The Sefirot:
Kabbalistic Archetypes of Mind and Creation

by Sanford L. Drob

Creative negation, wisdom, understanding, love, power, beauty, endurance, splendor, foundation, sovereignty - the ten dimensions of the Kabbalists' universe form a guide not only to the godhead's inner nature but to the psychological development of the human personality.

Sanford L. Drob is the head forensic psychologist and Director of Psychological Assessment at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. He holds doctoral degrees in both psychology and philosophy and served for several years as the editor of the New York Jewish Review. In addition to numerous publications in clinical, forensic and philosophical psychology, his articles on Jewish philosophy have appeared in such journals as The Reconstructionist and Tradition. The present essay is part of a large work in progress on the philosophical and psychological significance of the Lurianic Kabbalah.

The forty-nine days between Passover and Shavuot are known in Jewish tradition as the sefirat ha-Omer, the "counting of the Omer." While this "counting" literally refers to an offering of grain that was brought to the temple in Jerusalem on Shavuot, tradition holds that during this seven-week period, men, women, and children must prepare themselves emotionally and spiritually for the reception of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which took place on the fiftieth day after the exodus from Egypt. Playing upon the word "sefirah" (one meaning of which is "counting"), the Jewish mystics have handed down the tradition that on each of these days a person must concentrate upon developing within him or herself an aspect of each of the seven emotional "sefirot" (singular: sefirah), which, according to the Kabbalah, are the archetypes through which God has structured both the cosmos and the human mind.(1) In dwelling upon the cosmic characteristics represented in each sefirah (e.g., love, strength, compassion, etc.), individuals are said to channel divine energies through their own psyches and in the process perfect their characters in anticipation of a renewed commitment to the Torah.

A Universe of Ten Dimensions

The Kabbalists hold the total number of sefirot to be ten. Like the "super-string" theorists of contemporary physics, they view the world as being comprised not of four, but of ten dimensions, and they regard each thing in the world, whether spiritual, psychical, or material to be composed of varying combinations of these ten dimensions or structures. We will see that the Kabbalists included among these sefirot such apparently human qualities as will, wisdom, love, and compassion, yet they regarded them not simply as aspects of the human mind but as the very elements of the world itself.

What is the nature of these ten sefirot that allows them to serve as both the building blocks of creation and the constituents of human character? To answer this question we must, at least for the moment, set aside our "scientific" assumptions about what constitutes reality and take what can be called a pretheoretical or phenomenological attitude toward the world. If we do so, we will see that a presumably "objective," materialistic framework is seriously limited in its capacity to account for the phenomena of human experience. Philosophers have long noted that a whole variety of intangible objects - consciousness, will, freedom, fictional and imagined entities, pure numbers, concepts and ideas, as well as spiritual, ethical, and aesthetic values - are recognized in everyday experience as lying outside the four dimensional world. Each of these intangible objects is present to us every day, forming an essential part of our world, yet none can be located in a purely physical universe of space and time. As Edmund Husserl, the founder of the phenomenological movement, brought to our attention, it is only the prejudice of a scientific Weltanschauung that denies reality to these intangibles and insists they are merely subjective qualities brought to the world by individual minds.(2) Husserl held that we must bracket our naturalistic and scientific assumptions about the world in order for the full measure of human experience to emerge.

It is the phenomenological point of view, which allows for the reality of volitional, conceptual, axiological, and other intangible entities, that is the starting point of all kabbalistic theology. Without stating so explicitly, the Kabbalists, in their doctrine of the sefirot, have provided us with a phenomenology of human experience. Each sefirah represents a basic psycho-emotive category which is fundamental to human psychology as well as to the phenomenological construction of the world as it presents itself in experience. In addition, each of the sefirot (and not only the lower seven) provides us with an important lesson and opportunity for the development of human character and the actualization of the human soul. However, the Kabbalists ultimately went beyond phenomenology to speculate, in anticipation of the German Idealists, that their phenomenological categories of will, wisdom, understanding, love, judgment, compassion, etc., actually stand closer to the source of being than the material objects of everyday life. In their idealist system of thought, the scientific view of things is reversed: ideas and values, far from being an abstraction imposed on the world by the mind, are the basic reality for which material, finite things are mere instantiations.(3) For the Kabbalists, the structures of the mind are said to be equivalent to the elements of the world itself.

The experiential, phenomenological, and idealist basis of kabbalistic thought is not always obvious; frequently, as with the sefirot it requires textual interpretation in order to be clearly understood. In order to comprehend the sefirot both as structures of the human mind and as archetypes for the world as it is phenomenologically constructed, we must understand each sefirah hermeneutically in its role within the complex dialectic of kabbalistic theosophy. Only then can we uncover the kernels of human experience to which the sefirot refer and the aspects of human character which they inform.

The Sefirot: Their Origin and Nature

In its earliest form the doctrine of the sefirot gave expression to the view that the sefirot are the instruments or building blocks of creation.(4) A proto-kabbalistic source, Sefer Yetzirah ( Book of Formation) speaks of "thirty-two wondrous paths of wisdom" through which God "engraved and created the world." (5) These paths consist of ten primordial numbers and twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet.(6) The ten primordial numbers are called sefirot. According to Scholem, the term is here derived from the Hebrew sapar (to count) and has no relation at this stage to the Greek sphaira (sphere). However sefirah is introduced in place of mispar to indicate that the author of Yetzirah wished to speak not of ordinary numbers, but of metaphysical principles or stages in God's creation.(7) According to Sefer Yetzirah, the sefirot are "living numerical beings," the hidden "depth" and "dimension" to all things.(8)

By the time of the earliest kabbalistic work, Sefer Ha Bahir (late twelfth century), the sefirot are no longer regarded as numbers, but are understood as aeons, logoi, or attributes (middoth) which serve as the instruments of creation.(9) In identifying the sefirot with ma'amoroth (the ten words or sayings by which the world was created, (10) and with middoth (God's attributes or traits), the author of the Bahir forges a link between the sefirot doctrine and certain aggadic and talmudic ideas. For example, in the midrash Aboth de Rabbi Nathan we find the aphorism:

Seven middoth serve before the throne of Glory: they are Wisdom, Justice and the Law, Grace and Mercy, Truth and Peace.(11)

The midrash follows with a comment which serves as a precursor to the kabbalistic view that the sefirot are themselves reflected and embodied in the soul, particularly, in ethical acts:

Everyone who has these qualities as middoth, obtains the knowledge of God.

Further, we read in the Talmud:

By ten things was the world created, by wisdom and by understanding, and by reason and by strength (Gevurah), by rebuke and by might, by righteousness and by judgment, by loving kindness and compassion.(12)

The connection with the sefirot doctrine is so strong as to suggest that the sefirot are in reality an hypostatization of these aggadic and talmudic ideas. Indeed the talmudic view that God has essentially two basic traits - chesed (loving kindness) and din (strict judgment) - is adopted by the Bahir and subsequent Kabbalists in the view that these sefirot are the two most essential for the creation of the world. The Bahir connects the concept of the sefirot with God's light. It is the sefirot which are alluded to when the Bahir reinterprets the Psalm (19:2), "The heavens declare the glory of God" as "the heavens shine in the sapphirine splendor of the glory of God." Here the Hebrew sipor (to tell) is reinterpreted as sappir (sapphire).

