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Dictionary of Terms

Dictionary of Terms


Ab Sag Mah Ban, Each sefira has two primary components -- or (the light of the sefira) and kli (the vessel containing the light). The vessel of each sefira is associated with one of the ten divine names (E-l, Elo-him, Sha-dai, and so on). The light of all of the sefirot is associated with the Ineffable Name yud-hei-vav-hei. However, the light infuses the vessels in four different "expansions" of yud-hei-vav-hei, according to the level and type of the sefira. These four expansions have the numerical values of 72, 63, 45 and 52, as follows:

yud-vav-dalet hei-yud vav-yud-vav hei-yud -- the sum of the gematria of the letters is 72, and in numerical value, ayin-bet (ayin=70, bet=2). The "filler letter" (milui) here is yud. This spelling produces the world of Akudim that precedes the world of Tohu.

yud-vav-dalet hei-hei vav-yud-vav hei-hei -- the sum of the gematria of the letters is 63, and in numerical value, samech-gimel (samech=60, gimel=3). The milui here is a combination of yud and hei. This spelling produces the world of Tohu, also known as the world of Nikudim.

yud-vav-dalet hei-alef vav-alef-vav hei-alef -- the sum of the gematria of the letters is 45, and in numerical value, mem-hei (mem=40, hei=5). The milui here is aleph. This spelling produces the masculine aspect of the world of Tikun or Atzilut.

yud-vav-dalet hei-hei vav-vav hei-hei -- the sum of the gematria of the letters is 52, and in numerical value beit-nun (beit=2, nun=50). The milui here is hei. This spelling produces the feminine aspect of the world of Tikun or Atzilut.

Adam Kadmon, (abbreviated as A'K) is an intermediary level between the Infinite Light and the finite creation. It is the highest of the five Worlds. "Adam" means "in the likeness of," or "in the image of," from the Hebrew word domeh. "Kadmon" means primordial, or primary. Adam Kadmon is thus the primordial world which is "in the likeness of" the Infinite Light which preceded it and which was concealed in the process of Creation. Thus, even though Adam Kadmon is a world, i.e., it comes into being through the tzimtzum, nevertheless, it is so sublime, pure, and transcendent that it mirrors the Infinite Light. Adam Kadmon is referred to as the "world of keterim" since all of its sefirot are keter-like "meta-sefirot." See Tehiru Illa / Tata'a. See also Worlds; Tohu, Tikun.

Agada, (Aramaic) Talmudic discussions not concerning halacha (Jewish law).

Arich Anpin, (Aramaic) literally, "the extended visage," signifies the external aspect of keter. Whereas the other sefirot determine the internal structure of each world and its nature (according to whichever sefira predominates in that world -- see "Worlds"), Arich Anpin is G‑d's Will that the worlds exist. It is, therefore, the very inception of Creation without being part of Creation. Moreover, it envelops the entire world of which it is the keter, including all of the sefirot of that world. See also Keter; Atik Yomin.

Arizal, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria. Ari = acronym of his appellation, "Ashkenazi Rav Yitzchak", 5294-5332 (1534-1572 CE) and Zal = 'of blessed memory.' Born in Jerusalem, d. in Safed. Founder of a new school in Kabbala -- so-called "Lurianic Kabbala." Studied with Rabbi Moshe Cordovero whom he succeeded as the leading mystic of Safed.

Asiya, "the World of Action." Asiya is the lowest of the five worlds, below Yetzira. The generic form with which matter is endowed in the world of Yetzira is particularized by the specific dimensions and limitations of the world of Asiya. It is the spiritual abode of the category of angels called ofanim, and corresponds to nefesh in the soul of man. The sefira of malchut predominates in Asiya. See also Worlds.

Atik Yomin, (Aramaic) literally "Ancient of Days." Atik Yomin is the inner aspect of keter and is said to be the lowest aspect of the Emanator (whereas Arich Anpin is the highest aspect of the emanated). It is also sometimes referred to as simply Atik, although the Arizal writes that the latter term refers specifically to the three higher sefirot (keter, chochma, bina, or chochma, bina, daat) of Atik (Etz Chaim, Shaar HaKelalim chap. 2). The word atik means "ancient," indicating its primordial quality, or "aloof," indicating that is qualitatively remote from the Creation and the other sefirot. But it also from the word ma'atik, "copy," since G‑d's purpose and desire in creating that is concealed within Atik is replicated in each world according to its level. Thus, where Arich Anpin is G‑d's will to create, Atik is the purpose for which all the worlds were created from the outset. It is also called mekor hata'anugim -- the source of all (supernal) delight. See Atika Kadisha.

