The sefirot are said to be attributes / emanations by which the Ein Sof reveals Himself to his creation. G-d is said to be the eternal one. But are His sefirot also eternal or are they created?

  • 1
    This is a complicated and controversial topic. Beware of simple answers.
    – shmosel
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 7:20

3 Answers 3


The Sefirot are very clearly created. To say that the Sefirot would be parts of Hashem would be heretical, as G-d cannot be composed of parts. To quote the classic work The Way of G-d by the Ramchal:

And likewise [one] must know that His existence, may He be blessed, is a simple (undifferentiated) existence without composition or multiplicity at all...However this is also from the things that are known through the tradition, but they are validated by investigation through nature itself, with its axioms and properties. For it is impossible that there nevertheless not exist a Being removed from all nature, axioms and limits, from all lack and deficiency, from all multiplicity and composition, from all relationship and value and from the contingency of the creatures - to be the Ultimate Cause for all that exists and for all that develops from it. For without this Existence, those things that we see existing and their continuation would be impossible.`

[The proofs he refers to are found in "The Gate on Oneness" in "Duties of the Heart", on which the quoted chapter is based.]

To say that they exist independently and eternally beside Hashem would also be heretical:

And it is also required for one to know that it is necessary for this Being, may His name be blessed, to be one and not more. The explanation of this is that it is impossible for there to exist many beings the existence of which is independently necessary. Rather this necessary and perfect Existence must be only one. And if there exist other beings, they only exist because He made them exist with His will; so it comes out that they are all dependent on Him, and not existing from themselves. (Ibid.)

So what are the Sefirot? Your description of them as the "attributes / emanations by which the Ein Sof reveals Himself" is not bad, but missing a crucial piece at the end: "to his creations."

The Ramchal in his work Ma'amar Hachachmah has an introduction to the concept of Sefiros:

SCreen capture from Hebrewbooks

As you see in the quotation, the Sefiros were created as the beginning of G-d's creation of the world. However, these Sefiros are absolutely not divine, because any multiplicity is impossible in relation to Hashem (as he said in Derech Hashem):

Screengrab from Hebrewbooks

  • Can you translate the pieces you've shared please, when you get a chance. What else is there to reveal Himself to, if not created beings? What specifically was that point coming to teach?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Dec 25, 2022 at 10:16
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    @RabbiKaii That these revelations are part of creation, not before it, ch"v.
    – N.T.
    Commented Dec 25, 2022 at 22:19
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    They're emanations, not creations. The final quote is introducing Keilim: והנה כמו שנתגלה ית"ש בי' גילוים אלה כן ברא עשר נבראים זכים ורוחנים בתכלית מה שאפשר שימצא בנמצאים, והוא ית"ש בעשר גילוייו מסתתר בהם וזורח מתוכם, וגם הם נקראים עשר ספירות, והם הנקראים כלים ממש כי הנה הם כמו כלים לאורו ית' המתעלם בתוכם. וי' גילוייו ית' נקראים עצמות שאינם דבר אחר זולתו ית' אלא אורו המיוחד הוא המתגלה לנבראים כמו שראוי להם. Elsewhere he states explicitly, הספירות הם אלקות.
    – shmosel
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 6:59

Only authentic Mekubalim should feel qualified to answer this question, and I am unqualified in this regard, as will likely any anonymous person online be. I will provide sources to the authentic giants of Kabbalah who have grappled with and disputed this question (with the word "heretic" coming up a lot between them). This is because it is a sensitive, subtle topic, and is highly complex. I am not here speaking any of my own words, but words taught by great Rabbonim, and having personally consulted with experts and my Rav on this question. It must not be treated lightly. It's very important.

Ptach Eliyahu says that Hashem

Brought forth 10 garments and we call them sefirot

Zohar states

Then He shaped a vessel diminutive as the letter Yod and filled it from Him, and called it Wisdom-gushing Fountain, and called Himself wise on its account.

The truth is, this question isn't just hard because we are amateurs, but because this is a lofty idea beyond the understanding of finite beings. Hashem "brought forth" these sefirot, and identified with them. In Chassidus, we say that Hashem "has infinite sefirot". He has everything, everything is Him, He is Ein Od Milvado, simple and perfect in every form of perfection. This is not something we can relate to in the slightest.

Ramchal states in Derech Hashem 1:1:5:

His simplicity: And likewise he must know that His existence, may He be blessed, is a simple (undifferentiated) existence without composition or multiplicity at all. And all of the perfections are found within Him in a simple way...

