Sefirot and Middot: The Divine and Human Attributes of the Tree of Life

18 min read

Explore the harmonious balance between divine and human Attributes of the Tree of Life. Discover how the Ten Sefirot are not only channels for HaShem’s interaction with the world but also ethical models for our own conduct, guiding us closer to the Divine.

Middot Etz HaChayim

The teachings of “Middot Etz HaChayim” illuminates the richness of divine attributes as they manifest through the Ten Sefirot of the Etz HaChayim, or Tree of Life. Each Sefirah acts as a unique prism, refracting specific aspects of HaShem’s interaction with the created universe. The AriZal, Rabbi Isaac Luria, in his seminal work “Etz Chaim,” profoundly explores these ideas. He delineates the relationship between the Ein Sof, the Limitless One, and the finite world, mediated through these ten divine emanations. Rabbi Moshe Cordovero expands upon these intricacies in his work “Pardes Rimonim” (Orchard of Pomegranates), providing an exhaustive survey of the Sefirot, scrutinizing their interrelations and distinct roles.

Each of the Ten Sefirot serves as a conduit through which HaShem engages with creation. These Sefirot represent divine qualities such as kindness (Chesed), justice (Gevurah), and harmony (Tiferet). The interconnectedness of these Sefirot embodies the concept of HaShem’s absolute unity, echoing the foundational tenet of the Shema: “HaShem Echad.” To aid human comprehension, Midrashic literature and mystical texts like the Zohar often employ anthropomorphic language. Chesed is metaphorically described as the ‘right arm,’ while Gevurah is the ‘left arm.’ These are merely allegorical aids designed to facilitate our understanding of their complex functionalities. The Zohar further delves into the mystical aspects by introducing the concept of ‘Partzufim,’ intricate composites of Sefirot, and explicating the divine mechanics of ‘Tzimtzum’ (contraction) and ‘Shevirah’ (shattering of the vessels).

The Sefirot are not isolated to interactions with the macroscopic universe but also intimately engage with individual human beings. This concept is encapsulated in the term “Hishtalshelus,” referring to the chain of Being where divine energy cascades down through the Sefirot to vivify the world and the human soul. Rabbi Chaim Vital, a leading disciple of the AriZal, discusses this in his work “Sha’ar HaKavanot.” He emphasizes the critical role of aligning one’s deeds and thoughts with the Sefirot, thereby becoming an apt receptacle for the divine influx.

Echoing this idea, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (Ramchal) in his work “Derech Hashem” (The Way of God), accentuates the ethical and moral ramifications of a deeper understanding of the Sefirot. He maintains that by synchronizing our own moral attributes, or middot, with the divine middot represented by the Sefirot, we advance on the path toward closeness with HaShem. In essence, the Sefirot and the middot they encapsulate serve a dual purpose: they function as a guide for human ethical conduct and offer a profound framework for grasping the Divine.

Sefirotic Divine Qualities

[1] The Sefirot of Chesed

The attribute of divine kindness. Just as vegetation is a form of divine bounty to the world, Chesed is the flow of divine goodness and grace.

Gevurah of Chesed: “The Discipline in Loving”
Loving another individual isn’t merely an emotional act; it requires Gevurah, or discipline. The Talmud (Berachot 32b) discusses how even when HaShem is in a state of Gevurah, Chesed is never absent. It’s this balance that enables us to negotiate the complexity of human relationships. When you approach love with Gevurah, you’re using your inner strength to overcome challenges, and differences, for the sake of love.

Tiferet of Chesed: “The Balanced Beauty in Love”
Love is undoubtedly beautiful, reflecting the sefirah of Tiferet, which is all about balance and harmony. As King Solomon says in Proverbs (10:12), “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.” The balanced beauty in love, Tiferet, involves neither extreme obsession nor neglect, but a harmonious middle ground. We are encouraged to embrace this form of love, which radiates the Divine attribute of mercy.

