan, 9). Kabbalists believe that the sefirot does not represent ten different gods but that it uses ten symbols that hint to the truth of one god. Furthermore, Kabalists related every biblical noun to one of the ten-sefirot symbols. According to Dan this attitude toward scripture "necessitated a revolutionary reinterpretation of Torah, uncovered new, esoteric, and mystical strata in every verse (11)." The Kabbalist not only saw the sefirot as symbols that point toward one god, but they also view it as dynamic, meaning that the sefirot are moving. According to Dan this dynamism of the sefirot "reflects the constant change in divine providence and the relationship between God and His creation (13)." The dynamic qualities of the sefirot can be seen symbolically as a family: a father, mother, son, daughter, bride, bridegroom, husband and wife. According to Dan this metaphor is dynamic because it shows that "lovers draw away from each other and then come close again; husband and wife separate and are once again united (13)." Many philosophers believe that the ten sefirot represent the essence of God, which can be regarded as the essentialist view. The essentialist feels that the sefirot also represented the human soul, which shows the essence of God. As Moshe Idel points out from the Commentary on Ten Sefirot: Ã¢ÂÂ¦the sefirot, which are so to speak the essence of God, like the elements of man are within man. Understand this, for to this Ezekial referred in saying, as the appearance of a man above upon it, the image of all the gloryÃ¢ÂÂ¦For all these Sefirot are separated forces, of an utmost simplicity, and they are all one glory, without any division or separation, save through the action s that reach us from them. All these sefirot were created by god, blessed be his name, for his glory, and one harmonious union is formed from them, and all are called "Soul," and God-"the Souls of all Souls." This shows the idea of the sefirot as being the essence of God and thus the human soul.
The Four Worlds Another part of the sefirot is the four worlds. Kabbalistic teaching teaches that existence is made up of four worlds: Atzilut (Emanation) Beriah (Creation) Yetzirah (Formation) Asiah (Action) The four worlds are together are called Abiyah. According to Avraham Finkel the four worlds "can exist only because God has made room for them, for when the divine radiance shines in unrestricted brilliance, nothing else can exist (45)." This is how God allowed the physical universe to come into being. Kabbalists believe that while descending down from the higher to the lower worlds, the concealment of God increases. Therefore God is least concealed in Atzilut or the World of Emanation while he is completely concealed in Asiah or the World of Action (Finkel, 46). The world that we as human beings live in is Asiah, The World of Action. The occupants of the other worlds are more Godlike creatures such as angels. The concealment of God in the world humans live in is why Kabbalists feel that some may doubt and even deny the existence of God.
Kabbalahists believe that the World of Emanation is where existence is found without an end. This world is controlled by God and will continue forever unless God decides to end time. Halevi states that "from Keter, the crown, all that is flows out, and in this emanation no thing is in isolation, for nothing can exist on its own. Only God can be separated and transcendentÃ¢ÂÂ¦(19)." This shows that the World of Emanation involves the first sefirah. As mentioned before the World of Emanation is also called The World of Azilut also known as the World of Divine Lights and the Glory of God (Halevi, 19).
Out of the World of Azilut next comes the World of Creation, also known as Beriah. Time began with the appearance of the World of Creation. Kabbalahists believe that with the World of Creation came evil. According to Halevi "Creation, the World of Beriah, is where serparation and imperfection begin. Here the cosmos of Heaven moves, and not without opposition from the demonic realms, to implement the Divine plan for the Transcendent to view the Immanent from the furthest remove obtainable (39)." For this to carry through there had to be more worlds created that actually had inhabitants living on them.
Out of Beriah comes The World of Formation also known as Yezira. The World of Formation is full of non-concrete things such as symbols. According to Halevi Yezira is "a World in which things continually crystallize and dissolve, convolute or simplify, and ebb and flow in the celestial watery element in which it is symbolically cast (67)." Angels are found in the World of Formation. The angels are described in one account as being clothed in linen with faces like lightning, eyes like fire and arms and feet of polished brass (Halevi, 69).
Out of the World of Formation came the World of Asiah. As mentioned earlier, this is where Earth is. In the World of Asiah there were first plants and then animals. The creation of human beings came after many kinds of plants and animals. According to Halevi, Nature, as powerful as it is, "still cannot actually descend below the Asiyyatic Crom to directly inhabit or experience Earth, or life up its being from its fixed position in the four Worlds, to perceive God and aid God to see God (90)." This task had to be carried out by a different creature and thus the creation of human beings.
The Thirty-Two Paths of Wisdom The ten sefirot, described above, make up ten of the 32 paths of wisdom. The other twenty-two come from the Hebrew alphabet. According to Shokek "the letters and the digits (ten sefirot) are the basis of creation, for the letters are the quality and the digits are the quantity of everything that was created by the speech of God (33)." The Hebrew language is extremely important in Kabbalah because they view it as showing the essence of God. Shokek describes this better when he states that "when God begins to speak, language is created, worlds are created, plurality is created, and the Creator is created. Thus, the essence of God and the essence of everything that exists is a Word (34)." Within Hebrew words one can find sefirot. For example, the world Be'Reshit is one word that Rabbi Isaac taught contained two sefirot: Keter and Hokhmah. Be' stands for "the most elevated Croen" and therefore it is the first sefirah, called Keter. Reshit is the second sefirah called Hokhmah (Shokek, 35). According to Shokek, "this means that the first theogonial thought that occurred in the mind of God crystallized into the first animated word, Be'Reshit. This word caused the emanation of the first two sefirot (35)." What all of this means is that is that God's words during creation give birth to the sefirot. This is seen in the following passage: "And God said 'Let there be light' and there was light" (Genesis 1:3) Ã¢ÂÂ¦When the emanation moved thorugh the heavenly palace, the mystery of Elohim, it is described as speckÃ¢ÂÂ¦Va-yomer ["And He said"] was a force that ascended, and the ascent was in silence, from the mystery of Ein-Sof through the mystery of though. "And God said," now it brought forth that palace that was conceived from the holy seed, and it was brought forth in silence, and [the voice] of the newborn [the Sefirah] was heard outside. That which brought it did so in silence, so that it could not be heard at all. When that which emerged emerged from it, a voice ascended through this mystery (35).
This shows that Kabbalahists believe that words are what created everything, including God himself. This is why the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet are so important. Shokek points out that the importance of the letters can also be seen because "thought and speech are usually regarded as one, for the mind that thinks and the tongue that speaks belong essentially together, but in Kabbalah, though precedes the spoken word, as the silence precedes the voice (36)." Bibliography Ashlag, Yehuda. Ten Luminous Emanations. Research Center Of Kabalah, New York: 1969.
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