pardes.jpgI was always curious to what exactly this painting means until I found the right answer. Here it is:

This painting is based on a drawing by the holy Kabbalist Rav Moshe Cordovero, in his holy work Pardes Rimonim / Pomagranite Orchard. The Kabbalah discusses 10 states of consciousness through which we experience reality, called the Tree-of-Life or 10 Sefirot. This painting contains the 1st letters of each of the 10 sefirot of the Tree-of-Life, painted within each other. The 10 Sefirot and one way of translating their meaning is:











[ Today, the sefira of PACHAD is more commonly known as GEVURAH, and the sefira of TZADEEK is more commonly known as YESOD. ]
Although the sefirot themselves are spiritual concepts which do not have form or color, there are colors associated with the sefirot, since everything in our physical reality has spiritual roots in the Tree-of-Life. There are many different colors associated with each of the sefirot, with each color association describing another aspect of each sefira. There is a chapter in Pardes Rimonim that discusses the different color associations with the sefirot. The colors in this painting correspond to one of the various color associations with the sefirot.

Source: http://www.kabbalah-source.com/

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  1. Thank you for sharing, very intersting imformation, it would be very interesring to have more information, and explanations on kabbalaistic Middot, and their combinations, and right, left and middle line of each quality to know which is the right and which is the false way of using them in genneral, and even in some specific situations. such as for ex. when and how and to whom we should or shouldn’t tell our oppinion, in which form, and if at all, to understand this qualities as being the leading ones in spiritual worlds, and the methods of their correction.

  2. Very good explanation of each and every Seffira and their interconection, as well their devision on HaBa’D, HaGaT, NeHY”M are given in course by Rav Shimon Leiberman “What is kabalah” starting from the third chapter (there are 24 of them) the Rav gives an absolutly clear and fine explanation of the Seffirot, their role and their chalenge, must read for those who look for the better understanding of the Kabbalah in general and their occupation with ten seffirot in particular.

    The course ” What is Kabbalah” by Rav Shimon Leiberman is avalible on aish.com and may be sent to your e/gmails for freee too.

  3. “The connection of the person to Seffirot” is a very good article from Shammati( written by Rabash while studing with Baal HaSulam), which may show us why we should learn kabbalah and all the Seffirot and all the Worlds and all the Lights, because it says that “Before the sin of the First Man his body ( wish to get) was from Binna of Malkhut deMalkhut of Assy’a world, and the First Man had NaRa”N( neffesh, ru’akh, neshamma) from the Bri’a and Atzilut levels.

    After the sin his body( level of the wish to get) fell down to the Klippa of the Bkhinna Dalet ( the evil system on its lowest level) and is called the “dust of this world”( while before the sin it was on the level of the Binna of Malkhut deMalkhut of Assy’a world).

    So if somebody is intrested what to do and how to correct the situation, because it concerns each and every of us personnaly, one is welcome to read the whole article “Kesher haAdam elSeffirot” from Yod-Bet=12( date) DeAdar (mounth) Tav-Shin-Gimel( year)

  4. yehudith says:

    Kabbala is the Torah’s expression of the way the world works. Removed from its source, it’s a whole lot of rubbish. (First in a series.)

    What is kabbalah?
    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    Most people have heard something or other about Kabbalah. But it is highly unlikely that what is going around in the general marketplace posing as Kabbalah is anywhere close to the real thing.

    What most people have been exposed to is a smorgasbord of pop psychology and self-help that pretends to have some connection to Jewish mysticism, but it rarely, if ever, does.

    It is easy to see how people are fooled. In most disciplines, you expect to know and understand something after studying it. But when it comes to mysticism, people expect to be mystified. So they are willing to accept incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo. Kabbalah is supposed to be mysterious and enigmatic. It’s mysticism after all!

    So much nonsense is presented in the name of Kabbalah, it is important to have some sort of forum where people can find the basic understandings that they crave.

    In this series, we will attempt to present the central ideas of Jewish mysticism in a methodical and intelligent manner, minimizing abstruse terminology and shying away from a sense of the incomprehensible.


    In order to understand what Kabbalah is and what it isn’t, let us use the following illustration.

    A researcher sits in his lab examining all sorts of atomic phenomena. He smashes atoms at great speeds, and records what he sees happening. He is very meticulous in his work, and may even draw some immediate conclusions from the data at hand. But he leaves it at that.

    The kabbalist describes the abstract but we can still sense that there is a concrete and solid reality that he is grappling with.

    A great scientist picks up these notes, reads them and ponders their meaning. He begins to construct a mega-picture. He tries to envision what the entire system may be like. He knows that there are no instruments, nor can there be, to actually see the particles he imagines, and therefore he gropes for metaphors that will accurately connect the bits of data that the physicist collected. Thus, he begins to speak of “super strings,” “atomic tunnels,” “energy bridges,” and “ten dimensions.”

    A third person, who has a highly fertile mind but with no sense of science, is eavesdropping. His imagination has been fired and, in no time at all, he is carrying forth about people that have mysteriously disappeared in “atomic tunnels,” and unlimited sources of energy contained in various of the “ten dimensions.”

    These three people illustrate the different approaches to Kabbalah.

    The “data” or facts that Kabbalah deals with are the narrative of the Torah, and its entire body of religious law. The “researcher” represents a person who sees the laws and narrative as they are, understands their immediate meaning, but does not get the larger picture.

    The “great scientist” represents the Kabbalist who sees the various local points and then begins to get a feel for the greater picture. He needs metaphors to describe the abstract unity he perceives, and he is aware that this tool is likely to be vague and only approaching the understanding that he has acquired. Although limited by the tools at his disposal, the complex picture the great scientist communicates can still give us a sense of the reality that he is grappling with.

    And then there is the pseudo-Kabbalist — “the eavesdropper” — whose Kabbalah is basically unrelated to Torah, except perhaps as a springboard for his imagination. He has discovered “sources of energies,” “divine emanations,” and ways to “expand consciousness,” but it all stems from his fanciful illusions.


    Kabbalah is to Torah what philosophy is to science.

    Click here to receive Aish.com’s free weekly email.

    Like science, the Torah gives us the facts that are fully perceived sensually and rationally quantifiable.

    Like philosophy, Kabbalah gives us the grander abstract picture that the facts present.

    The upcoming segments of this series will be exploring some of the fundamentals of Kabbalah.

  5. yehudith says:

    How can we get a glimpse of God? Kabbala reveals how the Infinite interacts with humanity.

    Perceiving the Infinite
    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    The Kabbalah is about understanding God.

    This brings us to a major paradox, because how can we — who are finite, understand God, who is Infinite.

    The Kabbalah describes God as Ein Sof, which in Hebrew means “without end.”

    Colloquially, of course, we are accustomed to use “infinite” whenever we refer to something “very, very big” or “uncountable.” But its real definition is “without borders” or “without parameters.”

    Just as when we physically grab something, we need edges/borders to hold onto, so too when we mentally grasp a concept, we need to perceive the boundaries of the idea as points of reference. Thus, when we define something we give it parameters, and thereby we are able to comprehend it.

    A picture’s clarity depends on the sharpness of contrast of its boundaries. When I wish to describe a person, I point out the distinctions between him and others. If I say, “he is tall”, I really mean to say “he is taller than most others.”

    God is termed Bal Tachlis — He is not bound in any way.

    This doesn’t just mean that His powers are not limited in any way, but, more deeply, that we cannot contrast God with any experience known to humanity.

    Describing the Indescribable

    When a child asks to describe honey, we can point to the sweetness of sugar, the color of brown toast, and the texture of syrup, and tell him to imagine all three together.

    But when a child asks for an explanation of the politics of workplace relationships, we have a difficult time finding an illustration, because emotional interactions have no real parallel in a child’s universe.

    The same is true of God’s essence. No amount of comparison, illustration, or metaphor will bring His reality closer to our understanding. He is simply Ein Sof — indefinable, period.

    So what are we studying in Kabbalah?

    Is the mind a useless tool when it comes to contact with God?

    Are we adopting the view that the mind is a useless tool when it comes to contact with God? Or that communion with God is but a transcendental, emotional state of self-negation and acceptance?

    No. It cannot be that the human mind — our most important and God-like organ — has no purpose in our attempt to communicate with our Creator.

    The Realm of Understanding

    The answer is that while God Himself is Ein Sof, He has created a place of interaction between Himself and humanity that is, for our sakes, bounded and defined. This place is called hanhaga — and this is the realm within which we can make use of our understanding and knowledge.

    But is this realm meaningless in the absolute sense? Has it been created just for the sake of keeping our minds occupied, since we can’t ever grasp the real thing?

    Let us contrast two illustrations that will highlight our question and hopefully, provide an answer.

    An adult is visiting the home of his friend, who has asked him to baby-sit. The adult has little in common with the child, yet must busy him somehow (let’s say the television is broken.) He devises a game of marbles, and sits with the child and plays.

    In doing so the adult has completely left the adult world and has entered the child’s world. Years later when the child will remember this incident, he might feel this as an example of the adult’s kindness. But nothing in the game itself is a reflection of the adult’s values.

    Now let us consider a second illustration. An adult sets up a school for children, where he will teach them dignity, responsibility and justice. But those are abstract concepts, meaningless to a child. Therefore, he makes a rule that white shirts and ties be worn at all times, that a certain amount of homework be the duty of the child to prepare, and that studying or the lack of, will be noted and publicized.

    In the child’s mind these are concrete rules, and physical realities that the child can relate to. Yet underpinning the rules are abstract principles that the child is meant to learn. When the child grows up, he will perceive the inner values represented in these rules.

    Commandments are finite and graspable. Yet their “soul,” so to speak, is Divine.

    This is what is at work in Divine hanhaga — which, of course, is contained in the rules and laws of the Torah.

    To us the commandments of the Torah are rules and dictates. Being concrete and finite they are graspable. Yet their “soul,” so to speak, is Divine.

    Studying, obeying and understanding that hanhaga allows us to gradually develop some sense of the Divine will.

    This is the subject matter of Kabbalah.

    The Kabbalah seeks to understand the Divine hanhaga, as opposed to understanding God Himself. Yet in reaching a deeper understanding of hanhaga, we get a glimpse of God Himself.

  6. yehudith says:

    A Kabbalistic concept explaining the multiplicity of God’s manifestations in the world helps us see how God is truly One.

    The Ten Sefirot
    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    The building blocks of Kabbalistic terminology are the Ten Sefirot. These are the ten emanations or “lights” through which God interacts with, and relates to, His world.

    When Kabbalah looks at various events that have transpired in the world, or various Divine commandments in the Torah, it classifies and describes them in terms of these various modes of interaction.

    Before we describe these Ten Sefirot and their use, we must deal with a fundamental problem.


    Judaism has placed at its masthead the principle of the Oneness of God.

    A Jew proclaims twice a day, “Hear, O Israel, God is our Lord, God is One.”

    When we speak of the martyrs who sacrificed their lives on behalf of the Almighty — especially those who were being forced to convert to Christianity — we speak of people who were martyred on behalf of God’s unity.

    How do we now dilute the belief in the Oneness of God with the idea of “Ten Emanations” of God?

    How do we now dilute this most important of beliefs with the idea of “Ten Emanations” that seems to imply God is more than one?

    This question was posed to the Rivash (14th century): “Do you Kabbalists not also believe in many Gods, as you postulate the Ten Sefirot?” We will paraphrase his reply.

    God’s unity vis-a-vis the Ten Sefirot may be likened to a ray of sun passing through a prism. On one side, we have a single ray of light, while, on the other side, we perceive a radiation of seven colors. The person sitting on the other side perceives this as if it were many lamps radiating many hues, while in reality it is one lamp. The multi-hued rainbow is a “distortion” created by the prism that the light passed through.

    Let us be a little more specific in this illustration of “Ten” versus “One” as regards Divine interaction with the world.

    Imagine a child who hugs his mother, beats up his brother and cheats on a test. For the layman each one of these behaviors is a separate event, which has its own rationale and dynamic. However, the professional psychologist looks at all these events and after analyzing them states, “These are all symptoms of one underlying problem. The child desires his mother’s love and attention. He therefore hugs her, hits his younger brother who is stealing away so much of her attention, and cheats on his test so that he will be showered with her love and attention for having done well.” Thus a whole slew of events — some of them entirely contradictory — takes on a unified meaning.


    This is true of our understanding of God’s interaction with mankind. We perceive such a wide variety of events, so overwhelmingly diffuse and so oddly contradictory.

    There is the God Who breathes a breath of life into a newborn baby’s mouth, and extracts the last labored breath of a dying man. There is the God Who has wrought the Holocaust, and the God Who has preserved a tiny, fragile Jewish nation for over three millennium. There is the God Who gives some people beautiful bodies, and the God Who seemingly condemns the congenitally defective to a lifetime of suffering.

    From our side of the prism, each and every one of these events is disparate.

    From our side of the prism, each and every one of these events is disparate. Yet we recognize them as being the work of One God, with one purpose, with unified plan of action for the world.

    Thus the Ten Sefirot are the various ways we perceive God through His action within the world, while we firmly believe in the Unity of God.

    The following is a literal translation of these ten modes. It is advised that not much be read into these terms, since most of them are highly metaphorical and their content bears little resemblance to their literal terms. We will explore their meaning in upcoming articles.

    The Ten Sefirot are:

    Keter – crown,
    Chochmah – wisdom,
    Binah – understanding,
    Chessed – kindness,
    Gevura – strength,
    Tiferet – beauty,
    Netzach – victory,
    Hod – awe,
    Yesod – foundation,
    Malchut – monarchy.
    Sometimes the Sefirot are listed without Keter, and then Da’at -wisdom, is included between Bina and Chesed.

  7. yehudith says:

    Ten Sefirot are not “ten” by chance — their number helps us understand the design of the entire world.

