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Sanford L. Drob, Ph.D.

 ©1998 Sanford L. Drob: Duplication for other than personal use is unauthorized without written consent from the author.

The Lurianic Kabbalah represents the most complex and sophisticated variant of Jewish mystical theosophy. As transmitted by his disciples (notably Chayyim Vital, 1542-1620, see Menzi and Padeh, 1999), and later interpreted by the Hasidim, Isaac Luria’s dynamic understanding and reformulation of the symbols of the Zohar, provides a theological scheme which cries out to be interpreted in psychological terms. Freud is reported to have exclaimed "This is gold!" when presented with a German translation of one of the Lurianic works (Bakan, 1971), and Jung once wrote that "a full understanding of the Jewish origins of psychoanalysis would carry us beyond Jewish Orthodoxy into the subterranean workings of Hasidism and then into the intricacies of the Kabbalah which still remain unexplored psychologically"(Jung, 1975 .p. 358-9).

In a previous publication (Drob, 1999) I reviewed the impact of the Kabbalah on Jung’s thought and described the general approach that Jung took in his interpretation of the Kabbalistic symbols. Jung’s interpretation of the Kabbalah was rooted in his understanding of Gnosticism and the spiritual side of alchemy. He held that for each of these traditions, the mystical symbols of God, the heavens, and higher worlds could be profitably understood as projections of the archetypes of the collective unconscious, that is, as reflections of the deepest, most universal structures of the human mind (Jung, 1964; 1969; Segal, 1992). Jung, recognized the deep psychological significance of such Kabbalistic symbols as the Sefirot and Adam Kadmon, but left it to others to work out their archetypal significance in detail. In this paper I present an archetypal interpretation of the major symbols of the Lurianic Kabbalah, one that is rooted both in Jung and the psychological insights of the Kabbalists themselves.

Psychological Hermeneutics In The Kabbalah

Far from being antagonistic to any "psychologization" of the divinity, the Kabbalists and Hasidim held that the human mind is a mirror and, in some respects, the very origin of the theosophical realm. (Idel, 1988, 146-53, Idel, 1992, 227-35). For example, one of the earliest Kabbalists Azriel of Gerona (early 13th century) theorized that the energy of the human soul derives from the heavenly Sefirot, the ten archetypes through which God expresses himself in creation, and he equated each Sefirah with a psychological power or physical organ in man (Scholem, 1987, p. 95).

Moshe Idel has shown how the ecstatic Kabbalah, with its focus on the experience of the initiate, regarded the Sefirot themselves as human spiritual and psychic processes (idel, 1988, p. 146). For example, Abraham Abulafia (1240-after 1291) understood the names of the ten Sefirot (Thought, Wisdom, Understanding, Mercy, Fear, Beauty, Victory, Splendor, etc.) as referring to processes taking place in the mind and body of man, and thought it possible for man to cleave to these attributes through proper meditation (p. 147). An even more radical viewpoint was advocated by R. Meir ibn Gabbay (1480->1540) who interpreted an ancient midrash to mean that God’s anthropomorphic structure was itself copied from a human original! (p. 176). Even amongst the Lurianists, with there emphasis upon the theosophical structure of the godhead and divine worlds, we find the doctrine that the Sefirot are mirrored in man’s body and soul (Vital, 1960, Gate 1, Sec, 2).

The notion that the divine macrocosm is mirrored in the mind of man was emphasized by the founders of the Hasidic movement, who can be said to have "psychologized" the Lurianic Kabbalah for their numerous disciples. For example, R. Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye (1704-1794) stated in the name of the Baal Shem Tov (1700-1760), the founder of Hasidism, that the ten Sefirot appear in man as a result of a divine contraction, whereby the deity progressively instantiates himself in a series of personal structures until, upon reaching man, he (and man himself) is called Microcosmos (Olam Katan) (Idel, 1988, p. 150, note 366, p. 352). Rabbi Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezrich (1704-1772), who succeeded the Baal Shem Tov as the leader of the early Hasidic movement, taught "that everything written in (Vital’s) Sefer Etz Chayyim (the major exposition of the Lurianic Kabbalah) also exists in the world and in man"(Idel, 1988, p. 15). The "Maggid" went so far as to hold that the very significance of divine thought is contingent upon this thought making its appearance in the mind of man. Like Jung, who was later to expound a similar view regarding the "collective unconscious", the Maggid held that the Godhead has a hidden life within the mind of man (Schatz-Uffenheimer, 1993 p. 207).

The Lurianic Kabbalah

(Readers familiar with the Lurianic system may want to proceed to the next section: Archetypal Interpretation of The Lurianic System.)

The Lurianic Kabballah is a relatively late development in the history of Jewish mysticism. It originated in 16th century Safed, where a young Isaac Luria recounted to his disciples the visions and speculations he had regarding the origins of creation and the nature of the upper worlds. Luria himself left precious few writings, but his ideas have come down to us through the writings of Vital and others, and his ideas have received a renewed interest in our century through the work of those such as Gershom Scholem, who have catalogued, compiled and described significant portions of the Lurianic literary corpus (Scholem, 1941,1965, 1973, 1974, 1987, 1991; Tishby, 1942). The Kabbalah is also a subtext to Jung's prolific work on alchemy (Drob, 1999). This is not only because Jung himself consulted Kabbalistic texts, but because the alchemists themselves were greatly influenced by, and implemented, Kabbalistic ideas in the alchemical works Jung analyzed.

Luria adopted the earlier Kabbalistic term Ein-sof to designate the primal, all-encompassing "Infinite God". This God, according to the Kabbalists, was both the totality of being and the abyss of complete "nothingness" (Scholem, 1987, p. 423). As such, it is the union of everything in the world and its opposite (Dan, 1966, p. 94).

