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Glossary of Terms

Emptiness; nothingness.

Third of the sefirot, Binah means “understanding.” Binah is the “supernal mother,” the hidden Divine feminine, and the womb of the remaining sefirot. Binah is the first place of differentiation, which receives the seed of Hochmah and gives birth to the universe.

Ein Sof
Name given to the Divine infinite in Kabbalistic thought. Early kabbalists conceived of the Ein Sof as the absolute perfection in which there is no distinction or plurality. While “God” may be thought of in relational or conceptual terms, the Ein Sof transcends these categories. Importantly, the infinite really is infinite — it does not end at the front of your brain, or anywhere else. Therefore, it is all there is.

Fifth of the sefirot, Gevurah means “strength.” The sefirah is also referred to as din, “Judgment,” and is the source of contriction, boundary, and restraint. Generally, Kabbalists pray that the forces of gevurah be sweetened by those of hesed (lovingkindness), although gevurah is also necessary for the world to exist — otherwise it would be overcome by Divine light. Interestingly, Gevurah is gendered feminine even though the word itself is related to gever, the word for man.

Metempsychosis: the migration of a soul from one body after its death to another.

Literally means “Way of going” — but refers to Jewish law. Traditionally, the halakhah is made up of the Written Law, as recorded in the Pentateuch, and the oral law, which includes later responsa as well as established customs. During the period of the Temple the Sadducees denied the authority of the oral law; this view was also adopted later by the Karaites. However, the oral law was collected by Judah Ha-Nasi in the Mishnah, and the discussions of the amoraim are recorded in the Talmud. Subsequently Jewish law was codified in such works as the Mishneh Torah by Maimonides and the Shulhan Arukh compiled by Joseph Caro. While Orthodoxy claims to regard the halakhah as unchanging, both it and Progressive Judaism continue to adapt law to modern life, with different emphases.

Fourth of the sefirot, Hesed means “lovingkindness.” It is the aspect of Divinity which spreads forth, and opens. It is the first active principle, balanced by the receptive principle of gevurah.

Second of the sefirot, hochmah means “wisdom.” It is analogized to a spark of light, and is the first form to proceed from emptiness. Hochmah is primordial wisdom, and may be thought of as the organizing laws/principles of the universe.

Eighth of the sefirot, hod means “splendor.” It is associated with inspiration, suppleness, and transitory beauty. It is, as it were, the principle of hesed translated into action. Hod is balanced by Netzach.

Literally, “Receiving,” either in the sense of a received teaching dealing with mystical or esoteric matters; or in the sense of receiving direct experience of ultimate reality. Technically, Kabbalah refers to Jewish esoteric teachings which evolved primarily in the medieval period, regarding the hidden life of God and the secrets of his relationship with his creation.

First of the sefirot, keter means “crown.” It is the link, so to speak, between the emanations of the sefirot and the perfect unity of the Ein Sof.

Tenth of the sefirot, Malchut means “sovereignty.” It is the sefirah identified with the Shechinah, the manifestation of the Divine feminine.

Legends, stories, and fantastic elaborations of Scripture. Jews have been creating midrash for thousands of years, and still do so today; it is often an imaginative, creative reconstruction or reconfiguration of sacred text. The interpretative approach known as midrash halakah explores the full meaning of biblical law. Midrash aggadah, on the other hand, sometimes aims to derive a moral principle, lesson or theological concept from the biblical text.

Commandment. A mitzvah may be an ethical precept or a prescribed ritual action. Kabbalistically, mitzvot may have theurgical or magical properties. In Jewish law commandments are either positive (mitzvah aseh) or negative (mitzvah lo taaseh). According to tradition, there are 613 commandments in the Torah. The Talmud differentiates between two types of commandment: mishpatim, ordinances that would have been deducible even if the Hebrew Bible had not prescribed them, and hukkim, commandments that could not have been logically derived.

Seventh of the sefirot, Netzach means “endurance” or “eternity.” It is the principle of determination, continuity, and steadiness, counterbalanced by hod, which represents inspiration and splendor.

In kabbalistic literature the sefirot are depicted as emanations or manifestations of God. The Sefirot are explained on this site here.

Sabbath, day of rest. It is observed every week from before sunset on Friday until nightfall on Saturday. According to tradition, the Sabbath is celebrated to honor God’s day of rest after creation. No productive labor should take place on the Sabbath; rabbinic legislation stipulates 39 categories of activity which are forbidden.

Divine presence. The Bible refers to God’s dwelling in the midst of the children of Israel (Exod. 13:21-2; 40:34-8). Subsequently the concept of the Shekhinah embodied God’s presence in the world. In Kabbalistic sources the term Shekhinah refers to the tenth Sefirah, representing God’s feminine aspect.

Vast record of the discussion and administration of Jewish law by scholars in various academies from c.200 to c.500. Comprises the Mishnah (law) together with gemara (commentary and supplement to the Mishnah text), as well as legendary and other material.

Sixth of the sefirot, Tiferet means “beauty.” It is the balance point between hesed and gevurah, and the seat of compassion. Tiferet is regarded as the center of the sefirot, and is sometimes depicted as the center of a wheel.

The Five Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). “Torah” is sometimes used more broadly to refer to any Jewish learning.

Ninth of the sefirot, Yesod means “foundation.” It is the conduit from abstraction to manifestation, and is analogized to the sexual organs, which take together that which is inside and project it into the outside (malchut). Yesod is also identified with the righteous human being, whose actions support the world.

Inclination; will. Traditional Judaism believes people to possess a will toward the good and a selfish will toward evil. Sometimes “yetzer” is used to refer purely to the selfish inclination. This yetzer, the yetzer hara, sees the world purely in terms of the self and its desires.

The masterpiece of the Kabbalah, the Zohar takes the form of a mystical commentary on the Torah. According to tradition, it was composed in the second century by Simeon bar Yohai. However, the work as we have it was first published in the 13th century by Moses de Leon in Spain and contains language that is certainly medieval in origin.