Sunday, June 7, 2015

Judaism and the Mystical Christ, Ch. 10: The Tree of Life

Note: This is part of an ongoing series entitled "Judaism and the Mystical Christ".  I have created a blog entry containing the table of contents linking to each article which may be accessed here:

Table of Contents


Suggested listening:

Separation and Emanation
In "The God Theory", Bernard Haisch spends some time writing about the theory that he worked on with Alfonso Rueda regarding zero-point energy (sometimes called the zero-point field - this article delves into how this connects with the science I summarized in the last post).  Long before Haisch came onto the scene, Einstein postulated the possibility of a unified field - the idea that all energy is connected in a universal field of energy.  Haisch's work develops on this, because his work with Rueda involved coming up with various proofs that even in a vacuum, there are trace amounts of energy - light, in his theory - that actually may cause inertia.

Haisch writes:

The fact that the zero-point field is the lowest energy state makes it unobservable. We can only perceive it, as we perceive many things, by way of contrast. Your eye works by letting light fall on an otherwise-dark retina. But if your eye were filled with light, there would be no darkness to afford the contrast.
To put it quite simply, there is no such thing as total darkness in Haisch's theory, and thus, he may have found proof that Einstein's idea of all energy being connected in a unified field is correct.

Haisch uses light as an analogy for Creation, which I find fascinating in light of some Kabbalistic teachings I will be developing in this post.  Haisch suggests that God is white light, and asks his readers to think about how the act of "creating" other spectrums of light is an act of subtraction, rather than "ex nihilo".  To "create" red light, white light must either pass through a filter (which only allows the red spectrum to pass through - thus "subtracting" all the other spectrums), or it must be separated through a prizm.  So, Haisch suggests, we are all like the individual spectrums of that white light (indeed, the entire universe is).  Furthermore, to extend the analogy of light, we are like emanations of light from the Light that is God.

This is interesting when you note that Genesis 1 speaks of God “separating” things from each other in each act of creation (i.e. - God "separated the light from the darkness" in Gen. 1:4).  It is made even more interesting when you note how often the Bible compares God to parts of creation - God is compared to an eagle hovering over its young (Deut. 32:11), a mother bear "robbed of her cubs" and a lion (Hos. 13:8), a mother hen gathering the nation of Israel under her wings (Mt. 23:37 and Lk. 13:34), and even inanimate objects like a rock or fortress or shield (Ps. 18:2, 28:7, 78:35).  You may have noticed that some of those were female images - interestingly enough, Deuteronomy combines this motherly image with the "rock" concept when it refers to God as "the Rock that bore you" (Deut. 32:18).  We'll deal with more feminine imagery in a moment.  

What Haisch describes in his book and what I described in the last post - the idea that we share in God's self as being emanations of God's self - is not alien to mystical language at all.  As the anonymous mystical work, "The Cloud of Unknowing", puts it - God, in the mystical view, is "a nature found within all creatures but not restricted to them; outside all creatures, but not excluded from them."  While Carl Sagan writes in "Cosmos" that "we are made of starstuff", the mystical view is that we are made of Godstuff.

In Kabbalistic thought, the process of creation involves what is referred to as tzimtzum.  This word literally means "contraction" - and the idea is that before creation began, the white light of God filled the entire universe in such a way that the only thing that existed was God.  Then, in order to create, God contracted his infinite light (recall here that Ein Sof means "infinite") and created a space, or vacuum.  God then emanated his creative light into that space - this would be referred to in Christian language as incarnation.  Thus, paradoxically, the entire universe is both God and not God at the same time.

The Indian Jesuit priest, psychotherapist, and mystic Anthony de Mello wrote a piece in "One Minute Wisdom" that beautifully illustrates and clarifies this principle further:
"How does one seek union with God?"

"The harder you seek, the more distance you create between Him and you."

"So what does one do about the distance?"

"Understand that it isn't there."

"Does that mean that God and I are one?"

"Not one. Not two."

"How is that possible?"

"The sun and its light, the ocean and the wave, the singer and his song — not one. Not two."
Within this form of thought, God must be thought of as both immanent (present and contained within the known universe) and transcendent (beyond what is known and present - this involves mystery and the idea that God cannot be contained within any of our thoughts).  It is very important not to lose sight of either of these forms of thinking about God - when we focus too heavily on immanence, we begin to speak of God far too casually, and God begins to sound more like us (we make God in our image, and thus we worship an idol).  But if we focus to heavily on transcendence, God becomes distant - like an absent father - and our faith becomes empty and meaningless.  Within the paradox of mysticism, however, all things are a part of the infinite and unknowable Absolute - and this means that God is immanently transcendent.  Thus, while we understand that, as influential Jewish scholar Gershom Scholem writes in his book "Kabbalah", "no religious knowledge of God, even of the most exalted kind, can be gained except through contemplation of the relationship of God to creation", we continually remind ourselves that "God in Himself, the absolute Essence, lies beyond any speculative or even ecstatic comprehension."  Or to put it another way, all of our language about God is incomplete and inadequate to express the mystery of Ein Sof.

