The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is a relational matrix of ten divine emanations through which God creates, sustains, and directs all worlds.  Like God, the Tree is omnipresent, and exists eternally, beyond time itself.  The emanations of the Tree are called Sefirot (singular: Sefirah), and through them, God's holiness is revealed and given to us.  They are "the song that God sings" as Jason Shulman says.  The Tree is holographic: each Sefirah contains the whole Tree.  The Tree of Life ongoingly creates reality, sustains all worlds in each and every moment, and directs and holds everything with universal law and the Ever-flow of Abundance (Shefa).

Why Study the Tree of Life?
The study of Kabbalah and the Tree of Life is ancient.  The first universally acknowledged text about the Tree of Life (Sefer Yetzirah), was written down in 400, but the oral teachings are said to go back to Abraham.  This tradition has not only stood the test of time; the teachings about the Tree together form a living entity that is always changing.

  • The Tree teaches us about relationship, which is the whole purpose of Creation.  In addition, it is a map of consciousness that expresses the relationship between us and the heavenly realm.

  • As we become familiar with the Tree of Life, we begin to perceive it as a glorious light that beckons us to come closer to God.  At the same time, the divine light of the Tree is a call to God, a source of blessing, and also a structure to support us to stand on the Earth.

Personal and Impersonal
God is personality as well as principle.  The Tree of Life is an eternal emanation of the Divine principle, and it lives and emanates within each unique human personality.  Every human being is a Tree of Life: we all have the powers or attributes that correspond to the divine Sefirot.  When you sit down and think deeply about the powers of your soul, your deepest Self, it is possible to comprehend aspects of the Sefirot.  Conversely, seeking and meditating on the Sefirot teaches us about our essence. 

For example, the drive to achieve mastery or the ambition to accomplish something in the world, is an expression of Netzach.  The more human will is aligned with the Divine will, or a higher purpose is sought and served, the more Netzach is present.  Experiencing Netzach can help sustain our efforts and desires in our vocation, relationships, etc. because Netzach is victory.  And balancing Netzach's relationship with other Sefirot, especially Hod and Tiferet, heals and polishes us and our work.

This exploration expresses the microcosm, the Tree as we experience it personally.  On the other hand, there is the impersonal majesty and grandeur of the Tree of Life, articulated powerfully by Abraham Herrera in his Puerta del Cielo (The Gate of Heaven, c.1610): 

"The Sefirot are the mirror of [Divine] truth and the analogies of its being most sublime; the ideas of its wisdom and concepts of its will; the reservoirs of its strength and the instruments of its activity; the coffers of its felicity and the distributors of its grace; the judges of its empire who deliver their verdict.  [Sefirot] are also the definitions, the attributes, and the name of He who is most high and the cause of all things.  These are the ten inextinguishable; ten attributes of His exalted majesty; the ten fingers of the hand; the ten lights by which He reflects Himself and the ten garments with which He covers himself; ten visions in which He appears; ten forms thanks to which He has shaped everything; ten sanctuaries in which He is magnified; ten degrees of prophecy through which He manifests Himself; ten celestial cathedra from which He dispenses his teaching; ten thrones on which He judges the nations; ten halls in paradise for those who are worthy; ten levels which He gravitates downward and through which one can gravitate upward toward Him; ten areas producing all the influxes and all the benedictions; ten aims desired of all but which only the just can achieve; ten lights which illuminate all the intelligence; ten sorts of fire which assuage all desires; ten categories of glory which animate all reasonable souls; ten words through which the world was created; ten spirits which animate the world and maintain it in life; ten numbers, weights and measures which number, weigh and measure everything."       

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It is possible to look at any aspect of life and see the imprint of the Tree of Life, to sense the eternal vibration of its emanations.  By establishing a relationship with the Sefirot - studying their character and personality, their gifts and possible distortions here on the Earth plane - we can discover and align with our essence, we can glimpse our life's purpose, we can receive healing and strength.  The Tree can be seen as the foundation or the structural framework that creates all the events of our lives. 

For example, Yesod (Foundation) is connected to sexuality and the core of our desire-body.  As we all know, we often want things that are not good for us and don't serve us, or life or God.  All addictions for example.  These problems can be understood as an imbalance in the relationship of Netzach (Victory) and Hod (Splendor).  Or it could be the foundational force within us lacking the leadership of Tiferet (Beauty).  Or we are deeply refusing the abundance of Keter.  

When we are familiar with the Tree in this way, we can hold onto it - it can support us, when we are in suffering or in despair.  The emanations of the Sefirot give us everything that we need. 