Luria, in contrast to previous Kabbalists who had put forth a Neo-platonic, "emanationist" view of creation, held that Ein-sof created the world through a negation, via an act of divine concealment, contraction and withdrawal. This act, known in the Lurianic Kabbalah as the Tzimtzum was necessary to "make room" for the emanation of the worlds. In the act of Tzimtzum, the Infinite God withdraws himself from himself, leaving a void. This void, known as the tehiru or chalal, is a metaphysically empty circle or sphere which Ein-sof surrounds equally on all sides.

Once established, this void becomes the metaphysical "space" where an infinite number of worlds will take form through a positive, emanative phase in the creative process. At this point a thin line (kav) of divine light (Or Ein-sof) penetrates the void but does not completely transverse it. From this line, as well as from a residue (Reshimu) of the divine light, which had remained in the metaphysical void after the divine contraction, the first created being, Primordial Man (Adam Kadmon), is formed.

According to Vital, it is Adam Kadmon who is responsible for emanating the Sefirot. Lights flashing from the ears, nose, mouth, and eyes of this Primordial Man create these ten archetypes or value-dimensions of creation. Each light beams down into the void and then returns, leaving a residue of divine light from which the "vessel" for each Sefirah is formed. Another light is projected from the eyes of Adam Kadmon and then returns, leaving behind a second residue which fills the vessels, thereby completing the formation of each Sefirah. The ten Sefirot, in order of their emanation (and with their alternate appellations) are as follows : Keter (Crown) or Ratzon (Will); Chochmah (Wisdom); Binah (Understanding); Chesed (Loving kindness); Gevurah (Strength) or Din (Judgment); Tiferet (Beauty) or Rachamim (Compassion); Netzach (Glory); Hod (Splendor); Yesod (Foundation); Malchut (Kingship).

The Sefirot are themselves organized into the "body" of Primordial Man, with Keter, Chochmah and Binah, forming the "crown" and "brains", Chesed and Gevurah, the arms, Tiferet, the torso, Netzach and Hod, the legs, and Malchut, the mouth, or in some accounts, the feminine counterpart to Adam Kadmon. The Sefirot are also organized into a series of five "worlds" (the worlds of Primordial Man, "Nearness", "Creation", "Formation", and "Making", the lowest of which, Assiyah or Making, provides the substance of our earth. The cosmos, as it was originally emanated via ten discrete Sefirot, is known as the "World of Points".

Luria is, again, completely original in his description of the fate of the Sefirot and worlds after their emanation. The Sefirot "closest" to Adam Kadmon, the so-called "psychical" Sefirot, are comprised of the most powerful vessels and they alone can withstand the impact of a second series of lights emanating from the eyes of the Primordial Man. However, all of the "vessels" from Chesed to Yesod shattered, causing displacement, exile, and discord to hold sway throughout the cosmos. This is known in the Lurianic Kabbalah as the "Breaking of the Vessels" (Shevirat HaKelim).

As a result of this shattering, shards from the broken vessels tumble down through the void, entrapping sparks of divine light in "evil husks" (the Kellipot) which form the lower worlds, and the "Other Side", a realm of evil, darkness and death which is alienated from the source of divine light in God. Chaos reaches the upper worlds as well, where the masculine and feminine aspects of the deity, the celestial "Mother" and "Father", represented by the Sefirot Chochmah and Binah, are prompted to turn their backs on one another, thus disrupting the flow of divine erotic energy to all the worlds.

The broken vessels must be reassembled and restored. This is possible because not all of the divine light that fell out of the broken vessels is entrapped in the kellipot. Some of this light returns spontaneously to its source, commencing a repair and reconstruction of the cosmos. This process, known as Tikkun haolam, the restoration of the world, involves the reorganization of the broken vessels into a series of Partzufim, "visages" or personality-structures of God, each of which is dominated by one or more of the original Sefirot. However, the Partzufim organize within themselves all of the Sefirot and are hence stronger than any of the original Sefirot were in and of themselves.

As we have implied, the Partzufim are understood to be partial personalities of the deity. The five major divine personas are constellated as follows: (1) Attika Kaddisha (The Holy Ancient One) or Arikh Anpin (The Long-suffering One); (2) Abba (The Father); (3) Imma (The Mother); (4) Zeir Anpin (the Impatient One) or Ben (The Son); and (5) Nukvah (The Female) or Bot (The Daughter).

The Partzufim engage in certain regular relationships or unifications. Abba and Imma are unified in an enduring relationship of mutual friendship and support, Zeir Anpin and Nukva are unified in a passionate romance, which brings them alternately together and apart. The lower Partzufim (and Sefirot) are "born" in the womb of Imma, the Mother.

According to Luria the erotic relations (and ruptures) of the various Partzufim determine the fate of God, man and the world. It is mankind’s spiritual task to help raise the sparks of divine light which had been entrapped by the evil husks of the Other Side, and thereby liberate divine energy for the service of erotic unions amongst the various Partzufim; not only between the "Mother" and "Father", but between the Son and the Daughter and even between the "Old Holy Man" (Attik Kaddisha) and his mate. In raising these sparks, mankind is said to provide the "feminine waters" for the renewed divine activity.

The result of these erotic recouplings, and the overall result of the "World of Tikkun", is that cosmic alienation and exile is overcome. The perfection of the restored cosmos is far greater than the original "World of Points", which was comprised of the Sefirot as they were emanated prior to the Breaking of the Vessels. As Jung points out in one of his few comments on the Lurianic Kabbalah, by assisting in the process of tikkun haolam, humanity truly becomes a partner in the creation of the world (Jung, 1975,p. 155). Humanity, however, cannot by its own efforts, reclaim all of the sparks that have fallen into the realm of the "Other Side". Only those sparks which remain in the uppermost levels of this realm, in what the Kabbalists referred to as Kellipah Nogah (the Husk of Brightness), can be reclaimed by man’s own individual efforts. Only through a great love and grace can the lowest levels of the other side be reclaimed and redeemed.

