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Adam Kadmon

The Universe of Atzilut is in the Lurianic system the universe of the Partzufim (Divine visages) and of the Personal Godhead.

In formulating the idea of Partzufim, Luria drew from the Zohar.  He divides Divinity into a number (usually five or six) of Partzufim.  These represent the five stages of manifestation or unfolding of the Divinity.  The Partzufim are:

  • Atika Kadisha, above the sefirah Keter.  "The Holy Ancient One"
  • Atik Yomin, Upper part of Keter. "The Ancient of Days"
  • Arik Anpin,  corresponding to the sefirah Keter.  The "Macroprosopus" or "Greater Counternance"; the "Long­ Suffering" or The Merciful.
  • Abba, corresponding to the sefirah Hokmah.  "Father", the transcendent male polarity of God.
  • Imma, corresponding to the sefirah Binah.  "Mother", the transcendent female polarity of God.
  • Ze'er Anpin, corresponding to the next six sefirot (from Hesed to Yesod).  The "Microprospus" or "Lesser Counternance" or "Short­Tempered"; the "God of Israel" or Creator­God.  The lower male polarity of God.
  • Nukvah, corresponding to the sefirah Malkut.  "Female"; The Shekhinah; The Presence of God in Israel; the Bride of God; the Divine Immanence.  The lower female polarity of God

The Partzuf represent a progression from unity through increasing degree of polarisation to complete duality.  And he we see parallels with other systems of thought, such as the Kashmir Shaivism and the Egyptian Ennead of Gods: first unity, then polarity in unity, and finally duality and multiplicity.

Adam Kadmon
the Lurianic theory of Partzufim - the emanation of sefirot and worlds from the visage of Adam Kadmon.

Parztuf theology means that God is understood to be an organic process of unfolding and progressive manifestation, rather than an unchanging eternally existing Person, as in conventional Theism.  For "Person" by its very nature implies change and transformation; only the Impersonal Absolute is beyond change.

In Luria's system it is only this lowest level of Divinity ­ the Ze'er Anpin ("lesser countenance") ­ that corresponds to God in the personal Creator sense.   Beyond Ze'er Anpin and Nukvah ­ the male and female  polarities of the personal God ­ are the higher male and female polarities of God, called Father (Abba) and Mother (Imma).  Beyond them again is the Arik Anpin, and beyond him the still higher and more  transcendent Adam Kadmon, and finally the En Sof (Unmanifest Absolute).  Thus the Personal Creator God is seen as only one of a number of divine hypostases.

That Luria's theology puts the Personal God ­ the God of religious experience ­ so low, relatively speaking, on the scale of being, is an eminently gnostic motif.  In Middle Platonism and Neoplatonism for example, the Demiurge, the Cosmic Creative power  (the Creator God, so to speak), is always at a level below that of the transcendent and quiescent Nous and/or first principle.  The Gnostics of the Hellenistic­Roman era are unanimous in sharply distinguishing between the inferior Creator of the and universe, and the true, transcendent Godhead of the Pleroma, ineffable and unknowable.

In the cosmological teachings of the post-Plotinian Neoplatonists Iamblichus and Proclus, in the Gnosticism of Basilides, the Valentinians, the Sethians, the Pistis Sophia, and others, in the series of Tattwas of Kashmir Shaivism, and in the theology of later Zervanism, the chain of transcendent principles is extended, so that the actual Creator of the cosmos is a relatively minor (ontologically speaking) entity, who only comes into being at the end of a long chain of transcendent spiritual and Godheadic emanation.

What is surprising is that such a concept ­  so contrary to the monotheistic position, according to which the Creator God is also the Absolute Reality ­ should arise within such a restrictive and theologically dogmatic milieu as the Judaic religion.

The uniqueness and radical nature of Luria's theology was not lost on Scholem:

"For (Luria's predecessor Moses) Cordovero, only En Sof was the real God of whom  religion speaks, and the world of divinity with all its Sefirot nothing but the organism in which He constitutes Himself in  order to bring forth the universe of creation, and to act in it.  In reading the  authentic literature of Lurianic Kabbalism,  one is frequently struck by the opposite  impression: En Sof has little religious interest for Luria.  His three hymns for the three Sabbath meals are directed to the mystical configurations of God: the "Holy Ancient One (Arik Anpin) , the Ze'er Anpin,  and the Shekhinah for whom he employs a Zoharic symbol, the "holy apple garden"....In these hymns, then, Luria appears to address the Partzufim as separate  personalities." [Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, p.271)

So even within the field of Kabbalah itself, Luria's theology is unique.  His successors, such as Moses Luzzatto (1707­47) and Shneur Zalman (1747­1813)  both gifted writers ­ quickly reverted back to conventional monotheism by once again identifying the En Sof ­ which in Luria's system is quite explicately the Impersonal Absolute ­ with the personal  Creator­God.

The Fall and the Original World of Atzilut
The Redeemed World of Atzilut


Lurianic Kabbalah

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page uploaded 12 November 1998