The most evident allusion to the ten sefirot in the human body are the ten fingers and the ten toes. This correspondence appears in the beginning of Sefer Yetzirah, the most ancient Kabbalistic text, whose first three staves (mishnayot) read:
- With thirty-two wondrous pathways of wisdom, God…created His world with three books: “scribe,” “book,” and “story.”
- [There are] ten ineffable sefirot and twenty-two letters of foundation: three mothers, seven doubles, and twelve simples.
- [There are] ten ineffable sefirot, corresponding to the ten fingers, five opposite five, and the single covenant is placed in the middle, in the word of the tongue and the circumcision of the procreative organ.
Here, in the third mishnah of the first chapter of Sefer Yetzirah, we find the first explicit portrayal or model of the ten sefirot in Kabbalah.
The first mishnah of Sefer Yetzirah introduces the 32 pathways of wisdom in general; the second mishnah divides the 32 pathways into two general groups of 10 sefirot and 22 letters (which further subdivide into 3 groups of 3, 7, and 12 letters). In the third mishnah, the text begins to deal with the ten sefirot explicitly (and continues to do so throughout the rest of the first chapter).
These first three mishnayot themselves follow the order of the three sefirot of the intellect: chochmah (“wisdom”), binah (“understanding”) and da’at(“knowledge”). The first mishnah opens with the 32 pathways of chochmah (the right lobe of the brain). The second mishnah analyzes and divides these 32 into subgroups, a process dependent upon the intellectual faculty of binah (the left lobe of the brain). The third mishnah presents a concrete, physical model for the ten sefirot, thus employing the power of da’at (the middle, posterior lobe of the brain), which serves to concretize the abstract intellectual cognition ofchochmah and binah.
In addition, this mishnah presents the most fundamental principle of tikkun (“rectification”) in Kabbalah–balance and equilibrium. Balance between the right and left axes of the sefirot is dependent upon the middle axis of the sefirot in general, and upon the power of da’at in particular.
When da’at is not counted as one of the ten sefirot (i.e., when the ten are counted from keter), it serves as the middle balance-point between the two symmetric groups of five (right side) and five (left side) sefirot. Da’at is able to balance and regulate the two groups of five because it itself subdivides into two internal categories of five each: five chasadim (“positive” powers of attraction) and five gevurot (“negative” powers of repulsion). These two sets of five inherent to da’at prevail throughout creation. They must be regulated and properly balanced in order to serve their purpose in the rectification process of reality.
In the Torah, the “five opposite five” principle first finds its expression in the two tablets of the covenant, given to Moses at Sinai, upon which were inscribed the Ten Commandments–“five opposite five.”
In general, the five “positive” forces of kedushah (holiness) motivate the performance of the 248 positive mitzvot of the Torah, while the five “negative” forces of kedushah fortify the soul to refrain and thereby observe the 365 negative mitzvot of the Torah.
Thus we find the general teaching of our sages: “the left hand should always repel and the right hand bring near.”
The secret of the “single covenant” (or the “covenant of the Single One”), which appears at two levels–in the tongue (to balance the ten fingers) and in the procreative organ (to balance the ten toes)–is thus the manifestation of the power of da’at “above” and “below.”
Da’at “above”–in Kabbalah da’at elyon–is the rectified, concrete perspective on all of reality “from above”: the Creator Himself is the true essence of all being, whereas the “virtual reality” of creation envisioned as existing independently is in fact “nothing.” Da’at “below”–in Kabbalah da’at tachton–is the creation’s perspective of its Creator as an absolute “given,” yet totally “unknown.”
Moses, the greatest of all men, is called “the man of God,” which is interpreted by our sages to mean: “from his ‘mid-point’ and above, [he was] God; from his ‘mid-point’ and below, [he was] man.” Moses fully unites and integrates the two levels of da’at (as will be explained), the power to perceive reality through the “eyes of God” (this being the meaning of “from ‘mid-point’ and above, [he was] God”), as well as the power to “humbly” know God, one’s Creator, from the eyes of man (the meaning of “from ‘mid-point’ and below, [he was] man”).
The external expression of the higher da’at is through the means of the speech of the tongue, especially in speaking words of Torah in general, and revealing the inner mysteries of the Torah, in particular. In relation to Moses, this is the secret of “the Shechinah [Divine Presence] speaks through the throat of Moses.”
The external expression of the lower da’at is through the union of husband and wife (to procreate), as referred to in the original union of man and woman: “and Adam knew Eve, his wife.” (Marital relations are referred to as “knowing” only when the procreative organ is circumcised, and indeed, we are taught that Adam was created already circumcised.)
The modesty present in the holy union of husband and wife reflects the “unknowability” of the Creator’s essence by His creation, especially in that very moment that the creation most emulates its Creator–the moment of procreation–attaching itself to His certain existence. This is the moment that “man” reaches his epitome (fulfilling the first and only commandment given him by God at the moment of his creation: “be fruitful and multiply…”).
From the above, we learn that the “tongue” and the “procreative organ” (the two manifestations of the “single covenant”–the union of God and man) are interrelated in essence. From this we may infer that their “rectification” is interdependent. The “correction” of one’s faculty of speech (to speak only good and “sweet” words) and the “guarding” of the covenant of one’s procreative organ (to express one’s true love for one’s spouse in marital relations in holiness), depend upon and influence one another. For this reason the two terms: “the word (in Hebrew, milah) of the tongue” and “the circumcision (in Hebrew milah) of the procreative organ,” are the same.
The most basic model of Divine service, as taught by the Ba’al Shem Tov, is the three-stage process of chash, mal, mal–“silence, circumcision, and speech” (equivalent to “submission, separation, and sweetening”). The last two stages, circumcision and speech, correspond to the two levels mentioned in ourmishnah: “the circumcision of the procreative organ” and “the word of the tongue.”
The first stage of Divine service–chash or silence–also appears in the opening phrase of the mishnah: “ten ineffable sefirot.” The word for “ineffable”–blimah–appears subsequently in the text as “shut your mouth from speaking,” thus referring to the service of chash (which must precede those of mal–mal). Thus, the order of Divine service is found to be that first one must meditate, in silence, on the mysteries of the “ten ineffable sefirot” and then actualize the potential of his lower (human-like) da’at and his higher (God-like) da’at.