Sefirot

According to the kabbalists, the attributes of God relate to each other in a scripted way.

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The medieval kabbalists believed that God's self could not be understood, but God has revealed attributes that interact with each other and the world. These are known as sefirot. Just as human beings are made up of various internal traits or tendencies of personality, all of which interact with one another, so too God is made up of various internal traits or "drives." The imagery used to describe the sefirot and their relationships is often visual and physical, even sexual. Light and the lack of light is also an important concept in discussions about the sefirot; light is used to symbolize (among other things) proximity to the divine. The sefirot are ascribed colors--functions of light--that symbolize their place within the divine realm. In the Zohar, the greatest kabbalistic work, the Torah is interpreted in reference to the sefirot. The symbolic framework mentioned above and detailed below is used in this interpretative process.

The following article is reprinted with permission from Essential Judaism. The picture of the sefirot is reprinted with the permission of Eliezer Siegel.

There are 10 sefirot, linked in a complex figure that some have called the "Tree of Life," significantly a phrase also often used to refer to the Torah. They are Keter (Crown), Hokhmah (Wisdom), Binah (Understanding), Hesed (Lovingkindness), Gevurah (Might) or Din (Judgment), Tiferet (Beauty), Hod (Splendor), Netzah (Victory), Yesod (Foundation), and Malkhut (Sovereignty) or Shekhinah (the Divine Presence). Each of them represents one aspect of the Godhead, a facet of the powers of the All Powerful. Each is also identified with a part of the body or aspects of the human personality, a color, and one of the Names of the Holy One.

The relationship of the sefirot looks something like this:

sefirot As you can see from the diagram, the attributes of God are highly interdependent, with each one linked to several others. (According to the kabbalists of Safed, each of the ten sefirot contains within it all of the others [i.e., each sefirah represents a piece of a totality and contains an image of this totality within itself].) By understanding their interrelationship, we can understand in some small way the process of The Creation itself.

Keter

Keter (Crown)(occasionally called Keter Elyon [the Supreme Crown])represents the first stirrings of Will within the Godhead, a primal impulse that precedes even thought but which is essential for any action to take place. It is also called Ayin (Nothingness),for it was out of the infinite void that the Almighty created. When a Jew seeks a oneness with God through ecstatic prayer or meditation, it is to this state of Nothingness, the annihilation of all ego, that she aspires.

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George Robinson

George Robinson, author of Essential Judaism, is the recipient of a Simon Rockower Award for excellence in Jewish journalism from the American Jewish Press Association. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsday, Jewish Week, and The Detroit Jewish News.