Netzach of Chesed: “The Endurance in Expressing Love”
Netzach is often associated with eternity and endurance. In the realm of Chesed, this refers to the enduring nature of love. The love we have for parents, spouses, and children can sometimes be taken for granted. The Mishnah (Avot 1:12) teaches us that we should be like Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace. That means not just feeling love, but actively expressing it in enduring ways that transcend momentary feelings.

Hod of Chesed: “Gratitude as Love’s Foundation”
Hod represents thanksgiving and acknowledgement. The expression of love is not complete without a deep sense of gratitude. The Talmud (Berachot 54a) discusses the importance of acknowledging the good that others provide us, both in words and deeds. Expressing gratitude isn’t just about saying “thank you”; it’s about showing it through actions that resonate with sincerity, thus fulfilling the essence of Hod in Chesed.

Yesod of Chesed: “The Love that Connects”
Yesod is the foundation that facilitates interaction between disparate elements. In the world of Chesed, love acts as that foundation. Love has the incredible ability to bridge gaps between people, no matter how different their backgrounds. In the Zohar (part I, 91b), it’s mentioned that love, the Yesod of Chesed, has the power to awaken the higher realms and to foster unity.

Malchut of Chesed: “Sovereignty in Boundless Love”
Malchut represents sovereignty, the ability to govern oneself. When it comes to Chesed, we look to HaShem as the ultimate exemplar of love. The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 12:15) says that HaShem created the world as an act of Chesed, and in His image, we too should act. Malchut here is taking ownership of your capacity to love and to channel that love in a giving and boundless manner, akin to how HaShem manifests love in the universe.

[2] The Sefirot of Gevurah

The attribute of divine strength and judgment. Just as the lights in the firmament govern the world, Gevurah provides the boundaries and laws that channel divine flow.

Chesed of Gevurah: “The Love in Limitation”
Sometimes saying ‘no’ is an act of love. Just as HaShem sets boundaries in creation and commandments, so too must we set boundaries out of love. In Tractate Sotah (14a), we find that Moshe Rabbeinu emulated HaShem in various ways, including setting limits for the benefit of the community. A ‘no’ emerging from a place of Chesed is designed to protect and nurture, rather than to restrict for restriction’s sake.

Gevurah of Gevurah: “The Strength to Be Strong”
Courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to act despite it. The Talmud (Berachot 32b) mentions the bravery of the early generations in the face of adversity. The courage to say ‘no’ to evil—both internal and external—is crucial. Gevurah of Gevurah is a call to marshal inner reserves of strength to stand up against negativity and evil.

Tiferet of Gevurah: “Harmonizing Strength”
Admiring someone who exemplifies strength and moral fortitude can be transformative. Just as Yaakov Avinu embodied Tiferet, a balanced beauty (see Zohar I, 140b), so too can we strive to manifest Tiferet in our own expressions of Gevurah. It’s about channeling our strength in balanced, just, and harmonious ways, inspired by those who excel in these qualities.

Netzach of Gevurah: “The Victory in Self-Control”
Netzach refers to eternity and victory. It’s not just about having energy but also about directing it purposefully. The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot De’ot 1:4) discusses the golden path of moderation. Controlling one’s energy to neither overextend nor withhold is a victory in the realm of Gevurah; it’s the Netzach in discipline.

Hod of Gevurah: “Acknowledging Inner Strength”
Hod signifies acknowledgment and submission. Acknowledging one’s strength is not an act of arrogance but an act of Hod. The Talmud (Shabbat 105b) teaches that one who gets angry is akin to one who worships idols, denying HaShem’s role in the world. When we recognize our strength, we acknowledge that it’s a gift from HaShem, helping us to stand up against challenges.

Yesod of Gevurah: “The Connector in Courage”
Yesod is the foundation, the element that binds disparate entities. The courage and strength to break barriers to facilitate connections come from this sefirah. In the realm of Gevurah, this might mean overcoming obstacles that keep people or communities apart, a concept deeply rooted in the teachings of the Arizal on unity and separation (see Etz Chaim, Shaar HaYichudim).