    Why 10?
    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    The Sefirot are our human perceptions of God’s various interactions with the world, as discussed in “The Ten Sefirot.”

    What is the significance of the number “ten”?

    In the Kabbalistic metaphor, numbers are not merely arithmetic notations. Numbers have a personality and are qualitatively meaningful. This idea is not so abstruse, for we live with it colloquially as well. We say that something happened only “once,” that there are “two” sides to every story, that “three timed” offenders should be put away, that “dozens” came for an event, etc. etc.

    Therefore, if there are “ten” emanations or Ten Sefirot, there must be a representation behind that number.

    The number ten is significant because it is the arithmetic base.

    The number ten is significant because it is the arithmetic base. This is usually explained as a result of our having ten fingers, the natural extent of primitive men’s digits. But this explanation begs the question: If there is a purposeful creation, and every facet of human life and activity are pre-planned, then the “ten” fingers are also part of that plan. It means that God intended the number system to be “ten.” Why?

    And even if the number system is built on ten bases, why is that the amount of Sefirot?


    The Maharal, a 16th century mystic/philosopher offers an explanation. Although he really explains why God used “ten” utterances with which to create the world, the answer really fits the idea of Ten Sefirot, which are identical to the ten utterances.

    God could have created the world with either one utterance (“sefira” in Hebrew), a few utterances (or sefirot), or ten utterances. Let us analyze the different possibilities.

    If God had used one utterance, there is no way for us to analyze the world into component units.

    If God had used one utterance, it would mean that there is no way for us to analyze the world into component units. For instance, take an ingenious businessman who acts intuitively and succeeds in business brilliantly. If we ask him to explain why he bought a certain company and what he gains from it, he will just stutter and say, “It just felt right.” He really can’t explain it, for component terms such as “assets,” “cash flow,” and “infrastructure,” are not part of his thinking and terminology. Similarly, a world that is totally encompassed in one description leaves us uncomprehending.

    Let us then take a world created in two to nine commandments. This is a world with many component elements but no visible unifying underpinning. Thus, it may be compared to a person that does a lot of analytical investing but on an ad hoc basis; whenever opportunity presents itself he invests. We may understand particular moves of his but there is no overall picture to perceive.

    Since God is One, this would be a false perception. A type of presentation where we can perceive bits and pieces, but not the connection between them, is pointless.


    We then come to the third possibility which is “ten.” Ten consists of component pieces that may be seen as separate entities, and yet they add up to an entire group of “ten.” Or better said, ten is the “one” that consists of components.

    God created the world that allows itself to be analyzed in terms of components.

    Thus, when we speak of “Ten” Sefirot, we mean to say that God created the world — mankind, Torah, history and everything else — that allows itself to be analyzed in terms of components. Not only ten components, but each of these ten has ten components, and so on.

    On the other hand, no matter how many fractions we are capable of identifying, there is always a thread that allows us to understand how these various disparate elements converge to form the overriding unified picture, which is the “true” picture.

    Therefore, when we study how God acts through the Ten Sefirot, we are looking at each detail with a double perspective:
    a.the particular point which each act expresses and

    b.the unifying element which interlocks all of God’s activities into one seamless entity, as befits God Who is One.

  8. yehudith says:

    Prayer lifts us above a fragmented world, where we turn our focus to only One God, whose many attributes make up one cohesive union.

    Prayer, Study and the Ten Sefirot
    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    In previous articles we discussed the idea of Ten Sefirot – the ten attributes/manifestations of God – as being a cohesive union. We focused on the underlying unity of the One God and how the understanding of the Ten Sefirot differs from polytheism.

    What is a practical application of this distinction?

    An answer might be found in the Sifri, a primary form of the Oral Law:

    Who is a God as great as our God who answers us whenever we call/pray out to Him … To Him, but not to His attributes (Sefer Sifri Vaeschanan).

    Thus, we have an important restriction to the use of Sefirot. Although we may know about those Sefirot, and we may study how they function, still we may not pray to them.


    The answer lies in the distinction between prayer and study.


    Imagine a circle with a dot at its center. When one stands at the rim and looks towards the center, he is made aware of the fact that despite the multitude of points on the outer rim, they all focus at the center. But when one stands at the center facing outwards, he becomes aware of the opposite phenomena – that despite the center being one point it radiates out into many directions.

    In prayer, a person stands on the outer perimeter of the circle, touching diverse areas of life.

    Prayer may be likened to the first case. The person stands on the outer perimeter of the circle, touching diverse areas of life. He prays for wealth, health, wisdom, etc. He focuses towards the center – the Almighty – realizing that there is one source for all of life’s diverse needs. He is addressing the ultimate source – God.

    Study may be likened to the second case, where the person stands at the center facing the perimeter. Study is a process whereby we take God’s word, and break it into components, so that we can understand it and properly apply it. God’s word is one, but if we apply it to various situations it takes on the many hues and flavors of the particular applications.


    In order to understand God’s word, we had to dissect God’s deeds into ten components – the Ten Sefirot. In order to be properly applied, God’s singular will had to be diversified into 613 different applications, so that every aspect of human life could be illuminated by His lamp. Study may be understood in the verse in Psalms: “God spoke once, but we heard twice.”

    God’s singular will had to be diversified to illuminate every aspect of human life.

    But, when it comes to prayer, we proclaim daily as one of the fundamentals of faith: “I believe, with a full belief, that only to God Himself is it appropriate to pray” (Ani Maamin Proclamation). Our prayers must be directed to the all-encompassing Almighty, not to parts, pieces, manifestations, or messengers.

    The reason why in our study we see differentiation and plurality of the divine within our world is due to our fragmented, finite comprehension. But when we come to pray and we submit ourselves to God, we turn our attention away from the fragmentation and towards God as the absolute, all-encompassing root of creation.

    We become aware that at the center-point is One, and only One.

  9. yehudith says:

    God funnels His will through the primary Sefirot of intellect, creating a world where each event and interaction is part of a larger, comprehensible pattern.

    The Sefirot and the Devine Plan
    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    We are now ready to introduce the Ten Sefirot — the ten emanations of God.

    At their fundamental level, the Ten Sefirot are a step-by-step process illuminating the Divine plan as it unfolds itself in our world. Remember once again, that the Ten Sefirot are not there because God could not do it all in one quick step, but rather in order for us to be able to gain insight and understanding of His deeds.

    Let us divide the Ten Sefirot into groups that reflect this step-by-step process:

    The planning of the deed: Chochmah (wisdom), Binah, (understanding), and Daat (knowledge).

    The substance of the deed itself: Chesed (kindness), Gevurah (strength), and Tiferet (beauty).

    The practical implication of the deed: Netzach (victory), and Hod (awe).

    The enactment (or transfer) of the deed: Yesod (foundation).

    The enacted deed: Malchut (kingship).

    Let us take these groups individually, and get some feel for their significance.


    The first group consisting of Chochma, Binah and Daat, all relate to the realm of intellect. This is the group of “planning.”

    Just as a person’s plans and thoughts are never visible themselves, but only as manifested in one’s activities, so too are those very subtle Divine processes visible only within the context of the events that befall us. We extrapolate from the concrete realities around us, and we guess at the Divine wisdom that is the rationale behind these acts.

    We believe that laws of physics exist, yet, no one has seen the formula for gravity in midair.

    An experience parallel to this would be the way in which we look at the laws of physics. We believe that these laws “exist.” Yet, no one has “seen” the formula for, say gravity in midair. Rather, every item that falls in our world follows this pattern, and we understand this to be the inner mechanism of the visible world around us. So too, as regards the Divine attributes of intellect, we always discern them within the framework of concrete Divine acts, but never as independent entities.

    The fact that the first three of the Ten Sefirot can be grouped as relating to the intellect/planning has a tremendous ramification in our approach to grappling with God’s deeds and activities in this world. It means that God’s actions and deeds start with a platform of reason, and therefore we can never reduce Divine activity to mere fiat of diktat.

    When a person acts straight out of whim, without reason, there is no way to impose an order or structure onto his activities. Each deed is a particular whim, perhaps only vaguely connected to the other deeds. But if a person is purposeful in his thinking and planning, then an integrated pattern can be discerned in what he does.

    So too with God.

    Because God chooses to act through the primary Sefirot of intellect/planning, we can understand each event and interaction as part of a larger, comprehensible pattern, as opposed to a series of isolated events.

    Since all of God’s will funnels through a system of “Divine intellect,” all of it can be explored intellectually at some level, and can be seen as integrated with His other activities, past and future.


    We can discern the imprint of “Divine intellect” in the patterns that form the natural world, history and the laws of the Torah.

    Let us see some of the manifestations of this:

    a. The natural world.

    It is clearly a very rigidly ordered place. There are consistent laws that rule this world. These laws are integrated with each other and form a clear pattern. The further advanced we get, the more we see that the laws of nature are like a tree with one root, branching out into many different categories of phenomena.

    b. God’s guidance of history.

    As events happened they seem like a list of haphazard crisis and coincidences. But as we got a broader and longer perspective of history –- especially the history of Israel and its interactions with other nations — we can pick out a unifying thread of Divine providence.

    c. The laws of the Torah.

    To a novice the laws of the Torah seem like a collection of odd prohibitions and proscriptions. But once we posit that all of these laws are not merely Divine dictates, but were first funneled through a common system of intellect/planning, then they must be seen as a unified system. To a large degree, Kabbalah tries to show the root system behind these laws.

  10. yehudith says:

    Out of the Ten Sefirot, chochmah, wisdom is the trait which allows creating something out of nothing, for it truly comes from “nowhere.”

    Chochma: Inspired Intellect
    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    Let us now take a closer look at those of the Ten Sefirot that relate to the intellect.

    Chochmah, “wisdom,” is the “input” into the mind. It is the information we have been taught, or more so, the flash of inspiration — when an idea pops into our head. The Tanya –- a Chassidic/Kabbalistic work describes chochmah as consisting of two Hebrew words: koach mah, meaning “potential.” For chochmah is pure potential. It is an idea waiting to be developed.

    Besides unlimited potential, chochmah has one other important characteristic — it comes from “nowhere.” Let us explain this.

    The verse (in Job 28:12) states: V’chochmah me’ayin timatze?

    The word me’ayin can be properly translated as “from where” or “nowhere.”

    One way to translate this verse is as a rhetorical question: “And wisdom from where can it be found.” Meaning, that wisdom is hard to come by. But the Kabbalists read this verse: “And wisdom is nowhere found.” This is because the word me’ayin can be properly translated as “from where” or “nowhere.”

    This means that it is not possible to intellectually inquire above the level of chochmah. God’s activities may be researched, inquired, thought about and analyzed up to a certain point. Past this point intellectual understanding is impossible because higher aspects of God’s providence simply do not come through intellectual channels.


    Let us illustrate this point:

    A rough draft of a play or essay is handed in editing. The editor is a professor who explains to his students editing process and how it is done. He explains that sentences and phrases constructed in a certain way convey a desired meaning, that a specific choice of words paints a certain picture and so on.

    Editing is a logical technique that may be taught and explained to others. But then the author walks in and the students ask him, “How does one think of creative ideas?” Struggle as he might, the author is at a loss for an explanation. He may suggest different stimuli that evoked thought patterns and ideas, but there is no way that “creativity” can be explained in terms of logical processing. For the logical processing starts after the idea has come into being.

    There is no way that “creativity” can be explained in terms of logical processing.

    We are colloquially on mark when we refer to such thinking as “creative thought,” in the sense that creation is an ex-nihilo process. It comes from “nowhere.”

    There is an early text known as “Targum Yonatan ben Uziel.” (It is printed in many Hebrew editions of the Bible.) The author interprets the words “in the beginning God created the world” as “with chochmah God created the world” — he interprets “beginning” as meaning chochmah. For chochmah is a beginning process.

    Chochmah does not follow anything. It is that distinct moment of inspiration which comes out of “nowhere,” and only then does it become logically fleshed out into full understanding and action (as we shall see when we examine subsequent Sefirot.)

  11. yehudith says:

    The second of the Ten Sefirot — binah – is the womb where raw understanding is developed and processed.

    Binah-Processing Wisdom
    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    In the last installment in this series, we have discussed chochmah or “inspired wisdom.” We now come to the second of the Ten Sefirot, which is binah or “processed wisdom,” also known as deductive reasoning.

    We have a definition of binah in our non-mystical Midrashic literature which defines binah in the same way that Kabbalah defines it, and that is davar mitoch davar –- understanding one idea from another idea.

    A person has an idea — generated by chochmah — and left the way it is, the idea is not really useful; it is raw. But then one begins to analyze it. What exactly are the parameters of the idea? What axioms is it based on? What are all the ramifications of this idea, and are they internally consistent? What are its applications?

    In Kabbalistic literature the metaphor of a “father” and a “mother” is used to describe this relationship of raw idea to processed idea.

    Just like a father sows a seed, so chochmah is a mere seed, an undeveloped code for potential.

    Just like a father sows a seed, so chochmah is a mere seed. The father’s seed is infinitesimally small, containing an undeveloped code that is mere potential.

    It is in the mother’s womb that it begins to develop. Every line of DNA code begins to become a human cell, a budding tissue, or a specific organ. Here is the ability to develop the germ of a human.

    This relationship is also expressed in Talmudic literature:

    The man brings home wheat and wool from the fields. Can a man eat wheat? Can he wear wool? The woman then takes this wheat and makes flour, then dough, and then bread. She takes the wool, spins it, weaves it, and sews it.

    Thus we see that the woman develops the potential in every item. (Without stereotyping perhaps this explains the special talent in education that mothers possess, for they are capable of seeing potential in children, long after their father has given up on them.)

