Tag Archives: Atziluth

Sefirot

The Divine emanations by which God reveals Himself to man and by which He conducts the worlds are called sefirot (singular – sefirah)

The sefirot are not entities that are distinct from their Emanator, which would imply duality or plurality in God. Rather they are the various phases and levels of Gods revealing Himself to man. Thus they constitute the inner structure of each of the worlds, and also account for the dynamic interactions that take place in each of the worlds.

Even though the sefirot in all of the worlds bear the same names, it is nevertheless self-understood that the quality and power of the sefirot in the world of Atzilut, for example, are incomparably greater than the quality and power of the sefirot in the world of Asiyah, for in the world of Atzilut the Infinite Light is revealed through the sefirot to a much greater extent and in a much more elevated way than in any of the worlds below it.

The ten sefirot are called keter, chochmah, binah, chesed, gevurah, tiferet, netzach, hod, yesod, and malchut. The sefirah of daat is also sometimes identified. In reality, there are only ten sefirot, not eleven. However, keter is counted in the ten when we are looking at the sefirot from the point of view of the Creator; and daat is counted when we are looking at the sefirot from the point of view of the created.

KETER
The first and highest sefirah is called keter or crown, in which there are two main aspects the inner aspect of keter, which is called atik or atik yomin, and the outer aspect, called arich anpin. Due to its loftiness atik yomin is sometimes referred to as temira dchol temirin (the most concealed of all)[1] and as ayin (nothingness).[2] The infinite light of Or Ein Sof illuminates atik without any separation.[3] This aspect is the source of the Torah, which is referred to as Gods delight,[4] and is revealed primarily in the esoteric teachings of the Torah, i.e. in kabbalah.[5]

Arich Anpin is essentially the expression of Gods will. It is also the expression of Gods purpose in emanating that plane of reality. In other words, the outer aspect of the keter of Atzilut is the expression of Gods will and purpose in emanating Atzilut, and the outer aspect of the keter of Beriah is the expression of Gods will and purpose in the creation of Beriah, and so on.

CHOCHMAH
In brief, we could define chochmah as the germinal, highly condensed revelation of Godly Light on its highest level of immanence that is the life force of all of creation. The sefirah of chochmah may be explained in several ways, because it has several aspects, each corresponding to a different relationship of the sefirah of chochmah to the other sefirot:

1) The Zohar breaks up the word chochmah itself into two words: koach and mah. Koach means potential, and mah means what is. Thus chochmah means the potential of what is, or, the potential to be. This aspect of chochmah describes the state of chochmah in relation to the sefirah of keter. As chochmah emanates from keter, the first dawning of the Or Ein Sof, it appears in an obscure and undefined state. It is only potential being. Thus the verse states, and chochmah emerges from nothingness (Job 28:12). As such, it is in a state of constant flux between being and non-being, between revelation, and non-revelation as it returns to its state of potential and merges in its source in keter. Chochmah flashes in and out of existence. The light of Ein Sof becomes unified in the world of Atzilut through clothing itself first in the sefirah of chochmah.

2) The second aspect of chochmah is that it is the first of the immanent or in-dwelling sefirot. This is why it is called the beginning, reishit chochmah (Psalms 111:10). This is the primary quality of the sefirah of chochmah.

3) The third aspect of chochmah is that it is the life force of all creation, as the verse states, You made everything with chochmah (Psalms 104:24). Similarly,and chochmah enlivens (or vitalizes) all that possess it (Ecclesiastes 7:12). This is the aspect of chochmah in its relation to all the other sefirot.

BINAH
The word binah is related to the word livnot, to build. For this is the essential quality of binah. The abstract, non-dimensional, incomprehensible point that represents chochmah is expanded and built into a three-dimensional structure, sometimes compared to the physical dimensions of length, breadth, and depth. In the context of sefirot they signify three aspects of binah, each aspect corresponding to a different relationship of the sefirah of binah to the other sefirot.

1) The depth of binah is the aspect of binah that expresses its relationship to it source in chochmah. The depth of binah derives from chochmah. Thus chochmah and binah together are called the two beloved friends that never part, for where there is chochmah, binah invariably follows. The Zohar therefore symbolizes chochmah and binah and their relationship as the supernal point (chochmah) within its palace (binah).

2) The breadth of binah signifies the aspect of expansion that is the definitive characteristic of binah. In this connection the sages of the Talmud (Chagiga 14a) describe binah as understanding one thing from another. In other words, what is contained within chochmah, is expanded into an entire conceptual framework of inter-related ideas in binah.