The doctrine of the sefirot receives further development in the work of Isaac the Blind,(13) the first to consistently use the word "sefirot" and relate them to the biblical enumeration of God's traits in 1Chronicles 29:11. There, reference is made to God's greatness, power, beauty, victory, majesty, and sovereignty. Each of these was eventually adopted (by at least some Kabbalists) in the ordering of the lowest seven sefirot.

Azriel of Gerona (early thirteenth century) offers a rather developed philosophical conception of the sefirot according to which they are the finite manifestations or powers of Ein-sof, the infinite godhead. As such, they are a necessary part of God's totality and perfection, providing God with finite power to complement the infinite divine power. Azriel argues that these finite powers must exist, since if one supposes "that He (Ein-sof) has unlimited power and does not have finite power, then you ascribe imperfection to His perfection."(14) The sefirot embody the order of generation and decay in the finite world; they are "the force behind every existent being in the realm of plurality."(15) They are ten in number because they are bounded by such categories as substance, place, length, width, and depth, which according to Azriel, add up to ten, and which presumably correspond to Aristotle's ten categories of being. The sefirot are one with Ein-sof, in the sense that the flame, the sparks, and the aura are one with the fire.(16) Some of the sefirot are pre-existent in Ein-sof prior to the emanation, and like Ein-sof itself "the nature of sefirah is the synthesis of everything and its opposite."(17) This synthesis, according to Azriel, is the source of all energy in everything whatsoever, and like the soul, which is the synthesis of all our desires and thoughts, the sefirot are likened to the absolute "Will." Indeed, even the energy and will of the human soul is drawn from the sefirot.(18)

The Zohar does not commonly use the term sefirot but instead uses a multiplicity of terms(19) which suggest that its author conceptualized the sefirot as dimensions of the cosmos, archetypes for nondivine existence, spiritual forces within the world, activities within the Godhead, gates or doors to the divine world, aspects of God or ways in which God is perceived. Indeed, the Zohar, in utilizing such a wide range of terms (and thereby extending the boundaries) of the sefirot doctrine, gives expression to a unity between the knower, the known (the cosmos), and the act of knowing which is common in mystical, but unusual in philosophical or speculative thought. For the Kabbalah, God, the cosmos, the human soul, and the act of knowledge are all a single, unified essence or substance. It is in the light of this higher-order unity that the multiplicity of symbols which the Kabbalah uses as windows into, or metaphors for, the sefirot can be best understood.

The doctrine of the sefirot took a further turn in the Kabbalah of Isaac Luria, through whom we can gain insight into the seeming distinction (but actual unity) among God, the sefirot and the world. According to the Lurianic Kabbalah, the creation of a finite world is predicated on God's self-limitation. Without this self-limitation, expressed in the act of tzimtzum (concealment or contraction) God would fill the entire universe with infinite light and nothing whatsoever could be distinguished from God. In creating a finite world, therefore, God must contract or conceal an aspect of the divine to "make room," as it were, for finite, independent things. The initial results, however, of this concealment or contraction occur, in most interpretations, totally within God and result in a differentiation of divine midot or traits which ultimately become the archetypes for the elements of the created universe.(20) It is the progressive differentiation of these divine traits that gives rise to the ten sefirot which become the receptacles (kelim) for the divine light emanated into the lower worlds.

According to Luria, the sefirot as they were originally created, were unstable, disunified structures, which were unable to hold the energy which they were meant to contain. As a result, the upper three sefirot were displaced and the lower seven shattered, causing a fundamental flaw in creation, a flaw which is humankind's divinely appointed task to correct. Shards from the shattered vessels attached themselves to sparks of divine light and were scattered throughout the cosmos. These kernels of entrapped divine energy are to be found everywhere, and especially within the human soul. According to Luria, each man and woman is enjoined to "complete creation" by liberating and raising the sparks within his or her own soul and environment and reconstructing the sefirot in a new, more complete and stable form which reflects the image of both God and humanity.(21) Indeed, in attempting to perfect the seven lower sefirot within their souls, pious Jews, in the period between Passover and Shavuot, assist not only in the restoration of their own souls, but the soul of the world as well.

The Order of the Sefirot

According to Tishby, the names of the sefirot were originally selected for exegetical as opposed to conceptual reasons.(22) As we have seen, Isaac the Blind named six of the sefirot directly for the praises of God enumerated in 1Chronicles 29:11:

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness (gedullah), power (gevurah), the beauty (tiferet), the victory (netzach), the majesty (hod) ... yours is the kingdom (malchut).

The Kabbalists, however, recognized that the scheme would be much more useful if, for example, greatness were to be renamed love, power renamed judgement and beauty renamed compassion. The result of these and other renamings is a system in which there are often several names for each sefirah. Keter (crown), for example, is also referred to as (nothingness), Ratzon (will), Atika Kaddisha (the Holy Ancient One), and Ehyeh ("I will be").

It will be useful, however, to orient ourselves around a basic appellative scheme. One that was fairly uniformly adopted by the later Kabbalah is according to the order of the sefirot as given by Moses Cordovero.(23) This scheme (along with the most common alternative appellations) is outlined in Table I. The scheme is frequently altered, however, in the Lurianic Kabbalah, which eliminates Keter, and interposes the sefirah Da'at (knowledge) between Binah and Chesed.(24)

Table I

Order of the Sefirot

Keter Elyon (Supreme Crown) or Ratzon (Will)

Chochmah (Wisdom)

Binah (Intelligence)

Chesed (Love) or Gedullah (Greatness)

Gevurah (Power) or Din (Judgment)

Tiferet (Beauty) or Rachamim (Compassion)

Netzach (Lasting Endurance)

Hod (Majesty)

Yesod Olam (Foundation of the World) or Tzaddik (Righteous One)

Malchut (Kingdom) or Atarah (Diadem), or Shekhina (Feminine Divine Presence)

A complete understanding of the sefirot requires not only an inquiry into the individual significance of each sefirah but also an awareness of the various symbolisms through which the Kabbalists understood the entire system, the interrelationships among the sefirot their participation in each of the five "Worlds" postulated in the kabbalistic scheme and their reorganization (according to the Lurianic system), resulting from a cosmic catastrophe known as shevirat hakelim, the "breaking of the vessels." A discussion of each of these complex dialectics, however, is not crucial to my purpose in this essay, which is to arrive at an understanding of how the sefirot become manifest as ten phenomenological dimensions of both the human psyche and the world.

The Sefirot as Paradigms for Ten Dimensions

We have noted a number of characteristics that pertain to the sefirot in general and which are relevant to any attempt to understand them in their particular nature. After an admittedly selective review of the vast literature on the sefirot I will consider each of them individually. As we have seen, the Kabbalists, on the principle that the microcosm perfectly mirrors the macrocosm, held that the sefirot were not only the dimensions of the universe, but also the constituent elements of the human mind.(25) Of course, we cannot expect the sefirot to have a precise one-to-one correspondence with the phenomenological elements of either our finite universe or the human psyche. After all, the sefirot themselves are conceived within the Kabbalah as stages in the creative process, and hence reflect aspects of God's inner life or creativity rather than fixed entities in an already created world. My main purpose in this section is to interpret the sefirot so as to show how each provides an underlying qualitative basis for the phenomena of human experience, and hence for the structural elements of both humanity and the world. As a psychologist, however, I also have a more practical goal - to uncover the psychological or psychotherapeutic principle or lesson inherent in each of the sefirot. In this way I hope to come to a fuller understanding of what it means to perfect the sefirot within the human soul.

