Etz Hhaim: The Tree of Life: The Original Tree of the Sepher Yetsira
The earliest use of the term sephirot
in Hebrew literature is the
supposedly a 3rd century or later text, which distributes its Ten Sephirot to form a
The first explicit association of ten sephirot with a cosmic or emanative 2-D tree of life appears almost
one thousand years later in the Bahir (late 12th century), a root source for medieval kabbalah,
(Joseph Dan, Jewish Mysticism, Vol II: The Middle Ages, xix), which uses terminology from the Sepher Yetsira.
It is often assumed that because it lacks the imagery and attributive expansions of the
Bahir or Zohar, the Sepher Yetsira only deals with the sephirot in a limited or numerical sense;
which is how it looks when the alpha -- an understanding of the linked semantic
descriptions of energy and consciousness found in the Sepher Yetsira when it is read
on its own terms -- is lost.
The Sefer Yetzira appears to base its statements and conclusions on observation and
analysis, rather than on homiletical interpretation of biblical verses and the traditions of
ancients sages. Its statements are ones that can be analysed, criticized, and interpreted on
their own merits, rather than in comparison to a proof-text or the truth revealed to previous generations
The basic concepts of the Sefer Yetzira are so radically different than those of ancient
Judaism that the attraction they exerted on Jewish Medieval scientists is obvious, once we
successfully detach ourselves from the images introduced by eight centuries of "mythical," "mystical, and
"magical" exegesis on the book.
Three Phases of the History of the Sefer Yetzira
Joseph Dan, Jewish Mysticism, Vol I, Aronson, 1998, p.169
It is a curious fact that all the well-known versions of the Tree of Life involve major
revisions to the cosmology of the Sepher Yetsira and no one appears to have considered simply following the
original text, which could be any of the three 9th and 10 century
After a close study of the three texts, the following conclusion has been reached: The three recensions
differ from each other mainly in the length of the text and in the inner organization of the material.
The differences of reading between the three recensions are not as many as is generally assumed.
The three extant recensions are: a long one, a short one, and the so-called Se'adian recension.
Thus seventeen manuscripts and the two printed
texts of the first edition have been collated for the present critical edition ...
...the so-called "rejected" manuscripts also have to be consulted not only in order to fill up
the critical apparatus, but also in order to trace more accurately the development of the
manuscript-stems and of the text itself ...
But as the various commentators in the middle ages used to tamper with the text of the book,
introducing minor or major changes in the text and its order, the reliability of these texts
still deserves a special study.
Ithamar Gruenwald, "A Preliminary Critical Edition of Sepher Yetzirah" in Israel Oriental Studies 1 (1971):
Similarly, the "minor or major changes in the text and its order" are seldom recognized in the
works of later kabbalah and their present-day derivatives.
As a two-dimensional projection of the three-dimensional Cube of Space, The Tree of Life
loses degrees of freedom and connectivity (paths) in the transformation.
The kabbalists of the middle ages were incapable of modern
perspective and could not place themselves in a spacial cube.
Here, we explore the structure of the original Tree of Life, the
Ten Sephirot Belimah
as described in higher-dimensional geometry by the Sepher Yetsira in its
original recensions. As Joseph Dan notes, the mode of thought of the Sepher Yetsira is rational
and experimental. If we can let go of 800 years of mythological and theosophical interpretation,
this mode of thought can be encountered in all its richness directly in the Sepher Yetsira.
In it are none of attributive middoth or theosophical projections of the Zohar that have
come to be identified with the meaning of the Tree of Life. Instead, we find multi-level
linked semantic categories and precise equations dealing with the structure of energy and consciousness,
and the nature of life, death and existence. The Sepher Yetsira is written in a projective, or instructional,
language, similar to hypertext or a recursive programming language. It is not a text "out there" to be
deconstructed; it is more like a computer program which runs in inner space when the instructions are decoded.
As always, see for yourself.
Most of the Trees here are presented without connecting paths, which seem to have secondary value in any
basic understanding of the structure of the Tree, despite their universal obsession in flatland.
The 3-dimensional Cube, for instance, contains
19 of the Hebrew letters in just the outer or lower six sephirot, and reveals many
are not visible in the 2-D Tree.
The Geronese theories, found in the writings of R. Barzilai,
R. 'Ezra of Gerona, R. Jacob ben Shesher, and R. Asher ben David of Provence, do not present a single
unified answer to the questions of the ultimate essense of the Sefirot. From the early thirteenth century,
three major answers were offered:
(1) the theory that the Sefirot are part of the divine nature and partake in the divine essence, referred to
below as "Sefirot qua essence";
(2) the theory that Sefirot are nondivine is essence, although closely related to divinity,
either as its intstruments in creating a governing the world or as vessels for the divine influx
by which it is transmitted to the lower worlds; and
(3) the theory that the Sefirot are the divine emanations with created reality, constituting, as it were, the
immanent element of divinity.
I shall briefly describe the expressions used in order to convey the emphases
at the earlier stages of Kabbalah, interestingly, only later, at the end of the fifteenth and the early sixteenth
centuries, were these earlier positions presented as conflicting stands and thereby crystallized as
independent perceptions. Still later, these opposing views were unified in the theosopy of R. Moses Cordovero,
and since then the coexistence of the Sefirot qua essences of the divinity and as its vessels and instruments
became a dominant factor in Kabbalistic theosophy. Finally, I will survy a fourth interpretation, the
human or psychological understanding of the Sephirot.
Moshe Idel, Kabbalah, New Perspectives, Yale, 1988. p.137
Etz: Ayn-Tsadde, 70-90: real possibilities (70) for structuration (90) (Hhaim: alive),
the Tree of Living Possibilties.