Circles and lines, circles and lines

A lot of what we’d cited will be expanded on in the course of Klach Pitchei Chochma, so let’s cut to the chase by paraphrasing the pertinent material from Ari’s Eitz Chaim (1:1:1-2) which all of this is based on.

Ari reports that there’d been a disagreement among earlier Kabbalists as to the set-up of the Sephirot. Some said that they followed each other sequentially, so that the highest, Keter, was followed by the next highest, Chochma, and so on down to the last, Malchut. Others said that they were arranged in three columns, left, middle, and right to the effect that Chochma, Chessed, and Netzach stood on the right in that specific order; Binah, Gevurah, and Hod stood on the left in that specific order; and Keter, Tipheret, Yesod, and Malchut stood in the center in that specific order.

This proved to be a very vexing problem as each side cited quotations from the Zohar, Tikkunei Zohar, and Sefer Bahir to prove their positions, and there seemed to be no solution that didn’t violate an essential understanding of either God’s ways in the universe or the makeup of the Sephirot in general. But Ari famously declared that in fact, both opinions were correct — but at different points. The Sephirot were originally configured linearly in concentric circles with one above the other, whereas later on they were reconfigured into the three columns cited above. Both formulations then existed “side by side” if you will, albeit in different “dimensions” as we’d put it today.

Ari went on from there to explain more of the process. He began with a description of the Tzimtzum process (cited above and to be expanded upon later), and then offered that a straight “line” (i.e., a single beam) of light that began in the Ein Sof then broke through into the empty circle formed by the Tzimtzum process which then did the following. It began to attach itself to the “wall” of the empty circle and to go around the circle and to then form deeper and deeper layers. Given that the outermost circle is closest to the Ein Sof which lies outside of the circle (while inside it, too; but that’s not the subject at hand), that outermost circle is thus the highest grade of light, Keter, the next and deeper layer is Chochma, and so on until the final and deepest level which is Chochma. Each layer (i.e., Sephira) serves as the “cause” of the layer (Sephira) below it, but that’s where their relationship ends (for our purposes here).

The straight “line” then assumed a linear formation with the three “sides” we cited above. In this instance there came to be a very dynamic relationship between the various Sephirot. For not only do the three Sephirot heading each column “cause” the one beneath it, and so on downward, it’s also true that the left, right, and middle interact with and affect each other in various ways as do all of the elements.

This goes far to explain Ramchal’s statement to the effect that two sorts of formations could be envisioned: a circular, causal one; and a straight and dynamic formation comprised of three columns [1]. It doesn’t explain, though, what he refers to as overall providence as opposed to the detailed mode of governance, nor does it explicate the dynamic relationship between all the parts, which we’ll get into next.


[1]       See Ramchal’s comments at the end of Petach 13 where he spells out the relationship between the Sephirot in both formulations in some detail.

(c) 2011 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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