Keter Elyon (The Supreme Crown)

The highest of the sefirot, Keter Elyon, qualitatively distinct from all of the others and barely separable from Ein-sof, the Infinite God, is so sublime and concealed that, according to the Kabbalists, nothing at all can be predicated of it.(26) Just as a "crown" is separable and distinct from one who wears it, Keter is separate and distinct from the sefirot which comprise the body of the Primordial Man,(27) who is the living archetype for the creation of the world. Unlike the other sefirot which are each assigned a holy letter, no linguistic sign can represent Keter; instead, it is equated simply with the thorn or point of the letter yud in God's name. The proximity and even identity of Keter with Ein Sof is underscored by its sometimes being referred to as the Holy Ancient One, a term which is otherwise reserved for Ein Sof, the infinite godhead.(28) As such, Keter is said to reflect the divine essence and to anticipate the "image of God" in created human form.

At times Keter is referred to as the will of all wills.(29) It is frequently called Ratzon (will) by the Kabbalists themselves.(30) In the Zohar, Keter is called "Ehyeh" (I will be), which recalls the biblical expression of God's "absolute will" in His declaration to Moses "Ehyeh asher ehyeh," "I will be who (or that which) I will be,"(31) The appellation Ehyeh indicates Keter's limitless potential, and its willful movement toward a future.

The Lurianists occasionally spoke of two aspects of Keter, its face (pnimi) or inner aspect, referred to as Tinug (delight), and an outer (chitzonit) aspect referred to as Ratzon (desire or will). Such "delight" is present, according to Luria's disciple, Israel Sarug, in the first stirrings of Ein-sof, even prior to the tzimtzum. That delight is even above the Primal Will accords well with Freudian psychoanalysts who hold volition and action to be explicable via the "pleasure principle." In identifying Keter, the uppermost sefirah and first manifestation of Ein-sof with delight and desire, the Lurianists place themselves in a tradition which elevates emotion above intellect, desire above order. As Immanuel Schochet explains, the Kabbalists understood the cosmos in terms of the progression of Reason (Chochmah, Sachel) toward a certain goal, the realization of a higher aim, "a deep seated, innermost desire or will."(32) As Schneur Zalman, the first Lubavitcher rebbe, writes:

The Torah derives from Chochmah (Wisdom, Reason), but its source and root surpasses exceedingly the rank of Chochmah and is called the Supreme Will.(33)

Keter is spoken of in the Zohar as Ayin, nothingness, a "darkness" which is at the same time the source of all light.(34) Such nothingness is both an epistemological and ontological gulf between Ein-sof and creation. In the view of Moses De Leon, Keter is beyond the limit of perception; according to the Kabbalists of Gerona it is "the cessation of thought."(35) Like a metaphysical "black hole" from which no light can escape, it is a darkness or annihilation which both extinguishes the lights of the sefirot as they strive to return to their origin in Ein Sof, and conceals the light of Ein Sof as it spreads downward into creation. According to Abraham Ben David this "annihilative" property of Keter figures in all change in the life and substance of things.(36) A "negation" figures in all transitions. It is "the cessation from which comes the emanation of all beings."(37) Keter's very negativity is what brings all of the succeeding sefirot into being. This negativity is, in fact, the essential manifestation of the primal will.

The relationship between negation and will is known from both logic and psychology. Logically, "will," in its most fundamental sense, is a setting of limits, an imposition of a negation. It was Otto Rank who first observed that the primary assertion of "will" on the part of a child is always in the form of a negation, a saying "no" to the breast. According to Rank, it is only through a nurturance of this "negative will" that the child's positive volition can arise.(38) The affirmation of the status quo requires only passive acquiescence; negation, however, brings will into the world, and will reveals negation. In the primal act of will, "Let there be light ...," God paradoxically but necessarily opens up the gaping abyss of nothingness. We can now understand why the light which emerges from Keter is known as the bozina di kardinuta, a "spark of blackness."(39)

Each of the above considerations points to the view that Keter is best understood as pure will or desire without any reference to a world outside. This "will" is Keter's light, darkness, negation, and simplicity, and in these capacities Keter gives rise to the entire system of the sefirot. In humans, Keter can be regarded as a primary source of psychic energy or volition, and in view of the fact that the Kabbalists understood it as initiating a series of sexual relations among the sefirot(40) Keter is not far from the Freudian libido. For Kabbalists, however, such libido is not only the foundation of the human psyche, but of the cosmos as a whole.

Psychologically, one might regard our supreme task to be an awareness of our own will and desire. Indeed, contemporary psychoanalysts such as Lacan have observed that few of us really know what we want. Most frequently we speak and act out the desires of others - our parents, our spouses, our employers, and our children - without the slightest awareness of our own needs and passions. In conversing with others, we find ourselves saying what we think they want to hear rather than what we want to say. The lesson of Keter is that we must listen quietly for our own desire, for, like Keter, our desire is hidden and dark, occupying the recesses of our unconscious, a "nothing" which is nevertheless the undiscovered origin of our psychic life.

Chochmah (Wisdom)

Chochmah is regarded as the first creative act of the infinite, Ein Sof, and, as such, is frequently referred to as reishit (beginning). Keter Elyon, God's will, is first channeled through Chochmah.(41) The emergence of wisdom or intellect from will also accords well with Freud's later claim that intellect (cognition) emerges as a superstructure built upon desire. Yet for the Kabbalists, intellect is, in effect, a new beginning both for the human psyche and the world. Rabbi Moses De Leon declared that "the beginning of existence is the mystery of the hidden point which is called Chochmah ... and from a single point you can draw out all things.(42) Although this primal point of wisdom can be understood ontologically it is, I believe, best first to understand it as an initial axiom or idea from which all other conceptions can be derived:

When the most secret of secrets (Keter) sought to be revealed, He made, first of all, a single point, and this became thought. He made all the designs there. He made all the engravings there."(43)

The Zohar here teaches that all of the "forms" were condensed within this single point of wisdom. Chochmah, above all, expresses the notion (which was later boldly spelled out by Hegel) that the entire world can be derived from a single, simple idea, which in the Kabbalah (as it is in Hegel) might well be equated with the entire dialectical system that expresses the reciprocal interdependence of Ein-sof and sefirot subject and object, God and the world.

While Chochmah, according to the Kabbalists, cannot be seen or apprehended in and of itself, it is inherent in and "animates" everything. Chochmah is variously described as the "seed of all creation" and "the potentiality of what is."(44) As a moment in the intellectual process, it is compared to "the original idea" or "inner thought." In the Zohar, Chochmah is referred to as Machshavah Setumah (hidden thought) and is considered to be void of all individuality, instantiation, and separateness.(45) As it is manifest in our world, Chochmah is the hyle,(46) the most fundamental instrument for creation, and can be considered roughly equivalent to the Platonic "Forms" or "Ideas." Scripture relates that God has created the world be-Chochmah (with wisdom, Psalm 104:24, Proverbs 3:19) which the Kabbalists interpreted to mean "by Chochmah" (making Chochmah the instrument of creation) and "in Chochmah" (making it the potentiality of being in all things).(47) Chochmah is also referred to as the Garden of Eden, in all likelihood because the Kabbalists conceived of the primeval garden as an ideal world of forms. While Chochmah is clearly something (yesh) in relation to Keter, it is nothing in relation to the world, inasmuch as the ideas embodied within it have yet to be made actual and concrete. As such it is, like Keter, occasionally referred to as Ayin, nothing. The kabbalistic dialectic permeates the sefirot in such a manner that none can be said to have a permanent structure or essence.