God as Mother
Before I move on to the Tree of Life, I need to cover the issue of gender language and God.  In Western patriarchal society, we have far too casually used the words "He", "His", and "Him" exclusively to speak of God.  But as I've already mentioned in this post - the Bible quite often uses feminine language to speak of God.  Our patriarchal society has hidden this from us and effectively whitewashed this powerful sign of the radical equality of mystical thought.  We need to go back to this language in order to remind ourselves that it is not merely men who are made in the image of God - as Gen. 1:27 says, "God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." (emphasis mine)  Daniel C. Matt's translation of the Zohar comments on this verse:
From here we learn: Any image that does not embrace male and female is not a high and true image…. Come and see: The Blessed Holy One does not place His abode in any place where male and female are not found together. Blessings are found only in a place where male and female are found, as it is written: He blessed them and called their name Adam on the day they were created. It is not written: He blessed him and called his name Adam. A human being is only called Adam when male and female are as one.
To this effect, I would like to point out more of the feminine side of God.  I am not saying God is female - nor would I say that God is male.  God is both and neither.  Male and female were created out of God's image, and thus are both parts of God, but God is more than either.

When famed actor Leonard Nimoy passed away in February of 2015, the feminine side of God briefly went viral through a video where Nimoy explains that Jewish origin of Spock's greeting.  As you can see in the video below, Nimoy explains that the famous hand gesture Spock uses for a greeting originates from a Jewish ceremony where the feminine presence of God - the Shekhinah - passes through, and all present are expected to close their eyes out of reverence.

I find it interesting how casually Nimoy mentions the feminine side of God - whereas it causes a bit of scandal in Evangelical circles (unfortunately).  For example, when Rachel Held Evans used a feminine pronoun for God, Owen Strachen boldly accused her of heresy.

But we've already seen feminine imagery for God in the Bible.  To add to this, Isaiah repeatedly refers to God in terms of motherhood (Isa. 42:14, 49:15, 66:13), and the Psalms also use feminine imagery for God (e.g. Ps. 123:2-3, 131:2).

Besides these numerous instances of feminine imagery for God, one of the names for God is well known to be feminine - El Shaddai.  This name is regularly translated as "God Almighty", but this is the result of the Hebrew name being translated into the Greek word "pantokrator" (all powerful) in the Septuagint before being translated to English.  The name comes from "shaddah", which means "to pour out", and both the "Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament" and the "New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis" suggest that "shaddai" comes from the word for "breast" or "mountain".  Additionally, the word שד shad means "breast".  Thus, it has been suggested that a translation of this name would be "the Breasted One" or "the Breasty One".

The contextual use of this name seems to support such a theory, as most often it is used in close conjunction with fertility language.  For example, Genesis 17:1-6 uses this name, and God then declares that She will "
make you [Abraham] exceedingly fruitful."  Genesis 28:3 also uses this theme, and says: "May El Shaddai bless you and make you fruitful and numerous."  The theme is continued in Gen. 35:11, where El Shaddai commands Jacob to "be fruitful and multiply."  Additional occurrences of this usage with the theme of fertility include Gen. 48:3-4, Gen. 49:25 (which notably states that God will bless the sons of Jacob with "blessings of the breast and of the womb"), and Ruth 1:20-21 (where Naomi declares that El Shaddai has deprived her of fertility).

Additionally, as Amy Jill-Levine and Douglas McKnight point out in "The Meaning of the Bible":
[T]he Spirit is grammatically feminine in Hebrew and Aramaic, although grammatically neuter in Greek.
I also find it quite interesting that the Hebrew word racham - which can mean "compassion" or "womb" - is used quite often to speak of God's compassion or mercy (see here).  Jesus uses a Greek translation of this word in Luke 6:36, when he commands his followers to "be compassionate/merciful, just as your Father is compassionate/merciful."  One wonders, given the etymology, if perhaps he might have used "Mother" here, were it not for the patriarchal society he was in.
Rodger Kamenetz notes in "The Jew in the Lotus":
Before reading the Torah, Jews pray to “Av Harakhamim,” the “Merciful Father.” The root of rakhamim, or mercy, is rekhem - womb. Av Harakhamim could be translated, our Wombly Father, our Motherly Father.

This word for "compassion" is highly suggestive - it suggests that God's love is like the unconditional love a mother has for the baby in her womb.  She nurtures this life with her own life, and carries it with her wherever she goes.  She feels its every hiccup and twitch with great excitement.  Even the English form of this word helps us to understand this, as it literally means "to feel with" - we are called by Jesus to feel with others, and to nurture them with a womb-like love.  It is this type of love that Paul speaks of in I Cor. 9:19-22, where he declares that he has "made [himself] a slave to all", become as one under the law for those living under the law, become as one outside the law for those outside the law, become weak for those who are weak, and has "become all things to all people."  Paul is speaking of the power of empathy

Paul is not saying here that he has become wishy-washy - only living according to standards when they are convenient.  Rather, he is talking about seeing through the eyes of the other - understanding their point of view, and then speaking with their language.  Paul tried to understand the mindset of those he evangelized - he could have lazily demanded that they come to him and learn everything they could about his culture, but instead he tried to understand their culture, and translate the truth of Jesus into their cultural language.  To truly win someone over with the self-emptying love of Christ, we need to enter into the doubts of others and understand why they doubt, and then gently prod them towards the hope we have.  

