The Ten Sefirot of the Creator Part 1
The Creator’s ten sefirot are the ten emanations through which He reveals Himself and continuously creates both the physical realm and the higher supernatural realm.
Through the ten sefirot supernatural energy radiates from the Creator. They are also called ten emanations or ten radiances and can be perceived as ten creative forces that intervene between the Infinite Creator and the created finite world.
Through these powers the Creator created and rules the universe, and through them we perceive Him and His actions within the world.
In a two-part presentation, we will try to explain the ten sefirot simply, as simply as we could. Albert Einstein once said, “If you cannot explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough!”
In Rabbinic Judaism the ten sefirot are referred to as the specific qualities and attributes that can be ascribed to the Creator. Sometimes the ten sefirot are called “channels” in the sense of routes of communication from the Creator to His creation.
But such an ascription to Him would be very inappropriate for the plain reason that no human being can ascribe or assign anything to the Supreme One.
What are the ten sefirot?
The word sefirah (singular of sefirot) is related to the verb סָפַר saphar, which means to express or communicate, to score with a mark, to inscribe, to enumerate.
From saphar, another word is derived: סֵפֶר seipher, or סִפְרָה siphrah, which means scroll, writing, evidence; and סָפֵר sapher, is a scribe who writes.
This implies that the function of a sefirah is to express something or make it evident.
Sefirah is also related to the gemstone סַפִּיר sappir “sapphire” (a precious transparent stone of rich blue corundum), implying that the function of a sefirah is to give light and illuminate. In this sense the function of a sephirah is to indicate something through a symbol, i.e. a gemstone.
Combining these two concepts, the ten sefirot (plural) have two basic functions, (1) as light that serve to enlighten, guide, and make evident, and (2) as vessels that convey and define. In the former, the ten sefirot are boundless, as the illumination of sapphire is boundless, but in the latter, the ten sefirot limit the illumination, i.e. light is limited to a singular entity, an illuminator, i.e. gemstone.
Simply put, the sefirot are the ten emanations through which Ein Sof (Hebrew for “The Infinite One”) manifests Himself in the finite world.
The light of the Infinite One
Everything visible and invisible that happens in the finite world takes place through the medium or channels of the ten sefirot (emanations) that radiates from the Creator Himself. Hence, we are talking about Or Ein Sof, “Light of The Infinite One”.
This Or Ein Sof, Light of The Infinite One, is the primeval light of the creation. This primeval light is not the light created on the fourth day (the light the stars emit). For more on this topic refer to the article in TORM Q&A.
According to the Rabbinic interpretation in Genesis Rabbah, the original primeval or primordial light served only during the first three days of Creation: until the sun and the moon were suspended in the sky. After that, Or Ein Sof, the primordial light, was hidden away, and since then the stars have been serving as sources of light.
Looking at Gen 1:3, the Creator’s command to the light, “Light, exist! And Light existed” represents the beginning of the universe. This universe was created, according to the Rabbinic eschatology, “from the light provided by God’s garment”. The Creator’s garment (as we will explain below) can be nothing less than the ten sefirot or the ten emanations in which He is adorned in majesty and grandeur.
The meaning of the command “Light, exist!” is that this verse does not even describe the original creation of light at all. According to the Rabbinic eschatology, the existence of light had already been referred to in the first word of the Creation: בראשית Bereishit, “In the beginning”.
This is why the Talmud in Rosh HaShanah 12 says: “Bereishit” is also one of the ten commands with which He created the universe. That command included a reference to light which at that time was still invisible, i.e. hidden from manifestation.
Now that the Torah reports the command “Light, exist!”, this meant that the previously hidden light [in the Creator’s garment] became manifested.
So, is there any contradiction between Gen 1:3-5 and Gen 1:14-18? Not at all! The primeval light in Gen 1:3-5 will be manifested again in the renewed universe (see Rev 22:5), when the light from the stars will be hidden or even cease to exist.