Psychologically, Chochmah, as has already been intimated, refers to the cognitive dimension of the human psyche, a dimension which, according to Freud and his followers, lies at the foundation of the ego, and is instrumental in directing the libido or will. It is in Chochmah, the realm of ideas, that the true relationship between the human psyche and the external world can be understood, for it is through our ideas that the world is experienced and, in effect, created. As cognitive psychologists have noted, this is a powerful psychotherapeutic notion, for it frees us from regarding ourselves as victims of the world, and gives us both the opportunity and responsibility to forge our own experience. There is, indeed, wisdom, in recognizing that many, if not all of the forces which we believe to impede our progress in the world are of our own making. Victor Frankl, in speaking of his experiences in the concentration camps, even said that he learned the great lesson that while the Nazis could control his body they had no control over his mind, and as such his fate, in an important sense, remained within his own hands.(48) The wisdom of Chochmah is not, of course, to be complacent in the face of evil, but rather to recognize how much control our own psyche affords us in relation to the major and minor calamities that befall us, and to exercise control over the interpretations we place upon the events in our lives.

Binah (Understanding)

Binah is the third of the intellectual sefirot. Binah is conceived as a "palace" erected around the point of Chochmah.(49) From a cognitive point of view Binah is the expansion or fulfillment of concealed thought which comprises Chochmah.(50) It is thus the spelling out of the details and implications of the original "inner thought" of Chochmah. Binah is frequently equated, in both rabbinic and kabbalistic sources with the process of reasoning itself,(51) though as we will see the reasoning of Binah is dialectical as opposed to Aristotelian. We can gain some insight into Binah by observing that it is the dominant sefirah in the "world" of Beriah (creation) which according to the Kabbalah is the world in which we first find the appearance of finite, distinct entities. It is also transformed into the Celestial Mother, a fact which underlies its creative role.(52) Indeed, as the "cosmic mother" it is the womb in which all the lower sefirot develop and eventually unfold in all their detail. These sefirot are conceived as seven children emanating from her womb.(53)

In the geometrical metaphor frequently utilized by the Kabbalists, Binah is symbolized as a "circle" which represents the beginning of substantial existence. In contrast to Chochmah, which the Kabbalists symbolized with the nondimensional point of the Hebrew letter yud, Binah is symbolized by the letter "heh,"(54) which has dimensions of length and width(55) and which, according to the Kabbalists represent the "dimensions" of explanation, understanding, and manifestation.(56) While we should not take this representation to connect Binah itself with space or physicality, we can regard Binah as the paradigm for the experience of all finite existence, whether manifest in the psychical or natural realms. According to the Zohar it is in Binah that existence is first separated and differentiated.(57) It is in Binah that the sketches and engravings of Chochmah first take on a permanent, subsistent reality.(58)

Psychologically, Binah is said to perform a reconciliation between the "desire" of Keter and the intellect of Chochmah. Indeed, Binah is the first of several sefirot which are said by the Kabbalists to reconcile and harmonize opposing principles. Such reconciliation of opposites, or coincidentia oppositorum, is perhaps the hallmark of kabbalistic psychology. Here we see that it is neither will nor wisdom, emotion nor intellect, which defines the creativity and understanding of the human mind, but rather the dialectical blending of the two. It is only when the knowledge of Chochmah is informed by the desire of Keter that one can create something of value or be said to truly "understand." My understanding of my fellow human being only occurs when, via the process which Dilthey and others referred to as verstehen, I can actually stand in the other's shoes and cognize the world from the standpoint of his/her goals and desires.

A more general principle, however, is to be gleaned from Binah, and this is that the apparent contradictions within the human psyche are (as Jung later observed) mutually dependent relations. Intellect is empty without interest and emotion, and emotion unfulfilled without thought. A person's goodness is interdependent with his or her potential for evil, love is not real without the potential for jealousy and hate, and a man's masculinity is impossible without a complementary femininity and vice versa. It is indeed the acceptance and embodiment of opposing principles which connects Binah with motherhood and creation. The created, as opposed to the ideal, man or woman is riddled with conflict and contradiction and it is to the understanding archetypal "mother" within ourselves that we must turn to accept, even embrace, the contradictions within our own souls. Those who do not achieve such an acceptance - who, for example, strive to be completely rational, good, and loving - inevitably bring about the opposites of these traits in their most unbridled, perverse forms.

Chesed (Love) or Gedullah (Greatness)

Chesed is the first of seven lower sefirot which are conceived of in the Kabbalah as the moral middot (traits), and therefore have a direct impact upon human character and hence, according to tradition, are the ready focus of self-improvement. It is also the first of three psychical (or emotional) sefirot. Chesed, which denotes boundless love or kindness,(59) is the very principle through which God created(60) and continuously renews the world.(61) Chesed reflects God's unlimited benevolence toward creation and it is only natural that it develops after sefirah Binah which represents the first inkling of a finite created world. It is the middah and sefirah that is glimpsed by prophets and mystics in their experience of God's grace and love. As Gedullah (greatness) this sefirah reflects God's awesome presence, what modern theologians have referred to as the mysterium tremendum.(62)

In its purest form, Chesed/Gedullah would be overwhelming to humankind and hence this divine trait is generally experienced as it is moderated by the other sefirot particularly Din (judgment). Chesed, as it is manifest on earth, corresponds to the dimension of experience that can best be described as pure Godliness or spirituality and the various aspects of human love which reflect God's beneficence. As such it introduces spiritual values into the created world. Its negative side, created by the shattering of this sefirah during the "breaking of the vessels," is to be found in the negative expressions and purposes to which spirituality and love can be directed.

Psychologically, Chesed is the primary ingredient in all human relationships. It is, for example, the vehicle through which parents transmit a basic sense of love and security to their children, the power that animates lovers, and the care which is a prerequisite for psychological healing. As Irwin Yalom and others have pointed out, in spite of the claims for the efficacy of various psychotherapeutic techniques, the single most curative factor is the regard of the therapist for his or her patient.(63) This is indeed the power of Chesed, and through a consideration of this "power" we are led naturally to the next sefirah, Gevurah/Din, power and judgment per se.

Gevurah (Power) or Din (Judgment)

The sefirah Gevurah/Din is understood as a principle of measure, limit and restraint. The "power" of Gevurah is in the fact that it constrains God's boundless love or Chesed and distributes it according to the capacity of the receiver and, more importantly, according to the receiver's merit.(64) Gevurah is a singularly important middah (trait) both because it reflects the very essence of creation itself (which is limitation and restraint) and because it introduces a dimension of divine justice and righteousness into the world.(65) Gevurah is thus the sefirah that is reflected in the experience of ethical values. Its negative aspect is moral evil.