The Tree of Life

We've spoken so far about the concept of creation through emanation.  Before I go on, I should note that Kabbalah builds off of what may be an unfamiliar concept to Christians - the concept that the pattern of creation followed the pattern of Torah like a blueprint - the Genesis Rabbah states:
The Torah was to God, when He created the world, what the plan is to an architect when he erects a building.
In the Kabbalistic tradition, there is a concept that the number 10 represents the Tree of Life, which they often refer to as the Tree of Sephirot. Sephirot literally means "emanations", and in the Kabbalistic conception is thought of as vessels into which divine light is poured. Do you recall the oil lamp analogy from the section on the Image of God?  Kabbalah has built a very interesting theological concept around the 10 emanations - or 10 manifestations - of God which are diagrammed as the Tree of Life, and thought of as a model for understanding what the "Image of God" is at a mataphysical level.  In other words, the Kabbalistic model of the Tree of Life can be thought of as a way to ponder consciousness itself.  Additionally, the model may be thought of as a way to contemplate how one may enter into deeper consciousness.

To understand these emanations, we must understand that they merely understand them as symbols or names - and names are just words that point to something.  In other words, they have a healthy understanding for the idea that we must not become too attached to the word, or we will not see the greater truth of what it is pointing to.

Click to embiggen
The diagram of the Tree of Life is often laid out overtop of the human body with the crown above the head (as in the picture above), representing the expanded consciousness of the Divine nature which we are all growing towards (note here the similarity to the Hindu concept of chakra, and the way this is diagrammed).  It should also be noted that the diagram is often laid over an upside down tree with the roots in heaven and the fruits below. 

As an interesting side note - this Tree is produced through a pattern of drawing a circle, and then using various points on the original circle as center points for more circles with the same diameter:

Going back to the original diagram - the top triad of sephirah (singular for sephirot - and the top triad being composed of the circles marked 1, 2, and 3) is called the supernal triad (celestial, or heavenly).  The middle triad - the circles marked 4, 5, and 6 - is called the moral triad.  The the triad at the bottom - the circles marked 7, 8, and 9 - is called the action triad.  

I will begin at the top of the diagram and explain the meaning of each sephirah:

Keter - Crown
The top sephirah - keter - is the divine spark, will, or soul.  It hovers just above the person’s head, representing a higher energy (above consciousness), and was often depicted within paintings as a halo.  The physical crown made with gold and jewels was supposed to signify that a king’s power came from a higher power - whether they deserved it or not!  The mystics would often speak of how every organism - even a blade of grass - has an angel hovering over it saying "Grow!  Grow!", and this is a good description of the function of keter, as it represents a divine will urging us towards greater life.  As Christians talk of how God speaks to us with a still, small voice, it should be no trick to connect this idea with the idea of keter.  The divine name given to Moses - “I will be what I will be” - speaks of the kind of will that keter represents, as Christians believe that God’s divine will is the source of all.  And just as - whether or not you are Christian - you must believe that all mankind ultimately came from one biological source, the Jewish Mystics believe that all that is spiritual came from one Divine source as well.  This is why they speak of our souls as a spark of the Divine.  

From a strictly secular viewpoint, before one has a thought, there is a societal pattern through which one has been shaped which governs our thinking.  Science has proven that even the structures of our languages themselves cause people to think in different ways.  But as all too often societal thinking patterns restrict our thinking, spiritual mystics seek to free the mind to thinking outside of them in order to discover higher truths.  On this note, consider how the English word "contemplation" is literally con-template - bringing a new template within yourself that helps us to challenge the other templates we have internalized.  To enter into the sphere of keter - no easy task - is to completely empty oneself of all false internal templates in order to experience pure Being.  This is a very difficlt task, but has reportedly been experienced after long periods of meditation.

Chokmah - Wisdom 

Chokmah is the first emanation of light; spark of inspiration; seed of thought.  Jewish mystics take very seriously the fact that Prov. 8:22-31 says that Wisdom was the first of the creations - the first emanation after the Divine will.  This is why it is placed just below keter

This sephirah is associated with creativity.  This is the realm in which revelation occurs and we get flashes of insight

But how does one achieve wisdom, since we know it must be deeper than a "gut feeling"?  In "
Kabbalah: A Brief Introduction for Christians", Tamar Frankel writes:
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan comments on the famous rabbinic saying, “Who is wise? He who learns from every man” (Avot 4.1):“It is on the level of Wisdom that all men are one.”
Here we see the Jewish wisdom inviting us to see that a soul is not limited to being an individual essence, but is truly connected to all other souls, and could experience this more fully if it would just open itself up to this level of existence.  Even if we deny this, it is true - because the only reason anyone knows anything or behaves the way they do is because of the people throughout their lives whom they have come into contact with and whom have influenced them.  We would not even exist if it were not for other people.

