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Kabbalah is sometimes defined as the "mystical" tradition of Judaism, this is somewhat misleading as the Kabbalah is only one of several forms of Jewish mysticism, and the Kabbalah itself is not fully mystical. Granted there are branches of the Kabbalah, notably "ecstatic" Kabbalah, that stress mystical experience. Most Kabbalistic schools, however, place a much greater emphasis upon myth, magic, and theosophy. The particular interest of this page will be Kabbalistic mythology and theosophy which consist of a mythical and conceptual account of the inner workings of the Infinite Godhead and its relationship to the world, in particular humanity. The reader should note that the "Kabbalah" is not the same as the "Qabbalah" (the former which is used to refer to the Jewish tradition, the latter which refers to the occultist interpretation of said tradition).

The major ideas of the Kabbalistic worldview, in logical ordering, include:

  1. Ein Sof (The Infinite Godhead/Absolute).
  2. Tzimtzum (Referring to the concealment, or contraction, that the Infinite God undergoes in order to produce the finite world).
  3. Sephiroth (The ten archetypal values that serve as the elements of creation and the human psyche).
  4. Olamot (The worlds of Kabbalah which represent a progressive concealment of divine light).
  5. Shevirah ha-Kelim (Breaking of the vessels that refer to the destruction and displacement of the Sephiroth).
  6. Netzotzim (The divine "sparks" that become trapped in the "shards" of the shattered Sephiroth).
  7. Qliphoth (The "husk" which trap the divine sparks and are responsible for a predominantly evil world, they comprise the Sitra Achra or the "Other Side").
  8. Tikkun ha-Olam (Restoration of the world via the liberation of the trapped sparks by humanity).


The Infinite God

Ein Sof is a term and concept that originates from the early Kabbalists within Spain and Provence[1], it is used as a technical term to refer to the infinite and unknowable Godhead. A number of negative terms to make reference to the hidden God such as the "the concealment of secrecy," "the concealed light," "that which thought cannot contain," etc. All of which are meant to indicate that Ein Sof stands beyond human comprehension and description, as the Kabbalists often put it "He has no name of His own at all"[2].

Further, the Kabbalists (specifically Rabbi Azriel of Gerona in the early 13th century) held that it was Ein Sof's very infinitude that renders it unknowable: "Ein Sof cannot be an object of thought, let alone of speech, even though there is an indication of it in everything, for there is nothing beyond it. Consequently, there is no letter, no name, no writing, and no word that can comprise it"[3]. Hence, it is precisely because Ein Sof is "without end" that there is no outside view from which it can be seen as an object.

It should also be noted by the reader that the Kabbalists held that the God of the Bible and Ein Sof are different, the former being universally agreed to be at least one step removed from the latter, therefore Ein Sof can be conceived of as a sort of "God beyond God", an impersonal "that" as opposed to a personal "thou". Kabbalists also believed that one cannot speak about the Absolute in the way one speaks about particular things and their relations to other finite entities. This is because, while the Absolute may be referred to, it cannot be described because to do so would be to contrast it with finite things and thereby rob it of its infinite character.


The doctrine of Tzimtzum refer to the concealment and contraction of the light of the Infinite Absolute (Ohr Ein Sof) in order to produce the diverse values, ideas, and entities in the finite creation. Indeed, for the Kabbalists the first act of creation is not a positive act, but a negative and restrictive one[4]. Because the Ohr Ein Sof originally filled the cosmos there was (metaphorically speaking) no room for anything else to exist. Therefore, in order to "make room", as it were, for a finite existence Ein Sof contracts and restricts its light leaving a metaphysical void (known as Tehiru) which is surrounded equally on all sides by the Ohr Ein Sof[5]. It is within this void that creation will take shape. Clarity can be gained regarding this process by using the analogy of a photographic slide, which selectively filters and conceals parts of the projector's pure white light in order to reveal the details of the film being projected. Similarly, Ein Sof can be said to produce and reveal the structures of the finite world by selectively concealing its own infinite and nondual luminescence. And through this Tzimtzum, the Ohr Ein Sof is able to give rise to the ten Sephiroth which serve as the template for both man and the cosmos.