The Kabbalists held that God's Gevurah or Din is the power behind the tzimtzum, the divine contraction/concealment through which Ein-sof created the worlds. Indeed, Gevurah implies the very measured restraint which is the essence of tzimtzum as withdrawal and concealment. According to Luria's disciple, Chayyim Vital, "Every limitation of emanation is from Gevurah and Din ... Every tzimtzum is (a notion of) Din.(66) Chesed, on Vital's view, represents a boundless extension which, if unchecked, would prevent the creation of a finite world.(67) Gevurah which, on one hand, is diametrically opposed to the principle of creation in Chesed is, on the other hand, its very fulfillment, for it is only with the restraint of Gevurah (as tzimtzum) that finite creatures can subsist without being reabsorbed into Ein Sof. A full analysis reveals that neither Chesed nor Gevurah alone could sustain creation. Only as a result of their tension and complementarity does a world come into being a tall.

On a psychological level, the dialectic of kindness and judgment represents a critical balance that must obtain both in relationships with others and with oneself. Consider, for example, the balance between unconditional love on the one hand and discipline and restraint on the other, which must obtain in rearing children, or the balance between self-love and self-criticism which is a prerequisite for personal growth. I myself have found this dialectic to be of great value as a guide in my work as a psychotherapist, and have attempted to achieve in that work a balance between positive regard and criticism, empathy and interpretation, open-mindedness and limit setting, etc. The blending of kindness and judgment became particularly clear to me when working with patients who were mentally ill at the time they committed a serious crime and who had to achieve a balance between self-forgiveness (Chesed) and assuming responsibility (Din) with respect to their criminal acts.

Tiferet (Beauty) or Rachamim (Compassion)

The dialectical relationship between Chesed and Gevurah is manifest and resolved in the sefirah Tiferet (beauty) or Rachamim (compassion).(68) This sefirah is a harmonizing principle which tempers both the boundlessness of God's love (Chesed) and the severity of God's judgment (Gevurah).(69) This balancing, or harmony is also understood as the foundation for beauty.(70) We might say that beautiful things contain the spiritual (Chesed) in a way that is conditioned and limited through form (Gevurah). Perhaps this is why, for most individuals, spirituality is mediated by and experienced through natural and artistic beauty. Tiferet understood in this way introduces an aesthetic dimension to creation. Its negative aspect is aesthetic ugliness and indifference.

The relationship between the first three emotional sefirot, Chesed, Gevurah, and Tiferet (abbreviated ChaGaT) is, like the relationship between Keter, Chochmah, and Binah, paradigmatic for all the sefirot. That opposites reciprocally determine, and in effect, create one another, is the central idea distinguishing "dialectical" from "linear" thought, and one of the central themes in the Kabbalah. This idea is embodied in the concept of Tiferet, and it is for this reason that the Kabbalists identified Tiferet with Emet or absolute truth.(71)

Chesed and Gevurah are each "relative truths," for it is only from a limited point of view that Chesed is, for example, "the principle of creation," or Gevurah, as limitation, the principle of a finite world. The absolute truth of Tiferet is, however, understood in the idea that these relative truths reciprocally determine one another, and it is precisely this dynamic, reciprocal determination which is Emet in the ultimate sense. It is precisely because Tiferet is understood as harmonizing within itself the "truths" of the various sefirot that it takes a central position in the sefirotic "tree," and is identified with "The Holy One Blessed Be He."

From a psychological perspective, Tifereth, perhaps even more than Binah, represents the notion, propounded by modern thinkers as varied as Hegel and Jung, that the human mind is defined by its very capacity to harmonize conflict and contradiction. That such tolerance of contradiction is a central psychotherapeutic task is clear. Those who suffer from anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders invariably reveal an intrapsychic conflict which they find intolerable - for example, an inability to reconcile their sexual preferences or desires with the teachings of their religion, their feelings of hatred for their parents or other loved ones with their feelings (and obligations) of love for them, their marriage to a single partner with their desire for many such partners - to name but a few of the perennial "contradictions" which patients bring to psychotherapy. That Rachamim, compassion, is essential for psychological healing is clear, for it is only through such compassion that one can live with the contradictions within oneself and others, and ultimately, as the other name of this sefirah, Tifereth (beauty), implies, realize the harmonizing beauty of the human soul.

Netzach (Endurance), Hod (Splendor), and Yesod (Foundation)

We now enter into the realm of what some Kabbalists (Azriel in particular) referred to as the "natural" sefirot. Since God is conceived of as being totally incorporeal we cannot possibly assert that these sefirot are material or spatial in and of themselves. As middot of God they are still regarded as moral qualities. Still, the Kabbalists' descriptions of their inner nature provide hints which suggest that in creation they are archetypes for a spatial, corporeal world. Netzach, Hod and Yesod are regarded as branches or channels for the higher sefirot of Chesed, Gevurah and Tiferet, respectively.(72) They are considered receptacles for the upper middot and serve as tools or vessels for the factual application of kindness, justice, and compassion in the world.(73) However, unlike the upper sefirot which act through the stimulus of will and reason, these sefirot act mechanically (74) and thus follow the causal order of the natural, spatio-temporal world. It does not require much of an interpretive leap to see these sefirot as the foundation for spatial, corporeal creation.

From a psychological point of view we may regard endurance, splendor, and foundation as the cultural fulfillment of earlier, more individualistic psychological principles. This follows from the very names of these sefirot; for civilization and culture are the very aspects of the human psyche which are splendorous and enduring, and which serve as a foundation for human communal life. It is not sufficient that we as humans have individual desire, intellect, and emotion; we must also build something of enduring value. Such cultural pursuits - achievements in work, the arts, religion, the family, society, etc. - are the human equivalents to God's creation of the material world, for through them, as Hegel observed, the human spirit expresses itself and becomes concrete and real. Psychological (and psychotherapeutic) work does not begin and end with the harmonizing of conflict in one's own inner sanctum, it must extend to the achievement of a wider expression and balance in one's work in the world, an achievement of something more enduring than the individual self. Netzach, Hod, and Yesod, therefore repeat (and deepen) on the level of society and culture what Chesed, Gevurah, and Tiferet secured for the individual.

Malchut (Kingship)

Malchut, the last of the ten sefirot can be understood as bringing to fruition the purpose of the entire sefirotic or emanative process. If the goal of creation is the actualization of what exists only potentially within Ein Sof, if the divine purpose is to have subjects over whom a God can reign, and upon whom God can manifest the qualities of kindness, judgment, mercy, etc., then the sefirah Malchut is the very fulfillment of the divine plan.(75) In Malchut, Ein-sof finally comes to know Himself in an "other."

The Zohar refers to Malchut as the architect which brings about creation,(76) and declares that nothing reaches the lower world except via its portals.(77) Malchut, which is frequently identified with God's feminine aspect (the Shekhina), is referred to as the "Lower Mother" (Imma Tataah)(78) and is said to receive the embryo of the world which was originally implanted and concealed in the womb of Binah. It is in Malchut that this embryo develops into a manifest reality. While Binah is the "Celestial Mother," Malchut is truly the mother of the earth.

