The Meaning of the Ten Sephirot (Spheres)
The ten spheres represent the ten archetypal numbers, and overall there are 32 paths on the Tree of Life, whereof the first 10 are the Sephirot (spheres). The remaining 22 paths correspond to the lines or channels of energy that join the Sephirot together. Each of these paths corresponds to one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet as depicted in the image of the tree of life.
The Hebrew alphabet is considered to be of great importance as a celestial code or blueprint for the cosmos. The 13th-century Zohar (Book of Splendor) is filled with references to the Hebrew alphabets importance, and many Jewish visionaries have highlighted that in mastering the Hebrew alphabet, an individual can gain supreme knowledge about the realm of matter.
The tree of life however represents a series of divine emanations of God's creation itself out of nothingness (ex nihilo), the nature of revealed divinity, the human soul, and man's spiritual path of ascent. In this way, Kabbalists developed the symbol into a full model of reality, using the tree to depict a map of Creation.
In my Hamsa Hand artwork from my Hebrew letters series, i have depicted the Tree of Life with the 10 sephirot in the Hamsa Hand with the letter Chet, the eighth number in the Hebrew alphabet, which also represents Chai - Life.
What Are The 10 Sephirot?
The Sephirot are believed to be ten forces or attributes through which God manifests Himself, as such the sephirot are not God, but they serve as a kind of medium in which these specific attributes may be ascribed to God.
In Hebrew, the word Sephirah is related to the verb lesaper, which means to "tell", “express” or “communicate", and therefore the function of the sepfirah is also to communicate an attribute. The word is also connected to the word 'saphire' (in Hebrew 'sapir') which is a gemstone known for it's brilliant and illuminating qualities that give light. Hence another function of the sephirot, apart from the expression of the attributes, is to serve as vessels that bring or give Light.
THE PLACEMENT OF THE SEPHIROT
The different placements of the spheres on the Tree of Life serves to give us an idea of the nature of the sephira. For example, Keter - the Crown - is on the top of the chart whereas Malchut - Kingdom - is placed in the bottom of the chart.
The reason is that Keter is considered to be the initial or primary connection between God and the world , and symbolically this is represented by placing Keter at the top.
In contrast, Malchut which is the final Sephira is thought to be a summation of all the others, to be the connection between humans and the world, and to symbolize that it is the goal of creation with the physical universe and all that it contains (Kurzweil).
Each sephira (sphere) of the 10 sephirot represents a force or attribute and this is a brief overview adopted from the Chabad.org source and other sources on the web:
The word Keter means “crown” and stands above all the other Sefirot, like the crown stands above the head. Keter is the Sefirah that stands above all the Sefirot.
The first of the Sefirot is called Chochmah.
Chochmah is made of the words koach mah, meaning the potential of 'what is'.
It represents the original idea, and is often referred to as the likings of the first flash of intellect, where all the details of the idea is contained, however it is not yet defined. It is everything in its potential, and this potential has been equated to a dot, in which everything is contained, but nothing is yet actualized or given definition.
In the Tetragrammaton (the four-letter biblical name of the God of Israel 'יהוה in Hebrew and YHWH in Latin script), this is represented in the first letter, yud, י, which resembles a dot.
The second Sefirah is Binah. Binah means, “to understand or derive one matter out of another matter.”
We can understand Binah in the way that it takes the original idea and expands and develops it both in breadth and depth, and thus it makes the original idea more crystalized and clarified than it was in the Chochmah, where the idea was undefined.
As such, the previous idea that was in a very concentrated form, is now revealed and understood and this is what Binah represents.
In the name of God, Binah is the letter 'hey' ה. Its shape, which is more elongated and comprised of strokes, implies the expansion of the dot in both breadth and length.
Chochmah and Binah can be understood as being equal, as two good friends who can never be separated and in the book of the Zohar, they are described as “a dot in the palace,” with the dot Chochmah being realized in the palace of Binah.
The koach mah of Chochmah (potential of “what is”) is thus realized in Binah.
Chessed which means loving-kindness, is the attribute which spreads kindness and benevolence to all without limit. It is thought that Creation itself is an act of Chessed, as it is stated, “The world was built with Chessed.”
Chessed is also the total outpouring of what is known as Shefa שפע, abundance, and Chessed is the divine attribute which describes the function of expansion.
Gevurah stands for strength, judgment, law, and power and Gevurah is the attribute of restraint as it has the power and ability to limit and contract. As Chessed causes an outpouring of energy, Gevurah on the other hand functions to control, contract, and limit the flow, providing an equilibrium between expansion and contraction.