Relationship Among the Sefirot

On the right is a depiction of the Tree of Life from the tradition of Rabbi Isaac Luria of Safed, one of the greatest Kabbalist of all.  There are customarily ten Sefirot in a relational array; Da'at is not always included. 

The interaction between and among the various Sefirot takes place through a network of connecting paths or channels, which carry the flow of divine energy throughout Creation.  In addition, each Sefirah exists within every other Sefirah.  The relationships and interactions of the Sefirot take place everywhere, all the time. . . and this means within each of us, now. 

It is both enlightening and healing to see and understand relationships on the Tree.  This is because our own relationships with our spouse, kids and friends are a personal and finite reflection of the same dynamics on the Tree.  Just realizing that our own struggles in life have existed for time immemorial and are part of the way we are created, gives us a different perspective.  Our blessed flaws and beautiful problems are part of the marvelous scheme of Creation that has been pronounced by its Creator as "very good."  That means us.

Three Columns: Three Lineages

Central Column
Let's begin with the central column since it is primary:

The divine Ever-flow that unceasingly rains down upon us is called Shefa or Grace.  The flow of Shefa is the fundamental nature of the Sefirot of the central column.  Shefa is Divine love, like an immense mantle of finely spun gold, that permeates the universe, enveloping everything and everyone in existence.  This is an ongoing state of reality that in essence is always accessible.

At the top of the central column is Keter, the Crown - also known as Delight (Oneg) and Divine Will (Ratzon).  Keter is in a category by itself.  In the hierarchy of the Tree, Keter is the highest, therefore the most unified with God and its glory is mostly beyond our comprehension.  It is the gateway for never-ending abundance flowing eternally throughout Creation from the Endless One (Ayn Sof).  At the bottom of the Tree is Malchut (Kingdom), the fruit of Creation and the recipient of light from all the Sefirot above it.  Malchut is the Kingdom of God here on Earth.  Keter and Malchut, at opposite ends of the tree, express one relationship on the Tree of Life: the flow of God's love from the heavenly realms to us.  Our job is to receive it.

Left and Right Columns

The whole purpose and meaning of creation is relationship - I and Thou - two distinct beings communicating and thus creating a single third entity.  The Sefirot manifest in our world in perfection, and also in distortion.  Imperfection is a natural phenomenon in space and time, the universe we live in.  Space and time create fragmentation: being here and not there, now and not later.  The essential unity of the Sefirot appears to be frozen in time rather than pulsating seamlessly, separated rather than whole.  Thus (for example) nega Chesed (Chesed in distortion) can overwhelm and flood, while nega Gevurah can imprison and deaden.  Distortion in the central column is a little different: it usually relates to blocking part of the ever-flow of Shefa, not receiving it, or receiving part and thinking it's the whole.

relationshipsThere are three pairs of Sefirot representing three different levels of relationship and duality: Chokhmah and Binah, Chesed and Gevurah, and Netzach and Hod.  Let's start at the beginning with Keter, which expresses a unity so absolute it is called Nothingness (Ayin). 

From Ayin comes the first expression of duality and relationship: Chokhmah and Binah, also known as Abba (Father) and Ima (Mother).  Abba and Ima express the highest level of unity-in-duality; they are two beings in eternal union.  One teaching that expresses this union is a commentary on Genesis 1:3 - God said "Let there be light" (this is Chokhmah/Abba). . . "and there was light" (this is Binah/Ima). 

Here's a teaching about Chesed (Mercy) and Gevurah (Justice) from the Sages:  "Said the Holy One, blessed be He: If I create the world on the basis of mercy alone, its sins will be great; on the basis of justice alone, the world cannot exist.  Hence I will create it on the basis of justice and of mercy, and may it then stand."  Thus we see that Chesed (mercy) and Gevurah (justice) are primary ingredients of creation, not only of worlds - of everything.

Netzach (Victory) and Hod (Splendor) are referred to as the two legs of the Primordial Adam who walked in the Garden of Eden.  Netzach and Hod are also referred to as the two pillars of Solomon in the vestibule of the Temple.  As we all know, one leg is very hard to walk on; two are needed.  And each must do its job equally in order for graceful movement. . . so that the entryway to the Temple may stand.  This is an interdependence, one without the other suffers.  Netzach and Hod have a much more nitty-gritty type of "stirring the oatmeal" relationship.

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These are just a few points of view of the magnificent Tree of Life.

(Click image to see detail)