    One more point about the metaphor of a father and mother. The original man — Adam — was created from “nothing.” He started out as lump of clay into which was instilled the Divine breath. Thus the essence of the man is that he comes from “nowhere” much the same as chochmah does.

    Eve, however, was taken from Adam. Her very existence demonstrated that she was a davar mitoch davar, an entity coming from something.

    Adam seemed to be but one person, but it was then revealed that out of this person, another person could be carved out. Or put more correctly — within this Adam there was latent an entire person, waiting to emerge.

    The Bible then explains that this is the reason that a woman is called ishah for she was taken from man, ish.


    Let us find the contrast between chochmah and binah in a very different area: the study of Torah.

    The Talmud states that Torah was given to Moses to give to Israel. At that time Moses also received the art of pilpul, which translates roughly as the process of logically extrapolating new Torah laws from the existing body of law. Moses was not required to hand this skill to Israel, but out of his “good heartedness” he did so. Indeed, the skill became very useful because when Moses died, Israel forgot many laws, and these were restored through the pilpul process.

    This teaching of the Talmud is actually a description of the role of both chochmah and binah in the study of Torah.

    Torah is certainly an example of chochmah. It is an outside injection of God’s wisdom into the world. Its validity is not because we understand it, but rather because G-d said it is so.

    Torah simultaneously has an internal binah, which translates as logical extrapolation.

    Yet Torah simultaneously has an internal binah. Given the basics one can use logical extrapolation and rebuild the rest of it. Even the mode with which pilpul was given to us reminds us so much of binah. Torah per se was given from God, but binah (i.e. pilpul) was passed onto us from the person who already had it! Much the same as the woman was created from the man who already was there!

    Indeed for an outsider visiting a yeshiva, the method of study seems strange. On the one hand the students display a tremendous reverence for the Torah as being God’s word. On the other hand, every point is meticulously debated with the keenest logical analysis possible. This is because Torah does indeed contain both components: chochmah bestowed from God and human binah developing it.

    Let us sum up. Chochmah is intellect that does not emanate from the rational process. It is either inspired or taught. Binah is the rational process that is innate in the person, and works to develop an idea fully.

  12. yehudith says:

    The third of the Ten Sefirot — daat — allows flashes of inspiration, once processed, to be brought to fruition.

    Daat-The Bridge Between Idea and Reality
    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    We are now ready to understand the third of the Ten Sefirot dealing with the intellect — daat, “knowledge.”

    After we have the germ of the idea (chochmah) and have developed it fully (binah), what else is left?

    Let us think back to the Ten Sefirot. We explained that the sefirot are a process that is the unfolding of God’s deeds in this world. Therefore the sefirot can to be pictured as an arrow with the actual deed being the final result. Daat is the tool of the intellect that get us into action mode.

    Daat is the tool of the intellect that get us into action mode.

    Let us illustrate. A person arrives at a university campus and speaks about an idea that has just occurred to him — communism. (We are making believe here for the sake of the example). For Tom, a student who is listening, this idea is a flash of inspiration, a hereto unthought of concept — a world where people work for each other and share instead of compete. This is the chochmah stage.

    Tom debates and discussed the idea. Is it fair? Can it work? What are the details of such a society? This is binah.

    Let us say that, he is both taken by the idea and convinced of its logic. Can one ask him, then and there, to become a revolutionary and martyr for the “cause”? No. When pressed for a reason, he will say, “Well, it’s just an idea.”

    As time passes and more and more people are convinced of communism, publications sprout up and it becomes somewhat established, Tom will be ready to joint he movement. What changed? Did he gain more knowledge of insight?

    No. What changed was that the idea became a concrete reality in his mind, instead of an abstract concept. This is daat.


    Without daat, no matter how profound the idea, no matter how well developed it is logically, it will not turn to action. Daat bridges the awesome gap between concepts and reality.

    Let us turn to the first usage of daat in the Torah to demonstrate this. The Torah tells us that Adam “knew” as a way of referring to sexual intimacy. But this is not meant as a mere euphemism. Rather, it accurately portrays that relationship. For marriage is a process where two people become acquainted with each other. As they grow closer together intellectually and emotionally they are becoming bonded, but their relationship is still not “concrete.” When the bonding becomes a physical act, it is rightfully called daat.

    Daat is used to describe a person whose knowledge of God is at the highest, bonding him firmly to the Divine.

    Now we can understand better why the term daat is used to describe a person whose knowledge of God is at the highest, bonding him firmly to the Divine. The term connotes a relationship with the Almighty that is as real as a piece of matter that can be actually held in hand.

    This is why daat is used to describe a prophet’s connection to the Divine. A prophet is referred to “haskel vayodea Oti” –- as one who “perceives and knows Me.”

    In summary, we have explored the first three of the Ten Sefirot, which we have described as the three sefirot of the intellect:
    •Chochmah is the spark of an idea, the initial form of raw data. The Kabbalah compares chochmah with a father who sows a seed that contains undeveloped code full of potential.
    •Binah processes and develops a concept, as a mother who nurtures and forms.
    •Daat is the concrete and solid result – the child. As long as he was a fetus, he was not part of the real world. Daat, then, is the bridge to the real world.

  13. yehudith says:

    The fourth of the Ten Sefirot — chesed — precedes all others because it is the only one that is unconditional and unmotivated.

    Chesed-the World is Built on Kindness
    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    In the earlier parts to these series, we have explored the meaning of the first three of the Ten Sefirot, which we described as the attributes of the “intellect.” We are now ready to explore the attributes of “action.” The first of these is chesed, which is translated as “kindness.”

    Kindness is often thought of as being synonymous with niceness, but the connotation of chesed is much deeper than this. Chesed is properly described as an act that has no “cause.”

    When a person works for an employer, and then he gets paid, that pay is really a recycling of his own deed. Thus, the energy a stevedore expends in unloading boxes from a ship is recycled to him in the form of the money which he uses to buy bread. A chesed act, however, is an act which is not recycled — for example, an anonymous gift to dedicate a scholarship fund.

    An act of chesed act is that which is not recycled back, like an anonymous gift to charity.

    Chesed is proactive –- it is the initiator of interaction, and must therefore be the first in the sefirot of action. Chesed deals with the level of visible, and in the chain of social dynamics is the primary spark that initiates subsequent action.

    Being first is no mere hierarchical ranking. Being first carries within itself a property that no other element in the universe possesses. Every action in the universe has a cause –- except that which is the the first one. Within the sphere of visible action, chesed is without cause, a proactive expression of expansiveness.

    The ultimate act of chesed is creation, an act that has no previous cause. The Psalms make this clear:

    “The world is built with chesed.” (Psalms 89:3)

    When we call creation an act of chesed, we are not only talking about creation ex nihilo, “out of nothing,” in the purely physical sense. Rather, we are also referring to the interaction between God and man.

    One may mistakenly think that once the world is already in place, its continuity depends on human merit. (We fulfill God’s commandments and therefore we are rewarded.) None of this can be possibly true about creation. It was a unilateral act. No one “deserved” to be. It was chesed in the ultimate sense.



    This point is a very fundamental cornerstone of our interaction with God. The person who does not thoroughly understand that the relationship with God is built on a foundation of chesed, engages in litigation with God arguing he had been somehow “short-changed.” Thus, all the dramatic debates that literature has produced concerning man calling God to task are built on the assumed argument that God “owes us something.”

    A worker may rightfully litigate his employer and tell him, “you are not giving me my due pay for the work done, for behold Mr. X is doing the same work and he is being paid double.” But an alms collector cannot logically make the same argument to a donor.

    If a young person dies, he cannot make the argument to God: “You wronged me, I did not deserve this.”

    Understanding that creation is an act of chesed removes the ability of man to litigate with God. Thus, if a young and righteous person dies, he cannot make the argument “You wronged me, I did not deserve to die.” No person ever merited his own existence; no one “deserved” to be born.

    God’s reply to Job’s litany of complaints was: “Who preceded me that I shall have to pay him?” (Job 41:3) God, in effect, told Job, “You may question, but you cannot debate.”

    The underlying foundation of all existence is a gift. I owe you nothing. (There is, however, a valid form of questioning God’s actions, which we will discuss in a later piece.)

    This aspect of chesed — that it is by definition ex nihilo — has an important ramification with regards to all the range of activity that the Torah deems chesed.

    While purity of motive is virtuous with regard to every mitzvah, it is intrinsic to chesed. As soon as there is a motivation “for something” — be it honor or a future payoff — it has ceased being absolute chesed. It is just another action in the long series of links in the cause and effect chain.



    Thus the act of burying a dead person is called chesed shel emes –- “true kindness.” For any act of chesed that is accorded to a person during his life is never “pure,” it carries within itself some of the complexities of human interaction. Maybe I owe him a favor and am uncomfortable in refusing him, or perhaps I like having him owe me one. While with regard to other mitzvot this would be a mere “blemish” on an otherwise fine deed, with regard to chesed, this corrupts its very essence. For chesed by definition is “something for nothing.”

    Any hint of a return corrupts the very essence of chesed.

    This understanding of chesed will also clarify for us the special status accorded to one’s parents and the fact that this is mentioned in the Ten Commandments.

    One usually understand this as gratitude for all the favors and good that one’s parents have bestowed on him. But what about the child who had a stormy relationship with his parents? Or what about the child that was given up at birth for adoption? According to Jewish law, the child must honor his biological parents as if they had been fully functional parents. Why?

    The answer is that parents have done the only true chesed with the child, — that is, giving him existence. Any other act of benefit to a child is an act within a previously existing framework, and is therefore of a much lower dimension. The gift of life the parents have given a child is a gift that cannot be compared to any other act of kindness toward him.

    This is the reason that we are told that the honor towards one’s parents is likened to respect towards God. For both have given the person his existence and this gift as such is worlds apart from favors, benefits, and other kindness bestowed on a person.

    Let us sum up. Chesed is the first step of action. It is true that it is preceded by “thought” but as far as “deed” is concerned it is the first step. It is not a reaction to any previous deed. It is an act parallel to creation, an act ex nihilo. Chesed is also the one of the Ten Sefirot that describes the beginning of any relationship of God to man.

  14. yehudith says:

    The fifth of the Ten Sefirot — gevurah — is the second sefira of action and one which brings strict justice into the world.

    Gevurah: The Strength of Judgment
    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    Gevurah or “strength” is usually understood as God’s mode of punishing the wicked and judging humanity in general. It is the foundation of stringency, absolute adherence to the letter of the law, and strict meting out of justice. All this contrasts with chesed or “kindness” (discussed in Chesed – The World Is Built On Kindness) which implies mercy and forgiveness.

    We thus speak of God’s primary modes of action as being the kindness and unaccountability of chesed, versus the stringency and strict accountability of gevurah. It is called “strength” because of the power and fury of God’s absolute judgment.

    Although the above colloquial interpretation is not wrong, the roots of gevurah are deeper than the mere sense of strictness and judgment.

    To gain the more basic sense of gevurah, let us return to the act of creation, which involved unbounded chesed. The rabbis teach us that:

    When God said, ‘Let there be a firmament,’ the world kept stretching and expanding, until God said, ‘Enough!’ and it came to a standstill. (Chagiga 12a)

    Chesed on its own is endless. However, the transactions that are “tit for tat,” or “measure for measure” are based on what one deserves and are clearly defined and limited. The second element limits the first element. If goods are sold for money, then the amount of money given defines and limits the amount of items sold.


    However, when something is given for nothing, then there are no necessary limits placed on what is given. True, when a human being acts in a chesed mode, he is limited by the resources he possesses, but God is infinite and therefore His chesed is boundless.

    When God proclaimed “Enough!” He was introducing a new concept, hitherto unknown to the world: The concept of “limits” or “boundaries” — the concept of “finite.”

    But what defines this boundary? It is not because of any limit in Divine resource and ability, for God has none. Rather, it is the limits of the recipient. God determined that the relationship would be “something for something.” If man had enough “purchasing power” he could gain commensurably; if not, he would do without.

    The entire system of reward and punishment is rooted in this attribute of gevurah.

    Thus the entire system of reward and punishment is rooted in this attribute of gevurah, and that is why it is often referred to as middas hadin — the attribute of “law” or “judgment.” From the point in creation when God proclaimed “Enough!” His beneficence has not been unbounded and infinite; it has been bartered and exchanged for man’s deeds.

    Isn’t this a letdown –- that God, Who has an infinite bounty to bestow, limits it to the begrudging pittance that man is capable of acquiring? Why would God limit His kindness?

    The answer is if God were to treat us only via the perspective of His infinite gifts, then we might have many gifts but our existence would cease to have any meaning. For whatever existed in the world would be due to His magnanimity. We could be here or not, the world would receive and continue to receive, regardless.

    But if the world possessed only that which we’ve earned on its behalf, then our existence would be meaningful.

    If only chesed existed, then our existence would be akin to a person who is institutionalized for life.

    For example, imagine a situation where a person in need of a livelihood is hired by a friend to work in a factory. He is put to work making widgets and is paid a reasonable wage. One day he comes to the factory late at night and sees a truck pick up all the widgets he produced and dump them into the garbage. He realizes that the “job” is really just charity and his work is meaningless.

    Do you think he could continue working?

    Let us expand this illustration. An infirm person is totally dependent on caregivers, and on financial providers. All of his needs are taken care of, yet he begins to shrivel up mentally and emotionally. He feels that as a person he does not exist. His existence is simply the largesse and goodness of other people. It is only when a person’s actions carry some import that he truly is aware of his own separate existence.

    A powerful paradox exists. On the one hand, we are in awe of this attribute of gevurah knowing how difficult it is to make it in this world, where every act is scrutinized and weighed, and where by the strength of our own deeds that we must survive. Yet it is the only way that we can survive! If only chesed existed, then our existence would be akin to a person who is institutionalized for life. Yes, he is not lacking shelter, clothing or food, but he exists not as a capable human being.