In "The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love", Ilia Delio defines Wisdom this way:

Wisdom is knowledge deepened by love. It is found in the experience of the sacred and the inner heart. It brings to light the depths of things in a way that both reveals and veils the divine mystery. The wise person thinks with the heart.

Binah - Understanding
Binah is nourishing the spark into a flame; nourishing the seed into an organismBinah is associated with templates or patterns of reason.  This is where wisdom becomes form.  Jewish mystics will often use feminine pronouns here, as in biology the father brings forth the seed (chokmah) and the mother nourishes that seed until it takes form (binah). 
Here once more we see the radical equality of Jewish mysticism, as chokmah and binah are referred to as man and woman, father and mother - as early Kabbalist Moses Cordovero wrote in "Or Ne’erav".

Note the emphasis on love from Psalm 49:3, which indicates that understanding comes not from the intellect, but from the heart - the place where love resides.
  This reminds me once more of the picture of Gen. 1:2, where the spirit of God (which is love - see I John 4:8, 16) hovers over the waters of chaos to form understanding.  The book of Revelation ends with "the sea was no more" (21:1) - as the sea is the symbol of chaos, this is an indication that the writer of Revelation believes that in the end, understanding will fill the cosmos, and there will be no more chaos.  Often the first three sephirot are drawn with another diagram where each is inside of the other, to illustrate how there is no separation between them, but rather, they each flow into the others.

In between the top triad and the middle triad is drawn another sephirah - da'at - which is often drawn right on or above the head, as you can see in the big diagram above, or the one below (you will note that the version below seems to have flipped the right and left sides):

Da'at - Knowledge
Da'at is unifying and connecting knowledge.  Note that this is the same term used when the Bible speaks of a man "knowing" his wife - knowledge is not supposed to be thought of as the Westerners commonly see it, where we have completely externalized that which we know.  But rather, the Eastern view makes this into an intimate sort of knowledge where we are connected with that which we know, and see it as a part of ourselves.  With knowledge comes the awareness of our limits - knowing implies the limitation and finitude of the knower, the known, and the act of knowing itself.  This recognition is necessary in order to achieve the connectedness that is so different between Eastern "knowing" and Western "knowing". 

The difference between Eastern "knowing" and Western "knowing" can be illustrated through the history of the "University".  The very word "University" hints at the interconnectedness of knowledge, and one of the first "Universities" was the 12th century School of Chartres - in this school, various forms of knowledge were taught in connection to others.  In "The Sacred Cosmos", Peter Ellard writes about the methods of this school:

Liberal arts are used as a way for humanity to understand the cosmos, both on the local and universal level, and it is through the knowledge obtained in the process that one is led to knowledge of God.
This form of study was rooted in the understanding of the word "Cosmos" itself - this term was originally coined by Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras and Plato to describe the logic, order, structure, and interrelatedness of the universe.  In their minds, all-that-is exists in a harmonious whole - and thus all knowledge must be harmonized as well.

But in modern universities, we segment off specialities, and students within these specialized forms of knowledge find it very hard to understand each other (sometimes even to respect each other - as scientists will often look down on philosophers and theologians will scoff at both).  In this way, knowledge has been broken off into chunks that are not seen as related, but are in fact often seen as in conflict with each other.

Thomas Merton writes in "Love and Living" about the modern University:

It mass produces uneducated graduates who are unfit for anything except to take part in an elaborate and complete artificial charade which they call ‘life.’
In "The Unbearable Wholeness of Being", Ilia Delio continues this thought:
Our universities have become fragmented silos of specialties where no two people speak the same language on any given day. Students are encouraged to succeed in their studies, not to contemplate truth, as if success is the goal of study. If contemporary education is failing the cosmos, it is because we have lost the integral relationship between living and loving. Unless we change the way we think, we will not change the way we act. Our mechanized world of mechanized systems with mechanized humans can no longer continue. We are fragmenting fast.
What our modern system of education effectively does is to encourage people to impose the assumptions of their biased views upon the world, rather than allowing new observations to raise questions, and living within the tension of those questions as one moves closer to the whole-ness of true knowledge, which is to enter into the Being of life.  Coupled with Capitalism, society has turned this system of education into a marketplace for bias - pick your brand of bias and our market has a product for you!

To return to the contemplation of da'at - note also that Jewish mystics often speak of this sephirah - and all that is below it - as being another level from the other three at the top.  They use the analogy of how in the Creation story, God separated the waters below from the waters above by a thin line we translate in English as the "firmament".  Consider how Christians and Jews alike often speak of "piercing the veil".  So the separation between
da'at and understanding is a very thin veil we sometimes pierce.  This is why da'at is drawn faintly in the diagram above, symbolizing the veil itself.  Note also how this circle is drawn as a much smaller circle, and the lines between the sephirot are drawn to connect all the outer sephirot with tifuretDa’at, and the sephirot below, are connected to finite experience, while the three levels above are connected to that which is infinite.  In other words, what is above da'at is considered limitless, but what is below is actually referred to as midot, which literally means "measures", signifying that what is below has limits (these sephirah actually limit each other, too, as will be demonstrated).