Malchut is also spoken of in the Zohar as "the mouth of God"(79) and, as part of the metaphor which understands the sefirot as reflective of the progression of divine thought, Malchut is the manifestation of thought through speech.(80) It is, according to the first Lubavitcher rebbe, Schneur Zalman, the equivalent of the divine speech, i.e., the ten divine utterances(81) through which the world was created.(82)

A variety of considerations suggest a link between the sefirah Malchut and the phenomenological dimension of time. Unlike the other sefirot, Malchut is a state of being and not an activity in and of itself. Just as a king has no reign without his subjects, the sefirah Malchut has no existence apart from the activity of the other sefirot.(83) The Zohar states that Malchut exerts no influence of its own. It is a passive sefirah which is compared to the moon which only shines by reflected light.(84) The Kabbalist Vital states that Malchut "has nothing of its own except that which the other sefirot pour into it."(85) These descriptions of Malchut are not only reflective of the traditional passive view of femininity, they are also reminiscent of Maimonides' view of time, which he does not consider to be an independent substance and which accordingly exists only by virtue of the motion of other things.

According to the Zohar there is a reciprocal relationship between Malchut and finite beings. It is only through Malchut that everything comes into finite being,(86) but it is only through finite creatures that Malchut (sovereignty) itself becomes real.(87) Again the analogy to the dimension of time is quite striking: for although time, it seems, is the force which actualizes all finite creatures, time itself is dependent on the activity of these creatures for its own existence. One may also recall that the connection between Malchut or kingship and time is made quite clear in Scripture, where we find that time itself is often reckoned in terms of years into the reign of a particular king.

The connection between the final sefirah, and time, is, indeed, made explicitly in Sefer ha Bahir where this sefirah is referred to as nischono shel 'olam "the duration of the world."(88) Malchut's temporal dimension is further clarified in the Zohar where Malchut is referred to as "a tree that contains death" and where it is recorded that "there is nothing in the world that does not perish" because of it.(89)

That "time" is the element which transforms an ideal reality into an actually existent universe is apparent from the common identification of the ideal with the "timeless," and the concrete, actual world with the "temporal." It is in time, symbolized by the sefirah Malchut, that God is revealed to humanity, and, as the existentialists have emphasized, that both God and humanity struggle to realize their values and actualize their very being.

Both the temporal and feminine aspects of Malchut are of interest from a psychological point of view. Time is indeed the very arena in which humanity can actualize its psychological potential. This is illustrated in the "counting of the Omer," the forty-nine day period wherein each man and woman is enjoined to accomplish the task of perfecting the sefirot within his or her own soul. The very act of noting the passage of each day through the recitation of an appropriate blessing is said, in and by itself, to accomplish part of this task. Here we should note that modern existential psychologists, following Heidegger, have held that the manner in which individuals relate to time, and, particularly, their own finitude and death, is the critical element in their self-actualization and relationships with others. The rabbis who prescribed the Omer counting must have had an intuitive grasp of this idea.

In this connection we should be reminded that the sefirah Malchut also embodies the very notion of the "other," and thus the potential for relationship. As we have seen, Malchut, the final sefirah is often spoken of as the Shekhinah, the feminine counterpart to God. On the other hand, the ninth sefirah, Yesod, is said to be the equivalent of the phallus, and it is through this phallus that all the potencies of the other sefirot are channeled into a unity between masculine and feminine principles, which is also symbolically represented as a union between God and humanity.(90) The goal of both the cosmos and humanity is a union between self and other, psychologically between masculine and feminine principles, interpersonally between man and woman, and cosmically between God and humanity. Such an encounter and union between souls is, according to the Kabbalists, the goal of both cosmic and personal existence. However, the cosmos and the individual must each become fully individuated prior to being reunited with the creator. It is for this reason that the Jew must ascend through forty-nine levels of perfection prior to receiving the Torah. A man or woman must strive to perfect his/her character before he/she is prepared for a union with God.

"Unity" within oneself, between the self and others, and ultimately with something which transcends oneself is, as Jung emphasized, an important guide to psychotherapeutic work. Such unity is a goal to be achieved along with the intrapsychic, and creative/cultural work described above. In truth, each of these levels or dimensions must be worked on at once. It is, for example, sometimes only after a significant relationship that one can achieve a balance between love and judgment in relation to oneself, or, conversely, only after one has achieved something of significance intrapsychically or creatively that one finds the capacity to love. This, I believe, is why the Kabbalists insisted that an element of each of the sefirot is contained in each of the others, and that during the Omer period, the individual must work on each of the sefirotic combinations and permutations.

By striving to perfect his or her nature as a finite creature, the individual completes him/herself as a being in time, and therefore fulfills the prerequisites for completing God's own eternal unification and perfection, which, according to the Kabbalists, can only occur when humanity has "received the Torah" and fulfilled each of the values (i.e., sefirot) for which the world was created. This is the ultimate meaning of the final sefirah, Malchut (sovereignty), for it completes God's reign on earth.

The Circle of Being

Theologically, the sefirotic system is a guide to both the inner nature and creative expression of the godhead. Psychologically, the sefirot provide us with a guide to the development of the human personality in its libidinal, cognitive, cultural, and interpersonal dimensions, which in turn, provides us with an understanding of the phenomenology of our world. There is a circular determinacy between God, humankind, and the world, and the sefirot are meant to serve as the dimensions or archetypes where the three meet. The Kabbalists held that the theological and the psychological are completely interdependent, and it is for this reason that pious Jews, in concentrating upon the various sefirot and their combinations during the period between Passover and Shavuot, can be said not only to have an impact upon themselves but on the cosmos and deity as well.

I have now completed my explication of the individual sefirot as well as my interpretation of them as divine traits which give rise to ten phenomenological dimensions in human experience and the created world. We have also seen how various "lessons" derived from these dimensions or archetypes contribute to the individual's self-improvement and actualization, thereby enabling one to participate in the reconstruction and restoration of these same sefirot and the world as a whole.

It would, however, be misleading to understand these sefirotic values or dimensions in static, structural terms, for the Kabbalists conceived of the sefirot in living dynamic relation with one another. This is why the Kabbalists pictured the sefirot as comprising a living cosmic man or tree. The sefirot as dimensions, are continuously interacting with one another (uniting, competing, blending, breaking apart, reforming) within both the cosmos and humankind, and it is such a dynamic which lends significance and "life" to the sefirotic scheme. Indeed, according to Tikkunei ha Zohar, "the garments He (Ein Sof) wears in the daytime are not the same ones He wears at night,"(91) and this, Vital explains, reflects the astrological and metaphysical truth that "the worlds change at every hour, and one hour is not the same as the next."(92) Malchut I have provided an interpretation of the sefirot doctrine which in this "hour" seems useful and valid. I hope that my approach to the sefirot encourages some readers to engage these archetypes themselves and uncover other meanings latent within them - meanings which will not simply yield yet another theological scheme, but rather an integration of the sefirot into the fabric of one's life and relationship with the divine.


