The period between Pesach and Shavuot makes everyone into an expert on the Sefirot. While these terms are too often casually and facilely tossed about, this system certainly can be useful to organize a program of analysis and refinement of our personalities as well as a visual guide for meditation.
However, it also illustrates deep spiritual realities to provide insights that might not otherwise be apparent.
(I simplified the above chart to group the Sefirot to only show the division of our personalities (spiritual, intellectual, emotional, physical and action), the three columns (energy, order and balance) of function and the normal energetic pathway of process (Keter>Chochmah>Binah>Chesed>Gevurah>Tiferet>Netzach>Hod>Yesod>Malchut and back up again) with a special emphasis on Keter, which represents the transcendent spiritual, and Tiferet, which represents the balanced heart and the direct pathway between these two.)
Although we often long for spiritual experiences and connections, we usually have no idea how to create them or, often, even how to recognize one. It’s all too common to confuse intense emotional experiences with “spiritual” ones when they really aren’t, just as we too-often over-intellectualize and over-analyze what we think we’re looking for, effectively blocking them completely!
This chart provides a simple, yet much-deeper than expected, insight to this challenge. כתר, Keter, The Crown, sits above and surrounds the head, but is not part of the head. It transcends the intellect and, as such, is not directly accessible through the intellect. It represents the closest contact we have with the spiritual. The first direct connection (represented by the blue vertical line in the chart) to Keter, along the central pillar of balance and harmony, we meet is תפארת, Tiferet, beauty and balance and the heart-space. The very simple lesson is that the direct path to the spirit goes through the heart.
This is a deceptively simple observation which can easily be confused with saying, “follow your heart’s desires”. But it’s not really so straightforward since our hearts desire all sorts of things, both healthy and good as well as evil and toxic. One of the most central sections of our daily prayers, the Shema, tells us to serve God בכל לבבך, B’chol L’vavv’cha, which because of the doubled “ב” translates as “with all of both of your hearts”, referring to the twin instincts יצר הטוב, Yetzer HaTov, and יצר הרע, Yetzer HaRah, our creative/altruistic instincts as well as our selfish and destructive ones. Before trying to “ride” our heart into the realm of true spirit, we need to first purify our hearts.
For that, we need to follow the energetic path described by the Sefirot chart, processing our thoughts and inspirations through our intellect (Chochmah) and then our analytical abilities (Binah) to our emotional drive to give (Chesed, first organized with structure (Gevurah), to a balanced center (Tiferet) which we call our heart. The energy continues its path until it results in actions in this world of מלכות (Malchut, “Kingship” also known as שכינה, Shechina, the feminine Divine Presence in our material world), and then returning the resultant energy back through the same pathway, eventually conditioning our hearts with both wisdom and experience. At this point, with much work, we can achieve a sufficiently pure heart as to allow us to enter the realm of כתר , Keter, the spiritual.
This journey is largely a matter of self-discovery and self-improvement, of continual openness and learning. But once we are actively engaged in this pursuit the realm of the truly spiritual begins to open to us. These insights aren’t sufficient in themselves, but they do put us on a viable path to experience our true spirituality.