...the Master, may His name be blessed, does not have different capabilities, even though He actually has properties that are differing within us. For surely He is wilful and is wise and is powerful and He is perfect in every perfection; however the truth of His existence is one matter that includes within His truth and domain (meaning the truth of His being, as having a domain is not applicable to Him, may He be blessed - rather it is only by way of literary license) everything that is a perfection

Hashem is wise, but not because of wisdom (sefira of chochma, see Zohar above). He doesn't need wisdom to be wise. Wisdom comes from Him (just like everything conceivable does). Hashem is ultimately and infinitely simple (and perfect, may His name be blessed eternally).

It's very hard to get our temporal finite compound heads round being completely simple and one with one's wisdom (see Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 2:10, for similar). This is not a subject for beginners. Kabbalah is not a beginner topic, even among the opinions that are more lenient around learning it, such as sefardim and chassidim. There is a danger of misunderstanding things that are precious and important.

The Ramak, teacher of the Arizal, has 10 chapters in Pardes Rimonim Sha'ar 4: "Essence or Vessel", where he goes into all of the complexities, and quotes the Mekubalim who hold by the various opinions. Some of the complexities are:

  • What is a sefira?
  • Given that the sefirot are "Light and vessel", what is the primary, the Light or the vessel?
  • Is the vessel part of Essence or is it created?
  • Bli gvul or gvul?
  • Of the opinions that say Essence, what is the exact relationship between the sefirot and Hashem's Essence (may He be blessed)?
  • What is the Light in relation to Essence?
  • If it is created, is it created in the same way as everything else in creation or does it fall into a third category (emanation)?

Big names on both sides. Rabbi Recanati and Ramak, for example are on one (with their own differences), and the Ma'arechet Elokut (and later Arizal and even later, R' Shneur Zalman of Liadi uses Arizal and his concept of Reshima) are on the the other. Ramak tries to mediate and synthesise.

The Tzemach Tzeddek, in Drash Shalosh Shitot, found in Or Hatorah Inyanim, gets to the bottom of exactly this subject, jumping off the Ramak's work. He brings the 3 main categories of opinion among the heavy weight Kabbalists:

  1. Sefirot are tools, created/emanated.
  2. Sefirot are in some way involved with Hashem's Essence (and there are 3 different versions of this: Nominalists, Theologically Unacceptable Essentialists and Acceptable Essentialists, and he brings all the caveats and limits of each one)
  3. Sefirot are "names"

He then suggests a grand scheme that includes all opinions. It is a highly advanced study, definitely not for beginners.

The Rebbe Rashab also touches on it in a ma'amar, which I have yet to locate. Sefer Erechim is a more contemporary work gathering and explaining the opinions and sources. See Vol III, chapter "Sefirot", p.192 onwards.

I don't want to say any further. It's a very sensitive, delicate topic. The reader is advised that they cannot draw conclusions or really understand these things without lots and lots of Kabbalah study (and even then, we are ultimately limited by our finiteness). Chassidus is a great aid in this, as it is included in a lot of chassidic curriculum with this curiosity in mind* and explained by tzaddikim so that more people can understand parts of it without going wrong, but it's important to note that the depths are only for advanced, yirei shamayim students of Torah, with a particular affinity and training in philosophy. Many, especially from the litvish side, will strongly advise the vast majority of people to completely stay away from this topic.

There are some books that are widely taught by reliable Rabbonim in english that are somewhat accessible at beginner level, such as Nefesh Hachaim, the works of Ramchal such as Derech Hashem and Daat Tevunot, and Tanya (which is written for all), and several books printed by Artscroll or Feldheim. They should all be learned with a competent, authentic orthodox Rav, with commentary and never alone.

I will stress again though: a lifetime of study and contemplation with good teachers is what is needed to have any hope of understanding even small details in this topic, and even then, only after having a good grounding in Tanach, the words of Chazal, and reading and logic comprehension (Ramchal).