    The rabbis teach:

    At first God meant to create the world only with the attribute of justice … for the real existence of man is through justice.

    This statement might seem confusing as it implies that the world was meant to be created with the attribute of judgment. Did we not state in our previous lesson that Creation is perforce an act of chesed, that by definition the first act must be chesed?

    The answer is that we cannot confuse the act of creation with the modus vivendi of life within the creation.

    For instance, let us analyze parents raising a child, or a wealthy man deciding to bestow kindness upon a pauper. They both realize that the best way to help a person is by providing him with a means of independent sustenance. The parents proceed to give the child an excellent education and the wealthy man gives the pauper a job. In both these cases the initial act was chesed. It was not prompted by anything done before, and it is not a return for a previous favor or in anticipation of a future gain. But in both cases, once the initial chesed has only sparked the relationship into existence.

    It is in this sense that the rabbis taught us that creation was an act of chesed, but the ongoing interaction and basis for continued existence should have been based on strict justice although it was not. (We will see later how this was changed.)

    There is another point concerning gevurah that merits a point of discussion. The word gevurah literally means “power” and “strength.” It is at first glance taken to allude to the fury of God punishing the wicked etc., which to us appears as an act of mighty conquest.

    God need not “kill” someone; He simply refrains from giving him life.

    But this is a misleading metaphor. The primary mode of God’s punishment is a withholding of good that might have otherwise been bestowed upon man. God need not “kill” someone; He simply refrains from giving him life. He need not impoverish a nation; He simply stops giving rain. Gevurah is primarily an act of constraint and restraint.

    In what sense is this “power” and “strength” of gevurah displayed?

    The answer lies in a teaching of our rabbis concerning human character:

    Who is a strong person? He who sublimates his own passions. (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1)

    Our rabbis taught us two extraordinary points in this seemingly simple and pious saying.

    First of all, the strength to withstand an internal urge needs to be greater than the opposition to resist an outside force. Many a valiant soldier has succumbed to personal addiction!

    Secondly, constraining a basic urge requires more power than an occasional outburst of greatness. If offense is the best defense, it is because restraining an enemy is more difficult than overpowering him.

    Let us now take this analogy (with a grain of salt, of course) and compare it to God’s relationship with man.

    The primal force in the world is chesed. It is a manifestation of God’s desire to give man whatever possible. The second force, gevurah, restrains the first basic force of Divine Providence and bids Him not to give.

    Imagine a parent watching a toddler struggle to walk. As the toddler falls again and again, the parent must muster every ounce of strength not to extend a hand. This is gevurah at its most powerful.

  15. yehudith says:

    Chesed-kindness and gevurah-strength work in tandem, defining God’s interaction with the world as a right/left pull/push phenomenon.

    Chesed and Gevurah: The Two Sided Approach
    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    Before we proceed further to discuss more of the Ten Sefirot, it would be wise to spend more time on the interaction between chesed and gevurah.

    These two sefirot are probably the most widely used to describe God’s actions in the world.

    We could describe the sefirot we have previously discussed (chochmah-wisdom, binah-understanding and daat-knowledge) as “preparatory,” and the sefirot we will discuss later (netzach-victory, hod-awe, yesod-foundation and malchut-monarchy) as “tactical.” In this sense, chesed-kindness, gevurah-strength and tiferet-beauty are “central.”

    The interaction between these two sefirot is the first parallel (as opposed to linear) interaction in the system of sefirot. That is, chochmah cannot act simultaneously with binah. It is only after chochmah has come up with the initial idea, that binah can process it. And only after binah has processed the information, can it become daat.

    However, with chesed and gevurah it is different. On the one hand, it is still possible to imagine it as a continuum. For example, the foundation block of creation was chesed, whereas its continuation was gevurah, as we have described in the last installment of this series. On the other hand, chesed and gevurah may work simultaneously. Thus when a certain event occurs, we may analyze the chesed components and the gevurah components that are simultaneously a part of the event.

    The metaphor most commonly used to describe this phenomenon is right and left.

    The Ten Sefirot find their representation in body parts — chesed and gevurah are the hands.

    Different parts of the body can be used to represent different sefirot, a topic which we will discuss at greater length at a later time. Whereas the first three sefirot of intellect find their corresponding metaphor in the brain, the sefirot of chesed and gevurah find their representation in the hands. The reason is that they are the primary vehicles for God’s “actions” in the same way that the hands are the primary vehicle for human activity.

    The metaphor is more specific in the sense that there is a correspondence between the “right” and “left” aspect of the human limbs, and the interaction of chesed and gevurah.

    Imagine both hands pushing a cart, or hauling a bucket. In such a case there is no difference between the two hands. It is basically two “times” one hand, the correlation of right/left is inconsequential. True the right hand head is a little stronger, but the job is the same for both and as such it would not be appropriate to use the correlation as a metaphor for the chesed and gevurah relationship.


    But let us now take a different case. A person is hammering a nail into a board. The right hand pounds in the nail, whilst the left one holds the board down. A person screws in a screw with his right hand, and the left one pressures a nut in the opposite direction. Or a sculptor’s right hand chisels stone, while his left hand holds the stone steady. In these examples, the right and left hand are cooperating -– by acting in a counter fashion!

    We see from this that chesed and gevurah are acting simultaneously towards the same goal –- by exerting forces in opposite directions.

    Let us be a little more specific regarding the specific roles of chesed and gevurah. When the sculptor chisels the stone, his right hand naturally takes the chipped stone along with the motion of his chisel. His left hand, however, holds the stone in place, and through the resistance to the movement of the chisel gives the stone its sense of “self.” Thus, the stone is not taken along with the chisel, but rather it stands its own ground. Although the right hand has acted upon it, it has retained its own properties, while bearing the right hand’s “message.”

    This describes exactly the relationship of chesed as the “right hand” and gevurah as the “left hand.”

    The main purpose of God’s deeds is kindness — thus chesed is stronger than gevurah.

    The main purpose of God’s deeds is kindness. Thus chesed is the stronger and more dominant of the two sefirot. And it is performing the act that God really had in mind.

    But we have previously described the problem inherent in chesed. If a person lives as a beneficiary of someone else’s largesse, then he loses his own identity. He becomes a vessel of the benefactor. This would be similar to the board being swept up in the motion of the hammer.

    Therein, the sefirah of gevurah assists. It is the “left hand” that pushes in the opposite direction and gives the board its own existence. Whereas the right hand pulls along, the left hand pushes back. Whereas the attribute of chesed draws things into God’s sphere of being, gevurah pushes the object away and proclaims: “Away from me, stand on your own two feet; earn your own keep.”

    The Rabbis of the Talmud have taught us:

    A person should always draw people closer by means of his right hand, and push them aside with his left hand. (Sotah 47)

    It is an important lesson in human relationships. The stronger and more dominant feature of human interaction should be the drawing closer and friendship of people. But enough “push” must be included to allow for the retaining of individual self. Benevolence towards an independent individual creates bonds and bridges; towards a dependant person, it creates annexation and is overwhelming.

    (As an interesting footnote to this topic it is worth noting that people who were involved in Kabbalah study, such as many of the Chassidic groups, liked to wear their garments with the right side overlapping the left, to demonstrate this relationship. This is in contrast to modern western style where men’s garments, i.e. shirts and coats, have a left/right overlap.)

  16. yehudith says:

    Creation of raw matter is an act of chesed-kindness. Giving form to creation requires the restraint of gevurah-strength.

    The Interplay of Matter and Form
    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    Matter and form are concept familiar to anyone with a passing acquaintance with Greek philosophy. The most familiar example of their interaction is a sculpture — the stone is the matter and the chiseling the form. Another example is a room decorated in a meaningful way with furniture –- the individual pieces of furniture are the matter and the arrangement and the atmosphere it projects are the form. Simply summed up: the matter is the physical material, and the form is the concept imprinted on the matter (or material).

    But let us take a closer look at this interplay. Matter is the material that is there, while form is that which is not there. The stone that is present in the statue is the material, while the form is created by chiseling away and removing the stone. The more sharply the lines are delineated, the more form we have. In Hebrew, the word for form is tzurah and it is related to tzar, meaning “narrow” or “constricted.”

    This relationship can readily be traced to the chesed-gevurah interaction, which we began to discuss in the last installment to these series.

    The true form of the world is brought into being by using the raw material in a meaningful way.

    The act of creation was for us an act of chesed, as we mentioned, and as such produced that which “is” in the world. The world is full of things: earth, rocks, trees, animals, oceans, forests, etc. This is not the content of the world that was meant to be, but rather the raw material from which the true world is meant to be sculpted from. This is the matter. The true form of the world is brought into being by using the raw material in a meaningful way.

    Torah is form — it tells us how to use each and every element in the universe to create the Divine picture. The Torah restrains mankind and defines man’s scope of activity, giving shape and form to the world. This is parallel to the sefira of gevurah, which, as was explained, often manifests itself as restraint.

    A child who receives a box of 92 crayons, takes them all out and makes lines with each color. This is how the child initially sees the beauty of all the colors. The teacher then instructs the child how to use the colors — that this color be used only lightly, this one for outline, this one for shading, etc. The teacher is showing the child to impose form on these various colors. At first the child may feel constrained by the various rules and regulations imposed on him. But then he realized that this discipline brings out the true beauty inherent in these colors.


    Torah does the same for us. We come into the world and look around us, and our senses urge us to “take it all.” The Torah then imposes a discipline on our desires — this is for purpose A, this is for purpose B, this is used only in certain specific occasions. At first the discipline of the Torah seems restrictive. But then we realize that God is teaching us to build ourselves in His image from the raw materials at hand.

    Clothes that are droopy suggest lack of care, no discipline, no control; crisp tailored lines suggest the opposite.

    Our senses give us the same feeling. Clothes that are loose, baggy, droopy, for example, suggests a lack of care, no discipline, no control. On the other hand, sharp creases, well-defined lines, tailored-fitting suggest control and discipline.

    This perspective on the relationship between chesed- gevurah gives a new dimension to the structure of Torah commandments.

    Nachmanides, a 13th century Kabbalist and commentator explains the commandment structure as divided into two categories: positive and negative. Positive commandments include activities such as blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashana, the study of Torah, the wearing of the tallit, etc. Negative commandments include the prohibition against eating non-kosher food, the prohibition against promiscuity, the prohibition against desecrating the Sabbath, etc. Nachmanides explains that the positive commandments have their roots in the chesed of God, while the negative commandments are from the gevurah of God.

    As people brought up in modern Western society, we chafe at restrictions.

    This is a definition that is very important to us. We personally find it much easier to perform the positive commandments than the negative ones. It is relatively easy to study Torah occasionally, to give charity, to listen to the shofar, etc. But as people brought up in modern Western society, we chafe at restrictions. We might grudgingly recognize some of the reasons for certain restrictions, but a general life style that is so restrictive runs counter to our basic cultural upbringing.

    The truth, however, is that it is these restrictive prohibitions that give us “form and shape,” similar to the chiseling of the sculpture. A person is not defined as knowledgeable, by getting a hundred questions right on a test, if the test consists of five hundred questions. Similarly if a person does ten acts of kindness, we do not call him a person of kindness or goodness, unless this is a real percentage of his activities. More so, if the person refrains from doing unkind acts. For then the goodness describes the entire person. All of his activities are cut to the pattern of kindness.


    The relationship of matter and form is reflected, according to the teachings of our rabbis, in the 248 positive commandments, which parallel to the 248 “limbs” and “organs,” and by the 365 negative commandments, which parallel the 365 giddim in a person. Giddim refer to many types of connective tissue, i.e. sinew, tendon, ligament, even certain visible nerves that are of considerable length.

    This parallel helps us understand the role of positive versus negative commandments. The positive commandments are the actual substance of Judaism. They are the limbs. Therefore, the negative commandments shape the overall structure of Judaism and the Jewish person.

    When Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden, he was charged with “working” and “guarding” the Garden. These two tasks were the forerunners of the positive and negative commandments. “Working” a garden is an act that encourages the growth of the positive elements, i.e. the fruits. “Guarding” the garden is an act that repulses the negative forces. Some of the negative forces such as fire and flood simply destroy the garden and its fruit. But there are also negative forces, such as weeds and animals that do not so much destroy the fruit, but destroy the structural appearance of a garden. A garden that is neglected does not so much cease to bear fruit, as it loses its shape and form. Less and less does it look like an organized, unified purposeful entity, and more and more it looks like a hodgepodge of random fruit sticking out from a mess of rocks and brambles.

    We recognize that the purpose of our lives is not merely to do good things, but rather to become a good person. A good person is one who is shaped by goodness. Goodness directs what he does and dictates the limits of what he may do. We realize that it is the prohibitions that shape and define our person and mold us in the image of God.

  17. yehudith says:

    The sefirot of “action” engender love and fear on our part, the two “wings” which we need to soar up to the heavens.

    Love and Awe
    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    The sefirot of “action” engender love and fear on our part, the two “wings” which we need to soar up to the heavens.

    As God reveals Himself to us through the sefirot of chesed (kindness) and gevurah (strength), we react with the emotions of love and fear. Just as we have shown kindness and strength to be the two fundamental “actions” of God, so too are love and fear are the fundamental “reactions” to God’s deeds.

    Since the sefirot of chesed and gevurah are the first sefirot of action, i.e. the visibly perceived activities, the also evoke a reaction on our part. Love of God (ahavah) and fear/awe of God (yirah) are two emotions which the Torah lists as basic to the worship of God, and they are two important commandments in their own right.

    To get a very good idea of the interaction between love and fear, and how uncannily they are mirror images of chesed and gevurah, let us turn to Maimonides’ description of these two emotions. Maimonides was a towering giant in the field of Jewish law and philosophy, although it was not known whether or not he involved himself in the study of Kabbalah. In his work “Mishneh Torah,” he describes the obligation of loving and fearing God in the following manner:

    The Lord Who is esteemed and awesome: one is commanded to love Him and fear Him, as it says, “You shall love God, your Lord,” and “You shall fear God, your Lord.”

