Just as a rose has in it thirteen petals, so too Knesset Yisrael has within her thirteen paths of mercy which surround her from all her sides. (Zohar I, Intro. pg 1)

"Thirteen paths of mercy…": This refers to that mentioned in Exodus 34:6,7. The Talmud calls them "thirteen qualities". This is because on the simple level they are thirteen nuances of how G‑d is patient and merciful to those who sin. The divine protective mechanism that shields malchut is the shining of the great light of these thirteen paths…

The Zohar calls them "thirteen paths" in order to bring out a deeper truth of how they function. As the Zohar teaches elsewhere, these paths are rooted in keter, which is the highest of the sefirot. This level contains the greatest amount of light and mercy. There are thirteen pathways through which keter transmits this light and mercy to the sefirot below.

Malchut, being the lowest of the sefirot, is the closest to the kelipot, and therefore most vulnerable to their attack. The workings of this battle will be explained later. The point here is that part of the divine protective mechanism that shields malchut is the shining of the great light of these thirteen paths down to her.

"…which surround her from all her sides": The Arizal reveals a great Kabbalistic principle that each of the ten sefirot include within itself all of the other ten. With this secret revealed, we may now explain our passage. The six Cartesian coordinates correspond to the six days of the week…

The world was created in seven days. The physical world is described by the six Cartesian coordinates projecting from a central point. These correspond to the six days of the week and the Shabbat. This reality of space-time comes from the seven lower sefirot. In truth the upper three sefirot were also used in the formation of the world, as the Rabbis teach: "With ten utterances the world was created". (Avot 5:1) The Ten Utterances are rooted in the ten sefirot. The upper three sefirot are, however, too aloof to be revealed in terms of time and space. This is why we only have a seven day week and a world of six directions emanating from a central point.

With this insight of the ten within the ten, we can now begin to understand what the Zohar means when it mentions the sides of a sefira. This reference connotes the lower seven sefirot of that sefira (in this case malchut.)

The fact that the lower seven are revealed is what leaves them open to attack. Hence, they require that they be protected by the Thirteen Paths of Mercy.

[This series became the basis for the recently compiled "Zohar - translation and commentary" by Peretz Auerbach. Part One has just become available as an e-book.]