19 June 2017

A Kabbalistic Model of the Oceans and Continents Part 2

The oceans

The three sefirot wisdom, understanding, and knowledge are the sefirot that are considered to lie in what is known as “the hidden realm [that] is G–d’s.”1 In the human psyche, they manifest as the intellectual faculties of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. By “manifest,” we mean that the sefirot themselves are archetypal categories of G–d’s affluence, which must take some form in order to be comprehended or grasped. Similarly, we are now saying that these three sefirot also manifest as the three oceans of our planet. Before looking at the particular correspondence between the oceans and the sefirot, let us meditate on a couple of more general considerations regarding the oceans.

One world ocean

As mentioned, the oceans of our planet are all connected. Unlike the continents, which the waters divide, you can imagine that all of the waters on our planet make one large world ocean. The same is true of the three supernal sefirot, wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. In Kabbalah, there is a model of seven chambers (heichalot) into which thesefirot are divided.2 The three higher sefirot are all within a single chamber called: the chamber of the holy of holies (היכל קדש הקדשים ), which is the highest chamber. The name of the chamber itself alludes to its containing three elements: the holy (1 element) of holies (2 elements). In other words, one of the sefirot is considered above and more holy than the other two. In general, the chamber of the holy of holies begins with understanding but it includes within it also wisdom and crown.

Whenever we speak of the sefirah of crown, which is super-conscious and therefore not directly experienced, we also imply the sefirah of knowledge, which is considered the conscious manifestation of the crown. Thus, the three supernal sefirot can denote either crown, wisdom, and understanding, or wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. We need to keep this point in mind for later. Still, one important difference differentiates these two options. When the three oceans are corresponded to crown, wisdom, and understanding, they are indeed likened to the single chamber of the holy of holies, implying that all three are one single body of water. But, when they are corresponded to wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, they reflect three distinct bodies of water, joined as one. All three together are one state of being, one chamber. This important image reveals the manner in which the oceans are indeed divided into three but they are really only one great body of water, which is all hidden.

In Kabbalah, the realm of the intellect is also called the concealed world. One of the most common images used to describe the manner in which the intellect is concealed is indeed the oceans. Just as the waters of the oceans conceal the creatures that live in them, the intellectual realm conceals its own brand of beings. The beings that inhabit our intellectual realm are the thoughts and other powers of the intellect. They are just like the fish that swim in the oceans. In fact, one of the deepest mystical thinkers among the sages was Rav Hamnuna Saba; his name “Hamnuna” literally means “fish.” The deep mystics among the sages are referred to in the Zohar as “the fish of the sea” (נוני ימא ), because of their super-sensitivity to the intellectual sea-creatures that inhabit the deepest abyss of the intellect.

An even deeper insight into the oceans and their connection with the intellectual realm of the soul has to do with the fact that the intellectual parts of the soul are described as emanating introverted light, i.e., light that is reflected back inwards and does not emanate outwards. This is the nature of thought in the mind. It is not outwardly recognizable. Someone looking at me cannot tell what I am thinking. Instead, the energy of our intellect is a vector focused inward, pointing back into the mind. In contradistinction, the seven lower emotive sefirot are described as producing light that emanates outwardly, or extroverted light. This light shines out to a consciousness outside of my own. Likewise, the seven continents produce such light.

The insight that we gain from this is that the ocean is a more private place conducive for one’s interaction with oneself. But, dry land is conducive to relationships and interaction with others. In Kabbalah, an inward vector is also considered an upward vector, continually rising, with ever-increasing abstraction above one’s previous experience of reality. What this means is that the limit of our ability to plunge into the ocean’s depth represents our ability to grasp the most abstract concepts. Similarly, the outward vector related to dry land is also considered a downward vector. The greater our ability to interact with one another, the more insight we gain into the physical aspects of reality.3


The seven continents, the surface of the Earth that man can potentially inhabit (even though some of the dry land is not habitable because it is desert) correspond to the seven relatively lower sefirot, which in Kabbalah constitute the emotive faculties of the heart. In Chassidut, the seven lower sefirot are also associated with man’s animal soul, while the three supernal intellectual sefirot correspond to man’s Divine soul.

One of the differences between the animal soul and the Divine soul is that the animal soul, like other animals, requires a suitable environment in order to survive. In the case of man, this means a hospitable land environment. The Divine soul, which is infinite in its nature, is not limited in this way.4

Indeed, the seven continents are hospitable to our animal soul. The seven lower sefirot also correspond to the seven days of creation during which God created the earth for the express purpose that it be inhabited, as stated in the verse: “He did not create it for chaos; He created it to be inhabited.”5 So the part of creation that is expressly for the purpose of human habitation is the continents. But, because of our current dependence on our animal soul for our survival, the oceans are uninhabitable and are therefore considered to be in a relatively chaotic state.

Indeed, in the Genesis account of creation, when the waters still covered the entire surface of the earth, the Torah defines this as a state of chaos: “And the earth was chaotic and a void and darkness upon the abyss and the spirit of God hovering over the waters.”6 The Torah uses three different words to describe this initial state of our planet, when water covered its entire surface: void, empty, and dark. All three of these are the characteristics of the abyss, the name of the primordial waters that covered the earth. Normally, these three words are explained to allude to the three sefirot: crown (which is the highest sefirah, preceding even wisdom), wisdom, and understanding, but they also correspond to the three supernal sefirot: wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.

Part 1,   Continue to Part 3

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