Atika Kadisha, (Aramaic) literally "Ancient Holy One", used synonymously with Atik or Atik Yomin. However, the Arizal writes that Atika Kadisha is sometimes used to refer specifically to the three higher sefirot (keter, chochma, bina, or chochma, bina, daat) of Atik (Etz Chaim, Shaar HaKelalim chap. 2). See Atik Yomin.

Atzilut, "the World of Emanation." Atzilut is the next to highest of the five worlds, belowAdam Kadmon, and the first of the immanent worlds. The name "Atzilut" comes from the word "etzel"("close to") for it is close to Infinite Light, and from the verse "He imparted (vayatzel) of the spirit upon Moses" (Numbers 11:25). Just as the spirit that G‑d imparted to the Seventy Elders from that which already existed upon Moses, so too, the world of Atzilut is not a new creation, but merely a revelation from and extension of the Infinite Light that preceded it. Accordingly, both the lights and vessels of Atzilut are G‑dliness and not created entities. (See Tanya ch. 49; Tanya Iggeret HaKodesh ch. 20). Atzilut corresponds to Chaya in the soul of man. The sefira of chochma predominates in Atzilut. See also Worlds.

Ayin, "nothingness." Generally refers to keter, which is called "nothing," because it is not created, nor is it comprehensible. In Chasidism, ayin is the level between Yesh HaAmiti (G‑d's true being) and yesh haNivra (G‑d's created being). More specifically, there are two levels of ayin: a) the ayin as it is to the Yesh HaAmiti (it is called ayin because it is as if nothing and of no consequence); b) the ayin as it is to the Yesh HaNivra (it is called ayin because it is incomprehensible to created beings).

Benoni, "intermediate person." A benoni is someone who possesses a yetzer hara (an inclination to evil) but controls it and does not sin. There are many levels of benoni -- from one who is in a continuous conscious struggle to maintain mastery over his yetzer hara, to one so engrossed in his divine service that his yetzer hara remains dormant. Contrasted with a tzadik, one who has achieved a permanent inner spiritual transformation.

Beriya, "the World of Creation." This is the world below Atzilut. Beriya is the first world created ex nihilo; its "substance" is unformed primordial matter. It is the spiritual abode of the category of angels called seraphim. Although they are created beings, the seraphim are fully aware that their entire existence is the life-force flowing to them from G‑d. The primordial matter of Beriya is endowed with form in Yetzira. Beriya corresponds to Neshama in the soul of man. The sefira of bina predominates in Beriya. See also Worlds.

Bina, understanding; the developmental aspect of intellect. The third of the ten sefirot, below chochma and keter. In the arrangement of sefirot into three columns, bina is situated at the top of the left column and corresponds to the left lobe of the brain. The word bina is related to the word livnot "to build." For this is the essential quality of bina. The abstract, non-dimensional, incomprehensible point that represents chochma 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 facets of bina, each corresponding to a different relationship of bina to the other sefirot: 1) The "depth" of bina expresses its relationship to its source in chochma. 2) The "breadth" of bina signifies expansion, and is the definitive characteristic of bina. In this connection the Sages of the Talmud (Chagiga 14a) describe bina as hameivin davar mitoch davar -- "understanding one thing from [within] another." In other words, the understanding of bina (denoting an entire conceptual framework of inter-related ideas) is derived from within (mitoch) chochma. 3) The "length" of bina describes its relationship to the sefirot below it. The extent to which bina reaches down in affecting the other sefirot is called its "length." Thus, bina could be defined as the expansion of the initial point of chochma into a full-blown and comprehensible revelation of the Divine Light.