Before proceeding, it should be pointed out that there is considerable disagreement between Lurianic Kabbalists and their Chasidic counterparts on whether Tzimtzum is to be interpreted literally or not, and whether the contraction and concealment only applies to the light of the Infinite God or to both the light and the Deity itself[6]. For the sake of simplicity, I have only elaborated upon the interpretation which holds that Tzimtzum is literal and refers to the contraction of the Ohr Ein Sof while the essence of the divine (Ein Sof) remains unchanged (a view held by Schneur Zalman)[7].

A common depiction of the Tree of Life representing both the Sephiroth as nodes and the Hebrew alphabets as the paths connecting said nodes. Although the image shows both Kether and Da'at as Sephiroth, the reader should note that only one of them should actually be depicted making the number of Sephiroth "ten and not eleven"[8].


A common definition of the Sephiroth is that they are emanations or vessels which serve to constrict the Ohr Ein Sof and through which Ein Sof reveals itself to the world. They are this too, but the Kabbalists also held that the ten Sephiroth are archetypal values that serve as the building blocks and source of all meaning in the world[9]. Together the Sephiroth (of which there are ten in number) and the twenty-two paths (each of which is represented by a Hebrew alphabet) make up the "Tree of Life" which serves as the template for both creation as a whole and the human psyche. According to the Kabbalists, this is the "image" of God in which man was made in. The Ten Sephiroth are:

