The Kabbalah (in Hebrew qabbalah) describes the highest, the most inner aspect of the Hebraic tradition. It represents the esoteric and initiatory part, the spirit of a formerly oral tradition comparatively to the exoteric part, the letter of more recent texts.
The three columns
According to the Hebraic Kabbalah, there was nothing at the beginning. In this emptiness (Ain) appeared The One, God who created Heaven and Earth linked by the three great columns of the Sefirotic Tree. The right column (masculine, luminous and active) and the left one (feminine, dark and passive) were unified within the middle column. Consequently, the Sefirotic Tree integrates Unity and duality, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Science of good and evil of the Biblical tradition. Also called the Tree of Life, the Sefirotic Tree was first described in the book of Formation (Sepher Yetsirah) and then in the book of Splendour (Sepher haZohar), the two most important works of the Hebraic esoteric doctrine.
God manifests himself according to ten degrees, ten lights, ten words or ten divine aspects named sefirot and distributed between the three columns of the Sefirotic Tree as follows:
The three columns of the Sefirotic Tree
A sefirah (the singular) is a receptacle destined to receive spiritual influences and to transmit them. The sefirot can be represented as receptacles that receive and pour the waters of the "higher river".
The sefirot also refers to an equivalence numerical system to establish a relation between the divine manifestation and the source. The choice of the number 10 (= 1 + 9) symbolizes the full development of Unity during a denary cycle, the full realization of the One, of God.
The two directions
The tree can be travelled in two directions:
- In the descending direction from Heaven to Earth, the ten sefirot symbolize the various degrees of the divine manifestation, at the level of the universe (macrocosm) as well as of the being (microcosm). According to the Hebraic Kabbalah, the universe and beings were formed from the division of the primeval being, Adam Kadmon. The higher degrees of the sefirot correspond to the principles at the source of the manifestation and are associated with the roots of the tree; the lower degrees are related to the manifestation itself symbolized by the foliage of the tree. Consequently, it is a matter of an inverted tree, representative of the Will of Heaven on Earth;
- In the ascending direction from Earth to Heaven, the ten sefirot symbolize the ladder of degrees of the return from the divine manifestation to the Divine in Itself. The reintegration can concern the macrocosm and the microcosm as well. Now, as all beings are parts of the primeval being, their reintegration in the original Unity corresponds, in a way, to a reconstruction of the Adam Kadmon. The primeval being is usually shown from behind so that the spectator can even better identify himself with him (regarding right and left hands).
The right and left columns associate the opposed sefirot two by two and come within the world of duality. The middle column gathers together the states unifying the opposed sefirot and represents the world of Unity. It follows that:
- During the descent alongside the tree describing the manifestation of Unity, the middle column, of course, appears before the lateral ones related to the world of duality;
- During the ascent from the divine manifestation towards Unity, the lateral columns first have to reintegrate the middle column in stages before the ascension of the entire axis linking Earth and Heaven can occur.
Let us note that the two ternaries of the lower sefirot are inverted in comparison with the ternary of the higher one. Indeed, the two lowest ternaries constitute the reflection in the cosmic and individual domain of the highest ternary that comes within the supra-cosmic and supra-individual domain.
The sefirot constitute a whole reflecting the One. No divine aspect, no sefirah can be fully understood without the knowledge of its relations with the other aspects, the other sefirot.