Malchut of Gevurah: “Sovereign Responsibility”
Malchut, or sovereignty, manifests as taking responsibility. Just as a king must bear the welfare of his subjects in mind, so too must individuals own up to their roles and responsibilities. This is much like Moshe Rabbeinu who felt a deep sense of responsibility for B’nei Israel (see Shemot Rabba 2:2). Living up to your responsibilities, in this sense, is an expression of Gevurah in its Malchut aspect.

[3] The Sefirot of Tiferet

The attribute of harmonizing force. Just as Tiferet balances Chesed and Gevurah, the swarming waters represent the beauty of a harmonized ecosystem.

Chesed of Tiferet: “Loving Beauty Within”
Tiferet is often related to beauty and truth. Chesed within Tiferet would be the love we express through showcasing our unique, innate beauty. We learn in Mishlei (Proverbs 31:30) that “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears HaShem is to be praised.” When our actions radiate with kindness and godliness, they attract Divine attention. It’s like the Talmudic dictum in Berachot 17a, which urges us to use our unique gifts in the service of HaShem.

Gevurah of Tiferet: “Inspiring Beauty”
Being inspired by beauty is one thing, but acting upon that inspiration is another. Gevurah within Tiferet suggests using our unique attributes to uplift others, much like Aaron the High Priest who loved peace and pursued peace (Avot 1:12). Your beauty becomes overwhelming when it catalyzes joy and kindness among your loved ones.

Tiferet of Tiferet: “Harmonizing Truth and Beauty”
Beauty and truth are deeply interconnected. As King David says in Psalms (85:11), “Truth springs from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.” By adhering to truth in all our interactions—be it with ourselves, others, or HaShem—we manifest the most sublime form of beauty. The Torah is described as “the Torah of truth” (Talmud, Shabbat 88b), guiding us toward a life of authentic beauty.

Netzach of Tiferet: “The Eternality of Beauty”
Beauty that’s predicated on good deeds attains a form of eternality. The concept echoes Pirkei Avot (2:9), where Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai asks his students to identify the “good path” a person should cling to, and the answer combines traits like a good eye, a humble spirit, and a kind soul. These eternal beauties are deeds that beget more good deeds.

Hod of Tiferet: “Acknowledging Hidden Beauty”
Much like the concept of Hod, which is about gratitude and acknowledgment, the beauty in Tiferet needs to be acknowledged to be revealed. We learn in Bereshit Rabba (9:9) that everything HaShem created in His world He created solely for His glory. By contemplating the innate beauty in all creation, we become aware of the concealed beauty around us.

Yesod of Tiferet: “Universal Beauty”
Yesod, or “foundation,” is what connects and brings unity. The beauty in each of God’s creations is that unifying foundation. The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 9:3) tells us that HaShem looked into the Torah and created the world; it is, therefore, a world founded upon divine beauty, serving as the ultimate connector.

Malchut of Tiferet: “Manifesting Inner Light”
Malchut within Tiferet speaks to our innate, often latent, charisma and spiritual power. It’s about turning potential into actuality, akin to King David who manifested his hidden potentials into tangible leadership (see Samuel I, Chapter 16). Seeking this inner power and praying for its revelation is to touch the Divine in ourselves.

[4] The Sefirot of Netzach

The attribute of eternity. Just as the earth sustains life through an ongoing process, Netzach ensures the constant flow of divine energy into the world.

Chesed of Netzach: “Divine Success”
Winning and succeeding are certainly joyful, but the ultimate source of all success is HaShem, as the verse in Deuteronomy 8:18 states, “But you shall remember HaShem your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth.” This is Chesed in the realm of Netzach, recognizing that HaShem blesses us with the will and ability to win.

Gevurah of Netzach: “Victory Through Justice”
In every contest, ethical conduct is crucial. Just as the Mishna in Avot (1:18) emphasizes that the world stands on justice, truth, and peace, our victories must align with these pillars. To win isn’t just about overpowering an opponent; it’s about doing so within the framework of Divine law.

