THE TREE OF LIFE AND FOUR WORLDS
(Last updated 9/1/01)
NOTE: In this section, we will take a deeper look at the Sephirotic Tree of Life presented in Part V. As any study on the mysteries of God is a subjective explanation of an objective reality, there is no one "right explanation" or "perfect system" in Kabbalah study. (As Rav Sha'ul (Paul) said, "We all see darkly, as through a glass.")
As complex as the material we present on this web site may seem, it only scratches the surface of these mystical areas of study. We hope to present enough material to provide a foundation for understanding some of the themes hidden in the text of the book of Revelation. Please consult our YashaNet Reading List for suggested study materials. Students are also encouraged to contact us for recommendations and with any questions.THE TREE OF LIFE - GOD'S BLUEPRINT
Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh offers the following connection between the "Tree of Life" and "eyes":
As with DNA in the world of science, the Tree of Life is Gods "blueprint," and is consistently found in all aspects of understanding Him, in the written Torah, and all that is found in nature. It is a diagram of the principles working throughout the universe. As human beings were created in the image of God, we too are modeled on the Sephirot, and reflect the nature of the cosmos.
Through study of the Tree of Life, we can attain a higher level of understanding of many Biblical subjects, from the unfolding drama of creation, to the workings of the worlds of angels and demons, to our own spiritual, psychological and physical makeup, and most importantly how we can be reconformed to the image of God that we were created in.
APPROACHES AND VIEWPOINTS
There are essentially two ways of approaching the Tree of Life. To put it simply, one can study it from the "top-down" or from the "bottom-up." The study of the Tree from the "top-down" is an analysis of the process of creation, beginning with what we can know about God, going through the heavenly realms, then down to earth and man himself. In Kabbalistic tradition, this has been called the Work of Creation, and stems from the first chapters of Genesis.
Conversely, the "bottom-up" approach begins with man, including his physical, psychological and spiritual makeup, continuing his spiritual journey "up Jacob's Ladder," into the spiritual realms, toward God. This method of study has traditionally been based on an analysis of Ezekiels vision, and is called the Work of the Chariot.
In addition to these two approaches, the Tree of Life may also initially be examined from several viewpoints:
These three ways of approaching the Tree of Life are similar to how we relate to any spiritual concept in Scripture. Take the study of the Temple for instance.
We can view the Temple;
THE THREE PILLARS
As discussed in an earlier study, the Sephirah on the right "pillar" of the Tree of Life are on the "active" side, and those on the left are on the "passive" side. The outer pillars are also associated with the ideas of "force" and "fire" (on the right side) and "form" and "water" (on the left side). The central pillar is that of equilibrium (balance), and is associated with "air" or "spirit."
It should be noted however, that as the Sephirot interact with, and contain aspects of each other, that any of the ones on the passive side can act forcefully, and vice-versa. For instance, Gevurah (Judgment) can be "passive" in terms of mediating between understanding and truth, or it can be "active" in terms of meeting out punishment in the face of continued evildoing.4
PATHS AND TRIADS
The ten Sephirot are joined by a series of 22 paths, each one corresponding to a letter of the Hebrew alphabet with a numeric value. Whereas the ten Sephirot are established in their "roles" throughout Kabbalistic teachings, there are different systems of lettering/numbering the paths.
The 22 paths and the ten Sephirot form a series of 16 "triads" within the Tree of Life. As each side of a triad is in turn associated with a Hebrew letter, they form a series of three-letter roots, the building blocks of the Hebrew language.
The method of study related to the letters associated with the paths and triads is primarily metaphysical. For instance, in one system, the path from Malkut to Yesod is associated with the letter Resh, having as its meaning the "head" or "beginning." Thus, the beginning path is to seek the Kingdom (Malkut) first, in order to become a righteous Tzaddik (at the level of Yesod). The path continuing from Yesod to Tipheret is linked to the letter Tzaddi, and is associated with the Path of the Tzaddik, also called the Path of honesty, as it leads to Tipheret, the Sephirah of Truth.5
UPPER AND LOWER FACES
Note in the diagram above, how the central Sephirah of Tipheret plays a pivotal role between the upper and lower faces. As we will discuss, the Four Worlds (see below) "overlap" in such a fashion that the "upper Face" of one World corresponds to the "lower Face" of the World just above it.6
(See also previous notes on "Arikh Anpin" and "Ze'er Anpin.")
THE FOUR WORLDS
Although not directly explained at the Pshat (simple) level in Scripture, the Four Worlds (also called the "Four Heavens," or "Four Universes"), are found at the deeper levels of Torah study.
