The Ten Sefirot: Introduction

keter כֶּתֶר
binah בִּינָה
chochmah חָכְמָה
da’at דַּעַת
gevurah גְבוּרָה
chesed חֶסֶד
tiferet תִּפְאֶרֶת
hod הוֹד
netzach נֵצָח
yesod יְסוֹד
malchut מַלְכוּת

sefirah (pl. sefirot) is a channel of Divine energy or life-force. This most fundamental concept of Kabbalah is that in the process of creation an intermediate stage was emanated from God's infinite light to create what we experience as finite reality. These channels are called the Ten Sefirot, Ten Divine Emanations, Ten Divine Radiances, Ten Divine Eluminices, or Ten Divine Powers which are the basic terms and concepts of the inner wisdom of the Torah which is called Kabbalah.

The above chart shows the traditional form of the Kabbalah which includes three axes: right, middle, and left. For each sefirah, we have given its Hebrew spelling, and its English transliteration on the top line and its English translation immediately below.

Although often the sefirot are enumerated as being ten, there are altogether eleven sefirot spoken of in Kabbalistic literature. This is because the sefirah of keter and da'at are actually one, representing differing dimensions of a single force. When keter, which is the super-conscious of the soul, manifests itself in consciousness, it transforms into the sefirah of da'at. In other words, keter and da'at are two sides of the same coin, a conscious side and a unconscious side. Usually when referring to the Ten Sefirot one will either count keter in which case one does not count da'at. Or visa-versa one counts da'at in which case one does not count keter. Therefore there are actually only Ten Sefirot but there are all together eleven names. Still, many times in various models, all eleven sefirot are used at once.

The configuration of the sefirot is graphically depicted in Kabbalistic texts by a vertical array along three parallel axes (or kavim), each representing a mode of Divine influence within Creation. This configuration is variously referred to in the literature as a sulam ("ladder"), an etz ("tree"), or a tzelem Elokim (supernal "image of God"). According to this last designation, the configuration of the sefirot suggests the form of the human body which, as recorded in the Bible, was fashioned "in the image of God." Hence each sefirah is associated with the particular limb or organ which corresponds to its position in the anatomical sefirotic structure.

The interaction between the various sefirot is depicted through a network of connecting tzinorot ("channels") which illustrate the flow of Divine energy throughout Creation. These connections suggest various subgroupings of thesefirot, each reflecting a common dynamic amongst the sefirot which they include.

As one can see on the chart above, the sefirot are divided into three triplets of three. There is right, left, middle at three different levels. The first triplet of right, left, middle, is the triplet of the mind: da'at (or alternatively, keter);chochmah; binah). The second triplet is of the inner emotive powers of the heart before one begins to act and do things: chesed; gevurah; tiferet. The third final triplet is of action, which means of behaviouristic characteristics: netzach; hod; yesod. These are also emotions, but emotions that only become manifest in behavior. The final point malchut can be viewed as either an appendage of this last subgrouping, or as an independent entity receiving those energies which precede it. Malchut is the final result of product of all of the experiences of the soul.

Also according to the Kabbalah there is a specific order for the sefirot from center, right, left, center. Beginning with keter the order continues to chochmahbinahda'at (first triplet–mind). Then to chesedgevurahtiferet (second triplet–heart), netzachhodyesod (third triplet–behavior), and finally malchut.

Another way of dividing the sefirot is into partzufim (profiles, or personas). A partzuf is a metaphorical figure of human likeness, used to represent the elaboration of an individual sefirah (or group of sefirot ) into an independent configuration with ten sefirot of its own. According to Kabbalah, the sefirot of keter, chochmah, binah and malchut each possess two interrelated partzufim; whereas the six sefirot from chesed through yesod form their own common and independent pair of partzufim.

Sequentially, the sefirot represent the various stages of the creative process whereby God generated from the very core of His own infinite being, the progression of created realms which culminated in our finite physical universe. As a coexisting group, the sefirot constitute the interacting components of a single metaphysical structure whose "genetic" imprint can be identified at all levels, and within all aspects, of Creation.

Underlying the purely functional structural aspect of each sefirah is a hidden motivational force which is best understood by way of comparison to some corresponding psycho-spiritual state of the human soul. Chassidut's exposition of the sefirot is primarily concerned with articulating these states and exploring the role that they play in man's service of God in this world.

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