The Sephirot And The Scriptures

Tree_of_lifeThose familiar with the Kabbalah will no doubt be familiar with the ten sephirot of the Tree of Life. But have you ever wondered where the rabbis who penned the Kabbalah got the names of the sephirot from?

Well, having searched the scriptures and later tradition I believe the two key verses that inspired them were Proverbs 3:19-20 and 1 Chronicles 29:11.

The names of the first few sephirot are mentioned together in a number of verses including Exodus 31:3 and Proverbs 2:6 but I believe the verse to really pay attention to is Proverbs 3:19-20, which says this:

By wisdom [chokmah] the Lord [YHWH] laid the earth’s foundations [yesod], by understanding [binah] he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge [da’at] the watery depths were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.

We find reference to the seven other sephirot in 1 Chronicles 29:11, though not all of them are mentioned explicitly. The context is a prayer of David, often recited by Jewish in morning prayer, which reads,

Yours, Lord [YHWH], is the greatness and the power [geburah] and the glory [tipharah] and the majesty [netsach] and the splendor [hod], for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom [mamlakah/malkuth]; you are exalted as head over all.

It’s even more obvious in the original Hebrew.

The most obvious omission to all of this is what in later kabbalistic systems is the first siphirot, the crown [keter]. The only biblical references I’ve found for that word however are in Esther, which don’t seem as suggestive in that context. It makes me wonder, consequently, if that innovation is less directly tied to kabbalistic exegesis (or should I say eisegesis)?

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