    What is the appropriate manner to love Him and fear Him? When a person contemplates God’s most wondrous creations and deeds, and sees therein His Wisdom which is unending and incomparable, the person immediately begins to love and praise [God] and he is overwhelmed by a tremendous desire to know the Great God. As King David said, “My soul thirsts for God, the living God.” And as a person thinks about this point, he is immediately thrown back and filled with awe, realizing that he is a small, tiny benighted creature, standing before the Perfect Intellect. As King David stated, “When I behold Your heavens, Your handiwork, [I ask], Who is man that you remember him?” (Rambam Yesodei HaTorah 2-1,2)

    We see in Maimonides that love and fear are reactions that exactly parallel to chesed and gevurah. Love is the desire to expand, to broaden one’s self. Fear, on the other hand, is mode of contraction, of imploding one’s personality into the realization of God’s overwhelming greatness.

    The Zohar states that love and fear are two “wings” without which Torah does not “soar up” to heavens. This means that there are two emotional components in the worship of God. When a person does an act that is uninspired, insipid, it falls flat. When a person does an act with feeling and understanding, it comes alive. Just as physically a person who is motivated appears alive and animated, so too does a mitzvah done with love and fear comes alive.


    But how can love and fear/awe act in concert, if they are opposites? The fact that the Zohar likens them to “wings” means that they act in tandem. While a person may hop on one foot, it is difficult to envision a bird flying with only one wing.

    Man must find himself in the mitzvah, and he must find God in the mitzvah.

    The answer is that every mitzvah is a bond between man and God. As such, the attitude towards the mitzvah must relate to both these points. Man must find himself in the mitzvah, and he must find God in the mitzvah. Love is the mode of the person finding himself in the mitzvah. Awe is the mode of finding God in the mitzvah.

    When I want to marry a person I love, it is because I have a sense of being fulfilled by this person. When I express love of mitzvot, I am demonstrating the sense of my personal fulfillment in doing the mitzvot. I have found an element in the mitzvah that speaks to me; that adds to my person. My inner drive for self-enhancement grabs eagerly onto the mitzvah and I seek to enrich myself with its content.

    Let us now look at fear/awe. A young man is dating a young woman and is taken by her intelligence and personality, and he starts to feel love for her. But during the second meeting, she is more expressive and he is overwhelmed and awed by her brilliance. This awe is an appreciation of her qualities rather than his wants and needs. This awe relates to her qualities that are beyond the qualities that he discovered in her the first time, and they reveal to him a higher level of quality. For that is awe –- the awareness of something much greater than myself.

    When awe/fear kicks in, the person realizes the Divine nature of the mitzvah in which he is engaged, and is overwhelmed by it. This “overwhelming” does not dissuade the person from doing the mitzvah but, rather, gives him a further appreciation of its content. Thus, love expresses the person’s appreciation of the mitzvah, fear gives him a still higher awareness of the mitzvah, and then love once again yearns on for this appreciation, etc.


    There is another mitzvah wherein love and fear combine in a most similar fashion, and that is in the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents. We are enjoined to “honor your father and mother,” and also “your mother and father shall you fear.” The Talmud explains that “honoring” one’s parents includes such activities as standing up for them, helping them eat and get dressed, etc. — all positive activities.

    “Fearing” one’s parents, on the other hand, includes not sitting in their designated seats, nor referring to them by their first name, and not blatantly contradicting them. All of these are negative activities, acts of restraint.

    On the one hand, the good we have received from our parents –- including our very existence –- means that we are acknowledging that the source of benevolence and our existence comes from them. But this very self-same awareness forces us to be awed by their presence. Inasmuch as we owe our very existence and so much of our “selves” to them, our sense of self is so much diminished, for what we have is not really ours.

    Thus, love and fear are the mirror reflections of chesed and gevurah. God’s chesed gives us what we have, and we love Him for it. On the other hand, God’s gevurah demands accountability and truth, which makes us realize that what we possess is not really ours, and we become most keenly aware of God’s Omnipresence and our insignificance.

  18. yehudith says:

    Kabbala #15
    Of the Ten Sefirot, tiferet — which literally means “beauty” or “glory” — is the most central as it mediates between chesed (“kindness”) and gevurah (“strength”).

    Tiferet: Beautiful Sunthesis
    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    Tiferet — which literally means “beauty” or “glory” — is the most central as it mediates between chesed (“kindness”) and gevurah (“strength”).

    Literally taken, the word “middle” implies a compromise, a “little of this” and a “little of that.” But the word “middle” has a much more positive and pronounced connotation when used as a description of tiferet. It connotes a way that is of a completely different nature than either of the two previous sefirot — it uses them both, but in amounts that suit an entirely different mode of activity.

    For instance, every country has the most important task of surviving among other nations. This is the duty of the prime minister, president or king. To this end, he has a state department which works on building friendly and pleasant relationships amongst the various nations. Then there is a defense department whose job is to prepare for war against belligerent nations.

    If we enter each one of these departments separately, we discover that their ideology and worldview are totally incompatible. The state department is working under the premise that nations are peace loving, that belligerence is the result of misunderstanding, that cultural and economic exchange are the greatest guarantors of peace and that compromise and concession are harbingers of stability.

    The defense department, on the other hand, works under the premise that given the right conditions, even one’s closest allies may become enemies, and war is a human instinct. Strength and might are the only realistic factors in determining one’s world position, and intransigence and ruthlessness bring stability and peace. One’s goal is to strive for might.

    Thus each department, in order to be effective, not only acts in a certain manner, but has an inner worldview that includes its goals and philosophies.

    It is the higher station -– whether president or prime minister or king –- who contains a worldview that sees each of these departments, not only as an end in itself but, rather, as tools for a “higher” goal that includes both of these ideologies as a mere subset of the whole.

    Sometimes strength is the right approach and sometimes friendship is the right approach.

    Thus the president’s view is that neither strength in itself nor friendship in itself is the ultimate goal of the country as a country. Rather, the ultimate goal is survival and development, and these tools are available for this purpose: strength and friendship. On a case by case basis the president uses one or the other tool as a way of ensuring the goal he has in mind.

    Sometimes strength is the right approach and sometimes friendship and cooperation are the right approach. But in either case, whether he uses the state department in diplomacy or the defense department in war, he does not identify with the totality of their ideology but rather with his own broader and more encompassing ideology.


    The same is true of chesed, gevurah and tiferet. Chesed has an innate “ideology” of goodness. It wants to give for the sake of giving. It sees in this the ultimate goal, and the more one gives -– regardless who is deserving — the greater and better things.

    Gevurah, on the other hand, sees giving as poisonous. Only things earned by equal and fair labor are “good.” Thus, it has a powerful ideology of “quid quo pro” and “no free lunches.” It sees the ultimate goal of creation as every creature earning its own way.

    Tiferet comes along creating a synthesis of both of these approaches. It includes both these approaches because it has a broader goal in mind, and therefore makes use of both. Its goal is “the development of the human being to his greatest potential.”

    The goal of tiferet is “the development of the human being to his greatest potential.”

    Many times this is accomplished by letting him earn his own way, whereas sometimes one needs an injection of unearned and freely given bounty. Neither the ideology of “no free lunches” nor “forever give unconditionally” are valid philosophies. Rather, each one is an element that may be used towards a higher and more encompassing ideal.

    Indeed, a healthy person deals with his or her child in this manner. His goal is that the child should develop to be the best he can. Usually this means that the child has to use his own capabilities. But where those means temporarily fail, the parent injects the needed “unearned” love, money, praise etc. to keep the process going.

    Tiferet then is not a “compromise.” A compromise has no overriding vision of integration. Rather, when two sets of horns are implacably locked, one whittles down enough of each to remove the danger of mutual destruction. Tiferet is, rather, a long and more unifying picture which gives each set of horns their rightful place, so that they are no longer locked in combat.

    This is why it is called tiferet, “beauty,” for beauty is always attained by integrating elements and playing them off against each other. Black and white are opposites; their proper integration creates beauty. Beauty does not adjudicate contrasts and turn everything gray; rather, beauty integrates both black and white into a picture of depth.

  19. yehudith says:

    Kabbala #16
    The dynamic of interaction between the three sefirot of “action” can be compared to a courtroom where kindness, chesed, is the defender and judgment gevurah/din the prosecutor.

    Beauty as Mercy
    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    The three sefirot of chesed, gevurah, and tiferet are the primary sefirot of action, and as such have their own dynamic of interaction. To express some of this dynamic, each has another name that defines their relationship among themselves. chesed, “kindness” remains “kindness”; gevurah, “strength” is also called din, “judgment”; and tiferet, “beauty” is called rachamim “mercy.”

    The following verse to illustrate the relationship of these different modes. In a section dealing with God sitting and judging the nation of Israel, a prophetic vision describes the scene as follows:

    I saw God sitting on His throne and all the heavenly hosts are standing at His right and at His left. (1 Kings 22:19)

    What does “right” and “left” mean? The answer is, those who defend the accused are said to stand “at the right,” while those who are persecuting the accused are said to stand the left.” (Tanchuma Mishpatim 15)

    Right and left refer to opposing perspectives in dealing with the case at hand. Kindness, the defender, sits on the right, and judgment, the persecutor on the left and the judge sits in the middle.


    These three elements are seen in the “arrangement” of the sefirot as well,
    1.a “right” side of benevolence,
    2.a “left” side of judgment
    3.and a “middle” element.

    We even use these points of reference colloquially. When a person is excessively carping or critical, we say he “woke up on his left side this morning.” A positive approach is “getting off on the right foot.” While a midpoint bespeaks of fairness and neutrality.

    To understand how this applies to the sefirot, let us first explain the extremes and then we will explain the middle.

    Kindness is giving. It is a trait that expresses a need or desire of the giver. A person comes home one morning and feels that his life is narrow and self-centered. He wishes to be kind to people and sets up a foundation to promote some cause or to help some people. He has as yet to meet anyone destitute. Thus the act of chesed is an act whose dynamics lie in the giver’s domain.

    The dynamics of judgment lie solely in the recipient.

    The dynamics of judgment, on the other hand, lie solely in the recipient. A man has plowed a field for someone else and the fruit of his labor is inherent in the grain that has grown. When he picks up his salary, he is basically recouping his own labor. The “giver” is merely confirming the truth of the laborer’s efforts. Thus a person “standing on his own” with no need for recourse from an “other” is the paradigm of judgment.

    Mercy is different than both the above traits. Mercy is a feeling of pity that someone in need has evoked in me. If I never meet someone cold, hungry, or lonely then I can never be said to have mercy on someone. Thus, the recipient causes the mercy, but the gift given is all the donor’s.


    If we are to go back to the metaphor of the courtroom, we could explain this dynamic as follows. The judge is not there primarily for deciding if the prosecution is factually correct. Rather in a heavenly court all of the facts are known. Rather, the prosecutor presents the picture of the evil act that has been done, the defense presents the qualities of the person, and it is up to the judge to weigh the deed vis-`a-vis the merits of the person and decide how to sentence accordingly.

    We find this distinction between kindness and mercy in a number of non-Kabbalistic sources as well. Thus, the Targum, which is an Aramaic translation of Hebrew, will use the word chesed derogatorily (see Rashi Vayikra 20,17 and Mishlei 25,10). The word rachamim in Aramaic translation, on the other hand, means love and friendship. For kindness is demeaning by its very nature, for a person that lives only by the dint of someone else’s support is not a whole person.

    Mercy, on the other hand, is sparked by my evoking a feeling of warmth and kindness in another. It is a human-to-human emotion and it is the same quality as friendship. Another point about mercy is made in this Talmudic injunction that states:

    “One is not permitted to have mercy on a person who has no sense.” [This means that a person whose foolishness has got him into trouble should feel the folly of his actions.]

    This is a statement that only applies to mercy and not kindness. What this statement teaches is that the goal of mercy is to help a person. But if that person has no sense, then he will take any favor for granted, and not learn his lesson. The only way for a fool to learn his lesson is to suffer the consequence of his actions.

    The goal of kindness is the expression of goodness and greatness.

    The same cannot be said of kindness, however, for the goal of kindness as such is not the assistance of the other person as much as the expression of my goodness and greatness. It still is not advisable to shower the fool with largesse of any kind, but it is not an inherent contradiction of kindness.

    Mercy, in line with its position as being in between kindness and judgment, is likened to a loan while kindness is likened to a grant. A loan has the element of kindness in it, for it is unearned. But in the end, a loan is meant to be consistent with judgment as well, for the money will have been returned.

  20. yehudith says:

    Kabbala #17
    A mysterious dialogue between Moses and God gives us clues to the “ways of God” — revelations of a deep mystical knowledge which enriches our understanding of the Torah.

    History of Kabbalah: Part 1
    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    Before exploring the rest of the Ten Sefirot, for the next couple of installments in this series I would like to delve into the source of Kabbalah, its development over the years and the reasons for its “secrecy.”

    One of the reasons that the mystical tradition of Judaism is called Kabbalah (meaning “received”) is in order to emphasize that one must have received this mystical understanding of the Torah. The elements of Kabbalah were revealed by God at the same time as the rest of the Torah and then transmitted from one initiate to another, unlike other aspects of the Oral Tradition which involved interpretation.

    When one gives an interpretation of any aspect of Torah or Jewish law using a rational (as opposed to mystical) perspective, one need not have a direct source for the statement. The statement needs to fit in with the general spirit of Torah, and must make sense in the context that it is presented. It ought to have some support from other areas as well.

    In Kabbalah one has limited ability to offer “new” interpretations — accurate transmission is the key.