1. A general introduction to the doctrine of the sefirot with particular attention to its place in the Zohar is to be found in I.Tishby and F. Lachover, The Wisdom of The Zohar, trans. D. Goldstein (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 269--370. The sefirot doctrine is discussed by G. Scholem in a number of works, including lectures 6 and 7 of Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, rev. ed. (New York: Schocken Books, 1946); "Kabbalah" in the Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing, 1971), 10:489--654 (This and other articles on the Kabbalah by Scholem from the Encyclopedia Judaica have been collected in G. SCHOLEM, Kabbalah (Jerusalem: Keter, 1974), and Origins of the Kabbalah, ed. R. J. Zwi Werblowski, trans. Allan Arkush (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987). M. Idel discusses the Sefirot in Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University, 1988), ch.6, particularly pp. 136--53. The majority of The Zohar has been translated into English in five volumes by H. Sperling and M. Simon, The Zohar (London: Soncino Press, 1931--34). Another translation of smaller sections can be found in D.Matt, Zohar: The Book of Enlightenment (New York: Paulist Press, 1983). However, the best source in English on the Zohar is the aforementioned anthologized version of the Zohar (Tishby and Lachover, The Wisdom of The Zohar). Other original kabbalistic works on the sefirot which have been translated into English are to be found in J.Dan, ed. The Early Kabbalah (New York: Paulist Press, 1986), which contains a translation of Azriel's "Explanation of the Ten Sefirot," and R.Joseph Gikatilla's Gates of Light ( Sha'are Orah), trans. Avi Weinstein (San Francisco: Harper Collins,1994).

2. For a discussion of Husserl and the phenomenological movement in philosophy see H.Spiegelberg, The Phenomenological Movement (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1971), especially PartV, ch.XIV, "The Essentials of the Phenomenological Method." Those who wish to read Husserl himself are referred to: E. Husserl, The Crisis in European Philosophy and Transcendental Phenomenology, trans. Davis Carr (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970), esp. PartI.

3. This view is highly Platonic and as such the Kabbalah provides an important bridge between Judaism and the entire Western idealist tradition from Plato through Hegel.

4. The word sefirah has been variously interpreted as derived from, or related to, a variety of Hebrew roots including mispar (number), sapar (to number), sefer (book), sipor (to tell, relate), sapir (sapphire, brilliance, luminary), separ (boundary) and safra (scribe). Each of these derivations can provide us with some insight into the nature of these iridescent entities, whose ability to reflect the nature of both humankind and the cosmos is a function of the breadth and depth of their metaphoric range. Their vast range of symbolism defines their fundamental character as aspects of God and humanity which are simultaneously the essential elements of the world. It should be noted that a variety of synonyms for the sefirot are used in the kabbalistic literature, including ma'amarot (sayings), shemot (names), orot (lights), ketarim (crowns), middot (qualities), madregot (levels or stages), levushim (garments) and the term most frequently found in The Zohar, sitrin (aspects); see Scholem, Kabbalah,100.

5. G. Scholem. Origins of the Kabbalah, 26

6. Sefer Yetzirah, chs. 1 and 2. See G.Scholem, Origins,} 26--27. Zohar II:176a.

7. According to Scholem, the term sefirah is derived from the Hebrew sapar (to count) and has no relation in its earliest usage to the Greek sphaira (sphere). However, sefirah is introduced in place of mispar to indicate that the author of Yetzirah wished to speak not of ordinary numbers but of metaphysical principles or stages in God's creation. G. SCHOLEM. Origins of the Kabbalah, 26. Sefer Yetzirah I:7, see also Zohar III:70a. Sefer Yetzirah has been translated by A. Ben Joseph as The Book of Formation (NewYork, 1970).

8. An assertion which corresponds to the view attributed to Plato (by Aristotle) that the Forms, which in Greek thought are the "ideas" behind creation, are indeed numbers.

9. See G. SCHOLEM. Origins of the Kabbalah, 82.

10. As found in the talmudic tractate Pirke Avoth 5:1. Tractate Avoth: The Ethics of the Fathers, trans. Philip Blackman (Gateshead: Judaica Press, 1985).

11. G. SCHOLEM. Origins of the Kabbalah, 82.

12. Talmud: Tractate Hagiga, 12a.

13. J. Dan, Ed. The Early Kabbalah, texts trans. R.C. Kieber, 94.

14. J. Dan, The Early Kabbalah, 90

15. J. Dan, The Early Kabbalah, 91.

16. J. Dan, The Early Kabbalah, 92. According to Nachmanides God acts through the sefirot in roughly the same way that individuals act through their bodies. Understood in this way, the sefirot are not outside the deity. While they are sometimes spoken of as God's garments, they are certainly not the kinds of garments which anyone or anything could remove. Perhaps they are better understood simply as God's mode of expression; an expression which, according to the Lurianists, is also God's completion. It is only in relation to created, seemingly independent things (i.e., the sefirot) that God can become differentiated and distinctly manifest wisdom, kindness, beauty, sovereignty, etc. Creation, as the derivations of sefirot from sipor (to relate), sifra (scribe) and sefer (book) indicate, is thus God's self-expression. Without creation the Holy One could not express the characteristics which make God divine.

17. J. Dan, The Early Kabbalah, 94.

18. J. Dan, The Early Kabbalah, 95.

19. Amongst these terms are "levels," "powers," "sides," "areas," "firmaments," "worlds," "pillars," "lights," "colors," "dates," "gates," "streams," "garments," and "crowns." See I.Tishby, Wisdom of The Zohar, I:269. Other terms used by the Kabbalists for the sefirot are "mirrors," "names," "shoots," "qualities," "sources," "aspects" (sitrin), "supernal days," and "inner faces of God." See G.Scholem, Kabbalah, 21.

20. Though a number of Kabbalists, including the first Lubavitcher rebbe, Schneur Zalman of Lyadi, held that all of these changes occur in the Or Ein Sof (the divine light) and none within Ein Sof Himself.

21. For a discussion of Lurianic Kabbalah and its interpretation of the doctrine of the sefirot see G.Scholem, "Kabbalah" in Encyclopedia Judaica 10:489--654. See also G.Scholem, Major Trends In Jewish Mysticism, Lecture7, "Isaac Luria and His School," and G.Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973), Chapter I. In addition, a brief but comprehensive outline of the Lurianic system can be found in J.Schochet, "Mystical Concepts in Chassidism," which is appended to the Hebrew-English edition of S.Zalman, Likutei Amarim-Tanya (Brooklyn: Kehot, 1981). Very few of the relevant Lurianic texts have been translated into English. Works attributed to Isaac Luria, the majority of which consist of notes by his pupils, can be found in a fourteen-volume edition edited and annotated by Y.Brandwein (Tel Aviv, 1961--64). One of Luria's students, Chayyim Vital, is the author of several works purported to represent Luria's views, the most important of which is Sefer Etz Chayyim, edited and annotated by Y.Brandwein (Tel Aviv,1960).

22. I.Tishby, Wisdom of The Zohar, I:270.

23. The general order of the sefirot is derived in part from 1Chronicles 29:11 which was thought to make reference to them. The scheme I have outlined is the one that is found in Cordovero's Pardes Rimonim (3:1ff).

