Divine Manifestation: An Excerpt from The Thirteen Petalled Rose By Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

The Holy One, Blessed be He, has any number of names. All of these names, however, designate only various aspects of divine manifestation in the world, in particular as these are made known to human beings. Above and beyond this variety of designations is the divine essence itself, which has not, and cannot have, a name. We call this essence, or God-in-Himself, by a name that is itself a paradox: "the Infinite, Blessed be He."

This term, then, is meant to apply to the divine essence in itself, which cannot be called by any other name since the only name that can be applied to the very essence of God must include both the distant and the near - indeed everything. Now as we know, in the realms of abstract thought, such as mathematics and philosophy, infinity is that which is beyond measure and beyond grasp, while at the same time the term is limited by its very definition to being a quality of something finite. Thus, for example, there are many things in the world, such as numbers, that may have infinity as one of their attributes and yet also be limited either in function or purpose or in their very nature. But when we speak of the Infinite, Blessed be He, we mean the utmost of perfection and abstraction, that which encompasses everything and is beyond all possible limits.

The only thing we are permitted to say about the Infinite then, would involve the negative of all qualities. For the Infinite is beyond anything that can be grasped in any terms - either positive or negative. Not only is it impossible to say of the Infinite that He is in any way limited or that He is bad, one cannot even say the opposite, that He is vast or He is good. Just as He is not matter, He is not spirit, nor can He be said to exist in any dimension meaningful to us. The dilemma posed by this meaning of infinity is more than a consequence of the inadequacy of the human mind. It represents a simply unbridgeable gap, a gap that cannot be crossed by anything definable.

There would, therefore, seem to be an abyss stretching between God and the world - and not only the physical world of time, space, and gravity, but also the spiritual worlds, no matter how sublime, confined as each one is within the boundaries of its own definition. Creation itself becomes a divine paradox.

To bridge the abyss, the Infinite keeps creating the world. His creation being not the act of forming something out of nothing but the act of revelation. Creation is an emanation from the divine light; its secret is not the coming into existence of something new but the transmutation of the divine reality into something defined and limited - into a world. This transmutation involves a process, or a mystery, of contraction. God hides Himself, putting aside His essential infiniteness and withholding His endless light to the extent necessary in order that the world may exist. Within the actual divine light nothing can maintain its own existence; the world becomes possible only through the special act of divine withdrawal or contraction. Such divine non-being, or concealment, is thus the elementary condition for the existence of that which is finite.

Still, even though it appears as an entity in itself, the world is formed and sustained by the divine power manifested in this primal essence. The manifestation takes the form of ten Sefirot, fundamental forces or channels of divine flow. And these Sefirot, which are the means of divine revelation, are related to the primary divine light as a body is related to the soul; they are in the nature of an instrument or a vehicle of expression, as though a mode of creation in another dimension of existence. Or, the ten Sefirot can also be seen as an arrangement or configuration resembling an upright human figure, each of whose main limbs corresponds to one of the Sefirot. The world does not, therefore, relate directly to the hidden God-head, whichin this imagery is like the soul in relation to the human semblance of the Sefirot; rather, it relates to the divine manifestation, when and how this manifestation occurs, in the ten Sefirot. Just as a man's true soul, his inapprehensible self, is never revealed to others but manifests itself through his mind, emotions, and body, so is the Self of God not revealed in His original essence except through the ten Sefirot.

The ten Sefirot taken together constitute a fundamental and all-inclusive Reality; moreover, the pattern of this Reality is organic, each of the Sefirot has a unique function, complements each of the others, and is essential for the realization or fulfillment of the others and of the whole.

Because of their profound many-sidedness, the ten Sefirot seem to be shrouded in mystery. And there are indeed so many apparently unconnected levels of meaning to each - the levels, moreover, appearing to be unconnected - that a mere listing of their names does not adequately convey their essence. To say that the first Sefirah, Keter ("crown"), is the basic divine will and also the source of all delight and pleasure, only touches the surface. As is true with Hokhmah ("wisdom"), which is intuitive, instantaneous knowledge, while Binah ("understanding") tends more to logical analysis. Daat ("knowledge") is different from both, being not only the accumulation or the summation of that which is known, but a sort of eleventh Sefirah - belonging and yet not belonging to the ten. Hesed ("grace") is thus the fourth Sefirah and is the irrepressibly expanding impulse, or Gedulah ("greatness"), of love and growth. Gevurah ("power") is restraint and concentration, control as well as fear and awe; while Tiferet ("beauty") is the combination of harmony, truth, compassion. Netzah ("eternity") is conquest or the capacity for overcoming; Hod ("splendor") can also be seen as persistence or holding on; and Yesod ("foundation") is, among other things, the vehicle, the carrier from one thing or condition to another. Malkhut ("kingdom"), the tenth and last Sefirah is, besides sovereignty or rule, the word and the ultimate receptacle.

Binah Hokhmah
Gevurah Hesed
Hod Netzah

All these Sefirot are infinite in their potency, even though they are finite in their essence. They never appear separately, each in a pure state; but always in some sort of combination, in a variety of forms. And every single combination, or detail of such a combination, expresses a different revelation.

The great sum of all these Sefirot in their relatedness constitutes the permanent connection between God and His world. This connection actually operates two ways; for the world can respond and even act on its own. On the one hand; the ten Sefirot are responsible for the universal law and order, what we might call the workings of nature in the worlds. As such they mix and descend, contracting and changing forms as they go from one world to another, until they reach our physical world which is the final station of the manifestation of divine power.

On the other hand, the events that occur in our world continuously influence the ten Sefirot, affecting the nature and quality of the relations between the downpouring light and power and the recipients of this light and power.