In Kabbalah, Ein Sof (literally, “without end”) is the term used to describe God prior to creation. Ein Sof is usually translated as “the Infinite.” It is the ultimate reality, the First Cause—unmanifest, incomprehensible and indescribable, the “divine nothingness.”
The major text of the Jewish mystical tradition, the Sefer ha-Zohar (Book of Splendor), or Zohar, reveals a process of creation that started deep within the hidden recesses of the formless Ein Sof and unfolded as a series of emanations. Central to this drama was a single point that gave forth light and sowed “the holy seed,” creating a cosmic conception that is depicted as an explosion of light.
Since Ein Sof is indescribable and unknowable, then we have to describe and know God in some other form. Kabbalists say that Ein Sof reveals itself through ten aspects of God’s being called sefirot. The Zohar says:
As the will of the King [Ein Sof] began to come forth, He engraved signs in the uppermost pure light. Within the most hidden recesses a flame of darkness issued from the mysterious Ein Sof, a mist within formlessness, ringed about, neither white nor black nor red nor green, of no color at all. Only when measured did it bring forth light-giving colors. From deep within the flame there flowed a spring, out of which the colors were drawn below, hidden in the mysterious concealment of Ein Sof.
It broke through and yet did not break through the ether surrounding it. It was not knowable at all until, by force of its breaking through, one hidden sublime point gave forth light. Beyond that point nothing is known. Therefore it is called “Beginning”—the first utterance of all....
The “Beginning” extended itself and made a palace for itself, for glory and praise. There it sowed the holy seed in order to beget offspring for the benefit of the world.
As soon as [the seed] entered, the palace filled up with light. From that light are poured forth other lights, sparks flying through the gates and giving life to all.
The sixteenth-century Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria came up with a different theory of the Creation. While other Kabbalists said the Creation began with an act of expansion, Luria started with the concept of contraction, or tzimtzum. According to Luria, Ein Sof, the Infinite, contracted itself to its centermost point and then withdrew to the sides of the circle surrounding that point in order to create a vacuum. The reason for Ein Sof’s contraction was this: For the creation of the finite world to occur, the Infinite needed to define an empty space where its finite creation could exist separately from itself.
From the edge of the vacuum, Ein Sof issued a ray of light that launched all of creation. The sequence of events is complicated but, in essence, Ein Sof’s light manifested ten divine emanations. Each emanation was to be preserved in a special vessel. Some of these vessels, however, were unable to hold that light and consequently shattered. As a result sparks of divine light, along with shards of the vessels, scattered, giving birth to the material world.
For more information
Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Kabbalah: Key to Your Inner Power
Pearls of Wisdom, vol. 38, no. 6, February 5, 1995.Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Kabbalah: Key to Your Inner Power
- Zohar 1:15a, quoted in Arthur Green, “The Zohar: Jewish Mysticism in Medieval Spain,” in Paul E. Szarmach, ed., An Introduction to the Medieval Mystics of Europe (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1984), p. 116.]
- Zohar 1:15a, in Fischel Lachower and Isaiah Tishby, arrs. and eds., The Wisdom of the Zohar: An Anthology of Texts, 3 vols., trans. David Goldstein (New York: Oxford University Press for the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1987), 1:310.
- Zohar 2:68b, quoted in Green, “The Zohar”, pp. 117–18.