The ten sefirot, like the ten gods of the principal Egyptian pantheon, are interrelated to one another in family-like relationships, and they emanate from ADaM, much as the deities of the Egyptian pantheon emanate from ATuM. Also, both systems culminate with divine kingship. But despite the striking similarities between the two systems, there are also clear distinctions. What might account for those distinctions?
Isaac Luria (1534-1572 C.E.) was a giant among Kabbalists. Luria incorporated the ten sefirot into a powerful creation myth. Luria’s myth begins with the infinite presence of divinity, and he describes the first creative act as a retraction of that divinity, giving rise to a space where Creation can occur. Luria next describes the emanation of a ray of divinity back into the space created by the earlier retraction of divinity. That emanation takes the form of the “Primordial Adam” (Adam Kadmon), a being that is distinct from, though related to, the Adam of the Garden of Eden. The Primordial Adam then produced the ten sefirot. As Luria described it, “Light” emanated from Adam’s nose, mouth, ears, and eyes, filling ten vessels. But, according to Luria, the vessels that received the divine Light were too weak. Due to a lack of integration and unity among them, the vessels were unable to hold the Light. They shattered, and the broken fragments of the vessels fell, containing within them disconnected sparks of the Light. In short, Luria presents a Creation that is marred by disaster, a universe broken in the making.
After the shattering of the vessels, more Light emanated from the Primordial Adam, this time from Adam’s forehead, and the new Light began the work of cosmic repair. The fallen sparks of divine Light rose from the fragments of the shattered vessels, and the sparks arranged themselves into new configurations of the sefirot.
But what, by way of allegory, does Luria’s creation myth tell us about the history of world religions?
The ten principal gods of the Egyptian pantheon constituted the central core of the religion that Jacob’s clan encountered when it migrated to ancient Egypt. But the “vessels” (i.e., the gods of the Egyptian pantheon) were not strong enough to hold the divine Light, and they shattered.
In other words, Luria used myth and symbol to relate the “fall” of the Egyptian pantheon and its reorganization as the ten sefirot of the Jewish Kabbalah.
Joseph Gikatilla, the great 13th century Kabbalist, makes the same point. He asserted that “the gods of Egypt” were “like the firstborn in regard to the rest of the gods.” But as the Torah instructs, the firstborn must be either sacrificed or redeemed. Hence, the ancient Egyptian religion failed, and its gods fell from favor. In Luria’s terms, the “vessels” could not hold the “Light.” The Torah employs a different metaphor, stating allegorically about the ten principal gods of the Egyptian pantheon that “all the Trees of the field shattered.” (Exodus 9:25) The Torah tells us, moreover, that yhvh brought about this spiritual cataclysm. In the Passover story, we learn that yhvh brought ten plagues upon Egypt, after which Pharaoh permitted the Israelites to leave. By one reading of the text, yhvh says this about the last plague:
“And I will traverse through the land of Egypt in this night,... and among all the gods of Egypt, I will execute rulings — I am yhvh.” (Exodus 12:12)
According to this reading, the last of the ten plagues was not the death of the firstborn children of Egypt; rather, it was the destruction of the Egyptian pantheon: ten plagues for ten gods.
In summary, Isaac Luria’s mythology of cosmic cataclysm and repair accounts for all the distinctions that we see between the ten member Egyptian pantheon and the ten sefirot of the Jewish Kabbalah. The “vessels” as originally configured (the Egyptian pantheon) were not strong enough to contain the divine Light, but the new configuration of the vessels (the ten sefirot of the Kabbalah) can do so. The sefirot, then, are not merely an echo of the Egyptian pantheon; rather, they constitute a more sustainable theological construct on account of the essential unity that they comprise.
The foregoing is taken from Torah Nondualism: Diversity, Conflict, and Synthesis in the Pentateuch.
To read the entire book, please click here.
Please “like” or “share” this website on Facebook:
You can also “like” or “share” this page of the website using these buttons:
Copyright © 2011 James H. Cumming