Why are the sefirot not considered a problem of Shituf? Is there anything wrong with believing in sefirot?

  • I must say, the original question was asked better :) I disagreed with the previous closing.
    – avi
    Commented Jul 17, 2011 at 6:20
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    There is probably a middle ground that would be universally superior, including the reference to the Riva"sh, the difficulty with shituf, and a reference to the concept of s'firos to which the question refers, while excluding the Christian context.
    – WAF
    Commented Jul 17, 2011 at 13:27
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    ... or, at least, a brief explanation of what s'firos and shituf are and a reason the asker thinks the former might be an instance of the latter.
    – msh210
    Commented Jul 17, 2011 at 17:27
  • related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/30015/…
    – Menachem
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 15:37

4 Answers 4


The idea behind the Sefirot is as follows.

  1. Sefirot are creations, they are not Gd.
  2. Sefirot are not physical creations, but rather created "processes", for the sake of human sanity, they are described as "things", but they are really "methods".
  3. The basic rule in Kabalah is that there is the Ein_Sof (The no end) which is unknowable, unfathomable, and unable to be spoken about. The ein sof (which is equally nothing, and infinite) created the 10 Sefirot. The 10 sefirot were thus used to then create the rest of creation.

Therefor, the Sefiort are not shituf because they are a step away from Gd.

However!... According to many davening to the sefirot is 100% shituf. (No different than davening to Angels to ancestors) One must be careful when asking for the "unification" of Ykvk and the Shechinah, that they have in mind the idea that they are asking Gd to unifiy the two concepts and methods to have the same outcome. They are not actually davening to the emanations.

It could be argued by some, that a lack of understanding could lead one to have Shituf if they distinguish between YKVK, Elokim, etc in their davening. To put it another way, one might ask why the various names of Gd is not shituf.

  • If it is no different than davening to angels, then if one holds that davening to angels (or deceased ancestors) is permitted, is it also permitted to daven to sefirot?
    – Curiouser
    Commented Jul 17, 2011 at 6:36
  • I don't know, because I don't know who permits such a thing. :)
    – avi
    Commented Jul 17, 2011 at 6:51
  • That is, I don't know the reasoning why such a thing would be permitted to know if that same reasoning would apply to Ykvk or Shechina from a kabbalistic understanding of those terms.
    – avi
    Commented Jul 17, 2011 at 7:13
  • Well R. Moshe (OH 5:43) discusses praying to the deceased and seems to be permissive even though he doesn't do it himself. And it certainly is a very widespread custom to pray to deceased ancestors for their intercession. And the Minchas Elazar (1:68) allows it also.
    – Curiouser
    Commented Jul 17, 2011 at 10:07
  • As far as I understand they did not allow to pray to the deceased as an intercession, only in the merit of, and at the place of.... however my understanding is not correct. Apparently what I have heard is revisionism. You can read about the debate here: biu.ac.il/JS/JSIJ/2-2003/Malkiel.pdf
    – avi
    Commented Jul 17, 2011 at 10:48

Someone asked the Rivash this question. He answered that a Mekubal told him that one prays only to Hashem himself. "Asking" the sefiros is like asking a king to give you something through a channel. The Rivash answered that he would rather pray to Hashem directly and let him decide how to give him his request.

The 3rd Rebbe of Lubavitch explained in Derech Mitzvosecha and here that the sefiros are not one with Hashem's essence, they are the revelation of Hashem, and even that revelation is one, just the "vessels" change the light into different forms.

  • is there any time when we directly ask the sefirot for something during prayer?
    – Menachem
    Commented Jul 17, 2011 at 7:03
  • when asking for the unification of YkvK and Shechinah, you are asking for the unification of Keter and Malchut.
    – avi
    Commented Jul 17, 2011 at 7:15
  • I don't understand. "even that revelation is one": which revelation? Do you mean all 10 sefirot are 'one'? If so, then how are they 10? "into different forms": how can something have different forms, but be 'one'? Isn't that what Shittuf is? How does that answer the question then? This answer needs clarification IMO.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jan 5, 2013 at 23:54
  • Also, this a bad summary of the Rivash. The Mekubal in the Rivash's teshuva says that no one ever asks the sefirot anything, but when one has kavana for a certain sefira at different times while asking God, it is like asking a king to appoint a certain officer to deal with one's issue (ie, the Attorney General if you have a fight, or the Head Chef if you need food).
    – Double AA
    Commented Jan 5, 2013 at 23:56
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    Also, we don't know anyone asked the Rivash this question. We know he looked around and thought all the Mekubalim were Kofrim so he asked his good Mekubal friend who told him an answer which he says might technically work but is skeptical about, and concludes that it is better not to study Kabbalah at all.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 0:06

The Mitteler Rebbe of Lubavitch wrote a book called Shaar HaYichud. In this sefer the M.R. explains the entire "Seder Histalshelus" from Atzmus Ohr Ein Sof (Essence of the Light that is Infinite) to Malchus of Malchus of Asiyah.

Sefiros are methods (as stated above) for which Hashem (Ein Sof) brings the entire creation into existence. A primary source of source for Seder Histalshelus is "Chesed" (ch. 11)

Note Birkas Shema that we say "Kulam B'Chochma Asysah"

Through Hashem's names and Sefiros, creation is created Yesh M'Ayin, and it functions.

