The Kabbalah is an ancient Jewish mystical tradition that explains how the universe and life have come to be, as well as our purpose within the world. As mentioned in my previous post, the Kabbalah has a fascinating system of other worlds and realms of existence above our own. What lies at the base of the Kabbalah is the interpenetration of four different worlds and the Sephirotic tree of life that forms the basis of them all. The quote today is:
From Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi’s A Kabbalistic Universe (1977):
“As the image of God, man has the greatest possibility of realizing the Immanence present in the Universe. The World provides the conditions for man’s work towards perfection, and in return man aids the World towards its completion, so that which has been separated reunites.”
Each sephirot in the tree is labelled by a different Hebrew words. They are often called ‘spheres,’ ‘sapphires,’ or ‘emanations.’ Keter is the crown, and it is from here that the others emanate. Binah and Hokhmah are the male and female principles, and Da’at corresponds to perfected knowledge. There are many interpretations about what each sphere stands for, and they are not mutually exclusive: they’re supposed to have many meanings. Each sphere, from Malkhut (the lowest) to Keter (the highest) corresponds to a different level of enlightenment/states of consciousness. During a spiritual seeker’s development, they will progress up the sephiroth (plural of sephirot) from their more impulsive animal nature to become a spiritual being. The sephiroth can all be seen as different worlds, where everyone in a lower level of enlightenment is in a lower world, unable to perceive the higher reality of existence around them. Those above encompass more worlds since they are beings of a higher spiritual dimension.
There are said to be 32 paths in the Kabbalah, corresponding to the 10 sephiroth and 22 letters (Hebrew alphabet), which are on the lines between the sephiroth. The sephiroth are unchanging principles that, as has been said, are instantiated in many different realms of being. The letters are variable, and there are many different ways to trace paths between sephiroth. By the flow of energy through the sephiroth, there emerges various processes as impulses flow from one sephirot to another. Indeed, the tree of life itself is created with the emanation from Keter as the initial impulse, giving rise to each letter and the subsequent sephiroth.
The sephiroth on the far left column comprise the pillar of Form, those on the right, the pillar of Force, and those in the centre, the Will or Consciousness, which unites force and form. Both of the two principles are necessary for life and evolution: form provides the structure, and force the energy to create it. Force corresponds to growth and expansion, and form to decay and constriction. Force is also called the Pillar of Mercy, and Form the Pillar of Severity. It is the task of our will to unite these two principles, keeping them both in balance. Form and Force are the Yin and Yang of Taoism, the Boaz and Jachin of Freemasonry: both are necessary, but one without the other will lead to imbalance and strife.
The Kabbalistic tree pictured above is actually one of four worlds. These worlds are called Azilut, Beriah, Yezirah, and Asiyyah. They are all interlaced to create one enormous tree of life with Azilut’s Keter at the top (see picture to the left). Azilut is also called Emanation, in that it is the first realm of being beyond that of absolute non-existence, which is the ultimate God. Each of the sephiroth in Azilut correspond to different aspects of the Divine. All these sephiroth, as well as the worlds beneath them, are produced by the emanation from the first sephirot as it expands its power. It is impossible to have the lower sephiroth without the higher ones above them, because they receive their existence from them, just like you can’t have the branches and leaves of a tree without its supporting trunk and roots. Indeed, the Kabbalah often uses the analogy of an inverted tree with Keter at the base and Malkhut at the top.
Beriah, the second world, also called Creation, emanates from the Tiferet of Azilut, forming another tree of life interspersed with the first. This is where time begins “as Creation moves away from the Eternal and Changeless Perfection of Azilut into expansion and contraction that are the essence of the Beriatic World of Creation.” This necessarily introduces imperfections, because with time, there is change, and even if things begin perfectly, they will necessarily become less perfect as time passes (because if they stayed perfect, they would not change, and time implies some form of change). Beriah, however, is very close to perfection, and its tree is often split into seven Heavens inhabited by Archangels that bring the further worlds into being and instantiate certain principles depending on which sephirot they correspond to. When these principles manifest in the lower worlds, they will correspond to physical laws (gravity and the like), karma, and the impetus behind cycles of growth and decay. Beriah also corresponds to Plato’s world of Forms, containing the archetypes of, for example, celestial phenomena, plants, and animals. There is no growth and decay in Beriah, but rather, it has the potential for existence that will actually come into being in the worlds below. These are the laws and the templates for beings that will be subject to the laws, a blueprint rather than a physical or spiritual substance. Indeed, Halevi says, “In the World of Creation only essences can exist,” and “in Beriah, although the destiny of each creature is determined, it cannot actually move through its stages, it cannot grow and manifest the different stages of existence.”
Moving along to Yezirah, which is also called Formation, we have a further emanation that creates the Yeziritic tree of life. In this world, things can now change their form, though they are still spiritual rather than physical beings. Allegorically, this is where the Garden of Eden lies, as well as the realm of Angels. It is still connected to Beriah, with the Tiferet of Beriah forming the Keter of Yezirah, and so the forms and laws of Beriah can be manifested in this world. Similar to the Archangels, the Angels of Yezirah have no will of their own, but operate according to the principles embodied by the sephiroth, with each angel residing on either the pillar of Force, Form, or Will. Complexity increases in the world of Yezirah, and although it still abides by the laws of the worlds above it, it derives more specific laws of its own, effective laws, one could say (e.g., like how Newton’s gravitational theory is an “effective theory” of Einstein’s more complete theory of gravity in general relativity).