Binyan HaMalchut, the ten sefirot exist not only as individual manifestations of divine attributes, but are also arranged in various distinct configurations, called partzufim ("visages" or "profiles" -- singular: partzuf), each with ten sefirot of their own. The sefirot are able to interact with each other only as partzufim. Chochma (the partzuf called Abba) and bina (the partzuf called Imma) are emanated from the outset as partzufim, whereas Zeir Anpin (Z'A) is emanated in its initial form only as comprising the six sefirot from chesed to yesod. It receives its mochin (chochma and bina) only at a later stage, as an addition. Similarly, malchut is emanated from the outset as a single point only, called keter malchut, and it too receives the other nine sefirot only at a later stage. This development of malchut into a full-blown partzuf is called binyan hamalchut, and it is dependent upon the arousal from below (itaruta d'letata) initiated by the Jewish people in this world. The itaruta d'letata reaches to the very root of malchut in keter (Sefer HaLikutim s.v. malchut, p. 572-4).

Birur, "separation," "selection," or "refinement." The kabbalistic doctrine that sparks of holiness that became imbedded within Creation as a result of the shattering of the vessels of Tohu must be extracted and elevated by the proper use of materiality. As the vessels of Tohu shattered, 288 shards (R'pach Nitzutzin) to which a residue of the original light of Tohu remained attached fell into the world of Atzilut. The most refined aspects of the vessels were absorbed and assimilated into Atzilut, but the remainder fell further and subdivided into smaller fragments, to which a smaller spark of holiness remained attached. This process was repeated through the worlds of Beriya, Yetzira and Asiya until the fragments that could not be assimilated in the realm of holiness became imbedded in kelipa, to animate the forces of evil. It is man's task to extricate this spark of holiness from the kelipot and restore it to the realm of holiness, until eventually the kelipot will be deprived of their vitality and cease to exist. This is called birur hanitzutzot -- extricating, refining and elevating the sparks of holiness and thus restoring the proper cosmic order. See also Shevirat HaKelim,Tikun.

Chesed, kindness or benevolence, is the fourth of the ten sefirot. In the arrangement of sefirot in three columns, chesed is situated in the middle of the right column, below chochma, and corresponds to the right arm and to the first day of Creation. Chesed denotes the unbounded loving-kindness with which G‑d created the worlds, and with which all of Creation is permeated, as the verse explains: "The world is built with chesed" (Psalms 89:3). Kindness was in fact the reason for the Creation; since the "nature" of G‑d is absolute benevolence and loving-kindness, He created the worlds so that He would have on whom to bestow His kindness -- "The nature of good is to do good" (Emek Ha'melech, shaar Shaashuei HaMelech).

Chochma, (a) literally "wisdom", the creative aspect of intellect. Chochma is the second sefira, below keter and the first of the immanent sefirot; (b) the first of the intellectual powers of the soul. In the array of sefirot in three columns, chochma is situated at the top of the right column, and corresponds to the right hemisphere of the brain. There are several aspects of chochma: 1) The word chochma itself may be broken into two words -- koach (potential) and ma (what is). Thus, chochma means "the potential of what is," or, "the potential to be." This aspect of chochma describes the state of chochma in relation to the sefira of keter. As chochma emanates from keter, the first dawning of the Infinite Light, it "appears" in an obscure and undefined state that is a virtual non-being. Thus the verse states, "and chochma emerges from nothingness" (Job 28:12; see Zohar II, 121a, Zohar III, 290a, commentaries). The light of Ein Sof becomes unified in the world of Atzilut through clothing itself first in the sefira of chochma. 2) Chochma is the first of the immanent or in-dwelling sefirot and is therefore is called "the beginning," as in the verse "Reishit chochma (Psalms 111:10) -- "Chochma is the first," -- the first of the immanent sefirot. 3) Chochma is the life-force of all creation, as in the verse, "and chochma enlivens (or vitalizes) all that possess it" (Ecclesiastes 7:12). 4) Chochma is the instrument of creation, as in the verse, "You made everything with chochma" (Psalms 104:24). In its fully articulated form, chochma possesses two partzufim: the higher of these is referred to as Abba, whereas the lower is referred to as Yisrael Sabba. In the soul, chochma is associated with the power of intuitive insight.

Daat, literally "knowledge", is the conclusive and action-oriented aspect of intellect and the third of the soul powers. In the arrangement of sefirot in three columns daat is situated in the middle column, below chochma to the right, bina to the left, directly beneath keter; and directly above tiferet. It corresponds to the cerebellum (posterior brain). Daat is counted as the third of the ten sefirot -- when keter is not counted. (Generally keter is counted when the subject is Seder Hishtalshelut, but daat is counted when the subject is divine service). Daat is associated in the soul with the powers of concentration and sensitivity. There are two aspects to daat -- the higher level, referred to as daat elyon ("higher knowledge") or daat hane'elam ("the hidden knowledge") sustains the continuous bond between chochma and bina; the lower level, referred to as daat tachton ("lower knowledge") or daat hamitpashet ("permeating knowledge"), connects the intellectual powers with the realm of emotion. This level of daat is therefore referred to in Zohar as "the key that includes six," for it is the key to the emotional attributes.