My Rav explained to me something we can all take away from this. Regardless of whether the sefirot are created, emanated or something else, the main point is, they are how Hashem expresses Himself to His creation. The real question is - how deep does that expression go? We say Hashem desires us (Keter) and loves us (Chesed) - is it true? The answer, according to all of the opinions, is Hashem identifies with the sefirot (see Zohar above), so when He says He loves us, and wants us, He really means it. We may not be able to understand it in our finite, amatuer minds, and the experts may debate the details, but the pashut Yid should know Hashem's love and desire is real. My child may not understand my complex adult world, but he knows I love him. An onlooker, seeing me play with my child, is seeing the real me, deeper than when they see me "being an adult doing adult things", because when I play with my child, I am totally personalised and identified with my love for him - it's me. K'veyachol, the holy Zohar states:

קודשא בריך הוא, אורייתא, ויׂשראל. וכל חד

Hashem, Torah and Yisrael are all One (Shemot 73b)

The bracha "Ohev et amo Yisrael" is not a bracha levatala, chas veshalom.

Please do take away the following uncontroversial truths, agreed upon across the board: the sefirot are not His partners chas veshalom. They also don't mean to imply He is composed of parts, or that we should worship them as a means to get to Him chas veshalom. This is not what the Kabbalah is saying and any good Kabbalah sefer will stress this over and over - it is an easy misconception to fall for, and does the rounds in the anti-Kabbalah circles a lot. On the other side, it's important to not go too far, and say Hashem is incapable of certain things, or "doesn't really want or love", chas veshalom.

* See Rabbi Chaim Vital’s introduction to Shaar Hakdamot, Vilna Gaon's Even Shelemah 11:3, the letter of the Baal Shem Tov to his brother in Keter Shem Tov, and Zohar 1:117a, 118a, 3:124b on the permissibility and importance of learning Kabbalah.

  • "The reader is advised to be ready to study lots and lots of Kabbalah" Where do I start?
    – Bob
    Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 21:06
  • All the sefarim recommended are best learned in a shiur of some sort, or with a good explanation
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 21:50
  • According to Ramchal, before studying these topics one must have a firm grounding in 1) Tanach 2)The statements of Chazal, and 3) logic and reading comprehension. (hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=51261&st=&pgnum=344) The third is unfortunately often overlooked. The Ramchal himself wrote two books on logic that are available with excellent translations from the Diaspora Yeshiva. See here: scribd.com/document/503458353/The-ways-of-reason
    – N.T.
    Commented Dec 25, 2022 at 9:26
  • @N.T. thanks, good point, I've updated my answer with your suggestion as well as quoting the Ramchal on simplicity
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Dec 25, 2022 at 10:26
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    All your sources quoted say Hashem created the sefirot. Who do you think says otherwise, and how are they not heretics?
    – N.T.
    Commented Dec 25, 2022 at 22:18

Although @RabbiKaii made a great starting point on this subject, I would like to dive into the words of the Ramak, Rav Moshe Kordovero.

The Ramak writes in his Or Neerav (6:1:4-5), regarding the "making of" the Sefiros:

[The beginner] needs to know that Ein Sof caused and emanated His sefirot, and His actions are [performed] through them.

So, according to the Ramak, the Ein Sof caused His sefiros. They "emanated from Him". Thus, since the sefiros are emanated from G-d, it can be said that they are eternal, since G-d performs actions through them.

Side note: the Rebbe Rashab, Rabbi Sholom DovBer Schneersohn writes in his Maamar Yom Tov shel Rosh Hashanah 5666 (p. 223) that the term "Ein Sof" connotes that G-d has nothing that can define Him. The term Ein Sof is not definable. Because, when G-d was definable, "He would have limitation and definition, because it is impossible for a body not to be limited. And any entity which itself is limited and defined [possesses] only limited and defined power." (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Yesodei HaTorah, Halacha 1:7).

Back to the topic, the Ramak goes on to explain:

They constitute the ten “sayings” through which he acts. They serve him as vessels for the actions which derive from Him in the World of Separation2 and below. Truly His being and essence extend themselves in them, as we will explain in greater detail.

The Ramak stresses out that the sefiros are not a cause of the Ein Sof, but rather the other way around:

[The beginner] must know that Eyn Sof is not [identical with] Keter, as many have thought. Eyn Sof is, rather, the cause of Keter, and Keter is derived from Eyn Sof, which is the Cause of Causes. He must also know that Eyn Sof is the First Cause of all that exists, for there is no cause above it.

In Tikkunei Zohar, it says:

But You are He who brought forth ten rectifications - we call them the ten sefirot Atzilut - with which to regulate

  • Excellent work, thank you for bringing this important extension to the discussion
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 9:54
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    See also maamar kuntress shavuot 5751 Beshas Oleh. Dvar Malchus of the week sichos 5751/52
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 15:57

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