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Kabbalah/Kaplan vs. Scholem on Tree of Life


I have been studying the Sefer Yetzirah for many years and have been trying to find out more about the Sekhel or states of consciousness associated with the 32 netivot chochmah on the Etz chayim. I'm interested in a practical use for meditation, personal growth, healing. I'm hoping you can offer some help with this.

You posted a list of the 32 sekhel on your basilikon website and this list is different from the Kaplan translation of the Sefer yetzirah in that you have included the path or sefirah that relates to each sekhel. So for example,, Sekhel Meir is related to the path between Chochmah and Binah, to the letter shin, to chashmal. This is not given in Appendix II of the Kaplan version of Sefer Yetzirah.

I'm hoping you can tell me where you got this listing of the sekhelim that includes the paths and if you can help me find some teaching on this that involves practice and healing.

Etz Chaiim
Etz Chaiim  
Thank you so much for contacting me. You are quite right. The 32 sekhel and 10 sephirot in my book [and most others] are displayed in a format that is in alignment with the writings of scholar and professor Gershom Scholem. I find his interpretations to be based on solid literary ground, and he spent over 40 years investigating the history and meaning of Kabbalah (along with a team of researchers at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem).

From Jewish Ideas Daily:

"But it is for his scholarship that Scholem is remembered—as his early inspiration and later sparring partner, Martin Buber, put it, his practice of "scientific research as introduction to consciousness." Scholem's intensive bibliographic mapping, meticulous editing and publication of texts from manuscript, and historical reconstruction of obscure but influential doctrines and movements, along with his broader synthetic works and interpretive essays, created a richly persuasive Jewish religious history, a powerful alternative to the received pictures from Orthodoxy, conventional Zionism, and German 19th-century Jewish studies. So dazzling was his scholarship that it took several decades to understand the partial nature of the picture he painted."

While I admire Kaplan's interpretation on Etz Chaiim; I find that Scholem's books on Sepher Yetzirah, Sephirah ha-Bahir, and Zohar are based on credible manuscripts and commentaries. One issue to consider is that Kaplan interpreted Sepher Yetzirah based on his own system of translation, while Scholem based his scholarship on the scrolls, fragments, syntax, and grammar that date back to the 13th Century.

As an example, here is an explanation from the opening lines of Genesis regarding the various attributes associated with the 7 vertical paths and 12 diagonal paths connecting the 10 sephirot:

In the 7 paths that connect the 10 sephirot vertically are 7 phrases from
Genesis Chapter 1 that say: ‘Elohim saw...’; and one of the 7 double letters:

‘Elohim saw that the light was good...’ connects Keter to Tiferet
and contains the Letter Bet ב
‘Elohim saw that it (land and sea) was good...’ connects Chochmah to Chesed
and contains the Letter Gimel ג
‘Elohim saw that it (plant life) was good...’ connects Binah to Gevurah
and contains the Letter Dalet ד.

‘Elohim saw that it (the luminaries) was good...’ connects Chesed to Netzach
and contains the Letter Kaf כ
‘Elohim saw that it (fish and bird life) was good...’ connects Gevurah to Hod
and contains the Letter Peh פ
‘Elohim saw that it (animal life) was good...’ connects Tiferet to Yesod
and contains the Letter Resh ר

‘Elohim saw all (He had made and it was very good)...’ connects Yesod to Malchut
and contains the Letter Tav ת.

In the 12 paths that connect the 10 sephirot diagonally are the remaining 12 phrases that contain the name Elohim in Genesis Chapter 1; and the 12 simple letters:

‘The spirit of Elohim hovered...’ connects Chochmah to Keter
and contains the Letter Heh ה
‘Elohim separated between (the light and the dark)... ’ connects Keter to Binah
and contains the Letter Vav ו
‘Elohim called the light...’ connects Chochmah to Tiferet
and contains the Letter Zayin ז
‘Elohim called the firmament...’ connects Tiferet to Binah
and contains the Letter Chet ח.

‘Elohim called the dry land...’ connects Chesed to Tiferet
and contains the Letter Tet ט
‘Elohim placed (the luminaries)…’ connects Tiferet to Gevurah
and contains the Letter Yod י
‘Elohim created the whales...’ connects Chesed to Yesod
and contains the Letter Lamed ל
‘Elohim blessed (the fish and birds)...’ connects Yesod to Gevurah
and contains the Letter Nun נ.

‘Elohim created Adam...’ connects Netzach to Yesod
and contains the Letter Samach ס
‘In the image of Elohim He created...’ connects Yesod to Hod
and contains the Letter Ayin ע
‘Elohim blessed them (Adam)...’ connects Netzach to Malchut
and contains the Letter Tzadi צ
‘Elohimsaid, I have given (plants for food)…’ connects Malchut to Hod
and contains the Letter Kof ק.

My suggestion is to read Scholem's books in this order: "Origins of Kabbalah," "On the Mystical Shape of The Godhead," "Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism," and "Kabbalah" [there are many others]. By comparing the Kaplan interpretation of Etz Chiiam with the academic scholarship of Scholem - you'll understand the similarities and differences between these two systems.

With best wishes,  


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Robert Waxman, Ph.D.


Please ask any questions that are relevant to Kabbalah or Jewish mysticism. Other topics to inquire about include: science and Kabbalah, parallel universes, reincarnation, after-death states, cosmology, numerology (gematria), hidden meanings of the Bible, the eternal validity of the soul, Plato, and Kabbalah, Vedanta and Kabbalah, and the meaning of life according to Kabbalah.


Author of "Kabbalah Simply Stated" published by Paragon House Publishers and distributed in 12 countries. Other books: "2012: The Meaning and The Message", "Seven Fundamental Propositions of Esoteric Philosphy" and "The Power of AWE!". Studied Kabbalah with Rabbi Azriel Abraham of Jerusalem from 1985 - 1998 and have been teaching Kabbalah and other subjects since 1998. Classes include: Kabbalah According To The Scholars, (Scholem, Kaplan, Tishby & Idel), Comparative Spirituality, Latest Research on the Near Death Experience (NDE), Spirtually Transformative Experiences & Cognitive Dissonance, Common Threads of Wisdom in Religion, Science, and Consciousness Studies. Thousands have attended these classes over the years. Additionally, on-going classes are given all year round along with guest speaking presentations at a wide variety of religious and philosophical organizations.

Founding Member and guest speaker at The Open Center in Sarasota, FL. International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) Longboat Key Education Center Unity Life Enrichment Center American Seminar Leader's Association

(3) Books, many original articles that can be found on the internet (ezine, netterweb, searchwarp, etc.) "Beyond Madonna - Kabbalah according to the Great Scholars" and "Beyond The Da Vinci Code".

Ph.D. from Saybrook University; Master's Degree from Skidmore College with a concentration in Comparative Religion; (2) B.A.'s from The American University. Additional courses in Philosophy at Columbia University.

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