Da'at is also associated with study and meditation - as this is viewed as the way to continue expansion into the realm of Spirit.

Below this, there are "opposites" - but while this can be a useful way of thinking, we must learn to stop seeing things in this way, and see how they balance each other out.  We must see how generosity and restraint balance each other out for healthy living, for example.  The way the diagram is laid out shows how what is in the center connects the "opposites" and acts as a unifying force.  The levels below may also be seen as dominant personality traits of people - as Moses Cordovero wrote in "Or Ne’erav":

The Righteous are capable of becoming a vehicle for the sefirot, through the mystery of the emanation of their souls, their actions in this world, and their inclination toward one side and toward one of the sefirot.

- Mercy, Kindness, Lovingkindness

Chesed is expansiveness through lovingkindness, divine grace, and universal support.  Chesed is also associated with divine love through empathy and support.

Geburah/gevurah - Restraint 

Geburah is discipline, limitation, and strength of character.There is an old story  that illustrates restraint well - in the story, a sage came to a master and asked to be accepted into the master’s society.  The master asked if he had achieved equanimity - the sage asked what he meant, and the master replied: "If one man is praising you and another is insulting you, are the two equal in your eyes or not?"  The point is that we must learn to see how those who "insult" us are teachers!  (See 2 Sam. 16:10-13)  We often speak of darkness as being the force which resists the light of God - and this can be very useful language.  You will find me doing the same as this series progresses.  However, we ought to caution ourselves and realize that without darkness, light has no meaning!

These two sephirot - chesed and geburah - are referred to by many names, but the important idea is to see how they balance each other out.  We can think of them as expanding and contracting, or even unifying and separating forces - and thus these sephirot are actually foundational to life itself!  I often write about how we need unity, but it is important to note that without separation life would not exist!  Cells must separate for life to expand.  A baby must be separated from her mother’s womb for new life to occur.  And this is how we defeat the dualism that is so prevalent in Western thought.  And this leads straight to the connecting sephirah:

Tifuret - Beauty / Vision / Higher Splendor
is the harmonic balance of tendencies - the "bolt" that unites and binds all of the sephirot below the veil.  Note how this sephirah is laid overtop of the heart on a human torso - all the upper sephirot flow into tifuret, and all the lower
sephirot emanate into this level as well.  Binah understanding resides in the right side of the head as well as the right side of the heart - we can use this concept to meditate on how many forms of Christianity have become unbalanced by making religion entirely about beliefs, rather than action within the world.  The heart is seen as being above the emotions, but the emotions flow into it - so it can be seen as "passion", but not in an emotional sense.  Rather, it is a balanced sense of passion that is aware of higher purpose - it is being "centered". 

Note how quite often our questions arise out of a deep sense that there is a higher purpose.  We intuitively know when things are wrong, because beauty is absent when things become unbalanced.

Because we have lost sight of the importance of beauty in our Western culture, dominion  has been the model of thought.  But this is now coming into question - in a short time span, thousands of species have gone extinct and still thousands more are threatened by the effects of the chemicals we spew into the atmosphere, and the concrete we pour over earth where life once grew.  No matter how unbalanced the distribution of wealth becomes, those in power tell us to have faith in the System - but we’ve forgotten how nature gives us models, and in the human body, when a cell gobbles up all the resources and grows in ways that crowds out the other cells, it is called cancer.  Beauty has been sidelined, and as a result we have reached a place where total extinction is now a real danger.  To solve these problems, we must elevate beauty as a priority of existence over the cold, rational model of capitalism which elevates efficiency and profitability as the highest priority.

Why is balance so much a part of the concept of beauty in this model?  Consider how, in the very beginning of the universe, the conditions necessary to one day give rise to life were present, because the expansiveness of the Big Bang was met by the balancing force of the restraint of gravity - which was necessary for galaxies to form from the dust!  If the expanding force of the Big Bang was not balanced by the restraint of gravity, life would not have occurred. 

Likewise, resistance is necessary for growth.  Too much expansion in our life is cancer (both literally and figuratively).  Expansion can be so fulfilling that we seek it out like a drug, and then it becomes ego-inducing - but restraint is the balancing force that holds our ego back and tempers our pride with humility.  

Similarly, the Buddha is said to have taught (from "The Gospel of Buddha"):
There are two extremes, O bhikkhus, which the man who has given up the world ought not to follow-the habitual practice, on the one hand, of self-indulgence which is unworthy, vain and fit only for the worldly-minded and the habitual practice, on the other hand, of self-mortification, which is painful, useless and unprofitable.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there is a legend in Judaism that says that before Eve was split from Adam’s side, Adam contained both male and female, and in this state he was a towering being who stood so tall that he was able to see the ends of the earth.  The interpretation, as it relates to the Tree of Life, is that the balance between expansion and restraint causes vision.  This can be seen metaphorically as a call to restore the balance between expansion and restraint in order to create beauty, and if we restore this vision - this higher purpose - we can heal the world.