Daat Elyon / Daat Tachton, "higher daat" and "lower daat," or "the Creator's perspective" and "man's perspective." There are two perspectives from which the Creation can be viewed: From the point-of-view of daat elyon (the Creator's perspective) only G‑d's eternal existence is true being, since His existence is necessary -- "His existence is of His essence and no other existence precedes Him." However, since the world exists as a mere radiation and is entirely dependent on the Creator's will that it endure, its existence is regarded as "nothingness." However, from the point-of-view of daat tachton (the perspective of created beings) that the world exists is self-evident, and needs no further proof. But since the Creator's existence is incomprehensible to us it is referred to as "Nothingness." While we acknowledge that the former perspective is the ultimate truth, the latter perspective also originates in G‑d, as the verse states, "E-l is G‑d of [both] de'ot" -- daat elyon and daat tachton.

Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden. The Zohar explains that there are, in general, two levels of Gan Eden -- Gan Eden HaElyon (the higher Garden of Eden) and Gan Eden haTachton (the lower Garden of Eden). The aspect of G‑dliness revealed in Gan Eden haTachton is from the supernal middot, whereas the aspect of G‑dliness revealed in Gan Eden HaElyon is from the supernal mochin, a far greater illumination. Furthermore, the souls in Gan Eden haTachton experience the revelation of G‑dliness as the emotional revelation of consummate love and awe. In contrast, the souls in Gan Eden HaElyon experience the revelation of G‑dliness as a profound and inspirational insight into Divine Truth.

Gevura, literally "strength" or "severity" -- restrictive power. In the arrangement of sefirot in three columns gevura is situated in the middle of the left column, directly beneath bina, and corresponds to the left arm and the second day of the week. Sometimes it is referred to as din. It is the power to limit and conceal the Infinite Light so that each creature can receive according to its capacity. Thus, although gevura is generally understood as severity or restrictive power, it is also an aspect of G‑d's 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. Gevura is associated in the soul with the power to restrain one's innate urge to bestow goodness upon others, when the recipient of that good is judged to be unworthy and liable to misuse it. The restraining quality of gevura also allows one to overcome his adversaries, be they external or internal (his evil inclination).

Hashgacha Pratit, individual divine providence. According to Maimonides, hashgacha pratit applies only to humans, per se, while the rest of Creation is governed by hashgacha klalit -- collective divine providence that governs the species but not individual members. However, Kabbalistic and Chassidic texts maintain that hashgacha pratit applies to each and every creature, albeit in a concealed fashion, so that only hashgacha klalit is revealed. Four components of hashgacha pratit are identified: 1) Each and every movement and event of each and every creature, not only humans, is governed by hashgacha pratit; 2) Each and every entity in Creation has a purpose and part in the divine plan for all of Creation; 3) The relative position of each created being (excluding Jews) in the hierarchy of being (see Seder Hishtalshelut) is according to the quality and quantity of its contribution towards the fulfillment of the divine plan; 4) The Jewish people are all chosen equally by G‑d, and are therefore equally obligated to fulfill their divine purpose, despite the external differences between them.

Hishtalshelut HaKetarim, the interlinking of one keter (pl. ketarim) with another in a series of interlinked gradations from keter of the higher world to the keter of lower worlds. The keter of each of world has a greater affinity to the keterim of the other worlds (above or below it) than it has to the other sefirot of its own world. Furthermore, the descent of the ketarim from one another does not follow the same pattern of cause and effect characterizing the way other sefirot are produced by the sefira/sefirot preceding them. In the latter relationship, the effect is at best merely a radiance that unfolds from within its cause, whereas the ketarim, in whichever world they may be, are all of the same essential nature.

