The best source for illustrations of basic Kabbalistic concepts is often the works of R’ Moshe Cordovero, and that’s certainly true when it comes to the Sephirot. So let’s draw now upon his depictions.
He describes the Sephirot as “the subtlest of things” (Pardes 4:7) that function as God’s “workman’s tools” (Pardes 4:1) if you will, and also filter His unbearably glorious presence, given that “the (various supernal and mundane) worlds couldn’t bear God’s abundance without the (mediation of the) Sephirot, so lofty is He” (Pardes 4:5). The ten of them are all interconnected, much “like sparks that emit from burning coal; for just as no one can imagine sparks existing without burning coals, as the two must exist at the same time, so too are the various Sephirot all interdependent” (Pardes 4:5).
And as to the question of how all the many changes in the Sephirot don’t indicate a change in God Himself who dwells in their midst, he compares it to the situation of “water running through variously colored vessels … For even though the water itself is colorless, nevertheless when it runs through the vessels the water assumes the colors of the vessel it’s running through”. That’s to say that God’s presence is of one sort and unchanging; the Sephirot that express His presence and will change in many ways, to be sure, but that says nothing of God’s unchanging presence — any apparent change there is “in the eye of the beholder rather than intrinsic to the water”, i.e., to God’s own presence (Pardes 4:4) .
 Like R’ Cordovero, R’ Azriel (in his commentary to Sefer Yetzirah, p. 27b) and R’ Menahem Recanti (in Ṭa’amei HaMitzvot) considered the Sephirot to be utterly separate from God’s Being. But the anonymous author of Ma’arechet Elokut (p. 8b) took them to be parts of His Being. The Ari contends, however, that both views are correct, depending on circumstances (Eitz Chaim 1:3, 40:8, 47:1).
(c) 2010 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
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