As in the diagram of the Tree of Life, when the two forces of expansion and restraint, darkness and light, compassion and discipline, order and chaos meet each other, the sephirot at the middle of the two is born: the
sephirot of beauty (tifuret).

One way to think of this is to understand how love encompasses both sides of this duality, and thus the distinction between "love" and "lovingkindness" - because sometimes, to love someone means we hold back and allow them to be.  Sometimes we must allow the child to do things for herself - that she might learn how to walk on her own without the parent holding her hands.  Sometimes, we must allow someone who is angry with us to be apart from us in order that healing might occur.  Sometimes we must allow people to do things which we consider mistakes, because obsessively restraining them only makes them want to get out from under our control all the more.  And so both sides of this level of the Tree are encompassed in love.  Love recognizes that there are healthy boundaries, and when we do this, those boundaries do not harden to become walls of separation but are thin veils which may be pierced just as the veil which may be pierced by da'at reaching into the heavenly realms.

Through love, we can even see how both order and chaos are necessary.  Since the discovery of Quantum Mechanics - which we delved into earlier in this series - it has been noted that without a little chaos, life might not have been possible.  If everything were completely predictable, there would not be life.  

Because we are stuck within linear time, we don’t often see how the experiences we call "bad" can ultimately have very good results.  For instance, the nation of Israel developed a compassionate model of community because of their time in slavery.  Often, the grief of losing a beloved family member drives people to make changes in society in order to prevent the conditions from which their tragedy occurred in the first place.  This is why the Bible speaks of the process of purification through the analogy of the
refiner’s fire (see Mal. 3:3, Heb. 12:29, I Pet. 1:7 for a few examples).  

We can also think of the middle and upper levels of the Tree as the Revealed and the Concealed.  If God revealed all of His glory, we would not be able to contain this knowledge.  Some say that we would be incinerated.  So God lovingly conceals much of Him-Her-It-self, and gives us more as we grow.  This is why it has been said that "Lord" (usually translated from Elohim) and "God" (from YHVH or Adoni, which is a replacement for YHVH) can be seen as the personal (immanent) and impersonal (transcendent) sides of God.
Tamar Frankiel writes on this (from "Kabbalah"):
Lord is the personal aspect of God that intervenes in history and our lives, while God is God as manifest in nature and law, balancing everything in cosmic justice. Y-H-V-H is Expansiveness, God is Restraint.

The next level of the Tree of Sephirot has to do with actualization - or practice - and once again there is a balance between two sephirot, with a third sephirot in between representing that balance.  Tifuret-Beauty functions here as another split between vertical levels - from Tifuret-Beauty upwards, humans interact with God as He is made manifest in the world, and from Tifuret-Beauty downwards, humans interact with the world in order to manifest God’s presence more actively into the world.  In other words, the areas below Tifuret-Beauty are the ways in which humans act as God’s ambassadors and strive to direct the world towards the manifestation of God’s Kingdom in this role.  The two sides of the next level also run parallel to Chesed-Expansiveness and Gevurah-Restraint, so it is important to note the similarities.

Netzach - Perseverance / Victory
Netzach is energetic initiative and stamina.  It is drive.

Netzach-Perseverance can be viewed positively, as the drive to achieve greater tasks/goals, and imitates Divine Expansiveness.  Netzach can drive us to achieve amazing things in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.  We see Netzach in the natural drive of plants to emerge everywhere (even amongst the cracks of the rocks), in the animals which have adapted to the frigid climate of the arctic regions, the ingenuity of the bees in designing and constructing hives, and many other ways.

Netzach-Perseverance can also be viewed negatively as the drive to survive, or unrestrained desire (which is called lust in religious language).  This is because Netzach without the balance of Hod-Surrender causes us to become more instinctive (like an animal) than human.  The extreme negative of Netzach - where it becomes completely unbalanced because of an extreme lack of its counterpart - is called Domination (as in the Domination System I have written so much about). 

So Netzach can become very negative, but it is important to note how this is merely a perversion of the good due to an imbalance.

Hod - Surrender / Submission /Splendour
Hod is accepting; yielding - note here the similarity to humilityHod-Surrender is learning to say "let it be".  This is an area that Western forms of Christianity seem to be sadly lacking, and I believe it has much to do with our chauvinistic form of Christianity.  If we learned to treasure the model of Mary saying "let it be to me according to your word", as a model for Christian life (this is something the Catholics seem to understand much better), perhaps we can find more balance.

Hod-Surrender imitates Divine Restraint (
geburah), and is the inclination to yield to another or withdraw from conflict.  It is also our ability to rely or depend on others in order to work together as a community towards greater goals which no one person could achieve on his or her own.  We see this in nature as well, as there is a symbiosis between the animals and plant kingdoms - animals breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide while plants do the opposite, and plants rely on the pollination of bees while rewarding the bee kingdom with the materials to manufacture honey.  This symbiosis is only made possible by surrender

We can think of this also in terms of sacrifice - love often demands that we make sacrifices for the greater good in order that others may survive.  But this means that we must surrender our ego - our instinctive drive to survive and assert ourselves.  Hod-Surrender is the level at which we are able to understand the needs and feelings of other creatures in order to balance out our own visions and reshape them in ways that will contribute to life outside of our own.