Archetypal Interpretation of The Lurianic System

Table 1, below, provides an outline of both the Lurianic theosophical system and a psychological (archetypal) interpretation of this system, which will be described in more detail in the following pages. In each phase a theosophical event is understood as a psychological occurrence in the development of the human psyche. The table can either be read vertically (as two parallel narrative structures) or horizontally (as a series of interpretive statements). A vertical reading of the left hand column provides a review of the Lurianic system.

Click here for Table 1

I will now discuss the interpretation outlined above in greater detail.

(1) Ein-sof (the Infinite) of which nothing can be known or said represents the primal unconscious that is completely beyond the individual’s conscious awareness.

The Kabbalists referred to Ein-sof as "the concealment of secrecy", "the concealed light", "that which thought cannot contain" etc. (Scholem, 1974, p. 89) each of these appellations implying that Ein-sof is somehow beyond human knowledge and comprehension. However, there are other terms, e.g., "Root of all roots", "Indifferent Unity", "Great Reality" (Scholem, 1941, p. 12) which imply that the Kabbalist’s infinite is the foundation of all experience and reality. Yet even these terms are interpreted so as to refer to a God who is completely unknowable and concealed. According to the Kabbalist R. Azriel of Gerona:

Ein-sof cannot be an object of thought, let alone of speech, even though there is an indication of it in everything, for there is nothing beyond it. Consequently, there is no letter, no name, no writing, and no word that can comprise it (Tishby, p. 234).

The Zohar describes Ein-sof as:

the limit of inquiry. For Wisdom was completed from ayin (nothing), which is no subject of inquiry, since it is too deeply hidden and recondite to be comprehended.(Zohar 1:30a, Sperling and Simon, 1984, Vol 1., p. 114).

From a psychological point of view, Ein-sof can be regarded as the infinite plenum of the unconscious, the foundation and origin of a subject or Self which is, by definition, beyond the reach of human awareness. According to Jung:

There is little hope of our being able to reach even an approximate consciousness of the self, since however, much we make conscious there will always exist an indeterminate and undeterminable amount of unconscious material which belongs to the totality of the self (Jung, p. 274).

(2) The Coincidence of Opposites: According to the Kabbalists, Ein-sof is the union of both Yesh (being) and Ayin (nothingness) (Elior, 1993,Ch. 14ff.), as well as male and female and good and evil and all other basic oppositions. For the 13th century Kabbalist, Azriel of Gerona, the godhead not only unites being and "the nought" (Scholem, 1987, p. 416) but also the visible and invisible as well as faith and unbelief (p. 441-2), and His emanations are the "union of everything and its opposite" (Dan, 1966, p. 94). The Lurianists, and the Hasidim who followed in their path, referred to Ein-sof as ha-achdut ha-shawah, a coincidentia oppositorum, (Elior, 1987, pp. 114, 163, 166, 167) a term which Jung reserved for the essence of the human psyche. "The self", Jung tells us, "is made manifest in the opposites and the conflicts between them; it is a coincidentia oppositorum" (Jung, p. 186).

Psychologically speaking, an original unitary psyche must differentiate itself into all of the details, conflicts and particularities of an individual life, only to seek, and ultimately discover an essential unity which informs and reconciles each of the details and contradictions of actual lived experience. Kabbalistically this is the process whereby God completes his own essence. Psychologically, it is the process trough which a human subject becomes a fully individuated Self.

(3) In Tzimtzum (Contraction/Concealment) Ein-sof withdraws itself from itself, and it is this process of withdrawal that allows a cosmos and man to emerge.

The doctrine of Tzimtzum was invoked to explain the transition from an infinite, all-encompassing God to the existence of a pluralistic world. Luria held that in order to create an independent, finite world, Ein-sof (here understood as the full plenum of being) must contract itself and, moreover, conceal an aspect of itself from itself. Tzimtzum creates a division within the divine essence. This division actually creates the possibility of knowledge, through a distinction between subject and object, knower and known. That which is concealed, that which Ein-sof no longer knows as part of itself, becomes the created, finite world, and can be known as distinct from God. It can be said that for Luria the world itself is sustained in its being by a "primal repression" in which God’s infinite unity has, for the first time, been limited.

From a psychological perspective it can be said that an act of Tzimtzum or concealment lies at the very core of the human psyche, for it is only through concealment and it's variants, i.e.: denial, repression, symbolization, displacement, condensation, etc. that a division is set up between subject and object, conscious and unconscious, and the human personality is born. Just as God, according to the Kabbalists, creates a world through an act of concealment (a cosmic "repression") man creates his own character, and, as Freud observed, his culture, through an earthly concealment: the personal and collective repressions of the psyche.

(4) Tehiru, the Primordial Space: With the godhead’s contraction and withdrawal there remains a metaphysical void (tehiru) which serves as the "space" for all finite nature whatsoever.

The initial distinction wrought by Tzimtzum is without a definite form: it is simply a psychic space that is separate from the plenum of the infinite unconscious. The Kabbalists referred to this space as the metaphysical void (tehiru ) within which creation develops. Psychologically this void represents an unconscious which is at least potentially knowable but which is still formless and undifferentiated. It is, as Jung says, what comes after the "door" to the unconscious" is opened (Jung, 1968a).