The Book of 2Enoch 25:1-6 provides further information on Or Ein Sof, Light of The Infinite One, as we read,
I commanded in the very lowest parts, that visible things should come down from invisible, and Adoil (“Light of creation”) came down very great, and I beheld him, and lo! He had a belly of great light. And I said to him: Become undone, Adoil, and let the visible come out of you. And he came undone, and a great light came out. And I was in the midst of the great light, and as there is born light from light, there came forth a great age, and showed all creation, which I had thought to create. And I saw that it was good. And I placed for myself a throne, and took my seat on it, and said to the light: “Go thence up higher and fix yourself high above the throne and be a foundation to the highest things”. And above the light there is nothing else, and then I bent up and looked up from my throne.
To understand better the concept of the ten sefirot, we can take an example from the sun light. Through refraction, passing from one medium to another, the visible light manifests itself in seven basic colors, which have been hidden in the “garment” of the visible light.
Therefore, we may understand the grandeur of the Creator as emanation that radiate from the Infinite One, which through refraction, passing from the realm of heaven to the realm of our finite world, manifest themselves in the ten sefirot.
The ten sefirot proceed and issue forth from the Creator, yet they are not “God” or “gods”; they are not Him. They are not “divine persons” either.
The ten sefirot are the medium through which (1) He, as a source of everything, created the world, and (2) through them He revealed and continues to make Himself evident to the world.
Since the sefirot are the ten emanations through which He created the finite world, manifests Himself in it, and everything takes place through them, it is the ten sefirot that make it possible to speak about His presence in creation—what He did and what He does, without referring to what He is.
The reason for the creation
We can find in the Scripture the answers to questions such as: “Who created the world?”, “When was the world created?”, “What was created and how?” But we cannot find the answer to the question, “Why was the world created?” And indeed, why did the Creator create the entire universe and everything visible and invisible in it?”
So, what is the reason for creating the world?
There is no reason. If the Creator had created the world for reason, meaning He was compelled to create it, then that reason that “compelled” Him to create the universe is something higher than Him and therefore it is “God”.
For instance, a man makes a shelter for protection against the elements. The reason for making the shelter [that is, the elements] exists independently and beyond him. And since they [the elements] have compelled him to create the shelter, they stand higher than him and they are the reason for making the shelter.
So, why did Elohim create the world? He created it for no reason, since nothing can possibly exist outside of Him that can compel Him. Therefore, He created the world not because He was compelled but because He wanted it so. His Will created everything for no reason, and everything exists according to His will.
It will not be incorrect to say that Infinite One still creates, and the whole world is still being constantly recreated and thus renewed. As we will explain further in this study, it is through the ten sefirot that the Infinite Creator created and conducts the finite world.
The Alter Rebbe says: “If God stops recreating the world, it will return to nothingness just as before the six days of Creation”.
Therefore, existence is a state of ceasing being nothingness, and the definition of existence is the state from being non-existent to existent.
Hence, we understand that the ten sefirot are the medium through which He constantly recreates the universe.
Man created in the image of Elohim
Another way to better understand the ten sefirot, is to take an example from how Elohim created the first human, for indeed man was created in the image of Elohim.
In many places in the Torah, the Scripture speaks of the Infinite One as having human features, i.e. “the eyes of Elohim”, the “hand of Elohim”, etc.
Yet, we know that the Creator has neither body nor form of body; He is incorporeal.
And Yehovah spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard a voice of words, but saw no form, you only heard a voice. (Deu 4:12)
Why then does the Torah use a human description of the incorporeal Creator to describe Him?
The answer is that the Torah speaks in the language of man. When the Torah tells us that Elohim made Adam in His image, it means that man is microcosmic emanation of the Infinite Creator reflected in him.
And Elohim created the man in His image, in the image of Elohim He created him – male and female He created them. (Gen 1:27)
Rabbeinu Bahya plainly explains this in his commentary on Gen 1:27 thus,
Due to the fact that we humans experience certain feelings and emotions we are unable to properly understand beings which are devoid of such feelings. Therefore, in order to give us at least an inkling of what goes on in those worlds, the Torah employs words and concepts with which we are familiar.
Once we have learned to appreciate that these terms employed for celestial phenomena are in fact merely similes, we will be able to strip these words of their terrestrial significance in our minds and see in them expressions used to describe attributes of the celestial world which correspond in some way to the meaning of these organs in our own world. Concerning this we are told in Pro 28:5 “those who seek out the Lord will understand all.”
