Kabbalists believe the universe began with a benevolent sacrifice by God. Unlike Christianity, which says God sacrificed his only son to save the world, Kabbalah teaches that God sacrificed himself so that the world and the human race might flourish. Kabbalists describe God’s sacrifice as tsimtsum, the Hebrew word for “withdrawal.”

Kabbalists believe God existed in the form of pure energy in the time before creation. The power of God’s energy was so vast that it prevented anything else from existing in the universe. To make room for the human race and everything else in the universe, God first had to recoil into itself. In the process of withdrawal, God’s identity shattered, dispersing God’s energy throughout the universe. Aspects of God, in the form of the ten sefirot, then descended through time and space into the newly created world of material reality—the world in which humans live. Every kabbalist’s main duty is tikkun, the process of restoring Kabbalah’s fractured God to a state of wholeness through righteousness and good deeds.

In religions like Christianity and Judaism, God creates and then withdraws, but in Kabbalah God withdraws first in order to create. God still remains a presence after creation, but in a divided form, dependent on the help of human beings to restore its wholeness. Whereas many religions conceive of God as a humanlike figure to whom they can speak and pray, Kabbalah views God as a boundless unknowable force. The finite human mind cannot ever truly comprehend God, but the collective faith and devotion of the followers of Kabbalah can make God whole and knowable once more. The only way Kabbalah followers can begin to understand Ein Sof is by becoming acquainted with the sefirot, the ten aspects of Ein Sof’s identity that Ein Sof emitted while creating the world.

Understanding and cultivating the sefirot requires a lifetime of study and devotion, but Kabbalah provides even beginners with a way of knowing God in everyday life. Shekhinah, the tenth sefirah, represents God’s presence in the material world and provides the first glimpse into knowing and understanding God. As kabbalists continue to study and honor the teachings of Kabbalah, they can ascend sequentially through each sefirah, in turn gaining a more and more profound understanding of their divinity.