Mysticism, Sepherot and Kingship

    February 2009            
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The Paradox of Kingship

By Mendel Weinberger

To be a Jewish king is to live a life of paradox. On the one hand, you are the supreme ruler of the Nation of Israel with the power of life and death over every citizen. You have the authority to order the army to go to war, and the right to levy taxes as you see fit. On the other hand, you are a servant of G-d and the Jewish People and subject to all the laws of the Torah according to the rulings of the Sanhedrin, the supreme ruling body of Israel.

What is the source for these opposing qualities demanded of a Jewish King and what is their relevance to us personally? We can find the answer to this question by studying the Tree of Life, the Kabalistic structure that utilizes the ten sephirot or energy centers to map creation.

Generally speaking, the ten sephirot are divided into two groups: the first three, keter, chochma, and bina and the lower seven, chesed, gevurah, tiferet, netzach, hod, yesod, and malchut. The first sephirah, keter (the crown) is undifferentiated consciousness, meaning G-d is being conscious of Himself. It is the initial desire in the Divine Mind to create something other than Himself so to speak. The simple reason given is that G-d wanted to create a form of existence that would appear separate from Him in order for Him to bestow His Blessings upon it and that creation would in turn serve Him. Why G-d wanted this is a mystery that we cannot know. Because keter is a will to create and not actual creation, it remains separate from the other sephirot. It corresponds in a human being to the superconscious, the transcendent nature of the soul.

Chochma (wisdom), the second sephirah, flows out of keter. It is defined as conscious intellect – the first definable seed from which creation begins. And like a seed it contains the potential for all the growth that will occur later on. But as it is now it is a non- actualized point. In the human being, it is the flash of intuitive insight, the very beginning of an idea before the idea is explained in full.

The third sephira, bina(understanding), is an expansion of chochma. In bina, all the details of creation are developed and the fine lines of the Divine Blueprint are filled in. If chochma is the mission statement, then bina is the business plan where the hierarchy of spiritual and physical worlds is established as well as the breakdown of species within the mineral, vegetable, animal, and human kingdoms. In a human being, bina is the full flowering of an idea into its many details.

Da'at (knowledge) is how the sephirah of keter manifests itself as Divine Consciousness in creation. If keter is transcendent, hovering over creation and related to it, then da'at is immanent in creation, connecting chachma and bina together and channeling their energy down into the lower seven sephirot. So when keter is manifest, da'at is hidden. And when da'at is active, keter is hidden. In a human being, da'at is awareness.

The lower seven sephirot are called midot or measures and they correspond to seven human emotions. The first is chesed (kindness), the energy of unlimited, non-judgmental giving. The archetype of chesed is the Patriarch Abraham, who was known as a lover of G-d and man and the epitome of giving hospitality to strangers. The second is gevurah (strength) the opposite of chesed. It is restraint, judgment, the conscious measuring out of the Divine flow. The archetype of gevurah is Issac, the digger of wells, the only one of the three patriarchs who never left the Land of Israel. The third of the lower seven is tiferet (beauty). It is on the middle line of the Tree of Life between the right side of chesed and the left side of gevurah. Tiferet blends these two energies and makes harmony between them. This ability to unite the opposites of light and dark, sound and silence, love and hate, life and death is the way G-d makes balance in creation. The human archetype of tiferet is Jacob the symbol of truth.

The second group of three sephirot is similar to the first three. Netzach (victory) on the right continues the downward flow of giving from chesed, but now it is charged with the power of determination. Netzach is the power to overcome all the obstacles in its way. This is G-d as Man of War. The human archetype of netzach is Moses, the great leader of Israel who overcame Pharoh, took the Jews out of Egypt, and led them through the desert for 40 years. Hod (glory) is the opposite of netzach. It is restraint like gevurah but now G-d is giving boundaries to creation in order to reveal His Glory within it. In a human being, it is the surrender to G-d, standing in awe at His grandeur. The archetype of hod is Aharon the High Priest, who presided over the Temple service. Yesod (foundation) is the third of the second triad. Like tiferet above it, yesod unites the opposites of netzach and hod and channels the energy down into the seventh sephirah malchut. Yesod is the sephirah of procreation and the archetype is Josef, who was sold into slavery by his brothers but who rose to become the viceroy of Egypt.

Up to this point I have explained the first nine sephirot: the first three intellectual ones and the lower six emotional ones that form three triads. These nine sephirot can be seen as one unit. The three on the right side (chochma, chesed, and netzach) are expansive flowing downward. The three on the left (bina, gevurah, and hod) are contractive, moving upward. The middle three (keter or da'at, tiferet, and yesod) harmonize the left and right and channel the energy into malchut (kingdom) the tenth sephirah.

Malchut stands below the other nine sephirot and in many ways is a separate entity. It doesn't really have an attribute you can define. In fact the kabalists say that malchut has nothing of its own. Whatever it has it receives from what is above it. It is like an empty vessel with the ability to receive and contain energy. The archetype of malchut is King David, who was a lowly shepherd, scorned by his brothers when he was anointed by the Prophet Samuel. Malchut is the direct source of physical creation because by virtue of its selflessness, it is able to be anything. Malchut in a human being corresponds to the mouth – the power of speech in man. In the account of creation in the Bible, G-d spoke creation into being.

The paradox of Malchut is that from being the lowest sephirah in one world, it becomes the highest sephirah, keter in the world below it. Kabbalah teaches that there are four spiritual worlds that precede this physical one. They are called atzilut, briah, yetzirah, and asiyah. The way the energy flows from one world to another is that malchut of atzilut becomes keter of briah, malchut of briah becomes keter of yetzirah, and so on. What was lowest becomes highest.

This is the paradox of kingship. As was noted above, King David is the archetype of malchut. Because of his selflessness before G-d, he could wear many hats. He was a poet, a musician, a warrior, a king, and a statesman. His personal life was full of trouble but he never lost his one secure anchor – his faith in the G-d of Israel. His predecessor, King Saul failed as a king because he listened to the dictates of his ego rather than the will of G-d as told to him by the prophet Samuel. He was rejected by G-d because he could not be completely selfless.

How is all this relevant to you and me? It is said that man is a small world and all the ten sephirot that exist in creation, live inside of us. They manifest themselves as our transcendent souls, our intellect, emotions, and our ability to express ourselves in thought, speech, and action. If we want to rule over ourselves like a king, we must first be selfless, empty ourselves of ego and self aggrandizement ,commit to fulfilling G-d's Will, and open ourselves to receive the abundant blessings G-d wants to bestow upon us. Then, and only then, will we be fit to wear the crown of kingship – to be leaders of ourselves, our families, our communities, and our nations.

Mendel Weinberger is a writer, poet, and musician who has lived in Jerusalem for the past 25 years. His first cd, Receiving the Torah An Experiential Journey to Mt. Sinai, can be ordered from his website


from the Februrary 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine