Kabbalah: The big and the small face of the deity – Part 1

At the heart of the Kabbalah - the Jewish mystic teaching - is the myth of divine unity as the union of the primal powers of all being, which takes form in the symbol of the Tree of the 10 Sephiroth.

Kabbalah: The big and the small face of the deity – Part 1

A story from the Sefer ha-Bahir (“Book of Light”):

Rabbi Rachumai explained to his students that before the creation of the universe, the light – the soul of man (knowing the truth of God) – was already there. His disciples did not understand him. The wise rabbi then continued: “Imagine a king desires a son with all his heart and one day discovers a beautiful crown. „This I shall save for my son”, he thinks and he keeps it. „But how do you know, king, that your son is worthy of this crown?” he is asked. To which the king replies: “Shh! I created my universe especially for this …” [1]

This little story contains the mystery of creation into which the followers of Kabbalah, the mysticism of Judaism, immerse themselves.

Already in God’s infinite hiddenness there was the light of his Son, the primordial man. God reveals himself in his creation in the form of his Son, whom he makes its ruler and on whom he places the crown.

“Thus, then, we have at the heart of the Kabbalah a myth of divine unity as the union of the primal powers of all being, which will take form in the symbol of the Tree of the 10 Sephiroth.” [2]

The symbolic view of the world is an essential aspect of Kabbalah. It refers to an ancient traditional knowledge, in whose secrets the inner life of God is revealed, which is reflected in the world. Kabbalah is not a specific system of thought, but an overall term for very different ideas and developments of different systems. The word first appeared around 1200. During this time, old traditions were expanded by new impulses. They unfolded in France in the Sefer-ha Bahir and then found their full expression in Spain in the Sohar, the “Book of Splendour”.

The principle underlying creation

The hidden God – Ain Soph –, the Infinite, reveals Himself as an active deity in His creation in His son, the primordial man Adam Kadmon.

These are images of elemental nature, images of the myth of the tree of life, which appear in the Kabbalah in the form of Adam Kadmon. The branches and ramifications of the tree symbolically represent the unity of divine life in the diversity of the 10 Sephiroth.

The Holy Old One, the “Great Face“

The hidden infinite Deity is the Mystery of Mysteries and is referred to in Hebrew as Ain Soph, the Infinite Nothingness. In the Sohar, it is given various names that refer to its rapt transcendence: “the Holy Old One”, also called “the great face”.[3] The symbol of the Holy Old One conceals the problem of the dialectic, of the transition from formlessness to form. The infinite nothingness emerges from its concealment as Ehyeh (I will be) and appears as a living God.

His form also encompasses the nothingness, thus remains indissolubly permeated by the formless. This insight is crucial for the metaphysics of the Kabbalah.

“The knowledge of this double play, this dialectic of form, is characteristic of the knowledge of the Kabbalist.” [4]

The transition to form

When the Holy Old One took form, all his hidden light gathered into one boundless light, Ain Soph Aur, which, in a further step, flowed together in a focal point into the first Sephira Kether. From Kether emanate all further manifestations and emanations of the Sephiroth. It becomes a fountain from whose source living water flows into the downward growing tree of life. The world soul of the macrocosm and the human soul both arise from this one source, their respective developments run parallel and are represented in the symbol of the tree of life as intertwined.

Kether is, therefore, the crown and root of all the sephiroth manifesting in the following.

The word sephira comes from the Greek sphaira, sphere or heavenly body, planet. The plural Sephiroth refers to the primal numbers from 1 – 10; they are, therefore, the ten primal powers of creation. They are also called God’s intelligences (Logoi), because each individual Sephira has a special form of intelligence.

The creatively active God, “the little face”.

A transition to the second Sephira takes place as the boundless light reveals its “son” in a reflection of itself: Chockmah (wisdom and enlightening intelligence).[5]

Chockmah is the God revealing Himself in His creation, called “the little face”carrying out the creator activity as a crowned king. He is the Son of Man, the Primordial Man: Adam Kadmon.

“There came with the clouds of heaven one like a Son of Man. He came up to the aged one and was brought before him. He was given dominion, dignity and kingship“ (Daniel 7:13-14).

Chokmah gives the impetus for the creation of the other Sephiroth, and they gradually together form a tree that develops into the image of the King.

The word for God’s image, in Hebrew, also means likeness, model, and indicates that this is the inner image of the spiritual man: the “Son of Man”.[6]

Starting from two ends, the sephiroth gradually mate into pairs of opposites. As links in a chain, a male and a female Sephira stand opposite each other in a polar way, each lined up on one of two pillars. The steps they form are steps from which God’s face shines. Their names are the names under which God appears and, as one, they reveal his secret inner life.

The two pillars are the Pillar of Mercy (on the right) and the Pillar of Hardness (on the left). They represent the tree of knowledge, in the middle of which is the pillar of balance, the actual tree of life. As a unit of three pillars, the Sephiroth form “the tree of life”.

In the pillar of balance, the central pillar, Sophia, the power of universal harmony, hangs her scales. She strives to enable balance between the antagonistic male and female forces.


(to be continued in part 2)

[1] Sefer ha-Bahir §12, quoted according to Franjo Terhart, Kabbala, Die jüdische Mystik, p. 26, Paragon Books Ltd.

[2] Gershom Scholem, Zur Kabbala und ihrer Symbolik, Zürich 2013, p. 128

[3] Gershom Scholem, Von der mystischen Gestalt der Gottheit, Zürich 1962, p. 42

[4] Ibid. p. 33/34

[5] Jeff Love, Die Quantengötter, Hamburg 1994, p. 56

[6] Ibid. p. 72

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Date: September 1, 2021
Author: Sibylle Bath (Germany)
Photo: Marion Pellikaan

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