For instance, the books of Ezekiel and Revelation depict different "levels" of the heavenlies. We also have teachings in the "New Testament" that seem to distinguish between "Heaven" and "Paradise." In addition, we have the comment by Paul in one of his epistles, that speaks of a man (possibly Paul himself), going up to the "third heaven" where he received a view of the heavenly realms. He may have been referring to the third world of Beriah.7
The Four Worlds are not places such as planets, but rather correspond to four "stages of removal" from Eyn Sof. These stages are another aspect of the "creation process" and do not conflict with the "six days" of Creation listed in Genesis. As the light of Eyn Sof move progressively further away from its source (from Azilut through Asiyyah), it becomes "more physical" and more laws are necessary.
The four worlds are:
The four worlds as they relate to one another in creation, are mentioned in Isaiahs book:
A simple way of understanding the four worlds is to compare it to someone building a house:
Ezekiels vision (Ezekiel, chapter 1), is helpful in gaining an initial insight into the four worlds from the "bottom up." The prophet is physically present here in the first world of Asiyyah. His view of the "Chariot" (made up of various heavenly beings) is one into Yezirah. Above the Chariot is the "likeness of a throne," which lies in the third world of Beriah. Finally, on the throne there is the "likeness as the appearance of a man," that being the Divine world of Azilut.
The qualifying terms Ezekiel uses indicate that his vision was only "clear" through Yezirah. Looking into Beriah (which was one world away from his prophetic level of Yezirah), he saw only the "likeness of a Throne." His view into Azilut (two worlds away from Yezirah), was even dimmer, as he saw only the "likeness as the appearance of a man."HOW THE WORLDS INTERCONNECT
We now come to "F" which is quite interesting as here we have the intersection of the three upper worlds. In our example, "F" is the Malkut of Azilut, the Tipheret of Beriah and also the Keter of Yetzirah, the world below Beriah.
Note also at this point that the "lower face" of Azilut (from its Tipheret (B) through its Malkut (F) corresponds to the "upper face" of Beriah (from its Keter (B) to its Tipheret (B) and that the "lower face" of Beriah (from its Tipheret (F) through its Malkut (J), corresponds to the "upper face" of Asiyyah (from its Keter (F) to its Tipheret (J).
Following suit, "G" is both the Hod of Beriah and Binah of Yetzirah, and "H" is simultaneously the Netzah of Beriah and Hokhmah of Yetzirah. The Yesod of Beriah overlays the Da'at of Yetzirah at "I," and at "J" you have the Malkut of Beriah and Tipheret of Yetzirah. (The astute person will see that "J" would also be the Keter of the lowest world of Asiyyah, another key point where the three lowest worlds meet.)
The process of each new world beginning with the Tipheret of the one above it, continues within each of the Four Worlds. As will see however, although this method begins at Tipheret, the foundation of each world is established at Yesod, which, as mentioned, lies in the center of the lower face of the Tree in each World. This will be further explained later in this study.
RELATIONSHIP OF THE SEPHIROT TO THE FOUR WORLDS
This study follows the idea there the ten Sephirot exist within each of the worlds ofAzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyyah. While the names and positions of the Sephirot within the Tree of each world stays the same, their inter-relationships within each tree differs.
The following chart shows, in general terms, some aspects of the Four Worlds, from both a "downward" and "upward" view:
(An important point to note is that the presence of the Tree of Life in each world indicates that the same laws operate throughout the Universe, only at different levels. - i.e., "As above, so below.")
It is a preeminent truth of the Bible that "God is One." As we will see, from each subsequent higher world, the "view" of God, creation and history ("time"), is much more unified.
The links below provide diagrams without annotation, enabling you to enter your own references.
Basic Tree of Life diagram | Extended Tree of Life diagram
1. Kabbalah and Modern Life: Living with the Times, A Torah Message for the Month of Shevat: The Tree of Life, Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, http://www.inner.org/times/shevat/shevat58.htm
2. The Way of Kabbalah, Z'ev Shimon Halevi, Samuel Weiser, Inc., York Beach, Maine, 1976, p. 142.
3. A Kabbalistic Universe, Z'ev Shimon Halevi, Samuel Weiser, Inc., York Beach, Maine, 1977, p. 16.
4. The Way of Kabbalah, Z'ev Shimon Halevi, Samuel Weiser, Inc., York Beach, Maine, 1976, p. 145.
5. This line of Kabbalah which we incorporate in much of this section, is the Toledano Tradition which dates back to medieval Spain. For a deeper understanding of the concepts presented in the subsequent section, we recommend the works of author Z'ev Shimon Halevi as listed on our YashaNet Reading List.
6. This system of "overlapping" Four Worlds, is also of the Toledano Tradition.
7. There is also a teaching of "seven heavens" within the world of Beriah. In this tradition, the "third heaven" is the place where, "... incarnate men can rise during prayer and be instructed in the mysteries of creation." (See A Kabbalistic Universe, Z'ev Shimon Halevi, Samuel Weiser, Inc., York Beach, Maine, 1977, p. 52.
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