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Ten Sefirot meaning

 

The 10 Sephirot and the Kabbalah   

The 10 Sephirot (Singular: Sephira) are the 10 spiritual attributes of the “Ein Sof” (The Infinite or the Creator)  and the way in which the Divine force reveals himself to us and endlessly creates our physical universe and the higher, spiritual realms that we strive to achieve. 

Did you know?  In the past, the question arose as to whether the Sephirot contradicted Judaism’s belief in one God.  For example, Rabbi Isaac ben Sheshet Perfet (HaRivash – 13th Century CE) asked: "Do you Kabbalists not also believe in many Gods, as you postulate the Ten Sefirot?”  The answer can be compared to a ray of light passing a prism.  The rainbow of colors we see as they exit are not separate “entities “they are parts of the whole. Thus, the 10 Sephirot are different expressions, attributes of the same thing, the One God.

The 10 Sephirot are portrayed in the Kabbalah’s Tree of Life which is a “map” of the powers of the universe and of man.  A close look at the traditional graphic portrayal of the Sephirot reveals 11 Sephirot. This is because two of the attributes, Keter and Daat, are essentially two aspects of the same Sephira.

Although there are different variations of the Sephirot, the custom of using 10 derives from a passage in the “Sefer HaYitzirav” (The Book of Creation, an ancient book of the Kabbalistic with sources that, according to tradition, reach back to Abraham): "Ten Sephirot of nothingness, ten and not nine, ten and not eleven".

The meaning of the sefirot

  1. Keter (Crown) – That which is beyond our comprehension, the Divine Will.
  2. Chokhmah (Wisdom) - insight and potential.
  3. Binah (Understanding) – Our intellectual understanding of the world we live in.
  4. Chesed (kindness, charity) – the ability to love our fellow man and to be capable of boundless giving.
  5. Gevurah (Severity, discipline) – The “Ein Sof’s” judgment and punishment of mankind humankind. It also defines our ability to show restraint.
  6. Tiferet (Spirituality, Compassion) - Balances the opposing forces of Chesed and Gevurah.
  7. Netzach (Eternity, Victory) – Perseverance, fortitude.
  8. Hod (Magnificence, splendor) – Sincerity and complete faith.
  9. Yesod (Foundation) – The link between the spiritual, the mind and reality, the material world. 
  10. Malchut (Kingdom, majesty) – The glory of God and the magnificence of His Creation.

ten sefirot diagram

The Sephirot are interconnected and should be seen as total concept, a whole that represents the Divine energy of the universe’s continuous evolution.  They are a map of life and harmony and enlightenment will be achieved by balancing between the Sephirot.  For this reason, the Sephirot are always connected by a series of paths which shows the connection between them and their overall relationship with the Creator.

Thus, the discipline of Gevurah can lead to cruelty unless mitigated by the mercy of Chesed, Oneness with God that can be experienced through Keter can lead to escapism unless balanced with Malchut, the love of the material world created by God.

The Sephirot in Jewish religious texts

The 10 Sephirot and the Tree of Life are central concepts of the Kabbalh.  They have been discussed, debated, interpreted and commented upon for well over 1000 years.

Sefer HaBahir (Book of the Brightness)

is a mystical work attributed to Rabbi Nehunya ben HaKanah (1st century CE).  It is considered by many to be the forerunner of the Kabbalah.  It was first published in printed form in the 13th century CE and is the first manuscript to employ the symbolism of the Ten Sefirot as divine attributes.

Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation)

is one of the oldest surviving books of the Kabbalah.  There is a constant debate as to its origins but due to its grammatical form parts of it are considered to be from the 2nd century CE.

The book describes how the universe was created by God through "32 wondrous ways of wisdom".  These are the 10 Sephirot and the 22 Letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Did you know?  In the traditional representation of the Sephirot (without Daat) 22 paths connect the 10 Sephirot.

The Zohar (Radiance)

is a group of books dealing with the mystical aspects of the Torah and is the foundational work of the Kabbalah. The Zohar discusses, amongst other things, the nature of God, the universe’s origin and the relationship of God (Ein Sof) to man.  

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