Baal Shem Tov, or Besht — the founder of Chasidism —
Some concepts related to creation
The Sefirot represent the structure of the universe; they are also the dimensions of God that create the world, or the instruments through which God creates the world. (See "What Are the Sefirot?")
Beit ב and Bereishit בראשית – the first letter and the first word in the Torah, which begin the story of the physical creation and the whole Bible. A midrash says that the Torah begins with the letter Beit because it looks like a box open only towards the front, teaching us to not ask about what comes before, or beyond, or beneath this creation. But Beit is of course the second letter of the Alef-beit, which implies (to the midrashic mind) that something came first. That something, of course, is exactly what Kabbalah asks about. What happened before that first word that set the stage for creation is what matters to mystics: Tracing the process of creation back to its origins means tracing creation back to its essence within God, and so to encounter divinity.
From the Kabbalah's perspective, tracing this process means recognizing that this creation is made up of the broken pieces of a previous creation (see Shevirat Hakeilim below). This is also alluded to by the Beit, which can mean "two", as in, the second creation.
Or Eyn Sof – The Light of the Infinite: In any discussion of creation, terms like "God" or the names of God in Hebrew are seen as limiting, referring to lower or less-encompassing ways of seeing the divine – hence we wouldn't really say that "God" created the world but instead refer to more abstract concepts like the primordial will (Ra'ava Kadma'a), the Infinite/Limitless (Eyn Sof, lit. "without end"), the ancient light (Or Kadma'a), the light of the infinite (Or Eyn Sof). This original light is said to be pure Chesed, pure love.
Tzimtzum – Contraction: The essential state of reality is God, the fullness of divinity in and through all things. Were this to be manifest, all things would be overwhelmed and cease to exist. In order for there to be "room" or a "space" (chalal) within which creation could take place, there needs to be a contraction, tzimtzum, within the infinite which leaves a clear space. The best physical analogy is the contractions of a woman in labor, opening the womb so the baby can be born.
Shevirat Hakeilim – The Breaking of the Vessels, or what is known from the Zohar as "The death of the kings": The first emanation was linear and hierarchical – every sefirah needed to receive the entire light of creation and pass it on to the next sefirah – and this was too much for each one to bear. The first nine shattered; only the tenth was able to receive the force of creation and remain intact. This tenth is Malkhut, which is the feminine – paradigmatically the one that receives.
According to Kabbalah, the feminine is inherently without its own light (see "Mi'ut Hayare'ach" below and "Aspaklariyah She'eino Mei'irah"). This darkness enables her to be a perfect channel to bring blessing to the rest of creation, and it is what determined her to be the only sefirah that didn't break in the first shattering. (This is most definitely not a feminist concept. See also "Masculine and Feminine".)
Mi'ut Hayare'ach – The diminishing of the moon: The aspect of the feminine being without its own light is compared to the moon, hence the relationship between masculine and feminine is tied to the midrash about why the moon's light is only a reflection of the sun. According to the midrash, the moon could not understand how "two kings [i.e., sun and moon] can share one crown" and so was ordered by God, "Go diminish yourself." But the "reality" that only one king can rule (i.e. that hierarchy is necessary) is an illusion that will be overcome in the time of redemption. For the kabbalists, this midrash is not merely a metaphor; it is seen as a description of the fundamental tragedy that broke the symmetry of the cosmos at its creation. Its resolution is the restoration of symmetry at a higher level than before. The exact cause of the assymetry leading to the fundamental break is defined differently by different Kabbalists.
Mishkal – the Scale: This creation was emanated in the form of a balance scale, with a center, right and left. This allowed each sefirah to share the force and power of creation with those around it – so that none would shatter.
Du-Partzufin – "Double-Faced": In midrash the first human is said to be created with two faces, du-partzufin (as in "duo", pair), male and female in one body. For Kabbalah, this means that at the highest stages there is absolutely no separation between male and female – all exists in complete unity and zivug, coupling. The Sefirotic emanation after the very first point of origin does contain within it right and left, male and female, but there is no division between them.
N'tzotzot and Klippot – Sparks and Shards: The purpose of this creation is to redeem the sparks that fell in the shattering of the vessels. The first Adam would have accomplished this if they [male and female united] had not eaten prematurely of the tree of knowing good and bad. (The exact nature of this sin is discussed from many perspectives, e.g. they ate the fruit before it was ripe, or they ate from the tree of knowing first when they should have eaten from the tree of life, etc.) Redeeming the sparks required a descent into the realm of the klippot, the shards or shells of the broken vessels.
N'sirah – "Division", the process of dividing the male and female halves of the first human and of the lower divine emanations (see Du-Partzufin above). In order for this creation to succeed in its purpose, that is, to reach to the realm of the klippot and redeem them, the lower emanation of masculine and feminine need to be able to face outward and reach into the realm below. But in order for them to be whole and unified with the upper masculine and feminine, they needed to be emanated face-to-face in zivug, as lovers united. Hence in order to enter the world of the klippot they required separation—surgery that would allow the two halves to turn back-to-back and face the outside. In the time of redemption they will again be face-to-face.
Why they must enter the realm of the klippot back-to-back gets even more complicated: the klippot are considered dangerous, even demonic, and if the lower feminine and masculine were to enter into that realm while they were in zivug, face-to-face with each other, then their backs would be facing outward, leaving them open to attack. But this introduces fundamental separation within the Sefirot, and hence the danger that the unity of God with creation, within creation, could be disrupted.
For both midrash and Kabbalah, the N'sirah of the original male/female, the original hermaphroditic human, is described in Genesis chapter 2, when God operates on Adam, taking his side and making it into a separate woman. The double-faced double-bodied human, which is Adam's original form, is described by the verses of Genesis 1: "In God's image God created him, male and female God created them." In Kabbalah, however, the two-stage process of creating the physical human being is a sign and symbol of the divine process of emanation that entirely preceded this physical creation.
Adam Kadmon – The original shape of the universe and its ultimate perfected reality is the form of the "Primordial Human", or Cosmic Anthropos, which we are an image of.
B'reishit Bara Elohim – usu. this is translated "In the beginning God created..." A more accurate translation would be "In beginning of creating, God..." (Gen 1:1): However, in the Zoharic understanding, comma is left out, so to speak, so that these first three words of the Torah mean roughly, "In beginning the One created the name God". More precisely, they mean, "With Reishit Beginning [a symbolic name for the second sefirah of Chokhmah Wisdom], Eyn Sof, the Infinite, [unnamed because it is beyond all names] created the Divine name 'God Elohim' [the divine name associated with the third sefirah of Binah Understanding].
When the Kabbalah reads words from the Torah in this abstract but personified way it turns them into what secular hermeneutics calls "hypostases" – see "What Are the Sefirot?")
Design in progress © Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg 2006