Tiferet of Netzach: “Victory in Unity”
The true beauty of any competition is not necessarily in the end result, but in the journey and how players treat each other. The Talmud in Taanit (20b) teaches about the importance of treating each other respectfully. Tiferet within Netzach recognizes that the highest form of victory is when competition fosters unity and mutual respect.

Netzach of Netzach: “Divine Resilience”
The drive to overcome challenges is a divine trait implanted within us. As the Talmud says in Berachot (32b), “Since the day the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed, the gates of prayer have been closed… but even though the gates of prayer are closed, the gates of tears are not closed.” Our ability to rise again, to overcome challenges, is the very essence of Netzach.

Hod of Netzach: “Lessons in Loss”
Failures are not the end; rather, they are educational steps toward success. This aligns with the teaching of Rabbi Meir in Avot (4:1), who says that one should not consider anything to be lost, teaching us to be aware that every experience has intrinsic value.

Yesod of Netzach: “Connected through Success”
Achieving goals creates a connection with HaShem, the source of all success. Just as Moses’ success in leading the Israelites was due to his connection with HaShem (see Exodus 33:13), our victories should also strengthen our bond with the Divine.

Malchut of Netzach: “Leading towards Victory”
Leadership and victory go hand-in-hand, both requiring complete commitment and effort. As it is said in Pirkei Avot (2:2), “It is not upon you to complete the work, but you are not free to desist from it.” A leader gives his all in the battle between light and darkness, representing the Malchut within Netzach.

[5] The Sefirot of Hod

The attribute of glory and submission. The creation of man introduces the element of free will, which allows for the expression of divine glory through human action.

Chesed of Hod: “Boundaries in Love”
Understanding and respecting another’s need for space is a form of Chesed. This brings to mind the Talmudic teaching in Sanhedrin (37a), “Therefore, every single person is obligated to say: The world was created for me.” Respecting someone’s space is akin to acknowledging their unique role in the world.

Gevurah of Hod: “Strength in Humility”
The ability to step back and let another shine is a powerful form of strength. As Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai teaches in the Zohar (3:47a), true greatness is found in humility, where one makes room for the Divine presence to dwell.

Tiferet of Hod: “The Splendor of Humility”
A humble person attracts a unique divine light, or what Kabbalists might refer to as an ‘Or Makif’—a surrounding light. It is an illumination that comes not from putting oneself forward, but from stepping back and allowing HaShem to shine through.

Netzach of Hod: “Surrendering to Win”
The concept that one can achieve victory through surrender aligns with the words of Rabban Gamliel in Pirkei Avot (2:4), “Do His will as if it were your will, so that He will do your will as if it were His will.” There’s a transcendent form of victory in aligning our will with HaShem’s.

Hod of Hod: “A Leap of Faith”
True faith is an acknowledgment of one’s divine soul, an awareness of our innate spiritual dignity. The Midrash Tanchuma (Pekudei, 3) says that the soul is a fragment of the Divine, and recognizing this is a form of faith in both HaShem and oneself.

Yesod of Hod: “Gratitude as Foundation”
The importance of gratitude is emphasized in numerous Jewish texts, such as in Berachot (54a), which discusses the blessings one must say to thank HaShem for various things. Being able to express gratitude is the cornerstone of building strong relationships.

Malchut of Hod: “Power of Admission”
Admitting one’s faults is the first step towards Teshuva (repentance). As the Rambam lays out in Hilchot Teshuva (2:2), confession is an essential part of the repentance process. By doing so, one taps into the Malchut aspect of Hod, manifesting sovereignty over one’s lower inclinations.

[6] The Sefirot of Yesod

The attribute of foundation. Just as human procreation sustains the world, Yesod channels and sustains the divine energies from the higher Sefirot.

Chesed of Yesod: “Unbreakable Bonds”
True commitment goes beyond convenience; it reflects an eternal bond. This echoes the words of King Solomon in Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs, 8:7), “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.”

