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Aramaic is a Semitic language that’s no longer spoken.
The term “Semitic” refers to the people and languages of the Middle
East, namely North Africa and Southwestern Asia, though the common
term “anti-Semitic” has come to mean “anti-Jewish.” Aramaic served
as a common language for people of the Middle East and was at one
point the primary language of Jews. Both the Talmud and the Zohar
were first written in Aramaic.
Nothingness. When Ein Sof began to create the universe,
it had to make yesh, (something) out of ayin (nothing).
Before Ein Sof created the universe, only ayin existed.
Stands for “Before the Common Era” and refers the period
of time before the birth of Christ, which marks the start of the Christian
Binah means “understanding” and represents structure
and femininity. In the stages of creation, Binah comes after Chochmah,
when specific thoughts and ideas begin to exist. Binah, as the first
female presence, is also considered the mother of other sefirot.
Binah represents the left hemisphere of God’s brain and lies on
the left (feminine) side of the Tree of Life.
Stands for “Common Era” and refers to the era after
the birth of Christ, which marks the start of the Christian calendar.
Chesed, the fourth sefirah, represents
love, or mercy. In the stages of creation, Chesed heralds the beginning
of emotional energy. Chesed is also identified with the Biblical
character Abraham, the patriarch of the Jews. Chesed is associated
with God’s right shoulder or arm and lies on the right (masculine)
side of the Tree of Life.
The second of the ten sefirot. Chochmah
means “wisdom.” In the stages of creation, Chochmah represents the
beginning of thought. Chochmah represents the right hemisphere of
God’s brain and lies on the right (masculine) side of the Tree of
A demonic evil spirit. Dybbuks are
doomed souls that take over living human beings, causing their victims
to suffer severe mental illness and speak in strange languages.
The presence of dybukks was often viewed as a consequence
Kabbalists call their God “Ein Sof,” which means “the
infinite.” Kabbalists believe Ein Sof exists everywhere in the form
of energy. Though its presence and power are infinite, Ein Sof remains
a distant unknowable God, entirely devoid of form. Kabbalists all
aim to reunite with God by restoring Ein Sof to its original form
through righteous acts and devout study of Kabbalah.
The first book of the Torah and the Bible. In the first
chapter of Genesis, God creates the universe and Adam and Eve.
Gevurah is sometimes also called Din, and means “strength”
or “judgment.” It is the fifth sefirah and represents
the specific emotional energy that creates feelings. Gevurah represents
God’s left shoulder and is often associated with Isaac, Abraham’s
son. Gevurah lies on the left (feminine) side of the Tree of Life.
The Hebrew word for reincarnation. Kabbalah’s views
on reincarnation split into two main theories: ibbur and dybbuk, explained
A golem is a living being created by reciting holy
words or inscribing the word emet (Hebrew for “truth”)
on the creature’s forehead. The most common golems were fake people
made from dust by Kabbalist sages. Golems had life but no spirit. Because
golems could move, but not think or feel, some believed kabbalists
used golems to commit crimes.
The eighth sefirah, Hod represents
the world of sensation—smells, sights, sounds, and so on. Where
Netzach is a kind of undefined physical energy, Hod represents contained
energy. Hod is the left leg of God and is often associated with
Aaron, the first high priest of the Jews. Hod lies on the left (feminine)
side of the Tree of Life.
The kabbalistic theory of reincarnation that says souls
can enter the body of a living human being at any time, even just
briefly. Ibbur is similar to the idea of “possession,”
but ibbur souls are not necessarily evil spirits.
The first and highest of the ten sefirot.
Keter means “crown” and is the link between the finite world we
inhabit and the infinite world of Ein Sof. In the stages of creation,
Keter is the stage in which material reality begins to come into
existence. Keter is associated with God’s head and appears at the
top of the Tree of Life.
“Shells” or “husks.” Klippot are demons
who draw their strength from the netzutzot, or
sparks of divine light, which they jealously guard. Kabbalists believe
they must save the netzutzot from the klippot to
restore Ein Sof.
The name of a female demon, also sometimes portrayed
as the queen of all demons. Lilith is a spirit intent on populating
the world with her own demon children. To do so, she tries to kill pregnant
women, women in labor, and newborns. Lilith also tries to have sex
with men while they’re asleep. Newer legends concerning Lilith say
that she was the original wife of Adam. Because she refused to submit
to Adam’s rule, she was banished from paradise and turned into a
demon. Eve was then created from Adam’s rib so that she would be
submissive. Lilith has recently been claimed as a symbol of feminine
independence. The popular “Lilith Fair,” a showcase of female musicians,
takes its name from Lilith.
The world of matter, sensation, and physical reality
that humans inhabit. Kabbalists distinguish between the reality
that we experience, and the larger reality inhabited by the sefirot and
Ein Sof, only parts of which humans can perceive. Though Ein Sof and
the sefirot exist in material reality, material
reality is only a small part of reality in total.
The belief in direct communication with God or gods
through physical and spiritual experiences. Mystics, including kabbalists, tend
to think of God as an infinite source of energy, without personality
or form. As God exists everywhere at all times, mystics tend to
think of everyone and everything as part of God and therefore capable
of interacting directly with God.
The seventh sefirah, Netzach stands
for limitless energy, endurance, and victory. Netzach represents
God’s right leg and is often associated with the biblical character
Moses, who led the Jewish slaves out of Egypt. Netzach lies on the
right (masculine) side of the Tree of Life.
The sparks of divine light that fell to Earth when
Ein Sof attempted to transfer its radiance into the vessels it created.
To restore Ein Sof to a state of wholeness, kabbalists are expected
to liberate the netzutzot through righteous acts
Though it means “my master” in Hebrew, the word rabbi is
not always used to refer to ordained leaders of religious Jews.