  1. Kether Elyon (Supreme Crown) or Ratzon (Will) As the highest Sephiroth, Kether Elyon is qualitatively different from the other Sephiroth in that nothing can be predicated of it at all[10]. Kether is also frequently referred to as the "will of all wills" or the "will of God", as such it is viewed as the limitless potential and first manifestation of Ein Sof as desire. The name of God associated with Kether is Ehyeh (I am/I will be) which indicates a willful movement towards the future.
  2. Chokhmah (Wisdom) This Sephiroth is seen by the Kabbalists as being the first creative act of the Infinite Godhead, as such Chokhmah is often referred to as reishit (beginning). The will of God, Kether Elyon, is first channeled through Chokhmah[11]; hence Chokhmah can be thought of as the intellectual superstructure that builds upon desire. Above all, Chokhmah expresses the idea that the entire world can be derived from one simple idea. The name associated with this Sephirah is Yud, or Yah.
  3. Binah (Understanding) Binah is the third and final "intellectual" Sephirah completing what is known to the Kabbalists as the "Supernal Triad" (although sometimes Da'at is included and Kether omitted, in that case Binah would be the second of the intellectual triad). Binah is understood as an expansion of the concealed thought within Chokhmah. It is seen as "spelling out", as it were, all the possible details and implications found in the primordial thought of Chokhmah. As such, Binah is often equated with the process of reasoning[12] and hence it is in this Sephirah where creation is first separated and differentiated[13]. The name of God this Sephirah represents is HVYH (Elohim).
  4. Da'at (Knowledge) Alternative schemes of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life exclude Kether in favour of Da'at[14]. Da'at appears in-between Chokhmah and Binah, not as a separate Sephiroth, but as a sort of "external aspect" of Kether[15]. This Sephirah is viewed as being a union and mediation between Chokhmah and Binah (a recurring theme we will see throughout the Sephirothic Tree). Due to Da'at being considered an external aspect of Kether and a pseudo-Sephirah, no name of God is associated with it.
  5. Chesed (Lovingkindness) As the first of the seven lower Sephiroth Chesed is one of the seven moral traits and the first of the "Psychic Triad" which denotes boundless love and unconditioned giving[16] and is the principle through which Ein Sof creates and renews the world[17]. It is Chesed which represents the ideals of mercy which sustains creation. Chesed represents the name of God El and is also associated with Abraham from the Bible.
  6. Gevurah (Judgement) This Sephirah is the opposite or "balance" to Chesed which is understood as limitation, measure, and judgement. It is the "severity" of Gevurah that constrains Chesed and distributes it according to the receiver. Gevurah is an important principle both because it reflects the nature of creation (which is predicated on limitation) and because it introduces the ideals of justice into the world[18]. Due to its nature, Gevurah is associated with God's name as Elohim (with translates roughly to Mighty One) and Isaac is associated with this Sephirah.
  7. Tiferet (Beauty) This Sephirah is similar to Da'at in the sense that it is the synthesis of both the boundless love of Chesed and the severity of Gevurah, it is this balance between the two which is recognised by the Kabbalists as "beauty"[19]. The relationship between Chesed, Gevurah, and Tiferet is similar to the relationship between Kether, Chokhmah, and Binah as they share the idea that opposites define one another and are reconciled in some "third", hence the Kabbalists identified Tiferet with emet or absolute truth[20]. The Kabbalists believed that Chesed and Gevurah were both "relative truths" that have the potential to dialectically pass into and even become one another. It is because Tiferet is understood as the "synthesizer" of the various truths of other Sephiroth that it takes up the central position in the Tree of Life. Furthermore, because Tiferet is directly identified with God and as such, the name of God associated with it is the divine name YHWH. ANother association made with this Sephirah is with Jacob from the Bible.
  8. Netzach (Endurance) As the first of the so-called "Natural Triad", Netzach is conceived as being one of the "tools" for the application of abstract ideas such as kindness or justice. Netzach stands for the overcoming of obstacles, hence its name as "Victory". From a psychological perspective, Netzach represent the human need to create something of enduring value such as art or family. The prophet Moses is associated with this Sephirah due to his enduring faith in God throughout the Torah, further the name of God represented by this Sephirah is YHWH-Tzev'aot (Lord of Hosts).
  9. Hod (Splendor) The second natural Sephiroth is conceived as being the "other half" to Netzach, the Zohar refers to the as "two halves of one body"[21]. Hod represents the preservation of divine majesty, consideration for others, and the splendor which limits the domination Netzach would impose upon others were it not restricted. Aaron is identified with this Sephirah and the name of God associated with it is Elohim-Tzev'aot (God of Hosts).
  10. Yesod Olam (Foundation of the world) Like Da'at and Tiferet that came before it, Yesod is the dialectical synthesis of Netzach and Hod. From a psychological point of view it is only when the endurance (Netzach) and splendor (Hod) come together that the create the psychic foundation (Yesod) for communal life is formed. Joseph is identified with Yesod and the name of God associated with this Sephirah is El Chai (Living God/God of Life).
  11. Malkuth (Kingdom) The final Sephirah of the Tree of Life is conceived as bringing into fruition the entire emanative process. Since the goal of creation is the actualization of the abstract ideas that existed in potential within Ein Sof, Malkuth is the fulfillment of that divine plan. Unlike the other Sephiroth, Malkuth is more of a state of being as opposed to an activity or value, as a kingdom has no existence without subjects, Malkuth has no existence without the other Sephiroth to instantiate[22]. It is only through Malkuth that everything finite can come into being, it also conceived as being the origin of time and space[23]. The Biblical character associated with Malkuth is David as he is seen as the "ideal King" of Israel when compared to his successors, as such the name of God associated with Malkuth is Adonai (Lord) which indicates that YHWH is the final sovereign over the world, a "King of kings" if you will. The Shekinah of God is also identified with this Sephirah as it dwells with his people in Assiyah.


A depiction of the Kabbalistic Worlds with Adam Kadmon excluded. The diagram shows the corresponding elements and letter of Gods name associated with each World.

As we have seen, for the Kabbalists, the creation of existence by Ein Sof initially involves a concealment instead of a revelation, a contraction rather than an emanation. The Sephiroth, as discussed above, are organised into a series of five basic Worlds (Olamot), which are conceived as becoming progressively distinct from the Ohr Ein Sof. The term Olam (World) is related to, and sometimes even spelt as, alam (which translates to hidden), playing into the idea that the Worlds are likened to divine garment in which the Absolute clothes itself in.