3) The length of binah describes its relationship to the sefirot below it. The extent to which binah reaches down in affecting the other sefirot is called its length. Obviously, the further down binah has to reach in order to affect even the lowest sefirah, the more powerful it must be in its original state.

Thus, binah could be defined as the expansion of the initial point of chochmah into a full-blown and comprehensible revelation of the Divine Light.

DAAT
The word daat is usually translated as knowledge. However, when the word is first used in Torah it signifies attachment or union (and Adam knew yada Eve. Genesis 4:1). This is the function of daat to unify chochmah and binah, which it does in two ways. Daat Elyon (upper daat, which is an aspect of keter) transcends chochmah and binah; it is the expression of the ultimate purpose for which all the other sefirot are emanated. Thus daat unifies chochmah and binah in terms of the purpose for which they were emananted. Daat Tachton (lower daat) unifies chochmah and binah in producing and the lower sefirot and channeling the outflow from the higher sefirot into the lower ones. In order to be able to do this, daat must be able to sense the needs and status of the lower sefirot. This is another quality of daat, called hargashah.

Each one of these following seven sefirot also corresponds to one of the seven days of creation. The sefirah of chesed corresponds to the first day of creation, the sefirah of gevurah to the second day, and so on, until the seventh sefirah, malchut, which corresponds to the Sabbath. The nature of each of these sefirot can be understood by examining the seven days of creation as a paradigm of the activity and interaction of these sefirot.

CHESED
The word chesed means kindness or benevolence. It denotes the unbounded loving-kindness with which God created the worlds, and with which all of creation is permeated, as the verse states, The world is built with chesed (Psalms 89:3). Kabbalah explains that kindness was in fact the reason for the creation. Since the nature of God, so to speak is absolute benevolence and loving-kindness, He created the worlds so that He would have on whom to bestow His kindness It is the nature of He who is good, to do good.

Chesed corresponds to the first day of Creation, and therefore the first day of the week. Light was created on the first day, an infinite light that shone from one end of creation to the other, filling all of creation with infinite Divine revelation.

GEVURAH
Gevurah means restrictive power, the power to limit and conceal the Infinite Light so that each creature can receive according to its capacity. Since the chesed of God is infinite and unlimited, while the creatures on whom it is intended to be bestowed are finite and therefore unable to absorb infinite kindness and yet remain in physical existence, the attribute of chesed is controlled and restrained, or concealed and limited, by the aspect of gevurah. Thus, gevurah is also an aspect of Gods kindness, for if the outpouring of infinite kindness were to remain unrestricted, finite creatures would become instantly nullified in the infinite revelation of Divine Love. The sefirah of gevurah is thus the manifestation of Gods power to restrict and conceal the Light which He emanates, in order that His creatures will be able to receive His loving-kindness according to their capacity.

Gevurah corresponds to the second day of creation when the higher waters were separated from the lower waters. In Kabbalah water signifies kindness, chesed. The separating of the waters means that the infinite chesed of God, referred to as the higher waters, is separated from the lower waters, signifying finite chesed which can permeate creation.

TIFERET
Tiferet (from pe’er – beauty) represents the harmonious blending of colors and forms, producing a work of great beauty. The harmonizing and blending of chesed and gevurah, so that a proper mixture of the two will result in a bearable revelation of chesed to finite created beings is brought about by the attribute of tiferet. In other words, tiferet is the attribute that blends the benevolent outflow of chesed and the restrictive severity of gevurah so that each creature will receive its proper measure of Divine Light and life-force. This is why tiferet is also called compassion or mercy, for it enables chesed and gevurah to balance each other so that Gods benevolence can be absorbed by the limited world without ceasing to exist.

Tiferet corresponds to the third day of creation, when water and land were separated, and the plant kingdom was created. The third day sets a balance between water and land, so that the vegetable kingdom (and thus the animal and human kingdoms also) can be sustained.

NETZACH and HOD
Whereas chesed and gevurah signify unbounded loving-kindness, and the limitation and concealment thereof, respectively, so that finite creatures can receive according to their ability; netzach and hod are the two sefirot which define the ability of the recipient to receive. In addition they act together in distributing that which each recipient will be given, in accordance with their status readiness to receive.

Netzach and Hod correspond to the fourth and fifth days of creation, when the sun and the moon and the stars were created. Even though light was created on the first day, this light was infinite and too sublime to be of use to the finite worlds. Thus on the fourth day, a finite, usable form of light was apportioned. On the fifth day birds and sea-creatures were created, the first recipients of Gods benevolence and the first created beings able to fulfill the commandment pru urvu, be fruitful and multiply.