It can also refer to scholars expert in Jewish laws and customs.
It can also be used more generally to mean “teacher.” Many of Kabbalah’s
most important leaders, such as Simeon ben Yohai and Isaac Luria,
A village above the Sea of Galilee and the geographic
center of Kabbalah as of the mid 1500s. The people of Safed believed
that to make the Messiah appear, only one city needed to act in
a godly way—they believed Safed could be that city. The people of Safed
introduced many core traditions to Kabbalah, including the keeping
of the Sabbath. Moses Cordovero and his pupil Isaac Luria were leaders
of the religious community in Safed.
The Sefer Yetzirah, which means “Book of Formation,”
explains the creation of the universe. Many kabbalists consider
it the first book of Kabbalah, a gift from God to Abraham, the father
of the Jews. These kabbalists argue that since Abraham received
the Sefer Yetzirah years before Moses received the Ten Commandments,
Kabbalah actually predates the Bible and the major religions that
follow it, including Judaism and Christianity. Others argue that
the Sefer Yetzirah was written between the second and third centuries
in Palestine. Perhaps the Sefer Yetzirah’s most important contribution
to Kabbalah ideology is its explanation of the sefirot, the
ten aspects of Ein Sof (see Sefirot below).
The sefirot are the ten “emanations”
or “aspects” of Ein Sof that transmit Ein Sof’s energy to the world.
Existing separately and together at once, the sefirot are
always a part of God—they are God. The ten sefirot,
with English translations in parentheses, are Keter (crown), Binah
(understanding), Chochmah (wisdom), Gevurah (strength), Chesed (love),
Tiferet (beauty), Hod (splendor), Netzach (endurance), Yesod (foundation),
and Shekhinah (kingdom). Each sefirah (the singular
form of sefirot) represents many things, including
a quality of God, a stage in the creation of the world, and a part
of God’s body. Shekhinah, the sefirah that represents
God in the human realm, is the most accessible of the sefirot.
Kabbalists believe that devout study of Kabbalah can lead from awareness
of Shekhinah through each successive sefirah to
Keter, the highest level of understanding of God human beings can
attain. The brief descriptions below of the Tree of Life and of
each sefirah only scratch the surface of the innumerable
meanings of each emanation of God.
Shekhinah (also called Malchut)
Shekhinah means “kingdom” or “immanence” and is the
tenth and final sefirah. Shekhinah is associated
with God’s feet or the base of God’s spine. Shekhinah represents
the presence of God in the everyday world in which humans live.
Shekhinah’s biblical character is David, the second king of the
twelve tribes of Israel. Shekhinah lies in the center of the Tree
of Life at its base.
The “Breaking of the Vessels” When Ein Sof created
the universe, it made vessels to contain its light. Due to the strength
of Ein Sof’s radiance, the vessels shattered. The shattering process
is known as shevirat ha-kelim.
The Talmud is a compilation of Jewish writings that
cover laws, customs, ethics, and myths. The Torah dictates the rules
that Jews must follow, whereas the Talmud tells Jews how to follow them
and specifies when each rule applies. The Talmud divides into two
main texts: the Mishna, a book of the “Oral Law,” written in Hebrew;
and the Gemara, a collection of commentaries on the Mishna, written
The sixth sefirah, Tiferet represents
beauty and is associated with the center of God’s chest. As the
mediator of Gevurah and Chesed, Tiferet balances mercy and judgment.
Tiferet is often linked to the biblical character Jacob, who fathered
the twelve tribes of Israel. Tiferet lies in the center of the Tree
In Hebrew, torah means “teaching,”
“instruction,” and “law.” Modern Jews often use the word torah to
refer to Jewish scripture and oral tradition in its entirety. In The
Essential Zohar, Rav Berg, the current spiritual leader
of Kabbalah, describes Torah simply as “truth.” To kabbalists, Torah
means a commitment to accepting the truth that “God is One,” and
that every kabbalist must act righteously to restore God to its
original state of oneness, or wholeness. Kabbalists consider Torah
study a privilege and an honor that never ends: they believe one
can spend an entire lifetime studying Torah and still only scratch
the surface of its limitless meanings and teachings. The actual
text of the Torah contains only the five books of Moses, which make
up the Bible’s Old Testament. These five books are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus,
Numbers and Deuteronomy.
The Tree of Life
A visual rendering of the ten sefirot, the
Tree of Life shows how the ten sefirot relate to
one another. The Tree divides into three main columns. The left
side contains the three feminine sefirot, and the
right side holds the three masculine sefirot. The two sefirot in
the middle column are considered neutral. At the top of the Tree
is Keter, the first sefirah, while Shekhinah, the
most accessible of the sefirah, lies at the bottom.
Each sefirah’s location relates to the part of
God’s body the sefirah represents and to other
symbolic traits of each sefirah.
Kabbalah’s rabbi Isaac Luria developed the theory of tsimtsum, which
explained how Ein Sof had to first withdraw from the universe in
order to make room for its creation. Tsimtsum, also spelled zimsum,
Something. Yesh is the first “something”
that emerged from the ayin, or nothingness, before
The ninth sefirah, Yesirah represents
individuality and serves as the mediator of Netzach and Hod. Yesod
is usually associated with God’s penis. The biblical character associated
with Yesod is Joseph, Jacob’s son. Yesod lies in the center of the
Tree of Life.
Zohar means “The Book of Radiance” and refers to the Kabbalah’s
five main books. Most of the Zohar is written from the point of
view of Simeon ben Yohai, a famous rabbi of the second century and
the book’s supposed creator. The Zohar consists of stories of Simeon
ben Yohai wandering through the desert of Galilee, commenting on
the Torah and exchanging kabbalistic wisdom with his companions
and followers. The Zohar has been translated into English in a twenty-two-volume set.