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The sefirot are understood in the shape of the human form.

Emanations Interact

Emanations Interact

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Emanations Interact
The sefirot are understood in the shape of the human form.

The sefirot represent the various stages of the Divine creative process, whereby G‑d generated the progression of created realms culminating in our finite physical universe. The sefirot constitute the interacting components of a single metaphysical structure whose imprint can be identified at all levels and within all aspects of Creation.

The sefirot exist not only as individual entities

The sefirot exist not only as individual entities. In addition to their separate and unique identities, they also interact in configurations depicted in Kabbalistic texts as having the structure of the human body; this is called the tzelem Elokim (the supernal "image of G‑d"). Just like the body, the sefirot are arranged in vertical arrays along three parallel axes, each representing a mode of divine influence upon Creation. Hence, each sefira is associated with the particular limb or organ that corresponds to its position in the anatomical sefirotic structure. This configuration is also referred to in kabbalistic literature as a sulam ("ladder") or an eitz ("tree").

The interaction among the various sefirot takes place through a network of connecting tzinorot ("channels"), which carry the flow of divine energy throughout Creation. These connections suggest various sub-groupings of the sefirot, each reflecting a certain dynamic amongst the sefirot which they include. The loftiest triad of sefirot defines the cognitive dynamic; it is comprised of Keter, Chochma and bina (or alternatively, in the power of the soul, chochma, and bina and da'at). The sub-grouping comprised of chesed, gevura, and tiferet defines the primary emotions. The triad of netzach, hod and yesod defines the instinctual and pragmatic forces. Malchut may be viewed as either an appendage of this last sub-grouping or as an independent entity receiving and manifesting the energies that precede it.

Another way of dividing the sefirot is into partzufim ("visages" or "profiles"). A partzuf is described in terms of the human form and is used to represent the expansion of a sefira (or group of sefirot) into an independent configuration with ten sefirot of its own. According to Kabbala, the sefirot of keter, chochma, bina and malchut each possess two interrelated partzufim; whereas the six sefirot from chesed through yesod form their own common and independent pair of partzufim.

In the configuration of the sefirot, keter appears at the top of the middle axis, and corresponds in the tzelem Elokim to the skull. The sefira of keter develops into two partzufim; its outer partzuf is referred to as Arich Anpin, and its inner partzuf is referred to as Atik Yomin.

Chochma appears in the configuration of the sefirot at the top of the right axis and corresponds in the tzelem Elokim to the right hemisphere of the brain. In its fully articulated form, chochma possesses two partzufim: the higher of these is referred to as Abba Ila'ah ("the supernal father"), whereas the lower is referred to as Yisrael Sabba ("Israel, the Elder"). These two partzufim are collectively referred to as Abba ("the father").

Bina appears in the configuration of the sefirot at the top of the left axis and corresponds in the tzelem Elokim to the left hemisphere of the brain.

In its fully expanded form, bina also possesses two partzufim: the higher of these is referred to as Imma Ila'ah ("the supernal mother"), whereas the lower is referred to as tevuna ("comprehension"). These two partzufim are collectively referred to as Imma ("the mother").

The union of chochma and bina, the "father" and the "mother" (the right and left hemispheres of the brain, known in Kabbala as "the higher union"), is constant and is referred to in the Zohar as "two companions that never separate". This union is necessary for the continuous re-creation of the world, beginning with the birth (from the womb of "mother" bina) of the seven attributes of the heart, each corresponding to one of the seven days of Creation.

daat represents the inner dimension of keter itself within the realm of consciousness…

Daat is the third and last conscious power of intellect in Creation. Generally, daat is only enumerated among the sefirot when keter is not. This is due to the fact that daat represents the inner dimension of keter itself within the realm of consciousness. Hence, daat appears in the configuration of the sefirot along the middle axis, directly beneath keter, and corresponds in the tzelem Elokim to the cerebellum (posterior brain). In the Zohar, da'at is referred to as "the key that includes six." The "key" of daat opens all six attributes of the heart (the emotions) and fills them with life-force.