Hod-Surrender also has a negative side as well, however.  When surrender is not balanced, it manifests through negative feelings of fear, shame, and victimization.  Think of the phrase "fight or flight" - when the two sephirot of Hod-Surrender and Netzach-Perseverance become imbalanced, we will often shift back and forth between the negative sides of the two and will either act out by attacking others (fight - the negative form of netzach) or hiding in unhealthy forms of withdrawal (flight - the negative form of hod).  But when these two levels work together in harmony, humans can create beautiful things - families become clans, which become tribes, which become societies, which become civilizations.  Life becomes more than merely finding sustenance and people rise to the next level of the Tree by creating art, music, story, poetry, and dance in order to enhance life’s joys.  When there is a balance between netzach and hod, we also are able to find ways to create technologies, and this enables us to do even more.  All of this is only possible when perseverance and surrender create cooperative and collaborative relationships connecting life to life. 

We must constantly be looking to create greater connections, however, or the smaller groups we form may be harming other groups through ignorance or carelessness.  We have seen this pattern time and time again - as humans have gone from one stage to the next in our societies, there are those who become marginalized.  We must seek the ways in which our organizational structures cause people to be left by the wayside, and seek to reduce this and care for those we have harmed - whether this came through ignorance or not.  When the energies of
perseverance and surrender are not striving towards greater levels of the connectivity of life (which can be thought of as the next level of the tree - the level at which Tifuret-Beauty connects to Chesed-Expansiveness and Gevurah-Restraint), they begin to decay and become corrupt.  We must always seek the higher vision of Tifuret-Beauty which allows us to see more in order to guard our practices against this corruption.

One way to think of this is by realizing that Tifuret-Beauty must flow both ways vertically in order for us to achieve a healthy balance - earth must reach towards heaven and heaven reaches towards earth (or else it is not truly heaven).  It is possible to be too heavenly minded to be of earthly good, just as the opposite is also true (too earthly minded to be of heavenly good).  So in all things we must seek balance.

Bringing Heaven to Earth is where the last sephirah comes into play:

Yesod - Foundation
is processing and transmitting the energies of the previous sephirot through orthopraxis.  It is the balance that is achieved between the Netzach-Perseverence drive to live and expand and the Hod-Surrender drive to pull back and respond to others.  This sephirah can also be thought of as transmission - transmission between life forces.  We transmit our experiences to one another and create foundational structures where our collective life experience is built upon. 

is the level in which memory resides as well.  The declaration in Ex. 20:5-6 - where it is said that children will experience the aftereffects of their parents' sin to the third and fourth generation, but God will show love to a thousand generations - is often interpreted as God forgetting sins much more quickly than God's practice of kindness.  Here, we can note how remembering can be thought of as "re-member-ing", as this would be a far healthier way to recall memories - demonstrated by this principle of keeping the good and discarding the bad.

We can understand how Netzach-Perseverence and Hod-Surrender can be connected through Yesod-Foundation and still be displaying their negative side.  This would occur when a society has become withdrawn into itself and is no longer striving to reach upwards for the beauty of greater consciousness through greater unity.  A society like this has become tribal and only tells stories of persecution and aggression.

The lower triangle can be thought of as yearning and the upper as clarifying.  We must constantly connect the two triangles and use them for a refining process - they each clarify and build upon each other.  And we must be aware that when religions are pointing us to foundations of fear, shame, resentment, and desire for vengeance - then they are not true religions (literally "re-ligamenting") but are forces of separation that contribute to the Domination System.

The final sephirah is pictured as being rooted in the ground - as the final connection between Heaven and Earth.  This sephirah is called malkhut, which can be thought of as either manifestation or kingdom.

Malkhut - Manifestation / Kingdom
Malkhut-Manifestation is connected with Shekinah, and is also spoken of as Kingship.  It represents the final impression made on the physical world: the divine Presence, immanent in the world.  Malkhut-Manifestation is all that we see, hear, and touch.  The mystical view is that what is unseen is implied by what is seen in
Malkhut-Manifestation.  By pondering the mysteries of what we find in Malkhut-Manifestation, and seeking to apply the lessons we learn through these exercises towards greater connection, we may reach towards Heaven.

To apply this personally (to an individual person), we may observe an individual's manifestation (their way of being in the world) and discern their character - even discerning their inner wounds.  Outward behavior always leaves clues (for a careful observer/listener) as to what is going on inside.

