Kabbalistic Tree of Life, Sephirot Kabbalistic Tree of Life, Sephirot (via Wikimedia Commons)

The Sephirot in Kabbalah

The Sephirot are an important concept in Kabbalah, a mystical doctrine with psychological meaning. In the Cosmos, Sephirot are seen as ten emanations of God into the world. On the personal level, the Sephirot are also energy centers in our own bodies and emotions.

Like many ideas in Kabbalah, the Sephirot are full of subtlety and nuance, collections of associations, and can’t be described in an elevator speech. I’ll do my best to offer you the basics!

For Kabbalists, the “Tree of Life” that we read about in Genesis really describes a system of divine energy. This mystical Tree of Life flows from the boundless Ein Sof—the Divinity beyond our knowing—into the created universe that we inhabit, through the medium of the ten Sephirot. The destination of this divine energy is the Shechinah, the feminine presence of God right here in the physical world.

It is not so easy to define the Sephirot.

When we speak of Kabbalah, the mystical Jewish tradition, we necessarily enter the realm of myth and metaphor. Dr. David Sheinkin, author of “Path of the Kabbalah,” offered a metaphor for the Sephirot that I have always found very compelling. Imagine a power plant producing half a million volts of charge. The immense power of this electricity cannot be brought straight into your house without burning it down. Instead, there have to be a series of “step down points” in which that big energy is distributed and reduced into smaller and smaller units until it is safe to bring into your house. Similarly, the Ein Sof— God’s endless, boundless power and holiness—is too much for us creatures to experience without a series of “step down stations” known as the Sephirot.

The Hebrew word Sephirot (singular Sephirah) is related to Hebrew roots for “counting”—we count 10 of them—and also for “telling,” as each one tells us a different way in which God relates to creation. Sometimes we group them in triads: three to represent the mind, three the emotions, and three focused on actions, with the tenth representing the divine presence in the world. Another way to look at them is the right side of the Tree of Life represents the qualities of giving and kindness, while the left side represents restraint and judgement. The line down the middle represents balance, because any quality can be problematic when experienced out of balance.

There are many traditions to describe the Sephirot and their many associations.

Here is one way:

Keter: Crown – a point touching the higher spiritual realms

Chochmah: Wisdom, Spark of Insight

Bina: Understanding, Deep Contemplation

Chessed: Kindness, Giving

Gevurah: Power, Restraint

Tiferet: Harmony, Beauty

Netzach: Triumph, Endurance

Hod: Glory, Dignity

Yesod: Foundation, Righteousness, Connection

Malchut: Kingdom (also known as Shechinah, Divine Presence)


As usual, Hassidic tradition took these very abstract Kabbalistic ideas and made them personal and psychological. Here you can think of the Sephirot like Jewish “chakras,” energy centers in our bodies as well as our spirits. Through the Sephirot, the microcosm of our bodies and minds mirrors the macrocosm of the universe and its creative forces. Through inner work, we can develop the qualities of the Sephirot in ourselves: increasing our own wisdom, understanding, and knowledge along with our emotional qualities of kindness, discernment, harmony, persistence, dignity, righteousness, and presence. I have included a link to a meditation that can help you experience just that. Shalom!



A Guided Meditation on the Sephirot in our bodies:


Traditional associations of the Sephirot: https://people.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/Sefirot/Sefirot.html




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