    In Kabbalah, however, one has limited ability to offer such “new” or “original” interpretation. We are dealing with a discipline that its elements were revealed to man by God, the way in which all of the Torah was revealed, and then transmitted from person to person along the way.

    We are now going to trace some of the milestones of the ongoing revelation of Kabbalah.


    The first place is the Torah itself. In the Book of Exodus there appears a very mysterious dialogue between God and Moses.

    He [Moses] then said: “Please grant me a vision of your glory.”

    He [God] said, “I will take all My goodness, and pass it in front of you, and I will call out the name of the Lord before you; I will be gracious unto the one to whom I shall be gracious, and I will be merciful unto the one to whom I will merciful.” And He [God] said: “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live.” And the Lord said: “There is a place next to me and you can stand upon the rock. And as My glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rocks, and I will put My palm upon it until I pass by. I will then remove My palm, and you will perceive My back; but My face will not be seen.” (Exodus 33:18-22)

    As mysterious and unclear as this dialogue is, there are a few very important points that can be derived from it.

    Bear in mind that this dialogue had taken place very soon after the giving of the Torah. Moses had been given the Torah in its entirety, and there was none left over. (See Maimonides, “The Foundations of the Torah” 9:1.) So what more did Moses want from God?

    The answer is that he was pleading for a depth of understanding of the revelation he had already received, not for a new Torah. We see from his request that there is an understanding of Torah that is held from us, and that having Torah in its entire breadth which Moses had received at Sinai, is no guarantee of comprehending this deeper understanding.

    We see from God’s reply that the nature of this deep understanding is not about God Himself, but, rather, about God’s interaction with our world.

    How God rules the world is the substance of this deep knowledge that Moses seeks.

    Our Sages have explained that Moses’ request was the ultimate understanding of “why the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper.” This is readily seen in God’s reply about “being merciful to those to whom I will be merciful.” How God rules the world — His ways and mores — are the substance of this deep knowledge that Moses seeks.

    God placed limits on the level of comprehension that one can have. Some people (used to special effects of Hollywood movies) imagine that “no man can see God and live” is because of the blinding light and booming sound! There is no such thing as a physical awareness of God. Rather, our Sages explain that the correct interpretation of this verse is that “no man can fully comprehend God while alive.” A person –- no matter how refined -– is still physical, and his understanding is somewhat physical. This prevents him from understanding those things that are to some degree totally metaphysical.

    And this is what is meant by “and you shall see My back.” Just as when I view a person face to face I get a full sense of what he is saying and doing, so too seeing God “face to face” means comprehending God’s ways with absolute clarity. Man cannot do this. We can only see God’s from His back — which means we can have an idea about what He’s doing, but not absolute clarity.

    These understandings are included in “the name of the Lord.” Thus, God describes these revelations as “calling out before Him the name of the Lord.”

    These understandings are included in “the name of the Lord.”

    Indeed, the various names of God that forms the heart of Kabbalah are not some mysterious deep-throated unpronounceable words that cause cosmic upheavals. Rather, they are descriptions of certain facets of God’s interaction with man.

    Thus, when Moses requested a deeper insight into God’s mysterious ways, the revelation of His name(s) was the primary vehicle for that.

    The more specific knowledge of God attained at that time point is the knowledge of goodness that is beyond our scope of understanding.

    Let us see this in context of the events surrounding this mysterious dialogue:

    The children of Israel had gravely sinned by worshipping the Golden Calf, and their due punishment was to be completely and utterly destroyed. Moses could not master the words of prayer that would ameliorate the situation. He, therefore, asked God for a revelation of His ultimate goodness, which would allow for a postponement and amelioration of the decree. For so grave was their sin that it required an extraordinary level of mercy. This level was hitherto unrevealed yet, and therefore one could not appeal for its implementation.

    God therefore revealed His “entire goodness” before him. This gave Moses then (and us today) the ability to pray to God — to appeal to His thirteen attributes of extraordinary kindness.

    Those “Thirteen Attributes of Kindness” (referred to in verses Exodus 34:6-7) are the basis for our prayers on the Day of Atonement, on fast days and occasions for special solemn prayers.

    The understanding of the Thirteen Attributes is another important aspect of Kabbalistic knowledge and teachings as will be explained in future installments of this series.

  21. yehudith says:

    Kabbala #18: Center of the Earth

    The sefirot of chesed, gevurah, tiferet — kindness, strength and beauty — have an interrelationship that serves as a model for understanding the relationships between the other sefirot.

    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    We had described earlier that the Ten sefirot may be divided into three groups as follows:
    1.The rational element comprised of the sefirot that plan the implementation of God’s will: chochmah, binah, da’at, or wisdom, understanding and knowledge.

    2.The active element comprised of the sefirot that are the main thrusts of God’s relationship with man: chesed, gevurah, tiferet, or kindness, strength and beauty.

    3.The tactical element comprised of those sefirot whose main task is to properly implement God’s various activities: netzach, hod, yesod, or

    Malchut, or kingship, stands by itself.

    Each of the above groups may be divided into the right-handed, the left-handed, and middle.
    Let us now examine this balance for chochmah, binah and da’at.


    We explained before that chochmah consists of the ideas that one is inspired from “out of nowhere” or that which he has learned from his teacher. This corresponds to the creation of matter ex-nihilo, which is an act of chesed, an act that was not caused by anything.

    Thus imagine a person who was sitting one day and an inspiration struck him that “life is sacred.” This is now an addition of a new idea; it is completely formless and shapeless. The process of binah now begins to give it shape by qualifying and limiting the idea. Thus, “which lives are sacred,” does “sacredness” apply to killing, or also to wounding, or also to humiliation? And “how much does one have to sacrifice in order to adhere to this dictum?” These are all questions that are gevurah/din or restrictive in quality. They cut and shape the boundless idea of sanctity of life.

    Binah is an “opposing” force, whittling away bits and pieces of the chochmah, showing where the idea does not apply.

    More sharply stated: binah is an “opposing” force, whittling away bits and pieces of the chochmah, showing where the idea does not apply.

    da’at is then attained by combining the two. When a person has both the idea/ideal and its application, then he has a fleshed-out reality. da’at is not a compromise between the all-encompassing chochmah and the total challenge of binah. Rather, it is the complete vision which beautifully and seamlessly encompasses both.

    3-D VIEW

    An illustration can be given from a “Viewmaster,” an old-fashioned “3-D slide” device. The 3-D effect is attained by having each eye view the same picture from a slightly different angle. As the mind struggles to rectify the conflicting images, it produces the 3-D image which satisfies both images. The 3-D image is the “real image” and the mind realizes that each eye saw only a section of the true picture.

    The Maharal uses this point and elaborates on it. He quotes the Talmud which states that Jerusalem is the center of the world and that the Temple is located at the very center of Jerusalem.

    Geographically there is a fairly simple meaning, because Israel is in the middle of the three continents (of Africa, Asia and Europe) that were known at the time the Talmud was written; of course Jerusalem is at the center of Israel and the Temple Mount at the center of Jerusalem. But it is clear that the Talmud is not engaging in a simplistic geographic braggadico.

    What is meant by “center of the world,” the Maharal explains, is that every form of “extremity” leads to evil — not “extremity” in the simple sense of fanaticism, but, rather, viewing the picture partially.

    If a person practices unadulterated and unconditional love, he sanctions the Nazis and nurtures murderers.

    If a person practices unadulterated and unconditional love, he sanctions the Nazis, nurtures the murderer and encourages the manipulator, for he only gives and encourages. He never disapproves, condemns or punishes.

    If on the other hand he is totally without mercy or quarter given, then he is just as bad. No one can be perfect forever, and if every failure is total disaster, then it is only a question of time for collapse to arrive.

    Taking a one-sided approach to anything leads to evil and destruction.

    The Temple had two purposes:
    a.it was meant to be a paradigm of spiritual perfection, a yardstick whereby to measure our moral standing; and
    b.it was meant to be a place where we could see atonement an forgiveness for our sins, if committed.

    Since all sins are caused by veering off towards any one side, then perforce the place of perfection and rectification is the “midpoint of the world.” It is a point where all the different attitudes and approaches come together.

    This concept gives us a deep insight into an argument of the Talmudic sages as to the creation of man. Genesis states that God took “earth from the land” to create man. The rabbis argued as to the place from where this earth came. One rabbi said that God took earth from all four corners of the world and used it to create man. The other said that God took earth from the place of the altar (in the Temple) and created man.

    Both of these sides of the argument were grappling with the same issue. Man is unique amongst animals in his balance of different character traits. For instance, a sheep is sweet-tempered and will not “terrorize” anyone ever, while a pitbull might be the reverse. Each animal is locked into its nature, and cannot change. Each trait has its time of usefulness and times when its nature is an abstraction.

    Man has balance: he can be as sweet and harmless as a sheep, or as ferocious as a pitbull.

    But man has both: he can be as sweet and harmless as a sheep, or as ferocious as a pitbull. This is true of almost any character trait. (This is also true physically, as man can adapt to almost any climate or geography. He can live on the North Pole or the equator, the jungle or the desert … even in New York.)

    The question is: How was this ability incorporated in man?

    One answer is that “God took earth from all four corners of the world,” meaning that He incorporated in him every trait, ability and attribute extant in the world. The other answer states that more important is the incorporation into man of the “midpoint” of creation by taking land from the Temple’s altar.

    The ability to use all the different facets of creation lies not only in the possession of those facets but, more so, in possession of that unique “midpoint.” The “midpoint” is not bound to any particular point but encompassing them all, and is capable of directing each and utilizing it in its proper time and place.

  22. yehudith says:

    Kabbalah #19
    The imagery of Kabbalah, which examines God’s actions through metaphor, can never lead to the creation of images or the suggestion that the One God exists in fragments.

    History of Kabbalah: Part 2
    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    We have shown in the previous article in this series that in the Torah itself there is a clear — albeit veiled — allusion to a deeper understanding of God and the ways in which He interacts with the world.

    There are two other important points made in the Torah itself, which relate to the imagery and language of Kabbalah:

    The first point is dealt with in the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses’ farewell address, where he describes the revelation at Sinai:

    “God spoke to you from amidst the flames; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no picture; nothing but a voice.” (Deut. 4:12)

    “And you shall be most careful; for you did not see any picture on the day that God spoke to you at Horeb from amidst the flames. For you may become corrupt and make a statue of some image.” (Deut. 4:15-16)

    Both of these verses seem to address an issue arising from the revelation at Sinai, since most people equate “revelation” with some sort of “vision.” Yet here was a revelation where God’s Presence was felt, His words were clearly comprehended, and yet no image was beheld, no picture was seen. It is a difficult idea, for our mind prefers to work with images rather than with words and concepts.

    Most people equate “revelation” with some sort of “vision” yet the Torah clearly excludes that idea.

    This injunction against projecting a corporeality onto God extends not only to a primitive physical picture of God, but also to anything that places God’s being within the framework of human psyche or personality. This means that any type of study that describes God’s actions must be devoid of any suggestion that God “feels” or has emotions that compel Him. The Mishna states this most emphatically:

    He who prays [as a cantor, using the words], “Just as you had mercy on a nest of birds, so too have mercy upon us” is removed from his job, for he has described God’s attributes in terms of kindness, when in reality they are decrees. (Brachot 34a)

    Maimonides points out that when God is described as “kind” or “merciful,” these words are to be understood as metaphors:

    When we speak of “God’s character traits” it does not mean that He has emotions, but rather that He does deeds that are similar to those deeds which a person does when he is acting with a certain emotion, but not that God has emotions per se … For every deed of God’s that we fathom, we describe Him with the title that conveys a source for such an act … All of those deeds are deeds that are similar to deeds done by humans out of emotion and personal traits, which is not the case when describing God. (Guide to the Perplexed I, 54)

    Thus we have an important point concerning Kabbalah or any other study of the Divine. Despite the fact that we describe God with physical metaphors, we can never allow that to become a visual image. And even if we use personality metaphors such as “merciful,” “just,” or “kind,” they may never be taken as anything but metaphors.

    These terms are a description of a pattern of Divine actions which match the way that we would act if we were emotionally inclined to do so. But God is completely beyond terms such as “emotion” or “personality.”


    The second point made in the Torah which impacts Kabbalah appears in the most famous of verses — the Shema. We are enjoined:

    “Hear, O Israel, God is our Lord, He is One.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

    The commandment is to believe in God’s unity. While the belief in God’s unity precludes believing that there are many gods, it also precludes the belief that God has component units. Maimonides states this as well:

    God is One. Not two or more than two. One that is unlike any other unity. Not a unity that consists of parts, nor a corporeal unity which may be divided into parts and components, but rather a unity that is unlike any other unity. (Maimonides, The Foundations of the Torah 1:7)

    This injunction presents a problem to the ability to divide God’s actions into “components” such as the Ten Sefirot. This issue was raised many times over the centuries as a critique against Kabbalah (and was responded to), and its so-called “splintering” of God’s unity into ten fragments.

    The way that Kabbalah has dealt with this issue is best described by the Malbim, a 19th century commentator on the Torah in explaining the words of the Prophet Ezekiel. The prophet says:

    “As the image of a rainbow in the cloud on a rainy day, so is the image of the glow surrounding it; it is the image of God’s majesty.” (Ezekiel 3:26)

    The Malbim explains: a ray of light is one color. When it strikes a medium such as water, it is the trait of water that breaks it up into many colors. So too, God is one, unified whole. Our understanding however is limited and we must break it up into components. For instance, a child might not understand that the father who smacks him when he walks onto a busy highway is the same father that cuddles and loves him, and buys him toys. But the adult perceives it as one emotion.

    So too, God’s actions are only understood by us when examined separately. Yet we realize that breaking up God’s actions into ten or any other amount is our inadequacy, not His reality. He is total oneness and unity.

  23. yehudith says:

    Kabbala #20: Netzach and Hod: Means to an End

    Just like a loving parent may seem cruel when harshly disciplining a child in order to instill good values, the “tactical” sefirot of netzach and hod are often not what they seem.

    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    We have until now dealt with the first two groups of sefirot:
    1.the conceptual or “rational” sefirot, composed of chochmah, binah and daat, and
    2.the active sefirot, composed of chesed, gevurah and tiferet.

    We will now describe the third group of sefirot which we will call the “tactical” sefirot; they are netzach, “victory,” and hod, “awe.”

    When we call these sefirot “tactical,” we mean that their purpose is not inherent in themselves, but rather as a means for something else.

    For example, if I wish for my son, whom I love with all my heart, to make something of himself, I may have to be strict and stern with him in order to teach him discipline or insure that he applies himself to his studies, etc. The “strictness and sternness” is tactical — that is, it is the means by which I endow the child with the benefits that I want him to have. But my intrinsic intent is that of kindness — of giving him an education and teaching him values.

    In another instance, I may use the tactic of kindness, though my intent may be antagonistic. I could lure an enemy into a trap by inviting him with a smile and a pleasant demeanor. The exterior façade of the act is pleasantness, its interior is punitive.


    Understanding these two attributes of netzach and hod gives us a new perspective into understanding what is happening in the world. No longer do we merely look at an act at face value, and attempt to understand it as such, but we must look at it also in terms of “a means to an end.”

    We cannot look at the acts of God merely at face value.

    The Kabbalah teaches that the questions of Job (“why do the righteous that suffer?”) and of King David (“why do the wicked prosper?”) find an answer in the attributes of netzach and hod.

    For instance, the suffering of the righteous may be a test in order to heighten their reward, or a way to cleanse them in this world of their few sins so that they are pure and perfect in the World to Come. The wicked may be prospering in order that their feeling of complacency forestalls their repentance or in order that they should receive their entire reward on earth so their later destruction can be total.

    There are other possibilities too; the main point is that there is more to God’s actions than what appears to be happening at surface level.

    Netzach refers to actions of God that are chesed, “kindness,” in essence, but are presented through a prelude of harshness. hod refers specifically to those events where the “wicked prosper.” It is retribution — gevurah, “strength/restraint,” in essence, but presented by a prelude of pleasantness.

    These sefirot mark a turning point. Whereas the first two groups of sefirot deal with God’s intrinsic will, and what it is that He desires to bestow upon man, these sefirot are focused on man: What is the most appropriate way for man to receive God’s message? How can God’s will be implemented most effectively?


    All the sefirot are likened to different parts of a body, and netzach and hod are likened to the two feet of a person: right foot and left foot.

    Why feet?

    Feet are usually only the means for a person’s activity. The hands are the main instrument of action and the feet are simply a vehicle to bring the person to the place in which he wishes to execute that action.

    Secondly, the distinction between right and left foot is nowhere as pronounced as the distinction between the left and right hands. Similarly, while the distinction between chesed and gevurah is sharp, the distinction between netzach and hod is less sharp. Both are a mixture of chesed and gevurah and therefore the distinction is blurred.

    The hands are the main instrument of action; the feet are simply a vehicle, a means of getting there.

    This is the reason why we have a harder time discovering the motive for God’s actions. For instance, God has sent a plentiful harvest. If we only had chesed-gevurah as perspectives, we would say that this is a reward for good deeds. But now that we have hod to take into account, we must ask ourselves: Is it really a reward? Or perhaps it is a repayment for some good while the full punishment waits in the wings?


    There is a deeper purpose to these two sefirot, and that is an accentuation of the Divine truth. When one perceives the attribute of netzach and later the good bestowed upon the righteous, one realizes how well deserved it is.

    Humans tend to be sloppy; a person who is generally good is forgiven minor errors etc. This means that the benefits received are not totally earned. But God’s netzach –- i.e. the total retribution for the faults of the righteous — sharpens incredibly the sense of deserving every bit of good that one obtains.

    The same is true of the hod facet. The punishment of the wicked, when taken in perspective together with the good that was paid to them, can be perceived not as a mean act of vengeance, but rather as a justly deserved retribution.

    This explanation allows us to understand the literal terms netzach and hod.

    netzach is an act of God that seems to vanquish. It is an overt act of conquest. It appears to be the finished product of gevurah. gevurah is the strength, i.e. the potential to win, whereas netzach is the actual victory, attained through the strength.

    But hod is much deeper. Fear is the feeling that we attain when confronting an overt threat, a man with a gun menacing us. But awe is the reaction to a person or item that seems to have a hidden strength or power. One is awestruck when meeting a powerful leader. Not because he is physically powerful or has a gun, but rather because of the power imminent in the person. A great person leaves us in awe because of the immense spiritual might that we perceive inherent in his humility and modesty.

    So too with God, when in retrospect we see that within the leeway given to the wicked, a great storm was waiting to be unleashed against them.

  24. yehudith says:

    Kabbala #21: Yesod: The Translator

    The sefirah of yesod, “foundation,” translates spiritual concepts into actions that unite us with God.

    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    All of the sefirot are compared to human organs, which are seen as counterparts to these sefirot. According to Kabbalah, the counterpart of yesod, “foundation,” is the male reproductive ability. And as such, all of the laws of sanctity governing male desire and passion are termed kedushas midas yesod, “the sanctity of the attribute of yesod.”

    Therefore, by analyzing the primary characteristics of this human organ, we can get a through understanding of the attribute of yesod.

    1. We find that while the cells of every organ are very specific in their function and structure, the cells of reproduction include (in an active way) the entirety of a person’s components.

    A translator who must be fluent in both the language of the speaker and the language of the listener.

    2. We also find that the male reproductive organ has the ability to act as a bridge to transfer material to another person. A bridge has in itself a “dual capacity” — it is compatible with both the source and the goal.This is similar to a translator who must be fluent in both the language of the speaker and the language of the listener.

    3. A broker or middleman is deemed more efficient when he takes as little “commission” as possible. An interpreter is expected to interject as little of his personality or feelings as possible, and on the other hand, to lose as little as possible of the original when translating.

    Let us now relate these ideas to the attribute of yesod.


    “For onto you God is greatness, strength, majesty, victory, awe, for everything in heaven and earth” (1 Chronicles 29:11)

    This verse lists a number of the sefirot and we are taught that for everything in heaven and earth refers to yesod.

    The Targum, the traditional Aramaic translation of the Bible, explains this phrase as meaning “the One Who unites heaven and earth.”

    This phrase describes the phenomenon that God is able to transpose spirituality into physical realities and earthly beings.

    All of the lofty transcendental concepts that are in the higher worlds are meant to become a part of our experience and cognizance.

    All of those tangible commandments — such as those pertaining to tefillin, matzahs, charity and mourning — all started as lofty transcendental concepts, which the attribute of yesod carefully translated into the corresponding action.

    For instance, rational communication with God finds its manifestation in vocal prayer, whereas the communication of pure emotion may find its realization in the sound of the shofar.

    Lofty concepts of “justice” are translated into law — what to do when oxens gore and people steal.

    The soul’s innermost yearning to be freed of its earthly shackles, and return to the purity of God, realizes itself in the trans-physicality of Yom Kippur. The bond between husband and wife is somehow contained under the chuppah, while the ability to abrogate this bond is concretized in the divorce document.

    Lofty concepts of “justice” were given shape and form until they came to us in the details of the Divine laws — what to do when oxen gore and people steal.


    Now we see that the attribute of yesod, in its perfection, carries all of the characteristics of the male reproductive organ.

    1. All of the Divine Wisdom (that was intended for interaction with humans) was indeed incorporated into the Torah. Some of it is open, some of it implied, some of it alluded to, but all of it finds a place in the Torah.

    Maimonides explains that the verse “for it is not in heavens” tells us that all of Torah was given to us, and none was held back.

    2. Torah is a bridge between God and man and contains elements of both. Thus Torah contains “the words of a living God” and yet it speaks in “the language of man.” In it, God’s deeds are described in terms of human attributes (i.e. the Hand of God, God saw, etc.). This is all possible because Torah is perfectly compatible with the Divine Truth and with human language.

    Torah is a bridge between God and man and contains elements of both.

    3. The “middleman” through whom Torah was given to us was Moses, who is described by God as “My faithful servant, trusted in My entire House.” Not only was there no conscious distortion or perversion of the Torah that Moses passed on to us, but his perception and understanding of the Torah was crystal clear. We are taught that “all of the prophets perceived God as if through a clouded looking glass, whereas Moses perceived God as if through a clear looking glass.”

    Thus, in one sense, yesod (the ninth sefirah) is the final attribute. It sums up and includes within itself the entirety of God’s proposed interactions with man. It translates these purported interactions into a mode perceivable and tangible to man. And this translation takes place with no addition or subtraction to the original message, and with no distortion or aberration.

  25. yehudith says:

    Kabbalah #22: Yesod: Foundation

    The sefirah of yesod anchors the world to its spiritual bedrock.

    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    The word yesod means “foundation.” Why, indeed, is the term yesod used to describe this attribute?

    Let us first describe what is a foundation in the realm of construction. A person builds a big and imposing building. It may be made of the finest material and most advanced building techniques, yet it will sink into the ground and disappear unless it is anchored to solid bedrock. The foundation is what allows the building to exist atop of a firm reality.

    The created universe is the same as that big building. It is imposing and beautiful, but what does it “rest” on?

    It is described in the verse “God hangs the earth on nothingness.” This “nothingness” does not refer merely to the vacuum of space, but rather it refers to the purpose of existence.

    What is the cause of the original cause?

    Although we can trace cause and effect to the umpteenth degree in the physical world, we can never trace it to its ultimate. Where do the very laws that organize this sequence of events come from? What is the cause of the original cause? There is no logical root cause that caused everything else — it itself is causeless!

    The answer to this seeming paradox is the attribute of yesod. It is the pillar upon which the world ultimately sits.


    But what exactly is this Divine pillar? It is the Divine will to bestow upon others.

    Were there not such a Divine will, then there could not exist a universe that senses itself independent of God, as does our universe. It is only because God “wished to bestow” that He created a universe that has its own self-contained laws, and humans that perceive themselves as totally independent beings.

    This is the “pillar” that extends from the bedrock of reality (which is God Himself) and then becomes the foundation for our world.

    Consider this analogy:

    A human being develops from a single cell. (While conception requires two cells — the mother’s cell and the father’s cell — the action of childbearing is initiated by the father.) What is the source of that single cell? The father’s desire to beget a child. Why did the father desire to have a child? To that question there is no answer that is discernible from the simple existence of the child.

    The same is true of this world and the attribute of yesod. We ask ourselves why this world exists. We answer: Because God chose to bestow existence upon us. That answer is definitely discernible from the fact that we exist. Why God chose to bestow existence upon us is not answered from within the existence of the world.

    Imagine a person getting walloped by a stranger out of the blue. The only thing the victim can conclusively state is that “so-and-so intends to hurt me.” The why of that act is “pre-interactive” and falls under the category of “conjecture,” albeit that deduction may be blatantly obvious.

    The reasons why God created the world belong to human “pre-history.”

    So, too, “the desire of God to create” is the first interactive contact with God; the reasons why He created the world belong to human “pre-history” and are on the level of deductions, albeit obvious and true.

    Thus, yesod is the bridge that connects God to mankind.


    Let us apply and extend the concept of yesod to another area: The seven days of creation are parallel to the seven lower sefirot starting with chesed and working its way down to malchut. (Why the first three sefirot are not represented is another issue.) The sixth day of the week, Friday, is parallel to this sixth sefirah of yesod.

    There are two points to be observed about Friday that demonstrate this concept.

    The first is the area of preparing for Saturday. The first six days of the week are workdays in which we work hard to produce food and other necessities. On Shabbat we consume that which we produced the first six days. But not everything produced during that time may be used on Shabbat. The Torah mandates “They shall prepare that which they will eat.” Thus, Friday is the day that the transition of food from weekday to Shabbat takes place.

    Friday is the pillar that supports Shabbat and allows it to rest upon the bedrock of the workdays.

    In the desert, the Jews did not collect manna from all the week for the Shabbat. Rather, on Friday a double portion of manna fell which was to become the food for Shabbat. Thus, Friday was the funnel into Shabbat.

    Friday is the pillar that supports Shabbat and allows it to rest upon the bedrock of the workdays. It is like a precious statue standing high on a pedestal that serves to connect the statue to the ground. In this way, Friday is compared to yesod, “foundation.”

    The second point concerning Friday relates to the creature created on Friday: the Human Being.

    We explained in the previous article (See Kabbala #21) that yesod is the attribute that “unites heaven with earth.” It allows for the transition of the spiritual and Divine onto a material world.

    Within the realm of beings there are three kinds:
    1.There is the material world — such as minerals, plants and animals — which within itself has no ability to transfer spirituality onto itself.
    2.There is a spiritual world of angels and the likes, which cannot translate its values into the material world.
    3.There is the human being who has a soul that is spiritual and a body that is physical that can transmit the values from one world to another. This is the most fitting example of the attribute of yesod.

    Thus, Friday is the sixth day of creation, which embodies yesod. It is a day that funnels the produce of the other days and channels it into Shabbat. The human being was created on Friday, and he/she is that being that gathers in all of the spiritual produce of the higher realms and shapes the world thereby.

    This is because yesod is the Divine attribute that funnels all of the Divine activities into the material existence.

  26. yehudith says:

    Kabbalah #23: Malchut: The Kingdom Within

    The last sefirah is the most important because God uses it to act through His creation.
    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    The tenth and final sefirah is called “malchut” (“kingdom”), and in many ways this is the most important of the sefirot.