Note Birkas Shema "U'Tuvo, M'Chadesh BKol Yom Tamid Maseh Bereshis"

Kabbalah states that we channel Hashem's Hashpa in blessings we make using different sefiros. Each of the names of Hashem connects to a different Sefira.

The Blessings of Shemonah Esrei all connect to different sefiros and during prayer you are able to draw down Hashem's Hashpa through those sefiros.

With all this said, a person who does not understand this process as well as what will be said below will be worshiping something other then Hashem C"V. If it is actual Avodah Zarah would be up to debate. Shituf would only apply if you actually understand what "Chochmah" is and really believe that Chochmah has to power to create something for you. Outside of bowing to Idols, slaughtering sacrifices to them, and worshiping them in the way they are worshiped ie: Throwing rocks are Mercury" it is not avodah zarah proper to pray to sefiros since this is not their primary form of worship. Regardless it is foolishness and one of the unfortunate side effects of learning Kabbalah without a real understanding of what you are learning.

Once the blessing formula is broken down "al pi Kabbalah" it is easy to see how the process works.

Baruch - The root is נרך which means to kneel. Baruch is not just "Blessed are you" but it is a request to bring down blessing. From where?

Atah - Atah represents Atzmus Ein Sof. It is higher thatn all other names, including YKVK. We ask that Hashem (Ein Sof) draw down blessing for us. Through?

YKVH - Hashems name that connects to Tiferes which bridges Chesed and Gevurah. Its mercy. This name can be connected to different siferos for different blessings and bring down the blessing through that.

Example: Shemonah Esrei Blessing 4 "Chonen HaDoas" is connected to the level of Chochmah since we are asking Hashem to instill us with Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge.

One of the reasons why the Rivash rejected this approach to prayer is how it could easily result in undesirable affects.

The average Jew should focus on Pirush HaMilos (Simple meaning of the words) and not concern themselves with Sefiros.

The Alter Rebbe writes in his siddur that if one is not able to use kabbalistic kavanah during prayer he should have a general kavanah that his prayers should be heard by Hashem and lifted up with all the Kavanahs in their place.

  • 1
    +1. While someone with a background in Chassidus and/or Kabbalah may understand most of what you bring here, it might be helpful to clarify and explain some of the concepts you mention, i.e. "Kulam B'Chochma Asisah".
    – HodofHod
    Commented Mar 12, 2012 at 17:31
  • @HodofHod Those non translated parts are blessings of Shema. It would do all reads are great service to their spiritual development to understand and study the words of davening, especially Shema and Shemonah Esrei. Kulam B'Chochma Asysah means " In Wisdom Hashem created everything" U'Tuvo, M'Chadesh BKol Yom Tamid Maseh Bereshis" means "in goodness Hashem make new each day, continually this is the work of creation. I will always translate Lashon Kodesh in the future.
    – user1292
    Commented Mar 12, 2012 at 17:46
  • @mochinrechavim I did not refer to translation, but rather the kabbalistic idea of "kulam b'chochma asisah", as brought down in the beginning of Tanya, for example. (That is, that it means more than G-d creating the world wisely, he did it with "Chochmah".) I assumed that this idea was what you referred to, correct?
    – HodofHod
    Commented Mar 12, 2012 at 18:27
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    @HodofHod I will try. We are talking about a pretty loft concept in general. I think anyone who doesn't understand the base of this discussion and is interested should read the book "Mystical Concepts in Chassidus" by R' Shochet. Published by Kehot
    – user1292
    Commented Mar 12, 2012 at 20:29
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    @HodofHod Correct. The Rebbeim of Chabad are assuming that a Chasid understands the general stations of Seder Histalshelus which is purely Kabbalistic. I dont have a source but I do recall reading somewhere that the Previous Rebbe said that a chasid was not admitted in to hear a maamar if he did not understand Seder Histalshelus at a basic level. That book is a good crash course for the lofty themes that Chabad Chassidus will expound upon.
    – user1292
    Commented Mar 12, 2012 at 21:13

Another way of saying the same thing as the answers above, but in a way that might be easier to understand for some lesser-initiated readers of this question:

Human beings cannot perceive G-d. We can only perceive the ways that G-d's manifests his Will into human existence.

We call the Source of G-d's Will the "Ein Sof". We can't describe G-d's essence in any positive terminology, for any description at all would itself be a false limitation. Instead, we refer to G-d at "Without End".

The lowest sefirah is malchus - kingship. That is the sefirah farthest away from Ein Sof - i.e. our physical world.

The other nine sefiros represent various manifestations of G-d's will. The closer the sefirah is to the Source, the less that human beings are capable of experiencing that manifestation of G-d's Will.

This is one of the reasons why kabbalah was never studied by the general public until very recently in Jewish history. Kabbalah uses descriptions like "closer to" and "farther from" G-d, even though G-d is not a physical entity, and therefore is never "close to" or "far from" anything.

  • It always seemed to me that the first chapter of Moreh Nevuchim applied just as much to Kabbalistic concepts as it does to "btzelem". I am very far from being a mekubal, though, so I may be very wrong about that.
    – yoel
    Commented Mar 12, 2012 at 18:16

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