The seven petachim with a synopsis

What we have here are all seven Petachim of the third section (in English alone and with emendations) which is the followed by a synopsis. We’ll begin our analysis after this.

7. The Sephirot can be envisioned as shining brightly or dimly. And they can be pictured as assuming different forms and figures, though they don’t really have forms or figures and only seem to assume them. For as anyone who would truly scrutinize them could see, the forms and figures (they seem to assume) are accidental and dependent on whoever is observing them, as in (the verse that reads) “through the prophets I was imaged (i.e., I was portrayed)(Hosea 12:11).

In essence, though, the Sephirot are actually an array of (Divine) capacities that are organized a specific way, and which are interdependent and sequential so as to ensure that things are organized just so.

8. The Sephirot can even appear in contradictory images, exactly the way things in a dream can reverse themselves in a moment. It’s just that each likeness seen in the prophetic vision provides information about a (specific Divine) element or attribute. And while the attributes and elements (themselves) become known (to the prophet or soul envisioning them) in the actual order in which they’re arranged and function, the images (appear to the prophet or soul) in accordance with the (prophet or) soul’s ability to receive (them).

9. Even though the Sephirot appear as images, still and all they never assume an actual physical form, Heaven forefend! (Instead,) what’s envisioned is understood to represent something one might see (here) below, and it’s termed a “soul depiction” rather than a physical one.

As such, the subjects (of the vision) needn’t correspond to how an object would appear physically. It’s just that a glow of light is envisioned by means of which the concept of (concentric) “circles” is understood (as being referred to) if the vision appears circular, or (the concept of the) “straight line” is understood if it’s straight and the like.

No (actual) physical form is seen. In fact, even the spiritual form (envisioned) isn’t intrinsic to the Sephirot themselves whatsoever; it’s (connected to) the mystical import (of the Sephira) of Malchut, which represents these phenomena this way.

10. Every action that God brings about occurs through the Sephirot. They (i.e., both the actions and the Sephirot themselves) follow certain rules He wants them to follow, they’re interdependent, they’re sequential, and they’re sequestered within each other.

As such, one particular capacity may function clandestinely while another one appears to be functioning openly, when the latter in fact only functions thanks to the clandestine one. That’s why the Sephirot assume specific images, as when (some) lights are (seemingly) enclosed in (other) lights, or when (certain) lights (seem to) emerge from others. (In point of fact,) all of these forms and figures are (merely) what the soul envisions (when looking at the Sephirot) which it then understands on a spiritual level the way the eye sees (i.e., understands) things in its purview.

11. The ability of the Sephirot to be represented in images derives from the Sephira of Malchut, which is the root of the lower realms. It’s through Malchut that they are all set in their forms. That’s why it’s said that one can only “ascend” or “receive” through Malchut.

In fact, we even derive knowledge of (God’s) governance from the forms and images themselves, for thanks to them we can know how the Shechina(God’s Indwelling Presence) needs to govern for the sake of a particular matter (represented by a specific image) and to bring it about in the lower realms. And (from those images) we can (likewise) gain insight into the levels above where the capacities and attributes actually exist.

12. The whole on-going process of governance (of the universe) until its completion and the whole of creation (itself) encompasses one single phenomenon and order which the Emanator instituted with the goal of bestowing utter goodness (upon creation) to the utmost degree of perfection. All created entities and the rules by which they’re governed are part of this order.

It’s all (an expression of) the mystic figure of a (single) “person” with all his body-parts, which are all inter-connected exactly as they would be in a person. As such, Adam Kadmon, which encompasses everything (in creation), comprises the entire order formed in this figure.

At bottom, the Emanator only brought about a single entity: an order (of phenomena) in the form of a “person”. Thus everything that exists, (which is to say,) all of created entities along with their governance, is (comprised of) the entirety of this mystical figure.


13. The mystical significance of the images (envisioned) is that they assume the shape of things as they’re actually depicted below. Thus a (vision of a) “circle” refers to a circular (i.e., non-linear) mode of governance without differentiation as to Chessed (Kindness), Din (Judgment) or Rachamim (Mercy), but rather as (i.e., it’s an expression of) overall providence depending on the makeup of that Sephira. And it is (a depiction of) the mystical notion of (linear) causality. The (vision of a) “straight line” on the other hand indicates a detailed mode of governance that is based on Chessed (Kindness), Din (Judgment) and Rachamim (Mercy, which are themselves laid out as) right, left or center (poles). And the same applies to all the other images (envisioned).

Our synopsis:

7.        The Sephirot don’t really have shapes — they only assume them in a vision. They’re actually an array of invisible interdependent Divine capacities that are arranged in specific ways and vary in their “appearance” and potency.

8.        They can even assume conflicting shapes, the way images often appear in dreams. And that’s because while their character, relationship, and function are indeed made known to the person “envisioning” them, each “viewer’s” makeup affects his perception of them.

9.        But make no mistake about it: even though the Sephirot do indeed seem to assume shapes and forms when they’re mystically depicted, they don’t actually have shapes. It’s just that a certain “glow of light” is made to assume the shape of circles or straight lines, for example, which then represent things “above” that are analogous to them. As such, those phenomena needn’t conform to reality as we know it. And they all need to pass through the Sephira of Malchut to appear as they do.

10.      Everything but God Himself derives from the Sephirot. Both the Sephirot and they are thus interdependent, sequential, interwoven, and follow specific rules. As such, while one capacity may appear to be in force, in fact another one sequestered within it may actually be. That explains why the Sephirot are sometimes depicted as being encased in each other or as emerging from one another when that’s not literally true.

11.      As had been said in Petach 9, it’s the Sephira of Malchut that enables the lot of them to be “envisioned” here in the world, as it’s the root of the lower realms, and it’s thanks to Malchut that one can “ascend” mystically to higher worlds and “derive sustenance” and the like from them. In any event, we gain our knowledge of God’s governance in the world as well as of the upper realms from the shapes the Sephirot assume.

12.      All of God’s interactions with the cosmos from beginning to end — which occur so as to express His beneficence — encompass a single phenomenon within an order. For, it assumes a human shape with all its contents which is referred to as Adam Kadmon (i.e., Primordial Man). Adam Kadmon thus comprises the whole of creation.

13.      The “visions” assume the shape of things in this world and take on their symbolic value. Upon seeing a “circle”, for example, the prophet understands that to refer to a circular, non-linear mode of governance that’s still and all influenced by the Sephira lying behind it, and to causality; or when seeing a “straight line” he understands that to refer to a detailed, linear mode of governance. The same is true of other “visions”.

(c) 2011 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Feel free to contact me at feldman@torah.org

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Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).

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