According to Kabbalah the powers of prophecy and Divine inspiration derive from the sefirot of netzach and hod for they actually receive the efflux of Godly light.

YESOD
Just as the sefirah of tiferet harmonizes and balances chesed and gevurah, so too, yesod harmonizes and balances netzach and hod. However, there is an additional unique aspect of yesod it acts as the channel through which malchut, the recipient, receives its proper measure of light and life force. Thus yesod functions as the connector between all of the sefirot which precede it, and the recipient, malchut, below it.

In order for the distribution to reach its intended destination, there must be a proper channel of communication between the giver, yesod, and the receiver, malchut. The distributor (yesod) must be able to identify the recipient (malchut) in order to match the outflow with its intended recipient. This is why yesod is also called emet truth in Kabbalah. Yesod makes sure that the light and life force reaches the proper destination.

But the identification process does not only mean that the recipient fulfills the necessary conditions that must be met in order for it to be able to receive. Much more than this, there must be an internal bond between yesod and malchut, between giver and receiver a bond of love and understanding. Yesod arouses the desire to receive in malchut, and malchut in turn arouses in yesod the desire to give. In this way, yesod unites itself with malchut in complete empathy, so that the giving is direct, face to face, and not indirect, back to back, as it were.

Thus, yesod could be defined as the divine attribute that joins God to His creation in a bond of empathy and love. This is why the sefirah of Yesod is also called tzaddik, as in the verse tzaddik yesod olam a saint is the foundation of the world (Proverbs 10:25). A tzaddik, or saint, arouses mankind to seek God. At the same time he draws down Gods compassion and goodness into the world. Thus he is the foundation of the world.

Yesod corresponds to the sixth day of creation, when the animal kingdom was created, and also the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, who were created in the Divine Image. Both animals and man are also instructed to be fruitful and multiply; which also means to use Gods benevolent kindness to grow and expand in consciousness of Him. But an additional duty is given to man. Be fruitful and multiply, and rule over the animals and the birds and the fish. In other words, be over and above them, and not among them. Transcend your limited nature, transcend that part of yourself which is simply natural, like the animal world, and become the Divine Image in which you were created. The drive to do this is initiated by the power of yesod, the tzaddik.

MALCHUT
The tenth and final sefirah is called malchut. Malchut contains two completely opposite qualities, called hitnasut meaning exaltedness, and its opposite shiflut humility. The Sefer Yetzirah states that Keter, the beginning, is wedged in malchut the end. The reverse is also true malchut is wedged in keter. This means that the final product, malchut, is the original intention of the entire process of emanation. When malchut is still contained in the original intention (that is, in keter), it is in a state of exaltedness. And when it descends to its place as the last of the sefirot, it is in a state of humility. However, it is not that malchut is in one state or the other; it is in both states simultaneously.

On one hand, malchut receives all that it has from the other sefirot, and is described in Kabbalah as having nothing of her own. Thus the Zohar compares malchut to the moon which has no light of her own; while on the other hand malchut is the final revelation of the Divine Light for which the entire process was begun. It was for the purpose of malchut that all the sefirot were emanated. Thus malchut is both the receiver and the consummation of giving.

Whereas chochmah is the potential to be, malchut is the actual being, the final manifestation, which was the original intention. It is for this reason that malchut is also called Shechinah the Divine Indwelling Presence, the immanent revelation of God.

Malchut corresponds to the seventh day of creation, the Sabbath day, when creation reached its completion. It is for this reason that work may not be done on the Sabbath. The Sages say, one who works prior to the Sabbath, will eat on the Sabbath. That is to say, all the six days of creation that precede the Sabbath must do their work if the culmination of creation is to be revealed on the Sabbath day. The Zohar (III, 92b) states, Each day does its work. By fulfilling its function each days purpose is consummated. Again the Zohar expresses this perfectly from the Sabbath day all other days become blessed. This applies both retroactively and proactively. As the Torah states at the completion of creation: And the work was complete. . . . and God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it. Thus the Zohar states: the supernal crown [keter elyon] is the crown of kingdom (keter malchut). The first, highest of the Divine emanations, keter, is thus linked to the last, malchut.

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[1] Zohar I, 49a, 147a; vol. II, 234b.
[2] Zohar III, 256b.
[3] See Eitz Chaim, sha’ar 16, chap. 1.
[4] Proverbs 8:30; Zohar I, 5a, 47a; vol. II, 93b; vol. III, 35b, 67b.
[5] Zohar III, 166b.