It is in
Malkhut-Manifestation that we complete the cycle of thought, feeling, and action - because this is where we consciously act.  Through manifestation, we set vibrations into motion that ripple out and touch others.  And thus, even if we try to deny our unity with all things, it is still there.  So we should always seek to make our manifestations harmonious.
The language of Kingdom brings up another point - the two sides of the tree, with restraint/surrender and expansion/perseverence can be thought of in terms of being conservative and being liberal.   It would do much good if we could heal these terms that have been used so often for political concepts that do not match their dictionary definition, and to see how we can find a balanced view somewhere in between the two poles (more on that here).
We can try to deny our role in Kingdom, but even if we do this, we will be participating - in the unbalanced form or the negative form of Hod-Surrender.  But we also see the other side of this in our politics - the negative form of Netzach-Perseverence that becomes Domination - in the obscenely partisan nature of people’s communication during and even after the elections, as well as the talk of violent revolution.  To correct this, we must correctly understand responsibility - responsibility is connected to the ability to respond.  This implies that we are a player that is part of a larger whole, and must act with this in mind.  We are all responsible to one another and for one another, and we must seek this connection without straying into forms of negative
Netzach-Perseverence that becomes Domination or negative Hod-Surrender (which supports Domination by passivity).

Here I would like to note how Kabbalists often conceptualize the Tree of Sephirot as a pattern for life by drawing smaller Trees within each Sephirot - symbolizing how kingdom is a greater connectivity of people, who are all made in the image of God like parts of the hologram.  And through this symbol we can see how unity is not the loss of individuality - true unity respects individuality and sees how people balance each other out just like the Sephirot on the tree.


It may seem very difficult to conceptualize how we are to play our own part in the manifestation of Kingdom.  If that is the case, we must remember that the word that is often used to describe this process is halacha (the walking) - and walking is done one step at a time.

One might ask where to start on the Tree.  We do not have to think of the Tree in terms of "up" and "down" - and as I mentioned before, Kabbalists speak of how God's perspective on the matter is different than ours.  But more importantly, we must understand that the division between upper and lower is artificial and merely a conceptual tool to help us realize the Unity of God.  In our lives, growth is not a two dimensional up/down process, either - but like a tree, as we grow in stature, we must also grow in strength and fill out our trunk and branches.  We must go in both directions to experience God, because God is the continual Beginning, and thus we must seek the inner Restraint and the outer Expansiveness - we must be present in the Earth and in Heaven to experience God!

Additionally, we may conceptualize the process of spiritual growth by using the circles that are initially drawn in order to form the Tree to draw a spiral connecting all the sephirot - this can help us to conceptualize the spiritual cycle.  This may be thought of - to go along with halacha (walking) - as a process of running and returning.  To put this another way - as we go out into the world to apply our spiritual growth, we learn more that we must bring back into ourselves, and this must be applied to the process of continual growth.

I find it interesting that there is a common practice connected to the Tree of Sephirot in Judaism - it is called "Counting the Omer".  During the 49 days between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot (the original Pentecost), a practitioner will spend each day contemplating how a personality characteristic connected to the Tree manifests itself in their life, and how they might grow this characteristic.  The number 49 comes from the 7 sephirah in the middle and lower levels, as well as the connections in between them.  As an example of how this meditative practice works, on a day when Chesed - Expansiveness/Lovingkindness/Generosity - is being contemplated, one might ask: how am I generous?  How does it feel when I am generous?  How does it feel when I am not generous?  When this practice is adopted, we can essentially become our own therapists (understand that this is not to suggest that anyone should not consider using a therapist - we all need connection).

It is interesting to not that the word "rule" most likely comes from the Hebrew word "regel", which means foot (the Latin for "rule" is regula, which resembles regel).  Thus we see that rules are meant to be guides for our walk.

But it is important to note that when the rules of the lower realm become disconnected from the higher spiritual realms, they become superficial and empty - like a museum looted of its treasures.  The rules of Kingship must lead to Tifuret-Splendor and beyond, or it is like mistaking the finger for the moon it is pointing to.

The Kabbalists have a beautiful way of illustrating what true Kingship is like in the Kingdom of God - one that harmonizes very well with the picture Jesus presents.  The Hebrew letters of King David’s name (English equivalent: DVD) mean "empty and empty" or "poor and poor" - holding nothing to himself (a way of thinking about kenosis).  David represents the human being as servant of God.  In contrast, the archetypal enemy of Ezekiel is Gog (Ezek. 38), and the letters of this name mean "full and full" - meaning that this archetypal character is full of himself even after he has been shown the reality of God.  This speaks in a spiritual sense of the one who refuses to let go of his ego even in the face of the infinite, and thus ultimately nullifies himself by denying himself the fullness of life and sinking into decay as a result.

In closing, the following comes from the Perkei Avot Mishnah:

Ben Zoma says, Who is wise? He who learns from every person, as it is said, “From all my teachers I grew wise” (Psalm 119:99).

Who is strong? He who subdues his personal inclination, as it is said, “He who is slow to anger is better than the strong man, and a master of his passions is better than a conqueror of a city” (Proverbs 16:32).

Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot, as it is said, “When you eat of the labor of your hands, you are praiseworthy and all is well with you” (Psalm 128:2) […]

Who is honored? He who honors others, as it is said, “For those who honor Me I will honor, and those who scorn Me shall be degraded” (1 Samuel 2:30).

Next Chapter: Concluding Thoughts for "Book I"

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