The five Worlds are distinguished by both their relative "proximity" (in quotations marks because the five Worlds do not actually have any spatial positioning relative to one another, except Assiyah which is the physical universe) to their source, but also based the particular Sephirah that dominates them. The five Worlds are as follows:

  1. Adam Kadmon (World of the Primordial Man) The World of Adam Kadmon is posited, by the Kabbalists, to be the apex of their cosmology. The Kabbalist derived the properties of this World based on the notion that the biblical Adam was created in the "image" of God (which we have discussed to be the Sephiroth). Based on this, the Kabbalists declared that Adam Kadmon, the first being to emerge from the Tzimtzum, was a very abstract representation and embodiment of the Sephiroth that will eventually come to be reflected in man. Strictly speaking it is not Ein Sof who emanates the Sephiroth for that task belongs to Adam Kadmon who emanates and embodies the Sephiroth as he was "made in the image of God". This World is dominated by the Sephirah Kether, which, as we have seen, is removed from certain Kabbalistic schemes because it is too close to Ein Sof; as such Adam Kadmon is frequently elevated above the other Worlds bringing the number of Worlds down to four.
  2. Atziluth (World of Emanation) Due to the omission of Adam Kadmon in the cosmological scheme, Atziluth is often posited as the highest and most closely identifiable of the Worlds. Chokhmah is the dominant Sephirah of this World, implying its characteristic of conceptual vagueness which has yet to be properly differentiated into distinct entities. Atziluth is often spoken of as "a garment of light to the source of all Being"[24] or as the realm where "the king, his real self and his life" are one[25].
  3. Beriyah (World of Creation) It is in this World where we find the first appearance of finite and limited beings, albeitly as spiritual and conceptual entities. Beriyah is spoken of "the throne of God and the seven surrounding palaces"[26] and is also where the Kabbalists believed angels and the souls of the righteous existed in. The dominant Sephirah here is Binah, and we may infer that this is the World where the conceptual vagueness of Atziluth become definite, a helpful analogy would be like imagining Beriyah as being a prism which splits the white light emanating down from Atziluth into various other lights of colour.
  4. Yetzirah (World of Foundation) This World is unique in the sense that it is not dominated by one Sephirah, but a group of Sephiroth: specifically the group of the "psychic" and "natural" Sephiroth. Yetzirah is a world of both intellect and emotion, and as such can be thought of as being similar to the collective unconscious as envisioned in Jungian psychology. Some Kabbalist even go as far as to say Yetzirah is a World of patterns that are physically instantiated in Assiyah, hence its name as the "foundation" of the world.
  5. Assiyah (World of Action) By all accounts Assiyah is the World of physical beings, the only World where space and time exist. It is dominated by the Sephirah of Malkuth indicating that it is the "kingdom" in which YHWH rules as king. However, Assiyah is also the World of the Qliphoth. According to Luria, Assiyah was initially a purely spiritual World, however after the catastrophe of Shevirah ha-Kelim Assiyah descended (as with every other World) from its supposed position and became commingled with the Qliphoth becoming a material World without spirit.

Shevirah ha-Kelim

The Breaking of the vessels (as Shevirah ha-Kelim translates into) is perhaps the most original contribution of Luria to Kabbalistic thought after the doctrine of Tzimtzum. The doctrine explains how the Sephiroth, starting from Chesed to Yesod, are shattered by the Ohr Ein Sof: Kether, Chokhmah, and Binah are strong enough to withstand the light being emanated into them while Malkuth is shattered only partially. It is linked with the mystical interpretation of kings of Edom who "reigned in the land of Edom before any king ruled over the Israelites". The fragments of the Sephiroth (vessel archetypes of creation) fell down the hierarchy of Worlds and ended up in Malkuth. While the majority of the light contained in such vessels reascended up to return to their source, some sparks (Netzotzim) became trapped in the shards of the shattered vessels and became the Qliphoth which are the actual constituents of the physical world and the Sitra Achra (the Other Side).


The Qliphoth are perhaps one of the most interesting doctrines presented in the Kabbalah, mainly due to the fact that it symbolises the idea that evil is necessary in order for the existence of actual good, and that in the heart of all evil is a ray of divinity and goodness. The analogy of a fruit is used when describing the Qliphoth as it states that the peal of the fruit is lifeless and worthless (the husk), but within it lays the fruits or divine life force that sustains it[27] referring to it as the emanations of the left. Thus the Kabbalists held that it is the divine task of man to approach the Qliphoth, approach what appear to be the carriers of evil, with the thought of extracting the good, and raise the divine spark back to holiness.