(5) Reshimu, the Divine Residue: The withdrawal and contraction of Ein-Sof cannot be complete without defeating its own purpose. A "residue" (reshimu) of divine light remains in the void even after the Tzimtzum. Moreover, a thin line, or kav, of divine light (Or Ein-sof) penetrates the void without transversing it.

The kav represents the element of awareness that extends even into the unconscious, but which fails to circumscribe it or even penetrate it completely. There is some awareness of the unconscious, otherwise we could not even speak of it, or experience archetypal and symbolic ideas. Jung makes reference to the alchemical idea of a small globe which exists happily in the midst of chaos, which he interprets as the germ of unity which exists even in the unconscious (Jung, 1963, p. 365). We might say that the kav and reshimu of the Kabbalists, like the alchemists "globe", represents an element of consciousness and ego in the midst of unconscious mind.

(6) Adam Kadmon (Primordial Man): What remains in the void forms the "body" of Adam Kadmon, Primordial Man. For Luria, the very first figure to emerge as a result of the tzimtzum is a Primordial Man who embodies in potentia the entirety of all created worlds.

Jung, who himself explored the Kabbalistic notion of Adam Kadmon, held that the Primordial Man, is both the "universal soul" (Jung, 1963, p. 409), and the archetype of the self (Jung, 1963, p. 383-4) as well as the process of personal transformation. He is man's invisible center, the core of the great religions, and as the self-archetype, the psychological equivalent of the creator God.

From a psychological point of view, the spontaneous emergence of Adam Kadmon from the unknowable void is symbolic of the psychological birth of the self. However, at this stage, the "self" is far from complete. The Primordial Man must first embark on a journey of creation, destruction, and restoration before the archetype of the Self can be said to fully emerge.

(7) Kelim (Vessels) and Orot (Lights): Lights flashing and then recoiling from the ears, nostrils, mouth, and eyes of Adam Kadmon, create the ten archetypal world-structures known as the Sefirot. Each light beams down and then returns, leaving a residue from which kelim or vessels are formed. A second light beams down and then returns, leaving behind a second residue which fills the vessels, thus completing the formation of each Sefirah. The lights from the eyes play a dominant role in this process.

Neumann has pointed out that in all peoples and religions creation is understood as a manifestation of light. For Neumann "the coming of consciousness, manifesting itself as light in contrast to the darkness of the unconscious," is the real "object" of creation mythology (Neumann, 1954, p. 6). In psychological terms the Lurianic account of lights emanating from Adam Kadmon can be understood as a mythical account of the formation of the ego. The "libidinal" energy from a "primal man" radiates outward and returns, resulting in the formation of both psychic structures and the objects of an external world. In effect the confrontation of the libido with that which is "other" creates both a mind and its objects. As Freud understood it, thought itself is the result of the libido's confrontation with the environment and the resultant modification of that libido as it recoils back on itself. Indeed, it is this very process that, on the Freudian view, creates the objects of our experiential world. Psychologically speaking, there is no conception of an external world until man creates one out of the failures of his desire. When desire fails, an object is set up in consciousness that becomes the representation of future need. The sum total of such representations is the external world. It is significant that the lights from Adam Kadmon extend from each of his facial orifices, representing four of the five senses, underscoring the view that it is through man's projection of interest and desire (through his senses) that his experience of a world is formed.

(8) The Sefirot are dimensions of mind and value that structure the light emanating from the Primordial Man. Their very names reveal their nature as specific psychological structures and values: Will, Thought, Wisdom, Knowledge, Loving Kindness, Judgment, Compassion, etc.

Psychologically, the Sefirot and their interactions can be said to represent the structures and functions of the ego: will, thought, love, the aesthetic sense, conflict resolution, sexuality, etc. The Sefirot as ego structures can be contrasted with the unknowable realm of the unconscious represented by Ein-sof. But as we shall see, with the Breaking of the Vessels, much of what was originally intended for and by the "ego" is, in the Kabbalistic view, destined to become unconscious as well.

(9) The Order of the Sefirot: The Kabbalists own ordering of the Sefirot suggests a hierarchy of archetypal values and tendencies that can apply both to the differentiation of the godhead, the nature of the world, and to the human psyche (Drob, 1997).

The first of the Sefirot, the one closest to the infinite godhead (and, by extension, to the primal unconscious) is Keter (Crown), variously identified by the Kabbalists with ratzon (will, desire) or tinug (delight). In Hebrew the verb ratzon is used in the commonest expressions of desire (e.g. Ani ratzon = "I want"), suggesting that desire, a primal libido in all of its potential ramifications (sexual and otherwise) is the basic manifestation of the human psyche. One step removed form this "desire" is the Sefirah representing the intellect (Chochmah), suggesting that, as Freud held, intellect (i.e. cognition) only emerges as a superstructure built upon desire. The next Sefirah, Binah (Understanding) is according to the Kabbalists a blending of the first two. Bianah is held to be the origin of all creativity and is thus referred to as, the Celestial Mother. Through Understanding, will, directed by intellect gives birth to the lower worlds.

The next three Sefirot, represent a second triad which, in effect, repeats on a more concrete level the dialectic of the first three. Chesed (Love) is, according to the Kabbalists, fundamentally an expression of desire, whereas Din (Judgment) is an expression of intellect, for in judgment, distinctions that have been held in theory are actually made and implemented in reality. This implementation of the idea is perhaps the reason why this Sefirah is also referred to as Gevurah (strength or power), and serves as the foundation for aggression, and, ultimately, for the harsh, punitive judgments which the Jewish tradition identifies with evil. Love and Judgment are reconciled in the Sefirah Tiferet/Rachamin (Beauty/Compassion) which, according to the Kabbalists serves as a paradigm for all further reconciliations, both within the godhead and man. The next two Sefirot, Netzach (Glory) and Hod (Splendor) can be interpreted as the further instantiation of man’s libido and intellect in the "glorious" and "splendorous" manifestations of human individual and collective cultural expression. These two Sefirot are reconciled by Yesod (foundation) which the Kabbalists equated with the phallus, and which in turn engages in a dynamic coupling with the final Sefirah (Malchut/ Shekhinah), representing the feminine aspect of the psyche. Indeed, it is the erotic coupling of male and female, and particularly, the masculine and feminine aspects of the psyche that serves as the most prominent Kabbalistic metaphor for the completion of God and creation. Jung, in his works on alchemy, discusses this theme as a symbol of the unification of the self (Jung, 1963).