Gevurah of Yesod: “Collective Strength”
We find this idea in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12), which discusses the benefits of partnership over isolation. The strength of a community or a relationship often transcends the sum of its parts, offering protection and power not found in individuality.

Tiferet of Yesod: “Harmonious Connections”
The essence of Tiferet, which is balance and harmony, particularly shines in the context of relationships. This is akin to what the Mishna says in Pirkei Avot (1:6), “Acquire for yourself a friend,” emphasizing the value of relationships for mutual growth and completion.

Netzach of Yesod: “Loyalty as Victory”
A relationship’s endurance often depends on loyalty. The story of Ruth and Naomi comes to mind, where Ruth’s loyalty is so strong that she utters the famous lines, “Where you go, I will go; where you stay, I will stay” (Ruth 1:16).

Hod of Yesod: “Gratitude Sustains Connection”
Gratitude ensures the longevity of any relationship. In Berachot (7b), it is told that Moses would go out of his way to avoid walking on the ground that had been harsh to his ancestors, showing gratitude even towards inanimate objects.

Yesod of Yesod: “The Necessity of Communication”
Open communication is the bedrock of any successful relationship, reflecting the foundational aspect of Yesod itself. The Talmud (Yevamot 62b) highlights the importance of communication in marital life, saying that a man should always be cautious with his wife because of the closeness of their relationship.

Malchut of Yesod: “Queenship in Union”
The sovereignty of Malchut finds expression in the sanctity of marriage. One might think of the verse from Genesis (2:24), “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh,” as the epitome of Malchut in the context of Yesod.

[7] The Sefirot of Malchut

The attribute of kingdom. Malchut is the realm of action, where all divine energies culminate. When HaShem saw that “it was very good,” it symbolized the completion and harmony of all elements of creation.

Chesed of Malchut: “The Desire to Give”
The essence of kingship, in its purest form, is to provide for the subjects. It resembles the concept found in Pirkei Avot (2:1), which advises us to “calculate the cost of a mitzvah against its rewards,” emphasizing the importance of seeking opportunities for good deeds.

Gevurah of Malchut: “Focused Stewardship”
Being able to focus one’s energies for the betterment of others recalls the Talmudic teaching from Tractate Brachot (28b) regarding Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, who offered diverse blessings to his students, each tailored to their specific needs. His focused attention made him a great leader.

Tiferet of Malchut: “Harmonious Hierarchy”
A harmonious hierarchy reflects the well-ordered society discussed in the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings and Wars (Ch. 4:10), where each person plays their part in a united mission to serve HaShem.

Netzach of Malchut: “Maintaining Control”
This aspect reminds us of the teaching from Pirkei Avot (4:1), “Who is strong? One who conquers his evil inclination.” To govern others effectively, one must first govern oneself.

Hod of Malchut: “The Responsibility of Leadership
A leader’s job is to set an example, in line with the concept of Kiddush HaShem (Sanctification of the Divine Name). This calls to mind the example set by leaders like Moses, as detailed in the Torah (Numbers 12:3), who was described as the most humble of men.

Yesod of Malchut: “Guidance from the Tzaddik”
Every leader needs a mentor, echoing the teaching from Pirkei Avot (1:6), “Make for yourself a Rav (teacher).” A leader becomes great not just through his own merit, but through the wisdom of those who guide him.

Malchut of Malchut: “True Peace through Divine Alignment”
The final point correlates strongly with the teachings of the Rambam in Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings and Wars (Ch. 11-12), regarding the qualifications of Mashiach. Only when the earthly kingdom is aligned with the Divine Will can we attain ultimate peace and enlightenment.

Short URL:

You May Also Like


Add yours
  1. 1
    Belayneh Tazebku

    I learn a lot from your especial lessons, I have hidden middot of my hidden crypto jewish community. Do you advice me to publish those historical and tragedies? We are much manority in Ethiopia.

+ Leave a Comment