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Kabbalistic Theology - the Ten Sefirot

the ten sefirot

Central to Kabbalah is aninternal link emanationist theology whereby general link God is said to manifest or reveal Himself in the form of ten archetypal attributes or characteristics, "spheres" or "regions", the internal link ten Sefirot.  These are the ten spheres of divine manifestation, the "world of union" (alma de-yihuda), through which God emerges from His hidden abode.  God in His essence, as the internal link En Sof or "infinite", is unknowable.  It is only through the Sefirot that God becomes knowable.  Yet the Sefirot, the attributes of God, are still one with, and inseparable from, the En Sof or essence of God.  They should not be thought of as mediating stages between the Absolute and Creation, but rather as phases of manifestation of and in Divinity itself; equivalent to the Christian triune or three-in-one God.

 The ten Sefirot are:
1. Keter Elyon, or just Keter - the "supreme crown" of God
2. Hokmah - the "wisdom" of God
3. Binah - the "intelligence" of God
4. Gedullah or Hesed - the "greatness" or "love" of God
5. Gevurah or Din - the "power" or "judgment" of God
6. Rahamim or Tifaret - the "compassion" or "beauty" of God
7. Netzah - the "lasting endurance" of God
8. Hod - the "majesty" of God
9. Tzaddik or Yesod Olam or just Yesod - the "righteous one" or "foundation of the world"
10. Malkut - the "kingdom" of God, usually described in the Zohar as the Keneset Israel, or the Shekhinah, the indwelling divinity of the community of Israel. [Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, p.213; and Kabbalah, p.106]

 This terminology appears to be based on a verse in 1 Chronicles 29:11, which was interpreted as applying to the order of the Sefirot.  Kabbalistic metaphysics largely revolves around endless speculation on the nature of the ten Sefirot, their relation to each other and to the cosmos and the human soul.  For example, the Sefirot are described as emanating in a branching manner from above, like an inverted tree, hence the term "tree of life" was sometimes used to refer to them.  Alongside this image is a more common one of the Sefirot in the form of a man; the first three represent the head or the brain, the next two (Hesed and Gevurah) the left and right arms, Tifaret the torso or the heart, Netzah and Hod the legs, Yesod the genitals, and Malkut the feet [Scholem, Kabbalah, pp.106-7; Fortune, The Mystical Qabalah], this being Adam Kadmon, the "primordial man".  Sometimes the higher five sefirot are distinguished from the lower five, sometimes the higher three from the lower seven [Scholem, Kabbalah, p.108].  In the Bahir and several early texts of the 13th century, Yesod was positioned in seventh place, preceeding Netzah and Hod [Ibid, p.107].  And so on.

A perspective diagram of the ten Sefirot, composed of the initial letters of the names of each Sefirah, with the first, Keter, being the outermost.  From Moses Cordovero, Pardes Rimmonim, Cracow, 1592 [1]
R. Azriel on the Ten Sefirot

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page uploaded 20 March 1999