If the Torah had not employed expressions used in this terrestrial world to describe phenomena in the celestial regions but had employed terms reserved for application to abstract intellectual beings, most people would not have even had an inkling of what the Torah was speaking about, neither of the subject matter nor of the attributes of these beings. This is why the Torah employed terms which enable the least educated people to understand what the Torah had in mind. Every individual has to understand these terms based on his own insight into matters super-terrestrial. The one thing that we all have in common is knowledge of the existence of the Creator.
The Ancient of Days and the sefirot
Since the ten sefirot are the Creator’s emanations that radiate from Him, and man is made in His image, the ten sefirot are understood to correspond to various parts and functions of the human body. Hence, the ten emanations that emit and radiate from the Creator reflect within man in his spiritual and physical nature.
And if man is created in the image of Elohim, does He have human features?
It is not that the Creator does not have features like “the eyes of Elohim”, “the hand of Elohim”, etc., for the Scripture, which is His personal revelation to man, indeed speaks of them.
Daniel the prophet had a vision in heaven and this is what he saw,
I was looking until thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days was seated. His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like clean wool, His throne was flames of fire, its wheels burning fire. A stream of fire was flowing and coming forth from His presence, and a thousand thousands served Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him, the Judge was seated, and the books were opened. (Dan 7:9-10)
Likewise, Ezekiel too saw a likeness of a throne in heaven, “in appearance like a sapphire stone” and “a likeness as the appearance of a man high above it” (Eze 1:26-28).
The Ancient of Days in a likeness of a man was sitting on what appeared to be a throne in heaven! But more properly what appeared like a throne was actually “flames of fire” with “wheels of burning fire“! And “a stream of fire was flowing and coming forth from His presence”! Amazing!
And if that was not a mind-blowing experience for Daniel, Ezekiel too was stunned and fell on his face, when he saw the One high above that throne “what looked like glowing metal with the appearance of fire all around. And from the appearance of His waist and downward he saw what looked like fire, and brightness all around“.
Let us summarize the visions of both prophets. They both saw an appearance of man, but not an actual man; an appearance of throne, but not an actual throne.
The common element in both appearances of the Ancient of Days and His throne is that they appear like flames and a stream of fire that were flowing and coming forth from His presence. Furthermore, His presence is described like glowing metal in fire and brightness, like a sapphire stone all around.
But did we not explain already that the word sefirah, an emanation, is related to the gemstone סַפִּיר sappir “sapphire”, brilliant in illumination? Did the prophet himself not attest to this when he said that the likeness of the throne in heaven was like in appearance of a sapphire stone?
Therefore, we may say that “the flames of fire” both prophets saw were the sefirot emanating in a turbulent manner (its wheels burning fire) from the Ancient of Days.
So, what did the prophets attest to? Daniel saw “His garment”, and “the hair of His head”. Ezekiel saw “the appearance of a man” whose waist looked like “glowing metal with appearance of fire”.
Ibn Ezra explains that the prophets here describe prophetic visions, not perception with their physical eyes.
Therefore, when the Scripture speaks about His “eyes” and “hands”, they are not like our eyes and hands perceived with our physical eyes, but visions, that is, vivid mental images not perceived as real and not present to the human senses.
“The head”, “eyes”, and “hands” of the Infinite One are the sefirot the prophets perceived not with their human senses but with their inner “eyes”. The ten sefirot are the real things, not our eyes and hands; they are merely images of the real “features” the Creator has, as man is created in the image of Elohim.
It is like a manikin that has human-like body parts, but they are not real body parts a human has. Similarly, our eyes and hands are not real, His are.
Again, as Rabbeinu Bahya put it: the Torah expands our ability to perceive some super-terrestrial phenomena provided we have first prepared ourselves through the acquisition of both knowledge and the appropriate moral conduct.
The acquisition of knowledge and moral conduct the prophets of YHVH Elohim had.
Therefore, the main purpose of the ten sefirot through which the Creator reveals Himself is to prepare us for the acquisition of both knowledge and the appropriate moral conduct He expect from us.
Continue to PART 2.
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.