Most people associate kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) with the Zohar (Book of Splendor). However, the earliest text to which the sages refer is Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation).* The exact origin of this text is unknown, but it is referenced as early as the 1st century C.E.
According to Sefer Yetzirah, God, who is referred to as Ain Sof (Eternal, Unlimited, With No End), created the world with the “building blocks” of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the 10 sephirot.
The sephirot are referred to in Sefer Yetzirah as “Ten sephirot of nothingness” (Eser sephirot bli mah). From this it is understood that the sephirot are both intangible and yet are the powers that serve to bind the structure of the world together (reading bli mah as blimah, binding).
The ten sephirot are:
1) Keter - Crown 2) Chachma - Wisdom
3) Binah/Daat - Understanding/Knowledge 4) Chesed - Lovingkindness
5) Gevurah - Strength 6) Tiferet - Beauty
7) Netzach - Victory 8) Hod - Splendor
9) Yesod - Foundation 10) Malchut - Kingship
While the sephirot of keter, chachma and binah (daat) are considered beyond the range of human emulation, the remaining seven lower sephirot are given special acknowledgment during the 49 days of Sefirat Ha’Omer, the counting of the days between Passover and Shavuot. One week is dedicated to each sephirah’s interaction with the other six.
Over the next several weeks, Jewish Treats will be presenting a brief overview of each of the seven sephirot.
The foundation of the first week of the Omer is Chesed, Lovingkindness, the most absolute expression of emotion. Chesed, is often thought of as compassionate giving, but it is really about reaching beyond one’s self to be both a giver and a receiver. Beyond all other traits that should be emulated, developing one’s spirit of chesed, is considered the most comprehensive way to relate to God.
*The essence of Sefer Yetzirah, and of kabbalah in general, is of a depth best left for study with an expert. Jewish Treats provides only a superficial and basic explanation of these concepts.