The patriarch Isaac is often thought to parallel with Gevurah In the biblical story of the binding of Isaac (known in Hebrew as the Akeda), where Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice Isaac, Isaac restrained his emotions magnificently, because of the dominance of this Sefirah of Gevurah within him. Gevurah is also called “law” and “judgment” (Din).
This is because judgment demands that Chessed should be distributed justly and in proportion to the recipient’s merit and not merely in a boundless, unwarranted way.
I have created an artistic interpretation of the Binding of Isaac (Akeda) in one of my Hamsa Hand artworks and Hamsa Hand art prints, as depicted in the image below.
Tipheret is the central balancing sephirah of the whole Kabbalah Tree of Life, as every sephirah, except Malkhut, flows into it. As such, Tipheret creates a synthesis of both Chessed and Gevurah in order to reach its broader goal which is to aid in the development of the human being to his greatest potential.
Tipheret blends Chessed and Gevurah with harmonious and beautiful results, and it is also referred to as Tipheret (beauty) for its harmonious blending of all the sephirot.
On the tree of life, Tipheret is the midway point on the direct line extending down from Keter to Malchut and Tipheret is thus located on the central balancing column of the tree. Ideally, it leans a bit toward Chessed and therefore it is also called Rachamim, which in Hebrew means 'mercy' or 'compassion'. Tiferet is also equated with “truth” (אמת, Emet) in the sense that both Chessed and Gevurah agree to its flow.
In Hebrew, the word Netzach generally translates to 'eternity', however in the context of Kabbalah it refers to 'perpetuity', 'victory', 'endurance', 'conquering' and to 'overcome'. Netzach is therefore thought to represent the idea of dominance. For example, by giving in an unlimited way, one is overwhelming the other, and in this respect Netzach is thought to be an extension of Chessed.
However, Hod is just the opposite from Netzach as it is thought to be an extension of Gevurah, as it denotes with strain to the point of submission.
In Hebrew, Hod stems from the word Hodaah meaning to “thank,” “admit,” or “submit.” As such, a total dominance over another is considered a Netzach relationship, while on the other hand, a total submission is a Hod relationship.
Yesod, the next sephirah, balances the Netzach and Hod as it facilitates communication, and is thought to represent the foundation of the world.
The Hebrew word for 'foundation' is 'Yesod' ( יסוד ). Yesod is associated with the souls ability or power to contact, connect and communicate with outer reality (represented by the sephirah of malchut).
It can be understood just as the foundation (yesod) of a building is in its “grounding,” - its union with the earth (malchut).
The yesod is also thought to correspond with the procreative organ of man and yesod is thus the foundation of generations to come. The power to procreate is believed to be the manifestation of infinity within the finite context of the created human being. As such, the yesod is the “small” and “narrow” bridge between the infinite potential of procreation that flows into it and its actual manifestation in the descendants of man. It is also for this reason, that the sephirah of yesod is also identified in the Torah with the tzadik (righteous one), as is said: “and the tzadik is the foundation of the world.”
The last Sephirah of the 10 Sephirot known as Malchut. In Hebrew the word Malchut means Kingdom. The Malchut sephira does not exert any influence of its own except that which the other Sephirot flow or channel into it, and it is a summation of all the other sephirots that has appeared above it - an ultimate gathering of all the resources and the fruits of one's labour.
As such, on the one hand, malchut receives all that it has from the other sephirot and is described in the Kabbalah as "having nothing of her own".
The book of Zohar compares malchut to the moon which has no light of her own.
On the other hand, malchut is the final revelation in which the entire process began; it was for the purpose of malchut that all the sephirot emerged.
Thus malchut is both the receiver and the consummation of giving.
To Sum Up The 10 Sephirot
Malchut is the completion of the Sephirot.
The first group of 3 Sephirot dealt with an idea which manifests in the mind.
The second group of 3 Sephirot are connected to those of the heart of the emotional realm where the idea is judged and evaluated.
In the third triad group of the Sephirot the idea is not merely evaluated emotionally, but action comes in to play and the idea is brought into being in the world.
At last, the Malchut represents the real manifestation of the idea in the world of reality.
The teachings of the Kabbalah and the Jewish mysticism is a complex and fascinating field of study. This article only scratched the surface in order to give an idea of the symbol known as the Tree of Life that i have used in my Hamsa Hand art.
If you are interested in more symbolism and if you wish to learn more about other symbols that i use in my Hamsa Hand art and Hamsa Hand art prints that i offer in my shop , you can discover more about all the symbolic elements that i use here.
On my blog you can read about the meaning and origins of the Hamsa Hand symbol itself, as well as the meaning and origins of the Eye or Evil eye symbols, the dove symbol, the eagle and the double headed eagle symbol and the fish symbol.
Kurzweil, A. Kabbalah for dummies.