The bisexuality of the deity and the conjugal relationship between man and woman are represented in each of the Sefirot. Each Sefirah is conceived bisexually, as male to the Sefirah below it and female to the Sefirah above it. In effect, the entire sefirotic scheme announces the idea that basic dynamics of the cosmos reflect the erotic and romantic union man and woman. For example Chochmah is frequently equated with the Celestial Father (Abba ), while Binah is understood as the Celestial Mother (Imma), with the lower Sefirot spoken of as children formed in Binah’s womb. The union of Tiferet with Malchut (Shekhina) is said to give rise to the lower worlds. Here the understanding of the Sefirot in sexual terms subtly passes over into a symbolism of birth and human development, and ultimately into a symbolism of the family. The two pairs of Sefirot we have just discussed, Chochmah and Binah; (the Celestial Father and Mother), and Tiferet and Malchut (Son and Daughter) play an important role in what can only be described as a family romance.

The Zohar describes how the Father, Chochmah, has a particular fondness for his daughter (the shekhinah/Malchut) which stirs the jealousy of Binah, the Celestial Mother:

The father’s continual desire is solely for the daughter, because she is the only daughter among six sons, and he has shared out portions, gifts and presents to the six sons, but to her he has appointed nothing, and she has no inheritance at all. But despite this he watches over her with more love and longing than over anyone else. In his love he calls her ‘daughter’; this is not enough for him and he calls her ‘sister’; this is not enough for him, and he calls her ‘mother’... therefore, the supernal world [mother] says to her [to the daughter]: ‘Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? (Genesis 30:15) for all his love is centered on you (Tishby, 1989, p. 299).

Conversely the "mother" is said to favor the son over her husband, thus completing a sort of cosmic Oedipal triangle: a vision of the cosmos which, from a psychological point of view, is readily understood as a projection of archetypal human interpersonal dynamics onto the cosmos.

(10) The Primordial Language: According to the Kabbalists, the Sefirot, and hence, the whole of creation, is comprised of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, each of which bears its own unique meaning and significance. For the Kabbalists, everything in the world, including inanimate objects such as stones, water and earth, has a soul or spiritual life-force which is to be found in the letters of divine speech from which they and their names are comprised. The psyche (and by this the Kabbalists refer not only to the psyche of man but the world-soul as well), is a structure of significance and meaning, and the key to understanding both man and the world is to be found in those hermeneutic disciplines that apply the methods of textual interpretation to the world.

(11) Haolomot (Worlds): The Sefirot are organized into a number of worlds, of which the Kabbalists highlighted five, each successive one of which is more distant from the infinite God.

Psychologically these worlds can be said to represent the various psychical "environments" which each individual constitutes for him or herself, some of which are extremely subjective and nearly identical to the psyche (e.g. the world of fantasy) and others of which, like the lower worlds of the Kabbalists are more objective and hence distant from the psyche.

(12) The Instability of the Sefirot:: There is an inherent weakness and disuniity in the Sefirot which results in their ultimate demise. The Sefirot "closest" to Adam Kadmon, Keter, Chochmah and Binah are comprised of more powerful vessels and they alone can withstand the impact of the lights emanating from the eyes of Adam Kadmon. Each of the others are shattered by the divine emanations.

Psychologically speaking we might say that man’s values and psychic structures as they are initially constituted cannot always serve him well as he matures. The strongest aspects of the ego, those most resistant to psychological decompensation in the face of a surge of libidinous energy, are the basic structures of cognition and perception. However, those aspects of the ego that bind, contain, and structure emotion (the seven lowest Sefirot which are spoken of in the Kabbalah as "emotional") are subject to a psychic shattering as a result of a surge of libidinal energy from the unconscious. Jung spoke of the intellectual and moral values keeping the archetypal images of the unconscious in check until the former are "weakened by age or criticism" (Jung, 1963, p. 473). Such weakened structures are subject to being overwhelmed by a flood of unconscious material.

(13) Shevirat ha-Kelim, the Breaking of the Vessels: The seven lower Sefirot shatter. Even the highest Sefirot, which do not shatter, fall from a higher to a lower place.

The structures of the ego are insufficient for man to contain the energy and imagery of his unconscious mind. These structures must shatter, creating a chaotic, disjoint and dangerous but necessary state from which a new man and self can eventually emerge. Will and intellect have fallen in status. Reason can no longer resolve all difficulties in its path. The ego has been deflated.

The contemporary neo-Jungian psychologist, James Hillman, provides the key to our psychological interpretation of this symbol. According to Hillman, psychology universally understands psychopathology, and the consequent experience of "falling apart" as an ill to be cured, or at best a phase leading to the reorganization of the self or ego (Hillman, 1977). Hillman, however, argues that such "falling apart" lies at the core of our very being and has an intimate connection with our uniqueness and individuality. The psyche, according to Hillman, does not exist at all without its own inner sense of "deconstruction". He cites Freud to the effect that we can only "catch" the unconscious in pathological material, and argues that it is precisely through our major and minor life crises, through our confrontation with death, and in our uncanny sense of "crazy" differentness, that we glimpse the unconscious chaos which is the source of the psyche. Kabbalistically, it is only when the "vessels break" that the individual can become truly human.