Ibur, Yenika, Gadlut (or Mochin), literally "embryonic, infant, adult (or intellectually mature)" stages of development. These are also three stages of spiritual development, paralleling the three stages of physical development. An embryo's nourishment is through its mother. A nursing infant still receives his nourishment from his mother but does so through his own active involvement. It is only at a considerably later stage that the child becomes an adult and attains maturity. The soul undergoes a similar three-stage process of developing awareness of G‑dliness. In the embryonic stage of development the soul has minimal awareness of G‑dliness and its focus is on action -- accepting the yoke of Heaven to fulfill the mitzvot. In the nursing stage, its awareness of G‑dliness is beginning to develop but centers primarily around emotional development. In adulthood, the soul achieves mature knowledge of G‑dliness.

Illa v'Alul, (Aramaic)"Cause and effect." The relationship between illa (cause) and alul (effect) is such that the alul is contained within the illa -- albeit in an undefined state -- even before the alul emerges into being. The illa produces the alul; it does not create it. Thus, the alul's emergence is not a creation of a new being, since it is merely a revelation from within the illa where it was "hidden," i.e., undefined.

Imma, literally "mother",the partzuf of bina. There are two levels in this partzuf -- bina and tevuna. Bina is the mochin or intellectual faculties of the partzuf; tevuna comprises the six middot (emotional aspects) of the partzuf. See partzuf, bina.

Kabbala, the esoteric wisdom of the Torah handed down from Moses to Joshua, and down on through the generations. Often divided into Kabbala Iyunit (contemplative or analytical Kabbala) and Kabbala Maasit (practical Kabbala). Some of the great luminaries of the Kabbala were Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a second century Tannaitic sage who wrote the Zohar; Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (c. 1522-1570) author of Pardes Rimonim; Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572) whose teachings, known as the Kitvei Arizal, were recorded by his disciple Rabbi Chaim Vital (1543-1620); Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of Chasidism.

Kav, the thin ray of light beamed from the Infinite Light into the vacated space (chalal) created by the tzimtzum. As the kav entered the chalal it circled around the inner perimeter of the chalal, forming a single all-encompassing circle (igul). The kav then circled around the inner perimeter of the first circle forming another circle within it. This process was continued until ten concentric sefirot were formed, called the igulim of Adam Kadmon. Simultaneously the kav shined into the chalal in a straight line from the roof of the chalal (the roof of the chalal being the part of the chalal that was first pierced by the kav) almost all the way through to its floor, forming the sefirot of yosher. The concepts of higher (closer to the head of the kav) and lower (closer to the end of the kav) are thus introduced. The kav has two primary functions: 1) the external aspect of the kav measures the degree of illumination appropriate for each sefira in every world, and is thus the source of light of the sefirot; 2) the inner aspect of the kav, called the chut, unifies and harmonizes the sefirot. In the future, by virtue of the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvot, the end of the kav will reach the floor of the chalal and the revelation at the foot of the kav will be as great as the revelation at its head. The kav and the reshimu work in conjunction as light (kav) and vessel (reshimu).

Kelipa pl. kelipot, literally "shell", "husk" or "bark". Within it, the kelipa conceals a spark of holiness, which is the vital force of the kelipa, analogous to a fruit surrounded by a shell or peel. In order to release the holy spark, the encumbering shell must be removed. The Zohar designatesenumerates four types of kelipot, three of which are entirely evil. The fourth, kelipat noga, is the shell that actually envelops the spark of holiness and is not altogether evil.

Keter, literally "crown," the first and highest sefira. In the arrangement of sefirot in three columns, keter is situated at the top of the middle column and corresponds to the skull that encloses the brain. Keter is the intermediate category between the Infinite Light and the sefirot. In each of the worlds, it is the source of the other sefirot. Keter is so sublime that the Zohar (III, 256b) refers to it as Temira d'kol Temirin -- the most hidden of all. For this reason, keter is sometimes excluded from the scheme of sefirot (daat is then counted instead). Since it is their source, it is in a category of its own.

The word "keter" is derived from two sources: 1) from ketar, "wait" -- indicating that one must wait for keter to become manifest before it can be comprehended; and 2) from keter, "crown", indicating its preeminent position, transcending even the head. It implies "surrounding" or "enveloping," as it envelops the entire world of which it is the keter, crown. Although, in general, keter comprises two primary aspects (partzufim) -- the inner aspect of keter, called Atik or Atik Yomin, and the outer aspect, called Arich Anpin, there is also a third aspect of keter -- Radla, which hovers above the very highest level of Atik. See respective entries. See also Hishtalshelut HaKetarim.