    In order to understand what malchut is, we must refer back to the original verse that contains the ten sefirot: “To You, God, is greatness, strength, modesty, victory, awe, for all that is in heavens and earth; to You, God, is the kingdom.” (1 Chronicles 29:11) We note that the description of malchut is an almost separate sentence and it restarts with the phrase, “to You, God, is…” Why this distinction?

    Let us explain this by defining what malchut is.

    When we think of a king or a kingdom, we imagine a dictator imposing his will on a helpless populace, draining them of their resources to be used for his own personal aggrandizement. Even if we picture him as a benevolent despot, he is at best an efficient bureaucrat.

    When we speak of God and the concept of kingdom, we refer to a completely different model.

    But when we speak of God and the concept of kingdom, we refer to a completely different model.

    The model we have in mind is of a king who has a picture of good and bad, an ideology of right and wrong, and teaches the society around him those ideas and values. That society is then awakened to what is really right and structures itself and its institutions accordingly. When society has finished this process, it thereby amplifies and proclaims those values that the king had in his heart and mind.

    That society is thereby not only expressing the king’s norms and values, but showing that these norms and values are really the inner norms and values of the people in the country.

    The real teacher is the one who inspires.

    While we do not live with kings and it might be difficult for us to picture this, we can definitely use the illustration of a good teacher. A teacher who allows the students to “do as they wish” is not a teacher at all. The students have not received anything from him.

    On the other hand, a teacher who forces his students to do as he says has merely imposed external shackles on them. He has not really affected them in any way, and he is not a teacher. The real teacher is the one who inspires his students, so that they realize that their own real feelings and values are those espoused by their teacher.

    This is malchut in the true sense. It is God’s actions and attributes – not as expressed by God, but rather as human beings express them. It is as if God’s actions have struck a resonant chord in us, and we thereby act in a similar manner.

    This requires that we do God’s will, and not sin, and that we do so with free will. For if we do not do God’s will, then we are not a reflection of the Divine process in the world. But if we do God’s will out of fear then we are responding like the students who are forced by their teacher to do the teacher’s bidding, and not from an inner sense of connection with God.


    The way we respond to God is often expressed by commentators as the contrast of two synonyms:
    •Malchut meaning monarchial reign, and
    •Mamlacha meaning dictatorial rule.

    Thus we say in our prayers, “…and they accepted (God’s) malchut [monarchial reign] willingly.” Whereas the verse speaking about the relationship between God and the nations who have not yet accepted Him states, “For onto God is mamlacha [dictatorial rule] and He is ruler over the gentile nations.” This means that God really wishes to evoke malchut in the world, but as far as those nations are concerned, He rules over them in a dictatorial way but does not bring about malchut in them.

    But, if we are to define the sefirah of malchut correctly, we need to be clear that (unlike the other nine) it is an attribute of God which does not emanate from God directly. Rather it emanates from God’s creation — when that creation reflects and evinces God’s glory from within itself.

    This is the reason why it is stated separately in the verse — “To You, God, is greatness, strength, modesty, victory, awe, for all that is in heavens and earth; to You, God, is the kingdom” — for there is a great gap between the first nine sefirot and the last one. The first nine are a continuous stream of God’s actions which strike humanity and affect us. When we then absorb these influences of God, find them in ourselves, change and thereby reflect God’s glory – then we evince malchut.

    Malchut is the goal that God had in mind when He created the world.

    It is in this sense that this is the most important sefirah. In malchut, God does not act merely by Himself, but rather God acts through us.

    Malchut is the goal that God had in mind when He created the world. All of the other sefirot are only the means to see malchut emerge.

    In relating to the first nine sefirot, we are outside observers – admiring God’s handiwork objectively. We may be impressed but somehow it never quite becomes an overwhelming experience. It is only when we hear the voice of God echoing from within us – which is malchut – that we are truly transformed.

  27. yehudith says:

    Kabbalah #24: Keter: The Sefirah that Isn’t

    Keter manifests itself in the world as inexplicable “will” that goes beyond reason or cause and effect.

    by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman

    Before we close off the count of the sefirot, let us deal with a special sefirah that is not always counted together with the others: keter, “crown.” On those occasions that we include it in the sefirot we omit the sefirah of da’at.

    What is keter, and why isn’t it normally included in the sefirot?

    We have portrayed the sefirot as a chain of command starting with the idea (chochmah) and finishing with the implementation (malchut). However, the “idea” is never the real beginning of an act. The real beginning is, rather, “will” or “desire.”

    The real beginning is “will” or “desire.”

    For instance, a person plans to build a house. The building of the house starts with the mental image of a house, and progresses to its final realization. But the real root of the “idea” is the will and desire to be comfortable or to show off or whatever possible motivation. That will or desire is parallel to the keter sefirah.

    Why then do we not count it with the rest of the sefirot?

    The answer is because this trait is so fundamental and so deep that it is not really quantifiable. Thus, imagine that a person treats a fellow businessman to a lavish dinner. What’s his motivation? “To put the businessman in a good mood.” And why is that? “So he signs the deal.” Why? “So that I will make a handsome profit.” Why? “So that I will be rich.” Why? “Because that’s what I want!”

    We can trace his reasons up until a certain point. At some point we get to a bedrock of “desire” or “wish” which does not translate into anything else. It cannot be analyzed in terms of cause and effect, but rather is an axiom of personality.

    This corresponds to keter in the individual.

    In higher spiritual realms, keter is the primary Divine will. It does not allow itself to be analyzed. And therefore, it is not really included in the count of the sefirot, for as we explained in the beginning, the sefirot are quantifiable tools of God that interlock in a chain of cause and effect. Being that keter is only a cause, it is not really a part of this system.

    We can trace many steps of Divine Providence that have a cause and effect. But then we have to say that the root of all these reasons is “to bestow good upon His creatures.” The question “Why does God want to do that?” may not be a valid question, because we are dealing with an axiomatic level of Divine Providence.


    We have just explained that keter has no really discerning “cause.” The same goes for its “effect.”

    There are two different kinds of “effects”:
    1.There are direct and mechanical effects, such as flicking a light switch that directly links two pieces of metal, and a light goes on immediately.
    2.There are indirect and diffusing types of effects, such as teachings and writings that eventually have an effect in stirring and changing a group of people.

    In the second case, we are sure there is an effect, but it is impossible to quantify and to directly observe it.

    This is the nature of keter. It affects the other sefirot and produces them, but in an unquantifiable manner.

    There is a profound reason why this is so.

    The first group of sefirot — the “rational” or “intellectual” sefirot — are chochmah, binah, and da’at. Quantification, organization, direct cause and effect are all rooted in the rational process. Any type of activity that precedes these sefirot is outside the rational process. It cannot be quantified nor structured serially. Therefore, although it is definitely the sefirah of keter that brings about the following sefirot, it is impossible to pinpoint the process.


    This is why this sefirah is called keter, which means a “crown.” For all of the other sefirot are likened to the body which starts with the head and wends its way down into action. But the crown of a king lies above the head, and the connects the concept of “monarchy,” which is abstract and intangible, with the tangible and concrete head of the king.

    The crown “endows” the person with the power and prerogatives of royalty.

    It is not a direct and mechanical connection as are the arms and legs to the body. Nor even a subtler connection, like the mind to the body. But, rather, the crown “endows” the person with the power and prerogatives of royalty. It is only after the king senses or is aware of his status that a linear process sets in. He asks himself, “What am I supposed to do as king? What are the necessary prerequisites to implementing my obligations?” And then he proceeds to implement them.

    Therefore, keter is in some ways a sefirah and in some ways not. It definitely exists and is the source of all the sefirot, but ought not to really be counted amongst it.

    We once quoted a verse, “and chochmah comes from nowhere.” We explained then that chochmah is the first sefirah. Yet the Kabbalistic works also tell us that the “nowhere” is actually the sefirah of keter. It is a “nowhere” for we can never face it directly, quantify it or analyze it. But by seeing chochmah, we know that it was preceded by keter. Like a spring bursting out of the earth, the first drop of visible water is chochmah, but we always know that there is a source — forever unseen — from whence this originated. And that source is keter.

  28. yehudith says:

    Divine Manifestation:
    An Excerpt from The Thirteen Petalled Rose
    By Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

    The Holy One, Blessed be He, has any number of names. All of these names, however, designate only various aspects of divine manifestation in the world, in particular as these are made known to human beings. Above and beyond this variety of designations is the divine essence itself, which has not, and cannot have, a name. We call this essence, or God-in-Himself, by a name that is itself a paradox: “the Infinite, Blessed be He.”

    This term, then, is meant to apply to the divine essence in itself, which cannot be called by any other name since the only name that can be applied to the very essence of God must include both the distant and the near – indeed everything. Now as we know, in the realms of abstract thought, such as mathematics and philosophy, infinity is that which is beyond measure and beyond grasp, while at the same time the term is limited by its very definition to being a quality of something finite. Thus, for example, there are many things in the world, such as numbers, that may have infinity as one of their attributes and yet also be limited either in function or purpose or in their very nature. But when we speak of the Infinite, Blessed be He, we mean the utmost of perfection and abstraction, that which encompasses everything and is beyond all possible limits.

    The only thing we are permitted to say about the Infinite then, would involve the negative of all qualities. For the Infinite is beyond anything that can be grasped in any terms – either positive or negative. Not only is it impossible to say of the Infinite that He is in any way limited or that He is bad, one cannot even say the opposite, that He is vast or He is good. Just as He is not matter, He is not spirit, nor can He be said to exist in any dimension meaningful to us. The dilemma posed by this meaning of infinity is more than a consequence of the inadequacy of the human mind. It represents a simply unbridgeable gap, a gap that cannot be crossed by anything definable.

    There would, therefore, seem to be an abyss stretching between God and the world – and not only the physical world of time, space, and gravity, but also the spiritual worlds, no matter how sublime, confined as each one is within the boundaries of its own definition. Creation itself becomes a divine paradox.

    To bridge the abyss, the Infinite keeps creating the world. His creation being not the act of forming something out of nothing but the act of revelation. Creation is an emanation from the divine light; its secret is not the coming into existence of something new but the transmutation of the divine reality into something defined and limited – into a world. This transmutation involves a process, or a mystery, of contraction. God hides Himself, putting aside His essential infiniteness and withholding His endless light to the extent necessary in order that the world may exist. Within the actual divine light nothing can maintain its own existence; the world becomes possible only through the special act of divine withdrawal or contraction. Such divine non-being, or concealment, is thus the elementary condition for the existence of that which is finite.

    Still, even though it appears as an entity in itself, the world is formed and sustained by the divine power manifested in this primal essence. The manifestation takes the form of ten Sefirot, fundamental forces or channels of divine flow. And these Sefirot, which are the means of divine revelation, are related to the primary divine light as a body is related to the soul; they are in the nature of an instrument or a vehicle of expression, as though a mode of creation in another dimension of existence. Or, the ten Sefirot can also be seen as an arrangement or configuration resembling an upright human figure, each of whose main limbs corresponds to one of the Sefirot. The world does not, therefore, relate directly to the hidden God-head, whichin this imagery is like the soul in relation to the human semblance of the Sefirot; rather, it relates to the divine manifestation, when and how this manifestation occurs, in the ten Sefirot. Just as a man’s true soul, his inapprehensible self, is never revealed to others but manifests itself through his mind, emotions, and body, so is the Self of God not revealed in His original essence except through the ten Sefirot.

    The ten Sefirot taken together constitute a fundamental and all-inclusive Reality; moreover, the pattern of this Reality is organic, each of the Sefirot has a unique function, complements each of the others, and is essential for the realization or fulfillment of the others and of the whole.

    Because of their profound many-sidedness, the ten Sefirot seem to be shrouded in mystery. And there are indeed so many apparently unconnected levels of meaning to each – the levels, moreover, appearing to be unconnected – that a mere listing of their names does not adequately convey their essence. To say that the first Sefirah, Keter (“crown”), is the basic divine will and also the source of all delight and pleasure, only touches the surface. As is true with Hokhmah (“wisdom”), which is intuitive, instantaneous knowledge, while Binah (“understanding”) tends more to logical analysis. Daat (“knowledge”) is different from both, being not only the accumulation or the summation of that which is known, but a sort of eleventh Sefirah – belonging and yet not belonging to the ten. Hesed (“grace”) is thus the fourth Sefirah and is the irrepressibly expanding impulse, or Gedulah (“greatness”), of love and growth. Gevurah (“power”) is restraint and concentration, control as well as fear and awe; while Tiferet (“beauty”) is the combination of harmony, truth, compassion. Netzah (“eternity”) is conquest or the capacity for overcoming; Hod (“splendor”) can also be seen as persistence or holding on; and Yesod (“foundation”) is, among other things, the vehicle, the carrier from one thing or condition to another. Malkhut (“kingdom”), the tenth and last Sefirah is, besides sovereignty or rule, the word and the ultimate receptacle.

    Keter-Hokhmah-Binah- (Daat)-Hesed-Gevurah-Tiferet-Netzah-Hod-Yesod-Malkhut.

    All these Sefirot are infinite in their potency, even though they are finite in their essence. They never appear separately, each in a pure state; but always in some sort of combination, in a variety of forms. And every single combination, or detail of such a combination, expresses a different revelation.

    The great sum of all these Sefirot in their relatedness constitutes the permanent connection between God and His world. This connection actually operates two ways; for the world can respond and even act on its own. On the one hand; the ten Sefirot are responsible for the universal law and order, what we might call the workings of nature in the worlds. As such they mix and descend, contracting and changing forms as they go from one world to another, until they reach our physical world which is the final station of the manifestation of divine power.

    On the other hand, the events that occur in our world continuously influence the ten Sefirot, affecting the nature and quality of the relations between the downpouring light and power and the recipients of this light and power.

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