24. Chayyim Vital regards Keter as virtually indistinguishable from Ein-sof and thus holds that Chochmah is the highest sefirah. He inserts the sefirah Da'at (attachment, union, knowledge) between Binah and Chesed (see Sefer Etz Chayyim 23:1, 2, 5, 8, 25:6, 42:1). In the Lurianic scheme Da'at is regarded as a derivative of Keter (the "supernal will," see below), and is sometimes referred to as the "external aspect of Keter" (G.Scholem, Kabbalah, 107). This is the scheme that is generally followed by Schneur Zalman of Lyadi, and, indeed, the characterization of his (the Lubavitcher) Hasidim as ChaBaD derives from an acronym of the names of the first three sefirot according to this scheme, Chochmah, Binah, and Da'at (The first three sefirot are given the appellation ChaBaD, the next three ChaGaT, (Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet), and the third triad, NeHY Netzach, Hod, Yesod). However, even the Lurianists (including Vital and Schneur Zalman) regard the first scheme (in which Keter is included) as correct with regard to the sefirot in their "essential" aspects, and only eliminate Keter, and insert Da'at after Binah, when considering the sefirot from a "general" or "external" (chitzoniyut) point of view. We will therefore feel justified in basing our phenomenological interpretation of the sefirot (which, at any rate follows Cordovero) on the "Keter" scheme.

25. Chayyim Vital regards Keter as virtually indistinguishable from Ein-sof and thus holds that Chochmah is the highest sefirah. He inserts the sefirah Da'at (attachment, union, knowledge) between Binah and Chesed (see Sefer Etz Chayyim 23:1, 2, 5, 8, 25:6, 42:1). In the Lurianic scheme Da'at is regarded as a derivative of Keter (the "supernal will," see below), and is sometimes referred to as the "external aspect of Keter" (G.Scholem, Kabbalah, 107). This is the scheme that is generally followed by Schneur Zalman of Lyadi, and, indeed, the characterization of his (the Lubavitcher) Hasidim as ChaBaD derives from an acronym of the names of the first three sefirot according to this scheme, Chochmah, Binah, and Da'at (The first three sefirot are given the appellation ChaBaD, the next three ChaGaT, (Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet), and the third triad, NeHY Netzach, Hod, Yesod). However, even the Lurianists (including Vital and Schneur Zalman) regard the first scheme (in which Keter is included) as correct with regard to the sefirot in their "essential" aspects, and only eliminate Keter, and insert Da'at after Binah, when considering the sefirot from a "general" or "external" (chitzoniyut) point of view. We will therefore feel justified in basing our phenomenological interpretation of the sefirot (which, at any rate follows Cordovero) on the "Keter" scheme.

26. Sefer Etz Chayyim, 28.

27. Sefer Etz Chayyim 25:5, 42:1, See I.Schochet, "Mystical Concepts," 837, also Tikkunei Zohar 2d Preface, 17a - b.

28. See I. Schochet," Mystical Concepts," 852, note 34.

29. Zohar III:129a, 288b.

30. I.Tishby, Wisdom of The Zohar, I:270.

31. Exodus 3:14. Tishby, Wisdom of The Zohar, I:270. Zohar III:65a--b, Tishby, Wisdom of The Zohar, I:345.

32. I. Schochet," Mystical Concepts," 853, note 41.

33. S. Zalman, sec I, as cited in I. Schochet," Mystical Concepts," 853, note 41.

34. I. Tishby, Wisdom of The Zohar, I:280.

35. I. Tishby, Wisdom of The Zohar, I:280.

36. I. Tishby, Wisdom of The Zohar, I:280.

37. I. Tishby, Wisdom of The Zohar, I:281.

38. I. Tishby, Wisdom of The Zohar, I:281.

39. I. Tishby, Wisdom of The Zohar, I:220.

40. The sexual unions of the various sefirot are dwelt on by Chayyim Vital in his Sefer Etz Chayyim. See especially, 2:3a.

41. Tanya I, Ch.35.

42. I. Tishby, Wisdom of The Zohar, I:281.

43. I. Tishby, Wisdom of The Zohar, I:281, 331, Zohar I:2a.

44. Zohar III:235b; Tanya II, Ch.3.

45. Zohar I:2a.

46. Maimonides, Moreh Nevuchim II:30, English translation by M.Friedlander, The Guide for the Perplexed (New York: Dover,1956).

47. I.Schochet "Mystical Concepts,"838.

48. Victor Frankl, From Death Camp to Existentialism, trans. Ilsa Lasch (Boston: Beacon Press,1959).

49. I. Tishby, Wisdom of The Zohar,I:282.

50. Tikkunei Zohar 22:63b.

51. I. Schochet "Mystical Concepts," 838, 853 note 59.

52. Zohar III:290a ff.; Pardes Rimonim 8:17.

53. I. Tishby, Wisdom of The Zohar, I:282.

54. Zohar III:17a

55. Tanya I:Ch.3.

56. I. Schochet "Mystical Concepts," 838, 853, note 61, referring to S.Zalman, Tanya III:4, Igeret HaKodesh, sec 5, and Zohar II:158a.

57. I. Tishby Wisdom of The Zohar, I:270.

58. I. Tishby, Wisdom of The Zohar, I:270.

59. Sefer Etz Chayyim 18:5.

60. Psalm 89:3.

61. Tanya IICh.4.

62. R.Otto The Idea of the Holy (London: Oxford University Press, 1970; first edition: 1923).

63. Irwin Yalom, Existential Psychotherapy.

64. Whereas Chesed is distributed freely regardless of the receiver's merit (Zohar II:168b, Pardes Rimonim 8:1).

65. Zohar II:175b.

66. I. Schochet, "Mystical Concepts," 855, citing C.Vital, Mevoh She'arim I:1,1.

67. Sefer Etz Chayyim18:5.

68. See Zohar Chadash, Yitro31b.

69. Tikkunei Zohar 70:133b.

70. Tikkunei Zohar 70:133b.

71. I. Schochet, "Mystical Concepts" p 855, note 103, citing Zohar Chadash, Toldot 26, Yitro 31b, Sefer Etz Chayyim 35:3.

72. Tikkunei Zohar 19:45a, 22:68b, 30:74a; Zohar III:236a.

73. Tanya II:5.

74. I. Schochet, "Mystical Concepts," Ch.3,843.

75. I. Schochet, "Mystical Concepts," 835, citing Zohar III:69b, 237b, Pardes Rimonim 2:6, Sefer Etz Chayyim 1:1.

76. Zohar I:147a, Pardes Rimonim 5:4.

77. I. Schochet, "Mystical Concepts," p 846, citing Zohar III:256b.

78. Zohar I:50a, II:22a, II:290aff.

79. Tikkunei Zohar Intr.17a.

80. I. Schochet, "Mystical Concepts" 846, 867, note 138.

81. Pirke Avot 5:1.

82. Tanya II: 11--12.

83. Zohar III:271b; Tanya II:7.

84. Zohar I:249b, 251b, cf 23a,b.

85. Sefer Etz Chayyim 6:5,8:5.

86. Zohar II:127a; Tikkunei Zohar 70:121a.

87. Tanya II:7. This idea is also reflected in the hymn Adon Olam which is recited daily in the prayer service.

88. G. Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, 160.

89. Zohar I:50b--51b.

90. For a discussion of Yesod in the context of divine sexuality see E.Wolfson, "Crossing Gender Boundaries in Kabbalistic Ritual and Myth" in his Circle in the Square: Studies in the Use of Gender in Kabbalistic Symbolism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), 79-122.

91. See the discussion of this theme in M.Idel, Kabbalah New Perspectives, 248--49.

92. Vital, Sefer Etz Chayyim 1:2.

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Source: Cross Currents, Spring 1997, Vol. 47 Issue 1.