The cosmic “Tree of Life” or the Ten Sefirot epitomize the emanations of “light” or G-d’s “qualities into the visible world of mankind. These are the ten emanations or “lights” through which God interacts and relates to this world.
When Kabbalah looks at various events that have transpired in the world, or various Divine commandments in the Torah, it classifies and describes them in terms of these modes of interaction.
Before we consider the Ten Sefirot and describe them and their use, we must first address the Oneness (Unity) of G-d vs. the Ten Sefirot.
Twice a day the Sh’ma “Hear, 0 Israel, G-d is our Lord, G-d is One” is proclaimed by observant Jews everywhere.
How do we reconcile the idea of “Ten Emanations” that seems to imply G-d is more than one with the Sh’ma of His unity? This very question was posed to the Rivash (14th century): “Do you Kabbalists not also believe in many Gods, as you postulate the Ten Sefirot?” This was his reply. G-d’s unity vis-a-vis the Ten Sefirot may be likened to a ray of sun passing through a prism. On one side, we have a single ray of light, while, on the other side, we perceive a radiation of seven colors. The person sitting on the other side perceives this as if it were many lamps radiating many hues, while in reality it is one lamp. The multi-hued rainbow is a “distortion” created by the prism that the light passed through.
When we examine G-d’s interaction with mankind we perceive such a wide variety of events, so overwhelmingly diffuse, and so oddly contradictory that we are inundated with misunderstanding of His essence. We perceive a G-d who breathes a breath of life into a newborn baby’s mouth, and extracts the last labored breath of a dying man. There is the G-d who has wrought the Holocaust, and the GA who has preserved a tiny, fragile Jewish people for over three millennium. There is the G-d who gives some people beautiful bodies, and the G-d who seemingly condemns the congenitally defective to a lifetime of suffering. On our side of the prism, each and every one of these events is disparate. Yet we recognize them as being the work of One G-d, with one purpose, with a unified plan of action for this world.
Therefore, the Ten Sefirot are the various ways we perceive G-d through His action within the world, while we firmly believe in the Unity of G-d.
The following is a literal translation of these ten modes, Do not read too much into these terms, since most of them are highly metaphorical and bear little resemblance to their literal terms.
The Ten Sefirot are:
Keter – crown,
Chochmah – wisdom,
Binah – understanding,
Chessed – kindness,
Gevura – strength,
Tferet – beauty,
NetzacI2 – victory,
Hod – awe,
Yesod – foundation,
Maichut – monarchy.
Sometimes the Sefirot are listed without Keter, and then Da~a -wisdom, is included between Binah and Chesed.
Imitating G-d through the ten Sefirot is to eventually lead mankind to a direct knowledge of G-d. He thought of the “Tree” as his own body dividing the left and right branches into “feminine” and “masculine” aspects of himself and of the universe. Assigning to the left negative energy and to the right positive energy with the Crown being neuter above all. The descending spheres now took on gender, color, form and sound. We should also note that in the Messianic Scriptures Yahshua said to imitate Him as a means of knowing YHVH.
Part of the stratagem was to practice the thirteen attributes of life, which were all condensed in the 10 emanations of the Tree of Life. As taught by Moshe Cordovero who lived in Safed in Israel (1522~70), these were:
1. Forbearance in the face of insult
2. Patience in enduring evil.
3. Pardon, to the point of erasing the evil suffered.
4. Total identification with his neighbor.
5. Complete absence of anger, combined with appropriate action.
6. Mercy, to the point of recalling only the good qualities of the tormentor.
7. Eliminating all traces of vengefulness.
8. Forgetting suffering inflicted on himself by others and remembering the good.
9. Compassion for the suffering without judging them.
11. Mercy beyond the letter of the Law with the good.
12. Assisting the wicked to improve without judging them
13. Remembering all human beings always in the innocence of their infancy.
The Kabbalist exerted himself to perfect each quality on the ~‘Tree of Life.” He was continually engaged in a continual contemplative flow between crown and Wisdom in his mind and between humility and communication of spiritual wisdom in his actions. The function of understanding was to provide him with a weapon against worldliness. Mediating on the sphere of Loving-Kindness, with its appropriate color, angelic guardian, and prayer the Kabbalist appropriated a model for projecting mercy into every possible life situation. Eventually, the Kabbalists’ meditations led to his contemplation’s and daily activity to become integrated. He has, as it were, become the quality Crown, Wisdom, and Understanding.
It was the Kabbalists job to coordinate the opposing energies on the “tree” in his own body. For example, all sexual and aggressive impulses stemmed from the sphere of Judgement on the left. Far from ignoring or suppressing sex or aggression, the Kabbalists learned to unify his “male” and “female” selves in marriage and in work. Once he had successfully integrated these impulses with his spiritual pursuit, the Kabbalist could then turn them toward the service of G-d to bind them to the right or “positive” side of the “Tree.” This binding was called yicud (one) suggesting a oneness with G-d. The idea was to bind yourself so firmly with the Crown (G-.dhead) that the She khinah (Divine Presence) never departs from your head.
Moses Luzatto and 18th Century Kabbalist said that the whole purpose of Kabbalah was to explain the nature of G-d. He further taught that it is our duty to understand Kabbalah intelligently, not merely as a matter of belief, but to have our judgment’s consent… When the Torah enters our soul, light comes with it and that there is knowledge hidden in each letter. He called this comprehension and application of the Torah through self-knowledge as the basis for a preparatory system for Kabbalists’, that he called “The Path to the Just.”
He stated that the stages that lead to perfect union with G-d are:
8. Fear of Sin,
For this reason he made a distinct difference between those who studied Torah merely for rewards, and zealous scholars who “lost” themselves in Torah. Outer movements like egoless Torah study and introspection awaken inner ones. See the Graphic of the Ten Sefirot.