Monday, October 30, 2006

The Kabbalistic "Tree of Life"

The following paragraph is from Dr. Asher Eder’s book The Star of David, which was published in 1987 in English in Jerusalem by Rubin Mass Ltd. The publication here is courtesy of Oren Mass
The harmonious balance of a relationship as indicated by the Star of David is possible only if the two partners are balanced in themselves. Contrary to widespread view, harmony is not achieved by merely coming together and joining.
When we examine the two triangles of the star, we may visualize a central point for each of them. If the centers are not congruent, the star would be distorted, off kilter.
What is the central point? Could such a point in an individual ever be congruent with that of another person?
Human beings are so different from each other that, among the billions who inhabit the globe, no two people are endowed with exactly the same faces, fingerprints, or voices. Everyone has a personality of his own, so much so that the sages say: "Whoever saves a human life has saved a whole world; and whoever destroys a human life has destroyed a whole world."
Yet, behind these countless outward forms is something higher. In fact, the "higher" we go the more closely we approach this unifying point which, in modern terms, is sometimes called the Higher Self; or archetype of man. The Torah, much more to the point, speaks of it as the Adam Kadmon, the human being created in God's image. Following the Torah, we may see the Higher Self as a sephirah open to Man below and to the influx from above. It can be compared to a center which maintains the balance between our earthly nature and the Divine, as well as between our right and left, and all that is symbolized by these terms. As descendants of Adam, we all share in it. It enables us to know ourselves, to know and love one another, and to realize our common humanity.
The Jewish Kabbalah expresses these principles in a diagram known as the Tree of Life.

It shows the "absolute" polarity of Crown (keter, creative power) and Kingdom ( malkuth, material world) as well as the relative polarities in its right and left pillars (force-form; positive-negative; male-female; give-receive). These polarities are brought about and governed by the sephirah Crown.
The ten sephirot of the Tree of Life are connected by lines ("paths") which form different triangles (power fields), each with its own significance and falling between Crown and Kingdom.
This indicates that:
a) All comes from the One, divides into the Two and multiples, and then reunites into One;
b) The Tree is harmonious and balanced if and when all the triangles showing its different functions are in their proper place and shape;
c) The whole essence of Judaism is included in the names Crown for the uppermost and Kingdom for the lowest sephirah. The name Kingdom, if applied to the mineral, vegetable and animal worlds, implies that the material world is not separate from God, but is rather his "footstool". When applied to Man's world, the name Kingdom prompts us to acknowledge His sovereignty over all Creation, and to be aware that the world has been entrusted to our care, that we may raise it to the level of the Divine and have dominion over it, in the image of the Creator. By doing so, we indeed put the Crown upon Him to whom it belongs, and make the Earth His Kingdom. This is exemplified by King David, who is the corresponding figure of the sephirah malkuth (Kingdom).
Man, although formed from the dust of the earth, is modeled in the image of the Creator. This is indicated by the lower rhomb of the Tree, shaped exactly like the upper rhomb (the partzuf, or face).
Part of the lower rhomb - the triangle of Kingdom-Endurance-Reverberation - marks the state into which we are born (ego incarnate). As man is not intended to remain in this state, he naturally follows his inborn inclination to "go higher", to grow professionally, intellectually and spiritually, aspiring towards ever-loftier goals. But ultimately, all of us must realize that this subjective urge "to go higher" is actually rooted in our inherent longing for objective and Absolute Truth which is always above us, symbolized in our graph by Crown. Crown "calls" us constantly through what we sense as our innermost voice. It calls for our teshuvah, this Hebrew word meaning both answer and repentance. It asks us God's eternal question to Adam - "Where are you?" - and calls us to go beyond the barriers marked by Endurance-Reverberation and unite in Splendor with the Divine, marked by Crown.
This process is often described as a spiritual rebirth which, while leaving all the functions symbolized by the lower rhomb intact, provides new vistas and opens us to Divine guidance. The sephirah Splendor, besides its intrinsic value, forms the hinge to the upper rhomb. In this way, we can say in the words of Ps. 25:1: "To Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul".
However, in Jewish teaching, it is not enough to "go higher" in feelings alone. Going higher merely in accordance with our own ideas and ideals may in the beginning produce fine effects but in the end would result in the Confusion of Babel. Our progress must be reflected by actions in accordance with Divine Instruction from on high, from Mount Sinai. Indeed, the Torah tells us right in the beginning that God "rested from all his work which he created to do." (See note 8 of Chapter 3.) In this context, we may appreciate that the Kingdom of God; Shabbath; holiness; etc., were not created, and hence not imposed on our nature; we rather must stride towards them, and thus "make (=do)" them. The Torah stresses this repeatedly. For instance, concerning the Shabbath, we read that "the Children of Israel shall keep the Shabbath [in order] to make the Shabbath throughout the generations."
All our doings and makings, whether "sacred" or "profane", occur in the sephirah Kingdom of our Kabbalistic Tree of Life. By doing what we are commanded to do, we come to understand their intrinsic value and beauty. "We will do, and we will hear"; and "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."
Thus, it is the awe and love of the Lord, expressed in our doings, which begins to open our hearts to the Divine Understanding and Wisdom as represented in our Tree by these two respective upper sephirot.
These two sephirot do not stand independently; they are inseparably linked to the sephirah Crown (keter), shown in our graph not only by the upper triangle formed by these three sephirot but also by the Hebrew character י , yod, which comes forth from the ein soph, the Infinite, and stretches, via the sephirah Crown, into the sephirah Wisdom. This forges the upper triad into an indissoluble unit, which in turn gives harmonious form and balance to the whole Tree and what it represents.
Judaism, with Kabbalah as its mystic foundation, is indeed characterized by a constant flow of energy between keter (Crown) and malkuth (Kingdom), the former marking also mathan torah, the continuous Giving of the Torah, to be received by every generation anew in. The triad of Wisdom-Understanding-Splendor marks God's spirit in Man, while the path connecting Crown and Kingdom marks God's presence and Will everywhere, even if "behind the scenes".
Thus, this diagram, rightly called the Tree of Life, mirrors the perfect and balanced stature of the archetypal adam kadmon. We, the descendants of adam rishon, the First Man, are meant to grow towards this stature as individuals and as a species. Our lives here on Earth should reflect this heavenly blueprint, just as the lower rhomb of Splendor-Victory-Majesty-Kingdom reflects the upper rhomb of Crown-Wisdom-Understanding-Splendor.
This process of growth occurs within the field marked by the sephirot Greatness-Might-Victory-Majesty. The center, or hinge, is the sephirah Splendor, or Higher Self, while Knowledge reflects the functioning of the ten sephirot. Yet, all this finds its expression in malkuth, Kingdom.
We will see later that the Star of David expresses these ideas in a simpler but no less impressive way.

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