Chesed appears in the configuration of the sefirot along the right axis directly beneath chochma and corresponds in the tzelem Elokim to the "right arm."

Gevura is the fifth of the ten sefirot and is the second of the emotive attributes in Creation. Gevura appears in the configuration of the sefirot along the left axis directly beneath bina and corresponds in the tzelem Elokim to the "left arm."

Tiferet is the sixth of the ten sefirot and is the third of the emotive attributes within Creation. It appears in the configuration of the sefirot along the middle axis directly beneath daat (or beneath keter, when daat is excluded). Tiferet corresponds in the tzelem Elokim to the upper torso (in particular, the heart).

Netzach is the seventh of the ten sefirot, and the fourth of the emotive attributes within Creation. It appears in the configuration of the sefirot along the right axis, directly beneath chesed, and corresponds in the tzelem Elokim to the right leg.

Hod is the eighth of the ten sefirot, and the fifth of the emotive attributes within Creation. It appears in the configuration of the sefirot along the left axis, directly beneath gevura, and corresponds in the tzelem Elokim to the left leg.

The two sefirot of netzach and hod are referred to as "two halves of a single body." This is so because more than with respect to chesed and gevura (the right and left arms), netzach and hod (the right and left legs), can only perform their function in unison -- walking together.

Netzach and hod are referred to in the Zohar as "the scales of justice". Netzach merits while hod concedes ("acknowledges" or "confesses"). As the two hips of the body, they are responsible for the general state of equilibrium of the body.

Yesod is the ninth of the ten sefirot and is the sixth of the emotive attributes within Creation. It appears in the configuration of the sefirot along the middle axis, directly beneath tiferet. Yesod corresponds in the tzelem Elokim to the procreative organ (in the male; in the female, to the womb).

The six sefirot from chesed to yesod join and develop to form the partzuf of Zeir Anpin. Zeir Anpin (or z"a in Kabbalistic shorthand) receives its "head" or "brain power" (the three higher sefirot of chochma, bina and da'at) from the higher partzufim of Abba and Imma.

Malchut is the last of the ten sefirot. It is the final emotive attribute within Creation (or, more precisely, the manifestation of what is contained above it in a potential or latent state, as explained above). Malchut appears in the configuration of the sefirot at the bottom of the middle axis directly beneath yesod. Malchut corresponds in the tzelem Elokim to the "crown" of the procreative organ (the corona in the male; the labia in the female). Malchut also corresponds to the mouth and is often referred to as "the world of speech," insofar as the spoken word represents the essential medium of self-expression, allowing one to not only reveal himself to outer reality but to guide and influence that reality as well. Hence, speech allows one to exercise authority and "kingship", the literal meaning of malchut.

…kingship requires utmost sensitivity to the needs of the realm which one seeks to rule

Malchut also serves as the means to identify with outer reality. Analogously, exercising kingship requires utmost sensitivity to the needs of the realm which one seeks to rule. Conversely, every individual aspect of creation must accept Divine authority, for only then can the ultimate good of the mundane realm be assured.

The soul can only perceive and ascend to the higher sefirot through the portal of malchut. "This is the gate to G‑d, the righteous shall enter through it" (Psalms 118:20). In one's service to G‑d this means receiving upon oneself, in total commitment, "the yoke of the kingdom of heaven". When this is not done, the result is galut haShechinah -- the exile of the Divine Presence.

This ends our basic introduction to the idea of sefirot.
Click here to learn about the nature of multiple Worlds of Creation in Kabbala: Oneness and the Infinite.

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The Zohar is a basic work of Kabbalah authored by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his students (2nd century CE). English translation of annotated selections by Rabbi Moshe Miller (Morristown, N.J.: Fiftieth Gate Publications, 2000) includes a detailed introduction covering the history and basic concepts of Kabbalah. Volume 1 (36 pp.) covers the first half of the first of the original’s three volumes. It is available online from our store, KabbalaOnline Shop.
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