As such the Kabbalists believed that the ten Qliphoth comprising the Sitra Achra fully parallels the ten Sephiroth of divinity, as the Zohar states: "The summation of all: Just as there are ten crowns of faith above, so there are ten crowns of sorcery and uncleanness below; and whatever exists on earth is attached partly on this side [of holiness] and partly on the 'Other Side'"[28]. While sometimes the Qliphoth and the Tree of Death was conceived of in a Neoplatonic manner, due to them being a sort of parasitical existence, the Kabbalists eventually came to accept that evil and the Qliphoth have real existence throughout the world (albeit one that is ontologically inferior to the divinity which it relies on for its existence)[29]. However the reader should note that not all of the Qliphoth can be approached by man, in particular the Kabbalists warn to avoid approaching the unholy trinity that form the apex of the Kabbalistic Tree of Death as a mirror to the Supernal Triad that appears in the Tree of Life.

The typical question after this that arises against this doctrine is that why would the Infinite God allow the Shevirah ha-Kelim to take place given that it introduces evil into creation? The answer the Kabbalists provide is that Ein Sof had to allow for the existence of evil so there would be opportunity for actual good[30]. There are powerful psychological and philosophical implications here: mainly that the Kabbalists seem to share the eastern conception that one cannot truly experience or appreciate good without evil and the two must become one in order for the world and the individual to be balanced. If we take a moment to consider that if creation were to be the best of all possible worlds, would we really be able to appreciate kindness? Not really because it happens to us all the time so it just results in us taking it for granted, similar to how a child of a wealthy family is unable to appreciate the food he has been fed because he has never been starved. Hence it is precisely because we need to go through evil and darkness to see the good and light that we live in the "worse of all possible worlds in which there is still hope"[31]. Paradoxically it is precisely because our world has so much evil and suffering that it has the potential to become the best of all possible worlds because if we manage to reach the end of the dark tunnel, we can finally love and appreciate light since we have gone on for so long without it. Such a world, the Kabbalists believed, was far superior to an Eden-like paradise. How they believed this would be achieved in explained below.

Tikkun ha-Olam

The concept of Tikkun ha-Olam is implicit throughout the history of Jewish mysticism. Its origins are, in part, to be found in the biblical conviction that the paradise lost to mankind because of Adam's sin would be restored in a future age, and in part in the late biblical belief that an exiled Jewish people would be returned to the land of Israel. While the repair or restoration of the world is therefore a theme that is recurrent throughout Jewish history, the concept of Tikkun ha-Olam reaches its fullest development in sixteenth-century Safed in the Lurianic Kabbalah. Isaac Luria and his disciples, most notably Chayyim Vital, dwelt upon Tikkun at great length, reinterpreting old kabbalistic ideas and providing a grand symbolic scheme within which the "repair of the universe" plays the most significant role. Indeed, the Kabbalists of Safed understood every event in the created universe, indeed the very act of creation itself as a mere introduction to or preparation for Tikkun ha-Olam[32].

Numerous Kabbalists (notably those of the Lurianic school) believed that the divine sparks from the six shattered Sephiroth are trapped in man and matter, They further urged that everyone to liberate the trapped Netzotzim from the Qliphoth. Through proper ethical and spiritual conducts humanity can encounter and free these sparks of holiness from the Qliphoth, bring an end to the Sitra Achra (whose existence is dependent upon the Netzotzim) and thereby restore the world. According to the Lurianic Kabbalists, it is through the performance of the precepts of the Torah, and the proper intentions (Kavvanot) during prayer (and not simply through gnosis), that the Kabbalist is able to liberate the sparks of both the world and his soul, returning some sparks to their source in Ein-Sof, and others to the various Worlds wherein they will assist in the restoration of the cosmic order.


In anticipation, and in some sense (relatable) sympathy, I have prepared a summary that will proceed through all the ideas and symbols in their ordering as provided above to give a much needed overview of the topic in seeing how all the ideas of the Kabbalistic worldview fit together. However, the reader should note that all the events described below, as the Kabbalists were careful to clarify, are to be understood as metaphors and allegories as opposed to being literal[33].