(14) The Separation of Male and Female: Unities within the sefirotic system, such as the union between Chochmah and Binah (Wisdom and Understanding, the Celestail Father and Mother) which had once been stable are now broken. The Celestial Father turns his face on the Mother and vice versa. The harmony of the Sefirot is destroyed.

With the shattering of the ego caused by an overwhelming upsurge of unconscious material, man experiences himself as disjoint, and conflicted. In particular there is a conflict between his masculine (ego-oriented) animus and his feminine (soul and unconscious oriented) anima, a rift which calls out to be healed. Further, there is an erotic separation between self and other.

In some instances the shattering of the ego is so violent as to cause a "nervous breakdown", in others only a neurotic conflict or personal (e.g. "mid-life") crisis results. However, such shattering provides the opportunity for psychological restoration.

(15) Netzotzim (Sparks), Kellipot (Husks) and Sitra Achra (the "Other Side"): Shards from the shattered vessels tumble through the metaphysical void entrapping within themselves some of the sparks (netzotzim) of light which they were meant to contain. These shards, together with their entrapped light, form the Kellipot (or husks), and fall into an nether-world known as the Sitra Achra (the Other Side), which in psychological terms might be described as the personal unconscious or the individual’s "Shadow".

These cosmological events can be understood as a secondary repression, whereby elements of the ego are shattered and repressed. These elements form neurotic complexes that inhibit individuals’ ability to obtain pleasure, integrate their personality, and achieve their life goals. Since each individual is thought to contain his or her own unique sparks, we have the development of a personal unconscious to compliment the primal collective unconscious which each individual participates in simply by virtue of being a human subject.

The doctrine of the fallen sparks evolved into the Kabbalistic /Hasidic view that each individual is responsible for redeeming sparks of spiritual energy in all of his encounters with himself, others and the world. This provides the foundation for a Kabbalistic (and in contemporary terms, a psychoanalytic) ethic. It is not only the individual’s task to bring to light those complexes which have become unconscious within his own psyche, but also those values within others and the environment which have, as a result of the Breaking of the Vessels, become repressed or obscured. Again, like the contemporary psychologist James Hillman, the Kabbalists saw the entire world in psychological terms. All things for the Lurianists are repressed, alienated and unconscious, and all things must be liberated and brought to full consciousness through the emotional, intellectual and spiritual activities of humankind. Not only the psychoanalyst, but physicist, the engineer, the artist and the poet, engage in making the unconscious conscious and in thus liberating sparks of wisdom, knowledge, beauty, etc., which lay buried in all things, in the form of "sparks" entrapped by the veil of ignorance.

(16) Return of the Lights: Not all of the divine light (Or Ein sof) is entrapped in the Kellipot. Some lights return spontaneously to their source.

These lights, or psychic energy, represent elements of the primal unconscious, which, experienced as archetypal values, images, and ideas, can be put to the service of healing the shattered psyche. These same archetypal ideas, if they are overwhelming even to the intact Sefirot from Keter to Binah (the cognitive Sefirot), can be experienced as the flooding of disjoint imagery and symbols in psychosis. However, if they are reintegrated into aspects of a functioning "Self" they become the foundations for creativity and profound personal change. The lights (archetypes) have the power both to heal and destroy the psyche.

(17) Tikkun Haolom, the Restoration of the World: The whole Sefirotic realm must be reconstituted and restored via Tikkun haolom (the Repair and Restoration of the world). The restored cosmos, however, will differ considerably from the world as it was originally created.

The restored Self is an achievement that transcends the spontaneous and automatic development of the ego in childhood. When the structures and values which served the nascent ego are shattered by personal crisis, e.g. in adolescence or mid-life, the relations between the primal unconscious, the ego and the personal unconscious must be restructured into a more unified, flexible (and hence more livable) arrangement. According to Jung, the archetype of the "Self" emerges after mid-life to perform this formidable task. Unlike the ego, the Self is not a bastion of consciousness which, like a rider on a horse, limits and controls the forces of the unconscious psyche. Just as the Kabbalist’s restored cosmos involves an integration rather than separation of its various levels, the Jungian Self involves an integration between "conscious", "pre-conscious" and "unconscious", and between anima, animus, persona and shadow. The Self manages desire through wisdom rather than repression and control, for its desire is already integrated with the higher elements of the soul. In Kabbalistic terms, the psyche after Tikkun is one in which each of the Sefirot are fully integrated with each of the others.

(18) The Lights of Tikkun: The world’s restoration is brought about by means of lights streaming from the forehead of Adam Kadmon.

The restoration of the Self proceeds from the psyche, the storehouse of archetypal images and ideas, (here represented by the forehead). This is in contrast to the original development of the ego which proceeded through the bodily senses (the ears, nose, mouth, and eyes) of the Primordial Man.

(19) Partzufim (Divine Personalities): The restorative lights are reordered and reconstituted as Partzufim, visages, configurations, personalities. Each Partzuf is a combination of all ten Sefirot and is thus stronger than any one of the original Sefirot were by themselves.

As a first step in the restoration of the self, the energy of the psyche must be ordered into integrated self-images or personas that are better able to withstand and contain the upsurge of energy from the unconscious mind.

(20) Order of the Partzufim: The divine personas are understood as partial personalities of Adam Kadmon. As we have seen they are constellated and ordered as follows:(1) Attika Kaddisha (The Holy Ancient One) or Arikh Anpin (The Long-suffering One); (2) Abba (The Father); (3) Imma (The Mother); (4) Zeir Anpin (The Impatient one) or Ben (The Son); and (5) Nukva (The Female) or Bot (The Daughter)

The restored self is constellated around a series of archetypal images, each of which represents a different aspect of the individual's personality, and each of which can come to dominate the individual at any given time.

