For those who feel the need to approach the Creator, to try to penetrate his immensity, religion provides a number of means among which are prayer, the attendance at religious ceremonies, and obedience to certain rules.
These means are good but they are insufficient. If you want to come closer to God, it is not enough to experience mystical emotions and abide by certain rules: you also need the profound understanding of the universe which only a systematic explanation can give you.
It was in the Jewish tradition of the Cabbalah, in what is known as the Sephirotic Tree, or Tree of Life, that I found what seemed to me to be the best and most complete system, for it is the farthest-reaching and the most exact.
The Sephirotic Tree is a veritable synthesis of the universe. For me, it is the key that enables us to unlock the mysteries of creation.
The visual symbol is extremely simple, but the contents are inexhaustible. Many episodes recounted in the old and new Testaments can be understood only in the light of the Sephirotic Tree.
Cabbalists divide the universe into ten regions or sephiroth, which correspond to the numbers 1 to 10 (the word sephirah, plural, means numeration). Each sephirah is identified by five names: the name of God, the name of the sephirah itself, the name of the leader of the angelic order, the name of the angelic order, and, finally the name of one of the planets.
Thus each sephirah includes five distinct planes of being, and you will better understand the nature of these five different planes if you know that they correspond to the five principles in man: the spirit, soul, intellect, heart, and physical body. The divine plane corresponds to the human spirit; that of the sephirah to the soul; the leader of the angelic order corresponds to the intellect; the angelic order to the heart, and the planet to the physical body.
Thus each sephirah is a region inhabited by an order of luminous spirits under the leadership of an Archangel, who is directly subject to God. Of course, it is God who governs the ten regions, but under a different name in each. That is why the Cabbalah says that God has 10 names. These 10 names correspond to 10 different attributes. God is one but he manifests himself differently according to the region.
Why did the Cabbalists call this figure the Tree of Life? Because the 10 sephiroth have to be seen as an organic whole and can be best understood by comparison with a tree.
How is a tree constituted? It has roots, a trunk, branches, leaves, flowers, and fruit, and all of these elements are interdependent. Similarly the Sephiroth are linked to each other by channels of communication known as “paths”. These paths, 22 in all, are designated by the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
The 22 paths and ten sephiroth add up to what are known as the 32 “paths of wisdom”, which belong symbolically in the sephirah Chokmah.
You will better understand the nature and function of these 32 paths if you see that they relate to the 32 teeth of a human being. Indeed do we not speak of wisdom teeth? We have 32 teeth with which to chew our food, and the 32 paths can be seen metaphorically as teeth with which we chew the psychic and spiritual nourishment we receive each day.
Now you will perhaps be wondering: why ten Sephiroth? Is the universe really divided into ten regions? No, it is not, and this raises a very important point that you must understand. The Sephirotic Tree is designed to teach neither astronomy nor cosmology. It represents a systematic worldview that is mystical in nature, and whose origins can be traced back thousands of years.
The exceptional beings who conceived it had no telescopes or long-distance lenses through which to study the stars. It was through meditation, contemplation, and the intensity of their inner life that they were able to grasp the cosmic reality and render it intelligible with the help of images and symbolic descriptions. So, as I say, the Sephirotic Tree is not an exact description of our universe; and this explains the absence of certain planets, the position of the sun, and so on.
Omraam Mikheal Aivanhov
Extract from Izvor Book 236, Angels and other Mysteries of the Tree of Life