I find that after i write a post like the last one, I return to the Kabbalistic material with more clarity. Writing out my current sense of the material also liberates me from that understanding and when I return to the texts, I come to them refreshed. This post pulls together threads spun in this post (on the misunderstandings that result from reading Kabbalistic material with a heavy Neoplatonic bias) and the last post (contemplating the relationship of the sefirot). It should be fairly short.
Neoplatonic interpretations of the Tree of Life favorsa ladder of lights model, where you can ascend from one sefirot to another like you ascend from one rung of a ladder to another, one at at time, one after another. You begin with Malkuth, proceed to Yesod, then to Hod, and so on down the line. Each sefirot is logically and often causally dependent on the sefirot ‘above’ it. This action of climbing the ladder follows in reverse the hypothesized action of a unitary One God in creating the world and its categories.
The Sefer Yetzirah does not describe creation in this fashion. To the extent that we can identify a process of emanation operating within the SY system, what we find are two simultaneous and parallel emanations, one of Malkuth (“Breath of Breath”) and Chokmah (“Water of Breath”). From those two emanations, all of the other sefirot are derived.
Most of those derivations cannot be called emanations. The sefirot associated with directions (Yesod, Hod, Netzach, Tifaret, Chesed, and Gevurah) are “engraved” within Malkuth. The breath is released in Malkuth and then shaped both from within and without by the divine will. It is shaped from within because Malkuth is a direct expression of Keter (“as fire is of coal”) and so its own operations reflect the potency of Keter. It is shaped from without because the divine itself takes an interest in organizing those operations, “sealing” the directions and setting up the earth “like a garden plot.”
Chokmah produces Binah (“Fire of the Water”) in a manner that does seem akin to Neoplatonic emanation, but even that seems to require some qualification. SY distinguishes the “angels of heaven” from the “ministers of heaven” by assigning the angels’ origins to Chokmah and the ministers’ origin to Binah. What seems to occur in the production of Binah, then, is that the angelic order produces a higher order of ministers from within itself.
I presently wonder if heat lightning might be a good image of this process, with the moist cloud flashing hot and illumined from within itself. If so, then what we see in the production of Binah is a process akin to what happens in Malkuth—of differentiation rather than emanation.
Even if we accept that Chokmah and Malkuth are properly understood as emanations, their relationship to each other is quite different than that of most Neoplatonic emanations. Neither has logical or causal priority over each other but are, instead, encompassed in a network of interactions that makes them logically and causally equals. The angelic and the material order are both capable of producing effects on each other and neither necessarily precedes the other.
Finally, there are some very quirky temporal relationships between the Sefirot. If we take Keter to represent the depth of the future and Malkuth to represent the depth of the past, then the SY makes the future temporally prior to the past. The future extrudes a past into which it can introduce differentiations and study itself.
Which reminded me that Simon Tomasi mentioned that the better translation of God’s response to Moses might be “I will be what I will be.” God as the future creating the past.