As explained in the near beginning of the page, the term Ein Sof was adopted by the Kabbalists to designated an all-encompassing Absolute. According to the Kabbalists, this God is so vast (not in terms of size) as to encompass everything including contradictory ideas such as being (Yesh) and nothingness (Ayin)[34]. As such, it is conceived as being the absolute unity of everything an its opposite[35]. In order to make creation, the light of this Infinite Absolute underwent a contraction and concealment known as Tzimtzum, resulting in the creation of a metaphysical void known as Tehiru, which the Kabbalists held had nothing in common with empty space, wherein all the Worlds of creation envisioned by the Kabbalists will take form in. A thin ray of divine light (known as Kav) is emanated into this metaphysical void but does not fully traverse it, and from this light the Primordial Man (Adam Kadmon) spontaneously emerges.

Strictly speaking it is not the Absolute who emanates the Sephiroth, such a task is left to the first thing to emerge in existence (the Primordial Man). The first set of lights are emanated from Adam Kadmon forms the vessels of the Sephiroth (primordial values or principles). A second set of lights are emanated and fill the vessels, with the intent of completing the emanation of the ten Sephiroth, which are: Kether (Crown), Chokhmah (Wisdom), Binah (Understanding), Chesed (Love), Gevurah (Judgement), Tiferet (Balance or Beauty), Netzach (Victory), Hod (Splendor), Yesod Olam (Foundation), and Malkuth (Kingship or kingdom). The ten Sephiroth were intended to be organised into five Worlds which are, from highest to lowest: Adam Kadmon, Atziluth, Beriyah, Yetzirah, and Assiyah.

However, the Sephiroth as they were initially emanated were too weak to contain the powerful light that was emanated into them and six of them, Chesed to Yesod, shattered completely, only the Sephiroth of the Supernal Triad were strong enough to contain the lights emanated into them while the final Sephirah (Malkuth) is shattered partially. This cosmic event is known to the Kabbalists as Shevirah ha-Kelim.

As a result of this cosmic disaster, the shards of the shattered Sephiroth fell down Tehiru and entrapped the divine sparks resulting in the creation of the Sitra Achra and the Qliphoth. The broken vessels must be reassembled and restored. This Tikkun or "Restoration" is possible because not all of the divine light that fell from the broken vessels is entrapped in the Kellipot. Some of this light returns spontaneously to its source, commencing a repair and reconstruction of the cosmos. Through humanity's encounter and liberation of the Netzotzim from the Qliphoth that trap them, the Sitra Achra is slowly sapped of the divine life force that sustains it, eventually leading to its demise. This new world which emerges as a result of Tikkun ha-Olam, the restoration and thereby completion of creation, is described to be the World of Tikkun.


  1. Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah.
  2. Tishby and Lachower, The Wisdom of the Zohar, Vol. 1.
  3. Tishby and Lachower, The Wisdom of the Zohar, Vol. 1.
  4. Chayyim Vital, The Tree of Life.
  5. Luzzatto, General Principles of the Kabbalah.
  6. Rachel Elior, The Paradoxical Ascent to God.
  7. See Rachel Elior, The Paradoxical Ascent to God and Schochet, Mystical Concepts.
  8. Sefer Yetzirah.
  9. Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah.
  10. Chayyim Vital, The Tree of Life.
  11. Schneur Zalman, Tanya.
  12. Schochet, Mystical Concepts.
  13. Tishby and Lachower, The Wisdom of The Zohar, Vol. 1.
  14. Chayyim Vital, The Tree of Life
  15. Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah.
  16. Chayyim Vital, The Tree of Life.
  17. Schneur Zalman, Tanya.
  18. Shimon bar Yochai, Zohar Vol. 2.
  19. Tikkunei Zohar
  20. Chayyim Vital, The Tree of Life
  21. Schochet, Mystical Concepts.
  22. Schneur Zalman, Tanya.
  23. Schneur Zalman, Tanya.
  24. Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah.
  25. Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah.
  26. Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah.
  27. Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah
  28. Shimon bar Yochai, Zohar
  29. Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah
  30. Shimon bar Yochai, Zohar
  32. Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah
  33. Chayyim Vital, The Tree of Life.
  34. Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah
  35. Azriel of Gerona, Explanation of the ten Sephiroth