Tree of Life Kabbalah – Part 2
Part 1 of this series contains the key starting information to understand the Tree of Life and the Sephirot. This article continues with more in depth intermediate level information, continuing our study of the Tree of Life.
As mentioned in Part 1, the 10 Sephirot can be considered in a way as spiritual lights and as as revealed aspects of God, containing spiritual laws which govern and bring forth all of Creation. They link what is above them – the infinite and ungraspable nature of the Creator – with what is below them, the finite physical creation.
The Sephirot are spiritual in nature and highly elevated. The greatness of the Sephirot is beyond most of our comprehension – remember that attainment of even the lowest one would be to reach a state of prophetic vision, as certain biblical prophets did – an advanced state indeed. We use metaphors to help us get closer to understanding the Sephirot, but don’t make the mistake of confusing them with something smaller than us such as thoughts or feelings, when in fact they are far greater than us.
Meanings of the Word Sephirah
Sefirah ספירה can derive from:
- מספר Counting, or Number – signifying a Divine limit on Creation (because only that which is finite can be counted or numbered)
- ספר Book – signifying a well-ordered and defined blueprint of Creation
- דברים ספירות Inventory – signifying an inventory of deeds of the Holy One, Blessed Be He
- ספירות Shining – luminous, shining, like a sapphire or other brilliant stone, signifying the purpose of the Sefirot – to illuminate and radiate revelation
- ספר Border or Boundary – signifying division and limitation
- סיפור Story – signifying the story of God’s acts of Creation, man’s deeds, and the unfolding of past, present and future.
– From Tomer Devorah, summarizing Eilimah Rabbati, pt 1, tamar 6, ch.2
Correspondence to Parts of the Human Body – Human Reflection of the Divine
Because the model of man and the Sefirot is the same, there are correspondences between the Sefirot and the parts of the human body. These are as follows:
Keter – Skull
Hochmah – Right Brain
Binah – Left Brain
Chesed – Right Arm
Gevurah – Left Arm
Tiferet – Torso
Netzah – Right Leg
Hod – Left Leg
Yesod – Sexual Organ
Malkhut – Mouth (or Feet)
Sephirot within Sephirot:
The Tree of Life also contains a holographic property, in that each Sefirah in the Tree contains within it a miniature version of the entire tree. Each part contains an image of the whole. Each Sefirah contains within it all of the other Sefirot, so that within Malchut there is Keter of Malchut, Hochmah of Malchut, etc, down to Malchut of Malchut. And within Keter there is Keter of Keter, Hochmah of Keter, etc, down to Malchut of Keter.
22 Connecting Paths of the Hebrew Letters (32 Paths of Wisdom)
22 connecting paths connect and distribute energy between the 10 Sefirot. Each path is one of the Hebrew letters. In kabbalah, each letter is considered a letter of creation, as the letters form words and words are used in the 10 utterances by which God made creation; “God said let there be light; and there was light”, etc. Kabbalah views the Hebrew letters as channels of spiritual life force, flows of energy which change matter. The 22 letters and 10 Sefirot together represent the 32 Paths of Wisdom as written in Sefer Yetzirah (The Book of Creation).
The Four Worlds
The four worlds of the Kabbalah are levels within the tree of the Sefirot.
Atzilut אצילות – World of Emanation
Beriyah בריאה – World of Creation
Yetzirah יצירה – World of Formation
Assiyah עשיה – World of Action
There is too much about the Four Worlds to include in this article, but you can read more about them here: The Four Worlds of Kabbalah
Each of the worlds within the Tree of Life makes up a complete sub-tree, with the Malkhut of each higher tree included within the Tiferet of the tree below. In this way, the worlds form a sequence of interleaving trees, which make up Jacob’s ladder, stretching from Earth to Absolute.2 In this way, the Tree of Life, is not just the structure that governs and brings forth creation, but is also the spiritual path of ascent by man.
Levels of the Soul and the Sephirot
The levels of the soul of kabbalah also have a correspondence to the Sefirot. Each level is considered to emanate from a Sefirah, and to derive its character and path in Divine service from that Sephirah.29
Level of the Soul and Corresponding Sefirah:
Nefesh – Malchut
Ruah – six sefirot from Chesed to Yesod (often collectively referred to as Tiferet)
Neshama – Binah
Hhaya (Chayah) – Hochmah (Chochmah)
Yechida – Keter
The Purpose of Sephirot
According to the kabbalistic tradition, the purpose of creation is for God to bestow the ultimate good on His creations. Because the Creator Himself is the very essence of all goodness, the greatest delight for the creation is his revelation. However, because the infinite nature of the Creator is too great for humans to perceive, He brought forth the Sefirot in order to reveal aspects of Himself to lowly creatures. They are like gradations, limitations that bring the light to a level at which it can be perceived by lower creatures. They have also been referred to as garments, which the Creator clothes himself in in order to govern the creation.
This is the purpose of the Tree of Sefirot. It can be compared to trying to look at the sun. The sun is too bright for the human eye to perceive directly without being burned. However, if one uses a series of lenses or filters, one can look into the sun and perceive things about it, without the full measure of light, which is too great for us.
Yosher Upright Arrangement vs Igulim Circles
The most common arrangement of the Sefirot is the Upright Yosher יושר form of the Tree of Life, in which the Sefirot are arranged in a hierarchal pattern in 3 pillars. A second, less commonly seen arrangement for the Sefirot is that of concentric Circles Igulim עגולים, with each circle encompassing the next. This second arrangement does not need to concern new students of kabbalah, but can be used to indicate the developmental chain of the Sefirot and to indicate the idea of general providence that shines equally on all aspects of creation.29
Precedence for the Sephirot in Scripture
The names of the first two Sefirot below Keter are included in the verse, “With Wisdom, God established the earth, and with Understanding, he established the heavens, and with his Knowledge, the depths were broken up” (Proverbs 3:19,20) and in “With Wisdom a house is built, with Understanding it is established, and with Knowledge, its rooms are filled” (Proverbs 24:3,4).24
The names of the last 7 sefirot are found in order in the verse, “Yours O God, are the Greatness, the Strength, the Beauty, the Victory, and the Splendor, for All in heaven and in earth; Yours Oh God is the Kingdom.” (I Chronicles 29:11)
2. Adam and the Kabbalistic Tree, Z’ev Ben Shimon HaLevi, 1989
24. Sefer Yetzirah, Translation and Commentary by Aryeh Kaplan, p. 23
29. 138 Gates of Wisdom, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, translated by Araham Yehoshua Greenbaum, Opening 13, p. 49-52)
30. Tomer Devorah p. xi, quoting (Pardes, sha’ar 31, ch. 1), translated and annotated by Rabbi Moshe Miller