The last world is Asiyyah, the physical world. Arising from the Tiferet of Yezirah, its upper sephiroth are still connected to the spiritual world of Yezirah. Here, physical particles, galaxies, planets, and all forms of life reside. The “void,” or vacuum, from which particles and energy emerge is the higher dimension (Yezirah) that provides the spiritual essence of the physical world, which Halevi says “is of a metaphysical nature, that is, it is concerned not with substance so much as with laws.” So there is an emergence of something out of “nothing,” similar to what physicists have observed, a principle that is manifested throughout the entire interlacing tree of worlds.
A useful analogy for this series of emanations (in all worlds) is that of white light dispersing through a prism. White light is pure and colourless, but it has the potential to disperse into different colours. When it passes through a prism and splits into various colours, it is less “perfect” than it was originally because the many colours are each less than the source that they came from. The white light, however, is undiminished with the creation of many colours: it is the same before it enters the prism, and the colours can return to white light if they are combined. This is an analogy for the descent and eventual return to a higher state of being [to think of this a bit more scientifically: each of the colours has a range of wavelengths that is narrower than white light, since white light contains all visible wavelengths (e.g., red light is ~ 622 – 780 nm, whereas all visible light is ~320 – 780 nm) so white light can be seen to be more “complete” than the colours it comprises. Yet at the same time, if one were to combine the colours, they would have white light, so there can be a return to perfection if the multiple colours combine to become white again]. And likewise, since we cannot “see” white light (we just see what it is illuminating) as we can see coloured light, it appears that the coloured beams arise out of nothing, when in truth, they come from a higher level of existence that we, in the lower world, cannot perceive. Thus, it appears that particles can arise out of “nothing” simply because we cannot perceive the Yeziritic world with our physical senses.
The two pillars of force and form are also at work at the basis of the physical world. We can describe matter as either waves (form) or particles (force), but ultimately, matter takes on both characteristics. It may also be possible to match up different elementary particles to the sephiroth on the tree, though I won’t go into that except for saying, as regards the three pillars, protons, neutrons, and electrons (the primary constituents of matter), would fit onto the pillars of Force, Will, and Form respectively (as seen by their charges).
Planets and stars can also be understood in terms of the sephirotic tree, as well as plant and animal life. The development of more complicated forms of life eventually allows for the formation of consciousness. This, however, would not be possible without the higher worlds because the souls of humans (or other animals) arise from Yezirah, residing in the overlapping lower tree of Yezirah and upper tree of Asiyyah. Yet we still have the ability to reach the higher worlds, and this is ultimately the destiny of humankind. As the quote above says, man is called the image of God, which means that all four worlds are latent within us (the word “image” is used because we arise from the process of emanation that began from God originally, just as each colour is an imperfect “image” of the white light from which it was dispersed). This means that we have the potential to realize the powers of the higher worlds if we can raise our consciousness to them. This is the “Immanence” of the higher worlds that is present even in the lowest sephirot of Malkhut.
The allegory of the fall of man represents the spirit of man descending from Yezirah into the physical world of Asiyyah. However, in Asiyyah, evolution provides “a gradual ascent of matter toward Spirit,” and so since we are beings from Yezirah in essence (and really, if you trace the line of emanations upward, we are all essentially from Azilut), we can return to that state after the development in the physical world is complete. The key to human existence is consciousness, because with it, we can choose to return to the upper worlds. This is only possible because of the interpenetration of the different worlds, and the fact that humans have a complicated enough physical body to allow for a soul to incarnate within it (of course, other animals do too, but this book considers humans primarily).
The interlaced psychological and physical bodies of humans (corresponding to the Yeziritic and Asiyyatic trees) create the different bodily systems and mental faculties such as the Self and the Soul (read the book to see more details!). And as we know, our minds and physical bodies are always related, and when there is a disturbance in one, there is often a disturbance in the other.
As has been seen in the descriptions of the worlds above, one of the main ideas of the Kabbalah is the interpenetration of different worlds. For example, the Keter of Asiyyah is the Tiferet of Yezirah. Every sephirot emanates from the Keter at the top of the corresponding tree, and are all contained within it (this is similar to dimensions, but all these worlds aren’t physical). The higher worlds are spiritual, and these can only be perceived by someone dwelling at that level of enlightenment. There are be traces of these higher worlds in physical world and within our own souls, but they are like projections of higher dimensions onto lower ones: if we shone a light on a sphere, we would only see a circle upon a screen because two dimensions can only show a projection of three dimensions rather than its entire image. Although our souls from Yezirah are present in Asiyyah, we often don’t notice the presence of higher worlds because of the constriction of matter in Asiyyah. And yet, since they overlap, it means that it is possible to reach higher levels of being/states of awareness because the potential is already inside of you.
So these are the worlds and some details about the Kabbalah and the Tree of Life. Bear in mind that I have condensed everything A LOT, so there’s much that I’ve left out, but the main idea of emanation and the structure of the worlds is hopefully clear. And so the Kabbalah has much to offer us: it is a great tool to understand the world we live in as well as how it came into being and our place within it.Tweet
Click here for more posts in my Quotes of Wisdom series.
Click here for more posts in my Quotes of Wisdom series.