The Kabbalists affirm that a form of multiplicity is an important stage in the process of personal and world redemption. The archetypal images that constitute the self are many and we cannot and should not strive for a premature integration. The entire Kabbalah affirms the unity of God (and hence the self) but only in the context of a "one in many". According to Lurianic and Hasidic teaching, it is the fundamental divine purpose that the world should be differentiated and revealed in a vast array of finite particulars before being united and completed in a single infinite source (Elior, 1987, p. 156).

The Partzufim correspond to basic archetypes within Jungian psychology, archetypes which express essential organizing principles of the human personality as expressed in humanity’s collective unconscious. Attika Kaddisha (the Holy Ancient One) corresponds to the Jungian Senex (the old man: wise, conservative, reasonable, beneficent), Abba, to the archetypal Father, Imma to the Mother, Zeir Anpin to the Puer (emotional, romantic, impulsive) and Nukva to the anima (the feminine, seductive, soulful side of man). Each of these archetypes has their place in the unity that constitutes the overarching archetype of Primordial Man, or in Jungian terms, the Self.

(21) Erotic Unifications: The Partzufim engage in certain regular relationships or unifications. Abba and Imma are unified in an enduring relationship of mutual friendship and support, Zeir Anpin and Nukva are unified in a passionate romance that brings them alternately together and apart. The lower Partzufim (and Sefirot) are "born" in the womb of Imma, the Mother.

The Partzufim engage in erotic relations (and ruptures) which determine the fate of God, man and the world. It is mankind’s spiritual task to help raise the sparks of divine light which had been entrapped by the evil husks of the other side, thereby liberating divine energy for the service of erotic unions amongst the various Partzufim, not only between the "Mother" and "Father", but between the Son and the Daughter and even between the "Old Holy Man" (Attik Kaddisha) and his mate. In raising these sparks, mankind is said to provide the "feminine waters" for the renewed divine activity.

The psyche itself must be unified through a coincidence of opposites, especially between its masculine and feminine elements. Further, these inner unifications are reciprocally modeled from, and model, the significant relationships of human life, in such a manner that the inner dynamics of the human psyche reflect the structure and vicissitudes of man’s interpersonal existence. Eros plays a critical role in the psyche’s personal and interpersonal development. Man, even in the depths of his individual psyche, is essentially a social, interpersonal, being. The deeper one probes into one’s self, the surer one finds a representation of the "other". The formation of a Self is hardly a solitary enterprise but is, as the Kabbalists imply, conditioned upon relationships of passion, friendship, and mutual support. The individual, like God himself, cannot hope to be complete outside of such relationships. It is for this reason that the Zohar can say "’Man’ implies the union of male and female, without which the name ‘man" is not applied" (Zohar 1:18b, Sperling and Simon, 1984, Vol. 1, p. 79).

(22) The Raising of the Sparks: The Lurianic notion of "raising the sparks" is psychologically equivalent to the analytic process of making the unconscious conscious, or perhaps better put, of bringing one’s alienated and isolated complexes into conjunction and harmony with the self. Another, related, Lurianic metaphor, the "extraction" (birur) (and liberation) of entrapped divine light from the dark shells of the "other side" is also an important analogy (and precursor) to the psychoanalytic endeavor. In these images, the Kabbalists long ago anticipated the psychoanalytic notion of freeing libido entrapped in neurotic complexes, in order that such libido may serve the goals of the ego or Self.

(23) The Reunification of Male and Female: The raising of the sparks has the effect of not only reunifying masculine and feminine aspects of the divine (and human) psyche but of harmonizing all other contradictions within the psyche as well. As we have see, for Jung, such unification is the most important psychotherapeutic principle. The fully individuated self is one which having seen the multiplicity, disharmony and conflict of an actual lived existence, comes to experience a harmony behind all of its manifold expressions and appearances.

(24) Theurgy: In performing Tikkun on earth, man actually influences and restores the realms on high.

The Kabbalists provided a number of metaphors for the theurgic influence that man has upon the spiritual realms. According to the Kabbalist R. Meir ibn Gabbay, the deity is like a shadow of the human hand, which is forced to precisely reflect the changes in that hand’s activity (Idel, 1988, p. 175). Ibn Gabbay introduces a second image, that of "acoustical resonance" in which the note of one violin (man) causes a second violin (God) to resonate in kind (Idel, 1988, p. 179). Theurgic influence can be for either good or ill. According to one anonymous Kabbalist since "man is composed of all the spiritual who kills a man diminishes the form of the Sefirot" (Idel, 1988, p. 189).

Psychologically speaking, we might interpret the Kabbalistic notions of theurgy as a recognition of the fact that an individual’s acts can impact greatly the unconscious mind. A similar concept is expressed in the Hindu-Jaina concept of Karma, which expresses the belief that all the actions a person undertakes impact upon the future status and vicissitudes of his own (and the world’s) soul. In Jungian terms, just as the personal and collective unconscious can impact on behavior, a change in behavior and our conscious attitude, can impact upon the deeper layers of our personal psyche, and in great creative works, actually impact upon the collective psyche as well.

(25) The Limits of Humanity’s Efforts: Humanity cannot, by its own efforts, be said to reclaim all of the sparks that have fallen into the realm of the Kellipoth. Only those which remain in the uppermost layer of the realm of evil, in what the Kabbalists referred to as Kellipot nogah, (brightness or electrum) can be reclaimed by man’s individual efforts. Only through a great love (ahavah rabbah) and grace can some of the lower sparks be redeemed.

The unconscious is not completely accessible to man. Even the personal unconscious cannot be totally reclaimed. Certain repressions, as Freud held, form the bedrock of civilization and are not to be reclaimed by ordinary individuals. Perhaps they can be reclaimed only by those such as a Freud or Jung who, in so doing, would transform civilization itself.


The psychological interpretation of the Lurianic theosophy I have offered in these pages is meant to be more suggestive than complete. It is my hope that this effort will encourage others to mine the "gold" that, according to Bakan (1971) Freud thought to be present in its myths. The reader may be surprised at the degree of concordance between the Lurianic symbols (e.g. the Partzufim) and parallel notions in the psychology of C.G. Jung. As I have argued elsewhere (Drob, 1999) this is likely no accident, as the very alchemical texts upon which Jung founded his archetypal psychology were themselves imbued with Kabbalistic ideas. Jung acknowledges some indebtedness to the Kabbalah, but he may very well have been influenced by it in ways that he was unaware of or unwilling to recognize. Regardless, the Kabbalah can provide archetypal psychology with an extremely rich source of symbols and theory.

Erich Neumann has commented that the "original question about the origin of the world is at the same time the question about the origin of man, the origin of consciousness and of the ego" (Neumann, 1954, p. 7). While by no means exhausting the significance of the Lurianic kabbalah, a psychological interpretation of its myths and symbols can provide us with an important link between Jewish mysticism and contemporary psychology, as well as a Jewish dynamic perspective on the development and structure of the human mind.


Bakan, D. (1971). Sigmund Freud and the Jewish mystical tradition. Boston: Beacon Press. (Originally published in 1958).

Dan, J., ed. (1966). The early Kabbalah. (R.C. Kieber Trans.) New York: Paulist Press.

Drob, S. (1997). The Sefirot: Kabbalistic archetypes of mind and creation. Crosscurrents 47, 5-29.

Drob, S. (1999). Jung and the Kabbalah. History of Psychology 2, 102-118.

Elior, R. (1987). Habad: The Contemplative Ascent to God, in Jewish Spirituality: From the sixteenth century revival to the present. (Arthur Green, ed.). New York: Crossroads Publishing Company.

Elior, R. (1993). The Paradoxical Ascent to God: The Kabbalistic Theosophy of Habad Hasidism. ( J.M. Green Trans.) Albany: SUNY Press.

Hillman J. (1977). Re-Visioning psychology. New York: Harper Perrenial.

Idel, M. (1988) Kabbalah: New Perspectives. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Idel, M. (1995). Psychologization of Theosophy in Kabballah and Hasidism. In Hasidism, Between Ecstasy and Magic. Albany: State University of New York Press.

C. G. Jung. (1963) Mysterium Coniunctionis. C.G. Jung Collected Works, Vol. 14, Translated by R.F.C. Hull. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

Jung, C.G. (1964). Archaic Man. C.G. Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 10, R.F.C. Hull, Trans.) Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964) pp. 50-73.

Jung. C.G. (1964a).The Undiscovered Self. In C.G. Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 10, (R.F.C. Hull Trans.) Princeton N.J: Princeton University Press, pp. 245-305.

Jung, C.G. Psychology and Religion. In Psychology and Religion: West and East. Collected Works, Vol. 10. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).

Jung, C.G. (1966). The Relations of The Ego to the Unconscious. In C.G. Jung Collected Works, Vol. 7. (R.F.C. Hull Trans.) Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Jung, C. G. (1968). Psychology And Alchemy. In C.G. Jung Collected Works, Vol. 12. (R.F.C. Hull Trans.) Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Jung, C.G. (1968a). Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious. In C.G. Jung Collected Works, Vol. 9 , Part I. R.F.C. Hull Trans. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

Jung, C.G. (1975) Letters, Vol II. ed. by Gerhard Adler, Aniella Jaffe and R.F.S. Hull. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Menzi, D .W. and Padeh, Z., trans. (1999). The Tree of Life: Chayim Vital’s Introduction to the Kabbalah of Isaac Luria, trans. (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson).

Neumann, E. (1954) The origins and history of consciousness. Princeton University Press.

Schatz-Uffenheymer, R. (1993). Hasidism as mysticism: Quietistic elements In eighteenth century Hasidic thought. Jerusalem: Hebrew University.

Scholem, Gershom. (1941). Major trends in Jewish mysticism. New York: Schocken.

Scholem, Gershom (1965). On the Kabbalah and Its symbolism. Ralph Manheim Trans. New York: Schocken, 1965. Original German edition published in 1960.

Scholem, Gershom. (1973). Sabbatai Sevi: the mystical messiah. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Scholem, Gershom. (1974). Kabbalah. Jerusalem: Keter Publishing.

Scholem, G. (1987). Origins of the Kabbalah. R.J. Zwi Werblowski, Trans. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press). Originally published in 1962.

Scholem, Gershom. (1991). On the mystical shape of the Godhead. Joachim Neugroschel Trans. New York: Schocken.

Segal, R. (1992) The Gnostic Jung. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Sperling, H. & Simon, M. (1984). The Zohar. London: Soncino Press.

Tishby, I. (1942). The doctrine of Evil and the ‘Kelippah’ in Lurianic Kabbalah. Jerusalem.

Tishby, Isaiah & Lachower, Fischel. (1989). The Wisdom of the Zohar: An Anthology of Texts, I, II, & III. Arranged and rendered into Hebrew. David Goldstein, Trans. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Vital, C, (1960). Sefer Etz Chayyim, edited and annotated by Y. Brandwein (Tel Aviv).

The Lurianic Kabbalah is treated in detail in Sanford Drob's Symbols of the Kabbalah and Kabbalistic Metaphors .

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